June 28, 2011

No Bake Graham Cracker Cake

{printable recipe here}
I know it's Tuesday and I should have made Dorie's sour cream cake cookies (they look a little like whoopie pies to me) but it's just SO hot. I've only had my oven on once in the last week- I think that's some sort of record for me. I did make this graham cracker 'cake' of sorts for a family party. Strawberries were on sale at Sprouts for 77 cents a pound and a bought a whole flat for making jam. We ended up eating them instead (thank goodness my mom was responsible enough to make some jam and share!) and when it was time to make dessert for the party I instantly thought of strawberry shortcake. I pulled out a few cook books, looking for a recipe to match my ingredients and found the inspiration for this dessert instead from the Lion House Bakery.

The original recipe calls for instant pudding mixed with Cool Whip, layered up with graham crackers, and topped with pie filling. I'll be honest- Cool Whip totally creeps me out. Since I was going pretty semihomemade anyways, I made my own vanilla pudding (my slightly-lightened version of Dorie's pastry cream) and whipped cream. I combined those and layered it with the graham crackers and served it with strawberries. It was cool, smooth, and delicious and the next day it was even better- the crackers had softened and the final product was almost cake like, tasting of vanilla, cream, and strawberries (how bad can that be, right?) The best part is that the oven didn't have to heat my little house at all and this recipe is perfectly adaptable. You could use boxed pudding, try out chocolate, top it with whatever fruit's in season, and even use Cool Whip, you know, if you wanted. I'm sorry the cake is hard to see in the picture, but sometimes (you know, as often as I can), I put too many strawberries on top of things. And Baby Strawberry was yelling "More more more!" while I tried to snap a quick picture!

PS Amazon is offered $2 in free MP3 credit through the 30th- just enter CLOUDMP3 on this page and then check out their selection of $0.69 MP3's- this was a good excuse to get few chick songs myself!

Anne Strawberry's No Bake Graham Cracker 'Cake'
inspired by The Lion House Bakery
{printable recipe here}

1 pounds of strawberries
1/3- 1/2 cup powdered sugar, to taste
2 cups slightly-lightened vanilla pastry cream (or 1 small box instant pudding, prepared)- see recipe below
2 cups whipped cream (or Cool Whip, if you don't have weird food hang ups like I do)
1 box (three sleeves) HoneyMaid Graham Crackers (14.4 ounces)

Wash the strawberries and cut the tops off. Select the prettiest of the berries (about half) and slice from top to bottom (you could use this great tool here). Mash the rest of the strawberries with powdered sugar to desired sweetness and gently stir in strawberry slices. Refridgerate and save for garnish.

Gently fold together the pastry cream and whipped cream in a medium bowl. In a baking dish (I used a medium Pyrex, about 7 x 11, but this is flexible) lay out a layer of graham crackers. The amount will vary with the size of the dish you use, but I needed almost a whole sleeve per layer. Don't worry if some are broken- just patch them together to make the neatest layer you can and it will all meld together later.

Top graham crackers with 1/2 of the cream and spread it evenly using an off-set spatula. Add another layer of graham crackers. Top with the rest of the cream, spread it out, and top with the last of the graham crackers.

Refrigerate for 3-12 hours (I think the best timing would be to assemble in the morning if you want to serve with dinner, but you can make the cream and everything ahead of time to go with your schedule since layering everything will only take a couple minutes). Slice and serve topped with generous portions of fruit topping and enjoy your cool dessert (and cool kitchen!)

"Slightly Lighted" Pastry Cream
adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

2 1/2 cups 2% milk
4 large egg yolks
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature
Seeds from one vanilla bean (optional)

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk-- this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are full incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream through a mesh sieve into a bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool it quickly, carefully set the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and refrigerate, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

Whipped Cream Recipe
See Martha's for a detailed description how to make your own whipped cream using heavy cream if you haven't done it before (I would just tell you to dump it in the mixer, add a few shakes of powdered sugar and a little vanilla, and mix on high till it's pretty and delicious!)

June 21, 2011

TWD- Chocolate Biscotti

Tuesdays with Dorie is such a great excuse to try new things. I'd never tried biscotti before but needed to catch up so I made this recipe anyways: I figured the coffee drinkers at my tall man's work would appreciate these crunchy cookies so I went ahead. As usual, I was pleasantly surpised and LOVED these cookies. I don't know about you, but I don't really need to expand my unhealthy-treats-I-love repoiretoire but what can you do? Baby Strawberry and I loved dunking these in a cold glass of milk.

See the recipe here from Jacque- and check out her beautiful process pictures if you need a little help visualizing the cookie shaping procedure like I did or on you can find the recipe on Peabody's. You can also see all the biscotti from the rest of the group or this week's Date Nut loaf. And as always, I recommend buying Dorie's awesome book. It never ceases to amaze me how many things I've learned to like by trying so many of her recipes (what's next, coconut? Running? I wouldn't put it past Dorie!)

Notes on the recipe: I omitted the espresso powder and added some Hershey's Special Dark cocoa in the same amount. I also used cashews and mini chocolate chips for the add ins. Last, I sprinkled a little bit of salt on top with the sugar and the salty kick was subtle and wonderful!

To shape the biscotti, I just divided the dough into two and made two logs on either side of the silpat lined cookie sheet (if this were art class I would say to divide the paper 'hot dog style') then when it's time to cut them, just lay them out the same way again but each cookie on their side. Much easier than I imagined!

June 15, 2011

Wednesday Want- Blender Bottle

I'm in late with today's Wednesday Want but had to share one of my simplest and best kitchen tools- my Blender Bottle. I've used a lot of shaker bottles before- a Tupperware, a Zyliss, and even one from the dollar store- but this one beats them all and never leaks with a nice screw-on lid. It has a stainless steel coiled ball in the center that makes quick work of homemade salad dressing, pancake batter, even instant pudding (don't judge- I love the vanilla! And the butterscotch. Blame my mom.) It's even available in tons of great colors- red, happy yellow, lime green, magenta, even a pretty plum for you purple peeps. I bought my first one at Sprout's but you can get them from Amazon for less. I love the smaller size for homemade salad dressing and I've included my favorite recipe below. It lasts for a few weeks in the fridge and even stays almost totally emulsified in the beloved Blender Bottle.

Do you use one of these things? Any great uses I'm missing out on?

PS Check out the official, awesome Wednesday Want from the talented Kayla here.

Anne Strawberry's Simple Balsamic Dressing
(adapted from Emeril)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons brown sugar 1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a blender bottle (or jar) and shake to combine. Toss salad and serve immediately. This makes a lot of dressing so I usually half it and store my extra dressing in the fridge for couple of weeks- but it always gets eaten before it goes bad.

Serve with my Cheesecake Factory Knock Off French Country Salad (with goat cheese!), panzanella, or your favorite green salad. You can't go wrong here.

June 8, 2011

Diamond Engagement Ring Sugar Cookies & the Wednesday Want

It's usually the little things that let me know I'm really going to hit it off with someone. One of my best friends and I have hardly anything in common and that became glaringly obvious the first time we met. Later in the conversation she mentioned she had a red KitchenAid (I'd just gotten mine at the time, and my mixer and I were, and are, I guess, still in the honeymoon stage). I knew right then things would work out- and we are best friend still, even if we're separated by miles and miles, nothing will change that. It's kind of the same with my friend Natalie. She has the same sheet pans as I do, happily lined with silpats, stacked with lids, and ready for all the baking they are meant to do. Yes, they're just objects- but they're also indicitive of a shared interest.

Natalie makes me the most beautiful cookies (this spring she made 400 butterfly sugar cookies, marbled and swirled and bigger than your hand) and so we commisioned her to make engagement ring sugar cookies for my brother's wedding luncheon. It was so fun coming over and seeing her process (I think everyone makes them differently). Her recipe is not very fussy and has fabulous results- without chilling the dough, leaving tons of space on the pan, or anything like that that I regularly do with still only mediocre results. She also has the steadiest hand and frosted perfectly smooth wedding bands (while I could only trust myself with the diamond!) I'll post the recipe soon.

It's hard to tell from the pictures but the cookies were incredibley sparkley and shiny, thanks to silver and iridescent edible glitter from ABC cake decorating.To get the white royal icing nice and white, we used Americolor White Gel food coloring (it was $5 for a huge bottle at the cake store) and added iridescent glitter for the diamond. The grey to mimic the white gold bands was made with the white coloring with a little Americolor black- silver glitter on top. We tried the Wilton black first and ended up with lavender frosting. They came out beautifully and I'm so grateful to Natalie for sharing her time and talents to help make the day a little more special. I'm also grateful she had four sheet pans so we can get them done because mine were all busy making brownies...

I think I've sharing this picture before but it perfectly demonstrates why I love love love the Nordicware lidded half sheet pans (also called jelly roll pans or cookie sheets around these parts). I had a few of these from wedding gifts, my mom had a different style, and last year we finally bit the bullet and bought a huge matching set. Now we each have four lidded pans that make projects so much easier. I think the secret is to have the same so they stack so perfectly. I have seen these at Ross and TJ Maxx occasionally but the best deal I found, when I wanted a whole bunch, was at Amazon- the four piece set- one lidded half sheet pan and one lidded quarter sheet pan (perfect for a regular batch of brownies) for a few dollars more than the big pan and lid by themselves. Pretty regularly they go on as part of Amazon's buy three get one free promotion. Now our pans can bounce back and forth and all hang out happily together.

I know matching cookie sheets, lined with silpats, isn't the most important thing in the world (or best indicator of friendship) but I love these pans- especially with a big project going on. Last week I made four large pans- that's two batches each- of cheesecake brownies (shown above) and four large pans of chocolate mint 'BYU brownies' for the reception and loved seeing them all stacked up and pretty- safely covered, protected from little wandering hands, and absolutely delicious. Do you have a ridiculous obsession with pans like I do? Please someone say yes...

June 7, 2011

TWD- Caramel Pots de Creme

Did you miss me? Remember how I said I was back and would queue up some posts? We'll, you know what they say about good intentions. I am happy to report that my brother's wedding was wonderful and I got all the things baked in time that I needed to (come back for the Wednesday Want to see the engagement ring sugar cookies and one of the most important tool I needed to get everything done, besides my wonderful, helpful friends!)

So back to Tuesdays with Dorie. I made these Caramel Pots de Creme in hearts in John's honor last week but had a little date mix up so here I am on this Tuesday with them (see their blueberry brown sugar cakes here). Next time I make these I will try the chocolate flavor (yum!) and add salt again. I will also strain the custard before chilling since you never know and the texture is really important in these delicious little French custards. The ingredients are simple and you don't really need any extra equipment. I'd encourage you to give them a try- and watch the caramel carefully, I think mine was just over the edge, but we still enjoyed these. See the recipe from the wonderful Peggy  or buy Dorie's amazing book already and give them a try yourself. They have a fancy Frenchie name but it's really worth trying something new and with a little patience anyone can do it!