Tuesdays with Dorie: Chocolate Espresso Shortbreads

Yay!  We’re home!  Things have gone back to normal and everyone’s time zones have settled in the correct region.  Things have been a bit tough because the Little Rocker has been at home since we got back to Israel.  Unfortunately, Israel follows the European custom of taking off for the month of August.  This means that there is no daycare, no camp, no nothing.  The assumption is that parents will take off as well.  When I first encountered this, I was shocked.  Coming from America, where everyone works all the time, I couldn’t conceive of an entire country taking off at once.  On top of that, August is one of the busiest seasons at my office as that’s when publicly traded companies report their second quarter earnings, or losses as the case may be.  Thankfully, Rocker Dude is a high school English teacher (they don’t know about his dudeness, we are trying to keep it under cover) so he is also off for the summer.  He has really been stepping in and taking care of the Little Rocker while I go to work.  But she starts daycare today!  Okay it’s only a couple of hours and tomorrow is only half a day, but then on Thursday – full day and life goes back to normal!  Besides, I think she would have more fun playing with kids her age and doing all the arts and crafts than staying home with us.

Mixing up the dough.

Since things have gone back to normal, I obviously had to keep up my Tuesday with Dorie-ing.  This week’s recipe was chosen by Donna of Life’s Too Short Not to Eat Dessert First – so true!  She chose Chocolate-Espresso Shortbread cookies.  Dorie added another option of making Oatmeal Spice Shortbread cookies.  I really wanted to try that – I love oatmeal cookies, but after a decision-making summit with Rocker Dude, I went with his choice and made chocolate-espresso.

I have never made shortbread cookies before.  I love being a part of this group because it forces to make things that I would not normally make.  So even though I could not make the cookies that I preferred, hey, how could chocolate chip cookies go wrong?

I prepared all the ingredients.  I did not have espresso powder, so I used instant coffee – I think the coffee flavor was still nice and strong.  I mixed it all up in the Kitchen -Aid and then added the chocolate chips.  They were not exactly evenly distributed, but it looked okay.

Rolling out the dough in a bag.

Then the cool part.  I stuck all the dough inside a ziploc bag and rolled it out – no mess!  I got the dough to be pretty rectangular, just one rough edge on the side.  I didn’t have time to let it chill in the fridge for two hours, so I stuck it in the freezer while I watched an episode of Monk, love that show!

Cutting up the cookies - almost perfect squares!

Rocker Dude reminded me that I had cookies that needed to be baked when he said, “Wait a minute, wasn’t I supposed to be getting cookies to try tonight?”  Whoops!  I cut up the cookies into squares and baked them.  Because there was no leavening agent in the dough, I was able to put a lot on one pan.  I baked all the cookies in two batches.

Shortbread cookies!!

We decided to bring them to Rocker Dude’s parents for the weekend, they were well received there.  On Friday night, when I asked Rocker Dude for a review, we had an interesting little conversation.

Me:  So, how did you like the cookies?

RD: Are you happy with the way they came out?  Texture-wise? (If that’s not a leading question I don’t know what is.)

Me:  Well they are supposed to be sandy…

RD: Then you succeeded in your goal admirably.  You made them exactly as they should be made, I just don’t like them that much.  Everyone else liked them so I trust that they were good, I just didn’t like them so much.

Me: Why?!?!

You can see where it went from there.

So verdict: great!  But I definitely want to try the oatmeal spice version, I mean, if Rocker Dude isn’t going to like it anyway, why use his choice?

Chocolate Espresso Shortbread cookies

Check out the recipe at Donna’s site here and see what other TWD bakers did here.

Mint Chocolate Brownies – For You, Imma

I am dedicating this post to my mom, Imma (that’s just Hebrew for mom) and to all the childhood memories it brings back.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make these brownies.  My older brother S. used to love them and always asked for them.  In fact, when he was in elementary school and his class was putting together a cookbook for Mother’s Day, he submitted this recipe.  I was not such a fan at the time as I didn’t start liking chocolate until I was post-high school I think.  But even so, they were still good.

I forgot about these for a while.  It wasn’t until a few months ago that I remembered about them and tried to make them.  I made them with a chocolate cake recipe at the time, and I put waaay too much mint extract in the frosting, and yet, our dinner guests loved them – Rocker Dude didn’t.  He doesn’t like strong mint flavors.

This weekend, our friends M. and A. were having a big party and they asked us to bring something.  I volunteered to make dessert (yeah, that was obvious), and after thinking about it for a while, I decided to try this again.  Instead of making the base out of chocolate cake, I decided to use brownies.  I used the only brownie recipe that has ever come out well for me – actually my first post on this blog.

The beginning of the icing.

I have also had trouble in the past with buttercreams separating on me, especially in the heat.  When I asked for suggestions, my friend A. said that she had the same problem until she started creaming the heck out of the margarine before adding the powdered sugar.  So I tried that this time.  I used a recipe from The Perfect Cake, and tinted the icing green.  After worrying and hoping and lots of crossed fingers, the icing came out perfectly.  Yay!

Tinted and ready to go.

All that was left was the ganache topping.  my mom always just melted chocolate chips and spread them over the icing, but then when it hardened, it was, well, hard, and difficult to cut through.  So my modification here is to use ganache.  That way it would firm up nicely with a nice shine, but not impede any cutting activity.  I had some leftover ganache in the refrigerator from this recipe, so I heated it up and added a bit more chocolate so that there would be enough to cover the whole cake.

Brownies iced.

I ended up doubling the brownie recipe because there were going to be so many people at M. and A.’s and still baked in a 9×13 inch pan.  In retrospect, a single recipe for that pan would have been enough and then the thin layer of icing wouldn’t have looked so pathetic on such a high cake.  Also it took forever to cook the brownies, so next time, make it in two pans.  I also only used half a recipe of icing because I only had two cups of powdered sugar.  It actually turned out to be just enough.  Whew!

I would advise making this cake over two days to let the cake cool before icing it, and let the icing firm up (you can even freeze it if you have room) before putting on the ganache.

The final product.

The cake went over really well, I only ended up having a tiny piece, the one I photographed, and Rocker Dude didn’t have any, though I think that was more because he was afraid of the mint, though he told me that it was because he had eaten too much meat.  Sure.

Recipe:

The brownie recipe can be found here.

Let the brownies cool completely before putting on the icing.

Icing (this is half a recipe, if you want a thicker layer, use a full recipe):

2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup margarine, softened

1/4 tsp. mint extract

2-3 tbsp. soymilk

a few drops of green food coloring

Beat the margarine really well, until it is really creamy.  Add the powdered sugar slowly and beat until well incorporated.  Add the mint extract and the food coloring.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Continue mixing and add the soymilk 1 tbsp. at a time until you get a nice consistency that you can spread easily.

Spread the icing in a single layer on top of the brownies.  Put the brownies in the freezer while you make the ganache.

Ganache:

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup chocolate chips

Heat the cream over a medium flame until it starts bubbling around the edges.  Pour over the chocolate chips and let sit for 1 minute.  Mix the chocolate until you have  a thick chocolatey mixture.  Spread over the icing and return the brownies to the freezer or refrigerator.

Bring to room temperature before serving.  Or, eat frozen for a minty treat.

Biscotti – the joy and the disappointment. Happy Birthday Rocker Dude!

It’s Rocker Dude’s birthday today, so I decided to make him a present.  Rocker Dude has few loves in his life.  His music, his comics, his Little Rocker, oh right, and me ;).  One of the things he really enjoys is biscotti.  Not the hard dried cookie that you normally see dipped in coffee, but the biscotti that I make, soft with a crispy outside.  He also loves biscotti because of the word.  He is a research assistant for an Italian professor (he is Italian, not that he teaches Italian) in bar Ilan University.  This basically means that he makes sure that the professor’s computer is well-stocked with music and spending a lot of time chatting.  Rocker Dude once told this professor, M., about my biscotti.  M. gave him a confused look until Rocker Dude explained.  Then he replied, “Oh, you mean biscott-i!” in a proper Italian accent.  Rocker Dude loves to imitate him saying this.

Biscotti dough, nice and thick.

One day, after Rocker Dude had had a particularly hard day (or maybe it was when he got his job for the fall) I decided to do something nice and make whatever he wanted.  I asked him what he wanted and he said, “biscotti.”  Finally I get a clear request from him.  (Of course he would say that he always gives clear requests, I just ignore them.)

So I took out my trusty dusty biscotti recipe and got baking.  This is an awesome recipe as it doesn’t call for butter so I don’t have to wait to let margarine get to room temperature (I keep it frozen) and it mixes up in one bowl and is ready to bake really quickly.

Biscotti loaves shaped and ready to bake

This time, I decided to do the recipe properly and add almond extract.  Every other time I made this recipe, I just didn’t have almond extract so I just used vanilla.  This time I figured that since I had all the proper ingredients, I would use them, including almond extract.  I know that Rocker Dude does not like nuts, but I figured that the extract could only add to the taste.

So I made the cookies, shaped them and baked them.  They smelled wonderful.  Rocker Dude came home from doing his radio show (www.rock4rookies.com) at 11:30 pm and walked into a fragrant, biscotti-smelling kitchen.  He got so excited because I had made one of his favorite things.

Biscotti, toasted on one side.

Then he took a bite.  He carefully chewed it and then took another bite.  He carefully chewed this too.  Then he asked, “Did you change the recipe?”

I told him that I added almond extract so that I could do the recipe properly.

His face fell.  “Why Elle, why?  Why would you mess with something that is already so perfect?!”

Me: “I just wanted to do the whole recipe.  Does it taste bad?”

RD: “Well, it doesn’t taste like it used to.  It’s all almondy and everything.”

Me: “Will you eat it?”

RD: “Of course, but now I don’t trust your baking anymore.  How do I know you won’t stick almonds into my blueberry cheesecake?!?!” (see post here).

As you can see, we have some trust issues to work out.  I am officially on probation and need to faithfully report any ingredient I use.  Mind you, Rocker Dude ate every one of those cookies, so I don’ t know what he is complaining about.

A couple of days ago when I offered to make Rocker Dude biscotti as a snack, he gave me a look and said, “Can I trust you not to mess with my babies?”  If only he loved us as much.

As a surprise to him, I made him biscotti last night to have when he came home from doing his show.  Because it is his birthday, and I want to be nice to him (and I don’t want to be banned from baking), I made it with only vanilla extract.  The Little Rocker and I tested them when they came out of the oven.  Yum!

I let them cool and when Rocker Dude came home I presented him with fresh-baked biscotti, just the way he likes them :).  They were well appreciated.

Rocker Dude enjoys his birthday present.
Biscotti

Recipe:

3 1/4 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 cup oil

3 eggs

1 tbsp. vanilla extract or 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla and 1 tsp. almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or, if you want a crispier cookie, to 375 degrees).

Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix it around a little with the paddle attachment so that all the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Then add the oil, eggs and extracts.  Mix until just combined.

Divide the dough into two equal portions.  Shape each one into a flat long loaf.  Bake the loaves for 25-30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and slice each loaf into 1 inch thick slices.  Turn each slice on its side and put the baking sheet back in the oven.

Bake for another 5-8 minutes.  Remove the baking sheet and flip each cookie onto the other side.  Bake again for 5-8 minutes.

Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool on a rack.

Dip in coffee or just eat them plain, enjoy!

Applesauce Spice Bars and Yom Haatzmaut

So I know that this is coming a week late, as Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) was last week Monday night, but it’s been a bit busy around here.  Darling hubby got a man-stomach virus (apparently it’s worse than a regular stomach virus) and has been out of commission since Friday night.  Finally yesterday, his fever went down and he could leave the bathroom.  So I have had to take the baby to day care, pick her up, keep her away from him, and take care of him of course.  But it’s over now and the best news is that he was offered a job for this fall.  He is finishing up his teaching degree and was offered a full-time position teaching high school ESL – Congrats sweetie!

On Monday night we had a barbecue with friends, there was a lot of meat and great times.  We hung out with our gang from our first year in university as well as some new ones.  Most of the older moved away, a couple to Haifa, a couple to Jerusalem, and one to America, though he recently came back.  It was a lot of fun and we can’t wait to see them again.

First Batch of Meat

To prepare for this occasion, I made the chockablock cookies and these applesauce spice bars from Dorie Greenspan’s book.  I have been wanting to make these bars for a long time and this was the perfect opportunity to make them.  They travel well, so we could take them to Jerusalem with no problem and they taste delicious.

That's me - the grill chef

I love barbecuing.  I was trained by the best barbecue chef.  My dad is a traditionalist.  He swears by charcoal briquettes.  He would never use a gas grill or anything other than Kingsford charcoal.  For him, grilling is an event.  It means sitting outside, by the grill, with a cold beer and the game on.  He would soak the coals in lighter fluid for 20 minutes, then light the coals and let them burn until they were all white, only then would he put the meat on.  Because it took so long, we didn’t have many barbecues.  It was only when there was a lot of time, like a Sunday afternoon, or a special occasion.

Wings Marinatin'

My brothers and I learned how to do a BBQ at his side.  In fact, when my parents went to Hawaii when I was in high school, my brother and I made a BBQ for a few friends and only told them about it after.  My dad knew that we were well trained and that we would never burn down the house, my mom was not too sure.

So I did the grilling for Yom Haatzmaut, besides, Rocker Dude needed to plan the playlist for the evening.  That’s his specialty anyway.

Playlist Planning

Back to the bars.  These bars are so easy to make, because you start off heating a few ingredients in a saucepan and then just mix everything else in.  No million dirty bowls lying around, no complicated steps.  Heat, mix, mix some more, pour into a pan and bake.

One stop shop!

Even the glaze afterward was a cinch to make.  This is something I highly recommend for when you want to make something delicious and presentable quickly.

Even got to use my little bottle of rum. Right next to the Jack Daniels (Rocker Dude is a die-hard southerner)

Enjoying the party:

Ilan and Anna - Carnivores both
Welcome back Yitzchak!
Rachel, my old roommate - the runner of marathons and Ariel, tai chi master
Ilan, Rocker Dude's partner in crime
Menucha, Ilan's partner in crime (sorry about the redeye)

Oh yeah, and these:

Applesauce Spice Bars

Recipe:

For the Bars:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp, cinnamon

1/2 tsp. allspice

1/4 tsp. salt

1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. applejack, brandy or dark rum (optional)

1 baking apple, peeled, cored and finely diced or chopped

1/2 cup plump raisins (dark or golden)

1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Glaze:

2 1/2 tbsp. heavy cream (or soymilk)

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

2 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tsp. light corn syrup

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour a 9×13 inch baking pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.  Remove the pan from heat.

Whisk the eggs one at a time into the saucepan.  Mix until they are well blended.  Add he applesauce, vanilla, and applejack, and whisk until the ingredients are incorporated.    Switch to a rubber spatula and gently stir in the dry ingredients, only until they disappear.  Then mix in the apples, raisins and nuts.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 23-25 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer to a baking rack and let the cake cool while you make the glaze.

In a small saucepan whisk together the cream, sugar, butter and corn syrup.  Put the pan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil, mixing frequently.  Adjust the heat so that the mixture simmers and cook, whisking frequently, for 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from heat and add the vanilla.  Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.  Let cool to room temperature before you cut the bars.