Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nutella Crunch Brownies

Brownies - made March 31, 2011, adapted from Bruce's Bakery Cookbook by Bruce Zipes (book #74)

Thanks to my friend Hildy, I have an opportunity to contribute baked goods to a bake sale where the proceeds will go to Save The Children for Japan relief efforts.  The bake sale is on Sunday and I don't have a lot of time to put some donations together but I'm going to devote the next few posts to what I'm baking for the bake sale.  It'll be April 3, 10-2 pm in Menlo Park (email me if you want the address).  I can't be there due to other commitments that day but Hildy was kind enough to volunteer to pick up the baked goods from me on Saturday afternoon so that I could still contribute.

When I think "bake sale", the first things that come to mind are brownies and cookies.  They can be individually packaged and are a small commitment for an impulse purchase so they should sell easily.  And if they're chocolate, so much the better.  I know cupcakes are popular items but I'm leery as the quality can be inconsistent, the frosting needs to hold up under the sun for potentially a few hours and they go stale or dry out faster than brownies.  I can make brownies today and freeze them until the weekend then they'll be just as fresh on bake sale day. So brownies it is.

I used the brownie recipe from Bruce's Bakery Cookbook to make the brownie base but I decided to do something similar for the topping that I did with the Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch brownies only this time, I went with nutella as the flavor of choice.  And Rice Krispies.  I don't know why but I've become enamored of using rice krispies in a chocolate topping.  Just something about the crunch of the crispy rice cereal providing a nice contrast to the smooth creaminess of the chocolate.  I have some ideas brimming for a blondie with a dulce de leche/rice krispie topping but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The directions aren't very clear in that they call for the butter to be softened then added to the melted chocolate so I wasn't sure if the butter was supposed to eventually end up in a melted state or not.  I saved myself a step and just melted both together as it would be hard to add even softened butter to melted chocolate and expect to stir it smooth without any non-melted butter lumps.  Risky to assume the heat from the chocolate can melt all that butter.  Otherwise, the brownie was very straightforward to mix together.  It was actually a slightly thinner layer than I normally like my brownies to be but since I was adding the nutella crunch topping, it was the perfect thickness to serve as the base for the topping.  If you do make it as a standalone brownie without the topping and prefer thicker brownies, bake in a smaller pan like a 10 x 10 or 9 x 9 and adjust the baking time accordingly.

Overall, these turned out to be pretty yum.  The brownie base was dark chocolatey-fudgy and the chocolate topping with the nutella didn't really "set" when I tried the taste test so it was more like a creamy thick chocolate frosting with rice krispies in the topping.  I didn't chop up any candy for the brownie like I did for the Peanut Butter Crunch brownies because I couldn't think of any hazelnut candy to complement the nutella and you know I wasn't going to add hazelnuts to the brownie.  Consequently, the nutella flavor is pretty subtle and almost lost in the chocolate.  But it's all good.  Now I just have to remember these are for donating to a good cause and not eat anymore.  Really.

5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¾ cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Nutella Crunch Topping
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup Nutella
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 ½ cups crispy rice cereal

1.  Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Grease a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan or line with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the melted chocolate and butter and stir until smooth.  Add the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.  Mix in the flour and nuts, if using, and stir.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
3.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the edges appear to be set (the center should still be soft).  Do not overbake.
4.  While the brownies are baking, place the chocolate chips, peanut butter, and butter in a medium saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until melted.  Remove from heat, add the cereal and mix well.  Allow this to cool for 3 minutes or so.  Spread the mixture evenly over the brownies once they’re baked.  Refrigerate until chilled before cutting.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Butter Biscuits....good for shortcakes

Butter Biscuits - made March 30, 2011 from The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum (#73)

My cousin Abby is visiting from the Philippines and splitting her time this week between the relatives on her dad's side (my parents and me) and relatives on her mom's side (her aunt and other cousins) before heading back to her sister's and her new nephew.  During her time with me, my joke to her was to fill up on rice when she was at my parents and when we went out to eat because I didn't have any rice at home.  I've been Westernized enough to not eat rice that often or that much and, given a choice, usually go for bread as my carb of choice.  (Yes, sometimes I'm a failure as an Asian.)  So it was even funnier when my mom sent Abby over to my house loaded with food, including rice.  Okay, I did plan to feed her on my own but her packed bag of leftovers made that moot, lol.

This morning though, I did rustle up some biscuits to go with our breakfast as even I can manage scrambled eggs and (pre-cooked) steak strips.  This recipe is in several of Rose's cookbooks, including the Bread Bible which I had made the Touch of Grace Biscuits from.  But since it's also in the Pie & Pastry Bible, that made it fair game to count in my baking challenge.  I'll take any boost I can get as I don't think I'm even at the halfway mark yet.

The biscuit dough was firmer than the Touch of Grace biscuits and easier to manage as a more traditional biscuit dough.  What made it unusual was mashing hard-boiled egg yolks into it.  I wasn't sure how that was going to turn out but it was different enough that I wanted to try it.  My first sticking point was the yolks didn't go through a fine-mesh sieve that well.  In trying to push them through the sieve, they ended up crumbling into a powder anyway so I gave up on the sieve and added the yolk powder to the dry ingredients.  I used about 1/4 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup heavy cream for the liquid and the dough was fairly easy to work with to pat out and cut into rounds.

I crowded them into an 8" round cake pan as I wanted biscuits with soft sides.  There wasn't enough room for all the biscuits so I baked about 6 separately in another pan.  These biscuits didn't spring up as high as I expected, considering how much baking powder was in them.  Instead, they only rose slightly.  Even though I brushed the tops with melted butter, they also didn't brown a deep golden brown like the Touch of Grace biscuits and I baked them longer than the 15-20 minutes the recipe called for, more like 25 minutes.  I finally took them out because the bottoms looked done even if the tops still looked pale.

But I'm glad I made these as they turned out to be pretty good.  Instead of traditional biscuits, these are more like the biscuits used for shortcakes.  In fact, this is what Rose says she uses when making strawberry shortcake.  The texture was light and delicate, more cakey than bread-y.  I loved the flavor.  You can't taste the egg yolks and they weren't a deep yellow color like Rose intimated they would be so I'm not sure if I did something wrong or not.  But taste-wise, these biscuits are great.  So far, Rose Levy Berenbaum is 2 for 2 on awesome-tasting biscuits.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, hard cooked, yolks only
¾ cup heavy cream or buttermilk or a combination of the two

1 tablespoon melted butter, cooled

1.    Cut the butter into small bits.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or freeze for 10 minutes.
2.    Preheat the oven to 400F for 20 minutes before baking.  Have an oven rack at the middle level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating.
3.    In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Add the butter and, with your fingertips, press into the flour to make small pieces that resemble coarse meal.
4.    Press the egg yolks through a fine strainer into the flour mixture, and whisk to distribute them evenly.  Stir in the cream and/or buttermilk, just until the flour is moistened and the dough starts to come together so you can form it into a ball with your hands.  Empty it onto a lightly floured counter and knead it a few times until it develops a little elasticity and feels smooth.  Dust the dough lightly with flour if it feels a little sticky and pat or roll it ¾” thick.
5.    Have a small dish of flour for dipping the cutter.  Dip the cutter into the flour before each cut and cut cleanly through the dough, lifting out the cutter without twisting it so that the edges are straight, for the maximum rise, kneading the dough scraps briefly so they won’t get tough, pat or roll out, and cut out more biscuits.
6.    For biscuits with soft sides, place the biscuits almost touching (about ¼” apart) on the baking sheet.  For crisp sides, place them 1 inch apart.  Brush off any excess flour.  For a crisp top, brush with the melted butter and sprinkle lightly with the sugar.
7.    Place the biscuits in the oven on the hot baking stone or hot baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.  Lower the temperature to 375F and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden.
8.    Split the biscuits in half, preferably using a three-tined fork to keep them from compressing and to create a rustic rough split.
Tita Cely, Abby and me

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pear Cranberry Vanilla Crumble...but it's really Apple

Apple Crumble - made March 28, 2011, adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley (book #72)

The original title of this recipe was Pear, Cranberry and Vanilla Crumble but I don't really like pears and I didn't have any cranberries on hand.  Plus apples are one of my favorite fruits and I prefer apple desserts anyway so I adapted it to become an apple crumble.  But I did list the original recipe below in case anyone prefers the pear and cranberry version.  This recipe is similar to the apple crisp recipe I just did so I decided to mix it up a little.  As I said in the Apple Crisp recipe, the oat topping was great and the best of both worlds would have been to have a cobbler dough layer on the bottom.  So that's what I did with this.  I made half the recipe from the Apple Crumble Bars to use for the bottom layer (I only needed half since I was making a different topping) then followed Regan Daley's recipe except I substituted 3 large Granny Smith apples for the pears and cranberries.  The good thing about cobblers, crisps and crumbles is they also tend to be very forgiving with experimentation.

The crust bottom, filling mix and topping all have the same core elements: flour, brown sugar, and butter.  So they're easy to throw together in a short timeframe.  Baking time might be longer or shorter than the recipe calls for, depending on how thick or thin you make the crumble.  I use the toothpick test to see how tender the apples are as well as check how brown the topping is.  You don't want the topping to be soggy or the apples to be too firm.  I started off baking this at 375 degrees like the recipe called for but my baking dish was a bit small so the crumble was thick and I was afraid of the top browning too fast before the apples cooked so I turned the heat down to 350 degrees after the first 15 minutes.  I ended up baking this for about 50 minutes but don't take that as gospel since it really does depend on how thick you make your crumble.  The apples were only slightly firm when I poked them with a toothpick and the juice was bubbling along the sides so I figure it was close to done.

I really enjoyed the modifications to this.  Loved having the cobbler crust on the bottom and love the crunchy oat topping covering the apples which had just the right amount of juice and flavor.  This could be my new standard for apple cobbler.  What I like about the oat topping is it provides added texture and flavor from my usual recipe which was mostly flour, brown sugar and butter.  And you can't go wrong with a pie-crust-type bottom layer - you just can't. I served this to a couple of guests today (my former Sunday School teachers, David and Sandy) and they enjoyed it as well so I'm glad it's not just my bias :).

Crust (half recipe from Apple Crumble Bars)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 cup powdered sugar
3/8 cup light brown sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
¾ cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
¾ cup butter, cold, cut into small pieces

Seeds of 1 plump vanilla bean, hull reserved for another use
¼ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
5-6 medium-sized ripe but not mushy eating pears, such as Bartlett or Anjou
3 cups fresh cranberries

1.    Preheat oven to 375⁰F.  Butter a large (2 ½-quart) shallow baking dish, preferably ceramic.
2.    Make the crust: combine all ingredients and cut the butter into the dry ingredients until butter is the size of small peas and mixture is crumbly.  Spread evenly on the bottom of the baking dish.
3.   Make the topping: Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and butter in a mixing bowl and cut together until the largest pieces are about the size of the oats.  Use your fingers to rub the ingredients together until the mixture forms a crumbly dough.  The crumble can be made up to 2 days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator.
3.    Make the filling: In a large bowl, stir together the vanilla seeds, sugars, cornstarch and cinnamon.  Peel and core the pears and cut them into sixths or eighths.  Add the pears and cranberries to the mixing bowl and toss gently to thoroughly coat the fruit.  Scatter the fruit mixture in the baking dish, then crumble the oat mixture over top, distributing it evenly.
4.    Bake the crumble for 35 to 45 minutes for a shallow dish, 45 to 55 minutes for a deeper casserole, or until the top is crisp and golden and the filling can be seen bubbling up through the cracks.  Cool at least 15 minutes before serving, then serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of ice cream.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Brownies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Brownies - made March 27, 2011, adapted from Chocolate Chocolate by Lisa Yockelson (book #71) and Marshmallow Crunch Brownie Bars from Buttercup Bakes at Home by Jennifer Appel

I'm in experimentation mode again.  The brownie base is from Lisa Yockelson's Chocolate Chocolate recipe book and was originally called Toffee Almond Turtle Bars.  But instead of adding chopped up Heath Bars to the brownie and topping with a caramel turtle layer as the recipe directed, I decided to veer towards a peanut butter chocolate combination.  So I chopped up 7 ounces of Reese's peanut butter cups to add to the batter instead of toffee bars but baked the brownie layer per the original recipe's directions.  The brownies turned out fairly thick and took a bit longer than the 33-ish minutes the recipe directed.  I baked them for just over 50 minutes when a toothpick inserted in the center came out with moist crumbs but not raw batter.  The edges were done though so that's always worrying with thick brownies - that the edges would be dry while the middle would be raw.  You really have to pounce on these to take them out at just the right time.  Err on the side of underbaking.

For the topping, I modified the peanut butter crunch topping from the Marshmallow Crunch Brownie Bar recipe from the Buttercup Bake Shop book.  I omitted the marshmallow layer altogether since I didn't care for it in the original recipe in the first place. Nothing against the concept of the recipe but I'm just not a fan of marshmallows. Buttercup's crunch topping recipe called for a 9 x 13 pan of brownies and Lisa Yockelson's recipe called for making the brownies in a 9 x 9 pan.  So I cut the crunch topping recipe to 2/3.  It still made a respectable layer, especially compared to how thick the brownie layer was.  Recipe below reflects my modifications.  If you do decide to make the full topping recipe from the Buttercup Bake Shop, then I would suggest baking Lisa Yockelson's brownie recipe in a 10 x 10 pan.  The brownie layer will be thinner but that'll be offset by the crunch layer so you should still have brownies of a decent thickness.

Since the base is a Lisa Yockelson brownie, I almost don't have to mention how good it is.  It's moist and fudgy and the chocolate set up nicely.  The edges weren't dry at all and the middle was all fudgy goodness.  Peanut butter chocolate lovers might really love this one.  I'm actually almost indifferent to peanut butter but I do like it paired with chocolate and I love the rice crispy cereal in the topping.  It gives it some crunch and is almost like eating a soft Nestle crunch bar except it's flavored with peanut butter as well as chocolate.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bar Cookie batter
1 cup bleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 ounces Reese's peanut butter cups, each cut into quarters
½ pound (16 tablespoons or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled to tepid
4 large eggs
1 ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup chopped or slivered almonds, optional

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
2/3 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup crispy rice cereal

1.     Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Film the inside of a 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2.     Mix the batter: Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper.  In a small bowl, toss the chopped toffee with ½ teaspoon of sifted mixture.
3.     In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk the melted butter and melted chocolate until smooth.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until blended, about 15 seconds.  Add the sugar and whisk until combined, about 45 seconds to 1 minute.  Blend in the vanilla extract and melted butter-chocolate mixture.  Sift the flour mixture over and stir to form a batter, mixing thoroughly until the particles of flour are absorbed, using a whisk or flat wooden paddle.  Stir in the peanut butter cups and almonds, if using.
4.     Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.  Smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
5.     Bake, cool and cut the sweet: Bake the sweet in the preheated oven for 33 to 37 minutes, or until set.  (I baked mine for 50 minutes.)   
6.   To make the topping, melt the chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter in the  top of a double boiler and stir together until smooth.  When the brownie has baked, stir in the crispy rice cereal into the melted topping mixture.  Spoon and spread the topping in an even layer over the chocolate bar base.  

Bake and serve within 2 days

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Oatmeal Chippers

Oatmeal Chippers - made March 27, 2011 from Afternoon Delights by James McNair

I've already baked a recipe from this cookbook (Lemon Poppyseed Bread) so technically it doesn't get to count again in my baking challenge.  I've tried lots of oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipes and have no shame in obliterating the raisins out of an oatmeal cookie recipe and substituting chocolate chips instead.  I tried this recipe because of the large amount of oats in the recipe in proportion to the other ingredients, especially the flour.  I believe oatmeal cookies should have, you guessed it, lots of oats.

The weird thing about this recipe is the cookies baked to a weird appearance. Some spread thin and others stayed a bit bulky, even on the convection setting in my oven.  Usually when that happens, that means the cookie dough wasn't very well mixed and that the butter was unevenly distributed.  Except I know that wasn't the case because I mixed it the way I do all the other cookie recipes and have never had that happen.  So I'm not sure what's going on there.  Subsequently, this cookie gets low marks for appearance.  But I have to say the taste was pretty good.  The cookie was crisp at the edges and chewy elsewhere and I really like the oat taste and the combination with the chocolate chips.

½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned (not quick cooking) rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips

1.     Position an oven rack so that the cookies will bake in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside.
2.     In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.  Whisk to mix well and set aside.
3.     In another bowl, combine the butter and sugars and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the egg and vanilla and blend well.  Add the flour mixture and mix at low speed just until incorporated.  Stir in the oats, about 1 cup at a time, just until incorporated, then stir in the chocolate chips.
4.     Using a #20 (¼-cup) ice cream scoop, scoop up level portions of dough and place them about 3 inches apart on the lined baking sheet until the sheet is full.
5.     Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned and the centers are set, about 18 minutes.
6.     Remove the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, then using a spatula, transfer the cookies directly to the rack to cool completely.
7.     Repeat the forming and baking process until the dough is used up.

The cookies may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fudgy Chocolate Cake

Fudgy Chocolate Layer Cake - made March 26, 2011 from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax (book #70)

I wasn't planning on baking today even though I was meeting friends for a movie and late lunch because I had plenty of baked goods stored up in my freezer from baking this past week.  But the expiration date on my carton of buttermilk was fast approaching and that always spurs me to baking action.  The easiest way to use up a lot of buttermilk is typically in cakes, certain breads and muffins.  Bread and muffins aren't always a good care package component though so I went with this chocolate cake recipe instead.  It's from yet another cookbook that I've had for at least 15 years, if not longer, and I've packed and moved it through at least 3 homes and have yet to make a recipe from it.  I do remember this book being a gift from a friend and I don't know why I've never baked from it.

But the good thing about my baking challenge to bake at least one recipe from every cookbook I own is it forces me to do just that and rediscover cookbooks I've long taken for granted as part of my bookshelf decor.  There seem to be a lot of good recipes in this as I flipped through it last night looking for something that'll use up the bulk of the buttermilk I had left in the fridge.  At 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, this cake fit the bill.  However, although it's literally called a layer cake, I made it in a 9 x 13" pan instead of two 9" round cake pans.  Mostly because squares of cake from a 9 x 13 pan are much easier to package and distribute amongst different care packages and goodie bags than slices of a 2-layer cake.

Both cake and frosting were easy to make but I must say the recipe didn't make very much frosting.  It's just the right amount for icing the top of the 9 x 13 cake but if you make this as a 2-layer cake, you might want to 1 1/2 times or double the frosting recipe or else you might run out of frosting to do both the top and the sides of the cake.  And I say that as someone who doesn't like a lot of frosting on my cake.  This is a good basic chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. It's got the light cakey texture we associate with box cake mixes but infinitely better flavor than a box mix.  Use a dark cocoa (not Hersheys please but something a little more upscale) since the chocolate flavor comes from the cocoa - the darker, the better.  Overall, I liked this cake as it was moist and had a good, deep chocolate flavor.

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Glossy Dark Chocolate Frosting
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

1.    Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Butter the bottom and sides of two 9-inch cake pans.  Line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper cut to fit; butter the paper and set aside.  Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt onto a sheet of wax paper; set aside.
2.    In a bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter with the white and brown sugars until light.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Add the vanilla.
3.    Lower the speed to slow and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix just until blended, no longer.  Divide the batter between the prepared pans; smooth the tops.
4.    Bake until the cakes shrink slightly away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted in the centers emerges clean, usually 25 to 30 minutes.
5.    Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.  Carefully loosen the cakes from the pans with the tip of a knife and invert onto the racks; carefully peel off the paper.  Turn right side up and cool to room temperature.
6.   In a bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter with the confectioners’ sugar until very light.  Add the vanilla and melted chocolate and beat until shiny and smooth.
7.    Place 1 cake layer on a serving platter; spread with a small amount of the frosting.  Top with the other layer; frost the sides and then the top, swirling the icing.  Let the cake stand for at least 30 minutes before cutting.  Serve at room temperature.


Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies - made March 26, 2011 from Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz (book #69)

In case you ever wonder why I always seem to predominantly make cookies and brownies, I do a lot of care packages and goodie bags to give away to friends and family and those are the easiest things to make and give away.  I probably should expand my baking repertoire a little more but what must be baked must be packaged up and given away so that sometimes limits my options.  I've spoiled myself over the years in eating only the freshest baked goods, often within minutes after coming out of my oven.  Once they're cool and more than a few hours old, I've lost interest and focus on finding them a good home.

In fact, one of the reasons I started this baking blog in the first place was to blog about not only how recipes have turned out but also what I would recommend people can do to make them better so they can bake them on their own.  If you don't bake, it's hard to know the joys of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie 10 minutes out of the oven or the moist fudginess of a really good brownie when it's barely cool.  Sure you can buy the stuff but it's just not the same as making it yourself or having immediate access to someone who does.

I also try to match my baking to who I'm seeing and what their favorites are.  I'm meeting several different chocolate lovers for dinner and lunch this week so a chocolate chocolate cookie seemed like the right thing to put in their goodie bags.  Really, you have to like anything that repeats the word "chocolate" in its title.  If you look at the recipe, you'll see the high proportion of chocolate as an ingredient compared to the other ingredients.  That means, by all chocolate holiness, please use the best quality chocolate you can.  I used Valrhona 70% for this particular recipe.  You can also use Lindt, Callebaut, Scharffenberger or something equally hi-falutin'.  But use the good stuff.  Trust me, it's worth it.

What I liked about these cookies is they didn't spread at all.  Slice the logs thick for thick cookies and they'll stay that thick.  Which is hardly surprising considering the large amount of chocolate in them and relatively smaller amount of everything else. Never overbake chocolate chocolate cookies.  With this much chocolate in them, it's okay if they're underbaked because the chocolate will set once it's cool.  Baking them 9 minutes (or less) ensures a fudgy texture.  If you overbake them, they'll be dry.  And that would be a waste of good chocolate.  Since these seemed pretty sturdy, I think they'd ship okay in a care package and hold up in the mail.  But you should still pack them carefully so that they won't move around much, if at all, in the package.

Given the high amount of chocolate in these, it should come as no surprise that they pack a serious chocolate punch.  As chocolate-loving as I am, even I drew the line at just having one cookie.  At a time.  The inside was moist and fudgy, almost like eating baked fudge.  If you have a chocolate lover in your life, make these for them and prepare to accept their undying love and adoration.

1 pound bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, cut into pieces
1 cup walnuts, toasted
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ¾ cups sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 cups chocolate chips

1.    Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, coarsely chop the walnuts.  When the butter and chocolate have melted, remove from the heat.
2.   In a standing electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, whip the eggs, sugar and vanilla at high speed until they form a well-defined ribbon when you lift the whisk.  Remove the whisk and attach the paddle to the mixer.  Turn the speed to low, and mix in the melted chocolate mixture.
3.    In another bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder, then add them to the batter.  Add the chocolate chips and the nuts.  Chill the dough until it is firm, at least 30 minutes.
4.    On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough with your hands into three 10-inch logs, 2 inches in diameter.  If the dough is too cold and firm, wait until it becomes malleable.
5.    To bake the cookies, position the oven racks in the center and upper part of the oven and preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
6.    Slice the logs into ½”-thick cookies, and place them on the baking sheet, evenly spaced.  Bake for about 9 minutes.  Rotate the baking sheets and switch racks midway through baking.  Once they have cooled, store the cookies in an airtight container.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Honey Barbecue Chicken Pizza

Pizza Dough - made March 25, 2011 from The Practical Encyclopedia of Baking by Martha Day (book #68)

I've been craving pizza lately - you know, the kind with the thick, chewy crust, melted cheese and good toppings.  My usual tastes in pizza toppings are pretty simple: sausage and pepperoni (carnivore, remember?), Canadian bacon and pineapple, and one of my favorites: barbecue chicken.  I have a coupon for a free pizza from Pizz'a Chicago and I love their pizzas but it always seems a little, well, piggish, to buy a pizza just for my own personal consumption, especially one of their yummy, thick crust pizzas.  I'd love the first piece, talk myself into a second piece out of sheer gluttony, then be sick and hate myself if I ate the rest.  So I'm waiting until I have guests over to order from Pizz'a Chicago.

But I still want pizza so why not make my own?  I usually cheat on homemade pizza and the times I don't buy a Digiorno pizza are the times when I buy a Boboli crust, pizza sauce in a jar, cheese and toppings.  I've never actually made homemade pizza dough.  But the recipes I looked at seemed pretty simple.  If I could make bread, I figured I could make pizza dough.  I chose this recipe from the Practical Encyclopedia of Baking because it looked the easiest.  This is one of those books I don't remember actually buying but have probably had for years and never used it.  I just liked looking at all the pictures (rolls eyes).

I have to admit I still "cheated" on the rest of the pizza - honey barbecue sauce in a jar.  I know, I know.  I did cut and cook the chicken on my own though, lol.  Cut it into the size I wanted for the topping, stir fried it with some salt, pepper, thyme and oregano then mixed half of it into the barbecue sauce and let it cool while I waited for the pizza dough to rise.  The great thing about making your own pizza is you control what goes on it.  The best pizzas in my opinion are loaded with toppings.  Not necessarily a ton of cheese but I like my barbecue chicken pizza with lots of chicken.

Below is the recipe for the pizza dough - top with whatever sauce and toppings you prefer.  I didn't manually knead the dough but used my KitchenAid and dough hook to do all the work.  I ended up baking it for about 22 minutes at 425 degrees.  The pizza turned out okay.  I wouldn't say the crust is anything to brag about - it's a pretty basic white bread dough, not overtly buttery and flaky like Patxi's in Palo Alto but still crunchy around the edges and chewy elsewhere.  It was good and now that I know how easy pizza dough is to make, I'm going to be looking to experiment more with making my own homemade pizzas and trying out other pizza dough recipes.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water (105⁰-110⁰F)
2 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1.    Put the yeast in a small bowl, add ¼ cup of the water, and let it soak 1 minute.  Whisk lightly with a fork until dissolved.
2.    Sift the flour and salt into a large warm bowl.  Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, olive oil, and remaining warm water.
3.    Using your fingers, gradually draw flour into the liquids.  Continue mixing until all the flour is incorporated and the dough will just hold together.
4.    Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead it until it is smooth and silky, about 10 minutes.  Shape the dough into a ball.  Put it in an oiled bowl and rotate to coat the surface with oil.
5.    Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Set aside in a warm place to let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.  Turn the dough onto the lightly floured surface again.  Gently punch down the dough to deflate it.  Knead lightly until smooth.
6.    Roll out the dough into a round or square about ¼” thick.  Transfer it to a lightly oiled metal pizza tray or baking sheet.  Add the topped as directed in the recipe.  Bake in a preheated 425⁰F oven until the pizza crust is puffy and well browned.  Serve hot.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Touch of Grace Biscuits

Touch of Grace Biscuits - made March 24, 2011 from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum (book #67)

I wasn't going to bake today since my lunch plans with a friend today got canceled so I didn't need to make up any goodie bags.  But I woke up to our 13th consecutive day of rain this morning and while it hasn't rained 24/7 for 13 days (we've had pockets of dry weather for a few hours here and there), we now have flash flood warnings, mudslides, wind advisories, and a ground that's getting over 95% saturated.  My Pavlovian response to the cloudy, stormy weather?  "Hey, I bet a warm fresh biscuit slathered in butter would taste really good."  And you know how once you have something in your head, it won't get out unless you do something about it?  Yeah, hence today's baking experiment with biscuits.

This is from the Bread Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum.  I've had her Cake Bible book for years and got the Bread Bible because I like her recipes.  They're easy to follow and almost always come out. Which doesn't explain why I've hardly ever used this book before.  In fact, this may be the first recipe I've made from it.  Oops.  Well, what matters is I'm using it now, right?

This recipe was really easy to throw together.  But she wasn't kidding when she said the dough was soft, like mashed potatoes.  I could barely form the dough balls, even when rolling it in the 2nd cup of flour because it was so soft.  I put the biscuits in an 8" round cake pan as I was forming them but there was only enough dough to make a ring around the cake pan and not fill it entirely.  Next time I would make them in a 6" round pan so they'd be more squished in there and could prop each other up.  When I baked them, they didn't rise as much because they were so spread out.  Regardless though, these were pretty good.  The outside was crunchy and the inside was melt in your mouth mealy/chewy like good bread should be.  There was a slight tang because of the buttermilk not being offset by any baking soda but that helped make this a more savory bread.  All in all, a nice treat on a cold, stormy day.

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cold
1 ¼ cups heavy cream or buttermilk or a combination of the two
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon melted butter, cooled, optional

1.     Preheat the oven to 475F for 30 minutes before baking.  Have an oven shelf at the middle level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating.
2.     In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours (the 1 cup all purpose + ½ cup cake flour), baking powder, and salt.  Add the shortening in teaspoon-sized pieces and, with your fingertips, press the shortening into the flour until pea-sized or smaller.
3.     Stir in the cream and/or buttermilk.  The biscuit dough will be very soft, like mashed potatoes.  Allow it to sit for 2 to 3 minutes; it will stiffen slightly.
4.     Spread the 2nd cup of all-purpose flour in a pie plate or cake pan.  To shape the biscuits using an ice cream scoop or a large spoon, scoop up a biscuit-sized lump of dough (a heaping spoonful) and drop it onto the flour.  Sprinkle the top lightly with some of the flour.  Pick up the biscuit with your hand and shape it into a round, gently shaking off any excess flour; it works well to hold the biscuit in your left hand with fingers partially closed so that the thumb and index finger form the letter C.  With your right hand, tamp down the top of the dough so that the biscuit is 1 inch high and 2 inches wide.
5.     Put each biscuit in the cake pan as soon as it is shaped, placing them snugly-up against each other so that the soft dough will rise up instead od spreading sideways during baking.  If desired, dip the brush in the melted butter (avoid the milk solids that will have sunk to the bottom) and brush the top of the biscuits.
6.     Place the biscuits in the oven on the hot baking stone or baking sheet.  Raise the heat to 500F and bake for 5 minutes.  Lower the heat to 475F and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until biscuits have doubled in size and are lightly browned.
7.     Allow the biscuits to cool in the pan for 1 to 2 minutes, then empty them onto a plate.  Pull the biscuits apart and split them in half, preferably using a three-tined fork to keep them from compressing and to create a rustic rough split rather than a clean cut.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake - made March 22, 2011 from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

I first tried Tres Leches Cake from Savory, a Vietnamese restaurant in Mountain View, and was hooked on the first bite.  They served theirs with the creamy topping just a little bit frozen so it was almost like eating ice cream on top of soft cake.  It's really quite good.  For those who haven't had it yet, Tres Leches Cake is a yellow cake that's soaked in a 3-milk mixture (hence the name) then topped with a whipped cream topping.  Because it's supposed to absorb so much liquid, the cake itself is moist to the point of being almost custard-like.

I don't actually own the America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book so this doesn't count towards my baking challenge.  Instead I got this recipe from a friend who tried the recipe from this cookbook and raved about it.  I love recipes that have been personally recommended by people I know so naturally, I couldn't resist making it myself.

I recently ordered some cans of dulce de leche from amazon which were cheaper than my usual source of Williams Sonoma and I wanted to try it out with this recipe.  One of the 3 "leches" or milks in Tres Leches is sweetened condensed milk and dulce de leche is the cooked, caramelized version of sweetened condensed milk so I wanted to see if this would work just as well, especially since  the directions call for heating the sweetened condensed milk until it turned "slightly darkened and thickened".  Essentially, that's turning sweetened condensed milk into dulce de leche so I just skipped that step and started off with dulce de leche in the first place.

The tres leches mixture made quite a bit of liquid so I was a little nervous about pouring all that liquid over the cake.  I spooned 1/3 of the milk mixture slowly over the cake, giving it time to absorb.  That seemed like plenty already and I still had another 2/3 to go.  I gave it a few more minutes to fully absorb then went back to spooning the 2nd third over the cake.  I really hoped the America's Test Kitchen people knew what they were doing. The cake looked like it had absorbed enough, thank you.  I was afraid if it had too much liquid in it, I'd be eating some soggy milky cake.  But, in for a penny, in for a pound, so I let it sit some more then spooned the last third over the cake.  I wouldn't advise pouring all of the milk mixture at once.  You need to give the cake time to absorb the liquid slowly.  You do refrigerate it and let it sit for hours before you do the topping layer so I assume that's when the liquid gets fully absorbed and the cake gets its tres leches-iness.

I let it chill in the refrigerator overnight and sure enough, all of the liquid looked like it had been fully absorbed.  The pan was not-so-surprisingly heavy considering how much liquid was poured into it. I tried the taste test piece without the whipped cream topping as I not only don't like whipped cream but the last thing this cake needs is more calories (believe me, my taste test piece was tiny and I feel like I should walk another 7 miles just to work it off). The cake is really good and definitely absorbed the 3-milk mixture although not in a consistent pattern.  It's much like the espresso mixture in a tiramisu soaks the ladyfingers or a simple syrup soaks a genoise.  It's still cake but definitely "soaked" cake.  And tasty.  But then again, I love the dulce de leche flavor so I'm probably biased in favor of it.  Mine is probably more of a dulce de leche flavor than the original recipe intended since Savory's Tres Leches cake didn't have that same flavor.  But I think I prefer the dulce de leche version and am glad I made it this way.

Just for comparison, mine is a far cry from the professional Tres Leches Cake they serve at Savory :).  But I still like the homemade version as well.

Tres Leches Cake

Milk Mixture
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the milk mixture: Pour condensed milk into large microwave-safe bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on low power, stirring and replacing plastic every 3 to 5 minutes, until slightly darkened and thickened, 9 to 15 minutes. Remove from microwave and slowly whisk in evaporated milk, cream, and vanilla. Let cool to room temperature.

2. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 13 by 9-inch baking pan. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in bowl. Heat butter and milk in small saucepan over low heat until butter is melted; set aside off heat.

3. With electric mixer on medium speed, beat eggs in large bowl for about 30 seconds, then slowly add sugar until incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until egg mixture is very thick and glossy, 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce speed to low and slowly mix in melted butter mixture and vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, scraping down bowl as necessary, then mix on medium speed until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer cake to wire rack and let cool 10 minutes.

4. Using skewer, poke holes at 1/2-inch intervals in top of cake. Slowly pour milk mixture over cake until completely absorbed. Let sit at room temperature 15 minutes, then refrigerate uncovered 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

5. For the frosting: Remove cake from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. With electric mixer on medium speed, beat heavy cream, corn syrup, and vanilla to soft peaks, 1 to 2 minutes. Frost cake and slice into 3-inch squares. Serve. (The assembled cake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)