New Arrival: Cookies and Cream by Tessa Arias!

New Arrival: Cookies and Cream by Tessa Arias!

love books – I love the feeling of falling into a story, of becoming caught up in what happens to characters, of exploring a new world. Books are probably one of my favorite things ever.

So what’s better than a combination of two of my favorite pastimes, baking and reading?

Enter the cookbook!

Cookbooks are super-fun because not only do they inform one about baking and provide new recipes and flavor combinations for endless entertainment, but…THEY’RE BOOKS! And I love books. (I love books so much that it’s worth repeating.)

So when I was in my local library recently, I checked out Cookies and Cream by Tessa Arias; in fact, I made the Grasshopper Ice Cream Sandwiches from her book (see Adventures in Baking No. 16)! I had a magnificent time reading through all of her other recipes, ice-cream-sandwich-making strategies, and helpful tips. Since I liked it so much and definitely wanted to try more of her recipes, I ordered her cookbook!

There are many things I enjoy about this book. Firstly, it has pictures for nearly every ice cream sandwich, and I think pictures are a really important aspect of cookbooks. It always annoys me when I read a recipe and there’s no picture of the finished product – how am I supposed to know what it should look like? (The famous and familiar question “How brown is ‘golden-brown’?” is one that I, unfortunately, often find myself asking.)

However, Arias’ book has many positively stunning photos, which I appreciate. I also like how the baked goods aren’t perfect in those photos. I mean, the ice cream sandwiches all look beautiful, but not all of the edges on her sandwiches are magnificently smooth and not all of the cookies are absolutely identical. The pictures look real – as if a real, live home baker had actually made the sandwiches, and not some majestic being whose talent I can never hope to rival. This is comforting – it gives me hope that if, for some reason, I need to present my ice cream sandwiches for a party, I can create something that looks presentable, if not as beautiful as Arias’ sandwiches.

It also gave me hope when I first started reading that the recipes inside weren’t impossible.

Another feature in this book I enjoy that (I think) is important in recipe books: the expected yield. Each recipe has an expected yield, which is amazing. I’ve encountered books that don’t tell you how much the recipes make, or don’t give you accurate estimations of the yield, so accurate expected yields are a huge plus. They allow one to account for how much he or she actually wants to make, and then one can scale the recipe up or down as one pleases.

So expected yields are super-important to me, since I like math and I like knowing how much food I’m making.

Arias’ recipes are also clear, easy-to-follow, and fun to read! Overall, this is a great cookbook, which is why I got it.

But the best (and most underrated) feature of all?

The book is small. It’s physically the size of a normal book! Compare this to the massive cookbook tomes that one must heft around the kitchen. The (relatively) small size allows for easy transport and for cute appearance!

In summary, I am so excited to bake out of my new arrival to the Cookbook Bookshelf!


Baking Chronicle No. 19: Orange and White Chocolate Golden Bread Buns!

Baking Chronicle No. 19: Orange and White Chocolate Golden Bread Buns!

First, that’s way too long of a name for a dressed-up bread roll. I’ll come up with something better if I make it again.

Second, I made these yesterday because…I felt like it! The best reason to bake anything!

Basically, I remembered that people had paired orange and white chocolate together on The Great British Baking Show (specifically, I recalled Ruby’s peacock from Bread Week in Series 2), and I decided that I’d make an orange and white chocolate bread! Then, because I wanted to make smaller portions, I made rolls!

To begin, I made the Rich Golden Bread recipe from How to Bake Everything (with the added orange flavor guesstimated by yours truly) – I combined my flour, yeast, salt, sugar, eggs, orange zest, orange extract, cold butter, and warm milk to make a cohesive dough. Then I kneaded it for about 2 or 3 minutes, until it came together, and let it prove for 3 hours (two of which my dough spent in the refrigerator).

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My dough before the first prove

Next, I divided the dough into twelve roughly equal balls and let rise for another twenty minutes. In the twenty-minute gap, I melted my white chocolate and refrigerated it until it was cold but still in liquid form.

To finish shaping, I rolled my balls out into circles, dolloped some white chocolate in the middle, and folded the edges to the center and pinched the seam to form a roll!

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My shaped rolls

Finally, my bread moved onto its second prove (I let it rise for about 75 minutes, until it held my fingerprint when I poked it) and then I baked it after brushing each roll with an egg-white wash!

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My rolls just before I popped them in the oven!

(I used egg whites because I had leftover egg whites in my refrigerator and I really didn’t feel like making meringues.)

I baked them for approximately 25 minutes, until the crust was golden brown and the internal temperature of the rolls reached 210 degrees Fahrenheit (as specified by the recipe).

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The baked rolls

Then I free-styled an orange glaze using orange extract, milk, powdered sugar, and meringue powder; I spread it onto my rolls after they’d cooled for approximately 10 minutes.

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My orange glaze! Which, miraculously, dried into a hard-crack glaze – thanks, meringue powder!

At long last, I could try a roll! I tore one open and saw a beautiful crumb with flecks of orange and a large space where the white chocolate had melted into the bread. I didn’t mind, though – the white chocolate taste was still apparent, and so was the orange! The two flavors were subtle and mild, but delicious, and I definitely enjoyed eating my rolls!

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I tore open a roll and felt extremely pleased with the bake!
Adventures in Baking No. 18: Rye Rustic French Bread!

Adventures in Baking No. 18: Rye Rustic French Bread!

On Monday I decided to make the Rustic French Bread recipe from How to Bake Everything again, except this time I substituted 1/4 of the flour for dark rye flour, just to see what happened. I also accidentally added too much water and created a really sticky dough.

Basically, I mixed all of my ingredients together – flour, yeast, salt, and water – to form a ball. Then I kneaded it a bit by hand and let it prove for 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Next, I shaped my dough into a boule (can’t even begin to tell you how hard that was – my hands ended up covered in sticky dough scraps) and let it rise for another 40 minutes inside a colander (to keep its shape).

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My poor facsimile of a boule

After its rise, I attempted to slash the dough with a knife. However, that’s way harder than it sounds when the dough is sticking to the knife and preventing it from actually cutting the bread. I managed, though, to create three messy-looking lines in the top of my dough.

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My terrible slashes

Finally, I baked it for 40 minutes – except this time I used 2 cups of hot water to create the steam in my oven, which worked so much better than 1 cup that I’m never going back, regardless of what the recipe directs me to do. Suffice to say, the extra cup of water created a substantial amount of real steam, while using 1 cup created very little steam.

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My final product – the awesome bread!

When my bread emerged, it was beautiful. I mean, the outside wasn’t much of a looker, but the inside was magnificent – light and fluffy and rich and moist, with a pretty crumb and a wonderful color. The best part: it tasted heavenly. I loved it and I think I might make it weekly.

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Look at all the air holes! If only my English muffins could look like this!

I know my family agreed – my sister rated it an eleven out of ten!

Experiment: How Long Does It Take To Whip Cream By Hand?

Experiment: How Long Does It Take To Whip Cream By Hand?

To go with the mug cakes in my last post, Sophronia and I decided to make some whipped cream. Instead of using the stand mixer, though, she wanted to try whipping the heavy cream by hand.

I’ve never tried whipping cream by hand – or really whipping anything by hand, mainly because I always thought it would take a really long time (fifteen to twenty minutes, maybe?), and I am not that patient.

Sophronia is way more persistent and patient than I am, however, and she was extremely determined to prove me wrong (I’ll admit it: I didn’t think it would inflate). Out of curiosity, I started a timer to see how long it took to whip the cream by hand.

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The whipped cream at the beginning of the seven minutes. I forgot to take a picture of the finished product, mainly because we were too busy eating it!

After 6 minutes and 54 seconds, the cream was whipped. I was shocked, and Sophronia was triumphant. I tried some right out of the bowl (remember what I said about me being impatient?) and it was awful – it had a sour taste. Then we folded in some powdered sugar and it tasted amazing – moist and sweet!

Sophronia’s whipped cream totally saved the molten chocolate cakes, and she also established that heavy cream can be turned into whipped cream with only seven minutes of elbow grease! In short, the experiment was extremely successful and informative! Thanks, Sophronia!

Baking Chronicle No. 17: Molten Chocolate Cake

Baking Chronicle No. 17: Molten Chocolate Cake

On Sunday I had my friend (whose alias shall henceforth be Sophronia Snicket, per her request) over to watch movies and, of course, bake! For dessert, we decided to make molten chocolate cake from How to Bake Everything, since neither of us had ever had molten chocolate cake before. Unfortunately, our adventure didn’t go swimmingly.

The cake recipe required surprisingly little flour – it consisted mainly of eggs, butter, and sugar. First, we melted our unsweetened chocolate with the butter in a saucepan and whipped the eggs and sugar by hand in a bowl. Since the recipe called for dark chocolate, I added some extra sugar to compensate for the bitterness of the unsweetened chocolate. Then we just poured the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and added our flour and salt.

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The finished batter

I tasted the batter to see if it was sweet enough – it tasted a little bitter, but like a good dark chocolate. It also tasted a bit dry, but I figured that would just…bake off?

In hindsight, I should have added an extra tablespoon or two of butter.

Next, we poured the cakes into the ramekins and added a dash of mint extract to two out of four cakes (just because we like mint). Then we realized that we’d forgotten to grease the ramekins…and decided we’d eat our cakes in the ramekins! Instant mug cake improvisation!

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The cakes before baking

After baking the cakes for 6 minutes, they looked a little too wet, so I let them bake for another two minutes, after which they looked risen and…well, cake-y! Once the ramekins had cooled, we tried some cake.

The cake was dry and slightly bitter. I think I probably over-baked it by thirty seconds or so (I blame my oven timer, whose smallest increment is 60 seconds) and the cake definitely needed more butter and more sugar. Our dessert, however, was saved by Sophronia’s whipped cream experiment (see the next post!), which added sweetness and moisture to our unfortunately dry mug cakes.

I may try this recipe again with dark chocolate (and greased ramekins!) to see if the results differ – maybe I’ll also add a filling! Next time, I’ll also be wary of substituting unsweetened chocolate for dark chocolate!


Adventures in Baking No. 16: Grasshopper Ice Cream Sandwiches!

Adventures in Baking No. 16: Grasshopper Ice Cream Sandwiches!

Recently I borrowed the cookbook Cookies and Cream by Tessa Arias from my local library. It’s an ice cream sandwich cookbook, and since all of the recipes looked amazing, I decided to try making one!

I chose to bake Arias’ Grasshopper Ice Cream Sandwich recipe because “grasshopper” desserts are composed of chocolate and mint, or in this case, mint ice cream and chocolate cookies. My thought process: “Who doesn’t like mint ice cream and chocolate cookies?”

Side note: why is a green insect synonymous with the chocolate-mint flavor combination? I have absolutely no idea, so if anyone knows the answer, please comment; in the meantime, I’ll research it and hopefully update you later.

First, I made the base, or the custard, for my mint ice cream. I heated my milk, cream, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat until they steamed; then I whisked half (probably more like one-third) of the milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture in order to temper the eggs. (Tempering the eggs warms them slowly so they don’t scramble.) Next, I just cooked the custard until it coated the back of the spoon and my thermometer registered the base’s temperature as 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

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My finished custard

I immediately strained my custard into my pre-made ice-water bath (I was so proud of myself for preparing that ahead of time, regardless of the fact that the instructions listed it as the first step). Then I stirred the vanilla, mint, and food coloring into the base while it cooled. Once the custard reached room temperature, I refrigerated it for six hours or so before churning the ice cream.

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My ice cream at the beginning of its 30-minute churning session

Finally, I added chopped-up Junior Mints into the ice cream in the last five minutes of churning in the place of chocolate chips!

While the base was refrigerating, I busied myself by baking the chocolate sugar cookies that were the “sandwich” portion of the ice cream sandwich. These cookies were easy drop cookies; I basically made the dough, rolled it into balls, rolled the balls in sugar, and then pressed each cookie ball down with a glass (to make the cookies flat). Afterwards, I just baked the cookies and, once they were cool, froze them so that they held up when sandwiched with ice cream.

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My baked chocolate sugar cookies – you can see the indent from the bottom of the glass that I used to flatten them. Whoops!

After both the cookies and the ice cream had enough time to freeze, I made nine ice cream sandwiches by scooping ice cream onto a cookie and…pressing down with the other cookie! A simple yet effective technique!

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Before we scooped the ice cream and made the sandwiches, we laid out the plastic wrap and the sugar cookies to minimize the amount of time the ice cream spent out of the freezer

My sister and I also added chocolate chips to the edges of most of the sandwiches; however, some of them began to melt a little too quickly for our comfort and so some sandwiches went into the freezer without their mini chocolate chips.

When we finally tasted our sandwiches, they were delicious! The cookies were soft and almost cake-like in texture, with a wonderful melt-in-the-mouth feel and a good chocolate flavor. The ice cream was tasty, creamy, and definitely minty.

Therein lies, sadly, my one issue with this recipe: it tasted just a little too minty. The recipe called for 1 teaspoon of pure peppermint (in my case, pure mint) extract, which I thought sounded like a large amount. I generally add only half a teaspoon to most baked goods because of various toothpaste-mint incidents (stories for another time that, suffice to say, have made me wary of adding large amounts of mint extract, lest my baked goods taste like toothpaste). Unfortunately, my instincts here were right – 1 teaspoon was definitely too much. The mint taste was just a touch too strong and had a hint of artificiality. This recipe was definitely tasty enough to make again, however, and so the next time I make it I think I’ll infuse the cream with fresh mint to avoid an artificial taste. I wholeheartedly recommend this cookbook and this recipe though – Tessa Arias has created some amazing flavor combinations!


Baking Chronicle No. 15: Cherry Brownies!

Baking Chronicle No. 15: Cherry Brownies!

There’s a restaurant in my town that makes these amazing blackberry brownies – they’re dense, chocolate-y brownies with blackberry jam baked into the top in a beautiful, marbled pattern. I love these brownies, and so when the whim to make jam struck me, I also decided to make brownies and swirl the jam onto them in the same style as the restaurant.

I was inspired to make these with a twist (the cherry jam) because…we had frozen cherries! I’d like to say that I was inspired by summer flavors or the Bake From Scratch magazine that I’ve been reading or the cherries in my refrigerator, but the truth is that the jam flavor was need-based. We had frozen cherries, and so I used the frozen cherries.

First, I thawed my frozen fruit for about 40 minutes before pouring the cherries into a saucepan and cooking for one minute. Then, as instructed by the recipe in How to Bake Everything, I added my 1/4 cup of sugar and my 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and turned up the heat until my mixture bubbled. Then I just stirred occasionally while cooking my English muffins.

Eventually I scraped the back of my wooden spoon with a fork, and a bit of the bright red liquid came off and held together with a jam-like texture. So I took the pan off the heat and let it cool, and then I poured my “jam” into a glass bowl to keep cooling.

There was only one problem: my jam consisted of liquid and cooked, dehydrated cherries. It seemed that I hadn’t chopped my cherries small enough, and so the fruit hadn’t cooked into a mushy, jam-like mass (at least, I think that’s what’s supposed to happen).

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My jam before its magical journey to the mystical blender

I had one last-ditch effort up my sleeve, however: the blender! After the mixture had cooled, I poured it into the blender and hit the pulse setting, which (surprisingly) worked! I achieved a jammy texture and a sour cherry flavor!

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After blender-therapy, my jam had a fabulous texture!

Next, I made my favorite brownie recipe from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion and added chocolate chips and white chocolate chips before baking for 10 minutes. Then I spread my jam on top and baked for another 25 minutes, until the brownies were done.

The final result was delicious. The sour jam lifted up the intense chocolate flavor of the brownies, creating a summery and sinful treat! I will definitely make this copy-cat recipe again – but hopefully with a different flavor of jam, just to see what happens! Please feel free to post jam flavor suggestions for next time!