Browsing articles in "Chocolate"
Jun 25, 2009

Espresso Brownies

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

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.

Dec 7, 2008

Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Okay, guys, I swear this place won’t become a mommy blog, but let’s just resign ourselves to the fact that I will be using the baby as an excuse for all kinds of things, like being the last person in the food blogging universe to write about David Leite’s Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookie, published in the The New York Times way back in July. I wish I could be one of those incredibly smart-like people who reads the NYT from front to back even though they live in California (at least on Sundays), but I’m just not there yet. And by “yet” I mean “ever”. But I will check in with the food section online from time to time, especially when my beloved LRK makes mention of something that appeared in its pages on her delicious NPR show The Splendid Table.

Baby C and I were out on one of our stroller walks a few weeks ago when suddenly I had a new reason to keep pushing my kid plus a dozen pounds of stroller up San Francisco’s treacherous hills. I’ve taken to downloading podcasts of TST onto my iPod while we get our exercise because a) I believe in irony, b) it keeps me working out for a full hour and c) I get introduced to the most exciting people and buzzworthy recipes in the food world without having to be bothered to read a newspaper, pssh-shaa! This particular episode featured Leite and his quest for the consummate chocolate chip cookie. Since I am a sucker for cookies and charming backstory of all sorts, it was only a matter of time before I tried this recipe that would supposedly produce a chocolate chip cookie so absurdly awesome it would become the baking world’s go-to recipe. Like I said, I’ve been a bit busy raising a person, so it took a while to get to trying it. And meanwhile everyone else in the world did and I felt totally left out. But I made it happen, people. And you know what? It’s pretty flippin’ great.

It’s like heaven kissed the Toll House cookie–all crisp edges and tender, chewy interior, rich with butter and brown sugar and generous amounts of chocolate. Speaking of the Toll House recipe, bakers have been tooling with this gold standard chocolate chip cookie ever since its introduction in 1934, all chasing consistently delicious results. Because c’mon, even though the recipe hasn’t changed over the years, we’ve all baked underwhelming batches of these iconic cookies. Too crunchy, too brown, oddly puffy, not enough chew, too crumbly, what have you. It’s as though the formula has always been good and really, there’s no such a thing as a “bad” or inedible cookie if you follow it correctly, but I’ve always thought there’s a really mysterious X factor involved in getting the Toll House cookie to turn out just right. And as I see it, the genius of what Leite has done is create a recipe that can give really great, consistent results. After a few tweaks. It’s always something, isn’t it?

There a couple things that stand out about this recipe when you put it up next to the Toll House recipe, the first being an interesting ratio of cake flour (a low protein flour) to bread flour (a high protein flour) instead of all-purpose flour (a nice, middle ground protein content). The more protein in a flour, the more gluten that can develop during mixing and that effects how tender and/or fine-textured the final product will be. The interesting ratio of cake to bread flours is a great way to precisely control this. So there’s that. And another fancy trick here is a long rest in the refrigerator after the dough comes together–24 to 36 hours (!) during which the flour can get fully hydrated by the wet ingredients. So it would seem that the big secret to great chocolate chip cookies is in dealing with the flour, but there’s also the mention of big disks of bittersweet chocolate rather than semi-sweet chips to jazz it all up and a good amount of salt to balance the sweet and highlight the use of that great chocolate.


All in all, this cookie is really something. But I gotta say, as much as I love David Leite, there were a few things that had to happen to get it there for my tastes when I dug into this recipe. First, the 18-20 minute baking time yielded a sheet of dry, overly browned cookies that were of decent texture while still warm, but turned rock-hard when completely cooled. So in a word, overbaked. And we all know how Type A I am with checking and rechecking my oven temperature before baking so that wasn’t the problem. Reducing the baking time to 16 minutes produced a second sheet of cookies with a wonderful crisp-chewy-tender bullseye effect, even at room temperature the next day.

Another sheet was better still, and you know what was different about it? They were the cookies that had been portioned and frozen two days earlier after the first sheet was baked. It could’ve been the additional resting time that did the trick here, I’ll never know for sure. So there’s the resurgence of that chocolate chip cookie X factor again, I guess. But it does bode well for bakers like myself who like to freeze doughs and bake off a few cookies at a time when the urge strikes rather than have a whole container of cookies taunting me for days from a countertop. Hooray!

So now that I’ve told you about how these cookies indeed lived up to the hype with a few adjustments, can I be a little passive-aggressive? Okay, well, first of all, the chocolate disks I picked up (73% bittersweet D’Agoba) were obviously lovely and of high quality, but I actually found myself wishing my cookie had some semi-sweet morsels to complete the all-American flavor and perfection of the baked dough–the cookie part was just so spot on. Another thing was Leite’s instruction to sprinkle the cookies with sea salt before baking. Meh. Kind of unneccesary from a flavor standpoint and it just seemed like a bit of pretentious foodie flair that I could take or leave, so in a third batch, I left it.

And in all honesty, I was a little taken aback by the cost of this cookie. I’m all for decadence and seeking out a few spendy ingredients to try a recipe on occasion, but it just seems kind of wrong somehow to spend $15 just for the chocolate part of a chocolate chip cookie, a dessert that exemplifies the greatness of simplicity. Especially when the recipe only yields a little under two dozen cookies. Anyone with me here? Tack on to that the cost of cake flour and bread flour and flaky sea salt (I had these things on hand because I’m a culinary dork, but I’m betting most people would have to make a special trip to the store for these not-so-everyday items) and it all gets kind of fabulously out of hand for the humble chocolate chip cookie.

I have heard of people using this same recipe with just all-purpose flour and different kinds of chocolate and having fine results, so I may be sticking the method in my back pocket and taking the fancy-pants off of this recipe to create the perfect lunchbox cookie, and reserving the bells and whistles for special occasions, like this year’s Christmas cookie tins. At any rate, the first time you try this recipe, go for the big guns, be a Leite purist, and see for yourself. Unless you’re more on top of things than I am these days and have done so already.

Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Jacques Torres and David Leite

Makes about 2 dozen

After the initial long rest in the refrigerator, you can bake off a few cookies at a time, refrigerating the dough for up to 72 hours. After that, scoop out portions of the remaining dough, freeze them until firm on a sheet pan, and store the frozen dough balls for later use.

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour

1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks, at least 60% cacao content

 

Whisk together the dry ingredients in medium bowl–flours, baking soda, baking powder and set aside.

In a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment on medium speed, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix just until the dough comes together, 5 to 10 seconds. Carefully stir in the chocolate disks (by hand is best as to not break up the chocolate). Press plastic wrap against dough (or transfer to an airtight container) and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

Scoop 6-8 mounds of dough (about the size of generous golf balls) onto the baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Bake until the cookies are golden brown but still soft, about 16 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more.

 

Apr 24, 2008

Chocolate Whoppers

Oh, man. I’m sorry, I’m blogging with my mouth full right now. Anyway, I know I just told you about a recipe that you just have to try, and here I am, pushing another one on you. But trust me, again. This recipe is really, really something. And! It’s from one of my favorite food-world people, the fantastically classy Sara Foster. I’ve never been to her famed market of all things delicious in Durham, North Carolina, but her great cookbooks of Foster’s Market’s favorites certainly make it seem pilgramage-worthy. And one of the most sought-after goodies at her market is the sigh-while-you-chew-them Chocolate Whoppers. If the name isn’t enough to send you running to the kitchen, arms flailing, then there’s something wrong with your soul that you might want to get checked out.


I was reminded of this recipe by a fabulous couple that invited the husband and I over for a delicious dinner this past weekend. They lived in North Carolina for quite some time so they have had the Real Deal Chocolate Whoppers straight from the market, in addition to making them at home using a recipe from one of Sara Foster’s cookbooks. When someone makes a point of telling me about a certain sweet after hearing about this blog, I am always intrigued. Especially when the words chocolate, chewy and gooey are involved. Cut to just a few days later, and I tracked down the recipe and tucked into the kitchen to find out what this Chocolate Whopper business was all about. And boy am I (as is the husband) glad I did.

These gems are the ultimate celebration of big chocolate flavor, chewy midpoint and gooey bullseye, with just enough of a crispness to the edges to give the cookie an incredible sense of varying textures and dimensions as you savor your way through it–like Saturn’s rings for the sweet tooth.

Chocolate Whoppers
Adapted from Foster’s Market in Durham, North Carolina

Makes one dozen whopper-sized cookies

The original recipe calls for two ounces of chopped unsweetened chocolate instead of making a chocolate “paste” of cocoa powder and vegetable oil, but I happened to have a great quality cocoa powder in my cupboard, so I opted to use the classic substitute for solid unsweetened baking chocolate with great results.

6 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or lightly grease them.

Place the chopped semi-sweet chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 20-30 second intervals, stirring well between each, until a few small chunks of chocolate remain–the residual heat from the bowl will melt the chocolate the rest of the way, and it’s important to not overheat the chocolate. In another small dish, combine the cocoa powder and vegetable oil until a smooth paste forms. Add the chocolate paste and melted butter to the melted semi-sweet chocolate and blend until smooth. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer or a strong, energetic arm and a whisk, beat together the eggs and vanilla. Add the sugar and beat until thick, paler in color and creamy-looking. Add the chocolate mixture and stir until well-blended.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until everything is incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips. The finished batter will look much more like a brownie batter than a cookie dough.

Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared baking sheet using a 2 ounce ice cream scoop or two tablespoons, about three inches apart (half a dozen cookies per sheet). Try to be as precise as possible in portioning the batter so the finished cookies are consistent. Bake for 10-12 minutes and do not overbake–the cookies will be very gooey in the center. Cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes and then transfer them onto wire racks to cool completely.

Dec 23, 2007

World Peace Cookies

Dorie Greenspan, why are you so awesome? Why must you be an amazing baker and great food writer and have one of those fantastic names that is so fun to say with first and last name together all the time, Doriegreenspan?

For my last Christmas cookie tin trick, I decided to go for the Sure Thing–chocolate and more chocolate. And thanks to the endlessly inspiring Dorie Greenspan by way of the legendary Pierre Herme, I was able to introduce a whole bunch of lucky people to the now-famous World Peace Cookie this holiday season.


This recipe is like the No-Knead Bread of the dessert world, ending up on countless food blogs for the better part of two years. And not-a one has dissed this cookie. It is at once sweet and salty, crisp and tender, a pure celebration of chocolate. The name comes from a neighbor of Dorie Greenspan’s who proclaimed upon tasting it that if this cookie was given to every single person, there would be planetary peace and happiness. It’s food stories like this that make me laugh out loud like Lynne Rosetto Kasper and then get immediately into the kitchen. I pulled the recipe from The Splendid Table’s website forever ago, and was excited to finally have a reason to bake up more than one batch of these luscious gems to give away and pass on the cookie love.

These are intended to be easy slice and bake cookies, just like a good sablé, and believe me, I have made batches of these cookies in that very manner. For the cookies pictured in this post, however, alternative measures were taken. Note to self and anyone who will listen: do not take every single one of your knives to be sharpened during high baking season. A steak knife will not cut it–literally. The dough will mush and crumble instead of slicing cleanly. But it’s a tribute to how great this dough is, because even though I ended up having to do these cookies up Heirloom Sugar Cookie style by rolling the shattered dough into balls and then flattening them with a drinking glass, their flavor and texture came out just as lovely as the batches I’ve made the “right” way.

Something else to think about with these beauties is the quality of the ingredients you choose. Sometimes in baking you can cut corners–store brand flour, sugar, butter and eggs–without effecting the final product one bit. I’m all for saving a buck when it doesn’t make a difference in the end. But when you’re making a recipe that either has very few ingredients (say, five or less) or when you’re dealing with a recipe that has a Main Event flavor or ingredient (like the chocolate and cocoa in these cookies), don’t scrimp. Don’t tell Dorie Greenspan (or worse, Pierre Herme, mon dieu!), but I once made these cookies with Hershey’s cocoa and chopped Nestle chips. Good, but…meh. Flat tasting. And then I redeemed myself by using Valrhona. I’m sure you can guess which cookie got more eyes fluttering upon tasting–the finest dark or bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder here really will take this recipe to the level at which it’s intended to be. A lovely fleur de sel rather than table salt also gives an obvious bump in flavor. It may take a little extra time in your grocery store to find the best ingredients available with which to make these cookies, but then again, doesn’t the possibility of world peace just in time for Christmas make it all worth it? I thought so.

This is my first holiday season blogging about my baking projects, and it’s been so much fun! For the first time in quite a while, I’ve truly been counting down the days until Christmas like a little kid, and I know sharing recipes with all of you has been a big part of that Advent calendar-esque feeling, so thank you for reading and coming along for the ride. We leave tomorrow for Chicago to enjoy a fabulous, extended Christmas break with family and I look forward to sharing all kinds of great new recipes with you in the brand new year. I hope you all spend the coming days surrounded by friends and loved ones and lots of great food. Happy Holidays!

World Peace Cookies
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

Makes 3 dozen

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips, or semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. If there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough. For the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, the dough may look a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be.

Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Nov 12, 2007

Cocoa No-Bake Treats

No secret I can get serious about my baking projects. I channel Martha, giddy at the sight of mise resting at the ready in the most perfect Type-A way, in matching bowls from my 10-piece set. I find it a fabulous challenge to constantly improve my technique, and marvel at how small tweaks in the process can drastically change the efficiency and outcome of a recipe. It’s really no different than the husband’s golf obsession. Baking as sport, if you will. But sometimes, after a dinner that took some doing, a girl needs her sweets in a way that requires nothing more than scooping, stirring, and a little heat. Something that she can practically throw together with her eyes closed. For such moments when the sweet tooth rules and the KitchenAid looks just so involved, I love to break out the kinds of kitschy recipes that are usually found in Xeroxed, plastic-spiral-bound church bake sale cookbooks or on the packaging of some baking ingredient.


Few things in life offer more instant gratification than the decades-old “no-bake treats” from the label of the Hershey’s Cocoa can. All of the ingredients are probably in your cupboards right this second. You are moments away from having your house smell amazing and your belly sing with the sugary, chocolately goodness that only a Cold War era treat can bring. Trade your paddle attachment for a wooden spoon and enjoy this Awesomely Quick Treat Flash. Hooray!

Hershey’s Cocoa No-Bake Treats

Makes 2-3 dozen

2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped peanuts (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place a sheet of parchment or foil on a cookie sheet.

Combine sugar, butter, milk and cocoa and salt in medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a steady, rolling boil, like chocolately lava. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool for 1 minute.

Stir in the peanut butter until well-blended. Add the oats, peanuts (if using) and vanilla extract, mixing thoroughly. Quickly drop the mixture by heaping tablespoons onto wax paper or foil. Makes about 2-3 dozen, depending on how generous your spoonfuls are, of course.

Nov 10, 2007

Ultimate Chocolate Cake

Of all the great benefits of marriage, I think one of my favorites is creating a brand new set of traditions based on a newly formed family. Even though the husband and I have yet to produce offspring, it’s nice to know we’ve already created a few of our own little family traditions that are just waiting to include little ones when they come. The husband’s Big, Messy Chocolate Birthday Cake is a much-anticipated event that we look forward to all year.

The first year I made this cake in Los Angeles more than four years ago, it was HOT. The summer heat had extended into a healthy portion of what should have easily been sweater weather (or long-sleeved t-shirt weather by L.A. standards). In fact, it was so hot in our non-air conditioned apartment that the stacked cake layers split into fourths soon after the buttercream was applied. I tried in vain to pin the cake together with toothpicks and solder the droopy layers in the freezer, but to no avail. The birthday “cake” was really more of a birthday “pile” that year, with candles lamely and haphazardly stuck in it. We laughed. After I cried. But it was still insanely delicious. And that is a testament to how extraordinary this cake really is.


With half a pound of chocolate between the cake and frosting, you might worry that it would all just be too much. But the genius of this recipe is the amazing balance that is struck between the tender, delicate crumb of the cake and the smooth, rich buttercream. With every bite, you will alternate marveling at the flavors and mouthfeel of both, and both components win in the end. The cake is extraordinarily moist (it keeps for days in perfect condition in a cake dome), and the frosting champions the chocolate, not the butter. The added touch of chipped chocolate folded into the buttercream lends a great, unexpected crunch.


Making this cake is so much fun when you’re a mise en place kind of person like me, carefully pre-measuring and setting out all of the ingredients before you begin. With this recipe, it really helps the process along. Take the time to sift your cake flour well, even more than once if you’ve got the patience–it’s worth it in the end. And the butter seriously needs to be at room temperature (since I always know the date I’ll be making this cake, I even set out the butter the night before). You really will never find a more beautiful batter than with this recipe, like luscious chocolate clouds being scooped into the cake pans. Drool.

Since I only make this cake for one occasion, I really like to go for it and use fantastic chocolate, such as Valrhona 56% Dark. For both the cake and the frosting, be sure your chocolate is cool to the touch before adding it to the mixtures. I rarely mess with double boilers–I find that quickly microwaving it until it’s about half melted (about 30 seconds) and then stirring, letting the residual gentle heat of the bowl melt the rest is a good way to get the job done without heating the chocolate so hot that it takes forever to cool down. And take special care when greasing the cake pans and lining them with parchment to make them truly non-stick; this is a delicate cake that can tear easily if you have to struggle too much getting it out of the pan.

Even though it’s so fabulous it deserves to be paraded out for every dinner party, picnic, bake sale and other random people’s birthdays, I save the creation of this chocolate behemoth for just once a year, in honor of my favorite husband. It’s tradition, after all.

Ultimate Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Tyler Florence

Makes one awesome, 9-inch, two-layer cake

For the Cake:

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups cold water

For the Chocolate Chip Buttercream:

3 cups powdered sugar
7 tablespoons hot water
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup semisweet or dark chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set a rack in the middle position. Coat two 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray, line the bottoms of the pans with circles of parchment paper, and then spray again for extra non-stick insurance.

Sift the flour, baking soda and salt and together and aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cooled chocolate and beat for three minutes to incorporate. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat for three more minutes.

Gradually mix in the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the cold water. Beat for one minute after each addition to incorporate. When all of the flour mixture and water has been added, scrape the bowl once more and then mix until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans until about 2/3 full, and smooth the surfaces with a spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the cakes spring back when touched and a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a rack in the pans for at least 40 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the buttercream.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whip attachment, dissolve the sugar and water at low speed. Beat in the chocolate and the vanilla. Add the butter in small bits, mixing until everything is incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula, giving the frosting a nice final mix.

Turn out one of the cooled cake layers upside down onto a cake stand or serving platter, remove the parchment circle and then place strips of clean parchment just under the cake’s edges to protect the serving dish from frosting smudges. Spread about half the frosting on this layer, starting in the center and working your way out. Place the second layer on top, remove the parchment, and frost top and sides of the cake with the remaining buttercream. Sprinkle with additional chocolate shavings if desired.

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