Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Gingerbread Peach Upside-Down Cake

Usually I'm a bit of a baking snob. I prefer to make things from scratch, and I can always tell after one bite if someone's taken a shortcut and used a box for their brownies. But sometimes life calls for a baking quickie (especially when you're in law school. Damn, did I really just say "especially when"? I really can't get away from it anymore! If anyone from my section ever reads this they will understand . . . everyone else ignore the last few comments.) I have to admit, however, that I love cakes made from boxes because they are fast, fluffy, moist, and easily adaptable so even a baking snob can add a creative spin to make the cake more authentic.

My mom has been making this recipe for me and my siblings for as long as I can remember. The robust, spicy-sweet aroma of ginger and bubbling peach syrup takes me right back to my childhood. The combo of trashy ingredients (boxed gingerbread mix, and canned peaches) takes minutes to mix, and somehow produces a sophisticated dessert that will fool any foodie into thinking you baked it from scratch. A word of warning: DO NOT attempt to replace the silky dollop of sweetened, freshly whipped cream with a squirt of its canned counterpart. Impostor whipped cream will cheapen the rich, dark cake, and transform the sweetness of the caramelized topping from coy to cloying. Avoid tragedy. Whip your own cream.

Gingerbread Peach Upside-Down Cake

1 box gingerbread mix (plus ingredients listed on the mix)
1 large can of peach havles in syrup
3/4 stick of butter
brown sugar (indeterminate amount. just have a bag handy)
1 c. heavy whipping cream
2T. powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to whatever temperature the gingerbread cake requires. Melt the butter in the microwave and pour it into a square baking pan (9x9 will work). Spoon enough brown sugar into the pan to absorb the butter, and pat it down into an even layer. Drain the peaches and lay the peach halves cut side up. Follow the directions on the gingerbread cake mix to make the batter, and then pour the batter over the peaches and brown sugar. Bake for however long the mix calls for on the box. The cake should have risen, and should look firm. Pull the cake out and test for doneness by sticking a knife halfway into the center. If it comes out with batter on it, return the cake to the oven for another 5-10 minutes and test it again. When the knife comes out clean, remove the cake and let it cool for a few minutes while you whip the cream.

Use electric beaters to whip the cup of whipping cream on high speed until soft peaks form. Add 2T. powdered sugar and whip on medium speed for another ten seconds. Do not overwhip or your whipped-cream will end up with a chunky, unpleasant texture and may taste more like butter than whipped-cream. The cream should have a fairly loose consistency.

To serve, cut a square of the cake out of the pan (try to get a peach half in there), and spoon the juices from the bottom of the pan over the cake. Dollop with copious amounts of freshly whipped cream. This dessert is best served hot from the oven!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies (chocolate sandwiching optional, but recommended)

These sandwiches (more or less the same as the ones in this month's Fine Cooking) remind me of inside-out Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The salty-sweet peanut butter "shell" steals the show. You almost don't need the chocolate filling, but why would you want one regular cookie when you could eat two cookies slathered in butter-infused chocolate (laziness is not a good excuse, trust me - I got a marriage proposal out of these cookies when I brought them to a potluck - they're that good).

Peanut Butter Cookies:

2.5 c. creamy peanut butter (you'll need about a jar and a half - the medium jars)
1.5 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 t. baking soda
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla

If you want chocolate sandwich cookies . . .
12 oz package chocolate chips
1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350. Beat the peanut butter, baking soda, and brown sugar in a medium bowl until well blended. At this point the batter tastes remarkably similar to the center of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup (grainy, salty, sweet, mmmm . . . must not eat the batter . . . ) Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until just blended (the mixture will firm up after adding the eggs). Roll 1in. balls and space them on a cookie sheet about an inch apart. Bake about 11 min, until cracked and puffed, but still moist looking.

It's basically impossible not to scarf down the entire tray of cookies as they come out of the oven, but if you have a modicum of self control, try to exercise it at this point. While the cookies cool, pop the chocolate chips in the microwave with the stick of butter (microwave safe bowl, obviously) and nuke 'em for a minute. Stir, nuke, stir, nuke, until the chips and butter melt. Stir to combine thoroughly and allow the mixture to cool.

Spread the flat side of a peanut butter cookie with chocolate, and top with another cookie. The resulting sandwiches might be roly-poly. Consider this as a sign of success. Flat sandwich cookies may be more aesthetically pleasing, but they're not nearly as satisfying as their chewy, chubby counterparts. Enjoy peanut buttery goodness whilst fending off ring-wielding men.

Variation: Oatmeal Chocolate-Toffee Peanut Butter Cookies

Nix the filling, increase the egg count to 3, add 2/3 of a cup old fashioned oats, and stir in two coarsely chopped toffee-almond Symphony bars. Bake as directed above.

**Avoid making this variation if you are: a) hungry, b) depressed, c) done with your last law school final that you totally bombed, d) all of the above. Exceptions should be made if you are depressed due to rejection. In that case the cookies will probably be less damaging than tequila.