Saturday, August 27, 2011

Nutella Brownies or When Two Loves Combine

Nutella Brownies!
It is no secret: I love brownies and I love Nutella. Should I ever be forced to choose between one or the other (as in, I can only have one for the rest of my life), I think I would implode. Or I would choose these brownies, because it combines my two loves.

Don't judge...
I did not always love Nutella. My first impression of it was that of indifference; I could take it or leave it. That all changed when I studied abroad in Poitiers, France. Nutella became an addiction. True story: I would carry a jar of Nutella in my backpack in case I acquired a warm, fresh baguette from a bakery. Warm baguette + Nutella = Heaven (yes, I said that in a sing-song voice). Yes, I developed a deep, loving relationship with Nutella. This relationship, of course, was not good for me or my wardrobe. Let me just say that, regrettably, most of the clothing I had gone to France with did not fit me by the end of my time there.

I have since scaled back on the Nutella binges. In fact, I don't binge on it at all- too much sugar for me. I like my sweets, but I don't like them that sweet. Nutella is now just an occasional moment of bliss. My attachment is a lot less obsessive and is now more of a fondness.

Brownies, on the other hand, are still an obsession. The song Bad Romance comes to mind, for some reason. I get these really intense cravings for brownies (fudgy ones, of course), and then when I bake them, I go a little crazy with them. I'll eat one square and call it good, but sure enough, about half an hour later, I'm back at the pan, cutting myself "just a sliver" of brownie. Before I know it, a third of the pan is gone and my stomach is screaming at me for overdoing it. And then the guilt sets in. Brownies should come with a warning: contains guilt as a main ingredient. Yes, brownie is that bad lover that I keep returning to, no matter how many times he mistreats me. What can I say? I must be some kind of masochist...

Anyway, back to the Nutella Brownies. Were they good? Hells yes. Especially when served with my homemade coffee ice cream. You want to know the best part? These brownies were flipping easy to make. Seriously, way super easy. A drunken toddler could make these (note: I do not condone plying toddlers with alcohol). So, if you're really wanting brownies and have a large jar of Nutella on hand, I say go forth and bake these babies. You're welcome.

Nutella Brownies
from here

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup Nutella

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare an 8-inch square pan by spraying it with cooking spray.

Combine the flour and salt in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, beat the butter with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Beat in the Nutella and mix until incorporated. Stir in the flour mixture.

Pour the batter in the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack. These suckers are pretty stellar warm and served with ice cream.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Lemon Loaf and Life Lessons

Most of the loaf was eaten before I took a picture...
"Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Well, folks, my blog has officially reached it's first anniversary. That means I actually stuck with this for a year! I am proud of myself for sticking with it, given how many projects I've started in the past, only to abandon a few days or a few weeks later.

I've actually had a weekend full of proud moments. It all began with an epiphany that I had on Thursday when I went for a walk during a break at work. I've been feeling restless lately, a bit trapped, uncertain of my future and questioning whether there was a light at the end of the tunnel. During that last walk (and I've been taking many walks lately), it suddenly hit me: I need to not return to school in the fall and instead focus on baking. Specifically, I need to focus on starting a business for my baking. It is a scary thought, something I've toyed with in the past, but never took too seriously. In the end, however, I think it is time that I really gave a dream a chance to see the light, instead of keeping it trapped in my mind.

Once I had that breakthrough, things began to seem a little more clear to me. I am not trapped. I am free to make whatever decisions I feel are best, as this is my life, and I'm the only one living it. I've also only got one chance at this life, so I need to make the most of it. It has also helped to have some good friends to talk to and to remind me who I really am. I am a strong person, and I am not alone.

With this new outlook, I managed to fill what started out as a no-plans 3-day weekend with lots of activity. I took a drive in the country all by myself (which I had never done before), and wound up on some country roads that reminded me of a roller coaster; at one point, I came over a hill where I could not see the bottom, so I just yelled, "wooooo!" and enjoyed the ride. It was a nice little adventure. I also went to a party where I managed to speak a little French,as well as talk to strangers and join in conversations I was not originally a part of (something that usually makes me nervous). On Saturday I met up with two different friends across the river and did some exploring over there on my own for a bit (another first). During that adventure, I ate the most delicious grilled sandwich ever at The Grilled Cheese Grill: the Jaime, which had mascarpone, nutella, and bananas on cinnamon swirl bread. I almost died of happiness. I'm glad I didn't die, though, because Sunday morning I had another such moment with some peanut butter pancakes at Screen Door. It was a solid weekend with new adventures and plenty of time spent with good friends.

And so now I will share with you the recipe for the lemon loaf I made this weekend. Still not sure if it's a bread or a cake, but I don't really care. It tastes good. Sometimes I just get a lemon craving, and this satisfies that. It's a burst of sunshine, when that is what you need in your life. Also, my boss told me that it's the best lemon pound cake she has ever tasted, so I feel pretty good about it.

Lemon Loaf
adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

3/4 cup cake flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/8 cup sugar
4 lrg eggs at room temp.
grated lemon zest from 2 lemons
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 sour cream at room temp.
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup limoncello

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9x5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Fit a small sheet of parchment paper in the bottom of the coated pan and coat with cooking spray.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.

In a food processor, combine the sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice and pulse to combine. With the motor running, drizzle the butter in through the feeding tube. Stop the machine and add the sour cream and vanilla and pulse to combine. Pour the mixture into a large bowl, then stir the dry ingredients in in 3 additions. Stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, then bake at the center of the oven for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan and turn the heat down to 325 degrees F and cook for another 30-35 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Allow the loaf to cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Invert the loaf onto a sheet of parchment and poke holes into the top and sides of the loaf. Use a pastry brush to brush the loaf with limoncello, allowing the limoncello to seep into the holes. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Emergency Chocolate Cake

Sorry, this is the only picture I got; I was a bit excited about eating the cake...
So my blog has been on hiatus for a few weeks, mostly because I did not bake any new recipes. Okay, so that's not entirely true- I did make some muffins, but they weren't good enough to write about. Instead, I made coffee ice cream and my famous chocolate chip cookies because I was in the mood for something familiar.

But I'm back with a recipe for Emergency Chocolate Cake from Cook's Illustrated. I'd been feeling a bit of the summertime blues last week, so I figured an easy chocolate cake was what the doctor ordered. While the cake did not actually fix anything, it got me back in the baking spirit. It was also delicious.

No, what really is really helping me right now is a reminder from one of my best friends. I remember feeling this way when I studied abroad, and I told my friend about it. She reminded me that I got through that time, had the best time of my life after it, and if it were not for that, we would not be such good friends. Sometimes you need a friend who has been there for you before to remind you of just how strong you are. So I'm back. And I want to share a poem that has been playing in my mind today: Invictus.

Emergency Chocolate Cake
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

7.5 oz unbleached all-purpose flour
7 oz sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 oz Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 cup hot coffee
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 lrg egg
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position, preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and coat an 8x8-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, combine the chocolate and cocoa powder, then pour the hot coffee over it and whisk until smooth; let cool. Whisk in the remaining ingredients. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

4. Allow cake to cool on wire rack. The cake can be eaten plain, or served with ice cream.