Black and White Cookie Donuts (Baked!)

Food nostalgia is hitting pretty hard around here, lately.

Black and White donuts
Having lived my whole life in New Jersey (except for college in Pennsylvania – yeah, I went really far), I had no clue what to expect when I moved cross-country to San Diego in 2012. I knew I could probably ditch my winter coat and had prepared myself for Dunkin Donuts-withdrawal, but as far as the small stuff? I figured it couldn’t be that different. I mean, it was the same country after all.

But beyond the obvious lack-of-snow and lack-of-DD, over time I’ve realized there are a lot of little things I took for granted living in the NYC-metro area. Diners! Jersey bagels! Italian bakeries! Autumn leaves! Feeling a chill in the air! Of course I’d be foolish to ignore the wonderful attributes that Southern California has to offer – I wore a t-shirt and flip flops yesterday – but sometimes you just yearn for a taste of “home”, in the regional sense.

Einstein Bagels are good, Jersey bagels are in-freakin’-credible. Crisp outsides, super soft and chewy centers. Especially the cinnamon raisin ones. Typing this out just made me crave them BIG TIME. Bagels from Long Island (NY) also rank highly in the upper echelon of bagels as far as I’m concerned.

“Breakfast cafes” are nice, Jersey diners are better. Zero pretension, zero thought given to ambiance, zero qualms about ordering a turkey dinner with a cup of coffee for breakfast.

68°F in January is great, 27°F in January is…well, 68°F is just great, period. Moving on…

Italian bakeries. Cookies covered in chocolate chips that are as big as your head. Freshly-made cannoli shells (can we talk about how WordPress doesn’t think “cannoli” is a word?! For shame). Rainbow cookies (my ultimate, hands-down favorite). White cardboard boxes with red-and-white striped twine. Black-and-white cookies. Love.

For those in the know, you know why the list above is so special. Yes, everything is delicious, there’s no denying that. But looking back, I can remember that quintessential white bakery box in so many of my childhood memories. It was sitting beside me in the backseat of the car while we traveled to visit relatives on Christmas morning, it attended all of my birthday parties, it even received prime placement on our Thanksgiving table year after year. You know it has to be something special.

It’s been too long since I’ve had any of the above bakery treats, so I decided to satisfy my hankering for donuts by making a batch inspired by the black and white cookie. Like its namesake, these donuts have a pillowy-soft body with a crisp layer of icing – half black and half white. The cookies (and so, the donuts) taste ever-so-slightly of lemon, although the flavor is not an obvious lemon. No lip puckering here. And it’s January, and you know, resolutions… so they’re baked. While these didn’t come from a white box with red-and-white twine, they certainly taste like they would.

Bite
Donut recipe adapted from The Faux Martha, icing recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.

Black and White Cookie Donuts (Baked)
Yields 6 donuts

Donuts:
1/3 cup milk*
1 tsp white vinegar*
3 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp agave nectar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp lemon extract

Vanilla Icing:
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 tbsp simple syrup (or light corn syrup)**
2 tsp hot water
1/8 tsp almond extract

Chocolate Icing:
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tbsp simple syrup (or light corn syrup)**
3/4 tbsp hot water
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted

1.Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine milk and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside for 5-10 minutes until milk curdles. *Alternatively, you can use 1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together curdled milk, melted butter, sugar, agave nectar, egg, vanilla extract, and lemon extract.

3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix until combined. Be careful not to overmix, as you don’t want the donuts to become tough.

4. Grease your donut pan. Spoon batter into a plastic bag (or piping bag if you have one). Push out all air from the bag and seal closed. Work batter inside the bag towards the bottom. Snip corner of plastic bag, and pipe batter evenly into six donut wells.

Batter with bag

Prebake
5. Bake for 7-8 minutes, or until donuts have become golden brown around the edges. Let donuts sit for a few minutes in the pan, then remove and let cool on rack.

Baked donuts out of oven
6. To make the icing: use two separate bowls for vanilla and chocolate.

Vanilla Icing: Combine confectioners’ sugar, simple syrup**, hot water, and almond extract. Whisk until mixture is smooth and resembles an icing-like consistency. If it’s too runny for your taste, add more confectioners’ sugar. If it’s too thick, add a very small amount of water at a time. Be conservative here – you don’t want to swing the other way and have icing that’s too runny.

Chocolate Icing: Combine confectioners’ sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder in a small bowl. Melt chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring after every twenty second interval, until smooth. Pour melted chocolate into the confectioners’ sugar mixture, along with simple syrup** and water. Whisk until mixture is smooth. If it’s too runny in this case, add more confectioners’ sugar along with cocoa powder, if too thick add just a small amount of water.

**Traditionally, you’ll see light corn syrup used in icing recipes. However I was already elbows deep in making the donuts when I realized that we were out, so I improvised by making a homemade simple syrup. I simmered 1 part water to 3 parts granulated sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until bubbles formed, then reduced heat to low for about 15 minutes until mixture had boiled down and thickened. I was very happy with the results, but if you have light corn syrup, feel free to save a few steps and use it instead.

7. Spread chocolate icing on one half of each donut, and vanilla on the other half. Let icing harden before serving.

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Black Forest Cookies and 2014 Resolution Progress

I know, I know. Posting a cookie recipe when we’re not even two weeks out from Christmas. What is she thinking? But hear me out. I had such a smattering of ingredients left over after my holiday baking, and they were taking up some prime real estate in my fridge. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – there could be far worse situations in which to find yourself. There was a half-full jar of maraschino cherries here, a little bit of dark chocolate almond milk there (which is a surprise, given the number of times this Healthier Mexican (Dark) Hot Chocolate happened), even some unsweetened coconut flakes were kicking around the bottom drawer (also used in this Oven-Baked Coconut Almond Pancake). Basically, my fridge was full of food odds and ends.

With 2014 rapidly approaching, I felt a strong urge to start fresh. Clean the house from top to bottom, organize everything I own, drink green smoothies daily, double my time on the elliptical, conquer the world, etc. You know, all that resolution stuff. What sprung from the infectious, inspiring spirit of a new year soon overwhelmed me, and quite frankly I was exhausted even before that sparkly, decked-out ball dropped in Times Square.

So, baby steps. I couldn’t clean the whole house without starting somewhere, and I chose the fridge for my starting point. Cherries, chocolate…I mean that just screams black forest right? By my thinking, finishing off these ingredient misfits was in a way cleaning the fridge. Making these was practically a resolution.

Black Forest Cookie
These cookies are chewy, thanks to the untraditional addition of unsweetened coconut flakes mixed into the batter. The unsweetened flakes (which I found at my local natural foods grocer) are smaller than the traditional sweetened coconut flakes, so in this recipe they tend to absorb into the batter rather than stand out on their own. Hence, the chewiness. They also don’t spread much during baking, so if necessary you may drop dough closer together than I did (see picture in recipe steps below).

Black Forest Cookies
Yields 36 cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 tbsp Nutella
3/4 cup dark chocolate almond milk
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, quartered
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, divided
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and cocoa powder.

2. In a separate bowl, blend together butter, sugar, vanilla extract, eggs, Nutella, and almond milk. Pour wet ingredients into dry and combine.

3. Stir in cherries, 3/4 cup of the coconut flakes, and 1 cup of the chocolate chips.

4. Drop rounded two-tablespoonfuls of batter onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until tops of cookies spring back lightly to touch. Let cool on wire racks.

Cookies pre-bake
5. To make chocolate drizzle, melt the remaining cup of chocolate chips in microwave for twenty-second intervals, stirring after each interval, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Transfer melted chocolate to a plastic bag, seal, and snip corner of bag. Drizzle over top of cookies.

6. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of coconut flakes on top of cookies while chocolate drizzle is still malleable so they adhere. Let drizzle harden before serving and/or packaging.

Finished Cookies
Cookie halved

How to Salvage a Recipe Whoops

salvage recipe whoops text

You know what I really hate to do? Waste things. When I was little, I always wanted to save things, because surely I’d need a stockpile of wrapping paper scraps and empty glass bottles. In case of a decoupage emergency or something. Through the years I’ve (thankfully) learned to part with many could-be craft supplies, because while I can have ideas for days, the reality is that I won’t get around to crafting all of my grand plans.

Food, though…food is a different story. You’ve spent money on ingredients, spent time preparing whatever it is that you’re making, and seeing both of those things thrown into the garbage is all kinds of frustrating. Plus if you’re making something, there’s a good chance that you’re hungry, and your stomach has already set its expectations accordingly. Having to abandon your plans and start fresh is apt to pitch even the most even-tempered into the throes of hangriness. Look. out.

So when you first get that nagging feeling that your recipe is headed off the tracks, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Can you cut it into small pieces and bake it a different way?

2. Is the taste spot-on but the presentation…lacking?

3. Can you cover it in frosting and/or sprinkles to make the whoops go away?

4. Can you cut off the offending piece?

5. Is it feasible to rename whatever it is and pass it off like something else?

Regarding point #5, it’s all about managing expectations. Depending on what you’re making (and how much you talked it up beforehand), you may not have much lead time before you realize your recipe’s going south, so sometimes this is unavoidable. For example, if you’ve been raving about a gigantic cinnamon roll for days and have gotten someone else craving it, having them witness you frantically scurrying around the kitchen in search of your muffin pan might dash their dreams a bit (sorry, B!). Likewise, promising to bring a loaf of banana bread somewhere and showing up with a plate of cookies that suspiciously looked like they contained bananas and chocolate chips might be, well, awkward. So, in the ideal scenario, “Hey guys, I made banana bread biscotti crisps!” sounds a whole lot better than “well, I was going to make a loaf of bread, but then x, y, z happened…”. A whoops indeed (but still better than showing up empty-handed).

In the couple of months since starting My Sequined Life, I’ve encountered SO. MANY. kitchen whoops I can’t even begin to tell you. Under-seasoning french toast so it tastes just like eating…soggy bread. Forgetting to grease the pan so the mini loaves that I envisioned would look so cute in a photo turned into a crumby (and unpictured) mess. Breathing a sigh of relief that we had just the amount of eggs necessary for a recipe…and then dropping them on the floor. The list goes on.

Most of the time these whoops go undocumented (for good reason), but here are two recipes I resurrected by using a mix of the techniques above.

Case #1 – Banana bread beer…bread

Synopsis – I saw this beer in the store. Thought it would be all sorts of clever to use it to make banana bread. Not so.

The Whoops – Everything was seemingly fine – the batter looked normal, the loaf was rising in the oven, etc. Took it out of the oven to cool and the thing deflated until it was barely 1″-tall. A dense banana bread brick.

The Fix – Cut it up and bake it again (#1 above). I sliced the loaf into 1/4″-thick slices, laid the slices down on their sides on a cookie sheet, and baked them until the edges were golden brown and they were crisp throughout. From banana bread brick to banana bread biscotti crisps within 10 minutes.

IMG_0801

Case #2 – Cinnamon Roll Cake

Synopsis – This giant cinnamon roll cake on Sally’s Baking Addiction stopped me in my pinning tracks on Pinterest. Doesn’t it look incredible?? I showed it to B and said I’d make it for New Year’s Day breakfast (setting expectations…my first mistake). The problem with a New Year’s Day breakfast that requires rising time? New Year’s Eve festivities, that’s what. I slept in until 10:00 AM (what!) and thought I could have my cake – literally – and eat it too by still making the cake but taking a few shortcuts (my second mistake).

The Whoops – I won’t even share with you my methodology here, but it involved a tube of store-bought dough, a gloppy, undercooked center, and a few tears of frustration.

The Fix – Grab your muffin tin (#2 above). I ripped my half-crispy-half-raw monstrosity of a breakfast into small pieces and placed them into eight greased muffin tins. I popped them back in the oven, placed a loose tent of aluminum foil over the top halfway through so that they didn’t crisp up too much, and removed when everything was cooked through. Drizzled some glaze over top and voilà – Pull-Apart Cinnamon Roll Muffins were born.


Post-ripping, pre-second-bake.


The finished product – Cinnamon Roll Pull Apart Muffins. Doesn’t look like such a whoops after all, now does it? In fact, got B’s seal of approval!

Of course there are plenty of times when what you’re making hurdles past the point of rescuing (I will run screaming from unintentionally-curdled milk), but hopefully with an assortment of tools and a dash of creativity you can turn your kitchen whoops into something that’s beyond edible, and maybe even a little delicious.

Gingerbread Roasted Almonds…and the word ‘zhuzh’

Well, it’s almost here. I certainly wouldn’t know it by the weather – needed the A/C in the car today (!), but the checkout line at World Market that snaked around the store and reached the back wall certainly clued me in that Christmas was near (one look at that line and I hightailed it out of there pronto – totally didn’t need cellophane bags that badly).

Instead, I could think of a million ways I’d rather spend those forty minutes I saved by not standing in line. Making my Grandma’s sugar cookies, playing around with royal icing recipes, zhuzhing up some almonds, wrapping gifts…even throwing in a load of laundry. Regarding the royal icing, I think this one by Alton Brown may be my favorite. I’m still a royal icing newbie, but I’ll take any opportunity to make practice batches of cookies before Christmas 🙂

Plain sugar cookies

Trees

(And regarding the word zhuzh – please tell me I can’t be the only one who uses that word on the regular. I mean, it does have a entry in some dictionary that isn’t the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy glossary, so that’s got to count for something, right?)

Anyway, gingerbread roasted almonds happened around here recently, and with Christmas fast-approaching, I guess the spotlight on gingerbread is fleeting, so I better tell you about them now. In an effort to use more of the molasses jar than the quarter-cup needed for these delicious gingerbread chai biscotti (before it sits on the shelf until next holiday season), I wanted to make something to bring to a party that was a) festive and b) protein-packed. Of course I love Christmas cookies, but I do much better when I eat something with protein and have a cookie or two (rather than Hoover the carbs off the table and still be left hungry.)

These don’t take long at all and will make your kitchen smell amazing. One word of caution is to closely watch the almonds in the oven as you don’t want them to burn. I was so caught up in the wonderful aroma that I kept my test batch in just a few minutes too long:

Whoops

Yeah, bad. You don’t want that. These however…

Roasted Almonds

These you want. Crunchy almonds with a slightly-sweet-and-spicy gingerbread coating. They pop easily off of the parchment paper (and pop easily into your mouth).

Gingerbread Roasted Almonds

3 cups raw almonds
3 tbsp agave nectar
2 1/4 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cloves
More cinnamon (for sprinkling)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly spray cooking spray onto baking sheets and then line with parchment paper.
Side note about the parchment paper: I typically fight with parchment paper when lining something as the edges curl and it shifts around without something weighing it down. One time I was taking an edgeless cookie sheet out of the oven and the parchment paper partially slid off the the sheet and a few cookies met their demise on the bottom of the oven. Oof. Bad memories aside, for this recipe, I sprayed the actual baking sheet with a quick hit of cooking spray and then pressed the parchment paper to the bottom of the sheet. No curling, no unexpected movement…I take pleasure in the small victories 🙂

2. Pour almonds into a large bowl. Add agave, molasses, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Using a spatula sprayed with cooking spray, mix all ingredients together so that the almonds are evenly coated.

3. Using a scoop, place almonds in a single-layer on baking sheets. I used a scoop instead of just pouring because there was excess agave/molasses mixture at the bottom and I didn’t want the almonds to be too goopy on the baking sheets.

Almonds pre-baking

Pre-bake

4. Sprinkle almonds with a bit more cinnamon and bake for about 15 minutes. They make take more/less time depending on how your oven runs (mine runs a bit hot), so keep a close eye to prevent burning (you saw that warning picture, right?)

5. Let cool completely on tray so they crisp up.