Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cranberry Bliss Bars


I'm going to turn 23 in twelve days. Yes, folks, I've been a bona fide, pays-her-own-rent, cleans-her-own-bathroom, buys-her-own-dishes adult for almost five years. Which makes me wonder why I still get just as excited during the holiday season as I did when I was eight years old.

I may not wear that shirt with the sequined Christmas tree on it anymore, but I am that annoying person who changes the office radio station to the one that plays Christmas music two weeks before Thanksgiving. I'm also that person who drags her boyfriend to a remote bavarian-themed mountain tourist village every December just to see it all lit up with Christmas lights. And, in fact, I am that person who squeals (ever so discreetly) when she walks into Starbucks and sees red cups and cranberry bliss bars.


What is it about those bars? I mean... cranberries? Ehh. White chocolate? Ehh. Ginger? You get the idea.  (And in case you were wondering, "ehh" is a technical term. . . This is my blog, and I will make up onomatopoeia as I see fit.) Somehow, these ingredients are delicious when you put them together; throw in some cream cheese frosting, and they're downright irresistible. I started searching for a recipe for these bars months ago, and as soon as I came across Cakespy's version, I knew I need'nt (?!) look any further. Not only is she from Seattle, but also she makes things like birthday cake french toast. I knew this was going to be good.


I'll be honest. These bars don't taste exactly like the Starbucks version, and I'll even admit that I still like the Starbucks version better (although I think this preference is based more upon nostalgia than taste). Nonetheless, these bars are a must-bake for a few reasons:
  1. They have the perfect balance of spice, sweetness, and tartness.
  2. Did I mention the cream cheese frosting?
  3. Seriously... cake-y bars with cream cheese frosting. Who cares what else is in them?

I think I've made my point.

Cranberry Bliss Bars
Adapted from Cakespy

Bars:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1-1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
2-1/2 cups powdered sugar

Garnish:
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup white chocolate, melted

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch pan.

2. Cream butter in a mixer at medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add brown sugar gradually, and continue creaming until light and fluffy.

3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add vanilla.

4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Gradually add to wet ingredients and mix until completely incorporated. Fold in cranberries and white chocolate.

5. Spread batter in pan and bake from 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

6. For the frosting, cream butter and cream cheese in a mixer at medium speed until fluffy. Add vanilla and beat 1 minute more. Gradually add powdered sugar until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency; you may not need all of the suggested amount.

7. After spreading the frosting evenly over the cake base, garnish with dried cranberries immediately. Use a spoon to drizzle the melted white chocolate over the cranberries.

8. Slice in half lengthwise and then into four equal parts widthwise. Slice each rectangle in half diagonally to make 16 triangular bars.

Not to be bossy or anything, but I think you should eat these slightly chilled. Yumm.

(My excessive use of onomatopoeia in this post should tell you something about how much I like these bars and how few synonyms there are for "delicious.")

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010: Pumpkin Pie and Apple Non-Pie


Every year, I think I'm going to come up with a new dessert to make for my family's Thanksgiving dinner, but somehow I always come back to pumpkin pie and apple crisp. Since we don't eat either of these desserts any other time throughout the year, it just feels like we would be missing out on something if I didn't make them for Thanksgiving. For the past few years, I've just used basic recipes out of my Betty Crocker cookbook, but this year I decided to try a new twist on each one.


I chose a Martha Stewart pumpkin pie recipe because of the press-in shortbread crust. I haven't had the best luck with pie dough in the past, and I was happy to avoid that process altogether. I ended up doubling the crust recipe in order to have enough dough to fill my pie plate, but other than that the crust was super easy to make. Unfortunately, I wasn't crazy about the flavor, which was slightly bitter and a bit too salty. On the other hand, the filling was silky and perfectly spiced. I think next year I will use the same filling recipe with a gingersnap or graham cracker crust.


The apple crisp I made started out as an apple pie, the recipe for which came from The Repressed Pastry Chef. I even went as far as preparing a buttermilk pie dough, but when it came time to roll it out and transfer it to the pie plate, I got frustrated and decided an apple crisp sounded better anyway! The hardest part of an apple crisp is peeling and slicing all the apples, which my sister was kind enough to help me with. I used Granny Smith apples, which turned out to be a good choice because the tartness of the apples balanced out the sweetness of the topping. Although, I probably could have just eaten the topping and forgotten about the apples all together. . . brown sugar, cinnamon, and I are very good friends.

I know I'm a little late in sharing these recipes for this year's Thanksgiving, but I just prefer to think of myself as conveniently early for next year!



Pumpkin Pie with Shortbread Crust
Adapated from Martha Stewart

For the crust:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt

For the filling:

15 ounces (1 can) pumpkin
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Prepare the crust: Combine butter and sugar in a medium bowl with a hand mixer. Add egg yolks and mix until combined. Add flour and salt, and mix until dough is dry and crumbly. Press the dough into a 9-inch pie dish (you may not need to use all of the dough). Freeze the crust for about 20 minutes, then bake 20-22 minutes or until golden brown. Let crust cool while you prepare the filling.

2. Reduce oven temperature to 325˚F. Whisk together all filling ingredients until smooth. Pour filling into cooled pie crust. Bake about 1 hour or until filling is just set--slightly puffed but still a bit wobbly. Cool on a wire rack; then, refrigerate until ready to eat or up to two days.

Brown Sugar Apple Crisp
Adapted from The Repressed Pastry Chef

For the filling:

3 pounds apples, peeled and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the crumb topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Combine all filling ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.

2. Combine all topping ingredients except butter in a medium bowl. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the topping mixture until only pea-sized chunks of butter remain. If you don't have a pastry blender, you can use clean hands to rub the butter into the topping mixture.

3. Stir filing to redistribute juices, then pour into a 9-inch pie plate. Evenly distribute crumb topping over the filling. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until apples reach desired tenderness. Serve warm or refrigerate until ready to eat. To reheat, warm apple crisp in a 250˚F oven for about 20 minutes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My First Review + A Recipe Worth Repeating

A couple weeks ago, a representative at CSN Stores contacted me, asking if I would be interested in reviewing a product from any of their 200+ websites on my blog. Being so new to blogging, I was a little surprised that they had contacted me, but of course I was excited about the opportunity!

After extensive browsing of the baking products on their site, I decided on a set of two Calphalon jelly roll pans. I actually chose these pans because the website said they were 13x18 inches, which is the size of a half-sheet pan--something I had been wanting to add to my collection of bakeware. It turned out that the pans are actually 12x17 inches, but they are so versatile that I'm sure I will still get plenty of use out of them. I guess I will just have to keep that half-sheet pan on my Christmas list!


Of course, I had to try these pans out in order to review them, so I decided to make a batch of the Sugar Cookie Bars I posted about back in September. When I started this blog, I told myself that I would make something brand new every week, but these bars were too delicious to resist making a second time.

The recipe calls for using a half-sheet pan, so last time I ended up using two 9x13-inch pans. This time, I used just one of my new jelly roll pans, and the bars came out perfectly! The pans have a good weight to them without being too heavy, and I had no problem with the bars sticking. I'm sure that these pans will be perfect for the pumpkin roll I am planning to bake this Christmas. In the meantime, I'm going to break them in with cookies, brownies, and maybe even a few more sugar cookie bars!

FTC Disclaimer: I received this product for free from csnstores.com; however, all opinions stated above are my own.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting


I can't think of anything to say about these cupcakes that isn't completely obvious. Firstly, they are obviously delicious. You will probably eat at least three of them, get a terrible stomachache, and still seriously consider eating another one. I may or may not be speaking from experience.


Secondly, my decorating skills are obviously in need of improvement. Even Carson Kressley would have a hard time making these cupcakes feel pretty. Thirdly, I am obviously referencing the hit Lifetime reality show How to Look Good Naked, of which Carson Kressley is the host. Stay with me, people. 


Fourthly, once you try these cupcakes, you will think about them at least once a month until it is seasonally appropriate to make them again. (I've been thinking about them since last Thanksgiving). Fifthly, I have never used the word "fifthly" before.  I think it's time for me to get some sleep.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs
15 ounces pumpkin puree

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together sugars, butter, and eggs. Stir in dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.

3. Divide batter evenly among liners. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center cupcake comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 pounds cream cheese
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Beat cream cheese and butter about 2 minutes in an electric mixer on medium speed.

2. Add vanilla and beat 1 minute more.

3. Reduce the mixer to low, and add powdered sugar gradually. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, increase speed to medium and beat until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add additional powdered sugar if needed to reach desired consistency.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Monster Cookies


Four years ago I started my first quarter at the University of Washington, and I lived in Haggett Hall. Worst dorms on campus. Fact, not opinion. Luckily, my roommate was one of my best friends from high school. Even more luckily, my roommate's mom sent her a care package on the first day of school. I'm sure there were a lot of things in that package, but all I remember is chewy cookies filled with oats, chocolate chips, and m&m's, which my roommate kindly shared with me. Four years is a long time to remember a specific cookie, so I thought it would be the perfect thing to bake in celebration of Stephen and I finally moving into our newly purchased condo.


Unlike Haggett Hall, our new condo is beautiful. I love everything about it. But most of all, I love the kitchen. It has a refrigerator with an ice maker in the door (fancy!), plenty of space for all of my bakeware, underlit cabinets, and an island with room for two or three barstools. Having had no time to bake during the last two weeks of packing and moving and working, I couldn't wait to break it in.


Although I didn't actually get this recipe from my roommate's mom, these cookies were exactly what I was hoping for. They are incredibly chewy, the oats, m&m's, and chocolate chips provide the perfect amount of crunch, and two whole cups of peanut butter bring it all together. You should probably make these as soon as possible. And since you'll end up with about 3 dozen cookies, you should send the leftovers to someone who has to live in a horrible dorm room. You have no idea how much they'll appreciate it!


Monster Cookies
Adapted from Piece of Cake

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
5-3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup m&m's

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and oats.

2. In an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer to low speed, and gradually beat in the sugars.

3. Add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar one at a time, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the corn syrup and vanilla, and beat until combined.

4. Add the peanut butter and beat just until smooth. Gradually add the dry ingredients until fully incorporated.

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and briefly mix by hand using a spoon or spatula to ensure that all ingredients are combined. Fold in chocolate chips and m&m's. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for as long as you can wait. I lasted 3 hours.

6. Preheat the oven to 375˚F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough into balls using a small ice cream scoop, and place them on the cookie sheets about two inches apart.

7. Bake 6-8 minutes, rotate the cookie sheets, then bake another 6-8 minutes or until the cookies just start to brown. Cool the cookies on the pans for 5-10 minutes before transferring to wire racks.