Browsing articles in "Chocolate"
Aug 10, 2010

Praline-Swirled Brownies


Whether or not this is actually true, I tend to fancy myself a Kitchen MacGyver. (All the television executives reading this blog, you can have that title for free. You’re welcome.) As much as I like to follow recipes to the letter, sometimes I get all Wild! And! Crazy! and just fling open the cupboards, with nary a clue of what I want to put together, and wait for inspiration to smack me in the face. Do I know how to live on the edge or WHAT.


Anyway, on this particular day, the item that called to me from the depths of my pantry was a never-opened jar of Le Pain Quotidien‘s glorious Brunette praline spread–sweet, nutty and caramelly, almost like Nutella without the chocolate, if you can imagine such a thing. Have you ever been to a LPQ? If not, think Euro Lady Lunch perfection–moderate portions of open faced-sandwiches on country bread, fresh cheeses, wee lettuces, paper-thin radishes on everything. Lovely bakery items. It is a delight. On every table there is a selection of amazing jams and spreads, including the sinful Brunette. LPQ is the sort of lady-lunching place that makes you feign restraint when all you really want to do is buy a loaf of their chewy, crusty bread and a jar of their praline spread, and then proceed to rip off sizeable chunks, drag them through the jar and put it all in your face, every last bit.


Well, on my last trip to LPQ, I did indeed feign restraint while dining, but bought a jar of Brunette on my way out of the restaurant, fully intending to binge on it in the privacy of my own home. I don’t know how I forgot about such grand plans, but I did, and that little jar of heaven got pushed back on the shelves, behind the noodles and canned tomatoes and sacks of Goldfish crackers. How could I let this happen? The only thing to do that could right such a wrong was to swirl it into a brownie batter. Naturally.


Like sunset and cocktails, coffee and cookies, Sunday afternoons and Food Network marathons, this would be a case of the awesome getting awesomer, guys. The brownie recipe here is the famed formula from Baked bakery, so there’s that. And then it’s cut through with swirls of sweet praline spread, which I salted just a touch for balance. This is a match that’s so meant to be, I barely had to tap into my mad Kitchen Macgyver skills to make the magic happen.


Praline-Swirled Brownies
Brownie recipe adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

If you don’t have access to Le Pain Quotidien’s amazing products (though I highly recommend looking up their locations and getting a friend nearby one of them to send you some, as they don’t have an online store), you can try a similar praline spread like this one. Peanut butter will work just fine here, too, and though I prefer the commercial kind of peanut butter in baking, I bet the creamy natural variety would work as well. These brownies get even better the second or third day after baking.

Makes 16

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Valrhona)
5 1/2 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup praline spread (like Le Pain Quotidien’s Brunette) or peanut butter (see note)

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of an 8×8 inch baking pan (glass or light-colored metal).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.

In a heatproof medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, melt together the chocolate, butter and espresso powder, stirring until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the sugars. Let cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs into the chocolate and butter mixture until smooth, then whisk in the vanilla. Switch to a spatula and gently fold in the dry ingredients until just a few streaks of flour remain–do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top evenly.

Place the praline spread or peanut butter in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high just to soften it a bit, about 15 seconds. If using praline spread, add a pinch of salt to taste and stir well. Dollop the praline spread or peanut butter in five equal blobs over the batter and swirl it into the brownie batter with a knife.

Bake until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs, about 35 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting and serving.

May 10, 2010

Chocolate Mint Squares


I really hope all y’all had a fabulous Mother’s Day. For me, it began with sleeping in until the heavenly hour of 8:30 a.m. and then waking up to a lovely gift of a seriously great cookbook and a pop-up card from Little C that was scrawled about with crayon and played a weepy version of “You Are My Sunshine” when opened. And because girlfriend can’t even let a commercial jingle pass without shaking a tail feather, I was also gifted an impromptu, twirling, giggly interpretive dance to the musical card and in no time was all what–there’s something in my eye, OKAY? Too much.


Since I was in a teary, slobbering pile before I’d even gotten half my coffee down, the husband (who deems a gift a true success when it makes the recipient tear up with sentimentality) obviously did an awesome job with the Mothers’ Day planning this year. Well played, indeed. Good thing I’d already made a pan of Chocolate Mint Squares that I was pretty sure he would inhale and declare awesome (I was correct).


You may remember me saying something recently about being in my Maida period. And if you try this recipe, I am sure I won’t be alone in this obsession. The base for these fudgy, minty, all around heavenly bars is similar to Maida’s legendary brownie recipe, the cellophane-wrapped ones she is known for toting around in her purse at all times and giving to whomever she happens to see. If that doesn’t make you fall in love with this woman, then you are an iceberg. The end.


But then you take her amazing brownies, spread them with a thin, but powerful, intensely minty buttercream frosting and a slick of bitter chocolate and the whole thing will blow you away. It’s like a brownie meeting a York Peppermint Pattie. Bliss, I tell you. The balance here is so strikingly delicious. At first, I thought it might all be too much–and make no mistake, these are indeed rich–but the ratio of fudgy brownie to creamy mint layer is so spot on, and with a shiny capping of crackly bitter chocolate (totally unsweetened, mind you, not bittersweet), they’re a taste and textural dream.


And even better, since the husband basically lost his ever-loving mind over these things, I’m feeling pretty confident that I now have a golden ticket the next time I lose my scruples or somesuch. Actually, with this recipe in my repertoire, I may have insured really excellent Mother’s Day gifts for my entire future. Boo-ya!


Chocolate Mint Squares
Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Great Book of Cookies

Don’t chill the brownies for too long after the mint layer is added–five minutes is all you need, just so the frosting isn’t totally soft. If it’s too cold, the bitter chocolate glaze will set before you can get it all spread evenly. These brownies are at their most awesome served chilled, or even frozen.

Makes 20

For the brownie layer:

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
2 eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour (I stirred the flour well, then spooned into the cup and leveled)

For the mint layer:

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the bitter chocolate glaze:

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon butter

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Lightly spray an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with nonstick spray, and line it with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper (leave a bit of overhang on all sides), then lightly spray the parchment, too.

Being by making the brownie layer. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave, about 45 seconds on high. Stir until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until light and foamy. Beat in the sugar, salt and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture and beat on low just to combine. Stir in the flour by hand just until smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before icing with the mint frosting.

To make the mint frosting, beat together the butter, confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon of heavy cream and the peppermint extract. Add more cream, a few drops at a time, until the frosting is thick but easily spreadable. Spread the icing evenly in a thin layer over the brownies. Chill in the refrigerator for just five minutes, until the very surface is set.

Prepare the glaze by melting together the unsweetened chocolate and butter in a small bowl in the microwave, just about 30 seconds on high. Stir until smooth and pour the hot glaze over the mint layer, tilting the pan to coax it into place, and using an offset spatula if necessary. It will be a very, very thin layer.

Refrigerate until the glaze is set, at least 30 minutes. Use the parchment handles to lift the brownie slab from the pan to a cutting board, and cut into squares. Chill the cut squares for a few hours until the glaze sets completely. Keep any leftovers in the fridge, tightly covered.

Apr 25, 2010

Classic Whoopie Pies


The time has come. Completely ridiculous words have begun to take over our household. And I’m not just talking about Little C’s streaming toddler babble (“Hi! Hello? Apple? Mamadadababy! Toes! No?”). I’m talking about the random words that her parents haphazardly stick into sentences in place of more, shall we say, inflammatory terms, in the hopes of avoiding crass truck driver-parroting by said toddler. Like the day I informed my husband that I’d “scrubbed the–pajamas outta the shower”. A new low of parental dorkery, friends.

The day is fast approaching when I won’t be able to say that I really hate something because it’s basically stupid, and instead I’ll say that I “don’t like it very much” and it’s “silly”. If I ever get to using the word “whoopee” in The Newlywed Game sense, someone please send me out to pasture. Unless, of course, we’re talking about these totally kick-ass Whoopie Pies, in which case no language will be barred, I don’t care what sweet, impressionable, jeans-clinging tiny person is in my midst.


After meeting the greatness that is Rose Levy Beranbaum a couple weeks ago and getting a shiny new copy of her Heavenly Cakes book (just announced as IACP’s Cookbook of the Year, hooray!) signed and in my hot little hands, I started flipping and bookmarking that very night. And the recipes are, of course, at an insane level of creative genius. Most of them are, in a word, complex. So until Little C starts preschool, I’m probably going to stick to a few of the simpler recipes in this book, like these Whoopie Pies–rich, dense, deeply chocolatey cakey cookies sandwiching the most silky, perfect vanilla buttercream I’ve ever had. To die for, basically.


But because we’re friends, I’ll tell you that as far as Whoopie Pies go, the process to make them isn’t the simplest of all the recipes out there. This is RLB we’re talking about, after all. However, I will also say that they are totally, completely worth it, thank God. The cake part of the recipe actually comes together fairly quickly, and the double hit of dark chocolate makes for the kind of fudgy batter that you’ll want to spoon right from the bowl.


And the buttercream filling? Oh mah gah. This filling is one of Rose’s signature “mousseline” buttercreams, and it does not disappoint. And in her new book, she’s made the process a bit simpler for those of us who don’t have eight hands. Hooray!


The combination is nothing short of heavenly. With a tall, cold glass of milk, you’re really going to need to watch your language.

Whoopie Pies
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Rose’s Heavenly Cakes

The original recipe stated that it would create 6 filled pies, but I easily got 8 out of my batches of batter and filling. The recipe also called for bringing the sugar syrup all the way to firm ball stage (248-250 degrees) before removing it from the heat, and the first time I followed this instruction, the syrup had cooled and mostly soldered itself to the measuring cup before I could get it into the meringue. I found that bringing it to a warm soft ball stage instead (238) worked much better and the end result was still great.

There are a lot of steps here, which I’ve condensed quite a bit from the original recipe. Read it carefully before you begin and try to choreograph the process in your head in the way that will work best for you before you begin.

If you don’t own smaller ice cream scoops, this recipe would be the perfect excuse to go buy a 2 tablespoon scoop–it makes portioning out the batter and filling evenly a breeze.

Makes 8 whoopie pies

For the cakes:

1 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (60-62% cacao–I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips and it was fine)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cool room temperature
1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour (sift first, then measure)
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

For the filling:

1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
1 large egg white, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoons cream of tartar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees. Line two unrimmed baking sheets (or invert two rimmed half-sheet pans) with parchment paper or silicone baking mats, or spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water or in a microwave at 50% power, stirring every 30 seconds. Let cool until the chocolate is no longer warm to the touch, but still fluid.

While the chocolate is cooling, place the brown sugar, egg, oil and butter in the bowl of an eletrci mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat at medium speed for about 5 minutes–the mixture will become smooth and paler in color. Reduce the speed to low and stir in the melted chocolate.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture in three additions on low speed, alternating with the buttermilk, beating just until each addition begins to disappear into the batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With a 1-ounce (2 tablespoons) ice cream scoop, portion the batter onto the sheets, 8 evenly spaced mounds per sheet.

Bake one sheet at a time, rotating halfway through baking, until the centers spring back when lightly touched, about 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on the sheet on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes before transferring the cakes to the rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container until ready to fill.

To make the filling, begin by making the sugar syrup. Combine the sugar, corn syrup and water in a small saucepan. Over medium heat, cook until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Reduce the heat to low and move on to making the meringue (if you’re using an electric range, remove the pan from the heat completely).

In a mixing bowl with a handheld mixer, beat the egg white on high speed until foamy with tiny, relatively uniform bubbles. Add the cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks form when the beaters are lifted.

Return to the sugar syrup and increase the heat to high. Boil until the syrup reaches 238-240 degrees. To make pouring easier, transfer the syrup to a heatproof measuring cup if you wish.

Beat the syrup into the meringue in a thin, steady stream, aiming away from the beaters so that the syrup doesn’t just spin onto the sides of the bowl. Beat until the outside of the bowl no longer feels hot, about 3 minutes. Beat in 1 tablespoon of the butter and the vanilla extract or paste. Refrigerate for 10 minutes while you make the finishing cream for the filling.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and confectioners’ sugar. Beat on high for 2 minutes or until the mixture is very light in texture and color, almost white. Lower the speed to medium and beat in all the meringue until the buttercream is smooth, about 10 seconds or so.

To assemble, sandwich generous 2-tablespoon mounds of the filling between the cakes, and press down lightly so that the cream reaches the edges of the pies. Serve at room temperature and store any leftovers refrigerated in an airtight container, allowing them to come to room temperature again before serving.

Mar 23, 2010

Triple Chocolate-Pecan Biscotti


I ask you, can one be OWNED by biscotti? Because this past weekend, I became captivated by a recipe for them, with motivation to do little else than bake them and get them in my belly. I was twinkly-eyed, distracted, lovelorn for this biscotti.

So as of today, my refrigerator is still badly in need of a clean-out. Laundry is sitting in heaps, mocking me. And I’m not entirely certain I still have a living room rug under all those flippin’ wooden puzzle pieces that are constantly stabbing me in the metatarsals. But you know what I am sure of? Domestic failures don’t seem nearly as depressing when you survey them while munching these completely addictive Triple Chocolate-Pecan biscotti. So make a batch, and you, too, might be able to put off mopping those floors for one more week! You’re welcome.


Full disclosure: I’ve not had great luck with biscotti recipes in the past. I know, I know, I can hear your cries of “ohhh, but they’re so fun to make and so eeeeeaaasy!”. Well, I know they’re supposed to be fun and easy, and maybe it was my lack of a biscotti thumb or whatever, but until now, I’d never turned out a batch that I would consider to be transcendent, and besides that, they’d get all crumbly during slicing before the final bake, or they’d be weirdly coarse or so hard you could crack a veneer or just generally uninteresting. But lo, we have a winner now, people. And it comes from the cookbook I’m currently keeping under my pillow at night, Karen DeMasco’s totally lovely The Craft of Baking.


These glorious chocolate biscotti (actually triple-chocolate, if you’re counting–in powdered, chipped and dipped forms) actually had me thinking I was headed for another failure at first, because the dough is so crazy soft and sticky, it’s really more like a thick brownie batter, and I was all, “WTF, Karen?”. But with my beloved bench scraper (which I hope you have and if not, please save yourself and get one) and a generous dusting of flour on my work surface (and I do mean generous–like a 1/3 cup or more), I was able to cajole the soft dough into planks for the first bake.


Turns out, I think the super wet dough is what makes these biscotti so amazing–light, fine-textured, delicate and crisp, not jaw-achingly cronch-y like so many coffee shop specimens that give biscotti a bad name. It also makes for an easy slicing before the final bake, which this biscotti-wary baker was very grateful for.


Also, I need to tell you that the chocolate flavor here is so bold, it’s almost surprising. As I am wont to do, I used Valrhona cocoa, which I’m sure didn’t hurt, but the real secret here is a sort of homemade coffee extract that DeMasco uses often in her recipes, and like the way a great vanilla extract boosts all those dreamy notes of sweet butter and sugar in other recipes, the bright flavor of coffee adds a roundness to chocolate that is so next-level, I simply don’t have the adjectives on me to explain it. It’s like a chocolatey punch in the face. But in a good way. See, I told you I didn’t have the adjectives to spare.


After the last bake, even just bare and plucked straight off the baking sheet, these biscotti had me at hello. In fact, I immediately scarfed down a second one, you know, just to be sure. Yep, I was definitely in a relationship with this biscotti. But that wasn’t enough for me. I needed to make this understanding official, and take things to the next level. And so, I did the only logical thing.


And that, my friends, is how you get OWNED by biscotti. Let me know how it goes when it meets your parents.


Triple Chocolate-Pecan Biscotti
Adapted from The Craft of Baking

This dough is extremely sticky, so have lots of extra flour standing by before you begin working with it. If pecans aren’t your thing, walnuts, almonds and pistachios would all be nice here too. I am suggesting a half-and-half blend of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate chips for dipping, because for me, it’s the perfect balance, but if you’d like to use just one kind of chips, go for semi-sweet.

Makes about 3 dozen

For the cookies:

1 cup pecan pieces, roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon hot water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (regular size is fine)

For dipping:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli 60% cacao)
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Place the pecan pieces in a small baking pan. Toast for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

Stir together the instant espresso powder and hot water in a small bowl to make a coffee extract. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, baking soda and salt. Beat on low speed until the butter is no longer visible and the mixture resembles hot cocoa powder, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla and coffee extract. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture until well-blended. Stir in the cooled pecans and mini chocolate chips.

Generously cover a work surface with flour. Scrape the dough out onto the work surface, and flour your hands well, too–the dough will be very soft and sticky. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough in half, and shape each portion into a plank, about 16 inches long by 2 inches wide (don’t fear having too much flour on the outside of the planks–you can dust off the excess later). Carefully transfer them to a baking sheet about 3 inches apart.

Bake until the planks are firm to the touch, 20-25 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking. Transfer the planks, still on the parchment or baking mat, to a cooling rack, and let cool for about 5 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

Transfer the planks to a cutting board, and use a pastry brush to dust off any excess flour. With a large serrated knife, cut the planks on the diagonal into about 1/3-inch slices. Arrange the slices on the baking sheet and return them to the oven until they are dry and firm, about 1 hour. Let cool completely on the baking sheet set on a wire rack.

Combine the bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate chips in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Quick-temper the chocolate by removing half the chips to another bowl, and microwaving the remainder in 30 second bursts on high power until completely melted, stirring after each 30 second interval. Add the rest of the chips to the melted chocolate and stir until all the chips are totally melted. Dip one end of each cookie in the melted chocolate and set on a parchment-lined baking sheet to set at room temperature.

The biscotti can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Mar 16, 2010

Millionaire’s Shortbread


On the same day that I finally took a long overdue trip to the dentist and thought that it might be a nice idea to go on a little diet for a few days, I put together a totally addictive batch of Millionaire’s Shortbread. Is this what psychologists mean by “self-sabotage”? Please advise.


I suppose I could also be getting myself into a bit of hot water by posting about a traditional Scottish recipe in time for St. Patrick’s Day. But since a little Googling shows that one can find a version of Millionaire’s Shortbread in Ireland, too, and because I am now so out of touch with the world that I tend to think of everything “over there” as one big country, let’s just go with it, okay? Annnddd….there goes half my readership. Excellent.


Speaking of national holidays like St. Patrick’s Day that are so awesome that other countries get in on the action, why don’t we all celebrate one for Scotland, too? Because I think we should, based solely on Millionaire’s Shortbread. I mean, c’mon, people. Buttery, crumbly shortbread. Thick, chewy caramel. A slick of chocolate capping the whole thing off. Shouldn’t this dessert have its own FLAG?

Now, I’ve never been to Scotland. I hear it’s a beautiful place. I came very close to going to Scotland once for my sister-in-law’s wedding, but ended up birthing a baby six weeks before and was way too consumed with lactating and keeping my fragile newborn in a bubble to make the trip. My husband, however, bravely left his kin to attend the wedding. And he acted all sad about having to leave us, and at the time I think I believed him. But looking back now, I’m not so sure.


Because boyfriend got to get the heck outta Dodge, and in this case, the Mayor of Dodge was a hormonal, post-partum train wreck with a colicky, sleep-fighting infant. He left Dodge for a lush, green countryside full of golf, beer, the green light to wear a man skirt with no underpants, and incredible access to Millionaire’s Shortbread. Is 18 months after the fact too late to nag your husband about something?


Millionaire’s Shortbread

You can speed up the cooling process of the layers by popping the pan into the freezer for about five minutes or so between steps. For the chocolate layer, I like to use a half-and-half mix of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate chips because I think the balance is so right on, but all semi-sweet works too. I made my caramel in the microwave, but if you prefer, you can cook the condensed milk on the stovetop, in a double boiler over low heat, for 1 1/2 hours.

Makes about 20 pieces

For the crust:

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

For the caramel layer:

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or a generous 1/8 teaspoon of regular salt)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the chocolate layer:

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (see note)
3/4 teaspoon vegetable oil

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with an 8-inch wide “sleeve” of aluminum foil, long enough to create a couple inches of overhang on two sides. Butter or lightly spray the entire pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed just until creamy and blended, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, and stir in 1 cup of the flour until well-blended, then stir in the egg yolk until the dough is smooth, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary to make sure everything is well-incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dust your hands with flour and pat the dough into a disc. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup flour over the dough and knead it gently just until the flour is worked in–the dough should be soft and smooth and not too sticky. Pat the dough into a square almost as big as the pan, then transfer the dough to the pan and pat it neatly and evenly across the bottom of the pan. Prick the crust all over with a fork. Bake it for about 22-25 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Let it cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the caramel: Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a medium microwave-safe bowl. Cook on medium power (about 50%) for 4 minutes, stirring well halfway through. Continue to cook on medium-low power (about 30-40%) for another 12-20 minutes, until the milk has turned into a thick, smooth, golden caramel, stopping to stir about every 2-3 minutes. There won’t be a lot of change in the caramel until the last few minutes, and the total time will depend on your microwave–keep on stirring and adding time until you’ve clearly cooked the milk to a irresistibly golden caramel. Stir in the salt and vanilla.

When the shortbread has cooled, pour the caramel over it and nudge it into an even layer with a small spatula. Let it the caramel firm up for about an hour in the refrigerator, or less than 10 minutes in the freezer.

Melt the chocolate chips and vegetable oil together in a small microwave-safe bowl on 50% power, stopping to stir every 40 seconds or so, until the chocolate is melted, glossy and perfectly smooth. Drizzle the chocolate in an even layer over the caramel, and use a spatula to smooth it. Chill until the chocolate is set, refrigerated for about 30 minutes or about five minutes in the freezer. Remove the bars from the pan using the handles of the foil sleeve to lift the slab, and then transfer it to a cutting board. Cut into aout 20 bars, using a large chef’s knife and wiping the blade clean after each cut. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Mar 8, 2010

Best Cocoa Brownies

Remember in back in, say, early grade school when you first learned about the elusive concept of “Opposite Day”? Like yes meant no and stop meant go and basically it was just a ripe opportunity for little kids to act like they were way smarter than their parents because no matter what kind of discipline parents tried to instill on their children, the child could deflect the power by simply proclaiming it Opposite Day? Yeah. I was really into the concept of Opposite Day. How did my mother not lock me up for life by defying her with nonsense?

Anyway, I’ve since gotten over the idea of Opposite Day in a big way. I like order. Predictability. I like to know that when a brownie recipe contains only cocoa and no solid chocolate that it will probably turn out dull, dry and lifeless and be a complete waste of calories. Well. Let it be known that the ever-inspiring pastry phenom Alice Medrich is a saucy minx who is apparently a huge advocate of Opposite Day.


A few weeks back, I exposed myself as a Team Fudgy brownie lover and shared a recipe that I’d had high hopes for, but had turned out too much on the cakey side to be something I’d call a real brownie. And oh, the irony! It had all sorts of melted chocolate in the batter, an element that nearly every legendary brownie recipe incorporates. This latest brownie recipe I’m bringing to you has 100% cocoa as its backbone, not a speck of bar chocolate to speak of and get this–it’s as moist and fudgy and amazing as all get out.


It’s almost a little like the box mix brownies that even this scratch baking enthusiast can’t resist, and to me, that’s high praise. What? I don’t care if it makes you think I have a dirty, secret Sandra Lee underbelly, I plowed my way through three boxes of brownie mix in as many weeks during the last trimester of my pregnancy, and if you’d scoffed at me then, I would’ve cut you. I love me a box mix brownie. Fact.

But truthfully, after making a batch of Alice Medrich’s Cocoa Brownies, I really don’t see a reason to go down that box mix route again. Well, except for a 10-for-10-bucks sale at Safeway, but c’mon, who can resist THAT? Communists, that’s who. Anyway, this recipe involves barely more steps or dirty dishes than making box mix brownies, and there’s no way my sister Betty Crocker could turn out a batter so midnight dark and deeply chocolaty, courtesy of copious amounts of Valrhona cocoa, because when I go all out, I go big.


And really, if you’re going to make a recipe with an ingredient in the title, I think it’s a good indication that you should pull out the big guns, in this case a rich premium cocoa powder such as Valrhona, Scharffen Berger or the like. It’s so worth it, if for no other reason than to have your mind blown by the idea that something can taste more like chocolate than chocolate itself but with no solid chocolate actually in it. No, I meant that. I know I may look crazy with these fudgy brownie crumbs in my teeth, but I know what I’m talking about.


Best Cocoa Brownies

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet

I am typically a brownie purist and like them plain, but if you’re a nutty brownie person, Medrich recommends pecans or walnuts. Note that the eggs need to be cold in this recipe, as opposed to the room temperature eggs that are called for in so many other baking recipes.

Makes 16 brownies

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. Spray the pan and lining with cooking spray.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth, though it will appear somewhat gritty. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not at all hot.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well-blended, add the flour and stir until all the streaks of flour disappear, then beat vigorously for 40 more strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Set the pan in the freezer for 10 minutes (it will make for clean cutting of the brownies).

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.

Feb 18, 2010

Bittersweet Hot Fudge


Motherhood has smacked me upside the head in so many ways. Some of them involve being surprisingly close to institutionalizing myself. Others, however, are actually really lovely in the grand scheme of things, and I don’t just mean those moments where I’m suddenly so overcome with love for my child that I want to smooch her and squeeze her until she pops. I’m talking about a new appreciation for the little things, the simpler the better. Like how Little C has started patting my back while hugging me. A glass of wine after she goes to bed and the house is straightened. Time to shave and wash my hair in the shower. And a dish of vanilla ice cream drowned in the most flippin’ fantastic bittersweet hot fudge that comes together in mere minutes. Ahhh…it’s the little things.


Although to be fair, this hot fudge sauce is not a small thing. No, it is pretty major. It’s sort of unassuming in the preparation, though the nearly three-quarters of a pound of chocolate that go into making one batch (I first mistyped that as “bath”… hello, subconscience) of the stuff might tip you off that you’re doing something epic.

All that needs to happen to enter into this chocolate sauce nirvana is to melt said chocolate together with a knob of butter while you warm some cream and corn syrup on the stovetop, and then whisk it all together and BAM!


Hot fudge as it is meant to be: Thick and rich, and deeply, darkly chocolatey, becoming almost chewy on contact with cold ice cream. With the one-two punch of phenomenal flavor and hearty texture, it’s almost a misnomer to call this a hot fudge “sauce”–melted chocolate truffles is more like it. And the bittersweet edge makes a pairing with vanilla ice cream so perfectly balanced, you may never want to have another dessert again. As Oprah might say, “Life chaaaaang-iiiing!! Life changing, life changing. Life. Changing.”



Bittersweet Hot Fudge
Adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper

For the bittersweet chocolate, I use 60% Ghiradelli chips rather than bar chocolate because it’s more economical and have been perfectly happy, but whether you go with bars or chips, go for a premium brand–you’ll get a much more moan-inducing final product.

This hot fudge sets up firm when cold, like a refrigerated truffle, so you need to rewarm leftovers to make it pourable or spoonable again after chilling. The original recipe says to rewarm it gently over simmering water, but I’ve thrown the whole jar into the microwave for a 15 second zap and with a quick stir it comes back to life beautifully.

Makes about 2 cups

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use 60% Ghiradelli chips and am perfectly happy with them)
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons extra if needed
6 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the chocolates and the butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Melt them in the microwave on medium power for about 3 minutes, stopping to stir the mixture often. When it is fully melted, set it aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup of cream, the corn syrup and the vanilla. Bring them to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as it comes to a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for 2 minutes. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until the hot fudge is smooth. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream if needed to thin it out a bit.

Serve warm immediately, or pour it into jars for storing in the refrigerator for about 10 days.

my books





I Support

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.