March 31, 2016

Thin Mint ice cream

What's your favorite Girl Scout cookie?  Mine is definitely Thin Mints.  A couple of weeks ago, my husband brought home a few of boxes from work.  While we certainly don't need help polishing them off, I had the itch to take some and use it to make a batch of Thin Mint ice cream.
So I simply whipped up a minty ice cream base.  Maybe I should say, gelato.  I used a simple base recipe from The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato.  It's custard base, using a higher ratio of milk to cream, which is typical of gelato recipes.  I really like this because not only is it lighter, it also gives the flavor more of a chance to shine.  
I considered doing more of a "cookies & cream" base and flavoring the custard with vanilla but, in the end, I added peppermint extract and kept the mint theme going.

I find that after churning ice cream/gelato, it's a very good idea to let it "rest" overnight or a day in the freezer.  The flavor gets a chance to meld and intensify and you taste more than just the dairy.  
So this is another way to enjoy your Thin Mint cookies.  I love ice cream with chunks and lots of texture so embedding minty ice cream with hunks of Thin Mint cookies is a good way to go.

I've been putting my ice cream maker to work pretty consistently.  Now that spring is here and summer isn't far behind, I can't wait to whip up more batches!

March 28, 2016

Peanut butter-dark chocolate thumbprints

When I'm looking through cookbooks or magazines, browsing at recipes online, the same kind of things appeal to me on repeat.  So not surprisingly, I'm drawn to recipes featuring things like chocolate and peanut butter when it comes to baking.  And cookies...well, they're a staple in the home, aren't they?
I caught a recipe for peanut butter-dark chocolate thumbprints in a magazine and it was the only excuse I needed to whip up a batch.  I love thumbprints - it's really not all that much work to make a little chocolate ganache filling to place in the center of these cookies but that extra touch makes them a little extra special.  It's like a treat within a treat.  If you're like me, you see it, you smile, and you just want to grab one and eat it.
So this is very simple; we have a peanut butter cookie, with a round of chocolate ganache filling in the center.  The peanut butter cookies are soft and chewy, full of peanut butter flavor.  Using chunky peanut butter gives them a little bit of texture. After baking and cooling, the center is filled with a simple dark chocolate ganache that's a great bonus treat.  

The ganache sets up and you can store these cookies with a piece of parchment or wax paper between the layers. Best part, they store well - at room temperature - for several days.  The cookies stay soft, moist, chewy, and basically...wonderful. 
The combination of chocolate and peanut butter may not be a must-have for everyone but I know there are a lot of us out there that do crave those two things.  And I'm guessing the craving comes on pretty often (I know it does for me); this will totally hit the spot!

March 22, 2016

Brioche loaf

After making liège waffles, which is essentially brioche-dough based, I was thinking about trying my hand at making brioche bread.  I happen to see a tutorial at The Kitchn just as I was thinking this so it was meant to be.
Aside from the waffles, I have just a little experience with brioche dough from making Smitten Kitchen's chocolate chip brioche pretzels, but I wanted to make a straightforward loaf so that's what I endeavored to do.  I'm pretty happy with what I ended up with.   
Going into any kind of bread-making, I never know what to expect so I try not to expect too much!  And when the yeast actually rises, the steps fall into place, the bread bakes up, and you end up with a fresh loaf of bread - in this case, a rich, buttery, sweet bread (just like it's supposed to be) - it's a very satisfying feeling.
We enjoyed our loaf of brioche plain, toasted, with a little jam, all by itself, French toast.  I added a little orange zest to the custard and served the French toast with some strawberries, which I've been buying a ton of lately.

March 18, 2016

Strawberry buttermilk cake

In a real embarrassment of riches, my refrigerator has been loaded down with strawberries this week!  Of course, we can get strawberries any time of year but in the last week or so, I'm seeing an abundance of them and some great sales that I just can't resist.  So I keep loading up boxes and bringing them home...
Usually, I gobble up the berries so fast, there's none left to do anything with them! This time, I actually had more than enough to bake a cake with.  I've always got this simple buttermilk cake in the back of my mind.  I've made it with raspberries and have always wanted to try it with strawberries.  Well, now I can tell you it's really good with strawberries!
The cake base is perfectly easy and delicious - moist and a little tangy from buttermilk, not too heavy, and fragrant with fresh lemon zest (I particularly love the lemon zest so don't skip it!).  It has a sweetness that blends well with the fruit.  It's just a great everyday cake to whip up for no particular reason, or for a gathering.
I feel like this is a shortcut to strawberry shortcake since it's what it tastes like, only faster to make.  This simple cake is a great one to have in your repertoire for all those delicious summer berries to come!  

March 15, 2016

Soft chocolate sugar cookies (and ice cream sandwiches)

The other week, I made a batch of vanilla ice cream with the idea of using some of it to make ice cream sandwiches with these cookies.  Well, I used the ice cream to make hot fudge sundaes and it wasn't until we were nearly finished with the batch of ice cream that I remembered what I originally had in mind!  Luckily, there was enough left to make a couple of these little ice cream sandwiches happen. 
So small batch baking continues at my house!  This is a small-batch recipe that makes 8 cookies but you can certainly double the recipe; it's a good idea because my family and I found them quite delectable!    

While I'm very familiar with the delicious, crisp "plain" vanilla sugar cookies, I really hadn't had soft chocolate sugar cookies before.  I'm very happy I tried these because they're easy to make and have a wonderful texture - soft and slightly chewy.  The chocolate flavor is strong - almost more so than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise.  A coating of granulated sugar on the outside give the cookies a little sparkle and a nice textural contrast with a little crunch.
The original recipe pairs these cookies with a raspberry curd but my mind went straight to ice cream sandwiches.  I find cookies with a soft texture very compatible for making ice cream sandwiches; while they certainly do firm up, the cookies don't turn rock-hard even after freezing and still have "give" or softness to them when you bite into it.  They're easy to eat.
What can I say...this is a great little batch of cookies to make!  The cookies are tasty all on their own but make great little ice cream sandwiches.  Just pull them out of the freezer after dinner for a fun treat.

March 10, 2016

Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love an excuse to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  And when I spotted a recipe for Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies over at Averie Cooks, it was a very compelling reason to get baking!
Who doesn't love Mrs. Fields!  I live in the land of malls in New Jersey but sadly, Mrs. Fields cookie kiosks are hard to come by these days.  When I do walk by one, I am always assaulted (in a very good way) by the irresistible aroma.  How do they make those cookies smell so good, I always wonder!  I think it has a lot to do with the quantity of cookies being baked in a small space but whatever it is, Mrs. Fields cookies are some seriously delicious cookies.
I'm so glad Averie posted the recipe and shared the source from over at Popsugar.  If you click over, there's actually a video talking about the "secrets" to making these cookies and a demo straight from a Mrs. Fields shop (I recommend watching it because the recipe doesn't list all the steps mentioned in the video).  
So here are the "secrets" to Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies: 

1) Cold butter.  It apparently makes for a more stable, evenly baked cookie.  What does that mean?  I read that cold butter has the ability to hold air, giving baked goods more structure. I had a good feeling about this going in.  Not only is using cold butter more convenient, my favorite chocolate chip cookies (which happens to be whole wheat) also starts with cold butter...could there be a connection?  Apparently yes, because these cookies turned out nice and sturdy, dense and firm, yet still moist and chewy in the center.

2) Low and slow, bake at 300 degrees.  Instead of the typical 350 degree oven, these cookies are baked in a low 300 degree oven, for a longer period of time, about 18-22 minutes.  This is supposed to help create the crisp edge yet soft and chewy center.  I was a little skeptical.  Would the cookies turn out too soft and would the Maillard reaction (or "browning" reaction) have a chance to happen?  I didn't want anemic looking cookies but I needn't have worried because these baked evenly and browned nicely.  The edges are indeed crisp; the center is chewy.
3) Chill for at least 30 minutes and cool immediately.  After mixing the cookie batter, let chill for 30 minutes or so before baking; this makes for a thicker, chewier cookie. Scoop dough into 1/4-cup mounds using an ice-cream scoop if you have one.  The larger bakery-style cookies give you more of a contrast between the crispy edges and the soft and chewy center.  After baking, immediately remove the cookies to a cool surface to stop the cooking process.  

In a nutshell, these cookies turned out better than I expected.  Maybe I should've had more faith to begin with but how many times have you tried a "copycat" recipe that fell short? But these cookies are like the Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies we remember.  The thing I like most about it is the "commercial" look and feel of them. That might sound strange but what I mean is they have the appearance - the heft, sturdiness, contrasting textures (crisp sides, chewy centers) - that I want to mimic at home and often find hard to do.  I often suspect that those bakery-style cookies involve shortening but now I see it can be achieved without special flours and with butter.

March 7, 2016

Liège waffles

Getting a waffle maker has been oh-so-much-fun; it's definitely brought my weekend breakfast/brunch game up a notch!  As you might know from my posts, I've tried out quite a few waffle recipes so far but the possibilities seem endless.  This time, let's talk about a very different type of waffle, the liège waffle
Belgium is one of those fantasy places I'd love to visit.  There's the chocolate, of course, and then there are the waffles!  From what I've read, there are two types of waffles in Belgium: Brussels style, that's a deep-pocketed yeast leavened batter waffle, and liège waffles, which is also a yeast batter but different in that it's richer, sweeter, and denser.  Liège waffles are essentially made with brioche dough that's embedded and studded with chunks of pearl sugar.  
As this sugar-crusted dough cooks in the waffle maker, the pearl sugar melts and caramelizes to create a glossy sheen and a slightly crunchy exterior that gives way to rich, buttery, stringy brioche softness within.  Once you eat it, you'll remember it.
For whatever reason - possibly because it's not as easy to find just anywhere - I've always wanted to make liège waffles.  In fact, I bought special Belgian pearl sugar (more on this later...) just for the job even before I got my waffle maker!  It never hurts to be prepared.
Liège waffles are so rich and flavorful (think warm, eggy, buttery brioche with extra pockets of sweetness) that you don't really need anything to go with them.  But sometimes it's not just about need.  I plated some of mine with fresh strawberries, a little chocolate sauce, and threw in a little whipped cream (all of which I had in my refrigerator, though maybe not quite incidentally) and it made for an excellent brunch plate.
However you choose to enjoy it it, it is a special waffle to savor on occasion.  You know...I never considered myself a huge fan of brioche, in part because it wasn't a type of bread I ate much growing up, but I am definitely awakening to the beauty of it.  It is surely something special in waffle form!

March 3, 2016

Rosa Parks' "featherlite" peanut butter pancakes

I recently finished reading a book recommended to me by a friend called, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.  It begins with a focus on Rosa Parks and talks about her quiet courage.  So Rosa Parks has been on my mind, and when I happened to spot a recipe for her "featherlite" peanut butter pancakes over at Food52 a few days ago, I knew what I had to do.  I had to make these pancakes.
I wanted to make these pancakes - to think about Rosa Parks, to honor a special woman in this tiny way.  And lucky me, I got a batch of delicious peanut butter pancakes to share with my family as a result.

This recipe, discovered handwritten on the back of what looks to be a bank deposit envelop, is part of a collection of Rosa Parks' papers and memorabilia collected by The Library of Congress that's now been digitalized.  
It's great to imagine that maybe Rosa Parks made and ate these very pancakes once upon a time.  These peanut butter pancakes are special because there's actually peanut butter in the batter itself.  Somehow, through the help of a generous helping of baking powder, the pancakes turn out fluffy and light, with a flavor (and aroma) that is unmistakably peanut butter.  

If you like peanut butter, and pancakes, I recommend you give these a try...and enjoy them in honor of Ms. Rosa Parks.


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