Monday, November 29, 2010

Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Maple Brown Butter Frosting

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, everyone! This year I spent Thanksgiving with my extended family in Florida. I wanted to contribute something to the big meal, but most items were already taken care of and I had limited space and tools to work with in my grandmother's kitchen, so I decided on something simple: cookies.

I found this recipe on Bakerella about a year ago and it immediately caught my eye for two reasons. First of all, it is a lot more complicated than your average cookie recipe in terms of the number of ingredients and the fact that it involves frosting. And second, it just so happens to include all of my favorite things: chocolate, nuts, pumpkin and frosting (all that's missing from the list is some peanut butter). I thought this would be the perfect Thanksgiving dish for me to bring to the table, cookies with a little extra zing.

Nifty old-fashioned flour sifter

Working on these cookies in my grandmother's kitchen was fun because I got to use some really cool old tools, like the flour sifter pictured above. One tool I was not a fan of was the handheld electric mixer. I had never used one before and it was just a nuisance. It took forever to blend things and it kept spraying batter everywhere, just made me miss my KitchenAid (I'm spoiled, I know).

When I first took these cookies out of the oven and transferred them to a wire rack, I thought I had done something wrong. They didn't feel like cookies at all. They were soft and pillowy. The texture of these cookies is completely unexpected. They're light and fluffy, like pumpkin bread, but in cookie form. At first I thought it was weird, but they taste great and they don't harden, even  if you leave them out overnight. What's not to love?

Frosting the finished product

The one tricky part about this recipe is browning the butter for the frosting. It's important to keep a constant eye on the butter to ensure it browns without burning. Check out the recipe for detailed instructions and a photo, which is very helpful if you've never browned butter before.

My frosting turned out a little bit thinner than Bakerella's, but that might have been because I hand mixed it instead of using an electric mixer. Other than that, this recipe was awesome. A great addition to the Thanksgiving table!

My adorable cousin Aiden enjoying a cookie

A special shout out to my sister Shelby for the beautiful photos. Thanks Shelbs!

Bon appetit!

Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Maple Brown Butter Frosting
Serves 36
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks

3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp maple flavoring

Whisk together flour and pumpkin pie spice and set aside.

In an electric mixer, cream butter. Add both sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the flour/spice mixture in three additions, alternating with the pumpkin in two additions. Begin and end with the dry ingredients (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry). Stir in chopped pecans and chocolate chunks.

Drop batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, use a small measuring cup or an ice cream scoop to create equal-sized cookies. Bake at 350° F for about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Allow cookies to cool completely before icing.

While the cookies are cooling, brown the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. After the butter melts, it will briefly foam up, then subside. Watch carefully, small brown specks should begin to form at the bottom of the pan. At this point the butter should be golden brown and have a nutty aroma. Remove butter from heat. It is very important to keep a close watch on the butter while it is browning, because butter can go from brown to burned in a matter of seconds. If the butter starts looking black, it's best to simply throw it away and start from scratch.

Brown Butter, Source: The Kitchn

Add butter to sifted sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add milk and maple flavoring and mix until frosting is smooth and has reached your desired consistency (if frosting is too thick, add more milk by the teaspoon and if frosting is not thick enough, add more confectioners sugar). Spread on top of the cookies with a knife.

Source: Bakerella

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hummingbird Kitchen

Food trucks are all the rage in Chicago right now and I've been dying to try one since Gaztro-Wagon made its debut this summer. I never made it to one while I was working downtown, so I was really excited when I found out that Hummingbird Kitchen would be hitting the streets of Evanston this month. Hummingbird-to-Go has been a long time in the making, but owners Heather Behm, Stephen Schwartz and Vince DiBattista (the trio behind Union Pizzeria and Campagnola) had to wait for Evanston to pass an ordinance permitting mobile food vendors before sending the truck out on the streets.

Hummingbird made its long-awaited inaugural run on November 9th and has been bopping around Evanston ever since. Today the truck was parked by Northwestern's campus, so I decided to stop by on my way to work.

Hummingbird did not disappoint. I had a hard time deciding because everything on the menu sounded so yummy. The menu changes on a daily basis and today they were serving meatball grinders, roasted chicken tacos, white bean soup, Italian fries and Valrhona chocolate brownies. I eventually settled on the white bean soup and a brownie, both of which were amazing! I was stuffed about half way through my meal, but I couldn't seem to put my spoon down and so I finished every bite, naturally.

White bean soup with escarole & Parmesan

The white bean soup was thick with a great texture and topped with escarole and Parmesan. The brownie, made with Valrhona chocolate and walnuts, was warm, lusciously dense and topped with fresh whipped cream and a rich chocolate sauce. Mmm!

I plan on returning to Hummingbird very soon to explore more of their menu and I highly recommend you do the same. Follow Hummingbird-to-Go on Twitter for daily location and menu updates.

Valrhona chocolate brownie

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Maple Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Streusel

It's getting to be that time of year again...The leaves are changing colors, the weather is getting chillier, and Halloween and Thanksgiving are right around the corner. I have to say, my favorite part about these holidays might be the food: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, apple pie, pecan pie...the list goes on. But my all-time favorite fall food is pumpkin: pumpkin muffins, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin bread, and, of course, pumpkin pie. So, as you can imagine, I jumped at the chance to make a pumpkin pie this weekend for my dad's birthday. For my close friends' and families' birthdays I bake whatever cake/cookie/pie their hearts desire. Luckily for me, my dad's favorite dessert also happens to be one of my favorites.

I've only attempted to make a pumpkin pie once before and it was one of my worst baking attempts of all time. The consistency of the pie was just off. No matter how long I baked or chilled it for, the pie filling remained runny. I hated it, and I rarely say I hate pumpkin pie.

Determined not to repeat my mistake, I decided to search online for a good recipe. I came across a Bobby Flay recipe from an episode of Throwdown that sounded promising, but reading through the comments it seemed many reviewers were eager to get ahold of the the other recipe from the episode from Bobby's competition, Michele Albano, owner of her own pie shop in New Hampshire. I searched the Food Network site for Michele's recipe and bingo, my adaptation of her maple pumpkin pie with pecan streusel was born.

I was pressed for time, so I used a premade pie shell and canned pumpkin, but the result was still awesome. The pecan topping was to die for! However, I am a huge fan of the graham cracker crust, so next time I try this recipe I might substitute one in for the plain crust, otherwise this pie was stellar. I may or may not be making it again in the next week...

Bon appetit!

Maple Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Streusel
Serves 6-8
1 9-inch premade pie crust, refrigerated
Heavy cream

3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, diced

2 cups pumpkin puree
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup Grade B maple syrup
3 large eggs, whisked

Maple Whipped Cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup Grade B maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Brush the edges of the pie crust with heavy cream and refrigerate until the filling is ready.

To make the streusel, toss the pecans, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Add the butter and work it in with your fingertips until small clumps form. Set aside.

To make the filling, mix the pumpkin, flour, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the cream and maple syrup, scraping the sides of the bowl several times while mixing. Mix in the beaten eggs.

Pour filling into the pie shell and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350° F and bake until the filling is almost firm, about 30 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and sprinkle the streusel over the top. Return to the oven and bake until the filling is just a little wobbly in the middle and streusel is golden, about 10-15 minutes. The total baking time should be somewhere between 55 and 60 minutes.

Cool the pie on a wire rack. This pie is best served chilled or at room temperature. I prefer my pumpkin pie chilled, so I popped it in the fridge while I made the maple whipped cream.

To make the whipped cream, place the bowl of an electric mixer in the freezer to chill for at least 15 minutes. Then, combine the cream, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in the chilled bowl and beat on high speed until the mixture thickens. Add the maple syrup and beat on high until the cream forms firm peaks. Garnish pie with maple whipped cream before serving.

Source: Michele Albano via Food Network

Blueberry Pie with Cornmeal Crust

This was my first ever pie (gasp!). Well, 100% homemade pie, that is. I've always felt that using a store-bought crust was cheating* and since I don't have the right equipment to make a crust in my kitchen at school, I've never gotten around to it.

Fortunately, the perfect opportunity presented itself this summer. My sister Shelby and I took a trip to Alabama to visit my grandparents. My mother was an amazing baker and my grandmother is as well, so I was eager to prove that I'm not a complete failure in the kitchen. It was August and there was a lot of great fruit available, so I decided to try something new and bake a pie. And what's better than a blueberry pie? (Okay, maybe an apple pie, but wrong season). I scoured for recipes on Epicurious and this pie's non-traditional crust intrigued me, so away I went.

Overall, I would say my first homemade pie attempt went well. I had trouble working with the crust, so my pie wasn't very aesthetically pleasing, but hey, practice makes perfect, right?

What I really loved about this pie was the crust. The cornmeal gives the crust a subtle gritty texture, which sets this recipe apart from your run-of-the-mill blueberry pie.

A couple of tips: first, the better the blueberries the better the pie (kind of obvious, but very important), and second, make sure to keep a close eye on the oven for the last 20 minutes of baking time (my pie was done after about an hour).

Oh, and this pie is nothing without vanilla ice cream, so don't forget the Blue Bell!

Bon appetit!

*I later discovered this is, for the most part, false. Unless you're dealing with a graham cracker crust or some other special type of crust, you can't really tell the difference between one that is store bought and one that is homemade. But if you have the time and equipment, go for the homemade crust, if only for the feeling of accomplishment and bragging rights.

Blueberry Pie with Cornmeal Crust
Serves 8
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal, preferably stone-ground, medium grind
3 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup plus 6 tbsp (1 3/4 sticks total) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening, frozen, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 tbsp (or more) ice water

5 cups fresh blueberries (about 27 oz)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp water
Milk (for brushing)
1 1/2 tbsp raw sugar

To make the crust, blend flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add butter and shortening and, using on-off turns, pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 4 tbsp ice water and blend just until moist clumps begin to form, adding more water by the teaspoonful if dough is too dry. Gather dough into a ball and divide in half, forming two disks. Wrap disks in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. Can be made a day ahead. Keep dough chilled and let soften 10 minutes before rolling out.

To make the filling, combine the blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and 1 tbsp of water in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Let stand at room temperature until juices begin form, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400° F. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the bottom of the oven. Roll out 1 disk of dough between two sheets of generously floured parchment paper until it is 12 inches in diameter. Peel off the top sheet of paper. Invert dough into the bottom of a 9-inch glass pie dish. Peel of the second sheet of parchment. Gently press the dough into the dish, pressing any cracks together as needed to seal and leave dough overhang. Spoon filling into pie crust.

Roll out the second disk of dough between two sheets of generously floured parchment paper until it is 12 inches in diameter. Peel off the top sheet of parchment. Carefully and evenly invert dough atop filling. Peel off second parchment sheet. Trim overhang to 1 inch. Fold overhang under and press to seal. Crimp edges decoratively. Cut 5 2-inch slits in the top of the pie crust to allow steam to escape while baking. Lightly brush the top of the crust with milk (not edges). Sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake pie for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F and continue baking until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling thickly through slits, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on a wire rack. Cut into wedges and serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

Source: Bon Appetit July 2008 via Epicurious

Monday, November 1, 2010

Peanut Butter and Toffee Candy Bark

Happy (belated) Halloween! I hope everyone enjoyed their Halloweekend. I had a very festive weekend filled with lots of yummy treats. On Friday, I made peanut butter & toffee candy bark from the October issue of Bon Appetit. On Saturday, my roommate Emily and I carved pumpkins and made roasted pumpkin seeds, and on Sunday, I made spooky Halloween cupcakes with buttercream frosting.

First off was Halloween candy bark. I've had this recipe flagged since the day I received my October issue of Bon Appetit. I mean, melted chocolate covered in more chocolate and candy? Count me in. This recipe is super easy and can be adapted based on your taste in candy. It can also be used for different holidays, substituting in holiday-appropriate candy for the Reese's, Butterfinger and nuts.

Another great Halloween goody I had this weekend: roasted pumpkin seeds. To make these, hold onto your seeds when carving pumpkins, wash and dry them, toss in a tiny bit of olive oil and seasoning of your choice and bake at 325 F for 25 minutes (or until golden and crunchy), tossing periodically to ensure even baking. Emily and I made several different varieties: sea salt, garlic sea salt, cinnamon sugar and spicy Cajun. They were all great, but my favorites were the cinnamon sugar and the garlic sea salt.

Spooky pumpkins! Save your seeds after carving for a yummy Halloween snack.

On Sunday, I made yellow cupcakes with buttercream frosting. Earlier this week, my mom sent me a Halloween care package which included Halloween sprinkles. I was determined to use them, so I picked up a box of Betty Crocker yellow cake mix and whipped up some of my favorite buttercream frosting (recipe courtesy of Bakerella) and spent several joyous hours decorating my spooky creations.

Can you tell I had a little too much fun with this?

Bon appetit!

Halloween Peanut Butter & Toffee Candy Bark
Makes 30 two-inch pieces
1 lb. bittersweet chocolate chips
3 2.1-oz. Butterfinger candy bars, cut into irregular 1/2-inch pieces
3 1.4-oz. Heath toffee candy bars, cut into irregular 1/2-inch pieces 
8 small peanut butter cups, each cut into 4 wedges
1/3 cup honey-roasted peanuts
3 oz. white chocolate, chopped
Small box of Reese's Pieces

Line a baking sheet with foil. Stir chocolate chips in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and warm (not hot) to touch. Pour chocolate onto foil and spread to 1/4-inch thickness (you should have a 12x10-inch rectangle).

Sprinkle with Butterfinger, Heath, peanut butter cups and nuts, making sure all pieces touch melted chocolate to adhere.

Put white chocolate in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until chocolate is melted and warm (not hot) to touch. Remove from heat. Dip a spoon into the chocolate and wave from side to side over the bark, creating zig zag lines.

Scatter Reese's Pieces over the bark, pressing the candy into the melted white chocolate.

Chill bark until firm, about 30 minutes. Slide the foil with candy onto a work surface and chop into small irregular pieces. Keep chilled in the fridge or store at room temperature.

Source: Bon Appetit October 2010