Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pumpkin Upside Down Cake revisited

Pumpkin Upside-Down Cake with Caramelized Pecans and Cranberries - made November 15 and November 17, 2017 from A Passion for Desserts by Emily Luchetti
First attempt this year - caramel came out too thick
I make this cake every year around Thanksgiving, sometimes on the day itself and other times by request. This year, I made it twice, once for a Thanksgiving work potluck last week and once for my niece's birthday. The work potluck came first and I hadn't made this in almost a year so I forgot not to overcook the caramel. Oops.
First attempt, second cake, same too-thick caramel
So I'm blogging this again to remind myself how to do it right. I'm so used to letting butter and brown sugar boil together, whisking smoothly, for a couple of minutes that I forgot you're not supposed to do that with the caramel in this recipe. The first batch I made for work, the caramel came out too thick. You can see the error of my ways in the pictures. Sigh. I also underbaked one of the cakes just a tad too much and had to rely on just using the outer edges. Fortunately I had made two cakes for the work potluck and I had enough of the second one, which I had baked properly, to round out my contribution to the potluck. But they were definitely not up to standard. The cake itself tasted good but the thick caramel was more like a grainy penuche covering over the pecans. Cringe.
My second attempt - this is how it should look
I had a second chance to redeem myself because one of my nieces was coming for a visit and she had requested this cake. This time I made a half batch of caramel for one recipe of cake and only heated and whisked the butter and brown sugar together until the brown sugar was melted and the mixture was combined. Then that puppy came off the stove before I could overcook it again.
Since I'm not a big fan of cranberries and only ever eat them when I make this cake, I made myself a little individual-sized cake in a ramekin with just the caramel and pecans on the bottom. When I baked the little cake and turned it over, it made a pretty dessert that I'm considering serving at my holiday dessert party (more to come on that). It was also freaking delicious because I got the caramel right this time. So note to self: make only a half batch of caramel for one cake recipe and only heat the butter and brown sugar, whisking until melted and combined but not a minute longer.
8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups cranberries
4 ounces (1 cup) coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour the brown sugar mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the cranberries and pecans. Place them in the pan over the brown sugar mixture.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, and oil. In another bowl, sift together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Carefully spread the batter over the cranberry pecan topping.
  5. Bake the cake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Place a large plate or platter on top of the cake. Invert the cake and plate together, then remove the pan. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.
  6. Let cool completely before serving.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Cream Cheese Chocolate Brownies

Cream Cheese Chocolate Brownies - made November 4, 2017, modified from Le Creme de la Crumb
Brownies to die for. Let's just start with that. First, you know I'm picky about my brownies. I've made so many over the years that most of them blur together in my memory. But I know what I like and that's a good, fudgy, rich brownie. Which these are.
Second, because I've made so many brownies over the years, there's very little that's new or different. Most brownie recipes are the same: chocolate in some form (solid baking chocolate or cocoa powder), sugar. flour, butter, salt. I don't hold with chemical leavening or beating too much air into my brownies because that'll make them cakey. Like I've always said, if I wanted something to be cakey, I'd make a cake, not brownies.
But this recipe has a unique little twist in that you make two separate batters which you then combine. You make a cream cheese batter then a brownie batter and mix together. This also has very little flour in it. The original recipe only called for 2 tablespoons in the cream cheese batter and none in the regular brownie batter. Some of the comments on the original blog I got the recipe from talked about how the consistency was like a "firm pudding". Hmm, I'm not down with puddings so I decided to increase the flour by 1/4 cup to add to the brownie batter before combining the two batters together.

The additional flour seemed to have worked well. It didn't cause any harm, at any rate. The brownie was still fudgy and had some structure to make it brownie-like instead of pudding-like and that's what I was going for. I omitted the chocolate chips as well since I just wanted a smooth, creamy-fudge (but not pudding) texture in the brownie without my teeth having to encounter a chocolate chip.
Loved how these turned out, even with the frosting. While I'm not normally a frosting person, the frosting gives it a nice sweetness and went well with the richness fudginess of the brownie itself. This one's a keeper.
Cream Cheese Batter
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
1 egg
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Brownie batter
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk chocolate chips, optional

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8" baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Cream cheese batter: in a medium bowl, blend together melted chocolate chips, egg, cream cheese, sugar, flour and vanilla until smooth. Set aside.
  3. Brownie batter: in a large bowl, mix melted butter and cocoa powder until smooth. Add eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt. Mix until combined. Add cream cheese batter to brownies batter and mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out mostly clean. Cool completely.
  5. Frosting: beat melted chocolate and cream cheese until smooth. Add vanilla and blend well. Gradually mix in powdered sugar, adding milk and beating until desired taste and consistency, Spread over cooled brownies. Allow frosting to set before cutting and serving.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Good Ol' Fudgy Brownies

Good Ol' Fudgy Brownies - made November 4, 2017 from Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry
I borrowed this baking book from the library long ago and typed up a few recipes from it that I wanted to try. The original recipe called for using "dark chocolate" to melt for the batter. I wasn't sure if that meant bittersweet chocolate like a Valrhona 90% or if it meant unsweetened chocolate. I went with the bittersweet chocolate since I was also using Pernigotti dark unsweetened cocoa powder and I thought that would pack enough chocolate punch.

This year, for Halloween, I bought a Costco-box of full-size chocolate bars. The good stuff like Snickers, Milky Ways, Twix, peanut M&Ms and plain M&Ms. I was going to be the good neighbor in my neighborhood this year. Except, like all the other nights for the past month or so, I worked so late that by the time I got home, I missed all the trick or treaters in my neighborhood. Seriously, even the teens had called it a night. Bummer.

So I was left with all this candy. As I've done in past years, I chopped up the Snickers bars and included them as add-ins to the brownie. This really was a "good ol' fudgy" brownie. It was a trifle sweet to me though so the author might've meant unsweetened chocolate after all. That's what I recommend making it with to cut the sweetness, especially if you're adding leftover Halloween candy to it.

5 ounces premium dark chocolate, chopped (I think this should be unsweetened chocolate)
½ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup all-purpose flour

1.     Preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Line an 8 x 8” baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2.     Place the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl and set over a pan of hot water over medium-low heat.  Stir until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in the cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Whisk in the eggs and stir in the flour just until blended.
3.     Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bake until a tester inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 30-35 minutes. Do not overbake.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dark Chocolate Cookies - Levain Bakery copycat #6

Copycat Levain Dark Chocolate Cookies - made dough October 15, 2017, modified from And They Cooked Happily Ever After
If my posts seem a little more spread out than usual, it's because they are. And if you check the dates of when I've made things, you'll notice that's also spread out more than usual. The reason why is I've been working a lot. I mean, a lot. Which leaves me little time and even less energy to bake. I also don't have much time to do a write up so I'll keep this brief. And I forgot to take more pictures so I only have these.
While technically another Levain Bakery copycat, it isn't quite like the real thing. You know how I feel about Levain's chocolate chocolate cookie. Or baked fudge in cookie form as I prefer to describe it. This was a good chocolate cookie, quite rich but had a soft-cakey-but-not-cakey texture rather than the baked-fudge texture. I baked them and packaged them into individual goodie bags to give out at a staff meeting I went to. They were quite well received. I love those little individual cookie bags (Michaels, 40-50% off with a coupon) and I still had my custom-printed stickers from last year so they were fun to package up and give away.
Make these into thick discs, not dough balls. They don't spread a lot and you want them to bake as an even thickness. And be warned, they are rich.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons bread flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and warm
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips
  1. In a medium bowl, sift together flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed. Add eggs and vanilla; mix to combine. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour melted chocolate into mixture and mix until fully incorporated.
  3. Gradually add the dry ingredients in three additions, mixing on low speed until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Portion dough into 1/2 cup dough balls and form each into a thick disc. Cover and freeze at least 1 hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space 6 dough balls on each sheet. Bake for 18-24 minutes or until edges are set and middles no longer look raw. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Toasted Hazelnut Slice 'n Bake Cookies

Toasted Hazelnut Slice 'n Bake Cookies - made dough September 23, 2017 from Sally's Baking Addiction
We’re getting into that time of year where I start thinking about holiday desserts. Wait. That’s a lie. I started thinking about holiday desserts long before now, especially since this year I decided to hold my not-so-annual holiday dessert party again. Plus I’m hosting a family dessert gathering two weeks after that. So it’s time to plan ahead and start the dessert lineup of what I want to serve.

When I make so many desserts for a party, I like to do a mix of easy, do-ahead treats as well as something fancy, may-require-last-minute baking or preparation. I’m testing out these cookies and they fall into the first category. Anything “slice ‘n bake” will almost inevitably do that since, by definition, you can make them ahead of time, pop into the freezer until you need them, then even when you’re ready to bake, all you have to do is (typically) thaw them slightly then slice and bake. No messing about with forming them into any shape, no using cookie shapers or cutters, just you, the cookie log, a sharp knife and a parchment-lined baking sheet.
As always, toast the nuts and let cool completely before incorporating into the dough. That brings out the flavor and adds a little more crunch to your finished cookie. Try to make the cookie logs as evenly shaped and sized to each other as possible from end to end. No tapered ends, no chunky middle. You want each slice of cookie to be as uniform as possible to its cookie brethren.

If you go the sandwich cookie route like I did, this makes it easy to match same-shape cookies for your sandwich cookies. Since this was a hazelnut cookie, the obvious filling to use was Nutella. You could also use cookie butter if you choose. There’s no going wrong with either.
I liked these cookies. The hazelnuts added a nice crunch, as expected, and the cinnamon provided a good flavor, not to mention contributed to the heavenly aroma while these were baking. For once, resist the temptation to underbake them because you do want them baked enough to be crunchy. If you underbake, they won’t have the “snap” to them and will be more chewy. Not necessarily a bad thing but I liked them a little crunchy. The Nutella filling provides a nice smooth-texture contrast to the crunchy cookie.

3/4 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup toasted and finely chopped hazelnuts, divided
coarse sugar for rolling, optional
8 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
  1. In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and beat on medium high until fluffy and creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, until combined.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, cinnamon and salt until combined. On low speed, gradually add into wet ingredients until just combined. Beat in 3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and, with floured hands, divide in half. Shape each half into an 8-inch log, about 2.5 inches in diameter. Tightly wrap the logs in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator at last 4 hours or up to 5 days.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Remove logs from refrigerator and roll in coarse sugar, if desired. Slice each log into 12 equally thick cookies and place evenly on baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until brown around the edges. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet then transfer cookies to cooling rack to cool completely.
  6. Melt the chopped milk chocolate in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water. Whisk until smooth and completely melted. Dip half of each cooled cookie in melted chocolate and place on parchment paper. Sprinkle with remaining chopped hazelnuts. Let cool until chocolate has set.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Nutella Lava Cookies

Nutella Lava Cookies - made dough September 30, 2017 from Gastro Senses
Do you want a shot of pure chocolate with no messing around? Tempered with an additional shot of Nutella in the same bite? Look no further and break out that mixing bowl. Here you go.
Roll dough into balls first
Make indents in the center and fit the frozen Nutella over the indent
The name of these cookies does not lie. This really is Nutella “lava” when you bite into this cookie. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let me give you the tips and tricks to make this the cookie of your chocoholic-dazed fantasies.

Chill the Nutella. You can skip this step if it’s cool enough where you live that your Nutella is more like fudge than liquid gold. But I’d recommend chilling for at least an hour so that the Nutella is firm enough that you can scoop it into round balls with a small ice cream scoop. I didn’t chill mine so when I spooned it out onto parchment paper prior to putting in the freezer to solidify, the scoops spread into flat ovals rather than remaining round balls of Nutella goodness. You want round so that when you cover it with the cookie dough, you also have round cookie dough balls. They will spread a bit in baking so the more round to start with, the better.

I omitted the chocolate chips from the recipe because I wanted a soft texture with no interference from the firmness of chocolate chips. The better to sink my teeth into a fudgy cookie with a soft, flowy Nutella center. It’s also critical not to overbake these. I know I always say that but I also always mean it. The first pan I baked just a fraction too long. The cookies weren’t dry but they were more cakey at the edges than I cared for. The second batch I snatched out of the oven when the first cracks appeared at the edges and the middles no longer looked raw or shiny. They were perfect.
This is not a cookie for the dainty. Because once you take a good bite out of the middle, that Nutella will flow. It won’t drip but it won’t necessarily stay in place either. You might have to lick your chops a time or two. But it’s worth the sacrifice.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
24 tablespoons Nutella, chilled
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, plus more for topping, optional
  1. Scoop 24 tablespoons of Nutella onto a sheet of parchment paper. Freeze for 1 hour or until solid.
  2. Whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. In another large bowl, cream butter until soft and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add both sugars and cream together another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until just combined. Gradually mix in cocoa powder on low speed.
  5. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
  6. Scoop dough into portions about 1/4 cup size and, using your hands, roll into 24 dough balls. Using the curved side of a teaspoon, make indents in the center of the dough balls and place frozen Nutella scoops in the middle.
  7. Working quickly, cover the Nutella scoops completely inside by pulling the dough and forming balls. Press additional chocolate chips on top of the dough balls and sprinkle with sea salt if desired. Freeze for another hour.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and evenly space frozen dough balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  9. Bake for 12 minutes or until edges are set and middles no longer look raw. Cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Gateau Basque

Basque Cake - made (again) September 22, 2017 from the Culinary Institute of America
I've blogged about Basque Cake before but that was over 8 years ago and it's worth posting again as it's one of my favorites. But for something that's one of my favorite cakes, I don't make it very often. I've explained before because if I did, I would eat it. Well, yeah. Duh.
If you've made this Basque Cake before, you would understand both ends of the conundrum. It's delicious, especially if you're into buttery vanilla cakes with pastry cream inside. It's also a calorie bomb if you actually read the ingredients that got into it. A whole pound of butter for one large cake. Not counting the pastry cream and its plethora of artery-hardening ingredients. Meh, you only live once, right?

And if you don't want to weigh more than you should, you probably wouldn't make or eat this cake very often either. But whenever you do, enjoy it because it really is that good.
Basque Cake isn't hard to make. It just takes a little patience as it does involve a few extra steps. Such as making the pastry cream. I only make a half recipe from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) recipe. It's so good. I don't even like many custard-type desserts but I could eat this pastry cream all day long. Yeah, I'd feel sick by the end of the day but what a way to go.
After you make the pastry cream and let it cool, you make the cake batter, pipe a bottom layer. cover with pastry cream and them pour the remaining batter over it. "Pour" is an overstatement though because this cake batter is really stiff. So it's more like spoon and spread evenly than pour.
Once you have it in the oven, your kitchen will be filled with fabulous scents of baking butter and vanilla. Resist the temptation to open the oven door as that lowers the temperature every time you open it. Also resist the temptation to take these out too soon. The original recipe if making the full-size cake is to bake it for at least an hour. If the top is getting too brown, cover lightly with foil but keep baking.
It's hard to tell when this cake is done because the toothpick test doesn't work well. The pastry cream in the center will make you think it's still raw but hey, it's cream. The cake part may also come out "clean" but the high butter ratio of this cake won't show any crumbs on the toothpick and instead it may just look shiny. Time it. When all is said and done, this is well worth any trouble. I like to make them into small cakes to make them easier to package up and give away. Because I can't have the whole cake/full recipe in my house. I'd eat it all.
1 pound butter, softened

1 pound sugar2 teaspoons vanilla3 eggs, at room temperature13 ounces cake flour2 teaspoons baking powder½ teaspoon salt1 tablespoon dark rum8 ounces pastry creamConfectioners’ sugar for dusting, optional

1/2 recipe of pastry cream

  1. Preheat oven to 325˚F – 350˚F. (lower temp if baking in a glass pan)
  2. Grease and flour 1 10-inch cake pan or springform pan. Put parchment paper on bottom.
  3. Cream butter with sugar and vanilla. Do not overwhip; use paddle attachment. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt, and gradually fold into butter mixture with wooden spoon.
  5. Spoon into large pastry bag fitting with a plain tip (#9). Pipe approximately half of the mixture in a spiral onto bottom of prepared pan. Pipe extra ring around inside edge of pan to prevent filling from sticking to sides of pan.
  6. Stir rum into pastry cream. Spread evenly over mixture inside of outer ring, using small spatula or palette knife. Alternatively, spread mixture in pan instead of piping it.
  7. Pipe remaining mixture in spiral over filling.
  8. Bake in preheated oven 45 to 60 minutes or until center of cake springs back when lightly pressed. Cool in pan on wire rack 15 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely.
  9. Dust top with sifted confectioners’ sugar just before serving (optional).