Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sugar Cookies and Royal Icing

One thing I've probably never said here is how lucky I am to not only have a job in this economy, but to love my job and work for a place whose mission matches up so well with my own values. Working for a college certainly has its ups and downs, but the sense of community at my alma mater and employer is exemplary. There are a great number of big and little things that happen across campus that give me warm, fuzzy feelings routinely, and this month's Cookies for the Cure event is no exception. October is breast cancer awareness month, and in addition to a great number of awareness activities, our Wellness Council decided to ask faculty and staff to donate cookies, wrapped in baggies tied with pink ribbon. Every Wednesday, they then sell these cookies during the lunch hour, and donate all the proceeds. It's a bake sale to save boobs! I love it!

I thought this was a prime opportunity to try a different cookie recipe. I say "opportunity" because no one in particular would be eating these cookies. I've been wanting to try my hand at decorating with royal icing, but if I brought these decorated sugar cookies anywhere, a number of people would be pretty miffed since I'm always told my frosting (buttercream) is the best part, and that the cookies are merely a vehicle for the frosting. I figured charity was as good a reason as any to try out a new recipe, though, so I hit up Martha. I used her basic sugar cookie recipe and royal icing recipes. Of course, with minor alterations: I halved both recipes, and flavored the icing.

Frankly, I thought the icing was terrible at first. I tried using vanilla extract, and didn't think that improved the taste, so I then added almond extract until it was palatable. I then put a dab on a broken cookie, and ate them together. Better, for sure, but I wasn't sold. I decorated two cookies, and let them dry. I then force-fed them to Carolyn, my official taste-tester. And, she liked them. So I tried another. And, after the icing hardens, it actually does taste better. I still wasn't 100% sold, so I took some to a family game night, and observed reactions. When one game night attendee broke one in half in an effort to "be good," and immediately went back for the other half (which someone else had already eaten!), I figured I had done ok. Although the designs I did were very simple for my first shot, I was pleased with the effect of royal icing, was eventually happy with the taste, and will definitely use it again.

A the very least, the people selling them at work liked them. Maybe it'll drum up some holiday business for me?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Caramel Apple Cheesecake

Mmm...fall. There are a number of things about fall I look forward to, including the ever changing colors of the leaves, pumpkin beers, Halloween, and apple desserts. My CSA has been keeping us in apples and pears for the last several weeks--so many that we can hardly keep up. In celebration of my dad's and brother-in-law's October birthdays, I made a caramel apple cheesecake. The singular inspiration being all the apples in my house, and the desire to make something other than apple pie. I couldn't find a recipe that was exactly what I wanted; Not Quite Nigella's came closest in terms what I was visualizing, but fell short of my exact expectations (I used my own cheesecake recipe, made it less sweet, I wanted more apples...). Like most dabbling food bloggers out there, I simply used the recipe as a jumping off point, and embellished. Here's the recipe, as I butchered it:

Several large handfuls of vanilla wafers (I used the fun color minis, but I'm sure that's irrelevant)
6 tablespoons butter

Blend in food processor until it come together. Press into bottom of springform pan, and bake for 10 minutes or so until it's kinda firm and not going to float away when you add filling.

Apple Layer:
2 tablespoons butter
3 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly (I used three different varieties)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
glug maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a touch of powdered ginger
a touch of all spice
a touch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cornstarch

Saute apples with butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup until there is liquid from the apples in the pan. Add spices and cornstarch, continuing to cook over medium heat until apples are soft but not mushy, and there is a nice syrup. Smoothly layer onto cooked crust.

3- 8 oz packages of cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons flour
1/4 cup cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Whip cream cheese and sugar in electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated before adding the next one. In a small bowl, combine the cream and flour, stirring until smooth. Add to cream cheese mixture, along with vanilla bean paste. Mix until smooth and well blended. Pour slowly on top of apples (be careful here so you don't dislodge the apples).

Bake in a water bath for about 55 minutes at 325. Center should be set but jiggly when you pull it out. Cool, the refrigerate until serving. Right before serving, top with caramel sauce.

Caramel Sauce:
6 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cream

Melt butter and brown sugar together over medium heat, until it boils. Cook for several minutes until mixture is thick and fragrant (like, say, caramel!). Add cream, and stir until combined. If your cream is cold, it may seize the caramel mixture and bubble furiously. Just keep stirring over the heat until it comes together. Cool until ready to top cheesecake.

By all accounts, this dessert was a hit, and nearly every one stuffed themselves with an entire slice, even after a rather filling dinner. Pardon the poor quality of the photo--it was taken with my cell phone camera, since I was at my parents' house.