Monday, November 22, 2010

Cookies to Restore Sanity

My dear friend June's birthday is only two days after mine, so we sometimes celebrate together, usually on the last weekend in October. But this year, June and her family were travelling to Washington, D.C. to attend Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity (and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Keep Fear Alive) over that weekend. I desperately wanted to go, but I was in that awful insurance limbo period where I didn't have a car. (I was driving my saintly roommate's car to get to work every day, but I wouldn't trust it all the way to D.C. and back!)

So I stayed home and watched it on the big screen and made a batch of chocolate chip cookies to celebrate the event. (If any food was going to restore sanity, I feel it would be a good chocolate chip cookie, don't you?) As it turns out, I may have been in the preferred situation, because even though June and her family had fun partying in the unseasonably warm weather with other spirited and kind-hearted moderates bearing amusing t-shirts and posters, there were SO MANY people in attendance that they couldn't even see the stage. June kept calling me to find out what was going on via the television. LOL! As for the cookies, they turned out quite well. I tried a new recipe--one with vanilla pudding in the mix to add flavor and keep the cookies tender. I read many of the over 500 reviews and made some changes accordingly--they are noted below.

Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Source: adapted from Allrecipes)

1 cup butter, softened (I used 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I reduced this to 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup white sugar (I used 1/2 cup powdered sugar)
1 (3.5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I increased this to 2 teaspoons)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I reduced this to 2 cups)
1 teaspoon baking soda (I added 1 teaspoon baking powder)
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional but helps cut the sweetness)
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I cut this back to 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup pecan pieces (optional but delicious!)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (I dropped this down to 350.)
2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter (and shortening, if using) and sugars. Add pudding mix, eggs and vanilla. Combine flour and baking soda (and baking powder and salt, if using); add to creamed mixture and mix well. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts, if using.
3. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. (Mine took 12-13 minutes at 350.)
Yield: 27 cookies using a regular cookie scoop

A couple of weeks after June's birthday, we FINALLY got around to celebrating her properly by going out to a nice dinner, and then going back to her house for coffee and dessert and board games.  Since I had to prepare the dessert on Thursday night after teaching an evening class, it couldn't be anything too elaborate. But I made some special cupcakes to honor my friend who hails from New Orleans and who loves the pairing of coffee and chocolate (as do I)! I started with the time-honored Hershey's Black Magic Cake recipe, then made a coffee cream cheese frosting, and topped the cupcakes with sliced almonds. They turned out pretty darn delicious, if I do say so myself. Happy (belated) birthday, June!

Louisiana Mud Pie Cupcakes

Black Magic Cupcakes:
(Source: Hershey's)

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa (1/4 cup black cocoa)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
2 eggs
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups.
2. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Add buttermilk, eggs, water, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes (batter will be thin). Fill cups 2/3 full with batter.
3. Bake 15 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from pan. Cool completely. Frost. Makes 30 cupcakes (I got 27)

Coffee Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/2 cup/1 stick butter, room temperature (no substitutions!)
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso mixed with a little hot water
pinch of salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted (more if needed, must be sifted)

Whip together the butter and cream cheese until uniform and light in texture. Add the vanilla, espresso mixture, and salt and blend again. Mix in the powdered sugar at first on low speed, then until completely smooth on medium speed.

*Top each cupcake with a generous amount of frosting, then garnish with a big sprinkle of sliced and toasted almonds before serving.

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