Friday, May 29, 2015

California Cookies

California Cookies

When I was in high school, I worked in a French pastry shop.  It was in a small seaside town in New Hampshire and they made everything from scratch.  The town had a great influx of tourists during the summer and the little café developed an exceptional reputation.  Eventually, the café expanded and they had not only had an outstanding patisserie but they also were known for coffee, breakfast pastries (cheese danishes that would make you cry), and cookies.

I have been thinking a lot about the café recently and wishing that I had saved some of the recipes or at least had access to them.  One cookie in particular got a lot of attention: the California Cookie.

The California Cookies were huge!  They had giant chunks of white chocolate, dark chocolate, pecans, and almonds in a brown sugary cookie dough.  The chunks were all cut by hand from big blocks of Callebaut chocolate.  Ok, this was in the 80’s before quality chocolate became a thing and they were using Callebaut for cookies!  (They also had the best hot chocolate on the planet because they scaled milk in a copper bowl, added sugar and real vanilla, and then whisked in chunks of Callebaut bittersweet chocolate – I have still never had better.)  but I digress.

So today I am recreating Café Brioche California Cookies from my memory.  I know the main ingredients because over the course of several years of working there I said the phrase “White chocolate, dark chocolate, pecans, and almonds” so many times that once I started thinking about the cookies the loop just kept repeating in my head.

Here goes:
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 granulated sugar
Cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, then add:
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Continue to beat on medium even more fluffy, then add:
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
Mix until incorporated, then either on low or by hand add:
1/2  cup large chunks of semi-sweet chocolate (Callebaut)
1/2 cup large chunks of white chocolate (Callebaut or El Rey)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Drop large tablespoons of dough onto parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges start to brown.  Let cool before biting into the molten lava pile of chocolate chunks.  (I mention this because I made that mistake and now the roof of my mouth is very unhappy with me.)

all good things start this way

Thursday, May 7, 2015

For the love of Cheesecake

The time has come to talk about cheesecake.  I have a lot to say.

1. Fact: 8 out of 10 times ordering cheesecake at a restaurant is disappointing. Don't do it - it is never worth the calories.

2. You are either a cheesecake purist or you like all kinds of goop on your slice. (This is the start of a much longer rant - I think if you need a lot of stuff on your food it is because the food is not very good to start with.)
3. Dispel the myth: Cheesecake is NOT hard to make - it is SUPER easy, it is baking it correctly that is tricky and even that is not that hard once you have done it a few times.

4. Cheesecake should be creamy, creamy, creamy!

5. Don't stress over the top cracking - you can cover it up!

6. Dry cheesecake is a sin so always error on the side of slightly underdone.

7. Don't skimp on the quality of the cookies you use for the crust - good cookies + good butter = good crust.  The variations are limitless.

Cheesecake is not my favorite cake to make but it is hands down my single most requested dessert to bring for birthdays, holidays, or gathering of friends.  I make a good cheesecake. I have made a lot of them over the years so I think practice in this case, makes perfect. 

I use the same recipe but modify it as needed for different flavors or occasions.  There is nothing fancy about it at all.  The recipe is from Bon Appetit from 2005 and they credit a restaurant called Zoom in Park City, Utah.  The original recipe, just the way it is written, is awesome. I encourage you to make it as your first attempt.  I guarantee you will not only be very proud of yourself but the people whom you feed will think you are a culinary rock star.  (Note - buy extra Skor bars.  My guess is that you haven't eaten one in a while and they are crazy delicious!).

The caramel from the recipe is great for a go-to caramel recipe.  I use it on ice cream and it is always delicious.  For those who think they don't like cheesecake, this recipe can convert even the toughest of cheesecake haters. 
Here it is and thanks Bon Appetit for making me a cheesecake goddess.


Gingersnap crust:
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 1/2 cups ground gingersnap cookies (about 7 1/4 ounces)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar (I always use white sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Caramel topping
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 1.4-ounce English toffee candy bars (such as Heath or Skor), chopped
For gingersnap crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray bottom of 9-inch springform pan with 2 1/2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. Stir ground cookies, butter, and sugar in medium bowl until moist clumps form. Press cookie mixture firmly onto bottom of prepared pan. Wrap outside of pan with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Bake crust until firm and beginning to darken, about 14 minutes. Cool crust. Maintain oven temperature.
For cheesecake:
Beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Beat in butter, then eggs, 1 at a time, until just blended. Beat in vanilla. Pour batter over crust in pan. Place springform pan in large roasting pan. Add enough hot water to come halfway up sides of springform pan. Bake cake uncovered until filling is puffed around edges and moves slightly in center when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Remove pan from water; remove foil. Place hot cheesecake uncovered in refrigerator overnight.
For caramel topping:
Stir sugar, water, and lemon juice in large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until mixture turns deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 9 minutes. Add cream (mixture will bubble). Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until reduced to 1 1/4 cups, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Chill until thickened but still pourable, about 15 minutes.
Spoon caramel over top of cake just to edges (do not allow caramel to drip down sides). Garnish top edges with chopped English toffee. Chill at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.
Run knife around pan sides to loosen cake; release pan sides.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Birthday Brunch


I am a very fortunate person.  I have a wonderful life.  An amazing family. Great friends.  A job I enjoy and that challenges me.  I have had enough adversity to appreciate to good times and to know a good thing when I see it.

Yesterday, I was reminded of all of these things rolled up into an amazing potluck, birthday brunch.  Good friends - the kind that can cook, bake, and appreciate a fine cocktail or two.  Work- because my kitchen is a meeting ground of Tovolo tools old and new where when 5 women are all using the kitchen at once and no one has to use the same spatula, spoon, turner, or spreader. (Ok in fairness on this one, I am kitchen tool glutton.  It would be really wrong if it wasn't actually part of my job. :) )  Everyone brought either a finished extravagance or ingredients to make a dish.  We started off with a glass of prosecco and St. Germain as guests arrived and continued to eat for almost 3 leisurely hours. 

It was a gorgeous day in Seattle!  To have a day at the beginning of May sunny and in the mid-60's is a gift.  There was not a cloud in the sky so we decided to move the whole party outside - dining table and all! It was like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland.

Thank you Birthday Fairy!

This is how to have a potluck brunch:

Gluten Free Coconut Waffles with fresh whipped cream and raspberries Cinnamon, cardamom rolls
Toast with French butter and fruit preserves
Triple Cream French cheese
Fruit salad with berries and  sliced mango
Homemade Lemon Curd - recipe
Roasted strawberry, brown butter biscuits - modified Joy the Baker recipe
Arugula, goat cheese, and shallot frittata
Vanilla Bean Meringues
Huck Finn cocktails




Huck Finn Cocktail Recipe
2oz. Old Tom Gin
2 oz. Joia Grapefruit, Chamomile, and Cardamom Soda
Lime squeeze/wheel
Add the OTG over ice cubes, add soda and a squeeze of lime.  Garnish with a lime wedge.