Monday, October 20, 2014

Browned Butter Pumpkin Pie Bars

Several years ago, I made these pumpkin pie bars and proclaimed them the best pumpkin brownie/blondie recipe I had ever tried.  They were moist and chock full of pumpkiny, spicy flavors.  I honestly did not think that they could get any better.  I was wrong.  Two words - browned butter.   

It's that whole adage . . . if I knew then what I know now.  Well, what I know now is how to brown butter and I also know that browned butter makes everything, and I mean everything, so much better.  The smell of it alone is like the most delightful perfume in your house.  Intoxicating.  They should make air fresheners and candles scented like browned butter.  I'm totally serious.


But, going back to these bars.  Browned butter immediately adds a depth of flavor that you simply won't get with regular melted butter.  It's true that it takes more time to make, a little more patience, and a bit of skill, but you really won't regret it.  Once you go browned, you'll never go back.  So it was with these pumpkin pie bars.  One taste of them and the difference was like night and day.  Oooohhh, I was in pumpkin heaven.  Correction - browned butter pumpkin heaven.  I eagerly shared these bars with friends of mine and they were just as over the moon about them as I was.  May I never forget this important lesson - browned butter = better!

Browned Butter Pumpkin Pie Bars (slightly adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

2 c. flour
2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, browned
2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree

For the top:
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper.  Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.  Brown the butter until it smells nutty (do not discard the browned bits).  Let the browned butter cool slightly to room temperature.  Combine the butter with the sugar, then beat in the eggs and vanilla.  Mix in the pumpkin.  Stir in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the pan.  Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs on it.  Cool completely before cutting.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spun Sugar Decorations

Several weeks from now, I will be making a cake for a special occasion.  Which means that for the past week, I've been trying to figure out how I intend to decorate it.  I admit that I could probably recycle one of my old designs and no one would really care.  But, the thing is that I enjoy pushing myself to learn new techniques and exercise my creative side, even if it means a little more time or effort involved.  As with anything, if you want to get better at it, you have to keep going higher (or something like that).

For some reason, the one thing that stuck out in my mind was sugar decorations.  You know, those little spun sugar nests or shards of sugar that look just like glass?  I thought it would be so neat to do something like that, especially since the cake I'll be making has caramel filling.  It would match so perfectly.

I found the recipe for the sugar syrup on the blog, Mimi's Kitchen, and it sounded so easy that I just knew I had to give it a try.  Mimi actually made sugar nests, which you do by drizzling the syrup onto a bowl.  But, I decided to go freestyle and just see where serendipity would take me.   

First, I did the easiest one - toffee shards, which I learned how to do from HERE.  Really, so simple.  Once you've made the burnt sugar, you just pour it, spread it out, let it cool, and break away.  After it was finished, it was a thing of beauty.  It looked just like broken glass and would add such an elegant accent to any cake.


I then made a second batch of sugar syrup and decided to just play around with it.  So, after letting it cool slightly in the pan, I took a fork and just started drizzling it back and forth on some parchment paper.

I just did some long streaky things, but you can let your imagination go wild and do whatever you want to do.  Swirls, amber drops (which will look like jewels), squigglies.  It will all look fantastic.  


Finally, with some of the remaining syrup (which I had to warm up again to soften), I went for the final look - sugary threads.  I know some people line up wooden spoons or broomstick handles or whatnot and then start flicking it back and forth, but I just didn't want to have to go through all that trouble, or risk getting the sugary stuff onto my floor.  So, I dipped the fork into the syrup, let a small bit drip down, and then I caught onto that strand and just started pulling as fast as I could, again and again.  You have to work fast or else it will all turn brittle before you've managed to even pull a couple strands.  Think Rumplestiltzkin spinning straw into gold, just backwards - you're turning the gold back into straw.  Ha!  As long as you don't touch the big glob of syrup on the fork, you don't have to worry about burning your fingers because the little strands cool as soon as they hit the air.  Once I had a mass of sugary threads, I sort of pushed them together with my fingers (gently, or the heat from your fingers will melt the threads) into a nest shape.  Cute!

If you've ever had doubts/fears about working with liquefied sugar, put them to rest.  It could not be any easier, I promise.  And, it was super quick too.  I absolutely love that I've now learned a new skill and I've also now got some great ideas that I may use for my cake.  Give it a try!  

Spun Sugar (Mimi's Kitchen)

1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. water

Combine the sugar and water in a heavy-bottom saucepan.   Heat on medium-high heat until it turns amber colored.  Whatever you do, do not stir it.  If the sugar is too clumped up in one spot, just swirl the pan to distribute the mixture evenly.  Once the mixture is caramelized, remove it from the heat.

To make the toffee shards (from Taste)
Pour out the mixture onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Spread it out evenly and quickly into a thin layer (depending on how thick you want the finished product to be).  Let it cool until it hardens.  Use the parchment paper to hold it and break it into shards.  If you use your hands, it will start to soften.

For the sugar squiggles:
After the caramelized mixture has cooled and thickened slightly in the pan (shouldn't take more than a minute or two), dip in a fork or wire whisk and drizzle the mixture back and forth onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  You'll know it's thick enough when you see the sticky strands trailing (not dripping) from the fork after you dip it.

For the sugar nest:
Dip the fork into the hot sugar mixture.  Let a small bit of it drip down and grab onto that small drip.  Start pulling as quickly as you can, back and forth, and the strands should appear.  Keep going until you have a sufficient amount of strands.  Repeat as needed.  Do NOT grab onto the hot glob of syrup itself or you will get burned.  Once you have a good amount of strands, use your fingers to gently mold it into a nested shape.
Note:  With the exception of the toffee shards, the other methods are my own.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles


When I was assigned to Claire K Creations a week ago, I just couldn't resist making more than one recipe, especially when I saw all the yummy cookie recipes she had.  You know me and my sweet tooth.  And, while I'm not a chocoholic by any means, I am a spice fiend.  Which is why I just had to try the Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles. 


These cookies have cayenne pepper in them for a little kick.  Then, you roll them in cinnamon sugar to finish them off.  I just loved the combo of the chocolate and spices in these.  Not to mention, the texture was perfect - crisp on the outside and soft and cakey on the inside.  My sister raved about them.  I think the only change I'd make is to triple the amount of cayenne pepper in them since we couldn't really taste it, even though we also added a little cayenne pepper to the cinnamon-sugar rolling mix.  Although, that's just us.  We tend to have a high tolerance to heat and like to feel the burn in our mouths. 

I will say that I also gave these cookies to a friend of mine and the cookies were devoured in no time at all.  So, if you have a low tolerance to heat, you will love these cookies.  And, even if you have a high tolerance to heat, you will still love these cookies.  They're that 's good.  I'm definitely glad I tried more than one recipe from her blog. 

Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles (slightly adapted from Claire K Creations)

1/2 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour

For rolling:
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of cayenne pepper 

Cream the butter with the sugars.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine well.  Chill the dough until firm, about 1 hour.  Roll the dough into small balls and roll in the cinnnamon-sugar-pepper mixture.  Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes until cracked on top.