Monday, July 27, 2015

The Perfect Cookie for Ice Cream Sandwiches

Who wants to bake in this summer heat? Not me!

What we could do, however, is mix up a batch of these delicious cookies, put the dough into the fridge and bake them later on tonight after it cools down. Tomorrow (or a week from now if you freeze the dough or baked cookies), we'd be ready to make the absolute best ice cream sandwiches. Want to join me in this delicious plan?

This idea all started back in May when my little one turned five. She didn't want an ordinary cake this year, so, she requested ice cream to go with her mermaid-themed pool party. Loving this idea and, of course, loving her, I agreed this was a fabulous idea.

Last year, I posted some delicious molasses cookie ice cream sandwiches but this year, I wondered how I could make more sandwiches in less time. Turning to my favorite of favorite baking tomes, I found the recipe I needed to make these chewy-but-sturdy vanilla and chocolate sugar wafers. These are the perfect consistency for mixing with fillings because they give just enough when you bite into them, but they won't bend in your hands. Honestly, I would serve these with lemonade and tea as an afternoon snack or whip up a small batch of buttercream frosting and make homemade oreos. 

Any way you choose to make and eat these, they'll be delectable. 




Ice Cream Sandwiches
Serves 24
24 3" vanilla icebox cookies, baked and frozen (recipe below)
24 3" chocolate icebox cookies, baked and frozen (recipe below)
2 quarts best-quality ice cream (I suggest one mint chocolate chip and one vanilla, but please choose your favorites!)

1. Remove your ice cream from the freezer 10 minutes before making up your cookies so it softens.
2. When the ice cream is soft but not melted, place your cookies, tops down on a large piece of parchment.
3. Scoop one large scoop onto the back of one cookie and gently press another, top-side up, down until it appears sandwich-like. Place, covered, back into the freezer for at least 30 minutes to set.
4. Eat! (Bring napkins!!!)

Vanilla Icebox Cookies
Makes about 48 small 1-1/2" or 24 large 3" cookies
2-1/4 C flour
1 t salt
16 T unsalted butter, softened
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
2 t vanilla

1. Whisk flour and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
2. Beat butter and sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3. Scrape down your bowl and add the yolks and vanilla. Beat until incorporated.
4. Add dry ingredients and mix until blended.
5. Roll your dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disc. Wrap it up and place into the fridge for at least 2 hours.
6. When you're ready ton  remove your dough from the fridge, preheat your oven to 325.
7. Roll out your dough to 1/4" and, using a 3" cookie cutter or hollowed out can, cut into discs. Please onto a baking sheet and bake for 14 minutes, until the edges are slightly brown.
8. Remove from oven and cool completely on the counter. Once cooled, place in the freezer for at least one hour or until firm.

Chocolate Icebox Cookies
Makes about 48 small 1-1/2" or 24 large 3" cookies
2 C flour
1/4 C cocoa
1 t salt
16 T unsalted butter, softened
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
2 oz. melted and cooled semi-sweet chocolate
2 t vanilla

1. Whisk flour, cocoa and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
2. Beat butter and sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3. Scrape down your bowl and add the yolks, melted chocolate and vanilla. Beat until incorporated.
4. Add dry ingredients and mix until blended.
5. Roll your dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disc. Wrap it up and place into the fridge for at least 2 hours.
6. When you're ready ton  remove your dough from the fridge, preheat your oven to 325.
7. Roll out your dough to 1/4" and, using a 3" cookie cutter or hollowed out can, cut into discs. Please onto a baking sheet and bake for 14 minutes, until the edges are slightly brown.
8. Remove from oven and cool completely on the counter. Once cooled, place in the freezer for at least one hour or until firm.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Patriotic Blueberry Pie

What's red, white, blue and delicious all over? Why, blueberry pie in a red dish!

We love pie in our family. Mix fruit with buttery, crispy dough and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and we're pretty stoked. But, sometimes I've got to mix it up - even if all that means is altering the expected shape. I've read a bit about slab pies lately and the idea of more crust really appeals but for this one I just used a regular-sized crust recipe (thanks, once again, to Allison Kave!) and baked it in a square dish. The recipe will work for one double-crust round 9" pie, as it should!

Of course, if you don't have a red dish to bake in, you could add a handful of raspberries or strawberries to make this a patriotic dessert. Or skip the color palette and simply dig in!

Happy Independence Day to you and yours!



Blueberry Pie

Crust (from Allison Kave's First Prize Pies)
1 C butter, cold and cubed
1/2 C milk
1 T apple cider vinegar
3 C flour
1 T cornstarch
3 T sugar
1-1/2 t kosher salt

4 C blueberries, washed and air-dried
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C flour
1 T lemon juice 
(Just place this all in a bowl and toss to coat the fruit. Set aside.)

1. Place the flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt into your food processor (or a bowl) and pulse several times to mix (or whisk until blended).
2. Add the butter and pulse about 5 times until the mixture is coarse but dry (if using a pastry blender or knives, chop away until you reach the same basic consistency).
3. With the motor running, quickly add in the milk and vinegar and only process until the mixture comes together - like 2-4 seconds. (If doing this in a bowl, pour wet ingreds in and mix by hand until it comes together). 
4. Divide the dough in half, form into round circles, press into discs and refrigerate, covered at least one hour.
5. Preheat your oven to 425.
6. Roll the discs into circles one at a time. Place one in the bottom of a buttered pie diss and poke with a fork 3-4 times. Drop in the fruit and place the second crust over top. Slice a couple of slits into the top crust to allow steam to escape. Oh, and you could brush on one T milk and sprinkle a little turbinado or muscado sugar on top for effect.
7. Place onto a baking sheet and put into the oven at 425 for 15 minutes.
8. After 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 350 and continue to bake for 30 minutes more.
9. Remove your glorious pie from the oven and let it cool on the counter for an hour. Dollop with ice cream, whipped cream or whatever else you like and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dad's Favorite Sour Cream Coffee Cake

So... what is everyone doing for Father's Day? Here's my idea: I make a cake so delicious, the scent of cinnamon and butter wafting through the house, that after my husband gobbles a slice or two, he kind of... forgets it's Father's Day. Maybe he floats around, offers to take the kid out and give me a little time on my own. Perhaps while they're out he's dreaming of what else I might bake up for him and it fills his heart with joy that I make these love-filled treats for myself him. While I, loving wife that I am, get a pedicure - or, better, a massage - putting myself in the best mood possible. Because what better gift is there to a man on Father's Day than a fun-loving, super-sharp kid and a happy wife? I think NOTHING. 

If I make this cake, I have a shot at getting that alone time. And, you do, too. It's not the least labor-intensive breakfast, but it's not the most, either. If your family is like mine, they'll eat this for breakfast, lunch and or dinner. Best of all, they'll feel the love with every buttery-crumbly-brown-sugary bite. 

Enjoy on Father's Day or any day. And, sincerely, THANK YOU to all the dads out there for all the blood, sweat and tears they give our families every single day. You guys are amazing and we couldn't do it without you. 

Now, go spend time with your kiddos, dammit!



Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Serves 8

1 C chopped, toasted walnuts
3/4 C whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 C dark brown sugar
1/2 C granulated sugar
2 T cinnamon
2 T unsalted butter, cold

1. Mix flour, sugar, 1/4 C brown sugar and cinnamon and process or whisk until combined. Set aside 1-1/4 C of this nutless streusel mixture to place in the center of the cake. 
2. Add the butter, toasted walnuts and remaining brown sugar and process or blend until you've got a bowl of pea-sized bits. Set aside while you assemble the cake.

3/4 C butter, cubed
4 eggs
1-1/2 C sour cream
1 T vanilla
2-1/4 C flour
1-1/4 C sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t sea salt
1. Preheat your oven to 350 and butter a 10" springform pan. If you don't have a springform pan, just make sure you line your pan with parchment and then butter over that. Also make sure the sides are at least 2" high or else your cake will spill over. 

2. Combine the eggs, 1C sour cream and vanilla. Set aside. 

3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt until blended. Add the butter and 1/2 C sour cream and mix until crumbly. Increase the speed for 30 seconds to combine more thoroughly. 

4. After scraping down the sides of your bowl, slowly drizzle the egg/sour cream/vanilla mixture until it's mixed in. Then, scrape the bowl again. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat for one minute. The batter will lighten and fluff up. 

5. Pour about 3 C batter into your pan and smooth the surface with your spoon or spatula. 

6. Sprinkle the nutless streusel over the batter. 

7. Gently pour the remaining batter into your pan and sprinkle the nut-streusel over top. 

8. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Cool 2 hours and slice to serve. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Strawberries and Cream Cake

“Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make -- bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake -- if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. "― Lemony Snicket, The Austere Academy

I might not go that far, but I will say that the first cake I made for this post was a disaster. Thus, the quote seemed fitting. I had tried to make a very large shortcake (lots of butter, less sugar) to no avail. The darned thing cracked in a million places and, frankly, was just too rich with all that cream on top. One thing I am, though, is tenacious and so I resolved to try this strawberries and cream cake thing again.

Besides, shortcakes are a dime a dozen. You can buy them in the supermarket in packets that are usually placed directly next to the berries. I wanted a cake cake. Something we could cut into and serve like a proper celebration sweet. This, I discovered, is not all that easy when one is using whipped cream! The trick, I found, was to fortify the cream with mascarpone (or cream cheese) and to make a cake I like all on its own. After the overgrown shortcake incident, it seemed fitting to use my favorite yellow cake recipe and build on that. From there, I knew I'd be okay because this buttermilk-based cake is so foolproof, I'm pretty sure my 5 year old could make it to great success.

The cake is delicious and the berries needed very little of anything. The cream came out lovely and not too sweet. The best part is the the result is pretty much a spring/summer explosion in the mouth. If you're looking to silence your crowd, look no further. 

In some ways, this cake is what my baking journey is all about. Finding trustworthy recipes that home cooks like myself can make successfully and then tweaking them to suit my - and your - fancy. I hope you make this one, add whatever suits your fancy to it and then tell me all about it in the comments!



Strawberries and Cream Cake

Buttermilk Cake
Makes three 8" layers

1 C butter, at room temp
1-3/4 C sugar
3 C cake flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 large eggs, at room temp
2 t vanilla (or vanilla bean paste or the seeds from one vanilla bean)
1 C buttermilk (I used lowfat with great results)
Oven to 350. Butter and flour three 8" cake pans and set them aside. 
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and then lightly whisk them together to blend. 
In your stand mixer (or a separate bowl), cream the butter on its own first until it's fluffy and lighter in color than when you started. Then, with the mixer running, slowly pour in the sugar and beat 3-5 minutes more, until the mixture is almost white and very pillowy.Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating them fully and scraping the sides of your bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat quickly. 
Alternating in 3 separate turns, add the flour and mix fully, then buttermilk and mix fully and so on.
Pour the batter into your pans, evenly distributing (as best you can) and bake for 18-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool fully - at least 2 hours at room temp or 45 minutes in the freezer.

Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Makes enough to fill 3 layers
8 oz. Mascarpone (or cream) cheese, cold (fridge temp is fine)
1/2 C white sugar
1 t vanilla
2 C heavy whipping cream, very cold

In your stand mixer with the whip attachment, whip the mascarpone or cream cheese with the sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. With the mixer running on low, slowly drizzle the cream onto the cheese mixture. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Gradually turn the mixer to high and whip the cream and cheese for 2-4 minutes or until stiff peaks stand in the cream when you run a spatula through it. It should be quite firm, like buttercream. If it's not, whip it some more until it is!

Sweet Spring Strawberries
1 qt. strawberries, washed and sliced
1/4 C sugar
1 t lemon juice from a fresh lemon

Gently toss all ingredients and leave covered in your bowl on the counter for 2 hours. The berries will macerate in the sugar and form a liquid. 

Building Your Cake

1. Place one layer of cake on a plate. Spread a thick layer of cream and a big spoonful of berries (if you have a slotted spoon, that's great because the more juice on the top, the more dramatic the cake looks). 
2. Repeat. 
3. For the third layer, do the same thing, but gently pour any remaining strawberry juice evenly over the top just before serving. It'll make nice waterfalls around your cake and add to the pretty!

If you have time, refrigerate the whole thing for 30-40 minutes before serving. If not, slice with the sharpest knife you've got. 


Friday, May 15, 2015

National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!

Have you heard the news? It's National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day today!

I had no idea there was a whole day dedicated to my favorite food. In honor of this unexpected party, let's bake up a few of my favorites: double chocolate chip cookies, the All-American tollhouse version and, for the gourmet in all of us, a whole wheat rye version that will knock your socks off. (Who needs socks in May anyway, right?)

A couple of pointers:
  1. Bring your unsalted butter to room temperature, along with your eggs, before mixing. Everything comes together better this way
  2. If you want taller, fluffier-looking cookies, refrigerate your dough for at least one hour before baking (I know, right after I tell you to bring it all to room temp first. Trust me!)
  3. For uniform cookies, use a tablespoon or cookie scoop to dole out the dough. Then, roll it into a ball and gently flatten it with 2 fingers on your cookie sheet. Don't roll longer than a few seconds or you're undoing all that chilling you just waited for
  4. Eat your cookies warm. Bake them 8-12 at a time, allowing 3 per person and keep the rest of the dough in the fridge for up to a week. Making the effort to bake them in small batches makes alllllllll the difference. There is NOTHING like melted chocolate on the tongue, especially with a wee bit of vanilla and salt supporting the flavor
That's all for now. Love y'all to bits and chips!



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Week: An Emotional Thank You

Warning: grown up content and language. I’m getting heavy with this one.
On December 14, 2012 in a town that essentially was a small town, a young man walked into an elementary school and shot 20 five-and six-year-old children and 6 teachers. That day, Lulu was in her first preschool in Richmond, Virginia, another small town. I’ll never forget the impact of that day. Ever.
My husband and I were signing the escrow papers on our first home that afternoon and rather than toast with champagne, we cried. We cried for the families waiting in the fire station to find out if their children would be delivered to them. We cried for the families who still stood there as we signed. The families who would never again see their children. Ever. Their precious treasures. The babies they made with their own flesh and blood or that they adopted with all their hearts. The ones they fought for. The little ones they spent every day working for, educating, loving, cuddling, reading to, teaching how to brush their teeth and tucking in at night. Those parents wouldn’t be tucking their children in that night. We were inconsolable and could not imagine their grief and anger.
Being a parent changes everything.
The world has changed, too. We’ve moved to another small town, only to have an acquaintance’s daughter assaulted on her own elementary school campus. To have our niece’s high school shut down for two days due to bomb threats. To have our almost-five-year-old daughter trained in emergency drills with a far different meaning than the earthquake drills that scared the bits out of me when I was a kid.
It’s teacher appreciation week. And, of course, we appreciate you guys for teaching our kids how to read. To pee in the right place. To get along with others. But, every day when I hand my precious child off to the teachers of her school, I silently thank them for keeping her safe. For loving her in my absence. For caring enough to frame the lockdown drills as standard safety protocol. Most of all, I thank them for being willing to put their bodies between my child and an assailant, the way those teachers did in Newtown, Connecticut that cold day in December. 
 How do I say thank you for that? 
There is no little teacher’s token big enough to express my gratitude and my emotional investment in these individuals, although I’m sure I’ll give them some such token anyway.
To Mia, Leslie, Jessie, Beth, Connie, Gigi, Erin, Lisa, Jody and Claudia and every person who works in the schools our daughter has attended, THANK YOU doesn’t say it. And, not to take away from the gravity of my sentiment here, but I sure wish cake said it. I could do cake!
I’m also thankful for all the teachers who don’t work with my child. My mom – an amazing 5th/6th grade teacher who changes lives every day. My cousin Erin who is a no-nonsense, super-sharp teacher with wings of awesomeness. My friend Ali who found her path almost by accident, but the teens she basically mentors are so fortunate that she did.
There are more of you than I can mention in a blog post.
I love and thank you all. 
xox always, 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Chocolate Tea Cake

You may have noticed I have a penchant for tea. In fact, I have never had a cup of coffee and enjoy a nice, strong cup of tea with milk every morning. But it's the idea of the afternoon tea snack that really strikes me. One is supposed to take a few minutes in the late afternoon to pause. Perhaps reflect on the day and ready oneself for the evening. To sip a dainty cup of tea, a pick-me-up sized cup, if you will. Enjoy a bit of cake. GENIUS!

This cake can really be made for anything from lunches to parties. In fact, I made two loaves and had planned to freeze one when my sis in law called with her back out and I dropped one at her house. Both were gobbled up that day. 

A good tea loaf is sturdy but soft: something you can carry around while letting the dog out the back door. Or, you can plate it, pile on some whipped cream and put your feet up while watching, say, The Good Wife on DVR. If you're feeling really fancy, slice it on the diagonal, top with coffee ice cream and a good caramel sauce and finish with a raspberry or pinch of good sea salt. Guests will sing your praises, if they can get the words out!



Chocolate Tea Cake
1/2 C butter, at room temp
1-1/2 C sugar
3/4 t salt
2 t vanilla
1 t baking powder
1 t espresso powder (optional)
2/3 C best-quality unsweetened cocoa
3 large eggs, at room temp
1-1/4 C flour (fine ground for pastry is good if you have it)
3/4 C whole milk
2/3 C best-quality chocolate chips, divided

1. Preheat your oven to 350 and butter a loaf pan. 
2. Beat the butter and sugar until light, about 3 minutes. 
3. Add the salt, vanilla, baking powder, espresso powder and cocoa and blend. If it looks clumpy and like cookie dough, don't worry. Go to step 4. 
4. Add the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly with each addition. 
5. Add half the flour and mix. 
6. Add the milk and mix. 
7. Add the rest of the flour and blend until smooth. 
8. Stir in 1/3 C of the chocolate chips. 
9. Pour the batter into a pan and top with the rest of the chocolate chips. 
10. Bake 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. 

Cool, unmold, slice, eat.