Recipe: Chocolate Espresso Sugar Cookies

As I’ve mentioned before, Chester’s preferences for desserts are not as wide ranging as mine. But, he’ll never turn down a cookie. So, instead of a birthday cake, I offered to make cookies instead.

He browsed through some of my cookbooks and came across a recipe for mocha shortbread cookies. They sounded great, but as I reviewed the contents my baking cabinet, I realized that I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand. All was not lost, however, as I had everything I needed for sugar cookies.

I added cocoa powder and espresso powder to a really simple sugar cookie recipe that I discovered around the holidays last year. The end product was pretty amazing. The coffee and chocolate combo provided a rich flavor and the texture was somewhere between a cookie and a brownie—crisp around the edges and chewy in the middle. I sprinkled the tops with extra espresso powder while the cookies where still warm for a bit of an extra kick, but you could skip this is you don’t want the espresso flavor to be too strong.

Baking a practice batch of cookies really got me in the mood for holiday baking. I’ve got four types of cookies on my list to make this year: chocolate with white chocolate chips, peanut butter sandwich with chocolate ganache, roll-out butter, and lemon. Hopefully, they’ll all turn out well and I can share the results! What’s on your list to bake this year?

Chocolate Espresso Sugar Cookies

Adapted from McCormick’s Vanilla Sugar Cookie Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen (note: I used a medium size cookie scoop, which holds about a 1 ½ tablespoon of dough)

What you will need

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup of unsweetened, Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Additional sugar, for rolling
  • Additional espresso powder, for sprinkling

What to do

  1. Mix first six ingredients (flour through cocoa powder) together in a medium bowl.
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla. Mix well. Gradually add flour mixture on low speed until all ingredients are incorporated.
  3. Refrigerate dough until firm (at least two hours).
  4. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Use a cookie scoop to shape dough and roll in additional sugar before placing on cookie sheet.
  5. Bake approximately 10 minutes, until cookies are just set. Sprinkle with additional espresso and cool on baking sheet for one minute.
  6. Move to wire racks to finish cooling.

Lemon-Blueberry Muffins

The only time I really like blueberries is when they are in muffins. More specifically, I enjoy the big, fat 5 million calorie blueberry muffins with the crumb topping that they sell at Starbucks. Fact: The Starbucks in the LAX airport has the best blueberry muffins. 5 a.m. flights back to Philly were always a bit better with one of those.

I had been craving blueberry muffins recently, and came across an easy recipe from Cooking Light. I had never made anything with buttermilk before, and was surprised to find that it wasn’t loaded in fat like the name suggests. It actually adds very little fat to the recipe—definitely less than what is in a Starbucks muffin—but produces an end product that is moist, rich, and soft. The blueberry/lemon combination is perfect for summer, and although they don’t have a crumb topping, the tangy lemon glaze on top is nice. If you aren’t a fan of nutmeg, you could omit that. I honestly couldn’t taste it,  though.

With a container of Chobani Greek yogurt, these made for a pretty satisfying breakfast.

Lemon Blueberry Muffins

From: Cooking Light

What you will need

Makes a dozen muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Cooking spray (this would be used, if you are forgoing the muffin tin liners. I prefer to use the liners to make the clean up easier).
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and 1/2 cup powdered sugar to make the glaze

Preparation

  • Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  • Combine buttermilk, egg, and rind; stir well with a whisk. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moist. Gently fold in blueberries (Tip: If you coat the blueberries lightly in flour, before stirring in, you an keep them from sinking way to the bottom of all your muffins. I did this, and there was a nice distribution of berries throughout each one).
  • Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until the muffins spring back when lightly touched. Remove muffins from pans immediately, and place on a wire rack to cool.
  • Combine lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Drizzle glaze evenly over cooled muffins (By the second day, the glaze had kind of soaked into the muffins and pretty much disappeared).

Strawberry Shortcake Cookies

Strawberries are one of my favorite things about summer. Oh, and fireworks. I like those too. (Speaking of, I hope everyone enjoyed their Fourth of July weekend).

Last year, it seemed like we had a bad crop. The one that I purchased were a sickly shade of pale red; and even those that had a vibrant color were totally flavorless.  Fortunately, it’s been the total opposite this year. Even the strawberries I get from our local Shop Rite have been colorful and sweet. I love to eat them on their own as a mid-morning snack, but I decided that I had to bake something with them, too.

I was excited to come across a recipe for Strawberry Shortcake Cookies and thought I’d give them a try—well two tries. Strawberries can be pretty temperamental, but I am persistent.

The first batch that I made did not turn out at all. The strawberry, sugar, and lemon juice mixture produced a lot of liquid. As a result, the dough did not come together well in the mixing bowl, and they didn’t set up well when baked. I learned my lesson for the second time around, and poured the mixture through a strainer before adding it to the dry ingredients. This batch would have been perfect, had it not been for my crazy oven. We’ve lived in our house about two years now, and I just can’t get the hang of that oven. Some things take longer to bake than the recipe states, and other things need to be yanked out of the oven way early (I’m sure Martha never has to deal with this. She probably has the perfect oven). My first dozen came out a bit well done on the bottom, but after I moved the oven rack around a bit and adjusted the timing, and the second dozen baked to a perfect golden brown.

These cookies are actually more like scones—soft and fluffy on the inside, and slightly crunchy and crispy on the outside. You can taste all of the ingredients individually in these cookies—from the sweetness of the strawberries, to the richness of the cream, to the lightness of the lemon–and the coarse salt is a nice balance that brings together all of the flavors. They look so pretty with the little bits of strawberry peeking out, and are less labor intensive than a strawberry shortcake or pie. I would definitely make these again—I’m sure that they will be perfect the third time around. Luckily, strawberry season is still young, and I should be able to get some good ones around here through August.

As a side note, the recipe lies when it says it makes about 3 dozen cookies. I got a little over 20 cookies out of the dough, even though I used the tablespoon measurement suggested by the recipe. These cookies were best on the day that they were made. I served them with vanilla ice cream (the best batch I’ve made to date, since I sprung for real vanilla bean), but whipped cream or even a glass of milk would be a nice complement to them. By the following day, they had already become kind of soft and a bit soggy, even when stored in an airtight container.

Do you have any good strawberry recipes I should know about?

Strawberry Shortcake Cookies

By: Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

  •  2 cups diced strawberries
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup, plus one tablespoon sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • Sanding sugar for sprinkling over cookies (I skipped this, as I didn’t have sanding sugar. I don’t think anyone missed it)

What To Do:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • In a small bowl, combine strawberries lemon juice, and two tablespoons sugar. Combine dry ingredients in a separate, large bowl.
  • Add butter in to dry mixture, using a pastry cutter or your hands. Mix together until it looks like coarse crumbs. Stir in cream, just until dough comes together.
  • Pour strawberry mixture through a strainer to get rid of excess liquid. Add strawberries to the dough mixture.
  • Shape dough into tablespoon sized balls and place on baking sheet (Tip: if you are baking one sheet at a time in your oven, be aware that as your dough sits out, the strawberries may release some more liquid that breaks apart the dough. I filled my other cookie sheet and put it in the fridge while the first batch was baking and that seemed to minimize this).
  • Sprinkle with sanding sugar, if using, and bake for about 24 minutes.
  • Let cool on wire rack.

Not Made from Scratch

I didn’t have time to make anything from scratch this weekend, what with getting ready for the apocalypse. Turns out, I needn’t have bothered. What a disappointment that turned out to be.

Anyway, I cheated and made some brownies from a box.

Bad cell phone camera photo

If you have to go with a boxed brownie, you can’t go wrong with the Ghirardelli varieties. The finished product is richer, moister, and denser than those made using the mixes by Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines. Probably because the quality of the chocolate is far superior to what is used in those varieties. I used the walnut flavor this time around, and there were nice sized walnut pieces in the mix; other varieties I’ve made, like the triple chocolate, have real chocolate chips!

Although the mix is probably about $2 more than other varieties, it’s totally worth it. The same can be said for all of the Ghirardelli products, including the chips, baking bars, and cocoa powder. They are my products of choice anytime I bake something that calls for chocolate (which is often).

Since I cheated with the brownies I did whip up a milk chocolate ganache to spread over them. Ganache is super easy to make, and it can be used in a variety of ways—from a drizzle for cakes and brownies, or as a filling for sandwich cookies.

Here’s what you need:

½ cup of heavy cream

4 ounces chopped chocolate (I used a milk chocolate baking bar for this recipe, but you can use white, dark, semi-sweet, etc. You could use chocolate chips as well, if you don’t feel like dirtying a knife).

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I added this because I like vanilla. You could even add liquor or other flavorings, if you wanted to. Or, just leave it out).

Here’s what you do:

  1. Chop chocolate and place in a small bowl
  2. Bring cream to a boil
  3. Pour over chocolate and let stand a few minutes
  4. Whisk together until smooth
  5. Let thicken and cool for about 30 minutes
  6. Spread or drizzle over baked goods

I’ll be bringing these to work tomorrow, to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday and the fact that none of us got left behind. Knowing our office, these sweet treats will be gone before lunchtime.

Lemon Ice Cream and Madeleine Cookies

It seems like Easter was ages ago, but I haven’t gotten around to writing a post about the fabulous dessert that I made. So, here it is.

By now, you should know that I love ice cream. My favorite kitchen appliance is my Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker, which was a housewarming gift from my fabulous co-workers at DU (If we had a freezer in the office that could hold more than four Lean Cuisines, I would be happy to bring you all samples). Anytime an occasion calls for a dessert, I make Chester haul it up from the basement and I keep the bowl in the freezer at all times so I can be ready to whip up a batch of ice cream at a moment’s notice.

We decided on a slightly heavy menu for Easter dinner—pork roast, cheesy potatoes, asparagus, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and my aunt’s French bread. So, we wanted to keep dessert light and decided to make a lemon ice cream. I was skeptical at first—how can lemon and cream go together? But, my aunt had mentioned that she had the flavor at the Amish stand in the Reading Terminal Market; the Amish have never steered me wrong when it comes to dessert, so I reasoned that it must be amazing. To go with it, I decided to make Madeleine cookies, thinking that their pretty shell shape, delicate flavor (with a hint of lemon), and light, cakey texture would pair well with the ice cream. Plus, it gave me an excuse to go out and buy a new baking gadget.

My new madeleine pan. Thanks for the coupon, Bed, Bath & Beyond.

About the Ice Cream

There are any number of ice cream recipes out there, but those with a custard style base, like I used for the lemon ice cream are generally the best. This style contains sugar, eggs, and milk and/or cream. The finished product is rich and creamy and tends not to form ice crystals when it sits in the freezer. The eggs can be a bit tricky at first because you need to make sure that you cook them at a high enough heat to reduce the chance of food-bourne illness, but not high enough to curdle the mixture. In addition, you need to whisk the mixture continuously so that the eggs don’t scramble (the first time I made ice cream, I fished quite a few pieces of scrambled eggs out of the custard before freezing it). But, once you know a basic recipe for a custard style base, you can make it in about five minutes and add anything you like to it (fruit, chocolate chips, candy, etc.) to make an infinite number of flavors.

Lemon Ice Cream

Makes About One Quart

Ingredients:


  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation:

  1. Zest and juice lemons.

Lest you think I don't know how to work basic kitchen gadgets, here are few shots of me in action. I even have an apron, so you know I'm serious.

  1. In a saucepan whisk together the zest, the lemon juice, the sugar, and the eggs.

  1. Whisk in 1 cup of the half-and-half and the vanilla, and cook the mixture over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, until it just comes to a simmer.
  1. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the zest, and chill it, covered with plastic wrap, until it is cold.

  1. Whisk in the remaining 1 cup half-and-half.
  1. Freeze the mixture in an ice-cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

  1. Store in an airtight container and allow to ripen in freezer for a couple of hours. Random tip–If you have a rice cooker, the spoon that comes with it is an excellent tool for scraping down your ice cream maker freezer bowl and transferring the finished ice cream to a container.

About the Madeleine Cookies

From the Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful


Ingredients:


  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, then cooled slightly
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and generously butter and flour pan for large madeleines (I used Pam for Baking spray to grease the pans)
  1. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl just to blend. Beat in vanilla, lemon peel and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Gradually add cooled melted butter in steady stream, beating just until blended.

Looks like cake batter!

  1. Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each indentation in pan. Bake until puffed and brown, about 10-16 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch.

  1. Random tip–rinse out the pan with cold water between batches. I found that this keeps the cookies from burning (probably because it cools the pan down a bit).

Just like what they have at Starbucks!

The Finished Product

My mom has had those ice cream dishes since I was maybe five? I think my dad brought them home from Sealtest, back in the day. I used to think they were beautiful and dreamed about having the same set when I grew up.

Once again, the Amish know what’s good. The ice cream tasted just like the filling inside of a lemon pie. It had the tart and refreshing qualities of a sorbet, but was so much richer and creamier. Just as I thought the Madeleine cookies were the perfect complement to it—since they don’t have a ton of flour in them, they aren’t dense and filling, but their cake-like texture meant that they soaked up the ice cream like a sponge. I was worried at first because some of the cookies in the end slots of the pan got slightly burnt, but they had a caramelized, rather than charred flavor.

I should mention here that my brother contributed to the dessert by helping to make whipped cream. By this, I mean he poured the cream into a bowl, went around two or three times with a whisk, decided he was tired, and made my mom and I finish the project. Then, he took all the credit for improving my dessert.

Whatever. I know that the lemon ice cream was the star of the show–we practically licked the containers clean. I think it’s going to be my go-to flavor for the upcoming summer months.  So. Much. Yum.

Love and Cupcakes


If you couldn’t already tell from my first two posts, I love dessert. Along with the bad habits of nail biting, procrastination, and worrying, I inherited a major sweet tooth from my dad. The man could polish off a bag of Oreos or a pint of Haagan Dazs in one sitting. When we went out to eat, he would always order dessert—usually something fruity, like a tart or key lime pie. In this way, he was quite unlike the rest of us in the family, who would always select the richest chocolate option on the dessert tray.

I’ve never really learned to cook—thank goodness I married a man who loves to—but I have always enjoyed baking. I like the preciseness of it. In cooking, you can kind of fudge measurements, add a pinch of this or that “to taste” or substitute ingredients. But baking is an exact science. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that freely pouring baking powder into cake batter will make a mess in the oven when the batter overflows from your pan. Leaving the mixer on for just a few seconds too long while whipping cream will leave you with butter. I still remember the time that my mom and I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies using baking soda instead of baking powder, and ended up with bitter, flat discs. Yuck.

I like knowing exactly how much of an ingredient I need to use and exactly how long a batch of brownies need to stay in the oven. I like seeing the ingredients go into the oven raw, and come out warm and sweet smelling. When we got married last year, visions of the deep fryer and pots and pans we had included on our registry danced in my husband’s head and I lusted after a (pink!) Kitchen Aid mixer, baking sheets, and a glass cake dome.

Now, this weekend, I have a wedding shower to attend in which we are supposed to share a favorite recipe with the bride. What to choose? I thought about maybe picking something Italian—like Sunday gravy or meatballs. But, none of that stuff has ever been written down in my family, so I wouldn’t know the first place to start!

Remembering how excited I was to receive my new baking gadgets, I opted to go with a sweet instead. For the bride’s gift, I chose a cupcake pan and display tree (from my idol’s kitchen gadget collection) from her registry and will be sharing the cupcake recipe that I used for Valentine’s Day this year.

I had never made cupcakes from scratch before, and the whole process took me about four hours in the kitchen, but the end result was worth it. The vanilla cake recipe, from the famous Magnolia Bakery, was perfect. The cake was springy and moist when you bit into it and a little vanilla went a long way. I am convinced that I will never find a better chocolate buttercream icing than this one from Williams-Sonoma. I piped it on to the cupcakes with a pastry bag, an activity which I found so relaxing. I still cannot believe all of the confectioners’ sugar that went into the recipe—I think 6 cups worked out to roughly a full box and a quarter of another. I won’t lie—I ate the leftovers by the spoonful after the cupcakes were all iced. My teeth felt like they were going to rot out and I had a sugar headache after that, but the sweetness is definitely minimized when it’s paired with the cake.

Hopefully, this recipe will set the newlyweds on a path to a sweet life together!

Magnolia’s Vanilla Cupcakes

Recipe posted on the Food Network website

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Line 2 (1/2 cup-12 capacity) muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing

Quick Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen

Ingredients

8 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

6 cups confectioners’ sugar

16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter

6 Tbs. milk, plus more, if needed

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. salt

Directions

Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

Put the chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler set over but not touching simmering water in the bottom pan. Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Let cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the confectioners’ sugar, butter, the 6 Tbs. milk, the vanilla and salt and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, then reduce the speed to low. Add the chocolate and beat until combined, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute more.

If the frosting is dry, add more milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until it is creamy but still holds peaks. Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

Just Desserts

My mom. She will hurt you if you touch her cake.

So, in my last post, I discussed my love of ice cream, but I should probably clarify and say that I do not discriminate against any dessert. Cakes, cookies, pies, crème brulee, chocolate mousse, cannolis, and whatever else I can get that’s laden with sugar and butter are all fine by me as well—and if these treats are accompanied by ice cream, well, that’s even better.

Recently, my mom and aunt celebrated their birthdays and the three of us took the Two-Day Cake Baking and Decorating Workshop at Sur La Table in King of Prussia to mark the occasion. I figured no one could be said about getting older when distracted by baked goods.

When I first saw the title of the class, I figured we would be making your typical vanilla pound cake and practicing with pastry bags and tips to pipe buttercream icing or roll fondant (kind of like the Wilton classes at AC Moore, which I am still trying to make time to sign up for), but it was so much more than that. Over the course six hours over the two days, we made four different gourmet cakes, fillings, and glazes. These included a Sacher Torte, Black Forest Cake, Opera Torte (with the most amazing coffee buttercream I have ever tasted), and a Princess Cake (also known as that questionable yellow thing that you see in the Ikea cafeteria). Our teamwork skills were put to the test as we worked in groups to make the elements of each cake, sharing mixers and utensils, and taking turns making whipped cream and marzipan from scratch.

I wish I took more photos throughout the whole process, but this one of my group’s black forest cake was one of just a few I thought to snap. I had never realized how involved this particular cake is, with its layers of chocolate sponge cake, cherry syrup, whipped cream, and cherries. Piping out the whipped cream and decorating with chocolate shavings was great fun.

A little bit wonky, but good for a first attempt.

The course was instructed by John McKee, who recently joined the kitchen at Fork as a pastry chef. I definitely came away with a new appreciation for professionals like him who spend hours upon hours slaving away in the kitchen. The oven made the kitchen feel like a sauna and my feet were killing me by the end of the second day. Also, even though we didn’t taste any of our creations until the second day, I felt ridiculously full just from looking at everything for two days. I was sure I had no room in my stomach for samples.

But make room I did. Here’s a shot of the finished products before they were devoured.

Clockwise from the top of the plate: Opera Cake, Sacher Torte, Princess Cake, Black Forest Cake

All in all, I thought the workshop was a good value for the money. The instructor knew his stuff and was patient with even the “Baby Jesus” (random Catholic School reference) bakers among us, like on of my group mates who didn’t know what a spatula was on day one. The ingredients that we used were high quality, we got to dirty someone else’s kitchen, and I think we all really enjoyed stepping out of our comfort zone to learn some new techniques. I’ve never baked a cake in my life, and my mom is known as the “Box Cake Queen” in our house; my aunt bakes extensively but she hadn’t made any of these cakes prior to class. She actually got stuck with some of the hardest parts of the class, such as making the Sacher Torte and rolling the marzipan for the Princess Cake and did a great job.

And, I was able to give my mom and aunt the best birthday gift ever—the pleasure of my company.