Sunday, March 31, 2019

Butter Pecan Cookies

Overcast and gloomy today, but it is getting warmer. Here I am in the middle of this baking project and the electricity went out. Since the dough in these cookies have to chill for four hours due to the butter content, the lack of electricity was a little irritating. However, it was fixed in a few hours. 

When you think of pecan cookies, pecan sandies and mexican wedding cookies come to mind. There is not much out there in a pecan variety of cookie. However, this recipe offers something distinctly different in the pecan cookie category. Instead of a soft shortbread type of cookie, these are thick, chewy and packed with pecans. Also, since the dough is scooped out into 1/3 cup size, they are big and shareable. This recipe makes 16 large cookies

Butter Pecan Cookies
adapted from Baker By Nature 

Ingredients/Butter Pecans
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
1 tbs plus 1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter

1 cup or 2 sticks butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs (room temp)
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tbs plus 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
16 pecan halves for topping

For the butter pecans, fill a skillet with the butter and pecans and place over medium heat. The butter will start to melt. Once completely melted, stir occasionally, mixing butter with pecans so they are completely coated. Pecans with start to toast and become fragrant. Let toast for 3-4 minutes then remove from heat and set aside.

For the cookies, sift the dry ingredients together (the 6th thru 10th items on ingredient list) and set aside.

Fill a saucepan with the butter and place over medium high heat. After melting, the butter will start to cook and change colors. Cook and stir at intervals until butter turns a golden brown color. This should take about 4-5 minutes. Butter will boil during this time, but watch the color. Remove from heat and let cool 15 minutes.

Transfer butter to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add granulated sugar and dark brown sugar and mix on medium speed until blended. Then add one egg and vanilla. Beat for 30 seconds until mixed. Repeat with the second egg.

Using a wooden spoon, mix in dry, sifted ingredients into batter until no dry streaks remain. Then mix in butter pecans until evenly distributed. Cover and chill dough for a minimum of 4 hours.

About 30 minutes prior to the end of the chilling time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop dough out measuring 1/3 of a cup. Place each scoop of parchment paper and space about 2 inches apart. Press 1 pecan into center of mound.

Bake in oven about 9-11 minutes or until edges are set. Center will still be soft. Once removed from oven, let cool on baking sheet. Place on rack to cool for 15 minutes, then transfer to rack to completely cool.
                          **LAST YEAR: Raspberry Almond Ice Cream Sandwiches**


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Cranberry Hand Pies

Sometimes contrast does come in delicious formats when it comes to food. One of the contrasts is sweet and tart. Outside of citrus fruits, cranberry offers quite a bit of the tart. Teamed with orange and some sugar, these little deliver the perfect contrast, just when you crave a little bit of fruit pie.

Due to the level of tartness, I feel that cranberries in a whole 1-1 1/2 inch deep pie would be a little too overwhelming. Making the smaller form of hand pies with cranberries lend themselves to a more balance of flavor. They are tasty on their own, but serving them warm with a scoop of ice cream makes them even better.

My posting and baking is waning down to just a few times a month. This change has made way for me to dabble in dinner entrees. It seems as if dinner has become repetitive types of meals, so it is time to start changing it up and trying new things. My cooking partner (husband) is looking forward to it.

The blogging posts may be slowing down but there are still so many things I have yet to bake. Trying new techniques and new flavor combinations is what makes baking fun, so my passion still remains. This recipe makes 15-16 hand pies.

Cranberry Hand Pies
adapted from Bon Appetit

3 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 or 3 sticks unsalted butter plus 3 tbs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Ingredients/Filling and topping
1 tsp orange zest
2 tbs fresh orange juice
1/2 tsp instant tapioca
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 lb (fresh or thawed frozen) cranberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 beaten egg
raw or sparkling sugar for sprinkling on top

For the pastry dough, start by cutting the butter into 1/2 inch cubes. Then place in freezer for about 10 minutes. While the butter is chilling, fill the bowl of a stand mixer with flour, sugar and salt. Using the whisk attachment, mix together on medium speed. Once the butter is ready, change the mixer attachment to the blade. Run the mixer on medium speed and start dropping in butter cubes, a little at a time. After all the butter is in the flour mixture, continue to beat until the consistency is more coarse, like sand. Keep mixing until the large lumps of butter are gone and just pea size and smaller remains.

Continue to mix and slowly stream in 1/2 cup of ice water. As you mix, the batter will form a lump a dough. At the dough stage, divide into 2 even pieces. Flatten each piece in a disc and completely cover with plastic. Place dough in refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 2 hours.

During the two hours, create the filling. Fill a saucepan with sugar, orange zest, orange juice and tapioca. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the saucepan. Mix together with a wooden spoon until all is evenly dispersed. Then add the cranberries into the mixture, tossing to cover. Let sit for about 10 minutes so juices can build up. Then place over medium heat and let come to a simmer. The mixture will thicken as it simmers. The correct consistency should be achieved by simmering 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Dust a flat surface with flour. Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Once the chilling time is complete, take out one disc of dough. Unwrap and place on floured surface and roll out to a thickness of 1/16". Cut dough with biscuit or cookie cutter, making 16 circles.Then coat the outer edge of 8 of the circles with the beaten egg. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle. Top the circles with the remaining rounds of dough. Take the tines of a fork and press down along the edge about 1/4 of an inch deep to seal the pies. To make a clean edge, use the cutter again to cut off any of the dough that is uneven.

Place pies on baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Brush the surface with beaten egg and then sprinkle sugar on top. Vent top of pies with a line or with an "x".  Take filled baking sheets and put in refrigerator to chill for 45 minutes. After chilling, place pan in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden on the edges and filling is bubbling. Remove from oven and let rest on pan for 5 minutes then transfer to rack to completely cool. Repeat the rolling, forming, chilling and baking process for the pies with the 2nd disc of dough.

Tips and Notes:
1. The widest width of the pies I made were 4 inches and I ended up with 15 pies. The pies had 2 tablespoons of filling and I had a lot of dough left over. The filling ran out.

2. Even though the recipe states roll dough to 1/16 of an inch, I made mine a little thicker. The extra thin dough was too fragile and made it more difficult to form the pies.

3. The recipe can be made ahead in stages. The dough can be made 2 days ahead and chilled. Let it soften at room temperature for 15 minutes prior to rolling out. The cranberry filling can be made 5 days ahead, just cover and chill. Lastly, pies can be formed and chilled 2 hours ahead of baking.
                                            ***LAST YEAR:Baked Apple Donuts**

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Black and White Toffee Bars

Sometimes you just have a craving for a rich dessert without a lot of fuss. These bars are exactly that. They are packed with white chocolate chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips and chunks of toffee (ie Almond Roca). Just to give you an idea, I was wondering how all those add-ins would mix into the small amount of batter the recipe makes.

They are sinfully sweet, so a small piece with a glass of milk goes a long way. If I were to make these again, I would probably double the batter recipe and not double the add ins. That way they would have a little bit more cake to the bars.

They are good to put in your kid's lunchbox and great for an afternoon snack. The recipe also has the advantage of being quick and easy to make, so less time in the kitchen.

Black and White Toffee Bars
adapted from 

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 oz white chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped toffee (almond roca)
1/2 cup or 1 stick butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups plus 2 tbs flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease the interior of a 9" square pan.

Start by filling the bowl of a stand mixer with the brown sugar and butter. Cream the two together until light and smooth. Using another bowl, place a sieve over the top. Then sift the flour, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.

Add egg and vanilla to butter/sugar batter and beat until blended. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the sifted ingredients until no dry streaks remain. Then fold in both types of chocolate chips and the chopped toffee. Once all is evenly distributed, add to prepared pan and smooth surface until even.

Bake 20-23 minutes. Set pan  on wire rack to cool completely. After cooling, refrigerate for 1 hour. Then cut and serve.
                              **LAST YEAR:Pecan Wedding Cake**