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Sour Cream Blackberry Pie Bars

8 Aug


I’ve only been blogging for a few months but I followed various food blogs for a long time before starting my own.  Even so, there are so many facets to the food blogging world that I’m only now being introduced to.  One of those facets is the Project Pastry Queen, a group of extraordinary bloggers who are baking their way through Rebecca Rather’s The Pastry Queen, and a group I am pleased to say I am joining!  Each week one of the members chooses a recipe, we all give it a shot and share the hopefully fabulous results with you.

I received my copy of the cookbook last week and this week’s challenge for the group was inconveniently a brownie recipe…there’s still a batch of brownies sitting on my counter slowly disappearing, so for the sake of my waistline, I dove into Rebecca’s recipe collection with one I knew I could pass off to the boyfriend who would happily devour it all himself.  Strategy is everything, right?

This recipe falls somewhere between a pie, a cobbler, and a cake.  If you don’t want to wait for it to cool so you can cut it into bars, Rebecca suggests you can just spoon it out of the pan warm like a cobbler.  Either way sounds good to me!



Sour Cream Blackberry Pie Bars
Recipe from The Pastry Queen

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) chilled unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 16-oz bags of frozen blackberries, defrosted and drained
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9×13″ baking pan with butter or spray.  Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse for about 45 seconds until fully combined.  Cut butter into 1/2″ cubes and drop into the flour mixture.  Pulse the butter-flour mixture it looks crumbly.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can cut the butter in using two knives, a pastry cutter, or an electric stand mixer.
  2. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the crumbly mixture to use as the topping.  Press the rest of the crumbly mixture evenly into the greased baking pan (could pie crust ever get any easier??).
  3. Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes until it is golden brown.  Note: my crust barely browned on top but it turns out it was dark brown on the bottom and very crunchy.  Daniel said it was the perfect crunchy texture, so just be aware that you don’t need to get it super browned on top.
  4. Let the crust cool for at least 10 minutes and in the meantime…
  5. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, add sugar and whisk until completely combined.  Add sour cream (whisk), flour and salt (whisk again).  Gently fold the blackberries into the mixture.
  6. Pour the blackberry mixture over the baked crust and make sure it is spread into the corners evenly.  Sprinkle the reserved crumbles evenly across the top of the blackberry mixture–I thought it would be a pretty light sprinkling, but it ended up being a complete crust and you couldn’t see any of the blackberry mixture underneath.
  7. Bake for 45-55 minutes until the top is lightly browned.  Let cool for at least 1 hour if you want to cut it into bars.  If you want to spoon it out like a cobbler, let it cool for about 30 minutes or as long as you can stand it!

I think whipped cream was a great compliment to this recipe.  For about 1 1/2 cups of whipped cream, you’ll need 3/4 cup of chilled heavy cream, 3/4 teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a chilled bowl is suggested.  Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, medium speed for about 30 seconds, and then kick it up to high speed until it’s the consistency you want it. (Cooks Illustrated, March 2005)

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake

18 Jul

I know you guys love my true confessions and, well, I have two of them for you tonight:

True Confession #1: Clearly I’ve been on a bit of an unhealthy streak lately, what with the pound cake and now this.  I’ve had a craving for chocolate cake recently (and I’m not even a big chocolate lover so a chocolate craving for me is a serious situation) but have no fear, I’m back to normal after this cake.  We’ll have a good variety of healthier stuff coming up here.

True Confession #2: I royally screwed up the frosting recipe.  Let this be a lesson to you all: don’t rush through your cooking!  It should be a relaxed time for you to enjoy making some good nourishment (or a nice treat) for your body, not a rushed experience.  This cake was certainly one of those where you dirty a ton of bowls and go through more steps than you realized you might need to take, including 2 different trips to the grocery store on my part– MID-BAKING no less.  Me, the genius, started baking a layer cake before I realized that I don’t even own cake pans. Cupcake tins (mini AND regular), a loaf pan, an angel food tube pan, baking sheets…but no cake pans.  Then, during my candy blitz last month, I used up all of my corn syrup and forgot to replace the bottle.  Then, after the cake was baked, frosted and all was said and done, I open up the fridge and what do I see there?  The cup of heavy cream I had carefully measured out and put back in the fridge because the recipe specified it should be chilled.  I completely skipped over the recipe instruction to add it to the frosting! Even though my roommate and her boyfriend both said how much they loved the frosting before I discovered my mistake, I’ve included the proper recipe below so you can pull if off correctly.  Unfortunately, I’m not making a second cake just to get the frosting right.  See True Confession #1 as to why.

Ingredient Note: Per Cook’s Illustrated‘s suggestion, I always use Ghiradelli semi-sweet/bittersweet/unsweetened chocolate bars for my baking.  I never have a problem finding them at my grocery store.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake
Source Cook’s Illustrated March 2006

Cake

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), very soft
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting pans
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks

Frosting

  • 16 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream (cold)

Instructions for Cake:

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch-round by 2-inch-high cake pans with butter or non-stick baking spray; dust pans with flour and knock out excess.  Set a large pot with 1″ water in it to a simmer.
  2. Combine chocolate, cocoa powder, and hot water in medium heatproof bowl; set bowl over the simmering water, resting on top of the pot.  Stir with rubber spatula until chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes–mixture will be dry and a bit grainy (you’re going to wonder how it will ever make a delicious cake and then, like magic…).  Add 1/2 cup sugar to chocolate mixture and stir until thick and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Combine buttermilk and vanilla in small bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk eggs and yolks on medium-low speed until combined, about 10 seconds.  Add remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar, increase speed to high, and whisk until fluffy and lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Add cooled chocolate mixture to egg/sugar mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly incorporated, 30 to 45 seconds, pausing to scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing about 10 seconds after each addition.
  5. Add about one-third of flour mixture followed by half of buttermilk mixture, mixing until incorporated after each addition (about 15 seconds). Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture.  Scrape down sides of bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds.  Divide batter between two 9″ cake pans and tap pans lightly on counter top to release any air bubbles hiding in the batter.
  6. Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes, then invert onto wire rack. By cooling them upside down on the racks, they will flatten out a bit so you’ll have an even cake.  Cool cakes to room temperature before frosting, 45 to 60 minutes.

Instructions for Frosting:

Note: Most of us have a limited number of mixing bowls and heat-proof mixing bowls at our disposal (I was certainly rushing around transferring ingredients and washing bowls at the last second because I realized I needed one for a task but it was full of, say, sugar or something), so follow the instructions when it says what size bowl to use–I’m just trying to save you some stress and dishpan hands later.

  1. Using the same technique to melt chocolate, heat another 1″ of water to simmering in pot from the beginning of the cake recipe.
  2. Melt chocolate in medium metal bowl set over pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside. Meanwhile, heat butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Increase heat to medium; add sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt and stir with heatproof rubber spatula until sugar is dissolved, 4 to 5 minutes. Add butter mixture and cream (this is where I forgot about it) to the chocolate already in the medium metal bowl and stir to thoroughly combine.
  3. In large metal bowl, add a tray or two of ice to water to create an ice bath for the frosting.
  4. Place medium bowl of frosting mixture into the ice bath and stir mixture constantly with rubber spatula until frosting is thick and–this is the annoying part–until frosting is 70 degrees.  5 degrees too cold and it won’t be creamy.  5 degrees too warm and it won’t set when you whip it in a moment.
  5. Once frosting reaches 70 degrees, beat on medium-high speed until frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir with rubber spatula until completely smooth.
  6. To frost the cake, prepare your cake stand or cake plate first: tear off 4 pieces of wax paper or tin foil about 4 inches long and arrange them in a square around your plate.  Place the first cake on the plate, making sure the area in the middle of the plate where the wax paper or tin foil meet are completely covered by the cake.  Frost the top of this first layer, then place the second layer on top of the first and frost the top and sides of the layer cake.  To make the cute swirly pattern, I took the back of a spoon and, with a light and quick touch, made swirly patterns, one swoop at a time with the spoon.

Grandmother’s Southern Poundcake

11 Jul

Handing down family recipes is an important tradition all over the world.  I admit, I’ve not been a big collector of heirloom recipes, but the more I cook, the more I’m realizing I should be.  We all have certain cherished food memories and one of the strongest food memories I have of visiting my grandmother’s house in Georgia (aside from the Lima beans, which I still love) is her pound cake.  I would reach into the big flip top storage freezer and pull out slices of pound cake, scarcely being able to wait even a few minutes before getting another.  When discussing this with my mother in recent weeks, the part I told her I remember most wasn’t the flavor or the texture, but actually the crust–so naturally, the first test as to whether or not I pulled this family recipe off correctly was the sweet crunchy crust.  I’m pleased to say it was a success!  The cake flour gives it an extremely fine crumb that is strangely dense and impossibly light and airy at the same time.  Of course, the crust was just as I remember it.

Like all southern recipes, it’s not for the faint of heart when it comes to healthy eating, but treat this recipe with gentle love and respect–it’s a true heirloom!  The recipe that follows is almost exactly as my Grandmother wrote it down on her recipe card.

Note:  Mom thinks the “secret” ingredient to the pound cake is the added flavorings.  The original recipe calls for McCormick’s Vanilla Butter & Nut flavoring (actually written by Grandmother as “Butternut Flavoring”).  When I couldn’t find it in my grocery store here in SoCal, I called McCormick’s only to be told they don’t sell it within 100 miles of me!  They also told me it was a unique flavoring and nothing could be substituted, but of course, I wasn’t going to let that stop me.  I’ve included the measurements for both the original flavoring, if you can find it (likely if you’re in the South), and my substitution.

Also, in a bid for true authenticity, I purchased an angel food cake tube pan just for this recipe.  I’m sure you could substitute a different pan, filling each pan 2/3 of the way and adjusting the baking time.  This recipe does make a lot of batter, so you will likely have to bake two separate cakes if you use something smaller.

Grandmother’s Southern Pound Cake

  • 1  8 oz package cream cheese
  • 3  sticks butter
  • 3  cups sugar
  • 6  eggs
  • 3  cups cake flour
  • dash of salt
  • 1  teaspoon vanilla butternut flavoring OR
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract + 1/2 teaspoon butter flavoring + 1/4 teaspoon almond flavoring
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Cream together cream cheese, butter and sugar
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg
  4. Fold in flour and salt a little at a time
  5. Add flavorings
  6. Pour batter into an angel food cake tube pan and bake for 1 1/2 hours; it should be golden brown on top and the crust will likely be cracked in a perfect ring right around the middle.

The cake is good for eating just by itself but I think it is truly perfect when served with strawberries and whipped cream (I think I ate this exact thing for dinner all last week…)

Strawberry Marshmallows

23 Jun


Summer is officially here–the calendar says so, even though June means the opposite of beach weather here where I live.  Summer to me means fresh fruit and it means campfires and this recipe combines both with spectacular results!  As you know from my caramel recipe from last week, I am certainly new on the candy making scene, but it really isn’t as scary as I initially thought.  That said, this recipe for marshmallows is just as easy, but certainly a step up if only for the number of steps involved and TOTALLY, without a doubt, worth the effort.  (I might point out that, while kids love candy, candy making isn’t the best idea to do WITH kids–serious boiling liquid and lots of down time doing nothing but staring at sugar waiting to change colors probably aren’t a good match.  Get the kids involved when it’s time to a) cut the marshmallows out with cookie cutters if you choose or b) when it’s time to eat!)

These marshmallows were part 2 of the 3 part thank you gift I gave to my aunt and uncle and I think these were the star of the show!  The boyfriend was heard to say, “these aren’t marshmallows…these are…fluffier…creamier…better…” and then he sort of trailed off while he continued to stare at the one he was eating.  I was impressed that such a little amount of strawberry puree would make such strongly flavored and scented marshmallows–you can smell these from across the room and they are a beautiful vibrant pink until you dust them with the powdered sugar!

I, for one, cannot WAIT to try toasting these over a campfire for s’mores.  Strawberry seems like a great flavor to add to the chocolate and graham cracker flavor profile and these strawberry marshmallows really turn the dial up from “kids treat” to “adult treat”.

Strawberry Marshmallows
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes a 9 x 13 pan, number of marshmallows depends on how small you cut them

  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons Knox unflavored gelatin (in grocery store next to the Jell-O)
  • 1/2 cup cold water, divided
  • 1/2 cup cold strawberry puree
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  1. Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan or dish and dust bottom and sides with confectioners’ sugar.
  2. In a large bowl (I would go with a metal bowl, since the boiling sugar mixture will go into this later and pouring something that hot into plastic always makes me nervous), mix the 1/2 cup strawberry puree with just a little splash of the 1/2 cup of cold water, sprinkle gelatin over mixture and let stand to soften.
  3. In a 3-quart heavy saucepan heat granulated sugar, corn syrup, what’s left of the 1/2 cup of cold water and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium to bring mixture to a boil.  As with the caramel, don’t stir the mixture, just gently swirl the pan occasionally until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F, about 12 minutes (again, as with the caramel, I fashioned a tin foil sling to hold the candy thermometer at the right floating height in the mixture).  Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved and all lumps are gone, just a few minutes.
  4. With an electric mixer, beat the sugar-gelatin mixture on high speed until about tripled in volume.  It will take about 10 minutes and you’re aiming for puffy and thick.  It was quite the experience for me with my little hand mixer–by the time it was almost ready, I couldn’t touch the beaters to the bottom of the bowl anymore because mixture was so much higher in volume now and the sticky marshmallow would crawl up beater arms almost to the motor–which I have to admit is a little scary, because you start to wonder if you’re going to ruin your mixer by getting marshmallow goo in the motor and how are you going to finish your recipe without an electric mixer, much less afford a new one!?
  5. Once your fluff is puffy enough, set the bowl aside and rinse off your beaters with very hot water to make the sugar melt instead of gunking up your sponge.  In a separate medium bowl, beat egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks.  Add the egg whites into the bowl of marshmallow fluff and on low-medium speed, beat the whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined.
  6. Pour mixture into baking pan and, based on every single other food blogger’s suggestion, do not try to get every drop of fluff out of the bowl.  Take a spatula and gently work the mass of fluff out of the bowl and down into the pan; leave the scraps or else you will end up a very sticky mess.  Gently shake the pan to make sure it’s evenly distributed, but resist the urge to smooth out the top of the marshmallow with your spatula.  That will also cause a mess and the swirls, in the end, are quite charming.
  7. Sift 1/4 cup confectioners sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow in the fridge, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to one day.
  8. Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board.  Lift up a corner of the pan and, using your fingers, pry a corner of the marshmallow out and slowly work the rest of the soft slab out onto the cutting board.  With a lightly oiled pizza cutter (or large knife), cut the marshmallow into cubes.  You can also use cookie cutters for fun shapes–the sky’s the limit!  Sift remaining confectioners’ sugar back into your now-empty baking pan, and roll the marshmallows through it in a couple of batches, making sure that all sides of the marshmallow are coated.  If the sugar gets packed down, use a spoon to fluff it again.  I let my marshmallows sit out overnight and they were slightly sticky again in the morning so I re-coated them with the sugar before packing them away.

Panna Cotta

21 Jun

I wondered if I was getting ahead of myself by posting my all-time favorite dessert only a month into my food blog adventure.  But I’m just so beside myself with excitement that I was able to recreate this dessert I thought was impossible to make at home that I really have to share it with you.  I had my first taste of panna cotta in London, in a little Italian restaurant in Exmouth Market, just a block or two from the flat I was staying in for the semester.  I can barely remember the taste or even the texture, but I do remember that I was absolutely in heaven.  Or perhaps eating heaven.

Panna cotta is a delicately flavored (typically with vanilla beans) dessert with a consistency that falls somewhere between Jell-O and pudding.  It’s softer than Jell-O, but firmer than pudding. Panna cotta is typically molded so that it looks just like flan.  The beauty of panna cotta is that you can take it from a fancy molded Italian bistro dessert down to a less fussy yet still classy and beautiful presentation.  The recipe here is pretty strongly of vanilla (it tasted almost like ice cream)–probably because I used vanilla bean paste instead of an actual vanilla bean (see my caramel recipe as to why).  I missed the delicate flavor, but the delicate texture was exactly what I was hoping for and, in the end, this was still one of my biggest triumphs in the kitchen: recreating one of the greatest food memories I have in my heart.

I have to admit, I waited 4 years to even attempt this because I assumed it was a recipe only attempted by the most knowledgeable Italian master chefs.  I give full credit to Miss Nina Baker (no relation) for giving this recipe a try long before I did–and successfully I might add!  Obviously I regret waiting so long now that I know how easy it is to make.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
slightly modified from The Best International Recipe cookbook
serves 5-8, depending on your serving manner

Emily’s Tips: 1) make sure you have 2 trays of ice ready ahead of time or else you’ll be calling your boyfriend and asking him to stop by your apartment to make ice for you before you get home from work.  Your request will be met with confusion.  2) Keep your wits about you.  This is a very simple recipe, despite its appearance.  Just read the recipe thoroughly ahead of time and stay calm during the cooking process.  3) Make sure you’ve got a thermometer handy.

  • 1 cup whole milk (do not substitute skim or low-fat milk)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Knox unflavored gelatin (find it in the market next to the Jell-O)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (2 teaspoons of vanilla extract can be used instead)
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  1. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the milk and let it sit and hydrate, about 10 minutes.
  2. Combine the vanilla bean paste (or extract) and cream in a large measuring cup; set aside. Make a large bowl of ice water using 2 trays of ice cubes and 4 cups cold water; set aside. Set your containers on a baking sheet and set aside.  You can use eight 4 oz ramekins.  I evenly split the recipe up amongst 5 of our tumblers.  The most elegant serving dish?   Wine glasses.  I prefer the look of stemless in this case.
  3. Heat the milk and gelatin mixture over high heat, stirring constantly, until the gelatin is dissolved and the mixture registers 135 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 1/2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the sugar and salt until dissolved, about 1 minute.  Stirring the milk and sugar mixture constantly, slowly add the cream and vanilla mixture (make sure to get all the delicious vanilla that has likely settled to the bottom of the cup by now).
  4. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl (metal if you have it) and set the bowl gently into the ice water. Let the mixture chill, stirring frequently, until it has thickened to the consistency of eggnog and registers 50 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes.
  5. Strain the mixture into a pitcher (I used a tall measuring cup and just refilled a few times), then pour it evenly into the serving dishes.  Shake each dish gently to even the surface.  Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap, making sure that the plastic does not mar the surface of the cream and refrigerate until just set and chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 5 days.
  6. Add your preferred topping just before serving, most commonly a berry coulis, but personally, I just like cutting up fresh strawberries to drop on top.

Vanilla Bean Salted Caramels

16 Jun


So after watching too many people suffer horrible sugar burns on Food Network Challenge, I came to the conclusion that candy making was too scary and too expensive should I end up in the emergency room.  And then, as always, I found a recipe that just looked too good to pass on–I lusted after it for months.  And then, the time came where they would work as a perfect gift.  The stars all aligned and I, Emily, became a candy maker.

As typical, I breezed through the recipe and wondered, really, what was I so afraid of?  This is nothing to say of my cooking skills–I have to read a recipe step 6 times in a row because I’ll miss a teeny part of a step that will ruin a whole dish–it’s more so a commentary on how we all just psyche ourselves out over things that seem difficult and scary but only because we’ve never tried it.  And look at what happens when you give things a whirl: homemade caramels!  Super impressive and much more delicious than the cheap cubes that have been sitting in the grocery store since last Halloween (even Rolo caramel filling isn’t as good as it used to be).  So without further ado….

Vanilla Bean Salted Caramels
slightly modified from Annie’s Eats
makes an 8×8 inch pan; actual count is based on how big you cut the pieces

Emily’s Notes:  You will need a candy thermometer; they’re about $5 at the grocery store.    I adore Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste.  It’s not so much a paste–it has the consistency of maple syrup and TOTALLY worth the $8 at Williams-Sonoma.  When it’s $10 for one single vanilla bean, why wouldn’t you buy this instead with similar results?  The bottle lasted me about a year.  I use it in place of regular vanilla when I want fancy little specks in whatever I’m making and when I want a stronger vanilla flavor than just extract (you’ll want a tiny spatula to make sure you get every drop of the paste out of the measuring spoon).  Furthermore, this blog was almost titled something with “Vanilla” in it because I. LOVE. VANILLA.  It is the finest of the flavors.  Whenever I make a recipe, I always fill the measuring spoon over the mixing bowl and let it spill over in a faux “whoops!” moment, hence the “and then some” in the ingredient list.  I’ll bet I get as much as twice the vanilla I’m supposed to sometimes…but it’s delicious.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract (and then some)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (and then some)
  • 1¼ tsp. fleur de sel, or other fancy salt, plus more for garnish
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup water
  1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Lightly butter the parchment.  (I recently discovered “Martha Wrap” at the grocery store: parchment paper on one side, foil on the other so you get the non-stick parchment benefits, but it’s stiff like foil so you can line a pan with it and it will actually STAY PUT! Genius!)
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, butter, vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, and fleur de sel.  Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Stir often, to keep the paste moving around in the mixture.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water.  Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.  Boil, without stirring but gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the mixture is a light golden caramel color.  Keep an eye on it–I stayed in the kitchen and washed the dishes I’d dirtied while it boiled.  It was clearish for forever and then I turned away just as it was starting to brown slightly–when I turned back after cleaning a dish,  it was already approaching too dark!  At this point, I took a picture of the pot and sent it to my boyfriend saying “Look what I’m playing with!  The boiling contents of this pot will give you third degree burns!”.  Seriously, once you’re in the middle of the process you’ve already forgotten that this is supposedly scary and hard to do and you are instead confident enough to joke about it.
  4. Vigorously stir the cream mixture for a moment or two, to re-distribute the vanilla beans,  and carefully stir the cream mixture into the caramel –  pour slowly and stir constantly.  Continue simmering the mixture until it registers 248˚ F on a candy thermometer (I fashioned a little tin foil rope sling so that it stayed upright in the pot–don’t let the tip touch the bottom of the pot, make sure it’s floating somewhere in the middle of the sugar syrup).
  5. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into the prepared pan.  Tap the pan gently on the counter to get all the air bubbles rising towards the top.  Let cool for 30 minutes, then sprinkle lightly with additional fleur de sel–I have Balinese Sea Salt from Williams-Sonoma that I love (even got my roommate seeing the light on fancy salt!), but it’s huge pyramids.  I ground it up with a mortar and pestle so the grains were finer for sprinkling.
  6. Pop in the fridge and continue to let sit until completely set and cooled.  I used a buttered pizza cutter to slice them.  Wax paper is ideal for wrapping them–you can cut them into squares and wrap them like Christmas presents, or you can cut them into small rectangles and wrap them like Tootsie Rolls!  Personally, I like the smaller Tootsie Roll method: perfect bite size and easier to wrap.

These will make pretty soft caramels that will stretch when you try to pull pieces off (which is why I prefer the smaller Tootsie Roll size).  They will hold their shape for the most part, but are easy to roll up into the wrappers and then conform to the round shape.  I made them as a gift, and they were well received, thankfully, so I highly suggest it.  I actually made three recipes that night after I got home from work (and went to bed at a decent hour), which is a testament to how easy these are that I could squeeze them in.

I left the caramels out on the kitchen counter for a few days and during those few days the weather in Beach-town, USA turned cloudy and humid (humid, at least, for SoCal).  They got a little greasy and melty, which I hear is common caramel behavior for humidity, so all my friends in the South–hurry and make this before you start getting 100% humidity days.  Which also means…save this recipe and don’t forget these for Christmas time!

Chewy Chai-Spiced Sugar Cookies

8 Jun
Chai-Spiced Sugar Cookies

I know you guys were salivating over the placeholder picture of these cookies I had up for 6 months before actually getting a chance to start my blog…and here’s the recipe finally!  I’ve had a super busy week and I’m preparing to head over to New Hampshire for my cousin’s graduation on Friday, so I’ve been running around like crazy trying to get ready.  So with that said, please forgive me for just the one brief post this week, and a not very personalized one at that.   In the recipe’s defense, Cook’s put together a recipe so flawless that it doesn’t need any adjustments from me anyway and you should not hesitate to whip up a batch as soon as you can.  The long ingredient list is daunting, but not so scary once you realize that most of it is just spices that make the cookies delicious.  I brought a batch of these into the spa I go to and they were gone before my nails were dry!  A sophisticated twist on the well-known sugar cookie.

Chewy Chai-Spiced Sugar Cookies
recipe from Cook’s Illustrated November 2010
Makes 2 dozen cookies

[Cook’s Note: The final dough will be slightly softer than most cookie dough. For the best results, handle the dough as briefly and gently as possible when shaping the cookies. Overworking the dough will result in flatter cookies.]

  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. Place 1 ½ cups sugar, cream cheese, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and black pepper in large bowl. Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in shallow baking dish or pie plate and set aside. Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later). Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft homogeneous dough forms.
  3. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces, about 2 tablespoons each (or use #40 portion scoop). Using hands, roll dough into balls. Working in batches, roll balls in reserved sugar to coat and evenly space on prepared baking sheet, 12 dough balls per sheet. Using bottom of drinking glass, flatten dough balls until 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops evenly with 4 teaspoons of sugar remaining in shallow dish (2 teaspoons per tray), discarding any remaining sugar.
  4. Bake, 1 tray at a time, until edges are set and just beginning to brown (don’t overbake! – EB), 11 to 13 minutes, rotating tray after 7 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets 5 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.
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