Monday, February 27, 2012

Ode to my bro...and hamantaschen on steroids

I always felt bad for my friends that didn't have big brothers. It's like they were missing a puzzle piece, and they couldn't understand what they were missing. Its a special relationship, and you really can't know what it's like unless you have one. My big brother went to high school out-of-state, and only came home for occasional weekends, so I am sure that helped to idolize him in my eyes. Not that he isn't awesome. 'Cuz he totally default, as he is my older brother. (D'uh!) But that's not the point. He actually inspired my early baking career. He probably doesn't realize this, but who else looked the other way when he would walk by and casually swipe a huge chunk of cookie dough out of the bowl? (While whistling and looking all innocent.)
Who, I ask ya. Only an adoring younger sister, that's for sure! And who else would lovingly bake chocolate chip cookies and package each cookie individually for maximum freshness and ship them to her big brother?? Definitely a younger sister! (K, he went to an all boys school , so there might have been an ulterior motive there-as in maybe my future husband would eat my delicious cookies and we would have a romantic story from the get-go. It was love at first bite. Turns out Big D. was not there. Oh well. It's a good thing I still found him,even without the cookies!) So, now as an adult, I look back and think how nice life turned out that I got myself a pretty decent older brother. And speaking of decent older brothers....guess what he sent me? A camera upgrade! That's what! 
(Requisite new camera macro flower picture)

Its amazing to have a sibling that shares the same hobby- you always have someone to talk "shop" with. And both me and my brother (I know that grammar is not right, but honestly I have no clue how you word that sentence!) share a passion for photography, and its always interesting to see how we channel that differently. One thing that is definitely different is the quality, and that may be, but not for sure, (because he is super talented) because we have very different cameras. While I always feel like I am pushing my point and shoot camera to the absolute limit, (literally, it wheezes!) AM breezes by with his fancy DSLR camera. So one day a few weeks ago, while I was moaning and groaning to him about how lucky he is, he said "Hey, my old higher end point and shoot is just sitting around collecting dust-do you want to use it?" And I was like, "Really? Really? Are you serious?! Pllleeeeaassse." Because even though his camera is a point and shoot, its just a drop under a DSLR, and takes beautiful pictures. And just like that! He shipped it off to me and here we are. So AM- you rock. And if you were here, I would totally let you eat the dough. Or the cookies. Whatevs.

In other news, I got a recipe request! One of my first, but very exciting, since I am always up for a challenge. A reader e-mailed me and asked me to please post a recipe for hamantaschen with homemade fillings. Now, there is a slight problem with that. I really don't like hamantaschen. There's something so hamantaschey about them- you know what I mean? Granted, if I am in a car with three hyperactive, sugar crazed monkeys, and I skipped lunch so I am starving, and you stick a cellophane wrapped plate of hamantaschen under my nose, I probably would devour them. But I wouldn't enjoy them all that much. And I might eat a smashed cupcake first. Just sayin'. So this reader got me thinking- how can I post a hamantaschen recipe that I actually like? So basically, I did just that- I took my favorite sugar cookie recipe, and my favorite brownie recipe and they had a baby!

Then I felt a little bad, because she really did ask for a homemade filling recipe, and most normal people on this earth probably do not classify brownies as a normal hamantasch filling, so behold my next brainchild:

Wait for it....

Bet you are scratching your head saying, "Now why didn't I think of that?" 
Just a glimpse of my geniusness folks,just a glimpse. 
And my humility too, obviously.
And by the way, my anti-hamantasch self absolutely approved of these hamantaschen. They were actually a little too good for their own good...or my diet if ya know what I mean.
 Now, in case all of you are shaking your head saying " Can't we just get a regular hamantasch recipe? Please?" I shall be most gracious, and post my go-to hamantasch recipe. So let's get started, shall we?

Sugar Cookie Hamantasch Dough                                                  Adapted from
  • 1 1/2 cups butter or margarine, softened
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Cream together the butter/margarine and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, vanilla and lemon juice, scraping sides occasionally. Reduce mixer speed to low, and stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Cover and chill dough for at least one hour (don't skip this step!) or overnight.

Brownie Filling
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 2 cup white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

(egg white- for forming hamantaschen)

Preheat oven to 350°. Melt butter/margarine in a medium sized saucepan. Remove from flame and allow to cool slightly. Add in sugar, eggs and vanilla and stir (by hand) until smooth. Stir in cocoa, flour, salt and baking powder. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes. Keep in mind that since these brownies will be used as a filling, they do not have to be perfectly ready- in fact, its easier to fill the hamantaschen if they are slightly under-cooked. 

To assemble: Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly flour your work surface. Roll out cookie dough to the same thickness as you would for sugar cookies, or slightly thicker. Be careful not to roll the dough out too thin- or you will get holes in the hamantasch as you fold it. Using a large glass, cut out circles from the dough. Using a cookie scoop or a melon baller, scoop out a ball of brownie. Place in the center of the circle, like this:
Smear some egg white around the edges of the circle, and fold the top two sides until they are touching.(Since the filling here is a relatively solid ball, as opposed to soft jelly filling, you are really just folding the sugar cookie over the top of the brownie ball to form a  hamantash shape- it's not an actual pinch like a traditional hamantasch.)  Fold the bottom side up and pinch lightly. Your finished hamantasch should look basically like this:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Arrange formed hamantaschen on the pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Drizzle cooled hamantaschen with Basic Chocolate Glaze. Makes 50 large hamantaschen.

And now for the Apple Pie Hamantaschen:

Prepare the sugar cookie dough above. (Each recipe of filling makes enough filling for one recipe of dough.)

Apple Pie Filling
2 apples, shredded (about 2 cups packed)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Combine all filling ingredients in a small bowl-mix well. Lightly flour your work surface. Roll dough out to the same thickness as sugar cookies, or slightly thicker. Place a very small spoonful of apple filling in the center of the circle. (If the hamantaschen are overfilled, they run the risk of popping open during baking.) Towards the end of the batch of hamantaschen, I found that the apples got very liquidy, so squeeze out any excess liquid before placing it on the circle. Smear some egg white around the edge. Press the top two edges tgether and pinch lightly, like this:
Arrange on a lined cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 400° for 15 minutes. For the glaze: Pour 1 1/2 cup powder sugar into a ziploc bag. Add 2 tablespoons milk or creamer and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Zip close and mix. The glaze will probably be thick- if it is, microwave on high for 15 seconds, and mix again. (You realize when I say mix, I mean squish, right?) Snip off a corner and drizzle over cooled hamantaschen.

And for those of you who held out this long, here is a traditional hamantasch dough:

Traditional Hamantasch Dough
This recipe makes a ridiculous amount of hamantaschen, so don't be shy to half the recipe.

6 eggs
1 1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
6 cups flour
4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon salt

Cream sugar and oil. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in extracts. Reduce mixer speed to low; stir in flour, baking powder and salt. If the dough is sticky, add additional flour. Roll out dough and cut out circles with a glass. Fill with traditional hamantasch fillings (jelly, prune lekvar, poppy seed filling, chocolate spread etc.) Brush perimeter of circle with egg whites, and pinch ends close. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

For a clear explanation on how to form hamantaschen, check out Miriam's, from at CookKosher. And for those of you who are wondering exactly what hamantaschen can find an explanation here

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cake, cake, cake and uh, more cake!

You remember this monstrosity
Well, its been a whole entire year. That would be 365 days. The time just flies by, no? Anyways, this past weekend was once again Big D.'s alma mater weekend retreat*, combined with a birthday, a Bar Mitzvah as well as a cake order stuck in there....which results in one big fat huge Bake-A-Thon. 
Sayonora Bakation. It's been lovely.
So as usual, I feel the need to share my craziness with you 
and the rest of the wide, wide, world (name that children's book!):
First up, we have :

A Caramel Cake

A Caramel cake

And a caramel cake!

Is it just me, or do I hear an echo in here?

Next, we have the lovely, lovely Cake Pops:

And their humble cousins, The Cake Truffles:

And last on my list, but definitely first in my heart:

It was Big D.'s birthday! And what better way to celebrate your birthday, then to have 150 people sing you happy birthday? I'm awesome, I know. 
This is the third year in a row that I made a Strawberry Shortcake for Big D.'s birthday, and I gotta say, this one is definitely my favorite. For the full story on Big D.'s boring consistent birthday cake choices, you can get the full story here

Now go have yourself an awesome week, while I catch my breath!

*Can I just say how awesome it was this past weekend? Besides the fact that the E.'s did an unbelievable, draw dropping job putting everything together, it was amazing to see everyone! It was so much fun to sit back, catch up, and laugh together with old friends! And I was so honored to have so many people come over to me and tell me that they actually *read* my blog! And here I was thinking I just yap on and on to my mother and Big D.! I better start being careful what I say! Although, we are all friends here...but I just want to say thank you! It's nice to know you are out there! And I just won an award for ending every sentence in a paragraph with an exclamation point! Yay!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Mornings...

So, I have a headache. Headaches on Monday mornings are never a good thing. Doesn't bode well for the rest of the week...Well the truth is, who is bouncing around, eager to greet a lovely Monday morning? No one I know, that's for sure.
But you know what? These  brownie cookies will solve all that. They will cure your headache! They will basically cure anything! Too bad I don't have any more left... 

Yep. So that's all the exciting news I have today. Headaches and brownie cookies. So about these cookies...they actually took me totally by surprise. Its the worst for my diet when that happens. I'll be happily baking, thinking:

Eh', I don't need to taste these, I can imagine how they taste....probably like a chocolate flavored chocolate chip cookies....I'll just have a little nibble to make sure I didn't forget to put in sugar (before you say Who does that?, I do. Ok. I have done that before. So there.) just a teeny tiny bite won't hurt (famous last words)'s practically a crumb....can't be more than five calories, at most....maybe ten.....


Stunned silence.


Yep, it caught me that much by surprise. And it gets worse...they were hot out of the oven. With chunks of melting chocolate oozing out. I am drooling just remembering it. Literally a hot fudgy brownie in a cookie. And then I blinked and 2 cookies were gone. Poof. Just dissappeared. I didn't even know that was scientifically possible. But indeed it is. This was one hunk of chewy chocolatey goodness. 
And you can quote me on that. 

Brownie Cookies                                                          Adapted from The Pink Apron
8 ounces good quality baking chocolate ( I always cheat and just use chocolate chips. If you are a chocolate  connoisseur though, go for the gold.)
2 tablespoons margarine
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2-3/4 cup flour*
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Combine margarine and chocolate in a small saucepan. Melt over low heat, stirring constantly. Chocolate burns very easily, so be careful. Remove from flame and set aside to cool. Using an electric mixer,  beat together the brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, baking powder and salt. Add in the melted chocolate, and beat until well combined. Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour and chocolate chips. Drop by spoonful onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12 minutes, until the tops are cracked and dry. Don’t over bake these; they’ll seem underdone when you take them out, but they become firm as they cool. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

*The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup flour, but when I added that, the batter was so thin, there was no way I could have dropped cookies down. So I added more flour (1 cup total) until the dough was manageable. So start with 1/2 cup, and if its still too thin to form cookies, then add 1/4 cup at a time until you can. These cookies are supposed to be thin, so don't worry if they flatten as they bake. 

Whoops- I almost forgot. For the full chocolatey experience, make sure to eat these babies warm

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Guest Post!

I officially feel like a real, true, live blogger now....up until now, I was just talking to myself. See real bloggers, they have guest bloggers come on from time to time. And while my mom popped in once to say hi.....Sorry Ma, but that just doesn't count. One of the cool parts about having a blog, is meeting other people via my blog. (Close your ears children. You are NOT allowed to talk to strangers online!) So when an old buddy who I met through my blog asked me if she can do a guest post cookbook review on CantStopBaking, the answer was d'uh! Of course you can. Today, I am a grown up. And with that- take it away Laya!

The Bais Yaakov Cookbook: A Review

You’ve been seeing the ads for The Bais Yaakov cookbook for weeks. You’re probably wondering, “Can this really live up to the hype? Is it just another cookbook with a pretty cover but nothing worth making inside?”

After going through the cookbook cover to cover, the definitive answers to those questions are “yes” and “no.”

First, let’s talk about the food. It’s all about the food, isn’t it? The 200 original recipes extend the boundaries of the box without stepping out of the box. The ingredients called for are not exotic or hard to find, the cooking methods are not complicated, but the end result is a notch up from your standard fare. The photography and food styling is so magnificent you will want to eat dinner off the page. The editors of this cookbook managed to avoid mediocrity while maintaining sensibility. The recipes are original, different, enticing, and tantalizing, but easy, simple to follow, and won’t take a whole day in the kitchen to make.

In the Bais Yaakov cookbook, you won’t find plain recipes. You’re not going to find a plain orzo recipe but a recipe for Pastrami Orzo. You won’t spot your standard zucchini soup but Roasted Garlic Zucchini Soup. You won’t be seeing instructions on how to make Yerushalmi kugel, but you’ll be seeing a mouthwatering recipe for Two Layer Yerushalmi Kugel with a Rice Krispies topping. Just the names of the recipes will make your mouth water: Chilled Strawberry Soup with Walnut Crunch, Honey Ginger Grilled London Broil Salad, Champagne Apple Salad, Crunchy Pecan Chicken Cutlets, Salmon in Pink Cream Sauce, Pralines and Cream Semifreddo, Apple Crumble in you hear your kitchen calling yet?

And now for the hidden jewel of this cookbook: The halacha guidelines section written by former Clevelander Rabbi Daniel Neustadt. This 23-page guide to halachos in the kitchen is so informative it could be its own book. It answers all those questions you might have on Shabbos or during a late-night cooking spree in a concise, comprehensible manner. How to prepare kishke on erev Shabbos, wash dishes on Shabbos, use one oven for meat and dairy, read a menu on Yom Tov, and so much more is lucidly explained in this section. It includes a brochos list and bug-checking guide.

But we still haven’t reached the end! The Halacha section is followed by a culinary tips section. Guides to wine, meat, poultry, fish, spices and herbs, fruits and vegetables, cookware, and kitchen gadgets are displayed in clear charts. There is so much information bundled into the last 55 pages of this cookbook you will find yourself reaching for it again and again.

Now, you may be asking, what does this all have to do with Bais Yaakov? The cookbook opens with a history of the Bais Yaakov movement written by acclaimed Yated columnist Avrohom Birnbaum. He weaves a beautiful picture of Sarah Schenirer’s dream, its implementation, her teachings, and how the Bais Yaakov movement has influenced the Jewish people to this day. The recipes have been gathered from Bais Yaakovs around the country and the proceeds from this cookbook will fund Jewish education.

The Bais Yaakov Cookbook provides food for the mind, soul, and of course, the palate, all in one attractive volume. My only disappointment? The Bais Yaakov Pesach cookbook will not be released in time for this coming Pesach. We will have to wait a year...

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut butter lovers, this one is for you! You can serve these as a single cookie, but if you want an explosion of peanut buttery goodness, try spreading a layer of your favorite peanut butter between two cookies to create a sandwich.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1 cup chunky peanut butter, room temperature, plus 1/3 cup (for filling)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon milk or unsweetened plain soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
1 to 2 tablespoons superfine or regular sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat butter or margarine and 1 cup peanut butter until fluffy. Add sugar and brown sugar; beat until smooth. Add egg and mix well. Add milk and vanilla; continue beating. Add flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Place 1 to 2 tablespoons superfine sugar on a plate. Drop cookie dough by rounded teaspoonfuls into the sugar, then onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving several inches between each cookie for expansion.

Using a fork, lightly indent cookies with a criss-cross, but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake 8 minutes. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.

Remove cookies from oven and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

If desired, turn half of the cookies upside down. Spread about 1 teaspoon of peanut butter over upside down cookie and top with a second cookie.

Yield: 36 cookies or 18 sandwiches

The Bais Yaakov cookbook (ISBN: 978-1-58330-348-1), published by Feldheim Publishers, is available for purchase here.

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