Thursday, May 21, 2015

Kitty Kat Krunch Brownies

Kitty Kat Krunch Brownies - made May 10, 2015 from Extreme Brownies by Connie Weis
I’m now splitting my cookbook recipe obsession between my newest book Biscoff Cookie & Spread Cookbook and the recently new Extreme Brownies. For this post, we’re back to brownies. When I first bought Extreme Brownies, this was one of the (many) recipes I immediately wanted to try. It had all the elements I found interesting: candy incorporated into the brownie itself then crunchy stuff on top to provide further contrast to the chewy fudginess of the brownie and the creamy smoothness of the frosting.
First, let me tell you I have not bought Cocoa Krispies in….forever. When I was a kid, I used to beg my mom to buy those sugary cereals. They were totally bad for you (still are) but hey, I was a kid. It was my job to beg for the bad stuff. My mom only occasionally gave in to my begging so I do have memories of enjoying a bowl of Cocoa Krispies, the best part being the milk left in the bowl “turned into chocolate milk” by dint of the cocoa combining with the milk. I disliked milk even as a kid but chocolate milk was tolerable. Plus I liked the crunch of the cereal, so much more satisfying than cornflakes because, you know, it was sweeter and it was chocolate.
Second, once I did buy the Cocoa Krispies for this recipe and tasted it again, I decided my taste buds have matured a lot since then. Because I no longer had the palate that thought Cocoa Krispies were the bomb. Sorry, Cocoa Krispies lovers, but I’ve tasted real chocolate and this isn’t it. But, I was committed to trying out this recipe and I’d already bought the box so….
I usually don’t have the time or inclination to make brownies that are this involved. Meaning not just the brownie but you also make the ganache glaze and a topping. And I’m leery of anything that involves me making caramel from scratch because I’m paranoid about burning it and the few times I’ve made my own caramel, it’s been too sweet for my taste. But surprisingly, this was fairly easy to make. Don’t be put off by having to make the different elements of this recipe as each one by itself isn’t that hard. You just need a little time and even that isn’t a big deal.
Make the Cocoa Krispies crunch topping first so it has time to cool. I almost burned the caramel because my saucepan is dark colored and you know how hard it is to judge how brown a caramel is getting when you’re looking at a clear liquid bubbling in a dark pan? Yeah, it’s hard. And the caramel keeps on browning even after you turn the heat off. Fortunately, I caught it just 30 seconds before it would’ve been burnt. Whew. The topping turned out as crunchy as it was supposed to be, always a nice surprise.
The brownie and ganache topping couldn’t have been easier. I bought a bag of mini Kit Kats and dispersed them all in the brownie since I didn’t want spare Kit Kats leaping into my mouth later on if they remained in my pantry. Better to use them all in the brownies and give the brownies away. After my taste test piece, that is.
This was another fudgy brownie winner. I’m not big on ganache frosting but it did add a nice richness to the brownie and the crunchy topping was a great contrast. I’m not entirely sure the Kit Kats added a whole lot to the brownie other than their name but that’s probably because for my taste test, I ate half a piece near the edge with little Kit Kat in it so I might not have gotten the full Kitty Kat Krunch experience. But this is definitely worth filing away for Halloween time if you end up with spare Kit Kats.
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup (6 ounces) 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips
4 large eggs
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 packed cup (8 ounces) light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (4.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 (8-ounce) bag mini Kit Kats

Candied Chocolate Rice Cereal Topping
1 1/2 cups chocolate puffed rice cereal, such as Cocoa Krispies
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon (5 ounces) heavy whipping cream
1 1/4 cups (7.5 ounces) 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips
10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13" baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter and chocolates in the top half of a double boiler over hot water. Whisk together until melted and smooth.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugars and salt until just combined. Whisk in the chocolate mixture and mix until combined. Whisk in the vanilla.
  4. Stir together the flour and baking powder then mix into the batter, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Push the mini Kit Kats into the batter; do not place any within 1/2" of the pan sides. Use the offset spatula to cover the candy with the batter. 
  5. Bake for 28 minutes until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack.
  6. To make the candied chocolate rice cereal topping: lightly grease a quarter sheet pan with vegetable shortening then line with parchment paper. Measure out the cereal; set aside.
  7. Place the sugar, water, corn syrup and salt in a small, heavy saucepan; stir with a small silicone spatula just to combine. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat to moderate and boil undisturbed until a medium amber-colored caramel forms, about 5 minutes.
  8. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cereal. Spoon the caramelized cereal onto the prepared pan and spread it out with a small offset spatula. Let cool at room temperature.
  9. To make the frosting: place the heavy cream and chocolate chips in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove from over the hot water and refrigerate until the mixture has cooled to the consistency of pudding, about 15 minutes. While the frosting mixture is chilling, cut up the candied chocolate rice cereal topping into 1/4" pieces, using a sharp chef's knife.
  10. Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces. Beat the butter pieces into the chilled cream mixture. Beat in the salt. Strain or sift the cocoa powder directly onto the mixture and beat in. Add the vanilla and beat in, starting on low and increasing to high speed, until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 1 minute. 
  11. Dollop the frosting over the brownie slab. Using a small offset spatula, spread the frosting evenly. Garnish the frosting with some of the chopped candied chocolate rice cereal topping, then use the back of a metal spatula to lightly tap on the topping pieces to slightly embed them into the frosting. Refrigerate pan for 7 to 8 hours or overnight. Cut into squares and serve.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Caramel-Stuffed Sea Salt Brownies

Caramel-Stuffed Sea Salt Brownies - made May 2, 2015 from Extreme Brownies by Connie Weis
I almost forgot I had this brownie book. Okay, not really, but it was high time I went back to it to try out more brownie recipes before it joins the other baking books gathering dust on my bookshelves. I love making brownies and can’t get away from it. And really, I also love eating them so it’s a win-win.
Given the other recipes I’ve tried from this book, I had high expectations that this would be a rich, fudgy brownie and I was not disappointed. Bonus that it’s got a layer of caramel sandwiched in the middle, topped with a thin layer of milk chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel. The only surprise in this recipe was the flour that gets whisked into the caramel. Never had that before but it worked just fine.
Do be careful about covering as much of the caramel as possible with the top layer of brownie batter. Caramel, when exposed directly to high heat will harden when it cools and could be too hard and chewy to eat. Which would be a waste of good caramel…..we can’t have that. The other tricky part is the toothpick test is somewhat unreliable if you poke the toothpick straight down into the brownie. The caramel layer is gooey enough to give you a “false negative” that the brownie isn’t done when it could be but all you’re seeing is the goo from the caramel. I recommend angling the toothpick when you insert it so most of it is going through the top layer and not the caramel itself.
The milk chocolate layer on top is a nice touch if your teeth aren’t aching at this point and you’ve still got room in your waist band. It gives the sea salt or fleur de sel something to adhere to when you sprinkle it on top. Overall, loved this brownie. It’s rich, it’s fudgy, it’s decadent and it’s everything a brownie should be. And more.

Caramel layer
1/3 cup and 1 teaspoon (3 ounces) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
12 ounces caramel (I used Kraft caramel squares)
2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into slices
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips
4 large eggs
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 packed cup (8 ounces) light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (4.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Milk Chocolate Glaze
3 1/2 teaspoons canola oil
3/4 cup and 1 tablespoon (5 ounces) milk chocolate chips

1 to 2 teaspoons flaked sea salt
  1. Caramel layer: place the cream and butter in a 2-quart saucepan. Begin to melt the mixture over medium-low heat. Unwrap the caramels and add to the mixture. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramels are melted and completely smooth. While the caramels are slowly melting, make the brownie batter. Finish preparing the caramel once the brownie base is in the oven.
  2. Make the brownies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. In a small, heavy saucepan, melt butter with unsweetened chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips. Whisk until smooth and completely melted. Set aside to cool slightly.
  4. Lightly beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in sugars and salt until just combined. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until just combined. Whisk in vanilla.
  5. Add flour and baking powder and stir to combine. Pour half (1 pound and 4 ounces) of the brownie batter into the prepared pan. Spread evenly with a small offset spatula and bake for 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack. Finish the caramel while the brownie base is baking. The caramel should be poured onto the very hot brownie base as soon as it is removed from the oven.
  6. To finish the caramel layer, once the caramels are completely melted and smooth, sift the flour directly onto the mixture and stir in well. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the cooked caramel over the hot brownie base and spread evenly with a small offset spatula. Dollop the remaining brownie batter evenly over the caramel layer and carefully spread to the edges with the offset spatula, covering the caramel layer completely.
  7. Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let cool for at least 15 minutes.
  8. Milk chocolate glaze: Place the milk chocolate and canola oil in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water. Stir until melted and smooth. Pour the glaze evenly over the warm brownie.
  9. Using a small offset spatula, spread the glaze evenly and sprinkle the sea salt over the glaze. Let the glazed slab sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, then refrigerate pan overnight or for 7-8 hours. Cut into squares.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pop Up Shop: Dragonfly Cakes

Dragonfly Cakes - Pop Up Shop on May 7, 2015
So….I’m a sucker for supporting local, small foodie businesses. I’ll twist myself into pretzel contortions trying to decide if I should pay $14 for a cookbook but not think twice about forking over $5 for a croissant made with European butter at a local bakery. I implement the 24-hour rule and do mental gymnastics over a blouse that’s been marked down and is another 40% off and I have a $10 reward certificate to defray the cost even further but apparently I’ll shell out $32 for a box of petit fours without much thought or restraint if it meant supporting a local small business. I’m not even a particularly big fan of petit fours, mind you.

But Dragonfly Cakes came to our pop up shop in the days leading up to Mother’s Day so my Pavlovian response was to hotfoot it over, wallet in hand and make small talk with the very nice vendor lady who proffered me samples of their wares, told me about their business in Sausalito and how they did mostly a mail order business and talked about the different flavors they offered: chocolate, coffee, apricot, lemon and vanilla. Not two minutes had passed before I was opening up my wallet and leaving with a box of lemon and vanilla petit fours.
Petits fours are basically small layer cakes covered typically in fondant icing and nicely decorated. They usually come in a variety of flavors, colors and decorations. Because of their typical box square shape, they can easily be made to look like little presents. We made them in culinary school and you basically bake thin oblong cake layers, frost each layer, stack the layers, cut into perfectly even squares then glaze them evenly and perfectly all at once by having the squares very close together on a wire rack and pouring the glaze over all of the square pieces. If you do it right, the glaze covers them neatly, evenly and completely; when it hardens, you have perfect petit fours ready for decorating.
I’ll be honest – one of the reasons I’m not fond of petit fours is because perfect and even would not describe my efforts when I made them. It takes some skill to cut each piece the same shape and size and even more skill to glaze them evenly. On top of that, decorating skills including precision piping and fondant work serve a petit four maker well. I possess none of these skills. Seriously, none. Wait, I can bake a cake and I can fill them between layers. Then my skills hit the glass ceiling.

Fortunately I don’t work at Dragonfly Cakes and they don’t have that problem. Their petit fours are beautiful. I tried a sample of the coffee petit fours and the lemon one. I didn’t need to try both but I had started with the coffee and as I was perusing the display at the pop up shop, was considering the box of lemon and vanilla petit fours to buy. So then I had to taste the lemon, right? I didn’t want to be a total pig and have two samples but the Dragonfly lady assured me she had plenty of samples and that I should help myself. Okay then. I mean, I wanted to be polite, right?

Both samples were good and if I was a petit fours gourmand, I would probably have appreciated them more. As it was, I thought they were nice little cakes, not too sweet. And they were pretty. Petit fours must be pretty because if you’re going to go to all that trouble to make and decorate them, they need to look cute. I bought a box, more to support the business, than because I wanted a dozen petit fours. Fortunately, I could share them with friends and my mom for Mother’s Day. Go small biz.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Biscoff-Stuffed Snickerdoodles

Biscoff-Stuffed Snickerdoodles - made dough May 9, 2015 from The Biscoff Cookie & Spread Cookbook by Katrina Bahl
Don’t put away that jar of cookie butter just yet. Yes, another recipe using Biscoff or Speculoos, your choice. This time we take the classic snickerdoodle and up the ante by “stuffing” it with cookie butter.
Of course, you don’t actually stuff it, not like you would a turkey, for instance. Instead, you portion off some snickerdoodle cookie dough, flatten into a thick disc, put a dollop of cookie butter in the center, and then either wrap the dough around it or place another disc of cookie dough over it and seal the edges. It depends on how big you make your disc and whether it’s enough to enclose the cookie butter completely.
I do a combination of both. I use enough dough to come up the sides of the cookie butter dollop but not enough to completely enclose it so I put a bit more dough on top, seal any cracks and roll into a smooth ball. Then, because I’m almost incapable of baking cookie dough without freezing it first (because I like thicker cookies), I do place them in freezer bags and deposit in my freezer until I’m ready. 
I do not roll the dough balls in cinnamon sugar until I’m ready to bake them. You might want to take the dough balls out of the freezer once you turn your oven on to preheat then roll them in the cinnamon sugar right before you line them up on the baking sheet and put in the oven. That gives them a few minutes to thaw which will help the cinnamon sugar adhere better. If you’re having difficulty coating them, let them thaw for a little longer (5-10 minutes usually does the trick) then roll them again. When you take the cookies out of the oven, sprinkle more cinnamon sugar on top while they’re still hot. Be careful not to overbake them! 
I thought these cookies were delicious. I like the cookie butter paired with the vanilla butter cinnamon flavor as the more vanilla flavor provides a good backdrop to showcase the cookie butter flavor. I gave some to a friend who visited me for dinner and his feedback the next day was “it was GOOOOODDDDD”.  I think I got the right number of O’s and D’s from his email in there. So there you have it: a third party endorsement of this cookie. 
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup creamy Biscoff spread

1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and cream of tartar.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together for 2 minutes until light and fluffy.
  3. Add vanilla and egg until incorporated.
  4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until just combined.
  5. Using a small cookie scoop, scoop out balls of dough and flatten into discs. Place a spoonful of Biscoff cookie spread in the middle of one and place another disc on top, sealing the edges to encase the cookie butter completely. Roll gently into a round ball. Repeat with remaining dough. Chill or freeze for several hours until firm.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll dough balls in cinnamon-sugar mixture and space evenly on cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes and remove to wire rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with more cinnamon-sugar if desired.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Biscoff Sheet Cake

Biscoff Sheet Cake - made April 28, 2015, adapted from Biscoff Cookie & Spread Cookbook by Katrina Bahl
Before I get into the recipe, I want to note that my blog hit a milestone sometime over the night and surpassed 1 million page views - yay! I started my blog 6 years and 8 months ago, almost to the day and never thought far enough ahead of how long I would keep this up or dreamed that I would get to a million views. Thanks to everyone who contributed to that number! In the early days, I used to marvel at getting any page views at all :). So thank you! Now back to the regularly scheduled programming....
Second recipe from my new baking book and it’s another winner. You know how much I love my sheet cakes. This is made in a similar manner to a Texas Fudge Cake and is equally easy to make and equally delicious as well.

The cake itself doesn’t have a strong cookie butter flavor but it has a great cakey texture and the frosting on top contributes the additional cookie butter dimension. If you want to make this even easier and amp up the cookie butter, you can skip the frosting and just frost it with straight cookie butter. If you’re going to do that, though, let the cake cool for at least 5-10 minutes then frost the cake while it’s warm rather than when it’s still oven-hot. Either way, yeah, it’s really good.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
½ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup creamy Biscoff spread
1 cup water
½ cup butter
1 cup chocolate chips, optional (I left them out)

½ cup butter
1/3 cup buttermilk
½ cup creamy Biscoff spread
3 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with aluminum foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Whisk together the sugars, flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla; set aside.
  4. In a medium saucepan, bring Biscoff spread, water and butter to a boil. Remove from heat and add the dry ingredients followed by the egg mixture. Stir well and transfer to prepared pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips if desired.
  5. Frosting: Bring butter, buttermilk and Biscoff spread to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the powdered sugar followed by the vanilla. The frosting will be thick.
  6. Pour evenly over the cake while the cake is still warm from the oven and the frosting is still hot.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Biscoff Cloud Cookies

Biscoff Cloud Cookies - made dough April 28, 2015 from The Biscoff Cookie & Spread Cookbook by Katrina Bahl
Meet my new favorite cookie. I’m not even kidding. I’m sure something else will supplant it at some future point but for now, it’s the Cookie Butter Cloud Cookie. You know how I’ve felt like I was in a baking slump? Nothing on pinterest looked interesting to me and I’d even started deleting pins from my baking pinboards because, let’s face it, I’d had  them pinned for so long without making them that it was unlikely I’d ever make them. I got tired of the pins mocking me so I deleted them. Let’s hear it for conflict avoidance.
I tried turning to my existing baking books because somewhere in 200+ books, there should be “a few” recipes I’d want to make, right? But, like my pinned recipes, some of my baking books I’d flipped through so often and tagged what I wanted to make (that’s how we “pinned” things the old-fashioned way) that nothing looked exciting or compelling for me to make. Which is a bad sign of the baking slump I was in.
So like any good baker with recipe ADD, I did the logical thing. If 200 baking books don’t yield a recipe you want to try and the endless recipes on the interest don’t captivate the baking muse, you talk yourself into buying another baking book. I know, I know, I’m not supposed to because I have “enough”. In my defense, I instituted all the normal shopping rules: wait 24 hours, keep asking myself “do I really need it?” (Of course not. Doesn’t matter.) Then buy it anyway because sometimes being an adult gets old and $14 isn’t going to break my budget.
The book was smaller than I expected and in paperback; apparently $14 doesn’t buy as much as it used to. No matter. On my first pass, I tagged half a dozen recipes I wanted to make right off the bat. That’s how it usually goes when I get a new cookbook. I’m all fired up to bake every single recipe in it, bake a few then it joins the ranks on my bookshelves until I think to pick it up again and try to rekindle that initial spark.
No matter, it’s new, it’s fascinating and this is the first recipe I made from it. And it’s a winner. Doesn’t spread much, the edges get crisp, the cookie butter flavor says “hello, here I am” and the texture is amazing. If you like chewy cookies and abhor cakey cookies, this is the cookie for you. Of course, as always, do not overbake. 8 minutes like the recipe says or, if your oven doesn’t blast as hot as it should, 10 minutes tops. Let it set or it’ll be too gooey and the edges won’t be crisp if you eat it too soon. If you want to foray all the way to the end of the decadence spectrum, add a dollop of cookie butter on top while it’s just barely lukewarm then let your teeth sink into blissful goodness. Ah, cookie butter.
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup creamy Biscoff spread
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter, Biscoff spread, brown sugar and granulated sugar at medium speed until combined.
  2. Add egg and vanilla and beat on low speed until combined.
  3. Whisk dry ingredients together and add in two batches to the butter-sugar mixture. Mix only until just combined.
  4. Form into golf-ball-sized dough balls and chill or freeze until firm, several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and space cookies evenly, 2 inches apart.
  6. Bake for 8 minutes, remove from oven and let cool for several minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Let cool completely.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Restaurant Review: Willow Street Pizza

Willow Street Pizza - dinner on March 20, 2015
This is a long overdue restaurant review, mostly because I forgot I’d gone there and hadn’t blogged about it at the time. So it’ll be a quick one since all the (I’m sure) witty things I was going to write about have escaped my memory and would only fall flat now if I took a stab at resurrecting them. I hate when that happens.
In any case, I met a friend here, partly because it was close to her house and convenient for her to skip out on her husband and kids to meet me for dinner and partly because my cousin Christine gave me a gift card to Willow St. Two birds, one stone.

We got there fairly early (6 pm) so while the restaurant was somewhat full, it wasn’t overly crowded and we didn’t have to wait long for a table. Probably because we were willing to sit at a high top close to the bar area. I’d been to Willow St before but not for some years. I had a vague recollection that their pizza was pretty good but I didn’t know that I was in the mood for a pizza. I compromised and got the calzone. My friend Cindy went further afield with a burger.
The sign of a good pizza place is how good their crust is. Which can also be signaled by their bread as presumably it’s a similar, if not the exact same, recipe. Our server brought out a round loaf of still-warm bread. Bliss. It’s hard not to like warm bread and the carbo gods know they have my number. My chicken pesto calzone was also pretty good, albeit the pesto “sauce” was more liquid than I would’ve liked and soaked into the bread. But that didn’t stop me from (over) eating the generous portion they served. Hey, it was good and I was hungry.
For once I didn’t get dessert. I know, I’m disappointed in myself too but honestly, it was a really big calzone and I shouldn’t have eaten it all but I did. Serves me right. It just means I have to go back again, plan more carefully and save room for dessert.