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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kitchenaid Double Oven Review and Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

What could be more fun for an avid baker than shopping for a new oven?  About two months ago, we updated our oven with a Kitchenaid Double Oven with Convection.  Here is a review of what I've found out about it so far.

I'm kind of funny with certain things when it comes to baking.  After a lot of experimenting, I've come to the conclusion that when baking certain things, anything other than the middle rack has a different effect on the final product (even if you rotate halfway through).  When baking cupcakes, those that start out on the top rack always dome much more than those that start in the middle.  As a result I very rarely use any rack other than the middle, which means I used to have to heat up the whole oven just to use the middle rack.  The second and third pans of cookie dough or cupcake batter would have to wait until that middle rack was free to take their turn in the oven.  Being pretty energy conscious, I always felt pretty guilty about this.  

Another thing I ran into a lot when baking was competing for use of the oven.  Since I bake pretty often, something dinner and dessert baking time coincides.  In a standard oven, you have to choose.  Sometimes that means having to wait a couple of hours for dinner if I really needed to finish baking up that big birthday cake.

The solution to these problems?  A double oven.  This kind of double oven takes up the space of one standard oven (it's not like the two standard size wall ovens).  We got the Freestanding Electric 5 Elements Even-Heat™ True Convection System Architect® Series II by Kitchenaid (whew, that's a mouthful).  The single baking area is divided into 2 sections: 1 smaller section (around 1/3) and one larger section (around 2/3).  This means I can use my top smaller oven for baking things on just the "middle rack" (even though there is only one rack) and not feel guilty about wasting all that pre-heated oven space.  The bottom, larger, convection oven has two racks, and is large enough to bake tall things (like a big turkey if I were to even make one).  

So how does it work?  Terrific so far!  The top smaller oven, since it is smaller,  pre-heats far quicker than my old larger one did (perfect for those impatient I-forgot-to-preheat-and-now-my-batter-is-ready moments).  I've baked all sorts of desserts in there and many dinners and everything turns out wonderful.  I use this one 75% of the time.  The bottom convection oven also works beautifully.  When I'm baking a ton of cupcakes, I use both ovens and this greatly speeds up my production time.  The convection fan is very quiet, and the "Easy Convect" feature takes all the guesswork out of using convection - you put in your bake time and temperature, and it makes the proper adjustments for baking with convection.  

The Con's?  There are a few small quirks I've noticed about it in the past two months of using it.  First, probably the weirdest thing, is using the "Easy Convect" feature.  Once you put in the bake time and temperature information, it automatically starts preheating.  However, it also starts counting down!  For example, if I were baking a cookie recipe that calls for 350 degrees F for 8 minutes, it would tell you that it should bake at 325 in a convection oven for 8 minutes - the oven turns on and the counter begins to count down from 8:00.  The problem with that?  Well, it begins counting down and the oven is not preheated yet!  There is no way to stop the timer and allow the oven to preheat.  Kitchenaid's solution to this is add 15 minutes to your bake time to account for preheating time.  This is a little odd, no?  So instead, I typically do the calculations with "Easy Convect," then turn the oven off (to stop the counter) and then just start pre-heating the oven as normal with the information it told me to.  Plus, I'm not so sure that convection really shortens bake time all that much.  In the scheme of things though, this isn't such a big con and it can easily be worked around.  
Another con, and this one is more annoying that than Easy Convect quirk, is with the stove top.  Sometimes, I notice if the dial is not exactly on one of the dots, the power may not remain on.  If the dial is between dots, it may occasionally turn off.  I've had pots of water sit on the burner for about 20 minutes before I've realized it's not boiling - not even hot - because there is no electric!  I never experienced this issue with my old electric oven.

All in all, I absolutely love this new oven and would not go back to my old one.  The convenience of having two ovens that you can preheat to two separate temperatures, as well as the energy savings of having just one small oven greatly outweighs any cons the oven may have. 

Would you like to see the results of my first baking experiment in the new oven?  After getting the new oven, I was curious to see what effect the convection had on the final product.  Would it come out drier or moister?  Would it bake up taller?  Spread out more?  So I made one batch of  same cookie batter and baked half of it in the top, regular oven, and the other half in the bottom, convection oven.  Take a look at the side by side pictures to see for yourself.
The cookie on the left was baked in the regular oven at 375.  Easy Convect told me to use 350 degrees in the Convection oven, so the middle cookie was baked at 350 in convection, on the top rack.  The cookie on the left was baked in convection at 350 on the bottom rack (kind of placed in the middle of the oven).

The top rack convection looks different, but all the cookies tasted pretty much the same.  No cookie was more or less moist than another.  It did seem like the cookies baked in the regular oven stayed a little taller and did not flatten out as much as the others.  For the most part though, there wasn't a huge difference between the different ovens.  

I'll have to do another similar experiment with a batter than baked up higher, like a cake or cupcake recipe.  So, more experiments to come!  But for now, on to the cookie recipe!  These were delicious.  They were slightly crispy on the outside thanks to the sugar coating and were nice and chewy on the inside.  With some, I spread a little biscoff on them and made delicious little chocolate spice cookie sandwiches.  Mmm.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies, adapted from Martha Stewart
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees (or 350 for convection). In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down side of bowl. Add eggs and vanilla and mix just to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat until combined.

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Using heaping tablespoons, form balls of dough and roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place, about 3 inches apart, on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are set in center and begin to crack, about 10 minutes. Let cookies cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.

Monday, June 18, 2012

We Need Your Help! We're SO CLOSE!

We are getting close!  We have had so many nice people cast their vote and support "The Smart Baker" in our quest to win a small business grant from Chase & Living Social.  Thank you so much!  

If you haven't yet voted, please consider taking a moment to do so.  We would so greatly appreciate it.  We have many things in the works here at The Smart Baker headquarters, and this grant would help us put many of them into motion.  

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Thank you for helping us!  

Crock Pot Cherry Almond Oatmeal

I'm not quite sure why I have been making oatmeal so much considering it is June in Florida.  But even though it is hot out, I still find it comforting to have a nice warm breakfast in the morning.  This is another one of my slow cooker oatmeal recipes that I make in advance.  I prepare a large batch of this recipe and freeze in separate 1/2 cup servings.  When time to serve, I thaw it out (either slowly overnight or quickly in the microwave), stir in some milk in, and sweeten with Truvia.  Perfect for the middle of Winter or the middle of Summer (in my weird breakfast-loving opinion).  

Slow Cooker Cherry Almond Oatmeal, adapted from The Yummy Life
1 cup dried bing cherries
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups water
1-1/2 to 2 cup uncooked old fashioned oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
Additional milk, Truvia, and sliced almonds (optional, for serving)

Coat the inside of a crock pot with cooking spray.  Add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker and stir to combine.  Cover and cook on low for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until it reaches the desired consistency.  Allow to cool slightly and then spoon into separate portions (in containers that can go in the freezer).  I scoop 1/2 cup portions into a silicone muffin pan and place it in the freezer.  When frozen, remove the oatmeal pods from their muffin pan and store in zippy bags. 

To serve, thaw, add a little milk, microwave and stir, and serve with Truvia.  Garnish with sliced almonds if desired.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches with Cream Filling

What's better than a chocolate chip cookie?  Well, TWO chocolate chip cookies sandwiched together with creamy vanilla filling is.  Up until very recently, I think the cookie sandwich was a little neglected in my kitchen.  Long, long ago, I made Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches (one of my very first blog posts, actually! More than FIVE years ago!...Wow, have I really been doing this for that long?)  About a year ago, I made Gingersnap Cookies with Lemon Ice Cream sandwiches.  And fairly recently, I made Red Velvet Whoopie Pies (which is pretty much a cakey cookie sandwich).  If I remember correctly, all of my taste testers really enjoyed all of these cookie sandwich creations.  So why haven't I made more of them?  I'm not really sure, but after making these Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches, that may have to change.  They were a lot of fun to make, and even more fun to eat.  The chocolate chip cookies had a nice height to them, they didn't flatten out very much in the oven, and they stayed pretty soft and chewy even after cooling.  

Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches, adapted slightly from What Katie's Baking
Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 7 1/2 ounces (by weight, or about 1 cup) packed brown sugar
  • 5 1/4 ounces (by weight, or about 3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 11 5/8 ounces (by weight, or about 2 3/4 cups)  all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 F, and line several cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Add butter to the bowl of an electric stand mixer and turn on the mixer.  Add the sugars and beat to combine.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat just until incorporated.  
In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixter and beat until just incorporated - do not over mix! Add chocolate chips and stir to incorporate.  
Using a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop, place rounded balls of dough onto the parchment lined cookie sheets, placing about 2 inches apart.  
Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for about 8 - 12 minutes, until the bottoms and edges are just lightly browned, and then remove from oven.  Allow to cool on the pans for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool entirely.  

Cream Filling

  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 2 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place the butter and shortening in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on low speed.  Gradually beat in the sugar.  Then add the vanilla and beat to combine.  Turn the mixer on medium - medium high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the filling is light and airy.

To assemble the cookie sandwiches:
Place half of the cookies bottom up.  Scoop cream filling into a piping bag, and pipe the filling onto the bottoms of the cookies - I usually start at the edge of the cookie and spiral inward.  Place another cookie face down on top of the cream filling and press the two cookies together slightly.  Repeat for remaining cookies, and enjoy!

Here are the cookies posing and getting ready for me to photograph them... on top of my new oven!  I've been playing around with this beauty for about two months now and I can't wait to finally tell you about it.  It is a Kitchenaid double oven, one of which is convection.  I'll tell you more about it and all the experiments I've been doing to test it very soon!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Coffee Ice Cream with Chocolate Ganache Swirl

When I started making Baked Explorations' recipe for Coffee Ice Cream, I realized I've been making a baking mistake for years.  Years!  Throughout all of the espresso flavored things I've made, I've been using Ground Espresso and not Instant Espresso powder.  So instead of dissolving away into a rich coffee flavor and leaving a smooth texture behind, mine has has grinds and flecks of espresso in my baked goods.  Oops!  Well, I had started this recipe when I figured that out, so perhaps this is the last coffee flavored thing I will make the wrong way.  But to tell you the truth, it didn't negatively affect the outcome because this ice cream was absolutely delicious.  So rich and creamy, full of coffee flavor.  It might not be a good idea to have a large serving of this shortly before bed though, because you might be up for a while.

I kept the recipe the same as it was written in the Baked Explorations book with two substitutions.  One being the espresso powder (oops) and the other being 1 tablespoon of Bailey's with Caramel instead of Kahlua - Delicious change by the way!  To see the complete recipe, visit Karen's Cookies, Cakes and More.

I also made a few additions to make things a little more interesting.  I prepared a small batch of chocolate ganache and swirled it into the ice cream at the last minute to create a chocolate fudgey swirl throughout the ice cream.  My husband wanted to add caramel sauce (he absolutely loves with Caramel Frappucino's and Caramel Macchiato's) but since I was getting a little lazy at this point, we just swirled in store bought caramel sauce.  These two additions made the ice cream out of this world!

Chocolate Ganache from Martha Stewart
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature

In a medium sauce pan, heat the heavy cream until just simmering.  Pour over the chocolate and let stand for 30 seconds. Stir until smooth.  Whisk in butter until completely incorporated.  Let cool until desired consistency.  If adding this to ice cream, cool until room temperature before adding to the ice cream.  

Visit Club Baked's website to see how the other bakers did with this recipe!


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