Dear Mary Beth: I love chocolate truffles but want more of a cookie to serve at a Valentine’s dinner and to give as gifts. Any suggestion?
Answer: I do have a favorite cookie that comes from Taste of Home magazine that will fit the bill. This dense cookie looks like a truffle, has a very fudgy center and a crisp exterior. They can be baked and frozen, if desired. I like to dust them with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.
Chocolate Truffle Cookies
4 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a microwave or double boiler, melt unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup of chocolate chips and butter; cool for 10 minutes. In a mixing bowl, beat sugar and eggs for 2 minutes. Beat in vanilla and the chocolate mixture. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; beat into chocolate mixture. Stir in the remaining chocolate chips. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours.
Remove about 1 cup of dough. With floured hands, roll into 1-in. balls. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until lightly puffed and set. Coll on pan 3-4 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Yield: 4 dozen.
Dear Mary Beth: I am thinking about buying a new range and wondered what you thought of buying one with a convection oven. I am not a gourmet cook but I do love to bake. Can you shed light on the pros and cons of convection cooking so I can make an informed decision?
Answer: I like convection ovens and personally have a range that is both conventional and convection. There are pro and cons for both and that is why a combo is always nice for the home cook.
Convection ovens have a fan that blows warm air over and around the food. As a result, foods roast or bake more evenly and more quickly. In fact, foods tend to cook 25% faster than conventional ovens. Fine Cooking magazine has a wonderful explanation of this phenomenon: "To help understand this concept, consider wind chill: When cold air blows against you on a blustery winter day, you feel colder more quickly than you do on a windless day of the same temperature. The same applies with heat and convection cooking!”
Conventional ovens tend to have hot spots that shows up especially in baked products. Convection cooking eliminates most of this due to the air movement. Convection cooking also browns better and saves some energy costs due to shortened cooking times. I like to use the convection mode for pies, pizza, cookies that are not delicate, large roasts and roasted vegetables. You’ll enjoy the fact that you can bake two layers of cookies without reversing the cookie sheets to get them both browned. You’ll love the extra crisp skin that develops on poultry and how fast you’ll be able to roast a large tray of vegetables.
Recipes that do not benefit from convection cooking are delicate cookies, cake batters, quick breads and souffles. Yeast breads are debatable because a crisp crust and nice browning is produced yet some argue that the interior of the breads tend to be drier. I bake a beautiful large white bread in the convection mode and it is perfectly moist.
This brings me to a final comment. If you have never used a convection oven before you will need to be adventurous and be willing to experiment with your tried and true recipes in the convection mode by experimenting with the temperature and timing. Most convection ovens advise a reduction of 25 degrees from your conventional oven recipes. The timing will also be different due to the circulation of the warm air. Consequently, you will need to check recipes for doneness sooner than you did before and noted these on your recipe for future reference.
If you decided to move forward on your purchase, know there will be a learning curve, but your attention to detail will pay delicious dividends.
Mary Beth Jung is a Hendersonville resident. She is a freelance food writer, recipe developer, cookbook author and the founding food editor of Taste of Home magazine. Email your culinary questions to Mary Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org for this monthly column.