Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

On Monday, Claire's Girl Scout troop hosted an event, and she brought home half of a Costco-size package of Oreos that were left over from the snack table. I know most people would think "Oreos! What a great snack!" I looked at them and thought, "Oreos! What a great ingredient!" Since I had promised Claire's skating pal Elise that I would make something for her upcoming birthday, I sought out a recipe that would allow me to use Oreos as an ingredient. I ended up making these Cookies & Cream Cupcakes.

Despite the fact that this recipe calls for a full tablespoon of baking powder, the cupcakes didn't rise a whole lot. They are incredibly tender, however, especially for a cake made with all-purpose flour. I think that's largely due to the preparation technique. The liquids and softened butter are all combined simultaneously with the dry ingredients; then egg whites are added (to provide structure, I think).

The recipe suggested a fluffy white frosting, but I went with a more traditional buttercream, which I thought would be easier to pipe onto the cupcakes. Then I garnished each cupcake with some sprinkles and a miniature Oreo.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Neil's Donuts

Yesterday, we took Claire to a skating clinic in Hamden, a town near New Haven. Afterward, we decided to head to Boston for the day. While heading north on the Merritt Parkway, we passed a sign indicating that the exit for Yalesville was coming up. In the dark, bakery-cluttered recesses of my mind, I remembered reading some commentary at about a good doughnut place in Yalesville. Since I was driving, we took the exit. A little bit up the road, and voila! Neil's Donuts!

In addition to doughnuts, Neil's has a nice assortment of baked goods. We kind of went for a sampler with a bit of everything.

Doughnuts are best fresh, and I very much enjoyed the pillowy soft freshness of the chocolate-glazed, chocolate-jimmied raised doughnut I had for breakfast. Karen had the chocolate-glazed cake doughnut and declared it good. Claire opted for the Boston-cream doughnut (lower left) that was so oozing with filling that we ended up having to stop so that she could wash her hands.

I'd been meaning to get to Neil's for years, but before yesterday, it was never conveniently on the way anywhere. Now all I can say is that I hope that Claire will be attending another skating clinic in Hamden in the near future. I know exactly how to fill my time while she is on the ice.

Unfortunately, we didn't make it to any bakeries after we arrived in Boston, although I did see someone carrying a bag from Finale.

These final two photos are not bakery-related, but I figured I'd tack them on here: me at the Boston Marathon finish line and Claire in the Public Garden at the Make Way for Ducklings statues.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bourbon-Pecan Turtle Brownies

This brownie is a creation that is evolving.

A few weeks ago, I was baking with my friend Andy, and I made a batch of Bourbon-Pecan Brownies, a recipe from Quick Chocolate Fixes by Leslie Weiner and Barbara Albright. Andy suggested dressing up the brownies a little. To be honest, while they taste really good, they are somewhat plain-looking, almost homely. So I glazed them with a bittersweet-chocolate ganache and sprinkled some chopped toasted pecans on top. Although that helped the appearance, Andy suggested a drizzle of caramel over the nuts and ganache. Since I didn't feel like making caramel, I left the brownies as they were, but I kept the caramel idea in the back of my mind.

For this week's Lost Lunch Thursday, I decided to work a little more with the caramel idea. I searched for a bourbon caramel recipe, thinking that it would be nice to have the bourbon flavor repeated in the final product. The first recipe I tried was too bourbony for my taste. Fortunately, the recipe made only a small amount. I then went back to a terrific caramel-sauce recipe from Fine Cooking. I've made this caramel sauce many times. For this version, I added 1/2 cup of bourbon to the warm caramel, then stirred in about 1 cup of chopped toasted pecans to 1-1/2 cups of the warm caramel. I poured this topping over the brownies, then glazed them with bittersweet chocolate ganache.

While I really like the flavors, I think I need a thicker caramel. I would like for the caramel to maintain a bit more shape after the brownies are sliced. I'm hesitant to dial back on the bourbon, though, because the 1/2-cup measurement (at least to the quantity of caramel sauce that this recipe makes) is just right for a hint of flavor. Still a little work to do ...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Great Blondie

For PLTI this week, I went with a tried-and-true blondie recipe from The Greyston Bakery Cookbook by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan. These blondies are as dense as a good, fudgy brownie, largely because they don't have any leavening. I guess it depends on your palate, but I like their thick chewiness.

Brownie-Blondie Double Deckers, or the 10x10 Pan

For this week's Lost Lunch Thursday, I was a little fixated with making a batch of bar cookies that combined a blondie with a brownie. I've made a couple of different versions before, but this week, I decided to use a recipe from Abby Johnson Dodge's The Weekend Baker.

After I read over the recipe, I looked at the photo of the bar cookie in the book. Much to my dismay, the bars displayed in the photo -- as baked in a 9x13 pan -- were thinner than what I'd been hoping to make. I then decided that I needed to assemble and bake the cookie dough in a smaller pan to get a thicker cookie. An 8x8 pan would be too small. Even a 9x9 pan seemed as if it would be too small (81 sq. in. vs. 117 sq. in. for the 9x13 pan). Then I remembered the 10x10 pan.

In a couple of her books, Lisa Yockelson has recipes developed to be baked in a 10x10 pan. When I first saw the reference to that pan size, all I could think was "Who the heck owns a 10x10 pan? Where on earth can you buy a 10x10 pan?" Even though I managed to track one down at, I didn't buy it.

Then one day a few years ago, I was in a Sur La Table store in SoHo in Manhattan. The 10x10 randomly crossed my mind, and lo and behold, there it was! And I bought it! I took it home! I washed and dried it! Then I put it away until yesterday! (I think the lesson here as I'm brilliantly rationalizing it is that eventually, I will some how, some way, use the pans and gadgets that I've purchased even though they might spend some portion of their lives gathering dust.)

In the end, I think the 10x10 pan gave me the kind of bar cookie I was looking for. It's thick enough, and it required only 12 minutes or so of extra baking time. Plus, the bars are good. I did my own riff on the recipe and added a cup of white-chocolate chips to the brownie part to contrast with the semisweet chips in the blondie part. They ended up looking and tasting great.

Cupcakes for Allie

Yesterday was a birthday for one of Claire's skating friends, so I volunteered to bring some cupcakes to the rink for the celebration. I made a batch of Chocolate Sour Cream Cupcakes from Sara Neumeier's Cupcakes Year-Round, and frosted them with a favorite chocolate buttercream from one of the Magnolia Bakery cookbooks. I even managed to light the candle at the rink without causing any fire alarms to go off.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thanks, Kevin

For nearly 15 years, I've had the privilege of working for the best boss I could have imagined. Kevin has been supportive, patient, and good-humored. He's smart enough to know that he doesn't know everything, confident enough not to be arrogant, and intuitive enough to have guided an eclectic group to make a great magazine. I think that he was party to one of my favorite post-marathon cheers, too. (When I was back to work the day after I ran my first Boston Marathon, sitting in my chair was our office's super-size Bob the Builder plush toy wearing a Laurel wreath -- a headband decorated with photos of Stan Laurel.)

His largesse is not limited to the office. Kevin helps colleagues with their home-building projects. (He helped me put a screen door on my house -- and by help, I mean that I chatted while he did most of the work.) Kevin even once sat through a skate show to see Claire perform. Really, you need to have had only one bad supervisor (give or take) to revel in having a good one. A boss who is more likely to laugh than to yell is truly a great thing.

After 23 years at the magazine, Kevin has decided it's time to step back and channel his creative energies in pursuits of his own design. While I know we are left in more than capable hands, I will certainly miss seeing Kevin in the office. I will miss hearing his nontraditional shout of "Shut up!" after someone sneezes. I'll miss sharing new-music finds (including, over the years, Justin Townes Earle and Teddy Thompson) and discussions of longtime favorites (Dwight Yoakam and Rosanne Cash). Perhaps more than anything, I'll miss the annual birthday challenge of finding a new concoction (cake, cupcake, pie, ice cream) involving chocolate and peanut butter.

To commemorate his last day in the office, I've gone back to revisit a couple of chocolate/peanut-butter favorites.

First, there's the Chocolate Festival Cake, a Maida Heatter recipe. The cake has peanut butter, chocolate, and bananas, and the frosting is peanut butter and chocolate. For some reason, this time I ended up with what seemed like an overage of frosting, so I used some to garnish the chocolate-peanut butter pie (photo below), then used the rest to make some decorative squiggles on the cake. (In hindsight, I probably should have forgone the squiggles; they look a little amateurish.)

This chocolate-peanut butter pie is from Quick Chocolate Fixes, a tiny book full of great recipes.

Finally, I tried one new recipe, a chocolate-peanut butter tart, an Abigail Johnson Dodge recipe that appeared in Fine Cooking in December 2005. I think this one turned out pretty well, although I fumbled a little with the graham-cracker crust.

Thanks, Kevin. Whenever you need a chocolate-peanut butter concoction, let me know.

Coffee Toffee Chocolate Chunk Cookies

For Lost Lunch Thursday this week, I made a batch of coffee toffee chocolate chunk cookies. (Scroll down for the recipe.) They are the best.

Zesty Lemon Pound Cake

For the PLTI class this week, I made a lemon pound cake. The recipe I used was from a Nestle cookbook I'd picked up at the grocery store, but I also tracked down the recipe at the Nestle Web site. No word on how the cake turned out, although a number of people were impressed with the star shape of the cake. One change I made from the recipe was using 6 oz. of melted chopped white chocolate rather than 6 oz. of melted white-chocolate chips.

Here's the recipe, from the Nestle Web site:

Zesty Lemon Pound Cake
Estimated Times:
Preparation - 20 min | Cooking - 55 min | Yields - 12 to 16 servings


1 cup (6 oz.) * NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Premier White Morsels
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3 to 4 tablespoons grated lemon peel, (about 3 medium lemons)
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
PREHEAT oven to 350° F. Grease and flour 10-cup Bundt pan.

MELT morsels in medium, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on MEDIUM-HIGH (70%) power for 1 minute; STIR. Morsels may retain some of their original shape. If necessary, microwave at additional 10 to 15-second intervals, stirring just until morsels are melted. Cool slightly.

COMBINE flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon peel and melted morsels. Gradually beat in flour mixture alternately with buttermilk. Pour into prepared Bundt pan.

BAKE for 50 to 55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice in small bowl. Make holes in cake with wooden pick; pour half of lemon glaze over cake. Let stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto plate. Make holes in top of cake; pour remaining glaze over cake. Cool completely before serving.