Butter Toffee Cookies

Butter Toffee Cookies are one of my all-time favorite drop cookie so it is the perfect way to end this very eventful year of 2014. And to make it extra special, I added coffee, in two forms - coffee grounds and espresso powder.

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The recipe... developed during my business days... if this resembles one found elsewhere, it is purely coincidental.

Butter Toffee Cookies

Ingredients

  • 12.5 ounces (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

  • 5 ounces (3/4 cup) granulated sugar

  • 5 ounces (3/4 cup) brown sugar, lightly packed

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  • 2 ea large eggs

  • 10 ounces (2 cups) toffee bits or pieces, plus more for topping

  • optional:  1/2 tablespoon espresso powder, dissolved with the vanilla extract

  • optional:  1 teaspoon finely ground coffee beans

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the sugars, butter, sea salt, dissolved espresso powder, and ground coffee (if using) at medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl before each addition. At low speed, beat in the dry ingredients and toffee bits.
  4. Use a size 40 ice cream scoop or larger to portion out the dough. Drop the scooped dough onto prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 1 inch apart. Flatten and top with more toffee bits. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before baking.
  5. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 10-12 minutes, until golden around the edges. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 15 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack and cool completely.

Vanilla Bean Cupcake Recipe

From experience...

  1. Have all your ingredients at room temperature before mixing! Yes, even the eggs. This results in a more cohesive batter.
  2. I prefer to use unbleached pastry flour. If this is readily available in your area, then, yes, use this instead of the all-purpose and cake flours. You'll need 1 3/4 cups (9 oz) of unbleached pastry flour.
  3. Vanilla bean paste is optional, but then the recipe will be for Vanilla Cupcakes. If you're only using extract, then up the amount to 2 teaspoons instead of 1 teaspoon.

Now for the recipe... if this happens to be similar to another recipe elsewhere, it's purely coincidental. I developed this recipe a while back for my business.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups (6.5 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (2.5 oz) cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lemon peel (optional)
  • 2/3 cup (5 oz) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ea large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (2 fl oz) whole milk, warm

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the inside of 18 to 24 muffin/cupcake cups (standard sized) with ovenproof paper baking cup liners.
  2. Sift the flours and baking powder onto a sheet of waxed paper or parchment. This is an ingenious technique to easily pour the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl. And one less dish to wash. If you don't have either paper, then sift into a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream the butter, lemon peel (if using), and salt in the large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on moderate speed (on a KitchenAid, it's the 4 setting) for 3 minutes. Add the sugar in 2 additions, beating for 1 minute after each portion is added.
  4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing for about 20 seconds after each addition to combine. Blend in the vanilla bean paste (if using) and extract.
  5. On low speed, beat in half of the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until the particles of flour have been absorbed. Add the milk, mix to combine, then blend in the rest of the sifted dry mixture.
  6. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl thoroughly with a rubber spatula after each addition. The batter will be moderately dense and creamy.
  7. Spoon the batter into the lined muffin cups, dividing it evenly among them. I prefer to use a 2 oz ice cream scoop or disher. This easily and perfectly fills a standard sized muffin cup.
  8. Bake the cupcakes in the preheated oven for 18 minutes, or until risen, set, and a wooden pick withdraws clean. I use the touch method - using your finger, gently press the tops of a couple of cupcakes. If the tops spring back, then it's done. If it leaves an indentation, then they need a couple more minutes.
  9. Cool the cupcakes in the pans on racks for 10 minutes, then remove them to other cooling racks. Cool completely.

Belgian Waffles

I love waffles. But the thought of buying frozen is just plain sad. I'm a baker for goodness sake! I can make anything with flour, eggs, and water. Besides, I've made waffles before - though I used a mix and I had an electric waffle maker - so no big deal.

When the time came to finally buy a waffle maker, I went with this... <care of a stock photo found online and used the awesome Squarespace image editor to add the frame>

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This lovely piece is made by Nordic Ware and it's cast aluminum. Since I now have a gas stove, I might as well take advantage of it and buy a stove top waffle iron. And just the thought of having to store another bulky electric appliance put me off in buying one with a cord.

Nordic Ware makes awesome stuff and this baby does not disappoint - very compact and easy to clean. The two halves can be separated and immersed in soapy hot water.

This is my first go at it and of course I didn't use the recipe that came with it. It's just what I do. Feel free to do whatever you want when you make your own waffles. Just saying...

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So... as you can see, I failed to properly fill the waffle iron to achieve perfectly squared off waffles. I was aghast since I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to baking. But when I tasted it with some butter and maple syrup... I couldn't careless what the waffles looked like. They were too yummy to complain.

Now for the recipe... in which you can find the original here. You know me already... I indeed make a small change.

Classic Belgian Waffles

- adapted from a Thomas DeGeest recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 cup (5 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (10 oz) Bob's Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs, separated

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. In a large bowl, stir the flour with the salt. Whisk in the yeast mixture, milk, butter, egg yolks and vanilla until smooth.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold them into the batter and let stand for 20 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 225°. Heat and grease a waffle iron. Pour 1 1/4 cups of the batter into the iron and cook until the waffles are golden, 6 minutes. Transfer the waffles to the oven. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Note:  I used an ice cream scoop, size 16, that dishes out 2 oz portions. Six scoops (12 oz) of the batter will sufficiently fill the Nordic Ware waffle iron.

Challah

Challah is a Jewish braided bread eaten on Sabbath and holidays. It is also named khale, berches, Zopf barkis, bergis, birkata in Judeo-Amharic, vianočka in Slovak language, tsoureki in Greek, kalács, chałka, colaci, and kitke. - Wikipedia

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The following is a recipe from when I attended culinary school. In all honesty, I can't remember if this was an instructor's formula or was the Le Cordon Bleu standard. Oh, it was so long ago...

I wrote the directions since all the recipes from school do not have written instructions. You learn in school that there are specific mixing methods that go with recipes that have certain ingredients. Once you absorb all the methods and understand the whys you can pretty much look at a recipe and know what to do.

Ingredients

  • ½ oz instant dry yeast

  • 4 oz granulated sugar

  • ¾ tsp sea salt

  • 16 fl oz warm water

  • 8 oz egg yolks

  • 4 oz vegetable oil

  • 2# 10 oz bread flour

Directions in making the dough

  1. In a 6 qt bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve and proof the yeast with the sugar, salt, and warm water. Let stand for 3 minutes until foam appears. This indicates the yeast is active.

  2. Add the egg yolks and vegetable oil to the yeast mixture. Whisk until combined.

  3. Add the flour and using the dough hook attachment mix on low speed for 4 minutes and on medium speed for another 4 minutes. The dough should be slightly firm and smooth, not sticky. Turn the dough onto the work surface and knead for a minute or so by hand. Knead by folding the dough over itself and pushing out with the heel of your hands, not down. Rotate the dough and repeat. Form the dough into a round and place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire ball with oil. Cover with plastic film or a damp towel.

  4. Bulk ferment the dough until nearly doubled, about 1 hour.

  5. Fold gently and turn it out onto the counter. This naturally deflates the gas, so there is no need to aggressively punch it down.

This recipe makes two large loaves. And from here on out, it really depends on the number of braids you choose and what shape you want your end product to look.

Use an egg wash made of 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water to brush on the tops of your challah to get that golden to dark brown crust. Then let the loaves rest and rise for about 30 minutes before baking.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 25 to 35 minutes. The best way to know that your bread is done is to really take the internal temperature. Challah is considered a rich bread because it contains eggs. So the internal temperature should be around 200 degrees F.

Variation

The braids can be filled... with Nutella...

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... or like so, with a coconut filling - making this a Challah de Coco (a play on Pan de Coco, if you're familiar with Filipino style breads).

Nutella Challah... need I say more?

I definitely overfilled this Challah de Coco.

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I think I'll make French toast using this bread tomorrow.

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Pastillage (pronounced "pahss-tee-yahzh")

Ever wondered what these are made of?

Oh man, some day...

For now... these are my examples. They're a far cry from ones in the internet but hey, trying is something. A mixture of cocoa powder and vodka makes for a great medium to paint on pastillage. The border around the plate and the frame around the bamboo painting is modeling chocolate. My next post will be on modeling chocolate, so don't worry, you'll have all the information to start creating. The dragon painting was done by my niece, Christine. She's an amazing artist and at the time, which was several years ago, it was a first for her in using a paint brush.

Back to pastillage...

Pastillage is a sugar paste that is used for modeling decorative items. Unlike marzipan and other modeling pastes, it is rarely, if ever, intended to be eaten. Although it is made entirely of edible items, pastillage is as hard and brittle as plaster of Paris when it dries, and nearly as tasteless. It is used primarily for making display pieces, such as centerpieces for dessert buffet tables, or small baskets or boxes to hold petits fours and candies. Pastillage is normally left pure white, although it may be colored in pastel shades. - Le Cordon Bleu Professional Baking 4th Edition by Wayne Gisslen.

This is once again a recipe from the same book.

Makes 3 lbs

Ingredients

  • 0.5 oz gelatin
  • 5.5 oz water, cold
  • 2 lb 8 oz confectioners' sugar
  • 5 oz cornstarch
  • 0.04 oz (1/2 tsp) cream of tartar

Directions

  1. Stir the gelatin into the water. Let stand 5 minutes, then heat until the gelatin is dissolved.
  2. Sift together the sugar, starch, and cream of tartar.
  3. Place the gelatin mixture in a stainless-steel mixer bowl. Fit the mixing machine with the dough hook.
  4. With the machine running at low speed, add the sugar mixture just as fast as it is absorbed. Mix to a smooth, pliable paste.
  5. Keep the paste covered at all times.

Must Read!

  • Keep pastillage covered at all times. Use plastic film and double wrap.
  • Keep unused portions in a bowl covered with a damp cloth when you're working with it
  • Work quickly and without pausing until whatever you're working on is formed and ready for drying
  • Use cornstarch to dust your work surface, but only enough to keep the paste from sticking - too much cornstarch will cause it to crust over quickly then crack
  • Roll to a thickness of about 1/8 in./3 mm
  • Have your paper patterns ready before rolling; and as soon as the pastillage is rolled out, use a sharp knife to assure clean cuts
  • If using a mold - make sure the mold is clean, dry, and finely dusted with constarch
  • Drying - your piece must be turned over several times to ensure that it dries evenly and completely; pastillage tends to curl or lose its shape when it is not evenly dried
  • Use extra-fine sandpaper to smooth out the edges or the entire piece
  • Assemble pieces using royal icing

Pastry Cream (Crème Pâtissière)

If you're a baker, even if it's just a tiny bit, pastry cream needs to be a part of your arsenal, hands down. Pastry cream is a type of custard, in which milk or cream and egg yolk (at times a combination of whole egg and yolk) are cooked to a thickened mixture. Its uses - fillings for cakes, cupcakes, and pastries; cream pie filling; and if thinned down, it can be used as a custard sauce.

I use the Deluxe Pastry Cream recipe variation found in my Le Cordon Bleu textbook Professional Baking 4th Edition by Wayne Gisslen. The addition of notes in [ ] are from experience.

Makes 1 1/8 qt

Ingredients

  • 2 lb (1 qt) milk [whole milk or 50/50 half-n-half and 2% milk]
  • 4 oz granulated sugar
  • 7 oz egg yolks [at room temperature]
  • 2.5 oz cornstarch
  • 4 oz granulated sugar
  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 0.5 oz (1 tbsp) vanilla extract [or vanilla bean paste]

Directions

  1. [Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with plastic film.]
  2. In a heavy saucepan or kettle, dissolve the sugar in the milk and bring just to a boil.
  3. With a whip [I call it a whisk], beat the egg yolks in a stainless-steel bowl.
  4. Sift the cornstarch and sugar into the eggs. Beat with the whip [<sigh>] until perfectly smooth.
  5. Temper the egg mixture by slowly beating in the hot milk in a thin stream. [It helps to use a ladle to add the hot milk. To avoid bowl slippage, place a damp towel under the bowl to stabilize it.]
  6. Return the mixture to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. [Boil for 1 minute - this is to completely cook the starch and prevent the disaster of having a raw, starchy taste to your cream.]
  7. When the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, remove from the heat.
  8. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Mix until the butter is melted and completely blended in.
  9. [Pour out onto prepared sheet pan. Cover with plastic film to prevent a crust from forming.] Cool and chill as quickly as possible.
  10. Whip the chilled pastry cream until smooth before using.

Variations

Pastry Cream Mousseline

For a lighter pastry cream filling, fold whipped heavy cream into the chilled pastry cream. Quantities may be varied to taste. In general, for every 1 qt pastry cream, use 1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream.

Chocolate Pastry Cream

For each 12 oz pastry cream, stir in 4 oz melted dark chocolate while the pastry cream is still warm (100 g chocolate for each 300 g pastry cream).

[Peanut Butter Pastry Cream]

[For each 12 oz pastry cream, stir in 4 oz creamy peanut butter].

And some notes from me...

  • You can infuse flavorings into your pastry cream by adding ingredients to the hot milk. For example: (1) toasted nuts - toasting brings out the oils to ease infusing; (2) whole spices - star anise, cinnamon sticks, or cardamom pods; (3) citrus peels - these are potent and should not be in the hot milk for too long; (4) fresh herbs - mint, sweet basil, lemon verbena, etc.
  • Add liquor or liqueurs for flavor! Or use a bit of liquor or liqueur to thin the pastry cream to make a boozy custard sauce.
  • Pastry cream mousseline is heavenly with fresh fruit. Use in parfaits and trifles instead of whipped cream.

Don't be afraid to experiment!

Rich and Silky Smooth French Buttercream

"French buttercream is prepared in the same way as Italian meringue-based buttercream, except egg yolks (some versions use whole eggs or a combination of the two) are used in place of the egg whites—a hot sugar syrup which has reached the soft-ball stage is beaten into the egg yolks which have been beaten until they are thick and pale yellow. The syrup and egg yolk mixture is further whipped until it has formed a light foam and has cooled. Butter and flavorings (extracts, oils, or juices) are then whipped in. This icing is very rich, smooth, and light. French buttercream tends to melt faster than other buttercreams due to the high content of fat from the egg yolks and butter. This type of buttercream is best suited for use as a filling or an icing, but not for decorations." - Wikipedia

The following recipe is truly the best that I've used and is found in the CIA textbook Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft. The addition of sea salt and notes in [ ] are from my experience and not in the original recipe. I strictly use this type of buttercream as a filling, for example in rolled cakes.

Makes 3 lb (1.36 kg) - [mixes well in a 6-qt bowl of a stand mixer]

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (227 g)  whole eggs [at room temperature]
  • 8 oz (227 g)  egg yolks [at room temperature]
  • 1 lb 2 oz (510 g)  granulated sugar
  • 4 fl oz (120 ml)  water
  • 1 lb 8 oz (680 g)  unsalted butter, cut into medium chunks, soft
  • 1 tsp  sea salt
  • 2 tsp (10 ml)  vanilla extract [or vanilla bean paste]

Directions

  1. Whip the eggs and yolks in an electric mixer fitted with a wire whip attachment on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Combine the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 235 degrees F/113 degrees C.
  3. Slowly pour the hot sugar syrup into the eggs while whipping on medium speed. [Add sea salt and] continue to whip until cool.
  4. Gradually add the butter, beating until incorporated after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Blend in the vanilla [or vanilla bean paste].
  5. Store, covered, under refrigeration until ready to use. [Double wrapping in plastic film is the easiest and best way to store your buttercream. And double wrapping prevents food odors from seeping into your frosting. An off tasting buttercream is not good eats.]

Light and Fluffy Italian Buttercream

Italian buttercream is meringue-based. "Italian meringue is prepared by the addition of sugar syrup made by heating sugar and water (and sometimes the addition of glucose or corn syrup to stabilize the crystal structure) heated to the soft-ball stage (118°C, 240 °F) to egg whites whipped to soft peaks. The sugar syrup cooks the egg whites, heating them well past the 60°C (140°F) recommended in the USA to kill salmonella and any other potentially harmful bacteria. The syrup and egg white mixture is then whipped and cooled until it reaches room temperature. Buttercream prepared in this method is also often referred to as Mousseline buttercream." - Wikipedia 

Italian buttercream is my preferred frosting for cakes and cupcakes. The following recipe is the best that I've used and is found in the CIA textbook Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft. The addition of sea salt and notes in [ ] are from my experience and not in the original recipe.

Makes 3 lb 4 oz (1.47 kg) - [mixes well in a 6-qt bowl of a stand mixer]

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (454 g)  granulated sugar
  • 4 fl oz (120 ml)  water
  • 8 oz (227 g)  egg whites [at room temperature]
  • 2 lb (907 g)  unsalted butter, cut into medium chunks, soft
  • 1 tsp  sea salt
  • 1 T (15 ml)  vanilla extract [or vanilla bean paste]

Directions

  1. Combine 12 oz/340 g of the sugar with the water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Continue cooking, without stirring, to the soft ball stage (240 degrees F/116 degrees C).
  2. Meanwhile, place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment.
  3. When the sugar syrup has reached approximately 230 degrees F/110 degrees C, whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy.  Gradually add the remaining 4 oz/113 g sugar [and sea salt] and beat the meringue to medium peaks.
  4. When the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees F/116 degrees C, add it to the meringue in a slow, steady stream while whipping on medium speed.  Whip on high speed until the meringue has cooled to room temperature.
  5. Add the soft butter gradually, mixing until fully incorporated after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Blend in the vanilla [or vanilla bean paste].  The buttercream is ready for use or may be tightly covered and stored under refrigeration. [Double wrapping in plastic film is the easiest and best way to store your buttercream. And double wrapping prevents food odors from seeping into your frosting. An off tasting buttercream is not good eats.]