The Perfect Peanut Butter Cookie (with Chocolate of course)

If you know me (either in real life or through this blog) you’ll know that I take perfecting a particular thing very seriously. Most notably, I worked on my chocolate chip cookie for about three or four years until I got it right.   I was obsessed with creating the perfect chocolate sheet cake for birthday parties (and celebrations) for about the same until I discovered an author who mostly cracked the code.   For the longest time I have not been able to settle on a peanut butter cookie recipe, but using DuckDuckGo I found “Chelsea’s Messy Apron” and this recipe, which is everything, as the kids say.  Did I leave it alone?  No, because I’m obsessed with tweaking.  Also, the recipe called for smooth peanut butter, which I’m against, even it makes the cookie worse (it doesn’t).  Also, every time I make a cookie or cake now, I have to add three types of vanilla: vanilla powder, vanilla bean powder and vanilla extract (liquid).
The reviews for this cookie in my house have been unparalleled:  “Top five of all time” and “The best cookie you’ve ever made.”  Sure, the Coronavirus has us all sheltering in place, but you can’t ignore your public.
Ingredients
  • 2-2/3 cup white all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla powder
  • 1/16 tsp vanilla bean powder
  • 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, nearly melted  
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup Teddie creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup Teddie crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract 
  • Semi-sweet chocolate for drizzle
Instructions:
  1. Fit your stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Add both sugars and combine. Melt your butter mostly all the way in a microwave.  Add it to the sugars in a stand mixer and combine.
  2. Add  both peanut butters, almond extract, and vanilla extract and mix.  Add eggs, one at a time.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients: sifted flour, baking soda, salt, vanilla and vanilla bean powder.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix to combine: don’t OVERMIX.
  5. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Set your oven to 325 degrees—this is a low temp, short-cook cookie recipe.
  7. Using a the 1 inch scoop, place balls onto parchment paper your cookie sheet. Don’t crowd, you’ll have to make multiple batches.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and keep on cookie sheet for 5 minutes.
  9. Once cool, melt chocolate (probably using your microwave) I like Ghiradelli melting wafers, but you can use any semi-sweet chocolate you have.  Drizzle over cookies and serve.

Anatomy of a Perfect Chocolate Cookie

So I was asked to make ‘chocolate chocolate cookies’ and quickly found that there are as many variations on that as there are on chocolate chip cookies, including with and without flour (both good). I finally found one I loved at the website Crispy Waffle (love that name). Making it a few times consecutively I found that the author’s conclusion that milk chocolate was resulting in a cookie that was too sweet was not my experience. The dutch cocoa and bittersweet chocolate did result in a dark cookie that I liked, but using semi-sweet chocolate chips made them edgy and almost bitter. So I went back to milk chocolate chips, and being a vanilla addict, I was compelled to make it a triple-chocolate/triple-vanilla cookie, by adding more vanilla extract (tablespoon instead of a teaspoon) as well as two other kinds of vanilla (vanilla powder and the seeds of a vanilla bean). To retain and amplify my chocolate flavor, I added a teaspoon of Dave’s Coffee Syrup, which is a favorite addition to nearly any chocolate thing I make. Now in danger of being too smooth, I found a final topping of sea salt kept the cookie well-balanced.

Also, perhaps due to the addition of more liquid (coffee syrup, vanilla)  I found I needed 15 minutes to get the right soft, chewy texture at 325 degrees. At 13 minutes the cookies barely set up and were living in the dangerous limbo between cookie dough and cookie. I’m not saying my oven is properly calibrated, so you’ll have to experiment for yourself if you want something more akin to a brownie-lava like thing or soft and chewy cookie.

Cookie Name Still Under Development: Cookie Cube, Triple-Triple? makes about 20 cookies using a 1 and 1/3 scoop

Ingredients

  • 4-5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I have a big block so this is at best an estimate).
  • 1 stick sweetened (unsalted) butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp of Dave’s Coffee Syrup (or you can substitute actual coffee)
  • 1 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla powder
  • Seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa
  • heavy 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • pinch of flaky sea salt for the top

 

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the flour, cocoa powder, vanilla powder, baking soda, chocolate chips and salt. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter and 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate together. I did this in a microwave, so yes, I’m a hack.
  4. Mix the chocolate and butter until it combines—from a greasy wet mess to something dark, brown and satin-y.
  5. When cool, add the vanilla and coffee (or coffee syrup). Whisk thoroughly.
  6. In your stand mixer, combine the eggs and sugar and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  
  7. Add the chocolate/coffee/vanilla mixture until well combined.
  8. Add the flour and stir by hand.  Maybe one or two “pulse” mixes to ensure everything is well mixed. Don’t OVERMIX!
  9. I used the 1 1/3 scoops which I found gave me about 20 cookies. If you use a smaller scoop you’ll likely need to adjust the time in the oven, too. 
  10. Bake for 15 minutes.   Cookies are best ‘underbaked’ so they are chewy.  When you take them out of your oven, depending on their condition, yo might want them to cool on the cookie sheet (more cooking) or remove them.  Again, it’s a personal choice. Everyone in my house wants to eat them as soon as they can be picked up (about five minutes). 

Gluten-free Oatmeal Craisin Cookies

GF Oatmeal Craisin CookiesI am continually challenged to bake things so that I may serve a constituency that may be have issues with meat products and/or wheat products, so I am always looking to solve the ‘this is good but not as good as the meat/wheat version.”  If we are going to bake something, it’s going to have to be the best version of whatever it is.  So it is with Oatmeal cookies, that I have been working on for two years already.  I use the King Arthur measure-for-measure gluten free flour, which I think is a revelation for baking, if you are baking for someone who is simply looking to live gluten-free.  For someone with a serious gluten allergy (etc.) special care needs to be taken with all of your tools, ingredients and even you.   That’s challenging, so take this recipe with a grain of gluten.

INGREDIENTS

  • 18 tablespoons softened butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2-1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1.5 cups craisins, soaked in vanilla-water*
  • 3 cups quaker oats, ground in the cuisinart
  • vanilla powder/vanilla paste to taste (optional)
  • maple syrup for basting

 

DIRECTIONS

  • Heat oven to 375°F.
  • In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy.
  • Add eggs and vanilla; beat well; until no longer gritty
  • Combine all dry ingredients: gluten-free flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt oats and craisins; mix briefly by hand to combine (and maybe one or two seconds using your stand mixer)
  • Use a 1.5 scoop and make big cookies.
  • Bake at 375 for 10 minutes and finish at 350 for 5-10 minutes.  (Depends on if you want really soft or crispy cookies, and the size you scooped them at)
  • Remove from oven, and after about two minutes, baste with maple syrup.

 

 

Go To Meringues!

I love meringues because once you get the hang of it, they’re pretty easy to get right, and they can literally be whipped up pretty quickly (even though they take a while to finish).  For a dessert, they’re relatively low-calorie, they’re naturally gluten-free and people can eat lots of them.  You can’t say that about too many cookies, and definitely not for any desserts I make.    There is nothing wrong with a plain meringue but I find I like to add more vanilla than is traditional (1 tablespoon vs. 1-2 teaspoons) and other stuff, usually coffee flavor or syrup. For syrup I use Dave’s Coffee syrup, which is fantastic.  Again, you can flavor them however you like but remember; add the flavor after you have gotten some foaming in your mixer.  Don’t try without electric beaters or a stand mixer, your wrists will never be the same.   Lastly don’t forget to add the salt!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 4-5  large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Optional (not all together)
    • 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
    • 1 tablespoon of Dave’s Coffee Syrup
    • 1/8 tsp Butterscotch extract
    • Sprinkles/sanding sugar

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper
  2. Separate your egg whites from yolks and set aside.  Legend has it if you get any yolk in your whites they will not become stiff peaks.
  3. Using a stand mixer, beat egg whites for about 60 seconds, then add your cream of tartar.  Continue to mix and slowly add your sugar and salt.  When you have added all the sugar, continue to mix and slowly add other ingredients like vanilla, coffee syrup or butterscotch extract.
  4. Keep beating until soft peaks form and continue to beat until the meringue is stiff and glossy.
  5. Use a piping bag (this picture is of a straight tube, but Pipe the meringues onto the pans using a pastry bag and star tip. Alternatively, drop meringues by large teaspoonfuls onto the pans.
  6. Bake the meringues for 1 hour, then turn off the oven /heat and allow the meringues another hour in the stove.  Tase for desired crispiness.

 

Vegan Carrot Cake (with Vegan “Cream Cheese” Frosting)

The amazing thing about this cake is that it was probably as good as any non-vegan dish I’ve ever made. It’s a modified version of the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Simple Carrot Cake.  When trying to determine the best way to make the carrot cake vegan, I saw many recipes that used lots of ingredients that I had never cooked with, and so I eschewed them all for a recipe that used oil instead of butter. The CI recipe had both a food processor version and a stand-mixer version.  Having lost my food processor’s shredding blade, I opted for the stand mixer, which meant I was committed to shredding six large carrots.

Replacing the eggs is easy; everything else is vegan-friendly, until we get to the frosting.  Frosting is usually made of lots of dairy ingredients.  The CI recipe calls for cream cheese and sour cream.  I reviewed a few recipes that required white-flesh sweet potatoes, which i nearly made until I realized the tofutti and earth balance mix was easier to fail first at.   Many recipes that used this cautioned that with earth balance to use the baking sticks (quasi-butter shaped) instead of the tub. Also, that you should use only half a stick, which is what I did.   A number of recipes also suggested adding lemon to approximate the ‘sour’ cream cheese taste and I thought the maple would be a good touch, and I was right.  I use a lot of vanilla and always a pinch of salt, but the flavor is always up to the baker.  Make the frosting, and the put it in the fridge to cohese.   Frost the cake when both have had time to cool down.

CARROT CAKE INGREDIENTS 

  • 2 1⁄2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
  • teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1⁄4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg*
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon table salt (heaping)
  • 3 cups shredded carrots (about six carrots)
  • 1 ½ cups canola oil
  • 1 1⁄2 cups granulated sugar (10 1/2 ounces)
  • 1⁄2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • Egg Replacer (substitute for 4 large eggs)**
  • 1 Cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans***

    *Don’t ever used pre-ground nutmeg, what are you, an animal?
    **I use 2 tablespoons of warm liquid for each sifted tablespoon of egg replacer. I also add 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract.   After you mix thoroughly, allow mixture to become cohesive before you add it to the other ingredients.
    ***CI recommends adding 10 minutes of extra baking time if you add raisins and pecans. Basically, check your cake and if a wooden stick comes out clean, it’s ready.

CREAM CHEESE INGREDIENTS

  • 8 oz Tofutti “Better than Cream Cheese” spread
  • 2 oz Earth’s Balance Bar
  • Three Cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons of Vanilla
  • ~ 1 tsp/tablespoon of Lemon Juice
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup (or one tsp maple syrup extract)
  • 1/8 tsp salt

INSTRUCTIONS

For the cake

  • Grease a 9×13 pan, place parchment paper in the bottom, set aside.  Turn your oven to 350.
  • Sift and mix your flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.
  • Peel and shred your carrots.
  • Mix the oil with the two sugars for about two minutes, taking note of an unbearable lightness of being and also of the ingredients.
  • Add the egg replacer and mix for 30-60 seconds.
  • Add the shredded carrots and dry ingredients.  Mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula; finish with a few turns of the stand mixer.
  • Pour into 9×13 pan.  Hit the pan on your counter to remove air bubbles.
  • Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

For the frosting

  • Whip the tofutti and earth balance together.
  • Add the powdered sugar, mix.
  • Add the maple syrup and vanilla.
  • Add the lemon and salt, keep mixing.
  • When completely mixed and tasting great (and you’ll know), transfer to a air-tight bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour.
  • Frost the cake.

My Magnolia Lemon Bars

Lemon Bar, Lemon Bar Recipe
Delicious lemon filling reminiscent of a Hostess Lemon Pie. 

It is no exaggeration to say that my father shaped me culinarily. My love of spicy, International foods comes from him, as does my insatiable curiosity for anything in a bottle with a foreign language on it.  (This has led to an unsustainable refrigerator door problem, but more on that later).

Many a morning there was a demonstration of this hot sauce, that salami, France’s most popular caper, and and perhaps the breakfast of champions.   He had an artisan’s palate but also a taste for the common thing,  like a taco, slice of pizza or a Hostess lemon pie.

As a family, we obsessed for decades over the Hostess Lemon Pie.  Why? Probably because of its inside, which contained a near-perfect lemon meringue filling, its flavor straddling the razor’s edge between the sweet and sour line and its outside: a sugar-glazed crunchy and soft pie crust that never crumbled.  (That was 35 years ago– I make no claims for today’s product).   Trying to recreate that taste and mouth-feel of the lemon filling (less so the crust) has been a goal of mine for quite a while.

This recipe makes lemon bars that come pretty close, although it’s up to you whether you want to take some sugar out or add some lemon for extra tartness.  In my last attempt, I used a combination of bottled organic lemon juice and fresh squeezed.  You must have a lemon squeezer to even attempt this. I recommend this one because years of fishing out bitter lemon pits has taught me it’s a best practice.

After looking through about two dozen recipes, many in really old cookbooks, I stopped at the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. Since I have daughter named Magnolia and she is my junior sous chef, it seemed appropriate to appropriate their recipe. I misread the recipe though and made the crust they envisioned for a jelly roll pan in my 9 x 13 pan.  So, too much crust (as the photo above reveals).  I want more lemon filling than crust, so I have conveniently halved their recipe here.  (For pop-tart like crusts, you can try the hand pie recipe)

Also, I found that I needed not only more lemon but some vanilla and salt to add depth of flavor to the bars; I want the filling to delight, not just amuse you.

Crust

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4  tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Lemon

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • ~6 teaspoons lemon zest

Directions

It’s simple: make the crust and cook it.  Make the filling while the crust is cooling and add it.  Then bake everything together.  Then try not to eat it while you’re waiting for it to cool.  You can’t do it.

  • Preheat the over to 350 degrees.
  • Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper; spray with PAM.
  • Combine crust ingredients and when combined, press down with wax paper/cling wrap or a sprayed-with-pam spatula to form crust of consistent height.
  • Bake for about 13 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from oven and begin working on filling.
  • Beat all “Lemon” ingredients together in the bowl of an electric mixer.  When fully incorporated, pour over baked crust.  (There is another lemon filling like pudding that involves stovetop hijinks but this isn’t it).
  • Bake new combined crust and lemon filling at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until filling is set.
  • Let cool in pan, and then if there’s any left, chill for 30 minutes.
  • Sift powdered sugar over remains before serving.

Blueberry Muffins…et tu?

Blueberry muffins with a sugar top

Summer in Massachusetts means berries (it means other things but this is a baking blog). Because strawberries aren’t great for casual baking (except for Strawberry Rhubarb pie, which is how all of this got started) it’s all about Blueberries.  Blueberry Muffins are so common that I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t excited about them.  Your standard blueberry muffin at a Starbucks, Panera, etc. is basically a mechanism for the delivery of sugar.   Even if the muffin (read: cake) is good, the blueberries themselves whether fresh or frozen, have all the taste profile of a winter tomato.   Which is to say they are nothing but blue in color, gel in texture and zip in flavor.   Some bakers avoid this by using frozen blueberries (picked at peak season) or wild Maine blueberries but it rarely makes an appreciable difference.   For this reason if I have to eat a muffin I usually go for the corn or coffee cake.

But it’s July and there are incredible blueberries around and blueberry pie isn’t my favorite and blueberry pancakes are great but labor-intensive and a caloric car-crash (especially when you add the bacon and maple syrup) so it’s blueberry muffins.  It’s a regional obligation.   But how to avoid the problems of blueberry muffins of the past?  Especially perhaps the New England legend of Jordan Marsh?  The answer was found in another recipe, by Sally’s Baking Addiction.  Starting with King Arthur’s Department Store recipe, I found ways to shore up its shortcomings with Sally’s.    Neither of them in my opinion, used enough sugar (it’s more than a cup, but I’ll leave that to you– probably 1 and 1/4 cups) and each suggested milk where I think buttermilk is better.  Of course I always use a tablespoon of vanilla where they call for a teaspoon and you can probably always go north on the salt.  Lastly, I felt that lemon zest is a great addition to anything that might be ‘cloyingly’ sweet and a little bit of nutmeg should nearly always accompany cinnamon.

Three last things:

  1. CRISPY TOPS ARE AWESOME. Sally’s Baking Addiction had the world-rocking suggestion to bake the muffins at a higher temperature for a short period of time— this has a ‘searing’ effect, like in cooking meat.  That plus the course sugar result in a crispy top– not the soft top that years of sprinkling a sugar-cinnamon topping have resulted in.
  2. TOSS YOUR BERRIES. I also made note that in an interview with Jordan Marsh’s muffin man WCVB anchor Maria Stephanos reported that you must toss the blueberries in flour so they don’t sink to the bottom.  Her piece here.
  3. DON’T OVERMIX. Don’t overmix ever but especially after you’ve combined wet and dry ingredients and then you go to fold in the blueberries.  Don’t overmix!

INGREDIENTS

 

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1-1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/2-3 cups blueberries (washed, dried and tossed thoroughly in flour)
  • Sparkling sugar for topping  (sparkling sugar is coarse and different from other sugars you might use in cooking– it looks like kosher salt.  I have a rock-vanilla sugar and several colors that I picked up on sale but most commonly King Arthur and other fine baking supply companies have white coarse sugar that is excellent).

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin and line the tin with papers.
  2. Beat together the oil and sugar until well combined.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time.  
  4. Add the vanilla.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt.
  6. Combine wet and dry ingredients; fold in the blueberries. DON’T OVERMIX.
  7. Scoop the batter into the tins; knock the muffin pan to eliminate air pockets.
  8. Sprinkle sparkling sugar on top.  Use a lot, it’s worth it.
  9. Bake the muffins for 5 minutes at 425; then for 25 minutes at at 375, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean (of batter, it almost certainly will be blue).
  10. Remove the muffins from the oven, and let them cool for five minutes in the tin.
  11. Yield: 12 muffins.

Perfect Rice Krispy Treats!

Rice Krispy Treat ChocolateIn this blog, we always strive to make the routine extraordinary, and Rice Krispy treats are a case study.  No one would argue that they are not a decades-old fan-favorite,  a staple for the egg and gluten-free and probably the most popular ‘bring-your-own’ at PTAs and bake sales across the country.    There are a few issues that nearly always affect the enjoyment of these ubiquitous ‘baked’ treats.  Such as:

  1. Bad mouth feel: Made with stale cereal
  2. Too hard: Not enough marshmallow
  3. Boring: Zero flavor; or a tiring homogeny of flavor
  4. Greasy: too much butter
  5. Loose: too much marshmallow

I confess, in my years of making these I have encountered (i.e. caused) all of the above problems.   There are slight differences in recipes on the Rice Krispy box and the Stay-Puft marshmallow bags, not to mention the Internet.  Everyone has different “twists” and tweaks to make but I wanted something that was not just good but PERFECT.   I did briefly experiment with using Cocoa Krispies and Fruity Pebbles once for a tri-fecta of different kinds and different flavors, but I found that the artificial flavors of these cereals created a terrible aftertaste.

Also, there a number of different marshmallows on the market ranging from the Stay-Puft brand to Vegan-friendly types, and of course, if you have patience, lots of sugar, time and a candy thermometer, it’s not that hard to make them on your own. But I digress.

The Breakthrough: I found that mixing in chocolate (Specifically this) cereal, the treats had a varied, and better flavor profile.  Of course if you are a reader of this blog you know that I added vanilla and salt as well.  And of course, used more marshmallows.  Lastly, I have an aversion to making anything in an 8×8 pan, though I can’t explain why, but it leads me to only want to make things in a 9×13 pan.

Ingredients:

  1. 4.5 cups of Rice Krispies cereal
  2. 2 cups of Chocolate Koala Crisp cereal
  3. 60 StayPuft marshmallows (that’s 1 1/2 bags)
  4. 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  5. At least one tablespoon of McCormick natural vanilla extract
  6. A pinch, or up 1/8th tsp of salt to taste

 

Directions:

  • Spray a 9×13 pan with PAM or the equivalent.  Add parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, completely combine Rice Krispies and Chocolate Krispies.
  • Melt the butter in a dutch oven.
  • Add 60 marshmallows; stir until completely melted.
  • Add salt; vanilla, turn off heat, or turn to low (depending on your stove)
  • Add krispy mix, one cup at a time.   (It’s helpful to have two people doing this).
  • When desired consistency has been achieved, turn out contents of dutch oven into 9 x 13 pan.
  • Spray a spatula with pam and level the mixture.
  • Cool
  • Turn onto a cutting surface and cut into small squares; this will allow people to eat more of them which is better than people eating one and longing for more.
  • Place extras in a ziploc bag.  Add to lunches or bring to office as necessary.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Vanilla Maple Frosting

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes
Though Ireland is rich in heritage, I must say that my experience with both the nation and the holiday has been limited to savory experiences.   Needing to come up with something for an office pot luck, I turned to the world of baking to find something good to bring.   Apparently, putting Guinness Stout in cakes and bread is done quite widely, or at very least, lots of people write recipes about this combination.   Having read quite a few of them, I determined two things. One, I needed to buy some stout (and had no idea if that would be challenging on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, but then I remembered I live in Boston) and two that I was probably going to make cupcakes, not a cake.    I figured since beer-baking was new, I’d want to try it out before I shared it with a crowd.  You don’t really want to start slicing a cake just to see if tastes good.  In any case, they came out wonderfully and even my wife said they were as good or better than my signature best chocolate cake ever, which for me, was liking finding a pot of a gold at the end of rainbow. 

Ingredients/Cupcakes

Makes 24 Cupcakes.

  • 1 cup Samuel Smith Chocolate stout
  • 10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa 
  • 1/2 cup regular unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 + 1/4 cups superfine sugar
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1.5 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2+1/8 tsp of salt

Ingredients/Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp maple extract or a tablespoon of maple syrup

Directions

For the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray cupcake pan and use liners.

  1. In a saucepan, combine stout and butter, melt and then cool.
  2. Whisk together sifted cocoa and superfine sugar and add to stout-butter combo.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well.
  4. Add to stout mixture.
  5. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
  6. Add to stout mixture.
  7. Whisk or just combine; use a #2 scoop to fill your cupcake trays.
  8. Whack your tray to reduce air pockets, place in oven for 22 minutes

For the frosting:Make sure ingredients are at room temperature

  1. Cream butter and cream cheese together.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar.
  3. Add vanilla, maple syrup extract and heavy cream, add a pinch of salt.
  4. Mix until smooth.

Transfer frosting to piping bag (or equivalent) and frost cupcakes.

Oatmeal Cookies: Third Time’s a Charm

oatmeal cookie dough on a cookie sheetMany of my readers know about my white-whale like obsession with making an oatmeal cookie like those found at Petsi’s, a bakery in Somerville, MA.  I have detailed in previous cookie recipes I have written here and here.  In those recipes I discuss how I discovered the missing ingredient was butterscotch extract (heartbreakingly discontinued by Frontier Co-op). However good the cookies may have been, they were not EXACTLY right for some reason.  This is despite soaking cranberries, using bread flour, and so much more.  Baking has brought out my inner competitive spirit, so I cannot rest until I have cracked the code, and I think I have finally cracked the code.

How? Unlike the other recipes, I started again from the beginning, and by that I mean I did not use my own previous recipes as a base, but experimented with others— I started with the Cook’s Illustrated/Baking Illustrated recipe for “Chewy Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies.” Of course, I changed it a lot since I like cranberries instead of raisins and completely reject their assumption that cinnamon should be jettisoned in favor of nutmeg. And of course, I added Frontier Coop Butterscotch extract, which was the best butterscotch extract anyone makes anywhere.  Aside from that, I had to make the following three changes:

  1. Ground Oatmeal! One thing that was stopping me was the use of whole oats.  All of the recipes and recipe writers that I respect say to use whole oats because they are better for you and have a better texture.  Those things are true, but after sampling and resampling Petsi’s cookies (what I do for you, readers) I realized that the cookie texture did not seem like mine, ergo not whole oats.   So, I ground whole oats in the cuisinart (not till dust, but no longer whole).  Bingo! Added a great flavor and texture that didn’t feel like someone trying to make me eat oats but not telling me!
  2. More Fat! Their cookies are soft in the middle and crispy outside.  I figure they have some other liquid or fat besides butter.  Oil?  Cream cheese?  Lard? Coconut oil? Many of these things were appealing thoughts, but ultimately they all changed the texture or flavor too much.  Through research I came across a solution: Sour cream.  Doesn’t change the flavor, but added a textural note that was heavily desired.
  3. Vanilla Paste!  Oatmeal cookie recipes NEVER have vanilla in them, but I don’t know why.  Vanilla makes everything better and my love has deepened when I found Vanilla bean paste, which is great for when you don’t want to add a tablespoon of liquid to your recipe but a plasma like paste is perfect.

Then I was ready.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 16 tablespoons butter (softened)
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups quaker whole rolled oats, ground by pulsing them in a food processor
  • 1/4 tsp butterscotch extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

 

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk your dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and set aside.
  3. Chop or grind walnuts, add them and cranberries to flour mixture.
  4. In a stand mixer, cream your butter and sour cream about three minutes.
  5. Add both sugars and mix until fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs, one a time.
  7. Add the vanilla paste and butterscotch extract.
  8. Add dry  ingredients to the wet ingredients until just combined.
  9. Use a 2-inch scoop to form your cookies.
  10. Bake for about 22 minutes, until the edges are just browned.
  11. Let cool for five minutes.

 

Oatmeal Cookie