Friday, February 28, 2014

Baked French Toast

Baked French Toast - made February 20 and 21, 2014, recipe adapted from Mormon Mavens in the Kitchen
Freshly baked, unadorned
You can call this French Toast or bread pudding. I'm going to call it delicious. Seriously. It's a notch above your run of the mill French toast of bread soaked in a custard mixture and pan fried in butter. It's a step above your average bread pudding baked in a custard mixture because of the brown sugar topping and the vanilla glaze.
Newly glazed
It's actually more of a bread pudding in terms of taste and preparation. You prep it the night before to let the custard soak into the bread overnight then bake it off the next morning. I did pare it down a bit from the original recipe simply because I didn't need that much plus I only had a 1-lb loaf of bread to use instead of the 1 1/2 lbs called for in the original recipe. But, as is usually the case with bread pudding, I like how easy it was to put together and it's ideal if you're serving it for a brunch or just want a breakfast treat for your family.
The advantage this has over French Toast is you don't have to fry it up at the last minute or try to time it for when everyone is at the breakfast table. This is actually better when it's served just barely lukewarm. If you serve it too hot from the oven, the texture will be gooey and not in a good way.
Of course, how much you like this depends on the bread you use. I always, always use challah for bread pudding because it has the perfect denseness plus I like the flavor of the egg bread. You can use any other dense bread but skip the Wonder Bread because that's pretty mushy even without custard added to it and it'll just be soggy goo if you try it in bread pudding. It wasn't spelled out in the original recipe but I also added a vanilla glaze. Depending on how much glaze you want, start with 1 1/2 - 2 cups of powdered sugar, add just enough whole milk and a teaspoon (at least) of vanilla extract to get the desired consistency and spread it over the bread pudding when it's lukewarm. I enjoyed this so much that let's just say I worked out while it was cooling, had a piece then worked out again. And it was worth every drop of sweat.
1 pound dense bread like challah or sourdough (I used challah)
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/88 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces (4 ounces)
  1. Grease a 9x13 pan with butter.  Tear bread into bite-size chunks and place evenly in the pan.
  2. Mix together the eggs, milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla.  Pour evenly over bread.  Cover tightly and store in the fridge for several hours (I put mine in was about 12 hours).
  3. In a medium bowl mix together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until it all looks nice and crumbly (like small pebbles, according to P-Dub).  Place in a ziploc bag and put in fridge.
  4. When ready to bake, take pan and bag out of fridge.  Remove wrap and evenly sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top.  Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees (or 45 minutes if you like it more soft and pudding-like).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dream Bars

Dream Bars - made February 17, 2014 from The Flying Brownie
After the Salted Caramel Toffee Macaroons, I had to use up the remaining can of sweetened condensed milk and there's no better way than to make magic cookie bars. Or Dream Bars as The Flying Brownie calls them. Especially since these were also going in the care packages I was sending out that week.
Magic Cookie Bars or, er, sorry, Dream Bars, are great to make when you have a little bit of everything on hand and want to use it up. In my case, I had opened packages of butterscotch chips, almonds, chocolate chips, toffee and coconut. I also had an excuse reason to open up the package of Oreos I bought for holiday baking but never used. Until now.
They're also very forgiving because no matter what you throw in there, anything with an Oreo crust and topped with sweetened condensed milk that caramelizes as it bakes is just going to be chewy goodness. This was no exception. Feel free to experiment. I didn't measure out the chips or the coconut but just kept adding them until it looked right. Meaning the Oreo crust was blanketed and the bars looked to be the right thickness.
1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs (I used Oreos)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1/4 cup peanut butter chips (I used butterscotch chips)
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds or pecans (I used almonds)
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (I used sweetened flaked coconut)
1/2 cup milk chocolate toffee bits, optional
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8" square baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the cookie crumbs with the melted butter. Using a spatula, mix thoroughly, making sure all the crumbs get coated with butter. Transfer the crumbs to the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium-size bowl, combine the semisweet chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, nuts and coconut. Stir to combine. Evenly distribute the mixture over the cooled crust and then drizzle the sweetened condensed milk on top. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the top is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.
  4. Let cool in the pan on a rack. Lift by the foil handles and cut into 16 squares. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Treatsie - support small businesses and your sweet tooth

Treatsie - sample box ordered February 12, 2014, arrived February 15, 2014
Chances are if you're a regular reader of my blog you're a baker or just have a sweet tooth. Or just like to read about food. You're also probably used to me going on and on about supporting small businesses. So it won't surprise you that here I go again.

I first heard about Treatsie from Crazy for Crust. What hooked me into looking at them more closely is their emphasis on promoting small, independent businesses by gathering offerings from chef-run shops around the country and shipping them in treat boxes as a monthly subscription service. You don't have to do a subscription and can just do a one-time order of a box but as a consumer, you can expect to sample small-batch, artisan offerings by high quality, small businesses. Do I sound like an ad? Just their business premise alone was enough to get me to try them out. Imagine getting artisan truffles from one part of the country, caramels from another, peanut brittle from a third. You not only get to discover and support small "treat" businesses across the country but if you find something you like, you now know where to get more. Genius.
Treatsie offers a sample box for $5 with free shipping which is what I ordered to see what kind of products they had. I also needed to order a birthday present for my old college roommate and a 3-month subscription seemed like just the thing. A single month is $19.95 and a 3-month subscription is $59 which already includes shipping. So not only does it seem like a good deal but I like the idea of supporting small businesses doing small batch production of high-end treats.
I have to say I was impressed with their execution. I ordered both the sampler box for myself and the subscription for my former roommate from and got confirmation emails that both orders had shipped the same day I had ordered them. Seriously, there was less than an hour between the time I got the confirmation email of my order and the shipping notice. Take that, amazon.
My sampler box was shipped USPS and arrived in a few days. The box itself was shrink-wrapped and shipped in an outer cardboard box. Inside, there was a handful of treats: a couple of caramels, chocolates from Seattle Chocolates and little sample chocolate bars. Plus a card with a coupon code for $5 off my first subscription box.
For a $5 sampler box, I thought I got my money's worth, considering the shipping cost and the products. I tried the caramels and really enjoyed them. The only drawback is there wasn't info on what the box contained or which business it had come from. Seattle Chocolates was easy enough to identify because I'd heard of them before and Avenue Sweets and Askinosie listed their websites but I wasn't familiar with the others and had to do some sleuthing on where they came from. It might not have been practical for Treatsie to include that info in their box (more cost) and I know they detail out what's in their monthly boxes so you know what you get but it's a good note for the small businesses involved that their packaging should, at a minimum, include their web address so potential customers know where to go.

I'm curious to see what a monthly subscription box would be like and may buy a subscription for myself (as soon as I pay the tax man, ha) since I really do want to support this kind of small business model. And get treats.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Salted Caramel Toffee Coconut Macaroons

Salted Caramel Toffee Coconut Macaroons - made February 17, 2014 from Two Peas and Their Pod
This was another one of the treats I brought into work for the surprise going away party I mentioned previously. I love coconut so I don't know why I don't make macaroons more often. Or at all. This had all the elements I love: salted caramel, coconut, toffee bits, chocolate. With egg white and sweetened condensed milk to bind it all together and chocolate to provide a nice little base at the bottom. Move over Samoas, I've found a much more delicious alternative.
This did get messy to shape and mine didn't turn out as cute little pyramids like on Two Peas and Their Pod's site. I mostly just squished the coconut mounds tighter so they wouldn't fall apart in baking but couldn't get that pointed top to come to being. The coconut wouldn't cooperate and after a few attempts and clumsy sticky fingers, I conceded defeat. There's a reason why I focus more on how something tastes than how it looks; I just don't have the patience or artistic temperament for window dressing.
I did like this combination though and I need to remember to make macaroons more often. I think I could've baked these a little longer than I did because the inside was just a tad more gooey than I would've liked but the flavors were great and I like the crunch from the toffee bits. The only tricky thing when you bake with coconut is those stray bits that stick out of the cookies and yes, they always stick out, will brown faster and may end up darker before the rest of the macaroon is done so you have to make a trade off between a few almost-burnt bits here and there and a well-baked cookie.

1/3 cup salted caramel sauce
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 egg white
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups sweetened coconut
1/2 cup toffee bits
2 cups chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the salted caramel sauce, sweetened condensed milk, egg white, vanilla extract, and salt. Stir until combined. Add in the coconut and toffee bits and mix well.
  3. With a spoon, scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the coconut mixture and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Form the cookies into mounds that have a peak at the top. Use your hands to gently squeeze the dough together to create a slight point at the top. 
  4. Bake the macaroons for 17 to 20 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes or until they are firm and set. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.
  5. Melt chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Make sure you keep stirring the chocolate every 20 seconds or so until chocolate is melted and smooth. Lay out a large piece of parchment paper or wax paper. Dip the bottom of the macaroons into the chocolate-just so the bottoms are covered. Set dipped cookies on the paper to dry. Dip all of the cookies and let them sit on the paper until completely dry.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Orange Fluff Cake

Orange Fluff Cake - made February 17, 2014 from Old-Fashioned Baking Book by Jim Fobel 
This was part of my President's Day weekend baking bender as I finally got to recipes that have been sitting in "draft" mode on my blogger dashboard. I was throwing a surprise going away party for someone on my team and this was one of the things I made for it. I had half a bag of oranges to use up and I thought the "fluff" in the title meant the texture would be fluffy. As in cakey fluffy.
Letting the cake cool in an ungreased tube pan
However, it turned out it meant this would be a chiffon cake. I knew it as soon as I read the directions and although I don't really care for chiffon cakes, I went ahead with it anyway so the recipe would stop nagging at me to be made. The reason I knew it would be a chiffon cake is it calls for baking in an ungreased tube pan. In culinary school, I learned the reason you never want to grease the tube pan for a chiffon cake is the cake needs to be able to cling to the sides so it'll bake up with straight sides. Otherwise, if you grease it or bake in a nonstick pan, the sides have nothing to cling to and they'll slope inward as the cake bakes. Ever see a chiffon cake with sloped sides? It's not a chiffon cake.
After the cake is done, you take it out and turn it upside down so it doesn't sink as it cools. That's another reason not to grease the pan because if you did, the cake would fall out. Because the pan was ungreased, the cake stayed put even when I up-ended it over a cookie sheet and let it hang there. This is the same way angel food cakes are made which are also chiffon cakes. The pan is often called an angel food cake pan. Considering I don't like chiffon cakes or angel food cakes, don't ask why I possess the right pan to make one. My baking acquisition tendencies know no logic.
This wasn't the prettiest cake I've ever made and it looked a little uglier when I added the orange glaze but it's the taste that counts, right?
As chiffon cakes go, I thought this was all right. The flavor was definitely there so it's really only my non-preference for chiffon cakes that makes me go "meh". My coworkers liked it well enough and of all the baked goods I brought in for the going-away party, this actually went the fastest so clearly this was suited for taste buds other than mine.
The best way to explain this cake is to liken it to the cakes you can get at any Asian bakery - fruit-based, light texture, not too sweet. Come to think of it, my parents would probably like it.
1 ½ cups sifted cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/3 cup strained fresh orange juice
6 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1.    Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350˚F.  Have ready an ungreased 10-inch tube cake pan with a removable bottom.  (Do not use a tube pan with a nonstick surface.)
2.   Sift the flour, ½ cup sugar, the baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl.  Form a well in the center and add the melted butter, orange zest, orange juice, egg yolks and vanilla.  With an electric mixer, beat until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.
3.   In a large bowl combine the egg whites and cream of tartar; beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks begin to form.  Gradually beat in the remaining ½ cup sugar and continue to beat until stiff glossy peaks form.  Stir a large spoonful of the whites into the batter to lighten.  With a spatula, quickly fold in the remaining egg whites, half at a time, to make a fluffy batter that is even in color.  Turn into the ungreased tube pan and bake 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted emerges without crumbs clinging to it.  Immediately invert and let the cake hang upside down until completely cool.  Turn right side up and run a sharp knife around the edge to separate the cake from the pan.  Remove sides.  Run a knife around the center tube and under the cake; remove the pan bottom.  Turn the cake right side up on a serving plate.
4.   Prepare glaze: In a small bowl combine the confectioners’ sugar, orange zest, and orange juice to make a glaze.  Spread over the top of the cake, letting some drip down the sides.  Let stand at room temperature until glaze has set, about 1 hour.

Restaurant Review: VN Grill

VN Grill - lunch on February 10, 2014
I am probably one of the few people who's never eaten at a Chipotle. Everyone I know loves it and always talks up about how fresh the food is. I'm not sure what it says about the restaurant industry when a differential for a food chain is freshness but that's another topic. One of my coworkers had heard about VN Grill and how it was "Chipotle-style" in terms of building your order and they were all about the freshness of the food.
So we decided to check it out. It's in a strip mall with, ironically, a Chipotle nearby. Yelp reviews termed VN Grill as an Asian Chipotle. The concept appears similar. You start off with the base for your bowl: either rice, noodles or salad. Add the protein you want, any extra veggie add-ons, then the sauce. I went for the rice noodles topped with VN Pork in the "signature VN marinade" and my add-ons were the lettuce, basil and cilantro. The guy behind the counter asked me if I was sure and said that I was missing the best part by not getting it with everything. I assured him I wouldn't eat the other "stuff" anyway so I was fine with the three I chose. Bean spouts, cucumbers, jalapeno? Um, no thanks. I'm glad I built it my way as I really enjoyed my plain but tasty creation. The pork was excellent and very flavorful. What veggies I did get was very fresh and the whole thing felt pretty healthy. The portion was also just right and even a tad on the generous side considering it was $7.55. An awesome bargain for a good bowl of meat and noodles.
My coworker got the same thing except hers had everything on it that I had spurned. We also got to choose our sauces. The bowls come out with the sauces in their own bottles so you can choose how much sauce you want to put on your bowl. I went with the VN sauce and it wasn't bad. But I don't tend to sauce things and found I liked the flavor of the pork on its own without a lot of sauce needed.
We also split an order of fresh shrimp rolls which I love. Much as I love the deep fried Vietnamese spring rolls, the fresh ones (of course) make me feel much more virtuous. Fresh is the key word. It was probably a little too much food but it was all good food and I think this place is a great find for lunch. We got there around noon and it wasn't crowded yet but it got busier as we ate lunch and by the time we left, all the tables were taken and there was a line almost to the door. The place isn't that big but it's a casual dining space that serves great food. I would definitely recommend it for those who want the Asian version of a Chipotle.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Rocky Road" Brownies

Rocky Road Brownies - made February 16, 2014 from The Flying Brownie by Shirley Fan turns out that the white stuff in Midnight Milky Ways isn't marshmallow after all but vanilla nougat. Who knew?? Apparently a blog reader who kindly let me know on my Mississippi Mud Brownies post. Therefore, technically, substituting Midnight Milky Ways for marshmallows for a Rocky Road Brownie recipe doesn't actually make it Rocky Road but just a brownie topped with Midnight Milky Ways. Oh well. In my mind, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck.... Good thing I don't like marshmallows anyway.
I modified this recipe from The Flying Brownie because it was supposed to have a "twist" with the twist being the addition of pretzels on top for some crunch. I am not a fan of those crunchy pretzels. Give me a cinnamon sugar pretzel from Auntie Anne's while I'm at the mall and that's a different stripe but those regular pretzels that are hardened snappy sticks or curved pretzel-shaped carbs? Nah. I don't dislike those pretzels per se but back when I was training to walk a full marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for the Nike Women's marathon in San Francisco, that was one of the snacks we had on us as we did mile after mile of training. By the time we were up to 22-mile training walks, I was heartily sick of pretzels and to this day, I associate them with a dry mouthfeel and blisters on my feet. So no pretzels for me, no matter what the recipe says.
Instead, I topped this brownie with chopped chunks of Midnight Milky Ways and Milky Way caramels. You're supposed to do the candy topping about 5 minutes before the brownies come out of the oven so they have time to melt. I inadvertently forgot the brownies and took them out in the nick of time. Which meant I wasn't going to put them back in the oven to let the candy melt as I didn't want the brownies to bake further. No problem - I still blanketed the top with the chopped chocolates but then I covered the whole pan completely with a baking sheet turned upside down and let the residual heat from the hot brownie trapped underneath the baking sheet melt the chocolate on top. Worked like a charm. I'd say this was a good, basic brownie. I needed it for care packages I was mailing out and the whole premise of The Flying Brownie was baked goods that could easily be sent in the mail. This one fulfilled its promise.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 - 1 1/2 cups Midnight Milky Ways and Milky Way Caramels, chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8" square pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate together in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water. Stir until melted and blended. Remove the bowl from heat and stir in the sugar, salt and vanilla. Cool to lukewarm.
  3. Add eggs. Stir until well blended. Mix in the flour and cocoa. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs.
  4. 5 minutes before the brownies are done, remove from the oven and top with the chopped chunks of Midnight Milky Ways and Milky Way Caramels. When the candy has melted slightly (do not overbake), remove from oven and cool completely before cutting and serving.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Honey Orange Shrimp

Honey Orange Shrimp - made February 16, 2014 from Heart, Mind and Seoul
I haven't been cooking lately and my freezer was still stocked with proteins from the last time I had a short-lived burst of cooking enthusiasm. So it was time to dust off my "cooking" board on pinterest and pull an easy recipe to try.
"Easy" usually means a shrimp recipe of some kind. I always devein and clean the shrimp when I first buy it and package it up in manageable amounts so it's ready to go whenever I get around to cooking. It cooks quickly and there's no slicing and dicing involved.
For this recipe, the sauce ingredients were also easy to throw together. I didn't grill the shrimp as the recipe called for but instead did a quick pan-fry until they were pink. Then I poured the sauce over it and let it boil until it thickened. This was a simple, straightforward dish although as with any saucy dish, I have to have rice with it to sop up the sauce. I was a little too heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes so it was a trifle on the spicy side for me but for anyone who doesn't have bland taste buds like me, they'd probably like it just fine. More importantly, this was pretty healthy and definitely quick to make.
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
⅛ cup ketchup
¼ cup orange juice or blood orange juice
¼ cup honey
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (less or more)
½ tablespoon dried chives (optional)
sliced almonds (optional)
Korean wrinkled chili peppers, sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon cornstarch + 2 tablespoons water, optional

  1. Place shrimp on heated grill (outdoor or indoor). Season them with black pepper and grill until cooked.
  2. To make the sauce: combine soy sauce, ketchup, orange juice, honey, vinegar, garlic, chives (optional), and red pepper flakes in a bowl.
  3. Add the grilled shrimp to a pan over medium high heat. Add the prepared sauce to the pan and stir well. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the sauce thickens, stirring occasionally. (If the sauce does not thicken — Seems to be a problem with a lot of people, then combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl, mix well, then pour it into the sauce, stirring frequently.)
  4. Sprinkle with almonds and Korean wrinkled chili peppers if desired and serve over a bed of steamed white rice.

Restaurant Review: Calafia Cafe

Calafia - lunch on February 5, 2014
Calafia is Chef Charlie Ayers' cafe. If you're not well versed in Silicon Valley trivia and don't know who Charlie Ayers is, he may be best known as being the former executive chef at Google. Yes, the Google of the free lunches and professionally maintained cafes across the Google campus. That was Chef Ayers' handiwork and when he left Google in 2006, he continued his career in the culinary world. Today, his cafe, Calafia and its adjoining Market A Go Go is the manifestation of his vision to provide "affordable, wholesome fare" for a wide-ranging audience.
Side order of fries
I met a long-time friend, Sherrie, there for lunch one day. It was my first time at Calafia although Sherrie has been there numerous times since it's close to her office. Calafia has a pretty casual setting with picnic-table style seating inside and cafe tables outside. The place was reasonably busy for lunch. It has a pretty good variety of entrees on the menu and, as promised, easily caters to different tastes whether you're a vegetarian or a meat eater, low carbing or carbo loading. Our server told us about the lunch specials and the one that caught my ear was a delicious sounding "seafood hot pot" that had shrimp, scallops, some kind of fish (salmon?) and clams topped with a puff pastry. I eat everything he mentioned except clams and I figured I could take those out. But then it turned out the special was $30. Ouch. Now it isn't like I haven't paid $30 (and more) for a meal before but let's face it - my thrifty soul has a hard time forking that much over for lunch. Dinner, yes. Lunch? Not so much. I don't know why that is because if this had been dinner time I would probably have ordered it anyway but for some reason, I just couldn't bring myself to pay that much for a midday meal.
Steak Tacos ($15)
Instead, I went for the Steak Tacos for half the price of the seafood hot pot. The "tacos" were really lettuce wraps so this was a low carb, gluten free option. It comes with sauce which I asked for on the side since I'm not a sauce person. The food here is also sourced locally and organically (I'm really fortunate where I live that we have that as an option at some many restaurants) and the steak tacos were a light yet filling lunch that I enjoyed. I can't confess to going totally low carb though since Sherrie ordered fries that she generously shared with me and I ate my share of those.
Her first choice of the Mahogany Salmon was only available after 4 pm but they were able to accommodate a similar version for her by serving salmon atop a salad of leafy greens. There are still some other dishes I want to try at Calafia, like their grain and noodle bowls and their pizzas. And the flat iron steak and turkey meatloaf. Plus the beef short ribs. I'm definitely going to have to go back and work my way through the menu. Service was attentive but not overly hovering and it's a nice, casual but delicious place to meet for lunch. And dinner if I ever chance upon that seafood hot pot again.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hildy's Brownies

Brownies - made February 15, 2014, recipe from Hildy's friend
My friend Hildy posted on facebook about some awesome brownies her friend had given her. Like a moth to a flame, I was compelled to ask, "do you have the recipe?" Trying out new brownie recipes is a compulsion that takes no conscious thought. Like breathing and blinking. Hildy's friend was kind enough to share the recipe when Hildy asked and Hildy passed it on to me.
When I first saw the recipe, I have to admit I was a little skeptical on how it would turn out. The recipe was geared for commercial production so I halved it to fit into a 9 x 13 pan. But there was an inordinate amount of dry ingredients and I couldn't see how the brownies wouldn't turn out dry, especially with that much cocoa in them. Cocoa as a dry ingredient sucks moisture out of any batter and you usually have to compensate with extra liquid ingredients. I was even more leery when I actually mixed the batter together because it was difficult to mix that amount of dry ingredients into the batter and have it become fully incorporated. I ended up with a very thick batter, almost like dough. Nevertheless, I forged ahead with the recipe as is.

As you can tell from the pictures, these brownies were not dry at all. In fact, they were the opposite, almost more like dark chocolate baked fudge. They're very dense and chewy so if you're more a fan of cakey brownies, this isn't the recipe you want to make. However, if you're a dark chocolate lover, this is the ultimate brownie for you. This brownie wasn't sweet as much as it was rich dark chocolate. That was due to the high quality cocoa I used (from Penzey's). With this much cocoa in the brownie, you definitely want to use the good stuff to get the best brownie flavor and texture.
2 1/2 sticks butter (10 ounces)
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (64% - 66%)
6 eggs
1 1/4 cups cake flour
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 335 degrees.
  2. Line a 9 x 13" baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray
  3. Melt butter and semisweet chocolate. Whisk until smooth.
  4. Whisk in eggs slowly.
  5. Add dry ingredients. It's easier if you incorporate them gradually, 1/4 at a time, mixing them in before adding more.
  6. Bake for approximately 40 minutes until center is not jiggly and not wet.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Coconut Pull Apart Rolls

Coconut Pull Apart Rolls - made February 16, 2014 from Not Quite Nigella
Over President's Day weekend, I was on a bender to clear out recipes that I've been meaning to make for awhile now, both  from pinterest and from my baking books. I'd planned on making these coconut rolls (from pinterest) twice now and both times I was thwarted, the first time because I didn't have enough time to do a yeasted dough and the second time because I didn't have yeast in the pantry (that was literally a showstopper).
Before the second rise
The stars finally aligned over President's Day weekend and I had both enough time and yeast to make it work. I don't make bread that often and certainly not often enough to be that good at it. I remember from when I made it in culinary school but back then I was also taught by my favorite chef instructor who'd apprenticed to become a baker when he was 16 and living in Germany. The man could bake bread like no tomorrow. He taught me how to be able to tell when the gluten had developed enough in kneading (when it's elastic enough to stretch and make a "window pane" without breaking), when dough hadn't been beaten enough or been beaten too much and what the consequences would be.
After the second rise, just before baking
Unfortunately, in the years since then, I haven't retained as much bread baking knowledge as I could wish. When I only have time to bake nights and weekends, breads aren't high on my list of things to make, partly because of the time constraints and partly because I have less of a stop mechanism when it comes to good bread as I do with sweets. But I'm glad I finally got to make these coconut rolls. The dough itself was easy enough: throw all the ingredients in the mixing bowl and let the dough hook do its job. My only moment of pause was knowing when it had been kneaded enough. It didn't pass the window pane test but it looked okay: elastic, came together, good doughy consistency. And as you can tell from the pics, it rose well enough in the second rising when you actually shape the dough into a log and cut into pieces.
You want to make the filling while the dough is in its first rising to give the filling enough time to cool before you spread it over the dough. My filling did thicken slightly as I boiled it but it was runny enough that after I spread it over the rectangle of dough, rolled it up, sliced it and arranged the slices in the pan, the liquid leaked out and by the time the rolls had risen and were ready to bake, I could see a layer of liquid at the bottom of the pan.
Fortunately, the liquid absorbed back into the rolls as they baked and the finished product was bread dough slightly tacky on the bottom but not wet or mushy. The bread part of the roll was pretty good but my favorite was the coconut filling. The only thing I would do differently next time is make more filling and add a lot more coconut. Remember the coconut rolls I like to get at Asian bakeries like Sheng Kee? This was similar to that in taste although heavier in texture. Still, this one's a keeper. The coconut filling adds the sweetness so that you don't need to do a glaze. If you do decide to up the decadence level, then I would do just a simple royal icing-type of glaze and sprinkle the top with flaked coconut. These are best eaten warm.
½ cup milk
1 egg
2 cups bread flour
½ teaspoon salt
30g/1 oz butter
2 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons yeast

1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup milk
¾ cup coconut flakes
1 beaten egg to brush the rolls
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix all of the dough ingredients until elastic (about 4-5 minutes using a dough hook, 6-8 minutes if kneading by hand). Place in a warm area for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.
  2. In the meantime, mix the ingredients of the filling and cook in low heat until a slightly creamy sauce. Do not over cook. Cool.
  3. Grease a large loaf tin with oil. Knock the dough back by punching it with your fist and roll it open to a rectangle of approximately 1/3 to ½ inch thick. Spread the coconut filling on top of the dough. Roll it and cut into 16 pieces. Place the rolls in the greased loaf pan and let it rise in a warm place for approximately 30 minutes until they look snugly fitted together.
  4. Bake in a 220C/440F oven for 15-20 minutes.