Tuesday, March 25, 2014

When great expectations bomb...

When I got the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, I thought their recipe for Cream Cheese Crumb Buns (try saying that three times!) looked delish.  The one drawback about this cookbook is the lack of photos, so it was also a leap of faith guessing what the final product would look like.

After making them yesterday, I'm not a happy little baker.  The last time I made anything so tasteless was two years ago with Martha Stewart St. Patrick's day recipes.  The ingredient list for the buns looked good, but in hindsight, there was nothing with any defined flavour in the recipe.  The other thing that irritates me today - it took three prep bowls!

Here's the recipe, if anyone is willing to try it:
Cream Cheese Crumb Buns from Magnolia Bakery

The quantity was listed as 16 "large" buns.  When my batter was mixed and I used my large scoop to measure them out, they only totalled 12 muffin cup sized "buns".  Maybe I measured too much batter?  The instructions called for 10 minutes of baking, followed by 1 tbsp of cream cheese filling added to the top, to be "pressed" into the buns with a tablespoon.  When I tried this, the filling ripped!  I decided to top each bun and lightly spread it out.  I topped this with a generous amount of the crumb topping and held my breath.  Usually, when you bake a crumb topping, the result is a lovely, toasty brown.  That's what you get when you mix brown sugar and butter, melted at a high heat, right?  Not so this time.  The crumb was cooked, but not toasty enough.  I think the recipe called for waaay too much flour in the mix.

Because I expected to take them to my office, I used muffin liners in the tray.  They were cool enough after 15 minutes to lift out and I gave one a try.  I'm guessing that because it was still warm the taste wasn't too bad.  When I packed them up later in the evening, I tried another one, which to me had little or no flavour!  Buns, meet my green bin!  Here they are, in all their beige glory, right before they become future compost.

If I'm going to spend an hour baking something, I'd like it to have a great taste when I'm done, especially after using an 8 oz package of cream cheese and 1-1/2 sticks of butter!  I'm not even going to bother tweaking this to try for a better outcome.  It's just time to take the post-it note off that recipe page and move on to something else.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stamped Almond Shortbread Cookies

Well gang, I think I'm on a roll again, baking *almost* every weekend!

I had seen this recipe on Pinterest for Valentine's Day and thought it would be fun to try when I remembered that I actually had a cookie stamp that was waiting to be used.  When you bake a lot, you end up with a lot of tools, some which sit neglected until you find the right recipe.

After pinning, I was cruising my favourite baking/food blogs and realized the pin came from Bake at 350.  They were bright pink for Valentine's Day, so that was an easy ingredient to skip.  I made a few alterations to the recipe - used regular salt, rather than Kosher and I doubled the amount of almond extract because I wanted a stronger taste.  My friends and co-workers loved them!  Sorry kids, I'll have to make them for you another time. ;)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsps almond extract
2-1/3 cups all purpose flour

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350 degrees.  As I've said before, and I'll say again - use parchment paper!  These cookies are very delicate when cooling and it's not worth messing up all your work for the little bit that parchment paper costs.

In large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar, salt and butter together until fluffy.  Beat in the almond extract.  Scrape bowl to ensure all the sugar is incorporated into the butter.  On a low speed, add the flour, mixing until combined.  I always watch for the dough to pull cleanly away from the metal mixing bowl and stop at that point.

Roll dough into 2 inch balls.  Before stamping cookies, prepare a plate with flour to dip the stamp into, once for each cookie.  Even though my stamp is made of silicone, the dough will stick very badly without this step.  You can use a pastry brush to wipe off the excess flour, but I found just tapping the stamp onto the plate worked perfectly well.

Press the cookie stamp evenly into the centre of each dough ball.  There will be excess dough pressed out around the edge, which I trimmed off with a paring knife.  Once I trimmed the excess off the cookies, it was reused to easily make more dough balls.  The yield for this recipe was 15 cookies, which I didn't think was a lot, but given that they're 2-1/2 inches in size that made perfect sense.  I actually made 16, since my last was a messy "test" cookie for me to taste.  Since they are shortbreads they don't expand, so they easily fit onto the two baking sheets.

The recipe called for 12 minutes to bake, but my cookies felt very underdone (a light tap to the middle was my test), so I gave them a little longer and took them out to cool after 15 minutes of baking time.

One big cookie with everyone's coffee or tea made everyone very happy last week!