So here we are, careening towards the holidays. Please stop the train, I need to get off.
Fortunately, there is something to look forward to in all this calendar-flipping madness. The good part is that the best of high baking season is coming up soon! Let’s make it great this year, friends. Let’s break out our best tried-and-true recipes and magazine clippings that we shoved away and haven’t gotten to yet. Stock up on flours and sugars and pounds of butter. Finally buy a dang candy thermometer and get to some old-fashioned confectionery magic (you can do it!!). Wrestle the baking sheets out from under the everyday pots and pans and fire up the oven. And hey, even let your kids get into the fray! (I’m speaking for my Type A self here–it’s not my favorite thing to bake with little ones underfoot and under armpit; there I said it.)
But here’s a top tip that I think has changed my baking for the better: Reach for the bittersweet chocolate this year, even if your recipe calls for semi-sweet or milk. I’m talking at least 60 to 70% cacao, nice and dark. Because nothing balances out a sea of sweet quite like it. In the same way that a good hit of salt or acid (like lemon juice or buttermilk) makes sweet things all the more craveworthy, a slight bitter edge can also add the kind of balance that makes you unable to resist taking just one. More. Bite. Tastebud trickery! Plus, if you really love chocolate, bittersweet is just that much more chocolaty, because it’s got more cacao power AND it has less fat and sugar, both of which can coat and confuse the tongue and keep you from getting the ultimate chocolate experience.
I feel like I owe you an apology, friends. I made this Boston Cream Pie weeks (months?) ago, with the intention of telling you all about it the very next day. It was an event, this Boston Cream Pie. A day of assembling the elements–baking cake layers, whisking pastry cream, melting chocolate. Doing my Food Blogger Due Diligence, taking photos of the creation of said elements, in between baby feedings and kid snack distribution and making shopping lists and errands and all those other crazy things you do on Sundays. When the resulting cake was served, we all marveled at its glory. And in fact, it was so good (and enormous) that I promptly lopped off hunks of the remainder and drove around the neighborhood after dark, delivering them to friends after a furiously sent text–HAVE BOSTON CREAM PIE. TOO GOOD. MUST GET IT OUT MY HOUSE. WILL DELIVER.
And then I totally forgot to tell you all about it.
So let’s make up for lost time, yes?
Hey! So basically last week I was all, “You must try dark muscovado sugar! I am totally giving you a fabulous recipe to do just that!” and then BOOM. Ball dropped hard. I’m so sorry. Let’s just say that ever since my girl started kindergarten, she’s turned our entire household into a veritable petri dish. Yeah. Lotta Kleenex around here, not a lotta sleep. Good thing she’s adorable and does hysterical things like making her father play all four judges simulateneously while she pretends to audition for The Voice. Otherwise she’d be wearing a hazmat suit to school and/or possibly living in her own apartment.
Okay! So, cake. This cake. This seemingly innocent, plain-looking, how-great-can-it-be-REALLY? cake. You know what I love about this? It’s dead simple, it’s packed with flavor, and it’s the kind of thing that’s such a nice surprise when you take a bite. Because of its deep color and complex fragrance, you start out thinking it’s going to taste like a spice cake, but really, there’s no spices involved. What comes up instead is a huge amount of rich, dreamy molasses flavor from the muscovado sugar, and a soft sweetness. You should know about it.
Picasso had his blue period, Hugh Hefner had his blonde period. I am currently in my dark muscovado sugar period.
That sentence made a lot more sense in my head before I typed it.
At any rate, I’ve been playing with this heady, dark, mysterious sugar a whole lot over the past few months, and I’m smitten, friends. In my last Baking Booster post, I waxed all fangirl about dark brown sugar, and can’t nobody take those feelings away. But! When I want Real Big Dark Brown Sugar Flavor, all smoke and molasses and sticky sweetness, I reach for dark muscovado, and since we’re heading into serious baking season and lots of sweets with big bold flavors like gingerbread and pumpkin pie and decadent dark chocolate somethings, I’ve got to urge you–nay, implore you–to find some and give it a shot. It’s basically dark brown sugar on steroids! Magical. Let’s talk about it.
Over the next couple of weeks as we head into High Baking Season, I’m giving shout outs to my go-to ingredients that instantly transform standard baking recipes into something infinitely more crave-worthy. It’s not necessarily about spending more on exotic items (although Ina is right–sometimes the “good” vanilla really does make a difference!), it’s about easy swaps that you might already have in your pantry, or simply handling ingredients in a different way to get the best out of them, leaving you with baked goods that will blow minds and take names. As the old saying goes, “Bake smarter, not harder”…or something like that.
To kick off this series of Baking Boosters, I can think of no better, easier baking ingredient upgrade than switching to dark brown sugar. Any recipe that calls for light brown sugar will be 50 times more flavorful (roughly–what do you think I am, a flavor scientist?) by simply swapping out light brown sugar for dark, and it won’t cost you a penny more at the supermarket. These days, I typically only keep dark brown sugar in my pantry, and have raaarely run into a situation where light brown sugar would have been a better fit.
So let’s begin with the elephant in the room:
Does the Internet really need another chocolate chip cookie recipe?
Upon realizing that I’ve never really shared with you my go-to chocolate chip cookie formula–the base recipe from which I’m forever riffing–could I sleep another night without telling you about it (not that I’ve experienced an actual full night’s sleep since last February, butheywhateverthanksbabyboy)?
I know we’re barely into September, but I am READY for fall, friends. Although I’m generally a fan of the fall season (having been a November bride once a upon a time, my husband still claims that I love him more September through December. Probably?), this year I’m particularly pumped about the passage of time. Could it be that it’s because I’m very type A and relieved to finally be falling into a new routine now that Little C is in Real School? Or maybe it’s that I’m desperate for San Francisco Summer, which is to say September and October, when we finally get temperatures above 65 degrees and the skies become sunny and clear (true story, if you’ve never visited)? Or it could just be that I”m counting the hours because my baby is teething like a mad man, sweaty and sobbing and only happy when he’s being held and gnawing on all my slobbery body parts and I really know I shouldn’t be wishing this time away with my baby, but hey, at least he’s six months old now so LET’S BRING ON THE IBUPROFEN, SUCKAHS.
Ahem. What I mean to say is I’m excited for fall because pumpkin. Yes, that’s what I mean. Autumnal pumpkin treats for all!
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