Monday, May 14, 2012

The Most Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe.

When my sister and I were younger, now and again we would be grounded for some minor, or major, offense.  Usually it was Dad who played the heavy and if we were in especially big trouble or say, there was a dance or outing taking place over the weekend (or we were just ready to be in Dad's good graces once again), we'd break out with some kind of homeade sweet treat. Usually that softened him up, which resulted in our sentence being lifted and immediate freedom.  But there was one secret weapon that was all-powerful and most persuasive that worked every time: the chocolate chip cookie.

Most recently, I discovered a recipe that claimed to be the "best chocolate chip cookie" (seen here).  Usually, I just roll my eyes at anything claiming to be the "best" of anything because it's such a matter of opinion.  Not to toot my own horn but I make a somewhat decent chocolate chip cookie. Yet, I admit that I was still in search for that perfect recipe: you know, one that guarantees that the cookie doesn't come out looking thinner than Flat Stanley, is just the right balance of crisp + chewy while showing off those trademark bumpy ridges on top and one that's consistently dependable.  

And now, the only eye rolling going on now is the kind that happens because these are gloriously good: this recipe should, scratch that...will, be the only chocolate chip cookie recipe you'll need from here on out (I'm not too proud to admit: I was wrong).  Take special note of the use of bread flour and cake flour which are essential ingredients and the 24 hour chilling time in the fridge (don't skip doing this...for a quick 'Alton Brown' explanation of why, visit here).  I also snuck in some wheat flour which I noted in the recipe below because I'm just sneaky like that. 

And you can bet my Dad will be getting a batch of these, just for good times sake :)

Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe (adapted from Jacques Torres via NY Times)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour (8 1/2 ounces)
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour *
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate chips (try Scharffen Berger or Trader Joe's brand)  **
Sea salt, for sprinkling

{bread flour, butter, two eggs- one was a double yolked egg! and lastly, vanilla}

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
4. Scoop 6: 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

*I used 1 1/3 bread flour and 1/3 wheat flour.
**Or you can use 1 1/4 pounds of bittersweet choclate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content if you want emulate Jacques Torres' original, bakery-made chocolate chip cookies.


Posted by Dawn.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sunshine and Lemon Cream Shooters.

Lemons are one of my all time favorite fruits to cook and bake with, especially when it's the star of dessert.  For me, each bite of lemony goodness seems to promise warmer weather and magically transport me back to the happy times of my childhood.  Recently, I was lucky enough to be gifted with a couple of Dorie Greenspan recipe books from my favorite West coast cousin, Lori (yep, thee Lori from Tales) and I knew, without a doubt when I stumbled upon Dorie's favorite lemon cream recipe, originally derived from Pierre Herme, that would be the first recipe I would try. 

I waffled between making a fruit-topped lemon tart and something on a smaller scale for Easter holiday.  I decided to make petite lemon shooters with a shortbread cookie crust.  The end result was a bit of an epiphany...the clouds parted, the sun peeked through and angels started singing.  Okay, maybe not, but the lemon cream is deliciously lighter and fluffier than a traditional lemon curd and the slightly salty-sweet cookie crumbs are a fabulous foil for the tartness of the lemons.  In one word: heavenly...but don't take my word for it!  Try it yourself!

Here's the recipe below
(i'm eating a shooter for breakfast right now....)

Shortbread Cookie Recipe (via Joy of Baking):

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


In a separate bowl whisk the flour with the salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter until smooth and creamy (about 1 minute).  Add the sugar and beat until smooth (about 2 minutes).  Beat in the vanilla extract.  Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated.  Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap and chill the dough for at least an hour or until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the rack in the middle of the oven.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch circle, making one big cookie.  Place on prepared baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.  Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cookie is lightly browned (I checked it at 10 minutes).  Cool on a wire rack.  When cool, crush the cookie to a fine-textured crumb.

Lemon Cream Recipe (via Dorie Greenspan at Serious Eats):

1 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 4 to 5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (21 tablespoons; 10 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and   cut into tablespoon-sized pieces


Have a thermometer, preferably an instant-read, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor at the ready. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest in a large metal bowl that can be fitted into the pan of simmering water. Off heat, work the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs followed by the lemon juice.

Fit the bowl into the pan (make certain the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl) and cook, stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. You want to cook the cream until it reaches 180°F. As you whisk the cream over heat—and you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling—you’ll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as the cream is getting closer to 180°F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point—the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking and don’t stop checking the temperature. And have patience—depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes. 

As soon as you reach 180°F, pull the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of a blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream rest at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140°F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high and, with the machine going, add about 5 pieces of butter at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed while you’re incorporating the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going—to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to beat the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and chill the cream for at least 4 hours or overnight. When you are ready to construct the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell.

Hint: The lemon cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days and in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Vanilla Whipped Cream Recipe (see here, via Two Tarts)
handful of roughly chopped pistacios

Assembling directions:

Line up about 10-15 shot glasses (depending on size).  In each glass, place about 2-3 teaspoons cookie crust or to your preference and pat down gently.  Next, place 2-3 teaspoons of lemon cream over the crumb crust, wiping any tracks on the side of the glass with a damp paper towel.  Repeat layers.  Dollop or pipe whipped cream on the final layer and sprinkle with pistacios. 

(photo via Vanilla and Lace)
*Special thanks to Lori for the wonderful cookbooks and Luisa for always pointing me in
the right direction- this time for the shortbread cookies!

Posted by Dawn.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fresh Pineapple Galette & Strawberry-Mango Crostata

Yay! It's a double your pleasure posting! (also a "feeling guilty for not posting in a while so trying to make up for it" posting!). Let’s begin with the Fresh Pineapple Galette, shall we? :-)

I had a beautiful pineapple sitting on our kitchen table for a few days, along with a fiancé who consistently kept asking "What are you gonna do with that pineapple?” That pineapple finally met its glorious destiny in the form of this lovely rustic tart. The aroma of pineapple roasting in the oven, slowly caramelizing with the sugar and the all butter crust baking is enough to bring you to your knees. But just wait till you taste it. Alongside a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt, I guarantee you'll quickly fall into a pineapple love coma!

Fresh Pineapple Galette
  • 1 1/4 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp organic sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed (european style preferably)
  • 3-4 Tbsp ice water
  • 1 ripe hawaiian gold pineapple - peeled, cored, sliced into rings
  • 4 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
To serve:
  • vanilla frozen yogurt (or ice cream)
  • fresh mint sprigs, for garnish

In a food processor, mix flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter into the flour and pulse until the pieces are smaller than peas, Add ice water and pulse until dough comes together. Transfer dough to work surface lined with parchment, flatten into disk and wrap in paper. Allow to rest in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

After resting, on a work surface flour the dough and roll out dough to 12 in. in diameter and 1/4 in. thick. Place dough (with the parchment still underneath) on a round baking sheet. Overlap the rings of pineapple to cover the middle of the dough leaving a border of 1-2 inches. Fold the edges of the dough over the edges of the pineapple leaving the center open, pleat the dough however you like. Dust the pineapple with the brown sugar. Put pats of butter over sugar then place in refrigerator to firm the dough, 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees then place in lower third oven rack. Bake about 30 minutes, or until the crust becomes golden in color and the pineapple is soft when pierced with a fork. Cool slightly and serve warm.

and now, on to the Strawberry-Mango Crostata!

This was a last minute Easter dessert I whipped up, inspired by having no eggs and strawberries and mangos on hand. I thought strawberry and mango smoothies are delicious, so why not together in a tart? I looked online and saw that no one has combined these 2 fruits this way before so I was excited to try it out. What resulted was a colorful and mouthwatering dessert that we had on it's own, although I'm sure another scoop of that frozen vanilla yogurt would be ok with this too :-)

Strawberry-Mango Crostata

For the pastry:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated or superfine sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, diced
  • Grated rind of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
  • 1 ½ pounds strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced
  • 2 mangos, peeled and cut into chunks
  • ¼ cup sugar (a little more or less, depending on sweetness of berries)
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
For the pastry, place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough becomes a solid mass. Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and form into a disk. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Mix all filling ingredients together and Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Flour a rolling pin and roll the pastry into an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Place dough on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Mound fruit mixture in center of dough, leaving a 1½- inch border. Fold pastry over fruit, pleating it to make a rough edge. Don’t worry about cracks; some juice will leak out during baking. Optional: brush crust with a beaten egg mixed with a bit of water.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer to a cutting board. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Posted by Luisa

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Nebraska Road Trip (Part Two).

Hello! Welcome back to Tales of Three Bakers and Part Two of my family’s road trip to Omaha, Nebraska.  This segment, I’ll continue to share a few more things that you can do in Omaha, Nebraska, a city that we found very family friendly and super easy to get around.

First up, the Omaha Zoo…

Fordy requested the zoo, and we weren’t totally sold (I’m not a big zoo fan), but as we approached the large desert dome we knew it would be a fitting thing to do on such a beautiful spring-like day.  You will see the usual suspects: lions, tigers, monkeys and giraffes and a few more unexpected surprises.  The swamp exhibit is pretty impressive including a somewhat (actually scary-huge) alligator that gave us thrills and chills by swimming a few feet from us, eyeing us through a wooden fence and somewhat flimsy wire screen.  The desert and jungle exhibits organized by continents were very well thought out.  We were this close to attempting to take a pygmy hippo home…

Just a side note: It was pretty early for everything to operate; there is a tram that cuts through the zoo grounds, a passenger train, and a pretty large aquarium that we were eager to see but it was sadly closed for repairs (but reopening in early April).  As summer approaches, all those amenities will be operating at full force.  You can visit the website for dates, here.
Next up even though it was super windy, we decided to fit in a stroll across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge that crosses over the Missouri River and was built in 2008.   Although we could feel the bridge ever so slightly sway to and fro, the sweet view of the Omaha Skyline made it worthwhile. It's a popular landmark proven by the steady flow of people making their way across the bridge.  The kids thought it was fun that they could place one leg in Nebraska and one leg in Iowa on the bridge.  It's also especially stunning at night!

One of my must things to do was to visit eCreamery, a local ice cream shop which has been splashed across pages of foodie magazines, see here for proof.  With purported daily flavors like maple with chocolate covered bacon pieces, Big Mama’s sweet potato pie, and goat cheese, my curiousity was piqued and my taste buds salivating (plus, we could totally justify an ice cream pit stop after walking all day.)

I was enamored with the modern, bright and happy décor of the store; the walls are splashed with lime green tiles and in the summer you can lounge al fresco on what I guess are repro midcentury shell chairs (but you never know with a city with so many antiques).   We didn’t so much dig the grim disposition of the guy serving the ice cream (He appeared to be performing an enema than serving ice cream…Dude, you work at one of the happiest places on earth!).  Keith thought briefly about tackling the Dundee Dozen Sundae, an Adam Richman-sized monstrosity so his mug could be eternally posted on the billboard of champions (okay, so he did once successfully eat a Farrell’s Trough sundae- anyone remember those?). 


Sadly, there was only one flavor of the day which was Banana Crunch Cheesecake and completely rave worthy, but I was hoping to find more unique flavors.  Verdict: Worth the stop if you are expecting a ‘Coldstone Creamery’ experience and just a short drive from downtown.  However, if there is a future Omaha visit in store for us, next time I will try Ted and Wally’s, an old-fashioned creamery that boasts a large variety of original concoctions. If you’re not in the Omaha area (and I haven’t succeeded in persuading you to visit this fine city) and you don’t mind forking over a few dollars, $49 for 4 pints,  you can create your own custom flavors online at eCreamery.

Well, that pretty much rounds up our adventure in Omaha!  In all, it was a wonderful city to relax in with much more personality and charm than I ever expected and we had a wonderful time.  Thanks for stopping by and have a fantastic weekend!

Posted by Dawn.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nebraska Road Trip (Part One).

When you think about spring break, images of warm weather locales tickle most people's minds such as Palm Springs or the Florida Keys (at least those are the images that inhabit my brain's real estate).  So when I was approached with my hubby's prospect of going to Nebraska for a short roadtrip this past weekend, I have to admit I was a little reticent.  As a young girl I remember multiple trips cross country over the nearly flat, treeless, green land surrounding the highway that came to be known as the dreaded "long" state.  Lurking in my mind's abyss, was one question: Did Omaha have anything to offer a big city-loving girl?

With my camera in hand, I was ready to dig in a little and see what one of the biggest cities in the midwest nestled in one of the "flyover" states had to offer.  To be honest, I wasn't expecting too much, save for a few days of rest and relaxation, mostly technology free.  Curious to see how I fared?  Here are a few snapshots and a recap of some of the weekend's sights.

One of the first things we did upon getting into Omaha (btw, notables from this town: Malcolm X, Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando, Johnny Carson and the founder of Kool-Aid, Edwin Perkins- all hail) was to find something to eat.  Old Market, a district carved out for quirky, upscale shops, good eats and local art was our first stop.

Some blocks of Old Market were energetic-and a bit wild- in the numerous Irish bars as it was St. Patrick's Day. Horses were painted green, one dude was decked out in an all over latex green body suit (head to toe, people), and nearly everyone was wearing green in various levels of flair.  One thing for sure, Omaha's (Irish and non-Irish) folk know how to throw it down. We on the other hand decided on sushi instead of corned beef and cabbage at the district's Blue restaurant (per the kids' request) and we weren't sorry to have strayed from the mainstay.

(Hello, stacked, heavenly tuna tower salad that the waitress suggested)

(Fordy checking out the Calamari and Tempura Platter)

Bellies full and souls satisfied, we ventured out to explore the nooks and crannies of Old Market.  Old brick abounds, covering buildings and streets alike giving everything an old world charm.  We soon figured out that Old Market is a mecca for everything quirky and vintage.

One of our favorite stops was a fun vintage store called the Flying Worm.  Despite it's weird name, they house a pretty impressive array of western and Doc Marten-like boots, mod dresses, prairie chic apparel, vintage tees and these...

(Lana bought some black and rainbow ones)

(A peek in the airy, well-organized store)

Other notable stores that we spent hours leafing through the endless, sometimes overpriced vintage goodies were Second Chance Antiques and Homer's which offers old and new LP's, dvd's and cd's. Fordy found his new, favorite adventure hat- a sweet, Minnetoka suede number at Second
Chance talking the guy down using his puppydog eye maneuver (word to the wise, always haggle).  At  Homer's, we found old and new LP's  in excellent condition at reasonable prices.  We scored Duran Duran's Rio, Cheap Trick's The Dream Police and the Psychedelic Furs and I thought good and hard about snagging a Bob Dylan collection and Nina Simone LP, which I kind of now regret not buying.

1.  sweet postcards organized by state
2.  vintage typewriters from different eras
3.  Hippo hovering above Keith checking out the songs on an old jukebox
4. Elena petting Cabbage, the store mascot

Are you as surprised as I was to discover that Omaha is kind of a funky, vibrant place?  Throw in a little Midwestern friendliness and small-town-in-a-big-city charm and there you have it, Omaha in a nutshell...

(Come back tomorrow to see what other adventures there is to be had in Omaha!)

Posted by Dawn

Friday, March 2, 2012

Zucchini Leek Tartlets: Guest Baker, René LaVoie

We here at Tales of Three Bakers welcome René LaVoie of The Savory Life who brings us a glimpse into her culinary talents! For more of René's recipes, also check out her personal recipe page at GroupRecipes ~Luisa

Hello! I'm René, and Luisa graciously asked me to be a guest blogger. Her culinary creativity is an inspiration to me and my kitchen adventures, so it is truly a pleasure :)

Now on to the Zucchini Leek Tartlets!

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These babies could rival a chocolate ganache over the meaning of the word "decadent." Plus, you can feel good about eating a few veggies while indulging. Another plus: you don't have to wait for the dough to rest! But you could make it ahead of time if you must, just keep it in the fridge.

I used rich homemade ricotta by Smitten Kitchen for the filling~yum! but a good quality store-bought would work just fine.

I did have a bit of dough leftover, not quite enough to make another tart, so I flattened it into shapes with my hands and baked it into "crackers" that my son and I dipped into some extra ricotta :)


for the crust:
adapted from Paule Caillat via David Lebovitz
12 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp canola or safflower oil
6 Tbsp water (I used the whey leftover from making the ricotta)
1/4 tsp finely ground sea salt
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour

for the toppings:

about 2 cups ricotta cheese
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
freshly shredded pecorino romano
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste extra virgin olive oil


Preheat your oven to 410 degrees Fahrenheit and arrange seven 5"
spring form tart pans on a large baking tray.

Add the butter, oil, water (or whey), salt, and rosemary to a small pan and bring to a low boil.

Mix the flours in a heat-proof bowl and add the liquid mixture. Stir until the dough just comes together.

When the dough is cool enough to work with, separate it into seven equal balls, and press each ball into a tart pan. Reinforce the sides with your fingers or a fork, and poke a few holes in the bottom of each with a fork.

Reserve a small piece of dough in the bowl for patching up holes or cracks after the first bake. Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside.

While the crusts are cooling, saute the leeks in a bit of oil, then toss in a bowl with the zucchini. Add s&p.

When the crusts are cool, add a generous dollop of ricotta in each, and spread it into an even layer.

Sprinkle the garlic & rosemary over the ricotta. Arrange the leeks and zucchini on top any which way, and top it all off with the pecorino romano.

Bake for 10 minutes. If they're not as golden as you'd like, stick 'em under the broiler for a minute or two, but make sure those crusts don't burn! Serve hot and enjoy :)