Monday, December 22, 2008

How to Decorate Cupcakes: Christmas

Cupcakes are one of the easiest things to whip up for an impromptu get-together, which is exactly why I made these Friday night. I invited my friends over and needed something quick, so I threw a box of cake mix in the oven and just used store bought cream cheese frosting.
To decorate these cupcakes, simple fill a piping bag (or Ziploc) with your frosting of choice. Cut a hole at the bottom (you want it kind of wide, maybe the diameter of a dime) and start at the edge of the cupcake. Go in a circular motion around the cupcake, working the spiral inward until you reach the top. Release the pressure on the piping bag and pull it away. I sprinkled these with my new faves (glitter sprinkles) for a snowy look (except for that one on the end, that was Brad's and he went with Christmas sprinkles).
To make them even more festive you could put red and green frosting in the piping bag for a nice swirl effect when you pipe.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Baking Basics: Butter

Here's a link to a helpful recent NYT article all about some important basics of butter!

Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies that Sing

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dough Temperature: Chocolate Sugarsnaps

Baking cookbooks frequently extol the importance of proper temperature ingredients- very cold butter, room temperature shortening, etc. As any baker knows, those are critical. Butter that's too soft creates thin, greasy cookies, butter that's too cold doesn't whip enough air in, warm egg whites whip more volume, and so on. Knowing these types of things is what helps a recipe succeed, when it may not have worked for others.

But what about dough temperature? Is that as critical as the ingredient temperature? At some point or another I'm sure we've all been racing through a recipe we plan to serve later that day only to be confronted with the words "Chill dough overnight." Ahh! Guess we didn't read through the recipe carefully enough. Now what?

I've always wondered how important chilling overnight really was. Can I do it for two hours and call it a day, especially if i split the dough into smaller chunks? Do I really have to chill at all?

So I did a little experiment. This is by no means scientifically sound or even remotly exhaustive. But I thought it was interesting and so I'm sharing my results. This recipe for Chocolate Sugarsnaps called for 30 minutes chilling time. I said to myself, how can that possibly do anything? So I prepared two baking sheets full of cookies. One batch went in the oven and and one was chilled as required.

And you know what? It made a big difference! Check out the picture at the top of this post. The cookies on the left are the ones that weren't chilled. They came out flatter and spread more, while the other cookies had a better, more visually appealing puffier shape. The taste was similar, save for a slightly more greasy feel on the unchilled batch.

I shared these results with my best friend Jenn and she told me she always chills her dough or cookies before baking them, even if the recipe doesn't call for it. So I think I'll be doing that in my next few recipes.

And of course I'll post the recipe here that I used for the sugarsnaps. It's a chewy sugar cookie dough flavored with quality chocolate and rolled in a coating of granulated sugar. I found these delicious (and I am not really a chocolate person), but I'll warn you of something I've noticed over the years: people just don't seem to gravitate towards chocolate colored cookies. I've made these, sables (which were AMAZING), and chocolate white chocolate chip cookies, and I always am greeted with the same reaction: "Those cookies don't really look that good. Yeah they taste good, but I don't know. The look is kind of unappetizing." Maybe that's just my group of friends though. Anyway the point there is, know your audience! They're really delicious but if you have a group that's picky on looks, well, you might want to stick to regular sugar cookies!

Chocolate Sugarsnaps, adapted from Carole Walter's Great Cookies

1 cup flour, spooned in and leveled
2 tbsp Dutch processed cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 cup granulated sugar, divided into 2/3 and 1/3
1/2 lightly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
10 oz fine-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted

Strain together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and lightened in color. Add 2/3 cup of the granulated sugar in a steady stream, mixing to combine. Add brown sugar and mix until smooth. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, mixing to blend and scraping the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla and chocolate.

Add the dry ingredients in two additions, and mix just until blended. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30-40 mins.

Position shelves to divide oven in thirds. Preheat to 375 and line baking pans with parchment.

Put the remain 1/3 cup of sugar in a plate. Shape the dough into walnut-sized balls and roll in sugar to coat. Place on sheets, 1 1/2 in apart. Bake for 8-9 minutes if you want your cookies chewy, 10-11 for crisper cookies.

Remove from oven and let rest for ten minutes, then use a metal spatula to transfer to cooling racks.

Stored airtight, these cookies will keep for 2 weeks.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

One of the best parts of baking is the people who appreciate what you make. I think for a lot of us, that's why we do it- it's nice to make other people happy. My mom's office knows that I love to bake, and they constantly bug her about when I'll send in something for all of them. So I decided to bake something for my mom to bring in right before she took her Christmas vacation.

I went with an old favorite recipe from Ina, one of my favorite cooks. It's her sour cream coffee cake- a moist, sweet, and delicious cake that reveals a hidden layer of streusel inside, and a streusel and maple glaze on top.

The cake is extremely straightforward, and very easy to assemble, despite its impressive looking presentation. However, be warned- it's not for dieters! (It is coming from Ina, after all). It's got two sticks of butter and more than a cup of sour cream in it (no wonder it tastes so good...). I promise if you try this cake, you'll love it. It's the perfect thing to bring to a casual gathering or for the office- it's simple, delicious, and who doesn't like coffee cake?

The recipe is as follows. I haven't altered anything, so I just pasted it verbatim from the Food Network. You can find that page here: http://http//

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream
2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the streusel:
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional

For the glaze:

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.
For the streusel, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Mix in the walnuts, if desired.
Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out, and scatter the remaining streusel on top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.
Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake, streusel side up, onto a serving plate. Whisk the confectioners' sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water if necessary, to make the glaze runny. Drizzle as much as you like over the cake with a fork or spoon.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Book Review: Great Cookies

Carole Walter's Great Cookies stands out as a perfect example of what a cookbook should be: highly well researched and tested, clear directions, and extremely successful recipes. Anyone looking for a great volume on cookies needs to look no further.

The book is broken out into chapters based on cookie type, beginning with your simplest drop cookies, and ending with a chapter on more complicated meringue confections. Chapters cover cookie varieties including icebox cookies, piped cookies, rolled cookies, bars, and biscotti. There is also a wonderful chapter on cookies from around the world, which provides a great introduction to a lot of new types of cookies (for me, Sicilian Wine Cookies), or just top quality recipes for classics (like Linzer Tarts).

Following the all the recipe chapters is a critical section left out of many cookbooks: technique and ingredients!!! In so many cookbooks, (like the mass-produced Food Network star cookbooks), big, gorgeous photos take the place of what you really need a recipe for: instruction. Great Cookies provides recipes for classic cookie buttercreams, glazes, and fillings, as well as pages of ingredient explanation. Each ingredient gets its own paragraph that details how to choose a quality product, how temperature and other factors affect the ingredient, and the role it serves in your baking. Understanding, for example, the different properties and functions of butter really serve to improve your results. I can't stress the importance of this, and Walter goes beyond what's necessary, including wonderful extras that compare the quality of different chocolate brands, or tell you where to find obscure ingredients.

The book is explicitly clear every step of a recipe, almost to the point of tedium (but better that than not enough!). Walter goes as far as to tell you exactly how many minutes to mix, how many long to spend pouring sugar in, and gives details on exactly what the batter or dough will look like every step of the way. It's critical for a novice baker, and great for an experienced one too, because if you follow these exacting instructions, your cookies really will come out perfect. The only downside of this is that I find if you're just starting out baking, it will hinder your creativity a little (all those exacting instructions can make you a little nervous to play around!)

The photographs in the book are also wonderful. There is a photo provided for nearly every recipe, helping you see how your cookies should look. The book may not use photos to substitute for quality, but it doesn't neglect the importance of visuals when it comes to food. Think about it: would online blogs be so successful if the author didn't provide pictures? It's important not to neglect the aesthetics.

But lastly, the cookbook succeeds in the most important of ways: the recipes are a success. So many cookbooks provide recipes that are decent but really don't blow you away. Ninety five percent of the cookies in this book will make you discard your old favorite recipes. You can trust that if you're making it for guests, even if it's your first time trying the recipe, it'll come out good. And that, to me, is the ultimate sign of a great cookbook.

Cookie Decorating

I dragged my boyfriend (from now on we'll just call him by his name, which is Brad) to Michael's with me the other day to pick up some last minute needs for my sugar cookie decorating. He was absentmindedly killing time in the aisles when he spied a bottle of white glitter sprinkles. Like a little kid, his eyes lit up and he said "Those would be really awesome on your cookies! You should get those." So I did.
And it completely streamlined my cookie decorating!

I'll explain. I tend to plan these really elaborate decorations for my sugar cookies. This year the game plan was snowmen with black hats, striped scarves, orange noses, and stocking cookies, decorated in a red and green plaid design. I plan the way to decorate these way in advance, and I always think they will come out as amazingly as the professional ones I find when image searching Google. I envision myself spending all day expertly and effortlessly piping decorations and impressing everyone who gets my cookie baskets...and I inevitably get frustrated after an hour, begin to thoroughly hate royal icing, and consequently scale way back on the intricacy of my designs, offering up plainer cookies or "accidentally" letting my dog get to a few.
And obviously, that happened again this year. Until I remembered the glitter sprinkles. Instead of making elaborate plaid designs on the stockings, I just covered them with my new stuff. So the cookies were easy to do, but since it was a cooler, more unusual type of sprinkle, they still looked better than a homemade piece of crap. I even scaled back the snowmen, but used sprinkles to add color to the hat and interest to the cookie's edge. So now it doesn't look so plain despite the fact that I skipped left out both the nose AND scarf.

So here's what I did:

1. Make a batch of royal icing (recipe follows).
2. Put it in a piping bag fitted with a plain tip.
3. Outline the tops of the stockings and the edges of the snowmen (stop underneath where the hat would be).
4. Press the snowmen into the white edible glitter.
5. Make a batch of glossy cookie icing (recipe follows). Fill in the snowmen and the top of the stockings. Press the stocking tops into the white edible glitter. Redip snowmen edges if need be.
6. Make a batch of glossy cookie icing and tint it red. Paint the bottoms of the stockings and sprinkle with red sanding sugar.
7. Make one last batch of very stiff black glossy cookie icing. Paint the snowmen's hats and pipe their eyes, nose, mouth, and buttons.
8. Use sprinkles to decorate the hats. (I used Christmas tree shaped ones turned sideways and little red ball sprinkles to create holly).

I use the two different types of icing because the meringue powder gives the royal icing a funny taste. So I use it only for piping or detail work.

Royal Icing:
1.5 tbsp meringue powder
3 tbsp hot water
2 cups powdered sugar.

Combine ingredients and beat with mixer until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Can be doubled, tripled, etc.

Glossy Cookie Icing
1 tbsp corn syrup
1 tbsp water
2 cups powdered sugar

Combine all ingredients. To make stiffer icing, use more sugar and less water. To make thinner icing, add more water. Always err on the side of stiff, if icing is too watery it will run off cookie as it dries.
*To make whiter icing, substitute milk for water.
*Can also be flavored w/extracts
*If using food coloring, bear in mind that liquid coloring will dilute the icing. Paste or gel is preferable.

Enjoy your decorating!

Difficulty: 3

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

This is just one of those recipes that people love. And I mean love. No matter where I have taken them, whether it's work, friends' parties, etc, people always give me the same response: "Wow, these are really good." They always say in a surprised tone, as if they didn't know something as basic as an oatmeal raisin cookie could be so good.

Anyway, this mega-hit comes from, and it's called Beth's Spicy Oatmeal Raisin cookies. The recipe below is my adaptation, which removes the cloves from the original and also messes with the raisins a bit.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening (do not substitute butter for shortening, they aren't the same)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Plump the raisins: Place raisins in a bowl. Boil some water in a tea kettle and pour over the raisins. Drain right before use.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, brown sugar, white sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Stir in the oats and raisins.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until light and golden. Don't let them overbake!

To cool, I let sit on the baking sheet for a minute, then pull the foil and cookies off the hot sheet. When they're completely cool I store them in a tin for up to a week.

Two Options to Jazz Them Up:
1. Drizzle a brown butter frosting over the cookies. Melt butter in a saucepan until slightly golden, then add in a tsp of vanilla and enough confectioner's sugar to create an icing like consistency (sorry, I make all diff amounts of this so I don't really have an official recipe!)
2. Swap Craisins for raisins, and add white chocolate chips. Festive and yummy!

Difficulty Rating: 1

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chocolate Bundt Cake

My family has quiet holidays that are usually just the four of us, so every Thanksgiving I have the opportunity to go to my boyfriend's for dessert. He has lots of family over, and to me it's exactly what holidays should be- loud, with tons of food, family, and friends. Plus, I look forward to it because it's an excuse to bake a cake!

This year, the dessert had to meet a few qualifications:
1. Able to be baked ahead of time(despite double ovens, getting in the kitchen when my mom's cooking a holiday meal is impossible!)
2. Chocolate (boyfriend's dad is a massive chocoholic)
3. Travel well (no four layer, buttercream smothered confections here).
I also wanted to avoid typical Thanksgiving desserts like pumpkin or apple pie, since I knew they'd have those already.

After a truly obscene amount of recipe searching and deliberation (especially for the piece of cake-pun intended- that I chose), I settled on the Too Much Chocolate Cake recipe from, since it had 5 stars from about 800 people. I figured if 800 people raved about it, chances are the family would too. It's a simple pudding-enhanced chocolate cake mix, which meant it was simple to bake and also moist and dense enough to allow me to bake it up the night before without drying out. I used a bundt pan, but you could use anything, and topped with a chocolate glaze from Carole Walter's Great Cakes.

Here is the recipe (a fattening one!) with my alterations:

Too Much Chocolate Cake
1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix
1 package instant chocolate pudding mix (the recipe calls for a 5.9 oz but I used a normal 3.9 oz with no issues)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
4 eggs
1/2 cup warm water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs, milk, and water. Pour batter into a well greased 12 cup bundt pan.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until top is springy to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool cake thoroughly in pan at least an hour and a half before inverting onto a plate.

Quick Chocolate Glaze
1.5 oz unsweeted chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup strained confectioners' sugar
3 tbsp boiling water (you may need an extra tbsp)
1 tbsp light corn syrup
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Place the chocolates in a double boiler, stirring until melted and smooth. Off the heat, stir in the sugar and water alternately, beating well. Blend in corn syrup, then vanilla. The glaze should be glossy and pourable, so here is where you may need that extra bit of boiling water (I did).

The glaze was perfect for the cake- shiny and attractive, but not too sweet, since the cake was already over-the-top chocolately and sweet.

Simple, easy, and a big hit at Thanksgiving!

Difficulty Rating: 1

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Halloween Cupcakes

A few days before Halloween, a package arrived in the mail for me. I tore into it and realized my boyfriend had surprised me with Karen Tack's Hello Cupcake!, a book I'd been talking about for awhile and really wanted! I was so excited.
The ideas in the book are so cute and creative, allowing you to use every day pantry items to make really professional looking cupcakes. There's designs for occasions like Thanksgiving, Halloween, and birthdays, etc, and the tricks you learn are clever and useful (if a bit time consuming occasionally). My only issue with the book is that to make some of the more detailed cupcakes, you'll need a lot of ingredients (For example, I wanted to make the werewolf cupcakes for Halloween, but didn't have M&Ms, Fruit Roll Ups, Marshmallows, or Oreos- and that's a lot of crap to buy for one little batch of cupcakes!)

So I decided to go with the pumpkin cupcakes. Simple but appropriate, and they matched the Halloween cupcake liners that I had already purchased. Oh yeah, and it was 7 pm and I planned to bring them to work the next day.

I just used boxed yellow cake mix and Betty Crocker cream cheese frosting- I'll explain! As a baker I sometimes feel it's cheating or a copout to use boxed mix and icing. In a way, it is. But to me, mixes are exactly what I feel a classic cupcake should be- so why would I make my own, if someone else already did it perfectly? I've had the cupcakes from Billy's/Crumbs/Magnolia/[insert trendy NYC bakery here] and I'll be honest: I'll take cake mix over those any day. Plus, you have to know your audience. Mine was my office, not a team of expert bakers. And I knew they'd be more than satisfied with mix. I will say frosting is better homemade, but in the interest of time, I let Betty take care of it.
So the pumpkin decoration obviously uses orange food coloring. I wound up using half a bottle my red and yellow food colorings- next time I will just run out to Michael's for the Wilton paste coloring. It's much better quality.
To get the pumpkin look, you kind of have to mound the frosting- I spooned a huge clump on top and turned the cupcake clockwise against my offset spatula to cover the cupcake but concentrate most of the frosting at the top. I then rolled each cupcake in a plateful of orange sugar sprinkles, and came up with this:

Then, I used toothpicks to press five lines in the frosted cupcakes, from the top center on down. I scooped some frosting into a ziploc bag, cut a hole in the corner, and piped frosting over the lines. I topped with an upside down green gumdrop. Perfect little cupcakes! And when I ran out of orange frosting, I piped some chocolate on the rest of the cupcakes! They were a big hit!

Difficulty Rating: 1

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sugar Cookies

What epitomizes cookies more than one shaped with a cutter and decorated with icing? I try to make these for every holiday, as they are my boyfriend's favorites (and he is a VERY picky eater, so once I find a recipe he likes I stick to it!)

In my quest to find the best rolled sugar cookie, I've experimented with many different recipes. I have found the absolute best is Neil's Scalloped Sugar Cookies, from Carole Walter's Great Cookies. They're super easy, delicious, made from ingredients you always have on hand, and don't puff up at all in the oven and ruin the cutter shape.

The other benefit to these cookies that they freeze & travel really well, and they also last about 3 weeks (stored airtight)- another reason they're great to make for the boyfriend- he's at school in Michigan!

This particular batch is going in my Christmas cookie tins. Every year, I obsessively plan the most efficient way to decorate these. That involves limiting myself to a minimum of shapes and colors. This year, as you can see from the picture, I went with snowmen and stockings. I'm going to use white, red, and green as my main colors, with black as an accent on the snowman. But my completely anal decorating method will be posted when I decorate them. Right now, they're being frozen away and will be pulled out closer to Christmas.

So, if you plan on making some Christmas cookies soon I highly recommend these. The recipe as I use it is as follows:
Neil's Scalloped Sugar Cookies
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2/3 cup (1 and 1/3 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 or 2 tsp cold water as needed
Combine flour, sugar, butter in bowl of food processor, fitted with the steel blade. Pulse to combine, then process for approximately 10 seconds, until the mixture is the texture of fine meal (it will look crumbly and not much like dough).
Combine the yolks and vanilla in a bowl, and add to the processor's work bowl. Pulse to combine, and then process for about 10 seconds until a mass forms. If it looks very dry, add a tsp of water. Empty the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a disk. It will seem rather dry and crumbly. Don't worry.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 3 days.
To bake: Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with foil.
Working with 1/4 of the dough at a time, roll out on floured surface until about 1/4 or 1/8 inch thick. Using your cookie cutters, cut into your desired shapes.
Place on cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until edges are golden brown.
**If you don't plan to decorate these, you can brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. I've never done that though, I always decorate with royal icing!
Difficulty Rating: 1

Monday, November 10, 2008

Apple Pie Bars

My favorite farmer's market closed for the winter last week, so I decided to stock up on the last inexpensive apples I'd get this season. I bought a variety of different kinds, Granny Smiths, Golden Delicious, and Jonagolds, to experiment and see what I liked best for baking (it should come as no surprise that Golden Delicious won).

Apple desserts are my favorite kind- my tastebuds don't go for supersweet, frosting-laden cakes or chewy cookies (though I love to bake both!) I wanted to try something new, like an apple tart, but I succumbed to my number 1 favorite dessert, Apple Pie Bars. They have three delicious parts: a cookie-like layer, a layer of warm, cooked apples, and a crisp brown sugar/cinnamon streusel topping. The recipe comes from Carole Walter's Great Cookies (aka the best book ever!), and I make it with absolutely no changes- it's perfect as it is!

Although the recipe requires three separate steps, it's fairly straightforward and depending on how quickly you work, can be finished in a little over an hour. Here's the recipe:

For the apples:
6 Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, sliced 1/4in thick
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp honey (Maple syrup works equally well if you don't have honey)

For the crust:
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg

For the streusel topping:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 stick butter, cubed
1 cup medium chopped toasted pecans (I omit these)

Cooking the apples:
Combine all ingredients in a pan, and cover for 2-3 minutes to let the apples release their juices. Then, uncover, and cook until the juices have evaporated and the apples are soft and golden brown. This will take approx 15 minutes (try not to eat half the apples like I always do!) When they're done, they'll look like this: (a bit blurry but you get the idea)

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 375.
Line a 9 x 13 x 2 baking dish with foil, and grease it with butter.
Strain together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes.
Add the egg, and mix just until blended.
Add the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing just until incorporated.
The dough will be very soft. At this point, I take big spoonfuls of it and dump them strategically in all the corners and center of the pan, and then flatten them towards each other using my hands or the bottom of a glass.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until just golden and coming away from the sides of the pan.
Turn the oven down to 350.
Make streusel while the crust bakes.

For the streusel:
Combine flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt on low speed in mixer.
Add butter and mix until mixture is crumbly and barely holds together when squeezed.
Stir in pecans, if using.

Or, my lazy way: Mix it all with your hands! I only have one mixer and am too lazy to clean it again to make streusel. It's just as easy to do it by hand.

The mixture, when properly combined, will look like this:

When crust is done, immediately spoon apples over it, and sprinkle with streusel.
Reduce oven temp to 350 and bake for 20-25 minutes, until streusel topping is light brown and crisp.

The entire thing looks like this:

Unfortunately, my mom took the bars to work before I had a chance to snap a picture of them cut. But trust me, these are delicious! They are always a huge crowd pleaser, because they combine apple pie, coffee cake, and cookies. Yum!

Difficulty Rating: 1.

Friday, November 7, 2008


After making sugar cookies last week, I found myself with two leftover egg whites and no craving for an omelet. I'd never made meringues before, and knew this was a perfect time to try them out.

I chose a Peppermint Meringue recipe from, though I left out the peppermint as I'm not a huge fan of it. The recipe, with my adaptations, is as follows:

1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350.

Bring the egg whites to room temperature to ensure maximum volume when whipping. You can do this quickly by dipping the bowl of egg whites in another bowl of hot water (don't get water in the egg whites, obviously).

Whip until frothy, then mix in the salt and cream of tartar.

Whip until soft peaks form (you will see ridges in the egg whites, and when you remove the beater a peak will form and then wilt). Gradually add in the sugar. Take your time and add it in along the sides of the bowl, not directly into the egg whites, so as not to risk deflating them.

Whip until stiff peaks form.

Since I was doing this around the election, I split my meringues in half and used a few drops of blue food coloring in one, and a few drops of red in the other.

I used a #4 star tip to pipe out rosettes, but you could just drop spoonfuls onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Personally I like the rosette shape, I think it makes a plain item look a little fancy.

Put the meringues in the oven, and shut it off. Leave in overnight to dry out.

The result:
Perfectly cooked. Crisp but melt in your mouth. However, I found them to be a bit too sweet for me (I guess that's the nature of the beast!) Next time, I may fold in walnuts to add some texture and cut back on the sweetness...or maybe I'll just make that omelet.

Difficulty Rating: 1