parmesan bacon shortbread

bacon parmesan crackers 9

There’s a fine art to choosing a dish to bring to a potluck. If people are milling around, there’s a definite advantage to a handheld, plate-optional snack. On the other hand, if it’s mostly sit-down, dips and spreads don’t work well because people have to guess at the right ratio of dip to dipper to scoop onto their plate, not to mention the issue of whether to put the dip next to the dippers, taking up valuable plate space, or on top, risking getting dip on your fingers while you try to eat the dippers.

bacon parmesan crackers 2

Last year, I brought goat cheese, sundried tomato, pesto terrine with a thinly sliced baguette to the company potluck. It did not go over well. For one thing, it’s a dip and the potluck turned out to be a sit-down kind of deal. For another, a few of my coworkers were unfamiliar with and unwilling to try goat cheese. (Their loss!)

bacon parmesan crackers 10

This year I went to the other end of the spectrum and chose easily grabbable finger food. I included bacon to guarantee there would be no complaints about scary new ingredients. It seems to have worked; these got a lot more love than last year’s goat cheese spread. And no wonder, with so many salty rich ingredients encased in a tender cookie. I can’t think of many situations in which these little treats wouldn’t work perfectly.

bacon parmesan crackers 4

One year ago: Roasted Tomato Soup
Two years ago: Orange Berry Muffins
Three years ago: Thumbprints for Us Big Guys
Four years ago: Cooks Illustrated’s Classic Pound Cake

Printer Friendly Recipe
Bacon Parmesan Shortbread (adapted from The New York Times via Use Real Butter)

Makes about 18 cookies (more if you cut them thinner)

I used pancetta instead of bacon, which complimented the parmesan nicely.

The original recipe titles these crackers and shows a picture of thin and flaky squares. These must have been rolled paper thin before baking. However, the recipe instructs the dough to be rolled out (or cut, the way I did it) ½-inch thick. I compromised and went with ¼-inch thick, which gave a texture more like shortbread than crackers. I’m sure they’re good both ways, but if you do roll them thinner, you’ll need to adjust the cooking time.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup cream or half-and-half, more as needed
4 ounces (about 4 slices) bacon, cooked and crumbled

1. Put the flour, salt, cheese and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the flour and butter are combined. Add about ¼ cup cream or half-and-half and let machine run for a bit; continue to add liquid a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture holds together but is not sticky. Add the bacon and pulse a few times to incorporate.

2. Transfer the dough to a large square of parchment or wax paper. Shape the dough into a long rectangle with a 1-inch square cross-section. Wrap tightly in the paper and freeze for at least 3 hours.

3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

4. Slice the dough ¼-inch thick, arranging the cookies ½-inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a tin for a few days.

bacon parmesan crackers 3

sugar cookies – star wars characters

star wars cookies 1

I recently overheard people talking about a dessert I’d baked, and they said something to effect that probably anyone could do something like that with the right equipment. I mostly agree with them; there are no sneaky tricks up my sleeve. I followed a recipe, with a few tweaks to get the flavors I wanted and with the experience to know what pitfalls I might encounter. (Not that that ever stops me from finding new mistakes to make.)

star wars cookies 6

But they are wrong in one important aspect, and that is that what sets some bakers apart is a high capacity for tedium. Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing are the best example. The whole process takes forever.

star wars cookies 2 vader

I prefer to divide the work up between four different days, mixing up the dough on one, rolling the dough and cutting shapes on another, then the big day of baking, outlining, and flooding, and finally adding the details after the flooded icing has dried. This time, I only had a few days between receiving these Star Wars cutters as a gift and having dinner with a couple of young Star Wars fans.

star wars cookies 5 stormtrooper

I’ve used royal icing a handful of times previously, but so intermittently that I wasn’t learning from my mistakes. I have found that it’s imperative that I draw a map of my plan for each shape – first the outline color, then the flooding, then each layer of detail. Maybe more experienced decorators don’t need this, but for a newbie like me, it makes the process less intimidating. (Each photo set shows essentially what my hand-drawings do, as far as the steps to decorate each cookie.)

star wars cookies 4 yoda

This was probably my most successful attempt at royal icing – and the most time-consuming, because there was a lot of detail in these designs. I did learn a few things along the way, and I can only hope that it will make me better at this in the future. Still, I suspect that this is one of those baking endeavors that will always require a generous tolerance for tedium – and that, for better or worse, is something I have.

star wars cookies 3 yoda

One year ago: Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Two years ago: Roll-out Sugar Cookies (comparison of 4 recipes) (coincidence, I swear!)
Three years ago: Roasted Kale
Four years ago: Rice Pudding

I used the first recipe listed in my sugar cookie comparison.  I’m not confident enough in my royal icing skills to offer any sort of tutorial. At this stage, I’m still referencing Annie’s tutorial for instructions.

star wars cookies 8

butterscotch peanut butter chocolate rice krispy treats

rice krispie treats 8

I did something very, very stupid with this recipe. It calls for 1½ bags of butterscotch chips. The thing is, I don’t like butterscotch chips very much, so I didn’t want half a bag leftover that I would feel obligated to keep around indefinitely, where it would take up valuable cabinet space. I only bought one bag, deciding to wing it (always trouble) for the remainder.

rice krispie treats 3

I started regretting this shortly after leaving the store. Because obviously I could have just dumped that half bag of chips into a batch of chocolate chip cookies and they would be hardly noticeable. Or, heaven forbid, I could just throw a handful of butterscotch chips away if I didn’t plan to use them.

rice krispie treats 12

Instead of making an extra trip back to the store, I forged ahead. Things looked bad from the beginning when I measured out my single bag of butterscotch chips and it was even less than I was expecting. I still forged ahead, adding in a couple tablespoons of butter and another couple tablespoons of corn syrup to make up for the fat and sugar I was missing from the extra chips. I knew I was in bad shape when I poured in the entire box of cereal, and it filled my pot to the brim. I thought about shoveling some of the cereal out before mixing it into the melted butterscotch and peanut butter mixture but stubbornly forged ahead instead.

rice krispie treats 7

No one is surprised that my rice krispy bars were a crumbly mess, are they? There simply wasn’t enough glue to hold together all that cereal. They tasted good, like that classic combination of peanut butter and chocolate, but, while I did manage to cut a few clean squares, they’re so delicate that they crumble as soon as they’re touched. Of course I ate them anyway, because they’re butterscotch peanut butter chocolate rice krispy bars. Crumbles aside, what’s not to love? But next time, I’ll follow the directions, half bag of extra chips be damned.

rice krispie treats 10

One year ago: Strawberry Buttercream
Two years ago: Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Dates
Three years ago: Beer-Battered Fish
Four years ago: Julia Child’s French Bread

Printer Friendly Recipe
Butterscotch Peanut Butter Chocolate Rice Krispy Treats (slightly adapted from Cara’s Cravings)

About 32 tall bar cookies

3 cups (1½ to 2 11-ounce bags) butterscotch chips
1½ cups (13½ ounces) creamy peanut butter
salt
1 (12-ounce) box crisp rice cereal
4 cups (2 12-ounce bags) semi-sweet chocolate chips
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup water

1. Spray a 9-by-13 inch pan with cooking spray.

2. In a large (at least 5-quart) pot over medium-low heat, melt the butterscotch chips with the peanut butter and ¼ teaspoon salt. When the mixture is smooth, which will take 8-10 minutes, add the cereal and stir to thoroughly coat the cereal with the peanut butter mixture.

3. Meanwhile, bring 1-inch of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Place the chocolate, water, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and butter in a heatproof bowl and set it over the simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the powdered sugar.

4. Transfer half of the cereal mixture to the prepared pan; use a rubber spatula or greased hands to pat the mixture into an even layer, pressing lightly to compact. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the cereal in the pan. Top with the remaining cereal mixture. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

rice krispie treats 9

Normally I wouldn’t waste your time describing such a mistake, but this recipe was on my list of 2012 goals for February.

chocolate sugar cookies

chocolate sugar cookies 4

Once the holidays ended and we got into the slower part of the year, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my newfound free time. Get my garden up, which we can do early in the year where I live; fix up my house a bit; set up a recipe database; get better at Photoshop; relearn how to ride a bike; and, maybe, if there’s time after everything else, decorate sugar cookies more often.

chocolate sugar cookies 1

I haven’t decorated sugar cookies since I made these, for Valentine’s Day last year. I distinctly remember staying up long after my normal bed time, on a weeknight, using toothpicks to manipulate royal icing into hearts, then cleaning mixing bowls and squeeze bottles at midnight. I think I’m up until midnight every time I decorate sugar cookies.

chocolate sugar cookies 2

Rationally, I know that when I decorate sugar cookies with royal icing, I should think of it as a day-long project – and that’s assuming that I’ve already made the cookie dough, rolled it out, cut shapes, and baked the cookies. But every time I actually work with royal icing, I wait until the end of the day, because I can’t convince myself that a simple outline and filling of sugar cookies could really take several hours. And then it takes that long, every time.

chocolate sugar cookies 3

These hearts, although not any less time-consuming than regular royal icinged sugar cookies, are at least more foolproof. Instead of painstakingly (at least it’s painstaking for me) detailing on top of hardened icing, you use toothpicks to manipulate two liquid royal icing colors. All you have to do is drag a toothpick through a dot to turn it into a heart.

chocolate sugar cookies 5

The over-the-topness of tiny hearts set into pink, red, and white icing on top of heart-shaped cookies should not detract from the chocolate cookie itself, which is soft, meltingly tender, and most importantly, intensely chocolately. It was almost worth the loss of several hours of sleep. Still, I’m not sure how often I see myself doing this, no matter how much free time I have.

chocolate sugar cookies 8

One year ago: Fettuccine Alfredo
Two years ago: Oatmeal Pancakes
Three years ago: Crispy Bagel Roll
Four years ago: Olive Oil Bread

I’m not qualified to give a royal icing tutorial. I used Karen’s tutorial for these hearts, and Annie later did one as well.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chocolate Sugar Cookies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

I reduced the flour slightly from Deb’s original recipe; this increases the chocolate flavor, although it has the potential to lead to more spreading in the oven. But as you can see, the scalloped hearts retained their decorative edge after baking. Still, if you’re working with a delicate shape, freeze the dough until firm after cutting shapes, then bake the cookies directly from the freezer.

2¾ cups (13.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted to remove lumps
½ teaspoon baking powder
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, and baking powder; set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter and salt until creamy, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar; beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing to incorporate each one before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined, with no dry pockets of flour. Shape the dough into a 1-inch thick disk; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

2. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

3. Lightly flour a large sheet of wax (or parchment) paper. Transfer the chilled dough to the paper and top with a second sheet of wax paper. Roll the dough into ⅛-inch thickness, flouring as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the paper. Use floured cookie cutters to cut shapes; transfer the shapes to the prepared pan. Re-roll and cut shapes from the scraps, using as little flour as possible.

4. Bake the cookies until the tops look dry but are still slightly soft, about 8 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

chocolate sugar cookies 6

black bean avocado brownies

black bean brownies 13

I have developed an extensive spreadsheet of calculations in an effort to address to issue of brownies that aren’t bad for you, and what I have discovered is that brownies are bad for you. The problem is the chocolate. Chocolate on its own doesn’t taste good, as you’re probably aware. It needs sugar to taste good. Fat is nice too. Sugar and fat aren’t good for you.

black bean brownies 4

Sure, the internet is rife with recipes for black bean brownies, in which beans replace the flour, cocoa powder is the only source of chocolate, and, in Cara’s recipe, avocado adds some fat, but the healthy kind. I made Cara’s recipe, exchanging 2 tablespoons of cocoa for 1 ounce of bittersweet chocolate to add oomph to the chocolateliness in a compromise between health and flavor that I thought was worthwhile. The brownies were very, very edible. They didn’t taste like beans or like avocado. They also didn’t taste much like chocolate.

black bean brownies 7

This is when I started calculating calories, trying to see how much chocolate I could add to black bean brownies before it defeats the purpose of making a healthier brownie. I started by looking at Cook’s Illustrated’s Lighter Brownies recipe, replacing the flour with beans and the butter with avocado. I also added some ground almonds, because the original brownies needed something dry to absorb some of the moisture and bulk up the batter.

black bean brownies 8

Once you add more chocolate and fatty nuts to the recipe, it has just as much fat as Cook’s Illustrated butter-containing light brownie recipe. It has twice the fat of Cara’s recipe – but half the fat of my favorite regular brownie recipe (for the same size square). It has about the same amount of fiber and protein as Cara’s recipe, and two or three times the protein of a regular brownie recipe. (Regular brownies don’t contain any fiber to speak of.)

black bean brownies 10

What these brownies have going for them is that they’re chock full of fiber, high in protein, gluten-free, and full of good fats. What they have working against them is that they still have a significant amount of refined sugar, and they have more fat and therefore more calories than other black bean brownie recipes. They also have more flavor, more chocolate flavor, that is; in fact, so much chocolate flavor that this won’t just satisfy a chocolate craving, but it’ll cause a craving – for black bean brownies.

black bean brownies 3
first batch (all other photos are of second batch)

One year ago: Great Grains Muffins
Two years ago: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Three years ago: Tofu Croutons
Four years ago: Potstickers

Printer Friendly Recipe
Black Bean Avocado Brownies (adapted from Cara’s Cravings and Cook’s Illustrated’s Lighter Brownies)

12 medium squares

¼ cup almonds
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 (15-ounce black) beans, rinsed and drained
2 ounces avocado flesh (about ½ an avocado)
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil spray.

2. Process the almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor until the almonds are finely ground, about 2 minutes. Add the beans and avocado; process until the beans are smoothly pureed, 4-5 minutes (some flecks of bean skins may remain).

3. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate; stir frequently until the chocolate is smooth, then remove from the heat. In a separate small bowl, whisk the cocoa, water, vanilla, and espresso powder together. Add the chocolate, cocoa mixture, and baking powder to the bean mixture in the food processor; pulse to combine. Add the eggs; process for 30 seconds, stopping twice to scrape the sides of the bowl.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack, at least 1 hour. Store leftovers, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

black bean brownies 11

kid’s thumbprints

kids thumbprints 7

I have now cooked all* of the recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours. Every week, for the last four years, I have baked whatever recipe someone else picked. I was late a few times but never missed a week. I also managed to make up all of the recipes that the group made before I joined a few months after it started.

kids thumbprints 1

It’s been challenging, I will tell you that. That’s a lot of baking, and it’s a lot of baking that has to be done by a deadline. It often included recipes that were complex, recipes that I knew I wouldn’t love, and in worse case scenarios, complex recipes that I knew I wouldn’t love.

kids thumbprints 2

But, there were far more recipes that I thought I knew I wouldn’t love only to be pleasantly surprised. There were lessons learned, friendships made, and so much confidence gained. Now I have a generous handful of favorite new recipes in my arsenal.

kids thumbprints 3

And what a huge goal to be reached – checking an entire* cookbook off the list. I don’t know what I’ll do now, as I’m not joining the spinoff group.  I might relearn how to choose my own dessert recipes.  I might get into those healthified desserts.  Maybe I won’t bake at all, although I suspect my coworkers, spoiled after months of weekly Dorie treats, would protest.  These cookies, rushed to work on my day off because I was enjoying them a little too much myself for breakfast, were the last in a long line of sweets that quickly disappeared from the office kitchen.  Tuesdays with Dorie is over, but I suspect the baking will continue.

kids thumbprints 6

This final recipe of Tuesdays with Dorie is posted on Dorie’s blog, along with her own reflections on the group. I was too lazy to deal with the egg white and chopped peanut coating but kept to the recipe otherwise.

*Okay, I haven’t made really all of the recipes. I skipped the two fresh fig recipes, and there’s a handful of garnishes and toppings in the last chapter that never came up as part of other recipes.

Final note: My favorite recipes from this book are marked with an asterisk in my blog page that lists posts associated with baking groups.

One year ago: Quintuple Chocolate Brownies
Two years ago: Pecan Pie
Three years ago: Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

kids thumbprints 5

earl grey madeleines

earl grey madeleines 3

Coffee makes me feel like bees are buzzing in my head, so I save it for the weekends. At work, I stick to tea, and I’ve developed a little ritual with my electric kettle, collection of looseleaf teas, and steeper that drips from below when I set it onto my mug. I’m picky about my teas too; I don’t like any teas with weird fruity flavors, and I prefer my black tea with some bitter bite to it.

earl grey madeleines 1

I like Earl Gray tea, but it can’t be too orangey. I once bought one that tasted like a creamsicle, and I threw the whole tin away. Rishi makes my favorite black tea, but their Earl Grey is too strong for me. For months, I’ve been mixing Rishi Earl Grey tea leaves with another black tea I have that isn’t as bitter as I like. My morning mug of tea is an art.

earl grey madeleines 2

Overly strong tea leaves are perfect for putting into dessert though, where they have to battle to be noticed past the sugar and butter. The batter for these madeleines smelled and tasted noticeably of Earl Grey, but the flavor was muted once baked. They smelled more tea-y than they tasted. Clearly, the perfect way to really taste your Earl Grey with your Earl Grey madeleines is to have a mug of tea alongside your tea cake.

earl grey madeleines 4

Nicole chose these madeleines for Tuesdays with Dorie and has the recipe posted. Watch them carefully if you make them! I baked mine for 9 minutes, and it was definitely too long.

One year ago: Maple Tuiles
Two years ago: All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
Three years ago: Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart

earl grey madeleines 5

bittersweet brownies

bittersweet brownies 4

There have been a lot of brownies around here lately, and there hasn’t been a one that I haven’t enjoyed. But I think I’m starting to feel like Dave – without having them side by side, it’s hard to pick favorites. When it comes to something that’s defined by being a square of buttery floury chocolate, it’s the nuances that set recipes apart.

bittersweet brownies 1

This recipe, like Dorie’s classic brownies and her ginger brownies, show her preference for a squat, dense bar cookie. These brownies don’t have a bit of cake fluffiness to them, but they aren’t greasy like some so-called fudgy brownies. They’re tender, almost as if a sablé could be a brownie.

bittersweet brownies 2

In short, I like them. Really, I like any brownie with good chocolate flavor, which these certainly have. I won’t complain about making three different brownie recipes that, to me, all seemed similar, because they were similarly good.

bittersweet brownies 6

Leslie chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I followed the mixing instructions exactly, but then decided to change things up and bake these in a mini muffin pan. I baked them at 325 degrees (the temperature called for in the original recipe) for about 12 minutes.

One year ago: Cranberry Apple Galette
Two years ago: Cran-Apple Crisps
Three years ago: Rice Pudding

bittersweet brownies 5

brown sugar honey madeleines

brown sugar honey madeleines 4

My poor madeleine pan doesn’t get a lot of use. I love it; I got it for Christmas years ago, and seeing it in the cabinet has always made me happy. But I seldom bake with it.

brown sugar honey madeleines 1

There’s no good reason for this, because I love madeleines. They’re miniature handheld cakes. The batter is easy to mix up. They look fancy with no extra effort on my part. There are endless variations to experiment with. I think I just convinced myself to like madeleines more than cupcakes.

brown sugar honey madeleines 2

It’s possible that it’s just this recipe I love so much, with its brown sugar caramel notes. I wouldn’t know, since my only experience with traditional madeleines was years ago and a very qualified success at best. Clearly I need to try that recipe for madeleines again – and many more.

brown sugar honey madeleines 3

Di chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. It’s originally designed for a mini madeleine pan, but considering how rarely I use my regular madeleine pan, I think a mini version is the last thing I need. I just added a couple minutes to the baking time recommended for minis. I had a difficult time prying the cakes out of the pan, even though it’s nonstick and I sprayed it with cooking spray. Next time I’ll give it a more thorough spritz of floury baking spray.

One year ago: Cranberry Shortbread Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake
Three years ago: Kugelhopf

brown sugar honey madeleines 5

ginger-jazzed brownies

ginger brownies 5

I wasn’t confident in the ginger / chocolate combo, so rather than make a full batch of potentially less-than-perfect brownies to share at work, I made a just a small portion of the recipe and kept them for myself. Granted, my coworkers will eventually eat nearly anything sugary that finds its way into our kitchen (the same day that I brought in dulce de leche cupcakes, someone put a basket of Twinkies out; the cupcakes went faster, but the Twinkies went), but I have my standards, you know.

ginger brownies 1

I needn’t have worried. The ginger flavor was so subtle as to be essentially invisible. I might have been disappointed by that, but I was so pleased to have a mini-batch of deep chocolately and meltingly tender brownies all to myself that I had no reason to complain.

ginger brownies 2

Clivia, who chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted. Except for making only a third of it, I followed it exactly. It resulted in a very good regular brownie. However, if you want your brownies to have any ginger kick, you’ll want to increase the ginger; I would double both the ground and fresh ginger.

One year ago: Caramel Pumpkin Pie
Two years ago: Allspice Crumb Muffins
Three years ago: Pumpkin Muffins

ginger brownies 6