Free time is a novel concept for me. After having to high jump hurdles the last few weeks and constantly being assaulted by a never ending stream of work, this lull is so strange and almost unpleasant! I don’t know what to do with myself! TV? Read? Sleep? What DO people do in their free time anyway? As a workaholic, this is just so strange and I am antsy – that feeling of maybe having forgotten to do something keeps eating at me because it just doesn’t make sense that I suddenly have so much free time. So, what to do? Well, what I do best – bake.
Wednesday afternoon, the sun was streaming into my window, warming my desk right under the window sill. I’m sitting and staring blankly at the blue sky, wondering what to do… Then Kari calls and boom. I was motivated enough to work up a storm, anything to keep busy. So, on the menu: Smitten/One Million Dollar Fusion Peanut Butter Cookies and Alice Water’s Apple Tart (a repost). The peanut butter cookies are a hybrid of Smitten Kitchen’s Peanut Butter Cookies (our favorite go-to recipe for peanut butter cookies) and Pillsbury’s One Million Dollar Peanut Butter Cookie. Yes it really is worth a million dollars. We love the Smitten dough (divine and perfect all on its own), but for a twist and just to experiment, we also used the Million Dollar filling – a simple peanut butter and confectioner’s sugar mixture stuffed inside each cookie for a double dose of peanut butter taste. And they turned out beautifully! So wonderful, we made TWO batches in one night (Kari kept eating them!), even though that required picking up another jar of peanut butter and getting our hands dirty again.
The apple tart was wonderful as well – Aman’s been begging us for an apple pie for MONTHS, and we owe it to her. It was a great way to use up apples past their prime, which is (coincidentally) what we had. And it is an Alice Water’s recipe, so it HAS to be good. Also as a side note, I now work at Ici Ice Cream, owned and operated by Mary Canales, former pastry chef at Chez Panisse and Alice Waters‘ protégé. C’est magnifique, no? I am very excited, and I will be writing about my experience there very soon. But back to baking… So apple tart à la mode was wonderful – perfect for feeding hungry girls and a hungry someoneiknow, who made a trip up to Berkeley upon hearing how bored and restless I was. It was the cherry on top, or dollop of whipped cream on the side, or in my case, the freshly grated nutmeg on my masala chai latte. Thank you soo much! In retrospect, however, having free time is exhausting. The next morning, I kept dozing off in OChem, and I barely made it through the day, even with 2 tall lattes in my system. So the lesson here – unexpected and occasional breaks are wonderful, but I really can’t do it for long.
Smitten Million Dollar Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
This time, we skipped the chocolate and peanut butter chips, but instead rolled the balls of dough in cinnamon sugar. You are going to love these, I just know it.
For the dough:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the PB Filling:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup creamy natural peanut butter (mine was slightly chilled)
1 tablespoon honey
For the Cinnamon Sugar:
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly.
Mix all the ingredients for the filling until all well incorporated. Set aside.
Stir together the cinnamon sugar. Set aside.
Grease hands with oil. Scoop tablespoonfuls into your pal and flatten. If done correctly, the dough should not be sticky. Ball a little (1/4 tsp maybe?) filling into your flattened dough and use the cookie dough to cover the filling, like you would if you were wrapping a dumpling. Round up the balls of dough and roll them into the cinnamon sugar until well coated. Place dough balls onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. It is not necessary to flatten these cookies, they flatted fine on their own I think. Though if you put too much filling, your cookies will look like they a malignant tumor. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not over bake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Enjoy!
Alice Waters Apple Tart
Also found on Smitten Kitchen, only my favorite blog ever.
This is a very simple tart, and I eyeball everything, from the sugar to apples. Play around with it until you get what you like pretty much. Large raw sugar crystals would have also been a nice touch… and maybe a top… I’m thinking a crumbly streusel topping? But then it wouldn’t be a tart… Either way, this recipe is amazing!
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water
2 pounds apples (Golden Delicious or another tart, firm variety), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 tablespoons sugar
*I also added about 1.5 tbs cinnamon as well for an extra flavor
MIX flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend in a mixer until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; mix until biggest pieces look like large peas.
DRIBBLE in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. Toss with hands, letting it fall through fingers, until it’s ropy with some dry patches. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk; refrigerate. After at least 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it’s malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.
PLACE dough in a lightly greased 9-inch round tart pan, or simply on a parchment-lined baking sheet if you wish to go free-form, or galette-style with it. Heat oven to 400°F. (If you have a pizza stone, place it in the center of the rack.)
OVERLAP apples on dough in a ring 2 inches from edge if going galette-style, or up to the sides if using the tart pan. Continue inward until you reach the center. Fold any dough hanging over pan back onto itself; crimp edges at 1-inch intervals.
BRUSH melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge and the other 3 tablespoons over apples.
BAKE in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes), making sure to rotate tart every 15 minutes.
REMOVE tart from oven, and slide off parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes.
SERVE warm with vanilla bean ice cream. It won’t last long enough to fully cool, I promise.
Well that’s it for now. I’m retreating to the hills this weekend (Duncan Mills, near Russian River). So as always, happy cooking and until soon!