Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Golden Oreo Ice Cream

I've previously professed my love for the perfect mass-produced cookie, the Golden Double Stuff Oreo. So imagine my delight when I discovered a new Golden Oreo flavor of Breyers ice cream. Part of the Breyers Blasts! series, the new concoction blends pieces of Golden Oreo into a swirl of sweet cream and "golden" vanilla (i.e., vanilla dyed yellow). I don't care for the gratuitous visual effect—I would have preferred a white base—but the flavor profile is pretty good. I think there's maybe too much vanilla between the cookie and the ice cream, but that's a minor quibble. I've still found myself returning over and over again to the freezer for just one. more. bite.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Great price for a great mixer

One of the best baking-related purchases my wife and I ever made was this KitchenAid stand mixer, currently available at the lowest price I've seen it from Amazon.com. Cookie dough, cake batters, meringue, and whipped cream mix up quickly and effortlessly, and you can gather ingredients for the next step of the recipe while you wait. (Compare to the hand mixer version of this story, where your arm muscles start to cramp around the fifth minute of waiting for soft peaks to form.) If you've been thinking about snapping one of these up, now may be the time. One caveat is that if you tend to make double recipes or breads with stiff dough, you may prefer the larger, more powerful, and more expensive model.

Photo by flickr user John-Morgan.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

St. Joseph's Zeppole

I'm a day late in posting about St. Joseph's zeppole, an Italian dessert that features prominently on March 19, known in the Catholic festival calendar as St. Joseph's Day. The dessert is a large, braided version of fried dough that looks like a donut but tastes more like an Italian cream puff. It is traditionally filled or topped with pastry cream and cherries, though fillings such as ricotta and chocolate cream show up, as well.

Photo (cc) by flickr user Finizio.
I tried my first St. Joseph's zeppole at Modern Pastry Shop here in Medford recently. I liked how the tartness of the cherries complemented the sweet pastry cream. I've never loved Italian pastry dough, and this was no exception. The zeppole was soft and almost spongy, and its flavor was a little bland. As far as I'm concerned, if I can get a cannoli (or, rather a cannolo) or a slice of ricotta pie any time of year, I see no need to wait until March for St. Joseph's zeppole. If you like the idea of a soft cherry cream puff, though, find yourself an Italian bakery the next time St. Joseph's Day rolls around.

Friday, March 16, 2012

What I'm making for dessert on St. Patrick's Day

On Saturday, March 17, my wife will reconnect with her Irish roots by making Irish soda bread and cooking up some (home-)corned beef and cabbage. To complement this fine dinner, I thought I'd try to make a St. Patrick's Day dessert. In the U.S. (which really popularized the holiday), most of the desserts I've seen feature some combination of green food coloring, flavors associated with the color green (mint, lime, pistachio), shamrock shapes, and Irish alcohol (Guinness, Bailey's, whiskey). I thought I'd try to seek out something a bit more traditional.

After doing some digging, I found this site, which seems to have some genuine Irish cred. Several of the desserts look excellent, but for this year, I'm going to try the apple barley pudding. It sounds relatively simple and rustic, much like the soda bread and boiled dinner. And, despite the typical association of apples with autumn, the description makes clear that this was a recipe that would be made with apples that had been kept in cold storage throughout the winter.

What are your ideas for St. Patrick's Day desserts?

Update 3/17/12: Links added. And the pudding came out well, though it only required 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Free Sprinkles Cupcakes

If you live in one of the ten cities that hosts a Sprinkles Cupcakes location, you can get yourself a free cupcake between 8 and 9pm today or tomorrow. I've never tried Sprinkles, but it's hard to imagine a free cupcake being a bad thing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Approximately 3.14 Reasons to Eat Pie

Today, March 14 (written as 3/14 or sometimes 3.14 in this part of the world) is Pi Day, a celebration of everyone's favorite irrational number, π. Now, I recognize that Pi and pie are homophones and not the same word. But, it is the case that the ratio of a pie's circumference to its diameter is Pi. To this dessert blogger, that's as good a reason as any to seek out a slice of pie. Our family already finished off a fabulous apple crumb pie that my wife made over the weekend, so we'll have to find another source today. We might go over to Redbones, a local southern-style barbecue joint, which has a very decent pecan pie. How will you be celebrating Pi Day?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Step Up From Butter Pecan

Butter pecan is almost a delicious ice cream flavor. I mean, the base flavor is butterscotch, and how can that be bad, right? The problem is the pecans. While I love them in pie or pralines, they just don't belong in ice cream. It's the texture, really. Those dry, cold, crumbly bits of nut totally mess up the creaminess of the ice cream.

It's a good thing, then, that New England restaurant and ice cream chain Friendly's has, for many years, offered Butter Crunch. This ingenious flavor replaces the pecans with pieces of butterscotch candy. You know those yellow-orange butterscotch discs that you can buy at the drug store, but you always want to bite them instead of suck on them for fifteen minutes? Imagine someone breaking one of those into small, not-too-sharp pieces, and scattering them throughout butterscotch ice cream. See what I mean? A step up from butter pecan.

I don't think Friendly's is a national brand, but my mom has reported finding Butter Crunch in the freezer at a Stop & Shop as far away as New Jersey; your mileage may vary. If you find yourself in greater Boston, many local ice cream shops carry ice cream from a nearby dairy, Richardson's, which also makes butter crunch.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Happy 100th, Oreo!

Today, the humble Oreo cookie turns 100 years old, as reported by the New York Times:
On March 6, 1912 - before the Titanic sailed or sank, before the first Opening Day at Fenway Park - the National Biscuit Company made its first sale of Oreo sandwich cookies, to a grocer in Hoboken named S. C. Thuesen.
While I enjoy Oreos on occasion, they have never been my favorite. But variations like the Double Stuff Golden Oreo and derivatives like Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream make me very grateful to the National Biscuit Company for introducing the sandwich cookie a century ago.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Donut Treat Near San Francisco's Moscone Center

Last week, I was in San Francisco for a conference at the Moscone Center. After discovering Beard Papa cream puffs the last time I was there, I made sure to scout out some other good eats during this trip.

One morning, I decided to get breakfast at Dottie's True Blue Cafe, a local institution with consistently great reviews. Frankly, I was disappointed; everything on my plate—including homemade buttermilk-dill toast—was fine, but not great. So, I skipped their baked desserts and headed into a donut shop I noticed a few doors down. Now, trying out a local donut place, especially one that also advertises fried chicken, is a bit of a gamble. But after following the sheep to disappointment at Dottie's, I figured I'd give it a try. I knew I was in the right place when I walked in and saw this:

I really wish I could have tried every variety, but I somehow forced myself to choose just one. I went for the maple-glazed old fashioned (second row from the top, right-most tray, left-most donut). The glaze was really a star here; it was thick and flavorful enough to be tasted along with the fresh fried dough flavor of the donut itself. The donut had a great texture, light and cakey, and melted in the mouth. By the time I finished it, I wished I had bought more than one, but by then I was at the conference center headed to a meeting. I probably won't be going back to Dottie's, but you can bet I'll seek out this donut shop again! Unfortunately, I didn't catch the name of the place, but it was about half a block to the right of Dottie's on Sixth Street.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Trying the Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Recently, I highlighted a recipe I found online for Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars. Unsurprisingly, I didn't make it long before I had to try making them for myself. So, how did they turn out?

The first thing I discovered was that unwrapping an entire bag's worth of caramel squares was time consuming and caused my large, aging hands to cramp. Still, not to be deterred, I carried on. The dough was stiffer than I'm used to, making it challenging to stir in the chocolate chips; I resorted to kneading them in with my hands. The stiff batter, though, was well suited to pressing into the bottom of the baking pan and stood up well to the warm caramel poured atop it. Spreading the second layer of batter was harder, though dropping it in small blobs and smooshing those down individually helped.

Unlike regular cookies, which you can eat as soon as they're cool enough to avoid burning your palate, these bars have to be cooled in a refrigerator to help the caramel set. They're worth the wait, though. As you bite into a bar, you get the buttery, caramelized crumb of the chocolate chip cookie, followed by the rich caramel, which takes on an almost taffy-like consistency. The salt provides an extra burst of brightness.

Overall, these were a success, but with some qualifications. They are not your typical quick and easy bars. Unwrapping the caramels, fighting with the stiff batter, and cleaning caramel off everything make them a bit of a chore. And, while they were delicious, I thought they were a bit tough in consistency. I might try these again sometime with a different cookie recipe (maybe the fabulous Cook's Illustrated recipe) and/or using a homemade caramel sauce.

Have you tried making this recipe or a variation on it? Let me know in the comments!