December 29, 2010

Chewy Chocolate Raisin Cookies

I'm guessing that right now isn't the most opportune time to be posting a string of cookie recipes.  You may still be recovering from what I affectionately call a "Christmas Cookie Coma," you may still have way too many cookies in your house, you may not want to look at another cookie until next Christmas, but here I am posting more recipes for cookies.  I apologize.  This blog may not be good for your new years resolutions.

Chewy Chocolate Raisin Cookies also may not sound very appealing to you.  To be honest, they didn't sound very appealing to me either.  But as the saying goes, you can't judge a book by it's cover and you certainly shouldn't judge a recipe by it's title (though I admit I'm usually guilty of the former).

My beloved former roommate soul-mate (Helen, that's you!) introduced me to these cookies last year when she and her friend made them as part of their Christmas gift-giving.  They over-baked them a bit, and soaked the raisins in sherry instead of brandy, but it didn't matter.  I couldn't get enough.  I don't even really like white chocolate, but it didn't matter.  I couldn't get enough.

So needless to say, I had to make these cookies this year.  Did they live up to my nostalgia-driven expectations? Yes and no.  Yes, because they still tasted great.  No, because, well, does anything ever live up to nostalgic expectations?  But that's another discussion for another forum.  These cookies are worth making and they're very unique.  White chocolate, sherry, golden raisins, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and honey-- how can you pass up such a combination?

Sarah's Chewy Chocolate Raisin Cookies
Minimally adapted from Sarah Carey via Martha Stewart

1 cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sherry (I used dry sherry)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
6 ounces white chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup fine sanding or granulated sugar

Bring raisins and sherry to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, and let stand for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, cocoa, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, the baking soda, and salt.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat butter and brown sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add honey, and beat until creamy. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture, and beat until combined. Drain raisins; discard liquid. Add raisins and chocolate to dough. Mix to combine.

[The dough will be very wet, I had trouble shaping it into balls as it was so I threw it in the fridge for a little while to make it easier to handle]

Whisk together sanding sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Scoop 2 tablespoons dough [I used less for smaller cookies]. Roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture, and shape into a ball. Roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture again to coat completely. Repeat with remaining dough. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart, as you work. Bake until just set and starting to crack, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool on sheets.

Many more Christmas recipes to come: Chocolate Bread, Peppermint Marshmallows, Rainbow Cookies (!!!), Spinach Artichoke Dip, and a Chocolate Chip Cookie taste off.  Stay tuned.

December 7, 2010

Middle Eastern Banana Bread

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I'm not good at baking banana bread.  Maybe that's not exactly a fair assessment, because It's clear I know how to follow a recipe (most of the time...), but usually, when I make banana bread, it just ends up tasting "fine."  It's not great, or special, or something to blog about, although I've done that a few times anyway.  My "banana bread rut" is actually a shame because I really like the idea of banana bread.  I like to save ingredients from going to waste.  I like to re-purpose things.  I like bananas, and I really, really like bread.  So I push forth and keep making banana bread.  And I keep hoping I'll get it right.  I think this recipe's the one.

I found this recipe on a lovely blog I recently stumbled upon called My New Roots.  It's written by a woman named Sarah Britton, who works as a chef at two organic vegetarian restaurants in Copenhagen, Denmark (and if that's not lovely, I don't know what is).  I scrolled through a ton of Sarah's recipes but this one spoke to me-- perhaps because it's called the "Coziest Banana Bread" and I feel a lot like hibernating and being cozy these days.  Other than that though, I really like that this recipe uses spelt flour, a ton of bananas, and moderate amounts of better-for-you oils and sugars.  I had high hopes for it, which usually means I end up disappointed.  But not this time!

Of course, I changed a few things because I was in the mood for a slightly gussied up banana bread.  I still kept the base recipe pretty much the same so you could easily omit my Middle-East-inspired changes or just head over to Sarah's blog and see the original.  The result?  I think it's the best banana bread I've ever made.  And here's the catch: it's 100% whole grain, it's vegan, it's low in (natural) sugar, and it doesn't taste like you're making any compromises. I think we have a winner.

Middle Eastern Banana Bread 
I took this banana bread in a different direction with some ingredient inspiration from the Middle East.  The spices are very subtle because I didn't want to over-do it, but I think they could easily be kicked up a notch (though this also depends on the strength of your spices).  1 1/2 teaspoons cardamom and 3/4 a teaspoon cloves would probably be a nice adjustment.  Also, I only had 4 ripe bananas (~a scant 2 cups mashed), which may be why I needed a bit extra milk in the end.
Adapted from My New Roots

¼ cup milk of your choice [I used almond milk and needed a bit more, added at the end]
6 Tbsp. olive oil, butter, ghee, coconut oil [I used 1/2 coconut oil, 1/2 olive oil]
6 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups mashed ripe bananas (approximately 5 medium bananas) [I only had 4... see headnotes]
1 1/2 cups whole spelt flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup dried Turkish apricots, chopped
1/3 cup roasted pistachios, chopped

1 packet (~ 1 tablespoon) raw sugar for topping (optional, but recommended for a nice crunch)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Oil a standard loaf pan or an 8 inch cake pan (this will change baking time from mine).

In a medium bowl, mix the milk, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and bananas until blended.  In a large bowl combine dry ingredients. Add banana mixture and incorporate using as few strokes as possible. Fold in the chopped apricots and pistachios.

Pour into your pan and lightly smooth the top. Sprinkle the top with raw sugar and more spices, if desired.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (time varies greatly according to oven – mine took about 45 minutes, Sarah's an hour, and the recipe suggests only 30 minutes. Check periodically after the half hour mark.)

December 2, 2010

Better Than Butter

Not many things deserve this title, but mascrapone cheese just might.  Mascrapone is an Italian (triple) cream cheese that's a common ingredient in Tiramisu.  Ever since my birthday and, more specifically, my birthday cake, it's had a special place in my heart.  Unfortunately (but perhaps fortunately for my figure), I didn't have any left over after making the frosting for my cake; I also didn't have a reason to buy another 8oz container.  Thanksgiving is a reason, though.

So, for Thanksgiving, I whipped up some more mascrapone whipped cream to go with the Pumpkin Pie and Gingerbread Upside-Down Cake.  This time I used fresh vanilla bean, though I think it was better with vanilla extract.  Since we didn't need that much whipped cream on Thanksgiving, I've been left with more than half a container of pure mascrapone-y deliciousness to spread and dollop on top of whatever I can get my hands on (it's not doing anything good for my post-Thanksgiving bloat, by the way).

While it was pretty good on oatmeal, I think my favorite way to consume it thus far is in lieu of butter on a toasted whole wheat cinnamon raisin English muffin (I bought some at Trader Joe's this weekend).  However, the side of the container has advised me to "swirl it into Alfredo sauce, risotto, pasta, or use as a fruit topping" and now all I can think about is rich, creamy mascrapone cheese swirled into mushroom risotto.  It's only a matter of time.