Sunday, February 22, 2015

Taffy Treats

The title and the picture does have a way of leading you down the wrong path.  Let me clarify a few things: these are not candy, but caramel coated cookies and there is none of the traditional taffy in this recipe. The only link to taffy is that the filling and coating is stretchy, much like the taffy.  Sorry for the taffy fans, but if you love caramel and nuts, gladly read on. Clearly, the person that won the baking contest with this treat must be in your nutty caramel circle.

If I had to name these little goodies, I would call them nut caramel clusters. There is a walnut praline filling inside and then they are coated with caramel and walnuts.  The cookie itself tastes like a butter cookie. Surprisingly, these are made with both powdered sugar and brown sugar. The outside caramel is the soft, chewy kind with a deep, buttery flavor. The layer of caramel in a Milkyway bar is the same.

The filling, forming and coating is what requires the most time to create these.  You could make your own caramel, but this recipe only calls for softening store-bought caramels.  It is a time saver and I do not feel that it detracts any from the flavor.

Anyhow, these morsels are as delicious as they look.  For parties, dress them up with colored toothpicks and place them in 1 1/2" candy papers. However, feel confident that these will be eaten quickly, regardless of how fancy the presentation.

This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.  Be sure to read the helpful tips and notes at the end before you begin.

Taffy Treats
adapted from the Plymouth Star Tribune

Ingredients/ filling
1/3 cup ground walnuts
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup or 1 stick butter (room temp)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 cups sifted flour

Ingredients/ coating
14 oz of caramels (approx 48-50 caramels)
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 cup ground walnuts
Toothpicks for dipping and serving

The first step is to make the filling.  Place all filling ingredients in a saucepan.  Cook and stir constantly until thick, about 5 minutes.  You should be able to scrape the bottom of the interior of the pan and have the streak remain for at least 20 seconds before the filling flows back to cover it.  Remove from heat and set aside.  It will set up more upon cooling.

For the cookies, prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Fill a mixing bowl with the butter, powdered sugar, brown sugar and salt.  Beat until smooth and creamy.  Then beat in egg and vanilla extract. Once blended, mix in the flour with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Take the dough and form into 1 inch balls.  Make a depression with your thumb and fill indentation with 1/4 tsp of walnut filling. Seal in filling and shape back into a ball.  Place each on baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart.  Bake until golden brown on bottom, about 15-18 minutes.  Remove cookies from the oven and gently insert toothpick into center and transfer to cooling rack. Let completely cool prior to coating.

Set up a double boiler for the caramel coating and place over medium heat. Then lay a sheet of wax paper and a bowl full of the ground walnuts aside. Once water starts to simmer in bottom pot, pour evaporated milk and add caramels to top pot.  Let mixture melt, stirring occasionally.  After all caramels are melted and blended with the milk, you are ready to dip the cookies by using the toothpick. Dip each cookie into the caramel and let the excess drip off. Then coat the bottom by placing in the ground walnuts.  Transfer to wax paper and allow to set.

Tips and notes:
1. The forming process is best done in dozen increments.  Forming several dozen indented rounds prior to filling will cause the dough to dry out and crack while it sits.

2. To fill and seal, I dampened my fingers to pull out the filling, to place in the indentation and to seal inside.

3. The recipe suggests using the microwave to melt the caramels or removing the double boiler from the heat.  I used a double boiler and left it on the heat to maintain the caramel consistency while dipping. The microwave method would not allow for this.

4. How much you cover your cookies with the caramel or walnuts is your option.  If you plan for full coverage, don't roll the cookies around in the nuts. Placing it in the nuts to cover the bottom and sprinkling the nuts on the top is the best way to keep all the caramel on the cookie instead of having it drip off into the nuts.

5. I used Kraft brand caramels (comes in an 11 oz bag) and the coating was soft and smooth.  If for any reason your coating is too thick, adjust by adding a tablespoon at a time of evaporated milk or water until desired consistency is met. Eenjoy!
                             **LAST YEAR: Peach Brandy Pound Cake**

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lemon Pull Apart Coffee Cake

There are quite a few "quick fix" pull apart bread recipes available, along with the famous monkey bread.  Yet, the idea of a loaf of pull apart bread did intrigue me, but I would have to find a recipe that is from scratch.  Yes, from scratch.  I know when it comes to bread type recipes, we first think about the hours and hours of rising time...

In review, the rising time is minimal and the loaf came together rather quickly for this recipe.  Also, another good point is that it is flexible. We all appreciate a good base recipe that you can change up, depending on the flavor you want -go savory with garlic butter or more sweet with cinnamon brown sugar.

The bread is flaky and crisp on the outside and the inside is fluffy and soft.  The light, clean flavor of lemon makes it a perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of tea.  The only issue I had was with the topping.  I would have preferred a glaze with a stronger lemon flavor.  The topping was thick and only had a hint of lemon flavor.  The recipe below reflects the original ingredients and measurement, so you can alter it according to your personal taste.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Coffee Cake
adapted from Baking for all Occasions

1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temp.
1/4 cup or 1/2 stick of butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 3/4 cup flour
2 1/4 tsp of yeast or 1 pkg

Ingredients/ Lemon paste filling
3 tbs lemon zest
1 tbs orange zest
1/4 cup or 1/2 stick melted butter
1/2 cup sugar

Ingredients/ Cream Cheese Icing
1 tbs milk
1 tbs lemon juice
1/3 cup powdered sugar
3 oz softened cream cheese

For the dough, start by filling the bowl of a stand mixer with 2 cups of flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Whisk together so all is evenly distributed and set aside.  Then fill a medium size saucepan with milk and butter.  Place the saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally.  Once the butter is melted, remove from heat and add water.  Using a candy thermometer, let cool until the temperature registers around 120 to 130 degrees. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Pour the milk mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until no dry streaks remain.  Place the bowl back into the stand mixer.  Turn the mixer on low with the beater blade attached.  Add one egg and continue to beat on low for 30 seconds.  Repeat the process with the additional egg. Once blended, turn off mixer and add 1/2 cup flour.  Switch mixer back on to low speed and beat for 45 seconds.  Pause a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Sprinkle in 2 more tablespoons of flour and turn mixer up to medium speed.  Beat for an additional 45 seconds.

Prepare a flat work surface by dusting with flour.  Place dough on surface and gently knead for about a minute, adding 1 to 2 more tablespoons of flour.  The end result should yield a smooth dough. Grease the interior of a medium-size bowl and shape the dough into a ball.  Place the dough in the prepared bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled by placing in a warm area, preferably 75 degrees.  This process should take about 45 minutes to an hour.  As the dough rises, you can prepare the filling.

Mix both types of zests together in a small bowl with the sugar and set aside.  Once the dough has risen for 45 minutes, go back and check for completion by making an indentation in the dough.  If the dough does not expand back and the indention remains, the rising time is complete. Otherwise let rise another 5-15 minutes and test again.

Prepare a loaf pan (9x5x3) by buttering the interior and dust a flat surface with flour. Take the dough out of the bowl, deflate and roll out to form a rectangle.  It should measure 12x 20 inches. Then cover the surface with the melted butter using a pastry brush.

Divide the rectangle into smaller sizes by cutting the 20 inch length into 5 pieces, 4 inches wide. Each piece will remain 12 inches long.  Place about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the sugar/zest mixture onto the center of one strip.  Smooth it out on the strip, making sure it is covered evenly.  Also, press lightly into the butter so that it adheres.  Repeat the process with another rectangle. Stack the second rectangle (with filling facing up) on top of the first.  Continue with the same steps until all 5 pieces are stacked into layers and coated with the filling.

Using a sharp knife, cut the stack into 6 pieces, 4 x 2 inches.  Place each piece into the pan with the cut side up.  The 4 inch part of the stack should be parallel with the short side of the pan. Once all the stacks are in the pan, the layers with fit snugly inside the 9 inch length of the pan and loosely in the 4 inch width of the pan.  Cover the pan lightly with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled, starting with one 15 minute session.

After 15 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wait an additional 15 minutes rising time and test the dough for completion as you did with the first rising.  The dough rising can take between 30 to 50 minutes.  Once rising time is completed, place pa n in oven and let bake until golden brown on top. Bake time is 30-35 minutes.  Be sure to check at the 25 minute mark to see if it needs to be covered with foil.  You do not want it too brown.

During the bake time, make the frosting by beating together the cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth.  Add the lemon juice and milk, beating another minute until completely blended.  Set aside.  After the loaf is baked, remove the pan and sit on rack to cool for 15 minutes.  Then invert the loaf twice, so the loaf is sitting on the cooling rack the same way it did to bake.

Slide a piece of wax paper under the rack and then frost the loaf with the cream cheese mixture. Serve warm by pulling layers off the sides.
                                        **LAST YEAR: Dutch Love Letter Cookies*

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Brooklyn Blackout Cupcakes

This is one of the recipes that hails from the Robicellis.  There are many cupcake recipes on my blog, but this particular one has some very unique factors in the preparation method as well as the recipe components.

One of the things I liked about it was the frosting.  The idea of adding a custard to the buttercream frosting (contains marscapone as well) does give it more depth of flavor.  It also cuts down on the sugary taste.

Another factor is that it has a saving grace on the custard, for those who are not familiar with the process.  If you are not perfect about creating the custard and lumps show up, just throw it into a food processor and pulse it.  This will bring it back to a smooth consistency.

Recently, I saw a conversion tip on the internet for transforming a cake recipe to cupcakes.  It states to first find one that uses butter in the recipe.  As many cupcakes as I have made, I do differ on this point.  The use of oil instead of butter in cupcakes has been very beneficial.  They always seem to come out light and moist.  I have had some fails on the butter type of recipes, with the results being a very dense and dry cupcake.

Anyhow, these have a great texture and plenty of chocolate flavor.  The frosting is on the fluffy side and the dip in the chocolate fudge with cakes crumbs sprinkled on top is a great ending to the assembly.  

Brooklyn Blackout Cupcakes
adapted from Robicelli's A Love Story, with Cupcakes

Ingredients/ Chocolate custard
2 tbs cornstarch
1/4 cup Dutch cocoa powder
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbs butter, melted and cooled

Ingredients/ Cupcakes
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola or grapeseed oil
2/3 cup fresh brewed scalding coffee
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk

Ingredients/ American frosting
1 1/2 cups or three sticks butter (room temp)
8 oz marscapone cheese (room temp)
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups sifted powdered sugar

Ingredients/Chocolate Fudge glaze
2 tbs corn syrup
1 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate
4 tbs unsalted butter

For the custard, fill a medium saucepan with 2 tbs and 2 tsp of the sugar, milk and cream and mix together. Set aside. The second step is to take out a stand mixer bowl and fill with the other half of the sugar (2 tbs and 2 tsp), cocoa powder, egg, egg yolk and cornstarch.  Using a wire whisk attachment, beat the sugar/cocoa mixture until it changes from a dark chocolate color to more of a milk chocolate color, about 3 minutes. Turn off mixer.

Set up a food processor and leave top open.  Place the saucepan that is filled with the sugar, milk and cream and place over medium high heat and cook.  Once it comes to a boil, remove from heat.  Turn the mixer back on medium high and slowly pour the saucepan liquid into the chocolate mix, while the mixer is running.  When it is all blended, transfer batter back to saucepan and return to heat.  Stir constantly and bring back to a boil (mixture will thicken up quickly).  At the boiling stage, remove from heat and transfer to food processor bowl. Process the custard until smooth.  Transfer to heatproof bowl and stir in melted butter and vanilla extract. Cover and seal the surface with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. This custard needs to chill for a minimum of 30 minutes, but it is safe to let it chill while you are creating the other components.

For the chocolate cupcakes, you will need 2 cupcake pans with 12 cavities each.  Grease the upper edge of cavities and line with paper baking cups.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium size bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder.  Set aside.  Then fill a bowl of a stand mixer (fitted with paddle attachment) with cocoa and pour in the hot coffee.  Blend on low speed for about one minute.  The batter will have a thick paste-like consistency.  Turn mixer off.

Pull out a another medium size bowl and add egg, egg yolk, salt, vanilla, buttermilk and oil.  Whisk together until fully blended.  Turn the mixer back on to medium speed and while running, stream the egg/buttermilk mixture into the cocoa blend.  Run for 1 minute then stop to scrape down sides and bottom to pick up any dry cocoa remaining.  Turn on mixer again to medium speed and run for an additional minute.  Shut off mixer.  Take off paddle attachment and remove bowl.

Using a wooden spoon, fold sifted ingredients into the batter until no dry streaks remain.  Then fill the prepared cupcake cavities with the batter.  Make sure that they are only 2/3 full, so they do not rise and spill over the edges.  You should be able to fill all 24 cavities, if not more.

Place in the oven and let bake for 10 minutes and then rotate pans and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Use a tester to check to see if done, cupcakes should take about 20-25 minutes to bake. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for about 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.  Once cupcakes are completely cool, take one and crumble into fine crumbs by hand or by using a food processor. Set crumbs aside in bowl.

Start on the frosting by placing marscapone and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat on medium high for 10 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then add heavy cream and beat for another 5 minutes. Once ingredients are fully melded together, sift in 1/4 cup of powdered sugar and mix.  After it is all mixed in repeat the process in increments until all the powdered sugar is mixed in.  Then take out custard and add to the bowl of frosting.  Beat for 1 minute until combined.  Taste and test for consistency.  In order to thicken and sweeten more, blend in more powdered sugar.  If too thick, beat in more cream.  Set aside.

The glaze is the easiest to prepare.  Place chocolate, corn syrup and butter in a microwaveable bowl.  Heat in microwave for 1 minute.  Remove and stir.  Continue with the process until all chocolate is completely melted and blended. Then stir in the vanilla.  Set aside.

Then frost the cupcakes with the chocolate butter cream, either using a tip or a knife.  I used a knife and formed the frosting into a smooth dome on top.  After all the cupcakes are frosted, place in refrigerator to allow the frosting to set up.  It will set up in about 20 minutes.

After the chill time is completed, check your glaze to make sure it is still liquid.  If not, add 1 tbs butter and place in microwave for 30 seconds, then stir.  Then dip the top of the cupcakes in the liquid glaze and allow the excess to drip off.  Then sprinkle on the cupcake crumbs.

Note: Since the glaze is for dipping you will have excess.  Should you not want any excess, cut the recipe in half and then drizzle on the glaze.
                               **LAST YEAR:Cherry Mahlab Muffins**