Thursday, May 30, 2013

Crockpot Chocolate Lava Cake

Crockpot Chocolate Lava Cake - made May 25, 2013 from My Recipe Roundup

Ever since I made the Crockpot French Toast, I've been intrigued by the idea of being able to make desserts in my slow cooker.  That opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. I went with this chocolate lava cake from My Recipe Roundup that I found on pinterest as I'm ever on the lookout for a good lava cake.  This was really more like the Black and White Pudding Cake I'd made before than the traditional lava cake that's usually baked in individual portions with a molten center.  The basic principles are the same as the pudding cake: cake batter, sprinkle sugar-cocoa over it, cover with boiling water and let bake.  Or slow cook.  I've also seen something like this called a chocolate cobbler.

Regardless of what you call it, this was pretty good.  The cake baked to rise to the top but when you spoon into it, the "chocolate lava" is lurking just beneath to make a very rich concoction.  It's not meant to be neatly served.  It's just meant to be homey decadence.  Spoon into (small) dessert dishes, be generous with pouring the chocolate lava on top of the cake, and serve warm with ice cream.  And yes, it IS possible to overcook this.  If you cook it too long, the cake portion won't be as fluffy and while there's enough "lava" to keep it from being dry, it'll have a more dense texture if left in the slow cooker for too long.  This makes a lot of servings so you may want to try it out when you have a large group of people over.  And plenty of ice cream.

2 cups brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Fudge Topping
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups boiling water
  1. For the cake: Mix together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Stir in milk, melted butter and vanilla until combined. Spread the batter over the bottom of a large crock pot.
  2. For the fudge topping: Mix together the brown sugar and cocoa. Sprinkle mixture over the cake batter.
  3. Pour the boiling water over the top. DO NOT STIR! Cover and cook on High for 2 - 2 1/2 hours.
  4. Turn off heat, and remove lid. Let sit 20-30 minutes before serving, so its still warm but won't burn your mouth.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Top Favorite: Alton Brown's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Alton Brown's Chocolate Chip Cookies - made May 20, 2013 from Kitchen and Trial Error

This is my other top favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies and also went into the goodie bags I brought to my work conference last week.  Not much more to say about them other than they're made especially good when you use high quality milk chocolate chunks for them.  The brown butter adds a nice flavor to the cookie and the bread flour makes them chewy.  But no matter how good your ingredients are and how faithfully you follow the instructions for mixing them together, if you overbake them, they still won't be as good as they should be.

I've mentioned repeatedly that the most common mistake I see people make with cookies is they overbake them.  Overbaking means baking until the middles are puffy and brown.  You want to bake cookies only until the edges are golden brown and the middles are just barely past the stage of looking shiny or raw.  Once you take them out of the oven, the middles will sink - they're supposed to.  When they're completely cool, they'll be moist.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet, milk or white chocolate chips or any combination (your choice)
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat and keep stirring/cooking until butter has turned brown and has a nutty fragrance.  Pour in a large mixing bowl (or bowl of your stand mixer) and set aside to cool to lukewarm.
  2. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together. Set aside.
  3. Add the sugar and brown sugar to the melted butter and cream on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Add the egg, yolk, milk, and vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  4. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Portion into cookie dough balls using an ice cream scoop and chill the dough balls at least two hours or overnight.
  6. When your dough is chilled, preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Place dough balls on the cookie sheet, leaving ample room between them, as they spread while baking.
  8. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Top Favorite: Butter Toffee Crunch Shortbread

Butter Toffee Crunch Shortbread - made (again) May 20, 2013 from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley

Happy Memorial Day and a heartfelt thank you to all the men and women who serve their country so faithfully and the families who support and sacrifice right along with them.  We couldn't do what we do and be who we are without your service - thank you!

I love shortbread.  It falls into the category of I don't bake or buy it very often because I would want to eat more of it than I should so it's easier not to have it on hand in the first place (Sun Chips, Doritos and French fries fall into this category as well).  But every once in awhile it's a nice treat.  And if I'm going to indulge in shortbread, this is my favorite one.
I was at my company conference last week and, prior to meeting up with my colleagues, asked if they had any special requests for me to bring.  I typically make the offer, "just look through my blog and let me know if there's anything on there you want me to make".  Of course, there are some limitations - pies, anything with ice cream or mousse, lava cakes, etc aren't practical for me to pack up and travel with. And I had used up all of my overripe bananas on the Banana Bread Brownies so anything with banana was out as I didn't have enough time to let bananas ripen.  But I was pleasantly surprised by the request for this shortbread since it gave me an excuse to make it again.

The challenge with this shortbread is you'll want to take it out too soon.  Don't.  Because if you do, it won't have the "snap" of good shortbread and instead will be too chewy because it hasn't baked long enough.  It looks done in my oven at 45 minutes.  That's when I get twitchy and want to take it out because it's already brown all over and I don't want it to burn.  My underbaking tendencies are not well served with shortbread.  But it has a much better texture when it's baked for long enough so I managed to keep myself from taking it out until it had been in there for at least 55 minutes

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup rice flour or substitute cornstarch if rice flour is unavailable
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups (¾lb) fresh unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons fruit sugar or superfine sugar
6 tablespoons tightly packed light brown sugar
¾ cup miniature butterscotch chips
¾ cup English toffee pieces (available in the baking sections of most supermarkets)
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a 9 x 13" baking pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Sift the all-purpose flour and rice flours together with the salt and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until very smooth. Gradually add the sugars and cream the mixture until it is very light and fluffy. Transfer the creamed butter-sugar mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the flour mixture, about ½ cup at a time, fully incorporating each addition before adding the next. Use your fingers to knead the final portion of dry ingredients into the dough, keeping your palms off the dough as much as possible, so the warmth doesn’t turn the butter oily. When the last of the flour is fully blended, add the butterscotch and toffee bits and knead them into the dough until they are evenly distributed.
  4. Press the dough firmly into the prepared pan and use the back of a metal spoon to smooth the surface. Prick the dough all over with a fork and set the pan in the center of the oven. Bake the shortbread for about 45 minutes, then prick the dough again to release any trapped air. Return the pan to the oven for another 15 or 30 minutes, or until the edges are light golden brown, and the center feels just firm to the touch.
  5. The shortbread will set to a very firm biscuit as it cools, so it must be cut while it is still warm. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 7 or 8 minutes, then run a sharp paring knife around the outside of the dough to loosen the edges. Make two long cuts in the shortbread, dividing it evenly into three rectangles, each cut beginning and ending at a short side of the pan. Cutting from long side to long side, cut the rectangles into about ¾-inch wide fingers, wiping the knife on a clean towel between each cut, as it gets sticky and can pull and tear the cooling shortbread.
  6. Leave the fingers to cool completely in the pan, then re-cut and transfer them to airtight tins.
These are the goodie bags I brought to the conference with me

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pecan Praline Cookies

Pecan Praline Cookies - made May 11, 2013 from My Own Sweet Thyme

Since I didn't use up all of the icing from the Caramel Bundt Cake, I needed to repurpose the remainder so I tried out these cookies that I found on pinterest from My Own Sweet Thyme.  I'm including the original frosting recipe though for future use. I omitted the pecans from the cookie dough since nuts in cookies typically aren't my thing unless the cookies are more crisp like shortbread. 

If you like pralines, you'd like these cookies.  If you find pralines too sweet, you'll like these cookies even better.  I had genuine pralines (pronounced prah-leens) when I was in New Orleans, made by a local woman at the farmers' market, but I found them much too sweet for my taste.  However, these cookies are a wonderful representation.  They're brown sugar cookies, the frosting was a nice penuche-like touch and the single pecan on top brought the flavors together nicely. 

1 cup butter, softened
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup finely chopped pecans, optional
Brown Sugar Frosting (see below)
Pecan halves for garnish
  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer. Gradually add sugars, mixing well. Add egg and vanilla; beat well.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, soda and salt. Gradually add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture, stirring after each addition. Stir in the chopped pecans, if using.
  3. Chill dough for 30 minutes. 
  4. When chilled, remove from the refrigerator. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place the balls of dough on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks. 
  6. When cool, spread Brown Sugar Frosting over the tops of the cookies. Top each with a pecan half before the icing sets.
Brown Sugar Frosting
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup half & half
1 tablespoon butter
1½ cups sifted powdered sugar (plus a little more if needed)
  1. Combine brown sugar and half & half in a saucepan. 
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Boil 4 minutes. 
  3. Remove from heat. Stir in butter. Add 1½ cups powdered sugar. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add a little more powdered sugar, if needed, to achieve a desired spreading consistency.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Best" Brownies

"Best" Brownies - made May 14, 2013, recipe adapted from allrecipes.com

This was the name on the allrecipes site but I put the "best" in quotation marks since "best" is a relative term.  I needed to make another rendition of my Peanut Butter Crunch Brownies and I couldn't resist trying a different brownie recipe for the base.  Usually I can scan a recipe and predict how it'll turn out.  Because this one gets its chocolate flavor only from cocoa powder, I figured this would make a dark chocolate base that would pair well with the lighter and sweeter peanut butter crunch topping.  The baking powder would also make a lighter texture than a brownie without any chemical leavening.

I was actually right on how this turned out.  It was good but I wouldn't consider it particularly memorable.  If I had made it as a standalone brownie, I'd probably be more critical of it but since I paired it with the topping, it served its purpose nicely.  Sometimes I think I make the brownie just so the Snickers, peanut butter cups and peanut butter crunch topping will have something to sit on.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Peanut Butter Crunch Topping

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line an 8 x 8" pan with aluminum foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt butter.  Remove from heat and stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla extract.  Beat in cocoa, flour, salt and baking powder until batter is smooth and glossy (do not overmix).  Pour batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.
  4. A few minutes before brownies are done, sprinkle top with chopped peanut butter cups and Snickers.
  5. Prepare Peanut Butter Crunch Topping and spread over baked brownie, covering peanut butter cups and Snickers completely.  Let cool, cut into squares and serve.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cocktail Buns

Cocktail Buns - made May 12, 2013, recipe adapted from allrecipes.com

I love the cocktail buns from the Asian bakeries.  I first had them at dim sum: they're the oblong sweet bread rolls filled with a coconut-butter-sugar mixture and sprinkled with sesame seeds on top.  Not to be confused with custard buns that are the same sweet bread rolls but filled with pastry cream or custard. I don't go to dim sum that often so I never had them that much but then I discovered they sold them at the Asian bakeries and sometimes places like Ranch 99 in the hot-food-to-go section.  Like anything else that I enjoy from bakeries and restaurants, I like trying to make my own version at home.

I got this recipe from allrecipes.com and it was pretty simple to make.  The main mistake I made though was not rolling the dough out thinly enough.  I ended up with too much filling and not enough dough.  Which meant my cocktail buns, once they had gone through the second rising, were too much bread with not enough filling.  So I know what to adjust for next time.  I liked this recipe a lot though and the filling was almost exactly like what you could get at the dim sum places.  There was just a tad too much of the dry ingredients so I would recommend cutting both the flour and the powdered milk from 1/2 cup each to 1/3 cup each.  Otherwise, the flavor was just like what I buy at the Asian bakeries.

1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, more if needed
1 cup milk
1/4 cup softened butter
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 egg, beaten
up to 1 additional cup of all-purpose flour for kneading, if needed (I ended up using 3/4 cup instead of 1 cup)

Filling
1/4 cup softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder (I would recommend cutting to 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I would recommend cutting to 1/3 cup)
1 cup finely grated fresh coconut
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
  1. Place 1/3 cup sugar and milk in a small saucepan, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add 1/4 cup softened butter, and gently warm the mixture until the butter melts and the mixture is warm but not hot (no warmer than about 100 degrees F (40 degrees C)). In a large bowl, stir together the yeast with 2 1/2 cups flour until well blended, and pour the milk mixture into the flour-yeast mixture. Stir in 1 beaten egg, and mix until the mixture forms a sticky, wet dough.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, and knead for about 10 minutes, gradually kneading in 1 cup of additional flour or as needed to make a smooth, elastic dough. Form the dough into a round ball, place into an oiled bowl, and turn the dough around in the bowl a few times to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a cloth, and allow dough to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  3. Cream 1/4 cup softened butter with 1/2 cup of sugar in a bowl until the mixture is light and fluffy, and stir in dry milk powder, 1/2 cup flour, and the coconut until the mixture is smooth and well blended. Set the filling aside.
  4. Working on a floured surface, punch down the dough, and cut into 2 equal pieces. Cut each piece into 8 equal-sized pieces (16 pieces total). Form each piece into an oblong bun, and flatten the bun with a floured rolling pin. Scoop up about 1 tablespoon of filling with a spoon, and place in the center of a bun. Pull and pinch the edges of the dough together to enclose the filling in the bun. Repeat with all dough pieces, and place the filled buns, seam sides down, onto the prepared baking sheets. Cover the buns with a cloth, and allow to rise in a warm place 1 hour.
  5. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. For a glossy coating, beat 1 egg in a bowl, and brush each bun with a little beaten egg. Sprinkle each bun with a few sesame seeds.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven until the buns are golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool before serving. If the bottoms are too pale but the tops are golden brown, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Banana Bread Brownies

Banana Bread Brownies - made May 12, 2013, recipe adapted from Life's Simple Measures

So....you remember how I always say I only eat 1 taste test piece of whatever I make and give the rest away, even if it turned out and I like it?  If something is really good, I might indulge in a second piece the next day but it would have to be pretty fantastic to warrant a second taste. So it might be something of an endorsement if I tell you I ate THREE pieces of this in the same afternoon.  Yup, three.  The first piece practically made my eyes roll to the back of my head in gastronomic bliss.  The second piece also went down easy.  I was probably a little sick by the time I finished the third piece a couple of hours later and I remembered why I usually eat only 1 (or 2) pieces of something really good.  But still....no regrets.

If you like bananas in any way, shape or form, you must make these bars.  I don't usually endorse something so wholeheartedly as I know we all have different tastes but seriously.....try these.  If you don't have overripe bananas on hand, go out right now and buy the most ripe bananas you can find then let them sit on your counter until they turn black.  The wait might be tortuously long  but let that be a lesson to you to have overripe bananas on hand for baking emergencies like this.  Although now that I've used up all my overripe bananas, I have to start the cycle over because I am so making these again.  If anything non-chocolate could be fudgy, that's how I would describe the texture of these bars.  Don't overbake them or else they'll be more cakey than "fudgy" but don't underbake them too much either since bananas already add a lot of moisture to whatever they're baked in and you don't want it mushy or gooey but "fudgy".  I baked mine to the point that the bottoms were still a bit dense but the top half was just perfect.
And once again, I have to say the frosting was perfect for these bars.  Even if you don't like frosting, don't skip it!  I ended up using only 3 cups of powdered sugar rather than 4 since I didn't want the frosting to be too sweet.  When you make the frosting, be sure to whisk it well over the stove to emulsify the brown butter in with the rest of the ingredients.  When you spread it over the hot banana bread brownies, the butter will tend to separate as the frosting sets.  Just blot it carefully with a paper towel to absorb it.  It'll look better once it cools not to have pools of separated butter on top.  I didn't try these until they were completely cool.  If I'd had a piece when they were warm, they might've been a bit gooey for me.  But once at room temperature, they were perfect.

The frosting does set once the bars are cool.  If you want to stack pieces on top of each other, separate the layers with wax paper or else the moist bottoms of the bars on top will stick to the frosting of the bars beneath them (I discovered that the hard way so you don't have to - you're welcome).

Banana Bread Bars:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups (3 or 4) ripe bananas, mashed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional, I left them out)

Brown Butter Frosting:
1/2 cup butter
3-4 cups powdered sugar (I only used 3 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a 9 x 13 pan with aluminum foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.  For the bars, in a large bowl, beat together sugar, sour cream, butter, and eggs until creamy.  Blend in bananas and vanilla extract.  Add flour, baking soda, salt, and blend for 1 minute.  Stir in walnuts, if using.
  2. Spread batter evenly into pan.  Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. 
  3. Meanwhile, for the frosting, heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until boiling.  Let the butter fat solids turn a delicate brown and remove from heat immediately.
  4. Add powdered sugar, vanilla extract and milk.  Whisk together until smooth (it should be thicker than a glaze but thinner than frosting).  Using a spatula, spread the brown butter frosting over the warm bars (the frosting will be easier to spread while the bars are still warm). If the butter separates from the frosting, blot carefully with a paper towel.  Cool completely before cutting.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Shrimp with Garlic and Cilantro

Shrimp with Garlic and Cilantro - made May 12, 2013, recipe adapted from Cooking Melangery

The original recipe called for using parsley but I needed cilantro for another recipe and I didn't want to buy both when I only needed a little of each.  So I substituted cilantro in this recipe.  I thought I had a dusty bottle of white wine in my pantry but it turns out it was a dusty bottle of red wine from the last time I needed a couple of tablespoons for cooking so I also substituted that in as well.  The good thing about cooking is it's a lot more forgiving than baking on substituting random ingredients. And while I have the pickiest taste buds when it comes to desserts, I'm less picky about savory foods, especially when I have to cook it myself.  Then I'm a lot more flexible.

This is another quick shrimp stir fry that took mere minutes to throw together.  It was good and it was simple, making it a contender for an easy weeknight meal when you're short on time.  Plus healthy and low calorie when you have it on a bed of salad greens which is what I did.  I saved my calories for dessert.

4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons dry white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  1. In a sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and paprika and sauté for 1 minute until fragrant. 
  2. Increase the heat to high, add the shrimp, lemon juice and dry white wine, stir well, and sauté until the shrimp turn pink and are opaque throughout, about 3-5 minutes. 
  3. Season with salt and black pepper, sprinkle with the cilantro and serve.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Top Favorite: Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Chocolate Chips and Chunks Cookies - made (again) May 15, 2013 from Averie Cooks

People!  It's National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!  Just thought you would want to know.... (and I'm posting this so late because blogger took over 2 hours to upload the three pictures in this post - argh).

So it's quite apropos that I blog about these chocolate chip cookies today.  Although, technically, I made these with chocolate chunks but let's not split hairs.  Or chocolate.  I first made these cookies last holiday season and they were definitely worth making again. This is one of the cookie doughs I made over the hot weekend when it was too hot to turn my oven and bake yet I wanted to do something baking-ish.  The only thing I love more than chocolate chip cookies is chocolate chip cookies with chunks of milk chocolate instead of chips.  As in, I took one of my remaining slabs of milk chocolate that I'd bought on my last European trip and cut them into chunks for this cookie dough. I can have the slabs of chocolate in my pantry for weeks and even months without touching them but once I get it into my head to put them in cookies, they're dust.  Or chunks.

I actually have a couple of favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes - one of them being Alton Brown's version.  But I also like this one from Averie's blog.  Regardless of which recipe you use, here are my recommended cookie-baking techniques for moist, chunky cookies with little spread, crisp edges,  chewy middles and just overall goodness:
  • Only use butter.  Trust me.  If you're going to use shortening, make sure to use at least an equal amount of butter.  Butter-flavored shortening will not save you or your cookies.
  • Start with your butter slightly chilled, not softened and not room temperature, especially in warm weather.  If your butter is too soft, your cookies will spread too much, even if you chill the dough first.
  • Use the good chocolate!  You can get away with Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chips but if you're going to go with chocolate chunks, use good quality chocolate.  Go large with the chunks.  They're called chunks, not chocolate slivers or bits, for a reason.
  • Chill your dough until firm, preferably overnight in your fridge or freezer before baking.  Make the dough into dough balls before you chill or freeze them.  
  • Bake the cookies on light-colored cookie sheets.  Dark-colored pans will brown the bottoms of your cookies too quickly and cause them to be too hard or dry before the tops are baked properly.  I like to line my cookie sheets with parchment paper for easier cleanup and better baking. 
  • Bake the cookies just until the edges are golden brown and the middles are just barely past the raw stage, i.e. not shiny or doughy-looking.  Do not bake until they're puffy and have cracks in the middle - they're overbaked by then.
  • Eat your first cookie 10 minutes after you take them out of the oven. The edges will be crisp, the middle moist without being too mushy and the chips will be melt-y.  It should be lukewarm and not so hot that you can't taste the cookie. You'll be spoiled forever and won't eat chocolate chip cookies any other way after that.  

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour (all-purpose flour may be substituted and used exclusively in place of bread flour)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional and to taste
6 ounces (3/4 cup) semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
6 ounces bittersweet or dark baking chocolate, chopped into bite-sized chunks
  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on low speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. 
  2. Add the sugars and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 3 minutes. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the egg, vanilla, and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. 
  3. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the flours (solely using all-purpose flour will work, but the cookies will not be as chewy), corn starch, baking soda, salt, and mix until just combined, about 1 minute. Add the chocolate chips and chunks, and either fold in by hand or beat for a few seconds on low speed. Transfer dough to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, up to 5 days (although chilling the dough is theoretically not necessary; in reality cookies spread less with chilled dough).
  4. Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a 2-ounce cookie scoop or a 1/4 cup measuring cup, form heaping mounds  and place them on the baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges, even if slightly undercooked in the center, noting the tops will not be browned and will be pale. Do not cook longer than ten minutes as cookies will darken and firm up as they cool. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing and transferring to a rack to finish cooling. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.  Alternatively, unbaked cookie dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, so consider baking only as many cookies as desired and save the remaining dough to be baked in the future when desired.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Caramel Bundt Cake

Caramel Bundt Cake - made May 10, 2013 from Bake or Break

We're getting into warm weather and picnic season so it's picnic cake time.  Actually, I'd be willing to eat this cake at any time of the year.  It was really good with the perfect pound cake texture.  Think of it as a vanilla cake lightly flavored with brown sugar.  Then pour a brown sugar caramel icing over it.  Despite my preference for cake more than frosting, I have to admit, it was the frosting that made this cake.  It was almost like penuche but not as sweet and not as grainy.  It was just ridiculously good and perfectly complemented the cake.  You want to pour the icing over it while it's still warm as it sets rather quickly.  I didn't use all of the icing in the recipe since I didn't want to make a thick layer of it but I reserved it for some pecan praline cookies I made later (to follow in a future blog post).

Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Caramel Sauce
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Generously grease a 10-cup Bundt pan.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Beat butter, sugar, and brown sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.
  4. Gradually add flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk. Begin and end with flour mixture. Mix just until combined and batter is smooth.
  5. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes. Then, transfer to a wire rack, frost and let cool completely. 
To make the caramel sauce:
  1. Combine brown sugar, condensed milk, corn syrup and salt in a heavy saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Continue to boil for 4-5 minutes or until mixture is smooth.
  2. Remove from heat.  Add butter and vanilla and stir until butter has melted and mixture is smooth.  Pour desired amount over cake.  Store any remaining sauce in refrigerator.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Honey and Soy Baked Chicken

Honey and Soy Baked Chicken - made May 4, 2013 from She Wears Many Hats

I feel like I've made some semblance of this already but I had all the ingredients and no idea what to pack for lunches for the coming week so I threw this recipe together since it had all my requirements for a savory dish: quick and easy.  Marinating something is the easiest way to provide flavor in my otherwise bland cooking repertoire.  I mixed up the marinade ingredients, put the chicken thighs in a gallon-size ziploc bag and poured the marinade over it.  Then I put the bag in a bowl and plunked the bowl in the refrigerator overnight, turning it occasionally to redistribute the marinade.

When it came time to bake, I placed the chicken skin-side down first and covered the baking dish with foil.  After 20 minutes, I turned the chicken skin-side up, left off the foil and let it bake until the skin was nicely golden brown.  This couldn't have been simpler.  The only downside is the sauce is what gives it the most flavor and would have been perfect with rice.  Except I was cutting back/cutting out rice (bucking my Asian roots once again) so I ended up just eating the chicken as is, sans the skin since I don't eat skin even though that looked like it would have been flavorful as well.  So you can make this dish as fat or as lean as you want - your choice.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
5 tablespoons honey
4 cloves of garlic; minced (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
3 pounds (approximately) chicken thighs (or preferred chicken meat)
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Mix first 6 ingredients together in a large plastic zip-top storage bag. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken to plastic bag making sure to coat each piece.
  3. Place chicken in baking dish along with sauce/marinade or leave in large plastic bag to marinate in the refrigerator.
  4. When ready to cook, in a baking dish, bake chicken in a 425° oven for 20-25 minutes with the skin side down. Turn the chicken skin side up and cook another 15-20 minutes to crisp up the skin. Cook until internal temperature of chicken reads 165°F and/or until skin is golden brown.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Coconut Cake

Coconut Cake - made May 5, 2013, recipe adapted from Cookin' Food

I had actually planned to make my standby coconut cake recipe as part of my "Top Favorites" series but I got sidetracked with this recipe I'd pinned on pinterest so I thought I'd give it a shot instead.  Whenever I think of coconut cake, I always picture a multi-layer cake frosted with cream cheese frosting and covered with coconut.  It always looks impressive and enticing.  But, since I was making this to distribute at work, it was better to make in a 9 x 13 pan instead for easier cutting and serving.

This has ingredients similar to my favorite coconut cake recipe but the main difference was in my standby recipe, you separate the eggs and beat the whites separately to fold into the batter.  That makes for a lighter texture and I could really tell the difference between the two.  My recipe also doesn't include coconut extract and I don't like to use the extract because it gives an artificial taste so instead I substituted coconut oil.  The taste wasn't really apparent like it was in the Coconut Chocolate Chip cookies though so I don't know if it really added anything. This was a nice butter cake with coconut but I think I prefer the Mrs. Fields' recipe for taste and texture. Looks like I may need to make that recipe again after all to satisfy my sweet tooth for coconut cake.

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons coconut extract (I used 2 teaspoons coconut oil)
5 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Spray two 8” round pans with cooking spray and line bottoms with parchment paper (or you can line a 9 x 13 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt.  Mix together and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, vanilla, and coconut extract.  Mix together with whisk or fork.  Set aside.
  4. In a separate, large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Beat well after adding each one.
  5. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk combination to butter mixture until all is combined and mixed until smooth. Add 1/2 cup of the coconut and reserve the other half to sprinkle over the frosted cake.
  6. Pour batter evenly between the two prepared 8” pans.  Bang pans lightly on hard surface a few times, like a counter or table, to force air bubbles in batter to come to the surface.
  7. Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted near the center of the cake.
  8. Allow cakes to cool in pans for at least one hour.  Transfer to wire racks to finish cooling.  When completely cool, frost with your favorite frosting and sprinkle reserved coconut on top.. (I typically use the cream cheese frosting recipe from my standby coconut cake recipe - link above.)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Giant Double Chocolate Cookies

Giant Double Chocolate Cookies - made dough May 4, 2013 from Annie's Eats
It was the picture of these on Annie's Eats that first sucked me into this recipe.  They looked so uniformly chubby on her blog (chubby is good when it comes to cookies) that I had to pin it to make later.  This was one of the cookie doughs I made when it was too hot to bake and I've had them sitting in my freezer waiting for the temps to come down and a social occasion to take them to.  The stars aligned this week for that to happen and I finally got to bake off some of the dough in my freezer.
The most critical thing to remember when baking chocolate cookies is to never overbake them or even fully bake them.  The lure of a good chocolate cookie is for it to be fudgy and you're only going to get that moist, fudgy texture by underbaking them.  If you're like me and are horrible about timing things in the oven (I have a mental block about using a timer - it's a matter of baker's pride to be able to tell when something's done just by looking at it), then another trick is to bake until the middle no longer looks raw or shiny.  The instant that happens, take the cookies out of the oven.  They'll continue to bake on the hot cookie sheet and that's okay because you don't want to move hot cookies too soon as they're too fragile.  Even if you like gooey chocolate, it's best to let these cool to at least lukewarm.  The edges will be a little crisp and the middle will have the perfect fudgy-but-not-overly-gooey texture.  In addition to a handful of chocolate chips, I actually chopped up a big bar of Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee I had brought back from Europe (let's hear it for Heathrow duty free) into chunks.  The sweetness of the toffee and caramel in the chocolate paired well with the dark chocolate cookie.  As always, how good these cookies turn out will depend on the quality of the cocoa you use.  I recommend Pernigotti's, Scharffenberger or something equally high end to get the maximum chocolate flavor.

1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1¼ cup sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup dark cocoa powder (I used Pernigotti's Cocoa from Williams Sonoma)
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I cut up a big Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee bar)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed.  
  3. Mix in the cocoa powder until well blended.  Add the flour, salt and baking powder to the bowl and mix on low speed just until incorporated.  Fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula. Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead briefly by hand to be sure the ingredients are well combined.
  4. Divide the dough into 4 ounce portions (or divide into 12 equal pieces).  Roll each portion of dough into a ball and flatten just slightly into a disc.  Place on the prepared baking sheets, a few inches apart.  Bake 16-20 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheets 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Coconut White Chocolate Cookies

Coconut White Chocolate Cookies - made May 4, 2013 from Gonna Want Seconds

Last weekend was really hot in my part of the country.  As in too hot to turn my oven on.  But I would never let that deter me when I want to bake.  Technically, I didn't bake but I got ready to do some serious baking, meaning I stockpiled cookie doughs.  I mixed up several different batches (which will appear on my blog in the coming days), portioned them into dough balls and stored them in my freezer, waiting for an appropriate time to bake them. It was too hot to bake in the afternoon so I waited until early the next day when it was a little cooler to bake off a test batch to take to my parents' house after church.

This was slightly different than a typical coconut white chocolate chip cookie in that it was more like a cakey butter cookie than a caramelized brown sugar cookie.  I chopped up Lindt white chocolate into chunks as the "chips" and had a liberal hand with the coconut.  I liked this cookie overall although I would probably shave a minute off of the baking time to make it slightly less cakey and a bit more "fudgy".  The second cookie sheet I baked off at a later date was better since I underbaked it - the texture was more moist, less cakey and more dense.

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2/3 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF
  2. Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add the egg and beat well. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and coconut and mix well. Add the white chocolate.
  3. With  a large cookie/ice cream scoop parcel out dough and flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass. Place on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper or silpat silicone liner. Leave 1" space between each cookie to allow for cookies to spread, leaving room to spread. Repeat with remaining mixture. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes or until light golden. Allow to cool on trays.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Orange Cinnamon Shrimp

Orange Cinnamon Shrimp - made May 3, 2013, recipe adapted from The Gracious Pantry

This is one of those dishes so easy to make that, on the one hand, you don't really need a recipe but on the other hand, without one, I don't know that I would've come up with this flavor combination on my own.  It's shrieks healthy, easy cooking with an undertone of summer citrus flavor.  Bonus that it takes about 5 minutes to prepare and is a perfect weeknight type of dish to make.  It's also really versatile in that you could serve it as a starter on a bed of greens, a side dish or build it as a main course.  I ate it as a salad for dinner on a warm night and it was perfect since it was too hot to turn on the oven or be over a stove for very long.  The only thing I would change in this recipe is after zesting the orange, I would squeeze the juice and add it to the stir fry to give it more orange flavor and a bit of sauce.

It's also good to have something light for dinner when it's hot since heat is a natural appetite suppressant.  I didn't want to be hungry, especially since I workout at night but I didn't want to eat anything heavy either.  Shrimp is a good answer to that situation.  Since I classify myself as a lazy cook, I usually buy one of those packs of raw shrimp with the tails on from Costco, strip the tails off the entire bag of shrimp, separate them into meal-size portions, and put them in quart-size freezer bags.  Whenever I want to cook something easy, I take a bag out of the freezer and throw together a quick stir fry of shrimp and spices.  I'm cutting back on rice (I know, I know, that goes against my Asian roots) so I'll usually eat the shrimp atop some salad greens.  No fatty dressings needed since the shrimp provides its own flavor.  And lest you think I'm being "so healthy", what a light dinner really means is I have room for dessert.
1 pound shrimp, tail off, raw
2 teaspoons olive oil
Zest of 1 large orange (plus the juice if desired)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you like it)

  1. Place all ingredients in a large skillet and sauté the shrimp just until pink.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Top Favorite: Almond Butter & Nutella Swirl Cookies

Almond Butter & Nutella Swirl Cookies - made (again) May 4, 2013 from Amelia's Savory and Sweet

Whenever people find out I'm a baking hobbyist, the most common question I get is "what's your favorite dessert?" I've mentioned before that it's really hard for me to answer that question because I don't have one particular favorite.  I believe in unconditional love for many desserts.  The analogy I like to use is I can't pick a favorite hair on my head either; I like them all - they keep my head warm.

However, a sure sign that I might like one dessert a bit more than most of the others is if I'm willing to make it again for myself, not just because someone requested it.  So, for the next several weeks (or months, depending on my mood), I'm going to re-make and re-post some all-time favorites, partly because they deserve another spot on the stage because I think they're just that good and partly because I just want to make them again and take a better picture for my blog :).

First up is this one from Amelia's Savory and Sweet blog.  When I first discovered and made this recipe, I merely linked to Amelia's blog so people could grab the recipe from there (you still can, just click on the recipe title in this blog post).  However, I've since learned it's probably a good idea to also post the recipe on my blog just in case something happens to that original blog post.  Wouldn't want the recipe to be lost!

What I love about this cookie is the taste and texture.  It stays nice and chubby, hardly spreads during baking and it's just good.  The best way to get significant swirls of Nutella is to make the batter first without the Nutella then drop dollops of it on top of your cookie dough and swirl only very slightly.  Scoop it out, leaving the big swirls of Nutella intact as much as possible, chill or freeze until firm, then bake.  You only want to bake these no more than 9-10 minutes.  If they bake longer, they won't have that moist, fudge-like texture.  Let them cool to at least lukewarm as these tend to be fragile when they first emerge from the oven.  If almond butter isn't a staple in your pantry, you can easily find it at Trader Joe's or Target.

Oh and one note on the almond butter - you may find the oil has separated from the almond butter when you open it, even it's a new jar.  Some recipes advocate pouring off the oil but I would advise trying to mix it back into the rest of the butter as best you can.  If you pour off all the oil, your cookies might be a bit dry because they're missing that fat.  Trust me.

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup smooth almond butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4  teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup Nutella
  1. Mix first 8 ingredients until smooth and fluffy.  Slowly sift in flour until well incorporated.  Stir in the Nutella just until you have a pretty swirl pattern.
  2. Refrigerate dough for about 15-20 minutes. Then scoop out small dough balls onto lined cookie sheet and bake in 350 degree oven for about 7-9 minutes.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Italian Sub Layered Bake

Italian Sub Layered Bake - made March 9, 2013 from Rachel Schultz
I made these awhile back but never blogged them.  I saw the recipe on pinterest and had a tube of crescent roll dough in my refrigerator to use up so it seemed like a nice easy recipe to try.  And so it was.  I confess the Pillsbury crescent rolls are one of the few pre-made things I don't turn my nose up at - they're so good.  And saves me the time and trouble of making them from scratch.  Plus, you can't go wrong with cheesy, flaky-bready goodness.  Even if it does mean more time on the treadmill to work off the calories from said goodness. I used turkey and ham slices and skipped the salami but you can use the deli meat(s) of your choice. These are best served warm so I recommend them as an easy-to-make-and-serve option for brunch.

1 roll refrigerated crescent rolls
1/2 pound sliced deli turkey
1/2 pound sliced deli ham
8 slices salami
8 slices swiss cheese
2 egg whites
Salt & pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unroll crescent roll and divide into two squares, along perferated line. Mold one square into the base of a 9×9 glass baking dish. Layer with half of turkey, ham, salami, and swiss.
  2. Whisk egg whites and season with salt & pepper.
  3. Drizzle half of egg whites over meat. Repeat layering with remaining slices and top with remaining egg whites. Press the second crescent dough square over top. Season with pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until golden. Slice and serve warm.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough April 21, 2013, recipe adapted from The Well Traveled Wife
Here's a slightly different twist on the traditional chocolate chip cookie: coconut lovers, put on your running shoes and prepare to do some laps in case you want more than one.  This is different than the usual chocolate chip cookie, not just because of the addition of coconut but also because it uses coconut oil instead of butter.  I've never baked with coconut oil before so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  At a minimum, I guessed the cookies wouldn't spread very much because coconut oil is somewhat solid like shortening and anything with shortening instead of butter has less spread.  And yep, I was right on that one as these stayed nice and chubby.  By my math, chubby in a cookie = good.
The coconut oil has another purpose in the recipe in that it imparts - wait for it - yes, a coconut undertone to the cookie that's achieved even without adding the coconut itself to the dough as a mix-in.  I got a jar of coconut oil by that enabler of online shopping known as amazon, coupled with The Super Enabler known as prime membership and free two-day shipping.  However, if you're in a Trader Joe's, turns out they also carry it for even better instant gratification.  I saw a neat row of jars on the shelves above the refrigerated section in my Trader Joe's, near where the slabs of chocolate and plastic containers of ready-made cookies hang out.
If you love coconut, you'll probably like this cookie.  The nice thing about baking with coconut oil, at least in this recipe, is that it imparts that subtle coconut undertone but doesn't taste artificial.  I don't bake with coconut extract because it tastes artificial to me but I had no problem with the coconut oil in this cookie.  I still added coconut itself to the dough for both the taste and the chewy texture but if you left it out, you'd still get that coconut flavor from the oil.  This also wasn't greasy or leave a bad mouthfeel as some baked goods made with shortening sometimes do.  Overall, a nice change from the traditional chocolate chip cookie.
 
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup + 1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips   
1.5-2 cups shredded coconut 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Spray a cookie sheet, or line with a silpat.  
  2. In a mixing bowl, use a mixer to beat the the coconut oil and brown sugar.  Add in the eggs and beat until fluffy.  Add in the vanilla extract. 
  3. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder with whisk.  Mix the flour mixture into the coconut oil mixture a little bit at a time with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated.  Add in the chocolate chips + coconut and mix well.  
  4. Drop by small rounded spoons onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 8 - 9 minutes or until slightly browned around the edges.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cocoa Brownies

Cocoa Brownies - made April 20, 2013 from Fat Witch Brownies by Patricia Helding
This was the third and last dessert I included in my Boston care packages.  Can't have a care package without some kind of brownie, right?  For the brownie base, I used one of the recipes from my Fat Witch Brownies baking book.  Past recipes I've tried from the book shows they're pretty rich and decadent.  This recipe uses cocoa for the chocolate punch and, as long as you use a high-quality cocoa, you can usually count on cocoa-based brownies to offer a deeper, darker chocolate flavor than brownies made only with unsweetened or semisweet chocolate.  That being the case, I knew I could add my nutella crunch topping as a good counterpoint for sweetness and crunch to pair with the dark richness of the brownie.  Because the whole point of making brownies is to make them as decadent as possible.  Otherwise, the chewing effort and calories won't be worth it.

Make the brownies as directed below.  You can leave them plain or click on the link in the previous paragraph for the nutella crunch topping (start with a half recipe or 2/3 of it, depending on how thick you want the topping layer to be).  I've made it so often, I just wing it when I'm putting it together: usually equal parts Nutella and chocolate chips melted together with a tablespoon (or so) of butter then once it's all melted, add as many Rice Krispies as you can work into the mixture.  If you want a more gooey topping, skimp on the Rice Krispies but I prefer to cram them in there for maximum crunch. Once it's completely cooled, cut into small pieces, eat one and give the rest away or wrap them up and put in your freezer for future consumption (these freeze well).  There's something about a decadent brownie that's meant to be savored and enjoyed, just enough to leave you satisfied but not so many that you feel sick and guilty afterwards if you eat too many.  Plus, your waistline will thank me later.  


12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
¾ cup unbleached flour
½ teaspoon salt
  1. Grease a 9-inch x 9-inch baking pan with butter.  Dust with flour and tap out the excess.  Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the butter over low heat just until it is melted, but not brown.  Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the cocoa powder and sugar to the butter and whisk until well blended.  Add the eggs one at a time, whisking after each until the mixture is smooth and shiny.  Add the vanilla and whisk until mixed well.
  4. Measure the flour and salt and sift together into the batter.  Mix the batter gently until well combined and no trace of the dry ingredients remains.
  5. At this point, if desired, stir in any extras like walnuts.
  6. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared baking pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean or with only crumbs, not batter, on it.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 1 hour.  Cut just before serving.