Oh, man. I’m sorry, I’m blogging with my mouth full right now. Anyway, I know I just told you about a recipe that you just have to try, and here I am, pushing another one on you. But trust me, again. This recipe is really, really something. And! It’s from one of my favorite food-world people, the fantastically classy Sara Foster. I’ve never been to her famed market of all things delicious in Durham, North Carolina, but her great cookbooks of Foster’s Market’s favorites certainly make it seem pilgramage-worthy. And one of the most sought-after goodies at her market is the sigh-while-you-chew-them Chocolate Whoppers. If the name isn’t enough to send you running to the kitchen, arms flailing, then there’s something wrong with your soul that you might want to get checked out.
I was reminded of this recipe by a fabulous couple that invited the husband and I over for a delicious dinner this past weekend. They lived in North Carolina for quite some time so they have had the Real Deal Chocolate Whoppers straight from the market, in addition to making them at home using a recipe from one of Sara Foster’s cookbooks. When someone makes a point of telling me about a certain sweet after hearing about this blog, I am always intrigued. Especially when the words chocolate, chewy and gooey are involved. Cut to just a few days later, and I tracked down the recipe and tucked into the kitchen to find out what this Chocolate Whopper business was all about. And boy am I (as is the husband) glad I did.
These gems are the ultimate celebration of big chocolate flavor, chewy midpoint and gooey bullseye, with just enough of a crispness to the edges to give the cookie an incredible sense of varying textures and dimensions as you savor your way through it–like Saturn’s rings for the sweet tooth.
Adapted from Foster’s Market in Durham, North Carolina
Makes one dozen whopper-sized cookies
The original recipe calls for two ounces of chopped unsweetened chocolate instead of making a chocolate “paste” of cocoa powder and vegetable oil, but I happened to have a great quality cocoa powder in my cupboard, so I opted to use the classic substitute for solid unsweetened baking chocolate with great results.
6 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or lightly grease them.
Place the chopped semi-sweet chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 20-30 second intervals, stirring well between each, until a few small chunks of chocolate remain–the residual heat from the bowl will melt the chocolate the rest of the way, and it’s important to not overheat the chocolate. In another small dish, combine the cocoa powder and vegetable oil until a smooth paste forms. Add the chocolate paste and melted butter to the melted semi-sweet chocolate and blend until smooth. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer or a strong, energetic arm and a whisk, beat together the eggs and vanilla. Add the sugar and beat until thick, paler in color and creamy-looking. Add the chocolate mixture and stir until well-blended.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until everything is incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips. The finished batter will look much more like a brownie batter than a cookie dough.
Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared baking sheet using a 2 ounce ice cream scoop or two tablespoons, about three inches apart (half a dozen cookies per sheet). Try to be as precise as possible in portioning the batter so the finished cookies are consistent. Bake for 10-12 minutes and do not overbake–the cookies will be very gooey in the center. Cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes and then transfer them onto wire racks to cool completely.
The Almond Cake from Alice Medrich’s fantastic Pure Dessert is a perfect example of what her book is all about–this simple, rustic cake is a true celebration of the earthy flavor of almonds. In trying to figure out how to describe it to you, I’ve decided that the Almond Cake is basically the most excellent Mad Lib of anyone’s dessert dreams–buttery, rich, nutty, incredibly moist, crunchy, crispy, chewy, tender, melt-in-your-mouth–you name it, it’s in there. A slice of this cake works with your 10 a.m. coffee, after dinner, as a sudden sweet bite from the countertop while passing through the kitchen in the middle of the afternoon.
And the flavor–oh, the flavor! Absolutely drunk with almonds. To start, imagine a pumped up, cake version of those crispy, perfectly sweet almond cookies you might get from your favorite Chinese take out place. One of the most interesting things about this cake is that its sweetness comes not just from the sugar in the batter and the smattering of it in the prepared baking pan, but also a different kind of sweetness altogether–a fragrance, really–that is provided by a dose of heady almond extract and the almonds themselves in different forms (ground into flour for the batter and layered in the pan to create a gorgeous crust).
If the promise of amazing flavor and texture isn’t enough, let me tell you that after a bit of mise, this cake comes together in minutes in a blender or food processor. No creaming, folding or alternating wets and dries required, people! You now have no excuse to miss the opportunity to make yourself and loved ones deliriously happy by trying this recipe. Like, now.
Crunchy Almond Cake
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
For the crust:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, very soft
Generous 1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the cake:
4 ounces whole almonds
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
3 large eggs
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, slightly softened
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set a rack to the lower third of the oven. Generously butter a 9 inch cake pan with 1 tablespoon of very soft unsalted butter–it seems like an insane amount of butter, but you are also creating a crust for the cake here. After the pan is buttered, sprinkle the sliced almonds in a single, even layer over the bottom of the pan and work some of the slices up the sides of the pan as well. Sprinkle two tablespoons of granulated sugar over the butter and almonds and set the prepared pan aside.
To make the cake batter, throw the almonds, sugar, salt and almond extract into a blender or food processor and blend until the nuts are finely ground. Add the eggs and butter, blending throughly. Add the flour and baking powder and blend just until everything is incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is a deep golden brown and a tester comes out clean, about 32-35 minutes. Cool cake completely in the pan on a wire rack before sliding a thin knife around the sides of the pan to release it. Turn the cake out onto a serving platter so that the sliced almond-covered bottom becomes the top of the cake. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.
Anyway, even though I showed great restraint and just brought home the one flat of berries, panic set in the next morning after I finished my cereal piled high with fresh strawberry slices–there were still a whole heck of a lotta strawberries in that box. And with every hour that passed, they were expiring. I simply did not have the time nor the inclination to get into jam-making–even though living in California allows us to have gorgeous summer fruits months before what is fair, it just seems wrong to make strawberry jam in April. Unless I wanted waaay too much fiber in my diet over the next couple of days and enough vitamin C to retroactively prevent scurvy for the entire planet, I was going to have to get creative.
So here’s where I get honest with you guys. There was a recipe I worked on that used a lot of strawberries. It was indeed creative, a riff on another recipe that called for the juice of another fruit. And boy, did I have good intentions for it. I mean, swapping out most fruit juices in recipes is usually pretty foolproof. I should say that I will be trying my hand at a Strawberry Chiffon Cake with Strawberry Glaze again sometime in the future, because the experiment wasn’t altogether unfortunate–the cake was a solid chiffon effort, risen beautifully, tender and light and not too sweet, a good balance with the fruity, very sweet glaze.
But because I didn’t want to use any colorings or fruit extracts in the batter, the cake tasted more of the teeny bit of lemon zest that was in it than the heap of strawberries that went into it, and even though the berries were bleeding the most gorgeous shade of red and the puree swirled into the batter looked promising, there was no rosy punch in the finished cake–it had the strangest reddish-gray cast you’ve ever seen. Adding onto that the jammy cooked glaze that was not the firm icing glaze that I was after (although the strawberry flavor was excellent here), and I was bummed–so close, yet so far. And still so many berries left in the box! Punch-kick-sigh.
After that half-hearted result, I wanted a sure thing. Can you blame me? So I did the remaining berries up right, simply slicing them and letting them do their thing, macerating with some fragrant vanilla sugar. And then piling them onto tender sour cream shortcake biscuits with a crown of whipped cream. Heaven. And so yet another lesson learned: when life gives you beautiful strawberries at an insanely good price, let them be themselves and don’t jack up your good fortune by trying to get smart.
Individual Strawberry Shortcakes
Adapted from Nancy Baggett’s All-American Dessert Cookbook
Makes 6-8 individual servings
The amount of sugar tossed with the berries really depends on how sweet they are to begin with. Here, I use the minimum amount suggested by the original recipe. Be careful not to be too stingy with sugaring the berries, though, because the juice they release while macerating will moisten, sweeten and flavor the shortcake.
For the berries:
5 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 cup vanilla sugar or granulated sugar
For the shortcakes:
2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for shaping the dough
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Toss the berries with the sugar and and set aside to macerate for at least an hour while preparing the shortcakes.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and set a rack to the middle position. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the dry ingredients, and using your fingertips (or a pastry cutter or dump everything into a food processor, but I like using my hands) work the butter and flour mixture together until the butter is incorporated and in very fine bits, like coarse meal.
Add the sour cream to the flour-butter mixture and stir gently, just until the dough comes together. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons flour evenly over the dough and give it 5-6 good kneads to make a smooth dough. Let stand for 1 minute, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and with floured hands, pat the dough into about an 8 inch round. Using a 3 to 3 1/2-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds, punching straight down into the dough without twisting for the most tender biscuits. When you’ve cut out as many as you can from the first round, keep gathering the dough scraps together and recutting biscuits until you’re out of dough.
Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, brush them with a bit of heavy cream and sprinkle them with a bit of sugar. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until the shortcakes are risen and golden brown on the tops and bottoms. Cool completely on a wire rack.
To serve the strawberry shortcakes, slice the biscuits across with a serrated knife and place the bottoms on individual serving plates. Pile the berries onto each biscuit bottom, making sure to get a few spoonfuls of the sweet juice soaked into each biscuit. Place the biscuit tops on, and garnish each shortcake with lightly sweetened whipped cream and more berries and juice.
So before my last post, you probably noticed that it had been, um, a
since I last visited with you. And some false starts before that. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I just straight up lost my baking mojo, people. But happily, it’s all coming back to me now and everything is getting okay. I’ve been so
to be back in kitchen, holed up with a great cookbook or a promising idea, my steadfast and true KitchenAid mixer purring along, not even once giving me grief for being away for so long. We just don’t speak about it.
In this case, the great cookbook that got the mojo working once again was, but of course, the Tartine cookbook. I am lucky to live a healthy walk away from Tartine (healthy enough to offset any guilt, anyway), and every time I glance in the windows while passing by, I just want to hurry home and caress the gorgeous photography and read through the intricate recipes in the cookbook. Like I’ve said before, many of the recipes have so many steps it will just blow your mind, like the Three Day Cake, but there are a few simple beauties in the book that come together more quickly than that favorite cookie recipe you can bake by heart.
The Tartine shortbread recipe is so easy you might wonder if you’ve suddenly taken a wrong page turn into another cookbook. But that’s just the kind of baby step I needed to get back into the kitchen. The simple ingredient list and method yields a shortbread cookie so tender and buttery, it’s practically restorative. Well, it was for me, anyway, because it got me back to tying my apron strings after a long hiatus, and even sparked some extra creative energy, like adding a small pile of finely grated lemon zest to the dough for a little extra somethin’.
Adapted from Tartine
Makes about 40 cookies
The butter should be so soft that it has the look and consistency of mayonnaise or thick whipped cream; this can be quickly achieved by putting the cold butter into a saucepan, melting about a third of it, and then stirring all the butter together to create a very soft result. Create superfine sugar for dusting the shortbread by taking granulated sugar for a spin in your food processor, blender or clean coffee grinder.
1 cup plus two tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (2-3 lemons’ worth)
1/4 cup superfine sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and set a rack to the middle position. Butter a 9×13-inch glass baking dish.
Place the butter in a mixing bowl–it must be very soft, think the look and consistency of mayonnaise or whipped cream. Stir the salt into the butter. Sift together the flour and cornstarch. Using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, stir the sugar into the butter and then stir in the flour and lemon zest until a smooth dough forms, using your hands towards the end if necessary (run your hands under cold water first to keep from making the dough too warm). Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges and bottom of the shortbread begin to turn golden. Cool on a wire rack until just warm to the touch.
While the shortbread is still warm, sprinkle the surface with superfine sugar, tilting the pan to coat the shortbread evenly with sugar. Tap out any excess that doesn’t cling to the surface. Use a very thin, sharp knife to cut the shortbread into 40 equal cookies. Chill completely in the pan before attempting to remove the cookies with a small offset spatula–the first cookie will be hard to remove, but the rest should come out cleanly.
Hooray! Ahh, it’s good to be back. I’ve missed you!
Now that we’ve settled in San Francisco and have been out of L.A. for a few months, I’m able to selectively remember only the things I love about having lived in Santa Monica. One of those things is the whimsical and utter delight that is Vanilla Bake Shop. I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Berman (co-owner along with her husband, how cute is that?!) right before the shop first opened, and boy, is all the hype well deserved. Everything in there is totally inspired and completely delicious, my favorite cupcake being the Meyer Lemon Raspberry. And wouldn’t you know it, this morning I heard Amy is appearing tomorrow on The freakin’ Martha Stewart Show to make Meyer Lemon Raspberry cupcakes with Martha! Too much! The craving hit me full force after seeing the preview. And even though I have my Tivo set to find out what the real recipe is, I am just way too impatient and so I cobbled together my own version today, using some of my favorite components from different recipes.
To me, lemony desserts of all kinds just scream Spring!–like sunny days, tea parties and a smattering of flowy skirts on the sidewalks (okay, so I’m understanding I probably won’t ever see weather consistently balmy enough for flowy skirts here in San Francisco, but whatever). These cupcakes turned out to be the perfect Spring celebration, with my very favorite soft white cake recipe as the base, billowy vanilla buttercream atop, and a filling of just-tangy-enough lemon pastry cream that has a bit more of a dreamy character than Vanilla Bake Shop’s lemon curd filling. Success! I opted to make them pretty Vanilla-style with a layer of pastel yellow sanding sugar, which also adds a nice crunch to the perfectly smooth buttercream beneath. A little cheery button of a fresh raspberry finishes off the cupcake, and you can almost hear it chirping, “I’m too cute to eat!”, but guess what, it’s not. Nom, nom, nom.
Lemon Cream Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes
If you can find Meyer lemons, absolutely use them in the lemon pastry cream, but regular lemons will work just fine. To use this recipe in a different way, omit the lemon pastry cream and make a classic vanilla cupcake with the cake and frosting recipes, adding a bit of interest to the buttercream with a scraped vanilla bean in addition to the extract. All three elements can be made a day ahead and refrigerated and the cupcakes assembled the day of serving, just set the pastry cream out to soften before using.
For the cake:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
4 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners.
Sift together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl. In a glass measuring cup, combine milk and vanilla. In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Set all three elements aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until soft, creamy and pale in color. Alternately beat in the milk and flour mixtures in three parts, blending well after each addition. Fold in the beaten egg whites at the very end, making sure no traces of whites remain in the batter.
Fill lined cupcake pans 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, when the tops are just set and beginning to turn a light golden brown. Do NOT overbake.
This recipe makes more than you’ll need for 2 dozen cupcakes, but trust me, you’ll find a way to use the leftovers. Like eaten from a spoon straight from the bowl.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 10-12 pieces
Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and set to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk together the lemon juice, eggs, egg yolk, salt and sugar in a stainless steel bowl that just fits into the saucepan without touching the surface of the water. Continue whisking the mixture over the heat until it is thickened and it registers 180 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove it from the heat and cool to about 140 degrees, stirring occasionally to help release the heat.
When the lemon curd is cooled, pour it through a fine sieve to remove any bits of cooked eggs or lemon pulp, using a rubber spatula to coax it through, into a blender (or a clean bowl if using an immersion blender). Blend the butter into the lemon curd, one piece at a time at a low speed until all the butter is completely incorporated.
For the second addition of confectioners’ sugar, use anywhere from 2-4 cups more sugar and add more heavy cream as needed to get the consistency your prefer for buttercream.
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream (perhaps a bit more to adjust the consistency)
Fresh raspberries, for garnish (optional)
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and vanilla together until the butter is very soft. Add just 2 cups confectioners’ sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes, until it starts to appear fluffy. Add the rest of the sugar and the heavy cream (adding more sugar and/or cream as desired), and mix on high for another 5 to 7 minutes until the buttercream is whipped, light in texture and shiny.
Use a pairing knife to cut a small cone shape into the center of each cupcake, making a well for the filling, being careful not to cut the wells too deep. Trim a bit of cake from each “cone” to make room for the filling. Fill each cupcake with a small spoonful of the lemon cream and replace the trimmed tops. Alternatively, use a pastry bag to pierce the top of each cupcake and fill them.
Frost the cupcakes with the buttercream. To decorate, coat with colored sanding sugar, add a small dollop of buttercream atop the sugar, and finish with a fresh raspberry.
Hope you will check it out!
The husband and I have a theory of sorts. It’s called the Skillet Cookie theory, and it goes like this: say you’re enjoying a cheap, moderately satisfying meal at a good old American chain restaurant (despite my love of truly great food, I am not opposed to this on occasion–hello, Chili’s queso dip?!). You’ve had your Monster Burger or Extreme Fajitas or whatever and just want something sweet. So you reach for the sticky dessert menu on the table (which also is bound to have some ridiculous cocktails served in like, galvanized pails or something in colors that just don’t come in nature, ever) and it catches you. The Skillet Cookie. A huge chocolate chip cookie! In a skillet! Two, three servings at least! Ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream–SOLD!! The table is giddy because of the impending Skillet Cookie and drunk with the promise of more commercially made food to add to overly stretched bellies. But it just looked so good on the menu and has every dessert-related thing you can imagine, all in a cast-iron vessel! Who can resist the Skillet Cookie? Communists!
So the SC arrives, and everyone digs in with vigor. One bite, two bites, three bites, goooood. And then…well, then the sugar punch to the palate wears off and you’re left with a cloyingly sweet mess–bland flavors, a badly underdone cookie with soggy edges, cheap ice cream and a chocolate sauce that tastes like it was melted down from an Advent calendar from 1984. Oh, dear. The Skillet Cookie is never as good as you think it’s going to be. Too good to be true. Sigh. One of my oft-recited phrases is, “I love when something tastes just the way you want it to”. The Skillet Cookie will never be that.
And so is the case with so many sweet treats that have more than one element to them. So many layered bars and embellished desserts and coffee cakes with too many things going on end up falling short somehow. So certainly I would never find the perfect blueberry muffin that I’d been craving and dreaming up for days–a sweet-smelling, tender crumb with just a bit of spring, plump berries that didn’t bleed all through the muffin, and a salty-sweet crunchy streusel topping. Equally delicious served warm or at room temperature, with coffee in the morning or vanilla bean ice cream after dinner. I didn’t want a mondo cupcake, but I didn’t want a dense, short scone-like thing. I wanted light, fluffy, but with the integrity to stand up to juicy berries and a crunchy top hat. And by God, I found it. Seriously, these are so good, I really do think God is involved somehow. Please try.
Blueberry Crumble Muffins
Makes 10-12, depending on size
For the muffin:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries (or frozen–thawed, well-drained and patted dry)
For the streusel:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cubed, softened but still cool
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and set an oven rack to the middle position. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper liners.
To make the streusel,using a fork or clean fingertips, mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, butter, and cinnamon until all the ingredients are incorporated, but the mixture is still very pebbly. Set aside.
To make the muffins, whisk together the flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. In a glass measuring cup or similar, whisk together the vegetable oil, egg and milk. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until blended but don’t overmix. There may be a few small lumps, that’s okay. Carefully fold in the blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and generously sprinkle each muffin with streusel.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until the tops spring back slightly and the topping is set and golden brown. Cool in the tins for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely or serve warm.
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