Thursday, April 26, 2018

Brick Street Cafe Copycat Chocolate Cake

Brick Street Cafe Copycat Chocolate Cake - made April 7, 2018 from Through Her Looking Glass
I’ve never heard of Brick Street Café in South Carolina but I’d seen mouthwatering pictures of this copycat cake on pinterest and that was enough to make me try the recipe. Having never had the real thing, I don’t know how this compares so all I can say is this is a good chocolate cake.

I think the “hook” is the flowing gush of chocolate ganache icing which I imagine is rather impressive when served at a restaurant. Especially if it’s served warm. Actually, you have to serve it at least warm enough that the icing is flowing; otherwise, this sets at room temperature.

The directions say you have to bake this in a convection oven. I’m not sure why except I know most restaurant kitchens, bakeries and commercial kitchens have convection ovens so that’s probably how the original cake was baked at the Brick Street Café. I rarely bake cakes on the convection setting in my oven. I reserve that setting for when I’m baking cookies because I want the outside of the cookies to bake faster and set before the cookies spread too much while the inside doesn’t bake as quickly and doesn’t dry out. For cakes, especially cakes of this size baked in a tube pan, I want to bake evenly throughout, not have the outside form a crust while the inside is still mushy.  Okay for a lava cake but not for a “regular” cake.

Fortunately, because it’s baked in a tube pan, my fears were unfounded. This baked okay in a convection oven although the outer side seemed to bake faster as the inner ring rose higher than the outer ring. Which meant when I inverted the cake, while the inverted bottom which was now the top, was perfectly level and even, what was once the top and was now the bottom was too rounded and didn’t provide for a stable base. So I inverted it again so it was as it had baked. 
Back to the hook of the flowing lava frosting. The instructions say to fill the hole left by the tube pan in the middle of the cake first then let the overflow cover the cake. So then when you slice into the cake, this whole volcanic chocolate lava would gush right out. At first I thought there might not be enough frosting to fill the hole and cover the cake but I was wrong. Really, really wrong. In fact, there was almost too much frosting for it not only filled the hole but blanketed the cake and made it look like a Ding Dong on steroids. If you're a frosting person, there's probably no such thing as too much frosting but you know me. Too much frosting.

I made this cake to bring to work so I made it on a weekend and brought it in on a Monday. By then the frosting had set so now it was like a thick crust. If you warmed it up, it softened again but at room temperature, it was like a blanket of fudge. Taste-wise, this is a rich cake. As in, if you’re a chocoholic, this would be a hit and I’m not sure how soon you’d crash from the Olympian heights this much chocolate would take you. It was good but I’d recommend a small slice to start off with so you don’t eat yourself into a chocolate coma. I really liked the cake part as it was moist and chocolaty but I’d just as soon skip the frosting or make half the frosting recipe and use it as a light (very light) glaze. Maybe even a third of the frosting recipe.

If you want to try this as is, I’d suggest using this as a fairly impressive dessert for a dinner party. Make the cake ahead of time but wait on the frosting until right before you’re about to serve dessert. The frosting is easy to make at the last minute and you can pile it on the cake, filling the hole and all, then serve immediately to your guests. The gush of chocolate lava is something to behold and they can pile the excess frosting in all its oozing glory all over their cake slices as much as they wish. 
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup instant chocolate pudding mix
2 1/4 cups buttermilk

Chocolate Icing
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream, more or less for consistency
  1. Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla in large bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
  3. Mix in cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, chocolate pudding mix and buttermilk.
  4. Pour into greased tube pan. Bake in convection oven for 60-70 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean or with a few crumbs. Cool completely before icing.
  5. Icing: Heat water, butter and vanilla together in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Whisk smooth and remove from heat.
  6. Stir in unsweetened cocoa powder. Stir in powdered sugar, whisking until smooth. Stir in heavy cream, one tablespoon at a time, until you get the desired consistency.
  7. Pour icing in the hole in the middle of the cake first then spread icing over the cake and pour over the sides. Icing will harden as it cools.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Nutella Swirl Cookies

Nutella Swirl Cookies - made dough March 31, 2018, adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

My favorite cookie with Nutella swirled in is the Almond Butter and Nutella Swirl Cookies. I’ve also swirled Nutella into chocolate chip cookies with great success. So I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me earlier to make a Nutella cookie and swirl Nutella into that. Genius, right?
Well, it was Sally’s Baking Addiction that was the genius since it’s her recipe. I did go rogue though and omitted the chocolate chips because I didn’t want a Nutella-swirled chocolate chip cookie (done that) but a purist Nutella cookie with Nutella swirls. What’s not to love?

It worked beautifully in this cookie. You want to be generous with the dollops of Nutella that you drop on top of the mixed cookie dough. I dollop all over the top of the dough in the bowl, scoop out generous dough balls with large splotches of Nutella then once that top layer of dough is scooped out, I drop more  Nutella over the remaining dough and repeat the process. No being stingy with the Nutella. Although do try to tuck most of it inside the dough ball because you want liquidy Nutella in each bite of the cookie.

Without the swirls in the cookie, I’m not sure how Nutella-y this would be since the ¼ cup mixed into the dough itself doesn’t impact a strong Nutella flavor. But that’s why we dollop. Also, I’m glad I omitted the chocolate chips. I wanted the soft, fudgy texture that goes with soft, flowy Nutella without the interference of the more solid chips. Goal unlocked.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup Nutella
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Nutella for dolloping into the dough
  1. In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add brown sugar and granulated sugar; beat on medium high until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, egg yolk and vanilla until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in 1/4 cup Nutella until combined.
  2. Whisk the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Gradually add to wet ingredients until just combined. Do not overmix. Dollop Nutella in large spoonfuls over dough and fold just enough to mix in the Nutella and leave large swirls. Scoop into golf-ball size dough balls. Cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough balls. Bake for 10 minutes or until edges are golden brown and middles no longer look wet. Cool for 5 minutes on cookie sheet then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Restaurant Review: Din Ding Dumpling House

Din Ding Dumpling House - lunch on March 25, 2018
My niece found this restaurant on yelp as a lunch spot for us to try. My dad wanted Thai food but all the Thai restaurants in easy driving distance from our church didn’t open until 11:30 or 12. We get out of church usually just before 11 and we’re not good about waiting for lunch.
Xiao Long Bao
Din Ding Dumpling House opened at 11 so that worked just fine for us. Although by the time we arrived at 11:15, the place was almost full. Granted, it wasn’t a terribly large place but it wasn’t that small either by small-business restaurant standards. Fortunately we were able to get a table without having to wait more than a few minutes despite the patrons starting to stack up at the door and in the miniscule waiting area.
Won Ton Soup
This place hustled. As in, the servers dashed about, taking orders, and bringing them out from the kitchen quite speedily. It’s the kind of place where I ordered water and never got it because they were so busy. I didn’t really press the issue though as the service was pretty quick and our food came out soon after we ordered.
String Beans
We got the Xiao Long Baos, those little dumplings with “soup” inside. I loved the presentation: 8 XLBs in a large steamer set over hot water. You lift out the dumpling with your chopsticks and place it in the little individual-dumpling-size “plate” they bring with it, covered with a few thin spears of ginger and eat it from there, careful not to let too much of the soup spill out as you want to slurp that up. They were really good, almost as good as the ones I tried from Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong.
Combination Fried Rice
We played it a little safe with our menu choices, going for the Won Ton Soup (the size we ordered barely fed the four of us), the combination fried rice, string beans and the chicken chow mein. After the Xiao Long Baos, I have to say the chow mein was my favorite. Which is surprising as normally I think chow mein is pretty average in general. But the noodles were really good, thick and chewy rather than overcooked. Overall, for a quick, simple meal, I thought this was a good choice.
Chicken Chow Mein

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Salty Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Salty Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough March 30, 2018 from The Girl Who Ate Everything
Another chocolate chip cookie recipe. You’d think I’d run out of new ones to try. Um, no. Most of the time, they turn out well. Most of the time, I can’t remember them a week after I made them. But I think I’ll remember this one.

For one thing, I loved the thickness of these, the chewy texture and the brown sugar caramel overtones on it. For another, the edges were crisp at their peak consumption period (i.e. 10 minutes out of the oven) and still retained a little of that crispness at full room temperature. But also, because you melt and brown the butter before making the dough, if you time it right, mix the dough and add the chocolate chips when the dough is still somewhat warm, some of those chips will melt into the dough.
You don’t want to use the browned butter while it’s still hot or you risk cooking the eggs (start with cold eggs to alleviate this risk) but you want it just warm enough that the chips soften. Then when you scoop into dough balls, some of those chips will be soft enough that they become slightly melted chocolate that swirls into the dough. Delicious.

I always advocate chilling or freezing the dough balls before baking. You want to line whatever container you’re chilling or freezing the dough balls onto with wax paper for easier removal from the container. I always the plastic tops of my mixing bowl covers and, because I didn’t line them, the dough balls refused to part from the plastic when they were frozen. I had to thaw them in the refrigerator until they had softened/unfrozen enough to be pried loose then put them in a Ziploc freezer bag and put them back into the freezer. Live and learn.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips
fleur de sel, optional, for garnish
  1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat then bring to a boil. Stir constantly until butter passes the foamy phase and becomes a deep amber color with a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat, pour into a separate bowl and cool slightly.
  2. Add both sugars to cool the butter further and melt into the browned butter.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla to butter-sugar mixture. Fold in dry ingredients and stir until dough comes together. Add chocolate chips. Portion into golf-ball size dough balls, place on wax-paper-lined, freezer-safe containers, cover and chill or freeze several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space dough balls on baking sheets and bake 10 to 12 minutes, until edges are lightly golden and middles are no longer shiny or raw. Do not overbake.
  6. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then remove to wire cooling racks to cool completely. Sprinkle with fleur de sel if desired.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Butter Pecan Thumbprint Cookies

Butter Pecan Thumbprint Cookies - made March 18, 2018, adapted from Parsley Sage Sweet
Here’s an eye-pleasing cookie that will also please your taste buds and can easily be tailored to different tastes. I love thumbprint cookies for their versatility. Although, pro-tip: please do not take the “thumbprint” part literally. As in, don’t use your thumb to make the indents in the cookies. Instead, use the back of a teaspoon or half teaspoon to push a shallow “well” in the middle. Why? For one thing, it makes for a more uniform well for your filling. For another, would you want to eat a cookie that someone’s thumb poked into being? #Ithinknot

The dough is easy to make and to work with. It can also be easily made ahead of time and baked off whenever needed. Roll into small-ish dough balls. If you make the cookies too large, they lose that cuteness factor. Make the wells in the center of the cookies with the aforementioned recommended teaspoon. You can freeze them at this point until you’re ready to bake them off. For super obvious reasons, don’t just roll into dough balls and then freeze without first making the center wells.
When baking, keep an eye on the cookies. You want to take them out when they’re about 2-3 minutes from being done and re-impress the centers with a deeper indent in case the center wells flattened out in baking. I use a handy little tool from the Pampered Chef that I bought years and years ago that’s called a tart shaper. Make the wells a little deeper without squishing it all the way down, return to the oven to finish baking then take out when edges are golden.

You can fill these with your favorite filling. The original recipe called for melted white chocolate ganache and feuilletine but I cheated and simplified to cookie butter for some and Nutella for others. You can do jams or jellies (not my fave but to each his/her own), peanut butter, caramel, dulce de leche and so on. The world’s your oyster, er, thumbprint. For a smooth filling look, I melted the cookie butter for 30 seconds in the microwave and, while it was still in liquid state, poured the filling into the center well of each cookie. It sets as it cools although it will still remain soft. Same with the Nutella as well as dulce de leche and peanut butter.
These cookies have a similar taste and texture to Mexican Wedding Cakes without the powdered sugar coating so they can be a bit fragile. When making the dough balls, pack the cookie dough ball firmly together. They’ll spread out at the edges when you press the center for the filling well but you don’t want the edges to spread too far apart or leave a gap where the filling can leak through. I liked this version, both with cookie butter and Nutella. The filling makes a nice contrast to the crunchy, toasted pecans and the buttery goodness of the cookie itself.

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled

Filling: cookie butter, Nutella, peanut butter, dulce de leche, jam, jelly  - your choice
  1. In a large bowl, beat together butter, powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Beat in the flour until combined; do not overmix. Fold in the chopped pecans. Form into small dough balls and press the back of a teaspoon or half teaspoon into the center to create a well for the filling. Cover, chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  2. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space cookies on prepared sheet and bake 10-15 minutes or until edges are golden brown. After 10-12 minutes, remove cookies from oven and re-impress the center wells with the back of a teaspoon or the end of a tart shaper.
  3. While cookies are cooling, melt your desired filling slightly (less than 30 seconds in the microwave for cookie butter or Nutella) then pour into the center of each cookie, filling each well. Do not let overflow. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Bakery Review: B. Patisserie, San Francisco, CA

B. Patisserie - visited March 24, 2018
My second stop, and really, my original destination on my bakery walk in San Francisco last month was b. patisserie. It hit all the “best bakery” lists for SF and called out some drool-worthy treats. I hit Jane the Bakery first since it was (sort of) on the way to b. patisserie but once I scarfed down that Nutella Brioche from Jane’s, I was fueled up to continue the trek to b. patisserie.
This bakery didn’t have as long a line but it was also bigger, with a much larger seating area. Although, interestingly, it felt like they displayed the same amount of baked goods. Customers lined up along the display case, waiting for their turn. They got to me fairly quickly so I didn’t have enough time to look at my choices. But the counter person kindly suggested I skip ahead of the people still giving their order so I could take a look at what was on offer further on down the case.

I took some quick pictures and waffled on what to get. I knew I wanted to try the apple tart as I had read about how good it was and my other must-eat was the kouign amann, namely because it was also called out in the lists but also because kouign amann has now become my favorite pastry, ever since I tried it at Dominique Ansel Bakery

I also got the Valrhona Fudge Cookie as an impulse buy. I was hoping for something like the Levain Bakery chocolate chocolate cookie, my favorite cookie out of New York City.

I had already made my selections and they were being packaged up when I got to the end of the display case and saw the chocolate almond banana croissant and the chocolate caramel toffee mousse. Darn. If only I had three stomachs to fit them in instead of a healthy fear of not wanting my stomach to triple in size. I had to reluctantly, unwillingly, devastatingly pass on buying those as well. I already knew I couldn’t finish what I’d already bought and I had already planned on sharing my purchases with my niece and my parents the next day. The croissant and mousse were going to have to wait until the next visit. 

As it was, I carried the baked goods with me the rest of the afternoon without eating them except I did break into part of the banana bread from Jane the Bakery as it was the easiest to eat during the rally and the march which is why I had gone to San Francisco in the first place that day.

But everything else had to wait until I got home later that day. The only thing I tried from b. patisserie the same day I bought it was the kouign amann. I love kouign amann. That flaky inside along with the caramelized outside? Move over croissant, you’re dead to me. It’s all about the kouign amann now. The flavor was amazing and b. patisserie deserves all the accolades for it. I would give the DKA just the tiniest edge over b. patisserie’s but honestly, they’re both amazing. Like worth a triple workout for the calorie burn amazing.
Kouign Amann and Apple Tart

Kouign Amann
The next day, I shared the Valrhona fudge cookie and the apple tart with my parents and my niece as planned. I don’t know if it’s because they were a day old but I don’t know if I liked them as much. They were both still good but the cookie wasn’t like the Levain Bakery chocolate chocolate cookie (it was more sweet than chocolaty) and the apple tart topping wasn’t crisp anymore. Actually I don’t know if it was supposed to be had I eaten it when I first bought it but by the time I ate it more than 24 hours after purchase, it was soft. It was still good and the tart crust was flaky so I’m glad I tried it. 
Kouign Amann

Apple Tart
But next time I go back, I would set my sights on the other pastries I still had yet to try. I’m definitely going back someday and getting that banana almond croissant (okay, croissants are not totally dead to me after all) and the chocolate caramel mousse. And another kouign amann.
Apple Tart

Inside the Apple Tart

Valrhona Fudge Cookie