Tag Archives: Desserts

Blondies have more fun.

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There are few foods better than chocolate chip cookies. Think about it. I mean, really think about it. Whether gooey or crunchy, mini or monster, raw or baked, chocolate chip cookies represent the Mary Poppins of tasty treats–they’re practically perfect in every way. I can remember coming home after school and finding that my mom had made fresh cookies to surprise my siblings and I. Maybe as a reward for our hard work at school. Maybe to fulfill a craving of her own. Maybe as a treat for no particular reason at all. Regardless, the lingering aroma of baking cookies, when greeting us as we walked in the door, instantly made the day infinitely better. I’m sure we didn’t even take off our coats or put down our backpacks before we snatched a cookie or two. Fresh out of the oven, the cookies were sweet, warm, comforting blankets. With or without an ice-cold glass of milk, the cookies were so much more than an after school snack–they were symbols of our mother’s love for us.

After leaving home, I would occasionally make the chocolate chip cookies my mom made for us growing up. But they always seemed too labor and time intensive to me. Usually when I wanted cookies, I wanted them right then and didn’t want to wait (how American of me). When my mom taught me how she made cookies following the recipe on the back of the Nestlé Toll House bag of chocolate chips, she insisted on mixing everything by hand. I rarely thought I had the time for that. So, over the years and out of a desperate need to expedite the process from separate ingredients to finished product, I tried several methods to speed things along. Once I melted the butter completely, but that failed miserably. The cookies ended up being the size of pancakes, and thin ones at that. Then I started using an electric mixer to combine all of the ingredients–even using it to mix in the flour though my mom told me not to. The resulting cookies tasted just as good as mom’s, and I thought I had struck gold. However, I still had to plan ahead to bring the butter to room temperature and then spoon the dough onto cookie sheets, which seemed to take a fortnight. After I stumbled upon the magical utensil that is a cookie scooper, I was excited. I realize the scoop was not a new thing–professional and home bakers had been employing it for decades. It was new to me, though, and proved to be a cookie-baking revolution in and of itself. With the scooper, the cookies took a lot less time to parcel out, and I didn’t make as much of a mess. Plus, the cookies all ended up roughly the same size and shape.

Once I got comfortable with the Toll House recipe and the cookie scooper method, I began experimenting. It’s a scary proposition, tinkering with the precise measurements required for baking. But I never seemed to hit any snags. For example–try mashing up a couple ripe bananas into the cookie dough and stirring in some chopped walnuts or pecans for banana-nut chocolate chip cookies. Yum, right? Another winning combination grew out of my fondness for the marriage of orange and chocolate. Try adding the zest of one orange to the dough for a nice fresh zip. My absolute favorite addition, though, was a cup of sweetened, flaked coconut. I’ve loved the tropical fruit/nut/seed as far back as I remember, and one day the thought just struck me–I should add coconut to my chocolate chip cookies! Since then, I rarely make a batch without coconut.

Yet as much as the baking process was shortened by the scooper and as much fun I had tweaking the recipe, making cookies still required a significant time commitment. Of course, the end product was always worth it, but sometimes I wanted cookies in less than an hour from start to finish. A couple years after I began experimenting with new mix-ins, I noticed the recipe for the bar cookie version on the Toll House bag. Score! An even faster way to turn dough into baked goodness! I had discovered my new favorite trick when I wanted chocolate chip cookies but didn’t want to spend the time preparing individual cookies–the magically delicious blondie became my lucky charm.

The blondie method allowed me a little more wiggle room for experimentation while answering my impatient calls for quick cookies, and that’s when I conjured up the mixture that remains my go-to blondie recipe. On top of the coconut flakes, I started adding bits of Heath toffee (without the chocolate), stirring in some almond extract (I love the stuff), and doubling the vanilla (how bad could that be?). Provided they’re not over baked–a mistake I recently made–the resulting blondies are soft and gooey on the inside with a little crunch from the toffee bits. A touch of saltiness from the salted butter and toffee also balances out the sweetness. They’re good on their own or topped with a scoop of ice cream (like my homemade Heath Toffee Ice Cream). Not only do blondies truly have more fun, so do I.

Coconut Toffee Blondies*

2-1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. Kosher salt
2 sticks salted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. light OR dark brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips (milk chocolate chips work well, too)
1 c. sweetened, flaked coconut
1/2 to 1 c. Heath toffee bits (sold as Bits o’ Brickle in the grocery store)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a separate, larger mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract and beat until the eggs are fully incorporated into the mixture. Pour approximately half of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix (with the electric mixer) until all of the flour has mixed in. Repeat that step with the remaining dry ingredients, and stop mixing as soon as the flour has been incorporated completely. Dump in the chocolate chips, coconut flakes, and toffee bits and stir the dough until the mix-ins are evenly distributed. Turn the dough out into a greased 9 X 13 or larger bar pan and spread in an even layer. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes (depending on your oven and desired level of doneness). Once the edges and top are just starting to turn golden brown, remove the blondies from the oven. Allow to cool slightly–the bars are best when served warm. Enjoy!

*Adapted from the Toll House recipe

CJC

 

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The Ice Cream Blogs Are Made Of

In my very first post, I alluded to the homemade ice cream that transformed me from a wanna-be blogger to an actual one. And though my culinary adventures began much longer ago than I like to admit, this recent experiment produced the best ice cream I have created to date. I knew sharing my success must happen. Thus my blog was born.

The path to making this ice cream truly sprouted a couple years ago when a good friend of mine invited me over for dinner. Having developed a number of food allergies over the years, she was forced to create an arsenal of homemade goodies free of the offensive allergens. Armed with a CuisinArt ice cream maker, she once again could enjoy the tasty treat. On that fateful evening a couple summers ago, I tasted my first homemade Mocha Chocolate Chip ice cream. I instantly established a new obsession for homemade ice cream. Imagine the possibilities! I waited – patiently, I might add – until Christmas 2010 for my very own CuisinArt ice cream maker. Thank you, Santa!

From that point onward my experiments with ice cream began. At first I strictly stuck to the easy recipes provided in the ice cream maker’s instruction manual. You cannot get much simpler than equal parts whole milk and cream, a little sugar, and a scant teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir the ingredients together and freeze in the CuisinArt. Voila – you have homemade ice cream! I ended up making simple versions of  vanilla, banana, chocolate, and coffee flavors during the first few months of ice cream making. I even made a great salted caramel ice cream (a mouth-watering recipe I intend to share in the future).

While those recipes produced adequate results, I wanted a better quality product – one that more closely resembled the high quality treats you find in premium ice cream parlors. You know the kind – thick and creamy, frozen hard without the ice crystals that form in the quick recipes. Then, at the suggestion of my partner, I decided to give the premium recipe in the instruction booklet for vanilla bean ice cream a try. I previously avoided these recipes because they called for a larger time commitment and required more intensive steps. They included egg yolks and added the daunting task of tempering, heating, and allowing time for the ice cream base to cool. Now to be completely honest, the tempering of the yolks scared me at first. I did not want to make scrambled egg ice cream, but following the recipe closely proved to be less difficult than I had imagined. And I found what I was looking for – the resulting vanilla bean ice cream matched the desired consistency and quality I desired.

Since the discovery that the addition of egg yolks produced the premium quality ice cream I enjoyed so much, I concocted a couple great recipes and also a less-than-stellar salted caramel that failed to match the greatness of the version without egg yolks. A successful experiment in creating an amazing cinnamon ice cream convinced me future ice creams (except salted caramel) will follow the premium recipe, tempering and all. But what to make next? One of my all-time favorite flavors happens to be the Heath ice cream you can occasionally find at Grand Ole Creamery in St. Paul, Minnesota. More than just vanilla speckled with crushed Heath bars, Grand Ole Creamery’s Heath masterpiece tastes like toffee ice cream with Heath bars. I decided to attempt the replication of this favorite flavor. The results were beyond even my  recently hightened expectations. The Heath ice cream I created transported me back to Grand Ole Creamery, becoming my favorite homemade ice cream yet and the ice cream this blog is made of.

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Heath Ice Cream

  • 2 cups heavy cream*
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk*
  • 1/2 cup Heath toffee bits, without chocolate (available at Target near the chocolate chips)
  • 4 egg yolks*
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
  • 3 Heath candy bars, crushed

In a medium sauce pan, mix together the heavy cream, milk, and Heath toffee bits. Heat over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat.

Side note: The toffee bits will dissolve in the heated milk mixture leaving behind small chunks of almond…not to worry, though – we’ll deal with that pesky almond shrapnel later.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks and sugar with a hand mixer for 2 minutes on medium speed. The yolks will turn pale yellow. Transfer half of the heated liquid to a container which will allow you to easily (and slowly) pour the heated liquid into the egg yolks and sugar. This tempering must be done in a slow, steady stream WHILE the hand mixer is running to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Scrambled egg yolks do not a good ice cream make. Now, I know this step seems scary for egg-tempering virgins. Heck, I was nervous the first time I tried it, but believe me when I say tempering is easier than you think and adding egg yolks is essential for thick, creamy ice cream. Also, confidence is key – you can do it!

Once you’ve finished mixing the separated milk/cream/toffee to the egg yolks and sugar, add the now tempered egg cream back to the sauce pan with the remaining milk/cream/toffee mixture. Return pan to heat  (back to medium), stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. This can take 3-5 minutes. You will see and feel the liquid thickening while stirring, and when you can drag your finger across the back of the spoon, leaving a clean path with no bleeding liquid, your ice cream mix is ready. Pour into a bowl through a mesh strainer (good-bye almond shrapnel), stir in the teaspoon of vanilla, and cover with plastic wrap. (Make sure the plastic wrap is pressed down into the bowl and touching the custard to prevent a film from forming.) Place in the refrigerator overnight to get nice and cold.

The next day, pour the ice cream into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions, adding the crushed Heath bars during the last five minutes of churning. For soft-serve consistency, enjoy immediately upon finishing. If you’re like me and like your ice cream a little more, for lack of a better word, hard, store in the freezer for a few hours. Just an FYI – because of the extra sugar from the toffee, I did notice that this ice cream does not harden completely, so don’t be surprised if it retains some of its soft-serve attributes.

CJC

* In my opinion, these five ingredients form the ideal base for most ice creams…at least as of today.