Chocolate rugelach

It's always wonderful to try something new in the kitchen and so satisfying when it works out and you discover something delicious to share with your family.  This time, it was rugelach for me!  
I saw Molly Yeh make this recipe for chocolate rugelach on her cooking show recently and I really wanted to give it a try, so I did.  I love it when inspiration hits like that - you see something you think you and your family would like to eat, it looks do-able, and actually turns out to be the case.
I've heard of and seen rugelach before but this was a first taste for me.  Rugelach might be loosely referred to as a cookie but it's really a pastry filled with, in this case, chocolate, but also with many other possibilities such as jam, nuts, cinnamon-sugar, or fruit.  They're a Jewish pastry often made during holidays like Hanukkah but they are surely tasty enough for everyone to enjoy, anytime.  

The pastry is buttery and flaky, unique in that it also includes cream cheese which make it extra tender and adds an extra bit of flavor.  Rugelach are often crescent shaped but these simple rolled pinwheels seem an easier version for me to tackle.  
I tackled it by making a small-batch, which should yield about a dozen rugelach (I ended up with ten but I'll be sure to improve my dough-rolling skills next time because we were clamoring for more).  After making the pastry dough and rolling it out to a thin sheet, it was very satisfying to spread it with a layer of chocolate, then rolling it up tightly and slicing into individual portions that reveal the mesmerizing pinwheel swirl inside.  Prompted by Molly Yeh's love of sprinkles, I decorated some of mine with chocolate sprinkles as well as colorful sanding sugar.  
I had fun making these despite my usual hesitation when it comes to working with pastry dough.  They're fun to look at and so tasty to eat.  If you like hand pies, pastry, chocolate, and having your kitchen smell like chocolate croissants while this is baking - try a batch of rugelach for yourself some time soon!



Bakery style double chocolate muffins

Let's return to chocolate, shall we?  I think that's always a good idea!
While it's pretty quiet here in this little blog space, my kitchen is keeping busy and continues to turn out a fairly steady stream of baked goods.  As always, the majority of what I bake involves chocolate since it's my very favorite thing (and my family is rather partial to it as well).  Recently, I discovered this great bakery style chocolate muffin recipe that I can now add to my muffin repertoire.  And as far as I'm concerned, one can never have too many muffin recipes since they play versatile roles as breakfast, snack, or dessert!
My muffins are baked in standard size tins but if you make jumbo versions of these, they really could slot right onto a bakery or coffee shop counter.  These double chocolate muffins are moist yet sturdy and firm.  All importantly, they have that crusty, firm top that I associate with bakery muffins.  
We love trying new muffins, especially when they're chocolate ones!  These chocolate muffins not only look the part but have plenty of serious chocolate flavor, which is so important.  Dark cocoa, a combination of chocolate chunks and chips, as well as a little espresso powder, really drives the chocolate flavor home.


Dabbling in dim sum, continued

After my last post, I continued to dabble some more in dim sum-making at home.  It's fun to challenge myself to try something new and, lately, it's been dim sum and Chinese food making beyond what I'm used to.  
If you like seafood, chances are steamed shrimp dumplings (or "har gow") are a must when it comes to dim sum.  They're sometimes called "crystal shrimp dumplings", referring to their signature translucent skin from which you can see the coral pink of the shrimp peeking through.  It's a dim sum classic and something I always get when I'm having dim sum at a Chinese restaurant.
This har gow project was definitely a challenge but worth the effort to, in the end, get to sit down with my husband and enjoy our own homemade har gow in the comfort of home.  It's just neat to learn how things are made.  And it turns out, the har gow skin is made from a combination of wheat starch and cornstarch; I had to make the dough three times to get it right but it was due to my own error and mix up.  In the end, I still found the dough difficult/fragile to handle but using a little extra wheat starch helped the maneuverability and I plowed on...
The filling was a lot simpler to whip together.  The shrimp is the star but it's also important to get your hands on a can of bamboo shoots because it's a must in this recipe and not to be omitted, as those bamboo shoots give the har gow a distinct crunch.  
The dough being a lot harder (stickier than I expected, easy to break) to maneuver than I expected, I exercised as much patience and care as I could muster in pleating and shaping the har gow and somehow managed to put some into my steamer basket!  
Luckily, a lot of flaws are hidden after steaming and I thought my homemade har gow looked the part (admittedly, expectations were low going in).  They may not be restaurant-quality (the skin being a little too thick and not as supple as they should be; not to mention general appearance as far as pleating goes) but they were pretty close to the real thing.  I loved the flavor of the filling and thought that was spot on.   

Now bamboo-steamer expeditions aside, sometimes you order off the menu when you go for dim sum.  If it's around the lunch hour, the kitchen opens up to provide heartier fare and they start taking orders for other dishes - particularly noodles.  One of my favorites is saucy beef ho fun (flat) noodles.


Dabbling in dim sum

Trying new things keeps life interesting in the kitchen.  Among the fails and dishes that I'd probably only make once, there's always the possibility of discovering a new family favorite.  I also just love learning how my favorite foods are made.  It's like uncovering the magician's secret and, oftentimes, the "trick" is not nearly as hard as I imagined (though sometimes, it is).

Most of the time, my cooking experiments are spurred on by things I like to eat, something delicious we had at a restaurant, or some kind of food memory.  Inspiration is everywhere and there is no lack of it!  One of my inspirations have been the great Chinese-food blog, The Woks of LifeI've been able to re-create some of our favorite Cantonese dishes thanks to their very authentic recipes.  Lately, it tempted me into dabbling in a little dim sum-making at home!

First up, Chinese Sausage Buns...
Chinese sausage buns before steaming
Growing up, we routinely went out for dim sum on the weekends.  I have to be honest...I often dreaded it because it meant crowds and long waits as hoards of people descend on their favorite/local dim sum spot, which just happens to be yours as well.  It's still like that in many places and I don't go out for dim sum all that often but, of course, much of the food is the stuff of my childhood food memories.  One such was the Chinese sausage bun.  You might not be familiar with it if you didn't grow up eating it.  It's now practically extinct; I can't remember the last time I ate one or saw them being offered in a dim sum restaurant or Chinese bakery.  

Apparently, other people share my nostalgia because The Woks of Life has a recipe and I thought I'd give it a try.  Before this endeavor, I didn't own a bamboo steamer.  I quickly equipped myself and began my little dim sum project.
Chinese sausage buns steamed and ready to eat!
Working with yeast dough is always a bit daunting but at least in this case, I could focus on the dough since the Chinese sausages themselves are bought, ready to use after steaming.  Once I got the hang of working the dough and rolling it out, these Chinese sausage buns weren't that hard to make!  I thought it tasted like childhood - the distinctly sweet yet savory Chinese sausage encased in the soft bun was spot on!

Then I attempted Steamed Roast Pork Buns...

I moved on and thought I'd challenge myself with my son's favorite dim sum item, the roast pork bun.  This project did not go quite as well.
I had a hard time with the dough but tried to make it work, with the end result above
Making the filling was relatively easy, as I bought the main ingredient - the roast pork.  I had trouble with the dough.  It was dry and tough, making it difficult to roll and shape.  I wish I could say I knew exactly what I did wrong or could do next time to mitigate the issues but I really can't.  I think steamed roast pork buns will have to be enjoyed at dim sum restaurants (luckily, still readily available).
The saving grace is while my homemade buns might not have looked or been like the prototype, they were still infinitely edible.  No buns were wasted, and if the buns themselves were a little dense and not fluffy as they were supposed to be, my family (particularly, my husband) insisted they were great.  The flavor of the filling and the sweetness was there - I was missing that lofty bun texture.  All in, it was a great learning experience and I will be sure to appreciate the roast pork buns a lot more when I next have one at a restaurant.


Chestnut croissant

On one of our recent brunch outings, we went to Maialino, where I finally had one of their signature olive oil muffins (it was as good as I expected and it inspired me to bake up a batch back home a few days later).  Before going to the restaurant, I looked online at their menu and spotted something really interesting: "chestnut croissant".  I was so excited because (1) I love all things chestnut (just type in "chestnut" in my search function on the right-hand side of the page to see what I mean) and (2) I'd never had such a thing, and really wanted to! 
But when I next looked back at the menu, the chestnut croissant had disappeared.  It sounds crazy but I almost feel like I imagined it!  Well...there was only one thing to do since I've never seen chestnut croissant anywhere and that was to make it myself at home.  Sometimes an idea gets in my head and I just have to give it a go and this was one of those things.      
So I took inspiration from when I last made almond croissants and did a pretty simple version of chestnut croissant for breakfast this weekend.  It really helps if you have a stash of chestnut cream in your house like I do (otherwise, you can source it online).

To have your own chestnut croissant, all you have to do is take day-old croissants, split it, and soak it in a rum sugar syrup.  Then spread some chestnut cream/spread inside, and brush a little on the surface for fun.  Bake for about 15 minutes and you have it!  It's really easy since you're mainly working with store-bought ingredients, but with a little twist, you end up with something really special.

I'm here to say chestnut croissant is a really, really good thing! 


Ina's triple chocolate loaf cakes

New year, and much of the same routines here!  I'm thrilled with that because I'm very lucky to be able to enjoy and indulge in my favorite pastimes of cooking, baking, and eating.  Here's to happy cooking and feasting in the new year, and always!

Like so many people, I'm a fan of Ina Garten's and adore watching her cooking show.  I'm no expert but there's something about an Ina Garten recipe that usually manages to surprise you a little bit even when you already expect it to be good.  Her recipes are clearly well thought out and whatever it is we're cooking or baking, she's figured out a way to squeeze out, or amplify, every bit of flavor possible.
So you don't have to twist my arm to try one of Ina's recipe - particularly when it involves chocolate!  For a chocoholic like me, it's nearly impossible to resist a recipe called "triple chocolate loaf cakes".  And you can be sure that if Ina's offering a chocolate recipe, it's going to be unmistakably chocolate.  Here, bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened cocoa (along with a touch of coffee) bloom in boiling water to create the foundation for these cakes.  Then, chocolate chunks or chips add another decadent and delicious dimension.  I opted out of adding walnuts to these loaf cakes.  Personally, I adore nuts in baked goods but I was making them to share with others and went with a nut-free version.
This recipe makes 2 regular-size loaf cakes.  I made 4 smaller loaves so I could share with friends.  To offset our smaller slices, we just had to cut ourselves an extra one, which was easy enough.  

This moist, chocolaty cake satisfied my daily chocolate craving.  I love the light yet almost fudgy texture to the cake, and the serious chocolate flavor doesn't disappoint.  Not too surprisingly, there is something a little extra special about this particular chocolate loaf cake recipe.


Holiday (cookie) season, 2018 - Part 2

It's almost Christmas!  The baking is essentially done and we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our preparation.  I hope your holiday season has been sweet.  
I'm happy I checked off everything on my to-bake list and even had room to improvise a little along the way to the finish line.  Following my previous post, I made the requisite batch of sugar cookies.  The kids in my life adore sugar cookies and they seem to have to make an appearance at Christmas.  These sugar cookies, with mugs of hot chocolate, make for a sweet finale to our family Christmas party.  
And what's not to love about sugar cookies...they're classic for a reason.  They're sweet (obviously) and always festive and eye-catching decorated however you like.  I'm not very creative but some kids tell me that when it comes to decorating sugar cookies, the key is lots of sprinkles.  I may need to up the sprinkle quotient on my sugar cookies next season! 
Aside from sugar cookies, I loved the simple vanilla sables (recipe from Dorie Greenspan) I baked this year.  The wonderful sandy texture, with the simple yet delectable flavor of the vanilla butter cookies, made me forget my love and commitment to chocolate for a moment.  I will be making more slice-and-bake cookies during the next holiday season!


Happy holiday (cookie) season, 2018!

Happy Holidays!

Italian butter cookies - always festive and makes me think of the holidays
It's my favorite time of year again!  The best time, when baking takes center stage - our kitchen smells like sugar and spice, and sprinkles go flying everywhere!  No matter how hectic it is, with those long to-do lists, there's a magical quality about spending time making things and doing things for others at this time of year that makes it all worthwhile.  I look forward to gathering and sharing, spending peaceful time with family over platters of cookies and mugs of hot chocolate!
I wanted to dust this blog space with a little holiday cheer right now and what better way than to talk cookies and treats.  We may bake cookies all year round but come December, it is all about cookies.  It's no wonder we love the holidays!  It's especially fun to see all the variety, the colors, the festive decorations, the flavors that come alive during the holidays.  I love it all and while I certainly can't do it all, we have family favorites that we bake and we also try a few new things because there are just so many enticing recipes out there.  



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