Why mess with perfection? Skillet cookies were introduced to us a long time ago. They bake perfectly in a large cast iron pan. Served straight from the oven and topped with vanilla ice cream, you can’t get a better blast of sweet and the flavors… chocolatel-y, carmel-y, vanilla-y. The cookie is gooey in the middle and crispy on the edges. As they say in our part of the world – it’s a dandy!
After consuming many of these cookies baked in a way-too-big, 10-inch cast iron pan, I converted the recipe to fit my more-modestly-sized 6-inch pans. The cookies are smaller, but following the original recipe, all the sugar and fat was still a bit much. So I’d been thinking about how to transform this favorite yet again. While I won’t throw out the original recipe (it is too yummy), what about recreating this treat with a lot less sugar? And more fiber? Maybe an extra kick of protein? Less fat? Could I make a delicious version that was heathy?
It was a dark and stormy day. Cold rain was pelting the window from a nearly horizontal angle. This was the day it was going to happen. As I headed to the kitchen, I already had an idea. I have been experimenting with puréed beans in baking recipes for quite some time. They are a good flour replacement and do the trick of adding more nutrition by way of fiber and protein. Small white beans cook up nice and soft and have no discernible flavor in baked goods. For the sweetness, I had been reading about using puréed dates as a sugar substitute. They have a wonderful caramel flavor and they are powerfully sweet. I still planned to use semi-sweet chocolate chips because… chocolate!
With the first batch out of the oven and cooled, I set a piece before Jack – my expert taster – and took another piece for myself. I told him it was a healthy version of a skillet cookie. He frowned. Since I needed him to have at least some semblance of an open mind, I did not tell him the cookie was actually gluten free and had virtually no sugar. While we agreed that the cookie was not nearly as decadent as the original, it was still full of the satisfying flavors you want in a skillet cookie – it turned out surprisingly sweet and quite tasty. The next day, Jack suggested we put a warm vanilla custard on it. Oh Jack, that kind of kills the healthy factor…but now he’s got me thinking. We did enjoy one topped with raspberry preserves, which was excellent!
The Other Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie
1 cup pitted dates, soaked in 1/3 cup hot water to soften
1 ½ cups cooked small white beans, or 1 15 oz can white beans rinsed and drained
2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
2 tbsp vegetable oil, or light olive oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup quick oats
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease two 6-inch cast iron pans or a 12-muffin pan.
Smooth dates and water into a paste using a stick blender or food processor.
Add beans, applesauce, oil, egg and vanilla into date mixture. Continue to process until all are incorporated and smooth.
Stir baking soda, baking powder, salt, and oats into mixture.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Divide mixture evenly into prepared pans.
If using cast iron pans bake for about 25 minutes. If using a muffin tin, bake for about 15 minutes. Cookies should be brown and firm when done.
Let cookies cool for about 20 minutes before serving.
I was curious about all the nutritional details. Thanks to an online nutrition analyzer, I can easily share what I’ve found with you.
It was fun to share this elegant sponge cake featuring layers of creamy pumpkin mousse with my best friend and still be able to walk away (instead of stagger away for a post-food coma nap).
Hidden in the middle of my favorite baking book is a beautiful photo of a slice of golden layered cake. It draws my attention every time I peruse TheWilliams-Sonoma Baking Book. The recipe begins with “makes 10-12 servings.” As lovely as the image of that pumpkin mousse cake is, those words are where I stop reading and turn the page. But recently, I thought to myself that there has to be a way to scale this recipe down to create an intimate dessert for two. I thought my skills were up for the challenge.
The recipe lost nothing in pairing it down; the flavor is wonderful. My 6-inch springform helped turn out a decidedly cute cake, the perfect finale to our Thanksgiving meal for two. The mousse part of the recipe will make an extra cup, which we kept in two half-cup canning jars as a dessert for the next day.
Pumpkin Mousse Cake for Two
Ingredients for the Cake
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Directions for the Cake
Preheat an oven to 375°F. Line the bottom of a 6-inch round springform pan with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the egg and sugar by hand until combined. Place the bowl over but not touching simmering water in a saucepan and gently whisk until the mixture registers 140°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 3 minutes. Put the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the mixture is pale and almost tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the mixer. Sift 2 tablespoons of the flour over the egg mixture in two additions and carefully fold in with a large rubber spatula. Fold the third tablespoon of the flour into the melted butter, then fold back into the egg mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the top is browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Run a table knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a work surface. Turn the cake right side up.
Ingredients for Pumpkin Mousse
1 1/4 tsp. (1/2 envelope) unflavored gelatin
1 tbsp cold water
1 cup canned pumpkin purée
1/4 cup granulated sugar
tiny pinch salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tbsp good quality bourbon
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Directions for the Mousse and Assembling the Cake
Cut the cake into 2 equal layers.
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water, stir and let soften until opaque, about 3 minutes.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine about 1/2 cup of the pumpkin purée, the granulated sugar and salt. Then heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.
Stir in the softened gelatin and let cool to room temperature.
In a bowl, stir the pumpkin mixture into the remaining pumpkin purée. Whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg and bourbon.
Using a stand mixer, whip the whipping cream to soft peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold one-third of the whipped cream into the purée, then fold in the remaining whipped cream, making a mousse.
Peel off the parchment paper from the bottom cake layer.
Put the layer, cut side up, into the bottom of a 6-inch round springform pan.
Spread half of the mousse evenly over the cake. Trim 1/2 inch from the outside edge of the remaining layer. Center it, cut side down, on top of the mousse. Top with the additional mousse, pushing it between the cake and the pan and smoothing the top. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
Divide the remaining mousse into two containers and store, covered, in the refrigerator.
To remove, run a small knife around the inside of the pan. Open the springform and remove the pan sides.
You don’t need to share an individual serving of sweet nutty bread pudding drizzled with cognac caramel sauce!
Heavy whipping cream is not readily available in Ulaanbaatar. This surprised me. Since the Mongolian culture is heavily tied to herding and to dairy, I assumed that whipping cream would be much easier to get than in remote Point Hope, Alaska, where we had to fly in this precious commodity. The plight of whipping cream difficulties has followed me across the globe. Well, that’s a bit overdramatic. I did come across heavy whipping cream in the one store that carries many western groceries here in UB. But at about $28 a liter, I decided it wasn’t worth it. Plus it was UHT (ultra heat temperature processed) in order to keep it shelf stable. My experience with UHT whipping cream is that it turns to butter with the slightest amount of whipping.
The other day, I noticed a box of a new product in the dairy section of a grocery store we frequently shop. Everything was in Korean, except for the words “whipping cream.” Since the price was reasonable and since I could not find anything that looked like “UHT” written anywhere, I took a chance. Boy, am I glad I did! Not only does this cream whip up beautifully, it is the best tasting whipping cream I have ever had.
As is often the case in Ulaanbaatar, a product is here one day and gone the next. Alas, I can no longer find this whipping cream, so I am using it sparingly. I hope it will show up again.
One of our favorites is bread pudding. Using pantry staples such as homemade French bread, toasted almonds, and good cognac, I baked a small batch of individual bread puddings. It was the perfect amount for us to enjoy and share with guests. And it was a delicious way to use some of the precious heavy whipping cream.
Almond Bread Pudding with Cognac Caramel
1/4 cup almonds, chopped and toasted
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp almond extract
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/2 cups French bread, cubed small
Ingredients for cognac caramel
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp heavy cream
2 tbsp good quality cognac
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C). Grease 6 cups in a muffin tin. Set aside.
Whisk together melted butter, milk, cream, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, almond extract and eggs in a medium bowl.
Stir in bread cubes. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the bread to soak up egg mixture.
Divide mixture equally into prepared muffin tin.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Add almonds to the tops of bread puddings and bake for 10 more minutes.
Let the bread puddings cool in the tin for 10 minutes. While they are cooling, make the cognac caramel.
Bring brown sugar and cream to a boil in a small pan and continue to cook for 2 more minutes. Sauce should thicken.
Remove from hit and stir in cognac.
Loosen the bread puddings from tin by cutting around the edges with a knife. Transfer puddings to individual plates.
Drizzle cognac caramel sauce on each bread pudding and serve warm.
Sometimes you need a big, soft, peanut buttery cookie stuffed with M&Ms and white chocolate chips.
OK, sometimes you need two. I love recipes measured in tablespoons and minutes, especially when they produce a soft cookie with an instant connection to childhood – and when there is enough to share with a friend.
Two Monster-Sized Monster Cookies
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp peanut butter
8 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 tbsp quick oats
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup M&Ms
2 tbsp white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 C).
Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix together first 6 ingredients.
Stir in flour, oats, baking soda, and salt.
Fold in M&Ms.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Divide dough in half. Scoop each half onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten slightly.
Bake for 20 – 22 minutes, until edges are slightly browned.
Let cookies cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes.
One bite reveals a dark, rich, molten chocolate center. Served warm, this dessert tastes like a celebration.
When we got word that the seller had accepted our offer for our new home, Jack and I both thought “Champagne!” With that not being possible in Point Hope, we went for the next best option – a gourmet celebration meal. Jack created a perfect dinner of seared strip steaks topped with bleu cheese and garnished with a sautéed medley of onions, mushrooms, and garlic. He served the steaks with carrots and parsnips sautéed with a hint of maple syrup. Foil-wrapped baked potatoes and sour cream finished off the plate.
My contribution was dessert. I had read several recipes for molten lava chocolate cake that sounded just right – rich, warm, chocolate and sized to serve individually. I adapted my version from a blog that had scaled down the recipe to two.
Jack had purchased these beautiful ramekins when he lived in Japan. My original thought was to serve the cakes in the ramekins as pictured. I decided to experiment with mine and inverted it. The jam spread perfectly under the cake. I dusted the inverted cake with a bit more powdered sugar. It was a perfect end to a perfect meal.