Archive for the 'High-Altitude Baking' Category

Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies

“Mayhem” (the only way I can describe my May!) is almost over. Hallelujah. It’s been fun, but traveling every weekend really puts a damper on my cooking, and I’m ready to get back to it.

Today’s recipe – Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies – is a treat I’ve enjoyed at my friend Christopher’s house numerous times. Until I actively sought out the recipe, though, I didn’t realize that (a) I’ve had it in my possession since September 2009, and (b) it’s been on my list of must-try recipes for months and months.

The cookies are super simple to make; there’s only six ingredients, and prep time is minimal. The first time I made a batch, though, they did not look like the cookies I’d enjoyed before. Christopher’s had relatively smooth but still slightly crackly tops, while mine were very uneven. I had ignored my kitchen instincts when I made the batter and didn’t beat the egg whites before adding them to the dry mixture (the recipe said nothing about it), so I figured this must have been my problem. This time, with lightly beaten egg whites, the cookies turned out perfectly.

Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies
Makes 12

Ingredients:
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (sub chocolate chips if desired)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (or other type of nut)
4 large egg whites, room temperature (I say lightly beaten)

Method:
Preheat oven to 325°. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa, and salt. Stir in chocolate and pecans. Add egg whites and stir until just incorporated (do not overmix).

Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 3 inches apart, onto two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Bake until cookie tops are dry and crackled, about 25 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool completely. (To store, keep in an airtight container, up to 3 days.)

Source: Everyday Food, September 2009

Image

These are one of my top three favorite cookies, easy. The crisp, crackly outside gives way to a chewy, brownie-like center and the combination is absolutely out of this world. The cookies are large (about the size of my palm) and visually impressive, which makes them great for gifts or entertaining.

The quality of cocoa powder used definitely affects the flavor of the cookie, so if you try the recipe, go with the best. I’ve had good results with Savory Spice Shop’s cocoa (I mixed their basic Dutch-process cocoa with their Black Onyx) and with Ghirardelli; Christopher swears by Droste.

Recipe link: Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies

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Chocolate Stout Cake (aka My Best Denver Cake Yet!)

The luck o’ the Irish was with me in the kitchen today, because I made my best high-altitude cake yet. Not my most beautiful, mind you, but definitely the most delicious. I tore this recipe out of the March 2012 issue of 5280 with some trepidation… While I’ve had some success with the recipes they’ve shared in the past (Fuel Cafe’s Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal Pecan Cookies, for instance), 5280 isn’t a cooking magazine. There’s no test kitchen. I figured, however, that a cake recipe from a Boulder bakery was worth a gamble. (Thanks, Kim & Jake’s Cakes!)

My initial game plan was to make a half recipe (which I thought would result in a single 9-inch round layer of cake, according to the recipe instructions) to make sure the cake itself behaved at high altitude and tasted good. Once I whipped up a half recipe of batter, though, I realized that it was enough to make two 9-inch round layers. My cake pans are 1 1/2-inch-deep Wilton pans; I imagine you’d have to have super deep pans to bake the entire original recipe as only two layers. Since I was going to have a full cake, I decided I might as well frost it. The cake recipe below is as I baked it (double it for the original recipe and extend baking time to 50 minutes); I made a full recipe of frosting, though. If you’re not a frosting person, feel free to cut that in half as well.

Chocolate Stout Cake
Makes a 2-layer 9-inch cake

Ingredients:
3 eggs (room temperature)
3/4 cup oil (I used vegetable)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder (I used a combination of Savory Spice Shop’s Black Onyx and regular Ghirardelli)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups stout beer (I used Breckenridge Brewery’s Oatmeal Stout; 1 1/2 cups is one bottle)

Method:
Preheat oven to 300°F. Cut two 9-inch circles of parchment paper. (Use the bottom of a cake pan as a guide.) Butter the cake pans, place a circle of parchment in the bottom of each, and butter over the parchment. Set pans aside.

Mix eggs, oil, sugar, cocoa, vanilla, salt, and baking soda together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the flour, alternating with the beer, 3 to 4 times, until completely incorporated into the egg mixture. Pour into the prepared cake pans and bake for 35 – 40 minutes. (My cakes were perfect at 37 minutes.) Remove from oven, cool in pans for 30 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Remove parchment and frost before serving.

Milk Chocolate Malt Frosting

Ingredients:
1 pound butter, softened
2 pounds powdered sugar
3/4 cup dark cocoa (I used a combination of Savory Spice Shop’s Black Onyx and regular Ghirardelli)
1/2 cup malt powder (I used Carnation Malted Milk Powder, which I found at SuperTarget)
Splash of vanilla

Method:
Cream butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add powdered sugar, cocoa, malt powder, and vanilla.  Incorporate completely.

Source: 5280/Kim & Jake’s Cakes

Chocolate Stout Cake

This is a phenomenal dessert.  The cake is moist with a nice springy crumb, and there was absolutely none of the center sinking I so often see with cakes at high altitude.  It has a nice level of chocolate flavor (far better than the chocolate cupcakes I posted before), though I couldn’t really taste the stout.  The frosting didn’t end up being super smooth (hence the slightly ugly cake), but the flavor is to die for; the malt powder really makes it.  Overall, the cake and frosting make an amazing combination.

So this is going to be my go-to chocolate cake recipe from here on out…  I think I’ll have some fun with it by turning it into cupcakes next time and maybe trying some other chocolate frostings.  I’ll be sure to post any updates!

TIPS: If you make this frosting (highly recommended, it’s delicious!), I’d suggest smoothing it out with a hot, slightly wet icing spatula after you get the initial layer on. Doing so improved the appearance of my cake immensely.

Blueberry-Orange Cornmeal Muffins

Yay for mainstream muffin recipes that actually work at high altitude!  I suspect this is because Everyday Food‘s Blueberry-Orange Cornmeal Muffins contain 1 cup of low-fat plain yogurt; in my experience, recipes with acidic batters tend to fare better here in Denver.  Regardless, I’m thrilled to have a new recipe I can throw together on the weekends or add to the brunch buffet when we’re entertaining.  Here it is if you want to try it (this one isn’t on the Everyday Food website just yet):

Blueberry-Orange Cornmeal Muffins
Active time: 15 min. | Total time: 35 min.
Makes 12

Ingredients:
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 cup fine yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup low-fat plain yogurt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest, plus 2 teaspoons orange juice
1 1/4 cups blueberries (7 ounces)
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

Method:
Preheat oven to 400°F.  Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners.  In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour, cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt.  In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, butter, vanilla, and orange zest. Add the flour mixture, stirring until combined (do not overmix).

In a medium bowl, toss blueberries with 1 tablespoon flour to coat, then fold into batter.  Divide batter among muffin cups.  Bake until puffed and set, about 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.  Let muffins cool in pan on wire rack.

Stir together orange juice and confectioners’ sugar.  Drizzle over muffins and let glaze set, about 10 minutes, before serving.  (Store in an airtight container, up to 2 days.)

Source: Everyday Food, January/February 2012

My notes:

  • I did cut the baking powder to 2 1/2 teaspoons (from 1 tablespoon) out of high-altitude modification habit.  I’m not sure if the change was 100% necessary, but it worked for me.
  • I used Mountain High low-fat plain yogurt.
  • This batter is THICK.  Don’t be nervous.  I used an ice-cream scoop to portion it out.
  • I like a thinner glaze than what the recipe creates.  Just add more orange juice if you want to thin it out as well.
Blueberry-Orange Cornmeal Muffins
Blueberry-Orange Cornmeal Muffins Crumb

Look at that crumb!

Yum!  These muffins have a nice, moist crumb and a perfect blueberry-to-batter proportion.  They aren’t too sweet on their own, so the glaze complements the muffins nicely.  They come out of the muffin liners pretty cleanly too, which I always appreciate.  Bonus: Only 4 Weight Watchers PointsPlus points per muffin.  I usually have two, and Dr. O (with his unbelievable metabolism) usually has four, so we’re able to get two breakfasts out of the recipe.  They are best the day they’re made, but the “here’s breakfast, and I didn’t have to make a new mess” factor makes them almost as good on the second day.

Homemade Soft Pretzels

Those of you who are lucky enough to have spouses or partners who love to join you in the kitchen, I envy you.  Dr. O is wonderful (really!) and has many redeeming qualities, but he does not cook.  He does not slice, he does not chop, he does not stir.  He rarely even toasts.

So you can imagine how good Alton Brown’s soft pretzel recipe must be if it’s the one thing that gets him in the kitchen.  He asks for them again and again, knowing that I’ll only make them if he helps.  (These pretzels are so amazing that I might make them even if he didn’t help, but I’ll never tell.)

Here’s the recipe if you want to give them a try:

Homemade Soft Pretzels
Makes 8

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups warm (110° to 115°F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt

Method:
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.  Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined.  Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil.  Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with vegetable oil.  Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces.  Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope.  Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel.  Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, one by one, for 30 seconds.  Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula.  Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt.  Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Source: Alton Brown, FoodNetwork.com

Soft Pretzels

This recipe produces absolutely amazing results.  This is the best soft pretzel I’ve ever had – at a stadium, a bakery, anywhere.  If you’re a pretzel person (and I am!), we’re talking ecstasy.

We tried honey mustard and spicy brown mustard as dipping sauces; the spicy brown won, hands down.  The pretzels would be fantastic with cheese as well.  We had a few leftover pretzels (hard to believe!); some were sliced horizontally for sandwiches, others were reheated in the microwave for 25 seconds on high.  The reheated pretzels weren’t quite as good as fresh out of the oven, but they still beat the heck out of a SuperPretzel.

TIPS: If you don’t quite get how to form the pretzels, watch Alton do it here.

Recipe link: Homemade Soft Pretzels

Cream Cheese-Lemon Rings

Let the holiday baking begin!  I certainly started mine off on the wrong foot yesterday evening when I got (really!) distracted and left the flour, baking powder, and salt out of today’s recipe…  As you can imagine, my cookies melted into a puddle in the oven.  I’m always one to try, try again, though, so I gave the recipe another shot this morning.  Success!

Cream Cheese-Lemon Rings (originally Cream Cheese-Lemon Bows)
Makes about 6 dozen 2-inch rings

Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (light – not nonfat – is fine if that’s what you have)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely chopped (mine was grated with a microplane grater)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder (I used a scant teaspoon as a high-altitude adjustment)
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling

Method:
Put butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until creamy.  Mix in granulated sugar.  Add egg, lemon zest, and lemon juice; mix well.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; mix into butter mixture on low speed.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place a small amount of the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.  Holding tip very close to the surface, pipe 2-inch rings onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper; space 1 inch apart.  Gently push down any peaks in the piped dough.  Refill pastry bag as needed with remaining dough.  Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom, about 10 minutes.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Source: Martha Stewart’s Holiday Cookies 2005 (My version is slightly modified for technique and baking time.)

Cream Cheese-Lemon Rings

What a great cookie!  I’m especially excited that the recipe worked at high altitude with only one minor modification (the scant teaspoon of baking powder instead of a whole, and I’m not sure the change was even necessary).  The dough really doesn’t expand much.  The flavor of the cookie is wonderful; it isn’t too sweet, even with the confectioners’ sugar sprinkling, and you definitely get the citrus from the lemon (though it isn’t overpowering).  The texture is somewhere between a sugar cookie and shortbread – crisp, but not dry – and I think these cookies would stand up well when transported (perfect for a cookie exchange).

The only downside to the recipe is that it does take some time and effort to pipe the cookies; the dough is pretty firm, so it’s a bit of a workout.  I tried putting the dough in a cookie press after reading a comment on the original recipe, but that was a grand failure.  The upside to piping is you can do pretty much whatever shape you want.  I tried bows (per the original recipe), rings, squiggles, hearts, and spirals, but liked the rings the best.  If you try a different shape or size, just be sure to watch them in the oven.  I burnt the heck out of my first batch because I left my 2-inch cookies in for the 12 minutes recommended in the original recipe; that baking time was intended for 3 1/2-inch cookies.

Recipe link: Cream Cheese-Lemon Bows

Profiteroles

It’s my 400th post!  Woohoo!  How appropriate, then, to write about a dessert worthy of a celebration: Profiteroles.

This is a recipe I’ve been meaning to try for years, and I mean it.  When I was in college at the University of Denver (which is getting to be a scary long time ago!), there was a restaurant on 22nd and Arapahoe called Tiramisu.  It was my absolute favorite place to go for dinner, and we always finished the meal with their amazing profiteroles.  The combination of a light pastry shell, fabulous ice cream, and rich chocolate sauce was something I just couldn’t resist.

I thought about making profiteroles again and again but didn’t actually get on the horse until I had to come up with a “Thanksgiving with a twist” dessert for this month’s gourmet club meeting.  Profiteroles with pumpkin ice cream and caramel sauce?  Yes, please.

Let’s start with the profiterole recipe.  This is modified to include just the profiteroles; the original recipe has a chocolate sauce as well.

Profiteroles
Makes about 18 puffs (6 servings)

Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 extra-large eggs

Method:
Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Heat the milk, butter, and salt over medium heat until scalded.  When the butter is melted, add the flour all at once and beat it with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together and forms a dough.  Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 2 minutes.  The flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pan.  Dump the hot mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Add the eggs and pulse until the eggs are incorporated into the dough and the mixture is thick.

Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip.  Pipe in mounds 1 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch high onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  You should have about 18 puffs.  With a wet finger, lightly press down the swirl at the top of each puff.  (You can also use 2 spoons to scoop out the mixture and shape the puffs with damp fingers.)  Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned, then turn off the oven and allow them to sit for another 10 minutes, until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Make a small slit in the side of each puff to allow the steam to escape.  Set aside to cool.

Source: Ina Garten/FoodNetwork.com

Profiteroles

Aren’t these gorgeous puffs?  What’s ironic is that my first batch was perfect, while I struggled with subsequent batches.  Here are my perfect profiterole tips:

  • Use the large (16″) pastry bags when piping your dough.  All of the dough won’t fit into the smaller bags.
  • Make sure your dough mounds are more like rounded domes than tall hives.  I was overzealous with my piping on my second batch and ended up with high, beautiful (at the time), hive-shaped mounds.  What happened?  They browned too quickly because of their height and they morphed into some pretty crazy shapes.  (See the photo below.  They look like baby chicks, right?  I’d be a genius if I could deliberately replicate this shape…)
  • Keep an eye on your profiteroles during the last five minutes of baking.  I had to turn the oven off at the 18-minute mark for my perfect batch, not the 20-minute mark.
  • Profiteroles can be made up to a day ahead and re-crisped immediately before serving.  Heat oven to 375°F, place profiteroles on a parchment-lined baking sheet, bake for 5 minutes (or until crisp), and cool on a wire rack before serving.
Baby Chick Profiteroles
Now that you have profiteroles, it’s time to fill them.  The profiterole below has store-bought pumpkin ice cream and homemade caramel sauce (part of this post), though I eventually ended up making two different ice creams – Williams-Sonoma’s Pumpkin Ice Cream and Cinnamon Ice Cream from Allrecipes – to bring to gourmet club.  The pumpkin ice cream had a thick custard base and was very much like eating frozen pumpkin pie filling (delicious!).  It was very firm, though, and needed 10 to 15 minutes on the counter to soften before serving.  The cinnamon ice cream was everyone’s favorite; it was sweeter and softer.  I made another batch to serve with pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and it was a hit!

Profiterole with Pumpkin Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce

My first batches of profiteroles most certainly won’t be my last.  Besides being delicious, I love that they can be made ahead for entertaining and that the fillings and toppings are infinitely adaptable.  Chocolate profiteroles with peppermint ice cream would be amazing for Christmas!

Recipe links: Profiteroles, Caramel Sauce (part of Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce), Cinnamon Ice Cream, Pumpkin Ice Cream

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Living in a house in the ‘burbs has its pros and cons, but a weeknight Halloween is definitely one of the pros.  After years in apartments with nary a trick-or-treater, I have to admit that I just love seeing all the kids’ costumes when Dr. O and I hand out candy.  And since it’s a Monday (and we enjoyed an adult party on Saturday night), it’s a perfect night to kick back with a nice meal and a bottle of wine, popping up whenever the doorbell rings.

I wanted to make a special dessert for tonight that fit with the holiday, but I was short on time and didn’t feel like running to the store.  Thankfully, I had all the ingredients on hand to make something wonderful: Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce.  As I’ve mentioned before, bread pudding is one of my very favorite desserts when it’s done right; this one, while different from most others I’ve made or tasted, certainly is.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce
Officially makes 6 servings, but I’d say it’s more like 8 or 10

Bread pudding ingredients:
2 cups half-and-half
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1 cup (packed) plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 cups 1 1/2-inch cubes egg bread (I used leftover kaiser rolls)
1/2 cup golden raisins (I used dried cranberries since that’s what I had in the pantry)

Caramel sauce ingredients:
1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (I cut it into small pieces for easier melting)
1/2 cup whipping cream

Powdered sugar

For bread pudding:
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Whisk half-and-half, pumpkin, dark brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in large bowl to blend.  Fold in bread cubes.  Stir in golden raisins.  Transfer mixture to 11-x-7 glass baking dish. (I used a 1.5-quart oval dish, and I buttered it.)  Let stand 15 minutes.  Bake pumpkin bread pudding until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  (I needed 50 minutes, but that might have something to do with high altitude.)

Meanwhile, prepare caramel sauce:
Whisk brown sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until butter melts.  Whisk in cream and stir until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes.

Sift powdered sugar over bread pudding.  Serve warm with caramel sauce.

Source: Bon Appetit, November 2000

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Oh, deliciousness!  The bread pudding itself came out very moist – almost creamy – with mild flavors of pumpkin and spice.  The cranberries added the occasional sweet-tart bite, which I really enjoyed.  With over a cup of brown sugar, you’d expect the bread pudding to be sweet, but it really isn’t.  This is a good thing, because the caramel sauce is.  When the sauce and the bread pudding are separate, each is good; together, though, they’re pretty fantastic.

I appreciate that this was incredibly easy to throw together and the caramel sauce seems practically impossible to screw up.  (It might become my new go-to easy dessert sauce, actually; the consistency is really silky and it has a perfect viscosity once it’s cooled for 20 minutes or so.)  This one isn’t amazing enough to knock my very favorite bread pudding recipe off the top spot, but it will be a wonderful seasonal dessert for tonight.

Recipe link: Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce




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