Saturday, October 30, 2010

Baking Tool Giveaway!!

Hello there loyal readers! We've hooked up with CSN Stores to bring you a chance at free stuff. We've also been informed about the great sites that CSN Stores has. They have a large selection. From console tables to baking tools. We were happy to find that they have very competitive prices and the next time we're in the market for a new baking dish or tool, we're going there first!
So what do we have for you? How about a set of tools that have made our lives so much easier when it comes to portioning out cookie dough and cupcake batter? It's a small and medium size OXO Cookie scoop. When it comes to having equally sized cookies there's no greater tool. We've also learned that these can be used for portioning out cupcake batter as well. It really does make life easier. And OXO really is a quality brand. This is a great way to close out National Cookie Month.

So, go ahead and leave a comment and tell us what your favorite cookie is. We'll use a random # generator to decide the winner. For the record, we're partial to chocolate chip or peanut butter. Good luck! Update: Sorry, forgot to add a few details. We're a little sleep deprived. This is open to US and Canadian readers only. Also the cut off is Wednesday, the 3rd at midnight.

Ice Box Cookies - 10/20

**We're sorry that we haven't kept up with our posting. October gets to be a busy time of year for us. We've been hanging out with these guys:

More on that below.

When we were growing up, we used to have ice box cookies from our local bakery all the time.  The best part about them was how colorful they were.  Since we started this baking odyssey, I(Sara) have been looking for some recipe that was similar to those cookies.  I found one on Martha's site.  I know, I know, we are very pro Martha.  It is only because she seems to have a great team of people thoroughly testing her recipes and the end product is always pretty tasty.

When I read this recipe, especially since it says to involve your kids, I thought it can't be that hard can it?  We don't have a bench scrapper and for some reason the dough came out really sticky no matter how much flour we used.  So I attempted to stack my lopsided squares of dough to make the spirals of chocolate and orange.

I left the rolled dough in the fridge overnight and used the thread cutting method.  It worked really well.  I think this would have been an useful step for when I made the earl grey cookies for the third quarterly challenge, then my cookies would have been perfectly round.

 The cookies took the whole 15 minutes to bake.  I thought the dough tasted a lot better than the finished product but they sure looked pretty festive.  I brought them to the train park where Erin and I are volunteering and there weren't many left at the end of the night.  By the way...  If you are in the Los Angeles Area, come check out The Ghost Train.  The info is here.  They put on a great event every year and it is a fun, inexpensive way to celebrate Halloween.

Lessons learned: Martha may not always be right but I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.  String or dental floss is a great way to cut ice box/shortbread cookies.  Even if the recipe says have your kids help, it doesn't necessarily mean it's an easy recipe.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Banana Bread for Baby Beckett 10/12

We've been doing a lot of baking this year but nothing compared to Sara's best friend Briana, who has had a different kind of bun in the oven. To celebrate the birth of Briana and Brian's baby boy Beckett, we baked banana bread. Too much alliteration? Too bad, too late. 
We had a lot of fun with this one (if you couldn't tell already.) There's a lot of fun to be had with bananas.

It can also be dangerous though, so you should always be careful with them.

We chose the recipe from the website because we've liked other recipes from there. We did omit the nuts though cause we're already going bananas with the bananas, we don't know what would happen with the nuts.

We mashed the bananas and that was perfect cause it ended up looking like baby food, not that Beckett could eat it. Its the same dilemma as with Oliver's Cupcakes but at least the new parents will be able to appreciate it. 

The wet ingredients mixed with the dry ingredients and you can't tell from this picture, but they smelled really good. Imagine vanilla, cinnamon and banana. That doesn't sound great, but it is.

We made 2 so that we could taste one and freeze the other, then FedEx it off to the newly enlarged family. Gotta taste it. It's very important.

As you can see, we used one glass dish and one metal one. This would have been a good experiment in seeing the difference if one wasn't slightly bigger than the other. The metal one did take longer to bake but they both came out great.

Lessons learned: This was easy and fun. We gotta bake with fruit more often. We will get it eventually. :o)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Third Quarterly Challenge - Cookies - 10/10

C is for Cookie and that is good enough for me

This challenge we decided to make cookies since it is national cookie month and it's Erin favorite thing to make.

Sara made a Earl Grey Shortbread Cookie.  She used the Martha Stewart recipe from her Cookie Book.  Here is a link.  Sara's favorite tea is Earl Grey and her favorite cookie is Shortbread, so this was a definite winner for her.

Erin's husband loves Chocolate Chip Cookies however this summer he discovered Oatmeal Apricot Cookies at a camping trip and proceeded to eat more than his share of the batch.  So, he wanted Erin to make some.  She found her recipe here which also happened to be Martha Stewart.

It was a tight race but the winner, as chosen by our friends and family of taste testers was Chocolate.  Sarah Bernhardt Cookies to be exact.  We assume they are named this because of the dramatic presentation but who knows, ask Martha cause this is again her recipe.  I guess we should have named this the Martha Stewart Cookie Challenge.

These cookies take a lot of steps to make them.  In fact we made them over the course of an afternoon and a morning, since there is lots of chilling involved.

First you make the Macaroon dough and then pipe them on the pan.  We used a zip lock bag since we didn't have the tip that Martha suggests. We felt that it worked great. After baking these, we had to taste them as pre protocol and Mom helped out with that. Here response was "Mmmm! That's what I'm talkin' about!" She loves almond macaroons and these cookies were destined for success.

Next make the filling and let it chill to truffle like consistency.  The trick here, which we didn't do, is to put the filling in the bag in small batches so that you won't warm it up too much with your hand.  Once the filling has been piped, the cookies go into the freezer for chilling.

After that chilling, chocolate and vegetable shorting are melted to create the shell for the cookies.

Like we said, lots of steps but this makes for a very chocolaty yummy cookie.  Thank you to all of our taste testers that came to sample and give their opinions.  We are looking forward to our next challenge...hummm what to bake??

Lessons learned: Chocolate and shortening make a great chocolate shell.  We could have used this knowledge a couple of weeks ago for our ding dongs.  Chocolate always seems to win though the other 2 cookies will become staples as they were very delicious and not as hard to make.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chocolate Cookie Sandwiches 10/2

Sandwiches are beautiful.
Sandwiches are fine.
I like Sandwiches, I eat them all the time.
I eat them for my supper and I eat them for my lunch.
If i had a hundred sandwiches, I'd eat them all at once.

The lyrics for the classic children's song ring true for us this week, or me anyway. This is Erin. Sara has gone off on a quest for softball glory and is at a tournament in Tucson. So, I like peanut butter sandwiches. It's a great stand-by when you're hungry and it's even better when you do what I did and put peanut butter frosting in the middle of 2 chocolate cake type cookies, mmmm sweetness! I was in the mood for cookies since they are my favorite thing to bake and I was warming up for our Third Quarterly Challenge coming up: Cookies!!

I found this recipe in the Williams-Sonoma cookbook. I picked this recipe thinking it would be like the ginger snaps we made early in the year and the recipe would be such luck. So, I can't link to it but I'll tell you all about it.

Like many good cookies, this one starts with lots of butter. Unlike many good bakers, I started out with bad butter. I had it out to get to room temperature and then I began to cream it with the sugar and felt that something wasn't right, or smelled it rather. I don't know if I can say that butter has a smell, maybe a bit sweet smelling but it definitely doesn't smell like cheese which was what I was getting. This wasn't good. I usually think "oh it'll be alright" and just continue but this definitely wasn't salvagable. I scrapped the butter and started again. The problem I had was that I didn't have time for it to warm up so I did a sped it up a little. I cut the butter into small pieces and placed them onto a plate. This is a pretty fast warm up but I nuked it for 5 seconds just to be sure. Success!

All the ingredients came together and made a pretty cakey cookie dough but I didn't come up with the recipe. What do I know? I could understand why the next step was to refrigerate the dough so I did it.

The next part didn't make a whole lot of sense. It called for taking the dough and rolling it into 1" balls using moistened hands. Wetting my hands did not help. The dough was very sticky and hard to work with.

 Then the recipe called for flattening the dough balls on the baking sheet with a cup with cocoa powder on it or a spatula. This was also difficult as the dough just wanted to stick to anything it touched and flattening didn't really occur.

Then as you can see, the cookies came out way too big. I was imagining that they would be smalled sandwiches and wasn't happy with this crowding so I cam up with my own solution. I was also surpised to see that the flattening step was completely unneccesary. The dough kind of melts into a pool and then bakes up into a cookie. I would have expected this but you, Williams-Sonoma? I'm disappointed.

I used a teaspoon to measure out the dough. Got about a half a spoon measurement and just pushed it onto the pan with my finger. Minimal touching was the key.
See, much smaller cookies. No worries about crowding here.
Cookie puddles!
Peanut butter frosting for the middle!
And there's the finished product. This is a pic of the bigger ones. They were a hit. If I make them again though, I will be modifying the recipe for maybe a less cakey cookie/less sticky dough. I'll post the recipe here if I do it.

Lessons learned: Start with fresh butter. Also, don't be afraid to stray from a recipe even if it is published in a well respected book.