Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fudgy Brownies

Fudgy Brownies - made May 27, 2018 from The Perfect Cookie from America's Test Kitchen
Sometimes you just need a good brownie. you go. If you’ve read any part of my blog for a little while, you’ll know how opposed I am to box mixes. Brownies from scratch are so easy and taste so much better that I can’t even consider using a boxed brownie mix. Yes, I’m a brownie snob and you can be too.
If time is an issue for you and that’s why you default to a mix, here’s an easy tip: when you have 2 minutes (literally, it doesn’t even take that long), measure out and combine the dry ingredients then pour and seal into a Ziploc bag until you’re ready to bake. If you have an extra minute, line your brownie pan with foil and set it aside with the bag of dry ingredients. Both can sit there until you’re ready to bake brownies.
Then when you’re ready to make your brownies, you can do all the measuring and mixing in the time it takes for your oven to preheat. Heck, you’d even have time to wash and dry your utensils and put them away before your oven is ready. I’ve tested out this scenario so I know of what I speak.
This is a good, basic, fudgy brownie recipe. My usual tips for brownies apply: don’t overbake it, take it out of the oven when the toothpick poked in a corner comes out clean AND a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs but not raw batter. Let the brownies cool completely. Unless you like your brownies to be mush. I like mine cooled so that the fudgy texture is apparent. If it’s too warm, it’ll be mushy rather than fudgy. Oh, and as always, use the good chocolate. 
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Combine bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate and butter in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water over low heat. Whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk in cocoa and let mixture cool slightly.
  3. Whisk sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt in large bowl until combined. Whisk chocolate mixture into sugar mixture until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, stir in flour until just combined. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top.
  4. Bake until toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 35 to 40 minutes. Let brownies cool completely in pan on wire rack before removing from pan, cutting and serving.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies - made May 27, 2018 from The Perfect Cookie by America's Test Kitchen
I’m still using my baking book and I have to say I’m feeling rather self-congratulatory about it. Usually I have baking recipe ADD and am always trolling for new recipes on pinterest rather than looking to my own bookshelves and using what I have. I’ve made several recipes out of this book and here am I again *pat* *pat*.
So far this book has been a pretty good investment. Actually, it was a gift from a friend so….even better ROI. The snickerdoodlerecipe was good and the oatmeal cookie recipe turned out well with my chocolate chip variation. This recipe for chocolate chip cookies didn’t break the good-recipe streak.
I have both a high bar and a low bar for chocolate chip cookies. Honestly I don’t ask for much beyond that it has crisp edges, a chewy middle, and brown sugar caramel overtones in the flavor while also not being too sweet. Many chocolate chip cookie recipes I’ve tried have met this (fairly low) bar. The high bar comes in whether I like it well enough amongst the dozens/hundreds I’ve tried to both remember it and make it again.

I’m happy to report this recipe does meet that bar. At least for now. Whether it’ll stand the test of time or be knocked out by a new favorite remains to be seen but for now, this was a tasty addition to my ever-growing repertoire of chocolate chip cookies. The dough was easy to handle and shape, froze beautifully and baked “perfectly” as the title proclaims. I don’t know about whether it’s the perfect chocolate chip cookie since “perfect” is different for everyone but it was a pretty good cookie.

1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups (7 1/2 ounces) chocolate chips
  1. Melt 10 tablespoons butter in small or medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, swirling skillet constantly, until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer browned butter to large bowl and stir in remaining 4 tablespoons butter until melted.
  2. Whisk in brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and salt until incorporated. Whisk in egg and yolk until smooth and no lumps remain, about 30 seconds.
  3. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Portion dough into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough balls. Bake cookies until golden brown and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft and puffy, 10 to 14 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let cookies cool completely.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bakery Review: Arsicault Bakery, San Francisco, CA

Arsicault Bakery, San Francisco, CA - visited May 24, 2018
One of my coworkers, sharing my love for all things butter and pastry sent me this link from Bon Appetit that named Arsicault Bakery the best in San Francisco. Now you know that’s just an invitation to me to try it, right? Especially since San Francisco is a mere Caltrain or BART ride away.

It was fortuitous that our annual user conference was in San Francisco shortly after she waved the article in front of me and even more fortuitous that, during a break in the day, several of us like-minded colleagues grabbed an Uber to make the 10-minute ride to Arsicault Bakery to load up on calories baked goods.
Kouign Amann on display
I had read the yelp reviews and heard from friends about the lines at Arsicault Bakery and that it was a good idea to get there when they first opened. Since they opened at 7 am and we had to be at the conference at 7:30 am, that wasn’t feasible. But fortunately, the break in our day coincided with a lull at the bakery so there was no line. We even managed to snag a table to enjoy our pastries and drinks. 

The bakery itself is small, certainly smaller than Jane the Bakery or b. patisserie. You walk in and there are two displays, bifurcated by the cash register. There isn’t a huge selection of pastries compared to larger bakeries or bread shops but they all looked mouth-wateringly amazing. I was there on a mission to try something from the croissant food group since the Bon Appetit article gushed about it so and I knew I wanted a kouign amann.
Anticipating the trip, I hadn’t had breakfast and I’d been up early to get to the city by 7:30 (40-minute drive to BART, 35-minute ride in, 5-minute walk – you do the math on how early I got up and went on my way) so I was ready to chew off my arm or leg by the time we got there. So I felt no compunction in ordering a ham and cheese croissant to eat there, a kouign amann to go and a chocolate almond croissant to go. Plus a Valrhona hot chocolate because you know, I had to wash down the croissant, right?
There’s a small eating section of Arsicault at the back that’s slightly elevated so you had to walk up a few steps. There are several tables and we were fortunate to be able to snag one. I think I inhaled the ham and cheese croissant. The croissant itself was delicious. So was the filling although I wished there had been a little more ham in there, probably because I was so hungry. I don’t have that high a bar for croissants other than they be buttery, flaky goodness. And buttery doesn’t mean “greasy”. Arsicault’s croissants were as good as advertised.

BUT – considering I was still a little hungry by the time I finished it, my good intentions to save the kouign amann for later went for naught. Yup, I broke into that thing with barely an internal struggle. OMG. It was fantastic. I liked the kouign amann from b. patisserie and I loved the one from Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho. Arsicault’s kouign amann joined that hall of fame. It’s hard for me to pick one favorite of the three but it could be a case of I love the one I’m eating at the time the best. Arsicault’s was a little more buttery than b. patisserie and shaped a little differently than the traditional kouign amann but geez, it had me at the first caramelized, flaky bite. I admit to feeling a little sick after since I had it right after the croissant so that was a mighty amount of butter swimming in my bloodstream but hey, no regrets. It was that good.
Kouign Amann
I ended up buying another one to give to a coworker who hadn’t been able to come with us as well as a chocolate chip cookie to also partially try and partially give away to someone else who I knew had a weakness for chocolate chip cookies. And, okay, I’m not gonna lie. I bought another kouign amann for me to really have “later”.

I had half of the chocolate chip cookie later (much later) in the day. It was good but you know I’m a snob about chocolate chip cookies and am spoiled and uppity about it because very few things beat a chocolate chip cookie 10 minutes out of the oven. My bar is pretty high. This was good in that the edges still had some crunch and the caramelized brown sugar flavor was there. It was a little bit sweet for me but that could also be due to the fact that I’d already had a lot of pastries that day so I might’ve hit my sugar quotient.
Chocolate Chip Cookie

The chocolate almond croissant I didn’t have until the next day because I literally couldn’t fit it into my calorie count or waistband the same day I ate a croissant and a kouign amann. I’m normally so snobby about pastries that I don’t like to eat them a “day old” but I refreshed this in the microwave by heating it for 15 seconds and it was almost as good as the day of. I had run 3 miles before I ate  the croissant and it was a good thing as it made for quite the hearty breakfast. The croissant itself was just as good and flaky delicious as the one from the ham and cheese the day before. The chocolate almond filling was also good, if a bit rich. It was actually a bit larger than the norm but I love a challenge so yes, I ate the whole thing. Felt a little sick after because it was so rich but again, worth it. Even though I probably should’ve doubled my run to make up for it.
Chocolate Almond Croissant

Overall, Arsicault Bakery was amazing and their products were delicious. I definitely want to go back (after more running) and would definitely get the kouign amann again. Perhaps the chocolate almond croissant too.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Nothing Bundt Cake copycat Lemon Bundt Cake

Nothing Bundt Cake copycat Lemon Bundt Cake - made May 20, 2018 from Favorite Family Recipes
I’ve been a fan of Nothing Bundt Cake ever since I first tried them almost 10 (?) years ago. The red velvet was my first favorite but I’ve expanded my devotion to encompass the lemon bundt cake and more recently, the vanilla bundt cake. It isn’t just the flavor but also the fluffy texture that ensnared me. The funny thing is, sometimes I’d swear it was from a cake mix. It tastes way better than any cake mix I’ve had but the fluffiness, particularly of the lemon bundt cake, reminded me (fondly) of those Sarah Lee pound cakes my mom used to buy when I was a kid and that was our rare treat for dessert after dinner.
I’ve tried out a pretty decent copycat version of theNothing Bundt Cake red velvet bundt cake but I’ve always wanted to take a swing at making a copycat version of the lemon bundt cake. Since the texture reminded me of a cake mix, I thought this version would be a good one to test to see how close I could get.
You can tell two obvious things from the pictures right away. First, Nothing Bundt Cake has no need to fear my icing skills. I tried making their signature “frosting petals” over my cake. Don’t look too closely or you can see how dismal my efforts were. It’s actually not hard to make the round petals; simply put your frosting into a plastic frosting sleeve, cut the tip in a straight line, then pipe. The trick is making sure there are no air holes in your bag of frosting or your frosting won’t come out in an unbroken line and apply pressure evenly with no hesitation. I had some issues with consistency and even pressure. Shrug. When you’re not a frosting person, apparently, you don’t hone your frosting skills. Ha.
Second thing you can tell from the picture of the slice of cake is this did not have the fluffy texture of the original Nothing Bundt Cake lemon cake. It was still a good cake but, just like the banana cake from Icing on the cake whose texture I still haven’t been able to replicate, I couldn’t do it with this one either. It wasn’t fluffy enough. It was moist though and still a good cake. As a matter of fact, it turns out my coworkers liked this so much I had several people stop me in the hall and in the kitchen to tell me how much they liked this cake and how good it was. So if you want an easy lemon cake with a cake mix base, this is a great option. I don’t think I would consider it a copycat NBC bundt cake though, other than how I frosted it to copy the signature look of a Nothing Bundt Cake. If I had iced it the normal way or made it as a glaze, I think this would just been a good lemon cake. So the search continues for a copycat.

1 lemon cake mix
1 3.4-ounce lemon pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
4 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, beat the cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, eggs, oil, lemon juice and water for 2 minutes until mixture is smooth and creamy.
  3. Pour batter into greased Bundt cake pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in thickest part of cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes then invert and let cool upright until completely cooled.
  4. Frosting: in a medium bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy. Mix in the vanilla then gradually add the powdered sugar. Beat until desired consistency. Frost cake.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Almond Butter Coconut Cookies

Almond Butter Coconut Cookies - made dough May 12, 2018 modified from If You Give a Blonde a Kitchen
The original recipe called for adding dark chocolate chunks and nuts into these cookies. I'm sure that would've been good as well...except I don't really care for nuts in my cookies and I decided to omit the chocolate chunks as well to make this a more simple coconut cookie.

I'm glad I went with the more purist approach as I loved this cookie. Loved everything about it. The dough was easy to make and easy to handle, not too stiff or sticky. You can see from the pictures that the cookies didn't spread very much and stayed thick. They're (mostly) of uniform thickness because I made the dough into balls then flattened slightly into thick discs. The cookies baked more evenly that way.

The almond butter also gives this a different taste and texture than using all butter or peanut butter. My favorite aspect of this cookie was the texture. It's chewy and moist, especially with the addition of the coconut. I also liked the flavor of both the almond butter and the coconut. This has the brown sugar caramelized overtones I also favor in non-chocolate cookies. This is the perfect cookie for the heat of summer and those summer picnics since there's no chocolate to melt if served in hot weather. Also a must-try for coconut lovers. Which we must have at work as when I put these cookies out in the communal kitchen at the office, I'm not sure they lasted an hour before all I came back to was an empty plate.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup almond butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut flakes
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, almond butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, beat until just combined.
  3. Gradually add the flour mixture in two batches, mixing until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in the coconut.
  4. Portion dough into golf-ball size dough balls. Cover, chill or freeze several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space frozen cookie dough balls on baking sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes, until edges are golden and middles no longer look raw or shiny. Do not overbake.
  6. Let cool on baking sheet for several minutes then transfer to wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Nutella Fudge Cookies

Nutella Fudge Cookies - made dough May 12, 2018 from Tutti Dolci
This is a good chocolate cookie. It's meant to be a Nutella cookie but the chocolate tends to overwhelm the Nutella so you only really get a Nutella taste by swirling Nutella into the cookie dough without fully blending it into the dough.

The dough mixes easily and handles well. It doesn't spread much so if you want domed cookies, make into a ball, freeze for a few hours, then bake. If you want your cookies of uniform thickness, then shape dough into thick discs, freeze for a few hours and bake.

As I usually do when I want swirls of Nutella in the cookie, I dollop spoonfuls of Nutella over the mixed cookie dough, scoop into golf-ball-size balls, being careful to keep the Nutella dollops mostly intact (you can pat bits of dough over the exposed Nutella to make the dough balls easier to handle), freeze until firm then bake.
When baked, you can still see the Nutella dollops intact in the cookie.

If you want a fudgy cookie with Nutella swirled into it, this is the recipe for you. If you want more of a Nutella flavor in the cookie itself, I recommend the Nutella Swirl Cookies.
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Nutella, plus more for swirling into dough
1/4 cup almond butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
flaky salt, for topping, optional
  1. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat Nutella, almond butter, and sugar in a large mixer bowl at medium speed until smooth. Add egg, instant espresso powder and vanilla; mix until combined. 
  3. On low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined. Do not overmix.
  4. Dollop spoonfuls of Nutella atop dough and scoop cooking dough into golf-ball size dough balls, leaving swirls of Nutella distinct in each dough ball. Cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space frozen dough balls. Bake for 10-11 minutes until tops are set and crackly. Cool for 5 minutes on baking sheets then transfer to wire rack. Sprinkle with flaky salt and let cool completely.