Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cinnamon Sugar Soft Pretzels with Cream Cheese Frosting


We need to talk about Twitter.

I really don't understand it. Like, at all.

I'm into Facebook. I get it. You post pithy status updates to show everyone how witty and intelligent you are. You upload carefully selected photos that showcase how great your life is. And most importantly, you stalk the profiles of people you never actually talk to in real life.

But what are you supposed to do on Twitter?

From what I've gathered, a lot of people are obsessed with it. And since I'm not one to disagree with the majority of the free world, I've tried to get into it at least three times.

I just... I can't. I see all the # and the @ and the links that have dots in the middle of words... and my head wants to explode.


I was trying to figure it out on Sunday during the Oscars and almost had a nervous breakdown. Especially since I no longer have cable and therefore couldn't actually watch the Oscars. It was like being blindfolded in a crowded room and only hearing every other word about what was happening.

Also... the "trending topics"? I checked that section out thinking it might shed some light on this whole ordeal, and I clicked the one that said "Justin is 17". It took me to a bunch of tweets about Justin Bieber's 18th birthday, and specifically about how "we only have 24 more hours of saying this" and reminding people to "retweet this because in 24 hours you won't be able to".

Really?!


Someone please explain all of this to me before it's too late. Otherwise I fear that I'll soon become one of those people who uses phrases like "the Facebook" and sends out emails claiming that Bill Gates will give you $1 for every person you forward it to.

Here's something I do understand: soft #pretzels brushed with melted #butter, sprinkled with #cinnamon #sugar, and dipped in #creamcheese #frosting. The first thing I said after I tried them was #theytastesopretzely!

@blogreaders Am I do.ing it right?

Cinnamon Sugar Soft Pretzels with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

For the pretzels:

1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour
1 cup warm water, about 110°F
3 tablespoons baking soda
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cream cheese frosting:

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 & 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, honey, salt, flour, and warm water. With the dough hook attachment, knead at low speed for 5-7 minutes or until the dough forms a smooth ball.

2. Transfer the dough to a large bowl coated with nonstick spray, and turn the dough to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in volume. Deflate the dough, re-cover it, and allow it to rise until doubled again, about 30 minutes.

3. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with nonstick spray. Combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon, and pour the mixture into a shallow plate or pie pan.

4. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a 20-inch long rope, and shape each rope into a pretzel. Place the pretzels on the prepared baking sheet.

5. Pour six cups of water into a 12-inch skillet, and add the 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Cover the mixture and bring it to a boil over high heat. Working with 3-4 pretzels at a time, use a slotted spoon to place the pretzels into the boiling water top-side down. Boil for 1 minute, flipping the pretzels over halfway through.

6. Remove the pretzels from the water with a slotted spoon, drain them well, and return them to the baking sheet. Bake for 12-16 minutes, or until golden brown. While the pretzels are still warm (but cool enough to handle), brush the tops with melted butter and dip the buttered side of each pretzel into the cinnamon sugar mixture.

7. To make the cream cheese frosting: In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter with a hand mixer at medium speed for about 30 seconds. Add the powdered sugar, and mix at low speed until all of the sugar is incorporated. Add the milk and vanilla, and continue mixing at low speed about 30 seconds more. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then beat at medium speed for about 1 minute. When you're ready to serve the pretzels, warm the frosting in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or until heated through.

Makes about 12 pretzels.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coffeecake Muffins


I've been keeping these from you.

I actually made them two weeks ago for my dad's birthday, but between the recipe contest I entered and Valentine's Day (the busiest day of the year at my job!), I haven't had a chance to share them until now.

I think I inherited my love of all things sweet from my dad. Growing up, my sister and I could always count on him to take us to 7-11 for a Slurpee and a candy bar or to bring us fresh-baked doughnuts from the Safeway bakery when he came home from working the graveyard shift. To this day, I know that I'll always find Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts and at least one variety of Oreos in his pantry.

Most of my early memories of baking also involve my dad. We had the Mrs. Field's chocolate chip cookie recipe taped to the inside of one of our cabinets, and at the time I thought it was a top secret recipe that my dad somehow managed to get his hands on. Each time he and I made those cookies together, he told me that we had to taste the dough after each step to make sure it tasted good.

Smart guy, if you ask me.


One thing my dad always had in the console of his car was a pack of those little Hostess coffee cakes, which is what inspired me to make these coffeecake muffins for his birthday.

I always expect a dramatic reaction when I make things like peanut butter chocolate chip peanut butter cup cookies or s'more brownies. But I've found that it's often the simple things that people love most. I dropped these muffins off at my parents' house on my dad's birthday, and when I met up with my family for dinner a few days later, they couldn't stop raving about them!

Make these muffins for someone you love. Who enjoys sweets as much as you do. Who has always been there for you. Whose opinion you trust in every situation. Someone who deserves a little treat to remind them of how much they're appreciated.

And make sure you taste the batter after each step.... just to be sure.

Coffeecake Muffins
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened and cubed
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

2. Whisk together the pecans, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, and salt.

3. Drop the cubes of butter evenly over the flour mixture, and whisk vigorously until the butter is evenly distributed and the butter pieces are about the size of oats. Measure out 1/2 cup of the butter-flour mixture and combine it with the brown sugar mixture to make the streusel. Measure out 3/4 cup of streusel to be used in the batter, and set the rest aside for the topping.

4. Add the baking powder and baking soda to the butter-flour mixture, and whisk to combine. Combine the sour cream, egg, and vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup. Add the sour cream mixture to the butter-flour mixture and stir just until combined. Add 3/4 cup streusel to the batter, and stir until it's evenly distributed.

5. Divide the batter evenly between the 12 muffin cups and sprinkle about one tablespoon of streusel on top of each muffin. Bake for about 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center muffin comes out with only a few crumbs attached, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Allow the muffins to cool in the tin for about two minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

If desired, top the muffins with a powdered sugar glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Drizzle the glaze over each muffin in a zig-zag motion.

Makes about 12 muffins.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brown Sugar Blondies with M&M's


Happy Valentine's Day!

While I'm busy decorating hundreds (thousands? millions?) of cupcakes today, I suggest you get busy making these blondies for your valentine!

Of course you don't have to cut them into hearts, but I highly recommend it.
Just make sure you don't let the scraps go to waste.


Brown Sugar Blondies with M&M's
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 & 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup plain m&m's

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 13x9 inch pan with foil, letting the foil hang over the sides. Spray the foil with nonstick spray.

2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and melted butter. Add the eggs and vanilla, and whisk until smooth.

3. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a rubber spatula, mixing just until combined. Stir in the m&m's.

4. Spread the batter into an even layer in the prepared pan. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until the top is shiny and cracked and the center is set. Cool completely before cutting.

Makes about 10 hearts or 16 bars.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Girl Scout Cookie Recipe Contest: Tagalong-Stuffed Do-Si-Do Brownie Cups


I'm so excited to share this recipe with you!

Yes, because it contains BOTH of my favorite Girl Scout Cookies.
Yes, because it involves brownies.
And yes, because it combines chocolate and peanut butter.

But mostly because it's my entry for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington Food Blogger Contest!

Although this is the first recipe contest I've ever entered, I can't help but think the odds are in my favor. Two different peanut butter cookies incorporated into a brownie cupcake? I almost feel bad for my competition.


Almost.

Just in case the stunning visual above hasn't swayed your allegiance my way, please allow me to describe what it is I've created:

It's a Do-Si-Do crust
topped with a Tagalong
covered in brownie batter
baked in the shape of a cupcake
drizzled with melted peanut butter chips.

In other words? Individual servings of perfection.

If I'm chosen as a finalist on February 16, my friends, family, and adoring fans will be able to vote for my recipe to win the grand prize!

Get excited, people! Big things are happening.

I know you must be dying to get in your kitchen and make these delicious treats, so I'm thrilled to tell you that Girl Scout cookies will be sold to the public from March 2-18! You can use the cookie locator to find out where cookie sales are happening near you, and there's also a free app available for download!

(I suggest you buy a few extra boxes when you go to make this recipe. You know, for taste testing purposes.)

Tagalong-Stuffed Do-Si-Do Brownie Cups

For the crust:
1 box Do-Si-Dos
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
12 Tagalongs

For the brownie:
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 & 1/2 cups sugar
1 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt

For the garnish:
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray, line with paper liners, and spray the liners with nonstick spray.

2. Crush the Do-Si-Dos in a food processor, or by placing them in a resealable plastic bag and smashing them with a rolling pin. Transfer the crushed cookies to a medium bowl and pour the melted butter over them. Stir with a rubber spatula until all of the cookie crumbs are moistened.

3. Spoon about 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of cookie crumbs into each cup of the prepared muffin tin. Pack the crumbs into an even layer using the bottom of a small measuring cup. Place one Tagalong cookie on top of each crust.

4. Prepare the brownie batter:
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and boiling water. Add the chopped unsweetened chocolate and whisk until it's melted. Whisk in the melted butter and vegetable oil.
  • To the chocolate mixture, add the eggs, yolks, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Add the sugar, and whisk until completely incorporated.
  • Gently fold in the flour and salt with a rubber spatula, just until combined.
5. Spoon about 2-3 tablespoons of brownie batter into each muffin cup. The batter should cover the Tagalong completely, and should fill each cup about 3/4 full.

6. Bake for 22-28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the brownie layer comes out with only a few crumbs attached. Cool completely on a wire rack before removing the brownies from the pan.

7. Place the peanut butter chips in a small plastic storage bag and microwave for 20-30 seconds, or until melted. Snip off one corner of the bag and drizzle the melted chips over each brownie cup in a zig-zag motion.

Makes about 12 brownie cups.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chocolate-Glazed Eclairs


I made these eclairs, and I can't think of a single thing to write about them.

Well, maybe a single thing.
I really, really liked them. I think you would like them too.
There. That's two things.

Boring, right? In a situation like this, I usually just rant about something or share a funny anecdote. But this time... I truly have nothing.

Please accept as evidence the topics I've taken into consideration so far:

  • How Not to Use the Word "Literally"
  • The Bank Teller Who Counted Like a Six-Year-Old, or The Time I Almost Stabbed Someone
  • Ben Flajnik as The Bachelor: WTF?
  • Pigs, Hippopotamuses, Elephant Seals, and Other Animals My Dog Resembles
  • Stories from My Childhood: The Time I Played in My Cat's "Sandbox"
  • Am I The Only One Who Thinks San Pellegrino Tastes Like Unsweetened Dr. Pepper?
  • Cargo Pants Tucked Into Short Ugg Boots: You're Doing It Wrong

As riveting as each of these topics would probably be, I think I'll just leave you with the recipe. If you ask me, eclairs would be the perfect treat to make for your valentine this year!

(That's three things! Yesss.)

Chocolate-Glazed Eclairs
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

For the pastry cream:

1 & 1/2 cups half & half
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
pinch of salt
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the pastry shells:

2 large eggs + 1 large egg white
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
2 tablespoons whole milk
6 tablespoons water
1 & 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For the chocolate glaze:

3 tablespoons half & half
2 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Prepare the pastry cream:
  • Heat the half & half, 4 tablespoons sugar, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until it reaches a simmer, stirring occasionally. 
  • While the half & half mixture is heating, whisk together the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Add the remaining sugar (1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) and cornstarch, and whisk until combined.
  • Once the half & half mixture is simmering, gradually whisk it into the egg mixture. Don't add the half & half all at once, or it may cook the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring it back to a simmer, whisking constantly.
  • Once the mixture is thickened and glossy, remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Transfer the pastry cream to a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until set, about 2-3 hours.
2. Make the pastry shells:
  • Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a measuring cup, beat together the eggs and egg white. This should be about 1/2 cup; discard any excess.
  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the flour until the mixture clears the sides of the pan.
  • Return the saucepan to low heat and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture is slightly shiny and looks like wet sand, stirring constantly.
  • Immediately transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for about 10 seconds to allow it to cool slightly. With the mixer running, add the eggs slowly in a steady stream. Once the eggs are incorporated, scrape the sides of the bowl, and continue mixing for about 30 seconds until the mixture becomes a thick, sticky paste.
  • Transfer the paste to a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe the paste into eight strips about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide, spaced about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake the shells for 15 minutes without opening the oven door. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and continue to bake until golden brown and firm, about 6-10 minutes longer.
  • Remove the shells from the oven and cut a 3/4-inch slit in the top of each shell to release steam. Return the shells to the oven, turn off the heat, and prop the oven door open with the handle of a wooden spoon. Allow the shells to dry in the turned-off oven for about 45 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
3. Make the chocolate glaze:
  • Place the half & half and chocolate chips in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat in 30-second intervals until melted, stirring after each interval.
  • Add the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth.
4. Assemble the eclairs:
  • Use a paring knife to cut around each pastry shell to remove the top third.
  • Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of pastry cream into each shell.
  • Place the top back on each shell, and press gently to secure.
  • Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of glaze onto each eclair, and spread it gently with the back of the spoon.
Serve within several hours. Makes about 8 eclairs.

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