Cooking with Copy: Childhood favorites
So we decided this week’s menu would revolve around the flavors of yore: s’mores, peanut butter and jelly, and popcorn (with some sprinkles thrown in for good measure).
Our first foray into kiddie cuisine was a recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars from Martha Stewart. They looked a little sandy in the photo, but we were convinced they’d deliciously deliver the flavors from our youth.
Well, we were wrong. Granted, we made a bit of a mistake. Lauren thought this recipe would be filled with the most peanut-buttery goodness if we used a natural peanut butter made of nothing but peanuts because sugar and salt are in the PB&J bar recipe anyway. Naively believing any natural peanut butter would do, we twisted open our first jar of creamy unsalted Kettle Brand Organic Peanut Butter (what we happened to have on hand) and could immediately tell our baking was headed in a bad direction. But, hey, we weren’t about to take a 1 a.m. trip to Schnucks, so we barreled on ahead. In retrospect, we think this recipe would be better if made with a Jif or Skippy type of peanut butter, given that we kept having to mix in additional sugar and salt in an attempt to make our dough taste anything like the peanut butter heaven we imagined it would be.
Our next tips (and we’re serious about these): Use a bowl that fits your electric mixer well and cover the bowl with a towel while mixing. If you choose to ignore these helpful pieces of advice, be prepared for the Peanut Butter Apocalypse of 2012 in your kitchen. But really. Even after cleaning the kitchen twice, we keep discovering new deposits of dough. Our latest find? Dough on the ceiling. Yes, the ceiling six feet above where the dough was mixed.
Once Caro had completed the arduous task of mixing, we were faced with a new challenge: how to move two-thirds of it into our baking dish. Sounds easy enough, but when you realize that the bowl of dough weighs about the same as Caro’s 1000-page accounting textbook, it gets a little tricky. It took both of us, one to hold the bowl and the other to scoop into the dish, to accomplish the task, but it happened.
The Bonne Maman strawberry preserves we used in place of the called-for jelly were the best, most fragrant part of the recipe, and we nearly ate them straight out of the measuring cup. After regaining our senses, we smoothed the preserves atop the dough and followed with a third layer of crumbled dough and haphazardly scattered peanut shrapnel. See, the recipe said to chop the peanuts, but Lauren instead shoved the required amount into a Ziploc snack-size bag and began pulverizing/beating it with a wooden meat-tenderizing mallet. The result? After the second whack, the bag burst open, and peanuts suddenly covered every surface of the Copy Kitchen, which will clearly be recovering from these Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars for a while. Our advice? Use a bag with extra room in it when filled with the peanuts and double-bag, or do as the recipe says and just chop them with a knife.
These took forever to bake in the oven, but after 45 minutes we had a yummy-smelling lead brick on our hands. The bars were indeed extremely sandy and fell apart when cut, but they did taste much better than the dough did. In a word, they’re best described as rich, with a cup of butter and 2 1/2 cups of peanut butter in the dough. While Caro thought they were a little too intense and decided she’d rather stick with the classic sandwich to satisfy her PB&J cravings, Lauren was quite a fan of the bars and declared that she would try the recipe again with a different brand of peanut butter.After the trying times we endured with the PB&J bars, it was time for s’mores. The coolest new discovery Caro has made in working through her numerous food blog subscriptions is that the tiny marshmallows that usually come in Swiss Miss hot chocolate packets are now sold in a jar as Jet-Puffed Mallow Bits. They’re like Lucky Charms without obstacles. The jar was nearly demolished before we even started baking. So, imagine our delight when we found a s’mores cookie recipe that incorporates these crunchy little bites of happiness. The recipe comes from Amanda Green Bottoms of the blog Kevin & Amanda and she calls them Gooey S’mores Cookies. With an ingredient list that includes butter, brown and white sugars, graham crackers, chocolate chips, and the aforementioned Mallow Bits, these babies were destined to be a hit, and we hoped they’d relieve some of the discouragement we felt after our peanut-butter-and-jelly adventures.
Boy, were we ever right. First of all, they are scrumptious. They taste just like s’mores, with the added textural awesomeness of chocolate chips and tiny crunchy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside marshmallows. Lauren was at first skeptical of the cinnamon grahams Amanda calls for, preferring the regular ones, but Caro insisted that Amanda’s recipes are usually right on the money and that we should follow her advice. We did, and it was a totally commendable decision—the slight hint of cinnamon makes these unique enough to stand out among all the s’mores-themed desserts out there. Another reason to love this recipe: The dough comes together easily and is lovely to work with. In other words, we can confidently report that there is no s’mores cookie dough on our ceiling…and this is good. One last thing to appreciate, at least in Caro’s opinion, is how super delicious the dough is. In fact, Caro might have attempted to withhold some of the dough from being baked just so she could eat it by the raw, delectable spoonful. Don’t tell Lauren, who is an adamant believer that everything is better once baked.
Anyhow, baked or unbaked, these cookies were great, and both Lauren and Caro would make and eat them again without so much as a whisper of complaint. The only drawback is that, although the recipe title claims the cookies are gooey, we found them to be a bit dry, though not dry enough for us to stop eating them. Perhaps the baking time in the recipe is a bit too long—keep this in mind if you try these cookies at home.
We saved the easiest recipe for last, since we were hoping for an almost-instant-gratification-yielding treat after spending so much time on the previous two recipes. This treat came in the form of Party Popcorn, which we found on the blog She Wears Many Hats. It seems as simple as can be: You pop some plain popcorn of your choosing, melt some white chocolate, drizzle it over the popcorn and cover the whole concoction in adorable rainbow nonpareils. Let us tell you what you may not anticipate when you initially think this recipe is the easiest way to create edible happiness: 1. There appears to be a two-second window between the points at which white chocolate is almost melted and burnt. It is almost impossible to know when this window is, so your chocolate is likely to be either too thick to pour or seized and unusable. 2. Even in a perfectly melted state, white chocolate is surprisingly thick. Our “drizzle” looked more like randomly dropped white chocolate blobs over the popcorn. 3. Trying to work these blobs throughout the popcorn results in extremely messy hands. Additionally, you have to do this all quite quickly because the sprinkles will fall to the bottom of the bowl if the white chocolate has dried and they have nothing to stick to.After executing this recipe to the best of our ability, we can say we were pleased at best, though definitely not impressed, with the results. The plain, unsalted popcorn is predictably flavorless and functions really only as a vehicle for the white chocolate, so why not just eat a bar of white chocolate? For Caro, the one winning aspect of this recipe is the texture. “The combination of the fluffy popcorn, the melt-in-your-mouth white chocolate, and the crunchy sprinkles are actually pretty addictive,” she says, and she could not stop eating it for that reason. Lauren, on the other hand, took a bite and said, “It is actually painful to eat these sprinkles,” suggesting she was less enthusiastic than Caro about this one. Our final word was that we would consider eating this if it were placed in front of us, but we wouldn’t bother to make it again.
That’s all we have for you this week. We hope this nostalgic journey conjured up some memories of spending summer camp nights by bonfires, convincing your parents to buy you popcorn at the movies and finding peanut butter sandwiches neatly nestled in your childhood lunchboxes. Farewell from the Copy Kitchen, happy end of classes, and good luck on finals!