Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Foray Into Creativity

This week's double dose of baking is brought to you by wanting to share cookies with friends (and, of course, viewers like you). I'm going to visit a friend this weekend and wanted to bring him some cookies that I made but it seems that I have none left at all in my possession. Also, my office is out of emergency "My God, why are my students' Minitab answers so wrong?" cookies. So I wanted to make something easy but delicious and at the same time not make the same thing twice. Well, the Death By Chocolate cookbook comes to my rescue again. Recall I made the Absolutely Deep Dark Chocolate Fudge cookies a few weeks ago. They were delicious, beloved by all, and are a good traveling cookie. But obviously, I couldn't make the same thing again. So I decided to add some twists to the original recipe. The first twist is that I've had about two cups of dark chocolate chips in my cupboard for a few weeks and want to get rid of them. The recipe calls for 3 cups of semi sweet chocolate chips (which I totally skimped on last time) so I will substitute two of those cups with dark chocolate chips. I literally have no idea how this will turn out but I figure more chocolate can't be a bad thing, right?

Speaking of more chocolate, the second modification I'm making actually involves a separate recipe. The cookie recipe notes that if you're feeling ambitious, you can dip the cookies in some chocolate ganache. Hmm, apparently this blog doesn't recognize ganache as a real word. That's annoying. Well, ganache is real (is properly spelled) and is delicious. The cookbook points out that there are "several ganache recipes to choose from" but when I checked there were only two. Liars. Two doesn't qualify as several. Everybody knows that several is generally more than three! Regardless, I needed to decide between the Semi-Sweet Chocolate Ganache and the Ultimate Chocolate Ganache. I'm still laughing at the fact that I just presented that as if there was a choice to be made. I'm already making Absolutely Extra Deep Dark Chocolate Fudge cookies (the Extra because of the dark chocolate chips which should make the cookies even more deep dark) so I might as well take the next logical step to make them the ULTIMATE ABSOLUTELY EXTRA DEEP DARK CHOCOLATE FUDGE cookies. Or maybe we'll just call them Chocolate Coma Cookies. Or how about Chocolate Insanity Cookies? Perhaps Friggin' Chocolately Cookies? I'll keep thinking on what to call these things.

So, this being the 2nd time that I'm making this basic recipe, I got a little lazy. But only lazy in the most practical of senses, I promise. For instance, I did not sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda like last time. Way too silly. I also knew that I should get the chocolate melting first so that I wouldn't be stalled halfway through the recipe waiting for chocolate to melt. I'm learning! This was a very smooth recipe with one (hopefully) small exception. I kinda ran out of brown sugar. I was only about a tablespoon short in a recipe that calls for a cup and a half of brown sugar so I'm hoping it's not too big a deal. I know baking is an exact science and I even googled brown sugar substitutes but as I don't have any molasses, I was kinda stuck. And there was no way I was going out in the pouring rain to get ingredients. No way. So, let's all hope they turn out ok, shall we?

As I was baking the cookies (they take quite a while), I got started on the Ultimate Chocolate Ganache. By that, I just mean that I measured out all the ingredients and got stuff ready to go because ganache takes approximately 5 minutes to make. I did take a moment to marvel though at all of the chocolate going into this recipe. I decided to cut the recipe in half since I don't really think I need a quart of ganache in my life at the particular moment in time. After some super difficult division, the recipe called for 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, 2 ounces of white chocolate, and 6 ounces of semisweet chocolate. It just looked like so much chocolate.

Oh, and while I'm waiting for the cookies to bake, allow me to share this gem from the Death By Chocolate cookbook. "Why an ultimate ganache? Why drive an automobile capable of going 120 miles per hour when the speed limit does not exceed 65 miles per hour? The answer is that when you need it -- it's there. Quite simply, this is a supernal food. Just imagine a mountain cabin, a mellow fire, chilled Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs, and great big California strawberries to dip into a bowl of slightly warm ultimate ganache." Ummmm...what? The first time I read that it just boggled my mind. I want to make fun of it so badly but the words won't quite come. No wait, yes they will. There is never a need to go 120 miles per hour. Ever. It's unsafe, you crazy drivers. Next, while I'm loving the idea of strawberries dipped in ultimate ganache, the author seems to have an oddly specific scenario in mind that seems to imply that there is someone else in that mountain cabin. Or at least I hope so. Otherwise, it just feels kinda sad. All of these recipes have little "chef's touch" sections that are filled with practical and helpful tips and occasional anecdotes about where the recipe comes from but I'm pretty surprised that this particular chef's touch made it past the editor. That's all I wanted to say on that but dear readers, feel free to jump in with your own thoughts on this mysterious passage in a cookbook.

Woot! Ganache time! Ganache is actually quite easy. It's just boiling sugar, butter, and heavy cream and then pouring the boiling mixture over the three types of chocolate I have in a bowl. Although, the recipe did recommend a stainless steel bowl which, of course, I did not have. I figured Pyrex would suffice. Considering I haven't heard any glass explode yet, I think we're good. After letting it sit for 5 minutes I stirred until smooth and now I have to let it cool to room temperature before dipping the cookies. I guess I could've planned this a little better but I was watching Big Bang Theory. Which is NOT crappy tv and I'm only now starting to get into the show. Which is odd because I'm a huge dork. And I get almost all of their nerd jokes. See why I needed a hobby?

Ok, so the ganache is cool enough now and I began methodically dipping the cookies into the ganache. I figured that covering half the cookie would be most reasonable and would look cute. So I got into a nice rhythm of moving the cookies from the cooling rack to the wax paper covered cooling rack by way of bowl of ganache. At one point I got a little ganache on my knuckle and gave it a taste. Oh. My. God. I just wanted to curl up and die because nothing could possibly ever taste that good again. Anyway, I got so into the rhythm of this that I actually missed the first 10 minutes of Grey's Anatomy (there's your bad tv!) which isn't exactly a disaster but it was more that I found the whole process so relaxing that I completely lost track of time. Not a bad way to spend an evening. Now I'm just waiting for the ganache to harden before I can taste one. Waiting is painful. Oh, and I had way too much ganache, of course, so now the extra is sitting in a plastic container in my fridge just waiting for a rainy day.

I grabbed a cookie out of the fridge before the ganache even really finished hardening because it's getting close to my bedtime and I really wanted to try one of these cookies tonight. Holy. Crap. It's the most amazing cookie I've ever tasted. The ganache works perfectly with the extremely ultimately chocolatey whatever cookie and I don't even quite know how to describe it. Maybe I'm just a chocolate fiend but these cookies are incredible. I actually want another one but I know I probably shouldn't since I have to sleep in order to teach my students how to do statistics tomorrow but wow. I know my gushing over these cookies is probably getting annoying so I'll wrap it up. Here's a picture of the Incredible Amazing Ultimately Absolutely Deepest Dark Chocolate Fudge Cookies:

Disclaimer: I will not be held responsible for any residual drooling that may or may not land on readers' keyboards.

Critical Reception:
Well. Apparently nobody had the same objections to the cheesecake triangles that I did. I brought the triangles to the stat dept, stored them in the fridge because I was there a bit early, went to my office to do some work, and almost immediately was asked where the cheesecake triangles were. Not that I minded being interrupted, mind you, because my probability homework is way hard this week but I was impressed that someone discovered what treat I had made within a couple hours of my blog post going up. So when it was colloquium tea time, I took the cheesecake triangles out of the fridge and people immediately jumped on them. I estimate I brought about 50 triangles with me (they were somewhat small). Even with a smaller than usual pre-colloquium socializing group, I'd estimate about 20 of the triangles were gone by the time the talk actually started. By the way, that means people were eating more than one. I saw someone eat 4 of them. Which is fine, I'm happy people were enjoying them. After the talk, I walked back to the conference room thinking there'd be at least 20 or so left and I'd have to put them in the fridge with a sign telling people to eat them or something. I walked in and my jaw actually dropped as I looked at a completely empty plate. I believe I actually exclaimed "No way!" and made the couple of people working in the conference room stare at me like I was crazy (which I'm not denying). So I'm going to go ahead and assume that people liked them because they're gone now! A+ for the cheesecake triangles.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How to Make Cheesecake Without a Springform Pan

[Edit: This has been my most popular blog post due to what I presume is people googling "How to make cheesecake without a springform pan". If that is how you got here, welcome. While I don't know of any way to make a round cheesecake without a springform pan, I do know how to make Chocolate Cheesecake Triangles which are pretty delicious and I imagine could be made without the chocolate. I talk about them below with a few tips for baking them but the recipe can be found here. If this link was helpful to you, I only ask that you pick another of my posts and read it and decide if this blog is worth your time. Thanks and happy baking!]

Hello all! For this week's project, I decided to deviate a bit from the cookies. I've been craving some cheesecake lately but alas, I have no springform pan. Plus it's harder to bring a cheesecake into the office to share with people. Then I'd have to worry about plates and utensils and that's currently beyond the scope of things I care about. Fortunately for me, the Bake Sale cookbook came through for me. In the bar cookie section (yes, that is a specific section) I found "Swirl of Chocolate Cheesecake Triangles" which was exactly perfect.

So, naturally, after choosing this recipe I had to head over to my friendly neighborhood Big Y to pick up some things, namely, graham crackers, cream cheese, and evaporated milk (the recipe called for the brand name Carnation but I bought the cheap Big Y brand). By the way, does anyone else find evaporated milk kind of odd? It kinda creeps me out that all you have to do is add water and then it's supposedly the equivalent of fresh milk. Weird. Anyway, while I was picking up the creepy milk, a box next to it caught my eye. This magical box read: "Graham Cracker Crumbs".  Yes, they actually sell graham cracker crumbs for budding bakers like myself. So, I was immediately faced with a decision to make. Should I do things the old fashioned way and crush up 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs? Or should I pay a slightly higher unit price and save myself the time? While trying to decide, I was reminded of the last time I made cheesecake. In that instance, the person designated to crush the graham crackers took approximately 45 minutes to do so. While I certainly would have gotten it done faster than that, I decided that the time and effort saved would be better spent working on my probability homework. So I took the easy way out and went off to the kitchen.

The first step was to make the graham cracker crust. I know from experience that this is super easy so I felt good about that. I melted some butter and mixed it up with the graham cracker crumbs and sugar and it was a piece of (cheese)cake. The next direction was to press the crust into the bottom of a 13x9 inch baking pan. Who's betting at this moment that I don't have one of those? Well, you'd be WRONG! I have one rectangle baking pan and it is exactly 13x9! How exciting! This recipe seems to be going flawlessly for me.

Spoke too soon. The filling was easy, just combining cream cheese, sugar, flour, evaporated milk, eggs, and vanilla. On a related note, I hit a milestone in my baking. I finally finished my first bottle of vanilla extract! I feel like that means I actually have accumulated some experience by now. Speaking of experience, you know how I have to melt chocolate for pretty much every recipe I bake? Well, I should have used my experience in that area and deviated from the recipe. The recipe told me to microwave the Nestle Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels (Hey, a brand name I did use!) and it gave me specific microwaving directions. I followed them and ended up with a lumpy, congealed mass of chocolate in my bowl. After trying unsuccessfully to melt the chocolate further, I threw my hands up and used the tried and true bowl of hot water technique. In a couple of minutes, I successfully melted my chocolate and vowed not to microwave chocolate anymore. Oh, and lest you think something went smoothly, in the process of stirring my chocolate, I managed to splash extremely hot water all over my shirt. Yay.

So, the swirl of chocolate aspect comes into this recipe in this way: I was supposed to combine one cup of the cream cheese mixture with the chocolate, pour the remaining cream cheese mixture into the pan, pour the chocolate/cream cheese mixture on top, and then use a spoon to pull the plain cream cheese mixture over the chocolate mixture. Whew. It seemed needlessly complicated but I guess I did get a nice marble-y swirl. And now, into the oven for 45 minutes. I used the baking and cooling time to watch a couple of episodes of Say Yes to the Dress. Yep, I unashamedly watch bad tv.

One note on the baking: by the time I pulled the pan out of the oven it had risen to slightly above the rim of the pan. But by the time I went back to it after the cooling time, imagine my surprise when I found it had all sunk down back to the original level! Regardless, it still smells delicious. Unfortunately, I have to wait a bit for the cheesecake to chill in the fridge before I can eat it.

::twiddles thumbs::

Yay, they're chilled! Cutting these was a bit of a challenge. Not because they were hard to cut but because the triangles were really big and for some reason the graham cracker crust was really really crumbly. I'm not sure why that is but the crust definitely leaves something to be desired. As far as look goes, you be the judge:

I think they look cute. As far as taste goes, the graham cracker crust is a bit too dry and crumbly for my taste so maybe the graham cracker to butter ratio was off (though I swear I followed the recipe!) and it's actually a bit too chocolatey for me. I guess I'm more of a cheesecake purist and like it the plain way. Also, due to the crumbly crust, this is best eaten with a fork. That should get interesting when I bring these to colloquium.

Critical Reception:

Well, the peanut butter cup cookies were here one second and gone the next. I put them out at colloquium and many of them were gone before I even showed up to get my cup of tea. Overall positive reviews though. One ambiguous review: one person (that I know of) did not realize that they were eating peanut butter cookies. After reading the blog entry, this person wanted to try one, not realizing that he/she had eaten a couple of the cookies two days earlier. Maybe I should start labeling what I put out?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Another Sticky Situation

In this week's episode of "things that are really annoying to measure" I bake cookies that involve peanut butter. The technical name for this recipe is "Canned Peanut Butter Candy Cookies" from the Favorite Brand Name Bake Sale Cookbook.  This will require some explanation.  The idea for these cookies must be that they make a lovely gift for someone because the recipe calls for a decorative container.  The picture in the book shows one of those cylindrical metal tins with adorable ribbons wrapped around it.  Awww.  Apparently you are supposed to measure the cookies to precisely fit inside the canister.  I don't even have to tell you by now that I did not do this.  I did not have one of these tins and I tend to feed the statistics masses who would only find the tin to be a hindrance.

So that was the first unusual thing about this recipe.  The second unusual thing to me is that despite this being the BRAND NAME cookbook, the recipe never once mentions Reese's peanut butter cups.  The name of the recipe refers to Reese's as peanut butter candies and the ingredient list calls for "quartered miniature peanut butter cups". Now I'm not really a huge candy eater but seriously, does anybody else even make peanut butter cups? Anybody? The recipe is unquestionably calling for Reese's peanut butter cups (even the picture looks exactly like Reese's miniatures) but in the very first recipe of the Brand Name cookbook, they do not refer to the brand. Am I the only person who finds this absurd? Did Reese's refuse to allow their brand name to be used? And if so, why? Hershey's is mentioned several times in the book and Hershey's owns Reese's, right? I'm not entirely sure why this bugs me quite this much but it seems very silly to me. On to the cooking!

I started work on these cookies yesterday, not quite sure when I was going to bake them. What I did know was that I had to buy Reese's, I mean, "miniature peanut butter cups" and quarter them. So I decided to get a jump start on that.  I know from baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch that one 12 oz bag of chocolate chips is 2 cups so I assumed about the same for quartered miniature Reese's. Which meant a lot of unwrapping. Think about it: each miniature Reese's has the tinfoil wrapping and the paper wrapping and there's a lot of mini Reese's in a 12 oz bag. But that's ok, I parked myself in front of the tv and watched Biggest Loser while unwrapping and cutting my candies. =)

Once I was done, I decided I was bored and decided to just go ahead and bake them. Step 1: beat peanut butter and butter in a large bowl. Otay. I had to measure out 3/4 cup of chunky peanut butter. I'm a smooth peanut butter girl myself so I didn't have chunky but I'm fairly sure it's one of those things that wouldn't have mattered. By the way, in case you were wondering, the recipe did not specify a brand of peanut butter. Knowing that peanut butter is sticky, I tried to devise a plan to minimize my suffering. I decided to line the measuring cup with wax paper so it would be easier to transfer after measuring.  This actually worked pretty well. It was a challenge to see the measurements though because I have a stupid Pyrex measuring cup that put the measurement information on the inside. I'm still confused as to why someone would do that. But anyway, success. From there it was your standard brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, etc etc. After I stirred in the peanut butter cups, I let the dough chill for 1 hour.

The baking side of things, on the other hand, had some fascinating instructions.  Remember how I said that the cookies should fit nicely inside the decorative container? Well, the recipe gives specific instructions about how if you make a 1/4 inch thick disc of dough, 2 inches less in diameter than the size of the container then the cookie will grow to...blah blah blah. It actually wanted me to bake a test cookie to figure out the proper size of the cookies. This was all easy to disregard but my eye caught on one thing. It recommended using 1/3 cup of dough PER COOKIE. Think about that for a second. If volume doesn't give you a sense of the size of these cookies, how about that the recipe yields 9 5-inch cookies? Those would be big freakin cookies. Those are like those cookies you see at diners wrapped in plastic that you can't picture anyone eating. If you still can't picture the size, how about that with the amount of dough I had, I made 2 and a half DOZEN cookies. Ok, that's all I'll say about the idiotic size of the cookies.

After baking, the last thing to do was decoratively pipe chocolate onto the cookies.  However, it was late at night by then so I decided to save that step for today.  So, today I followed the very specific instructions about melting chocolate in a plastic bag in the microwave. For once I didn't have to use chocolate chips in the recipe! Instead I melted a Hershey's bar. The directions for melting were pretty good actually. After melting, I was to cut a tiny corner of the plastic bag to turn it into a piping bag. Unfortunately, I cut the hole a little too large so the first couple cookies have overly thick piped chocolate on them.  Then I decided to cut the other corner of the bag to make thinner lines of chocolate.  Yay! That worked well. Of course, I ended up with hands covered in melted chocolate again as usual. I was then instructed to let the cookies stand until the chocolate had set.  20 minutes later the chocolate had not set but colloquium was drawing near so I tossed the cookies in the fridge to speed the process. That worked ridiculously well and was what I should have done in the first place.  Oh, and I tasted one too. Yummy. They tasted less peanut butter-y than I expected, considering all the peanut butter, but they were quite good. So here they are, my cute peanut butter candy cookies:

Oh, and by the way, this recipe ultimately never referred to any brand of anything.

Critical Reception:
The blondie brownies made their way to the statistics picnic on Saturday.  Once people discovered that it was ok to take the plastic wrap off and once people discovered that blondie brownies are not dark chocolate brown in color, nor are they chocolate chip cookies...the brownies went pretty quickly. I received a few compliments and a few "I want to try whatever you made!" so overall I put it down as a win. Considering my brownies were competing with copious amounts of food, I was just happy they got eaten at all between soccer games.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Honey Badger Don't Care

Ooooooh! Two blog posts in one week! Exciting, right? The double dose of baking this week is brought to you by the Statistics Department Fall Picnic (and viewers like you). When carefully pondering what delicious goodies I would bring to the picnic I flipped through my cookbooks and considered several factors including nut allergies, non-meltyness, and oh! Blondie brownies! Sounds good to me! (And yes, I did stop flipping the moment I found something reasonable.)  This recipe is from the same cookbook that brought us Cookie Dough Truffles.

The recipe is officially titled "Blondies with Chips" for anyone wanting me to be precise.  The first thing I noticed was that the recipe called for an 8x8 baking dish.  Obviously, if history tells us anything, I don't have one of those.  Then I caught myself and I was like, "8x8? How many brownies is this recipe supposed to make?" Answer: 1 dozen.  That didn't really seem like the appropriate amount to bring to a picnic that was sure to have at least 20 people. So the easy solution to the lack of an 8x8 pan was to double the recipe.  Then I started doing the math to see what size dish I would need (I have what I deem small, medium, and large rectangle dishes and I am too lazy to look up the exact sizes for you readers).  So an 8x8 would make 64 square inches of brownies so then double know what? Medium sized looks about right! For all of you about to say "but you're a stat person! You were a math major!" you should know that I don't do mental math and I avoid doing math at all after 6 pm.  It was already 9 pm when I started the baking.  Nuff said.

So, the reason I was baking this late at night was because I had class till 5 pm and then I hit mad traffic leaving campus because of the UConn football game and stupid teenage drivers who can't drive.  I also had to stop at my friendly neighborhood Big Y to buy some ingredients.  The first thing on my list was whole wheat flour. Oooooh.  According to the recipe, the consumers of these brownies will "never suspect that one of the ingredients is whole wheat flour"! I strongly considered not buying it at all if people weren't going to notice but the small package was only 2 bucks so I deemed it worthwhile.  Next on the list was canola oil which I was surprised to realize I didn't already have.  Then, honey.  I have always wanted a good excuse to buy that little bear shaped container of honey.  I didn't previously have an excuse because I do not use honey in any way, shape, or form normally.  And before people start claiming that honey is God's gift to tea-drinkers, let me just say that I love tea but adding honey makes it way too sweet.  Tangent over. So I bought the little bear shaped container of honey and it made me smile.  I also had to pick up some chocolate chips because apparently I use them every time I bake.  I really need to start buying them in bulk.

And now we come to the baking itself.  Combining the dry ingredients was easy as I am now an old pro at that.  Then I had to whisk the eggs, oil, honey and vanilla.  Let me tell you, honey is kinda a pain in the ass.  That little bear is really hard to squeeze and the honey comes out sooooo slowly.  Then it pours out of the tablespoon sooooooo slowly.  And I had to use 4 tablespoons.  I seem to recall a trick that's either for honey or cream cheese and involves either plastic wrap or wax paper but I couldn't really remember so I took the slow approach.  Then I had to actually whisk the ingredients together which was kinda annoying at first because honey is awfully thick and didn't seem to want to combine with the oil but then I took to whisking just like my daddy taught me and voila! Nice evenly combined wet ingredients.

After that, I had to stir in the dry ingredients "just until combined" and then the chocolate chips.  The recipe warned me that the batter will be thick. They weren't kidding. That honey really thickened things up because I could barely stir it as all the batter congealed into one sticky ball in the center of the bowl.

We interrupt this blog post for a brief movie review.  Halfway through writing this, I took a break to go see Lion King 3D.  Now, let me say, I hate 3D.  I generally think it's pointless and expensive and when it's done poorly it gives me a headache.  However, I was told that the 3D would be worth it and I went in with an open mind.  Wow. The Lion King rocked my socks when I saw it in theaters in 1994 and it was even better now.  I got chills hearing the first note of "Circle of Life" and I was completely engrossed in the film the entire time.  Which is pretty impressive for a film I can pretty much recite verbatim.  And the To say that this was a work of art would be an understatement and would insult the film in its original form which was already a work of art.  But the 3D actually took the film to another level and was beautifully done. So to me, this was $12 well spent on a movie that gave me newfound respect for Disney 3D.  Amazing. Go see Lion King 3D. End of aside.

Now where was I? Ah, complaining about how annoying honey is.  Ok so the last step before baking was to, of course, put the batter into the baking dish.  This was a slow process that I will again attribute to the honey. Plus, it just looked like too little batter for the dish.  I managed to spread it out to at least cover the pan but it looked like I was going to be having some pretty thin brownies.  After baking and letting the brownies cool, I carved them up and decoratively piled them on a paper plate to bring to the picnic:

I also tasted one.  So delicious.  Sweet, but not overpoweringly sweet and the only thing I would change might be to use slightly fewer chocolate chips.  They were pretty amazing though. I had another two at the picnic. Overall, success. Honey won't defeat me.

Critical Reception:
Those absolutely deep dark chocolate fudge cookies went over like gangbusters.  People love them and think they're delicious and keep comin' back for more of them.  There are a few left and they're the current emergency "Oh my God, I don't think I can grade any more of these damn Minitabs" snack in my office.  They were pretty easy to make too so maybe I'll make some more at a later date to send to people who are farther away from me. =)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

So. Much. Chocolate.

So, after an almost chocolate-less week of baking, I decided it was time to delve into the Death By Chocolate cookbook.  This book is home to the recipe for the Death By Chocolate cake (on a week when I'm too busy to bake you'll get a whole post recapping that experience) but it also has several other delicious confections available for consumption.  This week I decided to make the "Absolutely Deep Dark Chocolate Fudge Cookies".  Hang on, let me wipe the drool off my keyboard.

The recipe itself is for Deep Dark Chocolate Fudge cookies but the "absolutely" part comes in when you add chocolate chips to the cookies. This cookbook is excellent and extremely specific which is good for a person like me.  However, I needed to disregard some of the instructions out of necessity.  For example, the recipe recommended using a paddle attachment for my mixer.  Silly cookbook thinking I have tools. Alas, I have no paddle attachment so I just mixed the good ol' fashioned way.  With an electric mixer. Moving on...

The recipe also called for Nestle's Unsweetened Cocoa. The author even goes so far as to add a note saying "I have specified Nestle cocoa for this recipe because it delivers the deep dark chocolate flavor implied by the name of the cookie." Wow. Apparently using any other cocoa will not deliver the deep dark chocolate flavor! So I went to my friendly neighborhood Big Y and surprise, surprise, they did not carry Nestle's Unsweetened Cocoa.  I had to settle for Hershey's and make sub par cookies that do not deliver the deep dark chocolate flavor. Sigh.

The Death By Chocolate cookbook also had some precious instructions that included sifting the flour, salt, baking soda, and cocoa onto wax paper.  Fortunately, my lovely mother bought me a sifter when she came to visit last weekend so I was able to successfully sift.  I also learned that there is apparently a difference when a recipe specifies "sifted flour" vs. "flour, sifted" (it has to do with when you measure the flour).  So, being the good cookbook minion that I am, I sifted those ingredients onto wax paper and you know what? I don't think it changed anything and it made a mess.  However, it did look kinda cool creating a white flour volcano which was then coated in cocoa and then sprinkled with the white of baking soda and salt. Also, sifting salt: completely pointless. It just goes through the sifter.

After sifting like a fiend, I had to melt a bunch of chocolate in my double boiler.  Oh, you want me to have a double boiler, Mr. Cookbook Author? Silly. I used the same technique as the last time I melted chocolate, namely, putting a few inches of water in a big bowl and microwaving it until the water is really hot and then putting a smaller bowl of chocolate inside the big bowl.  This was effective but it took a while so I think the water wasn't quite hot enough.  Oh well, the chocolate melted eventually. After that, things were fairly uneventful. The recipe did call for 3 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips (for the "absolutely" part, remember) but all I had left was about 1 cup of semi-sweet mini morsels.  Whoops.  So I suppose I didn't fully achieve the "absolutely" part and maybe just came as far as "almost surely".  That was a math/stat joke for anyone who's as big a nerd as me. I'm going to go hang my head in shame for a moment.


Ok, I'm back. The last step after combining the ingredients is (obviously) baking. I was supposed to drop 2 level tablespoons of batter per cookie onto the baking sheet.  I obediently did that and realized that only about 9 cookies were going to fit on the pan.  Which meant I'd be baking for the next 4 hours or so. Also, those cookies were huge.  Methinks one shouldn't consume that much chocolate in one cookie so after the first batch I made normal people sized cookies.  Following about 2 and a half hours of baking (each batch took 18 minutes and I only have one baking sheet), I got to consume my creation.  So. Freaking. Good. I love these cookies.  I will probably love them more heated up with a little vanilla ice cream on top (something I plan on enjoying later) but I highly recommend this cookie recipe to anyone who loves chocolate. Yay! So here's a picture of my completed cookies:

Critical Reception:
The opinions on my watermelon slice cookies from last time were as I expected. People thought they were adorable but weren't really inclined to eat more than one.  They definitely needed more flavor but nobody seemed to dislike them and I got compliments on the cookies.  I also got asked by some professors if I need to be given more work to do. Whoops.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just your standard sugar cookie, right?

For today's adventure, I attempted basically a standard sugar cookie with a twist.  During my labor day weekend trip home, I picked up (i.e. borrowed from my mom) some supplies and cookbooks.  I brought with me the Death By Chocolate cookbook which, if you're familiar with it, you know that just reading the recipes clogs your arteries.  I also brought the "Favorite Brand Name Bake Sale Cookbook".  I've had this cookbook for many years and have tried a couple of the recipes in it and they were yummy so I figured it'd be a good starting point.  Plus there are pictures. I like the pictures.

I found a recipe for "Watermelon Slices" which doesn't tell you anything about the cookies at all.  However, in the picture the cookies look like watermelon slices so that was enough incentive for me.  After reading the recipe, I realized that these cookies are sugar cookies but preciously decorated with food coloring and sprinkles.  The one problem with this cookbook is that it uses brand name products.  As in, the recipe called for "Duncan Hines Golden Sugar Cookie Mix".  Using a cookie mix feels like cheating to me.  So I hunted through the book for a sugar cookie recipe and found...nothing.  So I looked in the cookbook I used last time and found...nothing. Then I thought, "Aha! I own the Joy of Cooking like every good beginner chef!"  In Joy of Cooking I found a recipe for "Roll Cookies" which seemed right to me because the recipe looked like it would yield a sugar cookie and I needed to roll the cookies.  Score.

Now at this point you must be thinking "any idiot can make sugar cookies so what will make this post interesting?"  Merely my ineptitude in the kitchen, dear readers. First of all, combining two recipes is somewhat confusing, particularly when one recipe yields a different number of cookies than the other. That was not insurmountable though. I was feeling pretty confident. I combined my butter and sugar, followed by my flour, eggs, etc etc.  However, the dough wasn't mixing very well at all. It was all clumpy and crumbly and not good.  I decided that the problem was the fact that I was using a hand mixer and a Pyrex bowl instead of a serious mixer.  Fortunately for me, my mom gave me her old Mixmaster mixer (since she has the far superior KitchenAid mixer) and I dragged that out.  The thing looks ancient but it was functional.  Its age shows though.  It doesn't mix at a steady pace.  Instead it sort of sputters and goes fast and then slow in no discernible pattern.  At one point, it actually sputtered and died for a few seconds.  Santa, I would like a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas. K thanx.

Back to the point, the dough was still crumbly and poorly combined even after switching to the better mixer.  Hmm.  A Google search informed me that other people have had this problem with the Joy of Cooking recipe.  Way to go, Rombauer and Becker. Google also told me that I could add a bit of water or milk to the dough to get it to the right consistency.  Question: how do I know it's the right consistency? Google answer: it feels like Play-Doh. Ok, back on track! I've played with Play-Doh lots of times! Adding a bit of water didn't really do the trick but after a splash of milk, I got the dough to where it needed to be.  Then I had to make some of the dough green and the rest of it red.  Here is a picture of my red dough and my *awesome* mixer for your entertainment:

Then I had to roll the red dough into a 12 inch roll with one side flattened. Easy enough except I didn't exactly have a ruler and anyone who knows me knows that my sense of distance is severely skewed. But hey, rulers are for suckers! Being a nerd, I know that a standard sheet of paper is 8.5x11 so I eyeballed it based on that. Baking isn't an exact science, right? Then I had to roll the green dough into a 12x4 inch rectangle.  Again eyeballing it (and thanking my mom for giving me a rolling pin) I got that done easily.  Now here we have a discrepancy in the recipes.  JoC says that the dough should chill for 3-4 hours.  The watermelon slices recipe says to chill for15 minutes.  I decided to chill for the time it took for me to go to the weekly stat dept colloquium and come back.

After returning from colloquium where I pimped out my cookie dough truffles (more on that in a bit) I had to assemble the doughs to look like watermelon slices which was pretty straightforward.  Then I added some chocolate sprinkles to the slices to look like watermelon seeds and voila! Bake and eat. The cookies look completely precious but I'm not too wild about the sugar cookie recipe. The cookies are a little bland so the small hits of chocolate sprinkles are welcome.  Next time I need a sugar cookie recipe I'll try the "Rich Roll Cookie" I think. That said, the cookies look cute enough that I would make these again sometime.  Here are a couple pictures:

I also used the excess dough at the ends of the roll to make this cookie:

Precious, right?  Anyway, now we come to the feature I like to call "Critical Reception" where I look at how people enjoyed the previous post's dessert. 

Critical Reception:

After realizing I would never eat that many cookie dough truffles in my life (seriously, I can eat maybe two a day as a maximum), I took a container of them to colloquium to share with the stat dept.  After about half an hour, all but two of the truffles were gone. The most common reaction was bugged out eyes and "You made these?!?"  My favorite part of all of this was my advisor eating at least five of the truffles.  And when I say at least five, I mean that I only saw him eat five.  I consider this a great success and will continue bribing members of the stat dept with baked goods. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The beginning...

Everybody needs a hobby. That much is well known.  I have many, many hobbies.  After two years of graduate school though, I decided that hobbies are not enough.  A person also needs goals in life.  Now, I don't mean abstract goals or super long term goals.  I mean goals that will distract me from the black hole that is life at UConn.  That said, academic goals (i.e. things that must be completed in order to achieve my degree) are boring and are a poor distraction.  I decided to collect ideas for a non-academic goal over the summer and I got many awesome suggestions.  I considered the ideas carefully but none of them had really grabbed me.  So I came to UConn for my third year still without a concrete non-academic goal.

Then, yesterday I was cleaning my living room (since my house is always a disaster area) and I found a cookbook that I had received as a housewarming gift: Taste of Home Contest Winning Annual Recipes 2010.  I started flipping through it and quickly decided that it's a pretty terrible cookbook.  But some of the dessert recipes intrigued me.  And while I'm pretty terrible at cooking, I'm not half bad at baking though admittedly, I haven't done that much baking in my life.  Finally I was inspired.  And Muse, your name is Cookie Dough Truffles.

So here I am, blogging for the first time in my life.  I figured it could be fun to keep a record of my adventures in the kitchen.  Picture it: a poor grad student with very few baking tools (seriously, I only have one tiny cookie sheet and 2 Pyrex bowls to work with currently) who doesn't much like getting her hands dirty while cooking.  Should get interesting.  This won't be Julie/Julia though because I don't currently even have a cookbook to bake my way through, nor do I have a concrete endpoint in mind.  Yet.  In the meantime, here's my recap of my first baking adventure:

As I mentioned, the recipe that caught my eye was for cookie dough truffles.  I am a cookie dough fiend.  Everyone knows this.  If I could have a cookie factory of my own, I would.  The recipe itself was pretty straightforward.  Make some eggless cookie dough, roll into balls, cover in chocolate.  Not hard right? Hah. Hurdle number one was that the recipe called for "dark chocolate candy coating".  Now, I don't know what that is and I didn't see it in the supermarket so I got some dark chocolate chips and hoped that would suffice. More on that later.  The second hurdle I faced was my lack of skills with a can opener.  Go ahead and call me weird now but I don't typically eat anything out of a can.  The only times in my life I have ever opened a can were on Thanksgiving opening chicken stock and at my house we have the church key style can opener.  I don't have one of those so I struggled and made a mess with the can opener I have.  Good times.

At this point, the balls of dough had to chill in the fridge for an hour (which, by the way, got interesting because as I said, I only have one baking sheet and I made way more than one baking sheet of truffles.  However, a metal rack covered in wax paper sufficed) so I decided to Google what exactly chocolate candy coating is.  Apparently it is not just chocolate.  Oops.  So I was stalled on my recipe until today when I went to the store to get shortening to add to the melted chocolate (P.S. shortening is code for Crisco. Who knew?) .  After that, I did the whole melting chocolate in a small bowl that's sitting in a large bowl of hot water thing.  Then I was told to coat the balls of cookie dough in the chocolate.  The cookbook recommended using a fork to dip in the chocolate.  I quickly decided this was a terrible idea and led to lumpy and thick chocolate coatings so I just dove in and used my fingers.  After getting about 3/4 of the way through, I realized I was running out of chocolate but didn't feel like melting more because my hands were all chocolatey so the last 1/4 of the batch has a really thin coat of chocolate because I used every last drop of chocolate in my bowl.  After chilling again, I pulled them out of the fridge and tasted.  These things are delicious and really really sweet.  Sadly, I don't think my homemade chocolate candy coating is great because they're not supposed to melt in your hand and they kinda do right now.  I think I'll just keep them refrigerated and spring for some real candy coating in the future.

I'm hoping to bake something new sometime next week and start foraging for some real baking equipment. Thanks to anyone who read and here's a picture of today's accomplishment: