Sunday, February 23, 2014

That's The Way The Cookie Crumbled!

Anyone who knows me or who has been following this blog, knows that I love to experiment with recipes. I like to switch up the different flavours – depending on what my taste buds are calling for. As I shared in a previous post, I've had my share of recipe mishaps!

Some recipes work the first time and others? Well that is a completely different story!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been experimenting with prepared lemon pie filling. I’ve tried the stuff in a can, but found a really flavourful tangy version at a bulk food store and have used it in various desserts, as a spread on chocolate zucchini loaf and have even used it as part of a sauce in a main course. It is perfect for my Lemon Rolls! What I hadn’t found was a way to incorporate it into a cookie recipe.

So, a few months ago, I went through my cookbooks but couldn’t find anything that I thought would work. I started looking on line but didn’t find anything that specifically called for prepared lemon pie filling in it.

What to do? Then it occurred to me that there were cookies that used pumpkin pie filling. It isn’t exactly the same but does have a similar consistency and volume. Why couldn’t I just switch out the pumpkin for the lemon and eliminate the cinnamon or other pumpkin friendly spices? It seemed like a logical solution.

I started looking for recipes with pumpkin pie filling and found several promising ideas. I finally decided on one from Taste Of Home that had several very positive reviews. It was a cake like cookie that also called for rolled oats to give it a bit of a crunch. It also had chocolate chips!

The recipe used both white and brown sugar in a 2-1 with margarine. A lot of sugar but then again it was supposed to make 10 dozen. I used 2 cups of the lemon pie filling and eliminated the pumpkin and the cinnamon.

The batter came together quite nicely in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and seemed to have a really good consistency. I decided to taste the batter to ensure that it was lemony enough.

Hmm, there was almost no taste of lemon! I added a teaspoon of lemon extract and mixed it in thoroughly. Still could barely taste it! I added another teaspoon and mixed. Okay, this was better.

Now for shaping and baking. The recipe said: “Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 in. apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.”   Given the amount of sugar in the recipe, I was concerned that the cookies would stick to the pan so I opted to put the batter on parchment paper.

When I tried to remove the warm cookies from the first pan, they literally either fell apart or balled up into what looked sort of like a mini taco shell. I slid the parchment paper and cookies off onto a wire rack to cool. Turned out they were slightly undercooked despite being a nice golden brown. The second pan – also on parchment paper didn’t turn out much better.

I did have two more pans ready to go, but decided that the parchment wasn’t a great idea after all. I scraped the raw batter off the sheets and put it on the ungreased cookie sheets.

That was also a mistake. This time they stuck to the pan like glue! I had to slide a knife carefully under every cookie to get it to lift off the pan. Some came off better than others.

Okay, that left one more logical option. Grease the pans. I sprayed Pam on the cookie sheet and dropped more cookie batter. Into the oven they went – with my fingers crossed that this wouldn’t be even more of a problem.

Well, some of them came off quite nicely – as long as I didn’t let them cool to short or too long on the pan. If I took them off too soon, they fell apart or balled up. If I left them too long they seemed to caramelize onto the pan and also fall apart when they did eventually get removed.

It took some time, but I eventually got the whole recipe baked. It made almost 11 dozen. I’d under-baked one pan and forgot to set the timer for one pan so almost burnt it. But, for the most part they all got baked and cooled in some form or other.

I couldn’t win with this recipe! It had such promise and the reviews from the original were really good. No one had mentioned any baking issues or problems getting them off the pan. Surely the switching of lemon for the pumpkin couldn’t cause that much trouble – could it?

So, how did they taste you ask? Well, that my friend is the real kicker here. You’d think that with 2 cups of tangy lemon pie filling and 2 teaspoons of lemon extract that they would just be brimming with lemon flavour – right?

WRONG! You could barely taste the lemon! Argh! I was NOT amused or impressed!

Maybe I’ve just been lucky with my experiments in the past, but this was one of the worst results that I’d ever had!

Okay, they were very edible – well the ones that weren’t broken up or almost burnt. (The broken ones got crumbled and sprinkled on fresh fruit for desserts) They were kind of cake like with a bit of crunch thanks to the rolled oats. But I felt like I had wasted all that lovely lemon pie filling for only a hint of flavour in the finished product. Not to mention the frustration in baking!

Am I going to try this recipe again. No. I had considered making it in the fall when I have fresh cooked pumpkin or squash to work with but I’m not willing to face this one again! Besides, I already have an awesome pumpkin cookie recipe called "Autumn Chipper's"!

I had hoped to be able to add this lemon cookie recipe to the blog but if I - as an experienced baker - had trouble with it, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for what happens if anyone else attempted to try it!

As for my idea of creating a cookie recipe with prepared lemon pie filling as a base ingredient?

Probably not! I do have a pudding cookie recipe that uses an instant pudding mix in it that is rather tasty! You'll find that recipe in my next post! (Lemon Pudding Cookies)


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Cherry Brownie Dream

Every December, I come up with a new dessert to serve for a festive gathering with some of my gal pals. This past year, I dreamed up a "Texas Sheet Cake" style brownie base with a white chocolate, cream cheese and cherry pie filling layer that was topped with more chocolate, cherry pie filling and toasted almonds!

Decadent? Yup! My friends thought this was delicious!

This is a multi step dessert that is best made the day ahead and refrigerated before you remove from the pan for serving. Leftovers, can be refrigerated in a covered container for a few days.

Because this is a rich dessert, a small slice goes a long way. This can easily be cut into 12 - 14 slices for serving. You can reduce the richness somewhat by using light versions of the cream cheese, pie filling and cool whip - BUT do not cut back on the quality of the white chocolate! A cheap or poor quality will taste waxy and lack flavour so really isn't worth the supposed savings in calories or cost. You could use a dark or bittersweet chocolate rather than a white to cut back on the sweetness but that would also change the whole look of the dessert. It would still be very delicious and presentable but just look different. It's up to you!

I hope you taste buds love this as much as we did!

Cherry Brownie Dream
Brownie Base
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cups sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup light/reduced fat sour cream
1 egg. slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped almonds. lightly toasted

Second layer and garnishes
12 ounces good quality (I use Morden's Of Winnipeg) white chocolate - divided!
1 540ml can cherry pie filling - divided!
3 Tablespoons Cherry Brandy or Amaretto - divided!
1 8 ounce/250g light cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 litre cool whip light, thawed
2 Tablespoons finely chopped bittersweet chocolate and/or 2 Tablespoons toasted almonds for garnish

Prepare a 9 or 10 inch Springform pan by ensuring the base and ring are properly aligned and the lock is secure. Spray the inside of the assembled pan with a non stick coating such as Pam.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and cocoa powder in a medium bowl.

Place the water and margarine in a microwave safe dish and heat on medium power to melt the margarine. Allow to cool slightly. While it is cooling combine the sour cream, egg and vanilla. Stir the water and margarine into the dry ingredients mixing to combine. Add in the sour cream, egg and vanilla and combine thoroughly. Stir in the toasted almonds and stir to combine. Pour into the prepared spring form pan and spread evenly.

Bake in preheated 350F oven for 20-25 minutes or till toothpick test shows done. (With my oven, it takes about 22 minutes.)  Place the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely before continuing. (at least 1 hour!).

With a pastry brush, brush the top of the cooled brownie base with 1 Tablespoon of cherry brandy or amaretto.

In a microwave safe dish, melt 8 ounces of the white chocolate on medium power - stirring every minute till melted. Set aside to cool.

Measure out 3/4 cup of the pie filling (I used a fork and drew out mostly cherries with only a bit of the thick syrup) and set aside for garnishing the top later.

Place the softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. With an electric mixer, beat on medium speed till light and creamy. Add the remainder of the pie filling to the cream cheese. Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of cherry brandy. Mix to combine. Add the cooled melted chocolate and mix thoroughly. Don't worry if the chocolate starts to harden a bit as it goes in - tiny bits of chocolate in the creamy mixture only adds to it! Fold in about 2/3 of the whipped topping to the cream cheese mixture till well combined. Pour the creamy cherry mixture onto the cooled brownie base and smooth out to the edges and smooth across the top. Place the pan in the fridge to chill for about 2 hours to set.

Melt the remaining 4 ounces of white chocolate in the microwave. Allow to cool but not harden. Fold in the remaining whipped topping. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag for piping. If you don't have a pastry bag, you can use a new/unused zip lock bag. Place the mixture in the bag, pushing the mixture to one corner and removing as much air as you can - then close the lock. With a pair of scissors cut a small angled line across a bottom corner of the zipped bag. Pipe the chocolate mixture around the top rim of the chilled cake. Return the dessert to fridge and allow to cool till set.

Spread the remaining 1 cup of the cherry pie filling within the white chocolate circle - spreading evenly. Sprinkle with the bittersweet chocolate and/or toasted almonds. Chill until set - overnight if possible but at least 4 hours.

Carefully, run a knife around the outside edge of the dessert and the spring form ring. Release the spring on the pan and lift the outer ring off the cake. Carefully, slide the dessert onto a serving plate and return to fridge till serving. Makes 12 - 14 servings.