Saturday, April 30, 2011

Browned Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Oatmeal Cookies - made April 28, 2011 from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy by Alice Medrich

Growing up, I never ate oatmeal for breakfast.  It just wasn't your typical Asian way to start the day.  Although ironically, my parents now regularly have it for breakfast because of the health benefits of oatmeal (I think they actually like the taste too).  But I think the first time I was introduced to oatmeal, it was in cookie form.  I like a good oatmeal cookie as much as the next person but I haven't yet discovered a "go-to" recipe for oatmeal cookies.  A good oatmeal cookie should be thick and chunky, crisp at the edges, chewy in the middle and generously studded with chocolate chips.  Do not come near me with raisins or nuts for an oatmeal cookie.  My requirements for a good oatmeal cookie are similar to what I look for in a chocolate chip cookie.  But a good oatmeal cookie shouldn't just be a chocolate chip cookie with oatmeal added to it.  There's something whimsically wholesome about an oatmeal cookie and we're tempted to think of it as healthy as long as we conveniently ignore the butter, sugar and flour that also goes into it.  Granted, oats are good for you and they've endured through the ages with "their first known appearance being in combat when the Romans battled England hundreds of years ago....the English and Scots carried saddlebags filled with oatmeal cakes eaten as a quick, nourishing pick-me-up." (Source: press release from May Cookie Co)

We don't quite carbo load with oatcakes just to do hand to hand combat anymore but we do honor the oatmeal cookie properly nowadays.  Saturday, April 30, is National Oatmeal Cookie Day.  (Again, what an awesome country we have in that it has foodie "holidays".)  So, in my continuing quest for an awesome oatmeal cookie recipe, I turned to Alice Medrich's latest cookbook, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies, another book I want to eventually acquire but prudently borrowed from the library instead.  What caught my eye is that the recipe calls for melting the butter.  That immediately made me want to make the cookies with browned butter, similar to what I did with Alton Brown's chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Now that recipe has become my go-to recipe for chocolate chip cookies so I thought I could give Alice Medrich's recipe a boost by doing the same thing.  What I also liked about all the recipes in this book is she gives the weight measurement of the ingredients as well as the more traditional volume measurements.  If you have a food scale, it's better to weigh out your ingredients rather than volume measure them - it's more accurate that way.

Added milk chocolate chips and Hershey kisses
Browned butter smells good and makes everything tastes so much better.  Just mixing this cookie dough together was an alluring experience.  If I was the type of person to eat cookie dough, I could probably have downed half the batch in raw form.  Fortunately, I'm not and it was easy enough to put the bowl of cookie dough in the fridge to cool, unscathed.  Harder to wait overnight to bake the cookies.  The dough became considerably firmer after being chilled overnight so it was a little difficult to scoop into dough balls.  I'd advocate making the dough balls right after you mix the cookie dough and then chilling (not freezing) the dough balls if you want to bake them the next day.  The reason for not freezing them immediately is to let the oats absorb the moisture of the dough first.

Overall, this was a good cookie.  I underbaked them slightly so the edges weren't as crisp as I think they were meant to be but the middle was gooey.  I liked the caramelized taste a lot from the browned butter.  The cinnamon doesn't come out very much, probably because the browned butter is more prominent but I consider this another solidly good recipe from Alice Medrich.

2 cups (6.67 ounces) rolled oats
¼ cup water
1 ¼ cups (5.625 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) packed light brown sugar
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup (3.5 ounces) walnuts, chopped (I used milk chocolate chips)
1 cup (5 ounces) raisins (I used milk chocolate chips)

1.      Place the oats in a small bowl and sprinkle with the water. 
2.      Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork.
3.      Cut the butter into chunks and melt in a large saucepan over medium heat.  (I browned the butter and let it cool for 10 minutes before adding the other ingredients.)  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugars, vanilla, and salt.  Add the egg and stir briskly.  Stir in the flour mixture just until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.  Stir in the walnuts, raisins and oats.  Let the dough stand for at least 1 but preferably 2 hours or (better still) cover and refrigerate overnight.
4.      Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
5.      For large cookies, scoop about 2 level tablespoons of dough and place the cookies about 3 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.  For small cookies, scoop 1 level tablespoon of dough.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes for large cookies, 10 to 12 minutes for small cookies, or until the cookies are golden brown on top.  Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.  Cool the cookies completely before storing or stacking.  May be kept in an airtight container for several days.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Flaky Pie Crust & Coconut Custard Pie

Flaky Pie Crust & Coconut Custard Pie - made April 27, 2011 from A Country Baking Treasury by Lisa Yockelson (book #97)

Remember when I said 90% of the recipes I make from Lisa Yockelson's cookbooks turn out great?  How I waxed poetical about her cookbooks I've collected over the years and love not only their variety but also their straightforwardness and simplicity?  Not to mention the delicious results that usually come from one of her recipes.  Huh.  Well, this might fall into the 10% category.  I don't know if it's me or the recipe or a combination of both. When you've been writing a baking blog for over a year and a half and baking for years longer than that, sometimes you want to try something different and sometimes you fail at it.  That's what this feels like.  I've mentioned before that I don't make pies very often, partly because I'm steadfastly devoted to apple pie, but also because I don't usually have the time or patience to deal with pie crust.  But since I did the Cooked Fruit Apple Pie, I felt somewhat better that I could make pie crust.

Should've baked a bit longer
So I didn't think it would be a big deal to try a different pie crust recipe, also from the same book I wanted to make the Coconut Custard Pie from.  And it wasn't.  I did find that I had to add more than a "few drops" of ice water to the pie dough as it was still too floury when I first started to roll it together.  I felt like I was handling it too much and it felt a bit fussy to keep gathering, chilling, rolling, chilling, rolling again, chilling again.  But it wasn't hard - you just have to have the time for it.  And overall, the pre-baked pie shell came out okay.  Wouldn't win any beauty contests but it was reasonably okay.  In hindsight, I should've baked it a tad longer than the recipe said to but since I was baking it further with the custard filling, I thought it'd be okay to take it out after it had baked as long as the recipe decreed.

The custard filling couldn't have been simpler to put together.  Only it turned out there was too much of it to bake in my pie shell so I poured the overflow into a small ceramic pie dish sans crust since I'd run out of pie dough already.  I baked this exactly as long as the recipe said to and it passed the knife test for doneness.  So far, I've followed the recipe to the letter.  So it's a bit disappointing that I didn't like this better.  I love coconut, I'm good with pie.  'cept I don't really like custard-y desserts in general (with the notable exception of creme brulee).  I do remember making a coconut custard pie in culinary school and liking that a lot more, just like I like CIA's pastry cream recipe better than any other I've tried.  I remember thinking the CIA coconut custard pie was like that pastry cream but with coconut in it - maybe that's why I like it so much.  I'm going to have to dig out that recipe and try making it for comparison.  It's not that this one was bad but it wasn't very sweet and while it wasn't runny, I think the texture could've been a bit firmer.  Which probably means I should've baked it a little longer.  Live and learn.  Failure's good for the soul and all.  Although I know this'll bug me until I can turn out a better coconut custard pie.

Flaky Pie Crust
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size chunks
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 extra-large egg yolk, cold
2 tablespoons ice-cold water, or more as needed
1 extra-large egg white, for waterproofing

1.      Stir the flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl.  Add butter and, using two round-bladed knives, cut into the flour until reduced to small bits.  The mixture should look like coarse cornmeal.  Sprinkle with sugar and stir in with a few brief strokes.  Blend together the egg yolk and water in a small mixing bowl.  Pour over the flour mixture.  Quickly combine to make a firm but pliable dough.  Add additional droplets of ice-cold water if the dough seems too dry or crumbly.  Turn out the dough onto a large sheet of waxed paper, shape into a rough, flat disk and wrap with the paper.  Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes.
2.      To roll out the pie dough, teat off two long sheets of waxed paper at least 17 to 18 inches long.  Place the dough in the center of one sheet of waxed paper and top with the remaining sheet.  Gently press the top sheet.  Using short, quick rolling motions, roll the dough to a scant ¼” thickness (approximately 13 inches in diameter).  Transfer to a cookie sheet and chill for 20 minutes.
3.      To line a rimmed pie pan, peel off the top layer of waxed paper from the sheet of pie crust.  Cut strips of dough about 1/3 inch thick from the outside of the circle of dough.  Lightly brush the rim of the pie pan with cold water, press the strips onto the rim, and lightly brush with cold water.  Invert the circle of dough onto the bottom of the pan and peel off the waxed paper.  Press the dough lightly on the bottom first, then up and against the sides.  Press the overhang of dough onto the rim and cut off the overhang using a sharp paring knife.  Flute or crimp the edges decoratively.
4.      Prick the bottom of the pie shell with the tines of a fork.  Refrigerate, loosely covered for about 30 minutes.  For longer storage, wrap in a sheet of plastic, slide into a large plastic bag, and seal, and refrigerate or freeze.
5.      To completely pre-bake a pie shell, line the well-chilled pie shell with a single length of aluminum foil.  Fill with raw rice, dried beans or pie weights.  Preheat the oven to 425⁰F with a cookie sheet on the lower third level rack.  Bake the pie on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes, remove the foil and rice, reduce the oven temperature to 375⁰F and continue baking for 10 to 12 minutes longer, or until baked through and a medium-amber color.
6.      To waterproof a pie shell, remove the shell from the oven a few minutes before it finishes baking.  Lightly beat an egg white until frothy.  Brush the inside of the pie shell up to the decorative rim with the beaten egg white, using a soft pastry brush.  Return to the oven for 1 to 2 minutes longer to finish baking and to dry the egg wash.  The pie shell is now ready to be filled.

Coconut Custard Pie
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 cup light cream, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure coconut extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 fully-baked, 9-inch pie shell
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1.      Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl until combined.  Whisk in the sugar, heavy cream, and light cream.  Blend in the coconut and vanilla extracts.  Stir in the coconut.
2.      Pour the filling into the baked pie shell and sprinkle the nutmeg evenly over the top.  Bake in a preheated 425⁰ oven for 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 325⁰F, and continue baking for 35 minutes longer, or until the filling has set and the top is a light golden color.  A knife inserted 2 inches from the center of the pie will withdraw clean.
3.      Transfer to a cooling rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Poached Salmon "au Printemps"

Poached Salmon "au Printemps" - made April 27, 2011 from Cooking for One by Mark Erickson, CMC and Lisa Erickson

I love salmon.  Due to my limited cooking skills, the most I usually do to salmon is salt and pepper it, lay some lemon slices over it and shove into a 350 degree oven to bake until done.  This time, however, I decided to spread my culinary wings to try this recipe, from the same cookbook that showed me there's nothing frightening about making homemade tomato sauce.  At first glance, I almost passed over this recipe as it looked too complicated and too involved.  You had to make something to poach the salmon in, you had to make a sauce for it then you had to add some garnish.  Sounded like a lot of bother for a piece of salmon I'm going to consume in one meal.  But that's the point of Cooking for One.  The authors, a husband and wife team who also graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, postulate that there's no reason single cooks shouldn't be able to prepare and enjoy tasty, healthy meals for themselves.  Okay then.  Onward.

As with all my cooking endeavors, I end up having to psych myself up to do it then once I do, it turns out to be no big deal.  The hardest part of the recipe for me turned out to be figuring out what a shallot was.  Fortunately, they sell them at Trader Joe's and even more fortunately, they're clearly marked as shallots so I could safely purchase them without asking the Trader Joe people embarrassing questions like "what's a shallot?" (In case you're wondering, it's a smallish type of onion.) Once I had all my ingredients lined up, I prepped everything before I turned the stovetop on.  I find that for someone like me who doesn't cook very much, there's less stress if you prepare everything ahead of time (mise en place).  Translated: I don't freak out as much.  Even if there were three distinct things to do: prepare the poaching liquid, do the beurre blanc and chop the printemps garnish.  For those of you who've had high school French, you might remember "printemps" means springtime.

I followed the recipe almost faithfully but I did substitute corn kernels for the peas, simply because I don't like peas, springtime or not.  Once I had everything prepped and my mise on place was completed, this recipe turned out to be pretty easy to put together.  I let the salmon sit in the heat of the poaching liquid for the requisite 5 minutes but it turns out that wasn't long enough and my salmon was still pink-raw in the center so I had to warm it up further before I was satisfied it wasn't sashimi.  The sauce was really good and I have to admit, the whole dish really did feel like it was flavored with springtime.  The lemon and chives in the beurre blanc and just the general lightness of the dish (despite the heavy cream) added to that impression.  Another keeper recipe from this book. This beats my old salt, pepper and lemon trick with salmon any day.

Poached Salmon
1 piece salmon fillet, about 5 ounces
Salt and freshly ground pepper as needed
½ teaspoon unsalted butter
1 ½ teaspoons minced shallots
1 sprig thyme
2 tablespoons white wine
¾ cup homemade chicken stock

Beurre Blanc
1 tablespoon dry white wine
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon lemon juice

Printemps Garnish
1/3 cup shelled green peas, blanched if fresh or thawed if frozen
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 teaspoons chopped chives, cut into ¾-inch pieces

1.      Season the salmon with salt and pepper and set aside.
2.      Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the shallots and thyme to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the shallots are translucent, about 1 minute.  Add the wine and stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 minute.
3.      Turn the heat off and add the salmon.  Cover the skillet and let the fish cook until it is just barely opaque in the center, about 5 minutes.  Remove the fish from the skillet and set it on a warm plate, loosely covered to keep warm while preparing the beurre blanc.
4.      To prepare the beurre blance, return the skillet to medium-high heat and let the cooking liquid reduce by half, about 4 minutes.  Strain through a fine sieve.  Return 3 tablespoons of the poaching liquid to the pan.  Add the white wine and heavy cream.  Simmer until reduced by half, about 2 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the butter, about 1 teaspoon at a time.
5.      Taste the sauce and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Add the peas, egg and chives to the sauce and return the saucepan to very low heat to gently warm it.  Place salmon in a deep plate and spoon the sauce over and around the fish.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Butter Layer Cake

Butter Layer Cake - made April 25 & 26, 2011 from Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson (book #96)

I love this book.  As the title implies, it's organized by flavor so whether you want to bake something based on chocolate, caramel, butter, peanut butter, spice, cinnamon or whatever, you need only turn to that chapter to find something that catches your eye.  More importantly, I think I have a 90% success rate with the recipes in this book and with Lisa Yockelson's recipes in general.  They're straightforward to make, not overly complicated and just come out well.  Whether you're a novice baker or a master pastry chef or in between, this book is on my top 5 list of recommended baking cookbooks.

I don't usually do a lot of layer cakes.  They look pretty and can be baked for just about any occasion.  But they're harder to portion out and put in care packages or give away to people as part of a goodie bag.  Plus you typically need all the formalities of a plate and a fork to eat a two- or three-layer cake properly.  Fortunately, I've still got ties to my old office and one of my ex-coworkers is usually willing to meet me for a baked-goods dropoff so I can continue my baking experiments without consuming (too much of) what I make.  I know this recipe looks long with the cake, the filling and the frosting but you can make the cake and filling ahead of time and frost shortly before serving so it's not too bad if you plan ahead.

Bowl of Cream Cake Filling
The filling is essentially pastry cream, similar to what we used to make at CIA, which I love and could probably eat with a spoon like pudding without the bother of putting it in a cake.  I like to use both vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste for something like this, both for the extra vanilla boost and because I like how the vanilla seeds look in the pastry cream.  As far as cream filling goes, this was okay.  It's not quite as good as the CIA pastry cream I use for Basque Cake but it was still good.  If you make it ahead of time and refrigerate it, just warm it up slightly (15-20 seconds) in the microwave to make it easier to spread between the cake layers.

As you can tell from the pictures, this isn't one of the most professional looking cakes I've ever made.  At first glance, it's hard to distinguish between the layers because the cream filling is a similar color to the yellow cake.  Even though I cleaned the knife between cuts, some of the chocolate frosting still mingled with the cake part.  Similar to the red velvet brownies, that's because I have a tendency to pull the knife up after I cut down.  I should just pull it out horizontally once I've sliced down instead of automatically going back up vertically.  Although I think there's still the problem of the frosting ending up in part of the cake on the downstroke of the knife.  Regardless, this was still a pretty yummy cake.  The cake itself was moist, the filling adds to the moistness and the chocolate frosting complemented both quite nicely.  There was just a little too much frosting (to me), hence why it's so thick on top.  If you wanted to skip the cream filling, you can just use the frosting between the layers.  There should be enough.

Butter Layer Cake
Shortening and bleached all-purpose flour for preparing the layer cake pans
2 cups unsifted bleached, all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsifted bleached cake flour
1 ¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ pound (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
6 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons intensified vanilla extract
¾ cup milk blended with ½ cup light (table) cream

Cream Cake Filling, for assembling the baked cake layers
Buttery Chocolate Frosting for spreading on the baked cake layers

1.     Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Lightly grease two 9” round cake pans with shortening.  Line the bottom of each pan with a circle of waxed paper, grease the paper, and dust the insides with all-purpose flour.  Tap out any excess flour; set aside.
2.     Sift the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg onto a sheet of waxed paper.
3.     Cream the butter in the large bowl of a freestanding mixer on moderate speed for 2 minutes.  Add half of the granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute; add the balance of the sugar and continue beating for 1 minute longer.  Add the egg yolks and beat for 2 minutes on moderate speed, or until the mixture is creamy-textured.  Blend in the vanilla extract.
4.     On low speed, add the sifted ingredients in three additions with the milk-light cream mixture in two additions, beginning and ending with the sifted mixture.  Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl frequently with a rubber spatula to keep the batter even-textured.
5.     Spoon the batter into the layer cake pans, dividing it evenly between them.  Smooth over the batter with a rubber spatula or flexible palette knife.
6.     Bake the layers for 30 minutes or until set and a wooden pick inserted 1 inch from the center of each cake layer withdraws clean.  Each baked layer will pull away slightly from the sides of the cake pan.  Cool the cake layers in the pans on racks for 5 to 8 minutes.  Invert each layer onto another rack, peel off the waxed paper round, then invert again to cool right side up.  Cool completely.
7.     Have the cream filling and frosting at hand.  Tear off four 3-inch-wide strips of waxed paper.  Place the strips in the shape of a square around the outer 3 inches of a cake plate.  Center one cake layer on the plate (partially covering the waxed paper square; at least 1 inch of the strip should be visible.)  Spread the filling on the cake layer in an even layer, using a flexible palette knife.  Carefully place the second layer on top, then ice the entire cake in drifts of frosting.  When the frosting has set, in about 45 minutes, gently slide out and discard the waxed paper strips.
8.     Cut the cake into slices for serving.  Serve the cake very fresh; within 2 hours of filling and frosting.  The cream-filled cake is fragile and must be refrigerated after 2 hours.  Refrigerate any leftover cake.

Cream Cake Filling
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup milk
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons unsalted butter, softened

1.     Combine the heavy cream and milk in a small 1-quart saucepan (preferably enameled cast iron) and heat until warm.  Set aside.
2.     Sift the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small (5-cup) heavy saucepan.  Whisk the sugar-cornstarch mixture well to combine it; it must be thoroughly blended if the cream is to thicken properly.  Slowly blend in the egg yolks.
3.     Place a fine-meshed sieve over the saucepan and dribble in about 1 tablespoon of the cream-milk mixture and immediately stir it in.  Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the liquid in this way to avoid shocking the egg yolks.  Add the remaining liquid in three more additions, mixing well. 
4.     Bring the filling mixture to a boil slowly, over gentle heat, stirring constantly all the while with a wooden spoon.  Do not use a whisk.  Do not beat the mixture.  As soon as the thickened cream comes to a low boil, regulate the heat so that it bubbles gently for about 1 minute and 30 seconds. 
5.     Press the cream through a fine-meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, using a rubber spatula.
6.     Slowly stir in the vanilla extract and butter.
7.     Immediately press a sheet of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the cream.  Cool.  Refrigerate the cream in an airtight container for at least 6 hours before using.  The cream can be made one day in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

Buttery Chocolate Frosting
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled to tepid
Large pinch of salt
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
4 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsifted confectioners’ sugar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

1.     Using an electric hand mixer, blend the butter, melted unsweetened chocolate, salt, vanilla extract, half the confectioners’ sugar and all of the milk in a large mixing bowl.  Blend in the remaining confectioners’ sugar and continue beating the frosting on moderate speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until very smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl once or twice with a rubber spatula to keep the frosting even-textured.  Raise the speed to high and beat for 1 minute. Use the frosting immediately.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Classic" Cream Scones

"Classic" Cream Scones - made April 26, 2011 from Simply Scones by Leslie Weiner & Barbara Albright (book #95)

Unless you've been under a rock lately, you're probably at least marginally aware that there's a royal wedding happening in Britain later this week.  Or if you're an avid wedding and/or The Royals faithful follower, you've already got your wedding watch happening.  I am at neither end of the spectrum and other than general well-wishing for William and Kate like I would for any other couple getting married, I have not been paying much attention to it other than what the news forces me to scan to get to the other headlines (hey, it's not my wedding).  However, I have enjoyed the footage from London as it brings back good memories of my trips there.

One of the items I've checked off on my foodie bucket list was to sample British food in - well, Britain.  On my first trip to London almost 15 years ago, I remember enjoying buttery, sweet but not overly so, scones.  They were small, round like a biscuit and served warm with an accompaniment of butter and clotted cream.  They were almost the delicate opposite of the scones I'd grown used to associating with in the United States: thick, triangular slabs of scone in any flavor conceivable that was almost bound to end up like a rock in my stomach once I'd consumed it because they were big and often more heavy than not, with a crunchy top sometimes encrusted with rock sugar. But what a way to go.

My Simply Scones recipe book has a variety of sweet and savory scones to choose from, ranging all the way from the fancy Banana Macadamia Praline Scones and Chocolate-Stuffed Peanut Butter Scones to the more savory Dilled Scallion Scones and Pesto Cheese Scones.  There's even a chapter on spreads, including Chutney Cream Cheese Spread and Chocolate Nut Butter.  But those all smack of an American love of variety and experimentation and seem a trifle gaudy to honor my London memories.  So Classic Cream Scones it is.  By definition, classic stands the test of time and is not a flibberty-gibbet kind of scone.  Its simplicity and good taste speaks for itself without being so crass at to make grandiose claims of its superlative nature.  It just is.

Perfect texture halfway between bread and cake
This scone was easy to put together and also mixed in the classic way: mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately, cut the butter into the dry ingredients, pour the wet ingredients in at once and combine.  I used my hands to pat the dough into a disk rather than a rolling pin - the less you handle scone dough, the better.  Cutting out the rounds of scone dough makes them look like biscuits after they've been baked but once you bite into them, all thoughts of biscuits will flee.  The perfect scone is almost halfway between bread and cake - it's not as chewy as bread, it's not as fragile as cake but it will be tender, buttery, a bit flaky (but not pie crust flaky) and a little bit sweet.  I loved this scone.  I ate half of one while it was still warm and didn't even need to add butter to make it good.  Once it had cooled to room temperature, I ate the other half and enjoyed it just as much, also even without butter.  Usually I've made breads or biscuits where it's optimal when warm and not as good at room temperature.  This scone can go either way.  The top has some crunch, the inside is mealy with the perfect texture and just the right amount of sweetness.  I think even the Queen Mum would approve of this classic scone.

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled
½ cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup currants, optional
1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water for glaze, optional

1.      Preheat oven to 425⁰F.  Lightly butter a baking sheet.
2.      In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes and distribute them over the flour mixture.  With a pastry blender or two knives used scissor fashion, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  In a small bowl, stir together the cream, egg and vanilla.  Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined.  Stir in the currants, if desired.
3.      With lightly floured hands, pat the dough into a ½-inch thickness on a lightly floured cutting board.  Using a floured 2 ½-inch diameter round biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out rounds from the dough and place them on the prepared baking sheet.  Gather scraps together and repeat until all the dough is used.  Lightly brush tops of the scones with the egg mixture, if desired.  Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.
4.      Remove the baking sheet to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes.  Using a spatula, transfer the scones to the wire rack to cool.  Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 14 scones

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mini Kisses Coconut Macaroon Bars

Mini Kisses Coconut Macaroon Bars - made April 23, 2011 from Old-Fashioned Bake Sale from Publications International (book #94)

I have no memory of where or how I got this recipe book.  It could've been a gift (if so, apologies to whoever gave it to me that I don't remember) or I could've picked it up in the bargain aisle at the bookstore.  It has lots of nice little homey recipes that are very straightforward and easy to make.  More importantly, nearly every recipe comes with a picture.  I love food pictures and am forever snapping pics of food, not just what I bake but also when I go out to eat or when I'm at a social gathering and there's plenty of food to adore and photograph.

The picture in the cookbook for this particular bar cookie looked especially good and I love coconut so it didn't take much for me to choose this recipe to try.  I didn't have any mini Hershey Kisses but I had plenty of the regular-size ones so I just chopped those in halves and thirds and called it good enough.  I did deviate from the directions to mix the dry ingredients first without the coconut, mixed the wet ingredients together, added to the dry ingredients then added the coconut.  It might not be a big deal but I find it easier to mix the other ingredients together more uniformly if I didn't have 10 ounces of coconut already in there.  I added the Hershey Kisses last and baked for exactly 35 minutes.  I did time it for once since I figured the toothpick test wasn't going to work with something of this texture.  At 35 minutes, the top was lightly golden brown and smelled so good I almost didn't want to wait until it was completely cool before diving in.  But the instructions do say to cool for at least 8 hours or overnight so I dutifully kept my distance until then.

 Overall, this was pretty good.  If you're a coconut lover like I am, this is like eating the inside of an Almond Joy without the almonds.  It's not as sweet as the candy but the Hershey kisses add a nice touch of chocolate to the coconut.  The only thing I would change though is to bake it in an 8-inch pan instead of a 9-inch so you get thicker bars.

3 ¼ cups (10-ounce package) sweetened coconut flakes
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
3 egg whites
1 whole egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup Hershey’s Mini Kisses Milk Chocolate

1.      Heat oven to 350⁰F.  Lightly grease 9-inch square baking pan.
2.      Stir together coconut, sugar, flour, and salt in large bowl.  Add egg whites, whole egg and almond extract; stir until well blended.  Stir in Mini Kisses.  Spread mixture into prepared pan, covering all chocolate pieces with coconut mixture.
3.      Bake 35 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool completely in pan on wire rack.  Cover with foil; allow to stand at room temperature about 8 hours or overnight.  Cut into bars.

Makes about 24 bars

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Red Velvet Brownies - Sweets for a Saturday #14

Red Velvet Brownies - made April 23, 2011 from That Skinny Chick Can Bake blog

Sweets for a Saturday, hosted by Lisa, is becoming one of my favorite ways to get inspired to bake new creations and find other like-minded baking blogs.  There's always an impressive array of desserts linked up, from the homey creations to the mind-boggling professionally decorated masterpieces.  Not that I don't have enough recipes and cookbooks of my own to bake from and I'm still making my way through my baking challenge but it's always good to draw inspiration from others.  Unless I change their actual recipe, I like to link back to the original blogger's post rather than re-posting the recipe on my blog.  That way, anyone who wants to try to make it themselves can find the recipe there and also see their blog.  I believe in giving credit where credit is due.  Just like I hope anyone who uses one of the recipes I post on my blog would link back to mine.  Seems like good blogging etiquette.

This recipe caught my eye amongst the dozens posted on Lisa's link party.  I've made red velvet cakes, cupcakes and cookies but not brownies.  And brownies are my specialty so I decided to address that omission.  I didn't have any white chocolate on hand and I was out of red food coloring so I hiked 3 miles to Target to get what I needed and 3 miles back - calorie burn in advance prep for that taste test piece, of course.  There's a grocery store less than 5 minutes' walk from me that I could've gone to instead but that would defeat my mantra of exercising first then indulging in empty and enjoyable calories.  It's all about the balance.

This brownie was very easy to put together.  I baked mine for exactly 30 minutes.  That was when the toothpick came out clean when poked into the corner but had moist crumbs when tested in the middle.  Perfect.  I didn't start putting together the frosting until the brownie had cooled somewhat as I know I would've been tempted to frost it while it was still warm.  When you make the frosting, careful with melting the white chocolate.  White chocolate melts at a lower temperature than milk or dark chocolate so it won't take long to melt.  Once melted, let it cool before adding to the butter/sugar mixture so you don't risk melting the butter and changing the structure or texture of the frosting.

Clean off the knife after each cut
I love these brownies. I don't normally like a lot of frosting and I'm not big on white chocolate but this brownie and frosting combination was the bomb.  The brownies were moist and fudgy and the white chocolate frosting was a perfect complement.  I couldn't taste the white chocolate that much against the powdered sugar but it was perfect as both a visual and flavor pairing to the red velvet brownie.

One challenge is cutting these cleanly so that the red velvet brownie crumbs don't go everywhere and "contaminate" the pristine white chocolate frosting.  You need to completely wipe off your knife after every slice or else your next cut will get red crumbs on the frosting.  It won't affect the taste but it's just prettier without it.  Although I did that, I still got some stray crumbs in the frosting and that was because when I cut down, some crumbs still adhered when I brought the knife up.  You can see Lizzy's brownies are much more pristine than mine.  Regardless, these were excellent in taste and texture - two thumbs up.  This goes on my list for what to serve at my next dessert party.  Thanks, Lizzy!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Double Chocolate Brownies

Double Chocolate Brownies - made April 20, 2011 from Wild About Brownies by Barbara Albright and Leslie Weiner (book #93)

This is another brownie book I've had for years, probably since my undergrad days when my baking was almost exclusively focused on brownies and cookies.  This unpretentious book offers a variety of brownie recipes.  I chose to try a simple one for plain chocolate brownies, originally supposed to be embellished with chocolate chips and pecans.  I chose to add neither.  Instead, I went with what has now become my favorite way of eating plain brownies, by adding not-so-plain nutella crunch topping.  I loved how these turned out.  The brownies were nicely fudgy and were the perfect base for the topping.  Once the topping cools, it sets so these brownies can be stacked if need be.  I prefer to cut them in squares and wrap them individually in plastic wrap.  Incidentally, these are also brownies that are great to send in a care package.

½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans, divided
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided

1.      Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan.
2.      In a medium bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until creamy.  Add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy.  Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the chocolate and vanilla until blended.  Beat in the flour and salt just until combined.  Stir in ½ cup of the pecans and ½ cup of the chocolate chips.
3.      Scrape batter into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly with a spatula.  Sprinkle it evenly with remaining ¼ cup of the pecans and remaining ¼ cup of chocolate chips.  Bake for 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted 2 inches from the center comes out almost clean.
4.      Cover the brownies immediately with foil and refrigerate.  Cut the brownies into 16 bars.  Store the brownies in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Brownies

Dulce de Leche Cream Bars - made April 19, 2011 from Brownie Mix Bliss by Camilla V. Saulsbury (book #92)

I'm renaming these brownies from "cream bars" to "cheesecake brownies" as the appendage to the dulce de leche part.  Because anything with this much cream cheese in the topping deserves the cheesecake moniker.  Now you may notice I've broken one of my cardinal rules and made this from a (gads, it's hard for me to say it, much less type it)....brownie mix.  Yes, that's right - a mix.  At first I was going to substitute in a from-scratch brownie recipe for the base but since the recipe book is actually called Brownie MIX Bliss and the basis is that you can make delicious brownies even from a mix, I felt honor-bound to go through with the recipe using the mix.  And in case anyone wonders why, when I'm so opposed to brownie mixes, that I have an entire baking book that uses one in every recipe....I dunno.  I did mention I have a problem resisting buying baking books, right?  I must've bought this awhile ago before my baking snobbiness really kicked in.

Anyway, it turns out Betty Crocker brownie mixes are on sale at Walgreens this week for 89 cents a box so at least, if I had to compromise my baking principles, I did it on the cheap.  When using a brownie mix or a cake mix, always run it through a sieve first to get rid of the lumps.  It's usually a pain to do but worth it in your end product to have it be lump free.  I made two alterations to this recipe.  First, I used actual dulce de leche instead of caramel topping.  Uh, if you're going to call something dulce de leche, you should use dulce de leche in it.  Caramel and dulce de leche are not the same thing even though, in many cases, they can probably be used interchangeably, depending on the recipe.  The second modification I made was rather than reserving the rest of the dulce de leche to drizzle on top of the bars, I actually swirled it into the brownie base itself.  But that's just a personal preference on my part as I anticipated I would prefer the sweetness of the dulce de leche more with the chocolate brownie than atop the cheesecake layer.

The brownie batter, because it had relatively little liquid in it, was more of a brownie dough so you have to pat it even in the pan.  It was too stiff for me to literally swirl in the dulce de leche so I dropped it in dollops on a thin layer of the dough and (mostly) covered it with the remaining brownie dough. After 18 minutes in the oven, the edges looked baked but the middle was definitely soft.  The cheesecake topping is pretty liquid-y, like most cheesecake toppings.  Pour it carefully over the hot brownie base in a slight, steady stream all over the pan.  You don't want a waterfall of cheesecake topping denting your brownie in spots.

Overall, I think this came out well.  I'm not a big cream cheese or cheesecake fan so this will still only rate an "okay" in my book, even if other people love it.  The brownie base was nicely chewy and made for a good contrast to the softer texture of the cheesecake topping.  It's not as tangy as other cheesecakes, perhaps because of the addition of the dulce de leche.  Surprisingly, it also wasn't that sweet which could've been the offset from the sour cream.  I still think this would taste better if you use a from-scratch brownie recipe but I have to admit, it did "work" with the brownie mix version being more of a dough rather than a brownie.  It became more of a crust for the dulce de leche cheesecake rather than a brownie base.

1 19.5 to 19.8-ounce brownie mix
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 17-ounce jar premium caramel ice cream topping

1.      Preheat oven to 350⁰F.  Position a rack in the lower third of the oven.  Spray a 9 x 13” baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and/or line with foil then spray.
2.      In a medium mixing bowl, mix the brownie mix, melted butter and 1 egg with a wooden spoon until just blended and all dry ingredients are moistened.  Spread mixture into prepared pan.
3.      Bake 18 minutes.  Remove from oven (leave oven on).
4.      Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar, flour and vanilla with electric mixer set on high until well blended.  Add sour cream; mix until blended.  Add remaining 3 eggs, one at a time, mixing on low after each addition until just blended.  Add half of the caramel topping; mix on low until blended.  Pour over hot crust.
5.      Bake 32-35 minutes or until center is just barely set.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
6.      Drizzle remaining caramel topping over bars; refrigerate until set.  Cut into bars.  Makes 24 large or 36 small bars.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chocolate Easter Baskets

Chocolate Easter Baskets - made April 21, 2011 from A Year in Chocolate by Alice Medrich (book #91)

I still have 2 brownie recipes to put up but I'm going a little out of order to get this post up before Easter arrives.  You might be busy putting together the Easter ham and its fixings, dyeing Easter eggs or cleaning the house for Easter company.  In the midst of all that, if you want something quick and simple to make with your kids and/or just for something pretty to put at individual places on the company table, try this simple recipe for chocolate Easter baskets.  If you like chocolate covered pretzels, here's a way to have your, er, basket and eat it too.  Although I think my version is more accurately called "birds' nests" rather than baskets, just in appearance.

I only wanted small "baskets" but instead of using the wax paper method like Alice Medrich's instructions say to do, I formed these in cupcake paper liners so they'd be easier to shape. A couple of tips to make this easier: break up some of the pretzel sticks so you have them in varying lengths.  It'll make the baskets easier to make and not too big.  Mine ended up looking more like birds' nests than baskets but I wasn't going to be picky.  Second thing to note is not to let the melted chocolate get too cold.  It's okay to combine it with the pretzels while the chocolate is still warm and to start forming the baskets/birds' nests.  If the chocolate gets too cold, it'll clump on the pretzels and be more difficult to work with.  If that happens, simply warm it up very, very slightly until it's more liquid and easier to work with again. 

Filled with Cadbury mini eggs
Please, please, please use good, high quality chocolate.  Since there are only 2 ingredients in the baskets, you should buy the chocolate you would most enjoy eating on your pretzels.  A 3.5-ounce bar of Valrhona is $2.99 at Trader Joe's and a similar-size bar of Lindt or Godiva costs even less at Target and sometimes CVS - trust me, it's worth the money to buy good chocolate.  3 ounces of chocolate only made 4 birds' nests for me so you might want to double the recipe if you need more.  I didn't measure out the pretzel sticks but simply mixed enough in until all the pretzels were coated.  Once the chocolate has set, carefully peel away the cupcake liners and fill the nests with your favorite Easter candy - jelly beans, chocolate eggs, pastel M&Ms, etc.  My favorites are Cadbury mini eggs and I think the only reason I made the baskets was so I could have an excuse to eat the mini eggs.

ETA: I forgot to add - for anyone who's worked with chocolate, you'll know one risk of melting and cooling chocolate is what's known as chocolate "bloom".  That's the grayish/white stuff (aka cocoa butter) that rises to the surface of your chocolate once it cools and re-solidifes.  You can avoid it a couple of ways.  The first and most foolproof way is to temper your chocolate properly.  That means when you melt it, you bring the chocolate to a certain temperature (there are different temps for dark, milk and white chocolate but generally around 113 degrees F) then cool it down to a certain temperature (again, there are different "working temps", depending on the type of chocolate you're using but think somewhere in the mid to high 80s) before working with it.  The second way is more quick and dirty - prepare the baskets at the last minute, refrigerate until just barely set and use immediately.  Then get your guests to eat them before the bloom has time to appear :).

3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
3 cups or more thin pretzel sticks, salted or unsalted

2-quart bowl or box, lined with plastic wrap, for a large basket or nest
Sheets of wax paper for small nests

1.       Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water.  Cool to lukewarm.  In a medium bowl, pour most of the chocolate over the pretzels.  Use a rubber spatula to turn the pretzels gently in the chocolate until they are lightly coated, adding as much as the rest of the chocolate as necessary.  It’s okay if some of the pretzel shows through the chocolate.
2.       For a large basket or nest, scrape the pretzels into the lined bowl or box.  Arrange the sticky pretzels against the sides of the container to resemble a basket or a nest.  Shape small nests or wreaths on sheets of wax paper.
3.       Refrigerate to set the chocolate.  To unmold the large basket, lift the plastic liner from the container and peel it away from the pretzels.  Fill with candy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Macaroon Brownie Bars

Macaroon Brownie Bars - made April 19, 2011 from Greyston Bakery Cookbook by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan (book #90)

I'm on a brownie kick again because I'm meeting a group of friends for dinner tonight and it's tradition that I always bring goodie bags to hand out, which usually includes brownies.  I get to experiment with new recipes and my friends get to have some homemade treats.  Win-win all around.  I remember one time when I felt guilty that I was handing out bags of calorie bombs so I didn't bring anything to a get together, thinking I was doing them a favor.  Not so much.  Never saw such long faces in my life when I arrived empty-handed.  Not only did I let down my friends but also their spouses who were waiting for them at home, expecting to partake of said goodie bags.  So now I've learned my lesson and don't veer away from tradition.  The goodie bags live on.

This is a pretty easy brownie to make.  I omitted the chocolate chunks from the brownie base and instead added mini chocolate chips to the macaroon topping.  No particular reason why but just wanted to sprinkle some chocolate to the top.  You can do either or both.  Other than that, I followed the directions to the letter and for once, actually timed everything exactly.  Unfortunately, I would rate these brownies as only "okay".  I like the concept of them and I love the coconut topping.  But the brownie base was more cakey than fudgy.  It wasn't dry but I'm used to my brownies being barely one step above fudge.  I want them fudgy, not cakey.  If I were to make these again, I'd cut the first baking time in half and reduce the second baking time by at least 5 minutes.  The taste was good but I prefer a fudgier texture for the brownie part.

Brownie Base
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon pure almond extract
4 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopping into chunks

Coconut Topping
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ¼ cups (7 ounces) sweetened, flaked coconut

1.      Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Grease a 9” baking pan and line it with parchment paper, leaving about 1” of paper overhanging the two long sides.
2.      In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt until well blended.
3.      In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.  Gradually mix in the dry ingredients until well combined.  Stir in the chocolate.
4.      Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until the sides begin to set but the center is still soft.  Remove the pan from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool slightly.
5.      Prepare the coconut topping: In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar.  Stir in the almond extract.  Gradually stir in the flour, mixing thoroughly.  Stir in the coconut.
6.      Using a spoon, gently place spoonfuls of the mixture over the partially baked brownie base and spread evenly with the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula.
7.      Return the pan to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out almost clean.  Do not overbake.  Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool completely.  Remove the brownies by grasping and lifting the edges of parchment.  Cut into bars.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SF Chocolate Salon

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Signage at Fort Mason
Last Sunday I had a chance to go to the 5th Annual SF Chocolate Salon, held in Fort Mason in San Francisco.  I'd never been to it before but a whole bunch of chocolatiers in one warehouse giving out free samples?  I'm so there.  Beyond a slightly higher ticket price, it seemed very similar to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival which my friend Jenny and I went to last year and you may recall we OD'd a bit on all that chocolate.  Plus we didn't get there until early afternoon and by then it was super crowded with both locals and tourists.  So while I wouldn't necessarily go back to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival again, I did want to have a look-see at the SF Chocolate Salon.  Fortunately, Jenny was game as well so we met up in the city to hit Fort Mason and a day of chocolate.

This time around we went first thing in the morning, right when they opened.  We figured this would help us beat the crowds that had made the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival a bit trying.  It turned out to be a good call because it definitely wasn't as crowded earlier in the day as it was later on.  Plus it had the added advantage of being held at the Festival Building in Fort Mason which was essentially a large warehouse.  Various chocolatiers and wineries had display tables and they were spaced far enough apart to accommodate a reasonable number of people without being so far apart that you had to trek from one to the other.

Help yourself to samples
We could - and did - wander from table to table, sampling at will.  I kept taking pictures of the tables and the signage of the chocolatiers as there were so many, I knew I wouldn't be able to remember them all.  Some had leaflets, business cards or flyers to hand out to prospective customers, some were selling their wares and others just had samples laid out of their products for anyone to taste test.  Needless to say, there was no shortage of chocolate to try.

Now, I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to chocolate.  I favor milk chocolate and I don't mind it combined with caramel and/or nuts but that's usually it.  I can appreciate a high-quality dark chocolate but my sweet tooth still prefers milk chocolate.  Those who consider themselves true chocolate aficionados will disagree with me but that's okay - there's no such thing as "wrong" when it comes to high-end chocolate.  Except I have to admit, some of the flavors at the show were a bit too exotic for me.  The recent trend has seemed to be infusing chocolate with all sorts of flavors you can think of - not just your traditional fruit flavors like orange, raspberry, cherry or liqueurs like kahlua, kirsch, frangelico, and whatnot.  But I saw a lot of tea-infused flavors like chai, green tea and jasmine as well as spice-infused chocolate.  I was unfortunate enough to sample a chili pepper chocolate.  One nibble and I had to go get a sample of the sorbet one table had to kill the taste.  Sorry, I don't believe in spicy chocolate.

My favorite - and yes, I ate a whole one
My favorite of the day though was the Salt Water Caramel from JTruffles.  Normally I don't like sweet and salty together, especially in chocolate but the combo worked really well in this truffle.  The filling was a chewy caramel, not too hard, not too liquidy or soft but just the right chewy consistency.  It wasn't too salty which is probably what won me over.  I find fleur de sel and other salt like it too salty with a sweet pairing but JTruffles did an excellent job with this truffle, to the point that I had to go to their website afterward and check out their pricing in case I want indulge at a later date and order myself a box of these truffles.  I was doubly glad Jenny and I went to the Chocolate Salon in the morning because early in the day, JTruffles was giving out whole truffles as their sample.  While it made for a big sample and we figured they'd run out fast, I enjoyed that truffle so much, I couldn't stop eating it, even though I was already sampling a lot of other chocolatiers' tables.  By the afternoon, when we stopped by their table again after lunch, they had run out of the Salt Water Caramel Truffles and had chopped up pieces of their other truffles to give as samples.

We also saw the first cooking demo of the day, given by Jake Gandolfo from Master Chef, Fox TV.  He did a balsamic vinagrette with chocolate melted into it as a sauce for a caprese and a red wine reduction with chocolate for a goat meat dish.  He only made a single serving so no sampling there :).

My second favorite sample(s) of the day was the toffee.  I sampled toffee from three tables and I don't think I had a bad one.  They all had the perfect crunch, not too hard or difficult to chew, not "chewy" but crunchy the way good toffee should be.  Milk chocolate almond toffee was my most favorite and I even met one chocolatier from St. Helena whose husband had also gone to the Culinary Institute of America, although he did the program in Hyde Park NY whereas I did the one in St Helena. Her toffee ( was quite good.

All in all, it was a fun way to spend the day.  Now I'll be dreaming about Salt Water Caramels for awhile....