The sound of summer is screaming for frozen treats. I can’t go a day without hearing the ice cream truck bells or seeing the long line stretching from the custard stand order window. The heat and humidity begs to be challenged. I’ve grown far to comfortable behind my desk job surrounded by the ease of too cold air conditioning. Personally, I love a frozen fruit anything. I grew up in a family whose earlier generations made their living with fruit stands, so when I want a sweet treat I lean the way of produce. In our freezer, it’s fruit popsicles, sorbet, and the occasional sherbet. When I recently came home from the store with dragon fruit and the ripest of mangos, I knew I wanted to make something sweet and summer friendly out of them.

SORBET:
Serves 8
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Flesh of one dragon fruit, red or white (cubed)
  • Flesh of one mango (cubed)
  • Flesh of one Freestone peach, bruised ones are always the sweetest

In a medium saucepan bring water to a boil. Slowly stir in sugar until it has dissolved. Once the water is clear, stop stirring and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Transfer syrup to a bowl and let cool, uncovered. Once the sugar water is no longer steaming, refrigerate overnight. I sealed mine in a plastic container with a lid and actually didn’t get to it for two days.

Clean the fruit and cube the flesh. Drop the chunks into a bowl with a lid, or simply seal them up in a ziplock baggie. Toss them into the fridge overnight. If you want, you can do the fruit prep on the day you make the sorbet by putting it in the freezer for 4-6 hours before the purée step.

When you’re ready, purée the fruit in a food processor until smooth. If you like fruit chunks in your sorbet, you can always play around with this process. Pour your sugar syrup mix into the ice cream bowl attachment for your stand mixer and turn the mixer to speed 1. With the machine still running, slowly pour in the fruit mixture. Churn for 20 minutes until you begin to see sorbet results.

For a firmer texture, remove mixture from the bowl and place into a sealed container. Freeze overnight for a firmer consistency.

You can pretty much use any kind of fruit for this, as long as you purée it. You could even leave a few chunks of whole fruit in if you like your sorbet on the rugged side. You can even play with the fruit to syrup ratio, but I find this balance makes for a nice consistency. No matter what, always have more fruit than syrup.

Enjoy!

Unwind after tax day…

SMOKED VANILLA BOURBONI’ve been toying around with having a cocktail post for a few weeks now. If you’re following me on Twitter, you may have noticed the hints in my #WeekendBakes polls. I wasn’t 100% sold that I would have enough confidence to execute until last weekend. My husband and I were invited out with friends and the night ended at a local speakeasy…

First, this speakeasy is literally a mile from my door, and never knew. Well, I never knew, but somehow, my husband had been there before. Second, you can’t get in without having reservations. You can’t get reservations without texting a phone number, and you can’t get the number unless it’s given to you. IF you manage to get in, you can only leave through the back entrance… It’s all very trendy and a tad hipster in theory, but I was pleasantly surprised when we sat down. The space is limited to a handful of people so it isn’t overly crowded, it was super cozy, and the drinks were superb. We each got something different and of course shared sips. I also had a free taste of the Sam Adams Utpoias, and for my nerdy beer side, that was worth the hype alone.

My husband ordered a bourbon drink, and when I sipped, I knew I wanted to recreate it at home. It also had a snippet of a vanilla bean pod in the bottom, to which I tried convincing my husband to let me smuggle out. Have you seen the price of whole pods at the store lately? Plus, it was soaked in bourbon, so it would probably add an amazing flavor to anything you used it in. Alas, he didn’t buy it so I noted the idea to try it at home. His drink however, was still lingering on my palette and I quickly snapped a pic of the menu listing the ingredients so I could fiddle at home. I know, totally weird, but don’t tell me you haven’t done the same. 

So the drink listed bourbon, burnt sugar, smoke and vanilla. I’m assuming the vanilla was considered the pod soaking in the bottom, so I ruled out vanilla extract. It was mild, but I know what a good vanilla infusion can offer, so I wanted to mix it in somehow other than wasting a bean pod. I never knew burnt sugar was a syrup (completely naive of me, I know) nor did I know how it was made, so I turned to google.

Melt sugar, add hot water, and stir until smooth… That’s it! Not really, though.

Okay, that’s the standard online recipe. I researched a lot. None of my cookbooks had a go-to recipe, and I didn’t want to wing it. Do I use white sugar, raw, brown? Do I use equal parts water to sugar? Does the water have to be hot, cold or room temperature? My head started spinning. I tried searching online for what the best choices were, and became more confused. Finally, I spent a good hour reading the sugar chapter in my On Food and Cooking book*. I opted for brown sugar, because I wanted to compliment the earthy tones of the bourbon, and I wanted a complex flavor. I also wanted to infuse the vanilla somehow.

*If you don’t have this book, I highly recommend picking up a copy. It’s super nerdy and scientific, but if you find yourself in the kitchen trying to decide between ingredients or finding a substitution, it will pay for itself.

 

DO AHEAD:
Burnt Sugar Syrup infused with Vanilla
Makes roughly 2/3 cup.
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup boiling or near boiling water
  • 1/2 vanilla bean pod scraping

Begin heating the sugar in a small saucepan over medium/high heat on the stove. Make sure it’s spread it evenly across the bottom and resist stirring. It will begin to darken on the edges and bubble in the center. Once it begins to bubble and steam, stir occasionally to incorporate the unmelted sugar. When it has become mostly liquid, keep the heat on, but remove the pan and keep stirring. Slowly pour in the hot water as you stir. It will seize up and bubble as you add it, so do a little bit at a time. I heated my water up in the electric kettle next to the stove, so it was the perfect temperature. Too cold and it will make the melted sugar harden and you won’t be able to stir. Once all the water has been added, return to heat and stir slowly until it’s no longer bubbling and smooth as glass.

Remove from heat and pour into a heat safe jar to chill. You’ll want an air tight lid for this jar, but don’t seal it yet. Take the paste from half a vanilla bean pod scraping, and put into the jar with the syrup. With a fork, whisk the liquid to break up the vanilla paste as much as you can for roughly a minute. Put on the lid, and give it a good shake for another minute to finish incorporating the vanilla. It won’t need to be completely mixed in, as the vanilla will still release its oils over time. You want it mixed just enough so you aren’t pouring clumps when you add to the whiskey. Place it in the fridge to cool.

You can make this ahead of time and store it in the fridge for up to four months. Outside of using it for cocktails, there are some amazing recipes that call for burnt brown sugar, or you can drizzle a little on top a slice of pound cake. It’s truly versatile and you will use it before it goes bad. You can also increase or decrease the recipe as long as you don’t overpower the syrup with too much vanilla. Just keep the water and sugar amounts the same for any volume, and if you want, leave the vanilla out completely. You can also forego the vanilla altogether, but trust me, it’s an addition you’ll want to keep once you smell the amazing scent that permeates your kitchen after making it.

Pretend you’re in the study and pour yourself a drink…

The first attempt at making this cocktail was after dinner. It was the perfect time to wind down. Sadly, I did the math wrong and added way too much syrup. Then, I noticed that the bourbon burn was still pretty strong, even after we added an ice-cube. I was perplexed. I chalked it up to things like using a different brand or proof of bourbon, but I wasn’t sure. If I hadn’t promised to be up by 5am the next day, I’d have kept researching. The next day, I educated myself further on bourbon. I was really impressed with the cocktail we had the other night, with its full body flavor of bourbon minus the burn. What was I missing? Where did I go wrong last night? Was there a way to cut bourbon? Then I found the answer. Water. It was so simple yet it seemed so wrong. Apparently it’s a thing for high-proof Bourbons. Someone even made a handy little Bourbon Cutting Tool for helping you figure out exactly how much water to add. I was starting with 100 proof, so I started by cutting it to 90 proof. If I needed to, I could cut further, but you can always add, not take away…

Smoked Vanilla Bourbon
Makes two servings.
  • 4 shot glasses of bourbon (100 proof)
  • 4 teaspoons water
  • 2 tablespoons burnt sugar syrup

Place bourbon and water into the cocktail shaker. Over a small fine mesh strainer, pour the burnt sugar syrup to catch-all the floating vanilla bits. Cap the shaker and shake for 5-10 seconds. Pour over a large ice-cube in a cocktail glass of your choice.

If you want to try the smoked version, you’ll need a handheld food smoker. I don’t like sticking the rubber hose directly into the shaker, so I poured mine into a glass with an ice-cube, and placed the glass inside a gallon sized ziplock bag. Seal the bag just enough so you can stick the nozzle of the smoker inside and fill with smoke for a few seconds. Turn off the smoker and seal the bag completely and let sit for 5-10 minutes. You’ll see the smoke settle on top of the glass quite a bit. Once you’re satisfied, remove from the bag, and find a cozy place to kick back and relax.

My father has always been an early riser. Most days I wake fairly early, but he has a knack for being up before the sunrise on any occasion. When I was little, he would sometimes surprise the whole family by driving fifteen miles into the nearest town and picking up doughnuts fl. If he was feeling particularly generous, he’d go to the bakery and get the fresh-baked doughnuts and pastries. I remember waking to see the box on the counter and peeling back the parchment paper to see what delicious goodies he had brought home. Those mornings were some of my favorite childhood memories.

Today, I only get doughnuts at the office, mostly mass-produced and standard glaze. It’s not the same and I normally opt out. I love a good doughnut, don’t let my previous comment fool you. I would just rather have something made with love that didn’t have help from major machinery. I’d go as far as to say you can taste the difference, but I know most people wouldn’t agree.

Sometimes you just want a really good, homemade doughnut, am I right?! I was craving that deep-fried pastry for a few days, and I was wasn’t going to let anything get in my way. I knew from my churro adventure that I could and wanted to deep fry the dough. I had just discovered a heck-of-a-bargain on an artisan cast iron skillet at TJ Maxx, and I was itching to break it in. I also knew I wanted a yeasty doughnut that had a soft exterior and fluffy interior. I set to work on building a recipe.

Knowing that cake flour leads to more tender dough, I used two types of flour, combined. To add a bit more structure, I combined all-purpose flour with cake flour. I assume you could try it with one or the other; if you like a more firm doughnut, I’d go completely with all-purpose or bread flour. I also have an option for two rising methods. One is for those impatient like myself, while the other is for the planners who want a want to spend less time making breakfast. Doughnuts are not for the person searching for a quick morning fix, however, they are well suited for a lazy weekend.

Doughnuts:
Makes 12-16.
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 vanilla pod scraping
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature and softened
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink sea salt
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup jam or preserves of your choice
  • a handful powdered sugar

 

To make in one day:

In a small sauce pan, warm the milk on the stove. You’re not making it hot; you should be able to put your finger in without burning. If it steams, you’ve heated it too much. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the yeast, sugar and milk together. Set aside for 5 minutes until it begins to foam. Add in zest, yolks, and vanilla scrapings and whisk until the yolks are incorporated. Add butter and whisk until it’s mostly broken up. In a separate bowl, whisk both types of flour together.

Add half of flour into the large mixing bowl with the liquid ingredients in it, and stir until combined. If you’re using a stand mixer, use the lowest setting and a dough hook. Then, add the rest of the flour and salt until it begins to form into a ball that’s smooth and stretchy in texture, about 5 minutes. If you must up the speed, don’t go higher than the third setting on your mixer. If it sticks to the side of the bowl, add a little extra flour, but only a little at a time. The more flour you add, the tougher your doughnuts will be in the end, so use your best judgement. A little sticky isn’t all that bad.

I'm gonna need a bigger bowl...Lightly oil the inside of a large bowl and place the dough inside. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rest for 1-1 1/2 hours at room temperature. It should double in size. I actually doubled my recipe to share for later, then I forgot I doubled it when it came to rising… I ran into a ‘we’re gonna need a bigger bowl’ situation. It was quite humorous, but I worried it would dry out a bit too much with the plastic wrap lifting, so I kept tucking it in. I lost a bit of surface dough from the plastic being a bit too tight on the top, so be mindful of your bowl size!

Homemade doughnuts on the 'rise'.On a lightly floured surface, softly roll out dough to a rough 1/2″ thick. With a round cookie cutter, cut circles into the dough. Continue grouping up the scraps into smaller balls, and re-roll into another mass until you don’t have enough to cut anymore. You can use the scraps later to test the oil. If you want traditional holed doughnuts, use a smaller cookie cutter to slice out small holes from each center. Loosely cover the doughnuts with a tea towel and let rise for another 30 minutes at room temperature.

 

To make the night before:

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the yeast, sugar and cold milk together. Set aside for 5 minutes until it begins to look slightly foamy. Add in zest, yolks, and vanilla scrapings and whisk until the yolks are incorporated. Add butter and whisk until it’s mostly broken up. In a separate bowl, whisk both types of flour together.

Proceed with the same process of mixing as the same day method, then place in a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge overnight. The next day, roll out, cut and let rise, covered in a tea towel, for 30 minutes.

Make Homemade Doughnuts

Frying the doughnuts:

Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 350°F/175°C in a cast-iron frying pan or heavy pot. If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, this is where the scraps come in handy. You can practice and get an idea of how quickly the dough will cook. It should sizzle and brown quickly when you put it in, and brown evenly when you flip.I had a little fun with the scrap pieces by softly forming them into random shapes. One at a time, add a doughnut to the oil with a spider strainer or on a piece of parchment paper, wearing an oven mitt. Watch your hands! they can spit droplets of oil, so just take precaution to avoid burns. Cook the first side until deep golden brown underneath, roughly 10 seconds, and keep a close eye on it. Flip and cook the other side until golden brown, then remove and spread out on a paper towel lined cooling rack to absorb extra oil. Repeat with the rest.

When cool enough to handle, you can fill the doughnuts you didn’t cut the center out of from the tops or sides. I used a meat injector and some homemade lemon curd. with a fine mesh strainer, shower doughnuts with powdered sugar, or roll the doughnuts gently in a bowl of it. If you’re feeling fancy, you can find many glaze recipes online, or melt a little butter, lightly brush the tops and sprinkle with a hint of Swedish pearl sugar.

You can store these in an unsealed container overnight as well, but they are much better the day of. You might need to re-powder the tops in the morning, as the sugar will absorb with the oil.

Enjoy!

Homemade Doughnuts

 

Who isn’t obsessed with bread? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love bread; even those who swear they’re ‘off bread‘ reminisce about bread…

Italian Bread

I grew up in a family that always had a loaf or two on hand. When mom was feeling particularly fancy, she’d get a french bread loaf in the paper bag at the deli to serve with a meal. I loved the crispy outer crust, with the soft, airy inside… If it was affordable to buy for all our bread needs, I would. When I moved to Kansas City, I discovered the Farmer’s Market, and the fantastic Italian grocer on the border of the River Market. I’d make a trip every weekend to downtown and always at Carollo’s Grocery to get some sliced Prosciutto Di Parma and at least two loaves of the fresh-baked Italian bread. It was devoured within a day or two, followed up with a week of exercising double to burn off the totally worth it carbs.

Over the years, I’ve made many breads in the form of desserts. I have no idea why it never occurred to me to bake our own bread loaves… Why had I never tackled this so-simple task? My husband took the opportunity to make a roast, one of his specialties, so I decided to compliment the meal with bread perfect for soaking up the last bits of broth and wiping the bowl.

Pane Casereccio:
Makes one generous loaf.
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (unbleached preferred)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (set aside)
  • 1 3/4 cups hot water
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 packet dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons Himalayan sea salt (black)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Bread DoughOn a large, clean surface form the 3 1/2 cups of flour into a mound with a deep well in the center. Sprinkle half the salt into the well. In a bowl, mix the yeast, honey and water using a fork to whisk until it begins to foam. Slowly pour into the flour well, and mix the flour from the sides into the liquid with a fork until you get a clumpy texture. Sprinkle the remainder of the salt across, then using your hands, form the dough into a ball. Knead for 15 to 20 minutes until soft and smooth. Dust the surface of the ball with a pinch of flour, and place the ball in the bottom a deep bowl coated with a light layer of olive oil. Cover with a tea towel and set aside to proof, away from any drafts. Depending on how warm or cold your home is, you might need to peek under the towel to see how it’s doing. You can let it proof for up to 3 1/2 hours, but no less than 2 1/2.

First RiseOnce the dough has risen to double its size, preheat the oven to 480°. The surface that wasn’t in contact with the bowl will have a slightly dry crust, but all you need to do is knead a few minutes until soft and smooth on a lightly floured surface. Lay the tea towel over the top and let it proof for another 10-15 minutes. After the second rise, pull and stretch softly to make a rectangular shape. Take care not to over-handle the dough. Roll the dough from one long end of the rectangle to the other, forming a loose spiral on each end. The edge of the roll should be resting on the side. Dust the top liberally with flour, and softly cut slits or a cross pattern in the top with a serrated knife. Cover with the tea towel once more, and set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Bread_PrepLine a baking tray parchment paper, and lightly dust the surface with the leftover flour. Pop into the oven on the center rack and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven’s efficiency. The oven light will prove important here. You don’t want to crack the door to look in, the heat must remain constant. Your home will fill with the aroma of baked bread, but don’t be tempted to open the door and peek. My dinky oven doesn’t have a light, and I risked a slightly over browned crust for the full 40 minutes. This recipe results in a hearty, dense dough, but the outer crust protects it well. Next time I’ll take it out at 30, but even if you over brown the crust, the dough on the inside won’t burn.

Bread_HotTake it out of the oven, and quickly transfer it off the baking pan, and onto a tea towel or cutting board to cool. You’ll hear the surface crackle and pop. Once it no longer makes any sound, it’s ready to slice. If you cut into it while still crackling, you’ll let moisture out early. It should come to a rest and be silent before indulging.

Our roast dinner was perfect, and we both contributed! I stored the remainder of the loaf in a ziplock bag. In the morning, I used some homemade lemon curd smeared on a slice… forget dieting, I’d rather do this every day. The bread keeps for at least 4-5 days after it’s been cut, and up to 8 days if you haven’t. You could easily make enough loaves to satisfy your bread needs for a week. I never want to buy bread again. It’s so easy to make, and you can tackle other things while waiting for it to proof.

Bread Footer

…make LEMON CURD.

LemonsI’ve always loved lemon flavor. It’s the best combination of citrus and tart that make your mouth vibrate! It’s also one of those flavors that transcends to another level when you add an additional ingredient. The possibilities are endless.

I’ve made many pastries that call for a fruit curd, mostly lemon. I’ve bought the tiny jars of curd at the store, and they always seem slightly overpriced. When I found my pantry in stock of everything needed to make it from scratch, I knew I wanted to create the perfect lemon curd! I spent a good hour studying my On Food and Cooking book. I compared notes from various recipes to make a combination of ingredients that I felt had the best quantities and flavor enhancement. I loved the idea of adding sage from Savory Simple’s version, but I really wanted to taste it, so I upped the amount. By the time I was ready to make it, I felt confident that I could fix mistakes along the way.

Ingredients:
  • 4 large eggs (whole)
  • 5 egg yolks (1 set aside)
  • 1 3/4 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of fresh sage leaves
  • 4 tablespoons of cornstarch*
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

* I like a thicker curd for tarts and other uses. If you prefer a runny curd, skip the cornstarch, and maybe forego an egg yolk as well. 

SageI started by squeezing the life out of lemons to get the most juice into my measuring cup. I recommend using a juicer, or a lemon press, neither of which I have. I was hand squeezing mine over a bowl with a fine mesh strainer. It took 5 medium-sized lemons to get 1 1/2 cups, at which point my hands were feeling the burn.

In a medium saucepan, whisk the eggs, 4 egg yolks and sugar until smooth. Turn on the heat to medium/medium high, and begin stirring in the lemon juice until well blended. Once smooth, sprinkle cornstarch across the top as you stir, little by little to avoid clumps. You should have a smooth, liquid that looks watery, but keep stirring to avoid burning the bottom. Add the sage leaves, making sure to submerge them completely. Once the surface starts to steam, add the final egg yolk, whisking briskly. It will appear runny until for a while, but will eventually start to firm up. Depending on your heat setting, you could be stirring for 20 minutes. Plan ahead.

SaucepanRemove from heat, and keep stirring. Drop in a few cubes of butter at a time, whisking until completely melted before adding more. Once all the butter is mixed in, transfer to a large bowl and let it set for 10-15 minutes to cool. If you can put your fingertip in, for a quick taste, take a piece of plastic wrap and lay it across the whole surface leaving no air so it won’t form a skin, and pop into the fridge for at least 2 hours.

A LOT of my recipes require waiting. I love instant satisfaction in the kitchen, but there is something to be said for the things you have to wait for. It’s what totally makes it taste better. I swear. it’s a little science, and mostly will-power.

After cooling for the allotted time, remove the plastic wrap and taste test… It should be tart and sweet all at once! I love sweets, and this was a little too sweet for me, so I actually stirred in a pinch of my favorite Himalayan pink sea salt to help mellow the flavor. You could even make a preemptive strike by using salted butter, but I have a feeling you’ll get too much salt.

imageI spooned the mix into two half pint mason jars. I pulled out the sage leaves as I went,  leaving in a few tiny specs in to enhance the flavor even more. Some suggest storing it with a piece of plastic wrap on the surface to avoid it forming a skin on top, but I have found that if you seal it air-tight, the skin is minimal, and it dissolves with stirring for a moment or two.

Serve on toast, inject into cupcakes, fill a pastry, or make a tart! You’ve just made lemony heaven, your possibilities are endless. This makes quite a bit of curd, but it’s perfect for sharing. Let me know what you make with it, I’d love to swap recipes.

This weekend I was a woman possessed. I spent almost every waking moment in the kitchen or at the store searching for random ingredients. I found so many recipes I wanted to try, and my excitement couldn’t be contained. I didn’t get to them all… if my kitchen and my stomach could have survived, I would have. None of my recipes were originals… but why try to make something unique every weekend when there are so MANY amazing recipes out there to try!?

Poached Egg

I did manage to master the perfect poached egg! To be fair, I made two, but the second misbehaved when I plated it. Tsk, ornery yolk… I almost had a picture perfect breakfast.

TIce Creamo add to my #foodie obsession, I tend to stalk Food52. The Instagram feed alone is the stuff of dreams. They put out contests from time to time and although I don’t partake, I am often inspired to whip up something along the rules. This week, they hooked me with their Black Sesame Seed ice cream… I know what you’re thinking, but I assure you, it’s delicious. It tastes similar to peanut butter, but nuttier if that makes sense. You roast the seeds in a pan before grating them in a food processor, and the smell is awesome. Even my skeptical husband was sold. It’s a lovely gray, and the flavor is so rich and creamy, a few small scoops are all you need.

Spanikopita TrianglesI also made a household favorite, spanakopita triangles. I used to make these regularly a few in the past, each time with a different flavor or filling. After a revival request, I opted for the store-bought phyllo and made a mix at dinner. Once you’ve done a few, you’ll be able to make them with your own filling concoctions. I’ve tried a few different recipes but the ones from Smitten Kitchen are always a winner with us. They are guaranteed to fill you up, they can be a meal or a dessert, depending on your filling, and aside from working with the phyllo, they are quite easy to make.

*Deb, if you ever find this, I think you’re my soul sister in the kitchen.

On to the main event… I won’t lie, I was skeptical when I saw this recipe online. I knew I wanted to make something for sharing with a friend who had serious dietary restrictions when I discovered these Raw, Vegan Blackberry Cheesecake bars from The Full Helping blog. Albeit beautiful for taking pics, most of the vegan recipes I try never live up to the rich flavor profiles as the real deal. This recipe not only surprised me with its ease and wholesome ingredients, it’s absolutely delicious.

Fruit Bar Prep

 

Fruit BarsCheesecake it is not, but the texture and flavor totally live up to what a fruity cheesecake should taste like! The hint of coconut is also perfect, not too overbearing. I substituted the maple syrup for honey, which is a much more natural sugar. I also used blueberries instead of the recommended blackberries. She says you can make any fruit substitution, and I plan to try many in the future. My final change was to line my pan with coconut oil and then a parchment layer. It made it ever so easy to pull out after it had set, and helped with cleanup.

Once set, they cut like a dream. Creamy and firm, they’re even more heavenly to eat. They are the perfect combination of sweetness, tartness and fruit. Just forget they’re actually, somewhat wholesome.

You can’t really improve on the sugar cookie…

Sugar Cookies Cooling

Trust me, I’ve had plenty. As someone who loves sweets, and dislikes most chocolate, I’ve tried my fair share of sugar cookies. I scoured the internet, cookbooks from the last 35 years, and family recipes to perfect my sugar cookie game. It all came back to the basic recipe.

I live in a house of sweets-lovers; if things aren’t made from scratch, we more-than-likely know the best place in town to procure them in-a-pinch. That’s why I stuck to a classic recipe. You’ll find this recipe all over, in various forms. Give or take a teaspoon here, plus or minus half a cup of one thing or the other… it’s out there. If you find a new innovation in sugar cookies, let me know.

I’ve found, through trial and error, the best way to secure a delightful version relies in the bake time. Yes… again, timing is everything. Just like the real brownies recipe I created, patience and timing make the difference. You have to mix then wait to cool, bake then wait to cool again. They are delicious as is, but as a cherry on top, you can make a warm icing, in batches so it doesn’t harden before you can finish, to ice these sugar cookies. It’s a labour of love, but you’ll be loved to the utmost for sharing.

Sugar Cookie Dough:

Makes 30-40 1 1/4″ cookies.

  • 3 cups of cake flour*
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract
  • Another 1 – 1 1/2 cups of cake flour for thickening and rolling

*You can make an almost identical cookie with 2 3/4 – 3 cups of all-purpose flour. Most recipes call for all-purpose, but I default to cake flour as it’s always light and airy when baked. If you see a recipe that calls for all-purpose and you substitute cake flour, you’ll need to up your amount just a tad. Always start with the smaller amount because you can always add more; it gets tricky trying to add wet ingredients.

In a mixer bowl, whisk 3 cups of flour, baking soda, and baking powder together. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter to blend until the mixtures is in small, clumps and pieces, then scoop into a KitchenAid Mixer bowl.

In a separate bowl beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla until mixed. With the mixer on low, slowly pour into the dry mixture. On medium speed, mix until all wet and dry ingredients are combined. It should look and feel like slightly tacky play-dough. If you can put your finger in without any sticking, you’re good to go. If not, this is where the extra flour comes in handy. Add a tablespoon at a time until you can use your hands to form dough into a ball. Once it’s the right texture, cover in plastic wrap, and pop into the fridge for 30-40 minutes.

Floured Wax PaperWait. Really, wait. If you need something to do, clean off a large space of counter, and lay out a sheet of wax paper. Take some flour and sprinkle on the surface and spread it into a fine coat. You’ll roll out on this, and save on clean-up later. In the last 5-10 minutes, preheat the oven to 375°.

Once your dough is stiff and cold, grab a handful sized hunk and leave the rest in the fridge. Roll the dough to roughly 1/4″ thick, and cut into with a round cutter. Mine stuck in the cutter long enough to move onto a parchment lined baking sheet where I pushed it out with a fingertip. I spaced them roughly 1/4-1/2″ apart, because they didn’t grown much. continue until your batter is gone or your sheet is full. I had a TON of leftover batter by the time the first sheet was filled, so prepare to make these in batches.

Dough RollingPop the tray into the oven for 5-7 minutes. Too long, and they’ll brown and harden too much when cool. This can vary by your oven, so keep an eye on them. Most people say until the bottoms are brown, but I disagree… If they look like puffier, same color versions of when you put them in, they’re good. This is the ultimate test to get good cookie texture. They’re still soft when you bite into them, but also firm and cakey.

Take the cookie tray out of the oven, then slide the parchment paper with cookies onto a cooling rack, while you get the next batch ready. Repeat the same process as before. When you get the next batch in the oven, you should be able to take the first batch off the rack and set aside for icing later. Once all your cookies are baked and cooled, you can either take a break or move on to the icing process. If you wait too long, someone might eat what you’ve already made.

Cutting Cookies

Here comes the fun part…

Vanilla Icing:

If you’re generous, you’ll want to double this recipe.

  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of corn syrup
  • 4 tbsp melted unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp of Himalayan pink salt
  • 1-2 tbsp hot water
  • 1 vanilla bean pod scraping*

Vanilla Pod*I find that you can cut off the tip of a pod and run the back of the knife from the top to the cut end a few times successfully getting most if not all the bean paste out of the pod.

Heat butter and water in a saucepan on low heat until all the butter is melted. In a glass bowl, put in all other ingredients, and make a well for the butter/water mix. Pour in the liquid, and with a hand mixer, work until smooth. It should still be warm when you’re done. Using a small icing spatula or a butter knife, ice away, friends! Be quick about it… I used a small tablespoons worth of icing per cookie, quickly moving from one to the next until the icing started to stiffen. If it starts to pull up with the knife and away from the cookie, it’s getting too hard. Instead of adding more water, put your bowl of icing into the oven on warm for 5-10 minutes, then take out and stir vigorously before continuing to ice the rest of the cookies.

IcingOnce they’re iced, set them out on the cooling rack or another sheet of parchment paper for at least an hour. The icing should be hard to the touch when you’re ready to store them… that is, if they make it that long. When they’ve sat long enough, you should be able to stack them without any sticking or smudging the icing.

This recipe makes plenty for sharing… and you can always forego the icing and dust with powdered sugar, or many other things. I’ve heard of people adding lemon zest to their dough, and that might be perfection, but my household loves these as is. Feel free to get creative with your cookie cutters and frosting. I always feel that simplicity compliments a good recipe. This is one of those classics that can stand on it’s own.Sugar Cookies

I don’t know anyone who makes real brownies…

from scratch.

You know what I’m talking about… as in, not from the box. I grew up on box brownies, so I’m not complaining. I know people make them from scratch, but I don’t know these people. Those people and I should to be friends. If you’re out there, you should say hi, or leave a comment. We’d get along well. That being said, I have a husband who’s practically a chocolate connoisseur. The man adores French silk pie, and he only eats Ben and Jerry flavors that consist of a chocolate core. The poor guy married one of the few women on earth who isn’t an American chocolate fan*. It’s a struggle in our marriage, but we make it work.

*I LOVE European chocolate. It’s bitter in a good way… and nothing like American dark chocolate. It’s hard to describe, but I know it’s not the same.

Once in a blue moon, I make a treat that includes chocolate, and when I do, my husband hovers in the wing, waiting to taste-test as I go. Today, I made the ultimate ‘chocolate effort’ knowing he’d be changing the oil in his car, keeping him out of my way, most of the time.

I’d had a surplus of cocoa powder leftover from a velvet cake I’d made a few weeks back. Each time my husband made dinner, he’d open the pantry and ask how long we’d had hot chocolate mix.  I broke his heart, explaining that it was unsweetened cocoa powder that would result in terrible hot chocolate. I had to prevent him from making a mistake in the event I wasn’t home, so I killed two birds with one stone by getting it out of the cabinet and making something he’d love.

This recipe is not for those in search of a quick chocolate fix, unless you skip the baking part and go for gusto, eating straight from the bowl. It takes patience, delay, and suffering but makes for a heavy, fudgy brownie that is so rich and filling, you’ll only be able to eat one or two max.

Introducing… Real’ Brownies.

Based off my exploration from reading my trusty On Food and Cooking book I created this recipe hoping to make something with ingredients to suit my favorite flavors while maintaining rich, chocolatey standards. If you’re a choco-holic, you’ll adore these. If you aren’t, you’ll STILL enjoy them. Trust me, I made an almond butter adjustment that makes a huge difference.

Ingredients:
Makes 16-24 small brownies, depending on how generous you are with cutting once cooled.
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar*
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (I used Himalayan Pink Salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup of cake flour

* I’m tempted to use brown sugar to monopolize the molasses content. If you try it, report back and let me know if it’s worth it. 

Lining a Baking DishCoat the bottom and sides of a baking pan or casserole dish with butter then line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite ends. I recommend leaving the overhang on the furthest ends. Trust me… you’ll see why later when pulling it out of the dish.

If you’re confident in the following steps, go ahead and preheat the oven to 325°F now, with the rack in the middle. If you’re slow like me, wait until the step before you add the vanilla, then turn the oven on. It’s not summer yet, but I took longer than expected to melt the first half, and my kitchen was a sauna when I finally put the dish in the oven.

Chocolate Melted GoodnessPut a wide skillet or large saucepan filled with about 2″ of water on the stove and bring to a simmer. You want to fill it so that a medium glass bowl, that can withstand heat, sits atop so the water is touching the bottom or just a hair shy of touching the bottom. Put the butter, almond butter, cocoa, and salt in the bowl. Your bowl should have PLENTY of room to stir. Trust me. If you don’t have a big bowl, you’ll make a huge mess and spill over. Let it sit on the heat and stir occasionally until the butter is melted and you have a gorgeous smooth mixture. Slowly add in sugar, bit by bit, mixing each time so each addition is incorporated before adding the next. Once the sugar is in, you should be able to put a finger tip in quickly to test. Visually, it will look like really gritty, wet mud. If you’ve watched Drop Dead Fred, you’ll recognize the mud pie mixture. It’s not pretty… but worth it.

Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside on the counter until the mixture cools. It should be warm, not hot. Stir in vanilla with a wooden spoon. Then add eggs and stir to mix well. Add flour and stir until you can’t see any more white bits. This took me roughly 30-35 strokes with a large wooden spoon. If it becomes too hard to stir, you added the latter ingredients too early and pre-cooked the egg. Like I said, patience is key. It should be thick, not difficult.

Uncooked BrowniesPour into the center of the baking dish and spread evenly with the spoon to make sure it’s distributed well, pushing it into the corners. The batter would take FOREVER to settle naturally; encourage evenness as much as possible with your spoon. Once satisfied with the spread, pop it into the oven and enjoy the smell that emits as it bakes.

You’ll want to bake it for 30-40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean with a few crumbs of batter or a really thin film coating it. This can vary by your oven’s efficiency so check every few minutes after the 20 minute mark. When ready, take out and promptly place onto a cooling rack. I am a fan of the sweet and salty flavor, so at this point, I ground fresh Himalayan pink salt on the top while still warm to help stick. You’ll want to let it cool to room temperature, and continue to wait a little longer. This can take an hour or more… you don’t want to rush it! Cutting into them too soon will result in a mess, and if you have an impatient person waiting, plan ahead. Once they’ve set enough to lift the parchment out of the dish without creasing, transfer to a cutting board or back onto the cooling rack to sit a little longer. If you really want them to firm up quickly, pop them into the freezer.

When you can cut into them without the majority of it sticking to the knife, they’re ready! Some crumbs will stick to the paper and knife, but these suckers are so rich, you won’t notice the leave behinds. It’s like cutting into fudge. The colder they are, the better they cut, so patience is key, and the fridge/freezer can be your friend. I planned poorly, so my husband constantly asked if they were ready yet, then proceeded to tell me I was cruel when I told him to wait just a little longer.

The things we do for love.

These also reheat well. Use a microwave or place on an oven safe dish at 200° for 7-10 minutes. Feel free to plop a scoop of French vanilla ice cream on top and ignore the fact that you may or may not be on a diet.

Food Porn/Food Eaten

 

Let’s talk churros, shall we?

Churros N Beer

I’m not ashamed to admit, I never got the hype… Then again, I’d never really had a churro before. I knew what constituted a churro. Fried choux pastry, rolled in cinnamon sugar, dipped in chocolate… what’s not to love? I’d had similar fried pastries in the past, such as funnel cakes and doughnuts, after all, I grew up in central south Missouri. Sadly, I was never inspired to go out and find Kansas City’s best churro. Making them seemed doubly baffling. I live in a tiny apartment with a galley kitchenette, so the thought of partially deep-frying anything in oil had me terrified beyond submission. Until today…

Did you know that churros are deceptively easy to make? Seriously. I was perusing the inter-tubes looking for a weekend project, when I found multiple churro recipes. Curiosity got the best of me. After thirty minutes of being seduced by gorgeous photos and rave reviews, I made up my mind to tackle these mystical fried pastries myself. Who cares that I don’t have a churrera, or had never deep-fried anything in oil before. I’ve improvised in the past, and was confident I could do it again.

I found quite a few choux dough recipes online, and cobbled my favorite elements to make the perfect flavor of cake-like doughnut dough. My personal spin on the recipe below is adding a bit of lemon zest… I know, not that crazy. Try it with or without, but I guarantee you’ll really like the oomph it gives to anything you’re making. The zing of citrus mixed with the mellow sweetness of the dough is a pleasant and welcome surprise.

To make the dough:
  • 1 1/2 -1 3/4 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon zest
  • 2 cups of cake flour
  • 2 large eggs (Go for the jumbo… the batter holds up well when dropped into the oil.
  • 1 to 2 cups vegetable oil
For the coating, set aside:
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Set aside a large glass bowl with the flour in the bottom next to the stove. Put the water, butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt into a saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally so it all mixes together, and once the butter has completely melted, pour it right  into your bowl of flour slowly until you have all the liquid in the bowl. I say slowly, because liquid and flour poured over each other too quickly result in a crazy mess. Stir vigorously with a spatula until all the clumpy bits of flour are gone and you have a smooth batter.

Set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes. If you add the eggs while it’s still too warm, the heat might pre-cook the egg a bit and the frying will not produce the results you need. You can take this time to grate your fresh lemon zest. After the mixture has cooled enough, add in your lemon zest, and each egg one at a time, while mixing with a hand mixer until smooth again. Once it’s all mixed, scoop into a pastry bag, fitted with a large closed star tip. I only had a small tip, so I settled on doing tiny bite-sized churros.

Frying ChurrosAdd oil to Dutch oven or deep walled skillet until it measures about 1 1/2 inches deep and heat over medium/medium-high heat.* It will look like cold oil, really, so the best way to test the heat, was to drop in extra coin sized clumps of batter in and see what happens. Once it’s warmed enough to bubble around the entire surface of the batter you drop in, you’re ready to start. Holding the tip of the pastry bag about 5-7″ above the surface of the oil, begin piping out strips right into the oil at your desired length a few at a time. Take care not to pipe in too many… they will not fry up as quickly and you risk overcooking the centers. Using tongs, you can roll the around so they brown evenly along all sides, pulling them out and placing directly onto a plate covered with paper towels to help absorb the extra oil. When pulling them out, try to let as much of the excess oil drip back into the pot. If ANY drips onto the heating elements, you’re going to scare the bejeezus out of yourself with fire.

* There is a lot of information that calls for a specific temperature, mostly over 350°. I found as long as it began bubbling around the entire surface of the dough dropped in, I was able to achieve great results.

Churros CoatedOnce all are fried, combine cinnamon and sugar in a plate and mix to coat your churros in. I used my crème brûlée ramekin which is perfectly sized and has a lip to prevent spillage. Roll your churros, one by one, spooning more cinnamon-sugar on as you do for best coverage. I laid a set of paper towels under a cooling rack to catch-all the sugar and began moving them there once they were done.

Dipping Sauce
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup bakers bittersweet chocolate chips
  • A pinch salt

So if you have a strong will-power and can stop yourself (or your spouse) from eating them before you make the dipping sauce, then I should hire you to monitor us in the kitchen. Ours didn’t make it nearly that long, and they were devoured before I could even consider getting to the sauce.

Feel free to place the remaining churros on a baking sheet in the oven on the lowest temperature to keep them warm while you make the chocolate sauce. A warm churro is ideal, but I find them cold to be equally as delicious. Heat cream, chocolate and salt in a bowl in a saucepan over low-medium/medium heat whisking slowly until chocolate has melted. Pour into a bowl and immediately begin dipping warm churros in warm chocolate sauce. Repeat. Enjoy.

 

Churros Chillin'