Blondies, again: new and improved (i.e., simplified)

Blondies, FTW.

My holiday baking this year consisted of gingersnaps (my first time!) and blondies.

I used the Cooks Illustrated recipe from my first post on this very blog and due to time and ingredient constraints, I cut some corners.

Turns out cutting corners paid off, big time! The simplified version of this recipe made for a focused baked treat… you’re really able to taste the caramel-y flavor and enjoy the buttery texture without the add-ins.

Blondes, redux. So easy and so buttery! #whatibakedtoday #christmascookies #tistheseason #christmas2015 #blondies

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Simple, No-Fail Blondies (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Optional: 1 teaspoon of molasses

  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle and heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Whisk melted butter and brown sugar together in medium to large bowl until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
  4. Using rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into egg mixture until just combined; do not overmix.
  5. Pour batter into greased 8×8 or 9×9 pan, smoothing top with rubber spatula.
  6. Bake until top is a light golden brown and edges start to brown, 22 to 25 minutes. Do not overbake.
  7. Cool on wire rack to room temperature.

This is a very forgiving recipe: You can cut the sugar, include a little more or less of the butter and vanilla, and it should still turn out. I dare you not to love the results.

If you’ve tried this recipe or another blondie recipe, let me know in the comments!

 

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Pecan Buttermilk Pie Tartelettes (P. Allen Smith)

Happy Boxing Day, everyone! It’s insane to me that Christmas has come and gone.

Similar to my thoughts on blondies, I’d never met a pecan pie that wasn’t much too sweet. And yet pecan pie is so tasty, I could never resist having a piece when it’s available. When Thanksgiving rolled around, I went on the hunt for a less-sweet pecan pie recipe. I found P. Allen Smith’s recipe, courtesy of this funny blog post. Candied pecans? Buttermilk? I’m in.

The recipe is really very simple. The buttermilk pie filling is a one-bowl recipe with no mixer needed. And the candied pecans are easy to make as well. I cut the sugar in the pie filling by 1/4 cup and cut a little of the sugar from the pecan topping.

For Thanksgiving, I made these into mini tarts. They make a great hors d’oeurvre or dessert finger food. I made the full-size pie version for Christmas. The candied pecans are a good foil for the tang of the buttermilk pie filling. Rave reviews! I do prefer the tartelette version since they’re simpler to transport and eat. But of course there’s more labor involved.

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Candied pecans

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Buttermilk Pecan Tartelettes

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Tartine Bakery: Lemon Shortbread

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Gosh. I really could devote a couple posts to the happenings since my last update (namely, wedding) but that will have to be another day. I do have some ideas for some posts about the wedding, though. So stay tuned if that’s of interest!

In the meantime, I decided to make shortbread this morning. This will be shortbread attempt #2. Attempt #1 was using Ina Garten’s recipe, pre-blog. (It was mediocre, I thought). #2 was a rousing success: light, buttery, and the recipe couldn’t be more foolproof. It’s so straightforward, the list of ingredients is super short, and it’s technically a one-bowl recipe if you’re doing the basic shortbread (not lemon-flavored). Me, I find an excuse to add lemon to anything. Like garlic and pepper, I feel like lemon makes most things better.

As an experiment, I actually made a couple of mini-cheesecakes in a mini-muffin tin using this shortbread. Those turned out nicely, too. To do that, pat the shortbread mixture into mini-muffin liners. Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove and add the cheesecake filling on top (I just used the Philly mini-cheesecake recipe, but only followed it loosely. I added sugar, vanilla, and butter to cream cheese – to taste). Bake for another 25-30 min or so. Then I also added a layer of sour cream topping after they’d cooled.

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Lemon Shortbread (Adapted from Tartine Bakery’s recipe, courtesy of the Dessert Before Dinner blog)

3/4 cups wheat flour
1 cup + 2 Tbsp soft unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt (I used kosher)
1 ¾ cup +2 Tbsp flour
⅓ cup sugar (+ more for topping, if you wish. I omitted this)
Zest from 2 small lemons

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Zest lemon and add to sugar
  3. Cream salt, lemon-sugar mixture, and butter together. Mix flour in with butter until smooth
  4. Pat dough into a 6×10 inch pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden
  5. Remove from oven. Cut into small fingers while warm but let cool completely before removing from pan

I had a piece right out of the oven and it was delicious. The shortbread retained their lightness long after they’d cooled, though, and they were just as good.

Baking this morning gave me a chance to catch up on one of my favorite music podcasts. And I have to say, zesting a lemon while listening to Greg and Jim list their favorite Lou Reed/Velvet Underground albums felt like the perfect way to spend a Sunday morning. So was hearing one of the listeners talk about how there’s a belief in Ireland about a river of creativity that flows and is shared from artist to artist (meant to illustrate his point about U2 being influenced by Van Morrison).

Am I the only one who finds that poetic and beautiful?

Crispy, Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

I’ve shied away from making peanut butter cookies for years now – probably since Home Economics in high school – because they’re too rich and too sweet for me.

Or so I thought. This past weekend, I wanted to try a different cookie from my usual line-up and I had a jar of crunchy peanut butter with probably 3 tablespoons left, so I tried Deb’s peanut butter cookie recipe. She adapted the recipe from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook (“Wait, Magnolia makes more than just cupcakes?”).

These are the lightest peanut butter cookies I’ve tasted. And they fit my perfect cookie prototype of crispy exterior / chewy interior. I think it’s preferable to use crunchy peanut butter for the texture and I added rolled oats for texture.  The next time I make these I might try adding even more oats. You can do the same, just be sure to adjust the ratio of flour to oats. 1:1 seemed to work for me (i.e., I replaced ½ cup of flour with oats).

Also, the original recipe called for both peanut butter and chocolate chips, but I don’t think either is needed. In fact, I feel again that the sweetness can maybe be cut down just a bit. But really, that’s very optional. They’re great at the current level of sweetness. It’s dangerously easy to put down like half of dozen of them in 15 minutes.

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fresh out of the oven

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different angle, anyone?

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let the scarfing begin

Peanut Butter Cookies (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

3/4 cups wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter at room temperature (crunchy)
3/4 cup, minus 1 Tbsp, sugar
1/2 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional, for sprinkling: 1 tablespoon sugar, regular or superfine

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy.
  3. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly.
  4. Stir in the peanut butter and chocolate chips. Place sprinkling sugar — the remaining tablespoon — on a plate.
  5. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls into the sugar, then onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion.
  6. Using a fork, lightly indent with a criss-cross pattern. I like my cookies on the flatter side so I flattened the cookies a good amount while doing this and got good results.
  7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.
  8. Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Apple/Peach Streusel Oat Squares

For some reason I’ve never had real success with jam squares. I’m not sure why that is – they don’t seem particularly challenging: Take a straightforward oat mixture, spread and flatten in a pan, add a layer of jam or preserves and a 2nd layer of oat base mixture.  Maybe add a crumble topping. I love my crumble toppings. And yet I have never been able to strike the right balance between the crumbly oat mixture (not sweet enough) and the sweet center filling (often too sweet).

Until now. In perusing my new favorite blog, which I initially arrived at in searching for green juice/smoothie recipes (which Angela affectionately calls “Green Monsters”), I came across this recipe. I had most of the ingredients, including some apples that had passed their prime and a huge bag of oats in the pantry, so it was perfect timing.

I made a few omissions and revisions out of necessity and sometimes whim. Because I was using some sweeter fruits (a Fuji apple which was on the verge, a Granny Smith  that was getting close to the verge, and a peach), I cut a little sugar in the apple/peach mixture (original recipe calls for 3 Granny Smiths). I didn’t have ground ginger so I omitted that. I didn’t have vanilla so I used a natural vanilla sweetener—just a couple drops because it was extremely potent. Nor did I have maple syrup, so I used the rest of my agave. I love oat crumble so I added a healthy dose of oats to the crumble and loved the texture it gave it.

This was a first for me—baking with an egg replacement. Gel eggs can be created using flax or chia seeds (or a combo of both) and some recipes call for you to grind the seeds and let the mixture thicken in the fridge. I did neither and my chia egg turned out fine (need to make note of this the next time I want to bake and don’t have eggs). This recipe would be dairy-free if I’d used the Earth Balance like the recipe called, but I couldn’t resist using real butter.

The result: Perfectly crumbly, chewy bars with a moist filling. Perfect for fall (or late summer). I may or may not have eaten 3 pieces straight out of the oven.

I just love 1st time recipes that turn out well and use up stuff in the fridge!

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The finished product. Serve while still warm a la mode…

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…or on their own, bite-sized.

Buttery Apple/Peach Streusel Oat Squares (adapted from OhSheGlows.com)

For Oat Base:
1.5 cups regular oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup Sucanat sugar (or brown sugar)
1 chia egg (1 tbsp chia seeds+ 4 tbsp warm water, mixed well and set aside for 5 mins)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp Earth Balance, melted
1/4 cup agave syrup (originally called for pure maple syrup)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (replaced with a  couple drops of natural vanilla sweetener)
2 tbsp almond milk

For Fruit Mixture:
2 apples, 1 peach (or any combo of apples, peaches, nectarines)
2 Tbsp Earth Balance or butter
1 Tbsp maple syrup or brown rice syrup
1 Tbsp Sucanat (or brown sugar)
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch of vanilla sea salt (from Chelsea Filling Station in NYC.  Did I mention that I love that place?)

For Apple Streusel Topping:
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp oats
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a square pan (I used a 9×9) with parchment paper and oil the sides of the pan and base. In a medium sized pot, add the fruit mixture ingredients (chopped apples, butter, agave/maple syrup, spices). Heat over low, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes, until the fruit softens and mixture thickens up.
  2. In a small dish/bowl, mix the chia or flax egg and set aside (or in the fridge). In a large bowl, mix the oat base dry ingredients: oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, mix the melted earth balance, maple syrup (or agave), almond milk, vanilla, and chia egg. Stir well.
  4. Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix well.
  5. Set aside 1/2 cup of the oat base mixture.
  6. Pour the oat mixture onto the square pan and press down with fingers. Use a pastry roller to smooth out if desired. Pour on cooked apple mixture and smooth out.
  7. Make the streusel topping by mixing all ingredients together with a fork or fingers. Now sprinkle on the reserved 1/2 cup oat mixture and apple streusel topping and sprinkle over top.
  8. Bake at 350F for approximately 30 minutes. Allow to fully cool for at least 30-40 minutes before gently removing from pan. You can firm them up in the fridge before slicing into squares or bars (but they’re so good warm!) Apparently, the bars also freeze very well, if they last that long.

No-Bake Energy Bites / Bars / Mini-Muffins

That’s right – these are ridiculously easy and extremely versatile. Just make sure to play with the quantities of wet to dry ingredients to make sure the mixture adheres properly. One bowl, no bake, with the right amount of sweetness.

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Yes, it was a brand new mini-muffin tin.

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No-Bake Energy Bites (Adapted from Gimme Some Oven)

1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes or chips (I love these from Trader Joe’s – they give an extra little crunch)
1/2 cup peanut butter or other nut butter
1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ (I used ground flaxseed)
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Optional add-ins
1 Tbsp chia seeds
2 Tbsp chopped nuts (any kind)
1/2 cup chocolate chips or cacao nibs
1/2 cup dried cranberry

  1. Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for half an hour.

  2. Once chilled, roll into balls, into a cake pan, mini-muffin tin — really whatever shape you’d like.

For my next batch, I’m going to try making them with maple syrup and forming them into these shapes. Don’t they look like buttons?

What I did yesterday morning when I should have been working

My overripe bananas and general lack of cake were calling to me. I used Deb’s recipe from Smitten Kitchen and omitted the cloves and the bourbon. This was so easy to put together and turned out beautifully, it was super moist and had just the right amount of sweetness. Although, on a whim, I threw in about 1/3 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips at the end. Can’t beat the combination of chocolate and banana. [EDITED 8/20/13] And how can I forget one of the best things about this recipe? That it’s a one-bowl recipe and requires no mixer!

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Sprinkled on the top is espresso salt, which I’ve been using a lot in my baking

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Banana Bread/Cake (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed [EDITED 8/20/13] For best results, use 4 ripe bananas
1/3 cup melted salted butter (I added a little more)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
generous pinch of Kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (I used about a Tablespoon of cinnamon sugar because I couldn’t find my cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla, then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix.
  4. Pour mixture into a buttered or Pam-sprayed 8×8” square pan or of course a loaf pan. I only used the square pan because I didn’t have a loaf pan. (As luck would have it, I received a loaf pan in the mail a couple hours later as an early birthday present)
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean (For a loaf pan, original recipe calls for 50 minutes to one hour) Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

It’s double recipe day!

Well, technically it was last weekend. We went to a family barbecue and I ambitiously decided to bake something for the kids and something else for everyone older than 12. Here’s what I came up with. With slightly improved photos!

For the kids:
Butterscotch Pudding Cookies

Borrowing from the pudding cookie recipe, I made butterscotch pudding cookies because that was the only flavor pudding I had left. My first batch was plain/no mix-ins to see what I was working with. Each subsequent batch got more and more mix-ins until I ended up with chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, honey roasted peanuts, coconut flakes. I do like that combination myself.

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messy batter shot

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posing as chocolate chip cookies

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hooray for baking during daylight!

Butterscotch Pudding Cookies (Adapted from Chef in Training and Inside BruCrew Life)

1 1/2 sticks (or 3/4 cup) butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, minus 1 Tbsp
1/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2-1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 (3.4 oz.) box instant butterscotch pudding

mix-ins (measurements up to your discretion)
semi-sweet chocolate chips
white chocolate chips
coconut flakes
coarsely chopped honey roasted peanuts

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat again.
2. Combine the oats, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and pudding mix. Slowly mix into the butter mixture until thoroughly combined. Do not over mix. Stir in mix-ins by hand.
3. Drop by small spoonfuls onto a baking sheet. Bake at 375* for 8-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Store in a sealed container.

For the adults:
Apricot Summer Cake

The real winner was the apricot summer cake, which is an adaptation from a strawberry summer cake recipe. The pictures of this cake looked so scrumptious I couldn’t let the fact that I had no strawberries stop me. So I used what I had on hand—apricots. I also subbed about half of the milk from the original recipe for sour cream because I had an open carton handy. I liked the tang and the density the sour cream provided.

I really enjoyed this cake. It’s just a little bit different (how many apricot cake recipes are out there?) and has just the right amount of sweetness. It’s simple to make and I loved the tartness of the apricot topping. It’s funny, I spent an inordinate amount of time researching different fruit/summer-appropriate cakes to make. I was debating between this cake or a pound cake. I can’t resist a good pound cake. Maybe next time!

I imagine that peaches, nectarines, or any kind of berry, would all work well for the topping. The next time I make this, I might try adding in some lemon zest with the sugar and maybe sprinkle some on top of the fruit.

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before the oven

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so apricots are less than attractive when baked, but they taste amazing

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It’s okay that the pre-baked picture is prettier, right?

Apricot Summer Cake (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (200 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk 1/2 cup
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
7-8 apricots, sliced thin

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 10-inch pie pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan or a 9″ square cake pan (what I used).
2. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.
3. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes (or if you’re like me and have no mixer, whisk by hand). Mix in egg, sour cream, milk and vanilla until just combined.
4. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.
5. Pour into prepared tin.
6. Arrange sliced apricots (or fruit of your choice) on top of batter. Sprinkle some sugar over the topping.
7. Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes.
8. Let cool in pan on a rack.

The cake can be served with whipped cream, creme fraiche, or even a la mode. Oh yeah, both desserts were well-received by their respective tasters.

pudding chocolate chip cookies

After having a late lunch of Ricky’s Fish Tacos (our first time! And it did not disappoint), I got a hankering for something sweet. It is Easter after all, and since I don’t have chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs, jelly beans, or fluorescent Peeps around me to partake in, I could always use a cookie.

So I decided to try pudding cookies. 

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These were way tastier than the sub-par picture. I keep baking at night. Sorry!

The recipe is basically a spin on a traditional chocolate chip cookie, but it’s more fool-proof. The pudding makes the cookies nice and soft and gives you some insurance in (over)-baking. They’re also hardy little things. I sort of dropped one while transferring them to the cooling rack and it barely even dented. 

Adapted from Nikki’s recipe from Chef in Training. I cut the sugar, as I do for most baking recipes, and sprinkled in some espresso salt in the flour mixture. 

PUDDING COOKIES

1 1/2 sticks (or 3/4 cup) butter
3/4 cup brown sugar minus 1-2 Tsb
2 tsp white sugar
1 (3.4 oz) package instant vanilla pudding OR 2 small packages (1.85 oz)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
2-1/4 cups flour
1-2 cups chocolate chips (or whatever add in you would like)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Stir together flour and baking soda and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars together.
  4. Add in pudding package and beat until well blended.
  5. Add eggs and vanilla.
  6. Add flour mixture slowly until well incorporated.
  7. Add chocolate chips or whatever add-in you chose.
  8. Roll into 1″ balls and place on greased baking sheet. Flatten the cookies since if you want a thinner cookie (my personal preference).
  9. Bake at 350 F for 8-12 minutes (about 11 minutes in my oven), and I rotated the pans halfway through when I remembered.

Extremely simple and straightforward recipe. I don’t even want to tell you how many cookies I ate before I finished baking the last batch. Good thing I went to spin class this morning. 

Happy Easter, everyone! Hope you had some of that disgusting Easter candy that I was craving all day!

blondies

For my sister’s birthday, I wanted to make something for her to take home. I also wanted to try something new since so many of my baking standbys are chocolate-centric (cookies ‘n cream cookies, chocolate chip cookies, brownies).

Enter the blondie. I’ve always thought it must be possible to make a good blondie that’s not saccharine sweet. For my recipe, I went to the authority on all things culinary, Cook’s Illustrated.

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