Thursday, March 11, 2010

Super Easy Toffee

Friends, this is for any of you who also are entering finals week or any other time-pressured season that requires sugar consumption. This is an incredibly easy, fast, and reliable recipe. I could eat an entire pan of it myself...not to give away my stress eating habits...

I found a simple recipe online recently when I was looking for a way to use up the big bag of graham cracker crumbs in my kitchen, and to that recipe I added chocolate and fleur de sel and took away a baking step - hopefully making it simpler and better!

Interestingly, it actually calls for margarine for half of the fat element, which cuts down on the saturated fat; I used the all-natural Earth Balance (non-whipped), and it worked great. I tried using all margarine one time, since I was out of butter, but that gave it a strange aftertaste. Of course I still ate it, but again, it's finals season.

One of the best things about this toffee is that it isn't too hard when you bite into it, but the other great thing is that it is not a touchy recipe; while other sugar-boiling recipes (especially caramel) can be quite finicky, this one has come out just right every time I have made it. Which has been quite a few times in the last 2 weeks.

The graham cracker crumbs keep it from getting too sweet, and give it a nice variation in texture. Feel free to mix things up - add/replace a layer (coconut? more nuts?), remove the chocolate, etc. Just use the sugar-boiling process as a base for the candy you build.

And please, please be careful every time you work with sugar on the stove top, because it can get VERY hot and it's very easy to burn yourself.

Super Easy Toffee

1/2 C margarine
1/2 C unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 C light brown sugar
1 tsp fleur de sel/large grain sea salt
1 C chopped raw pecans (toast if desired)
3 oz. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 or more bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Melt the margarine and butter in a medium saucepan on the stove top. Once melted, stir in the sugar, salt, and pecans. Time it once it starts to boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly and keeping it at a medium boil. Set aside after the 3 minutes.
2. Spread out the graham cracker crumbs in a 9"x13" cake pan in an even layer. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the crumbs. Add as many chocolate chips as you want, but don't let them become more than a single layer of chips since you want them to melt.
3. Spoon the sugar mixture over the chocolate and crumbs as evenly as possible; it's okay if the toffee doesn't reach the sides of the pan, but try to smooth it out close to the sides so that it doesn't get too thick. It won't look pretty, but it WILL taste good once it's cooled!
4. Let cool, then break into pieces and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

German Chocolate Cupcakes

This is the best cake from scratch I've ever made. Seriously. To me, it has the exact texture that a light cake should have (as opposed to those cakes that you want to be dense or have a larger crumb - carrot cake, almond meal cakes, and such). I would even describe the texture as tender, while holding shape well and having good flavor. And it's more chocolaty than most German chocolate cakes, which makes me an even bigger fan.

I would attribute its texture to the buttermilk and the whipped egg whites that you fold into the cake flour-based batter, and its flavor to the melted chocolate AND cocoa powder that you add in (see this post for a helpful explanation of the differences between Dutch processed and natural cocoa powder). Thanks to David Lebovitz for posting this great recipe!

I would use my mom's traditional coconut pecan frosting recipe rather than Dave Leb's chocolate version, because hers has this buttery flavor and thick consistency that you just can't beat. I haven't tried making this batter into a layer cake, but it's worth trying. This cake with that frosting is a dynamite combination!

German Chocolate Cupcakes
makes 12

2 oz (60 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (less than 60%), chopped
1/4 C (60 ml) boiling water or coffee
8 T (4 ounces, 115 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 C (150 g) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 C plus 1 T (150 g) cake flour (not self-rising)
1 T unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C (125 ml) buttermilk,* at room temperature

1. Preheat the open to 350ºF. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.

2. Pour the boiling water or coffee over the chocolate, and stir until melted. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

4. Add the egg yolks and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Then mix in the vanilla and the melted chocolate.

5. Whisk together the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the wet mixture, then add the buttermilk, then the remaining dry ingredients, mixing just until blended.

6. In a clean, dry bowl, whip the two egg whites until stiff, then fold one-third of them in to the chocolate batter, then the rest. Fold just into there are no streaks of white remaining, but don't overfold.

7. Divide the batter between the muffin cups and bake for about 25 minutes, until the batter feels just set in the center. Remove from the oven, then let cool for a few minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, remove the cupcakes from the muffin tin and let cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

Coconut Pecan Frosting

1 C evaporated milk
1 C sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 C butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 C angel flake coconut
1 C chopped pecans

Combine in a medium saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened, about 12 minutes (if it's taking longer, turn up the heat slightly).

Add coconut and pecans.

Beat until thick enough to spread. Makes 2 1/2 C.

*David Lebovitz adds this note: For those of you who can't get buttermilk, you can use a similar quantity of whole milk plain yogurt or sour cream, Or mix 1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice with 1/2 cup (125 ml) whole milk and let it sit 10 minutes.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Compost Cookies, aka Amnesty Cookies

I suppose the name of these cookies is somewhat along the same lines as the Garbage Burrito - a whole unpredictable mess of things is thrown in, but the result in the end is the better for it. This recipe has been all the rage online in the last few weeks, so I thought I'd better post my outcome quickly. It is the famous recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar, whose pastry chef invented and, I assume, named these cookies. I personally avoided telling people their name lest they find it unappetizing, but these cookies sold themselves. See David Lebovitz's post to see why he renamed his Amnesty Cookies - less gross imagery, but perhaps a little too political for me.

I don't have anything really new to say about the recipe, so I'm just going to jump on the bandwagon and tell you to MAKE IT. They were incredible, I could not stop eating them, and even when they got smooshed to death in my bag, my coworkers gobbled them up.

One of the funnest things about these cookies is the fact that you can pretty much throw any junk food into them that you want, and they will end up amazing. I ran into some Easter candy at the store the other day, so I chopped up some pink bunny Peeps (I know, I know) and threw in some egg-shaped M&Ms, alongside some Lay's classic potato chips and some pretzel sticks. The salty-sweet combination is killer, so don't shy away from the savory snacks. Don't worry, the potato chip crumbs basically melt away and just add flavor.

The other unique thing about this recipe is the fact that you beat the butter-sugar-corn syrup-eggs-vanilla part of the batter for 10 minutes, which dissolves the sugar granules and churns out a fabulously silky batter that maintains its texture even after the dry ingredients and mix-ins are added. I'm going to try a chocolate version of this cookie that replaces some of the flour with cocoa powder, and my instincts tell me that it's going to work out well.

As you prepare to make these, beware that once the batter is portioned out onto the baking pans (for which I highly recommend parchment paper and a 3 T scoop with a scraping blade to portion out the batter), the pans need to sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour before baking. The batter will not hold together if you bake them from room temperature. Even after refrigeration they spread out a lot, and after puffing up in the oven they fall flat when cool.

I love these so much that I'm excited for you to make them! Enjoy making the recipe your own with your mix-in choices!

Momofuku's Compost Cookies

Taken from The Amateur Gourmet, which has great step-by-step photos.

1 C unsalted butter
1 C granulated sugar
3/4 C light brown sugar
1 T corn syrup (optional, if used will make the batter shiner)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 3/4 C all purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsps Kosher salt
1 1/2 C sweet snacks (chocolate chips, candies, etc.)
1 1/2 C salty snack foods (crushed chips, pretzels, etc.)

1. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Cream the butter, sugars, and corn syrup together in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (the whip attachment or a hand mixer would whip in too much air). Beat them at medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes until fluffy and pale yellow. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber scraper.
3. At a lower speed, add the eggs and vanilla. Beat at a medium-high speed for 10 minutes. The mixture will become pale in color and almost double in size.
4. After the 10 minutes, at a low speed add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, mixing just for 45-60 seconds until all the dry ingredients are just incorporated.
5. Add your sweet snacks for 30-45 seconds, followed by your salty snacks, all at a low speed. Do not overmix, just mix until these ingredients are evenly distributed in the batter.
6. Portion the dough onto the cookie sheets (as you can see, they will run together if you put 12 on a pan!). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour, maximum 1 week.
7. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. When the oven is ready, remove one cookie sheet at a time from the refrigerator and bake for 9 to 11 minutes. Check them at 9 minutes to see if the middle of the cookie is browned to the same color as the edge of the cookie; if the middle is still pale and doughy, leave in the oven for the additional minutes.
8. Cool the cookies completely on the pan. Store in air-tight containers.