Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cookies and Cream Cake

My husband's parents were in town for Christmas, and they love Oreos, so I decided to make this cake!  The cake itself is just the recipe from the back of the Hershey's cocoa can.  If I recall correctly, it was the first from scratch cake layer cake I ever made about 10 years ago.  It always turns out perfectly: moist, yummy, chocolaty, and stays good for several days.  Easy to make, too!  The frosting is slightly adapted from a recipe called "Cookies and Cream Brownies" on The Girl Who Ate Everything blog.  It's really, really good!  Fluffy, great flavor, and just all around amazing, especially on top of chocolate cake!  Definitely will be making this one again, and I'll add crushed Oreos to the cake batter as well.

Quick Note: I made this as a 9 by 13 cake, but think it would work fine as a layer cake.  Just pour the batter into two 9 inch pans and bake a few minutes less, just until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Make the frosting after the layers have cooled, and stick the cake in the refrigerator right away so the frosting can firm up some more.

I decorated my cake with red and green sprinkles and the penguins for Christmas!

Cookies and Cream Cake

Chocolate Cake:

2 C sugar
1 3/4 C flour
3/4 C cocoa powder
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 eggs
1 C milk
1/2 C vegetable oil
2 t vanilla extract
1 C boiling water
Optional: 10 lightly crushed Oreo cookies (not completely pulverized)

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 pan.  In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients.  Beat in eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla extract until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically.  Bring the water to a boil and immediately beat it into the batter.  Batter will be thin.  If you're using the Oreos, stir them into the batter.  Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes.  Let cool completely before frosting.

Oreo Frosting:

2 sticks salted butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon milk, plus a little more if necessary
12 oz powdered sugar by weight, plus a little more if necessary
10 Oreo cookies, crushed

Place butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until well combined, about 1 minute.  Add powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon milk, and beat on low until powdered sugar is incorporated.  Increase speed of mixer to medium-high and beat until frosting is very fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add more milk or powdered sugar, just a little at a time, if the frosting is too thick or thin.  Scrape down sides of mixing bowl and mix in crushed cookies.  Serve immediately or cover the cake and refrigerate a few hours- it's great either way.  Just be sure to store the cake in the refrigerator because the frosting has cream cheese in it.

Yield: Enough to very generously frost a 9 by 13 cake.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sparkling Chai Sables

I can't remember how I stumbled across this recipe from The Naptime Chef, but immediately decided to make it when I saw it!  The cardamom intrigued me and I liked the look of the sugar on the edges.  It was a good decision, because the cookies turned out great.  Deliciously crisp and buttery, surprisingly light with a melt in your mouth texture, and the perfect proportion of spices.  Definitely a good choice for anyone who enjoys warm, sweet spices and shortbread cookies.  Also, I made these cookies over a week ago and they've held up wonderfully!

Quick Note:  The original recipe calls for unsalted butter and then table salt.  I only had salted butter and planned to leave out the additional salt to compensate, but made the recipe by memory and forgot to leave it out.  We liked the cookies just fine as they were and did not find them salty, but you may want to either use unsalted butter or leave out the added salt if you're worried.

Sparkling Chai Sables

3 sticks salted butter, softened
1 C powdered sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 egg
3 C flour
1/2 t salt
2 t ground cinnamon
2 t ground cardamom
1 t ground ginger
egg white for sugar crust
coarse white sugar for crust

Beat together butter and powdered sugar until fluffy.  Beat in vanilla extract and egg.  Add the flour, salt, and spices, and mix in thoroughly without overworking the dough.  Form dough into two approximately 9 inch logs on pieces of plastic wrap, and wrap them tightly.  Chill in the refrigerator between 6 and 24 hours. 

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Beat the egg white with a fork in a small bowl, then brush the egg white on a dough log.  Sprinkle generously with the coarse sugar.  Cut the dough into approximately 1/3 inch slices and arrange 1 inch apart on the cookie sheets (they won't spread much).  Chill cookie sheets until ready to go in the oven.  Bake until very light golden, about 12 to 15 minutes.  Cool completely before storing in an air tight container. 

Yield:  This recipe produced 55 cookies for me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cheese Straws

Okay, yesterday I said I'd sit on this recipe until I make them again next year since I didn't have the cayenne pepper amount quite right.  They turned out less hot than I wanted (though extremely flavorful!) so I sprinkled cayenne pepper on some of them before baking.  My plan was to up the amount of cayenne pepper in the actual dough next year and then post the recipe here with that amount included.  However, many of the cheese straws went to work with my husband and he returned home with feedback that his coworkers (all guys who usually like spicy stuff) preferred the cheese straws without the extra cayenne on top.  Also, I'm pretty sure the ones without extra pepper would be fine for kids and people who don't like hot things.  Decided to just go on ahead and post the recipe as is with the recommendation to either add more cayenne pepper in the dough or sprinkle some extra on top if you want them hotter.  My in-laws are visiting for Christmas and I'm actually glad I made the cheese straws as I did, because they'll be able to enjoy the less spicy ones while my husband and I eat the ones with extra cayenne.

Until I made these the other day, I'd only had cheese straws once in my life.  On one of the Christmases I spent with my dad in Louisiana as a teenager, lots of neighbors and friends gave him tins of treats.  One of those tins contained cheese straws!  Neither my dad nor I have all that much of a sweet tooth, and the cookies all went neglected because we only had eyes for the cheese straws.  They were so cheesy, crunchy, and very spicy.  I don't have an especially high tolerance for hot things, but loved those cheese straws.  Yum. 

A few nights ago, I got to thinking about how good they were, and decided to try to make some myself!  Basically picked this recipe from the Food Network because it had the highest cheese to flour ratio of all the recipes I saw, and cheese is of course what it's all about.  I then halved the recipe but kept the amount of cayenne and black pepper the same and added some other spices.  I also used my cookie press with a flat extruder plate to make long, rectangular crackers, then cut them in half down the middle and slightly separated them on the cookie sheet, but you could roll the dough out and cut it into long, skinny strips instead.  Lucky for me, the cheese straws turned out extremely well and basically just like I remember, especially the ones with the extra cayenne sprinkled on top!  My husband loved them just as much, if not more.  They're very similar to a cheese cracker, but richer, cheesier, and just all around better.  I can't promise these will be made every Christmas from now on because there are so many other recipes we love and still others I want to try, but they will definitely appear frequently.

Update: I made these again for Christmas 2014, and we somehow forgot about them after a few days.  The tin was in the pantry for a solid month and the cheese straws were still very good and quickly eaten!

Cheese straws with extra cayenne on top, and plain on the bottom!  This is a very small tin.

Cheese Straws

15 oz sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated, then covered and allowed to sit out until it reaches room temperature (not the bagged, shredded cheese, it won't combine with the butter properly- also 15 oz is an odd amount, but you can just take care of that extra ounce by having a little snack!)
1 stick salted butter, at room temperature (needs to be quite soft)
1 1/2 cup white flour, plus a bit more
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (you could try 1/4 t cayenne if you want them spicier!)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat your oven to 325 and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the cheese and butter.  Attach the paddle and beat on low until the mixture is very soft, about 15 minutes (you could try this with a hand mixer as well, make sure your ingredients are very soft to start with).  You'll need to scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently.  While that's happening, whisk together 1 1/2 cup flour and the spices.  Add to the cheese mixture about 1/3 cup at a time and beat in each flour addition thoroughly.  When all the flour has been added, add more flour 2 or 3 tablespoons at a time- up to 1/2 cup total- until the dough comes together and is no longer sticky, but still pretty soft.  I only needed about 3 tablespoons more.

If you're going to use a cookie press, fill the press according to the manufacturer's instructions and choose an extruder plate that will allow you to make long, skinny crackers.  If they're still fairly wide (mine were about an inch wide), cut them in half down the center and separate slightly.  The dough doesn't spread much, so you can put them fairly close together.  If you don't have a cookie press, you could just roll the dough out directly on the parchment paper lined cookie sheet, cut into skinny strips, and separate them.  If you'd like, you can sprinkle extra cayenne pepper on top of the cheese straws, but remember that a little goes a long way!

Bake the cheese straws until they turn light golden and are crunchy, about 20 minutes.  I confirmed they were done by taking one out of the oven and sticking it in the freezer so it would cool quickly.  They're good while still soft, but are more like a cheese cookie than a cracker!  Let the cheese straws cool completely, then store them in an air tight container. 

Yield:  Lots!  I failed to count, but got 3 large cookie sheets full.  Guessing about 100 cheese straws.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chocolate Almond Spritz Cookies

Long, LONG time without a post!  I've still been using my little blog to look up recipes I made, just haven't had the right recipe to post.  Plus I was sick for a couple of months and had surgery, so didn't end up cooking during that time.  My little blog has not been forgotten, I'm just very sporadic with my additions to it :)

Anyway, Chocolate Almond Spritz Cookies!  My mom has made Spritz cookies since I was a kid, but they were of the standard, non-chocolate variety.  She always made red poinsettias sprinkled with red sugar and green Christmas trees sprinkled with colored sugar.  They're my grandpa's favorite cookie, but they've just never wowed me.  Blah.  Sorry to those that love the traditional recipe!  Yesterday I made cheese straws for the first time (that recipe is for next year, I need to tweak the amount of cayenne pepper before sharing it- they're fantastic, though!) and needed a cookie press. 

I've actually had a cookie press for about 7 years but only used it once to make some cheddar crackers.  It's survived many a kitchen purging because I always think HEY!  I'll surely use this one day!  That day was yesterday, with the cheese straws.  And today, with the Chocolate Almond Spritz!  I found this basic Chocolate Spritz recipe on the Wilton website, halved it (still got 72 cookies from half a recipe), and used almond extract instead of vanilla.  If I may say, these little cookies are wonderful.  Crunchy, chocolaty, almondy, and the sugar on top makes them even better.  Admittedly I am particular about cookies, but I think these are infinitely tastier than the regular kind.  Sorry, Grandpa!

Chocolate Almond Spritz

10 tablespoons salted butter, softened
1/2 C white sugar
1/3 C brown sugar
1/2 t almond extract
1 egg
1 1/4 C flour
1/3 C cocoa
1/4 t baking soda
1/8 t salt

Preheat oven to 375 and get out a couple of cookie sheets (do NOT grease them or use parchment paper or the dough won't come out of the cookie press properly).  Beat together butter and sugars, then beat in almond extract and egg.  Whisk together dry ingredients, and stir it into the butter mixture about 1/3 cup at a time, until everything is well combined.  Do not over mix.  Put the dough in the cookie press however the instruction manual says and pick whichever extruder disk you want.  Follow the cookie press directions to get the cookies on the cookie sheet, then decorate with sugar and sprinkles in whatever way you want and lightly press the toppings on.  Bake until set, about 10-12 minutes.  If you decorate them with crushed candy canes (yum!), don't sprinkle on the candy canes before baking!  Instead, sprinkle it on right after the cookies come out of the oven and gently press it into the tops of the cookies.  Let cool completely, then store in a tightly sealed container.

Yield:  About 72 cookies