Friday, December 17, 2010

A Tale of Two Cookies

Everyone has their favorite chocolate chip recipe. And everyone has an opinion about the others that fall to the wayside in comparison to their favorite. Personally, I think my Outrageous Chocolate Chip recipe is the bomb, but I'll offer to listen to yours in all fairness.

Another baking opportunity presented itself last week, much to my happy surprise, with the request for jumbo chocolate chip cookies. I hemmed and hawed about what type of chocolate chip cookies to make and deliver, finally deciding upon doing half of the order my famous Outrageous Chocolate Chip recipe (adapted from this Outrageous Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe) and another Jumbo Chewy Chocolate Chip recipe I discovered from Cooking On The Side. Both worked out splendidly, with everyone enjoying both varieties. My changes included adding almond extract to both recipes, adding walnuts and almond butter to my Outrageous Chocolate Chip recipe, and using more brown sugar in place of white sugar whenever possible (makes for better tasting cookies). And of course to make my Outrageous Chocolate Chip recipe, I doubled the recipe and made the spoonfuls of dough nearly 1/4 cup in size when putting them on the pan to bake.

In the end, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or baker, I guess. Enjoy!

Amanda's Outrageous Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from: Outrageous Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe
*double the recipe if making jumbo cookies*
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract 
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, white sugar and brown sugar until smooth. Make sure to blend until light and fluffy (a key to making a good cookie). Stir in the almond butter, vanilla extract, almond extract and egg until well blended. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into the batter just until moistened. Mix in the oats, walnuts, and chocolate chips until evenly distributed. For jumbo cookies drop, about 1/4 cup of batter on to lightly greased cookie sheets. For normal sized cookies, drop by the tablespoon full.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven for jumbo cookies (or 10-12 minutes for normal sized ones), until the edges start to brown. Cool on cookie sheets for about 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Traditional Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from: Chewy Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe 
  • 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract 
  • 1 (12-ounce) package (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375°F.

Combine flour, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Combine butter, sugar and brown sugar in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping the bowl often, until creamy. Make sure to blend until light and fluffy (a key to making a good cookie). Add eggs and vanilla and almond extracts. Continue beating, scraping bowl often, until well mixed. Reduce speed to low. Beat, gradually adding flour mixture, until well mixed. Stir in chocolate chunks.

Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets (tip: line the sheets with parchment, if you have some). Bake for 10 to 14 minutes or until light golden brown. (Do not overbake.) Let stand 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets.

The Unicorn Cake

Is there truly anything better than gifting a person a unicorn?

Complete with frosting, sprinkles, and candles?

She's cute, right? I mean the b-day girl, and of course the cake. ;) 

Last week a dear friend celebrated her birthday and as all good pals get a baked good for the occasion, I decided to go big. Really big. Like confetti sheet cake big.

While at Ikea last month, the Tall One gifted me a set of horse cake pans. I decided to turn a white cake into a confetti cake, with the addition of jimmies, snowflakes, and candy sprinkles. For decoration, I used Airhead candy to make the manes, tails, and actual unicorn horns. I added some holiday Peeps to the backdrop, gel frosting and store bought frosting (I know, I'm lazy), and tons of sprinkles.

For the base, I modified a recipe I found on I had never heard of a Heavenly White Cake recipe before, but am a huge fan of it now! The cake comes out denser, a little more crumbly, similar to a light cornbread. But with all the flavor of your grandma's white cake recipe. Oh so delicious.

My changes included using 1 1/2 cups of milk (hazelnut in my case), adding 1 1/2 tbsp EACH of jimmies, snowflakes, and sprinkles. Also, I switched around the order of the directions from the original recipe, creaming the butter and sugar first, then beating the egg whites. This is a great cake to make for decorating or making cake shapes. Next time I might add a little jam or fruit compote to the neck region so that when we chop its head off, it pseudo bleeds. Enjoy!

Unicorn Confetti Cake 
Adapted from: Heavenly White Cake Recipe 
  • 2 3/4 cups sifted flour (sift as part of the assembly process)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Jimmie Sprinkles
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Snowflake Sprinkles
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Wax Sprinkles
Measure sifted flour, baking powder, and salt; sift together three times (not counting the original sift in the ingredient list). Sift! Don't skip this part or your cake won't turn out properly. 

Cream butter or margarine. Gradually add remaining 1 cup sugar, and cream together until light and fluffy. Add sifted ingredients alternately with milk a small amount at a time, beating after each addition until smooth. Mix in flavorings.

In a mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add 1/2 cup sugar gradually, and continue beating only until meringue will hold up in soft peaks.

Add meringue and sprinkles, and gently fold thoroughly into batter. Spread batter in a 15 x 10 x 1 inch pan which has been lined on the bottom with parchment paper, or decorative pans such as the unicorn pans. 

Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes, then remove from pan and transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. This cake may also be baked in two 9 inch round pans for 30 to 35 minutes, or in three 8 inch round pans for 25 to 30 minutes. Decorate as desired. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Orange Cupcakes

Being a baker, you do a lot of bartering. Or at least I do. See these babies? I used them in a trade of services. One batch of cupcakes for a favor. Seems fair, right?

Honestly, I had forgotten I had promised to make these. After rushing around all morning baking a unicorn cake (more to come on that), I remembered well into the afternoon that I had one more thing to bake! Damn.

I did some digging around on the internet and found this recipe for Orange Cupcakes from My Baking Addiction. Simple, easy, tasty. Exactly what I was looking for. My modifications from the original recipe - didn't have any orange extract so I opted for almond instead, included the zest of one orange and the zest of 1/3 lemon, and split the liquid into 1/8 cup milk (hazelnut in my case) and 1/8 cup orange juice. And of course made them mini cupcakes (cute) with leftover store-bought frosting to decorate (I know, my bad). Enjoy!

Orange Cupcakes 
Adapted from: My Baking Addiction
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teas. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teas. almond extract
  • Zest of 1 orange 
  • Zest of 1/3 lemon 
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teas. baking powder
  • 1/4 teas. salt
  • 1/8 cup milk
  • 1/8 cup orange juice 
  • Extra Orange Zest for topping 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and lightly butter or line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or grease enough mini muffin pans to hold 36 mini cupcakes.

Place the sugar and orange/lemon zests into a mixer and blend until moist and fragrant. Add in butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts.

In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 18-20 minutes (12-14 if using a mini cupcake pan) or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing. Use a little bit of orange zest for a nice finish.

-Makes 12 regular cupcakes or 36 mini cupcakes

Friday, December 3, 2010

You're Baking Me Crazy! Guest Bakers In the Kitchen

It's official. I have finally figured it out. How to have way too much fun, that is. Get a couple friends into the kitchen with you, add sugar and alcohol, then wait for the magic. And giggles. Smiles all around, all night long.

This week I invited two lovely, adorable ladies into the Panda le Chef kitchen for some holiday inspired baking.

As I recently picked up a pack of forest friends cookie cutters from Ikea, I opted to try out Martha Stewart's Sugar Cookies while my dear friend C opted for the Polar Opposites Cupcakes from What's New, Cupcake?

Ok, I may have pushed C a bit to do these ones. We thought they were easy. If you look closely you can see what time the clock in the picture reads...too late to be baking!

My dear friend H also came along and inspired these beautiful little piggies.

The Polar Opposites Cupcakes involved a glorified yellow cake mix batter (made with buttermilk) baked in typical cupcake liners. The frosting involved store-bought vanilla frosting with marshmallow fluff. Sweet as can be!

We used doughnut holes, sweetened coconut, frosted oat cereal, and mini marshmallows to decorate the bears. Next we used piped chocolate store-bought frosting to make the hands, feet, and face. C is amazing with decorating baked goods.

As for my Sugar Cookies, they were pretty straight forward. Some of the comments on Martha's page call for adding more sugar or making the cookies sweeter. I see no need in this if you are going to frost them. Actually, they needed little altering other than adding both vanilla and almond extracts. Very tasty. They make great lunch (as they have been mine for two days running).

Now go find a friend or two and start baking! Make sure to include some mimosas or hot cocoa with whiskey. Enjoy!

Sugar Cookies
From: Martha Stewart
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Assorted candies, sprinkles, or colored sugars, for decorating (optional)
In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, almond and vanilla extracts. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined. Divide dough in half; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm, at least 20 minutes, or place in a resealable plastic bag, and freeze up to 3 months (thaw in refrigerator overnight).

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment. Remove one dough disk; let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Roll out 1/8 inch thick between two sheets of floured parchment, dusting dough with flour as needed.

Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Using a spatula, transfer to prepared baking sheets. (If dough gets soft, chill 10 minutes.) Reroll scraps; cut shapes. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden, 10 to 18 minutes (depending on size). Cool completely on wire racks. To ice cookies, spread with the back of a spoon. Let the icing harden, about 20 minutes. Decorate as desired.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey Day in Seattle

Last weekend entailed the usual tradition for me...fleeing my family and friends to hide in a big city during the craziness of Thanksgiving. This time, we picked Seattle as our destination.

A lovely stay on Capitol Hill at the most adorable B&B for a few nights. It was bliss!

And what makes for a better vacation than food? Lots of good, delicious food.One night we ate at the Byzantion. The spanakopita was pretty tasty as well as the greek coffee.

I made sure to stop in Cake Spy and check out the local cupcake art scene. Am in love with this store.

Also made sure we paid a visit to a good pizzaria. In our case, we were recommended Palemro. While this picture isn't the greatest, the pizza definitely was!!

And of course, a visit to the Science Fiction Museum. Uber sci-fi dorks unite!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Amanda's Baked Ziti

It looks like our winter wonderland hopes have been answered...we got snow. Half the city called in for a snow day. You know what I did? Ran outside and snapped a few shots of my ladies exploring the yard. Yes, I am THAT chicken lady. At least I own up to it of my own accord.

It is possible they have seen snow before, but they certainly hadn't played it in until this week.

There is an old wives tale that if the family chickens have an early molt, it means winter will be worse than normal this year.

I promise to keep you informed if I see a trend forming with their feather loss and the snow...

Now, time for some food. In honor of Thanksgiving, I figured I should share a nice hearty alternative to the old traditional turkey supper. In this case, a vegetarian version of my family's baked ziti recipe. My mother used to make a batch of this on cold days when I was a kid. Her version had sausage, ground beef, lots and lots of cheese, etc. Obviously, my version has been tweaked a bit for my vegetarian palate. I prefer to use rice pasta as opposed to normal pasta for wheat/dietary purposes. You can pretty much substitute any veggie, type of pasta, and cheese or sauce into this delicious casserole. Sometimes I make it the more traditional way with ricotta cheese mixed in before I bake it (you can substitute nonfat cottage cheese to save some fat). Play around and make it your own. Enjoy!

Amanda's Baked Ziti
  • 1 16 oz bag of ziti or fusilli rice pasta
  • 1-2 jars of pasta sauce (I used one of garlic tomato & vodka tomato)
  • 1/2 of one 6 oz container of pesto (I used chipotle)
  • 1 package of fake Gimme Lean soy sausage
  • 1 onion, chopped  
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced 
  • 1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup black olives, sliced 
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano 
  • 1 tsp dried basil 
  • Shredded Italian cheese for topping

Bring a large pot of water (2-3 quarts) to a boil. Follow the directions on the pasta packaging and prepare as directed (you can continue doing this throughout the next few steps). I tend to make mine a wee bit on the al dente side, but that is a personal preference. Drain when complete, and set aside.

In a large sauce pan, pour in tomato sauces and half of the pesto container (3 oz). You can add more as your personal taste dictates. Turn the stove burner to low-medium heat. Add sliced black olives, bay leaves, half of the chopped fresh basil, dried thyme, dried oregano, dried basil, and garlic. Bring to a warm temperature (slight bubble) as you complete the following steps.

While you are warming the sauce and boiling the pasta, make the meatballs with the Gimme Lean sausage. You can make larger meatballs by mixing in some bread crumbs and diced onions, or you can go the easy route (like I did) and make simple ones with simply the fake meat. In a large skillet, heat some olive oil on medium and slightly brown the meatballs for a few minutes. Then add the onions and continue to saute until slightly transparent (few minutes). Next add the mushrooms and saute until slightly tender. Finally add the red bell pepper for a minute or two. Remember to mix during the cooking.

Next mix the meatballs and veggies into the tomato sauce. Follow this up with mixing the cooked and drained pasta into the sauce. Two jars of sauce should cover you here. I prefer to have more sauce than less sauce (thus 2 jars), hence I leave it up to you to make it your preference. If it seems a little runny for any reason, just remember some of the moisture will bake out.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Pour the pasta mixture into a large casserole dish or baking dish. Smooth the top into an even layer. Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the entire dish. Follow up with the remaining half of the chopped basil (I forgot in this instance). Sprinkle additional toppings like red pepper flakes, more dried herbs, salt and pepper, or nutritional yeast (all of which I did). Cover with a lid or foil and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. The top should look golden and crispy, the edges bubbling.

Remove from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving. Make sure to have some garlic bread handy!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chinese 5 Spice Pumpkin Bread

Before I get down to baking, give me a moment to rave about a few shows I recently saw. First off, earlier last week while in Chicago I had the chance to see Reel Big Fish play with the Aquabats and Suburban Legends at the House of Blues (or House of Rules as my friends refer to it). Seriously fun! If you don't know of any of these bands, do some homework and check them out. They are all part of the third wave of ska from the last '90s. All of these bands are awesome. Secondly, I had the chance to catch Pretty Lights here in my hometown of Eugene. Best. Show. Of. The. Year. And I go to a lot of them. I danced until my legs no longer felt attached to my body. Describing his sound is a bit hard so I am borrowing from Wikipedia here in saying it's kind of like "glitchy hip-hop beats, buzzing synth lines, and vintage funk and soul samples." Again, go educate yourself on his stuff. You can thank me later. (Sorry, no pics of the Pretty Lights Show...dancing took precedence)

Now, finally down to baking business.

Tis the season for pumpkin, wouldn't you agree? Recently, I had a hankering for pumpkin bread however I wanted to stray from the traditional flavor. After wandering the bulk aisle at my local grocery store...I encountered Chinese 5 Spice. Bingo!

(Total ham shot of me baking...)

Using an old pumpkin bread recipe, I concocted the following recipe. Again, half of the loaf disappeared immediately out of the oven before I could stop myself. So damn good. Enjoy!

Chinese 5 Spice Pumpkin Bread

  • 2 cups sugar (1 brown, 1 white)
  • 1 cup applesauce 
  • 3 eggs 
  • 2/3 cup orange juice 
  • 1 - 14 oz. can of pumpkin puree (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts work great)
  • 3 cups flour 
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp Chinese 5 Spice blend 
  • 1/2 tsp allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease (2) loaf pans.

Mix the sugars, applesauce, and eggs in a bowl (I used a mixer). Stir in the orange juice, pumpkin, and nuts.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and all spices. (see how messy I am?)

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, in stages, until incorporated.

Pour batter evenly into the prepared loaf pans. Bake for approximately 70 minutes or until a toothpick cleanly comes out of the center of a loaf.

Cool for 10 minutes in the pans. Transfer to a rack to completely cool. I dusted mine with some powdered sugar and cocoa to make the spices stand out (suggested). Slice into pieces and hope you don't eat it all at once.