Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chewy, Gooey, Sweet & Sticky S'more Cookie Bars . . .


Buzz Lightyear:  " . . . in just a few hours you'll be sitting around a campfire with Andy making nice hot shmoes." 
Woody:  "They're called s'mores, Buzz."     
  -- Toy Story

So, now that it's winding down, let's do a little recap of our summer, shall we? Have a seat and we'll begin.
Did you go to the beach? Yes? Okay, good, check that one off.
Did you watch fireworks for the Fourth of July? Great, check that one too.
Did you eat watermelon outside and spit out the seeds? Check.
Did you pick fresh fruit or veggies at a farm, or from a garden? Check.
Did you take a lot of nice walks? Check.
Did you read at least a couple frivolous and/or trashy novels? Check. Check. Check.
Did you take about a zillion photos of your family and/or kids frolicking in the sun? Check.
Did you assemble and  enjoy your fair share of nice hot shmoes this summer?  . . . What?! You didn't??

Well, don't despair--all is not lost. The fact is, you don't need a campfire or a flaming grill to achieve a reasonable facsimile of the s'mores experience, and you don't even need summertime, truth be told. You can get that ooey, gooey, sticky, chewy vibe any time of year with cookie bars like these. All the requisite ingredients are in there to help replicate the total s'mores taste experience--milk chocolate Hershey bars, graham cracker crumbs, and marshmallow creme.

Just close your eyes as you bite into one of these bars and you'll see what I mean. Wiggle your toes in the imaginary sand while you're munching and listen to the gentle waves lapping the pretend shore . . . just ignore those nonexistent kids who keep whining over there by the invisible picnic table. (Ahh, yes . . .  isn't creative visualization fun?) While it's true s'mores are a critical component of a well rounded summer, it's comforting to know that they can be enjoyed--albeit in a slightly altered incarnation--all year long.

About this recipe . . . 

Of course, if s'mores were never really your thing, you might want to fiddle around with this recipe and do some tweaking. I love s'mores, but I fiddled just a little bit anyway. My main tweak involved the addition of a small amount of coarsely chopped honey-roasted peanuts, and a reduction in the amount of marshmallow creme. But, tweaked or untweaked, these are pretty darn good. Were I to make them again, I think I might ponder using dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate to dial down the sweetness factor just a smidgen.

This quick recipe came from the latest issue (September 2010) of Disney Family Fun magazine. Though my kids are not so young anymore, whenever I happen to get my hands on a copy of this, I still flip through it prowling for ideas, and I always look for the recipes. I liked the looks of these bars right away. S'more cookie bars aren't an original concept by any means, but not all formulas are created equal and this was the first one I've seen that I was motivated to make.

I decided to double the recipe and, as I mentioned above, I added in chopped honey-roasted peanuts, sprinkling them over the chocolate layer (just a half cup). I also halved the amount of marshmallow creme indicated, but if you're a maniacal marshmallow lover, go to town and double what I've written in the recipe below; your bars will be insanely gooey, in a good way. I increased the amount of salt slightly (I used kosher salt). I used a 9" x 13" pan, which probably made the bars a little thicker than the original recipe. My batter was too soft to handle in the way that the original recipe indicated (it was a hot day and the butter I used was awfully soft), so I had to adjust accordingly. As usual, I reworded most of the directions.

All in all, these babies were a hit in my house. And, unlike genuine "nice hot shmoes," these can travel quite safely in a lunchbox. (As Buzz Lightyear would say, "To infinity, and beyond!")

S'more Cookie Bars

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 egg, large
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers (I used plain honey grahams)
1 and 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
3/4 tsp. salt (I recommend kosher)
2 tsp. baking powder
6 - 1.55 oz. Hershey milk chocolate bars (this is six standard size bars)
1 (7 oz.) jar of marshmallow creme (I used Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme, what I had on hand)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9" x 13" baking pan.

In a large mixer bowl, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla extract, and beat to combine.

In a separate bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour all of this into the butter mixture and beat until well mixed.

Spread two-thirds of the batter into the bottom of the pan. If the batter is quite soft, wet your hands with cold water, shake off the excess water, and pat the batter into place. Over this layer, break up the chocolate bars into small pieces and scatter them evenly. Sprinkle the nuts evenly over the chocolate. Spread all of the marshmallow creme on top of this, again using wet hands to urge the creme into place as best you can. (Overall, this will be a messy procedure, but don't worry about it. It doesn't have to look neat.) Spoon dabs of the remaining batter over the top, and spread them out as best you can to cover as much of the marshmallow as possible. Don't worry about gaps.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and the sides of the bars start to pull away from the pan. Let the bars cool in the pan, on a rack, for at least 20 minutes before you attempt to cut into them.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blueberry Buttermilk Scones . . .

I can hardly believe that the new school year begins in just over two weeks. My younger son, the 14 year old, prefers that I refrain from even bringing up this topic. Whenever I happen to do so, he glares at me as if I've just suggested it might be fun to tour a maximum security prison.

He's going to be in the 9th grade, just entering high school, and the scuttlebutt he's heard regarding the increased homework load has him a little less than enthusiastic about the whole scenario. I suppose it's fear of the unknown that's driving his mood, and you know what they say  about that--our imagined fears are almost always far, far worse than any reality.  Luckily, he's a highly capable, intelligent kid and I know he'll be just fine but, in light of his frame of mind, I've decided to try and lay off the school-related comments for now. We'll let the illusion of endless summer continue on the home-front for a few more days. I figure it can't hurt.

So, in that spirit, and probably up until summer's officially packed it in, I'm going to keep on baking summery foods, like today's blueberry buttermilk scones. These are tender and mellow, just like a lazy summer afternoon.

Blueberry Buttermilk Scones

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

2/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 and 1/2 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (if using kosher salt, add in a pinch extra)
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
1 egg, large
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
1 and 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (I used frozen Maine blueberries; they're small and sweet)

3 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter, for brushing on the scones
3 Tbsp. coarse/sanding sugar, for sprinkling

In a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk, whipping cream, and lemon juice.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the large bowl of a food processor, blend the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda by pulsing quickly a few times. Add in the butter chunks, and pulse to form a coarse textured mixture. (Or, if you prefer not to use a food processor, do these two steps by hand, cutting in the butter with a pastry blender.) Dump all of this into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Into the well add the egg, the extracts, and the buttermilk mixture. Stir to make a soft dough. Fold in the blueberries and stir just to combine.

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough gently a few times, incorporating more flour as needed until the dough is firm and no longer sticky.

Pat the dough out into a circle that's 1" thick all over. Using a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut the dough into 8 to 12 wedges, like a pie. Place the pieces on the parchment covered baking sheet. Brush melted butter over the top of each piece and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake the scones for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Definitely best the first day, when they're very fresh. 

Recipe full disclosure! This recipe was adapted from one in Marcy Goldman's book, A Passion for Baking (2007, Oxmoor House). Her original recipe is for a blackberry-blueberry scone made largely with heavy cream, and topped with a honey and butter glaze. I changed the formula by using only blueberries, by reducing the amount of heavy cream and adding in buttermilk instead, by adjusting the extracts used, and by omitting the honey-butter glaze and opting for melted butter and coarse sugar on the top of the scones.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Simply Sensational Cinnamon Rolls . . .

Cinnamon rolls were always one of those things that I shied away from trying, afraid I'd screw them up somehow. That, however, was before I overcame my aversion to baking with yeast. Within the last twelve months or so, I've managed to pretty much conquer that fear and it's a good feeling. Yes, I know--I've already blathered on about that particular topic (my yeast-baking phobia) before, so I'll refrain from rehashing it too extensively here.

Suffice it to say, though, I suspect that I owe at least part of the success of these sensational cinnamon rolls to my current happy relationship with yeast. Yes, we're cozy comrades now. Having called a friendly truce, we've built up mutual trust--the kind of trust that allows one to dive into a recipe like this not with foreboding or apprehension, but with an expectation of at least partial victory.

The preparation of these rolls is pretty uncomplicated when you get right down to it. Just a few basic steps: make the dough and let it rise; toss together the filling; roll out the dough, scatter the filling, and roll it all up; slice the pieces and let them rise; bake the rolls; ice the rolls. It's not rocket science. Heck, it's not even library science.

Just remember to bring an attitude of sensitivity to the task, and concentrate on what you're doing while you're doing it. The culinary reward will be both lovely and scrumptious. And each lucky recipient of the rolls will be in your debt.

After all, a cellophane packaged convenience-store bun can't begin to rival the warm, fragrant, cinnamon-encrusted  treat you'll have set before them. Most people encounter a well-crafted cinnamon roll, beautifully assembled from scratch, only on the rarest occasions. There's just no comparison, and they know it.

These are well worth the time it takes to make them. Of course, they're also rich and must harbor a zillion calories. Not something you'd want to have laying around the kitchen tempting you too frequently. Unless, that is, you're endeavoring ferociously to gain weight, in which case these would definitely be the ticket.

About this recipe . . . 

This is an amalgam of two cinnamon roll recipes that I like a lot. One is from a small spiral-bound book that had belonged to my mom. Put out 30 years ago by the Red Star Yeast company, it's called The Red Star Centennial Bread Sampler. And the other recipe came from Bubby's Brunch Cookbook: Recipes and Menus from New York's Favorite Comfort Food Restaurant. This is one I'd love to own and hope to add to my own collection one of these days (I borrowed it from the library, speaking of library science!). Check it out if you get a chance.

My combined adaptation of both recipes is a nice hybrid, I think, and it borrows from the best attributes of both formulas.

Cinnamon Rolls

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

For the dough:
3 and 3/4 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached; no need to sift)
2 tsp. instant yeast (I used SAF Gold Instant Yeast; this stuff works really well in rich doughs. Keep in mind, instant yeast does not require proofing and in many instances can be mixed right in with other ingredients. I'm a total instant yeast convert; I rarely use active-dry yeast anymore.)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. salt (If you'd like to use kosher, add a pinch extra.)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter, unsalted
1 egg, large

For the filling:
1/2 cup  light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon (I used Penzey's brand Vietnamese--very intense flavor.)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup moist raisins (I soaked mine in warm water for about 20 minutes; drained them & gently squeezed out excess water with a paper towel.)
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup (I used Trader Joe's brand--it's inexpensive, not too thick, and tastes good; you can use honey instead, if you prefer.)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the icing:
2 cups confectioners' sugar (no need to sift)
2 to 4 Tbsp. half and half or milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
A couple of drops of almond extract

In a large mixer bowl, combine 1 and 1/2 cups of the flour, the instant yeast, the two sugars, and the salt. In a small saucepan over low heat, warm up the milk, water, and butter to about 120 - 130 degrees; test it with a stem thermometer if you're not sure. It's fine if the butter doesn't fully melt. Pour this into the flour mixture. Add in the egg and the vanilla extract. Beat at low speed just until moistened, then beat for 3 minutes at medium speed.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and, by hand, stir more flour in gradually until you've made a soft dough (I needed to use all of my 3 and 3/4 cups of flour; my dough was quite moist to start with).

Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead it by hand until it feels smooth and elastic; this may take 5 to 8 minutes (mine took barely 5 minutes to reach this stage; beware of over-kneading rich dough). 

Place the dough in a large bowl that's been sprayed with vegetable spray (I used Pam) or greased with vegetable shortening. Turn the dough so it's lightly greased all over. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap that's also been sprayed/greased on the side that could touch the dough.Let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk (mine took just about one hour). 

Next steps: 
  • Prepare the filling while the dough is rising (see below). 
  • Butter the bottom and sides of a  9" x 13" baking pan.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium size bowl, mix together the two sugars, the cinnamon, and the salt. Mix in the raisins. Pour in the maple syrup and stir to combine. Set aside.

When the dough has risen sufficiently, dump it out onto a lightly floured work surface, and use a rolling pin to roll it into a 12" x 15" rectangle (my dough was not very rectangular, but it didn't matter). Use a pastry brush to spread half of the melted butter all over the dough; set aside the rest of the melted butter. Sprinkle all of the filling evenly over the dough, leaving about one inch uncovered at the farthest short side of the dough.

Starting with the short side that's nearest you, carefully roll up the dough. It needs to be snug but not too tight. If you can, pinch the long seam to help seal it; then end with the seam underneath the completed roll.

Using an extremely sharp, smooth knife (like a chef's/French knife), gently but firmly cut the dough into eight slices of even thickness.

Place them in the pan, evenly spaced. Cover the pan with lightly greased/sprayed plastic wrap, and loosely cover it with a dish towel. Place it in a warm spot to rise.

When the rolls have doubled in size, in perhaps half an hour (it's important not to over-proof rich dough, so be on your toes), they are ready to go into the preheated oven. Bake them for approximately 25 minutes, until they're golden brown and they sound hollow when you tap them. (To err on the safe side, I tested mine with a stem thermometer stuck into the doughy part of a roll; I looked for a temperature of about 200-210 degrees inside.)


Make the icing before the rolls come out of the oven. In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, half-and-half or milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Stir until all the lumps dissolve. If you'd like the icing thinner or thicker, adjust it with a bit more sugar or milk. To drizzle it on, make it on the thinner side. To smooth it on like frosting on a cake, make it a bit thicker.

As soon as the rolls come out of the oven, brush the rest of the melted butter over them.

Then, ice the rolls. They're great served warm, and they're definitely best the first day. They can be left in the pan when cool if you like; just cover them well with plastic wrap.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sparkling Peach Cobbler . . . with Prosecco, Ginger, and Honey

Okay, so you're probably thinking, "Ugh . . . yet another seasonal cobbler recipe. How original."

Am I right?

That's fine, I'm not offended. I've been around the baking-blog block a few times and I know the score. That said, however, I simply must impress upon you that there are peach cobbler recipes, and then there peach cobbler recipes. 

What do I mean? Well, let me ask you this: What do you get when you combine juicy ripe peaches, a buttery dough enhanced with a smidgen of candied ginger, and bubbly Prosecco, in a filling that's been augmented with a bit of citrus zest, fresh grated nutmeg, and honey? I'll tell you what you don't get. You don't get your grandma's dense, sugary, soggy-biscuit laden cobbler.

It really is, as they say, all in the flavor. Sparkling peach cobbler boasts flavors that are complex and  a little daring. They defy expectation, but do so delightfully. The cobbler has a bit of a bite, which is an element of surprise. I didn't necessarily expect my family to fully appreciate and enjoy such a nontraditional twist on a beloved and old fashioned dessert, but--lo and behold--they all did. This cobbler doesn't just defy taste expectations, it exceeds them.

Thank heaven that nice cold bottle of Prosecco in the fridge, procured a few weeks ago expressly for this recipe, was finally put to proper use. But, besides using the Prosecco, this cobbler served another purpose for me as well. Because my oven died immediately after I was finished producing the layers for the "Where the Wild Things Are" cake (and after 16 years of heavy use!) in my last post, I had to procure a new one and fast.

Happily, a glistening, stainless-steel, gas range was installed in our kitchen a few days ago, so the cobbler functioned as a suitable test case. That shiny piece of machinery took the cobbler on its maiden voyage into Fahrenheit Land and returned it to shore all golden brown and twinkling--a safe and successful voyage, one might say. There it is, pictured below. (Hear my sigh of baking contentment  . . . ?)

About this recipe . . .

I adapted this from a recipe for nectarine cobbler found in Sherry Yard's magnificent book, Desserts by the Yard. I adjusted the formula slightly by using Prosecco as an alternative to the pricier Champagne; by including a wee bit of chopped candied ginger in the pastry (Sherry advises leaving it out for this cobbler, but I thought it was a great touch used in moderation); by omitting the orange zest from the filling (I don't typically buy oranges this time of year, so I just used lemon zest); and by using about thirty percent more fruit than called for--mostly peaches instead of nectarines.

This is so good. You're gonna love it.

Sparkling Peach Cobbler

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

For the dough (make this first):

1 and 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour, plus 6 Tbsp. for dusting
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
4 oz. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2'' chunks and frozen for 15 minutes
1 egg, large
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. crystallized (candied) ginger, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten with 1 yolk, for the egg wash

In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together the 1 and 1/2 cups flour, the sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Using the paddle attachment, add in the frozen butter chunks and mix for 1 to 2 minutes on low speed, until the butter is broken into large lumps that you can see. Stop the mixer. With your thumb and index finger, flatten any round lumps.

Beat again for 30 seconds. (The butter pieces should look like "flattened walnut pieces," per Sherry Yard's advice.)

In another bowl, whisk together the heavy cream and the egg.

Pour this into the dry ingredients, along with the chopped candied ginger. Turn the mixer on for several more seconds, just to combine.

Place a generous sheet of parchment paper on your work surface and dust it with a couple tablespoons of flour. Plop the dough onto it.

The dough should be tacky and crumbly when you dump it from the bowl (mine was much more sticky than tacky, so I was liberal with the flour once I got it onto the work surface). Now you'll begin a very simple version of the "3-fold" process. Don't panic.

To form the dough into a square that's 1" thick all over, use the edges of the parchment, bringing them up and over to press the dough into this shape. Peel the parchment back.

Dust the top of the dough with another tablespoon of flour, and flip it over. Gently press it into an even rectangle that's 6" x 8". It should be 1" thick all over.

Using the side of your hand, positioned parallel to the bottom edge of dough, make a crease through the middle. Just make an impression--you don't need to push down too much.

Using the paper to lift the dough, fold it over right at the crease. Peel back the paper again, and dust the top with 1 tablespoon of flour.

Press the dough out again, just like before, and turn it in front of you 90 degrees. Make a crease again, just like before, and fold and turn the dough again. Lightly dust the top with 1 tablespoon of flour. Crease, fold, and turn one final time.

At this point, the dough will be a relatively uniform block. Dust it with 1 more tablespoon of flour, and roll it out gently (with a rolling pin) into a rectangle that's 6" x 8" and that's 1" thick all over.

Wrap the dough in plastic and place it in the freezer for 30 minutes (At this point, I slid my dough, still on the parchment, onto the back of a little sheet pan, then covered it with plastic, and sort of folded the extra parchment up over it; I didn't want to have to overhandle it at this point. I slid the pan with the dough on it into the freezer.)

While the dough is chilling, prepare the filling.

For the filling:

1/4 cup All-Purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar, or more depending upon the tartness of your fruit
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
1 and 1/2 cups Prosecco (Note: if you prefer your cobbler with less liquid overall, I suggest you reduce this amount by one third; my cobbler had quite a lot of liquid.)
1/4 to 1/2 cup honey (take into account how much sugar you've used and how sweet your fruit is; adjust accordingly in deciding how much honey to use)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
8 large ripe peaches (or nectarines, or a combo), pitted, unpeeled (yes, unpeeled--unless you hate the peel), and sliced into eighths
1 egg, beaten with 1 egg yolk, to use for the egg wash
About 1/4 cup granulated sugar to use for dusting

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Prepare one large baking dish (12" x 12", or 9" x 13") or two smaller dishes (I used one 8" x 8" glass dish and one ceramic quiche dish). Butter the baking dish and dust it with 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. 

Combine by hand, in a large bowl, the flour, sugar, nutmeg, and lemon zest. 

Whisk in the Prosecco. Heat the honey just until warm and easily pourable; stir it into the mixture. 

Stir in the lemon juice. Add in all of the peaches and toss everything together until the fruit is well coated. Scrape all of this into your prepared pan(s). 

Take the dough from the freezer and, using a very sharp knife, cut it into diamond shapes. 

Arrange the diamond pieces over the filling. Brush the dough with egg wash, then sprinkle generously with sugar. 

Immediately put the pan(s) in the preheated oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the dough is a nice golden brown. (Expect juicy dripping during baking and use foil or a baking sheet beneath the dishes to prevent a mess in your oven; I did this when it was almost too late!)

This stuff's utterly delicious on its own, but also heavenly with a little unsweetened whipped cream on top.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)