Entries tagged with “Chocolate”.
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Sat 31 Jul 2010
A bedtime tale: Once upon a time, there was a girl who published a lovely little food blog and had many delightful conversations with readers about incorporating good food into their busy lives. Then the girl’s job kicked into extreme overdrive, ratcheting from ridiculously busy up to holy-hyper-insanity-what-do-you-mean-it’s-already-June-July-August busy. It was so busy that the girl could barely manage to cook food every night, let alone photograph it and write about it. Then the girl’s grandma died. Then her job got even busier. One day, the girl decided she really missed blogging and decided to come back to it with a recipe for absolutely perfect chocolate chip cookies. The end.
Or something like that. Thank you for bearing with me during my unplanned hiatus. I missed you guys - I hope you missed me, too. The past few months have been absolutely breathless; as it turns out, there is a monumental amount of work involved in being debtors’ counsel in a large chapter 11 bankruptcy case. Who knew?
To atone for my absence, I present to you my very favorite cookie. As I have mentioned, I grew up making a scrumptious snuggle of an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie known in my family as a Cowboy Cookie. For the better part of three decades, I considered Cowboy Cookies to be the Mary Poppins of chocolate chip cookies: practically perfect in every way.
And then, one day, I cheated on my Cowboy Cookies with another recipe involving brown butter. For the uninitiated, brown butter is the result of heating regular butter in a skillet until the water has boiled off and the milk solids brown. It is rich, nutty, and capable of becoming an absolute scene-stealer in otherwise predictable dishes. Jeffrey Steingarten wrote about brown butter in the June issue of Vogue last year. (Wherein he had the bizarre nerve to present an utterly pedestrian oatmeal shortbread recipe as the end-all, be-all oatmeal cookie whilst neglecting to include the baking temperature. Jeffrey, I expected better on both counts.) My quibbles with the recipe notwithstanding, the story reminded me how beautifully brown butter enhances certain cookies. Unsatisfied with my underlying recipe, I filed the brown butter idea away in a special section of my memory I reserve for Thoughts About Cookies. A few months later, I was intrigued by the idea of putting grey salt on chocolate chip cookies. A few months after that, I received The Grand Central Baking Book for Chanukah and the stars were suddenly aligned for cookie nirvana.
The six-year-old in me thought this departure from Cowboy Cookies was utter heresy, but the 30-year-old who occupies the majority of my me-real estate told the kid to simmer down and have a nap. And then promptly set about combining all of these recipes into one perfect cookie. A soft, chewy, perfect cookie that is both loaded with chocolate and tastes faintly of toffee. Robust with oatmeal and very grown up with a smattering of grey salt, it is a moment of baked perfection in even the most hectic life.
(Continue reading Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies…)
Sun 20 Sep 2009
The bakery cupcake phenomenon kind of escapes me. It highlights my fleeting disconnect from people who don’t see cooking as Something You Do. Living in Los Angeles, I’m within each reach of at least a dozen bakeries with beautiful and famous cupcakes…but I’ve never been to any of them.
My reasons are two-fold. First, the few I’ve had have been fine, but not great. It’s not that they’re bad, exactly, they’re just not something I’d go out of my way to track down. Second, I can’t fathom paying someone several dollars for a single cupcake when I can make piles and piles of them at home with the staples in my pantry and fridge.
However, I wholeheartedly support the cupcake movement, such as it is. Tiny cakes that can be dressed and frocked to suit the wildest and mildest palates alike are whimsical genius, in my best opinion. Cupcakes are simply fun. It has been delightful to see something so fun and so manageable at home become so broadly popular recently. I only wish I could convince more people to make their own.
Do you want to know the secret to true cupcake perfection? Take an unfrosted cupcake and slice it in half on its horizontal axis so that you have top and bottom pieces that are of roughly equal thickness. Next, spread a generous layer of frosting on the bottom layer and set the top layer on top. Frost the top as you normally would. Carefully spread a final layer of frosting around the sides and voila, a tiny layer cake for one. Enjoy with a fork.
Of course, cupcakes in wrappers are also lovely. I made these Red Velvet Cupcakes for a friend’s birthday a few weeks ago when she told me her list of cake likes include lemon, chocolate, and cream cheese, in no particular order. Red velvet has experienced a bit of a renaissance in the past two years or so. No longer a regional staple of Southern birthday parties, it has gained a place in this new canon of cupcake frippery. I think it brilliantly exemplifies the genius of cupcakes. Here is a hyper-pigmented, sugar coma-sweet confection, packaged for one. It’s Dolly Parton as a dessert. A perfect platform for its flavor foil, frosting energized by the tangy snap of cream cheese; a perfect symbol for our national sweet tooth.
If you don’t have a pastry bag for piping the frosting, don’t worry about it. You can do a swell job with a dinner spoon. Load up the spoon with frosting. Holding the spoon in one hand and the cupcake in the other, set the spoon down on the center of the cake and rotate the cupcake in one, clean circle so that the frosting sweeps the whole top. Touch up as needed – you’ll end up with a lovely look.
(Keep reading Red Velvet Cupcakes…)
Sun 9 Aug 2009
Posted by Bria under Baking
Without fail, the purchase of a bunch of bananas implies that one of the bunch will end up entombed in my freezer. It’s always the same story. We buy bananas, intend to eat at least one a day and by the third or fourth day, we burn out. The banana that was lemony yellow and unblemished on Sunday becomes a brown-flecked tube of sickly sweetness on Thursday. That lonely, time-tattooed, orphan banana in the bowl always rides to the freezer on a sea of good intentions – I’m not wasting it, I’m preparing for banana bread! The fact that I found a brown, frozen banana in each of four layers of my freezer’s sedimentary melee of forgotten foodstuffs is evidence that it has been a while since my good intentions did anything other than pave paths. I’ve been so energized by yeast breads for the past several months that I’ve treated quick breads with shameful neglect. It’s probably good that we don’t buy bananas very often.
As the name implies (and as discussed in the recent contest entries), they are quite quick. More of a batter than a dough, they are typically mixed, poured, and baked. The baking can last for upwards of an hour, since the batter tends to be quite wet, but that’s the most time-consuming part of the process. Getting yourself to the oven stage of a quick bread is, generally, a dump-mix-pour program. In that sense, it’s a lot like a cake.
This recipe doesn’t produce the tallest loaf in the world. As you can see from the pictures, it’s rather compact. It is not, however, dense. The chocolate and chocolate chips add a sweetness and richness that make the shorter slices seem appropriate.
I’ve jazzed up the bananas here by simmering them with a bit of rum. This is optional. If you find yourself with a pile of ready bananas and no rum, don’t worry. The recipe will still work. If you are worried about the alcohol content of the finished bread, fear not. The alcohol will completely cook off between the simmering and the baking. Whether or not you simmer the bananas, be sure they are very well mashed. If you leave big globs of banana in the batter, you’ll end up with boggy wet spots in the bread.
(Keep reading Chocolate Banana Bread…)
Sun 14 Jun 2009
Happiness. adj. The occasional combination of (i) a pot of coffee, (ii) a plate of simple muffins, and (iii) a Saturday morning.
Lovelies, I have just revealed to you my inner sloth. Left to my own devices and otherwise unencumbered by other obligations, I can stretch a batch of muffins and a pot of coffee well into early afternoon as I faff about watching Bravo. But I’m persnickety. Not just any muffin will do. It has to be fresh, and it has to be simple. No overdressed Starbucks monstrosities or cupcakes slumming it without their frosting; a triple-chocolate, wrapper-wearing something or other is not my Saturday style.
You’ll find a ziptillion muffin mixes in the baking aisle of your grocery store. Please walk on by. Two bowls, a muffin tin, and a few ingredients are all that separate you from one of breakfast’s basic beauties. They are tremendously simple and very much worth the modicum of extra effort.
If chocolate chips aren’t your thing, add a handful of chopped pecans or dried cherries. If you really want to get snazzy, spoon a large dollop into each well of your muffin tin, add a small spoonful of jam to the center of each dollop, and top with the rest of the batter. The jam will stay put and make for tasty centers.
The underlying recipe comes from Michael Ruhlman’s excellent book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking (see link in the sidebar). You’ll notice that the quantities for the flour, sugar, milk, and butter are listed first by weight. If you have a food scale, use it. Volume measurements are listed in the parentheses and will also work.
(Keep reading Simple Chocolate Chip Muffins…)
Sun 24 May 2009
Posted by Bria under Baking
We’re going to talk about cookies for a moment, one variety by way of another. I think cookies might be the first thing I ever made from scratch by myself. It was a recipe called Cowboy Cookies that my mom kept in a black recipe binder – the kind I keep telling myself I should start. Sure, I keep copies of recipes on my computer, both good things I’ve tried and things I tinkered with myself. And were you to crawl between the sofa and its accompanying sofa table to see behind the shelf where I keep my cookbooks, you’d find a neon rainbow of sticky flags marking all the things I mean to cook one of these days.
But more often than not, I end up transferring a recipe or an adaptation of a recipe to a scrap of paper that can get down and dirty on my kitchen counter as its progeny springs forth. My go-to pizza crust recipe lives on an index card on the side of our fridge, and many a sauce-spotted post-it have found their way to the top of the flour canister at the hands of Nora, the wonderful woman who cleans for us once a week. There, they await my discovery, and are eventually discarded. I should really get a binder.
My mom’s binder holds about a hundred pages of recipes – clippings from newspapers and old issues of Good Housekeeping, index cards from friends, and a dozen pages of careful, adolescent script – the remnants of her 8th grade cooking class. The pages are covered in plastic and lie flat, both qualities are invaluable in the kitchen. No matter how pronounced the nimbus cloud of cocoa becomes during the too-hurried assembly of a chocolate cake, the pages are easily wiped clean; a new slate for the next cake.
The Cowboy Cookies were not complicated or profound. Just a good, buttery chocolate chip cookie with a hearty helping of oatmeal stirred in at the end. It was making those Cowboy Cookies where I first learned that brown sugar makes flatter, crisper cookies when it takes on a solo act in place of its usual duet with granulated white as the recipe intended. And it was a batch of Cowboy Cookies that fell victim to my experiment with mint extract. Through it all, the Cowboy Cookies endured as simple, reliable, and intoxicatingly delicious.
I remember loving the recipe card itself, too. It wasn’t just an index card. It was illustrated with a joyful drawing of a woman in the throes of cooking. My first memory of the illustration came at that pre-school developmental stage where the only things worth noticing in the world around you are cookies and cartoons, and this was the promise of both. At the time, any brightly-colored illustration gave way to the possibility, no matter how remote, of cartoons; I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Better still, whenever the card came out, cookies were sure to follow.
And so my love of fresh cookies began. Even back then, I knew many children whose mothers didn’t bake, whose class birthday treats came from a bakery or the grocery store. In making Cowboy Cookies, I learned that there was more to baked goods than the end product itself. There was the anticipation, building itself into a craving-laden crescendo throughout the assembly process and fueled by the many opportunities to taste along the way. And oh, the tasting. A finished cookie is all well and good, certainly, but it would be criminal to spend one’s entire life overlooking the various stages of a batter’s life cycle. Cookie dough ice cream-lovers have an inkling of what I’m talking about here (though to base your fondness for cookie dough on that miserable, pellet-form is like listening to a Ride of the Valkeries ringtone and saying you like Wagner). Fresh cookie dough does not have an equal. Neither does the prospect of licking the spoon after all the cookies are made and it’s time to do the dishes.
As you can probably gather, my thoughts on the necessity of making your own cookies are closely aligned with my thoughts on making your own bread. You must. It’s another process that is far less complicated than it seems to the uninitiated, and yields results that will delight you more than you can know.
This is a very fun recipe for cookies that look fantastic and taste even better. They are just the ticket for the chocolate craving that refuses to be satisfied with a single layer of chocolate. These are the big guns, the really intense chocolate assault that will definitely cure what ails you. And surprisingly enough, they do not call for any flour. I made them a few weeks ago in honor of the impending departure of one of my friends at the office who was bound for his upcoming wedding and journey to a year of adventure in Chile. They were well-received; I hope you will agree.
(Keep reading Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies…)
Thu 7 May 2009
Posted by Bria under Baking
How does a person in her right mind propose covering a marshmallow in more sugar? It’s a valid question. For starters, I like sweets. I do. I have always had a powerful sweet tooth and have been known to eat chocolate chip cookies for dinner when I think I can get away with it.
But this is about more than just achieving sugar nirvana. A handful of marshmallows or a spoonful of brown sugar gets me there. (Not that I have ever set a spoon on my kitchen counter for the sole purpose of nabbing little spoonfuls of brown sugar every time I pass the jar – not really, not ever. Or not much. Rarely, really. Just once. Or so. Anyway.) This is about taking a strange little canvas and decorating it in the way it deserves. This is the miniature millinery of dessert. The chinoiserie wallpaper of a dollhouse living room. Dress it up, make it fancy. Put a bow tie on that butterfly.
(Keep reading Marshmallows Part II…)
Thu 16 Apr 2009
Posted by Bria under Baking
Once upon a time, an enterprising member of a hunter-gatherer tribe grew restless at the idea of yet another bowl of the same mammoth stew and added a handful of peppery-smelling leaves to the batch. The first bite brought surprise and delight to all, and soon seasoning the meat was de riguer.
Or something like that. We don’t really need the specifics. Amidst the variety of reasons our most ancient ancestors began seasoning and varying their food is a reason so simple and obvious it generally goes without saying: because it tastes good.
And so it goes today – we continue to think, churn, generate, experiment, augment, and create, create, create beautiful, wonderful, delicious dishes. Cooking is both an art and a science, and is easily accessible at some level on both fronts. But the art side has a special, unique aspect to it. Everyone participates in it, somehow, every day. You don’t have to listen to music, view a play, examine a painting, or read a book every day, but you do have to eat. I think this is why I find cooking so appealing; it’s at the very core of our lives, waiting to be drawn out and caressed.
Yes, there are different strata of cooking and food. There are simple dishes and complicated ones. I can make a complicated sauce using fifteen ingredients, or a baguette using four. “Good” is so subjective, and doesn’t necessarily correlate to expense, difficulty, or complexity. Food: the great equalizer.
It is also very personal. Everyone’s palate is different, sensitive in varying ways. To prepare food for someone is, in a sense, to attempt to really know a very fundamental part of them. And this is one of the reasons I love to cook. It is powerful to fill an empty plate with the symphonic orchestrations of your kitchen’s contents and your own two hands. You begin with nothing, and end up with a serious something. When you cook with someone else in mind, when you reach out and access someone else’s palate and say “I think I know what you’ll like,” you share a part of yourself with them. I gave my bridesmaids a cookbook of my favorite recipes before my wedding. In the introduction, I told them “I consider the kitchen to be the heart of any home; in sharing these recipes with you, I hope to share a piece of my heart as well as my home.”
I continue to connect with the people around me through food (see, e.g., this website). Recently, upon realizing I had forgotten to wish a coworker happy birthday, I told him I would bring him the baked good of his choice the following Monday. He asked for Mandelhoernchen, a favorite cookie from his childhood in Germany. I happily agreed. He told me later, after leaving me what promises to become one of my all-time favorite voicemails, that he didn’t realize when I told him to specify a baked good that I would be making it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Mon 23 Mar 2009
Posted by Bria under Beverages
This is one of those recipes that neatly achieves a little fanciness without requiring much in the way of special ingredients or prep time. I can’t remember when I first tasted spicy hot chocolate, but I definitely fell in love. Smooth, earthy chocolate is punctuated beautifully by the power twins of cinnamon and cayenne. You can certainly exclude the Drambouie if you wish, but know that you are missing out (unless you are pregnant or otherwise medically excluded from alcoholic beverages, in which case hit the whipped cream with gusto and carry on with your spicy, chocolatey self).
I recommend Dagoba Hot Chocolate here, though you can use any hot chocolate powder. Stop, go back, read that again. I’m taking you through a shortcut by using a hot chocolate powder, rather than unsweetened chocolate that you sugar up yourself. Do not try to make this with plain old Hershey’s, and definitely do not send me a nasty email after doing so wherein you tell me how yucky your drink turned out. Hot chocolate powders have sugar already blended in. I like Dagoba because it’s sweet, but not overly so. I’ve made hot chocolate from absolute scratch, and wasn’t happy enough with the results to be interested in the extra steps.