Jul 7, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

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WARNING: If, like me, you are prone to becoming obsessed with a certain food and wanting to eat nothing but that food for many days on end, then this recipe is probably a very, very bad idea for you. Because really, it has been quite a while since I’ve come across something so addictive. It will dominate your thoughts and appetite until the only evidence of it having existed at all is a smattering of crumbs. And there you’ll stand, alone at the counter twinged with sadness, wondering where it all went and kind of not remembering that you are the one who ate it all. I give you Cookie Brittle.


Oh, you heard me right. It’s cookie. It’s brittle. It’s crunchy and sweet and a little bit salty with bits of chocolate and toasty nuts. It’s basically an entire pan of the crisp, brown-buttery, sugary edges of the very best chocolate chip cookie, aka The Best Part. I like cutting to the chase. I don’t have a lotta time to spare these days. And I certainly don’t have time to deal with Oprah-esque, Big Life Questions, like, was I really, truly living before I ate cookie brittle? I can’t be sure.


This recipe comes from a really charming cookbook called The American Country Inn Bed and Breakfast Cookbook, a collection of recipes from little B&Bs all across the country, organized by state. It’s actually a really fun read, with descriptions of each place followed by a few of the inns’ favorite recipes, and you really get an idea of the spirit of each place by the kinds of foods they offer to their guests. In the case of Cookie Brittle, our enabler/dealer is a someone named Kris associated with the Wine and Roses Country Inn in Lodi, California. And I am grateful to him/her for offering this recipe (even though the original calls for margarine). Because now I don’t have to travel all the way to Lodi to enjoy this cookie brittle–I can just make a batch of my own and eat the whole thing in the comfort of my dark closet right here at home.

You will be thrilled to learn that this gem of recipe comes together in minutes in a single bowl with a wooden spoon. Nudge it onto a sheet pan, bang it into the oven for a short bake and chain yourself to a large piece of furniture while you wait for it to cool completely (the magic is in the cooling so the brittle crisps evenly). It’s the perfect cookie recipe for lazy bakers. Broken up into cronch-y, no-napkin-required hunks and kept in a container on the counter, conditions are perfect for you to have absolutely no self-control while walking through your kitchen. I repeat, trying this recipe is a really bad idea.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle
Adapted from The American Country Inn Bed and Breakfast Cookbook, Vol. 2

Try a variety of chip and nut combinations in the mix–I love bittersweet chocolate chips and cashews, but I’m thinking throwing a few butterscotch chips or shredded coconut into the mix would also be fabulous.

1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted roasted cashews
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao–I like Ghiradelli)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set a rack to the center position. Pour the melted butter into a large bowl, and stir in the vanilla. With a wooden spoon (or your hands, if your prefer), add the sugar, salt and flour and mix to combine–the mixture will be somewhat crumbly, like a moist pie dough. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Press the mixture in a thin, even layer onto an ungreased cookie sheet (use the chocolate chips as your guide–try to get them in as close to a single layer as possible throughout the dough, and you’ll have the right thickness). You may not fill the entire sheet with the dough–that’s okay.

Bake for 23-25 minutes, until light golden brown (the edges will be a bit darker than the center). Let cool completely before breaking into whatever sized pieces you desire. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Jul 5, 2009

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Lillet-Strawberry Coulis

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Happy Fourth of July, dear readers! I hope this summer holiday finds you surrounded by fun people, cold beverages and lots of great food cooked outside somewhere sunny. Around here, we celebrated like true Americans–obscenely large bone-in ribeyes on the grill, a wild arugula salad and an addictive fresh corn casserole with a good dose of grated onion and freshly cracked black pepper from which we literally had to hold back Baby C so she wouldn’t eat the whole darn thing. It was really something. But whatever amazing savory dishes are on your picnic table, it’s really not the Fourth without some sort of red, white and blue dessert, am I right, people?

That sexy lady up there is a lush, dreamy panna cotta, and the result of my absolute favorite recipe for it. It shouldn’t surprise you given my past raves on the greatness that is Lynne Rossetto Kasper that it’s a riff on her Farmhouse Panna Cotta from her genius book How To Eat Supper. Her recipe brilliantly includes sour cream, which gives a much-needed sharpening to a dessert that can often be just a round sea of cream, leaving a funky coating on your tongue that keeps you from really tasting the dish past the first bite. This panna cotta is indeed rich but so lovely and balanced that you will not put down your spoon until you’ve scraped the plate clean.

Panna cotta is so simple to make, it’s absurd, with one of the highest pleasure-to-effort ratios known to man. It comes together in minutes on the stovetop, then you just whisk in the sour cream, pour it into cups and let it set up for a couple hours in the fridge and that’s that. I’ve made a batch of this panna cotta on a weeknight, letting it set up in coffee cups and devouring it straight, but it’s also a perfect canvas for some seasonal berries and a dessert sauce. I decided to dress up this panna cotta with a sort of berry coulis that I’d been brainstorming, using my beloved Lillet as a backdrop.


If you’ve never had it, Lillet is the kind of drink that transports you, in a way. A French aperitif (so maybe not the most American of choices for a Fourth dessert, but whatevs), it’s a fortified wine that has the body of a liqueur, making it a great lower-alcohol alternative for cocktails. If I could spend every day, all summer long drinking Lillet and soda with a twist of lime or orange, oooh…mama would be so happy. I would also be very drunk and an irresponsible parent. So I’ve started thinking about other ways to incorporate the fruity, flowery, slightly herbal quality of Lillet into a few desserts, and it worked like a charm in the strawberry coulis I made to accessorize the panna cotta.


While boiling down the Lillet to a syrup, I pureed a mess of fresh strawberries with a bit of sugar, strained out the pulp and seeds, and whisked the juice into the Lillet syrup. Refrigerated alongside the setting panna cotta, the coulis thickens slightly and tastes of strawberries on steroids. Unmold the set panna cotta onto a plate, bathe it in coulis and dress up the whole thing with some patriotic fruit. I think you’ll agree that this dessert deserves its own parade.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Lillet-Strawberry Coulis

Feel free to experiment somewhat with the dairy in this recipe, making the finished dish as rich or as light as you’d like. I like this combination of heavy cream and milk, but have also had success with half and half, light sour cream and even buttermilk along with the cream. In any case, don’t go lowfat with every element of this recipe, or it will get weird and grainy and just not worth it–always aim for at least half cream in the stovetop part of this equation to get the lush quality that makes panna cotta so, oh, oh…

Serves 4

1 tablespoon cold water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk (lowfat is okay, but not skim)
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream

1/2 cup Lillet Rouge
1 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 teaspoon sugar

Strawberries and blueberries, for serving

Place the water in a small cup. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let soften for five minutes. Into a medium saucepan over medium heat, gently warm the cream and milk with the sugar, salt and vanilla–do not let it boil. When the cream is very warm to the touch, remove it from the heat and whisk in the softened gelatin until dissolved. Let the cream mixture cool for five minutes.

Put the sour cream into a medium bowl or a large (4-cup) glass measuring cup. Whisk the warm cream mixture into the sour cream, a little at a time, until the panna cotta is smooth. Pour the panna cotta into four custard cups, ramekins or coffee cups. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

To make the coulis, pour the Lillet into a small saucepan over high heat. Boil it down until it reduces to about two tablespoons of syrup. Pour into a small bowl, set a sieve over the bowl, and set aside. Puree the strawberries in a food processor with the sugar. Press the puree through the sieve into the Lillet syrup and whisk to blend. Refrigerate until ready to serve–coulis will thicken slightly while chilling.

To serve, briefly submerge the bottoms of the ramekins in hot water until the edges of the panna cotta begin to loosen from the cups. Invert onto serving plates, drizzle with the coulis and sprinkle on a few strawberries and blueberries.
Jul 1, 2009

Nutella Cupcakes with Bittersweet Ganache

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Back when I was young and unafraid, I had the experience of a lifetime studying in Europe for a summer during college. It was the ultimate summer school–noisy pubs and boy chasing in England, sunbathing and karaoke at a dive bar with the Manchester United soccer (football, whatever) team in attendance in Malta (where did I put that photo of David Beckham and me, anyway?), lots of great chocolate in Germany and Austria. That sort of thing. And I think there may have been some schoolwork in there somewhere. Amazing what you can accomplish with a two-month-long hangover while a college student, really. Comes in second only to what a crazed mother of a 10-month-old can create when thinking of the days she was footloose and fancy-free. Like, say, working out a recipe for Nutella cupcakes.

The constant in my European summer, along with Boddingtons, was Nutella. It sustained Erin (she of Scotch-a-Roo lore) and I through the London portion of our trip, along with bread and Coke Light and a smartly-packed jar (her brillance, not mine) of American peanut butter. And to the delight of shoestring-budget college students like us, it seemed that you could find Nutella just about anywhere on the continent for dirt cheap. The hazelnut-chocolate combination is all over Europe in various forms, and is celebrated deliciously in the adorable Mozart Kuglen that I devoured by the dozen in Austria, making a huge dent in what was supposed to be a haul back to the states to gift to my family, who literally never really knew what they were missing.

Luckily, I can revisit that epic trip abroad by stopping into just about any supermarket and picking up a jar of Nutella. The creamy, chocolately, nutty spread is pretty much the ideal spoon-to-jar-to-mouth experience, and to this day I get crazy sense memories from just a whiff of the stuff. Recently, I got to thinking about it again because of a cake recipe I tried that involved chocolate syrup. The resulting cake was fabulously moist, but tasted way too much like, well, chocolate syrup. I brainstormed for days about what I could swap out the syrup with andbing!–NUTELLA! Insert me sprinting to the store here.


The Supermodel Cupcake look doesn’t give away how simple, simple, simple this recipe is. The most difficult thing about it is toasting and peeling hazelnuts for garnish, which, if pressed for time, you could forgo altogether. But even that is pretty simple–just throw the hazelnuts into a baking pan and into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until toasty and fragrant, then let them cool completely before wrapping them in a little bunch in a dish towel and rubbing them in your hands like a bag of marbles–the peels will flake right off. Do a bunch at once and freeze the rest and you too can have peeled hazelnuts at a moment’s notice. The American dream, right?

To arrive at this gorgeous and delicious specimen of a cupcake, I had to really rework the aforementioned chocolate syrup cake recipe (chocolate syrup is fat free, Nutella is pretty much just sugar and fat), and I baked up a couple test batches before declaring number three the winner. The cakes are moist and somewhat dense, almost chewy, and come out of the oven with perfectly flat tops, which beg for a slick of ganache and end up having that gorgeous, streamlined European bake shop vibe.

Even better, these elegant lookers are perfect dinner party make-aheads–they taste so much better with a more pronounced hazelnut flavor the next day. I can’t recommend them enough, people. Have a glass of milk or a nice strong cup of coffee nearby, close your eyes, and pretend you’re at a little scrolly wrought iron table someplatz special.

Nutella Cupcakes with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

The ganache in this recipe is my go-to ganache–it firms up nicely with a slight chew and a satiny sheen. The recipe also works with dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolates. After the ganache sets up, I highly recommend storing the cupcakes in an airtight container overnight before serving them–the flavors are so much better the day after they’re baked.

Makes 12

For the cupcakes:

1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces Nutella
2 eggs
2 tablespoons whole milk

For the ganache:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao–I like Ghiradelli)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour and salt and set aside.

With an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat until well-blended. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and pale in color. Beat in the Nutella until well-incorporated, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl while beating. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. On low speed, beat in half the flour mixture just until it beings to disappear into the batter. Beat in the milk. Fold in the remainder of the flour mixture by hand until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the muffin cups, filling them no more than 1/2 full. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs–if in doubt, pull them from the oven a bit early–do not over bake. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, prepare the ganache. Place the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after each interval, until the mixture is shiny and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.

When the cupcakes are completely cool, using a spoon, top each one with about two teaspoons of the ganache, and with the back of the spoon coax it as close to the edges as possible without letting it drip down the sides (or go on and let it drip…drippy chocolate is rarely a bad thing). Sprinkle on a bit of the chopped hazelnuts. Let the ganache set before storing in an airtight container at room temperature overnight–these cupcakes truly taste better the next day. But if you want to defy me and serve the cupcakes immediately, refrigerate them for about five minutes and the ganache will quickly set.

Jun 29, 2009

Magnificient Moist Golden Cake with Fudge Frosting

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Though I’ve been skimming it at every opportunity and lovingly stroking the cover for a couple months now, I just recently really got to dig in to Shirley Corriher’s GENIUS book, Bakewise. I’ve decided that owning this book, combined with having Baking Illustrated on your cookbook shelf, is the surefire way to have the Holy Grail recipes of everything you’d ever really want to bake. In addition to perfection-producing recipes, you also get Shirley’s reassuring and straight-outta-Georgia voice, making it equal parts Good Read and cookbook. And I’ve finally gotten to try a few of the recipes and they are like children to me, I love them so.


Shirley’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake has ended my search for the absolutely perfect yellow cake–sweet, tender and toothsome with a tight, velvety crumb, perfect for layer cakes and cupcakes alike. It’s a true food scientist’s cake recipe, so it took a few tries to wrap my brain around the recipe, but man, is it worth the details. Even though every time I’ve made this recipe, I’ve had to pull the pans from the oven in a panic a minute after putting them in because, really, it’s just not natural to “drop the pans from a height of four inches onto the countertop to knock out the air bubbles” before putting them into the oven (P.S.–if you forget to do this altogether, your cake will still be delicious, though pockmarked with air bubbles, so it’s more of a problem to neglect to do this with layer cakes, and a smaller problem with cupcakes). And the relatively small amount of butter in the recipe being offset by the folding in of whipped cream? I’m listening, Shirley.

My first attempt with this cake was a small 6-inch layer cake that had the husband and I closing our eyes and having a moment of silence upon the first tasting. Nom, nom, nom. It was really something.


The second time I used this recipe was to create cupcakes for a crowd of Southerners at a belated wedding reception and not-a-one purty little cake remained on the platter. And those people know cake.


And since I am a freakin’ American, I believe yellow cake belongs with a milk chocolate frosting. The end. So I tweaked Shirley’s Luscious Chocolate Icing a bit for my tastes, and really, truly, you will never find a more beautiful (and simple!) chocolate frosting. The chocolate is the true star here, there is no butter or confectioners’ sugar involved, and it doesn’t crust or run or do anything but just sit like a gorgeous chocolate pillow atop anything you put it on. I’ve spread it and piped it and swirled it on with a spoon and fallen in love all over again every time. I’ve found that as long as you use the right total weight of chocolate, the chocolates can be interchanged to give you exactly the right balance of bitterness and sweetness that you are looking for. So while I use mostly milk chocolate to pair it with a yellow cake, I might do a higher ratio of semi-sweet or bittersweet to milk chocolate for a deep chocolate cake or somesuch. Love.

Shirley Corriher’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake

The original recipe calls for a single standard 9-inch cake pan for this recipe, with the intention of slicing the one thick layer into two or three layers. But I’d use a springform pan for the higher side for that purpose, or just use two standard pans and adjust the baking time. Quarter the recipe for a 6-inch two layer cake. The rise on this cake can be pretty amazing, so be conservative with how full you fill your cake pans and/or cupcake liners–I stick to just about 2/3 full in both cases. Unless, you know, you like scraping molten cake batter off the floor of your oven. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Makes 2-3 9-inch cake layers or two dozen cupcakes

2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup buttermilk, divided
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan or two (or three) 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray and dust them with flour, or line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners for cupcakes.

In a large measuring cup or similar vessel, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk and vanilla.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of your standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat in the butter, oil, and remaining buttermilk on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, then crank it up to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add one third of the egg mixture, and beat for about 20 seconds, and scrape the bowl again. Repeat two more times until all the egg mixture is incorporated and the batter is smooth.

In a cold bowl with cold beaters, whip the cream to just beyond soft peaks. Stir a quarter of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten it, then carefully fold in the remaining cream.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans (about 2/3 full for cupcakes). Drop the pans onto the counter from a height of about 4 inches to knock out air bubbles. Bake until the center of the cake springs back when touched and a toothpick comes out clean but moist–about 40 minutes for one thick layer, 25-30 minutes for individual layers, and 17-20 minutes for cupcakes (checking progress early and often). Do not overbake. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Shirley Corriher’s Luscious, Creamy Chocolate Icing

I adjust the proportions of milk and semi-sweet chocolates depending on the sweetness I’m after, and suspect dark and bittersweet chocolates added to the mix would work too. Chips or chopped bar chocolate work equally as well in this recipe.

Makes enough icing to frost and fill 1 9-inch 3-layer cake or 2 dozen cupcakes

12 ounces milk chocolate, chips or chopped
9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chips or chopped
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups sour cream

Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe vessel and microwave on 50% power for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after every interval, until smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, salt, vanilla and corn syrup. Stir in the sour cream until nearly smooth. Add the melted chocolate. Beat on low speed until very smooth–it will get stiffer as you go, so beat just until it’s a nice spreading consistency and don’t overbeat. Use generously.

Jun 26, 2009

One-Bowl Chocolate Cake with Perfect Vanilla Buttercream

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I’ve begun to dabble in the idea of baking more for other people, like maybe, possibly for profit. So I’ve been doing quite a bit of volunteering to be the dessert bringer for various parties and get-togethers as a way to perfect recipes and get feedback. Plus it gives me excuses to patronize dreamy places like Cooks Boulevard and the baker’s paradise that is Spun Sugar to pick up little baubles and piping bag tips and other things that make me dorkily, maniacally joyful. Is there a support group out there for people who clap their hands and bounce on their heels when presented with a shelf full of glistening sanding sugar in every imaginable hue?


A few weeks ago, a great opportunity to pass on some baking love arose. See, my darling husband, whose sweet tooth rivals (read: enables) mine, will eat and at least pretend to love anything I bake. So he likes to ask me to make stuff that he can bring into work and sort of “show me off”, kind of the married guy’s version of posting a hot picture of his girlfriend in his office. In this case, the stand-in for me posing in a short dress and suntan was a riff on Martha Stewart’s One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and a simple vanilla bean buttercream to make some girly cupcakes for an office baby shower.

You know that lovely smell of a freshly baked and American buttercream-frosted cake, all sweet cream butter and sugar, that explodes from whatever vessel in which you are storing said cake in as soon as it’s opened? Well, that kind of gorgeous scent was driving me bonkers, wafting through my car all the way downtown when I went to drop off these beauties. The kind of heady, sweet smell that has got to be caloric. And for that experience alone I highly endorse this combination.

One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart

I get about 18 cupcakes out of this recipe, but you can stretch it to a full 2 dozen if need be. It also makes two great 9-inch cake layers. Using brewed coffee instead of just water makes the chocolate taste more…chocolatey.

Makes 18-24 cupcakes

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I love Ghiradelli or Valhrona)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Spray the top of the muffin tin with cooking spray for extra non-stick insurance, as these cupcakes can have a serious rise and often puff over the edges of the tin’s wells.

Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well-mixed.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (an ice cream scoop works well here), filling each cup no more than 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Adapted from Amy Berman of Vanilla Bake Shop

I nabbed the idea of letting the salt dissolve in the liquid for American buttercreams from the fantastic Shirley Corriher, and will never go back to just adding it straight to frostings. I like a nice dose of salt in my icings, and this trick allows you to add a touch more without risking having a random crunchy salt grain in the mix. Love.

Makes enough to moderately frost 2 dozen cupcakes

1/4 cup milk
Scant 1/8 teaspoon of salt (one generous pinch)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Add the salt to the milk in a measuring cup and set aside to let the salt dissolve. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth. Add the vanilla seeds and vanilla extract, beating to incorporate. Beat in the milk last, adding a bit more milk if necessary to reach the desired consistency.
Use immediately or store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week. Bring the buttercream to room temperature and rewhip before using.

Jun 25, 2009

Espresso Brownies

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It’s been crazy days around here, people. Crazy. First we moved from our tiny apartment to a nice, roomy house (Three times the counter space! Gas cooking! Laundry without quarters!). Then within days Baby C started to really crawl (madness, I tell you). And because we hadn’t done enough packing and unpacking, we took a week long trip to the very lovely (and oppressively HOT) Gulf Coast. Now that we are back home and somewhat settled, I had to take a minute and catch you up on what’s been going on in the Piece of Cake kitchen. Because even though I’ve been up to my eyeballs in boxes and laundry and lists, I was still insane enough to try a bunch of new cake and icing recipes while in the fray.

That old, teeny kitchen we left behind, well, she was good to me. With about six square feet of counter space all told and yet a full-size oven and brilliant natural light, we laughed, we cried, and managed to churn out a few last recipes the weekend before moving day, like some pretty little lemon curd-filled cupcakes for a Mothers’ Day fete.


Meyer Lemon Raspberry cupcakes (with sweet little sugar flowers in lieu of raspberries) inspired by Vanilla Bake Shop (one of my very favorite places in the world–Santa Monica, I really miss you sometimes, sniff) was the perfect kind of thing to make for my favorite comrades in motherhood as we all celebrated our first mama’s holiday together. It was a great day full of abundant sunshine, amazing pulled pork and some pretty little cupcakes fit for exhausted, yet radiant, new mothers.


The cupcakes received raves, and they were indeed beautiful and delicious, but I am making a few tweaks next time to reach cupcakery nirvana with this one. I’ve made the complete cupcake with filling and frosting a couple of times now, and though it the cake part always has very good flavor, I personally find the texture a bit dry against the lush vanilla bean buttercream, even when the cake is fresh and served the day it’s baked. And truthfully, I feel like it’s difficult to not toughen up the cake at least a little because whipped egg whites are folded in after the flour has been incorporated into an already really stiff batter and I’m all folding and folding and getting all nervous at the thought of the heaps of gluten that must be developing before it gets smooth. Shudder. I just don’t need that kind of stress.

Anyway, I still like my version of this cupcake better. But if you’re up for a challenge, or are looking for a nice, sturdy, flavorful vanilla bean cake for a special project, by all means give this one a shot. When making the entire cupcake recipe, I adjust the amounts for the frosting and filling because the original recipe makes way too much curd for two dozen cupcakes. And I find it to be way too skimpy on the frosting, which should be illegal. So I halve the curd recipe and make about 1 1/4 batches of buttercream to make enough to create pretty piped pillowy tops that beg to be sprinkled with something pretty.

For the aforementioned Mother’s Day celebration, I also made a recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis (do you even need to indicate this woman’s last name anymore? She is like Madonna or Cher now, if they had a limitless arsenal of adorable measuring cups and spoons). Her espresso brownies are a brilliant thing to have in your repertoire for those times when you make a somewhat involved dessert that’s on the light/fruity side, but want to have one more little thing on the dessert table for the chocolate people.


Normally I don’t do mixes, especially for brownies, which are so simple to make from scratch it’s almost criminal. But the additions to the mix in the form of good-quality chocolate chips and espresso powder and the gorgeous coffee-colored glaze add enough personality to give it a from-scratch feeling. My name is Shauna and I approve this boxed mix recipe. And come to think of it, I’m also a huge hypocrite, because if Sandra Lee had come up with this recipe and not Giada, I would have deemed it a trashy abomination of a brownie. But these are really fabulous.

Espresso Brownies
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

Makes about 20 smallish brownies

1 (19.5 ounces or 9×13 inch “family size”) box fudge brownie mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (available in better grocery stores, instant coffee is not nearly as good here)
3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, very soft

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper with enough overhang on two opposite sides to create parchment “handles” to make for easy removal of the brownies later. Spray the parchment with cooking spray, too.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brownie mix, eggs,1/3 cup of water, oil, and 2 tablespoons of the espresso powder until well-blended. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared baking pan. Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For the glaze, dissolve the remaining 2 teaspoons of espresso powder in 2 tablespoons of water. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth, then whisk in the vanilla, then the butter until smooth. Pour the glaze over the cooled brownies, coaxing it across the entire surface into a smooth, even layer. Refrigerate until the glaze is firm. Remove the brownies from the pan, remove the parchment paper, and cut the brownies into about 20 small bars.

May 11, 2009

Scotch-a-Roos

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So if buttermilk pie is the star of the dessert buffet at a small town’s ladies luncheon, then Scotch-a-Roos are the treat that said ladies make for their daughters’ slumber parties. And how can I make such an assumption? Well, the first time I had these diabetic coma-inducing gems was with my dear friend Erin at her parents’ house (a house with a small field for a front yard, mind you) in the can’t-get-more-Midwestern-if-you-tried town of Hartford, Wisconsin.


We were probably a little old for a slumber party at the time, but it was the cap-off to Erin’s bachelorette party that involved a few bars on Hartford’s main drag outfitted with neon signs, dark wood paneling and jukeboxes blasting John Mellencamp, Foreigner and Boston. I vaguely remember bachelorette party essentials like cupcakes in questionable anatomical shapes and there may have been some karaoke as well, but the one thing I’m sure of is that there were Scotch-a-Roos at the afterparty.

At first glance, the Scotch-a-Roo looks somewhat familiar–a golden-hued Rice Krispy treat dressed up with a slick of chocolate over the top. But the first bite reveals something else altogether–an unexpected punch of peanut butter and butterscotch taking the whole thing to the next awesome, chewy level. But I should warn you: if you’ve never had them, it’s probably better to just try one and fall in love with them before you ask how they’re made. Because any recipe that starts with a cup of corn syrup and a cup of sugar makes your molars hurt just hearing about it. But if you think about it, that’s pretty much what marshmallows are minus their incorporated air plus! there is a cup of peanut butter involved as well, so hello, protein! Nevertheless, I usually halve the recipe to curb the extent of their damage–this way my Scotch-a-roo benders can only be a couple days long because my supply runs out faster.

And once you figure out other ways to justify eating half a pan of them in a weekend, you will be oh-so-pleased to learn how delightfully simple they are to create and how quickly they come together. Just bang a few ingredients (ahem, sugar and more sugar) together in a saucepan until bubbly, stir in the PB, toss with the cereal to coat, and while you’re waiting for the sugar to bubble, throw the topping chips into the micro to melt. And then chain yourself to a large piece of furniture in the other room while you wait for the bars to set up in the fridge for a few minutes.

Risking a few cavities never tasted so good. Enjoy!

Scotch-a-Roos

Makes 16 bars

Lining the pan with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper (sprayed with a bit more cooking spray) will allow for easy removal of the Scotch-a-Roo slab and make for neat, even cutting of the bars. This recipe doubles easily–just use a 9×13 inch pan instead.

2 1/2 cups crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (not a time for natural peanut butter, people)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Spray an 8×8 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper if desired (see recipe note).

Pour the cereal into a large mixing bowl.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar into the corn syrup and bring to a bubble, stirring often.

Meanwhile, place the chocolate and butterscotch chips into a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes, stopping to stir every 30 seconds or so, until the chips are melted and smooth. Set aside.

When the sugar has started to bubble, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until melted. Pour the syrup over the cereal and stir until evently coated. Press the mixture into the prepared pan. Spread the melted chocolate in an even layer over the bars. Refrigerate until cool and the chocolate is set, about 20 minutes, before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

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