Saturday, July 30, 2011

Baking Book Giveaway!

Last week, I had linked my Lemon Drizzle Traybake post to two link parties, Sweet Tooth Friday hosted by Alli n Son and Sweet Indulgences Sunday hosted by A Well-Seasoned Life.  I've participated in the link parties every week (when I remember) and they're always filled with amazing desserts, many of which I can only admire but probably can't replicate.  Some are quite fancy and I just don't have that kind of decorating talent or inclination.  So imagine my surprise when this simple, unfrosted, couldn't-be-easier-to-make lemon cake got the most views from both link parties.  Go figure!

So then it seems like a shame that I'm unlikely to use the baking book it came from that often.  As I mentioned in the original post, this book is filled with gorgeous, incredible-looking cakes.  Yet I chose the lemon drizzle traybake recipe to make from it simply because it was the easiest, least fussy one.  But for someone more decorating-inclined than I am, they might like this book and be able to replicate the gorgeous cakes within it.  I'm a big believer in using what you have and if you're not going to use it, give it to someone who will.  So I'm going to offer this book, Gorgeous Cakes by Annie Bell, as a giveaway.

Gorgeous Cakes by Annie Bell, Chris Alack (Photographer)

To enter in a random drawing for the book, leave a comment in this post and tell me anything: your favorite dessert (a link to the recipe would be nice but not necessary), the best thing you ever ate or made, your favorite thing to make, how long you've been baking, or any other random tidbit about yourself that you want to share.  I'll accept entries through midnight PST next Sunday, August 7, 2011.  I'll do a random drawing from all the entrants and contact the winner on Monday, August 8.  Good luck!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Frrrrozen Hot Chocolate

Frrrrozen Hot Chocolate - made July 28,. 2011 from Sweet Serendipity by Stephen Bruce (book #145)
More even smoothness with the second attempt

With much of the country in record-breaking heat waves these days, the last thing most people want to do is turn on their ovens.  So take a break with this icy cold confection - Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, a specialty from Serendipity in Manhattan.  It's a cross between really good chocolate milk and a chocolate milkshake.  Or think of it as a chocolate milkshake without the ice cream.  I personally don't like milk and hardly ever drink it.  I only buy the full-fat version when I need to bake something with it.  But I do like this version of milk - with "frozen" chocolate.

The key thing to watch out for when making this is you need to really whisk the chocolate together with the milk and let it cool to room temperature.  If you don't and you add it too soon to the ice and the rest of the milk, bits of chocolate will solidify.  That's not necessarily a bad thing but for really creamy smoothness the way it's served at Serendipity, you want a more uniform chocolaty slushiness.  I had to make this twice because the first time I had the chocolate-bits issue and my second try was more successful.  And using the good chocolate is an absolute must here.

A close-up of my first attempt

6 half-ounce pieces of a variety of your favorite chocolates
2 teaspoons storebought hot chocolate mix
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 ½ cups milk
3 cups ice
Whipped cream
Chocolate shavings

1.       Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place it in the top of a double boiler over simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted.  Add the hot chocolate mix and sugar, stirring constantly until melted.  Add the hot chocolate mix and sugar, stirring constantly until thoroughly blended.  Remove from heat and slowly add ½ cup of the milk and stir until smooth.  Cool to room temperature.
2.       In a blender place the remaining cup of milk, the room temperature chocolate mixture, and the ice.  Blend on high speed until smooth and the consistency of a frozen daiquiri.  Pour into a giant goblet and top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Milk Chocolate Caramel Cookies

Milk Chocolate Caramel Cookies - made July 25, 2011 from Milk & Cookies by Tina Casaceli (book #144)

For my birthday, I received 4 baking books - the two Baked cookbooks I mentioned previously and the third one is this book (I will write up the 4th when I try a recipe from it).  It's really cute and has yummy-looking pictures inside.  The only drawback is while it's billed as having "80" recipes, it's really 80 varieties of cookies with only a handful of master cookie recipes.  As in, you make a base vanilla dough or a base chocolate dough and the recipes only change based on the add-ins you incorporate yet the book counts each different add-in mix as a different recipe of cookie.  While it's not what most people expect from a cookbook, it's pretty much the reality of many bakeries and that's what this book is from.  Still, we mustn't discount the yummy-looking pictures as that's half the appeal of any cookbook.
I chose the Vanilla Base Dough to try with the milk chocolate and caramel add-ins since those are two of my favorites when it comes to cookie-types.  For the milk chocolate, I added a combination of milk chocolate chips and chopped up Hershey kisses.  Kraft sells the caramel bits in 11-ounce bags which is nice as they're the perfect size for a cookie.  When you mix it in and portion out the dough into balls, make sure the caramel bits are tucked inside the dough rather than clinging to the outside.  Otherwise they'll not just melt during baking but also harden once they're baked and cooled.  Which makes chewing a little more problematic.

I liked this cookie but I also had it warm, 10 minutes out of the oven, so it was hard not to like it when the edges were crisp and the middle was moist and chewy.  I also loved the milk chocolate and caramel but the cookie was almost a trifle too sweet because of the add-ins.  I didn't taste any when they had cooled completely so I don't know if the caramel bits tucked inside the cookie were too chewy or not.  I gave the test cookies away to someone at work and she liked them so I guess they turned out well, even at room temperature (or she was being nice, lol).

Vanilla Base Dough
2 ½ cups (7 ½ ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups (12 ounces) milk chocolate chips
2 cups (14 ounces) caramel bits (if you don’t have caramel bits, cut square caramel bandies into small pieces)

1.     Preheat the oven to 350˚F. 
2.     Line two baking sheets with nonstick silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  Set aside.
3.     Put the oats in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until finely ground.  Transfer the ground oats to a mixing bowl.  Stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
4.     Put the butter in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle.  Begin beating on low speed to soften.  Increase the speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, or until light and creamy.
5.     With the motor running, gradually add the granulated sugar and then the brown sugar, beating until very light and creamy.
6.     Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat to incorporate, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla and when blended, slowly beat in the reserved dry mixture.
7.     While the dough is still streaky, remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape the paddle clean.
8.     Lightly flour a clean, flat work surface.
9.     Scrape the dough onto the floured surface.  Lightly flour your hands and finish mixing the dough by using a gentle kneading motion, working until the dough is just blended.  Do not overwork the dough, you want to be certain that all of the ingredients are blended together.
10.   Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and caramel bits, mixing until evenly distributed. 
11.   Using a tablespoon or small ice-cream scoop, make mounds of dough.  Roll the dough into balls about 1 ½ inches in diameter.  Place the balls, about 2 inches apart, on the prepared baking sheets.  Using your palm, gently flatten each ball to make a puck-like shape about 2 inches in diameter.
12.   When all of the cookies are formed, place in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges and set in the center.  Do not overbake; you want some chewiness in the center.
13.   Remove from the oven and, using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.

Storage: Store, airtight, at room temperature for up to a week.  Dough can be stored, airtight, in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for up to a month.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Tunnel of Love Chocolate Macaroon Bundt Cake

Tunnel of Love Chocolate Macaroon Bundt Cake - made July 22, 2011 from The Cake Club by Susie Quick (book #143)

Another picnic cake candidate here.  I love the chocolate and coconut combination, especially in a bundt cake.  It's so simple and no fuss.  You can leave off the glaze if you're afraid of it melting in hot weather but if you do add it, it's a nice complement to the chocolate.

I haven't used this cookbook very often and this particular recipe had a glaring omission in that it didn't tell you when to add the dry ingredients.  I didn't know if it was before you separate a cup of batter for the coconut middle or after.  I decided to add it before - my notes and modifications to the recipe are in blue below.  I also cut back on the flour as the batter seemed thick enough at 2 1/4 cups.  I'm glad I made the modifications I did as the cake turned out pretty well.  I baked mine for just under an hour - the toothpick test showed it was still a little wet in the thickest part of the cake but I didn't want it to get dry so I chanced it.  The texture came out moist so I was glad I didn't bake it any longer.

If you look closely at the glaze, you'll see air pockets - those are easy enough to get rid of by poking the holes with a toothpick before the glaze sets.  I didn't pay attention closely enough to really care about it (it still tastes the same) but for a nicer presentation, it's better not to have the air pockets.  I also liked how the inside of the cake looked with the center ring of coconut encased in chocolate cake - yum.

6 ounces semisweet chocolate morsels
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
¼ cup milk
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (I only used 2 ¼ cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup evaporated milk (I used whole milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.       Preheat oven to 350⁰F.  Lightly butter and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.
2.       In a small saucepan over low heat, combine chocolate, cocoa, and milk, stirring constantly until everything is melted and dissolved.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  In another small bowl, toss coconut with ¼ cup of the sugar.
3.       With an electric mixer, cream the butter until fluffy.  Gradually add remaining sugar.  Beat on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes.  With mixer running on lowest speed add eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.  Add vanilla.  Add dry ingredients.
4.       Remove one cup of batter and stir into the coconut mixture until just incorporated.  Add the melted chocolate to the remaining cake batter and mix until blended.
5.       Pour a little less than half of the chocolate batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Drop small spoonfuls of the coconut batter around the middle of the cake, and gently spread to create a ring of filling (be careful not to touch the sides of the pan).  Now top the whole thing with the remaining chocolate batter.  It should completely cover the filling.
6.       Bake in center of preheated oven for about an hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let rest in the pan on a wire rack until completely cool. (Note: it’s easier to get it out of the pan cleanly if you invert it while it’s still warm, not hot and not completely cool.)  Invert onto a cake plate.
7.       Combine glaze ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Add a little more milk if it’s too thick.  Drizzle on top of the cake and let it set before slicing.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Millionaire's Shortbread

Millionaire's Shortbread - made July 19, 2011 from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Polifiato (book #142)

For my birthday, Charlene, one of my oldest friends (29 years and counting of friendship!) gave me the two Baked books by Matt Lewis and Renato Polifiato.  I had blogged before about how I had checked these out of the library to see what they're like and even tried a couple of recipes from them.  Now I'm the happy owner of both Baked books.  I may have banned myself from buying any new cookbooks until I've finished my baking challenge but that doesn't mean other people can't give them to me as gifts :).

So this officially counts in my baking challenge.  One of the recipes I have been wanting to try is this one.  It's described in the book as a rich version of a Twix bar.  I decided to up the ante and have the Twix bar meet the Nestle Crunch bar.  Yup, I did the nutella crunch topping instead of the chocolate glaze.  I also took a shortcut and instead of boiling the two cans of sweetened condensed milk, I simply used two cans of dulce de leche which is what sweetened condensed milk becomes after you boil it long enough to caramelize it.  I've had people advise me on how to make dulce de leche from sweetened condensed milk but, as I've mentioned before, there's not much of a price difference between a can of sweetened condensed milk and a can of dulce de leche and I'd rather save the time and energy it takes to caramelize the milk and go straight for the dulce de leche.

Easy to make shortbread crust

The shortbread base is really easy to work with and pat into the pan, not too soft and not too dry or crumbly.  Because of the warmer temps in the summer, make sure your butter doesn't get too soft before you use it or else the dough will be too greasy.  Don't forget the butter will soften and warm up even further once you beat it with your mixer so it's okay to start with cool (not cold) butter.  Pat the dough evenly into the pan.  The top doesn't have to be perfectly smooth since you're going to be covering it with a layer of dulce de leche anyway but you do want it to be of a fairly uniform thickness so one part doesn't bake faster or brown more than another part.

The dulce de leche layer

So I have to admit, I expected to like this bar cookie better than I actually did.  I think the reality didn't meet my expectations for a couple of reasons.  One: the canned dulce de leche I used wasn't as high a quality as the jar version I normally get from Williams Sonoma.  I think I would've liked this better had I just used melted caramel instead.  Two, my Rice Krispies possibly started to get stale so they weren't all as crunchy and crispy as I wanted in the topping.  The shortbread itself was fine and made a good base for  the confection layers on top.  Next time I'm going to make it with caramel and a fresh box of Rice Krispies.  I still love the concept but I have to tweak the execution.

½ cup sugar
1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg yolk, slightly beaten

Caramel Filling
28 ounces sweetened condensed milk (two 14-ounce cans)

Chocolate Glaze
6 ounces dark chocolate (60% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes

1.   Make the shortbread: Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
2.   In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter together until blended.
3.   Add 2 cups of the flour and beat until well combined.  Add the egg yolk and beat for a few seconds, or until just combined.
4.   Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Dust the top of the dough and your hands with a little flour.  Use your hands to gently work the dough into a 6 by 6-inch square.  You will have to turn the dough and sprinkle with top with flour as you go.  Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup flour on the surface of the dough.  Fold the dough over and knead until incorporated, then flatten the dough into a rectangle.  Transfer the rectangle to the prepared pan and press it into the pan.
5.   Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 22 minutes, until golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
6.   Make the caramel filling: Stovetop method – put the sweetened condensed milk in a medium heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of boiling water over low heat.  Cook for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until thick and caramel colored.  Remove the bowl from the pan and beat until smooth.
7.   Microwave method: Put the sweetened condensed milk in a large microwave-safe bowl.  Cook on 50% power (medium) for 4 minutes, stirring briskly halfway through, until smooth.  Cook on 30% power (medium-low) for 12 to 18 minutes, until very thick and caramel colored, stirring briskly every 2 minutes, until smooth.
8.   Pour the caramel filling over the cooled shortbread and place the pan in the refrigerator until cool, about two hours.
9.   Make the chocolate glaze: In a large nonreactive metal bowl, combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter.  Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth.  Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for 30 seconds to cool slightly.  Pour the mixture over the chilled caramel layer and use an offset spatula to spread it into an even layer.
10.  Put in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the glaze hardens.
11.  Remove the pan from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving so as not to crack the chocolate glaze.  Cut into squares and serve.

The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lemon Drizzle Traybake

Lemon Drizzle Traybake - made July 17, 2011 from Gorgeous Cakes by Annie Bell (book #141)

I have no idea why I got this book.  I've never used it and when I flipped through it looking for a recipe to try, nothing really inspired me.  The cakes that were pictured were beautiful so maybe that's what sucked me in during my more-acquisitive period.  This also reads like a book made more for an international audience.  A majority of the recipes call for using self-rising flour and the nomenclature used is usually the kind I see in cookbooks originating from Canada or Australia.  Self-rising flour is available in the United States but it's more commonly used  and more widely available in Australia, going by what I saw on the grocery store shelves when I was there.  If you don't have self-rising flour, no need to go out and get a 5-lb bag as you can "make" your own.  For every cup of self-rising flour called for in the recipe, the typical conversion is 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

The pan sizes are also generally different than the common pan sizes in the US.  To find a comparable pan size, multiply the length and width to get total square inches then find a comparable pan.  For instance, this calls for making in a 9" x 12" pan.  In the US, the 9" x 13" pan is more common.  But if you multiply 9" x 12", you get 108" in which case a 10 x 10 pan would probably be a close enough approximation to the original pan size.  In this case, I actually used a 9" x 9" pan.  It made a slightly thicker cake than the recipe called for but once I had mixed it up, I didn't think it was an inordinate amount of batter and I'd rather have a thicker cake than a thinner one so I went with the smaller pan.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good cake with a great cakey texture, perfect for a light, fresh-flavor dessert in the summer.  I used lemons from my mom's lemon tree and the cake was bursting with lemon flavor without being too tart.  The lemon-sugar glaze on top was a perfect complement in terms of taste and texture.  Pair this cake with fresh, ripe berries and enjoy a refreshing summer dessert.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup granulated sugar
3 medium eggs
2/3 cup milk
1 2/3 cups self-rising flour, sifted (or 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 3/4 teaspoon salt)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, sifted
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 cup granulated sugar

1.   Preheat the oven and preheat to 350˚F and butter a 12 x 9 x 1 ½-inch baking pan (I used a 9 x 9).
2.   Put the butter and sugar in a food processor and beat together until pale and fluffy.  Incorporate the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary, then add the milk and beat until creamy.
3.   Gradually add the flour and baking powder through the funnel with the motor running, the incorporate the lemon zest.
4.   Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, smoothing the surface, and bake for 30 minutes until golden and shrinking slightly from the sides, or a skewer comes out clean from the center.
5.   Run a knife around the edge of the tray and prick the cake with a skewer at about 1-inch intervals.  Combine the lemon juice and granulated sugar in a bowl, stirring to evenly distribute it, then spoon over the top of the cake.  Let it cool, allowing the juice to sink into the cake.  The surface should have a lovely crystalline sheen.  Cut into serving-size portions.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Birthday Cupcakes from Crumbs

My birthday was a couple of days ago and one of the birthday presents I received tonight when I got home from work was a package on my doorstep from my old friend and college roommate, Caroline.  Caroline has a history of giving not only awesome presents but also creative ones that are usually things I wouldn't think of buying for myself or can't justify buying just for myself.  Which makes them the perfect presents, right?  This time around, it was a package of cupcakes from Crumbs Bakeshop in New York.  I had heard of Crumbs before but have never visited their bakery or tried anything from it.  Once again, perfect present. 

The package contained 6 good-sized cupcakes and Caroline had even sent me cupcake pedestals from Olive & Cocoa so I could display these properly.  I plan to try one a night until they're gone.  In the meantime, I'm packaging them into ziploc freezer bags (one cupcake to a freezer bag - they're that big) and putting them into the freezer for safe keeping.  Until it's their turn.  Pictures speak a thousand words so I will let the cupcakes speak for themselves.  Thanks, Caroline!

The beautiful box

A look inside the box - the even more beautiful contents

Cookies n Creme Cupcake
Peanut Butter Cup Cupcake

Chocolate (I assume) or a Black & White
Upscale cupcake version of a Hostess cupcake
Red Velvet, always a favorite
Not sure - Vanilla maybe?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mocha Pudding Cake

Mocha Pudding Cake - made July 16, 2011 from The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz (book #140)

At last I'm in the 140s for my baking challenge.  For some reason it felt like I was in the 130s forever, trying to bake through all my current baking books.  I'm almost at the point where I can count the remaining baking books I have left and know how much farther I have to go before I've tried a recipe from every cookbook I own.  Almost.

I love pudding cakes because they're so easy to make and almost by definition are moist and rich.  Mix up the cake batter, sprinkle with cocoa and sugar, pour the liquid on top and bake.  It's hard to dry out a pudding cake unless you really don't pay attention and leave it in the oven too long.  Plus, you're supposed to eat it warm with ice cream - bonus.

For the barbecue I went to last weekend (same as what the cupcakes were for), I threw this together.  Normally you'd serve pudding cake warm from the oven but since I was going to someone else's house, I had to make this ahead of time in my own kitchen and I just warmed it up before serving with vanilla ice cream once I was at the barbecue.  I had done a straight chocolate version of a pudding cake before but this differed because instead of pouring water over the top, you poured a cup of coffee.  Hence the "mocha" in the name.

You really do want to time this one as you can't rely completely on the toothpick test since the center is supposed to be "wet".  You can tell it's done when a toothpick inserted at the edges comes out with moist crumbs while the middle is still somewhat jiggly.  I baked mine exactly 25 minutes and it was done at the edges and definitely still jiggly in the middle.  I warmed it up slightly when I was at the barbecue before I served it.  The taste was good although you couldn't taste the coffee part as strongly as I had expected.  But next time, I would bake it for a little longer, maybe another 5-7 minutes as the middle was definitely far more liquid batter than I wanted and I would've preferred more cake.  The pudding part seemed more like batter than liquid fudge. 

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups sugar
6 tablespoons plus ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutch process
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup hot, very strong, great-quality brewed coffee

1.   Adjust the rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350⁰F.  Butter an 8-inch square cake pan.
2.   Sift together the flour, 1 cup of the sugar, the 6 tablespoons cocoa, baking powder and salt.
3.   In a medium bowl, mix together the eggs, melted butter, milk and vanilla.
4.   Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
5.   Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
6.   Mix together the remaining ½ cup sugar and the ¼ cup cocoa powder and sprinkle evenly over the top.  Pour the hot coffee over the cake batter, then bake for 25 minutes, until it appears just set around the edges yet still jiggly in the center.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Silver Cake

Silver Cake - made July 16, 2011 from Old-Fashioned Baking Book by Jim Fobel (book #139)

I needed vanilla cupcakes to take to a barbecue this weekend so I converted this recipe for a 2-layer, 9-inch cake into 22 cupcakes.  It uses only egg whites rather than whole eggs so it's a bit lighter than the norm.  I can't pretend it's healthy though since you've still got the butter, sugar and flour in it.  For the frosting, I just beat a stick of butter until it was soft, added a couple cups of powdered sugar and enough milk to make it spreadable.  Plus a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract.  I didn't measure anything exactly since frosting can be pretty forgiving as long as you get it to the right consistency.  This was a basic vanilla cupcake.  I wouldn't say they were the best cupcakes I've ever made but I'm also sometimes cupcake impaired since I either never bake them long enough or bake them a minute past done.  Cupcakes dry out easily so they're best consumed the day they're made. This was okay but I'm not sure I would make this again and would probably got for a whole-egg version instead for a better mouthfeel.

2 ¾ cups sifted cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 egg whites
1 cup milk

1.   Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans, tapping out the excess flour.
2.   In a medium-sized bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
3.   In a large bowl combine the butter and sugar and beat with an electric mixer until well combined.  Add the vanilla and egg whites and beat at high speed until light, about 2 minutes.  Beat in half of the dry ingredients, just until blended.  Beat in all fo the milk and then the remaining dry ingredients.  Beat for one minutes and then turn into the prepared pans, dividing batter equally between them.  Smooth the tops with a spatula and firmly tap pans on the surface to level.  Bake on same shelf until the tops spring back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, 30 to 35 minutes.  Cool in the pans on a rack for 10 minutes and then invert onto racks.  Return one layer to an upright position and cool both layers to room temperature.
4.   Place one layer bottom side up on a serving dish and spread with 1 cup of frosting.  Add the second layer, right side up, over the frosting.  Spread top and the insides with the remaining frosting.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies with Oreo Cookie Crust

Double Chocolate Fudge Brownie Bars - made July 12, 2011 from Baking 911 by Sarah Phillips (book #138)

I'm still baking for goodie bags to give to friends I'm meeting for lunches and dinners this month so the brownie baking continues.  Many brownie recipes are quite similar so they're just the easiest for me to try out as new recipes and be fairly confident they'll turn out and be up to standard to give away.  I've had a tendency to keep adding the Nutella Crunch Topping to plain brownie recipes lately but for this one, I tried something different.  Instead of a topping, I made a bottom crust out of crushed Oreo cookies, 2 ounces of butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  I didn't measure the Oreos but simply used up the ones I had left in the package.  You can adjust the amounts; you just want to make sure the mixture is crumbly enough to make a layer without falling apart but not be wet or liquidy.  Even if you don't get the proportions perfectly right, it's the bottom layer and can be forgiven a lot of sins when it's propping up a rich, fudgy, dense brownie.  I actually ran a bit short on the Oreos so I wasn't able to make an even layer on the bottom.

This one came out a little thicker than I expected which was fine since I don't like thin brownies.  But you do have to watch the baking time.  The directions say to bake for 40 minutes exactly but I don't believe in "exact" since ovens vary so widely and 40 minutes in one oven could be perfect but dry in another and underbaked in a third.  The toothpick test almost never fails me, especially since I'm so bad about remembering to time things.  And no, I don't have a timer and have never invested in one since I'd probably forget to set it anyway.   Anyway, I took these out when a toothpick inserted in the edges came out just about clean but inserted in the middle came out with a bit of batter still on it.  Normally I would've left it in there longer but since the edges were done, I didn't want to take a chance on overbaking.  As it turns out, that was the right call as you can see from the picture that, once cool, the chocolate set and was fine and fudgy.  Taste-wise, I thought these were okay - remember I'm super picky so "okay" to me is probably perfectly good to someone else....or so I've been told....repeatedly.  This does not have a rich dark chocolate but a typical semisweet chocolate flavor. Oh and if you like brownies with a top crust, this one has it.  I don't which is another reason why this goes into the "okay" category for me.

¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups sugar

1.     Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Grease an 8 x 8-inch baking pan.
2.     Sift cocoa before using.  In a medium bowl, blend the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
3.     Put the chopped chocolate in a small bowl.  Warm the butter in a small saucepan until just melted, and remove from the heat.  Pour the butter over the chocolate.  Swirl the pan so the hot butter warms all the chocolate and covers it.  Let the mixture sit 2 minutes.  Stir to melt the chocolate.  Let cool until slightly warm.
4.     With a fork, beat the eggs and vanilla together in a medium bowl until just combined.  Stir in the sugar with a rubber spatula.  Pour in the cooled butter-chocolate mixture and mix until smooth.  Do not whip.  In 2 additions, fold in the flour mixture until almost combined.  Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth it.  Tap the pan bottom lightly on the countertop a few times to remove excess air bubbles.
5.     Bake for exactly 40 minutes.  This recipe will puff slightly in the oven, then fall and crack; that’s normal.  The brownies will seem underdone in the middle but will harden as they cool.  Do not overbake.  Cool in the pan on a wire cake rack before cutting into squares.

Storage: Store well-covered at room temperature for 3 to 5 days.  Freezes well for up to 3 months.
Lark's Country Heart

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thin and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Thin and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies - made July 10, 2011 from Got Milk? The Cookie Book by Peggy Cullen (book #137)

This is the chocolate chip cookie recipe I used to make the bottom layer for the Crispy Caramel (no) Cashew Bars below.  Normally I wouldn't even glance at a recipe that said it makes a thin chocolate chip cookie but since I needed a chocolate chip cookie dough to spread as the bar cookie layer, it seemed serendipitous to try it.  I doubled the recipe and had enough for the bottom layer of a 9 x 13 pan plus the dough for a baker's dozen of individual cookies.

There's not much I can say for these as a cookie - they did spread but not too thin as the name would have you suppose.  In fact, they baked just like a typical chocolate chip cookie.  I wouldn't say there were head and shoulders above the rest (they're not) - they're nicely ordinary.

5 ounces (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½  teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate chunks or chips
1 cup nuts (optional)

1.       Preheat oven to 375⁰F. 
2.       In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugars, salt and vanilla until well combined.  Beat in the egg.  Scrape down the bowl using a rubber spatula and beat for a few more seconds.
3.       In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture on low speed and mix just until absorbed.  Combine the chocolate chunks and nuts in a small bowl and stir into the dough.
4.       Shape the dough into 1 ½” balls and drop them about 3 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets.  Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are golden.  Let sit for 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chocolate Chip Caramel Crisp Bars

Crispy Caramel Cashew Bars - made July 8, 2011 from Cookie Dough Delights by Camilla V Saulsbury (book #136)

This is another baking book that I'm baffled I bought since I almost never bake with store-bought cookie dough and that's exactly what the recipes in this book are based on.  I must've been lured by the cover or had convinced myself it was a good opportunity to try out something I don't normally do (I can rationalize anything when it comes to buying baking books). However, this is also another baking book I'd recommend for novice bakers or busy bakers with kids who want to help in the kitchen.  The recipes are easy to follow and typically require less ingredients than making cookie doughs from scratch.

In this case, I followed almost nothing from this recipe since I still couldn't bring myself to buy store-bought cookie dough and I left off the cashews featured in the title but I do credit this recipe with giving me the idea for the flavor combinations so I'm posting it as the recipe writer intended for it to be made.  But I essentially made this one up as I went along.

In my case, contrary to the premise of the book, I made the chocolate chip cookie dough from scratch - you can use your favorite cookie recipe and just spread the dough as the bottom layer.  This is the one time where it's okay to use a recipe where the cookies are apt to spread.  In fact, it's better if you do since you don't want a cakey or stiff dough.  I also didn't use caramel apple dip and instead melted caramels with a bit of milk for the caramel.  That's more of a flavor and texture preference on my part.  Once the bottom chocolate chip cookie layer was baked and had cooled, I spread a layer of melted caramel over it and let it set before I covered it with the nutella crunch topping I'm so fond of.

This turned out to be a nice bar cookie confection - it's good with the chocolate chip cookie layer but if you wanted to make it even more decadent, you can make a chocolate brownie base instead, top it with caramel then the nutella crunch.  Serious calories but worth it.

1 18-ounce roll refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough, well chilled
2 cups milk chocolate chips, divided
1 16-ounce container (about 1 ½ cups) caramel apple dip, divided
3 cups crisp rice cereal
1 ¼ cups chopped lightly salted cashews

1.       Preheat oven to 350⁰F.  Spray a 13 x 9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray or line with foil.
2.       Slice cookie dough into ¼-inch-thick slices.  Arrange slices in bottom of the prepared pan.  With floured fingers, press dough evenly to form crust.
3.       Bake 10-14 minutes or until light golden brown (dough will appear slightly puffed).  Remove from the oven; cool 15 minutes.
4.       In a large saucepan, combine 1 cup of the chocolate chips and 1 cup of the caramel dip.  Cook over medium heat until melted and smooth, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Stir in cereal and cashews; immediately spread over cooled crust.
5.       In small saucepan, combine remaining 1 cup chips and ½ cup caramel dip.  Cook over medium heat until melted and smooth, stirring constantly.  Spread over cereal mixture.  Refrigerate 30 minutes or until set.  Cut into bars.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Super Fudgy Five Chocolate Brownies - with dulce de leche

Super Fudgy Five Chocolate Brownies - made July 7, 2011 from Chocolatier Magazine, February/March 2004 issue

Chocolatier is (or was) a magazine and not a baking book but it has plenty of great recipes and up until the magazine folded and got incorporated into a less fantastic publication, I had a "lifetime" subscription for over 10 years.  I've tried many recipes from it and was sorry to see the magazine go.

I need to make a bunch of brownies over the next couple of weeks, some to go into care packages I promised to send out and others to bring to friends when I meet them for lunches and dinners over the next 2-3 weeks.  So you're going to see a steady stream of care package/goodie bag type treats in the coming days.

I omitted the glaze on this one since I was mailing it in summer weather and didn't want it to arrive in a melted, non-appetizing-looking state at its end destination.  Instead, I added dollops of dulce de leche within the brownie itself.  This makes it easier to cut and package since the dulce de leche is inside the brownie and not on top.  I like taking close up shots of brownies so you can see what I mean by fudgy.  You get this look and texture as long as you don't overbake the brownies.  I think brownies are one of the easiest things to bake but I've had several friends tell me they find it hard because they have a tendency to overbake them.  Overbaking is the death knell of a good brownie.  The trick to baking fudgy brownies is to take them out when a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs, not raw batter.  You don't want the toothpick to come out clean from the middle.  By then it's almost certainly overbaked, especially at the edges.  Remember that chocolate sets once it cools so err on the side of underbaking rather than overbaking.

This was good but I think it would've been better if I had used the dulce de leche in a brownie that had more unsweetened chocolate and had a darker chocolate flavor.  The basis of the chocolate in this brownie is mostly from chocolate chips so it was more of a semisweet than a real dark chocolate brownie.  Still good though.

Fudgy brownies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
18 ounces (3 cups) semisweet chocolate chips
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant espresso
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup walnut halves

Bittersweet chocolate glaze
1/3 cup heavy cream
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 ounce milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 ounce white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1.       Make brownies: Position a rack in the center of oven and preheat to 350 F.  Line a 9 x 13” pan with aluminum foil so that the foil extends 2” beyond the two long sides of pan.  Butter bottom and sides of foil-lined pan.
2.       In a medium saucepan, combine butter and sugars. Over medium heat, stir mixture with a wooden spoon for 5-7 minutes, or until butter is melted.
3.       Place chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate in a food processor fitted with metal chopping blade. Process chocolates for 15-20 seconds, or until finely chopped.  With motor running, pour hot butter mixture through feed tube and process for 15-20 seconds, or until chocolate is completely melted, scraping down the sides of the workbowl as necessary.  Add eggs and vanilla and process for 10-15 seconds, or until combined.  Add walnut halves and pulse about 10 times to incorporate them into mixture and to chop them slightly.
4.       Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula.  Bake brownies for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted 2” away from center comes out slightly moist.  Do not overbake.
5.       Cool brownies completely in pan set on a wire rack.  Using 2 ends of foil as handles, lift brownies out of pan.  Invert onto a cutting board and remove aluminum foil.  Reinvert brownies so they are top-side-up.  Using a sharp knife, trim sides of brownies so that they are straight and smooth.  Place the brownies on a wire rack and set wire rack over a baking sheet.
6.       Make the bittersweet chocolate glaze (optional): Do not make the glaze until brownies are cool.  In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, bring cream to a gentle boil.  Take pan off heat and add chocolate.  Let sit for 1-2 minutes to melt chocolate.  Using a wire whisk, stir chocolate and cream until smooth.  Strain glaze through a fine sieve into a small bowl to remove any air bubbles.  Cool glaze for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened but still pourable.  Pour glaze evenly over brownies allowing glaze to drip down sides onto baking sheet.  Spread glaze with small metal offset cake spatula, making sure that the top and sides of brownies are completely covered.
7.       Decorate brownies (optional): In top of a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water, melt milk chocolate, stirring often, until smooth.  Transfer milk chocolate to a small paper cone or small plastic bag.
8.       Repeat above step using white chocolate.
9.       Cut a 1/16” opening at tip of both paper cones or plastic bags.  Pipe thin straight parallel lines of milk chocolate at ½” intervals across top of brownies.  Pipe thin straight lines of white chocolate in between lines of milk chocolate.  At 3/8” intervals, draw the tip of a toothpick or metal skewer completely across brownies perpendicular to the piped chocolate lines, reversing direction in which you pull toothpick across brownie.  Wipe toothpick tip clean between each pull.  This will create a feathered design.  Refrigerate brownies for 15 minutes, or until glaze is set.  Cut into 15 bars.  Store brownies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Lark's Country Heart