Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lovely Cheesecake Lollis!

So I'm super late on my Daring Bakers Challenge! I was out of town for a family funeral on the reveal day, and I'm just now getting around to posting! Sorry to my fellow DB's! 

This month's challenge of Cheesecake Pops was hosted by Elle from Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah of Taste and Tell. Visit both of their blogs to see what they came up with, as well as for the recipe! The original recipe comes from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Goey by Jill O'Connor. I decided to bake them for my boyfriend because he loves cheesecake! 

A 10 inch pan is the recommended pan size, but after spending so much money on 5 bricks of cream cheese, I wasn't about to go out and buy a new pan. So I bought an aluminum cheapy from the grocery store, and hoped it would do. The pan ended up insanely full, but luckily it didn't rise all the way out of the pan! 

Some fellow DBer's had trouble with the bake time, and I did as well. The recipe said it would bake from 35-45 minutes, but mine took over an hour to brown and set up. But it ended up tasting yummy, so that's all that counts. 

I had purchased a scoop for this challenge, and was worried when I heard that others had to actually roll the balls out, but was still hopeful that my scooper would work. I was wrong! 

I love cheesecake, but it’s not something I particularly wanted to wear. My hands were on the verge of suffocating as every inch of my skin was plastered in cheesecake! I found that washing my hands in between every 7 or 8 balls made them easier to roll, but of course then my soap was covered in cheesecake greasiness that I wasn't sure how I was going get off. How does one clean soap? Is it even possible? I figured that was existential question I would leave for another time when I was not covered in cheesecake and debating on just covering myself in chocolate for my boyfriend.
After chilling the rolled buddies, I melted my wafer chocolate and started dipping. I used milk chocolate, and in hindsight I should have gone with dark chocolate. They were just too sweet with the milk chocolate, but they still tasted delicious! I decided just to drizzle colored chocolate on top to give them a little color and decoration. 
I think they turned out cute and they tasted great, so I'm happy with them! I would make them again, but I would let them chill a lot longer before coating them in chocolate, because the sticks started to come loose after a while. 

Cheesecake Detritus

Before the oven

After the oven!

Chocolate me please!

Alright, alright, I'll dip you in chocolate, calm down!

Decorate me please!

Alright, alright, I'll decorate you! Sheesh!


And more yummy! 

All Rights Reserved 2008 © Books and Bakes

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Banana Bread Bakeoff!

Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella is hosting her first baking event this month and she had the brilliant idea to have a Banana Bread bakeoff! How fun! 

I was super excited to participate because I've had 6 frozen, brown bananas in my outside freezer that keep reminding me they were smartly frozen for such a day when I would want to make bread with them! I swear I heard a collective sigh of banana relief when they were plunked down on the counter to defrost. 

I decided to use a recipe that I attempted before from The New Best Recipe book for the editors of Cooks Illustrated — it comes from America's Test Kitchens. I've tried lots of recipes from their various books and have always had success. The funny thing is their baking times seem to be off. Last time I made this bread it took ages longer for the tester to come out clean, despite the fact that the outside had browned eons earlier. My kitchen has since had an upgrade and now includes a professional range with a confection option, so I figured this would help me out a lot, and that it might eliminate the extra baking time. Not so! Both loaves are still in the oven, quite brown and yet not producing a clean skewer! UGH! 

The recipe has several variations on the traditional, and since I'm a chocolate lover I always go with the version that includes dark chocolate shavings. Since I had six bananas I baked two loaves, and I decided to get creative with the second one. Instead of using just a chocolate bar, I chopped up a Heath Bar and threw that into the mix! Hopefully it will turn out yummy! My boyfriend is getting the regular chocolate loaf, and I'll be stuck with the Heath one, so if it doesn't turn out well, I'm the only one suffering. 

Chocolate or Heath Bar – it's a toss up! 

Things were going well; I had whisked my dry ingredients together, mushed up my squishy bananas, added the yogurt in and then just as I was melting the butter and reaching for the eggs, I **GASP** discovered that I had no eggs!!!!! I live in the boondocks, I don't have a neighbor to which I could beg an egg or two off of. So I was doomed to make a trip to the store. There is a great organic farm right down the road that I tried to go to, but they weren't open today so it was off to the grocery store. What a pain! 

After I returned, I finished up with the wet ingredients and then set to folding the two groups together. I like a batter that requires me to work it the old fashioned way. Don't get me wrong, I adore my KitchenAid, and if I had to give it up it would be like losing a limb. But there is something nice about doing the work all by yourself. So fold, fold fold, fold and fold some more later my bread batter was already to slip into the oven. Off it went to have some hot, steamy fun in there.

And now it's all done. It just took an extra 15 minutes is all! Oh well, as long as it tastes good, that's all that matters in the world of baking! I still haven't tasted it yet because it's cooling and I wouldn't want to interrupt it while it chills out for a bit. 

And now I have tasted it – and it was well worth the effort of driving to the store for eggs! Yum! 

Eww… it's a wonder how they make such yummy bread!

After the slaughter! 

I'm always amazed that they come out looking like this when they 
have been so brown and icky! 

Mush mush! 

I prefer pecans to walnuts! 

Have fun in there! 

What a lovely loaf! It's a bit more brown then I would like, 
but I didn't want to the center to be mushy!

Yum Yum Yum! 

Banana Bread
From Cooks Illustrated "The New Best Recipe" book

Makes one nine inch loaf
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour (plus more for dusting the pan)
1 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped coarse (I prefer pecans) 
3/4 sugar 
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 very ripe, soft, darkly speckled large bananas, mashed well
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan; dust with flour taping out the excess.
  2. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and walnuts together in a large bowl; set aside.
  4. Mix the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter and vanilla extract with a wooden spoon in a medium bowl. Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky. DO NOT overly mix this batter. You want to just fold it together until you can not longer see the flour. Otherwise you will over develop the gluten and the bread wont rise as well. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  5. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. The bread can be wrapped in plastic wrapped and be stored at room temperature for 3 days. 
Chocolate/Heath Bar variation
  1. Follow the recipe, reducing the sugar to 10 tablespoons and mixing in 2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated (a heaping 1/2 cup), into the dry ingredients.

All Rights Reserved 2008 © Books and Bakes

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Gratitude Journal

I keep a gratitude journal that I try to write in every night.
I just record little things that I was grateful for that day, anything from hitting that green light after leaving the grocery store, a paycheck coming in the mail, the beautiful deer feeding on the green grass in my backyard, or the abundance of love in my life. Every once in a while I read back through it to remind myself how wonderful my life is, and how lucky I am to be living it. Tonight was one of those nights. I came across an entry that any baker can appreciate because something similar has happened to anyone and everyone brave enough to mix a bunch of stuff together in a bowl and shove it in the oven just to see what will happen. I thought I might share it just to pass on the smile that it brought to me!

I'm grateful that the hair in my cake batter wound itself around the mixer paddle and did not end up in the cake!

Hehe… I'm sure the people who ate the cake would be grateful too! 

All Rights Reserved 2008 © Books and Bakes

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sometimes a girl just needs a cookie

My busy busy day left me yearning for something sweet and homemade – of course that meant that I had to make something in order to satisfy my craving. I didn't feel like hunting through any of the seemingly billions of recipes I have, so I turned to my favorite old standby – Tollhouse chocolate chop cookies. You gotta love them! And no, I'm not going to post the recipe – all you've got to do is buy a bag of chocolate chips – that's what is so great about these cookies! What made the whole thing even more perfect was the fact that I had finally broken down and purchased a cookie scooper today. So useful, I don't know how I've baked all these years without one! 

Look at what a flawless little plop of dough this is!

Sometimes a girl just needs a cookie. 

And sometimes a girl just needs a spoonful of raw cookie dough and some milk! 

All Rights Reserved 2008 © Books and Bakes

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Quick Lunch

I'm definitely a scratch baker, so I'm mildly embarrassed to be posting this idea, but it turned out to be yummy so I figured I would share the idea anyway.

I wanted something satisfying for lunch the other day while working on my book, but nothing was striking my fancy as I stared into my fridge and cupboards. Poking out from the door shelf was a tube of Pilsbury Crescent Rolls, so I grabbed them and tried to think of what to do to make them into a lunch. I knew I had some frozen spinach and feta cheese, so I decided to make some pockets filled with that yummy combo. 

But what about something sweet? 

I'm a huge fan of sweetened cream cheese, so I mixed up some of Philadelphia's best with confectioner sugar, and put that in the center of the second half of my crescents. Delicious!

It was a great simple lunch, just enough to satisfy my need for something other than a sandwich, but simple enough to get me back to writing quickly. Yum! 

A yummy little lunch envelope! 

Spinach and Feta, always a great combination! 

Who can turn down sweetened cream cheese? Not I! 

All Rights Reserved 2008 © Books and Bakes

Great date, even better Dessert!

Not too long ago I spent a few hours vineyard hoping while on a date, and after buying a few bottles of wine we headed back to his house to cook dinner and enjoy our day's purchases. I offered to make dessert, and so I was happy that my new copy of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours had arrived so quickly from Amazon!

I have to toot their horn because I had ordered enough books to qualify for the free super saver shipping, which is said to take 3 to 5 days, and since I had ordered last Wednesday evening, I figured it would be into this week before I received the books. They arrived Friday! The shipping Gods must have known that I needed some great dessert ideas :)

So I turned to Dorie for something that I could bake one night and would still be perfect by the follow evening. Lots of things would still be good, but I wanted something great! After all, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach! So I went with Dorie's Split Level Pudding, which is vanilla pudding layered on top of chocolate ganache that is lying in wait at the bottom of the dish. Obviously pudding needs time to set, so I decided it would work well as a make ahead dessert.

I wanted something more, and Dorie recommends her World Peace Cookies as a great accompaniment to the pudding, so I decided to go with those to finish off my dessert.

The pudding turned out great, although I made a mess while making it. My food processor always seems to overflow regardless of how much liquid I put in, so I always end up with whatever I'm making leaking out the bottom. Oh well, what can you do! It tasted yummy before and after it set, so I was more than happy! And so was my date!

The cookies also have to chill, so I made the dough the night before, molded it into a log and then sliced and baked them the morning before I left for my day of sipping some local Virginia wines. The batter tasted great, which always assures a great product. They baked up perfectly and were also a hit! I took pictures of the extra pudding while testing it out with my mom and dad, but I only have pics of the raw cookies, because I didn't want to photograph my cookies on just my third date with this guy! I didn't need him thinking I was some crazy foodie (even though I am!)!

Not very attractive, and I don't need to say what it looks like! 

The baked up version doesn't look all that different since this is meant to be a crumbly cookie

Yum Yum Yum Pudding! 

If you want to try these out I recommend you buy Dorie Greenspans book Baking: From My Home to Yours. Trust me, it is well worth the low price! 

All Rights Reserved 2008 © Books and Bakes