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Black and White Cookies & ALS Awareness

  I come to you today with cookies the size of your face and some disease awareness.

  In the midst of all these ice buckets and facebook videos, it's easy to lose track of what we're actually doing it all for.  ALS is a crippling and totally unfair disease, and this tearjerker video reminds us of that.

  Black and White Cookies have little to do with the disease itself, but they're a lovely blank canvas and just danged delicious.

  I'd always heard about these guys, but it wasn't until I was browsing a pastry case and finally bought one that I realized what all the hype was about.  These cookies have the tiniest hint of lemon, are glazed with half vanilla and half chocolate, and are more on the cake-y side of the spectrum.  They're just a dream come true, New York done good with these suckers.

  Aaaand you can make them super big, wrap 'em up, and easily nibble on one over a couple of days.  Or consume 3 in one sitting, totally your call.  In the midst of packing up my life yet again for the impending 24-hour roadtrip back home, these are completely necessary.

  Seriously one of my favorite desserts, I can't explain it.  Actually, I probably can and kind of already did, but I am so creatively brain dead today it ain't even real.  So make 'em, eat 'em, and dump ice buckets on your head and/or donate to a really worthy cause.  Because some people aren't blessed with non-deteriorating motor neurons,  I think the least we can do is make it known so that the research to cure it can happen.

  Happay weekend!

Black and White Cookies
Yield: about 18-24 cookies, depending on how large you make them

Ingredients for the cookies:
  • 4 cups (16 oz.) cake flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1¾ cups (12¼ oz.) sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 cup milk

Ingredients for the glaze:
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 5 cups (20 oz.) confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Milk, as needed

To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 375˚ F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk to combine, and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 30 seconds.  Add in the sugar gradually, increasing the speed to medium-high and beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Blend in the eggs, vanilla, and lemon extract at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds.  With the mixer on low speed, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, alternately add the flour mixture in four additions and the milk in 3 additions just until combined.

Using a ¼-cup measuring cup and a spoon, place six ¼-cup mounds of dough a generous 2 inches apart on each baking sheet.  (The “dough” will seem more like cake batter, and you will probably think you went wrong somewhere.  Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be thin.)  With moistened fingers, gently press each mound of dough into a disk 2½ inches wide and ¾ inch thick.  Bake until the centers of the cookies are firm and the edges are just beginning to brown, about 20 minutes, rotating the baking pans halfway through the baking time.  Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 2 minutes.  Use a wide spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.  Let cookies cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.  Remove from the heat and set aside.  In a medium saucepan, combine the corn syrup and water and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until combined.  Transfer ¾ cup of the vanilla icing to the bowl with the melted chocolate and stir to combine.  If the chocolate glaze is still pretty thick, whisk in milk a teaspoon at a time until it looks more like the consistency of the vanilla glaze.

To glaze the cookies, place the cookies on wire racks set over waxed paper or foil.  Use a small offset spatula to spread about 2 tablespoons of the vanilla icing on half the flat side (bottom) of each cookie.  Tilt the cookie and run the spatula around the edge to scrape off excess icing.  Allow to harden slightly, about 15 minutes.  If the icing begins to thicken, stir in milk 1 teaspoon at a time as needed.  Using the offset spatula, spread the chocolate icing over the other half of each cookie, scraping away excess icing from the edge.  Allow the glaze to set at least 1 hour before serving.  The cookies can be stored in an airtight container layered between sheets of parchment paper for up to 3 days.

Sources: slightly adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from Baking Illustrated


Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pistachio Muffins

  "You're a very unpredictable person, Ello."

  I've had two months of unemployment, pool time, shopping, aimless wandering, dead end interviews, and Netflix.  And then I decided that maybe this isn't the place for me long-term, not just yet.  And there it is, I'm headed back to good ol' Wisco, where at least there's a job on the horizon and some school potential.  After that, who knows?  But at least I'll be not knowing with a whole lot of other people just as lost as I am, and my family nearby.  And after two months of well-meaning Zonies, my sweet Aunt, and two little dogs, I'm pretty dang ready for all that again.

  I kind of like that, unpredictable.  Makes me feel like I can do just about anything if I really wanted to.  And no matter where that ends up taking me, at least I can say I did what I really felt was best.  And just maybe all these little and not-so-little decisions/moves will build me up into a well-lived person.  Because I'm figuring out that growth isn't easy, and absolutely does not happen the way you think it would.  And I'm beginning to be ok with that, ok with the idea that sometimes you do need to be knocked out of your comfort zone a few (hundred) times.

  And if that means locking my keys in my car at gas stations, spending hours sprawled on the floor of an empty apartment wondering about life, getting some killer sunburns, bashing up my skin trying to climb a danged tree in a public park, sweating beyond reason in ridiculous heat, having a social life in the negatives, moving back home with my tail between my legs, or just plain ol' trying pistachios and pumpkin together, then so fricken be it.

  And in publishing this post, I have joined the throng of bloggers preemptively posting pumpkin recipes in August.  It's happening.  I didn't even mean for it to happen.  One day I was eating ice cream and the next I wanted a pumpkin cream cheese muffin like my life depended on it.  The Autumn itch came and it came hard.

  I wasn't the world's biggest pumpkin fan before I started food blogging, but somehow that sneaky little orange thing has snuck into my good graces.  I'm craving it now goshdangit when did this happen?

  But what's done is done.  One of the treats that helped along with this conversion is the infamous pumpkin cream cheese combo, specifically this muffin recipe from the awesomesauce site of Annie's Eats.  Back in the day this woman could've posted horse brain porridge and I probably would've tried making it.  I followed her site religiously starting at something like 16, and I got the thrill of my life when she sincerely thanked me for a comment.  I realize now that it's ladies like her that I went through my fan craze-dom with.  While most girls were arguing over Team Edward/Jacob and stalking the Jonas Brothers, I was posting daily gush-y comments and writing innocuous but perhaps over-the-top emails to some of my favorite food bloggers.  And while that's now remarkably embarrassing, Annie is still great, and to this day I know exactly where to go when I need a reliable recipe and dinner ideas.

  These muffins stuck in my memory because they did not stay in my fridge for very long.  That's a mark of a good recipe.

  My only tiny stitch with pumpkin is that sometimes it needs a bit of texture.  It makes things really moist and cake-y and that's beautiful, but I like a little somethin' extra.  Enter pistachios.  Trader Joe's saved me the sore fingertips with their pre-shelled pistachios, so I just picked up a few other ingredients and went to town.  Er...back to the kitchen, to make muffins.

  Words are weird.

  Be ye warned that you should probably assemble the cream cheese log the night before you plan to make these, it needs to be pretty sufficiently chilled to hold up in the oven.  Also, apparently these are a Starbucks knockoff?  I don't browse their treats much when I'm there so I'm not sure, but hey!  DIY, there ya go.

  These are the kind of breakfast treats that aren't so much muffins as they are outside-in cupcakes.  We have a spiced-up nutty pumpkin batter housing a circle of cream cheese/powdered sugar, which is then topped with a delightful streusel and more pistachios.

  And it so works.

  After indulging myself with thirds during an Ugly Betty binge (I don't even know), my Aunt tried one.  She just sighed and said, "Will you just open your own bakery already?"

  So I'd better get on that, I guess.  An unpredictable bakery, where you never know what you're going to get because you don't know what idea the baker felt like making a reality that day.

  That's me.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pistachio Muffins
Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients for the filling:
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Ingredients for the muffins:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

Ingredients for the topping:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • Pistachios for topping

To prepare the filling, combine the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl and mix well until blended and smooth.  Transfer the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap, top with another piece of plastic wrap and use that to shape it into a log about 1½-inches in diameter. Smooth the plastic wrap tightly around the log and reinforce with a piece of foil.  Transfer to the freezer and chill until at least slightly firm, at least 2 hours (I highly recommend leaving it overnight for best results).

To make the muffins, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line a muffin pan with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking soda.  In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree, and oil.  Mix on medium-low speed until blended.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until it's almost incorporated.  Remove bowl from mixer and fold in the pistachios.

To make the topping, combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl; whisk to blend.  Add in the butter pieces and cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender, two forks, or quick fingers until the mixture is coarse and crumbly.  Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use.

To assemble the muffins, fill each muffin well with a small amount of batter, just enough to cover the bottom of the liner (1-2 tablespoons).  Slice the log of cream cheese filling into 12 equal pieces.  Place a slice of the cream cheese mixture into each muffin well.  Divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, placing on top of the cream cheese to cover completely.  Distribute the topping mixture over each of the muffin wells, and press pistachios on top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the muffin part comes out clean.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving.

Sources: adapted from Annie's Eats, who adapted it from BakeSpace


Classic Tiramisu

  It was only a matter of time before the real deal made it to my blog.  I harped on about tiramisu last year when I made these delightful little sandwiches, I've spent hours wrestling mascarpone to make a cupcake version, I've struggled with chocolate to make the perfect curl, piped ladyfingers, tried some crazy layering things, and eaten this dessert every time I'm at a good Italian restaurant.

  Then I found this recipe on Use Real Butter, and it reminded me that I've never actually made forreal tiramisu.  I've never gone out hunting for the perfectly crisp ladyfinger, good coffee, or really tried my hand at the whipped mascarpone filling.  What the heck?  That definitely needed to be fixed.

  And so, today I am all about Tiramisu.  No deep ramblings, no homesickness, just straight up food.  And did it ever feel good to dive right in, dragging out my Aunt's old Kitchenaid and everything.

  Let's get to it.  After running through this with a hella good playlist going on a solitary Friday evening, I made this my weekend lunch and while it was delicious, my brain was instantly calculating where I could've done a little better.  Because that's just how my head works when I eat food.  And since I've had the best Tiramisu in the history of ever at Vin Santo (seriously, get over there if you're ever in Middleton, WI.  Everything is delicious.), all other forms have quite a taste to live up to.

  But this guy is classic, and while I'll certainly be tweaking and trying new recipes down the road, this is totally worthy of documenting.

  I ran around Scottsdale yesterday to hunt down some good ladyfingers.  I'd picked up some essentials at Safeway and stopped by their bakery.  I checked out their soft, squishy, plastic-wrapped ladyfingers and just decided that it wasn't going to cut it.  I literally entered "Italian" into my GPS and found a grocery store/deli just down the freeway.  Worth it, my friends.  These are crisp, sweet, and delightful little cookies that were entirely worth the 20-minute impromptu drive (with mascarpone and heavy whipping cream in my very hot car...).  DeFalco's, in case you're in the area.  I'm going back sometime because whatever they were serving smelled hella good.  Italy is just following me around lately, and I'm really quite alright with that.

  The egg yolk/Kahlua mixture was a cinch, but you should really whisk it constantly and not let your water boil.  And if you have a bigger bowl, use that.  I had to take the perfect picture for you guys so I think my eggs got a little cooked, but no harm done!  Whisk yours constantly for about 6 minutes and it should get light and fluffy and leave a ribbon when you lift your whisk (i.e. not just dribble).

  Ah yes, the soaking of the ladyfingers.  I think I overdid it, even though tiramisu is supposed to be a bit on the spongy side I wanted to try and retain some of the crispness of the cookies.  But these cookies soak up espresso like nobody's business.  All that's required is the briefest of dips, and I think next time instead of submerging the whole cookie I'll only do the bottoms.  You are absolutely welcome to break your cookies as needed to fit whatever pan you use, that's the beauty of this dessert.  I'm also told that if you use the softer, spongier cookies, layer them first as desired and then pour just enough espresso over them to get them to soak it up, because they are so much softer that they'd likely fall apart upon submerging in the actual liquid.  That's why I like a crisper ladyfinger, easier to handle.

  And, oof, the filling is rich, man.  So good though.  And if you plan on piping the top layer, only use about 1/4 of your whipped mixture to layer the middle because piping takes a lot more than you'd think.  As in, I ran out when I was aaaalmost finished piping and ended up making some whipped cream to finish it off.  Dust heavily with cocoa powder and no one will ever know, tiramisu is very forgiving.

  Also, the recipe below is for a three-layer, in an 8x8-inch pan.  I used this casserole dish thing and found that it just wasn't going to fit three layers of ladyfingers, but adapt with whatever pan you're using and just do as you will, because again, forgiving.  And leftover lady fingers to snack on is in no way, shape, or form a bad thing.

  The curls are optional, but I think they add just the right amount of elegance.  I used SprinkleBakes method, she has a video on it here.  But let me tell you, Arizona kitchens are not conducive to keeping chocolate at just the right temp.  I kept having to stick it in the freezer for a couple minutes at a time, letting it sit briefly to warm, then work like mad to get as many curls as I could before it got too soft again.  The things I do...

  Taking pictures for you also took up valuable chocolate cooling time, so you're welcome.  I'm dedicated, yo.

  I don't know if it was the 15 minutes of photo taking or what, but I think this slices a bit cleaner when it's just out of the fridge, so excuse my shmeary mess.  Less-soggy ladyfingers would probably also help.  However, if it's super clean-cut, it's just not that authentic.  I was going for rustic, obviously.

  Sweet beauty.

  All in all, this dessert is worth every effort, which in effect isn't much at all.  It's a not-too-sweet, no-bake dessert that couldn't be prettier if it tried.  I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and if you're put off by the coffee, don't be.  I don't like coffee and I gobble this stuff down like nothin'.  It's not that heavily apparent, just a nice complement.  And I do believe it's worth waiting overnight for, I'm all about flavor melding and tiramisu is big on that, there's a lot going on in there.

  Weekend project?  Do it.

Classic Tiramisu
Yield: one 8x8 inch pan, or whatever equivalent dish(es) you decide to use

Ingredients for the egg mixture:
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
  • pinch salt

Ingredients for the whipped mascarpone:
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Ingredients for the ladyfingers:
  • Lady fingers/savoiardi (About 10.5 ounces altogether for an 8×8-inch pan)
  • 2 cups hot brewed espresso or very strong coffee
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder or grated bittersweet chocolate

Place the egg yolks, sugar, Kahlua, and salt in the top of a double boiler or a large bowl set over a simmering water bath.  Whisk the contents constantly for 6 minutes until it becomes thick and leaves a ribbon on the surface when you lift the whisk out of the bowl (do not boil the water).  For egg safety, the temperature should reach 160°F.  Remove from the water bath and set the bowl on ice to cool.  Stir it occasionally.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir the mascarpone cheese and the cream together.  Then beat with the whisk attachment on high speed until stiff peaks form. When the egg mixture is completely cooled, fold the whipped mascarpone into the egg mixture a third at a time until smooth and uniform.

To assemble, briefly dip the bottoms of the ladyfingers one at a time into the espresso and arrange in a single layer on the bottom of your pan. Spread a third of the mascarpone filling over the lady fingers (if you choose to pipe the final layer, use a scant amount to fill between the layers because piping takes a lot!).  Dust the top with cocoa powder or grated chocolate.  Repeat for the second layer.  For the third layer, dip the lady fingers into the espresso and arrange them in a single layer on the tiramisu.  You can either spread the remaining mascarpone filling or pipe it decoratively over the lady fingers.  Dust with cocoa or grated chocolate.  

Refrigerate for 24 hours to let the flavors meld and for the dessert to firm up.  Serves 8-10.

Sources: adapted from Use Real Butter


Brown Butter Nectarine Upside-Down Cake

  This cake was an answer to an emergency dessert need, is a variation of one of my favorite recipes, and was the last thing I made in my home kitchen before I up and left.  I didn't mean to post it, but it was so pretty that I had to snap a few pictures.  And it's what floated into my head a few weeks ago when the first real wave of homesickness hit.

  So this is a simple post.  Because I needed to share this cake with you again, because I needed to feel a connection to the kitchen table that is now more than 1,000 miles away.

  Good fruit is key for this cake.  Fresh, ripe, and maybe even on the verge of over-ripe.  Chop it up and throw it in a cake pan.

  Brown butter, because you can't go wrong with a cake encrusted with brown butter.

  The process:

  Greased pan, pictured with the wildflowers of Wisconsin.  These beauties were found on a dead-end road surrounded by cornfield.  I picked them on bike rides, because Wisconsin summers aren't 110 degrees F.

  Good brown sugar melds with the brown butter.

  I used some white nectarines to line the bottom, make it pretty!

  Then, smooth and fluffy cake batter.

  And baked into beauty.  Serve with whipped cream and fresh fruit, if you like.  Or perhaps a dusting of powdered sugar, or just keep it simple and enjoy it as is.

  I miss you, Wisco.  Have a slice on me.

Brown Butter Nectarine Upside-Down Cake
Yield: one 9- or 8-inch cake

Ingredients for the topping:
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2-3 ripe nectarines, pitted and sliced

Ingredients for the cake:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the 2 1/2 tbsp. butter in the cake pan and place in the oven.  Keeping a constant eye out, allow the butter to melt and then sizzle.  This is the water cooking out of the butter.  Cook just until the butter is golden and the solids on the bottom are browned, the butter will have a nutty aroma.  Be sure to open up the oven and swirl around the cooking butter once in awhile.  Immediately remove and, using two pot holders, carefully tilt the pan around over the sink or something, coating the sides of the pan with brown butter.  Once sides are coated, set aside the pan to cool down.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cardamom.  Set aside.  

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the 1/2 cup softened butter and  2/3 cup brown sugar on medium speed.  Cream until slightly pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Stop mixer, scrape down the bowl, and add egg and vanilla extract.  Beat for 1 minute.  Turn the mixer off, scrape down the bowl, and add the dry ingredients.  Beat on low speed while adding the sour cream, until the batter just starts to come together but is not completely combined, it will be thick.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and finish incorporating the ingredients with a spatula. 

Sprinkle 1/4 cup brown sugar into the brown butter in the cake pan.  Arrange the nectarine slices over the butter and sugar in a single layer.  Spoon batter over the fruit and spread evenly with a spatula.  Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cake rest for 10 minutes in the pan.  When it's rested, run a butter knife around the edge of the cake and invert the cake onto a cake plate.  Serve warm with fresh fruit and sweetened sour cream or whipped cream.

Sources: adapted from Joy the Baker