Desserts

Sweet treats, involving sugar; likely cakes and cookies, and things that make people happy.

World's Best Apple Cake topped with Confectioner's SUgar

World’s Best Apple Cake (The best dessert that’s not chocolate or ice cream)

  • World's Best Apple Cake topped with Confectioner's SUgar

    The World’s Best Apple Cake, baked, and topped with confectioner’s sugar

    World's Best Apple Cake with Streusel Filling and Topping

    Apple Cake before baking–bundt pan and streusel showing

Of all the things people ask me to make, and I oblige, the World’s Best Apple Cake is at the top of the list (second only to the World’s Best Chocolate Cake).   Many apple baked goods suffer from a lack of cohesion— apple pies (and their ilk) often feature hard or brittle crusts with soft sugary apples in them.   When the crust and pie filling aren’t married (but crash into each other) there is a discordancy that I find highly unsatisfying.    On the other hand, the term apple cake brings up the idea of some kind of bad grandmotherly offering– some kind of dry, crumbly thing that has as much apple flavor as a dry martini has vermouth.

On the other hand, this cake has it all– deliciousness, moistness, crunchy yummy streusel topping, and of course, rich and real apple flavor. It comes from the The Cookie Shop and the original recipe is here.  Many recipes called “the best” aren’t even close, but this one really takes the cake (:]).  Seems like that recipe was adapted from an original Martha Stewart recipe (who got it from someone else) which confirms that everything has been done, but still it’s a great recipe.

However, as always, I found it necessary to make a few tweaks.

  1. I use slightly less cinnamon and more vanilla, salt and sugar.
  2. I only use Honey Crisp apples (in a pinch I’ll use Pink Lady or Fuji, but I try to stay on Honey Crisp).
  3. I added a streusel layer that I added to the bottom, the middle and the top (see recipe below).
  4. I have consistently found that baking time maximum is 75 minutes (the original recipe says 75-90 minutes).

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (the original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon but I can’t fit the tablespoon measure in the bottle of cinnamon, so I just take the easy way out).
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3-4 honey crisp apples (you can substitute your favorite apple, but HCs are the perfect balance of sweet-tart), chopped. [Editor’s note: probably three or four cups of chopped apples is the right amount]
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; set aside (you’ll have to empty it out after a while if it pools on the bottom)
  2. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream vegetable oil, sugar, and eggs; mix on high speed until satiny and lemon-colored, about five minutes.
  4. Add dry ingredients until just incorporated.
  5. Chop the apples by cutting the apple’s sides off and then dicing finely; you should end up with three-five cups of diced apple. (I leave the pieces rather large, but the size is up to you and your knife skills.   The apples cook all the way through so don’t worry about crunch factor).
  6. Add apples to batter; mix to combine. Add vanilla, mixing until incorporated.
  7. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven, and cool slightly on a wire rack.
  9. Invert cake onto rack; turn cake right-side up to cool completely on rack
  10. When cool, sift powdered sugar on top.  (Cookie shop shows the cake with sugar on top but doesn’t list it as a step or an ingredient; I have been asked to top the cake with cream cheese frosting but so far have refused).
Streusel Topping*:
1/4-1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 cup butter
pinch of salt
1/4-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8-1/4 tsp cinnamon
Combine pecans, flour, brown sugar, vanilla and unsalted butter and salt, to taste, in the Cuisinart or equivalent.
Grind to till combined, paste-like but not paste.
Lay in the bottom of the bundt pan; pour on batter about 1/3 full.  Add another “stripe” of streusel.”  Fill the bundt pan with the remaining batter, then top with the rest of the streusel topping.
*This is totally improvisational, and all amounts are approximate.  I usually don’t measure at this part, so you’ll have to find the amounts that work for you.  I find it hard to get it wrong.

Father’s Day Sugar Cake: Part Three of the Butterscotch Triology

sugar cake, perfect cake, father's day dessert, robert deutsch cake, simple dessert, perfect easy dessert, egg whites

Old Fashioned Sugar Cake as developed by the website chocolatechocolateandmore.com. Fantastic!

This simple and delicious dessert was made for Father’s Day, and is the third of my dessert recipes to feature butterscotch extract. (Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip cookies being the first and second). I’m not sure how I found this recipe (think it was through some kind of Pinterest investigation) but I am glad I did.  It was from a site called chocolatechocolateandmore.com, so you know it’s good!  Warning: it contains no chocolate.

The recipe was near-perfect, but as always, I had to go and mess with it.   A couple of tweaks were necessary, not least of all was the elimination of the cast-iron pan, as mine recently broke (snapped, really).  Of course, increasing the vanilla and salt levels (this worried me at the batter stage, but paid off at the cake stage).   Lastly, I added 1/8 tsp of butterscotch extract (Frontier brand), which is a bit of guilding the lily—you can leave it out and it makes for a great, simple dessert.  But I thought it needed just a tiny little bit more personality.   Also, I found myself wondering what it would be like if I beat the egg whites (to stiff foamy peaks) with the sugar separately and then folded them into the rest of the recipe.  I didn’t try it, but that is how egg whites are frequently used in baking this type of light dessert.

My one big deviation from the recipe as written was to add a cup of sugar to the shortening, milk and vanilla combo, rather than add it all to the wet ingredients with the dry.  I felt it was necessary.  Did it make a difference?  I think when you can cream or semi-cream your sugar, you eliminate the possibility of that granular mouth feel.

Despite my track record of putting great desserts on table, my family doubted this would be a dessert they would like.  After all, it’s not chocolate, and what is it, really? Plain cake?  But no, as its original author contends– it’s melt in your mouth delicious.  Might I need to add a streusel layer (one of my other obsessions)?  Most likely.     This is also a great cake as a base– for covering with strawberries, or strawberry filling (like that from my version of hand pies) or some other kind of sweet confection.  If you have a good maple syrup, you might substitute for that for the butterscotch.

As for whether this is better in the morning, it will be hard to tell, since my family of four almost completely cookie-monstered the cake last night, which rarely happens.

So if you have a Father (or Father substitute) that you want to make happy, this a great recipe: simple and quick.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp butterscotch extract
  • confectioner’s sugar for covering

Instructions

  1. Cream together shortening and milk for about 3 minutes, (it will look like small curd cottage cheese.)
  2. Add in 1 cup of a sugar and the vanilla.   Continue to mix.
  3. in a separate bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add flour, one third at a time to the milk mixture, blending well after each addition.
  4. Add in egg whites, beating just until all combined.
  5. Pour batter into a greased and floured (not sprayed) 9 inch round cake pan.
  6. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 40-45 minutes (mine was ready at 43) or  test for doneness.
  7. Let cool on wire rack for at least 45 minutes before serving, cover top with powdered sugar.

After cooling, I ‘heavily dusted’ the top with powder sugar, covering the top like a ski-chalet after a heavy Vermont snow.  The original recipe called for a dusting, but I thought it needed more.  Some in my house suggested it needed frosting, but I am not among those who agree.  However, you can check out this simple vanilla cream frosting recipe (at the bottom of this chocolate cake recipe) if you like.  Otherwise, Happy Father’s Day!

Chocolate Chunk, chocolate chip cookies, perfect chocolate chip recipe

Sublime Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chunk, chocolate chip cookies, perfect chocolate chip recipe

Chocolate chip cookies, made according to best practices: crispy on the outside, chewy and soft on the inside, full of chocolate and delicious.

Or How to Make the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.

If you knew me, you would know that there was period in my life where I was obsessed with creating the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  This particular obsession stayed with me for about two years. During that time I continually asked the question, how could one chocolate chip cookie be so different from another?   Having eaten my way through scads of cookies at bake sales, restaurants, bakeries and neighbors’ houses, I was struck by why one cookie, be it a cellophane-wrapped one at a nearby deli was so dry, crumbly and flavorless,  while just a few doors down at another place they were chewy in the center, crispy on the outside and delicious in every way to the point that you wanted to eat the wax paper it came in.  Everyone is basically using the same ingredients: flour, butter, vanilla, salt and chocolate, how could the cookies be so different? Was there a secret ingredient?

If you care about food then you have asked this about lots of things.  The English can’t figure out why Americans can’t make proper tea, and that can have as little as three ingredients.  Simple black coffee differs from restaurant to restaurant and house to house and from coast to coast.  I hypothesized that if the quality of the ingredients was better, the overall end product would be correspondingly better.  So I commenced my experimentation by trying out what looked like the best of everything: premium chocolate, eggs that came from chickens within hours, farm milk and butter, expensive flour and premium vanillas.  Cooks Illustrated did a vanilla taste test that concluded that McCormick’s (the kind available in most markets) was the best for things that will be cooked at high temperatures (e.g. cookies).

With that, and my anecdotal experience that home bakers routinely turn out better cookies than Whole Foods, I decided to research equipment and techniques.  There is a lot to both.   King Arthur Flour did an experiment on the complexion of your pan and the difference between parchment, silicon mats and lightly greased pans has been written about extensively.   The Cook’s Illustrated recipe recommends periods of rest between beatings to allow the air to infuse properly into the cookies.  Epicurious (et al) recommend chilling your cookies, especially if they have a high fat (butter) content.

Ultimately, the right chocolate chip cookie for a person is exactly like the right bed.  Everyone’s likes are different, and vary based on age and may continue to evolve.   The perfect cookie may not be an objective, achievable thing, but I do believe it is possible to make a great and distinct cookie that will win over most people.   After years of experimentation, I finally found one I’m ready to share, though I can hardly take credit for it.   Most people I know well enough to ask them about their chocolate chip cookie recipe either use the Toll House recipe (which is fine) or one of the three Cook’s Illustrated recipes.   I have made them all repeatedly for years and they turn out predictably good cookies all the time.

But I was not satisfied, and had to continue to experiment.  Luckily, even mediocre chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven are good to eat, so experimenting was not a hardship.   I kept seeing recipes I had to try– there’s even one on the box of baking soda!  Finally, I noticed one on the Ghirardelli Chocolate Chip bag (duh) and with a few tweaks, it made the perfect cookie for me (and the people in my immediate circle of friends who are subject to trying such things).   It was pronounced “the bingo” and “best.cookie.ever.”     So I figured it was time to share with you.

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 1/4 cups unsifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 HEAPING teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 11 .5 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips  (use 7 oz chips and 1 bar [4 oz] choppeda semi-sweet bar) or you could use a whole bag of chips, if you’re lazy
  • 1 cup butter (I use Kate’s unsalted butter), browned (which comes after simple melting) and cooled.
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • ~Three drops of butterscotch extract (about 1/16th teaspoon).
DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat oven to 350ºF
  2. Stir flour with baking soda and salt and chocolate, set aside
  3. Using a stand mixer, combine sugars, and then add browned butter.
  4. When completely mixed, add eggs one at a time
  5. Add vanilla and butterscotch, mix well.
  6. Add dry ingredient by mixing by hand with a spatula (I have stopped using the mixer to combine wet and dry ingredients, and find that it is significantly important to the final texture)
  7. Refrigerate for a few hours (but feel free to eat some cookie dough before you put it away).
  8. When ready, use a 2-oz scooper to make rather large cookies.
  9. Place 9 to a sheet. (I use parchment paper and a cushion-air baking pan)
  10. Bake for approximately 15 minutes.
  11. Let sit for at least 5 minutes, for the cookies to set

So even though this recipe comes from mostly from Ghirardelli,  I wanted to discuss the things that make it different from your standard Toll House recipe, including the three tweaks I made, which come from various places.

  1. The melting of the butter comes from Cook’s Illustrated, who suggest that browning the butter (so that it produces an almost nutty smell) produces a great cookie.  They are right.
  2. Using chopped chocolate instead of all chocolate chips was inspired by an almost perfectly written piece over at Serious Eats, a website you should visit all the time if you care about what you eat.   They say you should use ALL chopped chocolate which I agree with, but also like the mixed up texture of using both.
  3. Not sifting the flour is a counter-intuitive step for a baker, but seems to work wonders, and is in the original recipe.
  4. Adding Butterscotch is of course, my own obsession.  (I recommend Frontier brand, which is available at Amazon and probably your local health food store. Do not use artificial butterscotch flavor).
  5. More Salt and Vanilla. I’m probably using closer to 3/4 teaspoon of salt than a 1/2, but I use the 1/2 teaspoon and get a big heap on it.   When combined with butterscotch and more vanilla, these three ingredients give the cookies a deep and soulful flavor that is intense and satisfying.
  6. Using 11.5 oz of Chocolate.  Standard bag of chips is 12 oz and the Ghirardelli baking bars come in 4-oz sizes (unless you get the massive high-end bars, which come in all kind of sizes). Before this recipe, I used a fat cup (9 oz) of semi-sweet chips, but measuring out 11.5 ounces was a revelation.
  7. Making them big.   It’s a cliche to say go big or go home, but I feel like when I’m making desserts for the crowd, make ’em big.  Why make little cookies?  It’s more work!   Also, if you make ’em big it’s more likely that you can achieve that crispy on the outside soft in the middle perfection that most people love.    I end up with a nine to a tray, instead of 12.

Lastly, a great cookie dough is an important part of your arsenal.  Not just for baking cookies, but for eating straight, as I love to do.  I spent much of my youth eating out of a roll of cookie dough purchased from the supermarket. Only in my thirties did I realize I could make my own which would be better and free of high-fructose corn syrup anytime I wanted, and I could freeze it so I would always have it.

If you are like me, and obsessed with chocolate chip cookies, you may find as I did, that here is so much to read, that it’s hard to know where to start or where to stop.  Epicurious, the Huffington Post and Bon Appetit have great articles about what to do and not do and besides my recipe, maybe the only things you need. For now, anyway.

chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chunks, perfect cookies

Sublime chocolate chip cookies. Better than any other–even if the photograph isn’t going to win any awards.

 

 

 

 

Even Better than Perfection Oatmeal Cookies

Butterscotch, cranberries for perfect oatmeal cookies

Butterscotch Extract and Apple Juice-infused Cranberries, ridiculous but necessary

I wrote earlier of my quest to make the perfect Oatmeal Cranberry Cookie, pushed forward to insane measures by the nearly perfect cookie available from Petsi’s Pies in Cambridge, MA.  Though my first attempts resulted in an excellent cookies, I knew that I could do better, and in fact, had to do better.   So I kept trying out recipes.  Of course, when you’re experimenting with cookies you realize there’s almost no such thing as a bad oatmeal cookie.  You just eat your mistakes.  No one was complaining, but I wasn’t satisfied. I was trying for a particular taste and texture.  In other words, on a mission from God.    Remembering a chocolate chip recipe that used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour, I started looking specifically for an oatmeal cookie recipe that used bread flour and found one at Averiecooks.com (that was itself modified from a Land O’Lakes recipe). I use Kate’s for all my butter baking, just FYI, but this was a great recipe. Of course it needed some tweaks.  A little more butter, salt, vanilla and natch, the secret ingredient of butterscotch.   I think 1/4 tsp is the right amount but if someone tasting it immediately says “these have butterscotch in them!” you’ve used too much.

Keep your butter and eggs and room temperature. If you can’t find infused cranberries, you can always just buy regular and soak ’em.  I used to soak them in a vanilla/water base for 30 minutes but ultimately I found that it didn’t hurt to use them dry.  But if you want people to ask for you the recipe (as I was asked for) than you go that extra few miles.

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp butterscotch extract
  • ~2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4  heaping teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole rolled old-fashioned oats (not quick cook)
  • 1 cup apple juice infused cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

 

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a stand mixer, cream your butter and sugar for about five minutes and add the egg.
  2. Add the rest of the wet ingredients slowly; vanilla and butterscotch extract and mix till incorporated.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix some but NOT ALL of your dry ingredients: the bread flower, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In a third bowl you can mix your cranberries and walnuts.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients inside the stand mixer bowl, but ignore the paddle and mix with a spatula (I find this better than mixing it with the stand mixer).
  6. When sufficiently mixed, add your oats.
  7. Then add the cranberry-walnut mixture.  Mix with the paddle attachment but DO NOT OVERMIX.  Just enough to to ensure incorporated ingredients.
  8. Transfer mixture to cellophane wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, but ideally overnight.
  9. Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with a Non-Stick Baking Mat set aside.
  10. Use a cookie/ice cream scoop to form mounds, but after you’ve set them up (I get about 12 to a tray) use a metal spatula sprayed with PAM to flatten the cookie.  I found this necessary because otherwise the mound of cookie doesn’t melt to the proper width (for my taste).  I am aiming for a crispy and chewy cookie; the mounds end up softer and chewier; flattening them allows more crispiness.
  11. Bake for 13-15 minutes (depending on your oven, your cookie tray and your altitude). For more on the difference between your pans and baking time, read this incredible article from King Arthur Flour.
  12. Let the cookies set up on the tray, at least five minutes, before transferring them to another location, like a cookie rack, or your mouth.

This recipe is dedicated to Mike B, Justin and F.Y. Ruts, and the guys from the Chinatown Collective.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

coconut_macaroons

Manischewitz Coconut Macaroons

coconut macaroons, passover, gluten-free

Before they can be dipped, the coconut macaroons must be cooked to a toasty, hash-brown looking perfection

Growing up on the East Coast, we always looked forward to Spring because it meant freedom from snow (which would be black and dirty by April),  and the Passover/Easter holidays, which themselves brought candy, days off from school and special visits with relatives.    As far back as I can remember, Macaroons were one of the things I most looked forward to.   The Manischewitz brand came in Coconut and Chocolate and later on, Chocolate Chip, and were, in my opinion, the top of the line until I tasted one from a bakery on Long Island called Bruce’s.  Like the Wizard of Oz going to color from black and white, my world was rocked when I ate this magnificent morsel, which I instantly awarded the designation of Best Macaroon of All Time. They were shaped like a pregnant traffic cones and were dipped in chocolate.  They were crispy on the outside like a coconut hash-brown, but moist on the inside.  The chocolate was not too sweet and was perfect complement to the coconut.  The chocolate had a sensational mouth-texture to it, requiring a firm bite but rewarding you with melty mouthful.    Any pilgrimage to New York always included a trip to Bruce’s to get these incredible treats, and it was always with great woe that I noted they were gone, because it meant 1) I no longer had any of them and 2) I had gained 10 lbs.

I tried often to recreate them, but never succeeded.    I had mostly given up on trying when I attended a seder and I tasted a macaroon that was just as good, if not better than my beloved Bruce’s.  I begged for the recipe, which is here below, and I’m glad I did, because shortly after the next year’s Seder, Bruce’s inexplicably closed its doors.

Bruces Cookbook. Long Island Desserts, Bakeries

The Bruce’s Bakery Cookbook. Worth getting, but doesn’t have the macaroon recipe

Had I not had this recipe, I’m sure I would have given up all hope of ever eating a chocolate dipped coconut macaroon ever again.     The recipe is not complex, but does require ingredients you likely don’t have at home (condensed milk?).  Using an ice cream scoop I found was very helpful, but I have yet to recreate the traffic cone shape of the original.

Though it is obvious, I must remind you that this is not health food.  Some people might assume that if a dessert is flour-free and made with coconut that it could conceivably be healthier or lower in calories than other desserts.  But in this case, that is absolutely not true.  In fact, this is a true diet-buster, so proceed with caution.  Make sure you have a place to bring these, because you don’t want them sitting on your counter, taunting you to eat every last, absolutely delicious one of them.

 

 

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 (14-oz.) bags sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp. sour cream
  • 1 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 oz. bittersweet (and milk) chocolate, mixed and melted.
  • Tiny bit of salt, perhaps less than an 1/8th of a tsp

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients until thoroughly combined.

3. Press dough into a soup spoon or small ice cream scoop or ball in your palm and place on baking sheet.

4. Bake for 20-30 minutes until lightly brown. Remove from oven; let cool.

5. If possible, submerge (dip) the macaroon in melted chocolate and place on a tray lined with wax paper. (Don’t even start me on tempering the chocolate, that’s a whole other thing).

6. Refrigerate for 20 minutes before serving.

Oatmeal Cookie Perfection

Oatmeal cookies, perfect cookies, butterscotch chips, butterscotch extract, robert deutsch

Oatmeal cookies need butterscotch. Who knew?

Before we start, let me tell me you I know about the recipe under the Quaker oats cap.  I’ve made it.  It’s good.  It makes great cookies and you’re looking for super simple, go ahead and make that one.

And I was fine with that cookie until I had a life changing event: eating an oatmeal cranberry cookie from Petsi Pies in Cambridge, MA.   So head-exploding was the sensation of this cookie that I was driven to the Interwebz to find a recipe that would create a cookie just like it.  Of course, the problem with trying to create a copycat recipe is knowing, at a basic level, what goes into it.  So I set out to find out if anyone had already tried to do it, or do something close. Sadly, I came up empty but you have to start somewhere.   After several batches, I found a good starting place at Frances & Ian.   Their recipe was very good, so naturally I started changing it immediately.

For starters, I was going to have cranberries instead of raisins.  But after eating Petsi cookies, I realized these were no ordinary Ocean Spray bag o’cranberries. I experimented with soaking them in vanilla for 30 minutes but no, that wasn’t it.  I tried unsweetened and non-sulfated cranberries. Still no. Then, I found apple-juice infused cranberries from Whole Foods and those seemed to be good enough– juicy, sweet, but not of sugar.

I needed nuts.  Frances & Ian didn’t have nuts, and walnuts are usually the go-to nut for oatmeal cookies.  I prefer pecans, but I was trying to create a copycat, so walnuts it was.

Cinnamon- the recipe originally called for 2 teaspoons but that seemed like too much, so I cut it in half.

If you know me, then you know of course I increased the vanilla and salt.

That elusive ingredient.   After months of trying to figure out what’s in these incredible cookies I had a revelation: butterscotch.   But in what form?  Extra brown sugar and butter?  Chips?  I tried it both ways.  First, I melted and 1/8 of a cup of butterscotch chips in a tablespoon of butter and added it to the creamed butter and sugar, and that’s what the picture is  of.    They were good. But I still wasn’t satisfied.  I don’t like the artificial flavored chips—so I found a butterscotch extract from Frontier that was all natural.  I added and 1/4 tsp but I think 1/2 tsp is the right amount.  You want it enough to be “heard” but not so much that it’s overwhelming the other flavors.

Texture.  My brother loves crispy cookies but I like them soft and chewy.  This is a seemingly impossible-to-placate schism for cookie lovers and bakers all around the world, but it can be solved easily in the way that grill masters satisfy their distinct needs in adult and child audiences.  Steak cooked rare comes off first; steak cooked medium stays in longer.    That’s one solution, but what I found was that by making the cookies BIGGER, as Petsi does, you can get a crispy outside and a soft inside, which is really the best of both worlds and makes everybody happy.

When I make them for myself, I use a 1.5 inch scoop, but when I make them for anyone else, I use a 2 or 2.5 inch scoop.  This makes them bigger, and more likely to achieve the crisp and chewy outcome.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar + 1 tablespoon
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½  tsp butterscotch extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • ¼-½ tsp kosher salt (I used ½)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cups rolled oats
  • ½-1 scant cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 cup cranberries (I used apple-juice infused cranberries)

Instructions

Make sure you have butter and eggs at room temperature: cold is bad.

Mix together dry ingredients flour, corn starch, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

In another bowl, prepare your cranberries, chopped walnuts and oats.

Cream sugar and butter, about 3 minutes if you need to time it.

Add your egg, and mix.  Then add vanilla and butterscotch extracts.

Then pour in your flour, baking powder, cornstarch, and cinnamon and mix just until combined.

Add the oatmeal, cranberries and walnuts.  Mix until just combined.

Remove from bowl and place in cellophane wrap for 30 minutes up till overnight.

After chilling,  take out and let come to temperature– this will help scoops melt into a more familiar cookie shape.  If you like mound-shaped cookies, then you don’t have to wait.

Scoop cookies onto parchment paper or silicon mat and bake for about 12 minutes at 350.   Depending on how crispy you like them (and how old your oven is) you might want to turn them around and give them another 3-5 minutes.

Important: these cookies need to “set up,” meaning that if you try to remove them from the tray before they’ve cooled you’ll have a crumbling hot mess on your hands, and likely everywhere.   Let them cool on the tray for at least five minutes and then transfer them to a cooling rack for about five minutes.

Then, experience oatmeal cookie perfection.

New York Style Black and White Cookies: Baking for Harmony

Black and white cookies, chocolate and vanilla cookies, baking for harmony, martin luther king day

Black and white cookies are delicious when light, moist and redolent with lemon flavor and scent.

My wife is a teacher and asked if there was anything I could bake to represent Martin Luther King, Jr day.  After discarding many ideas, we concluded Black and Whites would be appropriate as a sweet treat for her classes.  Though in the final execution, some of them look more Yin-Yang looking than half moon, they taste great, and it’s possible that if people are eating something yummy,  they’ll be more receptive to learning.  In any case, my part of the curriculum ends when the cookies are done.

Black and White cookies have always been something I’ve wanted to make well, but until this batch, I’ve never succeeded in making them taste as good as the ones I had growing up in New York.

And in New York, great ones are everywhere.  Whether at your favorite red-and-white string bakery or facing down a 2AM sugar urge at a nearly-abandonded bodega, they were consistently delicious: moist, light, redolent of lemon and just the right smidgin of crackle in the icing.

When I moved to Boston I noticed they didn’t make them the same here.  They were crumblier, and almost always used frosting on both sides or sometimes just the chocolate side.  They were fat, and consistent with their name “Half Moon,” but not like the big almost sugar-cookie shaped delectable we often got at Zabar’s.   In Massachusetts there seemed to be no parameters constraining their size; in New York there were mini black and whites and regular.  Nothing in between. And that’s how we liked it.

Most of that has changed; you can find “NY Style” black and whites here in Boston proper now, and they sell pretty good ones in nearly any suburban supermarket.  However, my need to make them well was still powerful, and a request from my wife was all I needed to try again.

I did use the Zabar’s recipe (printed in my favorite New York cookbook and the NY Times) as the base, but also consulted with the Joy of Baking‘s version, which was similar but had a few more interesting ideas.  I found it necessary to double the vanilla (always) and double the amount of lemon extract.   It seemed using the prescribed amount ended up with no lemon smell or taste at all, and it is supposed to figure prominently in the flavor.

There was also an issue with the chocolate color.  Just using semi-sweet chocolate (chips, for instance) and adding to the frosting resulted in a light-brown color, but the New York style are nearly black, so obviously something needed to be done.  I found that adding  cocoa powder neatly darkened the chocolate and in addition helped it retain a nice chocolate taste.   Lastly, the corn syrup was necessary to keep it all not just spreadable but smooth.  My first few were not smooth and but I realized how to fix that and then I was happy.

In terms of the cookies, because the recipe described using “just enough flour to make them workable,” I held out about a half cup of the flour mixture from the final product.  This I think resulted in a lighter, less dense cookie.   The only other thing to note was that the cookies, to be true new york style should be flat, not half-spheres, so if you’re aiming for complete fidelity, the ice cream scooper might not be what you want.    I found silicon mats and parchment paper worked equally well.

New York Style Black and White Cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

The Glaze

  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup  (more for chocolate icing)
  • 1 ounce bittersweet and milk chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (more for chocolate icing)
  • 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder (for chocolate icing)

 

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   (I found this recipe required more than two baking trays).

2. In a stand mixer, combine sugar and butter. Mix until fluffy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and lemon extracts, and mix until smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, combine cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until mixed. Add dry mixture to the wet, DO NOT OVERMIX. Using an ice cream scooper, place heaping spoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake until edges begin to brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely.

THEN:

1. Place confectioners’ sugar in a stand mixer. Gradually stir in just enough boiling water to the sugar to make a thick, spreadable mixture.  Add corn syrup and vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Adjust all those ingredients to taste.  You don’t want a grainy, sugary texture.

2. Add 1/3 the frosting to the top half of a double-boiler where you had previously melted the chocolate and corn syrup over simmering water. Warm the mixture, stirring, until chocolate is melted and frosting is smooth. Turn off the heat, but leave chocolate frosting over hot water to keep it spreadable. I used a spreader to coat using the vanilla, then a spatula to finish “smoothing” the warm chocolate side.  Let sit (if you can) to harden.  Let dry before eating, if you can.  I found the cocoa powder necessary to get the right chocolate color and the corn syrup to make it smooth.

Yield: 2 dozen large cookies.

Isabel’s Perfect Holiday New York Style Cheesecake: Sinful and Gluten-Free

Cheesecake, Cream Cheese Cake, Perfect Cheesecake, Springform Cheesecake

Take your time with cheesecake; it will pay off with no cracks, a perfect texture, and a need to run at least 10 extra minutes on the treadmill.

If you are still searching for that perfect holiday dessert, I have one for you.   For both religious and secular celebrations (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Chanukah), this cheesecake is a winner.  Why? It’s a dairy dessert, served cold and it’s gluten-free (if you make it with corn starch, not flour). It  can be served with fruit or fruit topping or whipped cream.  It can be drizzled with chocolate or caramel. It pleases those who like something a little savory and those who like something a little sweet.  And as the un-ironically named Cheesecake Factory has discovered, you can throw nearly ANY other sweet ingredient in the wold into it without ruining it (well, almost). It’s a desert associated with NY (for lovers and haters) and also associated with luxury— often found at expensive restaurants and steak houses.

That makes sense, because as a make-at-home dessert, it’s a bit labor-intensive.

Although it likely originated in Greece, I grew up eating cheesecake at Junior’s in Brooklyn, NY, and in other places around the NYC area in the 70s.  Those velvety, creamy and hint-of-lemony cheesecakes were so perfect—in flavor, texture and appearance, that I never ever thought I could replicate it at my home.  I just assumed that was something you had to have a factory replete with big steaming pots and viking stoves to make.   That, and lots of mysterious-as-to-how-to-fold boxes and of course, a giant floor-to-ceiling spool of red and white string.

Then, years later, BFF Jill gave me her Mom (Isabel)’s cheesecake recipe.   It was authentic 70s and NEARLY perfect.   Like a lot of recipes from that time period, it suggests that you toss everything together (including—gasp—corn starch). It suggests you mix the ingredients on HIGH.  And it doesn’t tell you anything about how finicky Springform® pans really are. (If you bend one, you might as well throw it out IMHO).  Reportedly there are national and international variations on Cheesecake, but the recipe below produces a Cheesecake of the New York variety—dense, creamy and full of sour cream.

So after making it several times, I have concluded a few things that you might not know from the recipe.

1. Springform® Pans are not waterproof.  If you’re going to make a cheesecake, you should protect it.   There are a myriad of ways for you do this, with foil, inside, outside or both.   Either way, your goal is to make sure the water you are putting the cheesecake in to cook stays outside of the pan where you want it, not inside your cake, where it can nearly ruinous as water is for chocolate. You’ll thank me.

2. Cheesecakes and their ingredients  are sensitive.   For this reason, I don’t recommend you beat the ingredients on “High” in your mixer.  After you pour the mix into your greased Springform pan, knock it a few times to get out the air bubbles.  But after that, don’t run or jump near the oven, as it can lead to cracks in your Cheesecake.  If you kids, tell them not to run or jump near the oven either.

3. Do not throw unsifted corn starch into a full complement of dairy products.  Instead, add it to the lemon juice (or vanilla) and whisk it to create a slurry.  Corn starch likes to be in a liquid, and mixes better with the other ingredients that way.

4. This recipe doesn’t have a crust.  Jill and her Mom did not favor a crust.  I like a graham cracker crust. You have to find the one that works for you, but if you can’t find one, here’s a start.

5. It’s all about NOT cracking.  As you may learn, over-mixing, overcooking, under-greasing, and a host of rookie mistakes (some detailed here) will cause the top of your cheesecake to crack.  Now that obviously doesn’t change the taste at all, and if you’re wise, you’ll cut a cracked cheesecake out of sight of your guests.  But eventually it will become a point of pride to produce seamlessly crack-free top.   Until then, it’s still worth all the fuss.

Ingredients

  • 4 8-oz containers of whipped cream cheese  (as long as you bring it to room temperature it probably doesn’t matter whether you use bricks or tubs).
  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 1 stick sweet butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 and 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions
Let cream cheese, sour cream, butter and eggs stand at room temperature for approximately 1 hour.  (I take them out in the morning and make the cake in the afternoon.   Don’t start the cake too late, it has a multiple hour progression— it’s not 12 minute chocolate chip cookies).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using a stand mixer, blend cream cheese, butter and sour cream together with sugar and vanilla.

Beat in one egg at a time. Continue beating until mixture is very smooth.

In a separate bowl, create a slurry with the lemon juice and corn starch.  Add to the other ingredients.

Pour mixture into a greased 9 1/2 inch springform pan. (I use butter, but use PAM if you like).  Place the Springform® in larger roasting pan filled with water about hallway up its side.

Bake for 1 hour until the top is golden brown. Turn off oven; let cake cool in oven for one hour.   Then cool on the countertop for an hour (but really until cool); store in refrigerator overnight if possible (and  24 hours wouldn’t kill you, either).  I cover it with plastic wrap.

Take out of the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving, unless you really like cold cake.   Celebrate your New York cred.   Enjoy the luxury life. And if celebrating a holiday, have a great one.

Old-Fashioned Apple Cake (with Frosting)

Frosted old fashioned apple cake with frosting brown sugar and brown butter

Frosted Old Fashioned Apple Cake with brown sugar and butter frosting

November is to apples what black is to bananas, i.e. nature’s alarm clock telling you it’s time to use ’em or toss ’em.  As that siren grew louder, I spied my pile of ever-softening honey crisp apples with despair. Decisive action was necessary. Taking to my trusty recipe network, I found Old Fashioned Apple Cake on King Arthur and got to work. Unlike my signature “Best Apple Cake in the World” which takes lots of time, prep and requires three major kitchen appliances to complete, this was going to be a walk in the park.

Aside from the ingredients already in my pantry (Apples, Flour, 9 x 13 pan), I noted in the comments section of the recipe where people had successfully added carrots and raisins to the cake and cream cheese and boiled cider to the icing.   (Boiled cider is on my list of ingredients that I pine for and will likely never have, because I never successfully get to the check out at King Arthur).

Sun-maid raisins, toasted pecans and baby carrots

Raid the pantry recipe: raisins, pecans and baby carrots make this apple cake delicious.

My inventory check revealed I had all those things, and I knew I needed to use them. Shockingly,the one thing I was missing was regular orange carrots. I had only baby carrots and a collection of strange colored carrots (white, red and dark red) that are fun to use in salads but have a distinctly different taste, and ergo not right for this project. I usually have a lot of dried fruit on hand,  but at the time the only raisins I had were little boxes that I used to throw in my kids’ lunch.  (They in turn, were likely hurled at their enemies, but never eaten). I had pecans, which I toasted to a nutty perfection but then did not include BECAUSE I AM NOT GOING TO COOK NUTS TWICE so don’t ask me to do it.  They stayed in a bowl and were eaten by passers by who continued to inquire what I was making, and more importantly, when it would be ready.  I used roasted, but untoasted pecans in the cake.

King Arthur advises you to “frost the cake while the frosting is still warm,” but I regarded that as Voodoo that results in runny frosting and ruined cake,  so I opted for the “chill first” method.  The comments in the recipe noted that cooling the frosting allows you to get a better handle on how sweet it will taste, and this is true– the first night the frosting tasted only a little sweet—despite being made almost entirely of two kinds of sugar.   As the days wore on, the frosting did start to seem like it was too sweet, and perhaps we would have been better glazing the cake instead of a full, pile-on frosting.

Frosted or not, this is a nice little cake that thanks to the ginger and nutmeg has a great fall taste profile and is a worthy of use of apples that have been rejected due to softness or lack of crisp appearance.   And remember, nature wants you to make cake.  Why else would she turn bananas black or the calendar to November?

King Arthur's recipe for Old Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Old Fashioned Apple Cake, just out of the oven.

Old Fashioned Apple Cake

  • 2 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp or 1 tblsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large apples (this was about 4+ cups)
  • 1 large carrot or 4 baby carrots, shredded
  • ~1/2 cup raisins, craisins, currants or dried fruit of your choice
  • 1/2 cup diced pecans

Frosting

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

 

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Prepare a 9″ x 13″ pan.  I used parchment paper and PAM.  You can grease and flour if you like.

1) Mix the dry ingredients (except the sugar) in one bowl.  Mix the sugar, butter and eggs and vanilla (in that order) in a stand mixer until satiny.

2) Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Just combine (don’t OVERMIX).  Then add the apples and carrots.  Just combine (don’t OVERMIX!).  Chop and add nuts.

3) Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

4) Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

5) Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely; don’t remove the cake from the pan.

To make the frosting:

1) Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts.

2) Add the milk, bring to a boil, and pour into a mixing bowl to cool for 10 minutes.

3) After 10 minutes, stir in the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.  Taste and add salt.  Beat on high; if the mixture appears liquidy, add more confectioners’ sugar. If too crumbly, you can add more milk or vanilla.   Chill frosting in mixing bowl.   This will give the frosting a chance to cool as well as the cake.  This is good for everyone. 

4) Frost the cake.  Keep a light touch; the frosting is very sweet.

Pretty F*#%in’ Good Blondies

Blondies, Brownies, Perfect Sheet Pan Recipe, Bake Sale Ideas, Robert Deutsch Bakes

You can’t eat just one of these incredible blondies. Don’t test yourself, you’ll lose.

If you’re going to strap on an apron and call yourself a baker so you can churn out highfalutin’ stuff, go ahead.  But you better be able to sing the hits, too, because the number of times a family baker has the time to make croissants or gets requests for baked Alaska are pretty small.  Instead, there are common calls for “what can you bake for the bake sale tomorrow?” or “do we have stuff for rice krispy treats?”   I have found that having a few major winners up my sleeve is crucial— chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake and being able to whip up a quick pan of brownies is the key to a happy life in front of the stove and the flour-pot.

For a long time, despite their popularity, I derided blondies as color-challenged brownies that try to make up for their lack of chocolate by adding all kinds of stuff that doesn’t belong (nuts, flavored chips, etc.). But a few blondies in my life changed all that, and now I have a recipe of my own up my sleeve.  It’s really the America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated recipe– which has been repeated ad infinitum throughout the Internwebz measure for measure, but as usual, I added a few twists: coconut, cocoa powder and more salt.

Two caveats: One, I do not toast the nuts, as the original recipe instructed me to do.  I found repeatedly that toasted nuts taste great in salads, but not in baked goods– ESPECIALLY if you don’t have the time to let them cool down.  Unless you grow your own or buy them raw, the regular chopped nuts are fine.

Two, the recipes specifies 22-25 minutes of baking time but does not indicate that you when you take them out, they’ll be a gooey mess almost inedible due to lack of form and intensely hot temperature.    You have to let them cool and set, and when they do, they are so worth it. But patience is a difficult virtue to master.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (plus 1/8th tsp)
  • 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2  tablepoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
  • ~1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate shavings (Mine, from a Callebaut bar)
  • ~1 cup pecans,  coarsely chopped

Directions

  1. Set your oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13×9-inch baking pan parchment or foil and coat with cooking spray.
  2. Combine and whisk the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In your stand-mixer or another bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar together until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients (including the chocolate chips, nuts, coconut) into the egg mixture until just combined. Do not overmix.
  4. Turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.
  5. Blondie recipes insist you should “Bake until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch,” but I found that to be a non-working standard.  My blondies had a matte finish, and I sent them back in for another 10 minutes.   Nothing it seems, can hurt these blondies (EXCEPT FOR OVERMIXING), so cook them for 22 to 25 minutes. Then, let them cool completely for about an hour, if you can. Cut into bars, making sure you give yourself the first one.

 

Blondie Recipe from Cook's Illustrated,  Chocolate Chips, Perfect Blondie Recipe, Bake Sale Idea, Sheet Pan Cakes

Blondies don’t get respect but they’re worth it.