Friday, March 31, 2017

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies - Levain Bakery copycat #5 from Knewton

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies - Levain Bakery copycat #5, made dough on March 18, 2017, adapted from Knewton
This is my 5th attempt to try and replicate Levain Bakery’s double chocolate chip cookies. And after tasting it, it may be my last because I don’t think I need to keep trying. This one is so close and got the texture I was aiming for. Exciting, right?
I’m not sure why this appears to be the magic combo as I’m not enough of a scientist to be able to tell you how the different ingredients worked together. A few things can explain it: use of baking soda and no baking powder. Baking soda is triggered when it comes into contact with liquid and can aerate the dough upon activation. But once it’s triggered, i.e. in mixing into the dough, it doesn’t keep aerating the cookie during baking. It’s spent its gunpowder, so to speak. Baking powder is activated by both liquid AND heat during baking and that would make for a lighter cookie. I didn’t want a lighter, aerated cookie, I wanted a baked fudge texture so baking soda only works for me.
You don’t want to beat this dough too much either as beating it aerates the batter and adds more air pockets which again, would give you a lighter texture. No, no air, want fudgy, no.
This was also a relatively stiff dough so it didn’t spread very much, especially since I baked it from frozen dough like I almost always do with cookie dough. The high heat called for in the baking temp contributes to “setting” the outside of the cookie faster before the inside can fully bake. Remember, you don’t want to fully bake a chocolate cookie if you want a fudgy interior.
Baking at high heat is always tricky when you’re using chocolate chips or chunks though. They will burn at anything above 360 degrees or so. Double chocolate cookies are one of the cookies that uses chocolate chips/chunks where I don’t advocate having a lot of the chips or chunks on the outside of the cookie. Tuck them inside the cookie dough ball to prevent burning of the chocolate. I compromise by preheating my oven to 400 degrees and when it’s hot enough to reach 350, I pop the cookie sheet in, let it continue heating to 400, drop the temp down to 375 and take it out 10-11 minutes after I put it in. The oven loses heat whenever you open the oven door so when you open it to put the cookie sheet in, you still want the oven to keep on heating, hence why you want to put it in while it’s still “preheating”. I know that goes against the grain of most recipes who warn about fully preheating the oven before using. But that’s the best technique I’ve found with double chocolate cookies. The oven is still on its way to heating itself up to the full 400 degrees so it’s hot enough to start setting the outside of the cookie but it doesn’t stay at 400 long enough to burn the chocolate chips too much or hardly at all before you bring the oven temp down.
I don’t bring it all the way back down to 350 because that’s not hot enough to bake the outside in a short enough time to prevent the inside from fully baking. It might seem like a bother since you can’t just pop the cookies into the oven and walk away but trust me, it’s worth it. Let the cookies cool and set completely (this is important if you want the right texture). When you try it several hours later, the outside still has a little crispness to the outer shell but the inside is baked-fudge texture perfection. 
The outside does soften later but the interior was so close to Levain Bakery that I’ve given up on perfecting that outside shell. That’s one battle I’m fine losing because this wins the war of the inside texture.
I collaged the original Levain cookie with the cookie from this recipe and although the lighting makes it difficult to get a good comparison between the two cookies, hopefully you can see the dense, fudgy textures are close. Copycat job done!
Levain original on top, copycat on the bottom
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour
5/8 cup cocoa powder
5/8 teaspoon baking soda
5/8 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, cut into tablespoons
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
2 cups chocolate chunks
  1. Sift flours, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together.
  2. Beat cold butter until creamy, 1-2 minutes. Add sugars and beat until combined. Add vanilla, egg and egg yolk until just combined. Add dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in chocolate chunks.
  3. Portion the dough into 4-ounce dough balls. Separate each ball into halves and combine the smooth halves together, leaving the "ripped" edges on the outside. Cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough balls. Bake for 17-18 minutes or until middles are set.  Cool completely on wire racks.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting - made March 18, 2017, adapted from Gonna Want Seconds
I’ve blogged before about my favorite coconut cake recipes. I have two – the Mrs. Fields one when I want the fancy two-layer cake and the coconut sheet cake when I need something fast and simple. I like both so much that I don’t really try a bunch of different coconut cake recipes as there’s no need to find something “better”. And the other ones I’ve tried haven’t really measured up to my top 2 favorites. Until now. Now I have a Top 3 favorite for coconut cakes.
The funny part is, there isn’t any coconut in the cake itself. Sure, there’s cream of coconut but the only coconut is actually part of the garnish covering the frosting. At least, if you follow the original recipe to the letter. I almost didn’t follow it exactly because who makes a coconut cake without coconut in the cake? But I resisted the impulse to improvise because I wanted to see what it was like as the original blogger had posted it.
Turns out, it was actually quite fabulous. I loved the cake itself. It was more dense than a cakey-cake (my highly scientific baking term for cake texture you can get from a box mix) but not quite as dense as a pound cake. Instead it was a nice in-between with a perfect, tender, moist crumb. Plus the flavor was fantastic. The coconut cream added to the texture and moistness of the cake but didn’t add a strong coconut flavor so even people who hate coconut (I don’t understand those people but I know they’re out there somewhere) may enjoy this cake. If you wanted to be really nice – and deceptive - to their coconut-hating taste buds (who are these people??), you can leave off the coconut garnish entirely and just serve what would seem like a great vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting.

I happen to love coconut so I had no compunction about adding coconut with abandon. I frosted the bottom layer with a thin layer of cream cheese icing then sprinkled it generously with coconut before I topped it with the second layer. Then I covered the whole thing with the rest of the frosting. Note: I did adjust the frosting recipe from the original. I cut back on the cream cheese by half and cut the coconut cream in half as well so as not to make the frosting too runny. You might want to experiment here and see what you like best in terms of flavor and consistency. The recipe below reflects my changes.
To make it easier to blanket your cake with coconut, put it on a cardboard circle that’s the same size as your cake layer(s). You can get these at places like Michaels – don’t forget to use their 40% off coupon. Once you have it fully frosted, grab handfuls of coconut and, holding the cake in one hand over a large bowl, press the coconut over the sides and top, letting the excess fall into the bowl beneath. Rotate it as you cover in coconut. It may get messy but it’s the easiest way to cover the cake in coconut.

It was hard for me to get a decent picture of the cake (I really need to take some kind of food photography class) but this was an amazing cake, not that hard to make and tastes even better than it looks. Depending on my mood, this may have even unseated the Mrs. Fields coconut cake recipe that I’ve sworn by for years.
A few additional baker notes: the original recipe says to bake this in 9-inch cake pans. I only have 8-inch cake pans because I like to have thicker layers but I also leave enough batter to bake in a small ramekin. That ends up being my taste test so I can see how the cake tastes without having to slice a frosted, filled, two-layer cake. Tacky to show up somewhere with a cake that has a slice missing and lamely explain you had to taste it first before bringing it.
If you don’t normally buy or bake with cream of coconut, you can find it either in the Asian aisle of most grocery stores, including Target’s grocery section, or at any Asian grocery store like 99 Ranch. The original blog used Coco Lopez but I used an Asian brand from 99 Ranch. One 15-ounce can was sufficient for my needs and was less than a couple of dollars. Just stir it when you first open it as most of the coconut solids will have drifted to the bottom and you want it an even consistency when you add it to the cake batter and frosting. 
I also left out the coconut extract and substituted extra vanilla extract instead. Much as I love coconut, I despise it in extract form. Taste too artificial and metallic. I have equally negative feelings towards almond extract yet I love almonds. No, only vanilla extract will do for me.
I brought most of this cake into work and several people stopped me in the hall or came to my desk to thank me and tell me how much they liked it. It was gone before lunchtime. Apparently I have a lot of coconut-loving coworkers – yay.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sweetened cream of coconut (like Coco Lopez)
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (I left it out and added extra vanilla extract instead)
1 cup buttermilk

Frosting (modified)
1 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup sweetened cream of coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (I left it out and substituted vanilla bean paste instead)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9" round cake pans with nonstick baking spray and line bottoms with parchment rounds.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt; whisk and set aside.
  3. In the large bowl of a freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment, beat sugar, butter and sweetened cream of coconut until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time. Add vanilla and coconut extracts. With mixer on low speed, beat in dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk, until just combined.
  4. In another bowl, using the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are stiff but not dry. Gently fold egg whites into cake batter.
  5. Evenly divide batter between prepared pans. Beat for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes then turn cakes out onto racks to cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile, make the frosting: using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until just combined and creamy. Add cream of coconut, vanilla and coconut extracts; beat until just combined. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat until all ingredients are just combined and smooth,. Add more powdered sugar if necessary to achieve desired consistency. Frost cooled cake and sprinkle coconut generously over tops and sides.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Salted Caramel Swirl Brownies topped with Nutella and Toffee Bits

Salted Caramel Swirl Brownies - made March 11, 2017, adapted from The Merchant Baker
Do you see the salted caramel swirling through these dark chocolate brownies? Ribbons of rich caramel peeking through the fudgy goodness? Yeah, me neither.

The original recipe called for using dulce de leche but I was out of dulce de leche and only had a jar of salted caramel on hand. Past experience has taught me that if I just swirled the caramel in with the brownie batter, during baking, the caramel would sink to the bottom and I'd be left with struggling to cut clean pieces and picking the foil off the bottom of each piece because the caramel sank to the bottom and clung to the foil. I usually go around this difficulty by spreading half the batter, baking the bottom layer just long enough to firm up and be able to hold the caramel, pour the caramel layer over that partially baked bottom layer and top with the remaining batter before baking the whole thing.
It's a good plan in theory but my execution left something to be desired this time. Mainly because I didn't bake the bottom layer long enough to actually firm up enough to hold up the weight of the caramel. I didn't want to bake it for long because it would have to bake even further after I added the caramel and the top layer and I had visions of a dry bottom brownie. So, instead, my method made it worse because the batter warmed up enough to be even more liquid and the heavy caramel promptly sank to the bottom since the layer wasn't baked enough. I knew it too as I was spreading the caramel that I should let the bottom layer bake for longer but I have such an aversion to overbaked brownies that I was physically incapable of letting that bottom layer bake long enough before adding the caramel layer.
It would probably be hard to spot the caramel anyway since, thanks to the cocoa I used, the brownie came out really dark. But I won't be apologizing for that because I use Pernigotti cocoa and refuse to use any other cocoa. Not if I want dark, rich, chocolatey goodness in my brownies. And I do.
To cut some of the dark chocolate richness from the Pernigotti cocoa, I defaulted to the lazy baker's frosting, i.e. Nutella, which I spread on top of the slightly cooled but still hotter than warm brownie about 5 minutes after I took it out of the oven. When it had cooled to lukewarm, I sprinkled the top generously with toffee bits and mini chocolate chips for a prettier presentation and to add a little more sweetness and crunch to complement the dark rich fudginess of the brownie.
2/3 cup dutch process cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose or bread flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla
Salted caramel
Toffee bits
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8" square baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Whisk together cocoa, granulated sugar, confectioners' sugar, flour, baking powder and espresso powder in a large bowl.
  3. Add the eggs, oil, water and vanilla; mix until smooth and combined.
  4. Spread a little more than half of the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from oven and drop dollops of salted caramel over partially baked layer. Top with remaining batter and return to oven.
  6. Bake another 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool for 5-10 minutes before spreading with a layer of Nutella. Sprinkle with toffee bits. Let cool completely before cutting. For the cleanest cuts, refrigerate for a few hours before cutting with a sharp knife.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Baked Carbonara

Baked Carbonara - made January 30, 2017 from Off the Shelf by Donna Hay
One of my guilty pleasures is Spaghetti Carbonara. It's totally bad for you and horrific with calories so I don't eat it often. If I do, I double up on my workouts before and after. I'm not a bacon lover and, if confronted with a choice of breakfast meats, will go for sausage or ham before I'll eat bacon. But when it comes to carbonara, bacon is my protein of choice. Because all that heavy cream and pasta just cry out for crunchy bacon to go with them and really harden up your arteries in a team effort. In a for a penny, in for an extra couple of pounds.
As with almost all Donna Hay recipes, this is easy to make. Seriously easy. Traditional carbonara calls for mixing the egg and cream mixture then tossing it with hot pasta just drained from a pot of boiling water. It's the heat of the pasta that cooks the egg and thickens the mixture. A carbonara made well is worth every calorie as nothing beats that creamy sauce coating each strand of pasta. Your noodles need to be hot enough to cook the eggs in your liquid mixture just enough to thicken but not so hot that it literally cooks your eggs or you'll have bits of scrambled egg instead of a creamy sauce.
This version is baked so you don't have to worry about the temperature of your pasta. There will seem to be a lot of sauce but remember you're baking the pasta and it'll absorb a lot of the liquid. The risk with baking a carbonara sauce though is your sauce may get too hot and bake some of the egg into scrambled eggs. If you're worried, try baking at a slightly lower temperature like 325 degrees and covering with foil for the first 10-15 minutes. Leave uncovered for the last 15 minutes though to make sure the bacon stays crisp.
This is rich, no doubt about it, and consequently, is a "sometimes" meal. But it can't be beat for how easy it is to put together.
14 ounces pasta
1 pack of bacon
4 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Boil pasta until al dente. Drain.
  3. Fry bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels and chop into pieces.
  4. Whisk together eggs, cream, milk and Parmesan cheese.
  5. Place pasta in an 8-cup (4-pint) ovenproof dish and pour egg-milk-cream mixture over it. Top with bacon and mix with pasta. Bake for 30 minutes or until set.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Layered Chocolate Chip Cookies

Layered Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough February 28, 2017, adapted from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Of all the things I've made in my baking life, chocolate chip cookies have to rank as one of the top baked goods in terms of how many recipes I've tried for them, how often I've made them and how much I like eating them. I feel like I've tried every variation there is in terms of ratio to brown sugar vs granulated sugar, all-purpose flour vs cake flour vs bread flour or some combination of all three, chilling them, freezing them, chilling then freezing them, chocolate chips vs chunks, semisweet vs milk chocolate vs white chocolate and so on. It's hard to find a chocolate chip recipe whose actual recipe would surprise me.

Well, guess what? I found one. Layered chocolate chip cookies. Who knew they were a thing? That Skinny Chick Can Bake found it out from Martha Stewart and I found it out from her blog via pinterest. The ingredients themselves didn't surprise me. I always use dark brown sugar in my chocolate chip cookies to get more caramel flavor, even if the recipe calls for light brown sugar. In fact, I don't even buy light brown sugar anymore for baking. It's always the dark brown sugar. The ingredients also deviate from the norm in that it uses four egg yolks instead of 2 whole eggs. That means there's more fat in the dough which makes for a richer cookie. That's fine by me.

But it's how the cookies are made that's different from what I'm used to. You mix up the cookie dough as normal but stop before you add the chocolate chips. In fact, you don't add chips or chunks at all. Instead you use shards of chocolate. So you're going to need a block of chocolate for this recipe. I used Trader's Joe's Pound Plus Milk Chocolate. I didn't cut into chunks but instead angled my knife to cut long, thin shards of chocolate.
After you mix up the dough, you divide into three equal portions. You can weigh each portion to be exact but I just eyeballed it. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. After the dough is chilled, roll each piece into approximately same-size rectangles. You don't have to be perfect but some degree of uniformity is desirable since you're going to stack the portions on top of each other. Once I rolled out the first rectangle, I deviated from the recipe by spreading a thin layer of Nutella over it. The original version just called for spreading the chocolate shards between the dough rectangles but since we're talking about layers, I wanted a real layer in there and that layer would be Nutella. Layer the Nutella then sprinkle a layer of the chocolate shards over it. Cover with the second piece of dough, layer with Nutella and chocolate shards, cover with the third piece of dough.

I pinched the edges sealed and then used my rolling pin to flatten the whole thing slightly. If I had to do it differently, I wouldn't have rolled it out as thinly as I did since I like chubby cookies. These cookies do spread a bit so you don't want the three layers to be too thin. Then I used my round cookie cutter to cut out round cookies. This is why you have to cut the chocolate into shards because the cookie cutter will cut through them more easily than chunks.

As with anytime you cut out anything from dough, you'll always have "dough scraps". Don't bother trying to reroll them to cut out more cookies since the Nutella makes it all messy (in a good way). Instead, I gathered scraps together to form dough balls. These looked like more normal scoops of chocolate chip cookie dough instead of prissy rounds but both will have a place in your stomach, believe me.

When you bake them, the round-cut cookies will look demurely "perfect" with the Nutella and chocolate shards tucked inside. In hindsight, next time, I would press more chocolate shards on top of the cookies to indicate what they are inside. The cookies made from rolled dough scraps will likely not be that distinguishable from normally scooped out chocolate chip cookies but they will have nice swirls of Nutella in every bite, thanks to the layering. Cool, huh?

The best part is, regardless of how you put this together, the recipe for chocolate chip cookies itself is delicious. You know how jaded my taste buds are for something I've made so many times for so long but this is a terrific cookie recipe. Yes, the layering part takes a little more time and trouble than the average cookie recipe but layering in the Nutella and chocolate shards makes it worth it.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 ounces bittersweet or milk chocolate chocolate, chopped into shards
Nutella - as much or as little as you want, optional but recommended
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, dark brown sugar and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eqq yolks and vanilla; mix to combine.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, add flour mixture and mix until just combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  3. Divide dough into three equal portions. Wrap each portion in plastic wrap and flatten slightly. Chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Unwrap one portion of chilled dough and place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a rectangle less than an inch think. Spread a thin layer of Nutella. Sprinkle with half the chocolate shards.
  5. Roll out the second portion of dough to a similar size and use to top the Nutella-and-chocolate coated layer. Spread another layer of Nutella on top and sprinkle with remaining chocolate shards. Top with last portion of dough, rolled out to a similar size as the first two portions.
  6. Lightly dust the cookie dough with flour and gently roll out dough to a rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches thick. Using a 2-inch-round cookie cutter, cut out rounds of dough. Cover and chill several hours or overnight.
  7. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space dough rounds on baking sheets. Bake until cookies are set, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool for a few minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.