Thursday, January 20, 2011

Key Lime Pie

No shortcuts here! The best graham cracker crust, home made and so easy! :)

Graham Cracker Crust (enough for 1 9 inch pie plate)
2.5 tablespoons sugar
1.5 cups graham crackers, crushed
6.5 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine sugar and crushed graham crackers in a medium bowl and mix. Pour melted butter on the top and mix together until the texture resembles sand. Press into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch pie pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

What to put in the graham cracker crust? So many options... but we'll try out the oh-so -summery (I miss summer!) key lime pie. This recipe is also unbelievably quick and easy, short of pressing the juice out of the itty bitty Key limes. If you have the patience, buy the Key limes and press the juice out yourself, using a strainer to strain out the seeds and any pulp. Jarred Key lime juice also works just fine.

Key Lime Pie Filling:

1 cup Key lime juice (fresh or bottled)
1 tsp grated key lime zest (you can use regular limes too)
2 14oz cans of sweetened, condensed milk
4 egg yolks, beaten

In a large bowl, combine sweetened, condensed milk with lime juice and mix (a wooden spoon works well for this) well. Add the egg yolks and lime zest and mix until homogenous and smooth. Pour into the pre-baked graham cracker crust and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Take out of the oven, let cool to room temperature, then put in the refridgerator until ready to serve. Garnish with lime slices and whipped cream or meringue.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

How easy is it to make brownies out of a box, fudgey or cakey, however they are described on the box? Easy. Special? Not really, but tasty, why of course! Over time, there are a few things I’ve vowed to myself in the kitchen. Lately, I try not to use vegetable oil or canola oil while cooking. Some how making muffins and pouring a cup of liquid, slippery oil, stored at room temperature with a shelf life of forever into my developing batter just doesn’t make me want to dig in no matter how delicious the kitchen smells when the baked goods are done. So you’ll probably notice that my recipes posted here do not typically call for any oil, instead I usually substitute melted butter or margarine. Anyway, a tangent!

The other practice I try to stay away from is buying mixes to make desserts. The idea that something I make could only be made by me (or by you, in fact!) and is not commercially available in any ol' grocery store is special. Plus, I like tweaking things to my tastes and knowing what goes into my treats. Which brings us to the point, what do I do when I want to make something that mixes are readily available for, and ultimately produce a delicious, reproducible, and easy treat? I certainly don’t want to belabor something and make a home made recipe take forever with iffy results when I know I could spend $3.69 plus 45 minutes of my time to make something that is pretty likely to be edible and yield praise from family members or coworkers. Brownies are one of those desserts for me. Seemingly not difficult, but once I step outside the (proverbial) brownie box, my from-scratch baking experience yields crusty squares that stick to the pan or something that is plain and simply NOT awesome – not exactly what I had bargained for. So I set out to craft a decadent and fudgey brownie that has character and is worth keeping the ingredients in your house to make, is easy to personalize, and doesn’t take a lot of time to make. I hope you like the results as much as I do!
p.s. Brownies are an awesome dessert because they REALLY are easy! No fancy kitchen equipment here, only a bowl and a spoon. You want to just mix the ingredients until they are incorporated and are lumpy; beating until smooth is not necessary.

Chocolate brownie base:
1 cup butter
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup -3/4 cup chocolate chips

Cheesecake topping:
1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 egg
1/3 cup white sugar

Melt the cup of butter in a microwave safe large bowl. Add sugar and mix with a big spoon. Add the eggs and and vanilla extract and mix to combine. In a smaller bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Add the mixed, dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg, mixing until incorporated - it's ok if a few lumps remain. Add a few more lumps :) by pouring in the chocolate chips and stirring until incorporated. Anywhere from 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of chocolate chips is fine, so whatever you prefer. Grease a large 9x13 pan with butter and pour in the batter, smooth the top. At this point, if you want to up the fancy-factor, you can add the cheesecake topping. If you are a chocolate purist, then feel free to bake as they are, just perhaps for a few minutes less since they won't be as thick.

If you don't mind diluting your chocolate with some sweet and creamy cream cheese, then pull out a mixer (a hand mixer does a great job for this) and cube your cream cheese in a medium sized bowl, add the egg and the sugar, and mix on med-high speed until the mixture is homogenous, scraping the bowl as necessary. Spoon the cream cheese mixture over the brownie batter, and swirl the cream cheese in with a sharp knife.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-35 minutes. If you're after a fudgey brownie, then closer to 30 minutes, and if you're a cakey brownie lover, then around 35 minutes. Try using the toothpick test for a truly cakey brownie - a clean toothpick inserted into the center of the baking pan that comes out clean will yield a cakey brownie... but don't overdo it, 35-37 minutes should be long enough depending on your oven!

Other ways to personalize this recipe:
Instead of opting for cheesecake, try swirling some raspberry jam on the top of the brownie batter prior to cooking. You can also go with the real deal by boiling raspberries (approximately 1 cup) in a small pot, letting cool a little, and then spooning over the dough and swirling. This works well with raspberries as opposed to other fruits, because raspberries have a lot of pectin in them, which is a natural thickener, preventing the fruit from oozing juice all over the top of your tasty, praise-worthy brownies. :)


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Maple Sugar Sandwich Cookies with Maple Cream Filling

About five years ago I lived for a year in New York City, the home of everything you could ever want. This goes for clothing and other goodies, and certainly food and food related purchases are no exception. I lived on the Upper West Side, not so far away from the Garden of Eden, an awesome specialty grocery store that had so many high quality and special items. It was here I purchased my fun bottle of maple extract, that five years later has survived three moves and remained unopened until just last week. Hmm. Perhaps that wasn’t the most useful purchase. But I’ll tell you what, carting that bottle around with me for 5 years was totally worth it after making these delicious maple cookies! What was so special that made me suddenly see the maple light? A friend of mine was in Canada and returned home with the most delicious sugar cookies filled with a maple buttercream frosting… I could never eat just one! So, I made my own never-ending supply. ☺

Maple Sugar Cookies
1 and a half cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp maple extract
5 and 1/3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp (or less) salt

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs and extracts until smooth, scraping bowl along the way. Stir or mix in the flour, baking powder and salt. At this point you want a sturdy dough that isn't too sticky and can be balled up and rolled out nicely. Knead in a little extra flour if necessary to get this consistency. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour (and up to overnight). Break dough off in sections, and on a floured (or sugared!) surface, roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out shapes, place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, and bake for 6-8 minutes - shorter for softer cookies, longer for crisper. Keep an eye on the edges to avoid burning. I used a flour cutter, but a maple leaf would have been perfect! After they're out of the oven, take them off of the cookie sheet to cool.

Maple Sugar Buttercream Frosting
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1-2 tblsp maple extract
1-2 tblsp maple syrup.

This frosting is to die for... if you have a serious sweet tooth. Prepare this frosting by first combining the shortening and butter and beating with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, beating after each addition. After two cups of powdered sugar, add the extracts to your taste, keeping in mind that the flavor is enhanced a few hours after preparation. I had thought that most of the flavor would come from the maple syrup, but surprisingly no - a lot of it came from the extract. Both are a welcome addition in these cookies and complement each other well!. After adding the extract and syrup, beat thoroughly and add the last two cups of powdered sugar, one at a time. If the frosting is too thick, beat in warm water, one tablespoon at a time. To frost the cookies, fill a quart sized ziploc bag (or a pastry bag) with the frosting and then cut 1/2 inch off one of the corners and squeeze onto a cookie. Place another cookie on top, press lightly to secure it on top, and maple sandwiches are ready to eat!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chocolate Explosion Cookies

Chocolate Explosion Cookies!
1 cup butter
¾ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup milk or semi sweet chocolate chips
½ cup white chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars. Beat in eggs and extract. In a separate smaller bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Combine these dry ingredients into the butter/sugar/egg/extract and mix. Add chocolate chips and stir in. Drop tablespoon sized cookies onto a parchment paper covered cookie sheet and bake at 350 F until the edges are a little darker, approximately 10 minutes.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cake
2 ½ cups cake flour
½ tsp salt
2-4 tblsp cocoa (I used 3)
½ cup butter, unsalted
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp white vinegar
1 cup buttermilk
2 tblsp or 2 oz red food coloring

Easy Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Ganache
9 oz chocolate, chopped. Semi sweet or dark is best
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbslp flavoring (optional)

Parmesan Cheese Souffle