Archive for June, 2009
Is bigger better when cookies are concerned? As long as the cookie is a good one, it doesn’t really matter how big it is. That being said, there is nothing better – and few things more indulgent – than a giant chocolate chip cookie fresh out of the oven. Just imagine the drisp edges, chewy center and lots of oozing chocolate melting into your mouth as you devour the cookie bite by bite. Hungry yet? These are the thoughts that ran through my head when I saw this I You Jumbo Cookie Cutter Set. The trio of cookie cutters makes for some gigantic cookies, as well as providing a more reliable shape than trying to form letters and heart-shapes by hand with cookie dough.
The cookie cutters can also be used to cut shapes out of trays of brownies or blondies, pizza and other flatbreads, and even out of sheet cakes (although you may get some icing on your fingers if you frost the cake before cutting it). It goes without saying that the message made by the cookies is sweet, and not just because of the chocolate and sugar content of the cookies. Any treats made with these cutters would be a cute addition to a date night, birthday or anniversary celebration, as well as to any “just because” occasion.
Popsicles are even easier to make than ice cream because you don’t need an ice cream maker or any other special appliance to make them. What you do need, however is a mold to shape them with. The simplest way to make a popsicle is to use a small paper cup or yogurt container, fill it with juice (or whatever else you choose to use as a base for popsicles) and put a popsicle stick into it as it firms up in the freezer. If you’re going to make them on a regular basis, popsicle molds can make things a whole lot easier. Inexpensive molds are easy to find, but the Orka 4-Ice Pops have a few features that make them stand out from the rest of the pack.
The base of the pop is made of silicone, which just pops off of the frozen popsicle when you’re ready to eat. Most popsicle molds have hard plastic bodies that are difficult to remove, or require you to run them under hot water to loosen them before serving. Also, the pops have cup-shaped popsicle sticks that will catch drips. A small stand holds the popsicles upright while they freeze, too. Finally, the swirly shape of these popsicles is very appealing on its own. It’s easy to eat and reminiscent of some of the fancier popsicles you could buy from ice cream trucks as a kid, rather than typical the plain Jane homemade popsicle mold.
If you’re from the Philadelphia area, I probably don’t have to tell you what Tastykakes are. For those of you who aren’t, Tastekakes are a regional brand of packaged snack cakes. Fans of these cakes will say that they’re better than those other brands (Hostess, etc), and I think they might be right. Tastykakes come in a wide variety of flavors, many of which are unique to the brand, and usually taste fresh and moist. I’ve made a homemade version of their Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes before, and this time around I decided to tackle Tastykake’s Butterscotch Krimpets, which are simple vanilla cakes that have a butterscotch icing.
Snack cakes, whether you’re taking Twinkies or Tastykakes, almost always have a sponge cake base. Sponge cake is more resilient (less crumbly) than butter cakes are and often stays moister, longer. I used a similar sponge cake base that I used to make my previous peanut butter Tastykakes, adding in some brown sugar to give the cakes themselves a little bit of a butterscotch flavor. The sponge cakes are made by beating lots of air into whole eggs, then folding in flour and finally mixing in hot milk and butter. The sponge turns out to be very light and moist. It’s nice on its own, with notes of butter, milk, brown sugar and vanilla, but a little on the plain side without the flavorful icing. It is very similar – although perhaps a bit better – to the taste and texture of a regular snack cake.
Most butterscotch icings rely on butterscotch chips to infuse them with flavor, and this is no exception. The frosting is very sweet, but since it is spread on in only a very thin layer on the cake, everything balances out by the time you go to eat it. I also tempered the frostings’ sweetness by mixing in a good-sized pinch of salt.
The cakes had a great butterscotch flavor and tasted fresh, moist and delicious. My tasters – a couple of Philly natives – said that they felt that this was what a butterscotch krimpet was supposed to taste like. I’m not sure about that myself, but they’re very good. The wavy shape I cut mine into was achieved by carving the sides with a knife to match the look of the packaged krimpets. You can come close by using Wilton’s ZigZag Cutter, but can also cut the bars into squares or rectangles for simplicity’s sake.
I bake so much that it’s second nature. I don’t know what my kitchen would look like without my stand mixer and various baking accessories. But to some, baking a cake can seem like an insurmountable task. Just look at any tv food reality show where the chefs complain about having to make a dessert: most of them pull it off, but not without acting as through they’ve been asked to run a marathon on short notice. They might be able to use a copy of Baking Unplugged, a cookbook that is intended to show you how simple and non-intimidating baking can be.
The book is really an introduction to baking and it covers some basics that other books skip over. For instance, it tells you, item by item, what some of the basic tools you need to have in your kitchen for baking. This section only covers standard tools, not any special appliances or equipment, and these are all the things you need to make the recipes in the book. The idea, again, is to keep it simple and not to say “you can’t make this recipe because you don’t have the right tools.” The book also outlines basic baking ingredients, what you need to know about them and how to use them. It even discusses how to read a recipe – a skill that most of us are left to learn on our own. After the introduction is complete, the book moves on to the recipes themselves. There is quite a variety, and they are not all “beginner” recipes, in spite of what you may think coming into a basic baking book. There are cookies, cakes, pies and more, with recipes ranging from the easy Chewy-Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies to a decadent Butterscotch Walnut Tart, which wouldn’t be out of place in any cookbook.
The recipes in Baking Unplugged are great for any level of baker, are easy to follow and offer a lot of interesting flavors. It’s the rest of the book that really makes this a good choice for those just starting out, or those that need a reminder that baking is supposed to be easy and fun.
These Chocolate-Dipped Ice Cream Cream Puffs pretty much explain themselves. They’re cream puffs that are filled with ice cream and dipped in chocolate. The cream puffs themselves are not hard to make, but they look so cute when they’re done, that these simple frozen treats look pretty impressive. If you’ve made cream puffs before, you’ll know that they come out of them oven a little crisp on the outside. The cream puffs loose a little bit of their just-baked crispiness when frozen, but these are such a tasty treat to pull out of the freezer that it just doesn’t matter.
I dip these in chocolate before I freeze them, making the chocolate shell nice and crunchy when I’m ready to eat. This also makes eating the cream puffs a pretty non-messy affair, even considering the prospect of the ice cream melting if you eat too slowly. To make the dessert a little more interactive, you can serve undipped cream puffs with melted chocolate (i.e. fondue-style) or with some fudge sauce and let your family and friends dip to their hearts’ content.
These will keep in the freezer for at least a couple of weeks and can be made with any kind of ice cream you like. The recipe below makes smaller, easy-to-hold cream puffs. If you want to go big, double the size of each ball of dough and double the baking time.