Monday, April 27, 2009

Perfection in a Bar: Samoa Bars

So Girlscout season came and went, and all I was left with was one box of Samoas, my all time favorite girl scout cookies. Sure, tag-a-longs are good, and thin mints are a close runners-up, but be serious. Samoas are the best. Coconut, caramel and chocolate is possibly the most awesome flavor combination there is. While perusing Tastespotting, as I do almost daily these days, I kept noticing gorgeous pictures of homemade samoas, and then samoa bars. Samoa bars...yum. All the flavors of samoas without having to use two completely different sized cookie cutters and rolling pins and other kitchen equipment I was simply not inspired to use at the time. Sometimes I love a good complex recipe that allows me to show off my creative genius. Other times I just want something quick, relatively easy, and oh so fulfilling. This recipe definitely fits into the latter. I used a homemade Samoa cookie recipe by Baking Bites.
While these bar cookies aren't that hard to make, I will definitely offer some suggestions on issues I ran into while making and eating these cookies.
  1. Keep the dough as thin as possible while maintaining some structural integrity. I know this is a tough line to navigate, but I did feel like the shortbread was a bit thick on my cookies. Also, I may use the shortbread recipe on the actual Samoa Bar recipe Baking Bites has, and not the recipe for the cookies. The shortbread recipes are a little bit different, and I think using the bar version will lead to a shortbread that sticks together better when cut and dipped, as mine had a tendency to fall apart, especially when dipped in the chocolate. (Still tasted great though, once you chew it a couple times it all gets to the same state of destruction.) The dough will puff slightly as it cooks, so I would even recommend erring on the thinner side than the thicker one.
  2. Pour the coconut mixture on while the shortbread is still rather hot, and while the caramels are still hot and melted. Mine started to cool just a bit too much and it made it difficult to spread evenly. I ended up with a thick part in the center. Reheat the caramel/coconut mixture if necessary to ensure easy spreadability. The thicker this layer, the harder to cut- leading to fragmented shortbread, and the harder to chew, leading to sore jaws.
  3. Keep the chocolate as hot as possible. I'm not sure if there's a way to thin out chocolate, but if you know the secret, please, let me know and use it to dip the cookies in. The chocolate was so heavy (for lack of a better word) that the cookie would stick to the chocolate and fall apart instead of sticking to the coconut.
  4. Be careful. Once you eat one, you'll want to eat the whole batch. They're THAT good.

Homemade Samoas Bars
Cookie Base:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

First, make the crust.
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan, or line with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Working at a low speed, gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly, like wet sand. The dough does not need to come together. Pour crumbly dough into prepapred pan and press into an even layer.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until base is set and edges are lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before topping.

3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz good-quality chewy caramels
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
10 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are ok)

Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (preferably one with sides) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.
Put dollops of the topping all over the shortbread base. Using the spatula, spread topping into an even layer. Let topping set until cooled.
When cooled, cut into 30 bars with a large knife or a pizza cutter (it’s easy to get it through the topping).
Once bars are cut, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Heat on high in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring thoroughly to prevent scorching. Dip the base of each bar into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment or wax paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle bars with chocolate to finish.
Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes 30 bar cookies.

DB: Cheesecake! Delish...

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I was excited to see Cheesecake as this month's Daring Baker's challenge! As usual every month I get a little apprehensive with the challenges. Always something just a bit out of my comfort zone. Things I like to eat, but not necessarily make. Close to something I know or have tried, but always just out of the reach of familiarity. I've made little cheesecakelets, but never made a whole cake at once, never made the crust, and never dealt with a water bath or a springform pan. The concept of something needing a water bath scares me away from pursuing that recipe. I didn't even have a springform pan until I stole one of my mom's a few months ago because she had two. The pan is a square one, nontraditional, but its what my mom had in her closet. The square pan was problematic when it came to the water bath.

This cheesecake was easy to assemble and bake. Much less complicated than I expected. There was not much clean up and very few steps involved. There were many different variations on the original cheesecake. Part of the challenge was to take a basic Cheeecake recipe and make it our own. We were supposed to put a personal spin on the recipe, so if you read other Daring Bakers you'll see thousands of cheesecake ideas, from vegan to double decker, there's something different for every one! I decided on the Key Lime Cheesecake with a chocolate graham crust. Refreshing and citrusy, perfect for all the hot weather we've been having! Today is supposed to get up to 94 degrees! I made a chocolate graham crust, that ended up being chocolate Teddy Grahams, Graham Crackers and Vanilla Wafers ground. I was short on the Teddy Grahams, and then only had a few graham crackers, and just enough vanilla wafers to make the needed 2 cups. Here's the cake in the pan. You can see a couple spots where the Saran Wrap touched the top and pulled out a divot, and a nibble mark on the side where my mom and I tasted it while it was still cooling. We couldn't wait hours and hours for it to cool down, we needed to know how it was Right THEN!

The side view, you can see the chocolate graham crust. It's a teensy bit soggy, I don't think my springform pan is 100% waterproof.
Yum! the cake is sooo good! When I pulled out the first piece I took a fork and went to town on the cake in the pan. It was delicious! Light, refreshing, creamy summery treat. The lime taste comes through strong but not overpowering.
I will definitely make this Cheesecake again, probably with a different variation, caramel apple sounds good right? MmmMmmm. As always, check out all the Daring Baker's creations, they are truly amazing!

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:

2 cups / 180 g graha
m cracker crumbs (Or combo chocolate Teddy Grahams, graham crackers, and vanilla wafers)
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
3 tbsp. Lime juice

Zest of 1 lime

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Easter Bunny Butts!

We had a few people down to the Farm for Easter this year, and my dad recommended cupcakes. Chocolate and the Brown Sugar Martha Poundcakes. The poundcakes were hard to jazz up, but it didn't matter because they went FAST. The chocolate ones though, I though how can I make these cute! I immediately got out my new Hello Cupcake! book and began flipping through. I love this book! It tells you how to create these ornate cupcakes using ordinary candy. It's a good primer for cupcake decoration. It helps stimulate creativity, and gives good ideas how to use candy to create new designs. In the end it was a toss up between the Easter Eggs and the Bunny Butts. I'm not sure what they call the Bunny Butts in the book, I don't have it with me right now, but some of the cupcakes are made to look like grass and the others like holes with bunnies jumping into them.

Now that's a happy face! YUMMM!
...and a bluebird nest inside the grill at the Farm. What pretty eggs!

Delinquent Me

I apologize to those who have been to this blog, expecting to see some new food. Things have been a bit crazy for me. I was admitted to the hospital for Pulmonary Emboli (blood clots in my lungs) so that shut down things for a week or two while I laid around the house and tried to stop by chest from having stabbing pain every time I inhaled. Then Easter hit, and I'm just now getting everything back to normal. Thankfully I'm doing fine now, no more pain, no more symptoms, just drugs for a few months. I can handle once a day meds as long as I'm better. Anyhoo, the point of this post is to say that I admit to my delinquency and will be resuming order here at Chubb momentarily.

Monday, April 6, 2009

What Lies Beneath that Foil Wrapper and Wholesome Looking White Frosting?

It looks just like a mild mannered cupcake. White frosting, rainbow sprinkles. Nothing too crazy. Boy does it have you fooled! This is the Clark Kent of cupcakes! When you take off that wrapper- BAM! Psychedelic colorful swirls!
How fun is that?? For my friend Peter's birthday I decided to make some awesomely colorful tie-dyed cupcakes using an inspiration I saw on Tastespotting. I figured I'd also kill two birds with one stone and make another of Martha's Cupcakes. I went with basic yellow. Who can go wrong with yellow cake, especially when you're gonna color it all up! Here's the cake recipe:
Tie Dyed Psychadelic Yellow Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Sprinkles, for decorating
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line the cupcake tin. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a liquid-measuring cup, mix milk and vanilla; set aside.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer on low speed, add half of dry ingredients, followed by milk-vanilla mixture, then remaining dry ingredients. Do not overmix.
Separate batter into smaller bowls, one for each color you have. Add food coloring to each bowl.
Spoon about a tablespoon or so of each color into each liner so that each color is represented and cups are about 3/4 full.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool cupcakes 5 minutes in tin, then remove and cool completely on a rack before frosting.
Prepare frosting: in a medium bowl, with an electric mixer, beat unsalted butter, confectioners' sugar, milk, and vanilla extract until smooth. Mix in up to 1/2 cup more sugar or a few more teaspoons of milk as necessary to achieve a spreadable consistency. Makes enough for 12 cupcakes.
Aren't they great! I love how this one has a wave like pattern. See that one little crater in the middle? It happened in every cupcake! Isn't that weird? Anyways...Here's Peter enjoying a cupcake!
Yum! These cupcakes turned out great! A bit dense, probably the mixing in of the colors and stuff deflated the air bubbles a bit, but definitely tasty. The colors were amazing. I'd make them again just for the colors! I can't wait to experiment with different flavors in the different colors. Lemon for yellow, lime for green, strawberry for red. Could be a fruit salad in a cupcake!