March 25, 2009

Cookie Cake Tower

Cookie cake is one of those desserts that brings me back to my childhood. There is something strangely satisfying about a giant cookie (most kids will tell you this). My mom made them for my sister and I for birthdays, and we ate them at friends' birthdays growing up. My sister and I always stopped by Ms. Field's in the mall to ogle at the giant confections with loads of frosting until my mom either bought us a treat or dragged us away (thanks Mom!)
I got a request a couple of weeks ago for a cookie cake for my Sister in Law's husband, Eric. He loves cookies and Sarah (supporting Flour Bakery) decided to order one for his birthday. I'm not sure how the idea came to me, but I decided the only way to do a cookie cake is to stack it up. Sarah wanted a small cake for 4 people, and although the final product will feed more than 4, I think it is the perfect size.
I made three 6" rounds about 1"thick each using a deliciously simple chocolate chip cookie recipe. Sarah and I brainstormed options for filling including Chocolate + Peanut butter, Nutella + Fluff, Chocolate + White Chocolate, but in the end decided semi-sweet chocolate would best suit our birthday man. I stacked the layers using about 1oz melted chocolate in between as my glue and voila, a Chocolate Chip Cooke Tower aka "Tower of Cookie Goodness."
Shipping to Virginia from San Francisco will be interesting and hopefully promising. I really hope Eric likes it! I asked Sarah to write a little something for me to include in this post and here is what she said: "Eric loves chocolate chip cookies. In fact the night we finally went from friends to whatever we were after that, he made chocolate chip cookies. Gumbo, jambalaya, and chocolate chip cookies for a big group of our friends. So this year since I am sick of Cold Stone Ice Cream cakes, I knew I wanted Christina to make something special for his birthday. And of course it should have something to do with chocolate chip cookies. My feeble brain was only able to come up with an idea for a giant cookie cake, the kind you can buy in the mall, but of course Christina was full of much, much better ideas. She instead thought to build a cookie tower so that it would resemble a real live cake. We pondered flavors and fillings, but when it came down to it plain old chocolate chip cookies were the perfect answer. The cookie tower was adorable. Rich and moist, it lasted us almost a whole week with guests. It was the perfect birthday cake for Eric, and when it arrived he quickly claimed it as his and only his. I'm hoping Christina will make our birthday treats every year from now on." Thanks Sarah, and of course I'd love to make your cakes every year! My only thought is that we should move closer to each other so I don't have to worry about shipping something more extravagant than a cookie cake!

March 19, 2009

Sea of Cupcakes

A friend of mine hired me to make 3.5 dozen cupcakes for her boyfriend's 30th birthday. It was a surprise for him and a great challenge for me. I found it hardest to put a price on my baking - not necessarily choosing the recipe. It is always easier to charge strangers more than your friends - why is this? Even though I could have charged a little more, I am hoping that if one or two of the people who ate my cupcakes enjoy them enough, they will want to order something too (and bring me closer to my dream).
The birthday boy ordered a carrot cake from me for Thanksgiving (after my weekend bakery-art-show) since he liked it so much, and it was apparent that I needed to include carrot cupcakes in the order. I helped my friend decide on three: chocolate with chocolate frosting, vanilla with Lemon Butter Cream Frosting, and the Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. I must confess that I was so excited the week leading up to this order that I went out an bought some interesting decorations. (If I am going to compete at all with some of the 'strictly cupcake' bakeries in town I must make them beautiful). So I bought some pearlescent dragees, silver dusting powder, and Sharffenberger Cacao Nibs. I think they will be delightful. I also polled my Go-To friend for decoration appeal of frosting - you know piped with ridges or smooth etc.
I combined some good recipes and a new one to create the final products and am really excited to see how the birthday boy liked them! It didn't take that long to bake the cupcakes, it took a while to frost them all though. I'm glad I have a few piping bags but I wish I had an additional stand mixer! For the Vanilla cupcakes I frosted them with a round tip so the frosting came out smooth and decorated these with the pearly dragees. I frosted the Chocolate cupcakes using a star tip and added the cacao nibs (nice added crunch). And I split the Carrot cakes in two layers to frost the middle and tops. The Carrot cupcakes took the most time but turned out well. The process served as a good learning experience for me and I'm ready to tackle another large order. I've included some pictures of the final products for your viewing pleasure. Thanks Adie for thinking of me!

March 16, 2009

Chocolate Cake.

My friend Brittany's birthday was this weekend and I made her a cake of her choice (as I try with most of our friends). Brittany, who is not much of a sweets person, decided on a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for reasons only some of you might understand. I have been wanting to make a particular chocolate cake recipe for a while now (rather than make a 3-layer cake for my husband and myself) and this occasion seemed to fit perfectly.
Brittany's request was a little funny though because she doesn't really like frosting (at least not store bought frosting) so she was trying to explain how the frosting should be and came up with "fudge-y, creamy, kinda like whipped, and gooey." I had no idea how to make a cake frosting that was all of these things.... but after thumbing through a cookbook she pointed to a cream cheese frosting and said, "like that." And I thought, oh, well that is easy... it's just like any frosting I've ever made. Confusion averted. (I'm pretty sure she was just trying to describe a texture that wasn't super sugary and crunchy like cakes from the grocery store sometimes have.)
The cake was very dense, rich and dark paired with the frosting. It looked really beautiful. Most tall cakes look pretty, but this one was extra gorgeous with the dark chocolate frosting. The cake had great density and a friend commented that it "sliced perfectly." I think Brittany really liked the cake, and being spoiled on her birthday. I will be making this again, maybe halved though to make a 6" 2-layer cake instead of a 9" 3-layer cake.

March 9, 2009

Granola 'N' Things

My Mother in law, Dana, sent me this recipe about a year ago and this is only the second time I have made it. My husband grew up eating this chewy granola and I was interested in finding a good/healthy granola recipe without adding lots of sugar. I started eating granola almost daily with my breakfast of yogurt and fruit and it started bugging me - the amount of sugar in granola you buy at the grocery store. Michael suggested his mom's recipe and it turned out lovely. The first time I made it I didn't have enough honey on hand and had to use half brown sugar half honey which resulted in a more crumbly separated granola - unlike the somewhat chewy granola the recipe is supposed yield. This time, I think it all turned out well. I made a full batch instead of a half batch and used the full 1C honey required. It makes tons (which is great because it keeps well) and saves us money not having to use the store bought kind. The recipe is great because it only provides the base granola so you can add whatever makes you happy. I decided to add Pistachios, Almonds, and little shredded Coconut. Other things you can add are Brewers Yeast, seeds, dried fruit etc. I plan to make this more often when we need granola - I just have to make time! Here is the recipe if you want to try it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Thanks Dana! Granola 'N' Things Dana Townsend 4 C whole oats 2C wheat flour 1C all purpose flour 1C soy flour or wheat germ (I use wheat germ) 1 tsp salt 1/2 C oil 1C honey 1/2 C applesauce or 1C water Stir dry ingredients. Add in wet ingredients and stir until well incorporated. Stir in fruit/nuts. Spread onto two large sheet pans. Bake at 250* for 1 1/2 hours stirring every 20-30 minutes. Cool on pans and store in an airtight container. Things to add: seeds, nuts, dried fruit, 1T brewers yeast or nutritional yeast, coconut (sweetened or not) Add as much or as little as you want - it is about consistency, not exact measurements.

March 3, 2009

The Girl Scout Cookie Challenge

I dreamed up this challenge for myself the day I ordered a box of Samoas from a lady at work (no, not a girl scout, a lady). I used to not like them much - I preferred the Peanut Butter Patties (Tagalongs depending on where you are from) but as I've gotten older I have grown to love the coconut cookies and I bake with coconut more often.
The Challenge was to try and recreate the Samoa (based on a recipe I found online) and then do a side by side taste test to see how mine compared. I asked a few people to contribute their comments after taking the challenge. Here are the results:
Cookie test SAM-0309 I'm not a big cookie fan, but when I find a cookie I like I will eat it in large quantities. So is the case with the samoa - maybe it has something to do with it's unavailability most of the year - but I love them and will eat an entire box over the course of a couple hours. So this cookie taste test is very important to me and I congratulate Christina on undertaking such a complex and delicious dessert. Samoa: coconut explosion, crunchy cookie, sweet chocolate not too overpowering - mostly taste caramel and coconut. C-amoa: Delicious rich dark chocolate is the first taste, a buttery crumbly cookie center and a thicker, softer bed of caramel and coconut on top. Christina's cookie is totally delicious but doesn't not have the coconut explosion of the Samoa. The third C-amoa I tried has proven that this cookie has also grown on me and I want to eat large quantities - something I didn't think at first. To make the C-amoa taste more like the Samoa, I would use semi-sweet choco, and less of it - more coconut extract in the cookie and in the caramel. Caramel mixture could be thinned and the cookie could be crunchier. However, this C-amoa is it's own cookie and doesn't need to become a Samoa to taste good or be addictive. Sheryl
i tested your cookie first and first noticed the different chocolaty taste when you then explained it was dark chocolate. it made me realize it was a less processed cookie then the ever so sweet girl scout cookie. so i'm thinking im not a fan of dark chocolate because seriously chocolate isnt really chocolate without all the sugary goodness but i thoroughly enjoyed the not so sweet factor of your overall cookie. the minute i ate the girl scout cookie, my stomach did a little summersault because it was even sweeter compared to what i remembered especially after eating your less sweet cookie. i feel like i could eat more servings of your cookie in one sitting versus me being sick to my stomach after eating just one girl scout version. i think i like the chewy consistency of the GSC and your cookie was more flaky/cookie like and less of a caramel gooeyness. but i like your cookie appearance versus the GSC, there's too much coconut-ty flakes on the GSC version and i liked your melted bottom. hmm and i think that's my first impressions. now my tummy feels all sicky poo from eating that second cookie, the GSC cookie is really too sweet. i have a request for a semi sweet chocolate version of your cookie =). not so dark. =P
So here's the comparison. The original is crunchier and the coconut taste is much stronger. All I can really taste is "caramely" coconut and the crunchy texture, and it all hits me at once.Yours is softer and I can taste more of the cookie itself, less of the coconut and caramel. The experience is gradual - I taste the cookie dough first, then the chocolate, and then there are distant coconut and caramel flavors, but they are not very strong. These two are somewhat different cookies. Personally - and I am probably cutting myself off your supply of yumminess as I say this - I like the original girl scouts cookie...
Some thoughts about making the cookies....
Starting with a sugar cookie base I cut out O shapes and baked until barely golden. After they cooled, I mixed caramel with toasted coconut, spread it on the tops, and let it set. Then I melted some dark chocolate and dipped the bottoms of each cookie into the chocolate and piped the rest of the chocolate in strips on top. This whole process (including waiting time) took about 4 hours, which is a really long time to make 3 1/2 dozen cookies.
They turned out really pretty, and although they don't taste much like the Girl Scout Samoa, I think they are tasty cookies. In order to make them taste more similar, they need to be more coconut-y which I could solve by adding coconut extract to the cookie dough instead of vanilla and adding a little to the toasted coconut-caramel mixture. Also, based on the reviews the cookie is a little too buttery - so I would reduce the amount of butter and make them a bit crispier. I would also advise making your own caramel sauce. I cheated and used the store bought caramel squares (because they have been taking up space in my baking cabinet for too long). And finally using a mixture of dark and semi-sweet chocolate.
I also believe strongly that the processed food ingredients help give the Samoa a weirdly distinct flavor. Maybe it is the TBHQ or the hydrogenated palm kernel oil that make these cookies unique and irreproducible -- or maybe it's because I don't have an army of girl scouts working for me.... Except for the corn syrup I know resides in those caramel squares, my cookies are a little more whole, maybe even healthy if you use the term loosely, and I may give them another try in the near future. Until then, I will (with the help of my husband) will finish off the rest of the Samoas with a little guilt.
Just in case you were wondering about the extra processed flavoring ingredients...(directly from the Little Brownie Bakers website)
INGREDIENTS: Sugar, vegetable oil (palm, partially hydrogenated palm kernel, soybean and/or cottonseed with TBHQ to preserve freshness), enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], folic acid), corn syrup, coconut, sweetened condensed milk (condensed milk, sugar), sorbitol, contains two percent or less of cocoa, glycerin, invert sugar, cocoa processed with alkali, cornstarch, salt, caramelized sugar, dextrose, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor, carrageenan, leavening (baking soda, monocalcium phosphate).
Also, since this recipe is not from any published source I decided to share it here so you can take the Challenge yourself . I'd love to hear your results!
Homemade Samoas
Cookies 1 cup butter, soft (recommend using less butter)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or coconut extract)
up to 2 tbsp milk (or coconut milk if you have it)
Preheat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt at a low speed, followed by the vanilla and milk, adding in the milk as needed to make the dough come together without being sticky (it’s possible you might not need to add milk at all). The dough should come together into a soft, not-too-sticky ball. Add in a bit of extra flour if your dough is very sticky.Roll the dough out between pieces of wax paper to about 1/4-inch thickness (or slightly less) and use a 1 1/2-inch cookie cutter to make rounds. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Alternatively, use scant tablespoons of dough and press into an even layer in a mini donut pan to form the rounds.
Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned and cookies are set. If using a mini donut pan, bake for only about 10 minutes, until edges are light gold.Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz good-quality chewy caramels (or about 1 1/2 - 2 cups home made caramel)
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk (coconut milk would be better)
8 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate (a mixture of dark and semi-sweet chips would be great)
Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (preferably one with sides) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.
Using the spatula or a small offset spatula, spread topping on cooled cookies, using about 2-3 tsp per cookie. Reheat caramel for a few seconds in the microwave if it gets too firm to work with.
While topping sets up, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Dip the base of each cookie into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle finished cookies with chocolate. Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.
Makes about 3 1/2-4 dozen cookies.

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