Wednesday, August 26, 2009

OMG. I'm a Cupcake Contest Winner!

I have been selected as a winner in the Martha Stewart Cutest Cupcakes Contest for 2009!

The email is dated August 25, 2009 and states that I have been selected as one of the second place winners for the 2009 Martha Stewart Cutest Cupcake Contest. In June of this year, I uploaded three of my cupcake designs to the Martha Stewart website where apparently, one of the designs has won me a free copy of the latest book, Martha Stewart's Cupcakes.....I just don't know which of my cupcake designs won. Could it be the Cupcake Girls?? They would be so excited to win.

In the 2008 Cupcake Contest, there were 2002 entries and Martha announced the names of the ten (10) Grand Prize winners on her show. Of course, I have no chance of that because I am only a second place winner (among others), but I know that there were about 1400 entries for this year's contest.
I won't know anymore details until I complete the Prize Verification Form that was emailed to me and send it back to the folks at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
Kind of exciting, isn't it?

Hmmm...I wonder what am I going to do with two copies of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Apologies to Ruth Wakefield.

I grew up loving the classic Toll House Cookie.

You know....from the back of the Nestle's Chocolate Chip bag? Because she anticipated the almost frenzied response she would get from us, my mother always tried to bake them in complete secrecy. But we always knew. Always.

We could smell them baking....but she was always quick enough to conceal them. I am firmly convinced that it was just because she didn't like to share. Seriously, I remember coming home from the movies one night and instantly smelling their familiar aroma. When I stepped into the family room where my parents were watching late night T.V., they both sat there straight faced and told me that the aroma was a freshly baked Prune Danish. But I knew better. After they were cooled, she always stored them high on top of the refrigerator in an old black tin that had red and blue flowers all over it. We always found them. She always lined the tin with wax paper (she thought plastic wrap was too expensive) and besides, she always said that the tin kept the cookies a little crispy whereas the plastic wrap would produce a softer texture. Soft, hard, crunchy, chewy, who cared what the texture was as long as there were chocolate chips involved.

Now, when it comes to Toll House Cookies, my sister Kathy is a chip off the old block. No pun intended. She has been baking classic Toll House Cookies since she was old enough to hold a measuring spoon (well, almost) and I'm here to tell you that they are as good as (but most likely better than) my mother's. I just know I'm going to burn for that one. Kathy can bake them with her eyes closed, standing on one foot and with her hands behind her back.
Over the years, she has played around with butter vs. margarine, flour measurements, oven temperature, baking time, portioning batter etc. She takes note of the little differences with each change, but seriously the cookies aren't around her house long enough to really research any findings. For this posting, I wanted to challenge her to a massive Chocolate Chip Cookie "Throwdown"............until I realized that no one is actually physically thrown down.......drat it. Because if that were the case I would definitely win.


"Ruth Wakefield invented the Toll House brand of chocolate chip cookies. Ruth Graves Wakefield graduated from the Framingham State School, Department of Household Arts in 1924. (I think that's the same as Home Economics) She worked as a dietitian and lectured on food, until, together with her husband she bought a tourist lodge named the Toll House Inn.

(People were a little blurry back in the 20's)

Ruth Wakefield prepared the recipes for the meals served to the guests at the Inn and gained local notoriety for her desserts. One of her favorite recipes was for Butter Drop Dough cookies. The recipe called for the use of baker's chocolate and one day Ruth found herself without the needed ingredient. Instead of panicking, she substituted a semi-sweet chocolate bar cut up into bits. However, unlike the baker's chocolate the chopped up chocolate bar did not melt completely, the small pieces only softened. As it so happened the chocolate bar had been a gift from Andrew Nestle of the Nestle Chocolate Company. As the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe became popular, sales of Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate bar increased. Andrew Nestle and Ruth Wakefield struck a deal. Nestle would print the Toll House Cookie recipe on its packaging and Ruth Wakefield would have a lifetime supply of Nestle chocolate."

Or so the story goes. Betcha didn't know all of that, did you??? Hopefully this topic will come up while you're playing Trivial Pursuit and you will blow everyone away with your extraordinary facts about Ruth Wakefield and the Toll House Cookie.

I love them, really I do. But one day I found this recipe and ever since that time I've wanted to test its claim that it is the best chocolate chip cookie. Ever. Jacques Torres developed this recipe and published it in the New York Times. Among other things, he is a pastry genius. The key to this recipe is to refrigerate the cookie dough for a minimum of 24 hours before baking the cookies. The article suggests that allowing the dough to "rest" make the cookies more moist, therefore more flavorful. This is Jacques.


Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
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 (2 1/2 cups) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Sea Salt

Sift cake flour, bread flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt (not the sea salt) in a large bowl and set aside.

Using a mixer, cream together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar about 5 minutes on medium speed.

Don't forget to add the eggs. The eggs always get the "bums rush" in cookie recipes. Speaking of "bums", I'll have to remember this particular photo as I'm taste-testing these cookies. Would it be counter-productive to eat these cookies while using the Elliptical? Just asking.

Okay, now add the eggs, one at a time (no shells please) mixing well after each one, then stir in the vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined...only about 10 seconds, then turn off the machine.

Add the chocolate pieces and incorporate them into the batter with a large spatula making sure not to break up the larger pieces.

Press plastic wrap into the dough and refrigerate for about 24 hours. When ready to bake, turn oven to 350 degrees. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper and use a small scoop (about the size of a golf ball or just a little smaller).

Sweet Moses, someone is always taking my tools. I'm always missing spatula's, slotted spoons, bowls, now I'm missing my small-sized scoop. Here it is.........

No, that's the large one. I can't understand where this stuff goes. I put it somewhere, and then it goes missing again. Wait.......never mind, I found it.

Stuck in the back of the drawer underneath the potato peeler. So that's where that went. I stopped eating potatoes years ago when I just got tired of looking for the peeler. I think I just need to bring in the backhoe, bulldoze my kitchen and start from scratch. The house was built in the 60's when apparently there was no need for storage or organization. Personally, I think the designer for the kitchen in this house was a little too high on life, if you get my drift. Sigh. I think it's just going to be easier to buy another house.

Where was I? Ah yes. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown. About 15-20 minutes depending on your oven. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool and repeat with remaining dough.

I placed a dozen per baking sheet and found that by using the scoop, I got a consistent result every time.

This recipe will make approximately 5 dozen (60) cookies.

I just love it when a cookie smiles back at me.

Jacques Torres's Chocolate Chip Cookies are really delicious and well worth the few extra steps. However, the 24 hour "hold" kind of threw me. I kept throwing glances at the refrigerator all day as if waiting for it to explode. That was one of the toughest 24 hours of my life. The anticipation was excruciating. But are they the "best chocolate chip cookie. Ever?"

I really had to think about it. And taste test. With milk. Cold milk. It was a roller coaster ride of emotion until I finally reached my decision.

Mr. Torres, you bake a mean cookie, sir. My hat is off to you. Your talents are unsurpassed, your ingredients are sublime.

Your technique is flawless AND you are very handsome I might add..........but I think I'm hopelessly stuck on Ruthie's cookies. ("That's what he said") And just to make sure I wasn't having some type of chocolate-chip psychotic episode, I made up a quick batch of Toll House Cookies......just to compare them. I mean, it was the only fair thing to do, right?

What it comes down to for me is just this: The differences between these two cookies are unremarkable yet immeasurable. They are so similar yet they are still worlds apart.

So my apologies to Ruth Wakefield. I had a chocolate "chip" on my shoulder and I was definitely out to challenge her. I thought I was on to something. I was going to raise the bar, reach for the stars, shoot for the moon, take a ride around the sun and while I was at it.......change the earth's rotation. I was wrong.

I don't know about you, but I think it's the overall texture and chocolate chip-per-bite ratio that's important to me. Will they survive a dunk in an ice cold glass of milk?

How long do they keep fresh? I realize that I can just adjust any recipe to my particular specifications........but what would be the point? Why waste time trying to improve on perfection? Try them. Both cookie recipes are divine, but only one of them will have my heart forever.

Nice job Ruthie.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Black and White Winner!

So......on this damp and gloomy day in New England, I am happy to announce that after a random drawing, Nancy (comment #6) is now the proud owner of a brand new, shiny set of William Sonoma measuring cups. Julia Child would be so proud! Nancy, please contact me at so I can send out your prize.

Thanks everyone, talk soon!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Black and White Project

I'll admit it. I'm glad to be back from vacation. Although it's nice to break routine every once in a while, I'm just as happy to return to my routine. It keeps me grounded AND I really missed baking. I missed creating. I actually brought a sketch book along with me to jot down my ideas as I "relaxed". I's sick. I can make a cup of coffee nervous. Sometimes I just don't know how to relax.

This week, my sister Kathy brought the kids in to the salon for haircuts and while her own hair was being done the kids walked across the parking lot to a take-out Italian restaurant for "snacks". They came back 20 minutes later with gelatos and the largest black & white cookie I've ever seen. Although traditional black & white's are made with a vanilla cookie, this one was made with chocolate. We broke off a small piece to taste and promptly declared it to be delicious. Kathy looked at me with a gleam in her eye and said emphatically, "You could make these". It was more of a statement than a challenge, but the more I thought about it, the more my curiosity was piqued by the history of these yummy cookies.
New Yorkers made them famous, however their creation came about when bakers needed to put excess batter to use. As stated in Wikipedia, "there is some confusion as to the origin of the black-and-white cookie and the sometimes synonymous name Half-Moon. The name Half-Moon is quite common in Upstate New York and New England, while in New York City, you'll find only Black and Whites. However, while the two names are often used interchangeably, there may actually be some differences between the two. The Halfmoons often come with a chocolate base, rather than a vanilla/lemon base, which is the standard downstate and in New York City. Half Moons also have a more cake-like consistency, while Black and Whites tend to be slightly dryer. The icing is a different consistency as well. These differences lead us to Hemstrought's Bakery in Utica, New York -- often credited with creating the Black and White cookie, but was originally called the Half Moon. This bakery has been selling Half-moons since the 1920s. However, it cannot have originated from there, since Glaser Bake Shop on First Avenue near 87th Street in Manhattan, New York has been making black and white cookies since 1902. There is some thought that Hemstrought's Bakery copied the already existing black-and-white cookie already in existence in New York City. So while they may have created the Half-Moon, they likely did not create the black-and-white."
Hmmmmm.....a likely story.

Anyway, since my sister was the one to suggest the Black and White's, I thought it only fair that she share in the baking responsibility. So fasten your seat belts everyone.....we're going to Kathy's.
My mother's Kitchen Aid mixer was her pride and joy. In fact, growing up we weren't allowed to touch it......or even look at it for that matter. Of course we were allowed to clean it after my mother used it so until I got my own heavy duty version, that was the extent of my association with a Kitchen Aid. Kathy inherited it in 1986. It has only needed professional repair once in it's lifetime. That's a pretty good record for Kitchen Aid, I'd say. Although it is over 23 years old, it can still beat the crap out of any batter you throw at it. Way to go Kitchen Aid!!

After a couple of hours of research, we decided to use a recipe adapted from a bunch of different baking websites which also included Zabar's in NYC. Although Zabar's recipe was for a vanilla cookie, I really liked their recipe so I assembled the ingredients and made some adjustments to make them chocolate.

Sweet Moses, I just love using shiny kitchen tools!

These are Kathy's measuring cups. She can't remember where she bought them, but I love them. They are so shiny yet so heavy. I'll bet that if someone broke into her house, she could easily render them unconscious by delivering just a slight clunk on the head with the 1/4 cup. In fact, the 1 cup measurement would probably kill someone. So I know they don't look it but yes....they are that heavy. Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit. In case you haven't figured it out already, I tend to do that sometimes. But I only exaggerate when heavy, good quality measuring cups are involved.

I always break the egg(s) in a separate bowl or cup before adding them to a recipe. After years of fishing eggshells out of batters, you'd think I'd have learned quicker. Nothing grosses me out more than biting into a soft, moist piece of cake and suddenly crunching down on a piece of eggshell. Yuck.

This recipe called for 2 cups of cake flour as well as 2 cups of all purpose flour. We didn't have cake flour so I gave Kathy the task of "googling" a substitute. We found out that for 2 cups of cake flour, you can use 2 cups of all purpose flour minus 5 tablespoons of flour*, then add 5 tablespoons of cornstarch*.

Ahhh. Here it is! This is my favorite bowl. It lives at my sister's house because she has a lot of cabinet space. My big bowl has it's own shelf in a big cabinet and other little bowls to talk to. Some day, (hopefully sooner than later) when my new kitchen is finished, I'll strap it in to the front seat of my car and drive it home. I'll make it a little dinner....maybe a salad.....give it a nice bath and put it to bed in a big cabinet on it's own shelf. Sigh. Someday.

Black & White Cookies

1 3/4 granulated sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

4 large eggs

2 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups all purpose flour minus 5 tablespoons of flour*

5 tablespoons cornstarch*

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 cups confectioners sugar

1/3 to 1/2 cup water

3 ounces bitter or unsweetened chocolate

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon corn syrup

3 tablespoons Dutch Process unsweetened cocoa

Preheat oven to 375. Spray 2 baking sheets with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar and butter. Mix by machine or hand until fluffy. Add eggs, milk, semisweet chocolate and vanilla and mix until smooth. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cocoa and salt and stir until mixed. Add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients stirring well after each addition.

Mix it up well but don't over mix it! If you mix it too much the flour will develop too much gluten and it will toughen your batter, which could result in the end of the world and we're all doomed. Doomed I say! So don't overmix, O.K.? Mix it just enough to combine the ingredients. So when you peek into the bowl and think, "I wonder if it's done" is.

Place heaping tablespoons or measured scoopful of batter on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake until edges begin to firm, about 13 - 15 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

I just love adding cocoa to......................ANYTHING!

This is one beater that you can't lick....."someone" dropped it on the floor and took a nice chunk out of one side of it. My Kitchen Aid, of course, is in perfect condition. I'm just saying. :)

Line the cookie sheets with parchment paper.....

I used a medium-sized scoop to keep the batter consistent. The scoop measured about 1 1/2 to 2 inches across.

Emily stood guard at the front door during most of the baking process. There are lots of birds to watch and bugs to stomp on outside my sister's house.

This is how the cookies look when they're just out of the oven. Once baked, they measure about 4 inches across.

"Black and White" Icing

Boil a cup or so of water in a small pot. Place confectioner's sugar in a large heat-safe mixing bowl. Gradually stir in enough boiling water to the sugar to make a think, spreadable mixture. Remember that a too thin frosting is hard to add the water slowly, stirring well after each addition. Leave the remaining hot water in the pot on the stove. Once the white icing is used on the cookies, place the bowl of remaining frosting over the hot water and bring it back to a simmer. Stir in the bitter (unsweetened) chocolate until it is melted as well as the corn syrup. Frost the other side of the cookies and set them aside to let the frosting set. Store in an airtight container.

I used a decorating tip and pastry bag to outline the icing, while Kathy used the back of a spoon dipped in warm water to smooth and spread it around.

Then we got REALLY adventurous. I melted peanut butter candy melts and spread them on one side on each cookie. I finished them off with a zigzag of chocolate. Very contemporary, don't you think??

Okay, all black and white aside, my sister and I saw the premiere of Julie & Julia the other night. Hands down, one of the best films I've seen in years. Not a "chick flick" at all. It was funny, warm, happy and sad. Meryl Streep has done it again, and in my opinion, this one is one of her to "Out of Africa", "Sophie's Choice", "The River Wild",. "Heartburn", and of course, "The Devil Wears Prada". When the film ended, the entire theater applauded and then everyone sat through the credits. Truly the mark of a movie hit! I was instantly energized and wanted to cook Julia's Coq au Vin, or Beef Bourguignon or something equally inspiring. So as we were leaving the theater at 10: 45 p.m., I told Kathy that I wanted to go to Barnes & Noble right then and there to purchase Julia Child's cookbook. She looked at me like I was crazy. But we went anyway and purchased THE LAST TWO JULIA CHILD COOKBOOKS IN THE STORE. The salesperson said that they have been flying off the shelves for the last six hours.......and that was just the first day of the movie release! Can you imagine? In fact, since last Friday, Amazon has sold out of over 75,000 copies of Julia Child's cookbook.
But guess who has a copy? So there.

Up until about a year ago, I considered myself to be a "fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants" cook/baker. If a measurement called for 1 cup, a little more or less didn't matter to me. Since that time I have realized that because baking is a science....precise measurements will yield more consistent results. Julia Child agrees (how coincidental) and because she was such a stickler for precise measurements, I am giving away this set of shiny, shiny measuring cups today. Unfortunately, these are not the same heavy cups as my sister Kathy's, but they are just as shiny. As soon as she can remember where she got them, I'll let you know. I the meantime, these beauties are from my "Happy Store", otherwise known as William Sonoma. Whew, I get goosebumps just thinking about that place.

All you have to do to be eligible to win is to leave me a comment at the end of this post and tell me your favorite Meryl Streep movie. That's it. Contest ends Wednesday at midnight (eastern standard time) and winner's name will be drawn by random. org and announced Thursday morning.

See that?

It's as simple as Black and White.