Saturday, July 24, 2010

[Cookie 084] Oatmeal Bars with Dates and Walnuts


Eighty-four. 84. Feels good. Nice number. Still powering on, though--no stopping! I will finish this project! Eighty-four isn't even half (AH!!!!!), but 87.5 is, so let's just hold off the enormous celebrations and parades until then, okay? Great.


Now on to something more related: Dates. Do you like them? I had my first date (fruit! I'm referring to the fruit) just when making these Oatmeal Bars with Dates and Walnuts, though I have had date-flavored and date-filled sweets before. This was just my first time eating one whole and unfettered. And pitting one.


Does anyone else get totally grossed out by them!? Something about them really really grosses me out. I don't want to get into the specifics for fear of ruining this recipe for you (or even dates entirely), so I'll just let this picture do the talking.


It's just...icky. I'm not a huge fan. And the thing is, if it was just the pitting that bothered me, it wouldn't be so much an issue--but I'm not the biggest fan of how they taste either. I dunno, I suppose they just aren't my cup of tea. That being said, these bars would go great with a cup of tea as part of an afternoon snack! Maybe it will all just work out in the end!


These bars have a few bits of chopped up dates in them, but they work really well in tandem with the walnuts. It's a crunchy-savory and chewy-sweet combination at work. I also really like how Martha has you grind up some oats to make oatflour, which is used in addition to whole wheat flour--very wheaty indeed. These are super hearty, soft, sweet, and tasty bars; they actually seem more like a cake to me, though. Not a bad thing! I liked them. But then again, I could eat only granola for my entire life and be pretty happy.


The only issue I had with these was that my dad didn't like them (he's not so much a fan of the whole-wheaty, grainy, oatsy, hippie stuff. This meant that the entire batch rested on the shoulders of my mom and I, which is just too much to handle! I ate more than my fair share, but after sitting on the counter at room temperature for nearly a week, my mom kindly suggested that they might not eat. I thought they still tasted good! Maybe mold is just a natural flavor pairing with dates! Whatever. I retired the rest of the batch to the trash can. Moral of the story: make these bars for bake sales, parties, and for large gatherings of people. They are hard to eat a lot of in a short amount of time.


Yep, that's it. My foray into the world of dates was a little disturbing, but yielded tasty results! (Haha, remember that Simpson's episode where Marge is watching soap operas on TV and keeps writing down "with Sexy Results!" Ah memories...)


[ Oh, and a little bit of shameless self-promotion: I just started another blog solely for my photos and other little bits of nonsense. It's a Wordpress blog, because I figured WHY KEEP IT SIMPLE AND EASY, when you can make your life slightly more convoluted by using multiple websites for the same purpose?! Oh, well whatever, this is the URL: Drop by and say herro! ]


Oatmeal Bars with Dates and Walnuts
Makes 2 dozen

  • 1 cup finely ground old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 cups packed light-brown sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups walnuts (5 1/2 ounces), toasted and chopped
  • 1 cup dates (5 ounces), pitted and chopped
  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray

  • Directions
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together ground oats, flour, 1 cup whole oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in a large bowl; set aside.
  • Put brown sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  • Reduce speed to low. Add oat mixture, and mix until just combined. Mix in walnuts and dates.
  • Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread batter evenly in dish. Scatter remaining 1/2 cup whole oats over top. Bake until golden and a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.Cool completely in pan on a wire rack; cut into bars.

  • ****
    {End Results}
    Baking Difficultly: 3/5
    Ingredient Accessibility: 3/5
    Tastiness: 3.5/5
    Attractiveness: 2/5
    Is it worth it?: Yeah, for an afternoon snack, bake sale, road trip, whatever. They ain't dainty though, so don't say I didn't warn you (?)

    Drink: Irish Breakfast tea or Apple Cider (despite the time I year I chose to make these, I think they are an autumn cookie for sure!)
    Song: I Wanna Be Sedated -- The Ramones (SORRY bad pun, great song)
    Activity: You come home from school, it's October, the leaves are changing, wind is blowing a little, breezy and cool. You've got your lil' JanSport backpack filled with brand new Lisa Frank folders and jelly pens. You throw your stuff on to the floor in your bedroom and run downstairs to tell your mom/dad how your day went, and SURPRISE, kick-ass oatmeal bars waiting for you on a tray, complete with a cup of apple juice and some carrots or celery. You take the snack over to the TV, turn on some late afternoon cartoons and zone out before you have to go do homework. Ah, yes, that would have been great...

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    [Cookie 083] Maple-Pecan Shortbread


    Stroke of genius. How did I not think of this before. Oh man oh man.

    Okay, let me back up. Backstory first. Well, there's no really backstory per se, but more of a source of inspiration. Barbecues; grills; charcoal. Fire! This is how we cook foods during the hottest days of the summer in order to avoid heating up our kitchen to hellish temperatures, right? Oven-roasting is out, as is loading up all 4 burners with huge pots of boiling water and simmering stews, and obviously baking seems completely out of the question. Thus the spareness of posts on this blog (or at least, that's the excuse du jour). So how to get around this issue without confining all baking to the wee hours of the night, if we are to do it at all?


    Here's my great, albeit hair-brained, idea: BBQ'd cookies!!!!!!!!

    Okay, okay, I can feel your collective eye-rolling coming at me from all over cyberspace--it sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. You make sure to make a cookie dough that doesn't spread hardly at all, so as to avoid it dripping in between the grill bars. And the dough will have nuts it in, because fire roasted nuts are next to godliness. And then, once grilled, you serve these cookies with grilled fruits (grilled peaches anyone??). Dollop with ice cream. Dessert. Done.


    Alright, so maybe that won't work. But here's a more rational idea: what about putting your cookie sheet (or other metal heat-enduring surface) on top of your grill and then closing the lid, essentially using your BBQ like an outdoor oven. Does that work? Has anyone tried that?


    Anyway, these cookies here, these Maple-Pecan Shortbread don't exactly seem like a super summery cookie (more of an autumnal one, in my opinion, what with the maple and the pecans and the everything), but I made them for both a summer picnic, as well as a 4th of July BBQ at my brother and sister-in-law's house, and they were a hit at both events. These cookies are really good. Surprisingly so. In fact, they might have been even more of a hit at the 4th of July BBQ since by then they were a day old, and these guys improve with age FOR SURE.


    So you got ya dough, which has ground up pecans in it as well as a hefty amount of maple syrup, and after the baked cookies have sat around for a day, the maple flavor really deepens. Actually, the recipe also calls for Maple Extract, which I couldn't find anywhere so I omitted it--and no problem! The cookies were still extremely mapley, but I bet they would be really incredible if you have maple extract on hand as well.

    Lastly, because you roll out the dough and cut it with a cookie cutter, and then decorate each cookie with a pecan half and some turbinado sugar, you WITHOUT A DOUBT produce a beautiful set of cookies. You can't really screw up the look of these, unless you don't know how to use a cookie cutter (and if that's your situation, you probably shouldn't be reading my blog, juss sayin'). So, they are perfect to bring to a party if you want to impress people but not do anything too elaborate. Simplicity is highly underrated in baking!

    And very very lastly, if you are just crazy enough to try either of my BBQ cookie ideas--LET ME KNOW SO WE CAN BE FRIENDS FOREVER!! If you send pictures, I will love you even more/think you are even crazier/admire you a lot. And even if you bake these in the normal way, I will admire you for enduring the oppressive heat of your kitchen in the name of tastiness!

    P.S. AWSHIT this is genius!!


    P.P.S. Sorry for the lack of photos! I was too busy eating cookie dough/pecans to grab my camera during the baking process -_-

    Maple-Pecan Shortbread
    Makes about 2 dozen


  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • 1/2 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup pecan halves (about 2 1/4 ounces), finely chopped
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure maple extract
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

  • Directions

  • Into a medium bowl, sift flours and salt. Whisk in 1/2 cup chopped pecans, set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until smooth and light, about one minute. Add the maple syrup, egg yolk, and extract; beat on medium speed until well combined. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating until just combined. Dough should be smooth and pliable. Flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic; chill until firm, 1 1/2 hours or overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out rounds using a two-inch cookie cutter; place one inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Brush tops with beaten egg; sprinkle centers with remaining 1/4 cup pecans. Sprinkle the entire surface with turbinado sugar.
  • Bake cookies, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until golden around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in airtight containers at room temperature up to four days.

  • ****
    {End Results}
    Baking Difficultly: 2/5
    Ingredient Accessibility: 2/5 (Maple extract, where y'at?!)
    Tastiness: 4.5/5
    Attractiveness: 4/5
    Is it worth it?: Hell yeah! Worth firing up the ol' oven in July...maybe...

    Drink: I'd wash these guys down with some iced tea, perhaps with a sprig or two of sage thrown in? (That's how my ma makes hers, and it's da bomb diggity!)

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    [Cookie 082] Fig Bars


    Fig Newton's: remember those? I always find myself thinking about those cookies--the few times I do--in the past tense, as if they have since been discontinued or simply have become a relic of the past. But in reality, they're still alive and well, right? I guess. Maybe they were never that popular, but when I was a kid I think they were kind of a big deal to be, albeit probably in a subconscious way. All I know is that my dad liked them, I liked them, and I remember eating them a lot while watching The Three Stooges. Kick ass childhood memory, I'd say! Slapstick violence and chewy fig cookies! None of this Disney and Oreo bullshit you hear about so often.


    Aaaanyways, I digress. Or, actually, I think I'm still on track here. The point is, ever since the tender young age of about 10 or 12 or so, we stopped buying Fig Newtons. Stopped talking about them too. It was subtle, a gentle erasure of something that once it was removed, I didn't really miss that much. I went on with life, stopped watching The Three Stooges as our VHS tapes began to disintegrate, and moved on to bigger and better cookies (Vienna Fingers: He-lloooo!!! Don't get me started). Didn't pay much mind to the lack of F.N.'s around the house, I'll tell you that.


    Until this recipe. Hmm, Fig Bars. Yeah, they aren't exactly Fig Newton's (and there is another recipe in the book that seems a lot closer to their Nabsico counterparts), but still--a soft sandwich-bar cookie with a fig filling comprised of not only figs, but honey, spices, and red wine!


    It was Father's Day (yeah yeah...ages ago) and these seemed like the perfect cookie to make for my dad. He adored the Prune Rugelach, and so I was going to make the fig Rugelach Fingers, but decided on these instead. And so it was. I made the filling, and it smelled like heaven on earth it was so good. I made the dough, and it smelled like dough, nothin' special.

    Ladiez in da kitchen

    As for the assembly, it was pretty simple except for one part. You roll out half the dough into a thin, big rectangle--NO PROBZ. Then you roll out the other half likewise--NO PROBZ, pt II. Then you spread the fig filling on one sheet of dough (easy also), but then you have to transfer the other rectangle of dough ON TOP OF the other one, and let's just say that they are a tad delicate. I'm sure all you readers (?) know a bunch of trixy little methods of doing this, and don't worry, I succeeded, but it was a little scary for a minute. But once completed the big flip, I felt like a master chef.


    But if only my pride were over creating a tasty cookie, instead of completing a tricky task. You see, the end result...lacked. It was just okay. And it took a lot of work to make these guys! Time and energy that could have been spent trying to download Larry-Moe-Curly episodes from the interwebs! Precious time baby! That's not to say that the cookie didn't taste good--it did--it just wasn't as spectacular as it smelled while I was concocting it. Was it better than a regular old Fig Newton? Yeahhhhh, but it lacked the nostalgia. And high-fructose corn syrup. (Or are those one and the same?)


    Aiight, so that's that. Disappointed yet? I am. But I've moved on! And you should learn to do the same, jeez. Don't get so hung up on all the time I wasted--it's not a big deal, alright?? Am I projecting my dismay onto you? Yes? Yes. Whatever, bigger and better next time. Here that Martha? Yeah. You better make a killer Vienna Fingers recipe, or you best check yourself.


    Fig Bars
    Makes 2 dozen

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 cups dried Calimyrna figs
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground pepper

  • Directions
  • Cream butter and sugar with the paddle attachment of an electric mixer. Add egg, 1 egg yolk, vanilla, and lemon zest; mix well. Add flour and salt; mix on low speed until dough just comes together. Wrap dough in plastic, and chill until firm, about 1 hour.
  • To make the filling, combine figs, honey, wine, 1 cup water, cinnamon, and pepper in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat, stirring often, until reduced to a thick paste, about 10 to 15 minutes. Spread filling on a baking sheet to cool.
  • Divide dough in half. Roll out one half to fit a 10-by-15-inch baking sheet. Pick up dough by wrapping it around a rolling pin, and unroll it onto baking sheet.
  • Spread fig filling evenly over pastry. Roll out remaining half of dough, and cover filling. Trim excess pastry to make a perfect rectangle. Chill for 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use a paring knife to score dough lightly into 1-by-3-inch bars. Use a fork to prick holes in each bar. Make an egg wash by combining remaining egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water. Lightly brush bars with egg wash. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cut into bars, and let cool.

  • ****
    {End Results}
    Baking Difficultly: 4/5
    Ingredient Accessibility: 3/5 (I used both Calimyrna figs and Mission figs, whatever)
    Tastiness: 3/5
    Attractiveness: 2/5
    Is it worth it?: Sadly, I don't think so. Takes a lot of time...

    Drink: Apple Juice!
    Song: Wild Honey -- The Beach Boys
    Activity: Go out and buy some real Fig Newton's

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    [Cookie 081] Giant Chocolate Sugar Cookies


    Sometimes I just want to spontaneously bake something, without any planning. I bet I'm not alone on that one--sometimes you just get the sudden urge to mix together a bunch of butter and sugar and make the kitchen smell delicious, but you don't really have any specific or fancy ingredients on hand. It's times like those that I wish I lived in the storage kitchen on the Martha Stewart show (does that even exist? storage kitchen?). So, when this overpowering desire to bake springs up, you've got to make do with whatever you have and make it work. Sometimes this does not pan out so well (see: Pine Nut Cookies), but other times, like this one, it works out just swell.


    The evening that my dad and I made these Giant Chocolate Sugar Cookies, we wanted to bake something, but didn't have any dried fruits, nuts, or even baking chocolate for that matter. We did have cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed, however), and we had the basics like sugar, flour, butter, eggs. So we settled on this recipe and got to work. We compromised the Dutch-processed cocoa powder by adding an extra pinch of baking soda to the regular cocoa powder we had on hand. And fortunately we had some vegetable shortening on hand too.


    The vegetable shortening I think is the one ingredient that makes these cookies a little different than your average chocolate sugar cookie. It makes the batter taste different (in a good way), and makes the cookies a little richer in a way. It's hard to describe, but I liked it. In some of the extra research on cookie-baking that I occupy my free time with (don't laugh at me, it's not funny), I learned that shortenings have far less water in them compared to butters, so they can be used as a type of fat for cookies that you don't want to spread out too thin. On the other side of the coin, if you want your cookies flat and thin and spread out, you should use a fat with a lot of water in it, such as vegetable oils, etc. Now you know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    So it all worked out well considering it was a last minute cookie. It was a super easy recipe that baked up quickly and satisfied our craving for freshly baked cookies in no time. I'd recommend you try the recipe out if you're in the same boat as we were, but if you're looking for a truly outstanding chocolate cookie that will blow people away, I'd suggest something more like the Milk Chocolate Cookies, Grammy's Chocolate Cookies, or Dark Chocolate Cookies with Sour Cherries (those are the best, by farrrr).


    Alright, hop to it! I'll see you all soon!


    Giant Chocolate Sugar Cookies
    Makes 8 (I made smaller ones, and more of them...)

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup good-quality unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, substitute 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  • Directions
  • Preheat oven to 375. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
  • Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in shortening (or additional butter). Add egg and vanilla; mix until creamy. Reduce speed to low. Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until just combined.
  • Using a 2 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing about 4 inches apart. Bake until edges are firm, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container up to 2 days.

  • ****
    {End Results}
    Baking Difficultly: 1/5
    Ingredient Accessibility: 5/5 (That was the point, wasn't it!)
    Tastiness: 3.5/5
    Attractiveness: 3/5
    Is it worth it?: If you are desperate for a quick, easy, tasty cookie--do it!

    Drink: Milk, it would seem. Or coffee. Nothing like dipping a chocolate cookie into a strong cup o' jo.
    Song: Wagon Wheel -- Old Crow Medicine Show (stupid video, douchey-looking singer, amazing song)
    Activity: Movie. Sleepover. Something adorable and comforting and slightly nostalgic, like these cookies.