Friday, May 7, 2010

Hand Decorated Sugar Cookies - Mother's Day

Today was cooking decorating day for Mother's Day.  Alfee,  Tracy and Celia came over early in the day to start the decorating process and we had a ball.    If you missed the Easter Blog on Sugar Cookies here is the link for the Sugar Cookie Recipe.  The difference today was that we used an egg white icing so that the cookies would dry faster as we had to transport the cookies right away.  The recipe for the icing follows:

Egg White Icing

3 ozs of egg whites
1 lb. confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice

Put egg whites in the bowl of either a hand mixer or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and beat egg whites until soft peak stage.  Add confectioners sugar one cup at a time and beat for 5 - 7 minutes until very stiff.  Add lemon juice and beat again.   Divide icing into as many bowls as colors you want to make and then thin out to flow consistency with water.  Add color and pour into bottles.  Outline icing and flood accordingly.  We used many colors and lots of sanding sugar to give the cookies depth and texture.  

Here are some of the photos of the cookies that we made.  The sunflowers have chocolate ganache icing in the middle for a super elegant taste,

This is a wonderful way to spend the day being with friends and doing something creative.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Signature "SMoores" Brownie thanks to Tracy

So this is it - my signature Brownie - a  SMoores brownie.   My friend Tracy calls me SMoores and she is in fact the only person that has ever given me a nickname - and since it sounded like my childhood campfire favorite I thought that I would create one.  This brownie is  kind of like me - a stable base with lots of gooey softness inside topped with more stability.   This is the second time that I made this brownie because the first one didn't really do the trick but this did and it was really stupendous.

The first thing that you do is make the Blondie Recipe.  After you have made the recipe divide it in half and put one half of the dough on the bottom of the prepared pan.  Then take two cups of mini marshmallows and spread over the dough.   Next take at least two cups of chocolate ships and layer the top of the marshmallows.  

Then take the rest of the brownie dough and put it in pieces on top of the marshmallows and chocolate until it almost covers the entire pan.  Place in the oven at 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove after 30 minutes and place on cooling rack for 30 minutes.  Cut into 12 squares.  There is no need to start a campfire for you to enjoy these!   Store in a tight container to make sure that they stay fresh - if they last that long.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Triple Chocolate Brownies with Goat and Mascarpone Cheese Filling

Well, — it is April 27th and we are having another snow storm here in Montreal that is supposed to last two days.   What does one do when a spring snow storm messes up the days plans - well if you are me you bake brownies.  So I pulled out the recipe folder that I have been keeping and came up with four brownies that I wanted to bake.   The first one that I made is my basic chocolate brownie with goat and mascarpone cheese filling.   I made brownies with goat cheese once and it was a disaster.   The goat cheese was dry and crumbly and didn't taste good.    So I did a lot of researching and reading other recipes and found out that I was missing two things - first a binder to hold the cheese together and the second is some moisture because the goat cheese alone is too dry.  So I came up with the following recipe.

Goat and Mascarpone Cheese Filling

5 ounces of goat cheese
4 ounces of mascarpone cheese
2 eggs
1/4 cup of honey

Take the cheeses out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you are going to make the filling.  Combine the two cheeses and the eggs in a stand mixer using the wire whip, or a hand mixer and whip until the eggs and the cheeses are combined.  While the mixer is still running slowly add the honey and whip for another minute.  Set aside.

Make the brownie base that I used in the cappuccino brownies or use your own.   Divide the batter in half and put one half of the batter in the pan, place the cheese mixture on top of the batter leaving an inch border all the way around the pan and then put the rest of the batter on top of the cheese filling.  

Put in the oven at 350 degrees and bake for 28 minutes.  Test for doneness - if there is still moist chocolate on the toothpick bake for another three minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool for one hour.  Cut into 16 squares as this brownie is very rich.

Serve with a glass of white wine or milk!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Caramel Peanut Blondies

Since I posted the recipe for the Blondie Brownie two days ago I thought that I would give you another way to take that base and create another new flavor.    This brownie is rich, gooey and has a bit of saltiness from the peanuts,  a decadent combination.  The first thing to do is to make the caramel sauce.

Caramel Sauce for Blondies

1 1/2  cup sugar
1/3 cup of water
1 1/4 cups of heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Mix the sugar and the water in a medium heavy saucepan.  Cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the sugar dissolves without stirring.  Increase the heat to medium and boil uncovered until the sugar turns a medium brown (350 degrees on a candy thermometer) gently swirling the mixture in the pan.  This will take around 5-7 minutes.  At this point the mixture will be extremely hot.  Watch very carefully as the mixture can turn from cooked to burnt in a New York moment!.  When it is ready turn off the heat and standing at arms length from the pan slowly add the cream and the vanilla.  The cream will bubble up in the pan and for a moment change color to a light brown.  When the bubbling starts the caramel will solidify.

Simmer the caramel over low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel dissolves into a smooth and velvety liquid.  This should take around two minutes.  Allow to cool for at least 4 hours.  Do not refrigerate.

Make the Blondie Recipe  and put into prepared pan.  Cook the brownie for 15 minutes.  At this time removed the brownie from the oven and top with a nice layer of your homemade caramel sauce and top that with enough peanuts* to cover. (approx. 2 cups)  Continuing cooking the brownies for another 15-17 minutes.  * I use salted peanuts

Remove from the oven and place on rack to cool for at least one hour.  Cut into squares and serve.

NoteL  If you are not a fan of peanuts you can substitute walnuts.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Blondies with Chocolate Chips and Homemade Toffee

I have never been a real fan of blondies.  I find them boring and one dimensional.  So I had to as that great New Orleans chef, Emeril Lagasse said, kick it up a notch.   The first challenge was to find the right blondie base and then come up with the ingredients that would give it the depth of flavor that I like in my baked goods.  My philosophy on sweets is that less is more - that you should be able to have a small brownie that completely satisfies your palate.   This blondie fills that bill.

As I said, the basis of this brownie had to be a rich blondie.  I have found that the difference between a good blondie and an amazing mouth watering one is the use of two kinds of sugars - white and brown sugar.  .  When you use two kinds of sugar it adds depth to the flavor.    Here is my blondie recipe:

Blondie Brownie Base

1/2 cup of butter at room temperature
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs *
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips
pieces of homemade toffee.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and paper and 8 or 9 inch square pan.  In a mixer cream the butter and sugars until light a fluffy.  Beat in the egg and the vanilla until well incorporated.    In a small bowl whisk together the dry ingredients.  Add the whisked dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix at low speed until just combined.  Add chocolate chips and broken toffee bits.  (Toffee comes from recipe on previous blog)

Press dough (it is quite thick) into pan and even out.  Bake for 28 minutes and check for doneness with a toothpick.  If the toothpick comes out clean remove from oven - if they are a bit runny cook for another two minutes but not longer.

Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack for one hour.  Lift the brownies out of the pan and cut into 8 large or 16 small pieces.  This is wonderful served with vanilla or maple ice cream.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

What to have in your Pantry when the mood to bake calls you!

I thought that I would write a piece on what to have in the pantry when the desire to bake calls you.  Have you ever read a recipe and decided that you had to try it then and there.  I know that I have and when I have gotten to the pantry and found that I am missing essential ingredients one of three things happens; (1) I grab the car keys and head to the store, (2) I go back to the cookbooks or the internet to look for a similar recipe that will use the ingredients that I have on hand or (3) I pop a bowl of popcorn and sit down and watch the food channel.   Neither of the three choices is optimal.

Here is the list of the ingredients that you must have in your pantry in order to bake most things.  The list might appear to require a large storage space but many of the items are small and can be stacked.

(1)  All purpose flour.  I buy it in 25 pound bags but that is because I bake so much.  If you do not bake a lot the 5 pound bags will be perfect — try and store in a cool place.   I have started using the whole wheat flour from King Arthur.  This is a nutritionally superior flour that looks and tastes like white flour.  If you can find something like this it is a better flour to use than bleached all purpose white flour.

(2)  White Sugar

(3)  Both dark and light brown sugar.  The darker brown sugar has a higher content of molasses and is a bit deeper in flavor. You can however,  interchange the two without impacting the recipe.   Once your open the sugar store in a tight container or a ziplock bag with either a piece of apple or a sugar stone.  This will prevent the sugar from drying out and becoming rock hard.  Change the apple every week or so.  If in fact your sugar does harden you can place it, one cup at a time, into the microwave for 30 seconds.  Make sure that it does not melt.

(4)  Baking Soda

(5)  Baking Powder

(6)  Pure Vanilla, lemon and orange extract.

(7)  Instant espresso coffee.  Any brand is fine.

(8)  Corn starch and cream of tartar.  Corn starch is used as a substitute for flour and cream of tartar is used as a stabilizer for whipping egg whites.

(9)  Unsweetened Baking Chocolate - I use Baker's brand.  This chocolate is good for brownies, cakes and frosting.  The package contains individually wrapped one ounce squares.

(10)  Semi Sweet Baking Chocolate. - Baker's brand.  Also 8 one ounces squares per package.

(11)  Bars of dark chocolate, white chocolate and milk chocolate.

(12)  A bag of semi-sweet Nestles morsels.  This is perfect for brownies, ganache and frosting.

(13)  Unsweetened cocoa powder.

(14)  Any kind of nut.  Peanuts, pecans, walnuts.  When you buy them place in a ziplock bag and place in the freezer.  Nuts, because of the high oil content,  will go rancid fairly quickly.

(15)  Dried cranberries which I use for oatmeal cookies.

(16)  Karo light corn syrup.  To make toffee or marshmallows.

(17)  Grandma's Unsulphured Molasses.  You cannot make gingerbread without this!

(18)  Regular or Quick acting oatmeal  (Never use instant - it will not hold up in the recipe)

(19)  Spices:  cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.

(20)  Parchment paper.

(21) Pam or Baker's Joy.  Baker's Joy is a spray that contains both a greasing agent and flour.  It is a great product.  If you use Pam make sure that it is the one with no taste.

While butter is not a pantry ingredient it is an essential ingredient.  I buy unsalted butter in one pound boxes that are divided into quarters.  One quarter of a stick is equal to a half a cup a therefore a pound of butter is equal to two cups of butter.  The other ingredient that you will need is eggs.   I buy both whole eggs and the pasteurized egg whites.  The pasteurized egg whites are excellent for use in egg-white icing.

This list is what I would consider for the ideal pantry and it is what mine is stocked with.  But what do you do if even with all these items the recipe calls for something else.

For instance, what happens if your recipe calls for cake flour?  What is the difference between cake flour and regular flour?  Cake flour has a lower protein and gluten percentage than regular flour and therefore makes a more tender baked item.   In order to convert regular flour remove three tablespoons of flour from each cup and replace with cornstarch. This will give you chemical properties similar to the cake flour.

What happens if your recipe calls for Buttermilk?  Simply take a cup of regular milk,  and add either a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice.  Let stand for five minutes and then use as directed.

What happens if you are out of baking powder?  For every teaspoon of baking powder that you need substitute 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 5/8 teaspoon of cream of cream of tarter.

This is an extensive list but the good news is that most of this list lasts for a long time.  The only things that I seem to run out of  are the flour, sugar, butter and eggs.

I hope that this helps you get set for your next baking experience.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cappuccino Brownies with a Twist

Well,  the sugar cookies didn't last long on the plate so I had to get back to baking!  I love the combination of chocolate and coffee so I thought that I would try something different.  This brownie has been adapted from "Bars and Squares".  All brownie recipes start somewhere and this one is no different.   The end result was shear decadence.  The brownies were dense, moist and rich in flavors.  The chocolate and coffee flavors were perfectly balanced - one did not outshine the other which is the way that the flavors should be.  The only problem with this brownie is that it is a three step process - which means that you can't dive in right away. Patience is a virtue and this brownie is worth the wait.   It is composed of a chocolate brownie that is the base for many of my brownies, a cappuccino buttercream middle and a chocolate ganache topping — and that is where the twist is.   Remember to have all your ingredients at room temperature.

Triple Chocolate Brownie

5 ozs. semi-sweet chocolate (you can use chips)
2 ozs. unsweetened chocolate chopped
3 tablespoons dutch processed cocoa powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
3 large eggs 
1 1/4 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8x8 or 9x9 pan and line with parchment paper with an inch overhanging the sides.  This will make it easy to remove the brownies.  

Melt both chocolates and butter in a heat proof bowl over a pot of simmering water.    Stir as the butter melts to incorporate all the chocolate.  Sift the cocoa powder into the melted chocolate and stir (the sifting will prevent the cocoa from clumping)  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In another bowl combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt with a whisk.  I vigorously whisk for a minute until the eggs are fully combined and light and fluffy.   Add the chocolate mixture (make sure that it is not hot or the egg mixture will curdle) and whisk until combined.   I sift the flour right into the bowl and then gently fold.  

Pour into prepared pan, put into the center rack in the oven and bake for 32 minutes.  (as I do with all my recipes - I under bake slightly because they continue to cook as they cool).  Place on a rack and allow to cool for at least an hour.  It is ready for the cappuccino buttercream.

Cappuccino Buttercream

1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee powder
2 tablespoons half and half or heavy cream
2 cups of confectioner's sugar - sifted
4 tablespoons of room temperature butter

Combine the espresso powder with the liquid.   Add the butter and confectioner's sugar and using an electric mixture beat until light and fluffy.  If it seems too stiff add a drop of liquid at a time until it is soft and creamy.  Taste - if need be add a touch more espresso powder;  this is a personal choice.   

Spread evenly on cooled brownie and place in the refrigerator until set and hardened.  This will take about an hour.  The buttercream should be hard to the touch before you add the ganache.

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup dark or semi sweet chocolate chopped
1/3 cup heavy (35%) whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Put the chocolate and the whipping cream in a heat proof bowl over simmering water, stirring until melted and glossy.  Add the cayenne powder and cinnamon and stir.  Remove from heat and let cool until it is lukewarm but still spreadable.  Remove brownie from the refrigerator and spread the chocolate mixture over the frosting layer.  Place back in the refrigerator for an hour and a half until fully set.

Gently remove the brownie from the pan lifting by the parchment paper.   You can cut this brownie into  24 pieces as it is very rich.    This brownie is good enough to stand all by itself.  The only thing that I might is a glass of ice cold milk.

Enjoy.  Please let me know if you make this and how you like it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hand Decorated Sugar Cookies - Part Two- The Icings

Have you ever bitten into one of those beautifully decorated cookies and had the icing disintegrate in your mouth into a puddle of sugar crystals?  That is royal icing and it is used for all those cookies because it dries fast and like a brick.  Pretty to look at but horrid to eat.

The icing that I use for my sugar cookies is called a "Glace Icing" and it also comes from Toba Garrett's class that I took in NYC.  There are two parts to this icing method; the outline and the inside or the "flooding" icing.  The royal icing is for the dam (or the outline) and the Glace icing is the "flooding" icing.  The royal icing should be used immediately - the glace icing can be kept for two weeks in the refrigerator.  

Royal Outline Icing
3 ounces egg whites
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Whip egg whites until they have gotten to a soft peak. (left photo below) When they have gotten to that stage add one cup of sugar at a time and then add the lemon juice.  Beat for eight minutes or until icing is very stiff.  (right photo below) This is the icing that you will use to outline the cookies so it must be stiff so that it can hold the glace icing.  You can tint it any color.   Store in an air tight container to avoid a crust developing.  When you are ready to use put  some icing into a pastry bag with a number 3 tip and outline the cookie.  This icing dries almost immediately.

Glace Icing
4.5 ounces whole milk
4.5 ounces light corn syrup
4 cups confectioner sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Mix milk and confectioner's sugar until smooth.  Add corn syrup and mix until glossy and add vanilla.  (there is a clear vanilla that is available at baking supply stores which is great to use)

Tightly cover the icing if you are not planning to use it immediately and put it in the refrigerator.    If you are planning on using it immediately divide the icing into a number of bowls and color as you want.  I use plastic squeeze bottles (available online or bakery supply store)  with various tips to flood the cookies.  This makes application easier.  This icing takes 24 hours to dry so some planning is needed for the decorated cookies!


In order to ice the cookies properly I outline all the cookies that I am going to decorate at once.  That way by the time I finish the outlining the first cookie is ready to ice.   My pastry bags are all filled with outline icing.  The easiest way to fill a piping bag with outline icing is to place it open, in a glass with the collar open - this means that you don't have to juggle the bag while trying to get the icing in - I cannot tell you how much icing ended up on my hands before I figured this trick out.  After I fill the pastry bag I twist it tight and close it with a clothes pin.  This prevents the icing from coming out.    I also put a piece of damp paper towel in the bottom of the glass which prevents the icing from drying out.

When you have outlined the cookies you are ready to ice.  Fill the cookie from the center out  with the icing allowing the icing to flood the cookie - do not overfill the cookie; use a toothpick to push the icing to the edge.    I place all the cookies that I am going to decorate on a cookie sheet so I do not have to move them after they are iced.  As I said it takes 24 hours for the glace icing to dry but it will start to set after one hour.   After the icing has hardened (when the icing loses it sheen it is dry) I start to decorate the cookies.  You can see the various methods that I use in the photos below. I put colored sugar on the cookies after the icing has set, draw decorations, write names and add dragees.   The egg cookie with the purple lines is done in the following manner:  ice the cookie with the base color, after one hour run lines of different color icing on the cookie; take a toothpick and drag it alternatively from top to bottom, bottom to top.  That will result in the wavy pattern that you see. 

Making and decorating these cookies is a wonderful time to gather round with friends and children.  During the holidays - all of them - my house is full of friends and their children sitting around the dining room table laughing and creating wonderful memories, both edible and in their hearts.  Make a batch of cookies, icing and watch the magic begin!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hand Decorated Sugar Cookies - Part One

My love of hand decorated sugar cookies started when I took a cookie decorating class with Toba Garrett at the International Center for Culinary Education (ICE) in NYC fourteen years ago.  Toba is the  Master Chef- Instructor of Cake Decorating and Design at ICE and she has written three books dedicated to the art of cookie and cake decorating.  I was fortunate to take 5 series of classes with her.  She is an exacting task master but once you have done the cookies this way you will never use any other technique.

These are the cookies that I sold at Dean and DeLuca, Balducci's and Fresh Direct in NYC.  I taught the cookie decorating class at Williams-Sonoma on 86th and Madison for several years using these recipes.   The classes were always sold out.

Toba's book is " Creative Cookies" and this is the recipe that I use:

Sugar Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour

Have all ingredients at room temperature.  Sift the dry ingredients.  In a stand mixer cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy using paddle attachment.  This should take about two minutes - scrape the bowl and beat for an additional two minutes.  Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until incorporated.  Lower the speed on the mixer to the lowest speed possible and add the flour mixture slowly.  The dough will be very stiff.  Do not over beat.

Divide the dough into two discs and wrap in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for at least two hours and for up to two weeks.   (I doubled the recipe so I divided it into four discs.)

When you are ready to use the dough divide each of the discs in half and roll out.  I do not use flour when I roll cookies out as this adds to the dryness of the dough - I place the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin with a washable cheese cloth sleeve.  By not using additional flour you can re-roll the scraps of dough and make many more cookies.  At this point I have all my cookie cutters ready and after I cut the cookies out I put the dough back into the fridge to get cold again.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Place cookies on the sheets and put in oven for 6 to 8 minutes.  They are ready when the edges of the cookies just start to turn brown.  Do not overbake as they will continue to bake on the cookie sheet  when they come out of the oven.  When cool remove to a cookie rack and rest until ready to decorate.  If you are not ready to immediately decorate you can leave them on the cookie rack covered with a linen kitchen towel for 24 hours.

Cookies baked waiting for decorating

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Best Oatmeal Cookie Ever

I  know everyone claims that they have the best oatmeal cookie recipe but I promise this is it!  This recipe was handed down through the family of one of my dearest friends, Andrea.  It was after much begging and pleading she shared it with me.  I personally like cookies that are slightly crisp on the outside but soft on the inside - I am not a fan of "crunchy" cookies so these suit my taste perfectly.  When I make this recipe I triple it and divide it into six logs and put it into the freezer.   The rolls of dough are no bigger than the inside of a paper towel roll and I roll them in plastic wrap, aluminum foil and then in a Ziploc bag.  This prevents any freezer burn.  These cookies will last in the freezer for up to six months without any loss of flavor.    I can take a roll out of the freezer, cut a few slices and then re-wrap it and put it back.  I have freshly baked cookies in a snap.  You can also make the dough and use it right away by dropping a tablespoon of dough on a prepared cookie sheet and baking.

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies with White Chocolate

1 cup of butter
1 cup of white sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups oats (not instant)
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup white chocolate (either chips or chopped chocolate)

Wisk the flour, baking powder and baking soda together.  Cream the butter and the sugars until they are light and fluffy - around 4 minutes.   Add the eggs one at a time mixing well.  Add the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture all at once, on low speed until just mixed  (do not over mix as  this will toughen the dough).   Fold in the oats, cranberries and white chocolate.  The dough will be very stiff.  At this point you can either roll the dough for the freezer or bake.

If you are going to bake the dough preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Drop dough into mounds and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Do not over bake.  One of the things that I have learned in my baking trials is that cookies and brownies continue to bake even when they come out of the oven so under bake slightly so they do not dry out.  They will stay fresh in a cookie jar for three days - if they last that long.

These cookies make great ice cream sandwiches.  Soften vanilla or maple ice cream,  put a scoop of ice cream on one of the cookies and place another on top.  Place in the freezer on a cookies sheet until ice cream firms again.   You can freeze them for future consumption or eat them right away.  These make an elegant desert with hot chocolate sauce drizzled over the top!  They are also perfect fresh out of the oven with afternoon tea!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chocolate toffee brownies

This is Spring??  Montreal is notorious for spring snow and today does not disappoint.   On a grey snowy blustery day I can think of nothing better to do than turning on the stove and trying a new concoction for the Something Moore Sweet Boutique.   I thought that I might take my basic brownie recipe and make it a bit more elegant.    So I am marrying the brownie and the toffee.

 I have been making this toffee recipe for the last 20 years when I decided that I had had enough of the commercialism of the Christmas holidays.   I made Christmas baskets filled with home made goodies to give to my friends.   My friend Margie and I would spend an entire weekend baking breads and cakes,  making cookies and candy.    A good glass of red wine was our reward at the end of each long day.  

 The toffee was one of the most anticipated goodies in the baskets - husbands, wives and children would fight over it when the basket arrived.  The Christmas toffee was layered with dark melted chocolate and ground toasted almonds - if you are thinking this sounds similar to a Score Bar with almonds you are right - only mine is better!  I found this recipe in a small book called "Christmas Candy" (edited by Glorya Hale) which is now out of print.  There are used copies available on the Barnes and Noble  website.

This is a classic version of toffee - slowly boiled butter, corn syrup, sugar and water until it gets golden brown.  It takes patience but it is worth it


2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 light corn syrup
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water

Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with Pam and wipe off excess spray.  Take a large heavy saucepan and grease the sides with a bit of butter.  In the pan combine all the ingredients.  Cook over moderate heat stirring constantly until all the sugar is melted and the sugar comes to a boil.  Insert candy thermometer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the mixture reaches 300F.   Immediately remove from heat and pour into prepared pan.  Let set.

Pic. 1 (toffee after 10 minutes)                                                                    Pic. 2 (toffee after 20 minutes)                                                                                              

Pic 3.  Toffee ready to pour                                                                        Pc. 4   Toffee cooling in pan

While the toffee is cooling (it takes about 10 minutes to cool and set hard enough to break into bits) get your favorite brownie recipe prepared.   Break up the toffee into bits and stir them into the brownie mixture.  Bake the brownie according to the recipe.

Cool the brownie for at least two hours.  This allows the toffee to reset (it will liquify when it is cooking with the brownie) and become hard.   Put a large piece of toffee on the top and serve alone or with vanilla ice cream, hot cocoa or a cappuccino.

My friend Sam said that this was one of the best brownies that he had ever had - although I needed to add more toffee (noted Sam!) and Alfee said that she and Geoff wouldn't change a thing.

** If you want to make this into Almond Toffee simply add chocolate chips to the toffee after it has set for about 3 minutes in the pan.  The toffee will still be warm and the chocolate will melt.  Spread the chocolate to cover and sprinkle ground almonds (or any other nut) on top of the chocolate.  Put into the fridge for at least two hours to fully cool and set.  You can also mix white chocolate and dark chocolate chips and make a swirl design.  Break the toffee into medium size pieces and put it into a clear bag as a great hostess gift!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Looks can be deceiving

These are beautiful lemon meringue lemon bars. However, they failed in the test kitchen for a variety of reasons. Let's start with the bottom crust. I decided to try a shortbread crust rather than the traditional graham cracker crust. The lemon filling was good but I would have preferred more lemon taste and the meringue topping was just too much. After about an hour the bars (or as we are calling them - The Lemon Meringue Brownie!) started to weep - which means that moisture from the meringue started to puddle in the pan.

Here are the recipes that we used - courtesy of two Martha Stewart recipes (we mixed and matched)
Martha Stewart Creamy Lemon Squares
Lemon Meringue Bars 

We used the crust and lemon filling from the first recipe and the meringue from the second one.  When we baked the crust we found that it was fine.  But after we added the filling and baked it again it dried out.  We noticed this when we cut the brownies and found the crust hard to cut through - although the taste was fine it made for a crumbling bottom.  The recipe calls for baking the crust 15-20 minutes which we did.   When we redo this recipe we will put it in the fridge for 10 minutes to allow it to rest and bake the bottom for only 12 minutes and see if that allows for a more tender base.   For the lemon  custard part of the recipe we used three lemons and the zest of two of those lemons.  The custard was very smooth and the bits of zest added to the texture.  However, the custard was not as bright in flavor as it should be to hold up to the crust and the meringue.  I will add the juice of another lemon the next time around.  The thing that I liked about this custard is that it set really well and that is important when you are using a meringue topping.

The meringue part of the second recipe call for 4 egg whites - I will use half of that the next time.  That will be more than enough for the lemon brownies.  I will also rotate the pain in the oven halfway through the browning of the meringue.  The batch that I made was more brown in the back than in the front.

Why you might ask did I use two recipes instead of either one of the recipes.  The answer is simple - research.  Part of the development process is trying different things. 

Finished Lemon meringue bars

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It all starts with research.

My formal education and my education at the dinner table was in economics and politics. With that background came a foundation that in order to understand anything you had to fully research the subject of your interest. When I decided I wanted to become more proficient in the kitchen I embarked on years of culinary school in both cooking and pastry and bought and read untold numbers of books and magazines. One closet in my house is dedicated to all the cookbooks and magazines that I have amassed over the years. The books above are my "go to" books. There are books of baking chemistry, technical instructions, theory and recipes.

"The Professional Pastry Chef" by Bo Friburg is an encyclopedia for pastry chefs. The technique instructions are easy to understand for the home baker and the last 180 pages has all the answer to those pesky questions including conversion ratios (metric to US equivalents), proper equipment and definition of terms. "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee is a chemistry book for cooking. Chapter 12 is excellent for a description of the properties of 'Sugars, Chocolate and other Confections'. "Cookwise" by Shirley O. Corriher is another book that deals with the chemical properties of food. The chapter on sweets in enlightening - every wonder why your caramel has crystals in it? This chapter will teach you how to avoid the most common problems in using chocolate and sugar in your confections. "Kitchen - the best of the best" by Michael Cranston has a wonderful chapter on 'Afternoon Tea' which gives some simple recipes with great photos of the finished products.

Maida Heatter's books on cakes and cookies are fail proof as are the many Rose Levy Beranbaum's books. Of course there is Martha - Stewart as if there was another one - all of her books are an excellent resource for recipes. There are many cookbooks dedicated to cookies, cupcakes and brownies. In addition to the "textbooks" there are so many magazines, internet sites and blogs that I could spend all my time reading and never make it into the test kitchen. So, while I will continue to research I will also be "testing".

But it all starts with the research.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Triple chocolate brownie with chile and fleur de sel

This is one of the first test brownies to come out of my kitchen.

It is a very dense, rich and moist brownie. It has unsweetened chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate bits and dutch processed cocoa powder. In order to give the brownie a more complex flavor I added cinnamon and cayenne pepper. The cinnamon gives it a bit of depth and the cayenne pepper adds a back note of heat that enhances the chocolate flavor.

The fleur de sel was sprinkled on the brownie immediately upon taking it out of the oven. The salt balances the sweetness of the chocolates. This is a brownie which you will need to hide from yourself because you can't eat just one!. A cold glass of milk, a hot cup of tea or a glass of wine rounds out the experience.

Chile triple chocolate brownie with fleur de sel
 makes 16 large brownies
5 oz semi-sweet chocolate (you can use chips)
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
3 tbls dutch processed cocoa powder
8 tbls unsalted butter cut into pieces
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cup of sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8X8 pan with either parchement paper or aluminum foil leaving an inch over the top for easy removal of brownies.

Melt both chocolates and butter in a heat proof bowl over a pot of simmering water.    Stir as the butter melts to incorporate all the chocolate.  Sift the cocoa powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper into the melted chocolate and stir (the sifting will prevent the cocoa from clumping)  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In another bowl combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt with a whisk.  I vigorously whisk for a minute until the eggs are fully combined and light and fluffy.   Add the chocolate mixture (make sure that it is not hot or the egg mixture will curdle) and whisk until combined.   I sift the flour right into the bowl and then gently fold.  
Pour into prepared pan, put into the center rack in the oven and bake for 16 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle fleur de sel on the top of the brownie.  Return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes.   (as I do with all my recipes - I under bake slightly because they continue to cook as they cool).  Place on a rack and allow to cool for at least an hour.  

Remove brownie from the pan and cut into 16 squares.  

Serve with Vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce or raspberry sauce.