Friday, September 30, 2011

Chocolate Coffee Cake

Chocolate Coffee Cake - made September 28, 2011 from The Golden Book of Chocolate published by Barron's (book #166)

Last day to enter the baking book giveaway and to vote (see a few posts below) - please vote!

It never fails that when I don't have buttermilk, I come across all sorts of recipes I want to try that use it.  Then once I do buy some buttermilk, I can't find those recipes again and the recipes I do come across use milk, sour cream, heavy cream and every other ingredient except buttermilk.  Someone tell me that doesn't just happen to me.  Even if you have to lie to me.

Fortunately, after some exasperated flipping through the remaining baking books in my baking challenge, I did zoom in on this recipe that uses buttermilk and a whole cup of it at that.  This bakes into a simple 9 x 13 cake which is the easiest for me to cut up and give away.  I was meeting my friend Emily for lunch so it was a good excuse to share it with her to take back to her office/my old company.  This came out pretty well, although a bit more dense than your average box-mix cake but not as dense as a pound cake.  It did have a rich dark chocolate flavor due to the Pernigotti cocoa I used.  But that was nicely offset by the sweetness of the chocolate frosting.  I omitted the walnuts from the frosting (of course) and instead of lemon juice, I used milk.  I added more than a tablespoon because the frosting was too stiff.  I didn't measure exactly how much milk I added but you can adjust to the consistency you want your frosting to be.

2 cups (300 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (150 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups (300 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup (125 ml) strong cold coffee

Walnut Frosting
4 ounces (125 g) semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup (90 g) butter
2 ½ cups (375 g) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used milk)
1 cup walnuts, chopped

1.    Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Butter and flour a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
2.    Stir the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
3.    Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy.
4.    Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just blended after each addition.
5.    With mixer at low speed, gradually beat in the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk and coffee.  Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
6.    Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30-40 minutes.  Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire rack.
7.    Walnut Frosting: Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler over barely simmering water.  Set aside to cool.  Beat in the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and lemon juice (or milk).  Stir in the walnuts and chocolate.  Spread over the cooled cake.



Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chilled Peanut Butter Brownies

Chilled Peanut Butter Brownies - made September 24, 2011 from Glorious Chocolate by Mary Goodbody and the editors of Chocolatier Magazine (book #165)

(Last day is tomorrow (Sept 30) to vote for Trey's Field of Dreams and enter the baking giveaway a few blog posts below - please vote - thanks!)

I was asked by a friend to contribute to a bake sale trying to raise funds to help a family in need.  The family was involved in a car accident where both parents were killed and their two children were left with severe health issues.  Family and friends are trying to raise funds to help with the medical expenses.  This bake sale is part of the effort.  I couldn't have said no even if I had wanted to (which I don't).   Baking is the least I can do to help.  For any local folks in the Bay Area, the bake sale is being held in downtown Los Altos at the Starbucks on Main Street.  Starbucks is donating coffee and the bake sale will be held outside their store on October 2, starting at 9:30 am.  Please come by and support the cause (and enjoy some brownies).

As always, I fall back to brownies and other items that can be packaged easily for sale.  I'm mindful of my friend Robbie's advice that at bake sales, kids are the purchasing decisionmakers and there's nothing like candy to catch their eye.  So I went with this peanut butter brownie and garnished it with Reese's peanut butter cups on top.  I baked the brownies per the recipe then about 5 minutes before I took the brownies out of the oven, I placed the peanut butter cups on top to let them melt slightly into the brownie.  I only cut the peanut butter cups in half so they'd be nice and chunky to bite into as part of the brownie.  Since this only made an 8-inch pan and I needed all of it for the bake sale, I only cut off a sliver for the taste test.  Seemed like it turned out pretty well.  The peanut butter layer made a nice base for the brownie layer.  If you want more texture and for those who like nuts in their brownies, use chunky peanut butter instead of smooth.  Feel free to also garnish with chopped up Snickers bars instead of or in addition to peanut butter cups and/or to add peanut butter chips to the brownie layer.  Instead of mixing the chocolate chunks into the batter, I spread them in an even layer over the peanut butter layer then covered them with the brownie layer.

Peanut Butter layer
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature

Chocolate layer
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup sifted unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
½ cup all-purpose flour
5 ounces milk chocolate, cut into ¼” pieces

1.   Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350⁰F.  Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil so that the foil extends 2 inches beyond two opposite sides of the pan.  Lightly butter the top and sides of the foil-lined pan.
2.   Make the peanut butter layer: In a medium bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the peanut butter, sugar and egg for 1 minute or until just combined.  Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.  Using your fingertips (I used a small metal spatula), press the peanut butter layer evenly into the bottom of the pan.
3.   Make the chocolate layer: In a medium bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer set at high speed, beat the butter and sugar for 4 minutes or until light.  Add the eggs and vanilla and continue beating for 2 minutes or until creamy and smooth.  At low speed, beat in the cocoa and flour until just combined.  Stir in the chocolate.
4.   Scrape the batter into the baking pan and spread it evenly over the peanut butter layer.  Bake the brownies for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted 2 inches away from the center comes out clean (I go for moist crumbs rather than “clean”).
5.   Cool the brownies in the pan on a wire rack for at least 1 hour.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Using the foil as handles, lift the brownies out of the pan.  Invert the brownies onto a large plate and carefully peel off the foil.  Invert again onto a smooth surface and cut into 12 brownies.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

High Ratio Orange Buttermilk Pound Cake

High Ratio Orange Buttermilk Pound Cake - made September 24, 2011 from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri (book #164)

Really moist, really good
(Please enter the baking book giveaway 2 posts below and please vote!  They're in 14th place but need to move up higher before voting ends on Friday, September 30 - thanks!)

Nick Malgieri is another cookbook author whose recipes I can reasonably count on to almost always turn out.  I had the privilege of getting him to sign this cookbook for me when I met him during a baking demo he was doing at Sur La Table some years ago.  I think he does cakes exceptionally well, much like Rose Levy Berenbaum.  This recipe only enforces that.  Although it's now officially fall and the days are getting noticeably shorter, if not always cooler, if you want a last taste of summer, go find the freshest oranges you can and make this cake.  It seems like a standard pound cake but the orange flavor makes it much more than your average butter pound cake and will remind you of summer days gone by.

Brush all of the soaking syrup into the cake in stages: brush, wait a few minutes to let it absorb, brush some more, wait a bit, and so on.  It took me more than half an hour to use up all of the syrup.  Sometimes I get lazy or feel like I've used enough syrup and I don't want the cake to get too moist or soaked.  But this worked out pretty well to use up all of the soaking syrup because it really flavored the cake well.  The cake was moist but not overly so or and it wasn't gummy.  Make sure to bake it properly (toothpick should come out just barely clean) and don't underbake it or else it will be too gummy, especially after you use the soaking syrup.  This is actually the type of cake that tastes better the day after you make it because the flavors have had time to mellow and really settle into the cake.  Another good picnic cake or a good candidate to include in a care package.

2 ½ cups bleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks
½ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoons strained fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon orange extract

Orange Syrup
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh orange juice, strained
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

One 12-cup Bundt pan, buttered and floured

1.    Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325˚F.
2.    Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and beat on the lowest speed for about 2 minutes, or until the ingredients are well combined.
3.   Meanwhile, whisk all the remaining batter ingredients together in a mixing bowl until well combined.
4.   Increase the mixer speed to medium and add one-third of the liquid, and mix for 2 minutes.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater.  Add another third of the liquid, beat for 2 minutes, and scrape again.  Finally, add the remaining liquid and beat and scrape as before.
5.   Use a large rubber spatula to give the batter a final vigorous stir, then scrape it into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
6.   Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake halfway between the side of the pan and the central tube emerges clean.
7.   Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto the rack to finish cooling.
8.   To make the syrup, bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan.  Remove from the heat and stir in the orange juice, lemon juice and vanilla extract.  Brush the hot syrup evenly all over the cake.  Gradually brush until it is all absorbed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Oreo-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies - made September 24, 2011 from Mrs. Witty's Monster Cookies by Helen Witty (book #163)

See the Oreo cookie lump?

I've mentioned in the past that I've wanted to try Oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies because they were the fad in the foodie blogosphere for awhile.  I kept getting distracted by other recipes, not to mention eating the Oreos "straight" but I finally got around to trying them last weekend.  I had a specific recipe in mind from one of the link parties I participate in but since I was trying to further my baking challenge, I decided to try a simple chocolate chip cookie recipe from one of my baking books.

Hmm, I might've been better off trying the other recipe.  I knew this likely wouldn't work well with Oreos in the middle because the dough was soft after I mixed it.  I chilled it for a few hours because I even wrapped it around an oreo then froze that before I baked it.  As expected, the cookie spread too much and the Oreo in the middle looked like a round lump with a big cookie skirt.  I might've been able to get over that though if it had tasted good.  Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed.  The chocolate chip cookie part was kind of average and more cakey than moist and chewy, possibly because I baked it a minute or two longer than I would've liked because the middle was still doughy, possibly because of that Oreo intruder in the middle.  But the deal breaker was the Oreo itself was soft after having been baked and cooled.  That stands to reason, of course, because of the baking heat but one of the reasons I like Oreos is because of the crisp texture of the sandwich cookies.  Having them soften in baking just didn't work for me.  Bummer.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate pieces

1.     In a mixing bowl using a wooden spoon or in the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and shortening together until well blended and soft.  Then beat in the brown and granulated sugars in turn, beating well after each addition, until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each; then beat in the vanilla.
2.     Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture, blending well.  Add the chocolate bits and mix well.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill it thoroughly, preferably for 3 hours or longer.
3.     Preheat the oven to 350F with the oven rack in the center position.
4.     Drop the chilled dough by slightly rounded measuring teaspoonfuls onto the foil-covered greased sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart.  Bake them in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until they are lightly browned and the centers have just become springy to the touch.  Cool on the pans for 5 minutes then place them on wire racks to cool completely.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Another Baking Book Giveaway

EDITING because I got the voting end date wrong

Please vote for a good cause!

I'm doing another slightly different post from the norm to ask for your help and to offer free cookbooks in exchange.  I blogged earlier this year about my 3-week trip to Australia and New Zealand.  On the trip, I met an extremely nice couple, Eileen and Dick, who were wonderful people to tour with and just wonderful people in general.  Sadly, Eileen and Dick's grandson, Trey, was killed over a year ago by a drunk driver.  Trey was only 6 years old.  I don't have kids but I don't need to be a parent or a grandparent to know what a devastating loss it is for someone to lose their child.  Trey's family is coping with their grief and loss by trying to build a "field of dreams" in Trey's memory and they are in the running for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi to add to their fundraising efforts.  They're currently in 15th place but it's very competitive and they need all the votes they can get in order to win the grant.  There are only 10 voting days left.

I need your help!  Please click on the link below to vote for Trey's Field of Dreams so his family can get the Pepsi grant.  Voting ends on September 30 so I will draw winners on October 1.

Here's how to enter the giveaway (you can do either or both):
1. vote through the link and leave me a comment in this post that you voted.  You can either login via facebook if you have a facebook account or you can register an email with Pepsi and vote (you don't need to be on facebook to vote, you just need an email address).  You can vote once a day and leave me a comment every day that you voted.  Every vote is one entry.  Make sure when you do vote that you login and click vote.  Your vote is recorded when you get the "Thanks" message (just logging in is not voting).
2. Email me power vote codes that come under specially marked Pepsi bottles (it's on the underside of the bottlecaps).  Each power vote code is worth 5 entries in the giveaway.  Email is

I will give away 2 baking books from the list pictured below.  First prize goes to the person who sends me the most power vote codes.  That person gets first choice of TWO cookbooks from the list below.  Second prize is a random drawing from all the people who emailed me power vote codes and left comments saying they voted.  Second prize winner will be able to pick one cookbook from the list below after the first prize winner has picked.  Drawing will be held on October 4.

Thank you for helping out a worthy cause in memory of a little boy who was taken too soon from his family and friends.  Please pass the word along as much as you can and get others to vote as well.  Every vote really does count and I know Trey's family appreciates each and every one.

List of baking books in the giveaway - click on the link to see more information about each book
Cocolat by Alice Medrich
Indulge by Claire Clark
The Art of Chocolate by Elaine Gonzalez
Grand Finales: The Art of the Plated Dessert by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty (has a little wear)
Perfect Pastry by Nick Malgieri
Elegantly Easy Creme Brulee & Other Custard Desserts by Debbie Puente
Shortbread by Jann Johnson
Christmas Cookies from the Whimsical Bakehouse by Kaye Hansen and Liv Hansen
Chocolate Companion by Cynthia Shade Rogers

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Care Packages for College Students

This post is going to be a little different from the norm since I haven't had time to bake lately so I don't have any new recipes or baking experiments to blog about.  But I've been meaning to write this one for a few weeks to talk about care packages again.  But this is aimed at those of you who've sent kids off to college.  I've mentioned my nieces have started at different colleges this year so that naturally kicks in my need to send them care packages. 

Baked goods, of course, go into the care packages and I choose the ones they like that will ship well.  But I didn't want to send just brownies or bar cookies.  I wanted to also send fun stuff or useful stuff or both.  What makes a care package "useful" for a college student might be different than a care package sent to a non-student.  For one thing, if they live in the dorms, you know space is a premium so you can't send really big stuff that'll take up space.  You also have to be mindful if they have a microwave or a small refrigerator in their room or not as that affects food choices.  And college students tend to move every year so you don't want to send them something fragile, cumbersome or  what they'll never use.

So what can you send?  I had to think back to my own college days to try and remember what I would've liked at their age.  I also tapped my friends' knowledge and experience and they helped me come up with a great list of ideas, some of which I've implemented and some of which I'm holding back for future packages.  One thing I had to update is my knowledge of how far technology has come since my college days.  Quarters for laundry?  No need - now they just swipe their student IDs in the washing machines and dryers to pay for washing and drying each load.  Film for cameras?  In this day and age of cell phone cameras and digital cameras, forget it.

The key factors in my mind are the items had to be consumable, would get daily or near-daily use, be something they actually needed but didn't already have, and/or be something fun.  There's no one-size-fits-all list for everyone since the whole fun of a care package is to tailor it to the specific recipient's needs and wants.  I know a lot of my nieces' likes and dislikes so I had a lot to work with.  For their first one, I included:
- a stapler, staple remover and staples set
- packets of green ginger tea (they love tea)
- individual packets of Crystal Light (for something cold to drink since it was summer when I sent it)
- movie pack of Skittles (a favorite candy of theirs plus I didn't have to worry about it melting in summer temps like I would have with chocolate)
- highlighters
- 8 GB flash drive (for saving files from their laptop and plugging into a computer lab computer to print if they don't have a printer in their room)

In subsequent "follow ups", I also gave them each a mini LED flashlight they can keep in their purses and have handy if they're ever on campus at night, packs of microwave kettle corn, crackers and other dorm food-type snacks for when they're studying or else have to eat on the run on their way to class.  I also like to package food items in individual-sized portions so that they can share with their friends.  College and dorms are about communal living and making new friends.  Nothing like sharing treats to cement new friendships.

Other suggestions people gave me but which my nieces already had so I didn't include:
  • post-it notes
  • Command hooks for hanging stuff in their dorms
  • Nail polish, nail polish remover, and other nail care items
  • Shower caddy for carting their shower essentials from their room to the communal bathroom
  • combination lock
  • Robe

I'll save the rest for future care packages - I don't want to ruin all of the surprise.

Same packing tips apply as with all packages: pack carefully so that the items don't move around a lot or at all.  I used medium flat rate boxes so I didn't have to worry about weight.  Time when you send a package.  If it has something perishable in it, try sending on a Saturday or Monday so it arrives early in the week.  If you send mid-week and chance a Saturday arrival, if the dorms don't handle mail on the weekends, your package will sit there a couple of extra days until they deliver again on Monday.  I've also discovered that what I sent to one of my nieces took an extra day to be processed through campus mail.  A package I sent across the country arrived a day earlier than a package I sent to my niece in-state because of that extra processing day so now I have to plan accordingly.

Oh, and most importantly, include a handwritten card telling them how much you love them and how proud you are of them for being where they are and making the most of their opportunities.  And if your handwriting sucks like mine, cash in the same envelope is good too :).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Oreo Caramel Brownies

Brownies - made September 17, 2011 from King Arthur Flour Baking Companion (book #162)

You might remember my earlier attempt to take a simple brownie recipe and make it more decadent by having an Oreo crust for the bottom layer, covering it with a layer of caramel and putting the brownie on top of it. That attempt didn't turn out as well as I would've liked so I decided to try again to coincide with my niece's visit from college for the weekend. Then I could load her up with most of it to take back to her friends in her dorm.

This stab at brownie decadence came out better than the last time. I think I hit on the right ratio of Oreo cookie crumbs and butter - use 2/3 of a package of Oreos (the regular size package, regular Oreos, no double filling), process in the food processor until they're all crumbs, add half a stick or 4 tablespoons of melted and cooled butter and mix until you have a uniform consistency with the crumbs. Pat that into a 9 x 13 pan lined with foil sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and smooth into an even layer. Then I melted a 14-ounce package of Kraft caramel bits with a little milk. I didn't measure the milk but added enough to get a thin liquid consistency. You don't want the caramel to be too thick or too chewy when it cools.

Then I chopped up the remaining Oreos in the package, mostly because I knew if I kept them, I'd eat them all. Instead of keeping temptation around, I added the chopped up Oreos to the brownie batter and poured that on top of the cookie crust and caramel layers. Because of the two bottom layers, testing for doneness using the toothpick test is a bit tricky because if you push the toothpick straight down, it'll likely always come up too moist because it's also picking up the caramel layer. Instead, I angled the toothpick so I was mostly testing the brownie layer instead of hitting the caramel layer. These did take a bit longer to bake than I expected and a crust formed on top which I wasn't wild about since I don't like crusts on my brownies. But overall, I was much happier with this version than the last time I tried to make this combo. The brownies were fudgy without being too gooey and the caramel kept things moist. The caramel wasn't as pronounced as I expected so next time I might try adding more caramel or swirling some of it through the brownie itself as well as having a caramel layer on top of the Oreo cookie crust.

My niece took some back to share with her friends in the dorms. Their feedback after taking the first bite: "Oh. My. God." I'll take that as an endorsement, lol.

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups (17 ½ ounces) sugar
1 1/3 cups (5 ¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
Optional add-ins: nuts, chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, caramel

1.    In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat.  Set aside to cool slightly.
2.    In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, vanilla, salt, and sugar together until light and fluffy.
3.    Preheat the oven to 375°F and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch pan.
4.    Stir the flour into the chocolate and butter mixture.  Fold the chocolate batter into the egg mixture, stirring to combine.  Stir in optional ingredients, if using.
5.    Spread the batter in the pan.  For an extra-glossy top, brush with 1 tablespoon milk.  Bake the brownies for 35 minutes; the top should be crisp but a toothpick inserted in the center will come out coated with chocolate.  Remove the brownies from the oven, and let them cool for several hours before cutting into squares.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chocolate Nutella Cookies

Chocolate Nutella Cookies - made September 10, 2011 from written by Elise Bauer

I don't get all my recipes from my cookbooks.  There are a lot of them out on the web and when someone recommends a particular site or blog that they enjoy, I like to take a look.  I take personal recommendations, well, personally.  One of my fitness friends, Barbara, sent me the link to this site and she was actually recommending the Orange Poppyseed Cookies.  I want to try that one too but in surfing the site, I came across this recipe for Chocolate Nutella Cookies a few months ago and filed it in my "still need to make" category.  I met friends last weekend and needed cookies to include in their goodie bags so this seemed like a good time to finally try out this recipe.

You can probably guess before I even write this that I left out the hazelnuts in this recipe.  I honestly meant to include them, thinking I had hazelnuts in my freezer but in searching through its frozen depths, I found almonds, pecans, peanuts and macadamia nuts but no hazelnuts.  Um, darn.  So I simply used chocolate chips instead.  I was a little worried about the dough as it seemed a bit soft for a cookie dough and was almost more like a thick brownie batter.  Usually when cookie dough is soft, it'll spread, even if you freeze the dough beforehand, which is what I did.

This did end up spreading and I don't know if that was because I hadn't frozen the dough long enough or the butter was too soft when I mixed up the cookie dough.  In any case, although the cookies spread a bit more than I would've liked, they still turned out pretty well.  This is the one cookie I wouldn't advocate really underbaking though.  If you do, you'll end up with mostly mushy middles like the texture of nutella in the jar (although some of you may actually prefer that).  But, baked - not overbaked - properly, this has a nice chewy texture, almost like a fudgy brownie.  I prefer it at room temperature as opposed to lukewarm, 10 minutes out of the oven, like I do with most cookies, mostly because I think it has a better texture at room temperature and the nutella flavor is more pronounced.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Golden Banana Cake

Golden Banana Cake - made September 10, 2011 from Simply Sensational Desserts by Francois Payard (book #161)

Several people have recommended that I should roast bananas before using them in baking.  I always mean to because it sounds like it would be additional delicious flavor but I typically end up putting overripe bananas in the freezer to use later and when I thaw them, the bananas are mush and probably wouldn't roast well.  This time, however, I finally remembered to keep ripe bananas out and roast them before using.  These weren't super-ripe bananas like I would normally bake with but I figured roasting them would make them flavorful enough.

Hmm, not sure that ended up being a good call.  I think two things went wrong: 1) I should've used over-ripe bananas like I normally do.  The ones I used were ripe but not over-ripe.  And we all know over-ripe bananas are the best to use to bake with.  2) I don't think I roasted the bananas long enough to really let them caramelize which is the point of roasting them in the first place.  The reason I know I didn't roast them long enough is they weren't mushy enough when I took them out of the oven to mash up.  They didn't smell caramelized either, just banana-y. Bad sign.  I don't know how this recipe would've turned out if I had properly over-ripe bananas.  The texture came out okay but it wasn't fabulous.  I gave some to my parents and my mom's opinion: "this isn't very good".  Ouch.  Honest to a fault, my mom - lol!  I didn't think it was that bad.  But it did have more of the dense texture of a bread than a real cake so that probably didn't help.  If you do try this recipe, go with the ripest, blackened-skin bananas you can find. 

 1 cup (145 grams) all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick - 113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) olive oil
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
4 large eggs
1 extra-ripe medium banana, peeled and mashed

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter, olive oil and sugar at low speed. Increase the speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the mashed banana. Add the flour mixture and mix just until combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
  4. Bake the cake for 55 to 60 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on the rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days, 1 week refrigerated or 2 months frozen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Individual Glazed Chocolate Buttermilk Cakes

Individual Glazed Chocolate Buttermilk Cakes - made September 10, 2011 from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle (book #160)

I'm always on the lookout for good chocolate cake recipes.  I want something moist throughout, including the edges, with a deep dark chocolate flavor that can be complemented by a good fudge frosting or contrasted with a vanilla or caramel frosting or glaze.  Whenever I try to make a standard 8 or 9" layer cake, I'm always just slightly dissatisfied with the results.  Either the taste is good but the texture is too light or too dense or the texture is perfect but the taste wasn't anything special.  Or I can get both taste and texture but the cake as a whole is too delicate to successfully frost, slice and present.  Something goes wrong.

So that's my long lead in to say this cake recipe is awesome!  It makes up for the Baked Fudge Pudding debacle.  Tish Boyle - and I say her name with the same reverence I say "Rose Levy Berenbaum" and "Lisa Yockelson" - does it again with a fantastic chocolate cake.  I loved the dark chocolate taste of this cake and the texture was moist and cakey but not too light or too dense.  I didn't glaze with the Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze that she recommended but instead made up my own Kahlua glaze with Kahlua, confectioners' sugar and a little milk.  My glaze didn't turn out very pretty but I preferred something less chocolaty to complement the chocolate cake.  There was just enough batter to fill 3 Bundt-lette pans so I haven't made this as a layer cake yet but I think it would be a good candidate for one the next time I do want to make a chocolate layer cake.

The other reason I really like this book is besides having fantastic recipes that are easy and straightforward to make, she includes weight measurements along with volume measurements.  Weight measurements are more accurate than volume measurements, especially with dry ingredients.  If you don't have a digital food scale, I recommend getting one for the best baking results.

1 cup (4 ounces/114 g) cake flour
½ cup (1.6 ozs/46 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks/6 ozs/170 g) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (8.8 ozs/250 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons Kahlua, optional
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces (113 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or ¾ cup miniature semisweet chocolate morsels

Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.   Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350⁰F.  Generously grease the molds of a 6-cake Bundtlette pan.  Dust the molds with flour.
2.   Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl.  Whisk to combine, and set aside.
3.   In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until very creamy, about 2 minutes.  Gradually beat in the sugar, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until the mixture is well blended and light, about 3 minutes.  At medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
4.   In a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk, Kahlua (if using), and vanilla extract.  At low speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in two additions and mixing just until blended.  Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and stir in the finely chopped chocolate or semisweet morsels.  Scrape the batter into the prepared cake molds, dividing it evenly and smoothing the tops. 
5.   Bake the cakes for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean.  Cool the cakes in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
6.   Invert the cakes onto the rack and cool completely.
7.   Make the glaze: Place the chocolate in the bowl of a food processor and process just until finely ground.
8.   In a small processor, bring the cream to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate to the pan.  Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the glaze is smooth.  Stir in the vanilla extract.  Transfer the glaze to a small bowl.  Cover the surface of the glaze with a piece of plastic wrap and let cool for about 10 minutes before using.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Deep Dark Brownies

Deep Dark Brownies - made September 9, 2011 from Chocolate Bar by Matt Lewis and Alison Nelson (book #159)

I'm not sure I even remember when and where I got this cookbook or even why.  Probably because it had chocolate in the title and/or it was on sale and my Pavlovian response to either stimulus is to buy it.  I flipped through it for my baking challenge and nothing really caught my eye to try so I defaulted to the brownie recipe.  Turns out this brownie was well worth the $5 or $6 I paid for this cookbook even if I never try another recipe from it again.

This brownie has exactly the kind of texture I like - it's dense and fudgy but not overly mushy or underdone.  It's definitely not cakey and the chocolate is a dark chocolate taste, not overly sweet.  You can do almost any kind of add-in besides or in addition to chocolate chips since the texture can support it.  Plus it's easy to make.  Whenever I say that, I have friends roll their eyes and tell me "my brownies never turn out like yours."  I'm trying not to keep being baffled by that.  Brownies are so easy to make.  There isn't a magic formula to them but I'll tell you the number one mistake I think people make with brownies is they overbake them.  We're conditioned to "bake until done".  But "done" with a brownie is different than done with a cake or a cookie.  You know a brownie is done when a toothpick comes out clean at the corners but with a few moist crumbs in the middle.  Moist crumbs, not raw batter.  If you go for a clean toothpick test from the middle, your brownies are likely to be overbaked, especially at the edges and corners which will be dry once the brownies cool.  I try to take close-up pictures of the brownies I bake so you can see what I mean by a fudgy texture. 

Baking times also vary by oven and the times listed in recipes are meant to be a guideline, not an absolute.  Err on the side of caution and toothpick test your brownies at least 5-10 minutes before the recommended baking time on the recipe.  I've said this before and I'll keep saying it until everyone can make good brownies: chocolate "sets" as it cools so what might seem underdone or too moist when they're in the oven may become perfect and perfectly fudgy after you take them out of the oven and the brownies have cooled.

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
¾ teaspoon instant espresso powder
5 ounces semisweet chocolate
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup chocolate chips, optional

1.     Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
2.    Sift the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together into a bowl; set aside.
3.    In a medium-large, heavy saucepan, combine the butter and espresso powder and stir over low heat until the butter is melted.  Add the chocolate, stirring constantly until the mixture appears completely smooth, approximately 2 minutes.
4.    Take the chocolate mixture off the heat and add the sugars, mixing until combined.
5.    Add the eggs and vanilla and continue stirring until they are evenly incorporated and the mixture does not appear grainy.
6.    Sprinkle the sifted flour over the mixture and stir just until blended.  Stir in the chips, if using.
7.    Pour the batter into the greased pan and smooth the top.  Bake the brownies for 28 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.  Do not overbake.  Cool completely on a wire rack.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Baked Fudge Pudding

Baked Fudge Pudding - made September 7, 2011 from Diner Desserts by Tish Boyle (book #158)

I had my Fantasy Football draft last Wednesday night and one of my league mates came over for dinner and the draft.  The draft is something we look forward to all year because it's a fun group and the guys are hilarious.  And, ahem, I've been known to do my fair share of trash talking.  Once upon a time we all worked together and would draft together in a conference room at lunch time and I would bring in baked goods for everyone.  Nowadays, everyone is at different companies so we all draft from our homes.  But we still manage to exchange a fair number of quips through the draft chat box.

I made these "puddings" for our dessert.  I thought it would be much like the pudding cakes I've made in the past, except in individual-sized portions.  The key difference was the liquid went on the bottom and the cake batter was dropped on top of it.  I followed the directions exactly, even down to measuring how much liquid went into each ramekin.  But something must've gone awry.  At first it seemed like these turned out pretty well.  The cake part on top was delicious and there was fudgy syrup mixed in to add to the richness and flavor, offset by the scoop of vanilla ice cream I placed on top of the warm pudding cake.  But then I got to the bottom half of the ramekin and it was literally liquid underneath, as in watery liquid, not rich chocolate sauce liquid.  What cake there was at the bottom was raw.  Ugh.  Epic fail.  Which is unusual with a Tish Boyle recipe as I have several of her cookbooks and her recipes are usually pretty reliable. 

So I'm not sure what I did wrong.  But to salvage this recipe, I would recommend reducing the amount of water for the syrup by at least 1/4 cup, increasing the amount of chocolate, whisking well and letting the mixture reduce a bit before using it.  There was nothing wrong with the taste but you want the chocolate syrup part to actually be more of a syrup than chocolate-flavored water.  I also don't think I baked it long enough.  While the top half seemed it was baked just right, the bottom half kind of ruined it by being watery and raw.  You can also try baking in more shallow ramekins.  I had baked mine in - ironically - pudding cake ramekins that are deeper than the typical ramekin.  Oh well, failure is just success put off.

Chocolate Syrup
¾ cup water
½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ounce semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup miniature semisweet chocolate morsels
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup buttermilk

Brown Sugar Whipped Cream
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1.   Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  To make the chocolate syrup, in a medium saucepan, combine the water, espresso powder, butter and sugar.  Place over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate until it is completely melted.  Stir in the vanilla.  Transfer the syrup to a heatproof glass measuring cup.
2.   To make the pudding, in the same saucepan used to make the syrup, place the semisweet chocolate and butter.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly.
3.   In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, cake flour, baking powder, salt, chocolate morsels, and walnuts.  Stir in the buttermilk and the chocolate mixture just until combined.
4.   Pour about ¼ cup of the chocolate syrup into each of four 8-ounce ramekins or custard cups.  One tablespoon at a time, drop 3 rounded tablespoons of the pudding batter into each ramekin.  Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until puffed and bubbling.
5.   To make the brown sugar whipped cream, in a medium bowl using a handheld electric mixer, beat the cream, brown sugar, and vanilla until stiff peaks form.
6.     Serve each pudding warm with a generous dollop of the whipped cream.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Oatmeal Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough September 3 and baked September 4, 2011 from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (book #157)

The original recipe title was Oatmeal Raisin Cookies but I can't abide raisins so my mind automatically substitutes something else for them, usually chocolate chips, but in this case I decided to go with caramel bits as well as milk chocolate chips.  It was such a good flavor combination in the Milk Chocolate Caramel Cookies that I decided to try it again.  For my niece who goes to college further away, in addition to the Red Velvet Cookies that are a favorite of both of my nieces (they are twins after all), she asked for oatmeal cookies to "help her study".  LOL.  But, besides being a doting aunt, I also use any excuse for me to try a new recipe and further my baking challenge.

This has all the elements I look for in a good oatmeal cookie recipe - it uses butter, not shortening, and it contains more oatmeal than flour.  I did find the dough a little difficult to work with when forming the dough balls with an ice cream scoop because it didn't form into a ball very well or adhere to a shape and it was sticky.  You have to pack the dough tightly together to form the ball.  I put the dough balls to freeze first before baking them in the hopes that they would be less fragile and easier to work with before baking.  That worked.

This does spread during baking, even at a convection setting, but it doesn't spread too thin.  The caramel bits make it a little more chewy and sweeter than the cookies normally would be but I thought they were a good addition.  You won't taste the cinnamon as much because of the caramel but the edges are crisp and the middles are satisfyingly chewy.  Overall, I thought this was a good flavor and texture combination. So did my niece(s).

Cookies to help her study :)
12 tablespoons butter
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup raisins (I used caramel bits and milk chocolate chips instead)

1.   Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Grease two cookie sheets.
2.   Cream butter and both sugars until fluffy.  Add egg and beat thoroughly.  Mix in water and vanilla.
3.   Sift together flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda; add to the egg mixture and mix well.  Add oats and raisins and mix.
4.   Form large round dollops of cookie dough on prepared cookie sheets and flatten slightly with wet palms moistened with water.  Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until edges are done but centers are still soft.  Remove to a rack and cool.

25 to 30 large cookies


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mocha Brownie Pudding Cake

Mocha Brownie Pudding Cake - made September 4, 2011 from Luscious Chocolate Desserts by Lori Longbotham (book #156)

My sister and nieces were visiting over Labor Day weekend and you know that means a couple of things: one, I made red velvet cookies again for my other niece who wanted to come up and visit her twin in her dorm.  I made a batch to send off with the girls to share with the other students in the dorm - college kids need homemade treats, right?  They passed along the thanks of their friends and a declaration from one that red velvet cookies are now his favorite too.  At this rate, I could end up converting the whole dorm into red velvet fans.

My nieces spent part of the weekend with their friends up at school and part of the weekend with us.  For the time with us, before we spent an afternoon shopping at the mall, we went to my house for post-lunch dessert.  Since my sister was back, that brings us to two: it was lava cake time again.  This time I went with a rendition of a pudding cake.  I've given up on souffles for the time being since they're too delicate to support the scoop of ice cream which must accompany anything warm and chocolate.  Instead I went with this mocha and brownie version of a pudding cake.  Instead of an 8-inch pan, I baked it in a 7 x 11" glass pan since I had to bake it early in the morning and wanted to be able to reheat it slightly in the microwave when we got to my house in the afternoon and that was only feasible in a glass pan.

This was pretty good - the "brownie" part was really more cakey in texture than fudgy-dense like a brownie so I think the title is a misnomer (I take brownies very seriously).  But the mocha part was right and overall it was a good combination of cake and chocolate sauce.  The cake itself isn't too chocolaty since it only contains 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder but the sauce that bakes up from the hot coffee and the sugar/cocoa sprinkled on top makes up for it.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups packed dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cocoa nibs, optional (I substituted chocolate chips)
1 ½ cups very hot brewed coffee
Slightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving

1.    Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
2.   Whisk together the flour, ¾ cup of the sugar, 2 tablespoons of the cocoa, the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Breaking up any large lumps of sugar with your hands.  Stir in the milk, butter and vanilla with a wooden spoon just until blended; the batter will be very thick.  Transfer to the baking dish and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
3.   Stir together the remaining ½ cup sugar and ¼ cup cocoa with a fork in a small bowl, breaking up any large lumps of sugar with your hands.  Stir in the nibs (or chocolate chips), if using.  Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the batter.  Pour the hot coffee evenly over the batter – do not stir.
4.   Bake for 30 to 25 minutes, until the top layer is set and the dessert is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan; the batter will have separated into cake and pudding layers.  Cool the pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes.
5.   Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature in small bowls, with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird Cake - made September 1, 2011 from Tate's Bake Shop by Kathleen King

Once upon a time, this is exactly the sort of cake I would never eat, much less bake.  I like banana cakes, I like coconut cakes, I like pineapple upside-down cakes.  But all three flavors in one cake?  Why???  But I've seen various renditions of Hummingbird Cake in a number of cookbooks and since I got over my aversion to pineapple bits in a muffin from the Pineapple Upside Up muffin recipe, I thought I could take my daring one step further and do a banana-pineapple-coconut cake.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  Or probably a few pounds since this is an oil-based cake and I don't want to calculate how many calories are in this thing.

This had the added advantage of using up not only the leftover crushed pineapple I had from the muffin recipe but also the overripe bananas I had in the freezer.  I made it as a 9 x 13 cake instead of a 2-layer 9-inch round cake, mostly because it's easier to slice up and give away as a rectangular single-layer cake.  This is another easy cake to put together and it turned out pretty well.  I have to say though, I would consider this mostly a banana coconut cake and it could've done without the pineapple.  Not that the pineapple was bad but it really didn't add anything to the cake.  The banana flavor took over as the primary flavor and the coconut was good for the chewiness but you could hardly taste the pineapple and this time the tidbits of crushed pineapple didn't play as well as it did in the pineapple muffins.  This was good but next time I'd omit the pineapple and just enjoy a good banana cake.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
1 ¾ cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups mashed very ripe bananas
1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut
¾ cup pecans, chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla

1.   Heat the oven to 350˚F.  Grease two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans.  Line the bottoms with waxed paper.
2.   In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
3.   In another large bowl, mix the oil and sugar.  Add the eggs and mix them well.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Stir in the bananas, pineapple, coconut, pecans and vanilla.  Stir in the flour mixture.
4.   Spoon the mixture evenly between the prepared cake pans.  The pans will be full but this batter doesn’t rise much.
5.   Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
6.   Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pans and turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
7.   Frost with cream cheese frosting recipe of your choice.