Friday, September 25, 2015

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

If I had to choose one savory food to live with for the rest of my life it would probably be pizza. And it could be any type of pizza--I mean I do have my favorites but I wouldn't necessarily pass up a slice of thin, pan or deep dish either.  If I could accompany that pizza with a dessert, then I'd likely choose chocolate chip cookies.  

Similar to pizza, I love all types of chocolate chip cookies.  I like them big, small, crunchy, chewy, gooey or some variation/combination of any of those.  So when I see a new recipe claiming to be "the best chocolate chip cookie recipe," I'm sold.  Regardless if it is actually the best, it's a pretty sure bet that I'm gonna like it.  However, this particular cookie recipe wasn't claiming to be the best chocolate chip cookie recipe.  But, it was voted the King Arthur's 2015 best recipe of the year.  You read that, right???  The recipe of the year.  

That means--as far as I can tell--that out of ALL of the recipes King Arthur came up with, a chocolate chip cookie recipe seized the day and came out as number one.  Naturally, I decided to give the recipe a try.  And I'm glad I did. Not only did the recipe make like 20 giant-sized cookies, they were all titillating to my taste buds.

As the title indicates they weren't just chocolate chip cookies, they were chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. But they weren't oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  By that I mean that they were chocolate chip cookies with some oatmeal in them.  They weren't oatmeal cookies with some chocolate chips in them.  See the distinction?  Good.

Now, these were the crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle type of cookie.  They also had a ton of chocolate in them.  The original recipe called for chocolate chips but I had these chocolate discs on hand--which I purchased in bulk from our local chocolate factory--so I used them--which I must confess was a superb choice because it created giant pools of chocolate instead of dispersed puddles throughout the cookie.

Another thing about these cookies that I really feel contributed to their unique character was the vanilla.  The recipe called for a full tablespoon of vanilla extract.  That's kind of a lot compared to most tried and true chocolate chip cookie recipes--they usually have a teaspoon at most.  And that teaspoon provides a hint of vanilla. This tablespoon made the vanilla loud and proud.  Well not loud. But it was definitely present and I liked that.

Although it did make me wonder if the vanilla was what made the cookie so great.  Like if I added a tablespoon of vanilla extract to any chocolate chip cookie recipe, would it stand out?  Then I thought about it some more and decided that no, that wouldn't necessarily happen.  And the vanilla certainly contributed to the greatness of these cookies but there were definitely other factors at play. I think that the amount of chocolate in them didn't hurt and the oatmeal gave it a bit more texture and crunch--which was a big plus.

I will concede that my opinion may not be so unbiased since I did readily admit that I've never met a chocolate chip cookie I didn't like.  But....nevertheless all in all, a well developed recipe worthy of its title.

Recipe via King Arthur found here

227g unsalted butter at room temp.
213g light brown sugar
99g granulated sugar
1 large egg at room temp.
1 large egg yolk at room temp.
1 T vanilla extract
241g all-purpose flour
99g old fashioned oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
510g chocolate chips, discs or chunks

First, line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats and set them aside.  Then preheat the oven to 325 F.  Next, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  After that, using the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment cream the butter and sugars together until smooth--I did it for about 3 minutes on medium-high speed.  Then, stop the mixer, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and add the eggs one at a time--mixing well between each addition.  Then add the vanilla and mix just until combined.  Now add the dry ingredients all at once and mix on low speed just until the they've been fully incorporated.  Finally throw in the chocolate and mix on low speed just until it has been dispersed as evenly as you wish throughout the cookie batter.  And now measure out about 1/4 cup full of batter and drop them onto the baking sheets leaving at least two inches around each lump of batter.  Bake the cookies for about 15-16 minutes.  Once they're done, remove them from oven and let them cool for about 8-10 minutes on the pan before removing them.  Eat. Love. Pray. Gay.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Banana Layer Cake

After making several of Christina Tosi's signature creations, you'd think I'd already be prepared for what's in store and thus my jaw wouldn't drop while reading through one of her recipes.  But with this one, my jaw still dropped a bit.  There's a lot of background work that I needed to do before I could even crack an egg for the actual cake.  I don't want to give the wrong impression with how I feel about her desserts because the truth is that I have never been disappointed after first bite--and every subsequent bite for that matter.  They're astoundingly delicious.  The ingredients and flavors she's crafted just work so well.

Yes, I had to make my own feuilletine and hazelnut paste--they're those types of ingredients I imagine are only readily available in Paris--or on Amazon.  And then I had to use those ingredients to make like, a bazillion other components for the cake.  But, these desserts are a project and--in case it's not fairly evident from the subject matter on my blog--I love baking so it's not exactly a chore to have to do all of this sort of logistical work.

Plus, it's pretty easy to make your own feuilletine--and I think it's good baking experience, or--if you will--builds strong baking character. Plus, maybe you'll save a few bucks making your own.  And if you don't like doing any of that, then pretty much any ingredient is just a mouse click away.

Now the flavor of the cake is not just banana--it's extra banana.  Not only do you get the banana flavor from the actual bananas but there's an extra boost from some banana extract. And unbeknownst to myself--previous to this endeavour that is--banana extract is readily available in most supermarkets!  So that was actually an easy ingredient to retrieve.  The banana cream obviously has some excellent banana-rama kick and is as good as any banana cream you'll find in your favorite banana cream pie.

What I like so much about Christina Tosi's cakes is that--as I mentioned earlier--the ingredients really are well crafted together.  Like there's just a perfect amount of banana cream and chocolate ganache sandwiched between the cake layers.  And the "crunch" she refers to has some salt in it that offsets the sweet quite nicely.  There's different texture and taste in the cakes that seems almost perfectly balanced.

I did have a tiny issue though.  And of course it had to do with the fact that--I'm almost positive anyway--I made some of my own ingredients.  Specifically, the hazelnut paste.  I found a recipe for hazelnut paste and making it wasn't a problem.  I thought it came out right because it had the same sort of consistency that the store-bought almond paste has--pretty thick and not easily spreadable. But whatever the case, I don't think it worked too well with the last component I needed for the cake which was the hazelnut frosting.

The frosting base is just powdered sugar and butter and then essentially you just mix in the paste. But because the paste I made was more viscous than anything, it didn't form a very spreadable frosting. So, whatever Christina Tosi uses--and she actually does list her specific make and model of ingredients in the front of her book--must be a different type of paste than what I made.  In retrospect, I probably could have added more butter to make it more spreadable and that may have done the trick.  Nonetheless, I worked with what I had and in the end, I don't think it made a negative impact on the finished product.

I often think how Christina Tosi's cakes are like super-sized french entremets.  You know, those little artsy cakes that have lots of different layers and textures?  In that same sort of way, this three layer six inch cake may look simple--maybe because it's not ornately frosted or topped with some slick looking fondant--but that's just a deception.  And I can attest to that because it took me over a week to get this thing together--albeit I was working full time too.  Nevertheless, if you venture to make one of the famed Milk Bar's cakes, beware it's not something you can necessarily whip up so quickly. At the same time, after all is said and done, I'd bet money that you will not be disappointed.


Components needed for the cake

Banana cake
55g (1/4c) milk
Chocolate hazelnut ganache
1/2 recipe of hazelnut crunch (you can just divide the recipe in half now if you don't want to make all of it)
1/2 recipe of banana cream (you can just divide the recipe in half now if you don't want to make all of it)
Hazelnut frosting

Banana cake

85g (6 T) unsalted butter at room temp.
200g (1c) granulated sugar
1 large egg
110g (1/2c) buttermilk
20g (grapeseed oil)
2g (1/2 tsp) banana extract
225g or 2 very ripe bananas
225g (1 1/3c) all purpose flour
3g (3/4 tsp) baking powder
3g (1/2 tsp) baking soda
2g (1/2 tsp) kosher salt

First, grease a quarter sheet pan and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.  Then, preheat the oven to 325 F.  Next, in a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, soda and salt and then set it aside.  And then using a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil and banana extract and set that aside.  Now, in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy on medium-high speed--about 2-3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and add the egg and beat for another 2-3 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl again, turn the mixer down to its lowest speed and slowly stream in the buttermilk-oil-banana extract mixture.  Then turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and beat for another 5-6 minutes or until the mixture has doubled in size and all the ingredients are fully combined and look cohesive.  Turn the mixture down to its lowest speed again and add the bananas and mix just until they have broken up and are evenly distributed within the batter.  Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix just until combined.  Pour the batter in the prepared pan and spread it evenly.  Bake the cake for about 25 minutes or until it's fully set.  Remove the cake from the oven, and let cool before removing it from the pan.

Chocolate hazelnut ganache

55g (1/4c) heavy cream
60g (2oz) gianduja chocolate chopped (I used this)
65g (1/4c) hazelnut paste (I made mine from this recipe)
38g (3 T) fudge sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients except for the cream.  Then, using a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream until it comes to a boil.  Next pour the cream over the rest of the ingredients and let it set for about a minute.  Then, lightly whisk until the mixture is fully homogeneous.  Store the ganache in an air tight container until ready to use.

Hazelnut crunch

110g (1/3c) hazelnut paste
80g (1/2c) hazelnut brittle
80g (1c) feuilletine (I used this recipe to make mine)
20g (2 T) confectioners sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, combine all of the ingredients until everything is evenly distributed.  Store the crunch in an airtight container until ready for use.

Banana cream

225g or 2 ripe bananas
75g (1/3c) heavy cream
55g (1/4) milk
100g (1/2c) granulated sugar
25g (2 T) corn starch
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 large egg yolks
2 gelatin sheets
40g (3 T) butter
1/2 tsp yellow food coloring
160g heavy cream
160g confectioners sugar

Using either a blender or food processor, puree the bananas, cream and milk until smooth.  Then add the sugar, corn starch, salt and eggs yolks and mix until fully incorporated.  Now, pour that mixture into a medium heavy bottomed saucepan.  Clean the food processor or blender.  After that, bloom the gelatin in cold water.  Heat the mixture in the saucepan over medium heat whisking constantly until it starts to bubble and thicken.  Once it starts to bubble let it boil for 2 minutes whisking constantly. Then pour the mixture back into the blender or food processor, add the bloomed gelatin (remember to wring out the excess water from the gelatin before adding it to the banana cream), butter and food coloring and blend until fully combined.  Pour the mixture into a heat safe bowl and chill in the refrigerator until completely cooled.  Once the banana cream is chilled, pour the remaining heavy cream and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the whisk attachment, whisk until medium stiff peaks have formed.  Stop the mixer, add the cold banana cream and whisk slowly until fully combined. Store the banana cream in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Hazelnut frosting

25g (2 T) unsalted butter at room temp.
65g (1/4c) hazelnut paste
20g (2 T) confectioners sugar
1/8 tsp kosher salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter using the paddle attachment.  Add the rest of the ingredients and beat until fully smooth and fluffy.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to use BUT bring to room temperature before using.

To assemble the cake

You'll need a six inch cake ring for the assembly.  First, invert the-cooled banana cake (I find that having the cake cold or even partially frozen helps with this part) onto either a silpat or a piece of parchment paper.  Using the cake ring, cut out two circles.  Clean your cake ring. Then, place the cake ring on a silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Line the inside of the cake ring with either an acetate strip that's 9-12 inches wide or--if you're like me and don't have acetate strips on hand--you can use parchment paper to do this--grant it, it's not as sturdy as the acetate but it gets the job done just fine.  For the parchment paper, just cut out a piece that will line the inside circumference of the cake ring and that is about 9-12 inches wide.  Now, place 55g or 1/4 cup of milk in small bowl and set it next to your work space.  Take the cake scraps (everything leftover from the two circles you cut out) and using your fist or some other tool you deem workable, gently mash them into an even layer at the bottom of the cake ring.  This will be your bottom layer.  Now get your milk. Using a pastry brush, brush about half of the milk onto the mashed up cake scraps at the bottom of the ring.  Then, using the back of a smallish spoon, spread half of the ganache over the cake in an even layer.  Next, spread 1/3 of the hazelnut crunch over the ganache. After that, using the back of a smallish spoon, spread half of the banana cream over the crunch as evenly as possible.  This completes the first layer.  For the second layer, place one of the cake circles you cut out over the banana cream.  And then repeat everything you did for the first layer starting with brushing the top of the cake with the remainder of the milk--spread the rest of the ganache over it, then 1/3 of the crunch and finally the remainder of the banana cream.  Your second layer is now complete.  To finish, place the remaining cake layer over the banana cream.  Spread the hazelnut frosting over the top of the cake and then sprinkle the remaining crunch over the frosting.  After that, place the cake in the freezer to set for at least 12 hours.  The day you're ready to eat the cake, take it out of the freezer, and using your thumbs pop it out of the cake ring (pushing it out from the bottom), place it on your cake platter, remove the parchment paper and let it defrost for at least 3 hours.  Then eat.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Basil Ice Cream

I may have mentioned this before.  I probably shouldn't have.  I'm actually reluctant to mention it at all because it's something that I believe sets me apart from pretty much everyone else in the whole wide world--and not in a good way. The thing is, I'm not the biggest fan of ice cream....  I like it ok.  I remember once a while back I was chatting with an acquaintance of mine and he had just moved to the neighborhood I live in.  He told me he discovered this place, George's, and I happily added that I knew all about George's because they have the best chocolate fudge cake. He laughed at me because he found it odd that I mentioned a cake instead of the gallons and gallons of ice creams they have on display sitting below a menu that lists a plethora of different flavors as well as sundaes.

In short, George's is really more of an ice cream destination for most people--although they do have quite a selection of other types of non-frozen desserts--including that delectable chocolate fudge cake I adore/prefer over all of those aforementioned ice cream flavors. Don't get me wrong, I think ice cream is good.  But I'd much rather have a brownie or piece of cake over it.  At the same time, my lack of enthusiasm for ice cream doesn't prevent me from wanting to make it.  I mean I do have my own ice cream maker and truth be told, over the years I've made quite a bit of it.  But I think it's more the novelty of it--homemade ice cream is a little more rare than cake or brownies.  And as boring as it may be, vanilla ice cream is probably my favorite flavor.  It's also the most basic and simplest ice cream flavor to make--so I make it more than any other flavor.  Plus, it pairs so well with everything--especially chocolate cake and brownies...  Nevertheless, on occasion I like to expand my horizons and try something a lil different.  And since it's summer and I have an abundance of basil growing on my balcony, I knew that when I came across a recipe for basil ice cream I had to give it a shot.

The closest thing that basil ice cream tastes like is green tea ice cream.  Not surprisingly, it does taste basily--but not overwhelmingly so.  And I can't honestly say that I loved it (setting aside my moderate passion for ice cream in general) but I also don't think it's bad at all.  Though, what I think really elevates it is adding in some fresh berries--or some sort of fruit sauce--like cherry sauce--which is what I had on hand.  I'm not sure why or what the reasons are, but in the same way that vanilla ice cream and brownies go well, basil and berries pair quite nicely too.  Throw in some white chocolate magic shell (I made my own which was extremely easy) and you've got an amazing alternative type sundae.  It might seem like a very odd flavor but--as I mentioned earlier--it's no stranger than green tea ice cream.  So if you like that, then you'd probably enjoy this.  It's actually kind of a refreshing flavor--worth a try.  And for someone who isn't the biggest ice cream lover, I think that's saying something.

Recipe slightly adapted from Saveur

2 cups basil leaves
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 T lime zest
1/4 tsp salt
6 large egg yolks

First, combine everything in a blender until completely smooth.  Then transfer the mixture to a medium or large saucepan.  Heat the mixture over low heat, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has just almost come to a simmer.  Once heated through, remove from the heat and pour it through a fine mesh sieve over a large clean bowl.  Discard the leftover basil leaves.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day, freeze the mixture according to the instructions for whatever ice cream maker you utilize.  Enjoy!