Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chocolate Crackle Cookies

Yes, clearly this post is also way past overdue if these cookies remind you of the holidays, but I don't consider myself a real food blogger anyway, so I just post things whenever I feel like it. Besides, there's no rule that these cookies are only reserved for the holidays. So, make them whenever you want. I've seen versions of chocolate crackle cookies many many times over the years and finally decided to try them out. These cookies are decadent, rich, chewy, and melt-in-your-mouth chocolaty, all good things.

They are quite sweet, not overly so in my opinion, but do keep them on the smaller side. You won't need many to satisfy a sweet craving, but at the same time, you may find yourself unable to stop popping one after another into your mouth. I may try reducing the sugar to see if they're still as good. There's a little bit of a process to forming these cookies but it's not too difficult and worth every bit of the effort.
Chocolate Crackle Cookies
Recipe from Eat the Love
Makes 64 cookies

8 oz (225 g) bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups (330 g) dark brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 large pinches salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (70 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder ( I used natural since I didn't have dutch-processed)
1/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cup (175 g) all-purpose flour
granulated sugar, for coating
powdered sugar, for coating

Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water or in the microwave in 30 second bursts stirring with a spatula in between. Set aside to cool.

Cream the butter, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for several minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until incorporated. Then add the vanilla extract. Add the melted chocolate and mix until incorporated.

Mix in the cocoa powder, then the milk, mixing well between each. Add the flour and mix until the dough comes together. Divide the dough into 4 parts, flatten, wrap with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least one hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Working with one portion of dough at a time, divide each into 16 pieces. Roll each piece in your hands to form a ball. Roll each ball in granulated sugar, then powdered sugar, and place on a lined baking sheet about 2 inches away from each other. Place the dough back in the fridge to firm up if it becomes too soft.

Repeat with the rest of the dough. Bake cookies about 10-12 minutes, let cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before moving them to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The One that Started It All - New York Cheesecake

* No pics for now, I'll update when I make this next. I thought I had taken pics of the cheesecake, but I guess not.

Cheesecake was the first thing I ever baked successfully and it was the first dessert that was the stepping stone to my baking journey. I had baked muffins, cake mix cupcakes, and refrigerated cookie dough cookies before, but the disappointments only solidified my dislike of baking at the time. For a lot of people, they either like baking or they don't and at the time, I really didn't.

While I still often have baking disasters that are disappointing, there's just something about it now that keeps me coming back for more. It's an outlet for me when I need some time for myself. Having an organized and well stocked baking pantry helps, so whenever the mood strikes, I can bake something. Now, for things that I bake consistently like my chiffon cake, I like the preciseness of measuring the ingredients and seeing a beautiful cake come out time and time again. I like the process of tinkering with a recipe to get it exactly the way you want it or reinventing it into a new flavor. Once your skills improve, it's also rewarding to see people enjoying what you made.

Cheesecake was what really started me down this path, so even though I don't make it as much anymore, it will always have a special place in my heart. It's actually kind of funny that I started out with cheesecake as my foray into baking since it's a rather complicated dessert for a beginner, but not if you're not concerned about cracking which I wasn't at the time. I believe I was around 13 and either I or my mom, who is a real cheesecake lover, decided I should try making one using the recipe on the back of the cream cheese box for Thanksgiving. At the time, we were also regular consumers of Philadelphia's Cheesecake snack bars which were also new in stores.

Back then, I used premade oreo and graham cracker crusts for ease and I used this recipe for 2 pie sized cheesecakes without the fruit topping. My cheesecakes cracked on occasion, but it didn't really matter. I remember being super proud of myself for making something that seemed quite difficult to others as baking isn't common in an Asian household. It was the first time that I became the go-to person in my family for something. Once I got comfortable making it, I bought a springform pan and started making it as it's meant to be. I still hadn't mastered the technique to prevent cracking, but it was still an accomplishment for me nonetheless.

Then I moved on to Giada's Mascarpone Cheesecake which is already on here and then Japanese Cheesecake more recently and those became the favorites. Over the years though, my sister has always missed the dense NY Cheesecake that was my first signature dessert and has requested it several times. Unfortunately, the recipe on the back of the box had changed since then. Since I liked trying new recipes, I tried other NY Cheesecakes from Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, and many others, but nothing ever really tasted even close until I went back to the source and tried this one by Kraft recently. A decade and a half later, it's nice to be reunited with an old favorite.

Many say their NY cheesecake the best, but this is the best in my opinion as it's the flavor of cheesecake I know. It's dense, sweet, but slightly tangy and gets better when you let it sit in the fridge longer, so it's great to make a few days ahead. This time I baked it in a springform pan with a chocolate cookie crust, but next time, I think I'll bake it in a pie dish for old time's sake.

Update: The original recipe posted here was basically the one found on the back of the box, but as I was looking through my old recipe binder, I found the actual recipe that I had originally used. I had cut out the recipe from the cream cheese box and stapled it to a piece of paper. The recipe uses one less egg, so I've updated the recipe below to reflect my childhood cheesecake.

New York Cheesecake
Recipe adapted from Kraft Philadelphia
Makes one 9 inch cheesecake

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 1/2 pounds cream cheese(5 8-oz packages), left out overnight and softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
Large pinch of salt
1 cup sour cream
3 Extra large eggs
3 tbsp all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Mix the graham cracker crumbs, 3 tbsp. sugar, and melted butter, press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch springform pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Let the crust cool about 5-10 minutes.

In a food processor, mix the cream cheese, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract together until well blended. Add the flour, then the sour cream, mixing well after each addition. Add the eggs, one at a time mixing until just incorporated.

Pour the filling over the crust and bake for about an hour and 10 minutes until the center is almost set. Remove from the oven and run a thin knife or metal spatula around the rim of the pan to loosen the cheesecake and help prevent cracking.

Let the cheesecake cool completely on a rack before placing in the fridge. Refrigerate at least 8 hours, preferably overnight, before serving. Cheesecake will last for several days in the fridge.

To bake in a water bath, double wrap the springform pan in aluminum foil once the crust has been baked. Place the wrapped pan in a larger pan in the oven and pour boiling water into the larger pan halfway up the sides of the springform pan. When cheesecake is done, remove the springform pan from the water bath to cool.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Spritz Cookies

Based on the pictures, it's clear this post is a bit overdue. What else is new? However, although the holidays are over, I really think these cookies would be perfect at any time of year. I've made Spritz cookies in the past before and didn't find them super exciting, but the crispness and flavor of these ones from Laura Vitale were just fantastic. They're buttery, but not overly so. They're great on their own, but I decided to dip them in some chocolate just because.
Laura mentioned them on her vlogs as a favorite around the holidays, so I looked up the recipe and decided to try them out. This was only the second time I've ever used my cookie press since my aunt gifted it to me many many years ago. But, after this recipe, I'm sure I'll be using it more often. With this simple little gadget, I can make impressive cookies of various shapes in no time at all. These could easily be turned into almond spritz, citrus spritz cookies, coffee spritz cookies, chocolate spritz cookies, etc. I'll include the variations here once I get a chance to try them out.

Spritz Cookies
Recipe slightly adapted from Laura in the Kitchen
Makes about 100 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter
3 oz of cream cheese, softened
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
large pinch of salt
sprinkles, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 deg F. In a standing mixer with a paddle attachment or with a handheld mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar on medium high for a minute or two until well incorporated.

Mix in the egg yolk, vanilla extract, and salt. Add in the flour and mix on low speed until just incorporated.

Assemble and fill your cookie press with some of the dough and press cookies onto an ungreased baking sheet. Continue filling your cookie press and pressing the cookies out until the dough is used up. Add sprinkles over the top if using.

Bake cookies on the middle rack for 12-15 min until golden brown on the edges(mine took about 15-18 min). Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to several days.

For Almond Spritz:
Add 2 tsp of pure almond extract, reduce vanilla extract to 1 tsp, sprinkle sliced almonds over the top before baking.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Homemade Liquid Hand Soap and Laundry Detergent

Although I haven't made as much progress as I'd like in simplifying and eliminating the waste in my life, I am on a mission to do so one small step at a time. One thing I'm trying to do is to use more natural household products. Over the last six months, my family has gotten used to my homemade liquid soap and homemade laundry detergent and I've been happy with how they have been working out.

There are certainly more and more natural household cleaning products available on the market now, but if the higher cost in comparison to the cheaper alternatives is enough to dissuade you from making the switch, try making your own natural cleaning products. The process really is quite easy and doesn't take a lot of time.

Powdered Laundry Detergent
Recipe from DIY Natural

1 bar (4.5 ounces) of bar/laundry soap (Fels-Naptha, Dr. Bronner's)
1 cup of washing soda*
1 cup of borax

Grate the bar soap on the fine side of a box grater. Mix with the washing soda and borax. Store in an airtight container. Use about 2 tbsp. for a regular sized load.

*To make washing soda on your own, bake baking soda in an oven at 400 deg F until it becomes dull in color, more powdery, and less grainy.

Liquid Hand Soap
1 4 oz bar of natural soap(Dr. Bronner's, Tom's)
2 tbsp. glycerin
10 drops essential oil (I like lemon)
7 cups of water

Grate the soap on the fine side of a box grater. Heat 4 cups of water in a pot, add the grated soap, and stir until dissolved. Add the remaining 3 cups of water, glycerin, and essential oils, stir to mix. Let sit at least 6 hours or overnight.

Blend the soap in a blender or in the pot with an immersion blender, add more water if necessary. Fill soap dispensers with the soap. Soap will settle.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Matcha Green Tea Chiffon Cake

Continuing on the chiffon cake train, here's a variation of chiffon cake I've been wanting to try for ages. Looking at the recipes for matcha chiffon cake available online, I decided to just add some matcha powder to my go-to chiffon cake, up the sugar a bit to balance out the bitterness of the tea, and it worked wonderfully.

Most recipes for matcha chiffon cake advise sifting the matcha powder with the dry ingredients and I have to agree this is the way to go. It's easier since you don't have to bother dissolving the matcha powder and on my first attempt at this cake, I found that dissolving the matcha powder in hot water actually resulted in quite a strong bitter aftertaste in the cake resembling that of overbrewed tea.

Depending on the brand of green tea powder you use, you may want to add more or less and adjust to your taste. I used Maeda-en matcha powder and found 12 g provided a strong green tea flavor while not going over the top.

Matcha Chiffon Cake
Makes One large 10 inch cake

195 grams cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
12 g (2 1/2 tbsp) matcha/green tea powder
9 medium egg yolks (8 large or 7 extra large)
Large pinch of salt
205 grams granulated sugar
150 ml (3/4 cup) milk
120 ml (1/2 cup) vegetable oil (any light flavored oil will work)
9 medium egg whites (8 large or 7 extra large)

Preheat the oven to 340°F and have a 10 inch not nonstick tube pan(angel food cake pan) ready, ungreased.

Sift the flour, matcha powder, and baking powder together 3 times, set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, salt, and about 60 g of the sugar (reserve the rest for later). Whisk for several minutes, until it turns pale yellow and thick ribbons fall from the whisk. Mix in the oil and the milk, and whisk well between each. Add in the flour mixture and whisk until well blended, but don't overmix.

In another large bowl with a clean whisk, handheld mixer, or in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium until they start to get foamy. Then, stream in the remaining sugar and beat until stiff peaks.

Add a third of the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and mix with the whisk until blended. Fold in the rest of the egg whites gently with a spatula until just blended. Be sure there are no large clumps of egg whites left as this will leave wet spots in the finished cake.

Pour the batter into the pan. Bake until set and golden brown, about 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. As soon as it comes out of the oven, invert the pan onto a cooling rack so the cake won't collapse, let cool completely. If your tube pan doesn't have feet for inverting or the cake is higher than the pan, invert the pan onto a funnel or a thin neck bottle.

To unmold, run a knife around the edge and remove the cake, run the knife under the cake to remove the bottom. It's easier to remove if you slice through the cake but you can also just slip the center out or serve it on the pan.

Cake will last several days at room temp in an airtight container or wrapped well in plastic wrap.