Monday, May 18, 2009

A Week in Photos

Me, not including at least four paragraphs in a post? It's shockingly non-standard, I know. But, well...they say a picture's know. And the fact is that I currently have limited time. So I'll just post a few pictures from the last week of baking and let 'em speak for themselves.

Neopolitan Cheesecake with chocolate-covered strawberries:

And a butterfly cake for Emily's graduation open house. (Congrats, Em!)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Disaster Relief

I'll tell you right up front that I didn't get pictures of it. I just couldn't bring myself to. It was that tragic.

What was "it"? The carrot cake cheesecake fiasco.

This had so much potential, and I'm not sure if the problem was recipe-related or baker-related (either is possible), but either way, instead of a Cheesecake Factory-esque carrot cake cheesecake, I wound up with...carrot mush. Yikes.

Anyway, this cheesecake was (supposed to be) for company we were having for dinner. When I discovered the mush factor, I promptly threw it out and called in a pinch hitter: the tried-and-true white chocolate raspberry cake recipe. 'Nuff said. Here are some pics:

Monday, May 4, 2009

Those Three Words

Ah, the magic of those three little words. No, not those three words...the other three: chocolate chip cookies. (Am I betraying my singleness on multiple levels right now? Ah, well.)

So, are you interested in this topic? Yeah, I thought so. (If not, we need to talk.)

I've tried a lot of recipes over the years--my guinea-pig roommates could attest to that--and here's a little not-so-secret secret I've picked up: pretty much every recipe has the same ingredients. So why in the world are there so many different recipes and different kinds of chocolate chip cookies?

Well, several factors effect what emerges from the oven after you've dumped all those ingredients together and baked them: ratios and amounts (how much brown sugar to white), methods (melted, creamed, or cold butter?), baking temperature/time, etc. This is how a cookie winds up thin and crispy or thick and chewy, more or less chocolaty, and so on.

But those are issues of preference, right? I mean, I like (and when I say "like," I mean "passionately adore") gooey, chewy, thick cookies that are slightly underbaked. (A couple of those plus vanilla ice cream = mmmm.) But that's just me.

So if you ask me, "What's THE best chocolate chip cookie recipe?" I can give you my favorite, but it might not be yours, too...which means you're just going to have to do what I did and try about 53 recipes to figure it out. (And yes, yes, it's worth it).

That said, though, I do have a few tips that apply to every chocolate chip cookie. These are just a few little things that, together, can take any cookie from "good" to "could eat 25 of them without blinking an eye."

And so, in no particular order and without further ado, I present to you "Amber's Chocolate Chip Cookie A-Team":

1. REAL vanilla extract. Not, not, not the "imitation" stuff. (Ew.) My favorite is Mexican vanilla, but anything real/"pure" is good.

2. Coarse-grained sea salt. The coarse grain makes it so that you actually can taste the salt, and that sweet/salty taste contrast in a cookie is mmm...

3. European butter. Now, let's talk about this for a minute. Margarine is cheap, yes, I know. Four sticks for a buck make it really appealing. But it is NOT butter. It is not butter's less glamorous younger brother. It is not even butter's third cousin twice removed. No, no, no. While margarine might be an acceptable substitute for smearing on a piece of toast, it makes cookies (and me) cringe. Really. Butter--real butter--is the only way to go. And European butter is like European chocolate--far better than American. You usually can't find it at the regular grocery store, and it's a little more expensive, but it's worth it.

4. Instant coffee. Yep, no kidding. Cake bakers know that adding brewed coffee to chocolate cake batter really adds a great level of flavor to the baked cake. Instant coffee granules do the same thing for chocolate chip cookies. Don't use too much, or you'll end up with a coffee flavor to your cookie; just a generous pinch or two is enough to enhance the chocolate without adding any coffee flavor to the final, baked product. Oh, and cheap coffee is fine for this.

Oh, and cute little heart-shaped measuring spoons are never a bad touch. (Thanks, Amy!) Because chocolate chip cookies always should be made with love. (Awwww...!)

And, just because, here's my latest favorite chocolate-chip recipe, with a fun twist.

Caramel Treasure Chocolate Chip Cookies

¾ cup + 2 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 generous pinch instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons butter-flavor Crisco
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 small egg, room temperature
¼ cup mini chocolate chips
12 caramel-filled chocolates (I like Dove)

1. In small bowl, stir together dry ingredients; set aside.

2. In separate bowl, cream butter, Crisco, and sugars. Add vanilla and egg; beat well.

3. Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in chocolate. Chill dough at least 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350°.

5. Remove dough from fridge. Form into balls, flattening centers and pressing a chocolate into each; gently press dough up around to cover chocolate completely. Place 2 inches apart on parchment-lined sheets. Bake about 10 minutes.

6. Cool cookies on sheets a few minutes; then remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 1 dozen large cookies