Whiskey-peachy keen

IMG_1363BSMbanner_baked-150Consider the humble peach.

When you truly come to think of it, a peach is truly anything but humble.  A plump, ripe, juicy peach is heavy in sweet scent and flavor, slightly giving to a gentle touch as it sits, golden and – yes – fuzzy in the palm of your hand.  A good peach is just downright voluptuous.  When it comes to fruit, I may be a big fan of most berries – but the crowning glory in my eye is none other than the peach.  I love peach pie, peach iced tea, peach juice, peach crumble, peach cobbler… I enjoy a good peach simply on its own!

This week’s Baked Sunday Mornings selection turns the traditional pineapple upside-down cake on its ear by swapping out pineapple rings with fresh peaches and a smoky touch of whiskey, in Baked’s lovely, scrumptious Whiskey Peach Upside-Down Cake.  It may just be one of my favorite recipes our group of bloggers has made so far from the Baked boys’ newest book, Baked Elements.

IMG_1334To begin with, I purchased my peaches from a local fruit stand that is near where I work.  To quickly ripen peaches, all you need to do is set them gently in a paper bag.  Make sure that you place them stem tops down; peaches like to rest on their ‘shoulders’.  Loosely fold the top of the bag down, and set the bag of peaches in a cool, darker spot for a day or two.  The peaches emit gases within the bag which speed the ripening process.  If you wish to speed up the ripening, add a banana to the bag.  If you wish to halt or slow a peach from ripening, pop it in the fridge!  Simple as that!  I often grow rather impatient when ripening peaches – and honestly, it’s a real pain when your peaches feel ripe to the touch, but then cling stubbornly to the damn pit when you cut them open.  They should give a little under the skin when pressed with your finger; but don’t press to hard or you will cause an unsightly bruise.  Indeed, peaches can be finicky little buggers, but if you are fortunate to nab a good sweet and juicy bunch of them, you’ve struck gold!

IMG_1340While this recipe doesn’t explicitly state to do so, I peeled my peaches for this cake and sliced them into relatively thin crescents.  These slices are bedded down in a 9-inch cake pan on top of a thick layer of buttery, dark brown sugar caramel spiked with whiskey. I used Knob Creek, one of my favorite whiskeys to bake with.  A sheet of parchment is first fitted into the bottom of the cake pan, prior to spreading down the caramel, for eventual easy release of the upside-down cake.

Whipping up the cake batter involved a couple steps and bowls, but the end result was totally worth it. Butter and sugar are creamed together before adding in 3 egg yolks and mixing well while adding the irresistible flavoring trio of vanilla extract, almond extract (which goes wonderfully with peaches), and even more whiskey.  The whiskey is combined with buttermilk and added alternatively with the dry ingredients to keep the cake batter light.  2 egg whites are then whipped separately to soft peaks, then gently folded into the cake batter to lighten the cake even further.  All of this is carefully poured over the peach layer in the cake pan, then baked in the oven for about 50 minutes until the top of the cake domes slightly and is a uniform, deep golden brown.  Do not worry if the cake is borderline burnt on top – while you certainly don’t want it to cross over into actually being burnt, remember that this will be the ‘bottom crust’ for your cake and therefore, having a little sturdiness to it on top of the plate will assist you later on when plating the servings.  Prevent the cake from burning by rotating the pan in the oven while it’s baking, as the recipe suggests.

IMG_1346After a 15-20 minute cool in the pan, the cake – surprisingly – easily released from the pan onto a serving platter after a quick swipe around the edges with a metal offset spatula to loosen the edges.  The circular peach design beautifully shown through the thick, gooey, caramel glaze on top, which dropped off in delicious sugary chunks along the edge as it rested on the serving plate.  I couldn’t wait to slice into the cake, but impatiently, I let it rest a while longer.

IMG_1348When I was ready to serve up a slice, I found that the cake was wonderfully tender and easy to slice through, along with the ripe, now baked peaches, so the pretty design wasn’t too easily disturbed by the knife.  The crumb was buttery and spongy thanks to the buttermilk and whipped egg whites; a perfect, homey base for the decadent, brown-sugared peaches.  While the cake could be be cut into 8 wedges easily, I opted to cut one large slice in two for Jake (my boyfriend) and I to share.  For those of you who are calorie-conscious out there – as I have been lately (see prior blog) – this cake, at 8 servings, nets about 570 calories a slice (and that’s without a whipped cream or ice cream pairing).

IMG_1351Baked suggests pairing the cake with a whiskey-spiked whipped cream, but I couldn’t resist buying a pint of Whiskey Ice Cream made by our own local Milwaukee-based ice cream company, Purple Door Ice Cream, to accompany this cake.  It may sound like *too much* whiskey all told, but let me just say – this decision of mine was divine inspiration.  The smoky notes of the whiskey in the peach topping and even the whisper of whiskey in the cake were beautifully accented by this amazingly creamy, jaw-droppingly terrific super-premium ice cream.  It was a perfect match – and despite my overly abundant use of words to describe this dessert pairing phenomenon in that last sentence, I was – quite simply – speechless as I took my first bite, incorporating cake and caramelized peaches with a creamy, cold slather of whiskey ice cream.  Yummy, indeed.

To give a further shout-out to this wonderful local business, please take a little internet detour from my blog for a sec and visit Purple Door Ice Cream’s website: Purple Door Ice Cream.  I really cannot say enough about them – if you’re looking for hand-crafted, creamy, dense, perfectly-flavored ice creams (as in: not overdoing the flavoring, it’s honestly just enough) incorporating local ingredients, Purple Door Ice Cream is the place for you.  I recently celebrated my weight loss by stopping in at their store for a scoop of ice cream!  I opted for a scoop of the Chai-Pink Peppercorn, and it was amazing… as is the Chocolate Guatemalan Roast.  It may be a touch dangerous that I am only now discovering their ice cream as I am trying to watch my figure!  Seriously though – local folks, you will fast become a fan.  Please visit these wonderful ice cream purveyors and support your local food businesses.  What’s even more awesome?  If you purchase a pint of their ice cream in stores (I found it in Outpost Natural Foods), 10 cents of your purchase goes toward Milk for Milwaukee, a community initiative to provide fresh milk to area homeless shelters.  How wonderful is that?  (They also recently hired my sister, Donna Landwehr, as their Catering and Events Coordinator – further proof that these are pretty smart, savvy people running this business!)

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If you’d like to make your own fabulous Whiskey Peach Upside-Down, courtesy of Baked, I highly suggest you follow this link:

Whiskey Peach Upside-Down Cake

…where the recipe is, of course, located – and also where you can follow the “leave your links” page to read how my fellow bakers fared.  If you’re a peach fan and even further, a proponent of whiskey paired with said peaches, this is one recipe you don’t want to miss.

Until next time, when I tackle a Mile-High Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream (wow… yes, this is indeed what is slated for September 1st), Happy Peach Season to you all!

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Brand new me, brand new cookie

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BSMbanner_baked-150Miss me?  Truly, it hasn’t escaped my own notice that it has been nearly 2 months since I wrote my last blog, around the start of June.  Never fear: I haven’t decided to call it quits completely, but there have been some pretty positive – and even somewhat drastic – changes in my life.  And much less sugar.  *GASP!*  Here’s why…

I’ve been (working on) eating better.

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Proof is in the picture: me at my heaviest in 12/2012 (left), down 13 lbs. (center), currently down 20 (right).

Yes, you certainly read that right. Honestly – I hit a wall.  I was not feeling the greatest, I suffered from some odd panic-like attacks, and I detested how I looked in photos – definitely pudgier, rounder, and pasty-looking in complexion. I decided it was time for a change.  I revamped my My Fitness Pal profile online, set some (realistic) weight loss goals, bought a good pair of running/walking shoes, and started committing myself to exercising daily (namely, just walking for now – baby steps).

The result?  In about 2 months, I am down about 20 pounds – 3 pounds from my goal weight.

Needless to say, I am feeling much better, eating more consciously, and when I go a day without some sort of exercise, I almost feel a touch guilty.  I never thought I would say those words.

Eating better includes cutting down on sugar intake, naturally, so my baking has had to go by the wayside in a big way.  Over time, I’ve found that I crave sugar less!  That being admitted – no worries, Neufangled Desserts fans, I have not dissolved completely.  My resolution is to do one or more of several things when I bake:

1. Make less of the recipe.

2. Figure out some healthy ingredient substitutions.  This is a major challenge and one that, I confess, I am hesitant to tackle until I have some better baking know-how.  I strongly believe in using all the correct ingredients called for in a recipe, and baking doesn’t often leave much room for good substitution; it’s almost an exact science in a lot of ways.  However, it’s also been eye-opening to find out how many calories are in a baked good.  I mean, come on… 350 calories in a simple, small piece of banana bread???!!! You gotta be kidding me! (Sadly, nope.)

3. Give away a good 95% of the yield of whatever I bake (another tough thing to do – especially if it’s so damn good, or if there is no ready occasion for which to bake!)

I had #3 in mind when I initially tackled this week’s assignment via Baked Sunday Mornings: Baked’s Lime Tarragon Cookies with White Chocolate Topping.  I decided to make these cookies for a get-together with friends on the 4th of July.

IMG_1198The dough for these cookies is fairly easy to whip together in a mixer, and contains relatively few ingredients: butter, confectioners’ sugar, light brown sugar, salt, lime zest, lime juice, finely-chopped fresh tarragon, and flour.  With the exclusion of eggs and the use of confectioners’ sugar over granulated, these cookies turn out to have an interesting texture – almost crumbly and dry like a shortbread, but surprisingly a little chewy and tender.  Prior to baking they are chilled in the refrigerator for at least an hour to maintain their nice, round shape when baking.  I would advise sticking to an hour or two for your chilling period; I chilled my dough overnight and it was rock-solid.  If you’re itching and impatient to get these babies in the oven. waiting for a lump of extremely cold dough to be manageable can be a beast.  The dough is already fairly firm and easy to shape without too much excess chill.

After baking and cooling, the final touch to these cookies is a thin glaze of melted white chocolate on top, garnished with only a few long, thin strands or spirals of lime zest.  I found that I needed to add a touch of cream to my white chocolate as I melted it, to make it a thinner consistency for spreading on the cookies.  In keeping with my trimming-down goals, I was initially pleased to see the recipe yielded only a dozen cookies, but imagine my chagrin when I came up with about 18 in my batch (give ’em away, Mark, give ’em away…)!

IMG_1212I have to confess, these cookies just didn’t do much for me – and judging from the reactions of my friends I shared them with, they weren’t too much of a hit with them either.  While I enjoyed the slightly buttery, pleasant texture of the cookie, the hint of tarragon was still too strong, and it competed harshly with the delicacy of the lime.  Some folks might like this combination; I just didn’t.  While I don’t mind tarragon, as a rule, in a savory dish, it held no appeal for me in a sweet treat.  The licorice (read: ICK) flavor still cut through all the other flavors in the cookie, and were I to stay true to this recipe in making it again, I might cut the fresh tarragon down to a 1/2 teaspoon.  Indeed, Matt Lewis – in the recipe preface – invites tweaking the amount of tarragon to your taste when making this recipe, but he also strongly urges us to not omit it altogether.

Well… this weekend, I did attempt making these again, and I’m afraid I will need to beg Matt’s forgiveness: I had to remove the tarragon.  It just didn’t work for me.

IMG_1298While I’m not a fan of gimmicky recipes baked upon other desserts, I decided to put a ‘key lime pie’ twist on these cookies.  The tarragon now out of the picture, I proceeded with making the recipe as is.  I loved the idea of the white chocolate with the lime, but instead of icing the cookies with melted white chocolate (which is sometimes a touchy, sticky hassle), I folded white chocolate chips into the batter prior to baking the cookies off.  I chilled the batter as directed, then used an small cookie scoop to scoop out chilled balls of cookie dough, rolling them gently between my palms and finally tossing them around in some finely ground graham-cracker crumbs for a finishing touch.  I finished the cookies by baking them off as the recipe directs.

IMG_1300I’m always wary of making my own little spin on recipes, as the results can be almost mixed to just downright disastrous (read #2 above about needing a little more scientific know-how with baking).  My ‘key lime pie’ cookie experiment, however, was a sweet surprise!  While maybe not as visually pretty as the tarragon lime cookies, the lime flavor in these shines through in the cookies, with the subtle, sweet milkiness of the white chocolate chips adding a pleasant contrast.  The dusting of graham cracker crumbs over the cookies comes out of the oven almost toasted and golden, adding another level of flavor and upping the ‘key lime pie’ factor.

IMG_1303I didn’t totally dislike Baked’s tarragon lime cookies, but I definitely had a preference for these new little gems I spun out of the original recipe.  If you’re not too big a tarragon fan yourself and a lime cookie just sounds too irresistible, try my fun take on these citrus-infused cookies (*see note below)… or get to chopping up that fresh tarragon yourself and give Baked’s recipe a whirl.  Or divide your dough, make both, have a taste test and let me know what you think!  A link to the recipe, and to see how the other Baked Sunday Mornings fared, is below:

Lime Tarragon Cookies with White Chocolate Topping

Thanks for your patience with me as I’ve been getting my healthy life in order!  Though I am definitely baking less, I will do my very best to continue blogging.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to put on my walking sneakers and hit the pavement to burn off some of the calories from these cookies!

* To make Key Lime Pie White Chocolate Chip Cookies:  Omit the fresh tarragon.  After adding the flour, stir in about 3/4 to 1 cup white chocolate chips (you don’t want too much white chocolate, but not too little either).  Chill the dough, then roll them into pretty decent-sized balls between your palms, and toss them into a bowl of finely-ground graham cracker crumbs.  Press the crumbs gently into the cookie dough balls while rolling them around, then place on the cookie sheet and bake as directed (an extra little pinch of graham cracker crumbs on top of each cookie before baking can’t hurt either!).

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