Tuesday, February 24, 2009

TWD: Caramel Crunch Bars

Whitney of What’s Left on the Table chose Caramel Crunch Bars this week for our Tuesdays With Dorie baking!

Now the thing is..I made these 3 weeks ago, which is good for a procrastinator like me; however I'm beginning to think I should have WROTE 3 weeks ago as well as I am trying to refresh my memory of anything in particular that I can lend to those who made/will make these!

I whipped them up in the hopes that I could bring them for dessert when, on Superbowl Sunday (ooops, will the NFL allow me to say that? I guess I meant "the BIG game"), my brother called up and asked if Dear Husband and I wanted to come hang at their house. I was making chili as well, so tried to throw these together at the same time. The chili made it to the party, but the dessert was not 'set' enough to bring along. So, I wrapped and froze most of them that night, and made sure to keep some out for taste testing! (Side note because I love this story: turns out a dessert was not needed...because I showed up to see a cake being frosted at my brother's house by my sister-in-law and her 2 youngest. Apparently that morning when they were at church they were told that it would have been Nana's--my mom's--70th birthday that day, Feb 1st. So they told my sister in law that they should bake a birthday cake for her. I can't tell you how it melted my heart when I walked in and they said "We made a cake for nana!" Mind you, these 2 youngest of my brother's 3 kids are ages 8 and 9, and never met her as she passed away before their time--but the fact that they have all this love for her through our stories and talking about her...does it get any better than that?? Sure they wanted a cake too, but they were so sincere about her birthday that I kid you not, it really was about nana as much--if not, more-than the cake.)

So back to caramel crunch bars--these are a super easy, super quick dessert you can throw together--and great dessert for a crowd --as they're made in 13x9 pan. (Just leave time for the 'setting' of the chocolate). Everything--from what I can recall--went fine putting the recipe together--here they are right out of the oven:

I loved the bittersweet chocolate with the caramel--great combination. My husband was a big fan. He probably liked them more than I, only because I am not a huge toffee fan (the whole thing with sticking to and in my teeth is my issue--which plays into my love-hate relationship with the Butterfinger. I love the taste, but hate the feeling of the sticky build up of candy in my teeth...)

And, allow me to share this...only because I am so excited about it....Some years ago I tried to start knitting..and it failed miserably. I picked up the needles again about 2.5 yrs ago, made a scarf for me, and one baby blanket for my nephew, and then I let it go again....thinking how I really WANTED to do something more involved (socks..a hat...mittens), but somewhat convinced myself not to even try because I may not be able to do it. (Why I am a defeatist like this at times is beyond me).

Well, fellow bloggers, bakers, (and the only other reader--probably you, dad!) perhaps it was the fact that I conquered the fear of making caramel for our TWD Floating Islands--or maybe it was finally NOT avoiding a recipe that used a candy thermometer on that frosting last week..whatever it was, I found myself up early, marched over to the cedar hope chest where I keep my knitting stuff, took out a beginner baby hat pattern and accompanying circular needle that I bought ages ago, and I knit my very first baby hat! It took a few hours because I had to start over at one point (any knitters out there? I did not realize until a few rows of stockinette stitch that when knitted in the round it's simply "knit" ALL rows-not every other row...how easy is that?!) So that set back did put me off a bit, but thankfully I figured it out in time!

I have come to realze I like knitting for similar reasons I like baking....it is a set recipe (pattern); with very measured ingredients (specific needle size; gauge)...and if I follow it to the letter, one step at a time, it turns a 'daunting' task (baby hat; French Pear Tart; Floating Island; pair of socks) into a reality! Now, perhaps once I get comfy with it, I'll start doing my own alterations on yarn and patterns/etc (as I will do with baking now and then when I realize I don't have the ingredients called for -i.e. using Oreos instead of cake crumbs for the cake last week). But for now, I am also fine in a comfort zone of just following something by the letter. I made a hat and I can't believe something so small has made me feel so good about myself! I swear I felt like yelling up and down the street to the neighbors "I belled the mouse!!! I belled the mouse!!" (any Looney Toons fans out there will 'get' that reference)

Here is the big project from Saturday to go along with the REALLY big project-in-the making! I am just about half way through this pregnancy! 20 weeks tomorrow out of 40!

The blue yarn was the only bulky yarn I had, so don't think the color means anything specific! We are still waiting to find out the gender until its born in July....so if it's a girl, then I'll throw a pink pom-pom on top of it by next winter! :)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TWD: Devil's Food White-Out Cake

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie Recipe was chosen by Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater...and it is not just 'any' recipe-it's the one from the very cover of our 'bible' here on TWD!

(NOTE: mine won't look like that, I'll tell you now...'close' but not quite up to Dorie standards!)

There's always a story...and here 'goes.

So I baked the cake layers on Friday night...and come to find out the baking sheet called for (it said to bake the layer pans on a cookie sheet) decided to warp in the heat of the oven (what the...?! Now I know it happens at high heat, but why this happened at a mere 350 surprised me.) So, what it meant is I had lopsided cake layers b/c the sheets tilted. I rotated half-way through hoping I could counter act this, but the damage was done I'm afraid. See??!

So then from Friday night to Saturday morning I went through my options;
- keep in 2 layers, rather than splitting each horizontally in half, but it would leave me with no cake layer to 'crumble' for the outer finishing touch (refer to book photo-there are three "1/2" layers, the 4th half-layer is then crumbled and pressed into the frosting
- try to cut the least 'slanty' one so I had the cake crumbs to add to the outer frosted finish cake, leaving me with one thick layer, one thin layer for the inside
- make a 'box' cake quickly just to have a 'crumble' cake for the outer
- None of the above, improvise, darnit--you're a creative person!

So it was then, around 12 midnight as I was mindlessly flipping channels thinking about my cake that I came up with the "save." I've got one word for you: OREOS.

So my plan became:
- keep in 2 layers, don't try to cut each uneven layer into more uneven half-layers, and make a 2-layer cake with crumbled Oreos for the outside finishing touch! Oreos being black and white perfectly fit into the theme of the cake....and not only that, but I actually had Oreos in the house! (I've been making so many Dorie treats that I have not bought cookies in ages--but I saw the 2-fer sale on them last week and grabbed them in a moment of weakness!)

So then Saturday morning was for the frosting...it seemed to take awhile for the sugar concoction to get to the right temperature..I waited and waited...my egg whites sat patiently waiting for me to give them a spin when the temp was almost 'there' so I could time it right...and I was so worried about the egg whites being done too SOON that I did not pay attention to them being done too LATE! The temp hit the appointed number and my egg whites were not ready! So then I tried to play with the heat on the sugar/water and urged my egg whites along (I'd like to think all the "c'mon! hurry up!!" yelling I did at the Kitchen Aid and egg whites did the trick!)

And so all's well that ends well..here is my yummy (and W.O.W is this frosting AMAZING!!) frosting!

I assembled the cake, frosted and threw the crushed oreos on the outside, and held back doing anything with the top..at first..

And then, because I made it on Valentine's Day, I got out my chocolate chips in regular and 'mini' size and played around a bit...here is the finished product! (Heart w/ arrow through it...or so I hope it looks that way to everyone..because it does to me! At other times, at a glance, I can't help but think those mini chips almost look like rosary beads..but really, it's a heart/arrow!)

Here is a cut slice--see? Just not that attractive--but the taste made up for the lack of 3 perfect layers. I think in hindsight the thinner layers and more frosting in between would have made it amazing..so I will try again someday and cut the layers, but I still THOROUGHLY enjoyed (and still am enjoying now on Monday night) this cake. And being a fan of Oreos, I like having them on the outside for some different texture..

Dear Husband loved the cake, so it's another winner! He's not a fan of frosting on cake type of guy, which I have come to accept (Yet I still don't understand because to me, nothing beats that perfect forkful of cake & frosting!)

I have to say this cake came out better than the chocolate cupcakes back in October, so I am one step closer to finding 'the' perfect chocolate cake (being devil's food though, not quite the perfect 'moist' cake I keep seeking). So all in all, we loved it. And again, this frosting: heavenly! I will use it for future recipes I am sure!! I truly could not stop licking the bowl...

And thanks to Nabisco, for saving the day...Oreos always were my favorite (store-bought) cookie!!

I think I shall call this version my "Dor-eo" cake!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who needs Easter eggs?

Maybe it's the springtime rainbow colors...or maybe it was something about the heart shape that just is pleasing--though I expect it's really the simple fact that they are chocolate cupcakes that caught my eye..Whatever it is, this MS Living cover photo stopped me in my grocery cart tracks this week, and now I REALLY want to give these a try....I've already emailed my 9 year old niece that she and I need to put this on a 'to bake' list! I thought of her right away when I saw it--probably because the heart shape form of cupcakes in happy colors remind me of her happy go lucky, silly, and loving spirit. Here she is at my wedding in '06--see what I mean? Happiest girl in town...

Her 10th birthday falls on Easter this year--so the wheels are turning already---I think this year calls for coloring cupcakes along with the eggs!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TWD: Floating Island

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Floating Island, was chosen by Shari of one of the many great blogs in our club here--Whisk. If you have not yet read her blog, I urge you to--the food, the photos, everything about it is amazing! I will look forward to seeing her photography of her islands--no doubt hers will be a work of art. Mine were a work of 'art' but more the work of a kindergartner, especially the haphazard manner in which the caramel was 'drizzled' (more like "how the caramel came off the fork best I could do before it solidified and formed more spider webs around my counter!)

Ok, story time. I need to share that Floating Island has intrigued me for years...decades even. You see, one day when I was probably 14 or so, my mom told me a great Hepburn-Tracy movie was on TV and so we watched it together...Desk Set. I love this movie...love, love it. Maybe because it took place in a NYC TV company (outside shots are NBC/Rock Center, but the movie called it some fake name like FBC)., or maybe it was the fabulous clothes of 1950's....it involved Christmastime (and one fun scene of a rockin' office Christmas party). Plus, the jobs they had I thought were so neat (reference department for the TV studio). And of course, the great dynamic of Tracy-Hepburn is in full form. It's just a movie as nice and fluffy as meringue we made this week!

So in one scene, Spencer T's character ("Richard Sumner") gets stuck in the rain on the way home in the city, and he's with K.Hepburn ("Bunny Watson"). Sumner can't find a cab and so rather than have to walk the rest of the way, Bunny invites him up to dry his clothes while she made dinner (and being a 1957 movie-that's really what she meant--come up, dry the clothes and I'll fix you something to eat. I know, shocking, huh?!)

ANYWAY, (really this relates back to the dessert!) after she sets up a cozy dinner on a card table, by the fire in her fab NYC apartment, he asks her what's for dessert and she replies "floating island" and he is excited and repeats back, "floating island!!" (side note: his voice in that one line cracks me and my sister up all the time. Something about his tone there is funny...at least to us.) So it was the first and probably only time I have ever heard this dessert mentioned...and ever since then, the countless times I've now seen the movie, I've always wanted to find out what it tastes like.

The photo here shows them eating Floating Island --and then unexpectedly, her friend Peg visits...followed (once again, unexpectedly) by her on-again-off-again boyfriend Mike. It turns into a cute scene where they're trying to explain why they both are sitting there in robes having a dinner for 2.

So a few weeks ago the following conversation between my sister and I occurs:
Lisa: "Maureen, guess what recipe is on the agenda for Tuesdays with Dorie this month!?"
Maureen: "What? I dunno.."
Lisa: "Floating Island."
Maureen: "Floating Island!!" (right on cue, in the S.Tracy voice)

I wanted Mo to come over and try, but the 35+ minutes apart we live combined with the fact that I didn't make it until Sunday meant she missed out this time. But I vow to make it for her next time she comes over! Plus, I might as well get the kinks out of it first!

Funny, though, because now that I have made it myself, I wonder how Bunny Watson made it so darn quickly in the movie..she must have had the components done before, and she just assembled it then and there....because she had no time to be stirring up the creme anglaise, that's for sure...

So, because it reminds me of that movie, Floating Island has always sort of meant to me a classic dessert that went by way of the dodo bird, hats & gloves, double strand pearls and chiffon cake. One of those dishes the wives would whip up after a beef wellington for a house dinner party...as they cooked/baked in pearls, and aprons over party dresses.

So the first step here was the creme anglaise...English Cream for you non-Frenchies. This was easy and yet...not. I whisked the yolks and sugar until they were thick...then poured in the boiling milk as instructed and put it all on the stove, but it just about boiled at 170 or so degrees. I saw the bubble, turned it down to low...stirred...and stirred...and it didn't get past 160 or so, so I gave up after seeing it wanted to curdle...so I took it off the stove at a lower than called for temp, as I THINK 160 is at least the temp to get out any salmonella...(or I certainly HOPE so!)

I read in another cookbook to cook to 165 and strain into a bowl set into a larger bowl of cold water. I hope the less-than-180 degrees would not ruin anything...and I did the cold water for good measure. Here it is, after straining, set in a cold water bowl/bath.

After dinner cleared up, I started the islands...beating the whites...waiting for that nice glossy finish...

And then the simmering part came. Not sure if I had the milk 'simmery' enough at first, but I think I did it right..??

As I was mixing the whites for the islands, it occurred to me that I should have made these last Wednesday, and had a theme night, watching Lost while I enjoyed the floating islands! But then I started making the islands, with the 2-spoon method...and they were coming out all uneven and not so professional looking...so then I decided that no, perhaps "Gilligan's Island" was a better fit for my wacky looking archipelagos!

But hey, islands, nonetheless.

Then came the caramel..which did not take 6-8 minutes, but I think it was because I did not have it turned up enough? Because once I gave it more gas after 10 minutes had gone by and nary an amber look in sight, all of a sudden it went from this

to this

to THIS, in a flash!

It solidified almost immediately....not fun.

(NOTE: the islands were chilling for about an hour before I started the caramel/etc...so there was a time lapse here to let the islands get 'happy' as Emeril would say, in the fridge.)

And...finally...here we have it! An island fit for anyone from Spencer Tracy; Jack&Sawyer, or even Marianne & Ginger! Forgive the messy application of the caramel..I tried to do my best while it started solidifying again! It basically looks like someone scribbled all over my island...but in the meantime all I could see around the counter/sink/etc were these strands of caramel 'cobwebs'....I just gave up after doing one. Dear Husband sat this dessert out, so I have 5 more meringues in one container and a bowl of creme anglaise in the fridge. As for the caramel, I bought the fake store-bought stuff as back up, so that will go on my island tomorrow. I only made six islands...and at that I know I can't possibly have them all, so it's kinda bumming me out wasting it...but wow, is it amazing! (Hey, Mo, you sure you can't swing by this week? We can throw on Desk Set and enjoy!)

And enjoy, I did! Soooooo....gooood. This creme anglaise should be outlawed...it's just that good! Gee, so much for eating better in my 17th week of pregnancy..if I keep it up, I will have a baby with a sweet tooth, and whose first word is "Dorie!"(which is fine by me!)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TWD: World Peace Cookies (aka Give Peace a Chance)

Well I"m back in the swing of it with TWD (I have 2 out of 4 of the Feb recipes done already..my new year's resolution is to post more often!)

This week on Tuedsays With Dorie, Jessica from Cookbook Habit chose Dorie's World Peace Cookies....their name meaning exactly that--Dorie points out that they are so scrumptous, that if only everyone would have some, then it would pave the way to a happier, better world for all.

Reading the recipe I knew I'd love these...These may look like 'chocolate chocolate chip' cookies to you...but oh no...the texture is more shortbread than a traditional 'cookie', and once you bite in, get that rich chocolate, you then are struck ever so subtly, by the secret ingredient...salt. Nothing over the top, just some gentle sea salt to make you stop, savor, and go back for more.

Now, back to bringing about world peace via cookies. Mr. President, if I may suggest you bring these to every summit meeting, I think Dorie just may have a point here. Bring them along, tell two friends..."and they'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on..."

But I digress...so the dough for these cookies is easily put together...it is, as the recipe says, quite crumbly, which made shaping into 'logs' more like "shaping into planks" because it was crumbly and lots of patching had to be done. No rolling into nice round shape here, they rather took on a squared shape, as my slice and bake cookies have in the past.

Here is the dough 'pre-shaping'

After the 3 hr of chillin' I was ready to slice 'n' bake!

And, in a short time, voila!

Being a sweet and salty fan, I immediately fell for these cookies...they are AMAZING!! I felt the need to throw an email to my pal Cathy at 9pm one night just to tell her that I had baked them, and that they were incredible. (I agreed that once they hit room temp they were best, but after 1-2 days in the sealed container, I did not think the taste really held up..they were still darn good, but I thought they aged quite quickly...maybe those types of cookies normally do?)

The sweet and salty combo reminded me of the reason I loved the Chocolate Chunkers so much! These received the Seal of Approval from Dear Husband, but he pointed out that he is STILL waiting for me to re-make those Whopper cookies...sorry dear, but stay tuned, I promise, I will start cooking up some reruns soon!