Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Peanut Butter Cups - just like Reese's!

On this 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we are all home... off from school and work because of Hurricane Isaac.  This seems to be the magical time of the year for these terrible storms.  I am indeed my mother's daughter, however, and find it impossible to just sit still and do nothing.  We have spent the last two days playing card games, Scrabble, Monopoly, building Legos, making projects, watching movies, and just manning the fort.  

That brings me to this post - because keeping little one's entertained is a fairly ambitious job sometimes.  I was looking for something to make with Lily while the boys all played "boy stuff," and it needed to be something that was "no bake" and simple, in the event that our electricity went out.  I have a gas stove, so that's not a problem.  The wind is very gusty outside and we are having significant rain, so our cooking project needed to come from pantry staples that did not require a trip to the grocery store.  We decided to make peanut butter cups.  These are SO SUPER SIMPLE that you'll wonder why you've just been buying them forever. 

The lowdown:  Extreme simplicity... Awesome taste....  Kid/teen comments "These DO taste JUST like Reese's!"  That's good enough of a testimony for me!  It appears as though Lily and I had another successful day.  :)

Ingredients:

Filling
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (I like Peter Pan Honey Roasted Creamy Peanut Butter)
  • 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 Tbsp graham cracker crumbs
Chocolate Shell
  • 1 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tsp shortening
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter
Now admit it.  You have all that stuff already, right?



Step-by-step
Line 12 regular sized muffin tins with cupcake papers.  Set aside.

Mix all the filling ingredients together.  Set aside.
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1/3 cup confectioners sugar

1/4 cup melted butter

2 Tbsp graham cracker crumbs

Mix!

Melt the chocolate shell ingredients together, stirring frequently over a double boiler (or a pan set over a simmering pan of water).  


My "double boiler" - no fancy equipment required
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 tsp shortening

1 Tbsp peanut butter

Stir frequently over simmering water

...until smooth and silky
Spoon some chocolate in each of the paper shells.  Use the back of a spoon to gently slope the chocolate about 1/3-1/2 way up the sides of the shells.  
Spoon chocolate into each paper baking cup

Spread to about halfway up the sides of the cup with the back of a spoon

Place in the freezer 6-7 minutes to set.  Spoon some of the filling into each chocolate shell.  
Allow the chocolate shell to set in the freezer for several minutes

Spoon in some filling

I dipped my finger into a little vegetable oil to pat and smooth down the peanut butter (so it wouldn't stick to my finger).
Smooth down the peanut butter.  Don't let it go past the top of the chocolate.
Spoon more of the chocolate (re-heat if necessary) on top of the peanut butter and spread around so that you can no longer see any of the peanut  butter.  Put them back into the freezer to set. 
Add a "cap" of chocolate over the peanut butter filling.

Make sure you cover every bit of the peanut butter.
That's it!
Let it all set in the freezer a few minutes.  Then peel off the paper.  Look how beautiful they are.  Just like a little crown!

Smooth, creamy, silky.... YUM!!!
Best chilled right out of the freezer.  They do tend to get a little "melty" so it's best to leave them in the freezer of fridge until ready to serve.  Maybe next time, I'll try adding some paraffin to the chocolate so that they will be more room temperature friendly.

But seriously, these are super simple and delicious!  It made our rainy hurricane day a little brighter, that's for sure. :)
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Written Directions
Line 12 regular sized muffin tins with cupcake papers.  Set aside.

Mix all the filling ingredients together.  Set aside.
Melt the chocolate shell ingredients together, stirring frequently over a double boiler (or a pan set over a simmering pan of water).  Spoon some chocolate in each of the paper shells.  Use the back of a spoon to gently slope the chocolate about 1/3-1/2 way up the sides of the shells.  Place in the freezer 6-7 minutes to set.  Spoon some of the filling into each chocolate shell.  I dipped my finger into a little vegetable oil to pat and smooth down the peanut butter (so it wouldn't stick to my finger).  Spoon more of the chocolate (re-heat if necessary) on top of the peanut butter and spread around so that you can no longer see any of the peanut  butter.  Put them back into the freezer to set.  
That's it!
Best chilled right out of the freezer.  They do tend to get a little "melty" so it's best to leave them in the freezer of fridge until ready to serve.  Maybe next time, I'll try adding some paraffin to the chocolate so that they will be more room temperature friendly.
But seriously, these were super simple and delicious!  It made out rainy hurricane day a little brighter, that's for sure. :)

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

German Style Soft Pretzels - Two Ways

What a strange weekend this has been.  All the kids were here, so I was looking for something fun to do with them.  I thought it would be fun to make a couple of different types of soft pretzels.  Like the ones that you can find at large county fairs and some of your local malls.  Turns out, besides Lily, no one else wanted to spend any time with the grown-ups.. so we made them alone.  Well, I guess life is just like that sometimes. 


The lowdown - These do take some time (with the resting, rising, and refrigeration time), but the steps are really easy (and God knows, I'm always terrified of 'dough' recipes).  The resulting color and textures were really nice, similar to a chewy bagel.  We made two varieties, a traditional salted one and a sweet one topped with a brown sugar almond crunch. 

Click for Printable Recipe 
Ingredients:

  • 3 3/4 cups bread flour, plus more for flouring board surface 
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp softened butter
  • 8 cups water for boiling
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • coarse salt for sprinkling
topping for sweet pretzels -
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 Tbsp local honey
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, chopped fine
  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 cup packed brown sugar


 Step-by-step
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine 3 3/4 cup bread flour with 2 tsp kosher salt, 1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast, 2 Tbsp softened butter, and the 1 1/2 cups warm water.  Knead at medium speed until the flour is evenly moistened, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to high and knead until a smooth, elastic dough forms around the hook, around 8 minutes.

3 3/4 cups bread flour
I marvel at the amount of things she already knows about cooking!
 
2 Tbsp softened butter

2 tsp kosher salt

1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

2 minutes on med to mix, then 8 minutes on high to knead with the dough hook
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface.  Cover loosely with a dry kitchen towel and let it rest for 5 minutes. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces and form each one into a ball. Cover the dough balls with the towel and let rest another 5 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface.

Cover loosely with a dry kitchen towel and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces.

Form each one into a ball

Cover the dough balls with the towel and let rest another 5 minutes.
On an unfloured surface, roll each ball into a long rope with tapered ends, around 18 - 22 inches long.
To shape each pretzel, form the rope into a U shape. Cross the ends over each other twice to form the twist, then bring the ends up to the bottom of the U and press the tips into it.  Arrange the pretzels on two large baking sheets lined with parchment paper and let stand uncovered in a warm place for 45 minutes until slightly risen. Refrigerate the pretzels uncovered for at least 2 hours or overnight.
On an unfloured surface, roll each ball into a long rope with tapered ends, around 18 - 22 inches long.

To shape each pretzel, form the rope into a U shape. Cross the ends over each other twice to form the twist.

Bring the ends up to the bottom of the U and press the tips into it.

Rope....

Twist....

Arrange the pretzels on two large baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Let stand uncovered in a warm place for 45 minutes until slightly risen. Can you tell the difference?
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Dissolve 1/2 cup baking soda in 2 quarts of boiling water (8 cups).  Gently lower and boil the pretzels in the water for 30 seconds, flipping them halfway through. Remove them and drain briefly on a drying rack, then return them to the parchment paper lined baking sheet.  
Dissolve 1/2 cup baking soda in 2 quarts of boiling water (8 cups). 

Gently lower and boil the pretzels in the water for 30 seconds, flipping them halfway through.

Remove them and drain briefly on a drying rack, then return them to the parchment paper lined baking sheet. 
For salted pretzels, salt them and bake them now.  Bake them on the top and middle racks until shiny brown (about 16 minutes), shifting the position of the pans halfway through. Let them cool slightly on drying racks before serving.  Optional - if serving immediately, you may like to brush the tops with melted butter.  Yum.  Buttery, salty, good!

Salt them and bake them now.

Bake them on the top and middle racks until shiny brown (about 16 minutes), shifting the position of the pans halfway through.

Optional - if serving immediately, you may like to brush the tops with melted butter.

Mmmm....
For sweet pretzels, bake them "naked."  While baking, make a honey butter glaze with the 1/4 cup melted butter and 2 Tbsp honey.  Separately, finely chop the almonds, dry toast them in a pan, and mix the nuts with equal parts 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar.  After they are baked, brush with the honey butter, sprinkle on the topping, and bake for an additional 3 - 5 minutes to slightly caramelize the sugar on top.  I served these with a icing glaze of confectioner's sugar, a bit of vanilla, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some cream to the desired consistency. 
 
For sweet pretzels, bake them "naked."
Finely chop the almonds, dry toast them in a pan.

Make a honey butter glaze with the 1/4 cup melted butter and 2 Tbsp honey.

Mix the nuts with equal parts 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar.

Brown sugar almond crunch topping!!
After they are baked, brush with the honey butter... 

sprinkle on the topping...

...and bake for an additional 3 - 5 minutes to slightly caramelize the sugar on top.


I served these with a icing glaze (confectioner's sugar, a bit of vanilla, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some cream to the desired consistency).

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Food Nerd Notes - 
Let's talk about the boiling.  Boiling the pretzels for about 30 seconds makes the interior of the pretzel quickly “puff” and begins the crust formation. If you don’t boil, you’ll lose out on the chewiness you’d expect from a pretzel.  You find this same principle with bagels.

Baking soda is very alkaline ingredient.  Sometimes it is mixed with flour and combined with an acid in baked goods, where it neutralizes the acid, creates carbon dioxide bubbles, and causes the baked good to rise. In this case, it is bathing the exterior of the pretzels, so the purpose is different.  We are not trying to increase the rise of the pretzels, we are increasing the alkalinity of the outside of the pretzel.  Here, the alkaline water allows browning of the pretzel to occur at a lower temperature (thanks to the Maillard reaction, for all of you science buffs).  By allowing the browning to to happen more easily, you don't have to bake the pretzel nearly as long to achieve the brown exterior. So if you baked the pretzel long enough to get the brown color on the outside without the alkaline environment, you would impact the texture significantly. So basically, the baking soda gives the pretzel the brown, shiny crust and imparts a distinctive flavor and aroma as well. 

So what happens if you skip the “boiling in water + baking soda” step?  Your texture, flavor, and appearance will all be rather anemic.  Without the alkali bath, you would basically just have a cute bread stick. So go for it.  It does not increase your prep time by much, and it's awfully fun to see the water bubble up when you add the baking soda. 

I tried to research the history of the pretzel, which I assume originated somewhere in Germany. I found this story from The History of the Pretzel on kitchenproject.com.... (which basically means that we really are not sure of the origins except that this is a pretty ancient food):
 
The pretzel may have originated as early as 610AD at a monastery somewhere in Southern France or Northern Italy, where monks used scraps of dough and formed them into strips to represent a child's arms folded in prayer. The three empty holes represented the Christian Trinity.  The monks offered the warm, doughy bribe to children who had memorized their Bible verses and prayers. The monks called it a Pretiola, Latin for little reward. From there, the pretzel transformed into the Italian word, Brachiola, which means little arms.


The Pretiola journeyed beyond the French and Italian wine regions, hiked the Alps, wandered through Austria, and crossed into Germany, where it became known as the Bretzel or Pretzel.

In medieval times merchants traveling to the Frankfurt Fair risked being robbed by bandits. In order to guard the tradesmen, the towns' people would ride out, greet the vendors and offer them pewter pitchers of wine and loads of crisp dough on their spears, called Geleit-pretzels.

The Whimsical Pretzel shape worked its way into the culture not only as a reward but as a symbol of Good Luck and prosperity. I suppose it had the same effect as a logo did appearing in festivals and celebrations, as well as a quick snack available from street corner vendors. Probably two of the most fascinating things about the pretzel is it was served on Easter with 2 hard boiled eggs and hidden around the farms, for the kids to find. This very likely was the forerunner of the Easter egg hunt. Weddings in Europe for a time used the tradition of the bride and groom tugging at a pretzel like a wishbone, the larger piece assured the spouses fulfillment of their wishes.
 
There are pictures of pretzels in paintings that help us to find how old their existence really is. Here is a one of the more famous pictures in which we find pretzels, called "The f ight between carnival and lent" by Pieter Bruegel in 1559. You can see the pretzels around the woman on the red cart in the lower right hand corner.

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Looking for more recipes?
Please visit my Recipe Index for tons of great recipes to cook for/with your family!  Some things are made from leftovers to stretch your budget, others are totally from scratch, while others make use of convenience items for a semi-homemade meal.  I also have a wide array of ethnic recipes represented.  Here are a few to pique your curiosity:

Written Directions
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine 3 3/4 cup bread flour with 2 tsp kosher salt, 1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast, 2 Tbsp softened butter, and the 1 1/2 cups warm water.  Knead at medium speed until the flour is evenly moistened, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to high and knead until a smooth, elastic dough forms around the hook, around 8 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface.  Cover loosely with a dry kitchen towel and let it rest for 5 minutes. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces and form each one into a ball. Cover the dough balls with the towel and let rest another 5 minutes.
On an unfloured surface, roll each ball into a long rope with tapered ends, around 18 - 22 inches long.
To shape each pretzel, form the rope into a U shape. Cross the ends over each other twice to form the twist, then bring the ends up to the bottom of the U and press the tips into it.  Arrange the pretzels on two large baking sheets lined with parchment paper and let stand uncovered in a warm place for 45 minutes until slightly risen. Refrigerate the pretzels uncovered for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Dissolve 1/2 cup baking soda in 2 quarts of boiling water (8 cups).  Gently lower and boil the pretzels in the water for 30 seconds, flipping them halfway through. Remove them and drain briefly on a drying rack, then return them to the parchment paper lined baking sheet.
For salted pretzels, salt them and bake them now.  Bake them on the top and middle racks until shiny
brown (about 16 minutes), shifting the position of the pans halfway through. Let them cool slightly on drying racks before serving.  Optional - if serving immediately, you may like to brush the tops with melted butter.  Yum.  Buttery, salty, good!
For sweet pretzels, bake them "naked."  While baking, make a honey butter glaze with the 1/4 cup melted butter and 2 Tbsp honey.  Separately, finely chop the almonds, dry toast them in a pan, and mix the nuts with equal parts 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar.  After they are baked, brush with the honey butter, sprinkle on the topping, and bake for an additional 3 - 5 minutes to slightly caramelize the sugar on top.  I served these with a icing glaze of confectioner's sugar, a bit of vanilla, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some cream to the desired consistency.

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