Monday, February 1, 2010

That's right, you heard me, RAISINS!

So I'm pretty proud of myself right now. Let me explain why: as you may not know, I typically do not bake on Monday nights. Something about day one of the work week just puts me off. However, since this is also week one of my winter semester of class AND I now have a Tuesday night class every week, I have to adapt my schedule. Is it a bad idea to keep up this plan along with two classes, a full time job and trying to get my house on the market? Let's find out!

So this week's cookie was Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Cookies. Sounds innocent, right? Well. In case you are not a good Midwesterner, Oatmeal Cookies usually come as Oatmeal RAISIN Cookies. If you've read any of my previous entries, you know that raisins are way down on the bottom of my personal food chain. Do I really need to explain this? It's more than just a texture thing, because I do like other dried fruits. There is just something about the flavor that just deadens my taste buds.

But enough about that, onto the purpose for this blog. The cookies themselves were not difficult. I did forgo the chopped nuts yet again as I did not have them. Why? Because I did not buy them. Why again? Because I do not enjoy them in cookies. Any more questions? That said, these cookies smell REALLY good while baking. I chalk that up to the cinnamon and cloves in the recipe. In fact, the aroma was so pleasant, I bit the bullet and actually ATE one! Not too bad - but if I were to make this again for my own use, I would substitute chocolate chips for raisins. The only issue would be with the raisin water. That's right, RAISIN WATER. I had to "simmer" the raisins in one cup of water for 25 minutes to plump them up and then reserve 1/2 cup of the water to put in the batter. Oh, that Betty Crocker, she is a sneaky one!

I am happy to announce that I am now two recipes away from completing the Drop Cookie portion of this project. However, upon further examination of this book, I fortuitously happened upon a chapter entitled "Holiday Cookies." Here is the great part - it has cookie recipes for Valentine's and St. Patrick's Day! Sadly, my actual V-Day will be spent in class for five hours, but perhaps my after school project can be the "Love Letter" cookies from page 29. My only change will be to attempt to swap out the candied cherry for something chocolate. I really don't know that candied cherries have a fan base in my taste testing crowd, and I'd hate to gross them out too much. All of this is to say that my Drop Cookie completion ceremony may be a bit delayed by my special holiday edition.

On a side note - I did receive some positive feedback on last week's Pineapple Cookies. Strangely enough, the most effusive comments came from two people who share the same first name - Mary. Both my mother and my coworker professed the greatest enthusiasm for these cookies. In fact, my mother went so far as to say that these are her favorite so far of everything I've made for my blog. Weird. Obviously taste buds are not genetic in my case. I should also admit that I did make chocolate cupcakes this week as well. I only mention this because everything was from scratch and it involved me melting sugar and corn syrup - a first for me. If you want to know how they turned out, ask my parents or coworkers. They finished them all off for me!

So, unless I get seriously sidetracked by homework, my next cookies are Molasses Jumbles. BC has a cute little paragraph to go with it, but I'll save that for the next entry. Until then, Happy Groundhog's Day!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A pineapple is neither a pine nor an apple... discuss!

So tonight I am actually taking care of my blog entry on the same evening as the cookie baking! Amazing! This may be the last time I can do this for a while since this is my last week of break from school. I also meet with a realtor next week to discuss putting my home up for sale, which could translate into me having to conduct my cookie baking at a different location. We'll have to wait and see.

On to the real important subject for tonight - Pineapple Cookies. As you already know, I was a little nervous for this entry. From a purely preparation standpoint, these cookies were easy. I opted for a more "manual labor" method tonight and did not use my stand mixer. I was concerned that the mechanical mixing might cause some problems in crushing the fruit (even though it was technically "crushed pineapple" already), so I utilized my awesome arm muscles. Don't laugh too hard.

So... making the cookies was easy, as was the baking. I had to chill the dough for an hour, but I am used to that by now. I did make sure to start in on making the dough right away when I arrived home, which is mostly why I am getting to this entry at a decent hour tonight. Overall, the cookies themselves are not wildly unusual, apart from the fact that they contain real fruit. I do think that they turned out as planned, but I will be relying on my coworkers and parents to consume this batch as I just don't care for the flavor. In particular, I am counting on my fellow CSR, Mary, to help me out with eating these as she expressed strong interest in these cookies due to her LOVE of pineapple.

On a technical note, I did omit the chopped nuts called for in this recipe. Why? Two reasons: I just don't really care for them and I forgot to buy them at the store yesterday.

Now, I do have a confession to make. I have again strayed from my pure BC path this week. Last night I made a recipe out of my Food Network Magazine for Red Velvet Whoopie Pies. I won't go into detail since they're not really part of the program, but they were AWESOME. Just ask my coworkers who once again came through and consumed most of the batch for me. To be honest, I will probably be attempting another non-BC recipe in the next week or so for another candy-bar flavored cupcake. There's just something about mid-winter that puts me into baking overdrive! Although it may diminish a bit once I start having piles of homework to complete.

The last thing I would like to mention is that Thursday is my brother's 27th birthday, so here is my little holler out to him for that - Happy Birthday, Mikey! I wish I could bake you something, but I'm not sure it would keep in shipping to Madison. Next week is Oatmeal Cookies. Not too scary, but I did notice something about cooking raisins and using the juice... ick.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Curious Case of Brown Sugar Cookies

My baking adventure this week again took me into the late hours of the night, so I am posting another day-old entry. Please forgive me. Next time I will try to manage my time more efficiently... who am I kidding? Of course that won't happen!

Onto the cookies - this week it was Brown Sugar Cookies. I have to admit, I wasn't that excited for this one because it sounded a little boring. BC called this one of the most "versatile" doughs tested, which was a little intriguing, but the ingredients were just so basic that I had my doubts that they could be that tempting. Happily, I can report that my lack of faith was unjustified! I say this based on the reaction I received from my coworkers, who managed to polish off the entire container I brought with me in a matter of a few hours.

As for the cookie making itself, it was pretty easy. No exotic (or mess-inducing) methods were employed, other than the 1 hour required chill time. My big excitement this week was that I was able to utilize my new teaspoon size ice-cream scooper thingy. I already had a larger one, but since most of these recipes have been calling for "rounded teaspoon" sized drops, I wanted to find one that met that need, as I've grown tired of using my actual teaspoon and mini spatula to scoop out each cookie. All I can say is, thank goodness for Williams Sonoma and their endless supply of kitchen gadgetry.

These cookies turned out to be a little different than I expected. Up until now, the drop cookies have come out rather thick and cake-y. However, these surprising little yummies baked out quite flat, as you will see in the picture. If I had to compare them to anything, I would say that they taste like a cross between a Snickerdoodle and a sugar cookie - very moist, yet not overpowering. Definitely one that I would endeavor to recreate (upon request).

So... my next cookie has me a little scared. The name should enlighten you as to the source of my fear - Pineapple Cookies. These call for actual pineapple, and given my general distrust of cookies with fruit, I'm not sure I will personally be able to consume them. However, if this week is any indication, I may be pleasantly surprised, so I will attempt to keep an open mind. Perhaps the tropical fruit will bring to mind warmer climates, which would certainly be helpful in the middle of the winter doldrums!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Drop it like it's chocolate!

OK, since most of my cookie baking nights turn into LATE nights, I opted to save the writing of this for the next day. Please forgive me.
So.... last night I baked Chocolate Drop Cookies!!! This is exciting for two reasons: 1 - I got to utilize the DOUBLE BOILER method. 2 - it is the first cookie I've made in this project that calls for CHOCOLATE. Maybe that should be the #1 reason, but we'll move on.
These cookies were not overly difficult, despite the fact that I had to melt things. Perhaps due to the fact that I found the cookies so simple explains why I made the somewhat questionable decision to make a frosting to go with the cookies. This meant that I had to employ the double boiler method for a second time. Let's just be honest, I love to melt things. Try not to judge me for that. So back to the frosting... it wasn't hard to make, but it settles to a pretty solid consistency, which made me uncertain as to how best to apply it to the finished cookies. I recently purchased a pastry bag for frosting cupcakes, and I decided to push my luck and use it for my cookies. Armed with my new method for "loading" the pastry bag (courtesy of Mary - HOLLER!), I attempted to fancy up the cookies. Unfortunately, this frosting was a little too stiff to work well in this fashion, so I ended up with frosting that resembles little Tootsie Rolls.
Despite the fact that my frosted cookies are somewhat aesthetically challenged, they seem to taste fine. At least that has been the consensus of my taste-tester/co-workers this morning.
Perhaps worth mentioning is that I utilized parchment paper this time around and as the TV chefs are fond of saying "it made clean-up a SNAP!" The same can not be said for the rest of my mixing and bake-ware, but thankfully it is all (mostly) dishwasher safe.
Final verdict - these cookies are good. They have a cake-like texture, which seems to be the general pattern so far. I wonder if that is a drop-cookie hallmark? I should briefly apologize that it took me longer this week to get to the cookies done, but I made a detour this week by way of mini-cupcakes. I will say no more on that subject in order to honor my cookie-only theme. Please forgive me - I promise to stay true in the future!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Orange You Glad I Didn't Say Raisins?

Tonight's recipe was for Orange Drop Cookies. According to Betty, "the recipe for this delightful cooky came to us from Mrs. Paul Lindemeyer, Mason City, Iowa." She also offers up the possibility of adding chopped nuts or raisins for "variety," but I think I've made my stance on these ingredients clear enough already. If is also important to note that there is a COLOR picture of the finished product in the book as well. I do not have a scanner, or I would share this with you, but I think that I may reasonably claim that mine do not look too different from the picture.

If my own photo is clear enough, you should have already noticed that tonight's cookie called for FROSTING. Oh yes, Betty Crocker isn't going to let me get by with just a suggested "if desired" this time around. Orange Butter Icing (p. 150) is right there in the list of ingredients. So... not only did I have a new adventure in cookie baking, but I made my first (successful) batch of homemade icing. I sure hope someone is proud of this besides me.

All in all, this was a pretty simple recipe and wasn't too difficult to manage. My favorite part was that this makes a MUCH smaller batch of cookies than my first experiment with the Applesauce variety. The cookies themselves are much smaller (one rounded teaspoon), and while they do have a cake-like texture, they lack the moisture that really turned me off in Applesauce batch. Nothing had to be chilled prior to baking, and the only fruit handling I had to do was zesting an orange for the batter and the frosting. I don't really mind this since the smell is wonderful.

The recipe said that it should produce about 4 dozen cookies, which turned out to be just about right (I had a few extra). I have to say, this is a recipe that I would definitely make again. In fact, it actually reminded me a little bit (in texture) of my favorite French cookie, the Madeleine. I do possess a Madeleine tin/mold/pan, so perhaps when I am feeling adventurous, I will try this recipe in that format.

The next recipe in the book is for Chocolate Drop Cookies and this will involve the use of my favorite: the double boiler method. However, I have decided, in the interest of creating more cookie storage, I will wait to complete this recipe until I have more available containers in which to keep the results. Having left a few of my cookie storage vessels at my parents' house this weekend, I find that my Orange Drop Cookies have used up most of my practical options. Unless someone wants to give me some new cookie containers... Alas, Christmas is over, but I do have a birthday looming... in April...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Apples to Applesauce Cookies

Greetings on the last full night of 2009! Now that the big holiday season is almost over, I am finally getting to the business of cookie baking! I decided to start with the very first recipe in the book for my maiden adventure, and that was Applesauce Cookies. These are from the "drop cookie" category in that the dough is simply "dropped" onto the baking sheet and not formed into nice little shapes ahead of time. This particular dough also had to be chilled for "at least two hours" before baking. Since I couldn't get to batter assembly until later last night, I decided to make this a two night ordeal.

So let's see... essentially this was not a difficult recipe as far as the mixing goes. However, it does call for two cups of well drained applesauce and 1/2 cup of cold coffee, neither of which are ingredients that I normally keep on hand. But I embraced the challenge and strained off two cups of applesauce and broke out my little Mr. Coffee brewer and made a fresh pot of French Roast. Also worth mentioning is that I omitted the raisins called for in the recipe, but this is because they were non-essential, and to be honest, I just hate raisins.

After a full evening of mixing (thank heavens for my stand mixer), I put what appeared to be a LOT of batter into the fridge for 24 hours. When I arrived home, I got out my two new baking sheets and my handy metal scooper, and went to work. My dishwasher is now humming with all my messy dishes for the second night in a row, so I can share the results with you. First of all, the consistency of this cookie turned out to be on the cake-y side, which is fine. It's sort of an apple/spice/nut mini cake. Really not bad actually, and I definitely did not miss the raisins. However... for some reason, the cookies made at the end of the batch got a little inconsistent. I was using the same size drops, pans and baking time, but for some reason the last batch of cookies through the oven came out much thinner and more spread out. I'm not sure if this had to do with the temperature of the batter (although I did put it back in the fridge for a while) or perhaps due to a settling of certain ingredients in the batter over the past 24 hours. The flavor/texture of the cookies was fine, but the didn't come off the pan as nicely - these will likely be the bits kept amongst family consumers.

All in all, not a bad experience for the first recipe attempted. With the New Year just a day away, I will likely not return to baking until next week, but I will be starting with an orange flavored cookie AND the frosting that goes with it. It was apparently submitted by a woman in Iowa and it was hugely popular for her, so hopefully I can do it justice. In the meantime, Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cooky Primer Challenge

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a single female who lives in the magical part of the country known as Minnesota. At the moment, we're under a pending winter storm warning that is threatening to put a serious damper on Christmas travel plans for my family. Fortunately, my mother and I (mostly my mother) have already completed some of the holiday prerequisite cookie baking. In Christmases past, my grandmother bore the entirety of this responsibility, and in my opinion, no one has ever been able to do it quite as well as her. Sadly, fate did not allow her to remain with me until I reached the proper age of cookie-wisdom sharing, but she did leave us her 1963 copy of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book. It contains a large portion of her Christmas cookie repertoire, along with her own personal measurement alterations and suggestions pencilled within her favorite recipes.

Up until now, my own personal cookie repertoire consisted chiefly of the basic: chocolate chip. Sure, I've ventured out into the occasional biscotti or double chocolate brownie cookie from time to time, but I've never spent too much time looking over the full breadth of cookie offerings made by Ms. Betty Crocker. However, after pressuring my mother to make my favorite Christmas cookie (Spritz) and receiving a flat-out refusal, I borrowed the book and brought it home with me to attempt the process on my own. My experience was far from perfect, but the end product tastes (even if it doesn't look) like my grandmother's.

This experience left me with a strange feeling. It made me feel oddly domestic (very unusual for me) and gave me a strong desire to make more cookies. This is not an experiment in which I am seeking to prove anything to anyone else, although I expect that my experimentations will make their way to my family and coworkers as time goes on. This is my attempt to prove to myself that I can follow a recipe, even one that may not be popular or even known in this decade, and there is some strange satisfaction in that accomplishment for me.

At the very beginning of the Cooky Book, there is an introduction called the "Cooky Primer." Here is the challenge it issues:

This is a basic guide to baking perfect cookies. Follow these "hints and helps" to achieve professional, party-proud results with a variety of America's most-made cookies. Even experienced homemakers may welcome this little refresher course leading to the ever-full cooky jar which makes your kitchen the most popular room in your home. At the bottom of each page in this section you will find color photographs of the many different types of cookies featured in this book. How do yours compare with them?

To clarify, I am not an "experienced homemaker," and I am not going for "professional" results. But I certainly will use those color photographs to compare my results. Thank you, Betty.