Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

So I bought an ice cream maker on a whim last weekend when I saw they were only $20 at Aldi's. I just couldn't pass it up, especially since it's just a tiny one that makes 1.5 quarts at a time. My first attempt took a bit longer than anticipated, because I was impatient. I learned an important lesson: the mixture MUST be cold in order for it to freeze properly. That doesn't mean throw it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, it means cool completely to room temperature and then refrigerate it for the full hour the recipe calls for. Good news, though, is that overnight in the freezer works well, too. I just had to delay my gratification.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream
2 c. heavy cream, chilled
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 T butter
1/4 c. chopped pecans (I'm sure I used more)
1/2 t. vanilla

Place the cream, sugar and butter into a saucepan and mix together over a low heat. Stir until mixture starts to boil around the edges. Remove the saucepan from heat and allow to cool completely (see this is where I got impatient!). Place in refrigerator for one hour to chill.

When mixture is cold, switch ice cream maker on and pour the mixture into the chute while paddle is moving. Pour in vanilla.

After the ice cream has thickened, about 30 minutes, add the pecans. Let churn another 5 minutes to mix. Turn machine off and the ice cream is ready to serve.

YUM. Sooo creamy, so sweet. Definitely tasted like an expensive store brand, although we don't buy expensive store brands, so I couldn't tell you which one. :-)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to Make a Perfect Cheesecake

At my last job I was commissioned to bake a cheesecake for a staff member's birthday. I was sure I had baked a cheesecake before but sure couldn't remember any tricks. So I found this list of tips that was really helpful, and of course now I couldn't tell you where I found it.

How to Make a Perfect Cheesecake

Using springform pans: Take the pan apart, line the bottom plate with aluminum foil, then reassemble the pan. Pull the excess foil up and around the pan to prevent any batter from leaking into the oven. Spray sides and bottom with vegetable spray.

Ingredients: For best results, make sure all ingredients are at room temperature.

Mixing the batter: A stand mixer can take on heavy cheesecake batter with ease, but be careful not to over mix. Too much air in the batter causes bubbles that can cause cracking. Mix just until creamy and all lumps are gone.

How to tell when a cheesecake is done: Put a pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven. Not all cheesecakes get baked at the same temperature. What does matter is that fluctuations in temperature can result in cracks. Resist the urge to open and close the oven door while baking. It's hard to tell when a cheesecake is done and it shouldn't be over baked, either, which again causes cracks. The cheesecake is generally done when the sides are set and a little puffy and the very center is slightly wiggly.

How to cool cheesecakes: Cool slowly on a wire rack away from drafts and at an even temperature for 2-3 hours. You may lay a piece of paper towel over the cheesecake (not directly on it) to keep in some of the moisture. Run a sharp knife around the sides. Leave cheesecake in the pan and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Run a sharp knife around the pan once more before releasing sides. Peel the foil off the underside of the pan, gently lift the cake with one hand and peel off the foil, sliding the cheesecake onto a serving platter or cardboard circle.

How to slice a cheesecake: Using a large, very sharp chef's knife, slice the cheesecake by cutting right through it all the way to the plate. Do not saw through the cheesecake. Rinse the knife off in hot water, dry and cut another slice.

How to fix a cracked cheesecake: When all else fails, and a California earthquake-size fissure cracks down the center, there is still hope. Fresh fruit and pie fillings, frosting, glaze, cookie crumbs and ganache can always cover a multitude of sins and guests will never know!

How to freeze cheesecakes: Cheesecakes freeze great, so why not make two! Double wrap with plastic wrap and freeze for 2-3 months.

Hope these tips are helpful - happy cheesecake baking!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chocolate Toffee Bars

My father-in-law complains that he never gets to eat the treats that I make. So when I found out yesterday that he was coming to spend the night tonight, I ran out to get the ingredients to make another recipe from the coffee cookbook. He will have no complaint this time.

Coffee Toffee Bars
3/4 c butter, softened
3/4 c firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 tsp salt

Coffee Topping:
1 T instant coffee
2 tsp vanilla extract
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
2 T butter
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
6 oz white chocolate, chopped
1 c toasted chopped pecans

Prepare the crust:
Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9x13" baking pan with foil; lightly butter the foil.

Beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer set on medium speed until smooth. Add the egg yolk and beat well. Stir in the flour and salt until well mixed. Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool slightly.

Prepare the topping:
Stir the instant coffee and vanilla in a large microwavable bowl until well blended. Stir in the condensed milk and butter until well blended.

Microwave on High for 4 minutes, stirring every minute or until the mixture is thick and smooth. Spread evenly over the baked layer in the pan.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until set. Sprinkle the surface with the chopped chocolates. Bake for 1-2 minutes longer until the chocolates are melted. Use a spatula to smooth the surface evenly. Sprinkle with the pecans. Cool completely on the wire rack. Refrigerate 30 minutes until the chocolate is firm. Cut into bars or diamond shapes to serve. Store in a tightly covered container.

Makes about 3 dozen bars (mine made 27)

I forgot to toast the pecans, but it didn't really matter. And I used chocolate chips and white chocolate chips instead of the squares. This actually did matter, because the white chips did not melt in the oven and then I wasn't able to spread them around. Taste-wise it was fine, presentation-wise it would have looked a lot better with melted chips. But WOW, the taste. These are absolutely fantastic. The toffee layer seeps into the crust, creating this amazingly sweet bar. I knew they would be good just looking at the ingredients. But they have already become one of my favorite recipes ever. And it took less than an hour total to make them. Pretty amazing.

Coffee Bran Muffins

My husband, daughter & I were at the library last Saturday, and of course I found myself in the cookbook section. Right as they were ready to leave, my hand fell (divinely, of course) on a cookbook called "Coffee Drinks & Desserts." Without looking at anything besides the cover, I decided it was one I needed to go home with. Yesterday I made the first recipe in the book for breakfast...

Coffee Bran Muffins
1 1/3 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 c 100% bran cereal
1 c buttermilk
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 c butter, softened
1/2 c room temperature brewed strong coffee
1/4 c dark corn syrup
1 large egg

Heat oven to 375°F. Line muffin pan with 12 paper cups.

Mix the flour and baking soda in a small bowl. Stir the cereal and buttermilk in another bowl; let stand for 5 minutes.

Beat the sugar and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer set on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the coffee, corn syrup and egg and beat until smooth. Stir in the flour and cereal mixtures just until moistened. (The batter will be lumpy.) Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup two-thirds full.

Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one muffin comes out clean. Remove the pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool completely on the wire rack. Serve warm.

Makes 1 dozen muffins (mine made 14).

Ok, so I love bran muffins anyway, so these were fantastic from the start. The recipe actually called for raisins, too, but I'm so not a fan of raisins, especially in muffins, so I left them out. Right out of the oven I honestly didn't taste any difference between these and the ones my mom made so many times when we were growing up. But then later in the day I had another one after it had cooled to room temperature. What a difference! The coffee taste really came out but was not overpowering. YUMMY. Oh, and my daughter gives it a "so good I'll stuff it all in my mouth at once" rating. I think it's a keeper.

Starting a Blog...

I have a passion for baking. And I firmly believe that baking should involve real butter, real sugar, whipping cream, and no substitutes. I honestly don't understand the recipes that use applesauce instead of corn syrup, or try to "hide" vegetables in brownies. Really? If you're going to indulge, do it right and use the good stuff.

I used to feel cheated when a really good recipe took less than an hour to make. Baking to me should be an all-day affair where you use all available counter space, mixing bowls and pans (and my husband would walk in the kitchen and turn around quickly to get out of the mess). However, since my daughter was born, I have found the beauty in recipes that I can prepare in the span of one nap time. So on this blog you will find some fast and delicious recipes, and some more involved recipes (and you know that I had help around the house for those!). I'll be posting some new recipes with ratings of whether I'll make them again, and some old-standbys that our family loves.

So... enjoy, drool, try out some recipes for yourself and let me know what you think. Bon appetit!