Saturday, June 26, 2010

Harry Potter's Butter Beer Float

My family is consumed with Harry Potter. We own and have all read all the books. We own all the movies. We even have most of the books on CD. We are anxiously awaiting the final movie (part 1) later this year.
During one of our many Harry discussion, the question arose, "What is butter beer?" Rowling doesn't fully explain it aside from mentioning it multiple times, which leads me to think that it's a popular drink among Hogwarts students. I set out on an internet search to find a recipe. The recipe variations I found were quite varied and many contained alcohol, which just isn't appropriate for children (or me). Aside from that, there are two main categories of butter beer: hot and cold. I took the general idea of the cold version and created butter beer floats. Let's just say that my (almost) 10-year-old was in Harry Potter heaven. Next winter, I'll have to try hot butter beer.

Harry Potter's Butter Beer Float

1 bottle IBC creme soda
2 scoops vanilla or butterscotch ice cream
2 tbsp butterscotch ice cream topping
Whipped cream
Crushed toffee bits

1. Put ice cream in bottom of glass. Add butterscotch topping.
2. Slowly pour soda over ice cream. Wait for fizz to subside, then add more soda.
3. Top with whipped cream and toffee bits, then serve with a straw and long-handled spoon.

Substitution Suggestions: You can obviously vary the ice cream flavor. For a more buttery flavor, add a few drops of butter extract. Diet soda will also work, but if you're going to indulge, why not fully indulge?!

Lessons Learned: The soda fizzes a lot when it hits the ice cream. Either spoon it off or stir it in before adding the rest of the soda. Or, as a friend suggests, reverse the order: soda, then ice cream, though that will limit how much ice cream will fit in the glass. I used three bottles of soda to make four floats.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vanilla Shortbread Cookies

I clipped this recipe from the May 2009 Cooking Light magazine and it sat in my dessert recipe binder with the best of intentions. Last night, I needed a quick recipe to throw together for a finger food potluck. I was out the door, with this tasty little morsels in hand (still warm), in just under an hour. I followed the recipe exactly (with one minor substitution) and received the expected results and an unexpected compliment.
This is the tag that went with the cookie recipe: "This half-oil, half-butter version yields a crisper, more delicate cookie," says Cooking Light Advisory Panelist Greg Drescher of the Culinary Institute of America.

Vanilla Shortbread Cookies

Cooking spray
9 oz. all-purpose flour (about 2 c.)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Line bottom and sides of a 13 x 9–inch baking pan with foil; coat foil with cooking spray, and set aside.

3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, cornstarch, and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.

4. Place butter in a medium bowl or bowl of a stand mixer; beat with a mixer at medium speed 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add oil; beat with a mixer at medium speed 3 minutes or until well blended. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean, and add seeds to butter mixture; discard bean. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Spoon dough into prepared pan. Place a sheet of heavy-duty plastic wrap over dough; press to an even thickness. Discard plastic wrap. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool in pan 5 minutes on a wire rack; cut into 32 pieces. Carefully lift foil from pan; cool squares completely on a wire rack.

Substitution Suggestions: I didn't have canola oil, so I used vegetable oil instead. I'd probably stick to canola in the future, but vegetable will work just fine. If you really want more butter flavor, add a little butter extract -- flavor without the guilt. Don't use margarine or vanilla extract! Only the real thing will do for this recipe and I love seeing the tiny vanilla bean flecks in the cookie.

Lessons Learned: Don't soften your butter too much. I think mine was a little too soft, so it took extra time to get the butter and oil to combine.
The cornstarch may throw you for a loop, but that's part of what makes this cookie dissolve in your mouth so well. You will not taste the chalky flavor of the starch, I promise!
I measured my flour on the scale, not with a cup measure, for better accuracy. I am developing a new appreciation for my kitchen scale thanks to a fabulous book recently recommended to me: Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. (The book is totally rocking my cooking world!)

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am not a huge cookie fan. Perhaps it's because my dad made cookies on a very regular basis when I was a kid ... and they always came out hard. (I hate hard cookies ... except for Oreos.) Perhaps it's because I prefer to enjoy something more interesting and flavorful and texturally interesting when I consume empty calories. At any rate, I've never been a big cookie fan and I've never been a great cookie baker ... until a few weeks ago when the clouds parted and a cookie goddess condescended to share her secrets with me. Now, not only do I like cookies, I can make really good ones -- the beautifully puffy kind that stay soft overnight. So long to those anemic, flatter-than-Kansas cookies that I get every time I try following the recipe on the back of the Nestle chocolate chip bag.
This recipe is not for those who have a CCC craving that needs immediate satisfaction. Nope. For that, I suggest you go to the store and buy a bag of SoftBatch cookies. No, this recipe requires advance planning, but that forethought definitely pays off. The recipe is supposed to be secret, but I just can't keep a food secret this good. So, with apologies to the cookie goddess, here's the ultimate fail-proof, stay-soft-for-days (if they last that long) chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, slightly packed
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla (note, not tsp)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 to 2 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1. Whip butter until fluffy. Add each sugar slowly and mix until thoroughly creamed. Add eggs, one at a time, until each is fully incorporated. Add vanilla.
2. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Dump entire amount into creamed mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Add chocolate chips.
3. Cover mixture with plastic wrap (pressed onto dough) and refrigerate for 4 to 5 hours. Remove from fridge and form dough into evenly-sized balls. Place rows of balls in a freezable container (with a sealable lid) between sheets of waxed paper and freeze for several hours or up to a month.
4. To bake, heat oven to 375. Place frozen balls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let pan cool for 20 minutes before removing cookies to a wire rack for final cooling.

Substitution Suggestions: One word ... don't! OK, a few more words. You can add nuts, but I wouldn't mess with the ratios of this recipe in any other way. And, I wouldn't increase the chocolate content beyond 2 1/2 cups. (A regular-sized bag holds 2 cups, but I buy mine in bulk.) In this case, too much chocolate is not a good thing.  

Lessons Learned: This recipe calls for more sugar and flour than the recipe on the back of the Nestle bag. It also calls for a lot more vanilla. The vanilla really sings in these cookies. It's not offensively strong, but the perfect balance with the chocolate.
I read once upon a time (I think it was in Cooks Illustrated) that eggs added one at a time incorporate into a batter or dough faster than adding them all at once. The one-at-a-time process also creates a better rise. It has something to do with the science, which I don't understand, but it does work. So, only add eggs one at a time.
By mixing the dry ingredients separately before adding them to the creamed mixture, you ensure that the baking soda and powder are thoroughly integrated. Otherwise, you could get pockets of powder or soda and who wants to taste that? Not me.
I think the biggest key to this recipe's success is that the dough is frozen before it's baked, and then its baked from its frozen state and it finishes baking on a hot, but cooling sheet once you pull it out of the oven. In short, the cookie bakes very slowly throughout the entire process. The cookies will still look somewhat raw after 10 minutes. The cookie goddess (CG) says you can leave them in the oven for 12 minutes at most, but I pulled mine out after 10. I also dialed my oven down to 350 since my oven runs 25 degrees hot. Make sure you know your oven's true temperature, not the temperature you set it to.
The CG measures each ball of dough before it's frozen. Because she sells them, she has to make sure each one is 2 ounces. I used a one-ounce scoop for mine and kept the cooking time to 10 minutes. If you make bigger balls, you may need to increase the time slightly.
I baked mine on one rack with a pizza stone underneath (to help regulate the heat). The CG bakes two rows at a time.
One final note: CG said that she's shared this recipe with others, but they can't manage to duplicate it. She may have shared it with me, expecting that I too would fail and thus leave her safely in her role as the cookie goddess. As long as I don't try to sell these cookies, I don't think she'll mind that I can now make them as well as she can. If you don't get super-soft cookies, leave me a comment and I'll troubleshoot the problem with you. And, let me know what you think of the recipe!