Thursday, December 27, 2012

TWD Rewind: Buttermilk Crumb Muffins

   The few weeks before winter break are always crazy busy, and amidst all the Christmas cookie baking, I didn't have a chance to get to several of the latest Tuesdays with Dorie recipes. Here's one of the ones I missed: Buttermilk Crumb Muffins.
  These were chosen a few weeks ago. The ingredient list is simple, and so are these muffins; they have a classic, comfort-food flavor, which can be really nice sometimes. They have a great, tender crumb, and are perfect alongside a big cup of creamy coffee or tea.
 The recipe was hosted by Alisa at Easier than Pie - the recipe can be found on her blog. Enjoy!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Peppermint Bark Cookies

 Merry Christmas Eve! I hope you're all celebrating with your favorite people - I'm spending the holidays with my parents and our family friends from Brazil. It's always so much fun to play tourist in NYC at Christmas time!
  Whenever we spend Christmas away from family, I always send a few close relatives packages full of holiday goodies. This year, I needed a delicious cookie recipe, and I wanted something festive. I considered making peppermint bark instead of cookies (entirely mostly so that I had an excuse to crush a bunch of candy canes), but then I saw these.
 These cookies are made of a simple chocolate cookie dough (better yet? It's whole wheat!), with the addition of peppermint extract to make it more holiday-appropriate. The bottoms of the cookies are dipped in bittersweet chocolate, and the tops are spread with white chocolate before being sprinkled with crushed candy canes.
 They are every bit as delicious as they are adorable. The chocolates and peppermint come together to make a cookie that has all the classic flavor of peppermint bark with an added layer of cookie, and come on, when don't you want an added layer of cookie? The cookies I managed to pry out of my dad's cookie-loving hands were packaged and sent out, and I hope my family enjoys them as much as I did!
Packed up and ready to be shipped (along with some Cranberry Orange Loaves)
Peppermint Bark Cookies
(adapted from Annie's Eats)

For the cookies:
1 1/2  cups whole wheat flour
2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
12 tbsp. (6 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½  cups confectioners’ sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. peppermint extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
To finish:
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
10 oz. good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
Crushed candy canes or peppermint candies

To make the cookies, combine the flour, cocoa powder and salt in a small bowl; whisk to blend and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the egg, peppermint extract, and vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated and no streaks remain.  Form the dough into a disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1-2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325˚ F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to about ¼-inch thickness.  Cut out desired shapes with cookie cutters and place cut outs on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes, just until set.  Let cool on the baking sheet about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Line baking sheets with wax or parchment paper.  Place the bittersweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a few inches of simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  One a time, dip the bottom side of each cookie into the chocolate.  Use an offset spatula to scrape of the excess, leaving only a very thin layer of chocolate on the bottom of the cookie.  Place on the prepared baking sheets.  Transfer to the refrigerator to chill until the chocolate has set, about 15 minutes.
Repeat the melting process with the white chocolate in the double boiler set up.  Use an offset spatula to spread a layer of white chocolate on top of each cookie and sprinkle immediately with crushed candy cane pieces before the chocolate sets.  Transfer to the refrigerator to chill again just until set, about 15 minutes more.  Store in an airtight container.
  -makes about 20 cookies, depending on size

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Strawberry Santas

 Some of the absolute cutest things can be the simplest as well. Last weekend, my parents and I were going to a few different Christmas parties, and amidst preparations for the last week of school before break (always full of tests and projects), shopping for my friends and family's presents, and going to my last pottery class of the year (*sniff*), I needed to make something quick to take to one of the parties.
  These little Santas were perfect. Strawberries are cut and hollowed out, and then they are filled with a simple, sweet cream cheese. I also used the cream cheese to pipe little buttons and a top to Santa's hat! For the eyes, the original recipe seems to use some sort of little black seed; I used chocolate jimmies, but poppy seeds or black sesame seeds would work too.
  Besides being cute, these are shockingly delicious. The cream cheese and strawberries blend together to make a delicious, cheesecake-like party in your mouth. These were greatly enjoyed by everybody at the party, from the 1-year-old baby to his grandparents!
Strawberry Cream Cheese Santas
(I got the recipe from the Christmas Spirit facebook page)

1 lb large strawberries
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
3-4 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
                               chocolate jimmies (or other small decoration to use for eyes)

Rinse strawberries and cut around the top of the strawberry. Remove the top, (enough for a hat). Clean out the whole strawberry with a paring knife, if necessary (some of them are hollow already. Prep all of the strawberries and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Add cream cheese mix to a piping bag or zip-top bag with the corner snipped off. Fill the strawberries with cheesecake mixture.
Once strawberries are filled, top with the 'hats.' Decorate according to photo.
If not serving immediately, refrigerate until serving

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Apple Cider Caramels

 Around this time of year, kitchens are filled with Christmas cookies, pies, and mugs of hot chocolate. I always like to give homemade candy as gifts; it's something that nearly everybody likes, and it can be enjoyed a few weeks after it's made, once the cookies and pies are long forgotten. Not that it ever lasts that long...
 My favorite winter drink is spiced apple cider. A big, steamy mug of it is the perfect way to start a cool morning or snowy afternoon. These caramels take everything that's so wonderful about this cozy drink and pack it into a bite-sized square, easy to nestle into decorative tins for gift-giving or slip into your bag for an afternoon treat.
  These apple cider flavor in these comes from several cups of apple cider, which are reduced into a syrupy consistency and made into a creamy candy with a hint of salt that makes them oh-so-addicting. These caramels are just the way I like them - chewy enough to make you take a minute or two of silence to eat them! If you want a slightly less chewy caramel, just cook the mixture for a bit less time than the recipe calls for. Wrap them up in paper, pack them up and make all of your loved ones worship you, or just eat half the pan straight from the fridge. It's okay, I won't judge.
Apple Cider Caramels

4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, or less of a finer one
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
Neutral oil for the knife

Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This should take about 35 to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  Meanwhile, get your other ingredients in order, because you won’t have time to spare once the candy is cooking. Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and salt together in a small dish.
  Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it. (Don’t have a candy or deep- fry thermometer? Have a bowl of very cold water ready, and cook the caramel until a tiny spoonful dropped into the water becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball.)
  Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, though it goes faster in the fridge. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut, to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature (less chewy after sitting for a day), and chewy/firm from the fridge.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Layered Turtle Cheesecake

 Thanksgiving at my house always involves three desserts; usually, apple pie, pumpkin pie, and pecan pie. For the past couple of years, we've substituted one of these for cheesecake. Last year, it was a delicious pumpkin flavor, to take the place of pumpkin pie. This year, I wanted a substitute for pecan pie. After seeing so many variations of turtle cheesecake online, I went with this one, and I'm so glad I did.
  This cheesecake starts off with an oreo cookie crust, for which I used gluten-free oreo-like cookies for my mom. Then comes a layer of melted caramels mixed with pecans, then a thick, creamy cheesecake, another layer of the pecan caramel, and finally, a drizzle (or, in this case, festive holiday greeting) of chocolate. It all comes together to create an indulgent dessert that is perfect for any occasion, especially alongside a classic apple pie and maple pumpkin pie.
Layered Turtle Cheesecake 
(from Kraft

24 Oreo cookies (or any other cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookie), finely crushed (about 2 cups)

6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

1 package (14 oz.) Kraft caramels (or a similar kind)
1/2 cup milk

1 cup chopped pecans

3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 eggs

2 oz.  semi-sweet chocolate

Mix oven to 325 F.
Mix together cookie crumbs and butter; press onto bottom and 2 inches up side of 9-inch springform pan.
Microwave caramels and milk in small microwaveable bowl on high for 3 minutes or until caramels are completely melted, stirring after each minute. Stir in nuts; pour half into crust. Refrigerate 10 minutes. Refrigerate remaining caramel mixture for later use.
Beat together cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in large bowl with mixer until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each just until blended. Pour over caramel layer in crust.
Bake 1 hour and 5 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until center is almost set. Run knife around rim of pan to loosen cake; cool before removing rim. Refrigerate 4 hours.
Microwave reserved caramel mixture 1 minute; stir. Pour over cheesecake. Melt chocolate as directed below; drizzle over cheesecake.

How to Pipe Chocolate
Place chocolate in a ziplock bag (or piping bag). Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Squeeze bag to melt chocolate. Snip off the tip of one of the bottom corners of the bag. Holding the top of the bag firmly, drizzle chocolate through opening in desired patterns on cheesecake. 
Reduce oven temperature to 300 F if using a dark nonstick springform pan.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Buttermilk Biscuits with Cinnamon Spiced Butter

 The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always the busiest of the year for me. If you take a look at food blogs on a regular basis, you will see that they are full of recipes for sky-high pies, indulgent holiday breakfasts, and, most importantly, Christmas cookies! Not to worry, there are plenty of those recipes to come on here, but today I want to take a break from all that and talk about biscuits.
  These biscuits are not tall and reminiscent of a certain doughboy's, but they are flaky and the perfect bite-sized side dish. Even better, their layers and little holes are ideal for filling up with a sweet and salty cinnamon butter. Most importantly, they are a wonderful accompaniment to a table of rich Thanksgiving foods, especially after having stood in the cold all morning with my little cousins at the parade!
Buttermilk Biscuits with Cinnamon Spiced Butter 
(slightly adapted from Food Network)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) very cold butter
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup milk plus a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice, allowed to sit together for a few minutes)
Cinnamon Spiced Butter (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.
Sift the dry ingredients together into a bowl.
Cut the butter into small pieces. Cut the butter into the dough with a pastry cutter or a fork until it looks like coarse sand. Add the buttermilk and continue to cut the dough together. 
Turn out onto a floured surface and gently bring together. Gently press the dough into a rectangle until it is between 1/2 and 3/4-inch thick.
Use a round cutter that has been floured to cut the biscuits. Place in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.
Remove biscuits from freezer and place on parchment paper on a baking sheet so they are touching each other. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve with spiced butter.

Cinnamon Spiced Butter

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) butter, softened

Mix dry ingredients together. Blend together with the butter until smooth. Refrigerate until serving.