Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Banana Cream Pie With Graham Cracker Crunch

Another fun recipe from Elinor Klivans's new Essential Chocolate Chip Cookbook is this banana cream pie. The formula for the graham-cracker crust is set up for excess. Most of the crust mixture (graham-cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, butter, miniature chocolate chips) is pressed into a 9-in.-dia. pie pan. The remainder is shaped into a 8-in. round on a baking sheet, then baked alongside the crust. The bonus crust crisps up into a cookielike treat that is crumbled over the whipped-cream topping that covers the pie's banana-vanilla pudding filling. Completely over the top, totally excessive, and lots of fun.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lemon and Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake

To commemorate the start of this year's quest to run the five New York City borough half-marathons, a race series sponsored by the New York Road Runners Club, I made Lemon and Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake from Elinor Klivans's new book, The Essential Chocolate Chip Cookbook. I packed the cake, brought it to Central Park, and shared it with friends who'd also run the Manhattan half-marathon.

This cake is excellent. Lemon and chocolate are an unusual but great partnership. Lemon zest goes in the cake batter; then the finished cake is brushed with lemon syrup while still warm from the oven.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love Mom's Big Book of Cookies. This Lauren Chattman book is full of reliable, trusty cookie recipes. When I use the chocolate-chip recipe from this book, I have found that I get great results if I refrigerate the dough for a day before I bake it. I also add extra flour to the cookie dough to get the consistency I like. (I'm of the big, soft, and chewy chocolate-chip cookie camp.) For this batch, I used a straggler bag of raspberry-swirled chocolate chips, something Nestle had out last year.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Trip to Houston

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Texas for the Houston Marathon. Because the holidays had put me in a cookie-baking frame of mind, I baked a lot of cookies to bring along and share with the friends who were also going to be at the race. I relied on recipes from three books.

From Mom’s Big Book of Cookies by Lauren Chattman, I made:
Benne Wafers: excellent cookie, with an unusual flavor from the sesame seeds.
Sour Cream Chocolate Mint Chip Cookies: soft, cakey. I didn’t love these cookies, truth be told.
Snickerdoodles: a thinner, crisper version than the ones Ryan usually makes on Cookie Day (from a recipe in The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle).
Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookies: pretty good, a chocolate chocolate-chip cookie with cinnamon in the dough.

From A Baker’s Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies by Dede Wilson, I made:
Double Chip Browned-Butter Oat Scotchies: excellent. Oaty, butterscotchy.
Coffee-Toffee-Chocolate Chunk Cookies: a classic.

From Cookies by Jill Snider, I made:
Lemon-Poppy Seed Balls: nice and tender, but in need of a bit more lemon flavor.
Key Lime-Coconut Macaroons: didn’t like them at all; they had a rubbery texture. I made the dough in advance and refrigerated it for a day before baking it. I wonder if that contributed to the unfortunate texture.

Also, to fulfill a promise, I brought along a Sweet Potato Pound Cake, from a recipe in Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott. I’ve made this one before, and absolutely love it.

Finally, I made a couple of flourless treats for my good friend Enid, who can’t consume wheat-based baked goods. Although I really like baking for friends in general, I get a special bit of joy in baking for Enid because I know that homemade baked goods can be harder to come by for those who can’t eat wheat. So for Enid, it was a batch of Cliff's Brownies (from Gluten-Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly) and a batch of Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies from Lauren Chattman’s book. It’s a brilliantly simple four-ingredient recipe (peanut butter, egg, vanilla, sugar) that I augmented with some Ghirardelli dark-chocolate chips.

Lemon Squares

When I make lemon squares anymore, they are a complete disaster. For many years, I used a lemon square recipe by Emily Luchetti. It had always worked until the last few times I made it. (Clearly, the problem has become me, not the recipe!) Because I had some lemons that were close to turning the corner, I decided to try a lemon-square recipe from Tish Boyle's The Good Cookie. Zesty Lemon Squares had a lot of appeal: plenty of lemon juice in the filling, plus a brown-sugar crust spiked with crystallized ginger. I followed the recipe, and I think that was my undoing. The crust is baked before the filling is poured on it. I allowed the crust to cool before adding the filling, and apparently, the crust contracted enough that the filling all oozed under the crust.

Serving the bars was essentially a rescue operation. I flipped the baked bars over onto a cutting board, and served them upside down. They were very lemony, as a good lemon square should be, but they definitely were not something to pick up and eat out of hand.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Even More Cookies

Before the excitement of Cookie Day even began, I learned that some friends in Philadelphia were planning a get-together: a Sunday-morning run followed by a cookie exchange. When I asked Ryan if he was interested in heading to Philly for the shindig, he said yes. So we made plans to participate in this year's Philly event.

The run was a lot of fun; we really lucked out with a mild December morning. The cookie swap was a lot of fun, too. I wish I'd done a better job of keeping track of what other people brought. There were some great meringues, some tahini cookies, blondies, and more.

I brought along the following:

Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies, from Lauren Chattman's Mom's Big Book of Cookies; I made these with a tablespoon (or so) of orange zest in the dough. Very nice. These cookies were the ones we left out for Santa this year, too. Awesome. I add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour than the recipe calls for; the extra flour makes for a cookie that spreads less, which I like.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies, also from the Chattman book; a chocolate cookie with peanut butter and peanut-butter chips in the dough. Excellent.

Oatmeal Cookies with Cranberries and White Chocolate Chips, also from the Chattman book. The recipe was developed with butterscotch chips, but I used white chocolate instead. They went well with the dried cranberries.

Orange Poppy Seed Spirals, from Tish Boyle's The Good Cookie. In the end, not a bad cookie, what what a pain making them. I ruined the first batch of poppy-seed filling, which involves just scalding 2 tablespoons of whole milk and 1 tablespoon of honey. Good grief! That liquid is then combined with poppy seeds ground in the food processor with sugar, cloves, and lemon zest. It's then swirled into rounds with an orange-spiked cookie dough. The cookies tasted terrific; the orange and clove are great partners. In fact, the cookies smelled and tasted a lot like Constant Comment tea.

Mojito Shortbread, from a recipe in Cook's Country magazine. In 2006, Ryan and I put this cookie on the list for Cookie Day. We didn't make it. In 2007, we put it on the list for Cookie Day. We didn't make it. Because I had purchased fresh mint (again), I finally had to make it. It seemed like a great idea for a cookie: a shortbread with lemon and lime zest baked til lightly golden, then sprinkled with a combination of mint and sugar chopped together in the food processor. I don't know. In the end, I was really underwhelmed, maybe mostly because after the mint-sugar coating hardened on top of the shortbread, it crumbled in big chunks and fell off. Also, I think I bought some lousy mint that just lacked flavor. This shortbread just left me with a shrug.

More Cookies

After the rigors of Cookie Day, I still had more cookies to make. For years, I'd wanted to try Benne Wafers. On Cookie Day, I actually made the dough for these cookies, then didn't bake it off til a few days later. I used a recipe from Lauren Chattman's Mom's Big Book of Cookies. I love these cookies. The toasted sesame seeds give them an exotic flavor and nutty crunch; they're so good that I almost don't care when the sesame seeds get stuck in my teeth.

I also made Banana Granola Cookies from Jill Snider's Cookies. These cookies were not too bad, soft and cakey. They're yet another recipe I'll add to the pile I turn to when confronted with overripe bananas.

Then I made a batch of Mexican-wedding-cake-type cookies, with ground walnuts and "holiday" swirled white chips from Nestle. Pretty straightforward. I made these last year, too, and everyone liked them. I have to stop buying goofy "holiday" baking products, though.

Finally, on Christmas Day, I made a batch of Boston Cream Pies, from the Rosie's Bakery Chocolate-Packed, Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich Cookie Book (pause for a breath here) by Judy Rosenberg. It's one of two books written by the owner of this Boston-area bakery chain. Loved the idea, but the reality was troublesome. First, the pastry-cream filling set up into a solid, immovable mass. With the quick work of some extra cream and my immersion blender, I managed to save the pastry cream. The yellow cakes for these small sandwich cookies mostly baked up OK. But the chocolate glaze for the tops was a nightmare, far too thin and runny to adhere to the cakes, even when it was cool. I ended up adding enough powdered sugar to make a frosting instead of a glaze. Then, after all the bonus effort, the Boston Cream Pies were good to go. (I'm tempted to roll my eyes at this point.)