So do you ever get sort of obsessed with a certain website, enchanted by how it just ‘gets you’? And you find yourself wholly relating to every post and wanting to invent a device that would allow you to sort of live inside said website? Well, that’s me and Camille Styles’ lovely online digs. Love the content–the interviews, the recipes, the decor ideas, the whole lot. It may sometimes make me feel like I’m living in the slums because it’s so fabulous, but hey, that’s the risk you take falling in love with a website, I guess.
I’ve shared a few recipes with Camille’s audience in the past, and the other day I helped her kick off her sure-to-be-swoon-worthy Valentine’s Day content with a sweet idea for an edible gift. Bounce on over to Camille’s site for more photos and the recipe, a modern, Frenchy twist on the kitschy Valentine’s Day combo of chocolate-covered cherries.
Now that we’ve all got our holiday baking pantry essentials assembled (right? RIGHT?), it’s go time. I always kind of like to ease into the holiday baking season with what I like to the call The Gateway Cookie. Something simple, easy on ingredients and time, totally craveworthy and guaranteed to blow minds so you get the push you need to crank out the next recipe. It’s a life philosophy, friends.
Sometimes I start with Heirloom Sugar Cookies, because they’re the quintessential holiday cookie of my youth and get me thinking of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special and Bing Crosby and just give me a general fa-la-la-la-la! sensation. But I’m tired this year, folks. I’m at the point in my pregnancy where I need to make decisions like, do I shave my legs or vacuum the living room? Because seriously, you’re not getting me to do both. So this year, The Gateway Cookie needed to be simple, but totally delicious. And it doesn’t get much easier than a bar cookie. No scooping, no rotating baking sheets. Also, chewy plus sweet-salty plus chocolate AND pecans? Come at me, bro.
Oh my dear, darling readers. How have you been?! I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful summer doing very exciting things, while I’ve spent most of it being rather boring, and seemingly in hiding from an interwebs perspective (except for Twitter; I can’t seem to quit The Twitter). I wish I had a whole lovely list of things that I’ve been doing to share with you and an adorable Instagrammy collage to accompany it, but alas, I don’t. We’ve really just been lazy around here, people. Lazy, and not too interesting, and yes, there’s been some time spent in the kitchen, but not to produce anything of note. I mean, delicious things, thankfully, but mostly what have become go-to classics around here, like a certain banana bread, oatmeal cookies, and ice cream I’ve told you about before.
And isn’t that so nice sometimes, just to fall back on the things that work? To slow down for a while, stop the wheels from turning, turning, turning, and try to flip that dang switch off, the one that always makes us feel like we’ve got to be doing something new and different at all times in order for our days to count for something? (Who invented that, anyway, this constant need to be in motion? It’s kind of overrated. Trust me, I’ve been on the couch a lot over the past month and let me tell you, doing nothing has its benefits.)
Holy bananas, people, it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow! How did this happen? I swear I’m totally one of those old people now that walks around proclaiming that it was just Christmas! and I don’t understand this iPhone! and what on Earth is a Nicki Minaj?!
Where’s my Sanka?
Anyway, it’s here–the holiday that’s not actually a holiday, but you’d really better observe it in some manner for the ones you love, lest you feel really guilty. I’m a fan of the little things on Valentine’s Day, myself. I like a little thing of flowers, chocolates, a nice card, sweet little tokens like that. Please don’t escort me to a heart-shaped hot tub with rose petals floating in it and Sade playing in the background, or give me a giant teddy bear holding a velvet heart that contains an ugly necklace that I have to wear all the time and pretend to like it. I may not physically drop kick you, but I will be doing just that, in my mind. Keep it sweet, keep it simple.
To me, edible gifts are the perfect kind for faux holidays like this one. And even though God has nothing to do with turning February 14th into an emotional carnival for so many people, I’m sure that the good Lord would insist that if you are going to participate in some Valentine’s Day gift giving, you best include chocolate. It’s the right thing to do.
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This is it, people. I’m getting down and dirty and a little bit crazy. Starting tomorrow, I’m going all Gwyneth Paltrow-level insanity and starting a 3-day juice cleanse. The fancy kind that some glossy, lithe delivery person brings to your house. I KNOW. But for now, there are these freaking great Chocolate-Slicked Toffee-Oat Tiles, which were kind of my last hurrah before embarking on a week of living like a deranged Hollywood starlet wannabe. My enthusiasm is palable, yes?
Actual conversation that recently took place in my household:
Way back when I shared an heirloom recipe for a much-loved, buttery, golden-crusted pound cake with you, I thought I’d reached the Pound Cake Apex. And in a way, I had. But that was before I thought to make a soft bittersweet chocolate ganache, scoop it into gumball-sized truffles, and then bake them into the pound cake. I know, right?! Next level stuff.
So grab yourself a big, thick slice and a tall glass of milk and enjoy. Marvel at the combination of buttery, fragrant vanilla cake tunneled with melty chocolate truffles. And try to ignore any nearby toddlers who are probably just criticizing you behind your back.
For the chocolate truffles:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (at least 60% cacao), chopped
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup sour cream (not lowfat)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Begin by making the chocolate truffles. Combine the chocolate and the cream in a medium heatproof bowl. Microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring well after each, until the mixture is smooth. Place the bowl in the refrigerator to set until firm, several hours or overnight. If you’re impatient like me, you can speed things up by throwing the bowl in the freezer until set.
When the ganache is firm, use a small scoop (I like a melon baller) to scoop truffles about 1 inch in diameter. Place the truffles on a small parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze again until firm, about 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper.
Sift the flour with the salt and baking soda into a medium bowl.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and beat in the eggs one and a time. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and stir in the sour cream and vanilla on low speed. Add the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time on low speed until the batter is smooth.
Pour the half the batter into the prepared pan. Drop half the truffles willy-nilly about the surface of the batter, pressing them lightly into the batter, but not submerging them completely. Repeat with the second half of the batter and truffles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (melty chocolate notwithstanding), about 70-80 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan on a wire rack before using the parchment sleeve to remove the cake from the pan and allowing it to cool completely.
Cookies are nice. Brownies are perfectly lovely. Simple joys in your run-of-the-mill long week. But then there are Those Weeks. The kind that start innocently enough, full of work and house stuff and errands and lots of c’mon! I just washed this!–same old thing. And then, without fair warning, the universe throws you a curveball the size of Charlie Sheen’s list of issues. Before you know it, your normal cookie-and-brownie week has morphed into meetings and frantic phone calls and packing and airports (all for good–don’t panic) on top of mothering a tiny person who constantly seems to be one step away from setting the place on fire and–kicker–a frenetic family trip to see Disney on Ice. I-yi-yi. Do they even make Calgon anymore?
Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
5 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli chips and it was fine)
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the caramel filling:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the tart assembly:
One baked and cooled 9-inch tart shell (like My Favorite Pie Crust)
3-to 4-inch slab milk chocolate, at warm room temperature, for decorating
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