January 30, 2011

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love peanut butter in all its forms. On sandwiches, as ice cream, in cookies. I love peanut butter cookies, love their chewy sweet saltiness.

Unfortunately, my family doesn't. And, since I make cookies for my kids and not myself (I don't need to eat an entire batch of cookies), peanut butter cookies don't get made around here.

But the other day, rummaging around in my cupboard, I found an old jar of natural peanut butter and was struck with an intense desire to make peanut butter cookies. Besides, I had to do something with the jar. It was too old to eat on sandwiches, and my family hates natural peanut butter on sandwiches, anyway. (We're Jif extra-crunchy people.)

I figured  I could seduce my family into the peanut-butter-cookie-loving camp by making peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies. Two great tastes and all that. We all love Reese's peanut butter cups.

I tooled around on the web and decided on this recipe. (Actually, I didn't tool around very hard, since this was the second recipe that came up when I googled "peanut butter chocolate chip cookies") The recipe was easy, which I liked, but what particularly intrigued me was the addition of two tablespoons of corn syrup to the dough. I suspected that the corn syrup helped keep the cookies chewy, since corn syrup is a moisture-retainer in baked goods. I was looking for a chewy cookie, because my kids definitely lean in the soft-baked direction. (Mr. Coffee prefers a darker, harder, crunchier, more caramelized cookie, but of course, once we had kids, what he prefers became irrelevant around here.)

So I made these cookies. And they came out pretty good. The kids loved them. Me, I didn't think they were peanut buttery enough, but perhaps that's why they were such a hit with the kids.

In the pic above, the cookies are from two different batches. The one on the left is from the first batch, the one the kids loved. The one on the right was from a second batch. In an effort to boost the peanut flavor, I added chopped peanuts to the top and baked them for a little longer, hoping to create some delicious caramelized toastiness. The peanuts on top ended up being a nice addition, but baking longer didn't really work with these cookies, because the corn syrup keeps them from getting a crisp, caramelized consistency. So they end up tasting slightly toasty but weirdly chewy. Underbaking for a soft cookie is the better way to go.

This recipe is definitely a winner with the soft-baked crowd, if that's who you're baking for. They're easy, and you'll be popular. They were devoured at my book group, too.

January 10, 2011

Cherry Strudel

When I was a kid, my mother used to make meggyleves—Hungarian sour cherry soup—quite a bit. I hated that soup. I didn't like cooked sour cherries, and I couldn't understand why anyone would want to eat a sweet fruit soup before a meal. I, who loved soup more than anything in the universe, used to push my spoon through the bowl and sigh. It just seemed so unfair!

Fast forward many, many years later. My dislike of meggyleves hasn't abated, but I have come to like cooked sour cherries—in pie and strudel, at any rate.

In the waning days of 2010, the first great NYC 21st century blizzard came roaring in and we were stuck at home for a few days. On Monday, still in denial about just how stuck at home we were, I began making cherry strudel to take to dinner at a friend's that night. But with no subway, or bus, or car—or even car service—we were not making it all the way to Bed Stuy.

I hadn't made cherry strudel in a while, and I had forgotten about what a dream the dough for it is. This isn't filo dough (I didn't have any in my freezer) or the authentic studel dough that you stretch out over a floured tablecloth (though I would like to try making that sometime). Instead, it's a sinfully rich sour cream-butter dough that my mother-in-law taught me. The dough comes together quickly, since you just mix all the ingredients in, but then it has to sit in the fridge for at least two hours. It requires planning ahead, but then, so does filo, since it has to be defrosted.

I made the dough. I made the studel filling. Which was good but not great, because the canned cherries I used were subpar. Do yourself a favor and get jarred morello cherries (You can find them at Eastern European stores.), which are much better than watery canned sour cherries.

After I realized we were snowbound and going nowhere, I put both dough and filling in the fridge and forgot about them.

However, my mother-in-law is in town, and the other night she came over for dinner. Scrounging around  for dessert, I came across the strudel makings and decided it was the perfect time to bake them. With the dough and filling already made, it took me less than 15 minutes to get them into the oven. The results were pretty darn good.

Better than sour cherry soup, at any rate.

Cherry Strudel

For the Dough:
2 cups flour
2 sticks soft butter
1 cup sour cream
half teaspoon salt
• mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Shape dough into a flat oval and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours or up to three days.

For the filling:
2 jars sour cherries, liquid drained out
half cup almond flour
half cup bread crumbs
quarter cup sugar
half a stick of melted butter
• mix all ingredients together and set aside.

To assemble:
1. preheat oven to 375.
2. Take out chilled dough and divide into four pieces. Keep one piece out and put others back in fridge. Roll the first piece out on a floured board into a thin 8-by-12-inch rectangle.
3. Spread a quarter of the filling in a 3-inch wide line across the width of the dough, leaving a one-inch border at the wide end and at the two long ends. Then, starting at the end with the line of filling, roll the dough up, width-wise, tucking in the sides. Place the dough, curved into a full-moon shape, on a greased cookie sheet.
4. Repeat with remaining three piece of dough and rest of filling, placing finished strudels on the same sheet. If desired, brush tops and sides with melted butter. Cut four slits into the top of each strudel.
5. Bake until strudels are golden brown, about 35-45 minutes. Let cool slightly, then dust with powdered sugar before slicing and serving.