Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vanilla Glazed Sugar Cookie Bars

Sometimes, life just needs sprinkles.

This was one of those times.  I had exactly one cup of butter left in my entire apartment, I had leftover glaze in my fridge from the Bundt cake I made a couple weeks earlier, and I just wanted to make something simple and sprinkle-y to share with the dancers before we went into tech for the concert.  I found this recipe and declared it a winner.

The original recipe calls for a frosting, which I ordinarily would've made without batting an eyelash...duh.  Of course, ordinarily I would've made cupcakes instead of cookies...I guess it wasn't an ordinary day.  Anyway, considering the complete lack of butter and the presence of tasty glaze, I gave up on the frosting.  And the glaze was perfect!  It added just enough sweetness to the bars to make them thoroughly addictive without being cloying.

Plus, glaze = perfect sprinkle adhesive.  Truth.

These sugar cookie bars came together so quickly, made my kitchen smell incredible...and I may or may not have had three of them while I was making a plate for the dancers.
Hey - I cut them small!  Three is...a totally justifiable number...

I'll just...give you the recipe now...

Vanilla Glazed Sugar Cookie Bars
Source: lightly adapted from Annie's Eats ; original recipe from The Repressed Pastry Chef

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 recipe vanilla glaze, found here
Multicolored sprinkles (optional but highly encouraged) 

Preheat the oven to 350˚F with a rack placed at the center position.  Grease a 13x18" rimmed baking sheet and set aside. [Side note: I used the medium baking sheet from my set of three - I eyeballed it and it looked right.]
Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.  Set aside.
In a large bowl with a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed till pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add the seeds and extract to the butter mixture, beating until well incorporated.  Switch to low speed and add the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.
Transfer the cookie dough to the prepared baking sheet and press it into an even layer.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until light golden brown in color and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool to room temperature in the pan on a rack.
Once the bars are at room temperature, poke holes all over the surface with the tines of a fork or a toothpick.  Pour the vanilla glaze over the bars and spread as evenly as possible.  If using sprinkles (which you should!) add them to the top of the bars now so they set with the glaze.   Allow the glaze to set and harden before slicing into 1.5-2" square bars and serving.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake

One show down, two to go!
My first show of the semester - the university company's dance concert - ran this weekend, and it was truly a fantastic run.  I'm so grateful to be in a company with the talented dancers I share the stage with.  And getting to do a CRAZY duet with my best friend was even better!  I am pretty glad the show's over, though - now that I'm in heavy rehearsals for the musical and I've started the choreographic process for the student showcase, it's nice to have one less thing on my mind!

As a general rule, during show season, I try to cut back on desserts.  Teeny tiny costumes don't mix well with food babies or love handles, so generally dessert is the first thing to go.

That effort was completely unsuccessful.

This particular cake was one of many downfalls.  I took this to a potluck, hoping that I wouldn't come home with much leftover...and then had to bring a third of the cake back and set it alongside the rest of the batches of giant chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin scones.

I think I gained 3 pounds that weekend.  And I would not have gained said three pounds had every single recipe not been delicious.

This is the kind of cake that lends itself to very easy snacking.  It's a sturdy cake that you can hold in your hand while taking bite after delicious bite until it's all gone...and you feel the urge to grab another piece.  It's chock full of moisture, thanks to the yogurt, and every bite bursts with sweet vanilla.  And the glaze?  Oh, the was the perfect saccharine compliment to the mildly sweet cake, adding little sparks of sugary goodness here and there.  I could not get enough of that glaze.

Neither could Jon, cause he kept taking huge bites with all the glaze on them when we split a piece.  Which led to splitting another piece.

Approach this cake with caution, folks.  It's almost too delicious.

Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake with Vanilla Glaze
Source: adapted from Epicurious and The Pioneer Woman via Sweetapolita

For the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour (preferably unbleached)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/4 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 tbsp high-quality vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup milk

For the glaze:
1/2 cup milk (use what you have on hand, but whole would be better)
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
Approximately 1 cup powdered sugar, more as needed

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350˚F.  Grease and flour a 10-15 cup Bundt pan and set aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt.  Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with a mixer at medium speed until pale, creamy, and fluffy.  And beautiful.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them, along with the vanilla extract, to the butter mixture, beating until well incorporated.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
Mix the yogurt and milk together, then add alternately with the flour to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour.  Only mix until just combined. 
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Gently tap it on the counter to get rid of air bubbles.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour, until a toothpick or thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a rack for an hour, then invert the cake onto the cooling rack and cool to room temperature.
To make the glaze, mix together the milk and the vanilla extract.  Measure out the powdered sugar and gradually add the vanilla milk until the desired consistency is reached - it should feel too thick at first, but still be pourable.  Pour over the top of the cooled cake and allow to set.  Don't be stingy - use as much glaze as you want!  It'll make you happy.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pasta with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

And now, Part 2 of my pumpkin obsession: Pumpkin Pasta!

This may sound as weird to you as it did to me.  Because the idea of it majorly intrigued me in the "will it or won't it be good?" sense.

I can tell you now: it will be good.
At least, it was for me and the hubby-to-be.

Pumpkin is a vegetable.  And I think we forget that when we dig into a pumpkin donut or devour another slice of pumpkin pie (which I will leave up to you lovely folks - pumpkin pie is not my thing.)  So using it in a savory context does actually make sense.
Delicious, creamy sense.

The sauce is a lightened-up cream sauce, with plenty of pumpkin and some sage to complement it.  Not to mention Parmesan cheese, which makes everything in the world better.  It is delightfully creamy and a gorgeous orange color; when tossed with whole-wheat pasta and served with a salad, it makes a light yet hearty and delicious meal!  This will definitely get made again in my soon as I find more pumpkin.  Which could be a while.

Pasta with Pumpkin Cream Sauce
Source:  Runs with Spatulas

1 pound whole wheat pasta, such as spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine
1 medium vidalia onion, minced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup fat-free half and half
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add salt, pour in the pasta and cook according to the directions on the box.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook for about 3 minutes, stirring, until they have softened. Stir in the pumpkin puree, broth, half & half, and half of the fresh sage. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce is slightly thickened. If you chopped your onion into bigger pieces (like I did...oops), now would be the time to blend it smooth in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender.  The smoother the sauce, the happier you will be!  If you blended it, transfer it back to the saucepan.  Season with salt and pepper to taste; keep warm on the lowest heat setting. 

Drain the pasta and add to the sauce, then add 2 tablespoons of the cheese and mix well. Serve and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese and the remaining sage.  This pairs excellently with a Caesar salad and a glass of white wine :) Enjoy!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili [Holiday Recipe Exchange]

 Since I may have helped you pack on a couple pounds with my last few recipes, here's one that should help take them off again: vegetarian chili!

Thanks to my insane schedule (school + three shows + wedding planning + attempts to eat and sleep), I'm always on the hunt for one-pot meals that keep me going off of leftovers for long periods of time.  I also love sweet potatoes (if you couldn't tell from the pancakes) and I'm always looking for new ways to use them.  The idea of combining black beans - another favorite - and sweet potatoes in a simple, healthy, long-lasting vegan chili sounded right up my alley!  Thus, this chili.

I started with a recipe and modified it as I went based on what I had in the apartment, then served it topped with a Mexican cheese blend.  Considering it was something I totally threw together, I was happy with how it turned out!  The only thing that would've made it better is corn...or cornbread :)
Come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Exchange sponsored by Le Creuset!  You could win a fantastic French Oven with which to make some chili of your own :)

Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili
Source: inspired by and heavily adapted from GoodLife {Eats}

1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, diced and deseeded if desired
1 tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 29-oz can crushed tomatoes
8 oz vegetable broth
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 15.5-oz cans of black beans, drained but not rinsed
3/4 cup cooked brown rice
2 bay leaves
1 1/4 tsp cornstarch
Mexican cheese blend (for topping)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the diced onion and saute for 5 minutes, until tender and golden. Add the garlic and the jalapeño pepper and saute for another minute, until fragrant. Add the cumin and chili powder and saute for about another 2 minutes.
Lower heat to medium-low and stir in the crushed tomatoes and broth, reserve 1/4 cup of broth for later use.  Scrape the bottom of the pot to remove any browned bits stuck there and add that tasty flavor back in. Add the remaining ingredients except the cornstarch and toppings.
In a small bowl whisk together the reserved 1/4 cup of broth and the cornstarch until smooth. Pour the cornstarch slurry into the chili pot. Stir until well mixed. Bring chili to a boil for about 2 minutes and then lower heat to low. Simmer over low heat uncovered (or covered with a splatter shield) for one hour, then cover the pot with a lid and simmer for another 30 minutes.
Ladle into bowls and serve topped with the Mexican cheese blend.  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pumpkin Scones

This post marks my first pumpkin recipe.  Ever.
Of all time.
Up until I made these, I had never even seen a can of pumpkin before, let alone baked with it.

And no, I didn't grow up under a rock...just with parents who aren't big pumpkin people.

And now, thanks, yet again, to Alice's Tea Cup, my life is forever changed.  A Saturday morning baking session with my wonderful fiancé led to a major pumpkin obsession!

These scones were soft, fluffy, spicy pillows of fall flavor.  While I didn't make the caramel glaze to top them (which would have depleted my entire supply of butter), I did discover that a bit of maple syrup takes these treats over the top!  It took all of my willpower not to eat the entire batch of scones right out of the oven, but since I was able to muster some self-control I've been enjoying them for days :)

If you, like me, have never baked with pumpkin before, or if you're already a die-hard pumpkin fanatic, give this recipe a try.  You'll get your hands messy, your kitchen will smell like autumn, and your tastebuds will be oh so happy.

Pumpkin Scones
Source: Alice's Tea Cup
Yield: 10-12 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup ground ginger
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1-1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup canned pumpkin puree, such as Libby's (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 tbsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.  With clean hands or a pastry blender (I use a combination of both), cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture has the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour the buttermilk, pumpkin puree, and vanilla extract into the well.  Using your hands or a fork (hands are waaaay more fun), combine the ingredients until all the dry mixture is wet.  But don't knead!
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gather it together.  Gently pat it out to make a disk or rectangle about 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick.  Using a 3-3.5 inch biscuit cutter (or the rim of a glass or clean can), cut out as many scones as you can and lay them on a nonstick baking sheet.  Gather the remaining dough together lightly to cut out more scones - make sure you don't knead too much.
Bake the scones for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Let them cool slightly on the baking sheet, then serve with toppings of choice - I recommend apple butter or maple syrup.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Experiment: Part 1

I am a cake girl all the way.  If it's soft, sweet, and frosted, chances are I'll devour it like there's no tomorrow.


Most people who read blogs or, well, live in New York City know about Levain Bakery and their fresh, gooey, quarter-pound cookies.  I had heard so much tell of them that when I had a day off from the Parsons Dance Company summer intensive I had to venture up to 74th and Amsterdam and give those suckers a try for myself.

Two words: life changing.

Chocolate chip cookies are now on my craving radar.
But really only those chocolate chip cookies - huge, thick, craggy, crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside, with hunks of chocolate and walnut tucked into every buttery bite.

So, I've now begun a quest to make such cookies for myself and anyone who will help me devour them.

This, my first try, was not all too far off from the cookies I love so much.  Not quite there yet, but pretty darn close!!
These gargantuan cookies didn't bake up as thick and gooey as my beloved Levain goodies, but they're buttery, rich, and chock full of big bites of chocolate and nut - I was low on walnuts so I supplemented with pecans: no complaints here!  These spread quite a bit for me, so I'll have to see if I can manipulate the recipe to keep them together - suggestions are welcome - or if the crappy rack placements in my oven are to blame...I can't wait to have a nice stove... Regardless, these beauties stayed soft and chewy, and are officially friend, roommate, and fiancé approved!

I'm glad to have found a go-to cookie recipe for now - any suggestions regarding what I could do to make them even better are welcome!

"Call Me Le Vain" Copycat Cookies
Source: verrrry slightly adapted from Cheeky Kitchen
Yield: a baker's dozen of big-as-your-face cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 cups nearly crushed walnuts (or 1 cup walnuts and 1 cup pecans)
3 cups good quality semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 390˚F (over 375, not quite 400) and line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar until soft and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add in the vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Sprinkle the dry ingredients on top and mix until fully incorporated and a thick, creamy dough is created.  Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips.  Turn the dough out onto a clean counter and knead with your hands to fully incorporate all of the delicious chunks.
Pull off lemon-sized hunks of dough and place on the lined baking sheets with plenty of space between them - keep the pieces of dough loose so they bake up charmingly craggy.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the tips of the cookies have turned light brown.  Allow to cool for about 2 minutes on the baking sheet before removing them to a rack.  Consuming these treats while they're still warm is highly recommended - enjoy!