Coconut Pecan Chocolate Chunk Bars {ModBak}

This is the last bar cookie recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge. If you don’t like coconut, you won’t like these bars. If you do, you’ll love them.

This recipe starts with a rich, buttery crust made from flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and lots of butter. After mixing up the ingredients, I pressed the dough gently into the pan, then baked it for about 15 minutes, until it just started to take on some color.

While the crust was cooling, I mixed up the topping, which consisted of brown sugar, eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla, sweetened shredded coconut, pecans, and bittersweet chocolate. I mixed all these ingredients together and spread the topping over the cooled crust.

I baked the bars at 350°F for about 25 minutes, until the filling was set and nicely browned. These bars smelled so good while they were baking, with the chocolate and pecans, and with the coconut getting nice and toasty.

I let the bars cool in the pan, then cut them into the recommended 2-inch squares. They were as good as they smelled. Rich, buttery, chocolatey, and with a wonderful coconut flavor.

The only thing I would do differently next time would be to cut them smaller, as they were insanely rich. I could easily see cutting the recipe in half and still having enough for the whole family. Or perhaps making the full recipe but freezing half of the slab before cutting it into bars.

Either way, I will definitely be making these again soon.

Nick Malgieri’s Old-fashioned Raisin Bread {Recipe}

My friend and baking mentor, Nick Malgieri, has a new book coming out in September. I have had a chance to preview some of the recipes, and I was excited to see yet another one on his blog the other day, this recipe for old-fashioned raisin bread. It’s simple, makes a beautiful dough, and results in the best raisin bread you’ve ever tasted.

I invited my friends, Kayte and Nancy, to make this bread with me, so we all mixed, kneaded, and baked in our kitchens in Indiana, California, and Ohio, at the same time. Actually Kayte finished first, which means her loaves were gone before Nancy’s were even baked.

This bread was a delight to make. The dough was perfectly elastic and easy to work with. It was a bit of a job getting all those currants and golden raisins kneaded in, but it was so worth it.

The finished loaves were beautiful, with a lovely, soft crumb and studded with raisins and currants. And the taste was out of this world. As I always do when I make bread, I tasted it several different ways — plain, buttered, toasted (plain, buttered, and with cinnamon-sugar). And I can honestly say I would gladly eat it any of those ways. My favorite was toasted with a little butter, although the cinnamon-sugar was outstanding, too.

This is definitely a bread to put on your short list to try. But be warned: it will make you want to pick up Nick’s book when it comes out in September.

Old-fashioned Raisin Bread (from Nick Malgieri’s blog and upcoming book, BREAD)

Nothing fancy here but a slightly sweetened and enriched white bread loaded with dark and golden raisins.  The recipe makes two loaves and they’ll be gone before you know it.

1 cup/225 grams room temperature tap water, about 75°F3 teaspoons/10 grams fine granulated active dry or instant yeast

1 cup/225 grams whole milk, scalded and cooled

5 cups/675 grams unbleached bread flour

1/3 cup/70 grams sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons/10 grams fine sea salt

4 tablespoons/55 grams unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces and softened

1/1/2 cups/150 grams dark raisins or currants

1 1/2 cups/150 grams golden raisins

Two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 3/4-inch loaf pans brushed with soft butter or coated with vegetable cooking spray

  1. Whisk the water and yeast together in the bowl of a stand mixer; whisk in the cooled milk.
  2. Stir together the flour, sugar, and salt, and add to the mixer bowl.  Use a large rubber spatula to stir the ingredients to a rough dough.  Distribute the pieces of butter all over the top of the dough.
  3. Place on the mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on lowest speed until the butter is absorbed, about 2 minutes.  Increase the speed to low/medium and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, an additional 3 minutes.
  4. Decrease the speed to lowest and add the raisins a little at a time, continuing to mix until they are fairly evenly absorbed by the dough.
  5. Scrape the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to ensure that the raisins are evenly distributed in the dough.
  6. Drop the dough into a buttered or sprayed bowl and turn it over so that the top is coated.  Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough ferment until it doubles in bulk, about an hour or longer if it’s cool in the kitchen.
  7. Invert the risen dough to a lightly floured work surface and cut it into 2 equal pieces, each about 715 grams.  Gently pat one of the pieces to a rough square and roll it from the top down, jellyroll style, into a tight cylinder.  Pinch the edge in place and drop into one of the pans, seam side down.  Repeat with the other piece of dough.
  8. Cover the loaves with buttered or sprayed plastic wrap and let them proof until the dough comes about an inch above the edge of the pan.
  9. Once the loaves are almost proofed, set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.
  10. Place the pans in the oven and decrease the temperature to 350 degrees.  Bake the raisin bread until it is well risen and has an internal temperature of 200 degrees, about 45 to 55 minutes.
  11. Unmold and cool the loaves on rack on their sides.  Let cool several hours before wrapping.

Thanks, Nick, for another great recipe! This is one I will be making again and again.

Indiana Persimmon Pudding

A few months ago, I was shopping the Borders going out of business sale, and I came across a book of regional American Thanksgiving recipes. It was in the remainder section, and with the additional mark-downs, it was practically free. I picked up a copy for myself and a few extra copies for some of my online baking friends. Once everyone had their books, we all set out to find the recipes we wanted to try.

My friend Kayte was the first to point out this recipe, and I knew as soon as I saw it that I wanted to try it. Although I’m a Hoosier born and bred, I never had persimmon pudding growing up. If fact, even though I lived in Indiana until I was 10 years old, the first time I tasted a persimmon was in high school in Lancaster County, PA.

The most challenging part of this recipe was finding the persimmons. They are in season from October through February, but it was mid-November before they appeared in the produce section of my local grocery store. And the ones that I bought were quite underripe. If you know anything about persimmons, you know that you can’t eat them until they are dead ripe or your mouth will completely dry up and leave you puckered like a toothless old codger. So I put my persimmons in a paper bag and waited. And waited. And waited.

It was several weeks (yes, weeks) before they were ripe. And they actually could have benefitted from another week or so. But my patience was at an end, so I peeled and mashed them and pressed on with the pudding.

Besides the persimmons, the recipe called for butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, buttermilk, and heavy cream. After mixing the ingredients, I baked the pudding at 350°F for about 45 minutes, until the pudding was set and nicely browned.

This bakes up more like a cake or custard than what I usually think of as pudding. It smelled really good coming out of the oven, and I was glad the recipe said to eat it warm. I didn’t taste a strong “persimmony” flavor, but the pudding was really delicious. We ate it with a dollop of whipped cream for dessert the evening I baked it, and continued to enjoy it over the next few days.

Kayte claims to be able to buy persimmon pulp in the frozen section of her local groceries. If I am ever able to find that around here, I will probably try this recipe again. But as much as I enjoyed it, I don’t think I have the patience the wait for persimmons to ripen to make it very often.

Raisin Pecan Spice Bars {ModBak}

The third recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge is an old-fashioned, straight from your grandmother’s oven kind of recipe. Spicy, chock full of raisins and nuts, Nick Malgieri hits the nail on the head when he describes these bars as “homey”.

I made a half recipe. We had plenty of sweets around, and I knew that since these bars had raisins in them, the girls would leave them for me. So instead of the 9 x 13-inch pan called for in the recipe, I broke out an 8 x 8-inch pan and lined it with parchment foil.

The bars have a lot of ingredients in them, but they mixed up quickly and were in the oven in just a few minutes. I baked the batter at 350°F for about 25 minutes, until it was well-risen and spongy to the touch, about like a cake.

I cooled the cake in the pan, then inverted it onto a cutting board, peeled off the parchment, and turned it right side up. I cut the cake into 2-inch bars.

These bars were so good! They had an almost gingerbread-like spiciness to them, and the raisins and pecans gave just the right amount of flavor and texture. To my surprise, the kids even tried them — and liked them!

This recipe is definitely a repeat. It’s especially perfect for the holidays or those cold Winter days when you want something homey and comforting to warm you.

Sour Cream Brownies & Caramel Crumb Bars {ModBak}

Today, we bring you a Modern Baker Challenge two-fer. One thing that I love about baking cookies, brownies, and bars is that it’s almost as easy to make two recipes as it is to just make one. In fact, growing up I don’t ever recall my Mom making just one type of cookie when she baked. And she still makes them in multiples to this day, as evidenced by the fact that she often shows up here with bags of Snickerdoodles, chocolate chips, and peanut butter cookies.

So it was not at all unusual for me to decide to bake Sour Cream Brownies and Caramel Crumb Bars from the Cookies, Bars & Biscotti section of The Modern Baker on the same day. In fact, I’ve baked a number of the cookie recipes in this section this way, even though I’ve blogged them separately. But there was just something about the way these two looked on a plate together that made me decide they wanted to be in the same post.

I started with the Sour Cream Brownies. Like the Cocoa Nib Brownies, these babies are loaded with bittersweet chocolate. Nick Malgieri says that the inclusion of the sour cream cuts back the sweetness just a bit and keeps the brownies moist, and I’d have to agree. These brownies are very rich, but not cloying; and they are moist and fudgy, even after a day or so in the fridge.

If you’ve ever struggled with melting chocolate over a pan of simmering water while holding a bowl and trying not burn your fingers, or attempted to melt it in the microwave without burning it, you’ll appreciate Nick’s technique for melting the chocolate in this recipe. I melted the 6 ounces of butter called for in the recipe in a saucepan and let it bubble for a few seconds. Then I removed the pan from the heat, dropped in the chocolate chunks, and shook the pan to submerge the chocolate in the hot butter. By the time I had mixed the brown sugar, eggs, sour cream, salt, and vanilla in the mixer, the chocolate was melted and ready to be whisked into the butter.

I stirred the chocolate mixture, and then the flour and walnuts, into the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula — another trick I learned from Nick. Overmixing the batter results in tough brownies and fallen cookies, so he recommends mixing in the last few ingredients, including the flour, by hand.

I spread the batter in the pan, smoothed the top, and sprinkled it with a few more walnuts.

I baked the brownies at 350°F for 30 minutes, and not a second more. They still looked very moist in the center, but that’s exactly how the recipe said they should look.

I set the brownies aside to cool. Cutting them would have to wait a day, as Nick also recommends refrigerating brownies overnight. This makes moist brownies like these easier to cut and intensifies the chocolate flavor.

While the brownies were baking, I mixed up the Caramel Crumb Bars. These bars are Nick’s favorite cookie, and I can see why. They consist of three layers — a buttery dough, caramel filling, and crumb topping. And yet they are surprisingly easy to make.

I began by mixing the dough in the mixer. It was made of butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and flour, all mixed together to a soft, silky texture reminiscent of Scottish shortbread dough. I pressed 3/4 of the dough into the pan for the bottom crust. I put the pan in the refrigerator to chill and added a bit more flour to the remaining dough to make the crumb topping.

The next step was to make the caramel. Despite my previous issues with making caramel for semolina cake and pineapple tatin, I have since had better success with caramel, so I felt pretty good about making the filling for these bars. Besides, this caramel started with sweetened, condensed milk and light corn syrup, so I was halfway home before I ever began.

I put the milk and corn syrup into a pan with butter and dark brown sugar. I brought it to a low boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes, until the caramel was thick and had taken on just a little bit of color. I set the caramel aside to cool for a few minutes before assembling the bars.

I spread the caramel over the chilled dough, then sprinkled the crumbs on top.

By this time the brownies were finished baking, so I put the caramel bars into the oven, which was still set at 350°F. I baked the bars for 30 minutes, until the filling was a deep, caramel color and the topping had baked through.

I cooled the bars in the pan for about 20 minutes, then cut them. Because of the thick, gooey caramel, these bars are easier to cut when still slightly warm. And although the recipe says to cool them to room temperature before serving, I can attest that they are delicious when they are still a bit warm.

I can easily see why the caramel crumb bars are Nick’s favorites. The sweet, creamy caramel filling is out of this world, and it pairs nicely with the soft, buttery, slightly chewy crust. And of course, crumb topping goes well with almost any sweet. These are definitely on the repeat list. In fact, just writing this post has me thinking about making them to take to work tomorrow.

The brownies came out of the fridge moist and chewy. They were rich, dense, and oh-so-chocolatey. And of course, walnuts are a classic addition to brownies and gave these a nice crunch.

Having made a number of Nick’s brownie recipes, I am convinced that using real chocolate, rather than cocoa or chocolate chips, is the way to go for rich, moist brownies. The only thing I’m not sure of is whether I liked these brownies or the cocoa nibs ones better. I’ll probably have to make both of them together so I can do a side-by-side comparison. In the interest of baking science, of course.

Honey Peanut Wafers {ModBak}

As I scanned through the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of The Modern Baker, these cookies caught my eye. I mean, who wouldn’t love cookies made with honey-roasted peanuts? The only ingredient I didn’t already have in the cupboard was the peanuts, so I picked up a can the next time I was at the store. I knew if I could keep everyone away from the peanuts, I could make these cookies anytime I got a taste for them.

So the other day when I saw that Abby had made these and really liked them, I decided the time was right. I had just ordered a pizza, and the recipe looked easy enough to make while I waited for the pizza guy to get here.

Other than the honey-roasted peanuts, these cookies contain flour, baking soda, sugar, honey, egg, and butter. I began by mixing the flour and baking soda in a bowl, then whisking together the sugar, honey, and egg in another bowl. I mixed in the butter, then the flour, and finally the peanuts.

I dropped the dough onto cookie sheets lined with Silpat, then flattened the dough with wet fingers. I’m not sure I flattened them quite enough, or perhaps I used too much dough for each cookie, but my cookies weren’t as thin and crispy as Abby’s or the ones pictured in the book. They were fairly crisp, though, especially after they cooled completely.

These cookies were really delicious. At first, I thought they were just OK, but after they sat overnight, they were amazing.

It’s great to have a cookie that you can mix up and bake in the time it takes to get a pizza delivered. And when it’s a cookie that’s this delicious, it  might just be dangerous, too.

Since I am blogging nearly every recipe in The Modern Baker, I am not publishing the recipes. If you like what you see in this and other posts, I would encourage you to buy the book. I guarantee you won’t regret it. If you’d like to test drive a few of Nick’s recipes before committing yourself, he has a number of them, including the Honey Peanut Wafers, on his blog.

Sicilian Fig Bars {ModBak} — Move Over, Newtons!

When I saw this recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of The Modern Baker, I knew I wanted to make them. I love figs, and I’m especially crazy about Fig Newtons. So I signed up for the official Modern Baker Challenge post and added figs to the grocery list. I have been trying to bake the recipes in this section in order, but once I had figs in the cupboard, I couldn’t wait to make these.

The ingredients list is short: figs, water, apricot preserves, dark rum, cinnamon, and cloves. And other than the figs, I had everything else on hand. After snipping the figs into a saucepan, I added the remaining ingredients, brought it to a boil, and simmered everything for 10 minutes or so, until the figs were soft.  I puréed the fig mixture in the food processor, then set it aside while I prepared the dough.


The dough for the fig bars is the same dough used to make biscotti regina. I made a double batch of the biscotti dough, half of which I used for the regina, and the other half to make these fig bars.

Beginning with 1/3 of the dough, I rolled it into a 12-inch rope.

I flattened the rope into a rectangle about 4 inches wide.

Then I spread 1/3 of the fig mixture on the dough,…

… folded the top half over the center,…

… and folded up the bottom half. I pressed the dough to seal it, then flipped it seam side down and put it on a cookie sheet.

I made three dough cylinders, which I put on an unrimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

I baked the bars at 350°F for about 20 minutes, until the dough was firm and golden. As I removed the pan from the oven, I inadvertently tipped it ever so slightly. Unfortunately, given the flat, rimless cookie sheet and the slickness of the parchment paper, that was enough to send 2 of the 3 cookie bars sliding off the tray and onto the bottom of the oven. Note to self: next time, use a jellyroll pan.

I let the remaining bar cool, then cut it into cookies. They weren’t pretty, but they were delicious. Both the dough and filling reminded me of my beloved Fig Newtons, especially in texture. But the filling was much more flavorful. The apricot preserves added a little citrusy sweetness, while the rum, cinnamon, and cloves gave it a spicy depth.

My fig bars could never pass for Fig Newtons. But I would pass up Newtons for these fig bars any day.

Biscotti Regina {ModBak} — Not Just for Dunking

I know what you’re thinking: biscotti — one of those sliced and double-baked biscuits great for dunking in coffee or tea but tooth-shatteringly hard on their own. And most of the time, you’d be right. But the word biscotti in Italian simply means “cookie”. And the biscotti we’re talking about today are just that: cookies.

I don’t know much about Italian history, but I know I would have loved Queen Margherita di Savoia, the Queen consort of Italy during the reign of her husband, Umberto I. The Queen (the regina in biscotti regina) had such a sweet tooth that she used to visit local bakeries and sweets shops with her ladies in waiting. And if she really liked the treats she found, she was known to ennoble the pastry shop owner, bestowing on him the rank of cavaliere (knight). Now that’s my kind of royal.

These cookies are not as sweet as others I have made thus far in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge. The recipe, which makes 40 good-sized cookies, only calls for 1/2 cup sugar. In addition to the sugar, the dough contains flour, baking powder, salt, butter, vanilla, and eggs. The dough mixed up quickly in the food processor and came out moist and powdery.

After a few turns on the pastry board, the dough came together into a nice ball.

I shaped the dough into a cylinder, half of which I set aside. I divided the other half into four pieces.

To form the cookies, I rolled each piece of dough into a rope, …

… cut the rope into 3-inch pieces, …

… and dipped the pieces in an egg wash, then white sesame seeds.

I’m pretty lazy when it comes to making cookies, and I usually shy away from recipes that require rolling, shaping, or dipping. In this case, after shaping the cookies, they had to be double dipped — first drenched in egg wash, then rolled in sesame seeds. But it all came together very quickly, and I didn’t find the process at all tedious. In fact, I kind of enjoyed making them.

I baked the cookies at 325°F for 30 minutes, until they were firm and the sesame seeds looked nicely toasted.

I was curious to try these cookies. I knew they wouldn’t be overly sweet; and with the sesame seed coating, I wondered if they’d taste like cookies at all. They weren’t as sweet as most cookies I’m used to; and the seeds did lend a savory element. But these little babies were more than the sum of their parts. Sweet, savory, slightly crunchy, good for dipping or eating out of hand. I enjoyed these cookies more than I thought I would. And I’ll definitely be making them again.

And if you’re wondering what I did with the other half of the dough, check back in a few days to read about my Sicilian Fig Bar (mis)adventure.

Salt & Pepper Straws and Cheese Straws {ModBak}

The final two recipes in the Puff Pastries section of the Modern Baker Challenge were among the easiest. They are also the best argument I can think of for keeping puff pastry in your freezer at all times. With puff pastry on hand, you can have these delicious snacks baked and ready to eat in no time.

Unlike my friend Margaret, who set out to make salt and pepper straws and ended up making cheese straws instead, I set out to bake salt and pepper straws and ended up making both.

These were so easy to make. I rolled out the puff pastry, spread half of it with egg wash, then covered half the egg wash with salt and pepper, and the rest with cheese and paprika. The recipe called for salt with the cheese, but when I made them previously, I found the cheese straws a bit too salty for my taste.

Normally, you would cover the egg wash with either salt and pepper or the cheese mixture, but I was making a half batch of each.

If that looks like a lot of salt and pepper, it is. In fact, I thought it might be a bit too heavy on the salt. But I like to follow the recipe the first time I make something, so I stuck with the amounts given (cut in half to account for making a half batch, of course).

After folding the unadorned half of the dough over the rest, I rolled it out into a large rectangle, then cut the dough into 1/2-inch strips. I baked the straws for about 20 minutes, until they were puffy and golden. (I don’t have a picture of the finished product, so you’ll have to take my word for it. If you want to see what they looked like, check out Margaret’s cheese straws.)

The cheese straws were delicious. Without the additional salt, they were perfectly savory, cheesy, and, yes, salty. The pepper in the salt and pepper straws was just right, too. It gave them the right amount of bite but didn’t overwhelm the other flavors. I did find them a bit too salty, as did my tasters. Next time I think I’ll cut the salt in half, and I bet they’ll be perfect.