Wednesday, December 21, 2011

HO HO HO. No More Oreos.

Admittedly, it’s been a few thousand years since Santa made an appearance in this household. Okay, I’ll admit that he used to show up, along with a Christmas tree or two, when the kids were little. I have fond memories of our late-night hours on Christmas Eve, scrambling to assemble everything, ably assisted by Baba and Grandpa Ed.

Henry and I still laugh over that massive GI Joe aircraft carrier which was situated next to the bucolic Care Bears village. Suffice it to say that within a couple of hours, the Care Bears were targets of the missiles next door. Oh, the joy of having boys…

Perhaps I should mention that I had not yet converted to Judaism in those days.

If Santa still visits your house, perhaps you need to cut him a break this year. I mean, how many Oreos can he face? Do him (and yourself) a BIG favor and make these toffee crunch cookies instead. I made them today and I confess that I consumed a few more than I should have. (Oh hell, I think I devoured about 6 of the damn things – so much for my 17-Day Diet). Yep, they are THAT good – crunchy, crispy, buttery and brown sugar-y. Serve a few to Santa, hoard a few for yourself and keep some of the dough in your freezer so you can bake them off whenever you need a fix. You will thank me for this!

Happy Holidays from my sweet dogs.  Lucy and Roxy (top 2 white dogs) have health issues right now.  I'm just happy to have them here for one more holiday.

TOFFEE CRUNCH COOKIES   (adapted from Jeannie Eddy)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (I used extra-large)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 10-oz. bag toffee candy chips (like Heath Bar)
1 cup regular oatmeal
1 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
1 cup whole, blanched and skinned almonds, chopped

Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat until creamy, then add both sugars and the salt. Beat until well-combined and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down bowl several times. Add eggs and vanilla and continue to beat until mixture is well-combined and creamy.

Add flour and baking soda. Mix on low speed until just combined. In another bowl, stir together the toffee chips, oatmeal, coconut and almonds. Add this to the mixer and blend briefly to combine.

Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap and pat into a round. Wrap well and refrigerate for at least an hour until dough is chilled. Scoop dough into balls (I used a 1-inch ice cream scoop) and place on a baking sheet. Freeze until ready to use.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350-degrees. Place balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing 2-inches apart. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, or until just golden. Remove from oven, cool slightly, then place cookies on a baking rack to cool completely.

Yield: 100 small cookies (using a 1-inch scoop)

• These things are GREAT! Santa will love you, I promise!

• The chopped almonds are crucial to this recipe. Don’t be tempted by slivered almonds. The chopped-up ones give these cookies great texture and crunch.

So here’s the thing about Christmas and Chanukah. We sort of celebrate both. Henry was out last night at a Christmas party (first night of Chanukah) while I stayed home, lit candles and watched “A Very Glee Christmas.” Oy veh.  Oh, and I also decorated a VERY small Christmas tree which now resides on the buffet in my dining room.  Don't tell my kids ...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Walk in the Park

So how was your Thanksgiving? I know, I know – it’s been ages since I posted anything here and for that I apologize. For a myriad of reasons, I have been out of town more than I’ve been in it over the past few months. Fortunately it has all come to an end and I am now back to the business of cooking, baking and blogging. Thanks for sticking with me.

But before I get started, can I share our 15 minutes of fame? This article ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday after Thanksgiving. Hilarious! If you ask me, it’s proof positive that newspapers must be having trouble coming up with good stories these days.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, the real story around here is the day afterwards. No, not because it’s Black Friday (you will rarely catch me at a mall, especially on that day) but because the kids and a group of their friends all show up for an anti-turkey dinner which usually involves the Big Green Egg, ribs, mac and cheese and my killer barbecue sauce. Yeah, it’s a noisy, messy affair and by the time everyone departs (sometimes a day or two later), I’m wiped out, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s definitely my favorite day of the year!

Most of you know my dessert philosophy which goes something like “if one is good, then two are better.” This time was no different. After I made the requisite hummingbird cake (mandatory, or Andy would probably refuse to come home), I hit upon the idea of monkey bread. Forgive the analogy, but I figured that making it would be as easy as a walk in the park!

MONKEY BUBBLE BREAD (adapted from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito)

For the bread:
1 ¼ cups whole milk
1 package yeast
4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt (I used kosher)
1 egg (I used extra-large)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, warm the milk slightly until an instant-read thermometer reads between 105 – 110-degrees. Remove from heat and whisk in the yeast. Do not warm it beyond 110-degrees or you will kill the yeast.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, sugar and salt until combined.

In a small bowl, beat the egg with a fork and add it to the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until combined.
Keeping the mixer on low, slowly stream in the milk mixture until combined. Add the melted butter and mix until the dough comes together. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook attachment. Continue to mix on medium speed until the dough becomes silky and tacky, but not sticky, about 8 – 10 minutes. The dough should mound together and easily come off the bottom of the mixing bowl. If it is too wet, add some flour; if too dry, add a small amount of water.

Spray the inside of a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, 1 – 2 hours.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Push dough down with your hands to deflate. Remove from the bowl and pat into a rough circle approximately 8-inches in diameter. Use a serrated knife to cut dough into 1- to 1 ½-inch pieces. (You should end up with about 60 pieces). Roll them into balls, place on the parchment-lined pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Set aside while you prepare the coating ingredients.

For the cinnamon-sugar coating:
1 ¼ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ cup (I stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Stir the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Place the melted butter in a separate bowl.

To assemble:
Remove the plastic wrap from the dough balls and dip one ball in the melted butter. Let the excess butter drip back into the bowl, then roll the ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and place it in the prepared Bundt pan. Continue this process with each dough ball, adding them to the pan in layers, as if you are building a brick wall.

Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and set it in a warm area of the house for about 1 hour or until the dough balls have almost doubled in size and appear puffy.

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Remove the plastic wrap from the Bundt pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the top layer is deep brown and the caramel coating begins to bubble around the edges, about 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then turn bread out onto a platter. Serve warm.

Serves 8 – 10

• If you bake this early in the day and want to serve it later, wrap the cooled bread in plastic wrap. Just before serving, remove plastic and rewarm bread in a 300-degree oven for a few minutes until just warm to the touch.

• You could also make the entire thing ahead of time. Once the dipped dough has been placed in the pan, wrap it tightly and refrigerate. Bring it back to room temperature to “proof” the dough before baking as directed.

• I used a silicone bundt pan which made it a snap to turn out the baked bread. You can, of course, use a regular tube or bundt pan, but the silicone version sure does make it easier to get the thing out of the pan.

• Don’t have any whole milk on hand? I usually don’t either (it’s 1% around here) and I hate to buy it for just one recipe because then I feel compelled to drink the rest or hide it from Henry so he doesn’t drench his cereal with it in lieu of the lowfat stuff. I usually have cream around though (for baking purposes), so I just mixed some of it up with my lowfat milk and voila! – a good substitute for whole milk.

• Monkey bread is not a new concept. I can remember my mom making it when I was younger, but she probably used those biscuits in a can (where you had to rap it sharply on the counter so it would split open). Come to think of it, probably a lot of folks use that method (why did a vision of Paula Deen suddenly appear in my head?) but it’s so easy to make your own chemical-and-additive-free dough that I highly recommend it.

• Personally, I prefer to eat this for breakfast instead of dessert. I’m thinking it would be a nice addition to your Christmas breakfast this year…..

• Obviously I have given you a sweet version, but I could also envision this as a savory bread as well. Use your imagination and get creative! Think I will test it with a garlic-herb butter and perhaps a little grated parmesan for dipping. Add a glass of wine and I could happily make dinner out of it…..

P.S. Those poor folks who pick up our recyclables must think we are raging alcoholics, based upon the quantities of beer cans and wine bottles which are placed on our curb after that Friday-after-Thanksgiving blowout. Come to think of it, the neighbors probably wonder about us as well!