January 22, 2012

'OREO' Cookies

After a night out with the girls, getting dinner at Homeroom Mac & Cheese Restaurant in Oakland, I was left wanting another one, or two or three, of their homemade Oreo cookies. So, with the help of Martha Stewart (and my husband), I whipped up my first batch of homemade chocolate cream-filled sandwiches. Perhaps the sandwiches I like best.

The original recipe comes from Martha Stewart's Cookies Cookbook, with some of my adaptations based on the versions from Homeroom. With my cookie scoop, they made exactly 2 dozen.

What's in them
For Cookies:
1 1/4 C flour (unbleached of course)
3/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 C sugar
1 1/4 sticks butter (10 Tbl), unsalted, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
sea salt for sprinkling

For Cream Filling:
1/2 C (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 C solid vegetable shortening
3 1/2 C powder sugar
1 Tbl pure vanilla extract

How they are made:
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper, or silicone mat (I highly recommend the investment).

Sift together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda and powder, salt, cocoa). Set aside.

In a large bowl cream together sugar and butter for about 2 minutes until fluffy. Add egg and mix to combine. On low speed, gradually add dry ingredients until well combined.

Using a 1 1/4 inch ice cream scoop (also known as a cookie scoop), drop dough on sheets at least 2 inches apart, they will double in size. Dip the bottom of a glass (with a flat bottom at least 2 inches wide) in sugar, moistening with water first. Press glass down on cookies to flatten to 1/8 inch thick. Repeat for the rest of the cookies. Sprinkle all the cookies with a tiny bit of sea salt. Bake 8 minutes (or 10 for slightly crispier cookies), rotating halfway through. Let the cookies cool on the rack. Tip: if you want your cookies to come out with clean edges, roll the dough in a ball after you scoop it out with the cookie scoop.

In the meantime, as the cookies bake, make the cream filling. Cream butter and shortening together with an electric mixer (or stand mixer) on low until well combined. Gradually add sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix to combine. Set aside.

When cookies are finished baking, using your cookie scoop, scoop out filling onto the bottom of one cookie, then press another cookie onto it, to make a sandwich. You may need to twist them slightly to get even coverage. Repeat for the rest of the cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to two days.

January 16, 2012

Pastel Vasco

I had a hard time remembering to photograph this treat--too busy eating it!
 I can't begin to tell you how I've longed for this cake. Years and years of waiting...

There is a bakery on a corner of the narrow streets in the old town of San Sebastian, Spain, near the marina. Go through the glass doors of this bakery. Admire the multitude of magnificent pastries in the glass display case. Look for the petite, palm-sized cake topped with sliced almonds and dusted with powdered sugar. Smile to yourself. Order the pastel vasco from the woman behind the counter. Wait impatiently as she boxes the cake and wraps in its black and white stripped paper--and even more impatiently as she ties the whole thing with a lovely bow.

Say, "eskerrik asko" to the woman who helped you. Make your way to the marina, climb up on the thick old stone wall and prepare to have your cake. (I hope you are hungry.) Admire the water in the bay, the boats bobbing near the docks, the white sand beach curving in the distance, the laughing children at the playground, the warm summer breeze, the sunset lighting the windows of the shops, hotels and apartments. Take a bite.

This might just be my idea of a perfect evening. Part of my love for pastel vasco comes from the cake itself, but part surely comes from the experience of eating it in a town I love. If you cannot make it to San Sebastian any time soon, this dessert will be a good start.

It is rich--we're talking pastry cream here-- but not heavy or cloying. The almond flavor is perfect--present, but not overwhelming. The crunch of the toasted almonds on top compliments the creamy smooth filling. It is as if an almond croissant decided to be a pie.

My husband and I are taking our honeymoon in Spain and Portugal this summer. We will be in San Sebastian for five days. Dangerously close to the source of the best pastel vasco in the world. I might end up eating one of these each night. But you only live once, right?

Pastel Vasco
  • 1 pie crust (there is a long version, but I'm giving you the short version)
Pastry cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 large eggs yolks
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Pie filling
  • Pastry cream from above
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  1. Start the pastry cream a day ahead. Bring the milk and 1/4 cup of the sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally until sugar dissolved.
  2. Meanwhile: in a medium bowl, whisk the yolk to break them apart. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar to the yolks, then sift in the remaining flour. Whisk to combine.
  3. Whisk about a third of the hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture to temper the yolks. Add the yolk mixture into the milk, whisking constantly until the cream thickens and returns to a boil. Continue whisking for an additional 15 seconds while the cream boils.
  4. Scrape the pastry cream into a glass or stainless steal bowl. Press plastic wrap to the surface of the cream and refrigerate until it has cooled completely, or over night.
  5. When you are ready to bake the pie, set a rack to the lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thickly butter a 9 or 10 inch pie pan and set aside.
  6. To complete the filling, whisk the eggs with the almond meal and almond extract in a medium bowl. Add the pastry cream and carefully stir with a spatula to combine. (Do not whisk.)
  7. Press the pie dough into the prepared pan. Add the filling. Top with a thick layer of sliced almonds. Bake pie until crust is a deep golden color, about 45 to 55 minutes.
  8. Cool pie in pan on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature.