Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Sugar Cookies

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays pick is Sugar Cookies, chosen by Nina of Nina's Cupcakes.

Based on the comments for this recipe, I have to admit, I was a little scared. And when I pressed onward, adding extra sugar and lemon zest as was suggested, and the dough stuck almost completely to my wooden cutting board, I nearly gave up. I was feeling a bit dramatic, I suppose; stressed out about school and not feeling like I had time to really make the cookies in the first place.

But I scraped the dough off the board, tossed it back into the freezer to chill quickly, and started over. My fiance, sensing my frustration (perhaps because of a couple of curses), washed the cutting board and rolling pin for me to start fresh. Gotta love him. With the cutting board coated in flour, the re-chilled dough rolled out like a dream.

I used my new cupcake-shaped cookie cutter from Crate & Barrel, and then made royal icing with meringue powder.

The combination of the lemony, buttery cookies and the sweet, crunchy icing is perfect. I think the extra lemon and sugar really helped - these cookies are so flavourful. Plus, the cuteness of the cupcake-cookies gives me a little mood boost whenever I spot them in the cookie jar. Obviously, a mood boost comes in handy at this point in the semester.

For the recipe, visit Nina's blog.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesdays With Dorie: Honey-Wheat Cookies

A month with two batches of Dorie cookies is a very good month, indeed. After my turn hosting Dorie's chocolate chip cookie recipe last week (yay!), it's time to pass the torch - can you tell I've been watching the Olympics nonstop? - to another cookie recipe, chosen by Michelle of Flourchild.

Honey-Wheat Cookies. Honey-laden, lemon-infused, wheat germ cookies. It all sounds a bit hippie-ish, but really, these are the kind of cookies that belong beside tea, not wheatgrass juice (or whatever it is that hippies drink).

The lemon zest lends its bright intensity, and the wheat germ is a really nice touch. It adds texture and a nice wholesome flavour. These disappeared around here, almost before I was able to photograph them! A definite make-again recipe.

Thanks for the pick, Michelle! You can find the recipe on her blog.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesdays With Dorie: My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies. It’s true. They might be out there, but if so, they’re not easy to find.

So, naturally, the competition for the title of Best Chocolate Chip Cookie is steep. But Dorie Greenspan claims to have the winner. Although I think her recipe needs a few modifications, she’s not wrong. These just might be the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies ever.

I am so glad that I chose them for a very special week: my turn to host Tuesdays With Dorie. It’s hard to believe it’s already my turn. When I signed up a year and a half ago, it seemed so far away. Now, after making 42 recipes, it’s my shot. I’m a cookie fanatic, so I couldn’t resist trying out a new chocolate chip cookie recipe. I hope everyone enjoyed it!

Now, on to the cookies. Let’s start with the drawbacks. I baked the cookies on three different batches of cookie sheets, trying a slightly different method each time. The first batch ended up flat, almost melted, and fairly burnt after 10 minutes of cooking, although still edible.

(the first batch)

I chilled the second batch in the refrigerator while the first batch baked, and then baked it for 9 minutes. These fared better than the first, but were still a bit too dark and flat for my liking.

For the third batch, I tossed the remaining batter in the freezer until it was very firm but not frozen. I also baked them for 8 minutes. This was, in my opinion, the best way to bake them. They looked much, much better.

(the cookies getting progressively better)

And the taste? Phenomenal: the perfect counterbalance of vanilla-scented batter and rich chocolate chips. They were perfectly chewy, too; even the ones that were bordering on burnt softened up nicely in the cookie jar. I made half of the batch with walnuts and half without, and although the walnuts were fun to try, I still prefer this recipe without nuts.

Now that I know the proper method with which to make them, they’re my new favourite chocolate chip cookies. And my fiancé’s, too.

Thanks so much for baking with me! I'm in (hopefully sunny) Florida right now and depending on the internet situation, may or may not be able to comment on everyone's blogs right away. But I will do it once I'm back home. I look forward to seeing what you all think.

My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
From pg. 68 of Baking From My Home to Yours
Makes 45 cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or 2 cups store-bought chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional) or pecans (optional)


Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes or so, until well-blended. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing only until each addition is incorporated. On low speed, or by hand with a rubber spatula, mix in the chocolate and nuts. (The dough can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen. If you'd like, you can freeze rounded tablespoons of dough, ready for baking. Freeze the mounds on a lined baking sheet, then bag them when they're solid. There's no need to defrost the dough before baking - just add another minute or two to the baking time.)

Spoon the dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between spoonfuls.

Bake the cookies - one sheet at a time and rotating the sheet at the midway point - for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are brown at the edges and golden in the center; they may still be a little soft in the middle, and that's just fine. Pull the sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to rest for 1 minute, then carefully, using a wide metal spatula, transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remainder of the dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

The cooking can be kept in a cookie jar or sealed container for about four days, or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to two months.

Cocoa Chocolate Chip Cookies: use 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder.
Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies: add 1 1/2 tbsp instant espresso powder after you add the vanilla extract.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies: use 1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) of unsalted butter and a 1/2 cup peanut butter (you can use chunky or smooth, but it's best not to use natural peanut butter, which will not give you the right texture). Beat them together before adding the sugars. Use salted peanuts instead of walnuts or pecans.
Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies: Add 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted or not, to the dough when you add the chocolate chips and nuts. Why not go all the way and add some raisins or bits of dried apricots?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A truffled version of Barefoot Contessa's Grown Up Mac and Cheese

In my life I’ve surely tried a dozen macaroni and cheese recipes or more, ranging from boxed mac and cheese (of which I’m a bit of a connoisseur) to the real, made-from-scratch deal (of which I’m striving to be a better connoisseur).

I never get sick of the instant comfort macaroni and cheese provides, and how adaptable it is. But I still view it as a homey, curl-up-on-the-couch kind of food, not the type of dish you’d serve when entertaining.

Leave it to Ina Garten (and a twist or two of my own) to change my opinion.

Garten’s Grown Up Mac and Cheese is perfectly named. With a mix of Gruyere (or Swiss), cheddar, and blue cheeses, it has a very sophisticated taste. I love the complexity of the three cheeses combined. They’re all very sharp on their own, so together it’s quite a whopping flavour combination, with nuttiness from the Swiss cheese and saltiness from the blue.

I can see why it’s for grown-ups – I don’t know if my niece’s or nephews’ palates are developed enough for this recipe!

I omitted the bacon, used whole wheat macaroni, stirred a bit of truffle oil into the macaroni and cheese, and sprinkled panko bread crumbs and grated Parmesan on top. I loved these changes, especially the earthy truffle flavour. I also believe this recipe serves 3, not 2 as Ina says, because a recipe with this much cheese just cannot be served, in good conscience, to only two people.

Truffled Grown Up Mac and Cheese
(Original recipe here)
Serves 3

2 cups whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ounces Swiss cheese, grated
3 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
2 ounces blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
1 tsp truffle oil (optional)
Approximately 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
Parmesan cheese

Add the macaroni to a large pot of boiling salted water and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. You could also microwave it in a bowl or measuring cup at 20 second intervals, until it is hot. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a few minutes more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Swiss, Cheddar, blue cheese, truffle oil, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a buttered 8x8” or 9x9” casserole dish.

Turn on your oven’s broiler. Sprinkle panko bread crumbs (about 1/3 cup or to taste) over the macaroni, and then grate parmesan over the bread crumbs.

Place casserole dish in the oven, watching it carefully so it doesn’t burn. When the cheese has melted and the panko crumbs are slightly toasted (they don’t tend to darken much), remove the dish from the oven. Serve immediately.

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