Archive for the ‘Peanut Butter’ Category

Baking Challenge!

July 12, 2011

I love baking.  It appeals not only to my sweet tooth,  but to my O/C tendencies.  Baking is very precise.  You follow the recipe, add exactly the right amount of each ingredient in the right order, and voila!  Tasty treat.  The only trick is learning when to take things out of the oven.  Baking times in recipes (much like yields) are almost never accurate, so you’ve got to watch things and learn to recognize when they’re done.  But once you’ve got that down, you’re golden.  A light golden brown, to be exact.  I haven’t found general cooking to be the same.  Cooking is more intuitive.  You can leave this out, throw that in and play with your recipes a little.  I’m not good at improvisation.  I like to know exactly what I’m doing, step by step.  So though I’m making an effort to learn basic cooking, I prefer to bake.

I was given two very nice recipe books this year:  “Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book” (a re-print of the original from 1963) and “1001 Cupcakes, Cookies & Other Tempting Treats.”  Both of them are excellent.  They have many unique recipes, and it’s fun just thumbing through them.  I’ve experimented with some recipes over the last few months, but there are still many I want to try!  So, like my good friend over at The Kelly Kitchen, I’ve decided to set a baking challenge for myself.  My goal is to try one new recipe each week, and post it here with my own notes.  I’m a terrible procrastinator, so if I actually meet my challenge, I’ll probably wind up baking every Sunday night.  If you know where I live, feel free to drop by of an evening for some sweets and a glass of milk!

I started off gung-ho, and actually did two recipes in one night, but then I stalled out and didn’t bake for two weeks, so I guess that evens out.  We’ll see how I do this week.  The first recipe is a variation on a traditional peanut butter cookie from the Betty Crocker book.  It substitutes honey for the brown sugar, and eliminates half the shortening.  I found they browned much quicker than the peanut butter cookies I usually make, and they had a more chewy texture.  They got kind of stiff after they’d been in Gladware for a week, but I microwaved them for 10 seconds, and they tasted perfect.  So here’s the recipe, as printed in the book.  My own notes are in italic.  The Betty Crocker book sometimes has amusing little commentaries and anecdotes under the recipe titles, and I’m including them just because I get a kick out of them.

Peanut Butter Cookies
So rich, good with anything; a favorite with men and children.  Many homemakers double the recipe since these cookies disappear quickly.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Mix shortening, peanut butter, sugars, and egg thoroughly.  Blend all dry ingredients; stir into shortening mixture.  Chill dough.  Skipping the chilling step makes it very sticky to work with, especially if you do the honey variation, but I’m impatient, so I did it anyway.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll dough in 1 1/4″ balls.  Place 3″ apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  Flatten crisscross style with fork dipped in flour.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes.  I don’t do the fork thing.  I roll the dough into balls, and flatten them with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.  It makes the cookies more uniform, and gives them a nice sugar-crystallized top.  Dip the glass in a bowl of sugar between cookies.  Otherwise they’ll stick.  Also, they don’t take nearly that long to bake.  Mine took 6-8 minutes.  Watch them closely, and when they begin to brown on the edges, take them out!  They are easier to remove from the pan if you let them cool for a few seconds first.

Honey Peanut Butter Cookies

Make Peanut Butter Cookies (above) except use only 1/4 cup shortening and use 1/2 cup honey in place of brown sugar.

The second recipe I baked that night was simple vanilla cupcakes with basic buttercream icing.  I hadn’t made cupcakes from scratch until I got the “1001” cookbook for my birthday.  I’d always used a cake mix and had good results.  I tried one recipe in the book before doing these vanilla cupcakes (peanut butter cupcakes with cream cheese icing) and they didn’t turn out particularly well because I misread the recipe and divided it into 24 cupcakes instead of 16.  They were too small, so they baked too quickly, overcooked, and dried out.  So I made sure to fill each cupcake paper 1/2 to 3/4 full for the vanilla ones so they were big enough.  These recipes yield a more dense type of cake than I’m used to from cake mixes.  They aren’t as light and fluffy.  They’re almost more muffin-like, but they’re still tasty.  Here’s the recipe:

Vanilla Cupcakes

generous 8 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup superfine sugar (I used regular granulated; it was fine)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
scant 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour (if you don’t have self-rising, sift 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder into every 1 2/3 cups regular flour)

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line two 12-hole muffin pans with 18 paper liners.  I only did 13 or 14, but some of them were big; you could probably stretch to 18.  Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then sift in the flour and fold into the mixture.  Spoon the batter into the paper liners.  Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden and springy to the touch.  Mine took a few minutes more since I only did 13 or 14.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Top with buttercream icing.

Buttercream

1 cup butter, softened
1 tbsp cream or milk (Cream is richer, but milk works just fine.)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Place the butter and cream in a bowl and beat together.  Gradually sift in the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.  I also added a teaspoon of vanilla to give it more flavor.

Stay tuned for this week’s challenge:  margarita cookies!  I’ve got limes chilling out in the fridge; should be quite a party!

All-American: Thanksgiving and Peanut Butter

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I am so thankful to have all of you in my life, and I wish we could be together today, but I’m also very thankful for the opportunity to learn German, and I’m deeply grateful to everyone who played a part in making this trip possible, especially my family.

Last night I did a little baking in the school kitchen (I don’t have an oven in my apartment, unfortunately).  I made peanut butter cookies and lemon bars to share with my class, and today we talked a little bit about the origins and traditions associated with Thanksgiving while we ate them.  We always have fun talking together.  I couldn’t have hand-picked a better group or teacher for myself; that’s such a huge blessing.

Shopping for my baking project was a little stressful.  Everything I needed was in the store; the problem was recognizing it.  I’ve always taken for granted how very easy it is to shop for groceries when I’m home.  I don’t have to stare at each item for ages, reading every word (sometimes consulting a dictionary), and wishing the manufacturer had thought to put pictures of the contents on the package.  I recognize what I want immediately, usually by the logo of whatever my preferred brand happens to be (the marketers got me, Dr. R!), and I just grab it and go.  In and out.  Not so Tuesday night.  I spent about an hour and a half shopping for 15-20 items.

The only product I had no trouble  identifying was the peanut butter.  I’ve bought peanut butter twice now (in Germany, that is), and I find it endlessly amusing that the German marketers/manufacturers go to so much trouble to make the packaging scream “American!”  It’s as though they want to be absolutely certain everyone knows they bear no responsibility for the creation of such a product.  The labels are invariably some combination of red, white and blue, and sport a U.S. map, or flag, or both.  One jar had the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline on it.  As far as I know, New York has no more to do with peanut butter than any other city  (George Washington Carver certainly wasn’t from anywhere near there, and while he didn’t actually “invent” peanut butter, he is certainly responsible for improving the recipe and popularizing it), but for some reason Europeans seem to associate all things American with New York.  Whenever I tell someone I’m from the U.S., they’ll say, “Ah; New York!” and ask me how far away I live, and whether I’ve been there.  Fabiana is dying to go.  New York was a nice place to visit, I grant, but there are many other places I would visit before I’d go back.  I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.  Certainly not the peanut butter.