TWD: Grandma’s All Occasion Sugar Cookies

Between my passion for eating sugar cookies (my favorites are the ones my office occasionally gets when Trotter’s To Go caters our events) and my last week spent away from the kitchen due to a near-deadly cold, I was fairly excited to work on this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie selection of traditional sugar cookies. AND I had a stash of colored sugars and sprinkles in my pantry that I’ve been ready to part with for a while, so I was ready for action when I pulled out the ole’ KitchenAid this weekend.

I made the cookies exactly as Dorie recommended, and it totally paid off. The cookies are the perfect creamy color, they taste clean and simple. I would buy them from a bakery if I didn’t know how to make them myself.

But here’s the thing: I used this experiment as a reason to clean all the old sugars and sprinkles out of my pantry. And while I share the Engineer Baker’s aversion to frosting and piping and rolling and cutting, I was prepared to go the extra mile this time for something cute. Well, maybe the extra half-mile.

Sugar Cookies, Two Ways

I rolled the logs of chilled dough in sprinkles before slicing some of the cookies, and for others mashed individual slices of  dough in a pool of sprinkles.  For me, this IS festive. Next time I need to find some prettier things to roll the dough in.

My TWD colleagues, however, went all out!  Check out their finished products.  for some great ideas. (The embedded links will take you to a few of my favorites!) Click over to this German TWD blogger for the recipe, and then visit the comments section of the TWD site hfor some great ideas for improvements, too.

TWD: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

I have never liked pecan pie, and as best I can tell, that is a blessing.  My family never fights about “pumpkin vs. pecan” at the holidays and pumpkin has less fat than pecans dredged in corn syrup.

So, it is with nothing but good will that I curse Vibi of La Casserole Carree for picking the TWD Thanksgiving Twofer Pie this week, because I LOVED it. I can’t wait for my lunch hour to go devour the piece I have stashed in the office refrigerator. (Visit her blog – it’s in French! – if only to admire her beautiful photography and play with the Google Translator in the upper right hand corner. Awesome. Also, Vibi posted the recipe there in both languages.)

Twofer with Knife

I think I cheated a little by using a frozen crust, but the outcome was the same: creamy pumpkiny goodness at the bottom,  crispy pecan nuttyness at the top. And it wasn’t as sickeningly sweet as I was expecting. I think the rum (!) in the pumpkin batter canceled out the corn syrup in the pecan syrup and made a lovely treat. My family’s traditional pumpkin pie came from the back of the can of Libby’s pumpkin puree, so the rum that Dorie recommended was an unexpected flavor in this holiday experiment. I liked it, but I doubt the younger cousins at my Thanksgiving table would have.

In the past I’ve relied on the Barefoot Contessa’s pumpkin banana mousse tart to get me through the holiday; Grandpa loves it, but it’s quite labor intensive for such a busy mid-week holiday.  More recently, as the extended family has had to deal with diabetes and significant food allergies, I switched to the Weight Watchers pumpkin flan to satisfy us after the meal (We also have birthday cake on Thanksgiving, so the lighter dessert was kind of nice). I’m thinkin’ that the Twofer will be own little slice of heaven, not to leave my personal refrigerator.  Does that defy the spirit of Thanksgiving? Probably.  But do I care?

My only problem with the Twofer Pie was the crust, and i think it’smy own fault.  When I sliced into this morning I had jelly-like layer of gook on the bottom of my store-bought crust. It’s tasty when I slather it on the crust, but I’m wondering what it might be and how it got there. My best guess is that I tried to slice the pie before I had really cooled too much, but gave up when I realized how mushy it still was. I wonder if some of the pecan syrup slipped down to the bottom and coled in the fridge, hmm?

TWD: (Failed) Rice Pudding

I hate to say this, but my rice pudding was more like sweet stew – it never thickened!!

looks are deceiving

I guess my problem was common, and I highly recommend people with rice pudding tendencies check here to see what other people did to make this work.  The liquid was delicious, though, so I’m eager to try again someday because I L-O-V-E rice pudding.

It looked nice, though.

TWD: Pumpkin Muffins

Many, MANY thanks to Kelly for choosing this week’s recipe, pumpkin muffins (you can find the recipe at Kelly’s blog).  They have been delicious from the time I liked the bowl to the ones I defrosted for breakfast this morning.  I feel a little like Dr. Seuss: delicious fresh from the oven; or toasted with butter, I was lovin’. The batter was lovely, silky and light. And with a shot of bourbon, dy-no-mite.

(Yes, I added bourbon to Dorie’s recipe. More on that later.)

The other eater in my household liked them, too: “These are nice.”

Tom, watching

So, yes, I made a couple of changes to the recipe. First, I took some of the other bakers’ suggestion and substituted whole wheat flour for some of the white flour.  While this did little to change the batter (as best I can tell), it enables me to eat them for breakfast with less guilt, which is always good.

Then, there was the bourbon.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it was! It’s not a heavy flavor, but it mellows the pumpkin a little, which I enjoyed.  I’d recommend it. What’s not made better by bourbon?

Finally, I divided the batter in half. Golden raisins on one side, white chocolate chips and walnuts in the other.  Both are excellent! The former is nice for breakfast, split in half, toasted and spritzed with butter for god measure.  The latter is nice as is in the middle of a fall afternoon.  I got a few more than 12 out of my batch (they rise in the oven but don’t really change shape or smooth out, which gives them a pretty rustic look on the table), so I froze a few.  The ones I thawed last night were still perfect this morning!

I am absolutely making these again. With the bourbon.

TWD: the best biscotti ever

This week’s selection of the Lenox Almond Biscotti came from Canela & Comino, which means that this blogger is the only TWD participant who will post the entire recipe (that’s the rule that we all agreed to when we signed on for this wild ride). I highly recommend that you run there and print it now because I may never order hermetically sealed biscotti at a coffee shop ever again. These are that good.

Tasty little soldiers

I prepared the dough as Dorie suggested in the recipe and then formed it into two logs on my cookie sheet. They seemed really skinny for biscotti, but I went along with it.  The dough was quite sticky, as the other bloggers had suggested earlier in the weekend, so I chilled the logs before I baked them. Nevertheless, the dough spread like hot gossip on Monday morning, and nearly filled the whole baking sheet.  I added 10 minutes to the cooking time before I took them out to cool, slice and line up like soldiers for the second bake (biscotti means “twice baked”, you know).

like hot gossip

The best part about this was that the book says to cut off the ends of the loaves, so I ate them before the inside pieces took their second trip to the oven, and they were delicious!  I can’t wait to eat the rest tomorrow.  I’m thinking a nice cinnamon tea with honey would be the perfect pairing. Or maybe a tall glass of cold milk with a little Starbucks liquor. For dunking.

Others have recommended that these would be nice dipped in chocolate.  I honestly don’t think they need it, but it would make for a nice holiday presentation.  Maybe add mini chocolate chips to complement the almond flavor. But seriously, it doesn’t need it.

Good job, Dorie!

TWD: Caramel-Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake

I’m torn this week, for a variety of reasons.  First, the idea that it took me three days to create this beautiful dessert put a bad taste in my mouth.  I just don’t bake that way. It’s not fun. And if I don’t have fun baking then the guilt of eating the finished product is just too great to justify putting away half a cake at one sitting.

But I persevered. I shopped Sunday, baked the cake Monday, and finished the topping Tuesday afternoon after the world’s best handyman finished repairing my kitchen light. And I gotta be honest, my tiny little cakes are just not as perfect as the photo and title of the dessert suggest it should taste.

the look good, but

I took the advice of my fellow bakers at TWD and halved the recipe, and then baked it in ramekins to avoid the treacherous grease-the-pan-then-line-the-bottom-with-a-circular-piece-of-parchment-paper-process. The cake is delicious. It’s light, the perfect balance of cake and chocolate.  I’d make them again in a heartbeat, and probably eat one still warm from the oven with melty whip cream on top.

Today I tackled the topping: a caramel made from cooked sugar and mixed with salted peanuts.The smell reminded me of Frau Mueller’s Level 1 chemistry lab in High School – not something anyone who survived wants to relive. It was torture. Her tie-dyed lab coat didn’t soften the blow. But I digress…

My topping’s not good.  See, the tops of my cakes caved in in the center, so when I put the topping on it pooled in the center of my ramekins and hardened like a hockey puck. The other eater in my household looked like he would break a tooth digging into my latest baking effort (just as the presidential candidates were debating the future of health care, might I add), so I quickly made the executive decision to microwave the cakes in order to soften the topping.  It helped, but not as much as three days of work warranted.

Another bust, as far as I’m concerned. Sorry, Dorie fans.  I’ll make the cake again, but I need to find a better topping.

TWD: Dimply Peach Cake

Technically this week’s TWD selection was a plum cake, but Dorie’s margin notes said I could just as easily change up a few of the spices and make a peach cake rather than a plum cake. I did, and I was pleased. I am very glad Michelle of Bake-en choose it.

Peach cake: before

I had some peaches leftover from an August trip to Michigan, so I peeled a few of them in preparation for the cake. About halfway through I decided that was dumb and left the skin on many of the peach halves. Both were fine, though if I were trying to impress my dinner guests I’d probably peel the peaches. The other eater in my household, my father and I did fine with the skin on.

Dorie’s margin notes recommended that I add a little fresh basil to the peach cake batter, but I forgot about that  early on and threw in some dry ginger. Then, at the end, I added the basil from my window box, cursed because it was at that moment that I remembered the ginger, and went on with the baking.  I have to be honest: it was pretty darn good with both the flavors.

Peach cake: after

The cake was fluffy and savory – not at all sweet – and perfect for the late summer days when the sun goes down a little earlier than you would like and the temperature is just beginning to drop below 70 degrees. Topped with some vanilla ice cream, the cake is practically irresistible.

My only problem was how to store it. I put it in the fridge to keep the fruit from spoiling, but that soggied the crust that had baked on the top of the cake. Keeping it out on the counter in a cake dome when have fermented the fruit within days. I hate to think this is a dessert I have to polish off in one sitting!

TWD: Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops

I’ve already revealed that I prefer my cookies cakey, rather than crispy, and now I’ll add this: I don’t like them too chocolatey. I prefer, for example, that my cupcakes be yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and that my oven produce chocolate chip cookies rather than chocolate-chocolate chip cookies. But I tried my best with these uber-chocolate creations and I was pleasantly surprised.

Whopper Cookies: before

First problem: I could not find the recommended malted milk powder in any of the three markets I visited. I used chocolate Ovaltine and it seemed to come out ok, but now I’m not sure what to do with the other 17.5 oz. of mix in the Ovaltine canister.

Then, I had the Whopper dilemma. I ended up buying bulk milk chocolate malted milk balls from an upscale grocer I visited near my office while searching for the malted milk powder, and I think they were a huge bonus to the final product. Far better (and also more expensive) than the box of stale Whoppers I bought at Bed Bath and Beyond a few days later while I was looking for a new mildew-resistant shower curtain.

Would you believe I even got the other eater in my household to help chop the Whoppers? I spent a few minutes bagging the bag of candy with a stainless steel spoon, and nothing broke! Not even a chip! So I had to individually cut the candies into quarters with a paring knife. I think the fruitless banging The Other Eater had to endure won me the sympathy vote and we chopped candy side by side. I am proud to report that no blood was lost (unlike the bloody cheese incident of 2004) on the Whoppers and that we remain friendly.

Finally, the whole milk. I used 1/4 cups. I have a lot more in the fridge. I’m thinking quiche is in order this weekend.

Whopper Drops: After

But, the cookies turned out soft and cakey and perfect with a glass of milk. I’ll totally make them again for a chocolate lover in my life. Any takers?

My TWD audition piece

I’m not sure of how I found that Web site, but I kind of fell in love with the idea of Tuesdays with Dorie: amateur cooks from far and wide all struggling with a common recipe at the same time, and then sharing their experiences at the same time, a Tuesday – the day of the week when there is little else to be excited about. (Monday has a feeling of dread, Wednesday is hump day, Thursday is almost the weekend, Friday starts the weekend… get the idea.)

My concern was that I would be able to hang with the other bakers – that my brand of baking was too simple or sub-par and in some way not good enough to keep up with these experienced writers and bakers who have long traveled from their kitchens to the computers with style and grace. So before I signed up for the program, I decided a dry run was in order: I would do one recipe from the book of my own choosing on my own day and see if I could hack it.

I bought Dorie’s book used online and found a recipe that appealed to me. The cornmeal and fruit loaf (I swear that what’s it’s called) contained ingredients that I already had in the house, two ingredients that I love (apples and cornmeal), AND it made use of the leftover buttermilk I had in the refrigerator from a previous experiment with a recipe for cherry cakes I found in the Weight Watchers magazine.

Cornmeal and Fruit Loaf: the ingredients

The loaf is dense and buttery, which I love. The cornmeal gives it a bit of a gritty texture and makes it ripe for toasting. Not everyone likes that, but I could eat the whole thing in one sitting. But the cornmeal also makes the bread more satisfying, so I actually had a piece on my way out the door one weekend morning and was pretty satisfied until lunchtime, which is not normal for me (I usually need a snack around 10:30 a.m.).

The recipe called for one apple or pear, peeled and diced, and 1/2 c. of dried apples or pears. I used awhole apple I picked up at a Michigan farmers’ market a couple of weeks ago, and also a couple handfuls of Craisins that I had in the house. I’d use far more fruit the next time around because the bread just looked bland – lifeless and lacking color, and not something that I would pick up from a buffet table. A bit of apple butter helped that out after toasting, but still.

Cornmeal and Fruit Loaf: the Loaf

As for Tuesdays with Dorie, I think I’m in. I’m gonna try the September recipes to be sure, but I think I’m up for the challenge. I’ll bet my photography skills will improve, too. The other eater in my household is certainly up for the taste-testing. We’ll see how it works out for both of us.