Cream Scones with a Hint of Vanilla

DSC_0002

“A surplus of heavy cream – what a horrible burden to have,” said no one ever. I wrote about our cream saga last week, but I never gave you any resolution. Rest assured, we managed to use the cream before any of it went bad. It was a hard task, but we persevered.

The first thing I thought of to use up our cream was a batch of cream scones. I had read a recipe years ago that used cream as the fat and the liquid in scones, no butter at all. I was intrigued, but never made any. Of course, when I wanted it, I couldn’t find that particular recipe. A quick internet search found plenty of recipes that called for both cream and butter, but very few that called for only cream. I found a good one from King Arthur flour.

I mixed up the dry ingredients in the evening to have them all ready to go in the morning for an easy, lazy Saturday breakfast. Mixing the dough in the morning literally consisted of adding a dash of vanilla and pouring in cream. I had the scones mixed and ready for baking before the oven was preheated.

The cream scones did not disappoint – they were flaky, buttery (with no butter in them), soft inside and slightly crunchy outside. And they were big. We each only ate one. I put the rest away for the next day. My mother-in-law was here for the week and we proceeded to make our way through the area’s pastry and doughnut shops on the following days, leaving the scones to sit in their container on the counter.

I give you this background because I did not have high hopes for the leftover scones. Scones usually are not good keepers and I was kicking myself for not freezing the leftovers as soon as they were cool. Sometimes coffee shop scones are stale, even in the morning, just hours after they were baked. I was pleasantly surprised that our scones were fabulous, even three, four and five days after we first made them, reheated in the toaster oven and spread with a little jam. They were a little crumbly toward the end, but they were still soft and not dry at all.

We were able to eat the scones for so many days because the recipe made a lot. I got twelve large scones from the recipe. While they were very good leftover, they were really best when they were fresh. I have cut the recipe in half for future scone adventures. I also give directions for making the scones smaller than the original behemoths. I doubled the vanilla from the original, because, why not? And I replaced half the flour with white whole wheat because I like the nuttiness that gives the scones. Can you use only all-purpose flour? Sure. You might not need quite as much cream, in that case, but I’m sure you can find a use for it.

Download or print the recipe.

Cream Scones with a Hint of Vanilla
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 8 small scones

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy cream, approximately*
2-3 tablespoons cream or milk, if needed*

Topping:
Cream or milk
Coarse, pearl or granulated sugar

*If you use all-purpose flour instead of the white whole wheat flour you will probably not need as much cream to get the dough to come together.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper. Set aside.

Stir together the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add the vanilla and about three quarters of the cup of cream. Stir gently. If there is still a large amount of dry flour, add the remaining cream. If dough is still very dry, add more cream, or milk, a tablespoon at a time, just until most of the flour is wet, turning and mixing the dough with your spoon. The dough will be moist, but not particularly sticky. There should be only a small amount of dry flour, if any.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half. Lightly flour the top of the dough and your hands and gently shape each half of the dough into a round ball and then flatten into a disk ¾-1 inch tall. Try to make the edges straight and even. Cut into 4 wedges.

Place wedges on prepared baking sheet. Brush each scone with cream or milk and sprinkle with your choice of sugar.

Bake scones for 10-12 minutes, or until just golden on top and darker golden on the bottom.

Serve scones hot or at room temperature, with butter and jam.

These keep for several days in an airtight container at room temperature. Reheat in toaster oven, oven or microwave. Freeze for longer storage, thawing overnight at room temperature, or in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

Advertisements

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with a Twist

DSC_0072

I have a favorite chocolate sandwich cookie that I make every so often. It started out as a basic cookie, until I tinkered with the recipe. I increased the cocoa and decreased the flour. Later, after more taste testing, I replaced some of the cocoa with some black, extra dark cocoa I had ordered from King Arthur Flour. Perfection. Darkly chocolate, slightly crunchy cookies surrounding creamy vanilla filling that tastes slightly of butter. After a day or two in an airtight container the cookies get slightly softer, which I really like.

DSC_0040

If you don’t want to buy special cocoa for these, they are perfectly good with only natural cocoa powder. I have seen a few different kinds of darker cocoa in the grocery store, next to the regular cocoa. I have only used natural cocoa and a little of the black cocoa, as noted in the recipe, but feel free to experiment. If you use only natural cocoa your cookies might be a lighter brown than the pictures, but they will still taste fabulous.

The last time I made the cookies, we were brainstorming different fillings we could try. We came up with cinnamon, cherry and bacon. Cherry and bacon were a little more complicated than we wanted to mess with that day, so we decided to try cinnamon. I will tinker with the bacon and cherry possibilities some day soon.

DSC_0018

I wanted some cookies with plain vanilla filling, so I divided the filling in half and added cinnamon. I started with ¼ teaspoon, but it was barely discernable. So I doubled it. The cinnamon flavor was stronger, but I thought it might get lost against the dark chocolate of the cookies. So I added another ¼ teaspoon. Perfection – richly cinnamon without straying across the line into too spicy.

I started out dolloping a tiny portion of filling onto the middle of a cookie and then gently squishing the filling flat with a second cookie. While this made a pretty cookie, with smooth edges on the filling, there wasn’t enough filling. I went back to my old method of smearing the filling on and adding the top cookie. Not as neat, but definitely a better ratio of cookie to filling.

I could have pulled out a piping bag to pipe the larger amount of filling into the middle of the cookies, but that was way more complicated than I wanted to get. Full disclosure: I have used my piping bag just a handful of times over the 10 years I have had it. Maybe someday I will get inspired to use it more often, but I’m not holding my breath. If you want picture perfect cookies, you can certainly use a piping bag. But I’m in favor of saving the time and cleanup and eating my slightly less-than-perfect cookies that much sooner.

Download or print just the recipe.

 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From 365 Great Cookies and Brownies
Makes 45 small sandwich cookies

If you want to bump up the chocolate flavor a bit, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of dark or black cocoa for 2 tablespoons of the natural cocoa. This is totally optional, but really good.

Cookies:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup natural cocoa powder (see headnote)
¼ teaspoon salt

Vanilla Filling:
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk, approximately

Cinnamon Filling:
1½ teaspoons cinnamon for the full recipe
¾ teaspoon cinnamon for half the recipe

Do not preheat the oven. The dough needs to chill before baking.

Beat the ½ cup butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again until well combined and light. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt and mix on low speed until dough is smooth.

Divide dough in half and shape each half into a long log, about 1¼ inches in diameter. Make the logs as smooth and uniform as possible so your cookies will be uniform. Wrap the dough logs in parchment paper or plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

While dough chills, make the filling. Beat the 2 tablespoons butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined. Add milk, a teaspoon at a time, until the filling is light and fluffy.

If you are making the cinnamon filling, add the cinnamon now. Use 1½ teaspoons cinnamon if you want to make all the filling cinnamon. If you want half vanilla and half cinnamon, divide the filling in half and use ¾ teaspoon cinnamon in one half. Beat the cinnamon filling until uniform in color with no lighter streaks. Cover the filling(s) and leave at room temperature until ready to use.

When the dough is chilled preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease.

Work with one log at time, leaving the other one in the freezer until ready to slice. Use a sharp knife to cut the log into ¼-inch, or slightly thinner, rounds. Try to keep them uniform so they all bake at the same rate. Place the rounds fairly close together on the prepared baking sheets. They do not spread or rise very much at all.

Bake cookies, one pan at a time, for 5-6 minutes, or until they are firm to the touch, but not hard. The cookies will not change color, but they will puff very, very slightly.

Remove baked cookies to racks for cooling. When cookies are room temperature, spread 1-2 teaspoons of filling on the flat side of one cookie. Top with another cookie and gently press the cookies together. Leave filled cookies on the wire racks until the filling dries and sets up a bit, at least an hour. Store cookies in an airtight container for several days, or freeze for longer storage. The cookies will soften slightly after the first day.

Note: If you want to make the dough ahead of time, make four shorter logs and slip them into a ziploc bag. If it is tightly wrapped, you can freeze the dough for a month or so before using. Slice directly from the freezer and bake as directed.

Three Ice Cream Recipes

Word has it that a three-day weekend is coming up. And word also has it that this weekend is the end of summer – the end of school vacation and of summer weather. Eh, not so much here in St. Louis. School started three weeks ago for most of the districts in the area. And summer weather will stick around for at least another month.

End of summer or not, I will still enjoy my long weekend, probably with a batch of ice cream or two along the way.

DSC_0001

Brown Sugar Cinnamon

DSC_0010

Chocolate Amaretto

DSC_0022

Mint Chocolate Chip

No need to turn on the oven to make dessert for any celebrations this weekend. And no need to spend time making a custard and then letting it chill. Most of my ice cream recipes, and certainly these three, start with the same easy formula – half and half and sugar. Add a few flavorings and a little freezing time and you are on your way to eating cold, creamy ice cream.

Whether you are ready to say goodbye to summer, or not, ice cream always helps.

Mini Chocolate-Striped Cakes

DSC_0055

Calvin often takes enough dessert in his school lunches to share with a couple of his friends. I hear back, through him, which of our homemade desserts are the lunchroom favorites. Gooey butter tarts are tops on the list so far. Even when I don’t hear the compliments firsthand, and when the compliments are from always-hungry teenage boys, I enjoy baking for an appreciative audience.

Last week, Calvin came home from school asking if we could make our own version of Little Debbie zebra cakes. One of his pals had shared some at lunch and Calvin was a fan. I don’t have to tell you what my answer was.

After some thought, I decided to use our tried-and-true white Texas sheet cake recipe for both the cake and the icing. I wanted to make the cake layers thin, so we used half the recipe and baked it in a large pan.

DSC_0041

We used a cookie cutter to cut circles out of the big cake. Calvin lobbied for hexagons like the originals, but I vetoed that. If we had a hexagon cutter I would have done it, but we don’t. Next time I might just cut squares and skip the whole cake scraps part. But the scraps were tasty. And I used a few to make a mini trifle with some leftover pastry cream from a batch of almost failed cream puffs (more on those another day).

At first I thought the cake layers were too thin, but once we sandwiched two layers together with icing they were the perfect size. A drizzle of melted chocolate on top of the icing and they were good to go.

DSC_0032

I iced the sides of the first cake, but then I nixed that idea. The icing was thickening quickly and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the time to ice the sides anyway. I will only go so far when copycatting a recipe. The cake and icing are both very sweet and icing the sides is probably overkill.

If you do decide you want to go all out, you will probably want to double the icing ingredients. Just be aware that the icing thickens very fast. You might have to re-warm it part way through if it gets too thick to spread onto the tender cake.

DSC_0003

Our zebra cakes were moist, buttery and sweet. We stuck with the original recipe’s combo of vanilla and almond, but I think I want to make it all vanilla next time. For the record, Rich and Calvin do not agree.

DSC_0043

Download or print the recipe here.

Mini Chocolate-Striped Cakes
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 mini cakes

If you don’t like almond extract, you can substitute an equal amount of vanilla extract for the almond extract. If you don’t have a large baking sheet, you can use two 9 by 13 inch pans. If you only have one 9 by 13, you can bake half the batter at a time.

Cake:
½ cup butter (1 stick)
½ cup water
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, well beaten
¼ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract (see headnote)

Icing:
¼ cup butter (½ stick)
2 tablespoons milk
2¼ cups powdered sugar, sifted (DON’T skip sifting or you’ll have lumpy icing)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract (see head note)

Stripes:
3 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12 by 17 inch half sheet pan or a 15 by 10 inch jelly roll pan with waxed or parchment paper. Set aside.

Bring butter and water to a boil in a saucepan or the microwave. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl, mix together egg, sour cream or yogurt and extracts.

Add hot butter and water mixture to dry mixture and stir until smooth. Add egg mixture and stir until well combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread in a thin, even layer. Bake for about 7 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the cake bounces back when touched lightly. Let cake cool, in the pan on a wire rack until room temperature.

Use a round cookie cutter to cut circles out of the cake. I used a 2¾ inch diameter round cutter and got 24 circles, to make a total of twelve sandwiched cakes. Save the cake scraps to make a mini trifle, or just eat them.

Once the circles are cut and ready, make the icing.

In a saucepan, bring milk and butter to a boil. Remove from heat and add powdered sugar and extracts and stir until smooth.

You need to work fairly quickly – the icing gets thick as it cools, and the cakes are tender. Spread icing on the tops of half of the cake circles. Top with the remaining circles. Spread icing on the tops of the stacked cakes. There won’t be enough icing to cover the sides of the cakes. If you really want to ice the sides, double the icing amounts and find another use for any leftover icing.

Let icing set up and harden, which probably will take about 30 minutes.

Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl for about 75 seconds on high power. Stir them halfway through. Transfer melted chocolate to a small ziplock baggie. Cut off the corner and use the baggie like a piping bag to pipe melted chocolate in stripes across the tops of the cakes. Let chocolate set up before covering cakes for storage.

Make these a day ahead of time, if possible. Cakes improve with age and are good keepers, staying moist for 3-4 days, if they last that long. Cakes freeze well.

Frozen Treats in January – Cinnamon Gelato

DSC_0011

Gelato is the hot ice cream lately. Or at least it seems to show up in articles in food magazines and on restaurant menus that we have seen lately. We have been thinking about making our own for quite awhile now, but have never managed to find the time. This weekend all the stars aligned and we made our first gelato.

Gelato, according to various sources, is Italian ice cream that is heavy on egg yolks and often uses whole milk as the base instead of cream. I found recipes online that ranged from a dozen egg yolks to none. I settled on one that had a modest amount of egg yolks and both cream and milk that I found on the blog Italian Food Forever. The original recipe was for vanilla, and called for a vanilla bean. We didn’t have any on hand, so I used vanilla extract and then decided to make cinnamon gelato, so we added two teaspoons of cinnamon.

We beat the egg yolks with sugar, heated the milk and cream, tempered the eggs with a little hot milk and then cooked the whole shebang until it thickened. Then we strained the mixture into a bowl to chill in an ice bath until it was cold. Then we churned it in the ice cream maker and put it in the freezer until it was firm enough to serve. After all that we expected perfection.

It was good, but nothing special. And I thought it tasted more like eggy custard than gelato. I prefer my own cinnamon ice cream, which is much less work and doesn’t make a mountain of dirty dishes. I think I am going to leave the gelato making to the professionals, which is not to say I won’t enjoy the rest of our batch. Maybe it just needs some caramel sauce

If You Give a Cook a Condo

It’s vacation week for us, and we are in Colorado, escaping the 100+ degree heat of St. Louis. We are so lucky that Rich’s parents spend the summers in Colorado, and that they generously invite us to come and spend time with them (shameless suck-up so they will keep extending the invitation. Love you, Mom and Dad!)

Vacation doesn’t mean that I stop wanting to cook or bake. The first full day we were here, Rich’s mom asked me what we were having for dessert. She is the perfect foil for a baker – I pretty much have carte blanche in the kitchen, she will provide whatever ingredients I need and she usually washes any dishes I make, if Rich doesn’t get to them first. We do have to plan more here in Colorado, since they are at almost 10,000 feet and I am not used to cooking at high altitude. She has a couple of high altitude cookbooks that we use when we can’t adapt a tried-and-true recipe.

We ended up making vanilla sour cream cheesecake, out of a fundraising cookbook that supported the Breckenridge summer music festival. Of course I changed it a bit, as I usually do. We used cinnamon graham crackers for the crust, and cut the filling in half, since the recipe called for two pounds of cream cheese and there were only five of us eating it. It is vacation, but we didn’t want to go totally crazy.

The cheesecake turned out great, as cheesecakes almost always do. Yesterday we took a break from the kitchen, but I am already thinking about what we will bake for the Fourth of July.  Maybe brownies.

Vanilla Sour Cream Cheesecake
Adapted from “Entertaining! Summit Style”
By The Cook’s Life
Serves 8

 Crust:
1 package cinnamon graham crackers (8 full crackers)
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Crush graham crackers into crumbs with a food processor, blender, or put them in a plastic bag and bash on them with a wooden spoon or ladle. Mix with the melted butter and press into an 8-inch springform pan.

Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, or until set. Set aside while you make the filling.

Beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in the sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well after each. Add the vanilla and sour cream and mix well. Pour into the pre-baked crust and smooth the top.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until just the middle third of the filling jiggles when you shake the pan. Turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake inside for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the cheesecake from the oven and cool in the pan on a rack for several hours, until room temperature.

Store cooled cheesecake in the fridge. Remove from refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to let the cheesecake come to room temperature for best flavor.

Make Your Own Fro Yo

We spent last summer working our way through the local frozen yogurt shops, rating them and finding our favorites. One local chain won our devotion, due mainly to the quality of its house-made hot fudge sauce. Hot fudge makes or breaks an ice cream place for me. When it gets down to the frozen yogurt itself, though, we have not found much of a difference between one fro yo store to another, other than their particular yogurt flavors.

We make everything else, including ice cream on a regular basis, but we have never tried making frozen yogurt – until this weekend. A quick search online for vanilla frozen yogurt recipes came up with basically the same recipe, though some were heavier on sugar than others. And a quick look at David Lebovitz’s book, “The Perfect Scoop” uncovered pretty much the same recipe. I guess you can’t vary the ingredients in vanilla frozen yogurt much. We went with something similar to all the recipes, though we tripled the vanilla from the recipes with the most vanilla and increased it six times from the ones with the least. It is vanilla frozen yogurt after all – it should taste like vanilla.

We used whole milk yogurt (Dannon) because we thought nonfat might have a weird texture. We will try nonfat sometime, but not for the first time. We would have done low fat, but the store didn’t carry it. Another time.

Yogurt, sugar, vanilla – and we had beautiful, velvety, tart frozen yogurt after a little while in the ice cream maker. The local fro yo stores might not be seeing as much of us this summer as last year.

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt
from The Cook’s Life
makes about 11/2 quarts

Our frozen yogurt turned out pretty tart. You might want a bit more sugar if you would prefer a less-tart result – maybe an extra ¼ cup or so.

Before you start making your frozen yogurt, put the empty storage container in the freezer so it will be as cold as possible when you put the freshly churned yogurt into it. I didn’t do this and my frozen yogurt started to melt as soon as I put it in the container.

3 cups plain yogurt (I used whole milk yogurt)
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Mix ingredients together in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Freeze in an ice cream maker, following manufacturer’s directions – mine took about 25 minutes. Transfer frozen yogurt to an airtight container and freeze for several hours, or until firm, before serving.

 Download the recipe here.