December 18, 2014

Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Oreos

In the past, I’ve received quite a few requests for easy, no-bake recipes.  These chocolate covered oreos should fit the bill – they’re so simple to make, and yet fancy enough to package neatly in a box and give to coworkers and neighbors for the holidays.  I usually make these for our holiday party, as well – it’s a quick dessert to throw together, and always very popular.  This is also the perfect opportunity to discuss my method for melting chocolate.  If you’ve ever tried just melting a bag of chocolate chips and been frustrated with lumps, look no further: your problems will all be solved!

First up, I don’t like melting candy wafers.  I think they taste terrible.  Whenever I’m dipping anything in chocolate, be it oreos or strawberries or truffles, I always use bittersweet chocolate chips (usually Ghirardhelli chocolate baking chips) since I vastly prefer the flavor.  To achieve the smooth, melted texture necessary for dipping, stir in a little cocoa butter or coconut oil.  For cocoa butter, I tend to use 1% by weight – i.e., for a 10 ounce bag of chocolate chips, add in 0.1 ounces of cocoa butter.  If you’ve never worked with it before, cocoa butter is a solid at room temperature, so just scrape a little off with a spoon. Coconut oil scoops out easier, so I just go with a scant tablespoon per cup and a half of chocolate chips.

When it comes to melting, I usually opt for the microwave over a double burner.  They both work equally well, but the microwave is quicker, and I can use a glass bowl which can go in the dishwasher afterwards (win-win!).  I always start by melting 3/4 of the total volume of chocolate I plan on melting along with the total volume of cocoa butter, and putting in in the microwave at 100% power for 30 seconds.  Give the chocolate a quick stir, and then continue to microwave at 15 second intervals followed by stirring until smooth.  Then, add in the remaining quarter of chocolate, along with any additional flavorings (vanilla extract, etc).  Word of note: if you plan on adding extract, you have to include the cocoa butter or coconut oil to the chocolate – it will prevent the alcohol in the extract from seizing the melted chocolate.

When it comes to the dipping process, I usually rest whatever I’m dipping on a fork, dunk it into the chocolate, and then shake off any excess.  Put the chocolate-covered treat on a cookie sheet covered in wax paper, and you can slide the entire cookie sheet into the refrigerator to help set the melted chocolate a little faster.  Easy-peasy!

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Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Oreos

Ingredients:

  • 1 package oreo cookies
  • 1 pound (16 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1.5 tablespoons cocoa butter or coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons mint or peppermint extract
  • crushed candy canes, for decorating

Directions:

  1. Melt chocolate until smooth.  Add ~12 ounces of the chocolate and the cocoa butter to a microwave safe bowl and microwave at 100% power for 30 seconds.  Stir, and continue to microwave at 15 second intervals until chocolate is fully melted.  Stir in remaining 4 ounces of chocolate chips.  If necessary, microwave for another 15 seconds until additional chocolate melts.
  2. Stir in peppermint extract.
  3. Using a fork, dip oreos into the chocolate to coat completely.  Place dipped oreos on a sheet of wax paper and sprinkle with crushed candy canes.
  4. Once fully dry and hardened, store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

December 17, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes (Guest Post by @Scicurious!)

As promised yesterday, I’m bringing my very first guest post to the Bunsen Burner Bakery!  Bethany, or Scicurious as she is known on the internet, is a blog-friend turned real-life friend, as we overlapped in the same city for a bit.  When she’s not experimenting in her own kitchen, Bethany blogs all about science and science education at Science News and Science News for Students, where she’s been running a fantastic series on experimental design as related to baking cookies.  You can also find her on twitter at @Scicurious.
I don't know how early most people start planning their Thanksgiving dinners, but for my family, two months ahead is the norm. It's not just the big dinner itself. It's also the surrounding dinners, lunches and breakfasts required for the 11-15 people that will be gathered for 3-4 days in happy family "harmony."
But the dinner itself, that's the big one. Especially dessert. Pecan pie is a staple, as is the double layer pumpkin pie (Classy? No. Delicious? Oh my gosh yes). In previous years a cousin had provided pumpkin cheesecake to great acclaim, but he wouldn't be present this year. A regular pumpkin pie is always a possibility, I suppose. But go big or go home.
When it comes to pumpkin pie I always have two difficulties.
1. I HATE normal pie crust. It makes your teeth squeak.
2. Portion size is a bear. A big slice is quickly regretted, while a small slice send you running back to the dessert table, only to find the pie GONE! A travesty.
The best way to control portion size? Cupcakes. So I set out to make pumpkin pie cupcakes.
I started with the base recipe here. It worked all right, but I didn't like the whipped cream on top for texture, and I felt it really needed a base. I wanted a graham cracker crust, but in a moment of inspiration, bought ginger snaps instead. I didn't regret it. Two test recipes later and the final result made its debut at Thanksgiving to great acclaim. I only got half of one before the rest mysteriously disappeared.
pumpkin pie cupcakes
Pumpkin pie cupcakes with ginger snap crust and cream cheese icing.
For pie:
  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
For crust:
  • 1.5 cup crushed ginger snaps
  • 6 tbsp butter, melted
For icing:
  • ...I admit it I bought it in a can. I was short on time.
For crust:
  1. The original recipe said it made 12 cupcakes. The original recipe is a dirty liar. This recipe will make at least 18.
  2. Line a 12 cup muffin tin and a 6 cup muffin tin with foil liners. Spray inside of liners with cooking spray.
  3. Get your inner anger out crushing the ginger snaps. Mix well with the melted butter. Press into an even layer on the bottom of each of your cups.
  4. Refrigerate cups 1 hour. Or don't. That works ok too.
For pie:
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Mix the pumpkin, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and milk. Add in the rest of the ingredients. Put about 1/3 cup in each muffin cup, on top of the crust.
  3. Bake. Original recipe says 20 minutes. I find it needs to be at least 30 min. They will puff up significantly but then will descend during cooling.
  4. Make sure the cupcakes are completely cool before icing.

December 16, 2014

November 2014 iPhonetography

Tap tap tap… is this thing on?

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  I’ve spent the past few months feeling really under the weather, and when all your energy is tied up in doctors appointments, blood draws, working, and the gym, there really isn’t much time left for anything else.  After several months of not cooking and not really eating, things finally seem to be headed in the right direction… just in time for holiday parties and cookies, so I can regain the weight I’ve lost recently.  Perfect!

Now that I’m slowly working my way back into the kitchen and thinking about food again, it’s time to revive the Bunsen Burner Bakery.  Stay tuned for some of my favorite holiday recipes – we just held our big annual Chrismukkah party, so I have a few new things to share!  We’ll start tomorrow with a special guest post from one of my favorite science bloggers…

I missed a few months of photo updates, but I’ll jump on in with November.  Despite not feeling 100%, we took an opportunity to head out to Chicago to visit some friends and explore the city.  It was cold (like, really really cold, even by Chicago standards) for November, but we didn’t let that stop us or keep us indoors.  I’ll do a recap of our trip soon, highlighting the places we ate, but in the meantime, most of my pictures from November were from our little vacation.  Otherwise, we spent the month doing the usual: working and playing with our dog.  (And speaking of our dog, yesterday was her second adoption anniversary – happy Dreidelversary to us!)

November 2014

1) Every other Sunday, we participate in weekly pack walks with neighborhood dog trainers.  We’ve brought some friends into our pack, and it’s one of the highlights of my weekends.
2) “You’re never too old to jump in a pile of leaves.” – Dreidel, age 6.5
3) Packing for vacation.  Is there anything sadder than pets who try to pack themselves in your suitcase?
4) Flying over Chicago.
5) Obligatory Chicago tourist picture at Millennium Park.
6) Chicago at night, taken from the Willis Tower.
7) We took an architecture boat tour.  In single-digit weather.  While it was snowing.  It was cold.
8) Obligatory Chicago tourist picture, part two.
9) When in Rome…. eat deep dish pizza.
10) A visit to the Field Museum to meet Sue.
11) I’m not sure if the dog was happier to have us back, or happier to be back on her couch and pillow (she stayed with my mother-in-law while we were out of town).
12) It rained quite a bit towards the end of November.  The dog was not happy.
13) Both Husband and I had to work on Thanksgiving.  My Facebook/Instagram feeds were full of pictures of everyone enjoying their Thanksgiving… this is how I spent mine. 
14) We continued our Small Business Saturday tradition of buying a few cases of beer from our local beer distributer.  This year, an incredibly friendly cat helped us decide what to buy.
15) My wedding rings were looking a little dingy after rolling out pie dough while still wearing them, so I sonicated them in the lab.  The water was clear before I started… and looked like this afterward.  Gross.
16) Shiny rings afterward, paired with my radioactive ring badge.  Ah, science.

September 12, 2014

Tomato and Zucchini Galette

We’ve reached the end of Tomato Week here on the blog, and I’m ending with another one of my favorite things I’ve ever made – a pesto tomato and zucchini galette.  It combines so many wonderful flavors of summer, and despite being pretty simple, it’s fancy enough to serve to a crowd.  I’m a big fan of galettes, the rustic cousin of pies, because they’re supposed to be imperfect.  Whenever someone comments that they really struggle with rolling out pies, I suggest that they start with some galettes – you get to practice making and rolling out dough, but you don’t have to worry about getting it into a perfect circle quite yet, and if you roll it out right on the parchment paper, you also don’t have to worry about the dough ripping while you try to transport it into the pie pan.

I’ve made this before with regular basil pesto, but this time I used some of my oven-dried tomatoes to make tomato pesto for a little extra tomato flavor.  This also lends well to other summer vegetables, but I always have tomatoes and zucchini overflowing from my produce bins, and this is a great way to use up both.  I can’t think of a better way to highlight summer produce.

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Tomato and Zucchini Galette
Inspired by The Kitchn

Ingredients:

For the crust-

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, very cold, cubed
  • 1/4 cup ice cold water

For the pesto-

  • 1 cup sundried tomatoes, packed in oil and drained
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (recommended: use the olive oil from the sundried tomato jar)
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the filling-

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes
  • freshly grated pecorino or parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. To make the crust, combine the flour, salt, and butter in the bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds (alternatively, cut butter into the flour with a pastry blender).  Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and pulse (or mix) just until the pastry begins to come together, another 5 to 10 seconds.  Gather the dough together and shape into a disk, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  This can be made several days ahead of time and kept refrigerated until you are ready to use it.
  2. To make the pesto, combine the sundried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, basil, and garlic in a food processor or blender.  Pulse a few times.  Slowly add the olive oil and continue to pulse until the pesto reaches a consistency somewhere between a paste and liquid.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Thinly slice the tomatos and zucchini using a mandolin or carefully by hand.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on the lightly-floured parchment paper.  Roll the dough into a large circle using a floured rolling pin, to a size around 12 inches in diameter.  If you only refrigerated the dough for 30 minutes, it will be quite soft, but don’t worry, it will bake up just fine.
  5. Spread about 1/3 of a cup of the tomato pesto in the center of the dough and spread it out to within an inch and a half of the edge of the dough.  Lightly drizzle olive oil on top of the pesto.  Arrange the sliced zucchini and tomatoes in a single layer over the top.
  6. Fold the ends of the dough up over the vegetables, overlapping the edges and creating pleats around the galette.
  7. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden.  Allow the galette to cool for 5 minutes before serving, and garnish with freshly grated cheese.

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September 11, 2014

Oven-Dried Tomato Chips

Oven-dried tomatoes for homemade tomato petso: this seemed like the perfect way to use up the dozen or so tomatoes I still had lingering around from the CSA.  I’ve never made oven-dried tomatoes before, so I did a little Google searching, and the only thing that every recipe had in common was warning you that no matter what, do! not! let! the! tomatoes! get! crispy! 

Guess what?  My tomatoes turned out crispy.  Extra, extra crispy.  And they were one of the best things I’ve ever made, and I cannot stop oven-roasting all my tomatoes now and devouring them.

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In short, most of the recipes I found were fairly similar, in that the tomatoes are sliced, placed in a single layer on a sheet of parchment paper, and baked at a low temperature for a really long time.  Cherry tomatoes seemed to have a baking time of 3-4 hours, while sliced large tomatoes were often baked for 10-12 hours.  The first time I made these, it was after work, and I certainly didn’t have 10-12 hours to spare – I was not getting up at 4am to check on the tomato status.  So, I decided to change a few things that I thought would speed up the process a bit.  Instead of slicing the tomatoes by hand into thick-ish slices, I used my mandolin to slice them pretty thinly.  Then, instead of laying them on parchment paper and flipping them halfway through baking, I placed the tomato slices on a cooling rack, and placed the cooling rack in my oven, figuring the tomatoes would dry out from both sides.  I checked the tomatoes after 2.5 hours, expecting they’d still be pretty soggy… and they were so crispy, they broke in pieces as I tried to lift them off the sheet.  Whoopsie.  I knew they were too far baked to bother reconstituting in either water or oil, so I tasted one just to see if I could come up with any use for them.  And then I ate another, and another, and next thing I knew, there were no crispy tomato slices left.  Think kale chips – but so much better.  So, so much better.

Tomato chips: the best thing I’ve accidentally made.

That said, you can also use this method to make more standard sundried tomatoes – cut the tomatoes a little thicker, and start checking them a whole lot sooner.  I really enjoy that I now have two ways to use up all those end-of-summer tomatoes: I now have a big jar of chewy sundried tomatoes in my fridge, and a new favorite extra-crunchy snack.

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Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • fresh tomatoes, sliced (cherry or full sized; slice thicker for traditional sundried tomatoes, or thinly for chips)
  • salt, pepper, and dried Italian herbs (I used basil and oregano) to taste (I recommend going heavy on the herbs for chips)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 F.
  2. Slice tomatoes according to use.  For traditional sundried tomato texture, I sliced by hand.  For tomato chips, I used the middle setting on my mandolin, which is quite a bit thinner than I could slice a tomato by hand.
  3. Place a wire cooling rack over a cookie sheet.  Place the tomatoes in a single layer on the cooling rack, and sprinkle liberally with the salt, pepper, and herbs.
  4. Bake the tomatoes for ~1.5 hours until the texture is similar to a raisin.  For tomato chips, bake longer (~2.5 hours total), until the tomato is totally dehydrated and crispy.
  5. Enjoy tomato chips immediately.  I suspect they would keep well in an airtight bag, but every time I’ve made them, I’ve consumed them immediately.  The sundried tomatoes can be either frozen in their dehydrated state, or stored in a jar of olive oil in the refrigerator (my personal preference – don’t forget to use the olive oil for cooking once you’ve used up the tomatoes!).
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