Recipe: Ming’s Thin Mints

October 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

This cookie recipe comes from Ming Makes Cupcakes (where, as you might guess, you can find many excellent cupcake recipes! and a few cookies as well).

Thin Mints from Ming Makes Cupcakes

1 ½ cups flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp baking soda

1 ¾ stick butter

1 cup sugar

3 Tbs milk

½ tsp vanilla

1 ½ tsp mint extract

Mix together flour, cocoa, salt, and soda. In a separate bowl cream butter until smooth (I used the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, but a hand mixer also works). Add sugar and beat for one minute. Add milk, vanilla, and mint and beat an additional minute. Slowly add the dry ingredients while beating. Once mixture is well combined and resembles small pebbles use your hands to form it into a ball.

Roll the dough into a log and wrap in waxed paper. Chill for 2 hours. Slice into thin rounds and place on parchment–don’t try and use a small knife. You’ll get much cleaner slices if you use a larger, heavier knife!

Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes.

Topping

1 cup chocolate chips

1 tsp mint extract

Melt chocolate in bowl set in simmering water, OR just microwave it for 30 second intervals, stirring after each until chocolate is smooth and melted. Add mint and stir into the chocolate. Once cookies have cooled and become crispy, coat their tops in chocolate by dipping them or smearing with icing knife–I actually used a spoon to drop dollops of chocolate on top of my cookies. Leave them on a wire rack to dry, or put them in the fridge to speed the hardening process up!

Recipe: Charis’ Chocolate Chip Cookies

October 1, 2011 § 4 Comments

What’s the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning?

In bed. Preferably with a book and a glass of milk and a pile of chocolate chip cookies. I love the hint of extra saltiness in these cookies, which mixes fabulously with the rich butter and the sweet chocolate (and by the way, while I made this batch with ordinary milk chocolate chips, this recipe is particularly good with dark chocolate! Just make sure you have that glass of milk handy).This recipe is an adaptation of many different recipes–it morphs a little each time I make cookies, because I’m always fiddling, but it’s starting to settle into shape!

And it’s always delicious.

Charis’ Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 1/3 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds chocolate chips (or three to four large handfuls, or to taste)

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.

Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes.

Add eggs. Stir in vanilla.

Reduce to low speed and add dry ingredients slowly, mixing until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

Refrigerate dough for 24-36 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350.

Drop spoonfuls of dough onto baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt, if desired.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, then slide parchment paper off of cookie sheet and onto a wire rack to cool.

I scoop my cookies out with a tablespoon (which makes huge, delectable cookie), and put six on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Since it’s just six cookies per sheet it takes a little while to get through the entire batch of dough, so I roll out balls of dough and put them back in the refrigerator.  I also rotate two cookie sheets, letting one cool while the other is in the oven. When one batch of cookie is a couple of minutes away from coming out, I pull the balls of dough out of the fridge and drop six on the waiting cookie sheet, ready to be swapped out.

I call it the Dance of the Cookies.

If your cookies spread out too much and get very thin, try cutting back on the amount of baking soda in the recipe (this is the part of the recipe that I fiddle with the most!)

Enjoy!

Recipe: Earl Grey Shortbread

September 30, 2011 § 4 Comments

I recently made a thank-you package of cookies to send to the gracious couple who hosted us in Atlanta during Dragon*Con (thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Davis!) and while I was at it I thought I’d post the recipes for the cookies that I made! I made three types of cookie, and I’ll do a post for each recipe, starting with….

Earl Grey Shortbread

Many people believe that nothing is more pleasant than a cup of tea and a good book, but I have to confess that it’s difficult to feel enthusiastic about hot tea when it’s 100F+ every day for months! Fortunately these little cookies make an excellent alternative. They melt in your mouth and they’re easy to make–the dough comes together in minutes. Just be careful not to get crumbs on the pages…

This is an adaptation of a Claire Robinson recipe from the Food Network. The original recipe calls for loose tea leaves and a food processor—I eliminated both by using the contents of tea bags, and I don’t think it hurt the recipe at all. I still got a delicious cookie with a light tea flavor.  The original recipe also calls for rolling the dough into a log and slicing off cookies, but I scooped out cookies with a teaspoon, rolled them into balls, and then pressed them between my palms.

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 Tablespoons or the contents of 2 to 3 bags of Earl Grey tea (to taste)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

sugar (if desired)

Using a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend together the flour, tea, and salt, until the tea is just spotted throughout the flour. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and butter. Mix together at medium speed, just until a dough is formed. Use a teaspoon to scoop up dough and roll each scoop into a ball, then press it flat between your palms OR roll the dough into a log in plastic wrap, chill for half an hour, and then slice off cookies about 1/4 inch thick.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, 1 inch apart, and sprinkle with sugar (if desired). Bake until the edges are just barely brown–about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks (just slide the entire piece of parchment paper off of the cookie sheet and onto the wire rack) and cool to room temperature.

Makes about four dozen.

Store in an airtight container–these cookies keep very well! Not that they’ll last long, unless you hide them…

Serve with a cup of tea, a sunny corner, a comfortable chair, and a good book.

I’m not dead!

August 14, 2011 § 3 Comments

I know that this comes as a shock, but I’m still alive! I’ve been very busy and working some overtime, though, so my craft projects and baking have been on the back burner. Just to prove that I’m still here, though, I wanted to show you my last two baking projects! I don’t have any in-progress pictures for you, but I still want to tell you all about them and give you links to the recipes I used, because they are delicious.

These are chocolate cupcakes with Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which I made for lunch at my parents’ church this weekend. They are (I’m going to do it!) divine. Swiss Meringue Buttercream is my new favorite thing in the world–light and fluffy and smooth and delicious without being kick-you-in-the-face, I-feel-a-tooth-ache-coming-on super-sweet. I’m looking forward to doing a whole cake with this frosting! I bet it goes on like a dream.

To make the SMB (Swiss Meringue Buttercream) I followed the recipe for Salted Caramel Swiss Buttercream that’s used as the filling for this amazing cake from Sweetapolita (probably the prettiest baking blog that I follow!). The recipe calls for caramel sauce. I had never made caramel before, and I was completely terrified, but it went perfectly. Actually it probably helped that I was terrified and paranoid, because I didn’t leave my cooking sugar alone for a minute and I watched it like a hawk (I did do things like put ingredients away, rinse bowls, wipe the counter, and so on, but I always had one eye on the stove and I was back to swirl it gently every thirty seconds or so, as per instructions).  With the caramel left to cool I moved on to the rest of the recipe (note: it really look a long time to cool, because I left it in the pan and didn’t think to move it to another bowl until later. I ended up putting it in the fridge to help the cooling process along before adding it to the frosting).

I continued following Sweetapolita’s instructions for the SMB, referring not only to the recipe for the Caramel SMB but also to her awesome post Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystified and to DyannBakes’ tutorial video on 1:2:3 Swiss Meringue Buttercream–between all three I felt really confident that I knew what I was doing! And everything went smoothly and perfectly until I thoughtlessly put my finishing buttercream in the fridge before icing the cupcakes and left it there long enough to harden. Oops. I had to wait for it to come back to room temperature and whip it again (using the whisk on the stand mixer–with just the paddle it was separating a little and not coming back to full fluffiness).

Guys, the buttercream is stupendous.

Unfortunately, eating frosting with a spoon is generally frowned upon and I needed a socially acceptable vehicle for my buttercream. I made chocolate cupcakes, using the recipe found on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa box. I have several chocolate cake recipes bookmarked and saved in my recipe folder, and I keep promising to try them out soon…but when it comes down to it I always seem to make this one. It’s chocolatey, moist, quick, easy, and I have a system for making it with minimal dirtying-of-dishes-or-utensils (one bowl, one 1.5 tsp measuring spoon, one 3/4c measuring cup, one 4c measuring cup, and the beaters for the handheld mixer–that’s it).

Mmmm.

Aren’t they pretty? This is one of my favorite ways to ice a cupcake, and because it has a low profile it’s perfect for my cupcake carrier (which isn’t tall enough for lofty swirls of frosting, my other favorite style).  You’ve probably seen tutorials for this elsewhere on the internet (once I discovered it I realized that I was seeing it everywhere!), but in case you haven’t it’s really easy–just use an Open Star (Wilton 1M) icing tip, start in the center of your cupcake, and make a swirl. It’s that simple. And if you’re a visual learner like I am, then you can watch this video over at Glorious Treats!

My other recent baking experiment was an Oreo cake for my mom’s birthday–she loves Oreos, so I crammed 2.5 packages of Oreos into this cake. No joke. It was intense.

It was a chocolate cake full of Oreos–an entire package of Oreos, chopped into fourths (alternatively, you could hit the package with a rolling pin a few times before you open it!) and split between two 9in cake pans. Then I poured the batter over the cookies. Guess what chocolate cake recipe it was? It was Hershey’s. Surprise!

I baked the cake in advance and froze it, something that I’m doing more and more frequently–I love to bake cakes, and I love to ice cakes, but once I bake a cake I’m kind of done for the day, I don’t want to come back after the cake has chilled and do more things. It’s a lot more fun when it’s split over more than one day!  So later I made this Oreo buttercream from My Baking Addiction, and this Oreo filling from Beantown Baker, except that I didn’t have all of the ingredients and I may have, ahem, ad libbed a bit.

It was all delicious, but all of it at once was…well…completely and totally overwhelming. My family loves sugar and loves chocolate and we have a special talent for clearing our dessert plates, but no one was able to finish an entire piece of this cake! It actually lasted almost two days–remarkable, in this house!

I loved the Oreos in the chocolate cake, though, and honestly I think that would have been enough–next time I’ll just make Oreo-filled chocolate cake, layer it with fresh whipped cream, dust it with crumbled Oreo, and call it a day!

Chocolate Tiramisu Cupcakes

March 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

Chocolate Tiramisu Cupcakes

Filling:
3 egg yolks
6 Tablespoons of sugar
1/3 cup of milk
8 oz of Mascarpone cheese

Coffee Chocolate Cupcake (Cupcake 24 from Ming Makes Cupcakes):
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup buttermilk*
3 heaping Tablespoons cocoa
1 stick butter
1/2 cup coffee
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

Whipped Cream:
1/2 pint whipping cream
3 Tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoon vanilla

*Buttermilk Substitute: combine 1/4 cup of milk with 3/4 tsp of vinegar and let them sit for about five minutes.

The filling needs to chill in the refrigerator for an hour, so start it first:
Filling
3 egg yolks
6 Tablespoons of sugar
1/3 cup of milk
8 oz of Mascarpone cheese

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a small saucepan (discard the whites, or save them for an egg white omelet).  Whisk the sugar into the yolks until combined, then whisk in milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture boils (this took about five minutes for me).  Let it boil gently for one minute, then remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.  Cover tightly and put in the refrigerator for one hour (I transfer the mixture into a different bowl, rather than wait for the saucepan to cool, and cover the surface with plastic wrap).  Leave the Mascarpone cheese out while the egg mixture chills so that it will soften.

Separating the egg yolks in a small saucepan

Add the sugar to the egg yolks...

Obligatory cat portrait

Whisk the egg yolks. They deserve it.

Add the milk, and whisk again.

Cook the egg yolk and sugar mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles (about five minutes). Let boil for one minute, then remove from the heat.

Transfer the egg mixture to another container, cover tightly, and chill in the refrigerator for an hour.

In the meantime, bake your cupcakes–I used Cupcake 24 from Ming Makes Cupcakes:
Coffee Chocolate Cupcake
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 heaping Tablespoons cocoa
1 stick butter
1/2 cup coffee
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

Dissolve baking soda in room-temperature buttermilk (or milk/vinegar buttermilk substitute).  In a saucepan melt butter and cocoa together at a low temperature. When smooth, add coffee. In a separate bowl sift together sugar, flour, and salt, then add cocoa mixture and egg and mix at low speed.  Add buttermilk mixture and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Bake at 350F for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

CUPCAKES!

Let your cupcakes cool completely while you finish the filling: Remove the egg mixture from the refrigerator and combine it with the Mascarpone cheese, whisking them together until thoroughly mixed.  You can make this mixture in advance, if you like–sitting overnight in the refrigerator only improves the flavor.

Add the softened Mascarpone cheese to the chilled egg mixture.

Stir until thoroughly combined.

When your cupcakes are cool, use a sharp knife to cut a cone shape out of the center of each cupcake and discard the center (by “discard” I mean “eat”–you are the cook, so this is allowed. I mean, you have to make sure they’re good, right?).  If the hole looks too shallow just use a fork or spoon to dig a little deeper.  Spoon or pipe filling into the centers of cupcakes.

Cut a cone shape out of the center of each cupcake using a serrated knife held at an angle.

Discard centers. Nom nom nom.

For the best whipped cream, wait to make it until thirty or so minutes before you intend to serve the cupcakes:
Whipped Cream:
1/2 pint whipping cream
4 Tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoon vanilla

Combine ingredients in a bowl and beat, steadily increasing speed until you’re beating on the highest speed.  Beat until thick and fluffy–a soft peak should form when you lift the beater out (be careful not to over-beat).

Cream and sugar

...and vanilla

Soft and fluffy!

Spoon whipped cream on top of cupcake, top with chocolate shavings and garnish with half of a hazelnut pirouette rolled cookie.

Chocolate! I shaved mine with a potato peeler. The curls were...not exactly satisfactory.

Ta-da!

It’s Not As Hard As It Looks: Tiramisu

February 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

There are a lot of things that look really hard before you do them–knitting with cables, for instance, which looked so hard before I realized how simple it is.  Or watercolor painting.  Or (although I don’t really remember, but I imagine) walking.  When it comes to cooking there are lots of things that intimidate me, and it is true to my tendency to improvise gets me into trouble, but I’ve found that if I take the time to figure things out I can make all kinds of awesome things.

Like tiramisu.

Tiramisu is certifiably awesome. Anyone who says differently cannot be trusted.

A couple of weeks ago I made tiramisu for my Bible study’s Italian potluck using this recipe.  I thought that it was going to be a lot harder than it was.  Guess what? It’s easy!  It’s just not quick.  It’s fairly time consuming just because you have to make several different parts and then assemble them, and then you have to wash all of the bowls that you made them in (I think I counted a minimum of six bowls dirtied during the tiramisu process. Thank goodness for the Kitchen Fairy, that’s all I’m saying).  And THEN you have to let your tiramisu chill in the refrigerator overnight (and trust me, it will not be amazing if you do not let it chill overnight).  Tiramisu is not an instant gratification kind of project, but you know what?  Good things come to those that wait.  And by ‘good things’ I mean ‘delicious and creamy desserts’.

Tiramisu has three components: a Mascarpone cheese filling, whipped cream, and ladyfinger cookies soaked with coffee and liqueur.

The first part of the Mascarpone cheese filling needs to chill for an hour in the refrigerator, so start there–and by the way, if you’ve never heard of Mascarpone cheese before (I hadn’t!) you’ll be interested to know that it’s an Italian cream cheese.  Look for it with the specialty cheese in the deli section of your grocery store.

Mascarpone Cheese Filling:

6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
16 oz of Mascarpone cheese (you won’t be using the cheese just yet, but go ahead and leave it out on the counter to soften)

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a small saucepan (discard the whites, or save them for an egg white omlette).  Whisk the sugar into the yolks until combined, then whisk in milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture boils (this took about five minutes for me).

boiling egg mixture--watch out! as it bubbles it might spit a bit

Let it boil gently for one minute, then remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.  Cover tightly and put in the refrigerator for one hour (I transfered the mixture into a different bowl  and covered the surface with plastic wrap).  Leave the Mascarpone cheese out while the egg mixture chills so that it will soften.

egg mixture transferred to another bowl and covered with plastic wrap

Now you have an hour to kill!  Perfect, because you have ladyfingers to make (you could buy prepackaged ladyfingers, but where’s the fun in that?  Besides, they’re really simple).  I used this recipe.

Ladyfingers:

4 eggs, separated
2/3 cup white sugar
7/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup strong coffee
1/4 cup coffee liquor (you won’t be using these two ingredients until later, when you assemble the tiramisu)

Place egg whites in bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high until soft peaks start to form. Slowly add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and continue beating until stiff and glossy. In another bowl beat egg yolks and remaining sugar. Whip until thick and very pale in color.
Sift flour and baking powder together (the internet advised me to sift thoroughly for the best results, so I sifted the flour and baking powder onto a paper plate, then moved the sifter to another paper plate, used the first plate as a funnel to transfer the flour back into the sifter, and sifted again.  I did this twice, which may have been overkill).  Fold half the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Fold in flour, and then add the remaining egg whites. Keep folding gently until the flour is well incorporated.  (I was really focused on what I was doing at this point.  Way too focused to take pictures).
Preheat oven to 400F. Line two 17 x 12 inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit large pastry bag with a plain 1/2 inch round tube or if you’re using a disposable piping bag just cut off the tip (you could also use a heavy duty freezer bag* and cut off one corner).Transfer mixture to pastry bag and pipe out onto prepared baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes.

*I’ve seen lots of tutorials that blithely instruct the reader to use a ziplock bag for piping.  Most of them aren’t more specific than that, but I am here to tell you that you ONLY want to use a heavy duty freezer bag.  This is not a time for bargain brand ziplock sandwich bags. Why? Because they will explode on you.

For my test batch of tiramisu I piped out three inch ladyfingers, but then I had to fit them into the bottom of my pan, which was a bit of a jigsaw. So for my second batch I got clever:

Ladyfingers piped to match the dimensions of my pan. Yes, I am a genius.

I took the pan that I was going to assemble the tiramisu in, set it on a piece of parchment paper, and traced around the bottom with a pencil.  Then I moved it over and traced it again (making sure that both outlines would fit on one cookie sheet–otherwise I would have used a second piece of parchment paper).  I turned the paper over so that the pencil marks were on the bottom and voila! a perfect template of my pan.  I just piped the ladyfingers out to match.

See how neatly the ladyfingers fit? It's like they were MADE FOR IT.

Now you have your ladyfingers cooling (you can speed up the cool time by sliding the parchment paper off of the cookie sheets and onto a wire rack) and your egg mixture has been in the refrigerator for an hour, so you can get it out and finish it by folding the 16oz of softened Mascarpone cheese into the egg and stirring until well blended.

Two components down! Only one to go!

Whipped Cream:

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine in a bowl and beat with an electric hand mixture, gradually increasing the speed to high, and beat until it is light and fluffy and soft peaks form when you lift the beater.  (Be careful not to overbeat, unless you’d rather have butter than whipped cream).

And now it is assembly time!  Arrange a layer of ladyfingers in the bottom of your pan and and brush them with a mixture of strong coffee and coffee liquor (remember the coffee and liquor that I mentioned before? this is when you use it). Most recipes say to dip the ladyfingers, but I don’t like my tiramisu too wet so I wanted a lot of control. My original recipe (the one I used for the test batch) also called for coffee and rum, which I didn’t like–I thought it was too strong and bitter, so definitely splash out for some coffee liquor (or omit the liquor and just use coffee and vanilla extract, if you want your tiramisu alcohol free). I brushed each ladyfinger three or four times–you want them to be saturated, but not dripping.

Once your ladyfingers are boozed up to your satisfaction, cover them with half of your Mascarpone cheese filling, spreading it in an even layer. Then take half of your whipped cream and spread it out in an even layer, and repeat with another layer of ladyfingers, another layer of Mascarpone cheese, and another layer of whipped cream. Top with a sprinkling of shaved chocolate.

Put the assembled tiramisu in the refrigerator for the night, and go get some well deserved rest.

Then have tiramisu for breakfast.

Tiramisu topped with chocolate shavings and rolled wafer cookies. It's definitely part of a nutritious breakfast!

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