Monday, November 28, 2011

Sugar Cookie Bars

I was invited over to a friend’s house for dessert after Thanksgiving dinner.  Normally, people have pie for Thanksgiving-- sweet potato, apple, pumpkin, and/or pecan pie.  Other families have cake as well-- red velvet, spice, and/or chocolate cake.  I wanted to bring something different to the dessert table.

I decide on a Sugar Cookie Bar recipe that I have had lying around for a while, just waiting to be used.  I chose the cookie recipe because it was kid friendly (my friend had three little ones over for Thanksgiving), it was a sugar cookie (which my friend is a huge fan of, especially with princess or almond flavoring), and it surely would not be in competition with more traditional Thanksgiving desserts.

What truly made this cookie bar special was the frosting recipe.  The recipe circling the web used shortening and butter.  While, that recipe may have been traditional, I just could not see the benefit of using shortening on top of a flat cookie.  I did not feel the durability of a shortening based frosting was warranted here.

My friend is a lover of traditional buttercream, you know the kind with butter, powdered sugar, a little milk, and flavor extract.  This icing would be perfect for this type of cookie, but I did not want to go the sweet, sweet route.  I decided on a Swiss meringue buttercream, which is light, fluffy, silky, and decadent, but not too sweet.

But I still have not hit on the special part of the frosting… wait for it…. wait for it… Brown Sugar.  This is not typical Swiss meringue buttercream.  These sugar cookie bars are frosted with a Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  The brown sugar in the frosting adds an almost caramel-y dimension of flavor.  It was delightful.

I got three glowing, sticky face endorsements from the little ones at my friend’s home and the adults liked it just the same.  My sugar cookie loving friend liked them as well, but would have preferred the traditional buttercream frosting…. But hey, I knew that going in.  If I planned better, I would have used fall leaves sprinkles on the top.  These are easily adaptable to whatever holiday you are celebrating by changing the sprinkles.  This is a quick and easy recipe, great for all the Holiday parties coming up.  I hope you will give it a try.

Sugar Cookie Bars
Adapted from Recipe Girl

Cookie Ingredients:
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
4 tsp princess flavor emulsion
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Frosting Ingredients:
4 egg whites
1 cup brown sugar
3 sticks (1 1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
Splash Vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 375F and line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment. Try for as close to 13x18in pan that you have.

2. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, then add eggs in mixing one at a time, followed by princess flavor emulsion.

3. In a separate bowl whisk together flour, salt & baking soda, then add to butter mixture and mix just until combined.

4. Spread dough on cookie sheet with the use of your hands (sprayed with nonstick spray). Also, to get a flat surface, you can cover the dough with parchment paper and press another pan of equal size on top of the dough (Remove the additional sheet of parchment when done);

5. Bake for 15-20 min, until light golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean or with a few crumbs.

6. Cool completely before frosting.

7. Using the quantities of ingredients listed above, prepare Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Sorry, I am being so lazy right now and not reposting the method of making the frosting.

8. Frost, sprinkle, and the cut into bars. Remember this frosting does not crust and is super silky at room temperature. Once refrigerated, allow to return to room temperature before enjoying.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pumpkin, Spice, and Everything Nice

As a child, I grew up on Sweet Potatoes.  Yam dishes at Thanksgiving and Sweet Potato was the dessert of choice, not my choice, from October through December.  My mom was traditional and Southern, and not a fan of pumpkin.  Therefore, I did not taste nary pumpkin until I was in high school.

I was at the grocery store and saw the cutest little pumpkin that was the size of a squished softball.  I purchased the pumpkin brought it home and then tried to figure out what to do with it.  I decide to make a pumpkin cookie.  I was by no means that baker then that I am now.  They turned out to be more like orange colored flavorless biscuits, but that was my first attempt with pumpkin.  Over the years, since then I would attempt pumpkin cookies every November with some better results, but never complete success.  By the time I graduated from college, the tradition died hard and I did not touch pumpkin much at all.

Well enter this 2011 autumn season and I cannot get enough of pumpkin.  Sure, I used pumpkin in a single dish last year, but this year I went all out.  This year I become a pumpkin enthusiast.  I have been through 4 fresh pumpkins turned into puree and two cans of pumpkin puree.  I have made cakes, drinks, muffins, and more.

A friend saw my Cinnadoodle Cookies post and asked could I make these for her pre-Thanksgiving potluck.  I said sure and immediately knew that I really wanted to Thanksgiving-it up by adding pumpkin.  I was excited about adding pumpkin to yet another baked good.  I scoured the internet to find a recipe, but I found nothing.  I knew I would have to create the recipe myself.

Immediately, I was flooded with thoughts of the supposed-to-be pumpkin cookies from my youth.  You may have not noticed on the list above, but cookies was not listed as one of the things I have used pumpkin for recently.  I could have run scared of making pumpkin cookies again and just made plain snickerdoodles… But I said no!  Strapped on my apron and got into the kitchen to create these fine dandies right here.

I have a few requirements for typical snickerdoodles and I wanted to ensure they were still present in this cookie.  Specifically, I like only granulated sugar (not brown sugar), the use of cream of tartar, and more than just cinnamon in my coating.  With those thoughts in mind I created the recipe below.  The cookies are crunchy on the exterior due to the coating and soft and chewy on the inside.  They are gloriously orange and taste (and smell) of pumpkin.  Lastly, the cinnamon chips offer nice burst of flavor in addition to the multiple spices in the coating.  These cookies are definitely the best pumpkin cookies I have ever made (though based on my history that is not saying much); I definitely mark these cookies as a complete pumpkin success!

Pumpkin Cinnadoodle Cookies
By: Baker at Law
Makes a little over 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients (at room temperature):
1 cup (2 sticks) Butter
1 1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 cup (6 oz by weight) Pumpkin Puree
1 egg (or egg substitute)
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
3 1/2 cup All-purpose Unbleached Flour
1 tsp Cream of Tartar
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1 bag Cinnamon Chips (can be found on the baking aisle with the chocolate chips, usually made by Hersey’s)

Topping Mixture:
*You will have extra topping mixture left. I like to make more than needed so I can get an even coat on all cookies. The extra can be used for more cookies or over baked Sweet Potatoes! If extras really bother you, cut the topic mixture recipe in half [provided in brakets].*
1 cup Granulated Sugar [1/2 cup]
3 tsp Ground Cinnamon [1 1/2 tsp]
1 tsp Ground Allspice [1/2 tsp]
scant 1 tsp Ground Ginger [scant ½ tsp]
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg [2 heavy dashes]

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with the oven rack in the center.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar.

3. Add the pumpkin puree, egg, and vanilla to the butter mixture and beat until well combined. Set aside.

4. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, cream of tartar, and baking powder with a fork until well fluffed and combined.

5. Pour flour mixture over pumpkin mixture and stir until all the flour is incorporated.

6. Pour in the cinnamon chips and stir/fold until the cinnamon chips are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Set aside.

7. In a small shallow container mix together all the toping ingredients.

8. With a cookie scoop (I use a 3 TBS capacity scoop for these) or any other method to make consistent sized cookies, scoop up the batter into a ball and roll the cookie ball into the toping mixture. Make sure it is well coated.

9. Place the cookies on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, leaving space in between them to allow for spreading.

10. With the palm of your hand, press down on the cookie forming a thick disk (as opposed to the ball it was just in).

11. Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes until the cookies no longer looks raw on top and little cracks on the surface are just starting to form.

12. Let the cookies cool completely and then enjoy.

Friday, November 11, 2011

38. Cookies & Cream Whoopie Pies

In celebration of our Veterans who have so graciously and selflessly served our Country, so that I can get a day off from work, I say “WHOOPIE.”  These pies are for you.

Whoopie pies have been on my to-bake list for a while, but I was not in any rush to make them.  In theory, I figured I would not even like whoopee pies.  I mean they are two soft cookie cakes that serve as a conduit for frosting.  Not my cup of tea.

I recently tasted my first whoopee pie, red velvet with cream cheese filling, and I was not impressed.  So, I went into this challenge with pretty low expectations.  I was just hoping the filling would set up enough that I could take them into work the next day.

While these pies far exceeded my low expectations, dare I even say it, they were tasty.  I am still not sure what the appropriate texture of a whoopie pie should be, but I found these delightful.  The cookie was cake-y and soft and had a nice cocoa flavor and the espresso powder really made the chocolate taste sing.

OMGoodness, the filling was the best!  I did not want to go traditional whoopie pie with a shortening based filling.  I decided to use my go-to Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe and added in Marshmallow Fluff and Oreo Cookie crumbs.  The combination of the cookie and filling still needs to be further refined.  The chocolate cookie slightly overwhelmed the more delicate filling.

I would suggest this recipe to first time whoopie pie makers and those who may not be a fan of traditional shortening frosting/filling.  I would also suggest doubling the filling batch, as I did not have enough to adequately fill all my pies.

Classic Chocolate Whoopie Pies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar (213g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa (43g)
2 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (283g)
1 tsp espresso powder
1 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking pans with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl with an electric beater, cream together the butter and sugar.

3. Next beat in vanilla and egg until completely combined.

4. Then beat in baking powder, baking soda, and salt, until smooth.

5. Stirring in cocoa powder to combine. (I do not advise using the electric beater unless you want to deal with a cocoa powder cloud.)

6. Add the flour to the batter alternating with the buttermilk, unlike the traditional method, start with buttermilk and end with flour, beating until smooth, scraping down the sides to fully combine.

7. Drop the dough by the 1/4-cupful (regular sized ice cream scoop) onto the prepared baking sheets. Leave a generous amount of space around each cookie. I dropped five cookies per sheet.

8. Bake the cakes for 15 to 16 minutes, until they are set and firm to the touch. (I only baked mine 12 minutes and they were perfect.)

9. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pans. While slightly warm but firm to the touch, gently lift cookie from parchment; then allow to cool completely.

10. Match up the cookie halves, then pipe or spoon filling onto one half. Cover piped cookie with its match and gently press down.

Swiss Buttercream Fluff Oreo Filling
Bake at Law

Swiss Meringue Butter Cream (I used 2oz egg whites, 4oz sugar, and 6oz butter)
1 1/2–2 cups Marshmallow Fluff
1 tsp vanilla
Oreo cookie crumbs (crumbled really fine), to taste

Prepare filling while the cookies are baking. Mix all ingredients together. If it too thick to pipe, add a little milk until you get it to the consistency you prefer.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Bridal Shower Tea Party Cookies

If you are keeping count, this is now the third wedding I am mentioning on my blog within a couple of months.  It is an extremely heavy wedding time of year, well life really, and I could not be more excited for all the lovely Brides and Grooms out there.

A wonderful lady at my job, CAE, is helping to plan a bridal shower for her niece, a fashionista bride from New York.  Her Bridal Shower will be a tea party for 25-30 of her closest female friends and family.  After seeing other wedding and tea party related cookie posts, CAE asked me if I could make engagement ring and tea pot/cup cookies as favors for the shower.

I agreed without hesitation.  CAE asked for 80 cookies- 40 engagement rings, 20 tea cups, and 20 tea pots in the teal, purple, and silver color scheme.  This amount and combination seemed very doable.  I have been asked to complete larger orders in the past and had to graciously turn them down because I did not think I could handle an order of over 100 cookies (without taking time off from my day job).

I started these cookies on Saturday and I quickly realized just how big of an order I took on.  It took me 6 hours to make all the dough, roll it out, and bake the cookies.  I made and colored all the icing and background iced/flooded the cookies on Sunday and that took me nearly 9 hours.  I did the detailed work on Monday and it took me another 5 hours.  Lastly, I packaged them up on Tuesday in about 2-3 hours.

By the end of the week, I was sleep deprived from the late nights of decorating and early mornings going into the office; and I was sore from sitting on a hard wooden stool from which I hunched over the counter for hours on end.  But, I couldn’t be happier.  Even with all the hours logged, it just did not feel like work.  It was something I enjoyed, something I loved to do.

I am honored the CAE asked me to make favors in celebration of her niece’s bridal shower.  I can only hope, and I do believe, that I met her expectations.  I hope that CAE’s niece, sister, and guests will love the cookies and ENJOY their taste, just as much as they enjoy the look.

37. Ol’ Fashion Apple Dumplin’

Weekend one--I wanted an apple dumpling.  The ol’ school kind where you baste the dumplings as they cook (my mom told me about this old world process)!  Who ever heard of basting anything but a turkey?  I bought the apples to make it, but then I proceeded to eat all the apples during the week.  Therefore, no apple dumpling weekend one.

Weekend two--I still wanted an apple dumpling, but had no time to make it; I ended up going out of town.  Weekend two ended with no apple-y goodness as well.

Weekend three--I was determined to get this apple dumpling.  I got home from work on Friday night and had to leave the house for a meeting at 7 PM.  That was two hours; I figured I could make it work.  And work it, I did!  I peeled, cored, stuffed, and rolled the apples in record time considering I had never done any of the above before and I am clumsy with a knife.  I got the dumplings in the oven within 30 minutes.

They baked and I basted, religiously, even 15 minutes.  As they cooked, the basting syrup developed a nice sticky, sweet, crispy crust on the pastry.  I was excited to dig in to one, but had to wait until after the meeting.  I got home, made me a bowl topped with Vanilla ice cream and I sprinkled on some roasted slivered almonds.  I prepared to dig in anticipating the first bit.  It… was… just okay.  I mean it was flaky, tender, sweet, and seasoned, but I was not overwhelmed.  I only ate half of the dessert I plated in the bowl.

My mom on the other hand, who doesn’t even like baked apples, loved it.  She proceeded to eat the other half of the bowl I started… and the three remaining dumplings over the next few days.  So, I think this recipe comes highly recommended by others, but I think anticipating this dessert for so long made it dead on arrival with my taste buds.

I made some adaptions and changes to this recipe, but it is pretty fail proof (I think).

Friday, November 04, 2011

… And the mediocrity continues

In my last post, I mentioned how my baking had been a little off.  Unfortunately, that trend has continued with these “Halloween: Part II” cookies.

On Halloween night, my Zumba class was not cancelled and I was elated.  To celebrate, I wanted to make my classmates Snickers Peanut Butter Brownies.  (I know the irony of taking sweets to an athletic class exists.)  I asked Mom to pick up some Snickers bars at the store during the day so I could make the Brownies as soon as I got home from work, 2 hours before Zumba.

Well Mom did not leave the house until far later than planned and I ended up with no Snickers.  To make up for the lack of Snickers to make Brownies, when Mom finally did go out, she got the big 80 pieces of candy mixed bag.  Now, I had all this candy for no reason.  What was I to do with it?

I thought it would be fun to embody Halloween in a cookie.  I have a friend who is out of the County and Halloween is her favorite “holiday.”  I thought she might appreciate getting some of the whimsy and deliciousness of Halloween all in one belated treat.  So, I decided to chop up different chocolate candies and make Halloween: Part II cookies.

So, I proceeded to select the candy I wanted to use—only chocolate flavors that went well together, so no peppermints and peanut butters.  Also, I wanted to use things with different textures.  I did not want just a blob of melted caramel or chocolate.  I ended up using Kit Kats, Twix, Snickers, Milk Ways, Three Musketeers, and M&M’s.  I mixed the chopped bar pieces into a basic chocolate chip cookie batter and pressed a few M&M’s into the top before baking.

To me these cookies were just okay, but I have already received some dissenting remarks that they are better than okay.  At first, I measured out 4 oz of batter, which ended with the gargantuan cookies that only fit 4 per baking sheet.  They were very soft, to the point of being undone, in the center and crispy on the outside. 

Then I cut down the batter size to 2 oz and could fit 6 cookies per cookie sheet.  These cookies got very flat and over browned before cooking thoroughly.  Between the caramel sticking to the parchment paper and the thinness of the cookie, they were hard to pick up without tearing out the center of the cookie.

Lastly, I got tired of deal with the dough and decided to make cookie bars.  To get the dough to cook all the way through, I had to leave them in the oven longer than anticipated.  They turned super dark and seemed a little uneven in texture and appearance, maybe even, dare I say it, a little burnt in taste.

Overall, I see this as another fail.  What is going on here?  All I know is I HAVE to get back in the flow of things TODAY!  I have a large cookie order to make over the weekend and I really would like to enjoy the process of making them.