Sunday, October 23, 2011

Operation Pimp My Brownie: The Beginning

I have a new mission in life, and it is called Operation Pimp My Brownie. In short, it involves taking simple brownie recipes and pimping them out to include things that I think pair brilliantly with chocolate. I don't want to reveal any secrets, but I already have several ideas brewing in my mind.

My first experiment was Milky Way Brownies. I did not have a recipe to go off of, so I took a recipe for classic brownies, and found a recipe for Milky Way Swirl cake, and doctored it to make it work. The end result was quite wonderful if you ask me. These brownies were sweet and chewy, a perfect little snack. I will certainly be making these again.

Milky Way Brownies

4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 lrg eggs
a generous 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 fun-size Milky Way bars, chopped
2 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with tin foil, then spray with a non-stick cooking spray.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a medium heat-proof bowl set over simmering water. Once smooth, allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Melt the Milky Ways in a small saucepan with the milk and stir until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Stir the brown sugar and vanilla into the chocolate mixture. Add the eggs and stir until well-combined.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly fold the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture. Reserve 3/4 cup of the brownie mixture and pour the rest into the prepared pan. Combine the reserved brownie batter with the Milky Way mixture and stir until combined. Pour this mixture on top of the brownie batter in the pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

Milky Way Glaze

6 fun-size Milky Way bars, chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp water

Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and stir until melted and smooth. Pour the warm glaze on top of the cooled brownies and allow to set.


Friday, October 14, 2011

The Hunt for the Perfect Oatmeal Cookie

Oh the yumminess...
Okay, so I have already blogged two recipes for oatmeal cookies: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. I have already declared my love for oatmeal cookies twice on this blog, and I fear I will have to do so again in this post. You see, I am on a quest to find the perfect oatmeal cookie recipe, one that I can use as a base recipe and change up the add-ins as fits my taste and the weather. I don't want to speak to soon, but I may have already found that recipe. Look out, folks, I feel an ode coming on...

Ode to Oatmeal Cookies
by Ray-Ray
oh, oatmeal cookie
with your soft and chewy
yet toothsome
you fill my mouth with joy
you make my spirit bounce
and my tummy jiggle
your cinnamon and nutmeg and cardamom
flood my mind with memories
of home
and Fall
and crisp red and orange leaves
that crunch below my feet
like your crunchy edges
when I bite into you
I think about you
oh, oatmeal cookie
and I am reminded that life is good

I know, I know, I'm being silly. But I am very passionate about cookies. I can say definitively, nay, I can shout from the mountaintops and yell in the streets, that I love cookies. Love, love, love them. As in, I would do anything for them (but I won't do that*). And so, when I get my baking business up and running, cookies will be a major feature. I love baking them and I love eating them and I really love experimenting with them. Cookies are fun, folks!

So, back to these special cookies that I made last week. They are oatmeal with dried cherries, hazelnuts, and milk chocolate chips. The cookie itself was moist and chewy on the inside, crispy on the outside. And full of the flavors of Fall. Ideal, in my mind. So good, in fact, that I kept a lot of them to myself...

Oatmeal Chocolate Cherry Hazelnut Cookies
adapted from Baked:New Frontiers in Baking

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamom
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 lrg eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through cardamom), and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the sugars and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl often. Add the vanilla and beat very briefly.

Add half of the flour and mix until just combined, then add the rest of the flour and beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the oats, beating until just combined. Stir in the cherries, nuts, and chocolate chips using a spatula.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 6 hours (trust me, this is necessary).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Using a size 20 scoop, drop the dough onto the cookie sheets, about 6 per sheet. Gently use your palm to press down on each cookie, just to flatten the top a little (do not smash!). Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until just golden.

Once removed from the oven, allow the cookies to remain on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely (or until you can no longer stand it and have to taste a warm one...not that that's ever happened to me...).


*Bonus points if you caught my Meatloaf reference.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The First of the Fall Baking with Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf and Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash and potatoes
Fall is finally here. I would say that Fall is definitely my favorite season, if anything for the baking alone. There are so many wonderful things to bake in the Fall: pumpkin pie, oatmeal cookies, spice cake with cream cheese frosting... Oh yes, Fall is all about the spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger, cardamom...these are the things that really excite me about the Fall. Besides, it sure makes my apartment smell nice.

I have decided that every weekend from now until Thanksgiving, I shall bake something with pumpkin. My first recipe was for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip loaves. Yes, loaves multiple, as in two loaves, because that is what the recipe produced. And I'm glad I made the full recipe. Seriously, these loaves were so delicious, so full of pumpkin and spice, that I really had a hard time not going overboard eating them...

As if baking pumpkin loaves were not enough, I also decided to make some butternut squash soup. Technically, it was intended to be a pumpkin soup, but I could not find any pumpkins for soup-making, so I went with butternut squash. I found the recipe for the soup in a French cookbook of mine, and the recipe said that it was both cheap and easy. This soup was so easy, it was ridiculous. And so tasty, even though it was so simple. A total winner, and likely to be a staple for me from now on.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaves
from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups sugar
4 lrg eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 12-oz bag semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour 2 9x5-inch loaf pans.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through salt) and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and oil until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the sugar and then whisk in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Stir in 2/3 cup room temperature water. Stir in the chocolate chips with a rubber spatula. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet and do not overmix.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Make sure to rotate the pans half way through the baking time.

Transfer the pans to wire racks to cool for 15 minutes, then turn them out onto the wire racks to cool completely (or as long as you can stand before tasting them).

Warm and tasty!
Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from Francoise Bernard's Les Recettes Illustrees

1 kg butternut squash
2 small potatoes
1 L whole milk
1 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the butternut squash and potatoes into small cubes and put them in a large pot or dutch oven. Add the tablespoon of butter and a cup of water, cover, and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until the squash and potatoes are softened.

In a food processor, puree the squash and potatoes, then add the mixture back to the pot. Add the milk, salt and pepper and bring to a soft boil for about 20 minutes.


Monday, October 3, 2011

A Week in Paris

Choclate tart from Fauchon
You may or may not have noticed that I have been MIA for a little while. Well, it's because I went to Paris last week. For those of you who don't know, I have my bachelor's degree in French and I studied abroad for 9 months in college. I then returned to France after receiving my degree and spent 7 months as a teaching assistant. Needless to say, during my time in France, I developed a love affair with French food and wine. And pastries. And chocolate.

Yellow always makes me happy
So why did I go to Paris this time? Mainly, I needed to get away. It had been a year and a half since my last vacation and I was just itching to get out of my hometown. Wanderlust seems to be embedded in my DNA, so I tend to get a bit stir-crazy if I go for to long without any travelling. I had also been missing France quite a bit, and when I saw a good deal on airfare, I jumped at the opportunity.

My other goal in going to Paris was to eat. And drink, but mostly eat. And eat I did, as you will see by these pictures (though I realize that there is no evidence that I consumed any of this food, but I am sure you know me well enough by now to know that I cannot look at food like this and not eat it). I ate plenty of pastries (some of which were eaten too quickly for me to photograph), and drank plenty of espresso and wine (not at the same time, mind you). Yes, Paris was delicious.

So good...
There were a few culinary highlights on my trip. The first, I would say, was the chèvre chaud salad I had on my second night at a nice little French bistro off the beaten track. What made this salad particularly special was that they drizzled honey over the warm goat cheese, which added depth to the dish. Seriously, I will be making this in the future. So freaking good.

Best salmon ever.
The second highlight was the salmon dinner I had at a cute little restaurant/bar near my hostel in Montmartre. It was a pavé de saumon à la provençale, which was essentially salmon and tomatoes and zucchini cooked in butter and served with rice. Butter makes everything taste so much better...

St. Honore
Thick and delicious
Another highlight for me was the chocolat à l'ancienne that I had at Angelina. Story goes that Coco Chanel used to frequent this place, famous for its hot chocolate. The chocolate is served in a little pitcher and you are supposed to pour it into your cup, then you can add whipped cream (served in a dish alongside the pitcher of chocolate) to thin the chocolate out a little. Believe me, this stuff is thick. It is really like drinking melted chocolate. So decadent and tasty. To accompany my hot chocolate, I ordered a St. Honoré, a pastry that I do not usually order (in fact, I'm not sure I've ever tried one). It turns out that I've been missing out on something that is pretty darn good. The puff pastry balls are filled with vanilla pastry cream, covered in caramel, and topped with Bourbon whipped cream. Very rich, but so very worth it.

Royally delicious!
The biggest highlight came when I had a little picnic in the park. I bought a baguette, some sheep's milk cheese, a nice little bottle of Bordeaux, and a Royal Chocolat. The wine was really great, though I felt a bit self-conscious about openly drinking wine straight out of the bottle all by myself on a public park bench. The best part, however, was the Royal Chocolat. I already knew that that particular dessert was my favorite French patisserie. This one just happened to be the best I've ever had. Ever. Really. I would fly back to France right now just to get another one. While I was sitting on the bench, savoring this dessert, a French lady walked by and saw this wonderful treat and came and asked me where I bought it because it looked "trop bon." Yes indeed, it was "trop bon."

Magical macarons!
There were of course many other delectable goodies that I consumed. Pain au chocolat, which Americans simply cannot make well to save their lives. Then of course, there were crêpes (yes, multiple, all with Nutella). And lest we forget, macarons! Yes, Paris was delicious, and I cannot wait to return...