Monday, August 30, 2010

Shortbread Brownies.

Sometimes you just need to let your hair down.

For me, Sundays are all about spending the day unashamedly in pajamas, curled up with a book, which, most likely, has at least one vampire in it, and staking out the living room for some lazy movie-watching time with my family. Sundays are about scrambled eggs for dinner, avoiding the world and responsibility and laundry, and, can I just say it? Cutting a few corners in the kitchen.
Mmm. Corners.

But seriously? Sometimes you shouldn't need more than two bowls and five minutes to whisk up something sinful.

Sometimes you shouldn't have to run to the store for Dutch-processed cocoa and unsweetened chocolate.

Sometimes it's Sunday.

And that's a good enough reason for me.

Life is stressful enough. It doesn't get any simpler than these brownies.
Moist, rich double chocolate brownies poured over a buttery, flaky shortbread cookie crust, with extra chocolate chunks rebelliously thrown in.
Because I don't do chocolate chips. I want my chocolate to make a statement.

They're the perfect lazy day brownie for when you want to work as little as possible, preferably in your pajamas. And did I mention they're mind-blowingly delicious?

Shortbread Brownies
Shortbread Crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

1 (20 ounce) box of Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownies mix (or any brownie mix lying around, or real brownies. From scratch. It's okay. Make me look even more lazy.)
1 egg
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup oil

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix together flour, powdered sugar, and butter in a bowl until dough forms into a ball. A pastry cutter works best for this.

(Side note? If you accidently melt your butter instead of "softening" it, you'll end up with a soft, cakey shortbread crust. Apparently this is common knowledge, which I missed. It's okay. Mistakes make for cute cookies sometimes).
Press dough evenly into a lightly greased 13x9x2-inch pan and bake for 10-12 minutes. Set aside.

For brownies, prepare according to box, throw in extra chocolate if you're feeling scandalous, and pour evenly over the shortbread crust.

Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool thoroughly

Source: Barely adapted from Continental Mills.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mini Chocolate Chip Puffins.

I'm more of a waffle girl. Or a French toast girl. The last time I made pancakes, I was ditching 3rd period with my best friend. It was senior year and honestly, by then, learning to make pancakes was a more useful life skill than whatever they felt the need to teach us in the thirty days til graduation. 
But these mini maple pancake muffins with chocolate chips were too adorable to pass up. Who knew you could make pancakes in a muffin tin? It's the perfect lazy Saturday morning breakfast for when you want to make something special without standing & whisking & baking in the kitchen for hours. They're super addictive and with a name like "puffins", you can't help but giggle a little while you're making them.

Mini Maple Chocolate Chip Puffins

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg 
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Sift together with a wire whisk.

In another bowl, stir buttermilk, egg, maple syrup, and melted butter until just combined.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with a spoon until combined. 

Stir in chocolate chips. Reserve a few chips to sprinkle on the tops.

Bake for 8-9 minutes. Makes 24 mini pancake muffins.

Source: Bakerella

Friday, August 20, 2010

Chocolate Chunk Pretzel M&M Cookies.

To all you food-blogging girls who teasingly complain about the boyfriends, husbands, and fiances who pop into your kitchens, stealing spoonfuls of cookie dough, swiping frosting or making off with the brownies from a perfectly staged photo shot, who in general just get in your way, use all your good spoons, pester you for dinner, poke at your baking, add barbeque sauce to everything, and distract you with kisses...

I'm jealous. 

I'm in a long-distance relationship. I met my boyfriend in college and we've been together ever since April 2008.

Well, except for summer vacations. And Christmas vacations. And the last year and three months since I graduated. 


Most days, the three hundred and one miles between us seems invisible. I know there's something awesome in store for us in the future and that makes me feel closer to him and more tolerant of all these freeways between us.

For him, it's a little more simple than that: I bake cookies whenever I see him. These cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies with chunks of chocolate and scores of milk chocolate M&Ms.
At least, that was before I discovered my new love. Pretzel-covered M&Ms. Scandal!
The combination of salty, chocolate-covered pretzels mixed in to these cookies made them perfect. I may never go back.
And see those flecks of cinnamon? It makes the chocolate really pop, without adding a very cinnamony flavor. Just don't add too much or they'll taste like Christmas.
You can't tell, but this giant cookie is the size of my face.

At any rate, I made these for him. Because he's on his way here.

Right now.

To my house. 

I'm so excited I can't even breathe.
Chocolate Chunk Pretzel M&M Cookies

1 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla 
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pretzel M&Ms
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, optional

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream together the shortening, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add to the shortening mixture and mix together well.

Stir in chocolate chunks and M&Ms, adding more of each if desired.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Source: Adapted from M&M's Recipes & Ideas.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Strawberry Bisque.

When I was in middle school, somehow I stumbled into music and it became my passion. But the "passion", the dreams of being a part of some fancy London/LA symphony, came later. That first year was sheer determination. I signed up to play flute because it seemed the most girly and elegant instrument to learn. I mean, how girly can you look playing a tuba?

I could not make a single not come out of that instrument for weeks. I still remember how much my cheeks burned when the director suggested I consider a different instrument, or that maybe band just "wasn't for me." 

In front of the class.

But by senior year of high school, I was second chair in the top tier of bands, thank you very much. That's music code for second best. In the school and the county, because I ranked second chair in the county orchestra too.

Take that, Mr. Newcomb.

One of the best experiences in Symphonic Winds was being invited to give a concert onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise to Ensenada, Mexico.

Surprisingly, I don't remember much about Mexico. I don't remember the concert or the music we played, only that they chose that night to turn the stabilizers off and it felt like we were playing onboard the sinking Titanic. And I don't remember what we did for four or so days on the ship, except that it involved a lot of Shirley Temples and the boys made us watch Hannibal at some point.

However, two very important things that stick out in my memory.

This little guy, who showed up at the end of my bed one evening:
And the strawberry bisque.
Honestly, I had to google "strawberry soup thing" before I discovered it was actually something fancy and French called bisque. And of course, no two recipes are the same and everyone claims to have the *original* cruiseline recipe.
Mmm. This was a good memory lane to trudge down. It was summery and light and an excuse to use my new miniature wine glasses. I'd been putting off making it because of that 8 hour chill time (I'm not the most patient person you'll ever meet), but it was worth it. I whipped it up before bed and it was ready for breakfast.
I was feeling experimental so I added a little bit of almond extract and cinnamon. I considered eating the bowl right there in the kitchen at 11:30 at night.

I'm not sure whether this is exactly what I ate that night off the coast of whoknowswhere, but this tasted like a melted strawberry milkshake and there's nothing wrong with that. Next time I would add a few more strawberries or some raspberries and double or triple the recipe. This only made enough for one or two small servings.
Chilled Strawberry Bisque

1 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon almond extract, optional
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, optional

Puree together the sliced strawberries, milk, whipping cream, and sour cream. Stir in sugar, almond extract, and cinnamon to taste. 

Chill for 8 hours or overnight. Stir a few times and pour into chilled serving glasses. Garnish with more strawberries!

Source: Adapted from Tasty Kitchen

Friday, August 13, 2010

Texas Sheet Cake.

A few weeks ago, I made these brownies and discovered two things.

One, they are the best, best, best brownies ever.
And two, I have a serious love-hate relationship with powdered sugar.

Mostly hate.

The first batch of icing was ruined when I had to run to the store mid-whisk. The second batch reflected my patience and was full of little un-whisked clumps of powdered sugar. They tasted fine (okay, they tasted positively narcotic), but I'm a perfectionist and the color and consistency was slightly off.

So when I was asked (told) to make these again for a barbeque this weekend, I cried, huffed, stomped my feet, threatened to burn down the kitchen, and admitted defeat.

And then I said, let's do this. I tied on my big kid's apron, whisked the icing with determination... and made the best batch ever.
Also known as Texas Sheet Cake, Chocolate Buttermilk Cake, Buttermilk Bars, or The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever, this recipe is a classic and my absolute favorite. The soft, rich, chocolatey cake, frosted with warm icing while still hot from the oven, is so perfect and addictive and timeless, that there's nothing left to say except that it's absolutely necessary for you to whip up a batch this moment. 

If that means driving to the store for buttermilk at 2 AM, I support that.

Texas Sheet Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup strongly brewed coffee or water
1/4 cup dark, unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 tablespoons dark cocoa
1/4 cup milk
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and granulated sugar.

In a heavy saucepan, combine butter, shortening, coffee or water, and cocoa. Stir and heat to boiling. Pour boiling mixture over the flour and sugar. Add the buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Mix well, using a wooden spoon or on high speed with an electric mixer.

Pour into a well-buttered jelly roll pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until brownies test done in the center.

While brownies bake, prepare the frosting. In a saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa, and milk. Heat to boiling, stirring. Mix in the powdered sugar and vanilla until frosting is smooth.

Pioneer Woman uses chopped pecans in her icing. I was feeling adventurous (okay, I had just found chopped pecans in the freezer), and, let's face it, Ree knows her way around a kitchen, so I sprinkled them over half the cake before I poured the icing on.

Either way, pour the warm frosting over the brownies as soon as you take them out of the oven. Let them cool until the icing hardens enough to slice (it's easiest with a pizza cutter).

So which was better, the plain fudgy icing?
Or the pecan-specked icing?
Mmmm. Pecans. Definitely pecans.

Source: From Great American Recipes.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Not-So-Texan-Sized Almond Crunch Cookies.

These light, crunchy cookies, rolled in sugar and full of almond slices and Heath toffee bits, are one of my family's favorites... and the perfect cookie for summer. Eat them hot off the cookie sheet, crumble them over ice cream, sneak a couple at 3 AM ... it's really up to you. 
See? Family favorite. In this family, you know we mean business when the recipe gets an index card.

Did I mention they're rolled in sugar?

Texan-Sized Almond Crunch Cookies

Printable Recipe

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups almonds, chopped
2 cups toffee brickle chips
Extra granulated sugar for rolling in

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream together the granulated sugar, powdered sugar, softened butter, and oil. Add vanilla and eggs. Blend in the all-purpose flour, wheat flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix in the almonds...
... and the toffee pieces! Action shot!
Whatever you do... don't choose this moment to ask your father if you've added enough toffee bits. Puppies happen to love toffee bits. 
That little face is my weakness.
... which he knows how to take advantage of . (I promise this picture was taken as I was yanking the bowl away.) 

Anyway. Shape dough into balls and roll in sugar. Real Texas-sized cookies are made using a large tablespoon-size ball... I made mine a little smaller. Flatten with a fork dipped in sugar...
... make fancy criss-crosses... 

... and place on a greased baking sheet, being sure to leave plenty of room between cookies (about five inches). 

Bake for 12-18 minutes (16 minutes was perfect for the size I made), until golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 
Source: Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies

P.S. Check out this crazy strawberry I found in the flat my dad brought home. I didn't have the heart to slice it up. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Apricot Cobbler.

I love summer. Picnics. Fireworks. Family. Barbecues on the beach and burning marshmallows over campfires. But I especially love the abundance of fresh fruit there is to bake with. To me, nothing says "summer" more than a sugary tier of shortcakes covered in strawberries or a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top a crumbly apple crisp. So when five pounds of apricots from our neighbor's backyard ended up in our kitchen this morning, I immediately began googling cobbler recipes.

I ended up tweaking a peach cobbler recipe and paired it with my dad's famous recipe for big, soft buttery biscuits. Baked apricots tossed with cinnamon-sugar bubbling over a thick layer of biscuits brushed with heavy cream and sprinkled with more cinnamon sugar... the scent alone was like Christmas and fresh-baked cinnamon rolls. Mouthwatering.

Overall... very good. I think it would taste equally amazing with peaches or blackberries. Or even without the fruit! I love me some biscuits. 
Apricot Cobbler

4-5 cups apricots, sliced
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream 
Extra granulated sugar & cinnamon for sprinkling over biscuits
4 tablespoons butter, melted for brushing over any extra biscuits

Preheat oven to 425°F. Slice apricots and spread in a 2-quart baking dish. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon, and sprinkle over apricots. Place small cubes of butter over the fruit and bake for 20 minutes. 

While the apricots are baking, prepare the biscuits. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl using a pastry cutter until just combined. Scatter the cold butter pieces over the top of the flour mixture and continue to combine until the mixture resembles coarse meal. 

Add the buttermilk and pulse until the mixture just begins to come together (I had to add an extra 1/4 cup of buttermilk to make the dough come together). Scrape the dough onto a floured counter. Roll out into a 1/2-inch thick disk and cut with a cookie cutter/round biscuit cutter. (This recipe made an extra 10 biscuits so next time I would halve the biscuit recipe. But for now... warm, flaky, buttery biscuits... I don't mind.)

When the apricots come out of the oven, carefully lay the biscuits on top, gently pushing down into the fruit somewhat; it's okay if the biscuits overlap. Brush with heavy cream and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

Return to oven and bake for 15-20 minutes til a toothpick inserted in the center of a biscuit comes out clean. You may have to cover with foil to prevent over-browning. When done, brush leftover dough with 4 tablespoons melted butter, lower oven temperature to 400°F and bake for 12-15 minutes until done. 

Serve hot, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Source: Apricot filling adapted from A Yankee In A Southern Kitchen, originally adapted from Scott Peacock & Edna Lewis. Biscuits adapted from Bobby Flay