Friday, April 30, 2010

I Get By With a Little Help from Chocolate: Ganache Glazed Chocolate Bundt Cake

Charles Schulz once said, "All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." After finishing my first law school exam of the semester and my second to last law school exam of my life, I decided I needed something to de-stress, and chocolate, for me, is the ultimate de-stressor - the ultimate comfort food, in fact. I figured my friends would also appreciate an excuse to take a study break, so I searched for the perfect, crowd pleasing chocolate recipe.  I wanted to make something truly rich and delectable, and when I stumbled upon Grand Central Bakery's Ganache-Glaze Chocolate Bundt Cake I knew I had found perfection. The recipe is a little complicated, but the result is worth it. This cake is heavenly. It is made with chocolate bars, chocolate chips, and cocoa powder, so it is every chocolate lover's dream.  It also has sour cream in it, which makes it incredibly moist.  The chocolate ganache on top is rich and silky.  I suggest serving it with vanilla ice cream.  Be careful: you may want to save it all for yourself!

Ganache-Glazed Chocolate Bundt Cake, from The Grand Central Baking Book by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 cups (15 ounces) all purpose flour
1 cup (3 ounces) cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces, or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 (1 pound) light brown sugar
6 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup (8.5 ounces) sour cream
1 cup (8 fluid ounces) lukewarm freshly brewed coffee
2 cups (12 ounces) milk chocolate chips

9.5 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup (6 fluid ounces heavy cream)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Grease and lightly flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.  Put the unsweetened and semisweet chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl suspended over a pot of barely simmering water for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the chocolate has melted and is completely smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Using a stand mixer* with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is very light in color-almost beige-y white**- and the texture is fluffy, about 2 to 4 minutes. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl a few times during the process to ensure that the butter is evenly incorporated.

Crack the eggs into a liquid measuring cup and add the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the eggs, letting them fall in one at a time and incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl once or twice during the process. Add the melted chocolate to the butter mixture all at once and mix on low speed until slightly combined; you don't need to fully incorporate the chocolate at this point.

Whisk the sour cream and coffee together to achieve a smooth, room temperature liquid. (Adding too much of a cold ingredient can cause the chocolate to seize.) With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the dry ingredients until just incorporated. Add half of the sour cream mixture, mixing to combine. Repeat, using half of the remaining dry ingredients, mixing after each addition. Add the remaining dry ingredients and stop the mixer before they're fully incorporated. Add the milk chocolate chips and finish mixing by hand, using a sturdy spatula and being sure to scrape up from the bottom of the bowl.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. The cake is ready when it begins to pull away from the edges of the pan slightly and springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The top will probably split; use a cake tester  to check doneness.  Unlike with most cakes, the tester probably won't come out clean because of the melted chocolate chips. Let the cake cool for at least 15 minutes before making the ganache.

Making the Ganache
Put the chocolate in a shallow bowl. Put the cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until a skin forms, then immediately pour it over the chocolate. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes, then stir gently. The ganache should be glossy and have a smooth texture. If any chunks of chocolate remain, place the bowl over simmering water briefly and stir until melted.

Turn the cake out and glaze it on a rack. Place the rack on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Pour the ganache over the crown of the cake in one deliberate motion, distributing it as evenly as possible all the way around. Let the glaze set up for 20 minutes before transferring the cake to a plate or cake stand.

*If you don't have a stand mixer, don't despair! I have been using a cheap hand mixer that I bought at a grocery store for about $11. It's falling apart and it takes some serious arm power, but it does the trick.

**My sugar/butter mixture never turned beigy-white, but the cake came out fine nonetheless. ((post by emily))

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Martha, Martha, Martha: Martha Stewart's Chocolate Cracks

I have to admit- Martha Stewart intimidates me. She is just so perfect and so creative, making everything look so easy, that I avoided her magazine, her TV show, her cookbooks, and her website, because they all made me feel so incompetent.  A few weeks ago, though, I bought her cookie book for Emily, and after looking through it, decided I had to have it too.  There are so many delicious sounding cookies with pictures that make you want to get right to the kitchen. So here I am, slowly changing my Martha view, as I work my way through her cookie book (voted one of the 13 essential baking books by the James Beard Foundation).

The chocolate cracks are made with cocoa and bittersweet chocolate- very rich but not overly sweet.  The confectioner’s sugar and the way the cookies crack while baking make them look especially pretty.

Chocolate Cracks from Cookies by Martha Stewart
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 ½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar*
1 cup confectioner’s sugar*
*I needed far less of these two sugars to roll the cookies. I would suggest starting with ½ cup of each and adding more if needed.

Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring.  Set aside and let cool. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Mix in eggs and vanilla, and then melted, cooled chocolate.  Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with milk.  Divide the dough into four equal pieces.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Divide each piece into 16 one inch pieces and roll into balls. This will get a little messy as the heat of your hand warms the chocolate dough. Roll in granulated sugar to coat and then in confectioner’s sugar to coat.  Space two inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Bake until surfaces crack, about 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.  They can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 3 days.
((post by susan))

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Got Your Goat: Goat Cheesecake Enrobed in Hazelnut Brittle

I am not always a fan of cheesecake- it seems too heavy after a big meal, but I just received a mini cheesecake pan as a gift, and this recipe looked like a delicious way to try it out.  This cheesecake is lighter than traditional cream cheese cake with a little tang because of the goat cheese.  The mini cheesecake pan is a great invention, each individual holder has a removable bottom- and it made the perfect size cheesecakes- just a few bites.  This recipe is a little time consuming- the cheesecake part is fairly straightforward, but the hazelnut brittle takes a little time. The brittle is worth the time, however, because it adds the finishing touch to the mini cakes, and the leftover brittle could be mixed in brownies or sprinkled on ice cream or even fresh fruit.

Goat Cheesecake Enrobed in Hazelnut Brittle from The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman
Goat Cheesecake
1 egg
1 egg yolk
½ cup sugar
pinch of salt
10.5 ounces fresh goat cheese at room temperature
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons crème fraiche
½ recipe hazelnut brittle

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter or oil a 6 inch springform pan, or six 4 inch ramekins or individual cupcake molds, or a mini cheesecake pan. Combine the egg, egg yolk, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and whisk for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the goat cheese until smooth. Add the crème fraiche and whisk for 1 minute. Do not overmix.

Pour the batter in the prepared pan or mold. If using a springform pan, wrap a large piece of aluminum foil around the outside, making sure the foil fully encases the pan so once you set the pan in a deep water bath, none of the water seeps in.  Place the foil wrapped pan in a roasting pan and fill with water so that it comes up 1 ½ inches yp the side of the pan.  Bake until the center is set, approximately 40 minutes (or a thermometer placed in the center reads between 150 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit).  If you are baking individual cheesecakes, a water bath is not required.  Bake the individual cheesecakes 20-24 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking process.  If the cheesecakes start to rise, remove them from the oven immediately.

Remove cheesecake from the oven and allow it to cool. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes before removing the sides of the springform pan or before removing from individual molds. Pat the ground hazelnut brittle onto the top and sides of the cheesecake.  This keeps refrigerated for 4 days.

Hazelnut Brittle
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup finely ground hazelnuts
¼ teaspoon finely ground sea salt

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 17x 11 baking pan with parchment paper. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, 1/3 cup water, and the cream of tartar.  Cover and cook over high heat until the syrup comes to a very rapid boil. Remove the cover and continue to cook on medium-high heat until the sugar has turned a golden brown caramel color.  Remove from heat, pour onto the prepared baking pan and cool.

When the caramel is cool, break it into 1 inch pieces.  Place in a food processor or coffee grinder and grind to the consistency of granular sugar. Stir in the ground nuts.

Reline the baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread the caramel/nut mixture on the baking sheet in an even layer. Bake until caramel melts and begins to bubble, about 4-6 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle the salt evenly over the melted caramel.  When cool, break into small pieces and grind coarsely to use to enrobe the cheesecake. This makes much more than needed for the cheesecake.  It will keep for 2 weeks in a cool, dry place. ((post by susan))

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blondies Have More Fun?

Blondies are a quintessential American dessert along with brownies, chocolate chip cookies and, of course, apple pie. Like most things in America,  everyone has a opinion as to which is the best.  These blondies are my personal favorite- the blondie goes from being just a reverse brownie to something special on its own, chewy, moist with both butterscotch and chocolate flavors.  They are very simple to bake, great on their own or with ice cream, and you can make a batch and stick them in the freezer to insure a dessert on hand for those last minute emergencies.

Chewy Chunky Blondies from Baking by Dorie Greenspan
2 cups all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chopped into chips or 1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips or heath toffee bits (you could also use peanut butter chips)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and set oven rack in the middle of the oven. Butter a 9x13 inch pan and place on a baking sheet (or line pan with parchment paper).

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.  In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy.  Add both sugars and beat another 3 minutes until well incorporated.  Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.  Reduce speed to low and add in dry ingredients, mixing just until they disappear into the batter.  Using a spatula, stir in the chips, nuts and coconut.  Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top as best you can.

Bake about 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  The blondies should pull away from the sides of the pan a little, and the top should be a light golden brown.  Let cool in pan about 15 minutes before turning out on another rack. Let cool right side up to room  temperature. Cut into 32 bars. ((post by susan))

Monday, April 26, 2010

Not So Sweet Continued...Let Them Eat Cake

This cake reminds me of the “eat me” cake Alice ate when she fell down the rabbit hole- it is a shortbread like cake, a little dry but buttery and not too sweet.  You could eat it for breakfast or as a dessert. The cake is not too difficult to make, and I think it actually improves a few days after you bake it, becoming more moist.

Gateau Breton from Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum
½ cup blanched sliced almonds
¾ cup superfine sugar, divided
¼ teaspoon salt
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature: She recommends using either Organic Valley European-Style Cultured Butter (84 % butterfat) or Vermont Cultured Butter (86% butterfat)
4 large eggs at room temperature.
1 tablespoon dark rum, kirsch or water
1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all purpose flour (sifted into the cup and leveled off)
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray with baking spray with flour either a 9 ½ inch fluted tart pan (1-1 3/4 inch sides) with removable bottom or a 9x2 inch cake pan encircled with a baking strip.  * These silicone baking strips that go around a 9 inch round cake pan are wonderful- you do not get that crusty, dry edge ( I ordered them from LaPrima shops on-line).

Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake until light gold, about 7 minutes.  Stir once or twice to ensure even browning.  Cool completely.  In a food processor, process the almonds with 1/4 cup of sugar and the salt until fairly fine but not powder fine.

In a mixer, mix together the butter and the remaining ½ cup of sugar and beat about 1 minute until smooth and creamy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in yolks one at time, beating about 20 seconds after each addition.  Add the almond mix, rum, vanilla and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise to medium speed and beat about 20 seconds until thoroughly incorporated.  Add the flour in 4 parts, beating for about 15 seconds on low speed after each addition and turning off the mixer between additions.  Using a spatula, mix in any remaining flour and then turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.  Brush the top of the cake with the beaten egg.  Use the tines of a fork to make a cross hatch of three long lines in two directions to prevent the batter from puffing up unevenly.

Bake the cake 35-45 minutes until deep golden brown and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.  Let it cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove sides of pan, if using tart pan, and invert cake to remove bottom.  Reinvert onto a plate.  If using cake pan just invert onto plate and then reinvert so top is up.  Cool completely. ((post by susan))

Friday, April 23, 2010

Not too Sweet

I am such a sweets lover that I tend to forget that there are people who do not like dessert or things sweet.  Hard for me to imagine, but they do exist. So it is nice to have a few baked items that are particularly great for breakfast or in the afternoon with a cup of tea or coffee that are not so much a dessert, as a little sweet pick me up for those who don’t care for things rich and gooey.  

Blueberry Cornmeal Cake adapted from the Huckleberry Bakery and Café in Santa Monica, CA

This recipe calls for fresh blueberries. I couldn’t get decent fresh blueberries and used frozen instead.  I highly recommend only using fresh blueberries. The cake still tasted good, but the blueberries kind of melted into the cake.
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
6 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon honey
10 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 cup ricotta cheese (I used whole milk)
1/3 cup plain yogurt
3 cups fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray 10-in diameter springform pan with 2 ¾ inch sides with non-stick spray.  Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl.  In another bowl, whisk oil, eggs, vanilla and honey.  Set aside.  Using an electric mixer, beat the butter with ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 ½ teaspoons salt in a large bowl until creamy.  With mixer running on medium speed, gradually add egg mixture and beat to blend. Beat in flour mixture to blend. Add ricotta cheese and yogurt and beat on low just to blend.  Batter will be thick.  Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan.  Scatter 1 ½ cups of blueberries over it.  Spoon remaining batter over in dollops and then spread to cover blueberries.  Scatter remaining blueberries on top. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Bake until top is golden brown and tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Cool completely.

((post by susan))

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We All Scream for Cookies and Cream: Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

Cookies and Cream has been my favorite ice cream flavor since I was a little girl. There is some so satisfying about it. In fact, it is so good, I challenge you to find me someone who doesn't like cookies and cream ice cream. I was looking to make some cupcakes to celebrate being done with law school classes, and when I found this recipe for cookies and cream cupcakes I could not resist. They are super easy to make, and a big bonus is that you are left with half a package of oreos to munch on!

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson*
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
10 chocolate sandwich cookies, smashed into bits

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit and line a muffin pan with paper liners.  In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, butter, and eggs until smooth. Alternately whisk in flour mixture and milk, making three additions of flour mixture and two of milk, beating until smooth. Add cookies, beating just until they're dispersed throughout batter. Do not overbeat.

Scoop batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and tops of cupcakes spring back when lightly touched. Let cook in pan on rack for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and let cook completely on rack. Top cooled cupcakes with frosting.

Cookies and Cream Buttercream
1 1/3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch salt
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 chocolate sandwich cookies, broken into pieces

In a small bowl, using an electric mixer on low speed, beat together sugar, butter and salt until well combined. Increase speed to high, beating until light and fluffy. Add cream and vanilla, beating until frosting is smooth. Add broken cookies, beating until mixed. Spread icing on cooled cupcakes with a knife.

Delicious Variation also from 125 Best Cupcakes
To make mini ice cream cakes, slice each cupcake in half horizontally. Spread 1 to 2 tbsp softened ice cream (I used hagen daaz vanilla bean) on each bottom half. Place cupcake top over ice cream and place on tray. Freeze cupcakes until almost frozen. Spread tops of cupcakes with frosting and return to freezer until solid and ready to serve.
((post by emily))

*This is my absolute favorite cupcake cookbook. Not only are the recipes very easy to make, they always turn out perfectly. She also includes some really creative and fun cupcake recipes that are great for making a lasting impression at parties. If you are looking for a cupcake cookbook, I would definitely recommend this one.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Cookie Monster

Chewy, Chocolate, Ginger- you had me at chewy and chocolate.  These cookies are the cover cookie and were highly recommended to me by the Barnes and Nobles cashier when I bought the Martha Stewart cookie book.  Rainy weekend in Boston- always a good time to bake and a good time to try them.  They are wonderfully chewy, not too chocolaty with the spice of ginger.  I added some minced crystallized ginger just to give them a little extra spice, but they are delicious (and easy to make) with or without that extra.

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
adapted from Cookies by Martha Stewart 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons boiling water
7 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or 7 ounces semisweet chocolate cut up into small pieces
1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger (optional)
¼ cup white sugar

Sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cocoa in bowl.  Using mixer, cream together butter and fresh ginger until light.  Add brown sugar and beat well. Add molasses and beat until thoroughly incorporated.  Dissolve baking soda in boiling water.  Add half of flour mixture to butter mixture. Beat until incorporated. Add baking soda and then remaining flour, beating until all mixed in. Stir in chocolate chips and minced crystallized ginger. Wrap in plastic, patting down to flatten to one inch.  Chill two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cookie sheet with parchment or silicone baking sheets. Roll dough into 1 ½ inch balls and place 2 inches apart on cookies sheets. Chill 20 minutes.  Roll balls in white sugar and place back on cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, rotating cookie sheet half-way through.  Cool on sheets for 5 minutes and then move to rack to cool completely.  ((post by susan))

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Financiers are little almond cakes made with browned butter. They were invented in France in a bakery in the financial district of Paris, and are often served for tea or at the end of a meal on a plate of little cakes.  This was one of those baking experiences for me that started with an enticing description and ended with something very disappointing (except for my dog who is always willing to taste anything).  The final result- tasted ok, but I would say, boring.  I tried to compensate with a dot of chocolate ganache on each one for that peanut butter/chocolate combination, but it was still not the taste I had expected or hoped for. It was, as they say, a learning experience.

Financiers au Beurre de Cacahuetes ( Peanut Butter Ingots) from Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum
¾ cup (75 grams) sliced unblanched almonds
10 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/3 cups (150 grams) confectioners sugar sifted and lightly spooned into cup and leveled off
½ cup (57 grams) all-purposed flour (sifted into cup and leveled off)
4 large egg whites at room temperature
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, preferably Jif

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place rack in the middle of the oven. Spray financier mold with baking spray with flour. If silicone, place it on a wire rack on a cookie sheet. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake them about 7 minutes until pale golden. Do not overbrown.  Cool completely.

Grind the cooled almonds with the confectioner’s sugar in a food processor until very fine, making sure all the almonds are processed to a fine powder. Pulse in the flour.  In a bowl of a mixer, using the whisk beater, beat the egg whites at low speed until just foamy. Add the almond flour mixture and beat on low until incorporated.

 Clarify and brown the butter. Put a fine mesh strainer over a heatproof glass container next to the stove. In a small heavy saucepan, heat the butter over low heat until melted.  A white foam wil accumulate on the surface. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the milk solids turn a deep brown (approximately 250 degrees).   Watch carefully to prevent burning.  Immediately pour the butter through the strainer into the heatproof measuring cup.  You will have about ½ cup of butter.  It must be hot when added to the batter so if you make it in advance, it must be warmed up before adding to the batter.

Drizzle in the browned butter (beurre noisette) to the batter on medium-low speed. It should take about 5 minutes so that the mixture can emulsify into a smooth golden cream.  Add the peanut butter and mix for a few seconds, just until fully incorporated.

Fill the molds about 2/3 full. You can do this with a spoon or pipe using a pastry bag. If you do not have enough molds to bake all at once, refrigerate the batter for a minimum of one hour or up to overnight. Let it come to room temperature before filling the molds and baking.  Bake for 15-18 minutes until the financiers spring back when pressed lightly in the center (I used a mini financier mold, and baking time was about 9 minutes).  Let cool and remove from molds.

As I said, I was disappointed with the taste of these- although they are bite-size and cute. The taste was lackluster, even with a dab of chocolate ganache. ((post by susan))

Friday, April 16, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Instead of lemonade, I prefer to make lemon desserts.  There is something about lemon desserts at this time of year that is so appealing. After the cold of winter in the northeast and months of comfort food, the taste of lemon is light and fresh and gives me hope that spring and warmth are on the way.  I made this lemon tart for a colleague’s book group. The lemon cream filling can be eaten by itself, right out of the bowl.  In fact, I have to control myself so there is enough left to fill the tart.  Having bought more than enough lemons, I decided to make lemon bars as well , just an excuse to eat more lemon curd filling.

French Lemon Cream Tart from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

You will need a candy or instant read thermometer to make the lemon cream. It takes a little time and requires close attention, but the result is worth it.

1 cup sugar
grated zest of 3 lemons
¾ cup of fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
21 tablespoons (10 ½ ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces, at room temperature
1 9-inch tart shell
Bring a few inches of water in saucepan to simmer. Put the sugar and and zest in a heatproof bowl that can be placed over a pan of simmering water.  Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and aromatic.  Whisk in eggs and then fresh lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan. As soon as mix feels tepid to touch, start whisking constantly until it reaches 180 degrees. It will get thicker as it gets closer to 180 degrees, but this could take 10 minutes.  You must whisk constantly so the eggs don’t scramble.

As soon as it reaches 180 degrees, remove from heat and strain into the container of a food processor or blender. Discard the zest. Let cool about ten minutes to 140 degrees.

 Turn the processor or blender on high and add the butter, about 5 pieces at a time, until incorporated. After all the butter is added and incorporated, continue to blend for 3 minutes.  It will be thick and creamy.  Pour the cream into a container. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. It will keep in the refrigerator for 4 days (or can be frozen for up to 2 months and thawed overnight in the refrigerator).  When ready to assemble the tart, whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Refrigerate until you serve it.  Once you fill it, it is best to serve it that same day.

I used this sweet tart dough for the tart shell but you can also use a tart shell made with ground nuts if you choose.

Sweet Tart Dough
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg yolk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse several times to combine. Scatter butter over the flour mix and pulse until the butter is cut in, approximately the size of peas. Stir the yolk and add gradually, pulsing after each addition. When completely added, pulse several times in long 10 second pulses until the dough forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out on a work surface and knead lightly to incorporate any dry ingredients.

Butter (or better yet, spray with cooking spray) a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.  Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up sides of the pan.  Freeze crust at least 30 minutes before baking.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust.  Put the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes.  Carefully remove foil. If puffed, press gently down with the back of a spoon.  Bake about 8 minutes longer until golden brown and firm. Cool before filling.

And then, if you are like me and want to continue using your lemons…

The Ultimate Lemon Butter Bar from Rose’s Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Shortbread Base
10 tablespoons (5 ounces) very cold unsalted butter cut into cubes
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 ¼ cups (6.25 ounces) all purpose flour

Line an 8x8 inch square pan with aluminum foil. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix together the two sugars in a small bowl. In a mixer, cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. Using the mixer, add the flour in two additions until incorporated. You can also mix in the flour with your hands.  Pat the dough into the pan.  With a fork, prick all over.  Bake 30-40 minutes until edges are lightly browned and top is pale golden.  While the shortbread is baking, make the lemon curd topping.

You will need a candy thermometer for the lemon curd (also delicious right out of the bowl).

Lemon Curd
4 large egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
3 ounces fresh lemon juice (about 2 ½ large lemons)
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar for dusting

In a heavy saucepan, beat the egg yolks and sugar with wooden spoon until well blended.  Stir in lemon juice, butter and salt.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 6 minutes until thickened (196 degrees on a candy thermometer).  Do not let it boil or it will curdle. If it starts steaming before it is thick enough, remove from heat briefly and continue to stir.  When the curd has thickened, pour it immediately into a strainer.  Press with back of a spoon. Discard any coarse residue.  Stir in the lemon zest.

After the shortbread is baked, turn the oven down to 300 degrees.  Pour the lemon curd on top of the shortbread and bake an additional 10 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes before cutting into bars. Use the foil to lift the shortbread onto a cutting surface. Cut the shortbread first in thirds, then in half the other way and then each half into thirds.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

This can be stored at room temperature, but I think they keep best if stored in the refrigerator.

((post by susan))

Thursday, April 15, 2010

As American as Chocolate Chips: The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Forget apple pie, I think chocolate chip cookies are the quintessential American dessert. To me there is nothing better than the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies wafting from the oven. It reminds me of growing up, and the millions of chocolate cookies my mom must have baked over the years.  Now that I've discovered the baking gene within myself, chocolate chip cookies are my go-to dessert. They're easy to make, and they're always a crowd-pleaser. Have you ever met anyone who has turned down a chocolate chip cookie? I have tried many recipes, but my all-time favorite (I bake it so much the page has fallen out of the cookbook) is from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. If only I could figure out a way to bottle the smell.

Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the cookie sheet
1 cup light-brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (to really spruce up your cookies buy the quality chocolate chips and not just the tollhouse)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet. Cream the butter and both sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Sift the dry ingredients together and stir in, mixing thoroughly.

Add the chocolate chips to the batter and drop the cookies onto the baking sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven while the centers are slightly soft. Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a rack to cool completely. 
Makes about 80 cookies. In my experience it doesn't make quite this many.

There are endless variations that you can try with these cookies. One of my favorites is adding white chocolate chips instead of or in addition to the semi-sweet chocolate chips. This time, however, I added Heath Bar Toffee chips.

((post by emily))

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Candy is Dandy

I love caramel in any form, particularly with chocolate, and decided today to make this buttercrunch toffee from Rose’s Christmas Cookies- yes, I know it is April, but I couldn’t resist. It just looked and sounded so delicious. It is fairly straightforward to make, but a candy thermometer is definitely required for the caramel.  Warning: this toffee melts in your mouth and can be addictive.  Don’t want to keep it around (a baking blog makes the gym more than a necessity)- it is great to give as a hostess gift.

Mahogany Buttercrunch Toffee from Rose’s Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy Beranbaum
2 cups blanched sliced almonds (6 oz)
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar (9.5 oz)
2 tablespoons water
½ cup unsalted butter (4 oz)
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon baking soda
6 oz of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (I used a 3 oz bar of each) broken into squares

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a cookie sheet-greased, nonstick or buttered.  Mark off a 7 inch by 10 inch area on the sheet. I used parchment paper to line the sheet and marked off the rectangle.

Place the almonds on another cookie sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes until golden. Cool completely.  In a food processor with the metal blade, pulse the almonds until chopped finely, but not powder.  Sprinkle half the almonds over the 7x10 inch rectangle on the cookie sheet.

In a heavy saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter, and water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Continue stirring to prevent burning, and cook until mixture reaches 285 degrees on a candy thermometer, the soft-crack stage.  Remove from heat, and add the vanilla extract and baking soda immediately. Pour the caramel mixture over the nuts on the prepared cookie sheet.  Immediately scatter the chocolate squares over the hot caramel. Press the squares lightly with your fingers so they start melting. After about 5 minutes, used a metal spreader to spread chocolate in an even layer.  Sprinkle with remaining chopped almonds.  Cool completely and break into irregular pieces.

This can be stored at room temperature for about one month (if it lasts that long).

((post by susan))

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Death by Chocolate: Grand Central Bakery's Cocoa Nib Cookies

While in Seattle, I visited the famous Grand Central Bakery, and bought their baking book. The first recipe I tried was their Cocoa Nib Cookies, and the results were amazing. This was also the first time I really used my kitchen scale to weigh the ingredients. I think it really made a difference. I definitely recommend buying a kitchen scale.

Cocoa Nib Cookies, from The Grand Central Baking Book  by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson

1 1/4 cups (6.25 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1.5 oz) unsweetened cocoa-powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons (6 oz, or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup (1.75 oz) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (5.25 oz) packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup (2 oz) cocoa nibs*
1/2 cup (3 oz) semisweet chocolate chips

Measure the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda into a bowl and whisk to combine. They recommend running the cocoa powder through a mesh sieve, and I definitely agree. Cocoa powder can be especially lumpy.

Beat butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until very smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, then reduce mixer speed to low. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until they disappear into the dough. Fold in cocoa nibs and chocolate chips with a sturdy spatula.

Shape the dough into 2 logs 2 inches in diameter, then chill for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the cookies 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and place them about 1 inch apart, in 3 by 4 rows, on the prepared pans. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. The cookies should be firm to the touch.

My additions and suggestions:
It is not an easy task to slice these cookies. The frozen dough crumbles easily, so be prepared. However, my roommate and I learned quickly that the leftover crumbled dough makes an excellent treat. I put the remnants in a bowl in the fridge for a delicious dessert in its own right.

I happen to love the taste of rich, dark chocolate with sea salt. I bought some pink sea salt and sprinkled some of the cookies with it. I love the way this tastes, and I recommend you try it too!
*What are cocoa nibs? I had the same question. Cocoa nibs are raw, roasted cocoa beans which are broken into small bits. They are very tasty even on their own. Unfortunately they are not easy to find, and your local grocery store may not carry them. I suggest going to Whole Foods, although, they are fairly pricey. ~$5 for 2.2 ounces
((post by emily))

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bakery Review: Paulette's French Macarons

I have an intense, new-found love for french macarons. A good french macaron tastes like nothing else you've ever had before - it just melts in your mouth. My boyfriend surprised me with a box of french macarons from the Beverly Hills' bakery, Paulette.en I have not been to the store, but it is all about french macarons, and if their website suggests anything, it is that their store must be beautiful.
I was delighted by the packaging of the macarons, and even more amazed when I popped one in my mouth. These macarons are heavenly. Paulette has succeeded in creating the perfect French macaron.

I know I will be taking a trip to the store soon, and I suggest you do the same.

Paulette Macarons, Beverly Hills, 9466 Charleville Blvd at Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 94102

((post by emily))

Friday, April 9, 2010

On the Gingerbread Trail

Julie had her Julia. I just bought Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Heavenly Cakes”, and though I don’t think I will be going through it as systematically as Julie went through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, I am slowly trying out this collection of wonderful cake recipes.

First up- the English Gingerbread- as I am also on a quest for the perfect gingerbread recipe ever since I tasted the gingerbread at Standard Bakery in Portland, Maine. Their gingerbread is wonderful, dark, spicy and dense, and I would love to be able to replicate it.  The English Gingerbread Cake is very good, but much lighter and not as gingery as I prefer.  So, as a comparison, I made the Fresh Ginger Gingerbread recipe from the Little Pie Company, a bakery in New York City.  It is a darker and richer gingerbread, made with grated fresh ginger. For the taste I am looking for, I prefer the latter, but I will leave both recipes and you can decide.

English Gingerbread Cake, adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups golden syrup or light corn syrup
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 heaping tablespoon orange marmalade
2 large eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup milk
1 cup plus two tablespoons cake flour (4 ounces)
1 cup minus 1 tablespoon whole wheat  pastry flour (4 ounces)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup crystallized ginger minced (optional)
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 8 inch by 2 inch square pan or 9 by 2 inch round pan. Line bottom with parchment and spray with baking spray with flour.

In a small saucepan, stir together the butter, golden syrup, sugar and marmalade over medium-low heat until melted and uniform in color. Set aside about 10 minutes until barely warm.  Whisk in eggs and milk.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda and salt.  Add the butter mixture and stir until just smooth and the consistency of thick soup.  Using spatula, pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake 50-60 minutes until cake tester inserted in middle comes out clean and cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.  Let cake cool in pan for about 10 minutes. While cooling, make the syrup.

Lemon Butter Syrup 

3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons lemn juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a small pan, stir together the sugar, lemon juice and butter.  Heat over medium-low heat, stirring, until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.

Brush half the syrup over the top of cake.  Run a spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake and invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been coated lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Brush the bottom with the remaining syrup.  Invert cake onto a serving plate so top is up.  For extra moisture, cover the cake with plastic wrap while still hot and allow it to cool. Wrap airtight for 24 hours before serving.

Fresh Ginger Gingerbread, from the Little Pie Company of the Big Apple, Pies and Other Dessert Favorites

1 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs at room temperature
½ cup dark sulfured molasses
2 tablespoons finely minced peeled fresh ginger
¾ cup buttermilk at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease and flour an 8 inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, and baking soda.  Sift the mixture into a bowl.

In a mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and dark brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the molasses and fresh ginger, mixing until combined.

Add the sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Scrape the bowl well after each addition, and mix only until the ingredients are combined.  Pour batter into pan and smooth the top. Bake 30-40 minutes until cake tester comes out clean.  Let cool slightly before removing from pan.

If you like, you can glaze when warm with a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice or use the lemon butter glaze from the English Gingerbread Cake.

((post by susan))