Archive for the 'Desserts' Category

Birthdays

Fall and Winter is birthday season in my family.  Between November and February, all of us celebrate our birthdays.  This year, my girls turned 16 and 13, so each has their own special significance.  For my 16 year-old, her girlfriends threw a surprise party, which my ex helped plan.  I split the cost of the present and the meal, and baked and decorated the cake.  It was a wonderful day, and everyone worked hard to make it a special evening.  My youngest is turning 13 this weekend, and she’ll be in New York with my former in-laws.  She is very close with her cousins and is going to see a show on Broadway.

We are very close and I’m going to miss her.  But I also know that this birthday, like all birthdays, is about her, not me.  I will celebrate her birthdaywith her next week when we go on vacation together with my family.  So she shouldn’t feel bad, and neither should I.  But that’s not how these kinds of things work out for many families. 

Our family is no model of how get divorced, but I try to remember who I am compromising for and how the alternative worked. 

So my contribution today is the Tunnel of Fudge: a wonderful cake from my childhood that has been “reengineered” by the Cook’s Country Test Kitchen.  For us, it was the ideal “not quite a birthday cake.” My view is that you can get a lot of great baked goods at the store, so if you are going to go to the trouble at home, it better be worth it.  Cake and box isn’t better than cake from a bakery, so it doesn’t make it into my house any more.

I don’t recommend a lot of baking here, since it is a site for beginners and baking from scratch often requires technique that is not ideally communicated in writing.  This cake takes time, mostly waiting for things to cool, but it can be mixed with a standing mixer, a hand mixer, or just a whisk and a spoon.  There’s no folding, no kneading, and no egg whites.  It is virtually idiot-proof.  The only trick is allowing enough time for the cake to cool so it comes out of the Bundt pan in one piece.  It also requires having the right ingredients, so a trip to the grocery store may be in order.  Rather than making the icing, I’d suggest warm hot fudge or Hersey’s chocolate sauce on top.  It is also amazing with vanilla ice cream, which I’m quite sure is how they serve it in heaven!

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The Tunnel of Fudge Bundt Cake

Originally invented by Ella Helfrich, who won the Pillsbury Bake Off in 1966.  The box mix and the pans were all the rage of late baby boomer children like me.  Cooks Country Test Kitchen recreated and improved the recipe in its 2009 season. 

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups pulverized pecans, best if done in a food processor.
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ¾ cup Dutch processed cocoa
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 20 Tbs. unsalted butter at room temperature (two and a half sticks)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar

 Cooking Instructions

  1. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in glass bowl
  2. Add boiling water and whisk gently when melted.
  3. Set aside for at least 30 minutes so the chocolate can cool to room temperature.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, pecans, confectioners sugar, cocoa and salt.  Whisk together so they are fully incorporated.
  5. In a second bowl, beat the eggs and vanilla
  6. In a third bowl, use a hand mixer to mix the butter, granulated sugar and light brown sugar until light and fluffy. 
  7. Add the egg mixture and incorporate for about 30 seconds at medium speed.
  8. Add the chocolate mixture and incorporate for about 30 more seconds at medium speed.  It will look grainy.
  9. Add the flour mixture and mix with a large spoon.  Use the hand mixer and slowly raise the speed to medium until the mix is fully incorporated (about one minute total).
  10. Grease a Bundt pan with a tablespoon of butter on a napkin, or using a spay vegetable oil like Pam. 
  11. Coat the pan with cocoa powder by pouring a half cup into the greased pan and turning the pan so the powder coats all the sides.  Then turn it upside down over the sink and tap the back.
  12. Pour the batter into the pan.  Gently rap the cake pan on table to break up large air bubbles.
  13. Place in center of a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  Check in 40 minutes to see if top has started to crack along sides. If it has, it is done.  The toothpick test won’t work because of the undercooked center.
  14. Let cool and set for TWO HOURS!  After two hours, you can place a cake plate on top of the pan and turn the entire thing upside down.  The weight of the cake should make it come out easily.  Lift the pan off the cake and drizzle chocolate sauce on top.  Serve with ice cream and remember all the fattening stuff you put in it before you have seconds!

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

There’s something about making cookies with your kids that combines so many wonderful experiences and sensations.  Measuring the ingredients, scooping the gooey drops of dough onto the cookie sheet, and the smell that fills the kitchen.  Of course, the eating part is my favorite, but it is truly just a part of the memories we create.  This is a basic Oatmeal Raisin Cookie recipe that I’ve broken down into easy steps for the non-baker.  The perfect cookie for a cold afternoon!  If your kids don’t like raisins, try the chocolate chip cookies instead.

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks of butter, softened.
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup Quaker Oats (instant, quick or regular)
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Equipment

  • Oven
  • 2 cookie sheets
  • Mixing bowl
  • Hand mixer
  • Measurings spoons
  • Measuring cups

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350.
  2. In your mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugars and vanilla until creamy.
  3. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. 
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mix a half cup at a time while mixing at medium speed until well blended.
  5. Stir in the raisins, nuts and chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.  Let sit for five minutes.
  6. Using a tablespoon, scoop golf-ball sized drops onto the ungreased cookie sheet.  Leave at two inches between each drop.
  7. Bake for 10 to 12 minuts or until golden brown.
  8. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and let cool on your stove for five minutes, then scoop onto a wire rack for 15 minutes.
  9. Eat them!

Awesome Chocolate Chip Cookies

There is never a bad time for chocolate chip cookies, but I can’t think of a better time to make them than on transition night.  If you get your kids on weekends only, Friday night is the hardest time to figure out.  If you get off work early, your ex will be late with the kids.  If she’s early, you may be late.  Even if you don’t fight about it, your kids will be stressed out to the max.  They are as tired as you are and just as cranky, if not more so.  Making dinner under these conditions is like giving them an engraved invitation to have a meltdown.  So the best thing most of us should make for Friday night dinner is reservations.  Make this your dinner out night, but save desert for when you get home. Making these cookies together is a great activity, and they’ll last all weekend.  So let’s get cooking!

One important note about your ingredients:  if you leave out the pecans, you are going to significantly change the texture of the cookies.  Either way is fine, but you should know that without the pecans, these cookies will flatten out more as they cool, and have a lighter, chewier texture.  With the pecans, they will be a little crunchier and hold their shape better.  Both are delicious.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups, semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 ½ cups unbleached, all purpose flour
  • 2 sticks of butter, softened
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¾ tsp granulated sugar
  • ¾ tsp packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Equipment

  • Oven
  • 2 cookie sheets
  •  a cooling rack
  • set of three mixing bowls
  • an electric hand mixer
  • a wood spoon
  • a spatula
  • a set of measuring cups
  • a set of measuring spoons

Directions

  1. Take the butter out and let it soften at room temperature for about an hour.  You can also put it in a microwave-safe bowl and heat it for 15-20 seconds, but not any longer.  Softened butter is soft enough to allow you to easily cut it with the back of a teaspoon, but not so soft that melted butter is pooling around it.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 
  3. Measure all of your ingredients into separate small cups or shot glasses.  That way when you need to mix things, they are always there and you don’t have to wait to clean your measuring spoons while you do it.  Sometimes ingredients need to be mixed together and they don’t like to sit and wait in the mix.
  4. In your medium mixing bowl, put the flour, salt and baking soda.  Use a wisk or a spoon to mix the dry ingredients together.  A couple of stirs is fine.
  5. In your large bowl, put the two sticks of softened butter and beat them with the hand-held mixer until they are the consistency of wet cement or wall spackle.  You shouldn’t have to beat this more than a couple of minutes to get it right.  Use your spatula to push the stuff on the sides of the bowl into the beaters but don’t touch the beaters while they are mixing.  If your finger gets caught in there, it’s going to hurt a lot!  You’ll also have to get a new mixer because you are likely to throw the one in your hand on the floor.
  6. Add the brown sugar and white sugar to the mix, along with the vanilla, and beat them again, until the sugars are thoroughly blended into the butter.
  7. Break one of your two eggs into the mix and beat it together until it is mixed together.
  8. Break your second egg into the mix and beat again until it is mixed together.
  9. Now you want to add the flour.  I take my dry measuring cup and dig it into the small bowl of flour and use it to sprinkle the flour on while I use the mixer with my other hand.  The flour needs to incorporate into the dough slowly enough so that it doesn’t clump together but you don’t have to be dainty about it.  Just don’t dump the whole bowl in there until there’s only a little left and you can’t really scoop it anymore.  This part is important, because if the flour mixes evenly with the butter, your cookies are going to taste awesome, and if you have clumps of clotted flour in your mix, then your kids are going to be scarred for life (just kidding – a bad chocolate chip cookie is still a chocolate chip cookie).
  10. Once all of the flour is thoroughly mixed into the dough, you want to dump in your nuts and chocolate chip cookies.  These can go in all at once.  I use a wooden spoon to mix them in so they don’t get thrown out of the bowl by the mixer.  Once they are coated, I can finish with the blender on slow speed to make sure they are spread out through the dough.  At this point, I scrap the sides with the spatula and form the dough into a big clump.  You can transfer it to smaller bowl if you want, but either way, put it in the fridge for about ten minutes to let the dough firm up a little.  If you are planning on making some of the cookies now and some later, you can keep the dough in the fridge for 5 days as long as it is covered.
  11. Arrange your cookie sheets on the kitchen counter next to the oven, or on the kitchen table.  Take the dough out of the fridge and scoop a rounded tablespoon onto the cookie sheets.  Each drop should be about the size of a golf ball, but they don’t have to be perfectly round.  Use your index finger to get the dough off of the spoon.  A typical cookie sheet will hold twelve drops of dough in four rows of three.  I make 20 at one time, and refrigerate the rest of the dough for next time.  If you make them all, just repeat this step after the cookies from the first batch are on the wire rack and your sheets are cool enough to touch.
  12. Place the sheets in the oven and set the oven kitchen timer to ten minutes. The difference between the kitchen timer and the oven timer on most ovens is that the kitchen timer doesn’t turn off the oven when it goes off.  After seven minutes, check them to see if they are golden brown on top.  They should be done in seven to ten minutes, a little longer if you like them extra crunchy.
  13. Let the sheets cool for five minutes on top of the stove and then gently scrape the cookies onto the wire rack with a spatula.
  14. Reload the rest of the batch and put them in the oven or turn off the oven and put the extra dough in the fridge.
  15. Hot cookies give kids a stomach ache, warm ones are great.  Don’t let them eat the cookies for at least ten minutes.  Don’t put them away until they are completely cool or they will condense water on the inside of the container. 
  16. Don’t eat all of the cookies in one sitting or you’ll get fat.
  17. Wash your dishes.  Your ex isn’t going to do it and you don’t want to do it tomorrow because the dough will harden and be a pain in the ass to clean.
  18. Congrats!  You are a successful cookie baking Dad!

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