Saturday, January 30, 2010

Graham I am

From wong food!

I feel it is only natural that when there are tons of very urgent and important things to take care of, the best way to establish order amongst chaos should be to bake.

However, when that baking is your very favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe at 10pm at night, when you're stressed and thinking that you *deserve* to eat a quarter of the cookie dough, then this may be an exception. No matter how delicious the recipe may be. That's for another post.

Of course today I had yet more important things to take care of, so to make myself feel better I looked at food blogs. One of my favorites is called "food loves writing", and one of her recent posts was on Graham Crackers.

"graham crackers? what an interesting idea. hmm what am I going to make for dinner tonight, did I get the mail already...?"

Obviously I'm focused. I looked at two more blogs and strangely enough they, too, had Graham Crackers.
Well surely this is a sign. And so I made delicious Graham Crackers.

Graham Crackers, from food loves writing

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup chilled unsalted butter cut into cubes
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup sugar plus more for sprinkling
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Mix all dry ingredients in food processor. Add butter and mix until crumbs form. Then add honey and molasses and mix thoroughly. Lastly, add milk and vanilla.
  2. Roll out dough onto floured silpat. The thinner, the crispier, though as Shannalee notes, much less than 1/4" will make them *very* crispy.
  3. Chill for 15 minutes, cut into shapes and pierce with a fork. Bake 350 for 20 minutes.

Pretzel time is always a good time

From wong food!

The previous week I had a failed attempt at English Muffins.

I haven't quite mastered bread baking. I'm in love with the way bread baking should look in my head, like Helen from the All Things Bright and Beautiful series. I should be up to my arms in flour, making bread for my family as my future husband walks in the door of my quaint country home.

Well, I'm certainly getting flour everywhere, and my future husband does walk in the door, but my stand mixer does most of the kneading these days and our quaint country home is a small apartment in San Diego. Almost quaint, right? Almost country, right?

Anyway, the week before I had tried and failed to make english muffins, and I got slightly discouraged. AND I used the very last of the yeast we had. Well, I'm not going to let some little microorganisms get the best of ME at baking! So off to Costco to buy an extraordinarily large and cheap bag of Red Star Active Dry yeast. Naturally, I had to test it out, and boost my confidence again.

It was pretzel time.

I used the "Buttery soft pretzels" recipe in the above link. Here are my personal notes:
  • I actually used 3.5 cups of white flour and 1.5 cups of whole wheat flour.
  • You can let the dough proof for a looooong time in it's first rise. I accidentally did 3 hours.
  • Roll the pretzel rope out THIN. I mean, pencil thin. seriously. You think it looks okay? No, go roll it thinner.
  • After you make the pretzel shape, lay the dough on the baking sheet with the tails of the pretzel underneath the dough. It keeps them from rising up and off of the rest of the dough.
  • I would let them bench proof an additional 10-15 minutes on the baking sheet, after you've formed the shape.
  • Brush them with butter after they've come out of the oven.

My confidence definitely came back when my pre-husband exclaimed that these were my best batch yet.

A Belated Christmas Party

From wong food!

So it's mid-January, I'm settling back into San Diego after a stint in the Bay Area. The Christmas spirit is waning as I throw away the boxes from my last few presents when I get a phone call from my friend K.

"...sooooo I really wanted to have a christmas party this year but wasn't able to get it together BEFORE christmas, so I'm having it this weekend. Can you come?"

pshh, like I would pass an opportunity to see my best friend, much less attend an event that extends all things wonderful: fuzzy sweaters, presents, and baking.

I had just finished reading my Real Simple christmas magazine and came across this recipe. What timing! And I hadn't found a sugar cookie I liked much until this one.

Basic Sugar Cookie Dough- adapted from Real Simple
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the work surface
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. In your stand mixer, mix all the wet ingredients, then gradually add all the dry ingredients until a stiff dough has formed.
  2. Lay down a sheet of parchment paper, put half the dough dough and lay another sheet of parchment on top. Roll it out to about 1/4" thick. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
  3. Cut each slab of dough into a square shape. Eat the scraps :)
  4. Freeze for about an hour.
  5. Take out slabs and cut into 2" squares. Work quickly, as the dough will soften up reallllll fast and it gets gooey. Move the baby squares to a baking pan and bake for 12-15 minutes, until just browned on the edges.
  6. While the cookies cool, start up a double boiler and melt some dark chocolate until smooth. Throw a small pat of butter in there, maybe a tablespoon. (Just a warning here: DO NOT let any water get into your chocolate or it will seize. Do not try to make it milk chocolate by adding half and half, it doesn't have enough fat. I *may* have done this and it didn't work well...)
  7. Dip your cookies in the melted chocolate and lay down on a silpat or parchment paper. I actually just grazed the top of the cookie over the chocolate.
  8. Crush up some candy canes and sprinkle on top.
  9. Let cool thoroughly and eat until sick.

Caramel Chocolate Chunk Bread Pudding

I am a big fan of Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding but it turns out that Ryan likes this recipe for Caramel Chocolate Chunk Bread Pudding better. It is a little less sweet. I can't decide. I love the croissant taste but I agree that this recipe with caramel is a little less sweet which is more to my taste buds... perhaps a mixture of both recipes.

Caramel Chocolate Chunk Bread Pudding

1 pound french or broiche bread cut into 1" cubes
2 oz melted butter
1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp dark rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
3.5 oz dark chocolate
3.5 oz caramel sauce

1) Combine bread and melted butter. Spread cubes in a 9x13 baking pan and place in oven (350 degrees) until toasted (4-5 min). Remove from oven and let cool.
2) Mix cream, eggs, egg yolks, sugar, rum and vanilla. Pour over bread cubes and coat bread until completely soaked.

3) Layer bread in 9x5 loaf pan. Sprinkle chocolate chunks and drizzle caramel. Repeat layers with the remaining bread, chocolate and caramel.

4) Bake at 350 degrees until custard is set. About 20 min.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Christmas Treats, Part 2

In part 2 of the Jen Wong Christmas Treats story, I bring you the second candy-like item I made for the holiday ...

Oreo Truffles!!

Sooooo easy! I had seen the recipe floating around the internet for a couple of years now but never had an opportunity to make them. I seem to be a last-minute baker who is making something the night before an event and since these required refrigeration, they usually got pushed off for another occasion.

Like the peanut butter cups, there is no baking required and they are super easy. THREE INGREDIENTS! Just Oreos, cream cheese, and chocolate.

Since I'm a Trader Joe's fan, I bought Jo-Jo's, the chocolate-sandwich cookies that strangely resemble Oreos... This time of year they also have a mint version so I decided to make mint oreo truffles as well.

Oreo Truffles (from Kraft)

1 package (1 lb. 2 oz.) Oreo Cookies, finely crushed, divided
1 8 oz package cream Cheese, softened [I used light]
1 lb dark chocolate

Remove 6 Oreos. Grind in a food processor into crumbs. Set aside.

Grind the remaining Oreos and cream cheese in a food processor. Refrigerate at least one hour.

Roll into 1" balls.

Dip balls into melted chocolate. Coat until covered, then remove and let dry on waxed paper. Sprinkle reserved cookie crumbs on top of truffle. Refrigerate until set.

Store leftover truffles in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

Peppermint variation!

For the mint version, I used mint Jo-Jos, and added about a teaspoon of peppermint extract to the chocolate coating. I sprinkled crushed peppermint candies on top for decoration.

I used forks to roll the balls around in chocolate, which worked well, but I had some trouble with fork tine-marks along the sides of some of them. Just noting in case beauty is an issue...

They were so well-received, I had to make more the following weekend!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fattening the Belly with Cinnamon Rolls

I am a little down today so I feel like fattening up the belly with some homemade cinnamon rolls. I can't really take credit for the recipe since we got it from Ryan's mom. I changed around the recipe a bit to fit my style...

1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup water
1 pkg rapid rise yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
3 cups flour

1. Warm milk in small saucepan until it bubbles. Remove from heat and mix in butter until melted.
2. Add water and let cool until lukewarm.
3. Add flour, sugar, salt, egg, and yeast into bread machine. Pour milk/butter/water mixture into bread machine.
4. Set bread machine to dough setting. (Add flour if needed.)

1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup softened butter (I'd use less... maybe 2-3 tbsp)
Optional Nuts (I am a big fan of nuts and used pecans but I'm sure walnuts would taste great too.)

1. Turn dough out onto floured cutting board. Roll into 12x9 inch rectangle.
2. Mix cinnamon and brown sugar in bowl
3. Spread dough with softened butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture.
4. Roll up dough and slice into 12 1" slices.
5. Place rolls into 9x13" greased baking dish.
6. Cover and let rise until almost doubled. (About 1-1.5 hrs)
7. Bake for 20-25 min at 375 degrees.

1 cup confectioners sugar
1.5 oz cream cheese softened
1/2 tbsp butter softened
1/4 tsp vanilla extra (I like to use almond extract instead.)
1.5 tbsp milk

1. Combine confectioner's sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla.
2. Add milk gradually until frosting reaches a spreading consistency.
3. Spread over warm (but not hot) cinnamon rolls.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Christmas Treats, Part 1

Yes I realize it is JANUARY but obviously I am behind in posting. Anyway, if I posted ahead of time, then the surprise would be ruined! Um yeeeeah, that's the story I'm sticking to.

Every year around October or November, I embark the yearly tradition of making treat items for close family and friends. Sometimes they are old recipes that I love, and other times they are brand-new and I'm hoping they are a hit! It's a lot of work and even though every freaking year I swear I will NEVER do it again, somehow I end up in the kitchen burning the midnight oil.

This year I made some old favorites: Cook's Illustrated gingerbread cookies, almond toffee (dark chocolate, thank you), and chocolate-orange cookies. But this year I made a couple of new ones as well. The first...

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups!

(I just realized I have pictures of the steps but no pictures of the resulting product! Boo)

Now, you may be asking yourself, why the heck would you want to make your own peanut butter cups when Reese's peanut butter cups are so easily available (and undoubtedly cheaper)? Well, I'll tell you... (1) the novelty (I like to bake for fun okay?) and (2) because there aren't as many ingredients I don't recognize. TBHQ anyone?

I followed this recipe from Baking Bites because it seemed simple enough. The only change I made was to use all crunchy peanut butter because honestly, who keeps two types of peanut butter in their pantry? It was a relatively easy process, except somewhat time-consuming because each stage involved refrigerating the cups to get the chocolate to harden. You want to make these on a nice, lazy afternoon. Not at uh, 10 pm. Not that I know what that is like.

I also found that I ended up using A LOT of chocolate overall. Definitely not cheaper than the Hershey product since I was using higher quality chocolate.

The resulting product didn't taste like a Reese's Peanut Butter cup. It didn't quite have that sickly sweet junk food taste. It tasted more like something from a gourmet chocolate shop, with a crunchy bite to the chocolate and chunks of gooey peanut butter inside. Delicious!

I want to try them with almond butter next time...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Torch me!

R got a creme brulee set for Christmas. While I'm generally not a fan of creme brulee (yes, even at Donovan's), I told him I'd make the custards and we'd torch them together.

I wasn't quite sure what was in creme brulee but when I started looking for recipes, I became even less of a fan. The basic mixture consists of heavy cream, egg yolks, and sugar. Can we say heart attack?

I decided on making Alton Brown's version since I generally enjoy his recipes. It wasn't difficult at all and in 15 minutes, I was ready to fill the ramekins.

Unfortunately, the ramekins that came in the creme brulee set were impossibly tiny and I ended up with WAY more custard than ramekins! They might have held all of 2 ounces each. I had reserved 2 ramekins for myself (more on that later), and luckily had a couple of 4 oz ramekins, but even after that, I still had mixture left! I ended up filling a pie plate with the rest. Yes, it's a creme brulee lover's fantasy!

I didn't want to ingest the high quantities of cream and egg yolks so I made my own vegan version out of tofu. Mmmmm.... tofu. You laugh, but it was a tasty substitute! I realize it doesn't look appetizing either but the brown color is from the cinnamon! Jeez.

I also didn't have enough roasting pans for all of the ramekins so I couldn't bake all of them in the water bath as directed. I found out why the water bath is necessary.... without it, the top of the custard browns slightly and it looks almost as if it already had sugar on it. Oh well, I wasn't serving this to anyone so it didn't matter. This one was obviously done with the water bath. I love the little flecks of vanilla beans.
The custards baked up and I left them in the fridge overnight. The following evening, R came over with the torch. We dusted them with sugar and went at it.

He went a little crazy with the sugar so it is more burned-looking than it should be. He gave his seal of approval though. He was ready to eat 3 of them!

Good GF points = 100.
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