November 30, 2015

Brown Butter Biscotti

I'm pretty sure most of you are sick of cooking after this weekend, but The Great Fall Baking Marathon of 2015 must continue. I was going to publish this recipe earlier so you can have a steady stream of snacks for your Thanksgiving guests, but I know my kitchen is still recovering. There won't be any space for any more food for at least two more days, which of course means that I have to make a batch of biscotti because I'm only home for a few days and that warrants more food. Luckily, these biscotti are crowd pleasers that people can munch on with coffee, for snacks, and for dessert, and they require minimal effort.

Most biscotti are relatively healthy for a dessert; they have minimal (if any) fat and usually contain some sort of dried fruit or nuts. The moisture in the dough generally comes from eggs, and the dough isn't typically very sweet. These biscotti, however, are brown butter biscotti with no fruit or nuts for bulk. In other words, the main flavor is the brown butter, which means they have plenty of it. Basically, they are my kind of biscotti. I drizzle them with some dark chocolate for flavor, texture, and aesthetic, but honestly the delicate nuttiness from the brown butter is delicious all on its own. 

The most difficult part of this recipe is browning the butter properly. You want to heat the butter in a pan with a large surface area (like a skillet, not a pot) until fragrant. There should be brown bits, but be careful not to burn them. If you do, don't try to salvage the butter by straining the burned bits out because the flavor has already infused throughout all the butter. If you burn it, just throw it out and start over. Eventually, you'll master the skill of browning butter and will be able to use it in everything from chocolate chip cookies to frosting.

Once the butter is browned and cooled, it gets mixed with some sugar until somewhat fluffy. Since the butter is cooled but not solidified, you won't get the same volume as you would if you had creamed softened butter, but biscotti aren't supposed to be fluffy anyway.

The eggs are added one by one (this is very important) to the butter and sugar, along with some vanilla for added flavor. The mixture is pretty wet by now, which is why you'll need to add a fairly substantial amount of flour. I also throw in some baking powder and salt because the biscotti need to rise and salt enhances all the other flavors and cuts the sweetness.

The whole point of biscotti is baking it twice. The first bake involves shaping the dough into loaves and baking them whole. Once the loaves are cooked through and cooled, they are sliced and baked again. The second bake should be long enough to make them crispy (fully crispy, not that weird half-stale texture) but not burnt.  Make sure your slices are uniform and somewhat thin so they cook evenly and are crispy throughout without any soft spots inside.

The final touch is a drizzle of chocolate. You can use dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, that fake chocolate candy coating stuff, or no chocolate. Assuming you have chocolate, time, and lack an aversion to a little extra messiness, I highly recommend it. I prefer dark chocolate because the slight bitterness offsets the sweetness from the biscotti, and the color contrasts nicely with that of the biscotti. These biscotti make great gifts since they last a while and freeze wonderfully, and taking an extra few minutes to make them look even prettier will earn you even more compliments.

12 T Butter

3 1/4 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Cup Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla
3 Eggs

12 oz Chocolate, Optional

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Whisking frequently, cook until the milk solids brown. Quickly pour into the bowl of a stand mixer to avoid burning. Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 350F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Beat the browned butter and sugar together until combined. Stir in the vanilla and add the eggs one by one. Gradually add the flour mixture.

Shape the dough into two logs and bake until cooked through, about 24 minutes. Set aside to cool, keeping the oven on.

Cut the cooled loaves into 1/2" thick slices. Arrange in a single layer on the cookie trays and bake until crisp, about 20 minutes more, flipping halfway through.

If desired, melt the chocolate in a double boiler and drizzle over the cooled biscotti.

Makes 36

Recipe Adapted from Savory Simple

November 15, 2015

Frosted Cinnamon Spice Bars

The next installment of The Great Fall Baking Marathon of 2015 is here, which means your Monday won't be quite so bad if you choose to partake. These soft, fluffy bars are packed with fall spices and molasses and topped with a velvety maple cream cheese frosting. My family was practically eating these out of the pan with a spoon, but I guess you can cut them into bars or fun holiday shapes if you want to share with other people.

The batter is essentially a cinnamon spice cake batter with some inspiration from chocolate chip cookie dough (if that makes any sense). The texture of the batter is somewhere between a cake batter and a cookie dough; it's thick enough that you can't just pour it into the pan evenly but thin enough that you don't have to press it down.

The batter starts by creaming butter and brown sugar together until fluffy. You then beat in eggs, molasses, and vanilla. The molasses deepens the flavor and adds a gorgeous color. The dry ingredients are gently folded in at the end; they consist of regular all purpose flour, baking soda, salt, and my special blend of fall spices. These are only mixed until they are just combined so that the bars stay soft and not tough.

The frosting is equally delicious and even easier to make. All you have to do is beat softened cream cheese together with some powdered sugar and fold in some maple syrup. For aesthetic purposes, you can leave some of the maple syrup in streaks and ribbons or drizzle some more on top. You can also sprinkle some cinnamon on top, either randomly or over a stencil or doily for a gorgeous pattern.

To customize these further, you can throw in some white chocolate chunks or some dried cranberries (or both). Don't let the fluffiness of the bars fool you; they can stand up to just about anything you mix in. I, however, prefer the simplicity of just the maple and the spices. The bars are great for Thanksgiving snacking or as an addition to your dessert spread (you can only eat so much pie) since they make so many from just one batch. Because they're best consumed on the first day or two, you have even more of an excuse to eat as many as you possibly can in as little time as possible.

12 T Butter, Softened
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
2 Eggs
3 T Molasses
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
2 1/2 Cups Flour
2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp + Pinch Salt
3/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Ginger
1/8 tsp Allspice
1/8 tsp Cloves

1/4 Cup Maple Syrup

Heat oven to 350F and line a 9x13" pan with parchment.

Beat the butter and brown sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs, molasses, and 1 tsp vanilla. Whisk the flour, baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves together, then gradually add to the butter mixture.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 14-16 minutes or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar, remaining salt, and remaining vanilla together. Beat in the maple syrup and spread onto the cooled bars.

Makes 18
Recipe Adapted from Betty Crocker

November 6, 2015

Cranberry Apple Muffins

The Great Fall Baking Marathon of 2015 continues with an amazing breakfast treat: Cranberry Apple Muffins (in case pumpkin cheesecake isn't your thing). In case you didn't know, Wisconsin has been the top cranberry-producing state for decades now, even though New England likes to make you think otherwise (take that, Coasties). Pair them with your favorite apples from the farmers' market and an oatmeal muffin base and you've got an addictive fall breakfast.

Unlike my apple muffins, these aren't vegan. They are, however, still pretty healthy and full of carbs to get you going in the morning. You can make mini muffins for poppable bites on the go (not that regular muffins aren't portable too) or giant muffins for more of an indulgence. You can also throw in some nuts; toasted pecans or walnuts would add a nice crunch.

The muffin base is a simple oatmeal muffin base with a hint of cinnamon and some caramel notes from the brown sugar. You have your dry ingredients (flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and soda, and salt); you can substitute up to half of the flour with whole wheat flour if that's what you're into. The liquid ingredients are buttermilk, oil, and eggs. As always, I love buttermilk for the extra richness and moistness, but regular milk will work fine if you don't have any on hand (but I highly recommend the buttermilk!). 

What makes these muffins special and seasonal are the cranberries and apples. Although there's not really a good substitute for fresh cranberries, the good news is that they freeze beautifully. I usually buy a few pounds during the all-too-brief cranberry season and freeze them for later use. Their tartness and gorgeous red color just can't be replaced. The apples mellow down the cranberries and add a little extra sweetness. I love using Granny Smith for baking, but any apple that will hold its texture and not get mushy during baking will work. As I said earlier, you can also throw in some pecans here if you so desire.

These muffins freeze as well as the cranberries themselves do, so I like to make a big batch and keep them in the freezer. I'll leave one or two (or five) out on the counter overnight and stick them in the microwave for a few seconds in the morning so that I get hot, fluffy muffins whenever I want. This delicious strategy also works for satisfying your holiday guests because nobody likes it when Grandma gets hangry.

2 Cups Flour
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
3/4 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Cups Buttermilk
1/4 Cup Oil
2 Eggs
1 Cup Oats
1 Apple, Peeled, Cored, & Diced
1 Cup Cranberries

Heat oven to 400F and line a muffin tin with paper cups.

Whisk the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Whisk the buttermilk, oil, and eggs together and fold into the flour mixture. Gently stir in the oats, apples, and cranberries.

Scoop the dough into the cups and bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 22
Recipe Adapted from Nutty Nutrition