Friday, March 29, 2013

Intensely Dark Chocolate Brownies

Recently, I found myself asking the question - what does one do with several bars of intensely rich dark chocolate? Most of the time, my answer would be to eat them. In this particular instance, the chocolate was so dark (85%!!) that even my dark-loving chocolate nature couldn't partake in them in their current state. The notion of making a dark chocolate sauce rolled around my brain for a bit, followed by a dark chocolate bundt cake, or maybe making homemade dark chocolate chips. In the end, I settled up some comfort food - good old fashioned homemade brownies. 
Brownies hold a special spot in my baking heart. Besides chocolate chip cookies, brownies were one of the first (non-Armenian) baked goods I learned how to make as a child. Being a one or two pan dish, they are uber kid-friendly and typically successful no matter how far astray one goes from the recipe. While this recipe may be a little labor intensive for wee bakers, with a little supervision kids would make a great addition to the baking magic these little sweets have to offer (make sure to let them like the bowl clean at the end, that's the best part). 
This recipe is a hybrid of recipes, with no one particular source. As I was making it, I realized how bitter and strong the brownie batter was, and added the white chocolate chips on top as a last minute sweetener. As an afterthought, adding some kind of candied nuts to the brownie batter would also likely yield amazing results. Don't be surprised if there is a revamp of this recipe down the road (boozy brownies sounds good, right??). Happy Friday and Easter, everyone! 

Intensely Dark Chocolate Brownies
  • 7 ounces unsweetened intensely dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used 85%)
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 to 1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9” square by 2” deep baking pan; set aside. I used an 8” by 8” square glass baking pan to make gooier ones and did just fine. In a medium saucepan, combine chocolate, butter, and the water; cook and stir over low heat until chocolate is melted. Make sure not to burn the chocolate sauce. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add granulated sugar and brown sugar to chocolate mixture; beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed until combined. Add eggs, almond and vanilla extracts; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add flour, salt, and cinnamon. Beat on low speed until combined. Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle white chocolate chips over the top of the battered pan.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Depending upon whether a glass or dark pan is used, cooking times may vary so check on the brownies ever 10 minutes or so. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Sprinkle with cocoa powder and/or powdered sugar. Makes 20 to 25 brownies. They taste even better the second day!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Apple Beer Bread

It's almost St. Patrick's Day! In my world, this is reason to celebrate. I rank St. P's Day as my third favorite holiday to celebrate behind Halloween and Cinco de Mayo (I like the costume and drinking holidays best). In honor of this green, beer-fueled holiday I whipped up a batch of Apple Beer Bread last Sunday.
Starting your Sunday morning off with a Guinness is highly preferred, just saying.
I found a base recipe to work from over at A Spicy Perspective, modifying a few things as I went along. I used two kinds of sugar in place of one as I also replaced the molasses with honey, I didn't have enough apple butter so I went with a mix of apple butter and apple sauce (delicious results), and I opted for Guinness as my beer of choice. So far the feedback from taste testers has been positive! I know I ate nearly a half a loaf the first day I may this bread.
As my buddy here helped me get in the festive spirit last year with a whiskey tasting (omg was that a lot of whiskey!), I encourage you all to find a bit of Irish fever and have (safe) fun this year! Happy St. Patrick's Day from foodie land!

Apple Beer Bread
Adapted from: Irish Apple Beer Bread
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup Apple Butter
  • 1 cup Apple Sauce 
  • 12 oz. Guinness
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two standard loaf pans. If using the dark style pans, you may end up shaving 10 minutes off of your baking time so be aware while baking. 

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs, apple butter, apple sauce, beer and honey then mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Slowly add to the wet mixture. Beat to combine.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared loaf pans. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf, comes out clean. I checked mine every 20 minutes, and rotated halfway through. 

Cool in the loaf pans for 10 minutes before gently inverting to release the loaves. Once completely cool, wrap well to store.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Strawberry Galette

This week marked a special day of remembrance for me. I won't get into the details, but suffice to say it is a personal holiday of sorts and one in which I fiercely celebrate each year. Some years I volunteer at a local shelter or plant trees as part of some riparian habitat restoration project. Other years I hole up and find solace in baking. As it turned out, this was one of those years.
I adore tarts. Wholeheartedly and with a sprinkle of amazement, I think tarts are the cat's meow (who came up with that expression??). But with this week being insanely hectic, I just didn't have the patience to devote to making one. So instead I opted for a galette, which is somewhere between a flat pie and a tart (depending upon the ingredients). Typically, a galette is made from some sort of short crust pastry or pate brisee, rolled out into a thin sheet with a filling, fruit, or compote added to the center, then the edges are folded over...and voila! Rustic pie!
With the amount of strawberries I had on hand, I went with strawberries as my theme. After making my pastry dough, I tossed the strawberries with almond extract, a tiny bit of sugar, and a little bit of cornstarch to absorb some of the moisture they would put off in the oven. Next I rolled out the pastry dough and spread a light layer of jams (strawberry and peach as they are what I had on hand) over it and continued on as I would with any other galette recipe.
Holy smokes, was this one of the easiest and tastiest desserts I have made in a long while. I bet you have all the necessary ingredients in your kitchen right now. Go, check. I'll be here stuffing my pie hole with this beautiful baby.

Strawberry Galette
Adapted from: Raspberry Tart

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1" pieces
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup ice water
  • 1 3/4 to 2 cups strawberries, sliced 
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp sugar + a little extra to sprinkle on top 
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tbsp peach jam
  • 1 tbsp strawberry jam

In a food processor, place the flour, salt, and sugar and process until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds). Pour 1/8 cup (30 ml) water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube until the pastry just holds together when pinched. Add remaining water, if necessary.  Do not process more than about 30 seconds.

Turn the pastry out onto your work surface, gather it into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about one hour to chill the butter and allow the gluten in the flour to relax. 

In a separate bowl, toss the sliced strawberries with the cornstarch, almond extract, and 1 tbsp of sugar until well coated. 

Once the pastry has chilled, remove from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry into an 11" round. To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and ensure even thickness, keep lifting and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll (always roll from the center of the pastry outwards to get uniform thickness). Transfer the pastry to a parchment paper pined baking sheet. 

Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees. 

Next, spread the jams over the pastry leaving an untouched 1.5" border around the edge. Then arrange the strawberry slices in a concentric circle, starting at the edge of the jam and working in towards the center.  It's okay to let it get a little messy, this is a RUSTIC tart. Once you are done with the fruit, gently fold the edges of the pasty up and over the edges of the filing, pleating as necessary, being careful not to squash the strawberries. Sprinkle a little more sugar over the top of everything and put in the oven. 

Bake for 30-40 minutes, checking the pastry every 10 minutes for even baking. Remove when the dough is light golden brown, and place on a wire rack to cool. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies Stat!

Someone close to me recently had a procedure. Nothing too grand, although anything that involves a doctor's office and a scalpel is big in my book. His procedure went splendidly and he was ordered to spend a few days of down time vegging out on the sofa, not moving much, contemplating his navel. If there is one thing I am extremely gifted at, besides baking (not to toot my own horn too much), it's caregiving and looking after someone who is convalescing. Panda le Chef to the rescue!
Requested by the sick one - chocolate chip cookies. Now, if you have been following me for a while you'll likely know that I've already covered baking chocolate chip cookies from nearly every angle possible. However thanks to the world wide web and the overall love of baking out there, I have more recipes to inspire me than I have days left on this earth. After some online hunting, I decided to try Anna Olson's recipe from Clockwork Lemon. One of the major differences in this recipe from others I have tried is the addition of cornstarch. I've never used cornstarch much in any cookie recipe, but all is fair in the baking world so I figured I'd try it out. I added my secret ingredient, almond extract, but retained most of the original recipe. Mmmm, cookies.
The end results = stellar! Nice almost cake-like cookies yet with the traditional chocolate chip cookie flavor. The outside was ever so crisp with the inside of each cookie soft and gooey. The sick one gave it a thumbs up in between cleaning the cookie crumbs from his shirt. Enjoy!

Another Chocolate Chip Cookie
Borrowed from: Clockwork Lemon

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temp
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda 
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like to freeze mine before use)

Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees. Line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Cream the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar together until fluffy (usually 3-5 minutes). Beat in the egg and then the extracts.

In a separate bowl, stir the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until evenly blended.

Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking trays, ensuring to leave an inch or so in between each cookie.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Let the cookies cool on the tray for 5 minutes and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Makes about 2 dozen. Store in an airtight container.