Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Toasted Coconut Shortbread Cookies

Toasted Coconut Shortbread Cookies
Two things have driven me to make these cookies today: 1. I don't have a real job (I'm a substitute teacher for this year--hopefully just this year) and 2. We are moving to a new house in 9 days. This here is probably stress baking.
I've packed up most of my kitchen, but of course I've left out many of my baking ingredients. I had everything I needed for these except for my rolling pin. Guess that's in a box somewhere. So I had to use parchment paper and a quarter sheet pan to press the dough out, and I have to say, I think it was a winning technique.
These cookies are winners too: crisp, light, buttery, just sweet enough, and with a shadow of coconut flavor. If you want more of a punch you in the face coconut experience, perhaps you could add a dash of coconut extract.
For me, these are just what I was shooting for. Simple and delicious coconut shortbread.

Toasted Coconut Shortbread Cookies
     --adapted from Simple Family Finance

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup toasted coconut
  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tablespoons butter (salted), cold and cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil *
  • about 2 tablespoons flour + 2 tablespoons sugar mixed together for dusting
Instructions:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix the toasted coconut, flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Add the cut up butter and coconut oil, and cut it in with a pastry blender. Keep cutting the butter in until the butter and dry ingredients become a dough and the pastry blender seems to be cutting it into slices.
  • Dust a clean work surface with half the sugar and flour mixture. Turn dough out onto work surface and flatten roughly into a rectangle shape. Sprinkle with more flour/sugar mixture. Roll dough to about 1/4 inch thickness, trying to maintain a rectangular shape as much as possible. 
  • Cut with a pizza or fluted rotary cutter into about 1 1/2 inch square pieces (or smaller, if you'd like). You'll have scraps left at the end that you will want to bake as well.
  • Place on prepared baking sheet about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. (*At this point, you can also place unbaked cut dough on a wax paper lined sheet and freeze. Place frozen dough pieces in a zip top freezer bag and store in freezer until ready to bake.)
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes, or until browned on the edges.
  • Allow to cool on baking sheet about 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  • Store in an airtight container.
*If you don't have coconut oil, you can just use all butter (1 cup). I was hoping for more coconut flavor from the coconut oil, but I didn't want to alter the texture of the shortbread by adding too much coconut oil.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies












Friday, September 2, 2016

Sourdough English Muffins

 
Toasted and buttered homemade Sourdough English Muffin


What do you do when you don't have a job but you do have live sourdough starter in your refrigerator? You look up sourdough recipes on the internet and try them out--that's what you do. This is another English Muffin recipe from my favorite: King Arthur Flour.
I can tell you that these are easy and tasty. I made them square because I think it's a pain having to cut things in circles and then deal with the scraps. Square things taste just as delicious as round ones do. These turned out light and fluffy, with a slight chew when toasted, and just barely tasting of sourdough. I'd still like to figure out how to make English muffins with the Thomas' nooks and crannies, but for now, these will do. Yep. These will do.

Sourdough English Muffins
    --adapted from KingArthurFlour.com


Ingredients:
Instructions:
In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients (using only 3 cups of the flour at first) except the cornmeal. Turn the mixed dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough until springy, soft, and smooth, using only as much of the additional 1/2 cup of flour to keep the dough from sticking.
Place the kneaded dough back into the bowl and cover. Allow to rise for about 1 1/2 hours or until puffed and nearly doubled.
Line a baking sheet with parchment and sprinkle with a light coating of cornmeal. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Stretch, push, roll it to a rough rectangle shape about 1/2 inch thick. Trim about 1/2 inch off each side and cut into 12 pieces. Place the square pieces of dough onto the prepared baking sheet and cover with a clean dish towel. Allow to rise for about 1 hour. (You can also let the scraps rise and bake them off or cook them in the pan.)
Line another baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. When muffins have risen, place as many as you can comfortably fit with some space between on the skillet. (If they touch, they will stick.)
When muffins are browned on one side (about 4-5 minutes), carefully turn each one over with a metal spatula. Cook for about 4-5 more minutes. When muffins are browned to your liking on each side, place on the other parchment lined baking sheet and put in the oven for about 6-10 minutes, or until you are sure the inside is cooked through. When done, remove with a spatula to a cooling rack.
Repeat with remaining muffins.
When muffins are completely cool, you can slice or split with a fork, toast, butter, and enjoy.

Makes 12 English muffins




















Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Crisp Cheese Crackers



Homemade Crispy Cheesy Cheese Crackers

It's one of those days where I could say a lot of different things to introduce these tasty little treats, but none of them strikes me as interesting enough to put into words. Therefore, I'll just tell you a little bit about the crackers and be done. I'm sure you won't mind.
These crackers are very cheesy, so I suggest using a cheese that you really enjoy eating--I used the Target Archer Farms Sharp White Cheddar and Tillamook Medium Cheddar cheeses and wow, their awesome flavors really came out. At first I didn't bake the first pan long enough and the crackers were soft--still delicious, but not crisp like I wanted. 
Once I put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so, they were perfectly puffy, salty and crispy. I'd say they were "light" but there was too much butter for that. 
Next time I think I'll use half the butter and see if they turn out a little less greasy--not that I minded so much with this batch, but, well, you know there's too much butter when you have little droplets of grease on your parchment after you've removed the crackers. Just saying.
These are dangerously easy, so be forewarned--you're going to want to make them again. Be sure to have a plan about sharing or storing so you don't end up making yourself sick. I am just this side of that and I'm hoping that I can show restraint until I take these little treasures to my friends this afternoon.
So...cheese crackers. They're fabulous. Go try them.

Crisp Cheese Crackers
     --Adapted from homegrownandhealthy.com

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (I used 4 oz. Archer Farms Sharp White Cheddar & 4 oz. Tillamook Medium Cheddar)
  • 1 tablespoon sourdough starter (optional, but use 1 more tablespoon water if omitting)
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes and frozen
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • Salt to taste, if desired
Instructions:
  • Add flour, cheese, and sourdough starter to the bowl of a food processor. Process ingredients until sandy in appearance.
  • Add the frozen butter and process until butter is incorporated. Then pulse in the water and pulse more until the dough forms a somewhat cohesive mass.
  • Place dough on a sheet of plastic wrap and form into a square/rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line two pans with parchment paper.
  • When dough is chilled, cut in half and work with one half of the dough at a time. Roll out half the dough on a lightly floured surface (I also rolled between two sheets of wax paper.)
  • Roll dough to about 1/16 inch thickness (very thin). Then cut into 1 1/2 to 2 square inches and carefully transfer to one of the parchment lined baking sheets.
  • Spray crackers with a fine mist of water from a water bottle and sprinkle with salt, if desired.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 12-14 minutes, or until nicely browned. (If they don't bake long enough they'll be soft, not crisp.)
  • Remove from oven and to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with other half of dough.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 100 crackers
















Sunday, August 28, 2016

Coconut Pecan Cookies

Sweet chewy Coconut Pecan Cookies

I don't think words can do justice to how tasty these cookies are. Just imagine a perfect party of butter, brown sugar, coconut, and pecans nestled all cozy inside a cookie. It's the sweet taste of toffee with the chew of a soft cookie and the perfect texture of toasted pecans and coconut. Mmm...
These awesome cookies are a slight modification of the Coconutty Cookies with Toffee Bits that I already love. I didn't feel like going out and spending money on macadamia nuts and almonds today, though; plus I am out of Crisco. So this is what I did, and they're so good that they deserve their own post.

If these sound good to you, you'll love them for sure. And if you share them with others, I'm pretty sure that they will love them too. It's just one of those cookies, you know?

Coconut Pecan Cookies

Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup organic virgin coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour 
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 cups chopped lightly toasted pecans
  • 1 cup toffee bits (use Heath Toffee bits or recipe below)
Instructions
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  Cream butter, coconut oil and sugars.  Beat in baking soda and salt.  Beat in vanilla extract and eggs.  
3.  Mix in flour just until blended. Then stir in coconut, nuts and toffee bits.
4.  Scoop by tablespoons onto parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving two inches between cookies. 
5.  Bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes, or until cookies are puffed and start to brown around the edges.
6.  Allow to cool on pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Note: I like to keep my cookie dough in the fridge, or make and freeze dough balls. This dough does great with refrigeration or freezing. If you're not going to bake it all of within about three days, I recommend freezing the dough in pre-portioned dough balls.

Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch diameter cookies


I just happened to have some homemade vanilla ice cream on hand...

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Monster Cookies

Monster Cookies: Peanut Buttery Oaty goodness

You know, every time I've eaten a monster cookie, I've loved it. Just loved it. But I've never ever thought to make them myself. I can't say why. Just haven't.

I saw a pin of these cookies on Pinterest. Center Cut Cook made them jumbo sized and they looked so attractive. I pinned the pic realizing I'd likely never make them--as I will never attempt even a fraction of the recipes I've pinned.
Lucky for me, though, my husband asked me to bake something as a little thank you for the custodians at his school where he's a VP. I'm hoping they like these.
The cookies are soft and chewy, full of peanut butter flavor and nice oatmeal cookie chew. The chocolate chips and M&Ms add sweetness as well as fabulous chocolate flavor. A very satisfying cookie for sure.
Note: I used two types of peanut butter, but you can just use chunky or smooth--whatever you have on hand. Plus, I had various sizes of M&Ms after my son's birthday, so I mixed it up with the different sizes--totally unnecessary, but fun.

Monster Cookies   
--Adapted from CenterCutCook.com

Ingredients:
  • 4 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup chunky peanut butter (I used Skippy Natural Super Chunk)
  • 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter (I used Skippy Natural Creamy)
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini M&M candies
  • 1/4 cup regular M&M candies
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Nestle Dark Chocolate Morsels)
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Measure out the oats and baking soda and place in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine/cream together the peanut butters, butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat to combine.
Add the oats & baking soda mixture and stir to completely incorporate the oats. Add the M&Ms and the chocolate chips and stir by hand to evenly distribute the M&Ms and chocolate chips.
Using a medium size cookie scoop (about 1 1/2 tablespoons), scoop balls of cookie dough onto one of the parchment lined cookie sheets, spacing cookies about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. Gently smoosh each dough ball to about 1/2 inch thickness.
Bake one pan at a time for 8-10 minutes. While one pan bakes, fill the next cookie sheet with dough balls.
When cookies are puffed and start to brown a little on the edges, they are done. Remove from the oven and allow cookies to cool on the pan for 2-3 minutes before removing with a spatula to a wire rack to cool completely.
Store cookies in an airtight container.

Makes about 6 dozen 3- inch cookies









Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Iowa State Fair Food Competition is Dead to Me

The actual French batard, a couple weeks later with the addition of googly eyes, of course. I have named him Francois.

This past fall, I learned how to make a perfect French bread batard at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont. So, although I didn't really express it out loud to anyone, I was pretty psyched to enter the King Arthur Flour Yeast Bread competition this year at the Iowa State Fair.
I mean, I have spent the last two months making lots and lots of loaves of French bread, trying out different methods, baker's lames and sourdough starter to get it just right in flavor, texture, and appearance. I've made French bread at least twice a week for the last couple of months. Seriously. Lots of bread. I keep finding more demi-baguettes tucked away into my two freezers.
So, when I got to the fair after only 2 1/2 hours of sleep and saw that there were only three entries in the French Bread class at the fair, I thought, "Well, I'll at least get a third place ribbon." To tell the truth, though, I thought I had the blue ribbon in the bag and was really hoping to place for the overall bread, which would have given me a King Arthur Flour gift card to spend. I really thought I was a contender.
I'm going to cut to the chase here: my French bread batard didn't even get a 3rd place ribbon. "How is that even possible, Kelly? I thought you said that there were only three entries." I did say that.
Here's the thing with the judging of breads at the Iowa State Fair: If the judge believes that none of the entries deserves first place, they won't award it. Even if there's just one entry in a class, a judge might give it second place, or third place, or NO place at all. I am telling you the truth. Those "seasoned" judges are tough
This seasoned toughness has frustrated and even angered me in the past (see White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cinnamon Roll post). But nothing, and I mean NOTHING could have prepared me for what happened this year. 
When you go to the Iowa State Fair Food Competition in the Elwell Family Food Center, you'll see the judging rooms set up with tables in the front where the judges and their scribes sit, and then there are the chairs, facing the judges' table, for the audience consisting of the entrants, their supporters, and other interested folks.
I was sitting in the front row, and watched intently as the third judge from the left started cutting into the French breads. I saw her taste the first one, make some comments that her scribe wrote down, and then I saw her cut into the next loaf. She made more comments, and then she cut into my loaf last, scrunched up her nose, made some comments, scrunched her nose some more as she examined the interior and exterior of my loaf, made more comments, and then the scribe started the wrap-up procedures and the judge asked for the microphone.
My mind was whirring, and my heart was thumping, as I listened to her judgment. Did I look away when she tasted the other breads? Is she really finished? "There were three entries in the French bread class, and I'm only awarding first place to ____."
What the...?
She didn't even TASTE the other two loaves! She awarded a blue ribbon to a loaf she didn't even taste, and she didn't place my loaf that she didn't taste either. Oh. My. Gosh.
What just happened?
I am so DONE with this competition. I decided then and there. Completely. DONE. 
With my heart pumping hard, I walked across the front, over to my loaf on the reject table at the side, and I picked up the two pieces of my loaf to confirm that the judge had not tasted any of it (a huge no-no in food competition--you're supposed to wait to pick up your entry in the back after the tags have been processed). 
Then I walked straight back to the food competition superintendent and lodged my complaint/accusation. 
All of the details at this point just don't matter. We looked at the loaf, I pointed out the judge to the superintendent, we looked at the score card to confirm that my entry was actually judged (as opposed to disqualified for some reason)--and what do you know! I got 40 out of 50 points for flavor! Amazing. 
At this point I was completely disillusioned and disgusted. I went home without really knowing if they were going to do anything about it, but only partially caring because I had already decided that I was done with that farcical food competition. Forever.
Did I mention that I'd only gotten 2 1/2 hours of sleep the night before?
Of course, my curiosity got the better of me, and after a long nap at home, and a yummy dinner with my family at Zombie Burger, I had my husband drop me off at the fair so I could see how my other four entries did that day. 
All four of those entries placed: 2 first place and 2 second place. 
Armed with this satisfaction, I found the assistant to the superintendent, and chatted with her about what had gone down earlier in the day.
I had a chance to explain my frustration some more, as well as my realization that a bread competition is really not that big of a deal in the light of real life. First-world problem. I get that. 
I also reiterated, though, that I cannot compete any longer because each time I do, I risk this frustration and disappointment. I take the competition too seriously. I just do.
Now, you may be wondering, as I had been, if someone actually confronted the judge with my accusation. The assistant superintendent said that the judge had been spoken to, and the judge said that she did taste the entries. I maintain that she is lying through her teeth. Whatever. She'll still be a judge, and I will not be competing.
Many people I've talked to have said that I need to write the Des Moines Register about this, or dust myself off and continue competing. I will do neither. Despite that ridiculous judge (and some other ridiculous judges, by the way), the superintendent of the Food Competition and her team really do an amazing job at organizing and pulling off what is purportedly the largest food competition anywhere. It truly is a well-oiled machine, and lots of folks really do enjoy competing in that environment.
It really is a shame, though, that judges like the one I got are allowed to degrade the integrity and legitimacy of the competition. Other home bakers may have the emotional maturity and strength to not get all wrapped up in the drama and are able to take the injustice and disappointment in stride, but I recognize my own limitations, and am choosing to stay away.
Thanks for listening.



My five entries for the day
I got a ride from the parking lot at the VFW in this awesome truck because I brought the guys some rolls.
The three French bread entries. Mine is top left. The top right got first place.
The judge said she tasted a little bit of this bread. Can you tell where she took a piece? I can't either.


Notice that 50% of the points are for "Flavor."

First place in the Cinnamon Raisin class (Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough Bread)

First place in the Cinnamon Roll (with nuts) class (Croissant Caramel Sticky Buns)

Second place in the Cinnamon Roll class (Croissant Cinnamon Rolls)

Second place in the Non-Sweet Yeast Roll Other Than Named class (Pretzel Rolls)

First place in the Friends class. Kara and Christie brought me flowers and adult beverages to cheer me up.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Gluten Free Almond Flour Brownies

Rich and decadent Gluten Free Almond Flour Brownies.



These brownies were intended for my husband's boss who is supposedly going gluten-free. I say "supposedly" because even though I made these absolutely delicious gltuen-free brownies, he still ate several bites of the Oatmeal Cake I also made, which, as I reminded him, was not at all gluten-free. Of course, that oatmeal cake is something special. Perhaps I will try to make that with almond flour sometime...
This post is about brownies, though, and man, are these some GREAT brownies--so great, in fact, that I may just start making these brownies instead of my usual ones. They've got less butter, more protein, and they're super moist and delicious. You can't even tell that they're made with almond flour instead of wheat flour. Really.
The brownies taste of deep, rich chocolate. They are moist and chewy, even two days after baking, and if you know me at all, you know that for me to eat a baked product even one day after baking is pretty surprising. 
I added nuts to these because I enjoy nutted brownies, but you can definitely leave them off. You can also leave off the frosting if it's not your thing. Just know, that if you're needing some gluten-free brownies, you've found the recipe.
Enjoy.


Gluten Free Almond Flour Brownies
     --Adapted from KingArthurFlour.com

Ingredients:
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • 1 recipe Cocoa Frosting (recipe below)
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter an 8" square brownie pan (I like to line mine with parchment first and then butter a little bit for flavor).
In a medium saucepan over medium low heat, melt butter and add sugar and salt. Stir until mixture is hot--sugar probably won't melt all the way, but KAF included this step to help melt the sugar in the brownies to produce a glossy top.
Place butter/sugar mixture in a large heat-proof bowl and allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes.   
Add vanilla and cocoa powder to the sugar butter, and mix thoroughly.
Add eggs and mix until smooth and shiny.
Add almond flour and baking powder and stir to combine.
Spread batter evenly into the prepared pan, sprinkle nuts on top, if desired, and then bake at 350 degrees for 33-38 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few crumbs hanging on. (Note, mine got really puffy, and then upon cooling, the center sank a bit. Not sure if this is to be expected. So the center pieces are fudgier than the edges.)
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before attempting to frost.
Frost brownies when cool and cut into 16 or 25 pieces.   
Makes 16-25 brownies  
 
Cocoa Frosting


Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons half and half 
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons ground cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut up 
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Instructions:
In 2-quart heavy saucepan, heat half and half with butter, stirring until blended. Add cocoa and sugar, mixing with wire whip until smooth. Heat on medium-low until mixture is thick and shiny and runs off the spoon like syrup and the first bubble appears on the surface (160°F). Do not boil or overcook frosting. Cool 5 minutes, add vanilla. Place pan of frosting in a bowl of ice and water (or snow in the winter). Beat slowly with spoon until frosting holds shape. Frost cake. Refrigerate to set frosting. Makes frosting for and 8-inch layer cake.

Almond Flour Brownies before frosting. I like to do nuts on only part of the batch. Some people like nuts, some don't.
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