Melting Moments Cookies

Melting Moments1

Do any of y’all who follow this blog own a cookie press? How do you like it? If you do, what is the brand and where did you get it?

(As an aside for non-bakers, cookie presses are a device where cookie dough is inserted into a tube and manually pressed through a metal stencil plate. The stencils vary, but mostly cookie presses are used to make crisp butter cookies at Christmas time.) You can find them in places like Marshall’s, Home Goods, Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams Sonoma and (of course) online, and most are pretty inexpensive…which brings me to another point.

Here’s the thing about me and cookie presses….we don’t work together.

You know what? No. Let me rephrase that; I’M not the one with the problem. The presses are. THEY’RE the ones who don’t work. It’s THEM, I swear. You know why? Because I’ve bought two different cookie presses, and ended up discarding them both when neither one produced the goods. They either wouldn’t press out the dough completely in the shape of the design, or wouldn’t press it out at all. And believe me, I fiddled around with both and everything else I could think of to try and get them to work: the dough consistency, different plates, different sheet pans, chilling the sheet pans first. All useless.

I just could not get those presses to work.

So if any of you have a cookie press that you ARE able to use with no problems, do tell me which one you have. I’d also really appreciate any tips or advice in how you specifically get the most out of it. The thought of there being a kitchen gadget out there that I couldn’t get to work irks the daylights out of me. I’ve got to figure it out. So tell me what works for y’all and I might consider buying one more and hoping that the third time will be the charm for me and cookie presses.

In the meanwhile, there’s this post–which happens to be relevant to this conversation as it stemmed from my hit and miss history with the gadget.

Amazon sends me notifications when huge discounts are given for things on my wishlist. For a while I’d had a Wilton decorating tip set saved on my list, as I wanted to step my decorating game up for things like layer cakes and cupcakes. One day Amazon sent me a notification that they were having a flash sale and that for the next hour or so, it would be more than 50% off.

You can guess what happened.

So, Aside from having more decorating tips than this novice baker knows what to do with, I’ve also now got an alternative to the cookie press for churning out pretty cookies. And y’all: aren’t these pretty?

Despite their frilly appearance, these are butter cookies and as such, the ingredients themselves are extremely simple. There isn’t much more to these than butter, sugar, vanilla and cornstarch. The milk is there in order to make the dough loose enough to be piped through the dessert tip, as I found that on it’s own it was a bit too stiff to be piped. I opted for a coil shape as #1, I found it visually appealing when combined with a fluted tip and #2, It was the easiest shape I could manage. (I’m going to work on my cookie piping skills though, promise).

These honestly remind me of the blue tin butter cookies. They’re light, crisp and full of vanilla, buttery flavor. And yes: the confectioner’s sugar and cornstarch does make them practically melt in your mouth. I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about them.

Sharing these cookies at this week’s Fiesta Friday #208.

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Melting Moments Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of The Recipe Encyclopedia: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Cooking

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Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk, optional

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.

In a small bowl combine the flour with the cornstarch with a fork.

Add the vanilla to the butter mixture. Sift in the flour mixture to the butter mixture (not all at once, in about 3 batches) until just combined.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with cooking spray.

Spoon the dough into a pastry bag or cookie press and pipe it into desired shapes that are about 1/2-1 inches in diameter. Once finished, refrigerate the sheet pan for about 30 minutes.

Bake in the oven on the middle rack until just golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

(Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Beef Carbonnade

I’m going to piggyback off my last week’s post where I gave some free advice that I’ve picked up along the way of my own cooking journey. I’ve mentioned before on here that I have a not-so-minor addiction to buying/collecting cookware, bakeware and kitchen appliances. The majority of my Amazon wishlist is composed of the above. The shopping spree of my dreams would legit be at Williams Sonoma, where I could literally buy any and everything that I want. The more cooking/baking techniques and different dishes that I learn, the more gadgets and appliances I want in order to make them or take certain dishes to a certain level.

Just as there’s a lot of cooking advice to be taken in, there are just as many pieces of cookware, bakeware, gadgets or appliances out there. It’s perfectly fine to get a collection going once you’ve hit your stride and feel pretty confident in your abilities. However if you’re just starting out and and are just looking to *begin* stocking your cabinets with pots/pans, my advice to you would be similar to the advice I gave last week.

Less is more– at least in the beginning.

If you go to just about any Bed Bath & Beyond, Macy’s or even Target and Walmart you’re going to be able to find the huge sets of cookware that usually come with a few pots, skillets and spatualas. Those are fine–I’d even say that they’re a worthwhile investment provided it’s from a good company/brand.

The only thing is, the majority of cookware sets aren’t going to have what I personally consider a must-have in the kitchen collection of amateur and expert cooks alike. Any guesses on what it is?

Never mind, I’ll just tell you: it’s a Dutch oven.

One of the best decisions I ever made on my cooking journey was to invest in a good Dutch oven. It was a real game changer. Prior to that I had been using a stock pot. Trust me, there’s a big difference and in my opinion, no comparison between the two. There’s just no beating how many different uses you can get out of a Dutch oven.

You’re going to get more latitude from a Dutch oven which gives more surface area for a more even cook. I learned how to fry chicken while using a Dutch oven (they’re taller and also hold/distribute heat even better than cast iron).Most are pretty big–enough too make big pots of stew, soup and chili. They’re big and also wide enough to fit whole roasts and the vegetables. The Cephalon ones are my favorite; it’s a good non-stick surface that doesn’t wear out and the structure of the pot itself is strong and durable.

A good Dutch oven isn’t the cheapest thing you could buy for your kitchen, but I would still say it’s probably the best thing you could buy whether you’re starting out or not. It’s a *really* good investment. Anything you can make in those chintzy skillets or pots you got in a set, you can (and likely should) be making in a Dutch oven instead. When I was thinking about what I wanted to say for this post, all I could think about was how perfect it turned out BECAUSE of my Dutch oven.

So listen, guys. The advice for the week is: get a Dutch oven.

This recipe is pretty basic, as stick to your ribs food should be. Meat + onions + gravy = Boom. I think the mace and the smoked paprika in the spice rub give the meat a special ‘something’ that really works.  Beef & chicken broth, beer, and apple cider form the base of the gravy. There’s also juuuuust a tad bit of apple cider vinegar that gets added to it–I was nervous about the acidity but it’s actually just right.

Dutch ovens were *made* for meals like this. You want a Dutch oven so that you too can make rich, hearty braises with savory meat that simmers away in rich, hearty broth until it’s fork tender, filling your kitchen with the most glorious of smells. Now theoretically, could you make this in a stockpot if you didn’t have a Dutch oven yet? Eh…yeah. I guess. But the Dutch oven will give you the space and heat distribution that will give you the best results. SO GET ONE.

Sharing this post at Fiesta Friday #207, co-hosted this week by  Lily @ Little Sweet Baker and Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju.com.

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Beef Carbonnade

Recipe Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

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Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 pounds top blade steaks, chuck roast, or tri tip steak, trimmed of gristle and fat cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 medium sweet yellow onions, halved and cut 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup low sodium beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz bottle) dark beer or stout
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • A few dashes of soy sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Seasoned salt & pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

 

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 300°F.

In a small bowl, combine the seasoned salt and pepper, onion powder, mace, smoked paprika, dried thyme, and brown sugar with a fork.

Place the meat into a large bowl and sprinkle about half of the spice mix over it. Stir, then sprinkle the rest on top and stir until evenly coated.

Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil (or butter, or solidified bacon fat) in the bottom of a Dutch oven over high heat. Sear the meat on all sides until browned. (You may have to do this in 2 batches in order to not crowd the pot) Remove the meat to a medium bowl and keep covered with aluminum foil.

Deglaze the pan with the apple cider, allow to simmer until the liquid is mostly dissolved, then add the onions to the pot,  and lower the heat down to medium. Allow the onions to cook until translucent and limpened, around 5-7 minutes. Add the tomato paste and garlic, stir  and allow to cook for about 5-7 more minutes. Add the flour and stir to coat the onions, allow to cook until flour is slightly browned, about 2 more minutes.

Add the broths, beer, cider vinegar, bay leaves, soy sauce. Stir to scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat back to medium. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Place the beef back into the pot.

Cover the pot with a lid, or tightly with aluminum foil and place on the bottom rack of the oven. Cook until a fork inserted in the beef meets little resistance; it should be close to pull apart tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

To make gravy: In a small bowl, combine a few tablespoons of flour with about 1/2 cup cool water. Use a whisk to stir until the flour dissolves. Strain several cups of the cooked beef broth into a saucepan, then pour in the flour water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, stirring a few times. Allow to simmer until thickened into a gravy, about 15-20 minutes.

Cemitas Sandwich Buns

If you were to ask me for a valuable piece of advice when first starting out cooking, I’d try and boil it down to about three rules:

1 . Start with a basic dish with minimal ingredients and steps that won’t intimidate you. When I first started baking, my non-too-intelligent self decided my first dish was going to be my grandmother’s angel biscuits. Big mistake. It didn’t work for a number of reasons but first among them being that making biscuits is both science and an art form. It took me a while to get good at it. Later on after that first failure, I downsized to trying out easier recipes like quick breads and brownies–these are baked goods that are very difficult to mess up.

2.  Read the whole recipe before you start cooking. This one is so important that I’m thinking maybe I should’ve listed it first. I’ve been cooking an`d baking for several years now and this is still a rule that I have to remind myself of when making lengthy recipes like layer cake that have a lot of steps and ingredients. There’s nothing worse than getting started on a dish and getting to the fourth or fifth step and discovering that you’re missing something, or that you needed to spread it out over 2 days rather than try to make it all in one go.

3. Be patient–both with yourself and the food. Nobody starts out cooking like Bobby Flay or baking like Hedy Goldsmith. Even they have days where things go wrong in the kitchen. Give yourself room to mess up and learn from your mistakes. Also, let yourself get more comfortable with allowing the time for letting flavors develop. I’m not a huge fan of most 30 minute or less meals largely because in my opinion, unless you’re a veryveryVERY talented cook, spices simply need more than 30 minutes to infuse into food. It may be easier to put together in 30 minutes, but wouldn’t you rather it taste better?

Cemitas are a Mexican sandwich that come from Puebla. A piece of meat (such as beef, chicken or pork) is pounded thin, dredged in flour and breadcrumbs, then fried in oil in a skillet until golden brown and crispy. The meat is then layered with cheese, avocado, chipotles and tomato. It all gets placed a on a round sandwich bun that gets sprinkled with sesame seeds.

As it turns out, today’s recipe required me to fall back on all three of the basic rules I just gave. There are a minimal amount of ingredients involved with it and so far as bread recipes go, it’s one of the simplest you could make. Rules 2 and 3 come in for two reasons. First, it’s important that you read the entire recipe beforehand because the first rising runs much,much longer than the average time. I’m relieved that I took my own advice and looked ahead to see that the first rise lasts a whopping 4 hours. This seems excessive, but the dough needs enough time to more than double in size; more like, double and a half. Because it did require such a long rising time and we wanted to have these for dinner, I did wake up early to put the dough together and give it time to rise.

After that first rise, the dough is divided into smooth balls of dough and left to rise again for one more hour. They will then get a sprinkling of sesame seeds and go for a quick bake in the oven.

The buns rise with perfect domes and puff up HUGE in the oven, making them the perfect size for a slab of meat and all the fixings you want to pile on top of it. They’re soft and fluffy on the inside, yet sturdy enough to where you can create the sandwich of your dreams without having to worry about the bun being too flimsy to support the stuff inside.  Even if you’re a beginner when it comes to baking bread, I’d still say this was something you could try and expect to have good results–honestly, the hardest part is the wait. And these buns were WELL worth that 😉

Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #206, co-hosted this week by Diann @ Of Goats and Greens and Shinta @ Caramel Tinted Life

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Cemitas Sandwich Buns

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2-3 cups all purpose flour
  • 8 ounces heavy cream
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds

Directions

In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream over low heat on the stove until about 120-130°F. Sprinkle the yeast on top of heavy cream, and one tablespoon of the white sugar on top of the yeast. Allow to proof for about 10 minutes, until frothy.

In a small bowl, beat 2 of the eggs together lightly with a fork, set aside.

Combine the flour with the salt and mix together with a fork. Set aside.

Pour the heavy cream-yeast mixture into the bowl of a standing mixer, then pour in the beaten eggs. Mix together with the paddle attachment until just combined. Switch to the dough hook, then add the dry ingredients. Allow to knead for about 5-7 minutes. The dough will and should still be sticky, but if it’s not coming together in at least homogeneous mass, you can add more flour, about 1/3 cup at a time until it is one.

Grease the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl. Place the dough inside, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel. Allow to rise in a warm place until grown 1  1/2 times larger, about 4 hours (yes, 4 hours, so plan ahead accordingly).

Sprinkle a work surface with flour, then turn dough out onto, it gently deflating air bubbles. Shape into a ball, then divide the ball in half. Divide each half into 3 pieces, giving you a total of six. Shape each piece into a smooth ball.

Lay a sheet of parchment paper onto a sheet pan, then place each bun seam side down onto the paper. Cover with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the stove.

In a small bowl beat remaining the egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Brush over the buns and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake until deep golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool on pan for about 60 seconds, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Pillowcase Cookies

Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2018 is off to a good start for all of you, and that you’re feeling at least a little optimistic for the year.

Okay, so…I try to stick to a pattern in my posting schedule so that I’m not posting more sweet than savory or vice versa–variety being the spice of life and all. The 12 Days of Christmas series is usually enough of a sugar rush/overload for me where I need a break from making & eating sweets and for a while stick to savory and relatively healthy recipes on the blog.

Having said that, you all should know that I did intend to hold off on posting any sweets or baked goods for at least a few weeks, but well…here we are. Thing is, I’ve had this post sitting in my Drafts folder since August and I just couldn’t put off sharing it any longer.

You guys need to see (and make) these. You REALLY do.

If you know anything about my food preferences, you know that sugar cookies are in my Top 3 of favorite desserts. A good sugar cookie–one that is so good it doesn’t even need any embellishments from icing or glaze– just can’t be beat.

Some people like their sugar cookies crisp. Some like them chewy. Some like a combination of the two. Some like them to have a vanilla flavor. Others prefer almond.

I make my stance on this highly contested, divisive issue, loud and clear: I love and must have my sugar cookies thick and soft. I don’t mind almond extract in the dough, but the vanilla needs to be the star flavor for me.

The sugar cookies that I’ve posted on the blog thus far have met all of the above criteria. The first (and also, the most popular post on the blog to date) were these cut-outs. I’ve also shared two vanilla sugar cookies that are good for cookie stamps and molds, here and here.

As delicious as all of these recipes are, they do fall short in one area.

Although they’re all thick and soft, they’re still missing what I think of as the ‘cloud’ factor; where the texture of the cookie is SO light and soft that when you’re biting into it, you feel like you’re biting into a fluffy cloud of pure heaven. I’ve tried a lot of sugar cookie recipes that claim they deliver these goods, only to be disappointed because they just didn’t.

Guys. This recipe de-LIVERS.

I had my doubts before I made these just because the method is unlike any method I’ve ever done when putting together cookie dough. Rather than being creamed or melted, the butter actually gets cut into the dry ingredients just like it is when making biscuits and scones.  The eggs get beaten together with the vanilla and a little milk, then folded into the butter-flour mixture. I have no idea why this is. I have no idea how it works together with the rest of the ingredients. All I know is that it works. It works so well.

As a Southern recipe, this one supposedly gets its name from when the cookies would be given out to journeymen to store in their pillowcases by their families as they traveled around doing work. I’d certainly be a happy camper (or journeyman) if I had a pillowcase full of these to eat.

My favorite thing about the cookies is their texture. It’s just perfect. They rise with a perfect dome and have that thick, soft, fluffy center that practically melts in your mouth. And, no: they absolutely don’t need any help from icing or glaze. These are delicious enough to eat all on their own. This is THE sugar cookie of my dreams, the one I’ve been searching for–which is why I just had to share it with all of you now.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #205, co-hosted this week by Mollie @ The Frugal Hausfrau and Petra @ Food Eat Love.

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Pillowcase Cookies

Recipe Adapted from LouisianaCookin.com

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking power
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk, plus more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1 cup of sugar and baking powder and stir together with a fork.

Use the large holes on a box grater to grate the butter directly into the dry ingredients. (If you don’t have a box grater that’s okay. Just cut the butter into small cubes and stir them evenly into the dry ingredients with a fork.)

Stir the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Use a rubber spatula to make a well in the center of the bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla extract with a fork, then pour into the well you made in the dry ingredients. Flour the rubber spatula and mix together, stirring until the liquid has been absorbed and it forms a slightly sticky dough. (You may need to add additional milk, 1 tablespoon at a time to make it all stick together; that’s fine.)

Generously sprinkle a clean work surface (like a pastry mat, a cutting board or wax paper you tape to your countertop) with flour. Dump the dough out onto the surface and knead together with your hands just until it forms a large ball. It will get messy, but that’s okay; just keep sprinkling with either flour or powdered sugar until it’s relatively easy to pick up in one mass.)

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at LEAST one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray, set aside. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough cookie dough out to about 1/4 inch thick, then use a 3 inch cookie cutter to cut out circles. Place the cut cookies on the sheet pans. Either refrigerate for about 45 minutes, or freeze for about 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with sugar, then bake in the oven for 12 minutes until golden brown on the bottom & slightly puffy on the tops. Allow to cool on the sheet pan for 1 minute, then remove to wire racks to allow to cool completely.

(Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)