PB + chocolate = a swirl made in heaven

IMG_2228BSMbanner_baked-150There’s something really irresistible about the combination of chocolate and peanut butter. I guess we can applaud those Reese’s folks for that one, but I have to think the addiction went back even farther than the humble peanut butter cup.  Not being a nut person myself, I find I can usually make an exception with peanut butter, especially if it is paired with chocolate.  I adore peanut butter cups, and peanut butter M&M’s are the bomb.  (Surprisingly, I don’t like peanuts at all, but I will tolerate a handful of peanut M&Ms.  Strange, I know.  That’s just odd little ol’ me.)

This week’s Baked Sunday Mornings assignment was the tricky-looking Peanut Butter Chocolate Whirligigs from Baked Elements.  Having read on Baked’s blog not too long ago that one of Baked’s top testers found these challenging herself, I needed to take a pretty deep breath before attempting these, as they looked fussy from the get-go.  I like a baking challenge, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve never been fond of rolling things up, jelly-roll style, with gooey fillings inevitably oozing out and making a huge mess all over the place.  If there is a choice between making a drop cookie and a rolled cookie, I go with the former nearly every time.

In an effort not to insult your intelligence, readers, I’m going to attempt not to go through the recipe step by step (as I have done with previous blogs) starting with this blog. Instead, when applicable, I’m simply going to tell you about my experience along the way and offer some tips or pointers I discovered.  This recipe, in itself, is pretty lengthy and involved, and detailing my step by step process in this could generate a lengthy blog.  I don’t want to bore you.

Basically, Baked’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Whirligigs are a slice and bake cookie, which can be the easiest and handiest type of cookie you can make.  In essence, you make the dough, roll it into a log, and keep it in your freezer or fridge for a long time, slicing off and baking the cookies whenever you need them.  The fanciful – and trickier – factor with this recipe is that you first must make a peanut butter cookie dough that needs to be very well-chilled in order to work with it.  It was, I gotta confess, annoyingly rather soft; if you chill it good enough, you can work with it however.  That being said, allow yourself some time to IMG_2219make these cookies – maybe even a couple days.  You then roll the peanut butter dough out, slather it with rich and melty dark chocolate, then carefully roll it all up – with guidance from parchment paper – in cinnamon roll fashion.  The tough part I encountered with this process was that, in addition to the soft dough tearing in spots, that luscious chocolate filling just kept pushing and spilling its way out as I slowly rolled it all up.  Yes – if you are like me, there will be a few choice words uttered in your kitchen.  Just be patient, slow, and careful.  My second roll was much smoother than my first.  Cut yourself some slack.  The dough roll is chilled good until firm, then the cookies are sliced off and baked.

I was thankful for Matt’s note at the start of this recipe that the whirligigs should be “fun and whimsical” and each cookie should have its own personality.  Setting up such a disclaimer is reassuring to perfectionist bakers like myself.  As you will witness from my IMG_2231photos, the swirls in these cookies did not come out “perfect”.  Sometimes – some might even argue that often – imperfection is beauty indeed.  My mind – which typically would fret at this detail – was really able to relax and go with the rugged imperfection in these cookies this time around.  I realized it was inevitable; the chocolate inside, when chilled, gets extremely firm and harder to slice into, pushing against the softer dough on the exterior, and in general, you might wind up with some misshapen cookies.  You can manipulate the slices a touch with your fingers, if need be, before popping them in the oven.  I liked the rusticity and whimsical quality of these cookies as they baked.  You may be surprised how big they round out and puff up in the oven.  I know that I was.

If you’re a chocolate and peanut butter fan, you will really appreciate these gems.  If you don’t over-bake them too much, they should be slightly crisp, maybe tender in a few spots, with a firmer texture to the chocolate (once they are completely cooled) which fast melts in your mouth.

Many could argue that one should be altruistic to the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and make these with milk chocolate; milk chocolate and peanut butter seem to be a perfect match.  I personally like both.  The recipe calls for dark chocolate, which I used – and I really appreciate the sharp, bittersweet taste of dark chocolate against the creamy, earthy peanut butter, but some folks may not like this contrast.  If you’re one of them, by all means, give milk chocolate a try and let me know what you think.  Milk chocolate will definitely produce a mellower and perhaps more balanced flavor palate against the peanut butter.  When I make Ina Garten’s peanut butter chocolate chunk (drop) cookies (a favorite cookie with Jake and I), I usually use half Ghirardelli bittersweet and half Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips, because I like the combination of the two with the peanut butter.  I couldn’t go completely milk chocolate; I have to have some dark in there to provide some sharpness.  I like to get deep and dark with my chocolate, what can I say? (Share your opinion on this by voting in the confidential poll below!)

IMG_2230My end verdict on the whirligigs?  They’re fun, they’re whimsical, and they delightfully pair two favorite flavors into one rustic and funky cookie.  They would be fantastic milk dunkers… or delectable ice cream sandwiches with vanilla or chocolate ice cream.  The work and slight fuss that go into them produces a nice payoff.  I’m not certain I would make these all the time, but as with most things, I’m positive that practice would make them perfect over time.  They would be a great summertime picnic cookie, and I have no doubt kids would go nuts over them (no pun intended).

*Unfortunately, shortly after posting my blog, I went to move a few things on my kitchen counter and knocked the container holding these cookies to the floor – totally smashed and in crumbs!  So sad.  These cookies, in other words, are brittle!

Here’s the link to Baked Sunday Mornings so you can attempt your own:

Peanut Butter Chocolate Whirligigs

As always, please visit the blogs of my fellow BSM bakers to view and read about their wonderful whirligig creations!  Thanks for reading and happy baking, friends!

Finally, just for fun… please vote in my poll and let me know what you think!

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Brûléed

IMG_0010_2BSMbanner_baked-150It’s been some time since I have been able to post a new blog, and I’m excited to make my return this morning!  I’ve been exceptionally busy doing play after play after play after play (I am going into my 4th show in a row in a couple weeks), plus I started a new job – very exciting!  Many wonderful things happening in 2014 – but I have dearly missed writing my blog for my faithful readers.  I didn’t miss too many exciting desserts for Baked Sunday Mornings – if you’re following along in the book, I had some unsuccessful results with the Lime Angel Food Cake (a touch too deflated and rubbery), and the Banana in a Blanket just did not appeal to me, visually or taste-wise.  Not a huge banana fan here.

IMG_0001_2However, I am more than happy to make a return with a classic, favorite dessert.  Before I proceed, I must make a sad confession.  I am typing this blog out on my laptop with a slightly burnt index finger.  Yikes!  Nothing pleasant about that.  How did this happen, you ask?  Well, consider: this week for Baked Sunday Mornings, the assignment is Classic Creme Brûlée with Caramelized Brown Sugar.  Yep.  You got it.  I brûléed the tip of my finger, not just the creme!  Ugh!  This has never happened to me before when making creme brûlée – unfortunately, my finger just happened to slip into the portion of sugar I had just caramelized with the kitchen torch as I was transferring the ramekin to another section of my counter.  OUCH!

Getting that out of the way, I adore creme brûlée, so the fingertip sacrifice was slightly worth it!  It’s one of those desserts that fall under the ‘sexy’ and ‘seductive’ category.  It’s subtle, smooth, then sassy – with that crackling, crunchy burnt sugar top.  I have frequently ordered it in restaurants when it’s been on the menu – but the wonderful conceit with creme brûlée is that it is super easy to make, despite its fancy moniker, which translates to “burnt cream”.  The hardest part may be using a kitchen torch, if you are unfamiliar – and even that turns out to be easy and fun in the end (um, if you’re careful, that is!).

IMG_0002Baked’s recipe uses only 6 ingredients.  First, you warm 2 cups of heavy cream in a saucepan (yes, a whopping 2 cups – for 4 servings; you need to indulge a little with this one), along with a vanilla bean, split down the center to allow the millions of wonderful little vanilla seeds to spill out into the custard.  I unfortunately did not have a vanilla bean handy, so I used about a teaspoon and a half of vanilla bean paste.  While this is warming, separate 6 eggs.  Forget investing in a fancy egg separator – your hand is the best tool.  Wash your hands thoroughly, then crack the egg into your fingers and let the whites drip down into a bowl while you carefully cradle the golden yolk into your hand.  When the yolk is completely free from the white, I take the opportunity at this point to gently pinch off that stringy white chalazae attached to the yolk.  Typically, if this is left on, it cooks up into an unappealing, chewy mass in your custard.  Obviously, you want to avoid this in such a light, silky dessert. You will be sieving the custard  in the final step, so if you skip it on this step, you should be able to strain it out later on.  (Don’t toss those egg whites – save them in your refrigerator for another use!)

In a separate bowl, the egg yolks are beaten with a whisk with 1/3 cup sugar and a pinch of salt, until they just start to turn a pale yellow and no further.  Gently stir in the warmed vanilla/heavy cream mixture, a little bit at a time, to temper – and not scramble – the egg yolks.  The key word here is stir – I’ve learned from countless other times making creme brûlée that at this point, you want to get rid of that whisk you started with and use a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate the warm cream; the reason being that you want to avoid creating a lot of fizzy air bubbles on the tops of your custard, which bake up into an unsightly mess.  You want to keep the surface of your custards as smooth as possible for the layer of sugar you will scatter over it later.

Pour the egg/cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup that will allow you to pour the custard into the ramekins to be baked.  This is a crucial step, as it removes any egg solids (or that icky white chalazae) that may have cooked when you added the cream to the egg yolks.  Pour the custard mixture into ramekins.  As the recipe suggests, I yielded about 4 6-ounce ramekins worth of custard – perfect for a small dinner with a couple friends.  Place the ramekins in a small roasting pan, then carefully pour boiling water into the pan until it encroaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  This is called a bain marie, or water bath.  Baking custards in a water bath allows them to bake uniformly, preventing excessive curdling or overcooking.  A bain marie is also a wonderful way to bake a cheesecake.

The creme brûlées are baked for about a half hour, in the roasting pan, until they just slightly jiggle in the centers.  Remove, and let cool to room temperature, before wrapping them in plastic and refrigerating them overnight (which I have found is best).  While making these a day in advance may seem a touch tiresome, it also frees you up for making dinner the next night and not having to worry about dessert! All you need to do is brûlée the custards when ready to serve.

There are kitchen torches specific for making creme brûlée and desserts, and there are also larger, possibly even cheaper, propane torches available in your local hardware store.  Either will work!  Baked’s recipe for creme brûlée adds a slight twist in that it uses dark brown sugar – instead of the standard granulated – for that splendid caramelized top.  Toss a couple tablespoons or so of sugar across the top of your custards, and with your fingers, gently smooth it out.  Turn on your kitchen torch – don’t be scared of it! – and carefully move the flame close, but not too close, to the sugar.  I sway the torch back and forth, watching for the sugar to begin melting and bubbling into a glorious, golden crust on top of the custard.  It will smoke up a bit, but don’t be alarmed – it’s doing what it’s supposed to.  If you’re like me, you might hold the torch over one spot until it’s almost dark amber in color; I like the sugar on my creme brûlée just bordering on burnt more than brown.  Set the creme brûlée aside for a little bit for the crust to fully harden.

IMG_0003_2The glorious moment of truth comes when you serve the creme brûlée.  I love to ‘thwack’ the base of my spoon against the sugary top.  It should beautifully crack into shards, disclosing that beautiful, creamy baked custard, speckled with vanilla beans, underneath.  A well-made creme brûlée is a true beauty to behold.  What I especially appreciate about creme brûlée is how it texturally appeals not only to the visual senses, but also – obviously – to the taste and palate.  The smooth custard, permeated and perfumed with warm vanilla, contrasts luxuriantly against the earthy crunchiness of the burnt sugar crust.  It is almost intoxicating – and yes, quite sexy.  Serve this on a date night and watch the sparks fly.  With this recipe, you might find a fun little surprise in the bottom of your ramekin – I discovered that a lot of the vanilla beans settled there.  No matter – it was still delicious, and I decided that the vanilla bean was actually preferable to just using vanilla extract.

I recently made creme brûlée for Oscar night using Ina Garten’s recipe, as I forgot that Baked had a recipe in this cookbook at the time.  It was a wonderful treat for this occasion, though I found myself quickly running into the kitchen and firing up the kitchen torch to brûlée the custards in between commercials!  With any dessert, obviously your best bet is to plan accordingly!

To try your own hand (and not burn it!) at creme brûlée, follow this link:

Classic Creme Brûlée with Caramelized Brown Sugar

…and be sure to check out how my fellow Baked Sunday Mornings bakers fared.  I think I can confidently predict that none of them were as klutzy with the burnt sugar as I was!

I still have a busy few weeks ahead of me, but I will do my very best to stay up to date with my blogs.  Thank you for hanging in there with me!  Happy St. Patricks Day to everyone, by the way!  May the luck of the Irish be always with you!

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