Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pop Tarts

Have you seen that commercial that tries to argue that Toaster Strudels are better than Pop Tarts? Sorry Pillsbury, but I'm not buying it. There's just something about a Pop Tart. The gooey filling. The icing. The sprinkles. Pop Tarts are legit. And by that, I mean legitimately delicious, in a street savvy kind of way.

I had no idea how much work would be involved in making these unassuming toaster pastries. Alton Brown made it seem so simple with his illustrated step-by-step directions: make the dough, form it into a roll, cut it into circles, reshape the circles into rectangles, add the filling, assemble, and bake! No problem. Well, this ended up taking over three hours. By the time I got to the actual shaping and assembly of the pastries, I was beyond tired. At that point, I just wanted to eat them! Did I mention all of this was taking place at 11 p.m. on the last day of my work week?

The point in all of this is that my pop tarts did not turn out very pretty at all. First of all, they ended up being squares rather than rectangles. Secondly, they were huge. . . probably twice the size of a normal pop tart! Now, we all know that I don't have a problem with oversized baked goods, but I had envisioned posting pictures of adorable pop tarts that looked just like the ones you buy in a blue box on the cereal aisle. . . only better. Instead, I found myself with haphazard square pop tarts with frosting that came out neon pink instead of baby pink.

Luckily, this story has a happy ending! My oversized, aesthetically-challenged pop tarts were amazing! The fillings I used were strawberry jam, cinnamon and brown sugar, and Nutella. All three were delicious, but unsurprisingly, cinnamon and brown sugar was my favorite. I was also pleasantly surprised by how good the pastry itself was and how authentic the taste was to an actual Pop Tart. I can't say that I'll be whipping these up every time I want a Pop Tart, but I can say that my homemade version definitely wins over any toaster strudel or store-bought Pop Tart I've ever had!

Pop Goes the Tart
Yield: 8 pastries

1-1/8 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup jam, fruit butter, or preserves
Egg wash: 1 large egg + 2 tablespoons milk


1. Assemble the dough via the creaming method, alternating 3 doses of the dry mixture with 2 doses of milk.

2. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Get out several of your favorite jams, preserves, and butters--as in apple butter.

3. Place the dough onto a sheet of waxed paper--about 13x17 inches long--and fold the end of the paper over. Roll the dough into a log. Remove the waxed paper, slice the dough into 2-inch rounds (you should have 16 pieces), place on a sheet pan, cover and chill for 1 hour. (I abridged these instructions because I got really confused, even with the pictures in the book!)

4. Once the dough has chilled, dust a round with flour and place it on one half of a piece of waxed paper. Fold the waxed paper over (like a book) to cover the round.

5. Roll the round out to 5 to 6 inches in diameter. Use the paper to fold in the edges, turning the round into a rectangle.

6. Dust with flour, close the book, and roll again, until the dough rectangle is about 5 to 7 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. (Is it just me, or does the word "diameter" only apply to circles? Or is diameter also the name of the diagonal of a rectangle? Leave me a comment if you have an answer to this!)

7. Stack the waxed-paper-enclosed dough pieces one on top of the other until you've finished all of them.

8. Take a look at your pieces and try to pair them up. Mix up your egg wash.

9. To make each pastry: Place the filling on the bottom piece and apply the egg wash to the edges. Don't let the filling get out to the edge. Place top piece onto bottom piece, and use a fork to seal the edges. Gently dock top with a fork. Don't pierce the bottom piece.

10. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to brown. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool for about 15 minutes. Store in a zip-top bag for about a week or wrap them individually and freeze for up to a month.

Brown, Alton. "Pop Goes the Tart." Recipe. I'm Just Here for More Food. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2004. 202-207.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Yeast-Raised Doughnuts

I love doughnuts. In fact, I love them so much that if we were 8-year-olds, you might ask me why I don't marry them if I love them so much. How silly of you. My favorite doughnut? Vanilla frosted with sprinkles. Maple bars come in at a close second. I also don't mind cream-filled chocolate doughnuts, nor am I opposed to glazed buttermilk bars. Do you see where I'm going with this? It's a win-win-win-win situation.

The recipe I used came from one of my favorite blogs, Joy the Baker. Although I'm still a little intimidated by baking with yeast, Joy made it sound so easy, and my first yeast-raised product turned out perfectly, so I knew I had to give it a try! 

Here's what happened:

First, I mixed all the ingredients for the dough in my stand mixer. The yeast even got foamy like it was supposed to! So far, so good. At this point I was supposed to cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place, or in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours. I decided to let it rise in the refrigerator overnight so that I could have the doughnuts for breakfast in the morning!

This is what the dough looked like when I took it out of the refrigerator approximately 10 hours later. In this picture, it doesn't appear to have risen at all. In real life, it didn't appear to have risen at all. This is when I started to get nervous.

I decided to continue. I turned the dough out onto a floured surface. It was very sticky. Is this normal? I don't know.

Next, I rolled the dough into a 12-inch circle and used my brand new doughnut cutter to cut out my soon-to-be doughnuts. This recipe was supposed to make a dozen 3-inch doughnuts, but as you can see, I got eight 4-inch doughnuts. Fine by me!

I continued to doubt myself and wondered if this was even going to work. I kept wondering what I could have done wrong to cause the dough not to rise even a little. Is my refrigerator too cold? Let's check!

Hmm. Apparently, I keep my refrigerator at the coldest setting possible. How environmentally-friendly of me. Still, I pressed on.

I let the doughnuts rise for another 45 minutes, as instructed. In the meantime, I made three different glazes: vanilla, maple, and chocolate. Yes.

Now I just had to wait for my oil to reach 350˚F. This took quite awhile and was complicated by the fact that the only thermometer I own is a meat thermometer that only goes up to 220˚F. It is situations like this that make me wonder what people did before there was Google. After determining that my oil was hot enough, I tested out a couple of doughnut holes just to be sure. Perfect. Now it was time to get frying!

Wow! They actually look like doughnuts! I think they were probably supposed to puff up a little bit more, but who cares?!

This is how they looked before I frosted them. They didn't stay this way for long.

Happy breakfast to me! They were absolutely delicious. I have no idea if they turned out how they were supposed to or not, but at this point it really doesn't matter. Victory is sweet.

Yeast-Raised Doughnuts
Yield: 12 doughnuts
1 package active dry yeast (2-1/2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons warm water (105-115˚F)
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for sprinkling and rolling out dough
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
About 10 cups vegetable oil for deep frying

1. Stir together yeast and warm water in a small bowl until yeast is dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn't foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
2. Mix together flour, milk, butter, yolks, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and yeast mixture in mixer at low speed until a soft dough forms. Increase speed to medium-high and beat 3 minutes more.

3. Scrape dough down sides of bowl into center, then sprinkle lightly with flour. Cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. (Alternatively, let dough rise in bowl in refrigerator 8 to 12 hours.)

4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round (1/2 inch thick). Cut out as many rounds as possible with a 3-inch cutter, then cut a hole in center of each round with a 1-inch cutter and transfer doughnuts to a lightly floured large baking sheet. Cover doughnuts with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes (45 minutes if dough was cold when cutting out doughnuts). Do not reroll scraps.

5. Heat 2-1/2 inches oil in a deep 4-quart heavy pot until it registers 350˚F on thermometer. Fry doughnuts, two at a time, turning occasionally with a wire or mesh skimmer or a slotted spoon, until puffed and golden brown, about two minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. (Return oil to 350˚F between batches.)
Gourmet, December 2006 [via Joy the Baker]

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Danielle's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Some things in life you just can't go wrong with. Waking up for work and realizing it's your day off, for example. Or finding a twenty dollar bill in the pocket of a coat you haven't worn since last winter. Okay, so that's never actually happened to me. Another thing you can't go wrong with is eating warm chocolate chip cookies. Now, that has happened to me many times, and one of those times was earlier today.

The recipe I used came from a friend of mine [Thanks, Danielle!], and it is unique in that it produces wafer-thin cookies. Wafer-thin?! Normally I wouldn't want those words anywhere near my baked goods, but these cookies are so delicious that I'm willing to make an exception. Their texture is the perfect balance of chewiness and crispiness, and they have an excellent chocolate-chip-to-cookie ratio. Plus, they're so thin you can justify eating more than one. I did, anyway.

In other sweet news, I visited Hello, Cupcake in Tacoma today. I fell in love as soon as I walked through the door; both the cupcakes and the store itself are beautifully simple.

I decided to try the Carrot, Coconut, and Red Velvet. My favorite was by far the Carrot. The cake was super moist, it had the perfect amount of spice, and the cream cheese frosting balanced the cake perfectly. Keeping in mind the stomachache I had after eating three cupcakes from Cupcake Royale, I only ate half of each of the Coconut and Red Velvet cupcakes.

The Coconut was delicious, but I was a bit overwhelmed by the mountain of coconut buttercream on top. It's pretty uncharacteristic of me to think that anything has too much frosting, but don't forget I had already eaten the Carrot cupcake when I formed this opinion! The Hello, Cupcake Red Velvet was much more chocolate-y than my first Red Velvet from Cupcake Royale, but it was just as delicious. I will definitely be a return customer!

Wait. Why are you still reading this? Go make these cookies. You can't go wrong!

Danielle's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: About 4 dozen

2 cups unsalted butter
3 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Line baking sheets with baking mats or parchment and set aside.

2. Cream butter until smooth; add sugars, and beat until smooth.

3. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

4. Into a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Slowly beat dry ingredients into wet mixture. Fold in chocolate chips.

5. Drop 2-3 tablespoons dough per cookie onto prepared baking sheets; space dough at least 2 inches apart to allow for spreading. Bake until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. remove cookies from baking sheets, and allow to cool on baking racks.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cakey Brownies

By now I think you know that I don't like to skimp when it comes to dessert. I don't drop cookies by the tablespoon; I drop them by the quarter cup. Instead of trying one flavor when I go to Cupcake Royale, I try three. Let's face it--I make chocolate chip cookies with brownies inside them! However, there is something to be said for keeping things simple.

Today I made chocolate brownies. I didn't frost them. I didn't add nuts or chocolate chips. I didn't swirl peanut butter or cream cheese into them. I just let them be.

Actually that's not entirely true. After my "plain" brownies came out of the oven, I completely ignored Alton Brown's instructions to let them cool completely before cutting. I cut them while they were still warm, and I ate one immediately. It was delicious.

But, as I'm sure you suspected, I didn't just eat that one brownie. Oh, no. I made a brownie sundae. With Ben & Jerry's Peanut Brittle Ice Cream. And caramel. And hot fudge. Now that sounds more like me.

The sundae was good. But it wasn't as good as that simple brownie, fresh from the oven. And that brings me to the conclusion that sometimes less is more. Sometimes.

Plain Ole Brownies
1-1/3 cups cocoa powder
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sugar, sifted
1 cup brown sugar, sifted
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour an 8-inch square aluminum baking pan.

2. Sift together the dry ingredients in the food processor.

3. In an electric stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the eggs at medium speed until light (both in texture and color). Add the vanilla.

4. Mix the sugars together, reduce the mixer speed to 30-percent power, and add the sugars to the eggs, incorporating thoroughly.

5. Add the butter and remaining dry ingredients in three alternating doses starting with the wet and finishing with the dry. Fold in the nuts.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55-60 minutes. Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean.

7. Remove the pan to a cooling rack and resist the temptation to cut until the brownies are completely cool. When ready, cut into squares with a pizza cutter.
Brown, Alton. "Plain Ole Brownies." Recipe. I'm Just Here for More Food. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2004. 188-89.