Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Challenge, Part II

Here are a few more photos of things I baked for the guys during our Master Bath renovation:

Nutmeg Doughnut mini-muffins:
Very subtle flavor of nutmeg in a rich, buttery muffin. They are reminiscent of cake doughnuts, and after baking are brushed with butter and tossed in confectioners' sugar. The guys seemed to really like them, but one did mention that the nutmeg flavor may have been TOO subtle.
Carrot Cake mini-cupcakes with cream cheese frosting:
My standard carrot cake and cream cheese frosting recipe. This cake is so moist that it almost doesn't hold together as a cupcake. These disappeared rapidly.
Korova Sables/World Peace Cookies:
Buttery, rich, crumbly, sandy, chocolatey. These cookies are something unto themselves. Too bad they have such a cheesy name. For the recipe, check here.
A recipe by David Leibovitz, which is always a good start. These babies are ooey-gooey, rich and delicious, and the best part is that you make the batter in one pot! One pot, one spoon, one baking dish. Easiest clean-up ever. These are our new go-to brownie recipe, and won't be surpassed any time soon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Challenge, Part 1

Phase one of our recent renovations was our master bathroom. Instead of going with the same contractor who was going to work on our kitchen, we chose a smaller company that we have used in the past for handy-man-type work. We know the guys quite well, and trust them to not only do a thorough job, but to honestly critique new recipes that I spring on them. They expected our bathroom to take about two weeks, and I set myself a challenge: bake something for them every day that they were here. I got to try out a few new recipes, tweak some old ones, and get honest feedback, and they got fresh treats and coffee daily and felt appreciated. It was a win-win situation for all of us.
In no particular order, here are the first four days' efforts:
Peach Pocket Pies
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie & Pastry Bible
Individual hand-held peach pies. Ok, but not great. I think peaches are best eaten fresh. The crust did turn out nicely though, as Rose's always do.
Very subtle flavor. I don't know that I would even go so far as to call it 'butterscotch'. I found that to be misleading, as people were expecting a much bigger flavor once they heard the name. They were tasty, but I think they need something else to bolster them. They'd be great as the base for an ice cream sandwich.
Good old peanut butter cookies, by request.
I did half the batch with milk chocolate kisses, and folded dark chocolate chunks into the other half. I liked the dark chocolate better. The guys were divided: half for classic with kisses, half for dark chocolate.
Raspberry Bars
Adapted from Favorite Brand Name Baking
A shortbread-like base, filled with jam, and topped with crumbles of the same base dough. Simple, delicious, and always a hit.

Strawberry Bars
Adapted from Favorite Brand Name Baking

Varying the temperature of the butter will change the texture of the cookie. Keeping it on the chilly side with give you more of a crisp shortbread, and room temperature will make it more like a slightly crumbly butter cookie. Both are delicious. The quality of the jam you use will directly affect the flavor of the bar, so get one that you really love. I've used almonds in the crust before, and they work very well but have a much milder flavor than the pecans. You can, of course, also use a preserve other than strawberry. I used raspberry in the photo above.

2 C all-purpose flour
1 C granulated sugar
1 C butter, softened or still slightly cold
Heavy pinch of salt
3/4 C pecans (or almonds) coarsely chopped
1 egg
10 oz strawberry preserves (or flavor of your choice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease an 8" or 9" square pan with butter or cooking spray.
Combine the flour, sugar, butter, salt, nuts, and egg in a large bowl and mix until combined. If you use colder butter the mixture will be crumbly, which is fine. Scoop 1 cup of this dough out of the bowl and set it aside for the topping. Pour the remaining dough into the prepared square pan and use your fingers to press it evenly into the bottom of the pan. Spread the preserves on top, keeping a 1/2" border around the edge free of preserves, if possible. (Preserves at the edge bake onto the pan, making the bars harder to remove.) Crumble (or dollop) the reserved 1 cup of dough over the top of the preserves and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool completely in the pan, then cut into bars.