March 27, 2019

My First Hamantaschen

Growing up in a predominantly Jewish community often meant my friends would bring Jewish treats to school to share. I sampled macaroons, matzoh, mandel bread and the cutest triangle shaped pastries--Hamantaschen.
It's been maybe one or two decades since I had hamantaschen (I had a Jewish boyfriend about a decade ago and can't remember if his grandma sent him mandel bread and hamantaschen but he did share some baked goods with me). Hamantaschen are triangle shaped filled pastry that are eaten during the holiday Purim and are traditionally filled with poppy seed.
After spotting this chocolate chip hamantaschen recipe from the NY Times, I thought it was the perfect hybrid of my most recent chocolate chip cookie binge with these festive treats. After reading the recipe reviews, many people recommended finding another dough for the filling so I then found this recipe from Leah Koenig on Food52 (at the recommendation of Molly Yeh) and then filled them with pastry cream and topped with chocolate chips. It took some time to realize that the dough is better when it is rolled out pretty thin to make a less doughy cookie and then the filling can really shine. Totally. Delicious.

Chocolate Chip Hamantaschen adapted from NY Times
Ingredients:
Hamantaschen dough from Food52
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 tbs cornstarch
2 tsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
3/4 cup milk
1 vanilla bean
2 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate chips
Directions:
1. Assemble dough and refrigerate for three hours and while waiting, assemble filling. Whisk egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and cocoa powder in a medium bowl until smooth.
2. Heat milk and vanilla bean in a saucepan until it simmers over medium heat. Remove from heat and remove the vanilla bean. Split the bean and scrape the insides into the milk.
3. Pour 1/3 of milk into egg mixture and whisk. Then pour back into the pan. Over low heat, whisk continuously until mixture bubbles and becomes a thick pudding-like consistency.
4. Remove from heat and stir in chopped bittersweet chocolate until melted and smooth. Pour into a bowl and cover directly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour.
5. After cooled, remove chocolate cream from refrigerator and mix in chocolate chips. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and let it sit out for 5 minutes to become pliable to roll out.
6. Roll out dough onto a lightly floured surface to 1/16 of an inch thickness. Using a 3 inch circle cookie cutter or wine glass, cut circles into dough and place onto parchment lined baking sheets an inch apart.
7. Fill each dough circle with a teaspoon of filling in the center. Fold over dough sides to form a triangle and pinch sides closed. Then top each with chocolate chips. Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes until golden brown.
8. Let cool on baking rack for 5 minutes and then enjoy!

March 13, 2019

Back to Cupcakes

In the midst of chocolate chip cookie madness, I took a couple cupcake breaks--I baked cupcakes and patronized a suburban bakery to pick up a birthday cupcake for a friend (and of course one for myself). To be honest, it's been exactly three years since I last baked cupcakes. But the welcome back to it was wonderful---all thanks to King Arthur Flour's Recipe of the Year.
Classic birthday cake with a simple chocolate frosting is all you need sometimes. I have had a disastrous track record with baking my own birthday cakes the past few years and I may just have to make this yellow cake tradition now. It was simply just really damn good cake: fluffy, moist, light and not too sweet. And it was the perfect mini cake and cupcakes for a friend's birthday a month ago.
The Recipe: King Arthur Flour's Classic Birthday Cake. The recipe says to bake them as cupcakes for 25-28 minutes but luckily I just kept an eye on mine and they were done in 17 minutes. Also I used less powdered sugar in my frosting, which created an almost whipped texture (and not too sweet frosting).

For another friend's birthday a couple weeks ago, I happened to be running errands in the burbs on the Kansas side of KC and popped into a local bakery I've had on my radar for a while. Dolce Bakery offers standard size as well as mini cupcakes and offered four flavors that day. My standard cupcake was $2.75.
I opted for their seasonal Chocolate Guiness cupcake with chocolate espresso frosting and got a festive chocolate sprinkle cupcake for the birthday girl. I let my cupcake come to room temperature (it was a little chilled upon purchasing it) since it felt a little dense. But the texture at room temperature was moist and the cake was topped with a flavorful light and fluffy frosting. It was a delightful little treat that was packed with great flavor yet it wasn't too sweet.

Dolce Bakery
3930 West 69th Terrace
Prairie Village, Kansas



March 8, 2019

Chocolate Chip Cookie Round-Up

After baking seven chocolate chip cookie recipes, I decided to take a little break from my cookie quest and throw a cookie taste testing party. (I had saved several cookie dough balls of each cookie in my freezer for this momentous occasion).
Before the cookie party my current standings were:
  1. Serious Eats Food Lab 
  2. BraveTart
  3. America's Test Kitchen
  4. Jacque Torres
  5. Cook's Illustrated
  6. Alton Brown
  7. NY Times Thick and Gooey
With ten people and seven types of cookies, there was a three-way tie for the top cookie: 
  • America's Test Kitchen
  • Alton Brown
  • NY Times Thick and Gooey Cookies
Interestingly enough, my friends and I thought it was a little difficult to rank the cookies since they all were delicious. I was surprised that my least favorite cookie from my initial ranking topped a third of our lists (the NY Times recipe) and that my favorite cookie also changed to America's Test Kitchen's. 

Final Thoughts:
  • chopped chocolate yields a prettier cookie since the little bits of chocolate are dispersed throughout the dough. 
  • melting butter creates a chewier cookie, which is great news to me since i always used to soften butter to make cookies in the past. this will really speed up the process when I want cookies ASAP
  • the brown butter/sea salt topped cookies are now my new favorite chocolate chip cookies 
  • underbaking cookies will always make them taste better (as well as consuming them while they're still warm)
Here's a round-up of the cookies I tested: 

Best Looking Cookie: 
The Jacque Torres cookies looked like my ideal of a gourmet bakery cookie with its ripples and large melted chocolate mounds throughout the surface of the cookie.  

Most High-Maintenance Cookie:
The Jacque Torres cookies used the most expensive chocolate, required two types of dough and also had a rest period of 24-72 hours. In the end, these were good cookies but almost not worth all the fussiness (they were at the bottom of my list at the final tasting).

Best No-Fuss Cookie:
The Cook's Illustrated cookie is a quick cookie to put together when you have a craving for cookies and don't want to wait for butter to soften/brown or wait for dough to rest in the fridge. 

Best Chewy Texture: 
The Serious Eats Food Lab cookie, once it cooled, kept its chewiness the best. Even though they sometimes baked flat, they never got crunchy. 

Best Flavor After A Day (or two):
The BraveTart cookie fascinated me because right out of the oven, it wasn't an over-the-top amazing cookie. But then after a few hours and even days, the flavor really developed and I couldn't stop eating them. So if you are a rare breed that doesn't gobble up a batch of cookies right after they are baked, these are for you. 

Best Overall Cookie:
America's Test Kitchen's cookie beat out all the other tasty cookies in the final tasting--its caramel/nutty flavor really came through that I crave for in a cookie. 

Stay tuned for some more chocolate chip cookie baking...

March 6, 2019

Fat Tuesday Paczki!

Happy Belated Fat Tuesday! I kept my tradition of consuming paczki on this holiday yesterday and was even surprised to find a local bakery making them (last year I drove out to the burbs to get my Polish Fat Tuesday doughnut fix). 
A local Australian bakery, Banksia, located in downtown Kansas City showed up on my google search for paczki in Kansas City. They had raspberry and custard filled options of paczki and I even called ahead to order one of each.

These rich doughnuts were deliciously chewy and generously filled with custard/raspberry preserves but they were a little heavy on the oil flavor. Fun fact: this was my first custard filled paczki in my seven years of paczki eating.

I've already started scoping out next year's paczki from Scratch Bakery, who distributes their baked goods to local grocery stores, coffee shops and restaurants around Kansas City.

February 26, 2019

Chocolate Chip Cookie Test No. 7-Serious Eats

I've decided that after 7 chocolate chip cookie recipe tests, this would be the last one (only because I set a deadline that the Oscars viewing party I threw would be when I would have the ultimate cookie taste testing). I saved what I hoped would be the best cookie for last: This Serious Eats chocolate cookie recipe has been on my radar for years but I never wanted to go through browning butter and waiting for the dough to rest to finally eat the cookies. Well, now that I've browned butter on several occasions and have waited for dough to rest, these steps don't seem too daunting anymore.
The Recipe: Serious Eats Food Lab's Chocolate Chip Cookies by Kenji Lopez-Alt, who exhaustively baked to find the perfect chewy chocolate chip cookie.
Recipe Highlights:
  • browned butter but then cooled it with an ice cube and refrigerated for 20-30 mins 
  • called for only baking soda and no fancy flour--just all-purpose flour
  • required chocolate that was chopped for more flavor
  • asked for dark brown sugar
  • dough should rest for 24-72 hours. i rested mine for 68 hours (had to go to work so couldn't wait the full 72)
  • topped with sea salt
Overall: At first bite, I knew these cookies were everything I wanted in a cookie: salty yet sweet with a deep, rich, nutty flavor and perfectly chewy. They were the only cookie that spread in the oven so they appeared thin but did not get crispy. These cookies had layers of flavor, which I suppose was exactly what I was looking for in this cookie baking quest--something more than the basic Nestle Toll House cookie. These were amazing! πŸͺπŸͺπŸͺπŸͺπŸͺ

Current rankings:
  1. Serious Eats Food Lab 
  2. BraveTart
  3. America's Test Kitchen
  4. Jacque Torres
  5. Cook's Illustrated
  6. Alton Brown
  7. NY Times Thick and Gooey

February 21, 2019

Chocolate Chip Cookie Test No. 6-Alton Brown

Alton Brown's chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe got a lot of love from The Kitchn this month in their cookie bake-off. This recipe is more traditional in the sense that it doesn't require an overnight resting period, brown butter, fancy chips or flaky sea salt. After winning the title "The Very Best Chocolate Chip Cookie," I knew I had to add this recipe into the mix.
The Recipe: Alton Brown's Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie
Recipe Highlights:
  • requires bread flour
  • calls for 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • first recipe i've tested that asked for the addition of whole milk (which replaces the extra egg white)
  • uses light brown sugar and only baking soda
  • butter is melted but not browned
  • refrigerated dough for one hour
  • mixed in Trader Joe's semi sweet chocolate chunks and leftover Guittard Baking Wafers
Overall: I sound like a broken record but I miss the brown butter and flaky sea salt flavor that I had from BraveTart's cookie back in test no. 3. I was telling Twin Sista everything has been downhill since then, which doesn't give these traditional cookies a fair chance with me. If you're looking for a good, standard cookie, these are your guy; just don't overbaked them---my first batch wasn't as tasty as my slightly underdone cookies, which had more flavor and chewiness. πŸͺπŸͺπŸͺ

February 19, 2019

Chocolate Chip Cookie Test No. 5-Cook's Illustrated

I used to think America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated recipes went hand-in-hand. After some googling, I've learned that America's Test Kitchen is the larger brand while Cook's Illustrated is a small subset of ATK. Thinking I made the ultimate, well-tested chocolate chip cookie when I made America's Test Kitchen's recipe, I didn't realize that there was a different but also beloved Cook's Illustrated cookie too. It's my sista Melissa's go-to favorite chocolate chip cookie and since I trust her tastebuds, I decided to include her favorite into my cookie testing. 
The Recipe: Cook's Illustrated Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe Highlights: 
  • uses melted butter (not browned) that is cooled until warm
  • baker can choose between light or dark brown sugar (I went with dark)
  • includes the 1 egg +1 egg yolk like the ATK recipe
  • only required baking soda
  • the recipe calls for creating a jagged edge to make for more attractive finished cookies. after adding in the chips, roll dough into balls, pull apart the dough and then have the ripped sides face up and swish the two sides together to put the cookie back together (it is illustrated in the Cook's Illustrated book and omitted from the linked recipe above)
Overall: This was a delightfully chewy cookie but it lacked the salty snap I came to crave after adding fleur de sel to several cookie batches. I was also missing the brown butter flavor from the ATK recipe. Definitely A+ for texture and a great cookie that comes together quickly without any frills. πŸͺπŸͺπŸͺ

I've devised a new cookie rating system just for my memory that is less extensive than my cupcake rating system: 

πŸͺyuck πŸͺπŸͺeh πŸͺπŸͺπŸͺgood πŸͺπŸͺπŸͺπŸͺgreat πŸͺπŸͺπŸͺπŸͺπŸͺamazing!