Sunday, July 26, 2009

Chocolate Toffee Pecan Cookies


I love to bake. Baked goods are meant to be eaten when they are fresh; so my baking experiments, usually cupcakes, end up being passed off to my neighbors and coworkers. When I go to work with cupcakes, Al, a coworker, always says he wants cookies...with nuts. Even though I have all kinds of chocolates and nuts in the pantry just waiting to be made into cookies, I continually put off my promise to make cookies for Al. Finally, this week I made good on my promise and baked cookies for Al. It made me feel really good baking for someone else, and I'm pretty sure they made Al feel good too. I don't know why I put off baking cookies for so long because they were so easy. They were so much quicker than baking a cake with homemade buttercream, which I continue to commit myself to baking weekly, hoping to find that perfect cake that tastes great and is equally beautiful. After looking through my stash, I pulled out Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips, Heath toffee bits, and pecans. I decided to try a new recipe and settled on"My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies" recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from my home to yours. The results were delicious.This is my new favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. The cookies bake super thin with a crisp edge and a chewy center. So good!

Chocolate Chip Toffee Pecan Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 10 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 6 oz. toffee bits
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. (First I tried wax paper and then switched to parchment. Do not use wax paper! The parchment kept the cookies from becoming too crisp on the edges. Now is not the time to be a rebel... follow the recipe.)

Beat the butter on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add both of the sugars and continue beating until smooth, about 2 more minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each egg. Reduce the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing until just combined. With a rubber spatula fold in the chocolate, toffee, and pecans.

Spoon rounded tablespoons of dough onto the baking sheets, 2 inches apart.

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes until the edges are golden, the centers will still be soft. Let the cookies rest for 1 minute before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Indian Pass Raw Bar

Last weekend we took a mini vacation with our good friends Jason and Jennifer. We vacation together quite a bit, usually taking a snowboarding trip in the winter time. They wanted to get away for a few days and do some kayaking and fishing so we jumped on board. We loaded up our bikes, kayaks, and dogs and headed to Cape San Blas, Florida. Kevin and I spent a weekend there last fall and I've been dying to get back ever since. It is beautiful!

We spent one of our days snorkeling in St. Joseph's Bay looking at fish, sand dollars, and scalloping. I was hoping to write a post on sauted bay scallops. Unfortunately, we only collected about ten, not nearly enough to feed four people, so we let them go. We spent our weekend shelling, fishing, kayaking, and playing with all the dogs-they also have two dogs. Josey and Jasper (our dogs) were so happy to have their buddies, Ty and Ruthie, to run and swim with. Jennifer and I joke about the days when we're bringing a car full of kids to the beach instead of a pack of dogs.

When you vacation in Cape San Blas you are not coming for seafood restaurants, shopping, and nightlife but the natural beauty all around you. Nature entertains you. The beach and the ocean is your playground. Sea turtles nest on the beaches; pelicans and other shorebirds soar over the waters; migratory birds stop here in the fall on their southern flight; aligators reside in the interior waters; and the gulf and bay are teaming with fish, scallops, and other sea life.

The Indian Pass Raw Bar is one of the few restaurants in the area. We ate at the restaurant when we were here in the fall, and we were anxious to return and bring friends. Sometimes when you find a hidden gem like this you can't wait to share it with your family and friends, so on Sunday night we headed out to the Indian Pass Raw Bar.

This is the bar and kitchen at the Indian Pass Raw Bar where you can get steamed, baked, or raw oysters. They also have steamed shrimp and crab legs and for the kids there are burgers,hot dogs, and such, but they are definitely known for their oysters. The oysters are shucked right at the bar and placed on a platter where they are covered in butter and parmesan cheese before being baked in the oven. I've only recently begun to eat oysters, and after experiencing the oysyters here I've become a fan. I was craving oysters the moment we came across the bridge into Port St. Joe. Of course, I was so, so disappointed when our waitress said they didn't have oysters. The four of us all live on the Gulf Coast and if we really would have thought about it we would know there are no oysters in July. I don't know why we didn't think of this before. I was crushed.

Jennifer and Jason ordered the steamed shrimp to start, and we all orderd a platter of crab legs. The medium size shrimp were pink and cooked perfectly. The crab legs were divine! Steamed sweet crab meat plunged into clarrified butter. I love butter! Mmm and crab! There is still something not right about ordering crab legs while vacationing in Florida. Oh well! They were still delicious.

One of my favorite things about this place are the coolers on the back wall. It works as an honor bar. You just help yourself to a Heiniken or whatever you want to drink. Quite a nice selection of wine, Beer, soft drinks, waters, etc. At the end of the meal tell the cashier what you ordered and how many beers you had.

Kevin and I will be heading back to the area for a little camping trip with my parents in September when it cools down a bit. We will definitely be going back to the Raw Bar for some baked oysters. I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vanilla Bean Cake with Caramel, Pecans, and
Chocolate Ganache

Over the weekend I baked a birthday cake for a friend. She wanted chocolate ganache and caramel on vanilla cake. I knew I would use a whole vanilla bean in the cake, but I didn't have a tried and true vanilla cake recipe. So after some searching I decided to try a vanilla buttermilk cake from smitten kitchen. You can find the recipe here:

This is the vanilla cake recipe she used to make a friends wedding cake and claimed that it was one of the best vanilla cakes to come out of her kitchen. Based on that statement I knew this was the cake I would make. I needed a cake that would hold up well when layered with ganache and caramel. I was a little nervous because the cake recipe was different from most because it didn't call for creaming the sugar and butter together and then adding the eggs. The recipe combines all of the dry ingredients, then the liquid ingredients, and lastly the eggs are folded in by hand. I followed the recipe except I ommited the 2 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract and used a whole vanilla bean instead. The cake did not rise much at all and resulted in moist, light colored cake flecked with vanilla. The cakes baked perfectly even and there was no need to level the cakes.

After the cakes were baked I made the caramel and chocolate ganache. I found recipes for both on the bon appetit web site. The recipes are here:

This cake sounds so amazing! I will definitely be making this again with chocolate cake for myself. I followed the recipes for the caramel and the ganache and used it as a guide for assembling the cake. I've never made caramel before, so my first batch was disasterous. The smoke from the burning sugar set off the smoke detector and left the caramel a deep rusty color. I thought it would be okay, but after tasting it I realized there was no salvaging this burnt bitter concoction. Round two resulted in perfect golden caramel that tasted rich and buttery. You really have to watch the sugar changing color. My pots are dark so it was hard to see the amber color until it was too late.
The chocolate ganache was simple enough; heat the cream, then pour it over the chocolate , and allow the chocolate to soften before stirring until smooth. I made the cake, caramel, and ganache a day ahead and saved the assembly for the next day when the cake was being picked up. Yes, picked up. I was making the cake for someone else and didn't actually get to try it. Like I said before, I will definitely be making this cake again....very soon.

For the assembly I placed one layer of the cake on a board and topped it with chocolate ganache. I then filled a pastry bag with ganache and with a round tip I piped a ring around the cake creating a well in the center. Next I poured the caramel into the well and sprinkled chopped pecans onto the caramel. The second layer is then place on top and repeated with ganache, caramel, and pecans. The third cake layer is then put on top and covered with the ganache. Finally, I iced the sides with the ganache and coated the sides in the chopped pecans. How could this be bad? Put the cake in the refrigerator to firm up and take out for 30 minutes before cutting. Once the cake is cut the caramel will ooze out and create a gooey sauce for the cake. Yum!

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