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sugar cookie love

November 2nd, 2011 | 3 Comments »

It’s November, so that means one thing in the blogging world.

 

What’s on YOUR plate for November??

{{And you thought I meant Thanksgiving, didn’t you?}}

That’s my cute little badge for NaBloPoMo 2011, which is blog lingo for National Blog Posting Month. You post every day for a month. That’s all it is. It’s also National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, an epic adventure in which you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. If I had the month free with zero obligations, I might give that one a shot. That’s a lot of words, isn’t it?

I’ve done NaBloPoMo twice; in 2008, when I highlighted a different food holiday each day for the month of November, and again last year, in 2010 when I culled through the 4-1/2 years of archived posts on my site and re-introduced some favorites. That’s my plan this year as well. There is A LOT of good content in my archives, recipes that are perfect for this time of year that no one finds anymore, plus with Just Write Tuesdays, I’ve got more than enough content to fill 30 days in a row. Piece o’ cake.

{{by the way, my sweet husband Mike made that sweet badge for me. He’s awesome that way.
And he accepts food for payment!! Hi honey!!}}

Today is about cookies, though. Sugar Cookies to be exact. It is, hands down, my all time favorite cookie and I don’t say that lightly. There are a lot of amazing cookies out there; chewy Oatmeal Raisin, decadent Chocolate Cookies, Pumpkin cookies with thick cream cheese frosting. There are no limits to what can be scooped up and baked on a sheet pan. But a good sugar cookie is one of life’s simplest pleasures; buttery, chewy and rich with vanilla, I can tell a sugar cookie made with love over a mass-produced butter-flavored fake any day of the week. My Sugar Cookies evoke sighs of joy, and eye rolls and ‘Mmmmmm’ responses from everyone who tries them. And it’s a well honed taste too, going back to my childhood, and a beloved bakery from the golden days of neighborhood bakeries, where a sugar cookie always waited for me. If you want to read the whole story, please go <HERE>

And if you just want the recipe, here it is.

 

Sugar Cookies


1 c. softened butter, no substitutes (reserve one of the wrappers)
1-1/2 c. white sugar  (plus more for rolling)
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
2-3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Heat the oven to 375° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place about 1/3 of a cup of white sugar on a small plate and set aside.

Cream butter and the 1-1/2 cups of sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add in egg and vanilla extract and blend thoroughly until smooth and creamy. You really can’t overmix at this point. You want a base that is smooth and creamy as it makes the end result stupendous. Stir together flour, baking soda and powder, and with mixer on low, gradually add to butter until fully incorporated and mixture is in large, somewhat dry chunks. It will not be a smooth batter, but granular, like pie crust. The dough should hold together when pressed between your fingertips. If it doesn’t, take the bowl off the mixing stand and turn the dough gently with your hands, pressing any loose flour in to the dough to incorporate. Chill the dough for 20-30 minutes before scooping. It’s a lot easier to work with that way.

Using a small scoop (I used a #60 sized) press dough tight into a ball and drop onto cookie sheet. With your butter wrapper, wipe the bottom of a smooth glass, then dip the glass onto the sugar you’ve set aside. Gently press down on the cookie dough, dipping the glass before each one. If any dough falls loose, lightly push the pieces into the sides of the cookie.

The cookies will bake up just fine if you don’t wish to flatten them; that’s just my preferred method. Bake for 8-10 minutes, reversing trays from front to back, and swapping top to bottom about halfway through. I’ve tried this with the convection feature on my oven and they browned too quickly so I don’t recommend that method.

I like to remove the cookies right way, on the parchment to a cooling rack. These are pretty sturdy once baked, and will slip off the parchment easily with a gentle nudge. You simply must eat at least a few of them warm. Of course, a glass of cold milk, or a nice cup of coffee or tea is an excellent accompaniment. The cookies will become firmer as they sit for a day or two.

 

KATE’S NOTES: I began using the super-fine baking sugar for all my baking needs and find that it makes for better creaming and a nicer crumb on the finished product. Most grocers carry it in the baking aisle, in a sturdy carton. It’s called ‘Bakers Sugar’ and it’s very, very fine grain. I used it in these cookies and they were even better than I recall.

The addition of a bit of nutmeg (about 1/2 a teaspoon) in the batter makes for wonderful flavor, or you can add ground nutmeg to the sugar used for rolling the cookies in. 

when you just know

March 30th, 2011 | Comments Off

Little in life is predictable. And this is especially true during the month of March in Minnesota. Despite the warmth and rain that melted almost all of the 90″ of snow we’ve received this past Winter (because, officially it IS Spring!) we got socked with yet another snow storm that dumped a wide range of snow depths around the Twin Cities. And, obviously, generating a great deal of complaints from a state’s population that should be anything if not aware of what March can bring around these parts.

But is is Spring, after all. The sun is high enough to melt this stuff fairly quickly. One would hope, anyway. According to my gardening journal, last year at this time, the ice was out on the lakes in my area. We aren’t even close to that this year.

My boy was on Spring Break recently. To him, a week off school is a huge sigh of relief. This kid can’t wait to get beyond the expected and into what he truly wants to do. It was also a week to sleep late, and to spend time with me, just one on one. And on a quiet Tuesday, we did just that. Mentioning I had a gift card for Panera Bread, his face lit up with excitement and I knew there needed to be no more discussion on where we would enjoy lunch that day, after a trip to the chiropractor and a quick run through Target.

I’ve never been in a Panera at lunchtime when it’s not insanely crowded, weekend, or weekday alike. People love the place, for so many reasons. At our recent Twitter party for Panera, the TweetChat room I was in was relentlessly spitting out tweets from eager participants, so many of them, in fact, that Panera was trending on Twitter that day. And I was struggling to keep up with the words speeding by my eyes. What do they love about the place? The breads. The pastries. The muffins. The cookies. The soups. The salads. The sandwiches. The breads. Everything, it seems. You look around the room, during the crowded lunch hour and you see a wide range of people who are blissed out over their meal; elderly couples sharing coffee and rolls, families with a table full of trays, napkins, drink cups, loud conversation, shouting children and parents watching their kids enjoying a good meal. I saw folks engaged in a quick business lunch, carefully brushing crumbs off the suits and skirts of the corporate world. And it was clear that my boy wasn’t the only young person radiating Spring Break happiness. The place was full of kids.

One aspect of the Panera Twitter Party that I took away was how many parents really loved the fact that Panera offered a better option for their kids than fast food joints. Kids can be so fickle with their appetites, but take them to Panera and they’ve got dozens of options to satisfy them. Who doesn’t love a bowl of Creamy Wild Rice and Chicken soup? The thick noodles in their Chicken Noodle Soup just shout out ‘Comfort food!’. And then there are sandwich options to quell even the pickiest of eaters. And of course, when all else fails, there’s Mac and Cheese, PBJ sandwiches and Grilled Cheese. You can get hot Panini sandwiches. There’s basic green salads available, and a wealth of varied options that include Thai Chopped Chicken, Asian Sesame Chicken and a Fuji Apple Chicken Salad. Calorie counts are clearly listed, yet another appealing aspect of having a meal there. People like to know what they’re eating; they like to know what goes in their mouths, how it affects them and where they stand with their food.

And of course, Panera offers a full espresso service, coffee and tea by the Republic of Tea company, which has some amazing flavors of teas. You can get fruit smoothies, made with Stonyfield Farms Organic yogurt, one of the best commercial yogurts available. And every Panera has free WiFi for surfing, or working. Then there’s that cozy fireplace to gather around when the snow falls. And falls. And falls.

Griffin and I indulged fully that day for lunch, taking advantage of a free cookie from my PaneraRewards card. For every visit to Panera, they swipe your card and the rewards start piling up. A free espresso drink. A free bagel. Free pastries. And best of all, it’s free to join. Just grab a card at any Panera and fill out the information on their website.

He always orders the same thing when he goes; a bowl of Wild Rice soup and half a Sierra Turkey sandwich. He gets chips as a side with his soup, those deliciously crunchy kettle chips that are perfect for dredging through a bowl of hearty soup. Given his slight exacting nature, he always takes apart his sandwich to rearrange the filling. “It’s more even that way.” is what he always says, plus he can remove the offensive raw onions and most of the greens. For my lunch, I ordered an Italian Combo sandwich, thick with roast beef, turkey, ham and salami (and yes, I deconstructed it to ‘make it more even’ as well.) and also half a Chicken Cobb salad. We shared a Mint Crinkle cookie afterwards, marveling at the crunchy chewy edges surrounding the soft pliable center; cookie nirvana, if you ask me. A perfect mix.

The nice thing about that sort of lunch with my boy is knowing how happy it makes him to spend time with me, and with eating food that he really loves. We could be sharing a pizza or hoagies, or tacos, chips and salsa, but more importantly, we’re sharing time together. Sometimes we talk endlessly. Other times, we’re both just content to be right there next to one another, silently appreciating the companionship. He may be a teenager that strives for his own dependence, but it also seems that the further he stretches in an attempt to gain his own footing in the world, the more he needs to know, without a doubt, that we’re there to fall back on, regardless. A lunch, a shared cookie, the menial task of running errands and managing our time during my days off, it all matters. He never needs to say anything to me about what he needs; I just know. Like I know of a good place to have a decent lunch that I’m happy to feed my teenager, the time we need together is instinctive. We gravitate towards it naturally. Like everyday people to the food they can trust.

DISCLAIMER:
I was financially compensated for writing this post, and provided with the gift card that bought our meal.
All comments, claims and opinions are mine, and were not influenced by Panera or it’s associates.
Get Connected!
Twitter handle: @panerabread
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/panerabrea

 

chocolate toll house bars

February 7th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Mmm hmm….that’s right. Chocolate. Toll house. Bars. An unlikely sisterhood of fudgey brownie and the famous toll house recipe baked into a pan. I’m really a cookie lover at heart, but sometimes I just don’t want to scoop and bake repeatedly. Sometimes I just need to cream, stir, blend and fold myself into contentment, the end result being more easily achieved than what requires parchment, trays and repetitive movement. Take one recipe for your favorite version of a Toll House bar and stir some good cocoa powder into the dry goods. Take a bite and sigh with contentment. See? I would never steer you wrong.

I can bake. I love to bake. My lifeline to my guardian angel, my mother, lies in my mixer and flour container. With a spatula. I have no fonder memories of her than baking with her, the sunlight streaming in her kitchen window. I should recall her laugh, which was loud and shrieky, I mean, have you heard mine? She caused that, no doubt. My brother too. When he and I laugh together, people cover their ears. They wince. We get asked to be quiet in movie theaters, and we shock people. But her laugh, while amazing and warm was just a blue ribbon pinned on the strong and capable woman that she was, and that I strive to be. I may bend in the breezes, or twist against the savages of life, but no matter what happens, I am still the person she raised me to be, no more or less. With a spatula in hand. And cookies. They were her favorite. She made pies, bundt cakes (ooh, lime green ones sometimes. Eeek.) and she made bars too. But cookies were her specialty. Now I could do without the nuts that she loved, and to this day I haven’t been able to abide by the walnut, so overpowering was that in my youth and usually rancid if I am able to judge now. She put it in everything, and I picked them out of everything. If I was woe to forget to throw them away, the pile left behind would elicit one of her pretend indignant shrieks of “KATE!!!” because she just knew me that well. It was always me who carefully and diligently despised her walnuts. Or maybe my siblings were just better at remembering to dispose of the evidence.

One thing that Griffin does love to do is make cookies now and again. I like to keep everything on hand in case he gets a hankering for a homemade treat. The other day he was all set to make some Toll House bars when he discovered we didn’t have enough butter. With the saddest sigh that he could muster, he replaced all the ingredients he’d taken out and silently went upstairs. Mommy guilt overcame me. Although we had a few options available in the form of frozen commercial cookie dough, there is one thing that my teenager has inherited from me that sticks like glue: when he gets his mind on something he wants, he can’t settle for anything less. So the next day I went to the store and bought a lot of butter. Then when he was gone one night, I made a pan of bars and on a whim, added cocoa to the flour mixture.

My mom is probably smiling right about now.

Are there any alchemist secrets to baking? I’m really not one to ask, as for me baking is like looking at my right hand. It’s so much a part of me that I don’t recognize what might make it special. Or difficult. But plenty of people struggle with it. Baked goods fall flat, are dense and hard, they don’t rise enough or they balloon out of control. The fall when they come out of the oven. You know what? Mine do too. Even after a lifetime of experience, I can still often see fault in my bars. This pan, for instance, was so beautiful and fluffy when I pulled it out of the oven, and 20 minutes later, the center had collapsed like a mutual fund. It happens to me all the time but it never stops me from trying. They taste the same. And really, when I die, no one is going to be standing at my casket shaking their heads morosely and saying “Her bars always collapsed. It was so sad.”

The cocoa gives these familiar and comforting bars an added depth. While Toll House bars are nice and all, they really lack the pizazz of their more colorful and opulent baked counterparts. They’re reliable and sound but they’ve been left behind for everything sweet and dotted with sea salt, doused in browned butter, lavender essence and gold leaf. Oh Toll House, those new millenium treats smirk,  you are so 1975. Place them on a table with something exotic, and the poor plate will get skimmed over. Turn it into a delicate brownie-like, cakey and soft square, and it will stand apart. If nothing else, it will just make your mouth pretty happy. In a less expensive way. And we like that, don’t we?

Chocolate Toll House Bars
by Kate, adapted from the original recipe. My version is a little different so read it through. Some new tips are included.

2-1/4 c. AP flour (i used half whole wheat flour)
1 t. baking soda
1/2  t. sea salt (this is a personal preference; I don’t like the taste of iodized salt in my baked goods. use what is right for you)
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 c. softened butter – NO substitutions (or at least don’t tell me about it)
1/2 c. EACH white sugar and brown sugar (firmly pack the brown)
2 eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/8 c. (or about 3 T. ) whole milk or cream (i used vanilla soymilk)
1  12-oz package Chocolate chips of choice (i use Ghiradelli semi sweets)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray. In a large measuring cup, whisk together all the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, or a stand mixer, blend the soft butter and both sugars until fluffy and light. Be sure to really beat these well. The more air you incorporate into this, the fluffier your finished product. Beat it, scraping the bowl occasionally, for at least 5 minutes. Longer if you can.

Add the eggs, vanilla and milk. Blend well. Now remove the beaters and scrape them into the bowl.

Add all the flour at once, and with a stiff rubber spatula, begin gently folding it into the butter mixture. Remember to scrape across the bottom of the bowl and gently turn it over. Don’t stir it or you’ll deflate all that air you beat into the butter. Watch what you’re doing and when you’ve incorporated about half the flour, stop folding and add in the chocolate chips at this point. Continue to fold the remaining flour into the mixture, along with the chocolate chips. There will be a single magical moment when it all comes together in a beautiful glossy homogenized mass, and at this point, make sure there is no flour at the bottom of the bowl and then stop folding. Scrape it into the prepared pan and gently spread it to the edges. It’s fine if it doesn’t look perfect. Bake it for about 25 minutes, checking with a toothpick to determine if it’s done. Remove pan and allow to cool before cutting.

KATE’S NOTES:
I know that all recipes for these bars tell you to incorporate all the flour and then fold in the chips. Somehow this has worked for decades, but once you incorporate the flour, the more you stir and mix it, the tougher it will get and the bars will come out denser than you might expect. If you add the chips partway through the flour step, the finished product is lighter and you get more distribution of the chips. If you’re like me, you prefer your chip ratio to be even, not clumped up in some spots more than others. Even with the beating and gentle folding, these bars collapsed but they aren’t dense, just moist and fudgey.

This recipe calls for less sugar than any recipe you’ll find in print. With the addition of the milk, and of course those chocolate chips, there really isn’t the need for that much sugar. I’ve realized as I get older and experiment with baking that many, many recipes are too sweet, and cutting back sugar is always a good thing, isn’t it?

And yes, most recipes don’t call for milk to be added but if you follow this one, the additional cocoa needs to be balanced by a little more moisture, and the milk adds a nice touch, making them sweeter with a bit of richness. Experiment with what you have on hand. Flavored coffee creamers might be lovely to add a hint of something extra. And if they fall while they cool, no one will notice because they taste simply amazing. Especially for breakfast with some really dark coffee.

Angel food cake croutons

February 28th, 2008 | 1 Comment »

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To make the croutons: Cube angel food cake and place on foil covered baking sheet. Place it as close under the broiler as your oven will allow and watch it carefully. The cubes will brown in seconds and can go from perfect to burnt and become smoke detector fodder in the blink of an eye. I kept the door ajar and crouched outside the oven watching it with an eagle eye. Remove the tray and turn the cubes to brown them evenly. Turn them into any imaginable form of dessert that you can come up with or just pop them in your mouth.

(jump for the Blueberry Sauce recipe) Come in to my kitchen…