sweets for a saturday

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Happy weekend, y’all.  If you’re bored, check out my contribution to Lisa‘s second edition of Sweets for a Saturday and drool on her blog a little.  And come back soon for more goodies – I’m thinking soft pretzels, Chinese almond cookies, or something involving puff pastry…

 

 

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chocolate raspberry crumble bars

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There’s a Starbucks a block away from my old high school – a Starbucks that got mobbed every weekday lunch with giddy upperclassmen and every night after eight with the local stoners.  For me, for some unknown reason, that Starbucks felt like independence.  I went with my friends and without my parents to talk about boys, drink coffee in the corner, and pretend that we were at a much cooler place than, well, a Starbucks.

I apologize in advance for the ungodly amounts of plain streusel you will eat if you make this recipe.

But let’s be honest here.  Independence, shmindependence; what I was really excited about was that pastry case.  I’m not joking; even if your family wasn’t as unduly health-conscious as mine, that thing was ridiculous.  Everything looked good.  But even among all of the muffins and cookies and apple fritters (which I got once and which was sorely disappointing), I couldn’t help but be drawn to that damn crumb cake, the one with the brown sugary streusel piled up to half again the height of the cake itself.

It’s “that damn crumb cake” to me now because I got it once, and friends, that thing is deceiving.  The cake is dry and the crumb topping is lackluster; it’s an insult to all things streusel.  And streusel is simply something too good to mess with.*

That’s why, for this recipe, I went all out on the streusel.  In addition to being perhaps unethically delicious, it’s versatile – for these bars, all you have to do is stir together a huge (seriously, don’t skimp here) batch, press 1/2 to 3/4 into the bottom of a pan, top with sliced fruit or jam of your choice, and sprinkle with the rest.  I’m including my recipe, but feel free to use your own.  Or just sit down with the bowl and a spoon and go to town.

*If you don’t believe me, ask the friend to whom I delivered an entire tub of brown sugar streusel during our senior year in college.

 

Chocolate Raspberry Streusel Bars

2 cups flour

1 1/2 to 2 sticks butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cups brown sugar

1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Raspberry jam

Chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil; grease foil.

Stir together all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Add 1 1/2 sticks butter; cut into mixture with two knives or a pastry blender until mixture resembles large, irregular crumbs.  If necessary, add more butter and/or flour.

Press 2/3 of crumb mixture onto the bottom of the pan.  Bake 12 minutes or until slightly golden.  Remove from oven and spread with raspberry jam.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips and remaining crumbs.  Bake another 14-16 minutes; remove from oven and cool completely.  Remove from pan using aluminum foil; cut into bars.

pita bread

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There are some recipes that, I’m ashamed to say, I’m simply too lazy to make.  Not because they’re particularly labor-intensive or because they require lists of specialty ingredients, sadly, because that would at least be understandable – but because there’s just too much waiting.

Okay, so it’s a little counterintuitive.  I just don’t like constraints on my time – I like to complete a task and check it off; anything with a lengthy list of “hurry up and wait” is just anxiety-producing.

So that’s why, despite a substantial, tickling desire to make pita bread that spanned multiple months, I put it off until a week or two ago.  Even then, though, I’m ashamed to say that I cut corners to trim down all that waiting.  If you’re not a lazy bum you follow the recipe, this dough gets an overnight or up to three-day rise – and that’s just the first one.  I cheated and gave it a quick one-hour turn in a warm, draft-free environment.  Sue me.

I’m copying the recipe here almost exactly because while my bread came out pretty nicely, it wasn’t as flavorful as I would have liked – and, well, you should probably just follow the damn recipe.  Deb does a great job of walking you through a process that really seems more complicated than it actually is.  With a bit of freshly made hummus – which is exactly as uncomplicated as it seems – you can’t go wrong.

Pita Bread
Adapted from The Bread Bible (via Deb)

3 cups plus a scant 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (16 oz./454 grams)
2 teaspoons salt (1/2 oz./13.2 grams)
2 teaspoons instant yeast (6.4 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (1 oz./27 grams)
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature (10.4 oz./295 grams)

1. About 1 1/2 hours before shaping, or for best flavor development, 8 hours to 3 days ahead, mix the dough.

Mixer method: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed (#2 if using a KitchenAid) just until all the flour is moistened, about 20 seconds. Change to the dough hook, raise the speed to medium (#4 KitchenAid), and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (the dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)

Hand method: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for a scant 1/4 cup of the flour. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together.

Sprinkle a little of the reserved flour onto the counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 5 to 20 minutes. (This rest will make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.)

Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (The dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)

2. Let the dough rise: Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into a 2-quart or larger dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top of it. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days), checking every hour for the first 4 hours and pressing it down if it starts to rise.

3. Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 475°F one hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before preheating.

4. Shape the dough: Cut the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking.

5. Bake the pita: Quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the stone or in the skillet or on the baking sheet, and bake for 3 minutes. The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray and knead each remaining piece with water until the dough is soft and moist; allow to rest again and reroll as before.* (However, those that do not puff well are still delicious to eat.)

* After my first pita didn’t puff well, and I realized I was too lazy to spritz and reroll and rise each remaining pita, I instead spritzed each rolled-out pita with water two or three minutes before baking it. It worked magically — all of the remaining pitas puffed perfectly. Try this method first if yours don’t puff, if it doesn’t work to you, revert to Beranbaum’s suggestion of kneading the extra moisture in.

Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a stone or baking sheet. using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.

To cook the pitas on the stove top: Preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the surface and cook the pitas one at a time. Cook for about 20 seconds, then turn the dough and continue cooking for 1 minute or until big bubbles appear. Turn the dough again and cook until the dough balloons. If the dough begins to brown, lower the heat. The entire cooking process for each pita should be about 3 minutes.


crescent cookies

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Off to Santa Barbara with a cute boy for a horseback riding weekend.  But while I’ m gone, have some crescent cookies.

spoon in your filling of choice (pictured: raspberry jam)

fold, pinch, and nudge into crescents

pile up

and...

enjoy.

Crescent Jam and Cheese Cookies
Adapted from Deb

Makes about 30 cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
7.5 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons  sour cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling cookies out
1/4 teaspoon salt
Filling [*Alli’s note: I used raspberry jam and slightly melted chocolate]
Milk, for brushing cookies
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Cream butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in cream cheese. Add the sour cream and vanilla and combine the mixture well. Whisk or sift together flour and salt in a separate bowl; gradually blend in to the cheese mixture. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill it for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll one-fourth of the dough out very thinly on a lightly floured surface; chill the remaining dough until ready to use. Cut the dough into 3-inch squares and put about 1/2 teaspoon filling in the center of each. Fold the dough in half on the diagonal, pressing the edges down (or pinching) to seal the two sides around the jam. Roll the triangle into crescents, starting at the wide end. Arrange crescents on a baking sheet about an inch apart.  Brush lightly with milk and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are golden. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and dust with powdered sugar. Continue making cookies in the same manner until all the dough is used.  Cool on racks.

double chocolate chip oatmeal cookies

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I’m devoting today to simple, really good cookies – specifically, chocolate and white chocolate oatmeal, as well as just plain chocolate chip.  It’s a Sunday,  I woke up at 5:45 a.m. today to drive home from Anaheim, and I’m ready to flop down in bed with a Virgina Woolf book.  (Edit: Okay, I got lazy and just watched 30 Rock.)  If it’s possible to sound more “single English major,” please, let me know what I’m missing.  And enjoy.

 

oatmeal cookies: gather the dry ingredients

mix in the chips

do try not to just eat the cookie dough.

 

try one when it’s fresh
drizzled with cinnamon icing
mmmmm.

And it’s high time I posted some regular old chocolate chip.

Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies
Adapted, after failure with a different recipe, from the ever-reliable Deb

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 ounces white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in a bowl until light and fluffy.  Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla, and beat until well mixed, about three minutes. Stir in eggs, one at a time.

Stir together the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter with the mixer on low speed. Once the flour has been incorporated, add the second half. Stir in the oats and chips.

Drop the dough, by the tablespoon, onto the cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and cool the cookies on a rack.

Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted, once again, from Deb

1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Beat the sugars and butters together until smooth. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and baking soda.

Stir together the flour and salt, then mix them into the batter. Mix in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the cookie dough into tablespoon-sized balls onto each of the baking sheets.

Bake for 16 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

 

 

mint chocolate brownies

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So, I have a confession.  Left to my own devices, I’m sort of – okay, really – a bit of a culinary bore.

candy canes, crushed with a rolling pin

Sigh.  I know.  I try to make new things, but I’m always so drawn to the recipes I personally prefer that I veer strongly enough toward the rich chocolate/blondie/peanut butter varietals that I end up in a rut, buying bags and bags of chocolate chips and brown sugar and wondering why I’m getting bored.  My life is terribly difficult.

watch out. this stuff is GOOD.

This is why it’s good that virtually all of my baking is done for other people, and for people who know what they want.  Somewhere in my mind I’d been tossing around the idea of mint chocolate brownies, but until a friend – who happens to love anything mint chocolate – moved across the country, I didn’t have enough reason to try it out.  But everyone needs a good snack on a long plane ride, right?  A rich, chocolatey, minty snack?  With candy canes?

you could, of course, just dig in with a spoon

Because I wanted to make these a little more interesting than just regular brownies with a little peppermint extract thrown in, I based the concept off of Nanaimo Bars, and if you’ve never had them, I suggest that you seek out a recipe immediately.  The brownie recipe is an earlier post from the blog; top it with a layer of mint creme, a glazing of chocolate, and some crushed up candy canes, and you’ve got a pretty decent going-away present.  And something to eat on the plane.

Layered Mint Chocolate Brownies


One recipe of the best brownies, cooled completely

 

1/2 cup butter, softened

3 tablespoons heavy cream

2 tablespoons powdered vanilla pudding mix

2 cups confectioners sugar

mint extract, to taste (probably about 1/4 teaspoon)

green food coloring (optional)

4 ounces semisweet chocolate

2 teaspoons butter

About 5 regular-sized candy canes or 10-13 small ones, crushed

Cream butter, heavy cream, extract, and pudding mix together until light and fluffy.  Slowly beat in confectioners’ sugar until smooth.  Mix in food coloring, a drop or two at a time, until it reaches your desired shade.  Spread evenly over cooled brownies; chill.

Gently melt chocolate and butter in the microwave, working in 30-second intervals and stirring after each interval.  Spread over chilled bars.  Quickly sprinkle with crushed candy canes.  Chill.

To slice, dip a sharp knife into hot water, wiping the knife and re-dipping after each cut.

cinnamon rolls

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As much as I love making desserts – brownies, cookies, cakes, pies – well, everyone makes those, don’t they?  I like making things that you wouldn’t necessarily think to try at home.  Especially for something special – like Christmas.

rolled out, after the first rise

...and rolled up, for the oven

I started on yeast breads years ago.  They’re kind of perfect as an intermediate challenge – lots of variables, but not too labor-intensive.  Anything with yeast requires experience, though.  You can go by the numbers (105*-115*F to proof the yeast, rise at 80*F, so many grams or ounces of flour), but when all’s said and done, you’re dealing with a living organism.  And it might not like numbers.

if you use muffin tins, shorten the baking time a bit

just one more thing...

These aren’t as scary as you might think.  They may not come out perfectly the first time (as happened with mine – I was too heavy-handed with the flour), but they’re absolutely worth a few attempts, if for no other reason than how they make the house smell.  And next time, I’m adding bacon.

...frosting!

Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing

Adapted from Epicurious

Dough:
1 cup whole milk [*Alli’s note: I used reduced fat]
3 tablespoons butter
3 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast (from 2 envelopes yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Filling:
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

Glaze:
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For dough:

Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, 30 to 45 seconds. Pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment.  Add 1 cup flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Beat on low speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl.  [*Alli’s note: If you don’t have a stand mixer, combine well by hand.]  Add 2 1/2 cups flour, erring on the side of less if dough seems to be getting tough. Beat on low until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl [*Alli’s note: you can do this by hand; it’ll just be difficult.  You may have better luck kneading the last bits of flour in on a floured surface]. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to form ball and pulls away from sides of bowl. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Form into ball.  [*Alli’s note: You can also do this with the dough hook in a stand mixer.  It shouldn’t take more than four minutes.]

Lightly oil large bowl with nonstick spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.  [*Alli’s note: I put a glass of boiling water next to the bowl with the dough, then overturn a brown paper bag on top.]

For filling:

Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl.

Punch down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15×11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over butter. Starting at one long side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with thin sharp knife into 18 equal slices (each about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide).

Spray two 9-inch square glass baking dishes with nonstick spray. Divide rolls between baking dishes, arranging cut side up (there will be almost no space between rolls). Cover baking dishes with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes.  [*Alli’s note: I’ve also baked these in greased muffin tins.]

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn rolls right side up.

For glaze:

Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread glaze on rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.