Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

I doubt that my mother would have objected adding chocolate to anything--especially gingerbread!  These BIG cookies make the perfect lunchbox, after school, or even late night snack and the hint of ginger and molasses mixed with cocoa adds a new twist to this old favorite.

Big gingerbread cookies was one of Kelly's favorite, not only to bake, but to give as gifts.  I'd like to think she would have added these to her recipe file for friends and family to enjoy.  Recently, I shared that Kelly had won a Pushcart Prize for an essay and just a few days ago, her husband, Matt sent me an email of an essay contest, by the English department of the University of Kentucky, where she taught.  The recipient is asked to write an essay exemplifying qualities that Kelly brought to her students in her classes.  One thing I remember, when Kelly was here for Christmas two years ago, was talking with me about inspiring writers in her classes to bring personal traditions into their writing from the assignments she gave them to read. She said to me, "you know, Mom, like the stories you've told us of baking with Grandma, the reason you baked it, or the family tradition it came from."

So much of my baking is inspired by my mother, even though I create new recipes from ones I've known.  The basic foundation of my baking comes from my helping in the kitchen, planning holiday meals, and the never-ending gift giving of baked goods to family and friends.  Next week, when I travel to Kentucky to see Ari, once again we will be in the kitchen baking together.  I want him and Maddie to know where our traditions come from and expand on those traditions when they are grown and have families of their own, like Erin and Kelly have done.

Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 large egg
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/3 cup mini ginger chips (optional, but really good!)

Sparkling White Sugar

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees (345F-degrees convection) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In the mixing bowl of the KitchenAid, using the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars thoroughly.  Add the molasses and egg and mix together.  

In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients (from the cocoa to the salt) and use a whisk to combine completely.  Add to the butter/sugar batter, along with the mini ginger chips, if using, and on medium speed, blend well until all dry ingredients have been incorporated.

Pour, about 1/2 cup of the Sparkling White Sugar in a plate (or large bowl).  Scoop up the dough in a one-quarter scoop (or smaller if you want a smaller cookie), form into a ball, and roll in the sugar.
Place on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 6 minutes, then, rotate baking sheet and bake an additional 6 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool about 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack.
The crackled tops tell you it's a gingerbread cookie, but the richness of the chocolate comes through when you bite into it.
Bake cookies with your children and tell them a story of when you were little--watch there eyes light up. Enjoy!


Sunday, March 27, 2011

PB & J Pound Cake

My mother once said to me..."if it wasn't for peanut butter and jelly (or jam), you probably would have starved!"  This is true.  I took PB & J, PB & pickle, PB & marshmallow Fluff and other more unusual accompaniments to peanut butter in my lunch box almost every day of my school life because I loved peanut butter--thank goodness I didn't have an allergy to peanuts:-D...and, it probably explains my obsession with making jams!!

I even remember in 6th grade choosing to do an essay on George Washington Carver.  We had been studying him in history for his contribution to agriculture in the Reconstruction South showing farmers that peanuts could be an alternative crop to cotton, which repleted the soil.  Of course, it wasn't his only contribution to history, but I certainly appreciated his research in this area.

To create the peanut butter ribbons through the pound cake, I've taken my idea from the Mint Stracciatelli Pound Cake to melt Reece's Peanut Butter chips and spread them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  This way I have luscious layers of peanut butter to compliment the "jam".  Speaking of the jam, I didn't use one of the jams I preserved, but, rather I pureed dried blueberries (that I soaked overnight) with some fresh blueberries to make a jam that would hold up in the cake.  The cake is topped off with a brown butter glaze, sprinkle with chopped roasted peanuts, but it could easily have just a dusting of confectioners' sugar.

PB & J Pound Cake
1 pkg. (10 oz.) Reese's peanut butter chips, melted and spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 10 minutes or until set.

1 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup water
Bring to a boil, then add 1/2 cup fresh (or frozen) blueberries, turn off the heat and place a lid on top.  Let set several hours or overnight.  Transfer blueberry mixture to a mini food processor, add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and puree until smooth.
Break the set peanut butter into shards.

1 1/2 (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pkg. (8oz) cream cheese
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
6 large eggs
1/2 tsp. Peanut Butter flavoring (optional)
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamon
1/2 tsp. salt
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325F-degrees.  Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with a non-stick baking spray and set aside.
In the KitchenAid, using a paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese thoroughly.  Add the sugars and beat for 5 minutes until fluffy.  On medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time and beat well after each addition.  Add the flavoring and extract and mix together.  Add the dry ingredients all at once and beat on low until incorporated, then, put the speed to medium and mix for 1 minute.  Stir in the peanut butter shards and pour into the prepared bundt pan.
Start with a layer of batter, then add several spoonfuls of the blueberry puree.  Repeat with a another layer and more puree, then, finally, add the remaining batter on top.
Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and the top is firm to the touch.  You won't be able to use a skewer to test for doneness because you may be sticking into a melted peanut butter layer and think the center is not set.  You'll have to use your senses!
Let the cake cool at least 15 minutes in the pan before inverting it onto a serving plate.  Let cool completely and then ice with the brown butter glaze if desired.

Brown-Butter Glaze
1/4 cup (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
1 T Karo Syrup
1-2 T heavy cream
dry roasted peanuts-chopped (optional)
In a small sauce pan on medium low heat, brown the butter.  Transfer butter to a glass bowl and using a hand mixer, beat in the confectioners' sugar, 1 cup at a time.  Add the extract and the Karo syrup and beat on low.  Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of heavy cream to create a glaze.  Use an off-set spatula to spread the icing, then, sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

When you serve a slice, you will notice ribbons of peanut butter through the golden pound cake, with hints of blueberry jam to compliment it.  Pour a glass of cold milk and share with your family your favorite lunch box meal. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pucker-Up! Lemon~Banana~Chocolate Chip Tea Cakes

The unusual sunny, Spring days have gotten the better of me and as I looked at three ripened bananas, the idea hit me.  I've combined pumpkin, cranberries, chocolate, peanut butter and coconut, to name a few, in my banana bread, but never lemon...hmmmm, sounds intriguing.

Lemon was my mother's second favorite flavor, which I've shared before, behind chocolate.  Her Lemon Cheesecake was unbelievable and my sister, Barbara, her daughter, Amy and I still, only admit to each other, that we could literally devour the entire dessert by ourselves :)  Then, there was her lemon meringue it rude to say "YUM!"  So, it stands to reason, why not lemon with banana?

I baked the batter in mini-Bundt cake pans, but a regular 12-cup Bundt,  two- 9"x5" loaf pans, or a 12-cup muffin pan will work too.  And, to really make it lemony, I made a simple syrup and then glazed them, incorporating more juice and zest.

Pucker Up! Lemon~Banana~Chocolate Chip Tea Cakes
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
juice & zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. Lemon oil or  1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 T + 1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup Lemon Bits
1 cup Mini Chocolate Chips

Simple Syrup:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon + enough water to equal 1/2 cup

2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 T Light Karo Syrup
Juice of half a lemon + zest
2-3 T hot water

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees (I do 345F-degrees Convection)
Prepare the pan(s) -- either brush with melted butter or spray with a non-stick baking spray

In the KitchenAid, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar.  Scrape down the sides and add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.  

Use a micro plane to zest the lemon, then, slice in half and squeeze the juice.  You should have about 1/4 cup of juice.
Peel bananas and place in the bowl with the zest and juice.  Mash the bananas and stir together.
Add the banana/lemon mixture to the your batter and combine on low until incorporated.  The mixture may appear "curdled," but don't worry--once the dry ingredients are added, everything comes together.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and whisk to combine.  Add the dry ingredients, all at once to the batter and mix on low, then, on medium for 30 seconds to thoroughly combine.  Be careful not to over mix!

Stir in the Lemon Bits and Mini Chocolate chips.
Divide batter amongst the two 6-cup mini-Bundt pans or your desired pan(s).
Bake mini-Bundts for 23-25 minutes until golden brown.  While cakes are baking making up the simple syrup.  
In a small sauce pan, mix the sugar, water/lemon juice together and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to low and keep warm.  When the cakes are done, remove from the oven and use a wooden skewer to poke holes in the top of the cake(s).  Spoon 1 to 1/2 tablespoons of simple syrup over the cakes.
Let cool another 5-7 minutes, then invert onto a rack to cool while you prepare the glaze.
In a 4-cup glass measure (with a spout) add the confectioners' sugar, lemon zest, juice from half a lemon, and the Karo syrup.  Add hot water, one tablespoon at a time, until you have a pourable glaze.  Pour over cake(s).
Let cakes cool before serving.  Makes 12 mini Bundt cakes.
Cooking times:  12-cup Bundt pan - 45-55 minutes
                           Regular muffin pan(s) - 20-22 minutes
                           Loaf pan(s)  - 50-55 minutes

This is a wonderful, simple little cake, full of flavor that will bring Spring into your meal.  Served as a dessert or a breakfast treat, it's sure to have you saying YUM!  Enjoy!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jelly Doughnut...Muffins

Today feels like least spring here in the Pacific Northwest.  The sun is shining, I heard the geese, honking while landing on the lake behind us, and our deciduous trees are all in bud.  I feel renewed by the awakening of nature.

My spring fever was short-lived when our daughter, Erin, telephoned this morning to tell me she had received an email from the editor of Brain, Child magazine and Kelly's essay, "This Sucks," which appeared in the Spring 2010 issue has won a Pushcart Prize, a very prestigious award in the literary world.  As proud we all are that she has receive this award, it saddens us to know she's not here to tell us herself.  Although, maybe with this glorious day in front of me, she is.

I made these muffins this morning because baking grounds me and trying to come up with a recipe that would have been celebratory for Kelly kept my mind off losing her, as she would put it, sucks.  Jelly doughnuts, to me, represent springtime and it reminds me of a Polish dessert called Paczki (pronounced Poonshkee).  These jelly doughnut-like pastries are typically made for Shrove Thursday...the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, but in Chicago, where there is a large Polish population, you can also find them on Shrove (or Fat) Tuesday.  The pastries, like doughnuts, are filled with fruit or creme and can be glazed or covered with granulated sugar or confectioners' sugar as I did mine this morning.  A very dear friend sent me some Paczki from a bakery in her town and they were delicious--light, airy and filled with fruit fillings.  I tried to make these light, but still able to be baked rather than fried and filled them with some homemade jam...raspberry, which was Kelly's favorite.  However, when I make them for her son, Ari, I know he's going to say, "Mimi, I want blueberry!"

Jelly Doughnut...Muffins
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. Buttery Sweet Dough Emulsion
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 cups Cake Flour
1 1/2 cups All-purpose Flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 salt
1/2 cup Evaporated milk

3/4 to 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 favorite jam or jelly
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar or Glazing Sugar (like confectioners' sugar without the cornstarch)

Preheat oven 375F-degrees (Convection) and prepare a standard 12-cup muffin pan by brushing melted butter in the cups.

In a large mixing bowl of a stand mixer, using a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the sour cream, vanilla, and Buttery Sweet Dough emulsion, if using, and beat well.  Combine the dry ingredients, then, add them to the batter, alternately with the evaporated milk, ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix on low until ingredients are incorporated, then raise the speed to medium for one minute.
Use a large scoop and divide the batter among the muffin cups.

Bake the muffins for 20-24 minutes, if using convection heat.  Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan while you melt the additional butter.
Transfer the melted butter to a glass bowl.  Dip the top and then the bottom of the muffin in the butter and place on a cooling rack.  

When all of the muffins have been thoroughly dipped.  Prepare a pastry bag, using Tip #230 for piping the jam (or jelly) into the center of the muffin.  This tip is also used to fill cream puffs and eclairs!

Let the butter set a 5 minutes and prepare a dish with the confectioners' sugar (or Glazing Sugar).  Use a spoon to dust the sugar over the doughnut muffins.
Last week, I saw on Facebook, a comment by a Buddist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh on the tsunami that had occurred in Japan.  Today, a dear friend of Kelly's and now, mine, reminded me of his words...
"An event such as this reminds us of the impermanent nature of our lives.  It helps us remember that what's most important is to love each other, to be there for each other, and to treasure each moment we have that we are alive.  This is the best that we can do for those who have died: we can live in such a way that they continue beautifully, in us."  

What powerful words to live by and cherish as I re-read Kelly's essay and had a bite of spring.  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Banana Split Cookies

March Madness!  It's certainly hit our home; everyone is watching as their favorites make it to the next round...or not.  So, it's no wonder I got a little crazy coming up with a recipe to match the celebration.

Banana splits were the creation of David Evans Strickler, an apprentice pharmacist at Tassel Pharmacy in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1904, who loved making up sundae combinations.  This triple ice cream sundae with it's typical chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream is served on top of a peeled, split banana.  The toppings include whipped cream, of course, maybe crushed pineapple, nuts, and a maraschino cherry on top.

My mother's favorite sundae was hot fudge and I followed suit, except my eyes would catch the occasional banana split going to other tables and I day, I'm going to try that.  It wasn't until I was married that I made banana splits for a special treat for my girls--I didn't want them to wait until adulthood to wonder what it taste like : )  We shared one and each of us went to our favorite ice cream and toppings to scoop with it, but it was a pure delight and so much fun to devour this parlor confection.  (I added three maraschino cherries because otherwise, we would have had to do "rock-paper-scissors" on who would get it!)

The cookies I baked today incorporate the banana, chocolate, and cherry flavors taken from my favorite parts of the sundae.  I molded them to make an easy slice & bake refrigerator cookie, but you can just as easily form the different doughs into balls, placed in a "cloverleaf" shape or mold them in a lined, 9 x 5-inch loaf pan as I did for the Spumoni cookies.

Banana Split Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (more added to two-thirds of the dough later)
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Banana Dough
0.9 oz. pkg. Jello Instant Banana Cream pudding
1/4 tsp. Banana flavor 

Chocolate Dough
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
2 T. Double~Dutch Cocoa
1/2 finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts (optional)

Cherry Dough
1/3 cup Maraschino Cherries, chopped finely
1/4 tsp. Washington Cherry flavor

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening, and sugars together.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate completely.  In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients then, add to the creamed mixture.  Remove one-third of the dough (for the chocolate dough) and add another 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour to the remaining two-thirds.  Divide the dough once more for the banana and cherry flavors.  Mix the specified ingredients into each dough and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the three doughs for several hours, even if you're forming them into 1-inch balls of dough for the cloverleaf cookies.
  To assemble the cookies-- Divide the Cherry dough in half and roll in a 1-inch tube.  Set aside.  Next, divide the Banana dough and roll dough into a rectangle, approximately 4" x 15" (or the length of the cherry dough tube). Encase the banana dough around the cherry dough.  

Finally, divide the Chocolate dough in half and roll into a rectangle 5" X 15".  Encase the chocolate dough around the banana/cherry roll.
Repeat the process with the other halves of dough.  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.  
Preheat oven 375F-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Remove one roll from the refrigerator and slice dough into 1/4-inch slices.
Place on a baking sheet, allowing about 1 1/2-2 inches between cookies.
Bake cookies approximately 8 to 10 minutes.  (The finished cookies baked exactly 9 minutes!)
Let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then, remove to a rack to cool completely.

March Madness maybe all about basketball, but maybe it applies to this combination of these flavors too.  Enjoy!



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Luck of the Irish Cupcakes

A few years ago I made St. Patrick's Day cards that had a verse inside which said--"If You're Lucky Enough to be Irish, then, You're Lucky Enough!"  Our oldest daughter, Erin, said to me "What does that mean?"  Frustratingly, we (Kelly and I) attempted to explain it to her, but she kept saying, "I don't get it."  We were about to give up when she cracked a smile; she really made us work for it!

However, needless to say, I consider my Irish heritage very seriously and loved hearing stories about how my ancestors came to America.  Stories, that I know most of us Americans can relate to.  These cupcakes combine two products associated with the Irish--Bailey's Irish Cream and Guinness Stout.  I first made this chocolate cake last year when I discovered the recipe at King Arthur Flour.  The cake has a can of Guinness in it and makes the most wonderful deep chocolate cake I'd ever had.  It easily makes a 3-layer cake and the recipe includes the directions for a bittersweet chocolate ganache, although I made my favorite chocolate buttercream from the Buche de Noel cupcakes back in December.  I actually iced the cupcakes two ways:  with the chocolate buttercream and a Bailey's Irish Cream buttercream shamrock and with a large swirl of the Bailey's buttercream with chocolate shavings on top.
The later is definitely for "Adults Only" since it has 1/2 cup of Bailey's in it, but you can really see the richness of the dark chocolate cake underneath in comparison to the swirl of icing!

The recipe easily makes 36 cupcakes and, I discovered yesterday, you can purchase just one can of Guinness, in case you're not a fan, to make the cake.  Eighteen years ago, on our trip to Ireland, we tried it in in pub and it is definitely an acquired taste, but I love cooking with it.

Chocolate Stout Cake

1- 14.9 oz. can of Guinness Stout
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Double Dutch Dark Cocoa or Dutch processed cocoa
4 cups granulated sugar
4 cups flour
1 T baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Line muffin pans with cupcake papers.

Measure the Guinness Stout and add water to equal 2 cups of liquid.

Place in a medium sauce pan.  Cut butter into one-tablespoon pieces and place in the pan with the stout.  Heat on medium until the butter melts.  Whisk in the cocoa and set aside.

In the KitchenAid, using a paddle attachment, or a large bowl and hand mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream.  Add the Stout mixture and beat on medium to combine.  

In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients--flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Add the dry ingredients, all at once and beat just until combined.  Pour or scoop the batter into the paper-liners three-quarters high.
Bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes--be careful not to overcook.  The cupcakes should just spring back when lightly touched.  
Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove to a rack and prepare the frosting.

Chocolate Buttercream:
Click on the link for the buttercream I used on the cupcakes with the shamrock.  I used #808tip to swirl the chocolate buttercream, then used about a cup of the Bailey's Irish Cream buttercream, tinted green and piped with a #21 tip.

Bailey's Irish Cream Buttercream:

4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
6  cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cups meringue powder (optional, but makes the icing fluffy)
1/2 cup Bailey's Irish Cream*
1/3 to 1/2 cup heavy cream

*If you want to make these cupcakes "kid-friendly" use Irish Cream flavor and increase the amount of heavy cream to almost 1 cup.

Cream the butter, half the sugar, and the meringue powder, if using.  Add the Bailey's and beat on low to combine.  

Add the rest of the sugar and heavy cream to create a fluffy buttercream.
Use a #808 tip to pipe a swirl on top of the cooled cupcakes and top with the bittersweet shards.
 I created the shards of chocolate by melting about 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, then, pour the melted chocolate on a sheet of parchment paper and spread thinly with an off-set spatula.  Roll up the parchment paper and refrigerate until hardened.  When you unroll, the chocolate breaks into nice shards for garnishing.  Enjoy!

Saint Patrick became the patron saint in Ireland in the 17th century.  It is said that he used a shamrock to symbolize the trinity.  When Kelly and Erin went to Ireland to visit some family friends, they brought me back a shamrock.  I still have this shamrock taped behind to one of the most recognized Irish Blessings~
May the road
rise up to meet you,
May the wind
be always at your back,
May the sun 
shine warm
upon your face,
and the rains
fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you
in the hallow
of His hand.

I traveled to Kentucky last year on St. Patrick's Day, bringing a loaf of my Cheddar Soda Bread to Kelly, Matt and Ari.  Now, until we meet you always, my sweet daughter.