Baked Brownies

19 Aug

I got into the baking game to get the attention of a cute boy at summer camp.  The boy and I never became anything, but I made my first batch of chocolate chip cookies from scratch.  Since then, I’ve associated baking with pleasing others.  Nothing brightens my day as much as watching co-workers enjoying my treats.

Lately, baking has become much more private.  The last couple of months have been torturous, filled with aimlessness and bitterness.  I am trying to be more positive and get more direction in my life, but being in the kitchen is one of the rare things right now that provide me with stability.  After the work as the sun is setting, I find peace with measuring, stirring, whisking, and tasting.  The exact nature of baking requires my attention and takes my mind off of everything else–work, boys, drama.  Eating such great goods helps as well.

Baked Brownies

I finally tackled the infamous Baked brownies.  I have long had this recipe in my queue, but I’ve been reluctant since these brownies come with high expectations. Oprah endorses them as does America’s Test Kitchen.  I was bound to be disappointed, especially since I have my own favorite recipes for brownies already.

I shouldn’t have had any doubts, though. The tops were perfectly crackly and delicate.  The centers were moist and melted in one’s mouth like decadence.  The key is to use top notch cocoa–Valrhona cocoa powder.  Good ingredients make for good results; it’s really something you just have to try out for yourself.

Baked Brownies

Baked Brownies
From Baked
Makes 24 brownies

  • 1 1/4 cups ap flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder (Valrhona)
  • 11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 11/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 5 large eggs, room temp
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter the sides and bottom of a 9×13 inch glass or light-colored metal baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together.

Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth.  Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars.  Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan.  The mixture should be room temp.

Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined.  Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined.  Add the vanilla and stir until combined.  Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture.  Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it.  Let the brownies cool completely, then cut them into squares and serve.

Tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies will keep at room temp for up to 3 days.

Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

30 May

Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

I think I am finally, after two long years, settling into Kansas City. I don’t know how, when, or why, but when I was driving home last night and saw the lights of the city, I was suddenly overtaken by this giddiness and excitement for my locale. My relationship with the city has been a lot of work–plenty of mileage on my car since everything is in the suburbs, buckets of barbecue sauce, and a fair share of awkward coffee dates.  But the spirit of Kansas City is relentless.  People enjoy the dining experience in droves. The sidewalks are filled with joggers, bikers, cafe-dwellers whenever the sun is peaking out of the clouds.  Do not even get my started on the swoon-worthy farmer’s market.  This place has just quietly grown on me.

Peanut butter cookies have had the same trajectory in my life.  I shied away from peanut butter in general as a kid.  I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the jelly alone.  Peanut butter cookies were always leftover at parties.  As I’ve gotten old enough to use an oven and bake my own cookies, I have begun to appreciate the comfort that peanut butter cookies provide.  They will never shock and awe like more showy cookies–double chocolate chip ones, namely–but a bite of these cookies will bring to mind sunshine and simpler, fun times.  I really like this recipe.  It is easy to make and most of the ingredients can be found in the pantry, which is a plus.  I think that these cookies taste wonderful when the dough is left to rest and develop in the refrigerator overnight.  The overnight time allows the peanut butter flavor to mature and shine-through the sweetness.

Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies
From Cook’s Country, October/November 2010
Makes 2.5 dozen cookies

  • 1 1/2  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped finely

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Whisk peanut butter, brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, granulated sugar, egg, yolk, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Divide dough in half, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll 2 tablespoons chilled dough into 1½-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using greased measuring cup, gently press each ball to ¾-inch thickness and top with chopped peanuts, pressing lightly to adhere.

Bake cookies until puffed and edges are lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool 5 minutes on sheets, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. Serve. (Cookies can be stored in airtight container for 3 days.)

Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

Orange Poppy Seed Cake

10 May

Orange Poppy Seed Cake

Springtime is finally here.  I am sleeping with my windows open.  People are sunning themselves and enjoying cups of coffee on patios all around the city.  And poppy seeds are sparkling in my baked goods.  All is great in my world.

Poppy seeds inevitably catch my attention.  If it has poppy seeds in it, I’m eating it.  The mere thought of them enlivens my mood.  Just saying “poppy” makes me smile and salivate.  Though usually paired with lemon, I wanted to mix things up a bit.  I can pretend that my spur of creativity was caused by the desire to make something new, but I was mainly driven by the surplus of oranges in my house.  While lemons are a brighter companion to the poppy seeds, the oranges provided for a deeper, more subtle flavor.  The orange allows the poppy seeds to shine front and center compared to lemons, which always draw the focus of one’s taste buds.  This tender little cake is a nice change and pick me up in the afternoon with some tea and plenty of sunshine.

Orange Poppy Seed Cake

Orange Poppy Seed Cake

1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 extra large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of orange zest
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon whole milk
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1/4 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice

Prepare a loaf pan by spraying with vegetable or baking spray. Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside. In a small bowl, mix the poppy seeds and whole milk.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk the olive oil and sugar until homogenous and smooth.  Add the egg and beat until completely incorporated.  Next, add the vanilla extract and orange zest.

Gently fold in 1/3 of the dry  ingredients into the oil-sugar mix.  Then mix in 1/2 of the milk mixture and orange juice.  Keep on alternating with the dry and wet ingredients, ending with the flour mix.  Use gentle motions when combining and be careful not to over-mix.  A few streaks of flour is okay.  Anything with poppy seed deserves some care.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and place in the middle of the oven.  Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the top of the loaf springs back when pressed upon and when a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with a couple of soft crumbs.  Move to a cooling rack, leaving the cake in the loaf pan for 10 minutes before removing and cooling to room temperature.  The cake is best fresh out of the oven but will be good for 2-3 days if wrapped tightly and stored at room temperature.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Comfort

3 May

Untitled

This is not okay. Snow after May 1, long after the first day of Spring, is unacceptable.  I’m supposed to be retiring my boots for the year, not planning work outfits to include them and black tights.  I’m ready to hang out with my friend–the sun–and get some more Vitamin D running through my blood.  Seriously, this is messing with my mind.

I am consoling myself with a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  I spent so long debating yesterday whether or not I wanted to brave the flurries to walk to my gym that I actually made cookies while deciding.  When the weather outside is frightful, fire up the oven.  Not only do you warm up the house, you end up with little rounds of delight and comfort.

These cookies are from the pages of Cook’s Illustrated and are pretty darn good.  They are not the best chocolate chip cookie I have ever had, that honor belongs to Levain Bakery in New York City, but they are still good.  Definitely worthy to share with the people who brighten up your life.  Perhaps the next time I make these cookies, I will aim for monstrous portions and add walnuts.  That’ll get me a little closer to Levain-level of perfection.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Cook’s Illustrated (May/Jun 2009)
Makes 16 medium-sized cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar (fresh, moist brown sugar is ideal)
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.  Line 2 large (18 x 12 inch) baking sheets with parchment paper.  Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes.  Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl.  Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated.  Add and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds.  Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds.  Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny.  Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop).  Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.  (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)

Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking.  Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

Black Forest Cake

1 May

Black Forest Cake

Rare is the occasion that my co-workers and I can all get together and relax, simply being ourselves.  Work, work, work, and play a little seems to be our motto of late, so when we were able to assemble for a wine and cheese night, I had to make something special to end the night.  Wine, cheese, and toasted baguettes flowed, which made for a fun time.

This Black Forest Cake isn’t the true thing, but it captures the spirit very well.  It is missing the crumb coating and multiple thin layers, but the flavors are all there.  The chocolate cake is all chocolate with only a hint of sweetness.  The billowy clouds of whipped cream picks up the slack.  The cherries are gems waiting to burst.  The cake earned rave reviews at the party, and it has now been added to my very shortlist of go-to recipes, having made it two more times for the cool people in my life.

Black Forest Cake

Black Forest Cake

Adapted from Desserts By the Yard
Makes one 2-layer cake

For the cake

  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Whipped Cream Filling and Topping

  • 2.5 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup cherries, pitted and quartered (frozen works well)

To make the cake, place rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9-inch round cake pain with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Then spray the parchment paper with cooking spray. This is a delicate cake, so preparing the cake pans is highly recommended.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

Place the cocoa powder in a medium bowl. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of the milk and stir until a smooth paste forms. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons milk and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.

Combine the unsweetened chocolate with the coffee in a heatproof bowel set over a pan of simmering water, stirring until smooth.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until soft and creamy, about 1 minute. Slowly add the sugar, beating until the mixture is light, fluffy, and a creamy white color, about 4 minutes.

Turn the mixer down to medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure that the first egg is completely incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl before adding the second one. Add the vanilla and the melted chocolate. At low speed, add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, alternating with the milk and cocoa mixture. When the ingredients are smooth, scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Scrape into the prepared pans. Tap the pan lightly on the work surface a few times to get rid of air bubbles. Bake, rotating the pans after the first 10 minutes, for about 20 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly pressed with your finger and cake pulls away from the sides of the pans. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pans, set on a rack. Invert onto the rack, remove the parchment paper, and allow to cool completely.

For the filling and topping, beat the heavy cream and sugar in a large bowl using a hand mixer or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until medium-stiff peaks form.

To assemble the cake, take one cake layer and place on serving dish. Spread about 1/2 of the whipped cream on top. Distribute about 1/2 of the cherries in whatever fashion suits your fancy on top of the whipped cream. Now stack the second cake layer on top. Repeat the process with the whipped cream and cherries. Place the cake in the refrigerator to chill before serving.

Baguette Making–In Progress

26 Apr

Baguette

I am serious about this bread making business. I have been making baguettes like a fiend since coming back from Paris. Honestly, I think I was ready to come back home and be reunited with my oven as soon as my French breads class ended. My poor friends have been regularly finding the results of my attempts in their mailboxes.

In Progress

I am not quite there yet. The crust just isn’t as magically crisp, crunchy, chewy as those found in the boulangeries around France. I’m still working on shaping the breads without working it too much. Sounds confusing, doesn’t it? Don’t even get me started on the soft, inner part. It still mystifies me. I really do love my friends for being willing to try anything.

Baguette Batch #2

One thing I have learned throughout all of this is not to use cheap flour. It may be all-purpose, it may be unbleached, it may come in that a pretty brown bag that makes you think it’s all organic, but store brand flour is not the same as King Arthur flour. It’s all about the protein.

(Ultimate) Banana Nut Bread

22 Apr

Ultimate Banana Nut Bread

Being back in the kitchen feels amazing.  Though vacations can be joyfully inspiring and rejuvenating, they often make me miss the comforts of my own kitchen.  I tasted all these wonderful creations, and I did not have any supplies at the ready to recreate them while the flavors were fresh on my tongue.  I couldn’t even practice the skills I learned in my bread-making class.  After two weeks of eating out for nearly every meal, I was ready to be reunited with my kitchen.

I allowed myself a night or two of rest before I started pulling out the measuring cups and warming up my mixer.  The farmer’s market has been practically given away bananas, so I thought it was high time that I try America’s Test Kitchen’s Ultimate Banana Bread (recipe at the bottom of NPR article).  I have been tucking this recipe away for a long time since it calls for six bananas.  Yes, six.  Plus, the recipe calls itself “ultimate,” which always makes me skeptical.  Six bananas gotta be worth it, you know?

Ultimate Banana Nut Bread

This banana bread is for the purists.  The banana flavor comes out strong and fast, which is a welcome change from the standard banana breads out there.  If the shingled banana slices didn’t tip you off, this bread is not for the faint of heart.  Or those with kidney failure.  With six bananas, a few slices will probably give you a day’s worth of potassium.  Totally balances out the stick of butter.