Strawberry Shortcake

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Happy Monday to you all!  In my head, we are having a glorious spring filled with the smell of honeysuckle and gentle breezes warming things to a moderate 70 degrees.  The reality is that we are in a dust bowl with winds around 50mph and gusts reaching into the 70mph zone.  Temps in the 90s already with occasional days of 30 dropped here and there to keep us nice and crazy.  I kind of forget why I’ve lived here so long.  Are the sunsets really THAT great?!

So the perfect spring in my head has lovely desserts enjoyed on front porch swings.  I can think of no prettier dessert than a strawberry shortcake.  I’m a bit picky when it comes to this dessert.  At the grocery store, they like to group items together so you’ll immediately think of a particular dish and buy every ingredient.  So, since strawberries are officially in season, you’ll see strawberries and angel food cakes set out next to each other in the produce section.

No.

Strawberry shortcake does not involve angel food cake.  Shortcake, shortbread – the “short” refers to the strands of gluten in the dough, making the final product dense and crumbly like a scone.  There’s not a lot to hold this bread together.  If you had long strands of gluten, it would make the bread chewy like bagels, pizza dough, etc.  So there’s your short lesson on shortbread.
shortcake006
For my ultimate strawberry shortcake, I took my mother’s biscuit recipe and replaced the buttermilk with heavy cream and added vanilla and a tablespoon of sugar.  I also used lard instead of shortening and I absolutely think it turned out to be the BEST base for the BEST strawberry shortcake I’ve ever had.  Matt, who really would never prefer a fruity dessert over say, a chocolate one, commented a FEW times on how good it was (he is not generous with his exclamations).  My dad, who got to share this dessert with us and who IS generous with exclamations, was reduced to a silent appreciation while he ate.  It will change your very nature, it’s so good.

I’m generous with dramatic statements.

So try it out – I’ll give you the quick recipe for every component but the shortcake was the star.  Take advantage of strawberry season and those glorious, $2 huge containers while you can.  And if they are beginning to look like they’re going to go bad, chop them up, drizzle some sugar and lemon juice on them and in a day you’ll have the perfect strawberry concoction to use for this recipe!
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The Best Strawberry Shortcake

For the shortcake:

2 cups flour
1 TBS baking powder
1 TBS sugar
1/2 TBS salt
1/2 cup lard or shortening
1 cup heavy cream
1 TBS vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a large bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients and then cut the lard in with a fork or with your hands until it resembles coarse, crumbly sand.  Mix in the cream and vanilla until the dough holds together when pressed between two fingers.  If it’s still pretty crumbly, even after kneading it in the bowl a couple times, add a splash or two more.  By not weighing the flour, you may end up with more or less flour than I did.  I should have weighed it.  Apologies.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough a few times, form into a ball and roll out into about a 1/2″ disk and cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter.  Place on a greased cookie sheet and brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter.  Sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

To assemble: Cut a cake in half, pour plenty of strawberry/strawberry juice on top so it soaks into the cake.  Top with a generous dollop of strawberry whipped cream and drizzle more strawberry juice on top and serve.  Recipes for those other components below:

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For the strawberry whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons of strawberry juice (from your macerated strawberries)
1 or 2 strawberries from the same concoction

In a large cup with an immersion blender or in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the heavy cream, strawberries and juice and blend until thick and creamy.

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For the strawberries:

1 lb strawberries, sliced thin
1/4 cup sugar
2 TBS lemon juice

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and let the strawberries sit at room temp for a couple hours or in the fridge over night.  Stir once – the strawberries will release juices and form a glorious syrup with the sugar and lemon juice.

 

 

 

 

Palmiers for Palm Sunday

almond palmiers
Matt suggested I make Palmier cookies for Palm Sunday to take into our church class this morning.  I love word play and an excuse to make a cookie and I hadn’t tried making them before, so I figured I’d give it a shot!  Turns out – it’s the easiest cookie to make, looks refined and tastes amazing with a cup of coffee!  I’m a big fan of keeping a box or two of puff pastry in my freezer for various recipes, and now I have a new go-to cookie to make on the fly if someone is stopping by for coffee or just because!

Palmier

Palmiers
makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies

1 box frozen puff pastry – sheets separated and thawed
1 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract

Spread a half cup of the sugar out on a clean surface evenly and lay both sheets of puff pastry out on top of the sugar.  With a rolling pin, roll the sheets a bit flatter in each direction until about an 1/8th of an inch thick. In a bowl with the remaining sugar, add the almond extract and stir with a fork until blended and the sugar resembles wet sand.  Spread the almond sugar over the surface of the puff pastry sheets.  From each end, start rolling up the pastry as you would a cinnamon roll.  It’s like rolling up a scroll!  When both sides almost meet in the middle, lay one side on top of the other, like shutting a book.  Press down slightly and lay on it’s side, cutting 1/4″ slices and placing the cookies on parchment lined baking sheets.
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(bad pic, but you get the visual)

It’s important to line your baking sheets with something because the sugar needs to caramelize to make these cookies what they are and you may have a hard time getting them off the sheets unless they are lined.

Bake cookies in a 450 degree oven for 6 minutes.  After 6 minutes, flip one and if it’s golden on the under side, flip them all and bake for another 5-6 minutes.  If they aren’t browned, yet, leave them in the oven for another 2-3 minutes.  You’re aiming for a good, golden caramelization on each side and each oven bakes different, so you may need to rotate your pans during the baking process.

Let the cookies cool completely before serving.  Have fun with the filling.  You could add lemon zest, orange zest, jam, vanilla – whatever you want to the sugar on the inside of the cookies.  Have fun with it!

Palmiers
riding in the car on the way to church this morning 🙂

The Ultimate Dark Chocolate Brownies

The Ultimate Brownie
Just look at them.  Super dense.  Fudgy.  Chewy.  Crisp around the very edges and topped with a square of caramel chocolate so it oozes out when it’s cut.  Simply put: the best brownies you will ever eat.

The Bread Man made these a few years ago when we decided to host a Brownie Battle and invite about 20 of our friends to all bring brownies to taste test and enter into the competition for the Golden Whisk.  Yes, there was a golden whisk trophy.  We are serious about our food battles.  Matt baked these brownies and topped his with dark chocolate toffee bars, which is his favorite combination.  They tied up with another contender for Best Traditional Brownie out of about 20 pans of brownies!  When I went to make them last week, I bought Ghiradelli bars – the individually wrapped ones.  And I bought sea salt caramel (as seen pictured) and sea salt soiree with almonds to place on top of the batter.  Check it out, sinking down into the glossy batter…
Ultimate Brownies
This recipe is super simple and I nearly have it memorized.  We’ve adapted it from a stunning UK recipe and put it in slightly easier steps and terms for everyone.  I hope you make these soon.  If for nothing else than to cry with happiness.  It’ll happen.  And be creative with the type of chocolate bars you put on top!  There’s so many to choose from!  I thought if I were in the mood, a dark chocolate mint bar on top would be good.  Or dark chocolate and strawberry!  The fun thing about going with the individually wrapped bars is that it’s instant perfect portioning for cutting!  Have fun and let me know how you like them!

The Ultimate Dark Chocolate Brownie

The Ultimate Dark Chocolate Brownies
makes about 16 depending on how to slice it 😉

8 oz unsalted butter
8 oz dark chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli 60%)
10 oz superfine sugar (I used Baker’s Sugar)
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
pinch of salt
5 oz cake flour
Your favorite chocolate bars for topping (I used these two kinds)

Preheat your oven to 400F.

In a double boiler (or a medium saucepan over low heat filled a couple inches up with water with a big heatproof glass bowl setting on top) melt the butter and chocolate together and stir with a rubber spatula until completely incorporated.  Gently stream in the sugar and whisk constantly until fully incorporated and smooth.  Whisk in the vanilla.  In a separate bowl, crack your eggs and lightly whip them up with a pinch of salt.  Take the bowl off the double boiler (if you haven’t already) and whisk in the eggs until smooth and then add the flour in two batches, stirring well to smooth out as many lumps as possible.

Line a 9×13″ pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.  Pour the brownie batter in the pan and smooth out the surface.  Dot the entire surface with chocolate bars and bake for 20 minutes.  It’s not going to look done, but take that sucker OUT and let it cool COMPLETELY before cutting.  Restrain yourself.  Plan ahead.  Gently lift the foil out of the pan and place the sheet of brownies on a cutting board and cut into squares.  Enjoy your life more than you ever have before. You’re welcome.

Double Dark Chocolate Brownies

 

Chewy Mexican Chocolate Cookies

Mexican Chocolate Cookies 3
This is one of my most favorite cookie recipes.  I found it a few years ago in a baking issue of Cooking Light magazine.  I’ve made it several times and I always get requests for the recipe.  The original recipe is soft out of the oven but then it hardens up pretty fast and becomes sort of like a short bread or pecan sandy texture.  I love the original, crunchy, good-with-coffee version, but I’m a soft and chewy cookie kinda gal.  So I adapted the recipe a bit to make the cookies more flat and chewy and I LOVED the results!  Crispy along the edges, soft in the middle – with a bite from the pepper and cinnamon!  As you can tell, I’m a fan of the Mexican chocolate flavor and I hope, within my life, to incorporate it into as many baked goods as possible.

Chewy Mexican Chocolate Cookies
I hope you try this recipe out!  If you’d like the cookies to be the original crunchy style, leave out the extra egg and cut back to 4 TBS butter.  But I don’t think you will want that after you taste these 🙂

Chewy Mexican Chocolate Cookies
makes about 30 cookies

5 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I use Ghirardelli 60% chips and skip the chopping)
3.4 oz AP flour (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
a few grinds of black pepper
a pinch of cayenne
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 TBS butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the chocolate in a small glass bowl and microwave for one minute, stir and microwave 30 seconds more to fully melt.  Stir with a rubber spatula to full incorporate and ensure it’s all melted and set aside to cool.

Combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, cayenne and black pepper and stir well with a whisk.

Combine sugar and softened butter in a large bowl and beat with a mixer or by hand until well blended.  Add the eggs and beat well.  Add the cooled chocolate and vanilla and beat until just blended.  Fold in the flour mixture until fully incorporated.

Drop by level tablespoons 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I’ve tried it without and they will come off a regular sheet pan if you spray it with enough oil.) Bake at 350F for 12 minutes or until cracked on top and almost set.  Let the cookies cool on the pan for a couple minutes and then transfer to a wire rack until cooled completely.  Dust with powdered sugar if desired!

Mexican Chocolate Cookies 2

*recipe adapted from Cooking Light magazine, 2010

Cooking Basics – Salted Caramel Sauce

Salted Caramel Sauce

This week is so busy with all the prep for our fundraiser dinner for Carpenter’s Church!  So, instead of an involved recipe, I decided to give you a simple kitchen basic that I have made about fifteen times in the past twenty-four hours as a topping for the banana bread pudding I’m doing for the dinner tomorrow.

Okay, okay, so maybe this isn’t the most basic kitchen skill to have.  It’s not exactly on par with the humble chicken stock. HOWEVER! It tastes outstanding and you have the ingredients in your house right now.  You could make a batch for ice cream, for brownies, as a topping for a cake or as a totally amazing sweet fondue for bread/fruit/a spoon.  You don’t need a reason.  You could jar this up and give it away as gifts at Christmas or any time.  You could make a few batches and keep them all to yourself – the only thing I know for sure is that if you try this recipe, you WILL be back for more…

Salted Caramel Sauce
makes about a cup

1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup warmed heavy cream (warm it in the microwave for a minute)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or extract)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the sugar and water and stir with a spatula to fully incorporate.  Put a lid on the pot and let it come up to a simmer.  Have you ever read recipes that tell you to brush the sides of your pan with a wet basting brush to keep sugar crystals from forming while making caramel?  No more!  That’s tedious and I don’t like getting my fingers that close to boiling sugar.  The lid creates condensation that drips down and keeps all the sugar in place, instead of creeping up the sides like it will if the lid’s off.

Swirling occasionally while cooking, check for the color.  When it develops a nice golden amber color, remove it from the heat and stir in the heavy cream and vanilla.  This will bubble furiously, but just whisk, whisk, whisk until it calms down.  Add the butter and whisk to incorporate.  Then, add the salt and stir until dissolved.  Let it cool and taste test for salt level.  Store in jars on the counter for a week or in the fridge for a month.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day – Smokey Whiskey Truffles

Whiskey Truffles
So.  Valentine’s Day. Pink hearts and flowers and chocolate.  I do enjoy the cheerfulness of it all – the happy colors and the excuse to make everything heart-shaped.  I think next year it will be even more fun for celebrating with my little red-head as she’ll be close to three years old and will actually know what’s going on.  However, this holiday seems to be only geared toward women, full of expectations and children, full of sugar rage.  Not much love for the guys.  Guys seem to have all the pressure to pick out a gift that’s not TOO cliche, but also not too far off the expected path, because then we’d feel sad we didn’t get flowers.  I’m sorry, men.  I really am.

I love that chocolate is associated with Valentine’s, because there’s not much Matt likes more than chocolate, except maybe coffee and smokey things like bacon and…whiskey.  I skipped the bacon and went for the whiskey for his Valentine’s treat this year.  Dark chocolate ganache infused with Laphroaig whiskey and coated in a super thin shell of even darker chocolate.  For those who may not know, Laphroaig tastes like a campfire smells.  It could seriously make someone suspect of smoking because it’s THAT smokey.  For some strange reason, Matt loves it, and even though he might not initially approve of me putting his whiskey into anything except a glass, I think the results were good.  He took one bite and said, “They’re SO SMOKEY!” and that was a good thing 🙂

I was proud of the shell, too.  It’s quite hard to temper chocolate correctly so that it has a nice shine instead of dull streaks, and so that it’s perfectly, glassy thin, instead of thick and clumpy.  I’ve erred more on the side of thick and clumpy in the past than I’d like to admit.  I realized my success with these had a lot to do with the chocolate I used.  If you want to make a perfectly tempered chocolate shell, you can NOT use chocolate chips.  They’ve been coated in paraffin to make them not stick to each other in the bag and are already dull and streaky.  (chips are fine for the centers, though!) Pick a chocolate bar that is already shiny and has a good snap – that lets you know that it has been tempered properly already, so it will set you up for a better chance of success.  And if you don’t want to mess with the shell at all (and I wouldn’t blame you a bit) then simply roll the centers in cocoa powder or powdered sugar and call it a day!
Dark Chocolate Whiskey Truffles

Dark Chocolate Whiskey Truffles
makes about 2 dozen small truffles

For the centers:
10 oz dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 65%)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temp
2 tablespoons whiskey (you can also use any liquor here – brandy or Kahlua would be great)

For the shell:
10 oz good quality dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%), chopped fine

Place your chocolate chips in a medium bowl.  In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil, then immediately take it off the heat and pour it over the chocolate.  Let this sit for about a minute and then, in the center of the bowl with a small spatula, begin stirring in tight circles until the chocolate melts and combines with the cream.  It takes longer than you think, but I promise – it will happen.  Keep stirring and don’t stop believin’.  Once the chocolate is completely melted, let it cool down a bit and then stir in the butter until completely incorporated.  Going one tablespoon at a time (depending on taste) stir in the whiskey.  Completely incorporate one tablespoon and then taste to see how you like it.  The whiskey really changes the viscosity of the chocolate, but don’t worry.  It just needs to be stirred a LOT.  Once you’ve got the level of flavor you want in the mixture, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set – at least an hour.  When the chocolate has firmed up, using a teaspoon sized scoop, scoop out your centers and form into balls and place on a plate or cookie sheet and cover until ready to use.  I keep mine in the fridge until I’m ready to dip, but I let the centers set on the counter for about an hour before dipping so they wouldn’t bring down the temp of my tempered chocolate too fast.
Dark Chocolate Smokey Truffles

For tempering the chocolate:
In a double boiler, or a glass bowl set over a medium saucepan (this is my preferred way.  I feel the glass protects the chocolate from scorching better than a metal double boiler pan) slowly melt 2/3rds of your chocolate.  Stir constantly and bring the temp up to 115-118F.  Use an instant read thermometer to get the best reading.  Once the chocolate reaches 115, take it off the heat and add in the remaining 1/3 chopped chocolate, small amounts at a time and stir to melt.  Some pieces might not melt completely, but they will by the time you’re ready to dip.  And if they don’t, like mine didn’t, oh well.  Dip on!

As you are incorporating the remaining chopped chocolate, you’re wanting your chocolate to get down to 82F.  Once it gets down to 82, place the bowl back on your saucepan and bring the temp back up to 88-90F.  Once it reaches this range, you are ready to start dipping!  Your chocolate should be very liquidy and fall easily off the spatula in ribbons.  Dip the centers quickly and place on parchment to cool.  Don’t worry about being perfect – just dip!  Keep an eye on the temp of your chocolate.  If it drops below 88, your chocolate will start to get thicker.  No worries – just return the bowl to your saucepan and heat for about a minute.  Then keep dipping till you’re done!  I sprinkled cocoa nibs on top of the truffles before they dried and I love the extra bit of crunch it gives!

Dark Chocolate Truffles with Whiskey

Tempering chocolate requires a LOT of patience, most of the time I do not have.  But if you find yourself in a pretty zen-like state and you want to try it, I’d encourage you to.  It’s a nice process that yields really pretty results!  And if you have leftover tempered chocolate, do what I did and submerge gingersnaps in it 🙂