White Chocolate Macadamia Oatmeal Cookies

It’s been nice to get back into my own kitchen over the past several weeks, apart from having a couple of extra sink-fulls of dishes to do. Sometimes, as with all passions and art forms, it can be hard to find your creative spot, really feel inspired, or not let discouragement hold you back. Cooking for me is no different, and while so often these days I’ve been searching for my hibernating enthusiasm and questioning my talents, I’ve had to remind myself that what I do in my own kitchen can only be judged by and help myself. While I’m still struggling with it all, much of my curiosity and motivation has returned.

This past weekend Greg and I went over to a friend’s house for a birthday dinner celebration and football watching, and of course wanted to whip up a batch of something simple to take along. While walking through the grocery store on Friday night (yeah, we know how to party) I thought I’d make some white chocolate macadamia cookies, since I’ve never had one before. Greg suggested oatmeal as well since that’s his thing. There was so much food around the table, I couldn’t help but feel thankful especially knowing people in my own neighborhood still don’t have electricity. With my family living so far away it was so comforting to borrow someone else’s for the evening, and spend a little time laughing and bonding over food, board games and football.

That’s really the point of cookies to me though, they’re comfort food. While they’re usually not the first thing I’ll make for dessert, when the mood strikes it’s great to know they can be made quickly, with plenty to share with friends. These cookies were adapted from this Hershey’s recipe.

White Chocolate Macadamia Oatmeal Cookies
Makes about 34 large (3″) cookies

1 cup Granulated Sugar
1 cup Light Brown Sugar, packed
1 cup Unsalted Butter
2 Eggs, large
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
2 1/2 cups AP Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 cup Macadamia Nuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups Oats
20 oz. White Chocolate Chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (F) and line 4 half sheet pans or cookie pans with parchment paper (or in my case, 2 with two more sheets of parchment ready to go for the next round).

In a mixer, beat the butter and sugars together until creamy and completely blended. Add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mixing until completely blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure it all comes together. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together, and add to the mixer slowly on low speed. As soon as the flour is in add the nuts, oats, and white chocolate chips. There’s no need to over-mix, stop mixing as soon as it’s all incorporated. If you need to knead the last bit of chocolate chips in because you’ve got a 4.5 qt mixer, go ahead – I had to as well.

Scoop 8 golf ball sized rounds of dough onto each sheet and press the tops down gently to flatten slightly. I use an industrial red handled scooper/disher, but heaping tablespoons will work just fine. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, checking after 10. 13 minutes was the sweet spot in my oven. You’re looking for golden edges, and puffy in the middle without looking wet.

These cookies are great with a cup of coffee. Next time I make them I’d like to actually use less white chocolate chips. I think they’re very sweet and since they don’t have any of the bitterness of dark chocolate, I’ll probably cut the amount down to 12 – 15 ounces. Of course, it all depends on how into white chocolate you are!

{psst: with the holidays just around the corner, these would make a great addition to homemade cookie boxes, stocking stuffers, or pot luck parties. They stay nice and moist for several days when kept in an airtight container.}

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Spicy Crunchy Chocolate Ice Cream Love

You know how you flip through a new cookbook and there’s so many amazing looking recipes you hardly know which one to make first? Yeah, this book is like that.

Last year I was walking through the aisles of the bookstore, when my eyes landed on an ice cream cookbook. It looked adorable, and there were pictures of each ice cream beckoning me to take it home and give the indulgences within a turn in my ice cream machine. But, having recently been disappointed with another ice cream cookbook purchase, I resigned to leave it be. Several months later I returned to look up an apple ice cream recipe after spending the day in an orchard, and came home with the scribbled down version of Jeni’s Splendid Baked Apple Sorbet. At that point I knew that this woman was probably on to something and it was only a matter of time before I’d give in to the crippling cravings to own this book.

Two more visits and a round of “Oh, I want to make that! And That! AND THAT ONE TOO!!!” I went ahead and bought Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer, and haven’t been disappointed. Not only are her flavor combinations really something to celebrate, but she really knows how ice cream works. I bothered to read the introductory chapters before diving into the recipes and learned that her techniques are a little different than the classical anglaise bases I was taught in pastry school and have duplicated in several restaurants.

So I decided to start with the Gucci Muu Muu, a rich and creamy chocolate ice cream with the warmth and spice of curry and the subtle crunch of toasted coconut. IT ROCKED. The whole quart of it. Which I ate all by myself. I’m not even the tiniest bit sorry either. I’m pretty much ready to take anything Jeni says about ice cream as gospel at this point. The book is broken down into four main recipe sections, based on season, and while the winter recipes have been delicious I’m anxious for the springtime ingredients to work with, and warmer weather to ride my bike around in. Preferably while eating a homemade ice cream cone (see recipe in the book) full of Roasted Strawberry and Buttermilk Ice Cream! {heart melts in anticipation}

A Handful of Macarons

Our little street in Montreal (on St. Dennis) was crammed with restaurants, lounges, and little speciality stores. The block is mostly 3 or 4 story townhouses, with the basement and first levels of each home all commercial. Tucked into the ground level of one of these buildings is Marius et Fanny Patisserie Provençale. This place has it ALL. Chocolates, cakes, savory goods and sandwiches, croissants, macarons, EVERYTHING.

So of course I had to get one of every macaron…for photographic purposes! They even made them all the way back to the states so I could photograph them. I honestly don’t even remember what flavor all of them are, apart from delicious. Some were filled with creams and ganche, while the fruity ones had jam sandwiched in between. Why haven’t I thought of using jam?!

I really adore the bold colors they used in creating these. I know some of the Parisian macaron makers prefer to be a little more subtle with their colors, but it’s great that they’ve created their own palette so to speak.

With the weather finally being cool enough to whip up a sturdy meringue, perhaps it’s time to give making macarons at home another shot. Since the possibilities are endless they’re a great treat for just about any occasion. Maybe a set of fall/Halloween colored macarons?

Traveling Photo Shoot: Truffles

Montreal is rumored to have some of the best pastry shops this side of the Atlantic, and while I was skeptical (I’m coming from the NYC area after all) I was excited to try as many pastries and confections as possible. On a particularly overcast morning walking through downtown Montreal, I passed by Suite 88 Chocolatier which just looked so tasty and so damned posh that I knew after a museum visit I’d be returning to give it a try.

I ordered two of everything.

Even still, several pieces didn’t make it till the photo shoot. Which brings about another concern – how do you photograph delicious pastries while on vacation? Sure, taking photos of the store displays and local dishes is great and makes for amazing photos, but what if you’re doing it in your hotel room? Or in my case, a comfortable bed and breakfast in the Plateau/Mont Royal neighborhood. In the small shared kitchen was what amounted to a thrift store collection of plates, one small white one suitable for a truffle display, and a brown and silver patterned scarf I brought along for the possibility of chilly evenings. An open window and 20 minutes to goof off and I had a completely makeshift traveling photo shoot.

All of the truffles were gone by the next afternoon, just in time to try another pastry shop. Travel photography is definitely a skill I’d like to develop, but with New York in my back yard I think I’ll have a lot of opportunities to practice.

Peach Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting

This week I’ve had a one day weekend, (yesterday) and most of the day was spent casually baking peach cupcakes with brown sugar frosting, as found on Smitten Kitchen. Over the course of seven hours I baked, frosted, set-up, arranged, photographed, edited, and weeded 135 photos. Perhaps it should take more time or less time to really get through the whole process, but it’s rare that I get to cook and “work” so casually.

Two more days of work, and I’m setting out on an 8 day adventure! On Saturday morning I’m heading down to Philadelphia for a couple of days to see friends that I’ve really missed since moving, and then on to Montreal!!! I’ve never been to Canada before and am really looking forward to it. While my French-Canadian is really poor, I’m hoping I’ll be able to mumble my way through things with what remains of my high school French memory.

Of course, one of the things I’m looking forward to on my trip is getting the opportunity to taste new things and hopefully get some cool travel food photographs. I’ve travelled a lot in the past, but have somehow managed to avoid snapping any photos of some of the world’s most incredible meals. While I can still taste the fine French cheeses and delicious Argentinean steak, it would have been far easier to mesmerize people with photos.

Anyway, on to the good stuff – the recipe:

Peach Cupcakes – Makes about 30

3 or 4 Peaches (4 if medium, 3 if large) – Peeled, cored & chopped into smallish cubes, about 1/3″.
3 c. Cake flour
1 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Nutmeg
3/4 c. (6 oz) Unsalted Butter at room temperature
3/4 c. Sugar
3/4 c. Light Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 c. Sour Cream

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. In a mixer, beat together the butter and both sugar until it become fluffy and lightens in color (a minute or two). With a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla to the eggs, and add the eggs to the mix one at a time, beating to incorporate. Scrape the bowl again. Add the flour in two parts, alternating with the sour cream and taking care not to over mix. When the batter is fully incorporated, remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the chopped peaches. Divide into muffin cups lined with cupcake papers and bake for about 18 minutes at 350 degrees.

Brown Sugar-Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 c. (4 oz) Unsalted Butter at room temperature
1 pound (two 8 oz packages) Cream Cheese at room temperature
1 1/4 c. Light Brown Sugar
1 c. Powdered Sugar
1/4 c. Cornstarch*
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

In a mixer, beat the butter until it is completely smooth. Add the cream cheese and beat it into the butter until completely combined and smooth. In a small bowl combine the sugars and the cornstarch and whisk together until they are completely combined. Add the sugars to the cream cheese and beat on medium until the frosting has lightened in color and is very fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape the mixing bowl down occasionally while mixing.

*Note: The original recipe includes the 1/4 c. of cornstarch, added for the purpose of stiffening the frosting. I also added a little more powdered sugar to my recipe to give the frosting a little more body and sweetness. Next time though, I’m considering cutting the cornstarch down or out altogether (it just seems a little weird to me) and upping the powdered sugar to make it even sweeter. I like it sweet, what can I say?

The End of Summer Pie

Blueberries are in season through September, although summer is fading fast here in New England. As many people have off on Monday for Labor Day (the last hurrah of summertime), and the summer berries are getting scarcer in the grocery store aisles, I thought it was time for the last summer pie. Blueberry-Raspberry Pie with a Lemon Crust.

After the storm last week a lot of businesses were left without power, including a little store nearby that sells farm fresh produce. The loss of power didn’t stop them though. They set up shop out front of their store and had a little farmer’s market. I was able to pick up 3 pints of blueberries (used here), a quart of freshly picked peaches, and a pint of strawberries.

This time of year, on the brink of fall, I feel like the need for pies is especially strong. I didn’t eat a lot of pie growing up – the revelation of raspberries is something that I didn’t experience till college believe it or not – but no matter where you’re from or what you like, pie always feels like home. More cozy than a cake, more special than a cookie. Pie is LOVE.

I’m really looking forward to fall pies and tartes. The apples and pears that will be in season very soon will be a delight to mix and match with end of summer fruits and exotic spices. In late fall the nut and veggies pies I hope to try should do a great deal in the way of warming us up. In the mean time it’s nice to sit back with a piece of the last summer pie and think about the roller coaster this summer has been!

New York City in the summer time is every bit as sweltering as the movies tell you it is (The Seven Year Itch anyone?). Compounded with the heat and pressure of a New York kitchen, summertime can be downright suffocating. For the first time I can remember, I’ve actually felt the seasons change. Growing up in South Carolina it seemed like there was summer, fall and spring. Winter weather doesn’t even register in my memory. In Philadelphia it felt as though we sweat through summer and dove right into freezing through winter, with maybe two or three weeks of spring or fall to break it up.

Lemon Pie Crust – Make twice for top and bottom crusts – 9″ pie.

1-1/4 cups All-purpose flour (plus more for rolling out the dough)
1/2 cup Butter, unsalted, very cold and chopped into small pieces
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
3+ Tbsp. Ice water
Zest of 2 medium lemons

In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, salt & lemon zest. Add in chopped butter and pulse several times until butter is cut into the flour in tiny pieces, roughly the size of peas. Remove from food processor and in a bowl mix in ice water by hand until dough comes together. Take care not to knead or overwork the dough. Roll into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until use, at least 1 hour.

When you’re ready to roll out the dough, flour your counter and rolling pin. Remove from the refrigerator and allow dough to sit for a couple of minutes at room temperature. Place disk in floured area, lightly dust the top of the dough with a sprinkle of flour, and roll out the dough, making sure there is about an inch and a half to spare on either side of your pie dish. When rolling out the second pie crust, I used a pastry cutter to create the wide lattice strips. Since this is a juicy pie, a solid top crust with a vent would work as well.

Blueberry-Raspberry Filling – Bake at 350F degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes

4 cups Blueberries, rinsed and picked over for stems and twigs
2 to 2-1/2 cups of Raspberries, gently rinsed
1 cup Sugar – plus more to sprinkle on pie crust
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. Ground Allspice
1/4 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
4 Tbsp. Minute Tapioca
2 Tbsp. Butter, unsalted, chopped into small pieces
Egg Wash

In a large bowl stir together blueberries, raspberries, sugar, lemon juice, allspice, nutmeg and Minute tapioca. Let sit for 10 – 15 minutes (I usually do this before rolling out the pie crusts, about the time I start preheating the oven). Pour into pie shell. Scatter dots of butter over the filling and cover with top crust or lattice. Eggwash the top crust and sprinkle with sugar.

Check the pie regularly after about 45 minutes to make sure the crust is not browning too quickly. If the crust becomes golden brown before filling has begun to bubble in the center of the pie, cover with aluminum foil to prevent further browning. When filling in bubbling from the center the pie is finished!

Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Chocolate Chip Coconut Macaroons

The truth is, the coconut macaroon is a seriously underappreciated little cookie. It’s so easy to make, takes so little time to prepare, and tastes so good (especially right out of the oven) that your biggest problem with this recipe is making enough to last more than an hour or two. A lot of bakeries will dip their macaroons in chocolate, which is delicious and looks great, but also requires tempering your chocolate, and might not provide an even distribution of chocolate in every bite … or the two bites it’ll probably take to finish one of these.

Chocolate Chip Coconut Macaroons

3 oz. of egg whites (approximately 3 large egg whites)
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 (14 oz.) package of sweetened coconut flakes
6 oz. mini chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You’ll also need a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet and a small cookie scooper.

In a small bowl whisk together the egg whites, sugar and salt until the egg whites are slightly foamy. In a larger bowl combine the coconut and chocolate chips. Pour whisked eggs over the coconut and work the entire mixture together with your hands (feel free to wear gloves if you really want to avoid the stickiness) until completely combined. With a small scoop, scoop a clump of the coconut mixture, pack it lightly in the scoop, and drop onto the cookie sheet. Bake about 25 minutes or until the cookies take on a beautiful golden color. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before you bite into them, they’ll be hot! (but OH SO GOOD.)

Vegan Lemon Cupcakettes

I cook. By profession I’m a pastry cook. At home I’m the let’s-try-this-funky-recipe-for-dinner cook. One day I’d like to be a cook-beautiful-things-and-take-beautiful-pictures-of-them cook. I’m lucky that nearly every day I get to practice doing just that. Being a pastry cook, friends, co-workers and family often ask for cakes and desserts. Their tastes are as diverse and wide-ranging as they are which provides tons of opportunities for creativity with flavors and ingredients. In the past several months I’ve also had the opportunity to cook for friends with speciality diets including a gluten-free wedding, diabetic treats, and vegan cakes!

I had a tiny amount of batter and frosting left over from a recent vegan lemon cake, and even though I’m not vegan I was pretty excited about trying these little cupcakes. The original yellow cake and vanilla “buttercream” recipes come from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Baking cookbook by Donna Diegel, and were adapted as follows:

Lemony Cake – makes 2, 8″ round cakes and 12 mini cupcakes

3 cups cake flour
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup non-hydrogenated  vegan margarine (butter flavored, room temperature)
1-1/2 cups sugar
Egg substitute for 3 eggs (I used Ener-G powdered egg replacer)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups Almond Milk
Zest of 3 lemons

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a mini cupcake pan with paper liners, grease & flour cake pans with margarine and tap the excess flour out. Combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk together to incorporate and break up any clumps. In a mixer, beat margarine and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about a minute. With a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add egg substitute in 2 portions, beating well in between. Scrape down the bowl once more and add the vanilla. Beat to incorporate. On low, add 1/3 of the dry mix, mixing till incorporated, then 1/3 of the almond milk. Alternate the dry mix and milk until well blended, taking care not to overmix the batter. remove mixing bowl from the mixer and fold in the lemon zest. Scoop about a tablespoon of batter into each cupcake, and divide the rest of the batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake! when the tops of the cupcakes spring back when lightly touched they are finished. Check the cake rounds for doneness after about 25-30 minutes.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting – Double this recipe to fill and frost both the cake and cupcakes.

1/2 cup of solid shortening
1/2 cup of  non-hydrogenated  vegan margarine (butter flavored, room temperature)
4 cups of confectioner’s sugar
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Vanilla beans scraped from the inside of 1 vanilla bean
1-2 Tbsp. almond milk

In a mixer beat shortening and margarine until soft and combined. Add confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time, scraping down the bowl between each cup. Beat frosting until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and vanilla beans. Beat in almond milk until frosting has a spreadable consistency.  Frost your cakes!

Each of these tasty little cupcakes were topped with a fresh berry and have been eaten a handful at a time. If you aren’t vegan or haven’t tried any vegan baked goods, these little treats might take you by surprise. They don’t take any extra effort to make and could easily fool your dairy eating friends.

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