Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Chewy Brownies

Chewy Brownies - made March 6, 2020 from Everything Chocolate by America's Test Kitchen
A lifetime ago, i.e. early March, I was still baking for the Angel Baker care packages I was sending to deployed service members as a volunteer for Soldiers Angels. These days, the Angel Baker team has been asked not to send homemade baked goods, as, because of the mail delays due to the coronavirus (canceled flights, tightened mail procedures, etc), packages might take an additional month or more to arrive, which, even if the food was vacuum sealed, might not arrive in the best (or even edible) shape. Instead, it's suggested we only send store-bought, packaged cookies like Oreos and/or crackers.
Before that crackdown, I made these brownies, also from America's Test Kitchen's Everything Chocolate to send. Similar to Fudgy Brownies from the same book, these lived up to their name in that they really are chewy more than fudgy. They aren't cake but they're definitely chewy.
I added chopped-up Mounds bars to turn them into Chewy Coconut Brownies and that added to the chewiness factor. I only tried a sliver of these since I was sending most of it out in the care packages. These were good, although not sure they're that memorable to me given how many brownie recipes I've tried out. But still, a quick, easy recipe for a good chewy brownie.
1/3 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, optional
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (17 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Whisk cocoa, espresso powder if using and boiling water in large bowl until smooth. Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted.
  3. Whisk in oil and melted butter. Whisk in eggs, yolks and vanilla until completely combined and smooth. Whisk in sugar until fully combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in flour and salt; mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chunks.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool brownies in pan completely before lifting out of pan and cutting and serving.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Thick Chocolate Chip Cookies (repost)

Thick Chocolate Chip Cookies (repost) - made March 4, 2020
It's been longer than usual since my last post. March has been surreal and I struggled with what to keep writing on my blog. It's impossible to avoid any mention of COVID-19 and the way the pandemic is ravaging the world. At least not without the risk of sounding completely tone-deaf with what's going on in the world around us. Yet it's hard to be so immersed in bad news 24/7 without losing your mind. At the same time, it's also hard not to seem like you're not taking it seriously or not taking self-serving advantage in some way when you do post something non-virus related. There has to be a balance somewhere. I don't know what it is so just know whatever I write in the coming days, that's what I'm struggling with, no matter what I write.
March 4 seems like a lifetime ago. That's when I was doing some comfort baking, which to me, is always chocolate chip cookies. But unlike the previous times, I didn't try out a new recipe but instead went back to one I first made a year and a half ago. At first I adjusted the recipe to accommodate it for high altitude: increase liquid, increase flour, decrease leavening, raise temperature, etc. It was a flop. Spread too much, seemed too sweet, flavor was fine but texture was only okay.
So I made it as is when I had first discovered the recipe and baked it at sea level. And, guess what, it worked just fine. Click on the post title to see how it looked when made at sea level. The pictures on this post are what they look like baked at 4400 feet. No discernible difference.
More strikingly, I've decided I'm going to stop testing out chocolate chip cookie recipes. I don't feel like I need to anymore. This is it. This is the one I love the best. That's actually a pretty big deal as you know I love trying out new recipes for chocolate chip cookies. But, although I've tried out many good ones, none of them really stood out to me a day later and I don't even remember 90% of them once I've posted about them. So I'm sticking to this one. I love the flavor and the soft texture in the middle and the crisp edges. I love it more at room temperature than warm, which is surprising but true. Disclaimer: remember everyone has different tastes. Just because this is THE ONE for me, doesn't mean it'll be the one for you. You might want something more buttery or more crisp or chewy. That's okay. For me, the search is over.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup chocolate chunks

  1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until combined and fluffy.
  2. Add egg and vanilla; mix until just combined.
  3. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until just combined; do not overmix.
  4. Fold in chocolate chunks by hand. Divide into 6 pieces and form into thick disks. Cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight. If you decide to skip this step, at least place in refrigerator while oven preheats.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly space dough balls. Bake 15-18 minutes or until edges are golden and middles no longer look raw. Remove from heat and let cool completely on a wire rack for the best texture. If eaten too warm, texture will be too mushy.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Fudgy Brownies

Fudgy Brownies - made February 28, 2020 from America's Test Kitchen Everything Chocolate
Here's the second recipe I tried from my still-new Everything Chocolate by America's Test Kitchen. I have a ton of cookie recipes to send out for care packages but brownies tend to fare better in the mail, especially with potentially long mailing times.
And you know I'm always glad to try out a new brownie recipe. This one, as practically all ATK recipes do, deliver on their name. These are fudgy all right. Which is exactly what I want in a brownie.
You can tell just be looking at the picture. It isn't just that they're underbaked. And you don't want to underbake too much since these are purposely meant to be fudgy, not mushy. But they are fudgy. So use the good chocolate (I used Valrhona from Trader Joe's and Pernigotti cocoa) to get the deep dark chocolate flavor. Let cool completely for the best fudgy texture.
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In the top half of a double boiler set over hot water, melt bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate and butter, whisking to combine until melted and smooth. Whisk is cocoa powder and let cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt until combined. Whisk in melted chocolate mixture until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, stir in flour until combined.
  4. Pour into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
  5. Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Snickerdoodles for high altitude baking

Snickerdoodles - made dough February 19, 2020, modified from High Altitude Bakes
I didn't think any other snickerdoodle recipe could knock off my favorite from Sally's Baking Addiction. But it turns out I was wrong. Meet my new favorite recipe for snickerdoodles. And it's such a favorite that my snickerdoodle recipe testing days have come to an end. I'm not making any other snickerdoodle recipe but this. Yes, it's that good. And with my recipe ADD, you know I don't say that lightly.
I tried out this recipe since it promised to be good for high altitude baking. I'm not sure if it was because of that or because I finally learned how to bake at the right temperature in my oven. Hint: whatever temp my oven says it is, it's lying. The cheap oven thermometer I bought at Bed Bath and Beyond (20% off!) speaks the truth. And since I started to go by the truth, my cookies are turning out much better and no longer flattening.
But I don't think it's entirely because I've bested my oven on what temperature it actually is when I put a baking sheet of cookie dough balls in it. This is genuinely a great recipe. I modified it only slightly by adding a teaspoon of (Penzey's) Vietnamese cinnamon into the dough. Otherwise, I made it as is and it delivered.
The flavor was good and the texture was soft and chewy, moist without being dense and fluffy without being too cakey. In other words: damn awesome. Like I have to make these again awesome because I shipped most of the first batch to a deployed military service member. Then I made another batch and gave it away to some former coworkers I met up with a couple of weeks ago. At the time, I felt all generous and self-sacrificing. Now I just feel deprived and foolish, lol. 
If you don't live in high altitude, I don't think there's any need to make any adjustments to the recipe. I live at 4400 feet above sea level and, as mentioned earlier, I think my cookie spread had more to do with low oven temp than altitude. In any case, try it as is and see how it turns out. And - wait for it - don't overbake. It's okay for the middles to puff up during baking but they should absolutely collapse slightly in the center after you take them out. Slightly, mind you, not be volcanic craters. If you get a crater, you didn't bake them long enough. If they stay puffy after you take them out, you might've baked them too long.

look at that texture!
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Cinnamon sugar
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  1. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
  2. Beat in the eggs until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
  4. Add to butter-egg mixture in 2 additions, mixing briefly after each addition, just until combined. Do not overmix.
  5. Portion dough into golf-ball-size balls. If dough is too sticky, you may chill briefly (15-20 minutes) before portioning into dough balls. Cover and chill or freeze the dough balls several hours or overnight.
  6. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Mix together 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons cinnamon in a bowl. Roll dough balls in cinnamon-sugar mixture, covering completely, before evenly spacing on prepared sheet.
  8. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until edges are set and middles no longer look raw. Let rest on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Del's Cooking Twist

Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough February 17, 2020 from Del's Cooking Twist
Here's another chocolate chip cookie recipe for you (surprise....not). I needed them for my sister's Open House one weekend so tried a (yet another) new recipe.

These were a bit better than the last one I tried but it could possibly be because I made the taste test cookie huge. Like Levain Bakery copycat huge (6 ounces of cookie dough for one cookie). Which meant that although it spread during baking at 375 degrees from frozen dough, it still remained thick enough.

The flavor was good, the edges were crisp and the middle was soft and chewy. Yum. I also liked the texture on this one as it wasn't only chewy and buttery but also had a softer but not-cakey texture. I don't know how the more normal-sized cookies turned out as I made the ones for her Open House smaller and didn't eat any of them (hello, just had 6 ounces of baked cookie and there are only so many workouts I can do in a day). But I think they came out okay just by their appearance.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and diced
3/4 cup (135 g) brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup (120 g) cake flour
1 1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (250 g) walnut halves (I left them out and added extra chocolate chips)
2 cups (350 g) large chocolate chips or chunks

  1. Cream butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar together until combined and fluffy, about 1 minute.
  2. Add eggs and beat on medium speed until just incorporated.
  3. Combine cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Add to butter-sugar mixture in two additions, beating just until combined after each addition.
  4. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts (if using). Portion dough into golf-ball-size dough balls (or smaller or larger, according to your preference). Cover and chill for several hours or overnight. Freeze after chilling if not baking within a day.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough balls. Bake 10-15 minutes (my oven took longer) or until edges are golden brown and middles no longer look doughy. Do not overbake. Remove from oven, let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then remove cookies to wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Nutella and Hazelnut Crispy Rice Cereal Treats

Nutella and Hazelnut Crispy Rice Cereal Treats - made February 27, 2020 from America's Test Kitchen Everything's Chocolate
Ever since I made the Cookie Butter Rice Krispie treats, my mind - and palate - have been open to this concept of "dressing" up plain Rice Krispie treats. My simple tastes usually make me prefer the original but I liked the cookie butter one so much that I decided to try this Nutella version from my new cookbook.

Yes, I bought a new cookbook. Three of them, as a matter of fact but I haven't made anything yet from the other two (stay tuned, it won't be long, I bet). After being good for so long and not buying any, I bought 3 within a week. I'm not even sorry about it either so you know it's been awhile since I've indulged.

Anyway, hello Nutella Rice Krispies treats. They're as easy to make as the plain ones. Just make sure you have all your ingredients measured out and ready to go so once the marshmallows are just barely completely melted, you can add everything in. It doesn't do to let your melted marshmallows cook for too long or they'll harden and get even more rubbery (why, yes, that's the voice of experience you're hearing).

Despite the Nutella addition, these aren't super Nutella-y and still stay true to that Rice Krispies treats flavor. It helps to add the chopped toasted hazelnuts though to really bring that nutella and hazelnut flavor home. I liked these. I shared them with some former coworkers when we had a reunion breakfast as well as shipped them out in care packages for deployed service members. I love Rice Krispies treats so I'm glad to add another version to my repertoire.
8 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 (10-ounce) packages marshmallows
1/2 cup Nutella
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 cups (10 ounces) crisped rice cereal
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and chopped
3 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (optional)
  1. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in a large pot. Add marshmallows, Nutella, vanilla, espresso powder and salt. Cook, stirring often, until marshmallows are just melted, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in cereal until fully combined.
  3. Transfer cereal mixture to prepared pan. Sprinkle hazelnuts over cereal mixture. Smooth top with rubber spatula. Let cool then cut into squares.
  4. Optional (I left it out): Melt milk chocolate over low heat. Place in ziploc bag, seal and cut a corner to pipe onto rice krispie squares. Let set.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Cookies

Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Cookies - made dough February 17, 2020 from Hot Eats and Cool Reads
Normally I would look askance at a cookie that had the temerity to spread to thinness. I mean, come on, cookies need to be chubby. Since those delicious (and empty) calories can make you chubby, they should be chubby, right? Yes, that's how my mind works.
However, I might have to make an exception to that (completely logical) stance with these cookies. As you can tell from the pictures, they spread. Not only did they spread but they spread out. They started out as compact, thick discs (frozen), more like chubby round balls with their tops slightly - just slightly, mind you - flattened. 15 minutes in the oven and the middles spread out like a package-laden Christmas shopper settling in on public transportation. The one who decides to sit next to me.
I was a little miffed about that spread. Then I tasted the cookies. And I forgave. The flavor on these is superb. What's a little weird is they almost taste like ginger molasses cookies while not having a lick of ginger or molasses in them. The flavor is all driven by the brown sugar which had the good sense to transform in a deep caramel flavor without the stickiness of caramel.
The weird part? I don't even like ginger molasses cookies all that much but, despite its similar flavor profile, I loved these cookies. They're chewy and packed with great flavor. Now I just have to figure out how to prevent their spread.
I did end up packaging these up for my next care package to a deployed military service member for Soldiers Angels. They vacuum-sealed well enough and hopefully the deployed troops won't be as snobby as I am about thin (thin!) cookies as long as the flavor is there.

Update: I did make these a second time and made the adjustments suggested for high altitude (in parentheses below in the recipe). Unfortunately, while they didn't spread as much, they still spread thin. Fortunately, the flavor wasn't affected. So you can make the recipe as is or adjust accordingly, depending on your location.
2 cups all-purpose flour (for high altitude, add 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons baking soda (for high altitude, use 1 3/4 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar (for high altitude, decrease by 1 generous tablespoon)
1 large egg
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add egg and beat until just combined. Add dry ingredients in two additions and beat after each addition, just until combined. Do not overmix.
  3. Portion into balls (the larger the cookie dough ball, the more it'll spread). Cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough balls. Bake 8-10 minutes (mine took closer to 15) or until edges are set and middles no longer look raw. Remove from oven, let rest on baking sheets for 3-5 minutes then remove cookies to wire cooling racks to cool completely.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Instant Pot Korean Beef

Instant Pot Korean Beef - made February 19, 2020, modified from I Heart Eating
After going through such a cooking storm at the end of last year, I completely lost my cooking mojo and have been living off frozen dinners (hello, Lean Cuisine), rotisserie chicken (Costco is my friend) and takeout (Panda Express, less of a friend but still a good acquaintance).

But as I was finally finishing up the leftover ham from Christmas (paced out thanks to storing portions in the freezer), I also decided I should try being a grown up again and adult myself to cooking a dish. Thankfully, with an Instant Pot, adulting is a little less painful.

Mix together ingredients, throw stuff in the Instant Pot and go away for an hour. Works for me. This turned out pretty well. You can increase the Gochujang if you like your meals with more kick but the 2 tablespoons was fine for me. I also thickened up the sauce (which initially had the consistency of thin gruel) with some cornstarch and let it boil for a few minutes. With some steamed rice to sop up the sauce and the beef becoming tender thanks to the pressure cooking, this is a quick, easy to make dish. My kind of cooking.

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup beef broth
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons Gochujang sauce
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3-4 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together ingredients except for chuck roast.
  2. Place cubed roast in Instant Pot. Pour sauce over meat. 
  3. Close the lid, making sure the pressure release valve is turned to "sealing".
  4. Press the Meat program button and set time to 40 minutes. Once it has finished cooking, keep pot closed for 25 minutes for the natural pressure release.
  5. Turn the pressure release valve to venting to allow any pressure to dissipate. Remove lid. If sauce is too thin, remove half a cup to a small bowl and whisk in 1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch to make a slurry. Turn pot to "saute" and add slurry back in. Stir, until sauce is desired thickness. Serve hot with steamed rice.