Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Weekend...Cake balls, Cinnamon Rolls, and Pie!

Hey guys!
I loved all the great comments I got on my cookie post; I put a lot of time and effort into that post (and all of my experimenting) so I'm glad that I was able to share helpful and insightful information to a few people!

PS- Like my new blog design? It's still in the works, but this is what I'm keeping for now. (:

I, unfortunately, left you guys with a toss-up on which cookie recipe was the true winner. I needed to figure out which one basic chocolate chip cookie recipe was the best, once and for all! I decided it would be best for me to make both batches so I could compare them side by side since, in the experiment, I had the two cookies days after each other so the taste of each wasn't clear in my mind to make an accurate decision.

I used both my modified Toll House cookie recipe and my modified Harry's cookie recipe for the final weigh-in. (you can reference those two recipes in this post)

I only made a couple minor changes. First, I wanted to experiment using part (non-hydrogenated) shortening to replace some of the butter. For these recipes, I used 3/4 of the total fat as butter and 1/4 of the total fat as shortening. I didn't want to go half-and-half because I was worried that since both of these cookie recipes are so low in butter already, that they would loose too much of their flavor.

To help me distinguish between the two, I made the Harry's cookies with blue, green, and brown M&M's while the Toll House cookies had red,orange, and yellow M&M's. I chilled the dough for about 3 hours.

Also, I used the pull-apart method where I take the cookie dough ball, pull it apart, rotate it so the pulled apart edges are facing upward and stick it back together again before baking.

The results?
First the Harry's-
This time I didn't slam down the pan on the counter part way through baking as the original recipe states and I think that's what made them look so smooth and not as wrinkly as the first batch of Harry's I made.
Toll House-
These ones browned a bit better around the edges and got a little bit more of a crinkle to them.
So what did the shortening do?
Even though I only did a small proportion of shortening to butter, I could definitely tell a difference. Both cookie recipes turned out a little softer (slightly less crisp) and they kept their shape a lot better.
In fact, you can tell they keep their shape much better because many of them turned out a little oblong (from the pull-apart method) when they would usually even out into a circle if I had used all butter.

Just from looks alone, the (modified) Toll House cookies seem to have it in the bag. They're more caramelized and have that pretty crinkle that everyone loves in a cookie. Thickness-wise, both cookies ended up being the same (and the shortening did attribute to a thicker cookie in both).

But how about the taste? Toll House wins. Besides having crispier edges, it just plain tasted better. I had my parents taste both and render their opinions but surprisingly the vote was tied- my mom for Toll House and my dad for Harry's.

In the end, it was really about texture. They both had the same ingredients in just different proportions and the proportions in the Toll House recipe made those cookies the clear winner (in my mind!)

Once again, here is the (winning!) recipe for my current favorite traditional chocolate chip cookie-
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (135 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
heaping 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 a stick unsalted butter (2 ounces) at room temperature (or 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon shortening)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons imitation vanilla extract
1 large egg
3/4-1 cup mixed chocolate chips (dark, milk, semi-sweet, or M&Ms!)

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Chill for two hours. Form into 1/8 cup sized balls (and use "pull-apart" method explained above) and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes then move to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 14 cookies.

Oh and baking these puppies in a convection oven would have made them that much better...*sigh*

Anyway, the rest of my Easter weekend was fabulous: I had Friday off (so I made those cookies), my brother came down, and of course there was a lot of family time to be had that included many rounds of Apples to Apples (which is, in fact, my favorite game. Though Monopoly is a family favorite, you will probably never, ever see my play...hate it!)

I decided to start celebrating Easter early with carrot cake cinnamon rolls for Saturday morning. The dough seemed very wrong to me (too wet!) and the baked up bread itself was kind of hard and very un"cinnamon roll"-like. Because of these reasons, I won't be sharing the link to the recipe and won't be making this again.
The filling was killer though! Brown sugar, toasted walnuts, and golden raisins all wrapped up inside a carrot-studded bread.
And of course a carrot cake themed cinnamon roll has to be drizzled with a cream cheese glaze...
Even though the dough didn't turn out too well, I think I'm going to try this same filling in a different cinnamon roll recipe I have. The combination of crunchy toasted walnuts and chewy sweet golden raisins is just so much better than plain ol' butter, cinnamon, and sugar.
These cinnamon rolls would have been a flop if it weren't for the filling; it saved the day!

I didn't stop there with the carrot cake theme. Well really, I don't see how carrot cake has anything to do with Easter..but I'm pretending it does! Bunnies eat carrots, there we go.

Anyway, I decided to conquer the ever-so-popular cake balls. I made a half batch of this recipe, which I have made before, but used less sugar(and used turbinado sugar instead of regular), added a dash of coconut extract, and used coconut oil in place of canola oil.
When it came time to mashing up the cooked cake (it's kind of sad to ruin a perfectly beautiful, freshly baked cake!) I realized that this carrot cake was so moist that I barely needed any binder at all to make the cake bits come together! I ended up only adding about 2 to 3 ounces of reduced fat cream cheese and that was all I needed.

Since I used less sugar in the cake, and only had to add a couple ounces of plain cream cheese (instead of super sweet frosting) I saved these cake balls from being overly sweet, which is what I have experienced in all the cake balls I've tried.

Just for fun, I did some balls on sticks (cake pops!), some plain ol' truffles, and some cake cones!
I got the cake cone idea originally from the bake sale. There was a bunch of cake balls stuffed into mini ice cream cones with M&M's in the bottom of each one, dipped in white chocolate and then topped with a red gummy candy (like the "cherry" on top).
Here's a picture from Shihlovessweets (the maker of the bake sale's famous cake cones) --

My "chocolate sauce" looked more like a creepy huge spider more than anything, but oh well.
I also did a couple with sprinkles and toasted coconut
I dipped some in dark chocolate because, even though white chocolate would probably work best with carrot cake balls, I couldn't help myself but dip a couple in the good stuff..
I don't even know what I was thinking for most of my "decorative drizzles"...hey, I never said these guys would be pretty...
The whole dipping process really wasn't that hard! I thought I was going to be extremely frustrated by the end of it but dipping went seamlessly, especially for the ones on sticks and in cones. The stand-alone balls were a tad more difficult, but nothing I haven't dealt with before.
After they set up, I knew I had to dig right away into a cake cone...
Mmm! I loved the M&M on top (I should have put a couple inside the cone like the ones at the bake sale!) and I was right about the white chocolate being the perfect accompaniment to the carrot cake flavor. The carrot cake itself was, of course, divine and packed with flavor.

Unfortunately, the little ice cream cones became a bit soft as they chilled so they lost their best asset- their crunch factor. I also didn't like how there was only chocolate on top and none on the bottom! Next time I would probably drizzle some chocolate in the bottom or maybe all around the interior of the cone so there is a barrier between the moist cake ball and the crunchy cone.

I couldn't help but try one of my dark chocolate dipped ones too (posing in front of extra carrot cake rolls)-
Yummm. SO good. The chocolate flavor was a bit over powering, though. I loved how the dark chocolate coated my mouth with melted yummy goodness but I would probably use white chocolate next time. Really, both were fabulous, but the white chocolate just worked a little better.

Easter dinner consisted of slow roasted barbeque pork loin, a salad consisting of salad greens, craisins, and feta cheese with a raspberry vinaigrette (love it!), and a rice dish made by yours truly.
  This is basically my favorite rice dish-I cook up red rice (chewy, nutty, and so much more tasty than brown rice..and more nutritious to boot!) in broth, water, or fruit juice(but then it gets a bit too sweet so maybe just a dash) and then before I put the lid on it I throw in a large handful of dried fruits and nuts (mine was a berry blend with almonds and walnuts) along with a couple dashes of salt, some grated ginger, cayenne pepper, and red chili flakes.

The fruit soaks up the water and the nuts become all soft and tender. The fruit really adds a lot of sweetness! Another good addition is some chopped candied ginger, but I didn't add that this time around.  I actually ran a little short on the red rice, so I cooked up a bit of quinoa on the side to combine with it. The combo worked out great; two super grains!

And even though we had cake balls and Easter candy galore (hello, Reese's peanut butter eggs and huge dark chocolate bunnies!!) I couldn't help but make an extra special dessert (:

Enter- coconut custard pie!

You see, I figured coconut is Easter-esque since they always use shredded coconut to act as bird's nest in Easter-themed desserts. See the correlation? Okay...well just roll with me on this one.
And you also may be wondering why my coconut custard pie is unexpectedly yellow.
No, I didn't add dye to it to make it more "Easter colored".
And no, I didn't add an abnormal amount of egg yolks to the custard.

Nope, it's actually yellow because I made it out of spaghetti squash.
You know, the thing with the strands of squash that look like spaghetti but taste just like squash?

When I first saw the recipe I was flabbergasted, to say the least. It was listed as a "Mock Coconut Pie (Spaghetti Squash Pie)". It just so happened that All Recipes sent me this recipe (I'm on their recipe mailing list) on April 1st, AKA April Fools Day. Was this a joke?

The recipe states basic ingredients for a custard with the addition of spaghetti squash instead of coconut. At the time, I could see how spaghetti squash could imitate the texture of coconut, but how could it taste anything like a coconut pie? I was going to just exit the page when I noticed that it had nothing but great reviews from everyone that made it. "My mother in law and husband couldn't believe there wasn't any coconut in it!" I still wasn't convinced that it wasn't an April Fools joke....

Regardless, I made the pie for Easter with a couple changes I made based on the reviews-
First off, use half the amount of sugar. It calls for one cup but 1/2 cup makes it plenty sweet.
Second, add a teaspoon of coconut extract. This way it actually tastes like coconut.
Third, cut up the spaghetti squash strands so they're the size of shredded coconut. I cut mine up, but still not enough because the pie still had a couple off-putting long strands in it.
Fourth, don't add the cinnamon and nutmeg if you're going for the whole coconut thing (but if you don't add any coconut extract, the cinnamon and nutmeg would work perfectly to make it taste more like a sweet potato pie).
and lastly, make sure your crust is pre-baked! I read a review that said you didn't have to pre-bake the pie shell (even though the recipe states that it should be) so I didn't...big mistake!

I used the same crust recipe I used for the strawberry-rhubarb pie I made a while back, but since I didn't pre-bake it, the crust was nearly raw on the bottom. ):

And garnishing with some whipped cream is a must!
Everyone couldn't stop "mmm"ing and "ahhh"ing over this pie! The addition of the coconut extract with the texture of the spaghetti squash really did make it seem like a coconut pie. This pie had such simple ingredients but came together so nicely; I will definitely make this again!

Don't be scared of the odd secret ingredient! Everyone gobbled their piece up before I even had a taste because I was taking pictures. Here's the recipe, in case you missed it the first time. Trust me, you'll it (:

What's dessert screams "Easter" to you?
For some reason I always think of coconut and carrot cake! Neither of which are a big family "Easter tradition" or anything, so I don't really know where it comes from. :P

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