Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chocolate Cherry Scones

I can remember that a previous employer had a person in management that would take time out for afternoon tea .  I find this unusual , especially since most offices always have a counter full of coffee pots.  However, a tea time break may be just the thing to brighten up the afternoon.

As always, tea time should include some tasty food.  As far as I am concerned, scones have been overlooked.  Scones, for some reason, are not an item you see very often in bakeries but there is no doubt that they are just as worthy as cookies or cupcakes. Also, there is enough of a variety to appeal to everyone.  Some are savory, others sweet and the base can have a bready quality or skate very close to being cookies.

In this particular recipe, the harmony created with the sweet dried cherries and the semi sweet chocolate does create a craving for seconds. Also, there is a hint of something extra, which is cinnamon.

Take some time for yourself and friends with an afternoon tea and don't forget the scones! This recipe makes about 1 dozen scones.

Cherry Chocolate Scones
adapted from Gifts From the Kitchen

Ingredients/ Scones
3/4  cup or 3 oz coarsely chopped cherries
1/2 cup miniature semi sweet chocolate chips
1tbs baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp gnd cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 1/3 cups heavy cream

Ingredients/ Topping
melted butter
Cinnamon sugar or sparkling white sugar

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.   In a large bowl, sift together cinnamon, salt, flour and baking powder.  Then stir in sugar.  Mix in the dried cherries and chocolate chips.

Add 1/3 cup of cream to the batter.  Using a pastry cutter or large fork, blend the cream into the dry ingredients.  Repeat this process, adding and mixing in the cream until the mixture can be formed into a ball of dough.

Lightly dust a flat surface with flour and place the ball of dough in the center.  Knead the dough about 15 times, turning after each time. Roll out the dough into a 3/4 inch thick mass. Take a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter and cut out rounds. Dust bottom edges of cutter occasionally between cuttings. Continue with the process, re-rolling scraps when needed.

Once all the dough has been cut into circles,  place on baking sheet about 1 inch apart . If one of the sides of the scone has flour on it, place that side up.  Bush the top of the scones with butter and sprinkle on the cinnamon.  Place the sheet in the oven for the scones to bake until light brown.  They should take about 20 minutes to be done. Scones will be firm to the touch.

Let cool in pan about 5 minutes then serve warm or let cool completely to serve at room temperature.
                              **LAST YEAR: French Strawberry Cake**

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Coconut Almond Topped Peach Pie

The window of time for the best peaches seems to be pretty small in Texas.  Intending to get fresh fruit for the pie, I was disappointed only to find a sad selection of small hard peaches at the grocers.  Not the tender juicy ones I had in mind.  However, I came across had a note in a pie recipe book stating that sometimes the frozen ones are better because they are flash frozen at the peak of freshness.  So I went ahead and got frozen peaches.

When it comes to fruit pies, the fruit should be the most prominent thing you taste.  Some pies have just too much filling so you are tasting the syrupy type base more than the fruit.  As you can see in the picture, the syrup base keeps the peaches clinging together as opposed to floating in the base.

The crunchy topping is a great alternative to using pie crust.  It not only imparts a nice texture, it adds a little bit more flavor to the dessert.  Let's not forget that it is much easier to make than a pastry crust top for the pie!

Coconut Almond Topped Peach Pie
adapted from Pie by Ken Haedrich

Ingredients/Pie Crust
1/4 cup cold butter (cut into 1/4 inch pieces)
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening (cut into pieces)
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp sugar

Ingredients/ Filling
1 1/2 tbs fresh lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup plus 3 tbs sugar
2 tbs cornstarch
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2- 1lb bags of frozen peaches, thawed in a large bowl

Ingredients/Pie Topping
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup sweetened coconut
6 tbs or 3/4 cup cold butter (cut into 1/4 inch pieces)
1 tbs milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour

For the pie crust, sift together the flour and salt.  Stir in the sugar.  Pour mixture into a food processor.  Add the butter cubes and pulse several times to cut into the dry ingredients.  Scrape the bowl and fluff with a fork.  Do the same with the pieces of shortening.  Drizzle 2 tbs of water over mixture and pulse until blended.  Fluff and then sprinkle additional 2 tbs of water over dough and pulse again. Empty dough into bowl and test texture. Mixture should clump together in your hand.  If still too dry, knead in a teaspoon of water.

Then sprinkle flour on a flat surface and empty bowl of dough on top of flour.  Knead the dough a few times and form into a 3/4" thick disk.  Wrap disk in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least and hour or overnight.

Once chilling time is complete, roll disk out on a floured surface to form a 13" circle.  Then invert into a 9 1/2 inch deep dish pie pan.  Make sure dough is covering all of the interior of the pie pan, so there are no bubbles of air.  Using your fingers or the tines of a fork, sculpt the extra dough hanging over the edge of the pie pan to make the upper edge of the crust.

Place pie tin in the freezer for 15 minutes.

The filling starts with tossing the lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/3 cup sugar and peaches together in a medium size bowl.  Set aside for 10 minutes for peaches to release more juice.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and the remaining 3 tbs of sugar.  Add to the peach mixture, stirring to make sure everything is evenly distributed.  Then mix the nutmeg and vanilla extract into the fruit filling.  Pour filling into the chilled pie crust and smooth the top.  Place in oven to bake for about 35 minutes.

While pie is baking, make the topping.  Fill food processor with coconut, almonds, flour , sugar and salt.  Press the pulse button about 6 times, running each pulse session about 5 seconds.  Then drop in butter cubes and run food processor until the mixture turns into crumbs.  Lastly, pour in milk and process until consistency is uniform.  Pour the crumb mixture in a bowl and test to see if the crumbs will clump together in your hand.  Put in refrigerator until pie has been removed from the oven.

Once pie is removed from oven, reduce temperature to 375 degrees.  Take crumb topping and dump into center of pie and smooth.  Then lightly pat down so crumbs form a solid coating over the peaches.

Cover a baking sheet with foil and place on the bottom rack of the oven.  Then place pie on the rack above.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until filling is thick and bubbly.

Remove and let cool for at least an hour prior to cutting and serving.

Tips and Notes:
1. The recipe states, partially frozen peaches instead of thawed.  To insure even baking of the crust as well as the filling, I thawed out the peaches completely before mixing to make filling.

2.  When it comes to making the dough, you can use other processing methods such as by hand and by using a mixer.

3. To make sure the bottom crust fully bakes, the freezer time should not exceed 15 minutes.

4.  While the recipe states dump the crumbs into the center of the pie and spread, I sprinkled them on top, this helps make the topping even. Also, not that the crumb mixture does seem like a lot, but the volume insures a crumbly top coat instead of the crumbs melting into the peach filling.
                                        **LAST YEAR: Pecan Tassies**



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Frosted Banana Bars

When it comes to recipes that include bananas, most of us find ourselves turning to these type of recipes when we have over ripe bananas.  That was not the case here.  I bought the bananas the day before baking.

Based on the results, I am left wondering about the specifics of the ingredient list in regards to the bananas. Over ripe, medium ripe, ripe or just the listing of banana.  These variations have a definite impact on the flavor and texture of the bars.  Since my bananas were just purchased, the end result was that the bars had just a hint of banana flavor.

The frosting would have been a better match if the bars had a stronger flavor.  The flavor of the cream cheese was too strong of a match for the subtle banana base. If I was to make this again I would use over ripe bananas and perhaps some banana extract. However, note that the ingredients listed below are those as stated originally.

The recipe did have some positive points.  The bars were moist and the frosting remained creamy even after a few days. The amount of confectioners sugar used in the frosting is a variable according to what consistency is desired, but bear in mind that the more sugar the dryer it will be after it sets. So if you are looking for something banana, this may be a good one to test out with those over ripe bananas.

Frosted Banana Bars
adapted from Taste of Home, Best Loved Recipes

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

3 3/4 to 4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-8 oz package cream cheese, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 10 x 15 x 1 inch baking pan by greasing the interior. Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda.  Set aside.

Add the butter and sugar to a bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat on medium high for 2 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  The batter should be very light and fluffy after this process.  Add one egg and beat for 30 seconds and repeat with the remaining egg.  Then add the sour cream and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed until evenly distributed into the batter.

Fold the sifted ingredients into the batter in increments of 1/3.  When no dry streaks remain, fold in the mashed bananas.  Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula.  Place in oven and bake until it has a golden hue and tester comes out clean.  This should take about 20-25 minutes.  Remove and let bars cool in pan completely without cutting.

To prepare the frosting, add the cream cheese, vanilla and butter to a mixing bowl.  Beat for 1 minute on medium high speed to reach the same consistency as stated in the first mixing step of the bar batter.  Sift in 1 cup of the confectioners sugar and beat until smooth.  Continue to add the sugar in increments and beat after each addition until desired consistency is achieved.

Smooth the frosting on the cooled bars and refrigerate until read to cut and serve.
                                            **YEAR 2012: Apricot Brie Croissant Pockets**

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

When I bring food to my co-workers I am faced with a timeline.  Each person indulges in the dessert at a different time.  Saving for later, eating right then and saving until tomorrow poses an issue.  Anything that is cold is hard to serve, as well as anything that drys out at room temperature after cut.  All I can do is use the company refrigerator and advise when it is best to be eaten.

I am sure that we would all agree that there is nothing quite as tasty as a freshly cut, fudgy brownie.  With this cookie recipe, you can forget about the timeline. The thin, crackly exterior protects all the fudgey goodness that lies on the inside, so sitting for several hours has no impact on the texture.

Like brownies, these are delicious served on their own.  However, another serving suggestion (from none other than my over-the-top adviser) is to pair these with homemade vanilla ice cream.  Be sure to plan in advance, for the dough requires about 3 hours chilling time before baking. This recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Chocolate Truffle Cookies
adapted from Taste of Home Best Loved Recipes

3 eggs
1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups semi-sweet choc chips or a 12 oz bag
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tbs unsweetened natural cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup flour
confectioners sugar (optional for dusting)

Place butter, unsweetened chocolate and 1 cup of  semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler and place over medium heat.  Once all ingredients are melted, stir until batter is smooth and remove from heat.  Set timer for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, sift together salt, baking powder, cocoa and flour.  Set aside.

Add sugar and eggs to another bowl.  Beat with mixer on medium high until thick and light in color. It should take about 2 minutes to reach the correct consistency.  Add the vanilla extract and beat again until evenly distributed. 

At this point, your timer that was set for the melted chocolate to cool should have already gone off.  If not, wait for it to complete.  Then pour the chocolate batter into the sifted ingredients.  Using a spatula, scrape all of the chocolate batter into the dry ingredients and stir until no dry streaks or lumps remain.  Lastly, fold in the other cup of the chocolate chips.  Cover batter and place in refrigerator to chill for no less than 3 hours. 15 minutes prior to the 3 hour completion, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Once the chilling time has expired, remove a cup of dough from the batch and place the rest of the dough back in the refrigerator.  Measure out pieces of the dough for 1 inch balls by using a spoon or scoop. Lightly flour your hands and shape the pieces into circles/ balls. Place each ball about 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake cookies for about 10-12 minutes.  Cookies will not spread that much.  When done, cookies will be set, puffy and cracked on the surface.  Let rest on cookie sheet for 4 minutes and transfer to a rack to finish cooling.

Repeat this process with the remainder of the dough.  Then, if you choose, dust with confectioners sugar.

Tips and Notes:
1.  These cookies are not very large, so I used mini chocolate chips instead of the regular size.
2.  They really do not require the confectioners sugar, this option is basically for appearance.
3.  The chocolate chip measurement is by weight as well as volume, but with the mini chips I found that the 12 oz bag came up a little short of the 2 cups.
                                        **LAST YEAR: Fudge Swirl Cheesecake Ice Cream**