Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Daring Bakers Do Éclairs

You know you belong to a hardcore baking group when you're assigned to bake éclairs and everyone sighs with relief and gushes about how easy the challenge will be this month. As soon as this month's challenge was announced, there was a sigh heard 'round the world, and I could almost hear the hundreds of relieved whispers, "At least we won't have to make another genoise or Swiss buttercream this month!"

No, this month was all about éclairs. And not just any éclairs, but a recipe from the Papa of Patisserie himself, Pierre Hermé!

Usually éclairs fall into the "munchable" category of desserts for me, which means that I'll happily eat them if they're around, but I would never go out of my way to make them on their own. However, I was excited to try this recipe because, 1. Hermé is a pastry rock star and 2. We got to fill them with chocolate pastry cream, which anyone with tastebuds can tell you is soooo much better than regular pastry cream.
Actually, this pastry cream was pretty amazing. I'm usually not the biggest fan (it's a texture thing, much like my dislike of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie) but this pastry cream was silky smooth, not at all gummy or gluey, and it had a deep, rich chocolate taste. It would make a fabulous cake filling, maybe with some fresh raspberries and whipped cream...nom nom nom.

Now about my éclairs themselves. I had the brilliant (or should I say "brilliant") idea to jazz them up by making them heart-shaped and adding fresh strawberries as garnish. I don't know, éclairs just seem like a romantic dessert, so even though Valentine's Day is half a year away, I went all cutesy and lovey-dovey. Or tried to, anyway. Because although the pate a choux looked neat and tidy when piped before baking...
Post-baked choux was a whole different beast. Now I knew it would grow, I just hoped that it would grow into an adorable, oversized, but perfectly proportioned heart. Alas, it was not to be. Next time I will try and pipe them smaller (but with a larger pastry tip, to avoid too many lines) and do only one layer instead of two. However, with a leetle help from my friend chocolate glaze, the end result was still fairly presentable.

So yes, let's talk about the ridiculously complicated glaze for a moment, shall we? WHAT was going on with that recipe? WHY did it call for us to first make two cups of chocolate sauce, and then use less than half a cup of that in the resulting "chocolate glaze," which was really just a glorified ganache? Now I love me some chocolate sauce, but I thought the whole process was a little unnecessary. I was really expecting the glaze to taste phenomenal after all that work (and all that chocolate I used!) but it basically tasted like...ganache. That I could have made myself, using half the chocolate, in a quarter of the time. Live and learn, ladies.

I made some traditionally shaped éclairs and profiteroles as well, and I have to say I think I liked the profiteroles the best. It's just such a perfect size. A large éclair requires commitment. It requires a stalwart stomach and the ability to persevere in eating, despite satiety. Profiteroles don't ask for anything and they don't make me too full, which has the puzzling side effect of enabling me to eat them by the dozen. (The Profiterole Paradox: coming soon to a Mathematics of Eating class near you.)

To my fellow Daring Bakers, what did you think? Love 'em or leave 'em? Were you, like me, angered all out of proportion by the silly glaze recipe?

Phenomenally long recipe after the cut!

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

Cream Puff Dough

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium
and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very
quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You
need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough
will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your
handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time,
beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.
You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do
not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you
have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it
should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the eclairs.

Baking the Eclairs
1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by
positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with
waxed or parchment paper.

2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough.
Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers.
Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff.
The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the
handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the
oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue
baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking
time should be approximately 20 minutes.

1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:

• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the
bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40
degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of
the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the
bottoms with the pastry cream.

3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms
with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream
and wriggle gently to settle them.

1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water,
stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create

2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Chocolate Pastry Cream

• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.

2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.

4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.

5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

Chocolate Glaze

[NOTE: I recommend a simple ganache glaze instead of going to the trouble of making this glaze and the accompanying sauce. Really, they taste very similar.]

• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.


Friday, August 29, 2008


First, an order of administrative business: the chocolate giveaway is finished, and Maria of Two Peas and Their Pod is the winner. So Maria, I left you a comment in your blog--email me your address and I'll send those right out to you. Thanks to everyone who left a comment. I actually have a lot of leftover candy from the All Candy Expo I attended earlier this year, so I might do another giveaway once I sort through it all. Stay tuned. Now back to your regularly scheduled sweets...

A recent picnic in the park was a great excuse to do some baking. I decided to go with mini cupcakes, because they're adorable and a manageable amount of dessert for most people. (You know how it's fashionable for people--especially women--to insist that they "don't eat sugar"? Yeah, I don't believe in that.) But even the most stalwart anti-sugarite can sometimes be swayed by a petite, beautifully constructed, two-bite mini cupcake. Mwahaha! Victory will be mine!

Because they're so small, it's likely that some people will go for more than one, so I wanted to offer a variety of cupcakes, with a minimum of extra effort on my part. So I took a batch of chocolate cupcakes, a simple ganache, and a basic vanilla buttercream, added a few extra flavorings, and ended up with six different types of mini cupcakes.

Chocolate cupcakes + buttercream + peanut butter + salted peanuts = Nutty Chocolate Cupcakes

Chocolate cupcakes + buttercream + strawberry puree + fresh strawberries= Berry Blast Chocolate Cupcakes

Chocolate cupcakes + buttercream + vanilla extract + mini M&Ms= Ruffled Vanilla-Chocolate Cupcakes

Chocolate cupcakes + chocolate ganache +sugar confetti= Double Chocolate Cupcakes

Chocolate cupcakes + a filling of buttercream + chocolate ganache glaze = "Faux-stess" Chocolate Cupcakes

Chocolate cupcakes + a filling of mint-flavored ganache + mint-flavored buttercream + a ganache glaze = Mint Madness Chocolate Cupcakes

Follow me for the recipes...

Devil's Food Cupcakes
[This recipe makes about 2.5 dozen full-size cupcakes]

2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened best-quality cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water or coffee
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°F. Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into large bowl. Combine sugar, water or coffee, buttermilk, oil, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla in another large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat egg mixture until blended. Add dry ingredients. Beat on medium speed until blended, scraping bowl occasionally, about 4 minutes.

Line cupcake molds with papers and fill them about 2/3rds full. Bake cupcakes, until puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to racks and cool completely.

Buttercream Frosting

You will need a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and a candy thermometer for this recipe. It can be colored and flavored however you like.

5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 cup water
14 oz granulated sugar (about 2 cups)
1 tsp cream of tartar
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
Flavoring extracts or colors

Place the room temperature egg whites in the *very clean* bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Place the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Insert a candy thermometer and cook until it reaches soft-ball stage, about 240 degrees.

While you are waiting for the sugar syrup to reach the proper temperature, begin beating the egg whites. (I usually start beating them when the temperature is around 220 degrees.) Turn the mixer to medium speed and beat until the whites look foamy. Stop the mixer briefly and add the cream of tartar. Turn the mixer back on and begin to beat on medium-high speed until the whites are stiff but not crumbly. You can turn the mixer off if the egg whites are finished before the syrup is ready.

When the whites are stiff and the sugar syrup is 240 degrees, turn the mixer back on to medium-high and pour the syrup into a cup or pitcher with a spout. Slowly and carefully pour the hot syrup down the sides of the bowl into the egg whites while the mixer is running. The whites will rise in volume. After all of the syrup is added, let the mixer run on medium speed until the sides of the bowl feels barely warm, which may take anywhere from 10-20 minutes.

Once the egg white mixture has cooled, gradually add the softened butter bit by bit until it is all incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. The egg white mixture will deflate and might look soupy. If it looks soupy or broken, continue to beat the mixer on low or medium speed until it comes back together. (It WILL gradually become a beautiful, smooth frosting. I promise.) Once the frosting is finished, you can add any extra flavorings and colors you'd like. Some favorites: vanilla or mint extract, fruit purees, melted lukewarm unsweetened chocolate, or creamy peanut butter. It's very flexible. The frosting can be stored at room temperature for a few days, or up to a week or two in the refrigerator. If refrigerated, allow it to come to room temperature, then re-beat to get the proper texture. Jason knows just what to do with excess frosting.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cat Got Your Tongue?

Reasons I was intrigued by this recipe for "Cat's Tongue" cookies:

1. The name, of course, but more specifically the groan-inducing puns that could be constructed from the name (see title above)

2. The DELICIOUS-sounding description of these cookies as "soft sponge-cake," with a buttercream filling and a coating of chocolate

3. I am deep in the throes of a chocolate-orange obsession.

4. The recipe was entirely crazy. It was teeny-tiny (half an egg? 3 tablespoons of flour?) and purported to make 15 sandwich cookies, so it should yield...30 individual cookie fingers? Yeah right. Any recipe that poorly constructed is begging to be made, just so that it can be re-written.

On my first go-round, I doubled the recipe, no problem. Piped them out in thin lines, no problem. Baked them...big problem. These suckers had no structure and spread in a spongy, cakey puddle all over the baking pan. Great if I wanted to make a jelly roll, not so great for cookies. So I started all over, almost doubling the flour, and the second batch was significantly better. I could probably take the flour down a little more for a more tender cookie next time.

The cookies have a delicate orange scent and are filled with an orange buttercream. From doing some reading on the internet, it seems that some people describe cat's tongues as delicate, crisp cookies. These are definitely more cake-like, with crisp edges and a fine-crumbed interior.

The cookies were good on their own, but they were amazing after a dunking in good ole bittersweet chocolate (but really, what is NOT improved by chocolate?). The frosting in the center is fairly sweet, so the dark chocolate provides a nice rich counterbalance.

These remind me of a tea cookie. They're elegant, they're genteel, they're slightly delicate. They're flavorful, but not too heavy or assertive. If you're pressed for time you could also omit the filling and just dunk one or both ends of the cookie finger in chocolate. The (new, improved) recipe is after the cut.

Langues de Chats a l'Orange
(Chocolate-Orange Cat's Tongues Cookies)

1 stick butter
6 tbsp granulated sugar
1 egg
One orange, zested and juiced
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp AP flour
1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 425. Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a large stand mixer, cream half of the butter (4 oz) and the granulated sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and half of the orange zest. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour and mix just until it is incorporated.

Spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch circular tip. Pipe fingers about 2.5 inches long onto the baking sheets, leaving room in between as they will spread. (I think I got a little over two dozen fingers out of this batch, yielding a dozen 3-inch cookies. They were fairly substantial, so you could easily shape the cookies smaller for a larger yield.)

Bake the cookies at 425 for about 5 minutes, until the edges just start to color. Don't overbake, or they will be dry! Move them to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the filling, cream the remaining 4 oz butter and powdered sugar with the mixer. Add the orange zest, then add the orange juice gradually, adding just enough to get a spreadable consistency. Don't let it get too runny, or it will squirt out the sides of the cookies.

Once the cookies are completely cool, sandwich them in pairs with the buttercream, cleaning up the edges. Refrigerate the cookies for about 30 minutes, until the buttercream has set a bit.

Chop the chocolate and microwave it until melted, stirring until smooth. Cover a baking sheet with foil or waxed paper. Dip both ends of the cookie generously in the chocolate, place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes until the chocolate is completely set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Chocolate Giveaway! (The Trickle-Down Theory in Action)

Last night I hit the chocolate motherload, courtesy of my fabulous friends Tom and Heather. Tom's dad is a R&D scientist at Guittard Chocolate (WHAT a dream job, right?), and from time to time he provides them with boxes of high-quality chocolate. Because they know I have a giant sweet tooth, and possibly because I am shameless in my chocolate grovelling, they generously gifted me with a large quantity of delicious Guittard bars. I believe this is what the kids call being "hooked up" these days. I can't wait to play with my new chocolate stash!

Normally I would hoard all of this chocolate and snarl "my precioussss" whenever someone came near it. However, I'm feeling generous today, so I thought I'd offer a little giveaway. Want to win five gourmet chocolate bars? Simply leave a comment to this entry between now and Midnight PST on Thursday, August 28th. The stash is pictured above: there are four single-origin 65% bittersweet bars, and an uber-dark 91% bar. I'll throw in a few minis (milk and dark) too. If you want, you can mention what sorts of recipes you might like to try with the chocolate, but that's not a requirement. I'll use the random number generator to pick a winner on Friday the 29th. Good luck!


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sugar High Friday: Tropical Pavlovas

I love participating in blog events because they offer a great excuse to experiment and try new desserts that I would probably never make otherwise. Having said that, I was originally a little lukewarm on this month's Sugar High Friday theme, "meringues." I've never liked those dry, chalky meringue cookies that are sold in plastic tubs (surely the bane of dieters everywhere), and I couldn't get excited about making a gooey meringue pie for just the two of us.

However, after a little more thought, I hit upon the idea of making a pavlova--the beloved Australian dessert consisting of a meringue shell filled with whipped cream and luscious fresh fruit. I've never made a pavlova before, and I can't believe I waited this long to try it--this dessert was amazing!

If you've never made a pavlova before, the first thing you need to know is that it's not your typical meringue. Remember my griping about rock-hard meringue cookies, or gooey meringue pies? The pavlova is the best possible combination of these two extremes. It's like when two ugly people produce a gorgeous, angelic baby: you're not quite sure how it happens, but you say a silent prayer of thanks all the same. Made from a simple whipped egg-white base, the ideal pavlova has a crunchy, crisp exterior and a marshmallowey interior that quickly melts in your mouth. It's not sticky, not chewy, and not cloying. It is, in a word, perfect.

Pavlova shells are shaped like shallow bowls, and then filled with whipped cream and topped with fruit. I think it's most common to serve pavlovas with berries, but I had some mango puree I wanted to use up, so I decided to put a tropical twist on my dessert. Instead of a plain vanilla meringue I flavored it with coconut extract. The freshly whipped cream was also flavored with coconut, and was only very lightly sweetened since the meringue itself was so sweet. The mango sauce provided a nice tart note to balance out the sweet tropical coconut flavor, and the whole dessert was topped with juicy raspberries fresh from the market. I cannot think of a better dessert for a lazy summer evening.

The full recipe can be found after the jump.

Tropical Pavlovas
Pavlova recipe modified from Ina Garten
Yield: one 9-inch pavlova or four 4-inch pavlovas

For the pavlova:
4 egg whites, room temperature
pinch salt
1 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp coconut extract

For the whipped cream:
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp coconut extract

For the mango sauce:
9 oz mango pulp, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp sugar

For assembly:
1 pint fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Cover an insulated baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a cake pan or small bowls as a guide, draw either a 9-inch circle or four 4-inch circles on your parchment to use as a guide when forming the pavlova.

Place the egg whites and salt in the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Begin to beat the egg whites on medium speed. Once they are foamy, stop the mixer and add the cream of tartar. Turn the mixer back on and beat until soft peaks form. Start to add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, and continue beating until all of the sugar has been added and your whites form thick, glossy, firm peaks.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift the cornstarch over the whites. Add the coconut extract and fold the starch and extract in, taking care not to overwork and deflate the meringue. Spoon the meringue onto the circle(s) you drew on the parchment, and smooth it into a circular shape, taking care to make the edges slightly higher than the center.

Bake on low heat for 60 minutes (small pavlovas) or 75 minutes (large pavlova), checking several times to make sure the pavlovas aren't taking on too much color or cracking. If they are, turn the heat down and crack the oven door slightly. The pavlovas should have a crisp shell when done, but they should have only the most faint beige color. Turn off the oven, crack the door, and let them cool completely in the oven, another 1-2 hours.

To make the mango sauce, place the mango puree and the sugar in a saucepan over low heat and simmer to reduce the puree, for about 10 minutes (depending on how liquidy your puree was to start). I use frozen puree so there's usually quite a bit of water to evaporate. If it's chunky use an immersion blender to smooth it out, or pass it through a fine mesh strainer. Set it aside to cool to room temperature. If made far in advance, bring it to room temperature before using.

To make the whipped cream, place the heavy cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat it on medium. When it starts to thicken, add the powdered sugar and coconut extract and beat until firm but smooth--don't overbeat or you'll have lumpy whipped cream! If made in advance, refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble, place the pavlovas on a serving platter. Mound the freshly whipped cream in the center of the pavlova, then top with a generous spoonful of mango sauce. Finish with a ring of fresh raspberries on top.

Bon appetit!

Thanks to Melly at One Messy Kitchen for hosting the theme this month! Check her blog to see the full roundup of meringue posts on the 25th.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cookie Redemption

After the disappointing Granola Grabbers, it seemed time to renew my faith in the goodness of cookies with the mother of all cookiedom, the chocolate chip cookie. I love experimental recipes and fancy ingredients as much as the next foodie, but when it comes to homemade cookies, I usually prefer a simple, honest, unembellished chocolate chip cookie, warm from the oven and loaded with chunks of chocolate.
Chocolate chip cookies seem to be the latest rage on food blogs these days. It seems like everyone has tried their hand at the ultimate cookie ever since the New York Times wrote an article giving their definitive recipe. After the paper was published there was a flurry of bake-offs around the blogosphere, resulting in dozens of drool-inducing photos and scientifically calibrated taste tests.

But, like the popularity of Judd Apatow movies, the music of M.I.A., and the dreadful re-emergence of leggings as a viable fashion choice, this was a trend I wasn't sure I could support. I already HAD a tried and true favorite cookie recipe, stolen from Jacques Torres several years ago. How could the New York Times top that?!

Turns out, they can't--the New York Times version was basically Torres's recipe with a little extra salt and resting time. Once I learned that they wouldn't threaten my beloved recipe, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and make another batch of my favorite cookies.

The Times recipe calls for fancypants chocolate discs (preferably couverture chocolate, mais oui!). Instead of breaking the bank on chocolate for--let's face it--a cookie that would be gobbled in seconds, I used a mix of milk and dark chopped Callebaut chocolate. I like chopped chocolate better than chips, because the chocolate disperses better through the cookie, and each bite has a different degree of chocolate: sometimes it's lightly layered through the dough, and other times there are big chunks of melty, molten chocolate.

So do you have to follow the Times recipe to the letter to get a great cookie? I think the sprinkling of sea salt and the longer rest time (and the ginormous serving size!) produce an amazing cookie, but they're almost as good if you make them right away, skip the sprinkling of salt on top, and make modest-sized portions. Just remember to underbake them slightly (if they look "done" when you take them out of the oven, you've gone too far) and serve them, warm and gooey, with a tall glass of cold milk. And if you've made the NYT cookie, or variations thereof, what did you think?

Hungry for cookies? The full recipe is after the jump.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Jacques Torres
Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

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 natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content [I used chopped chocolate instead]
Sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies, or a bazillion (like, 10 dozen) smaller cookies.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Granola Grabbers

Ah, "Granola Grabbers." Such an aggressive, puzzling, tantalizing name for what turned out to be a fairly mediocre cookie.

I'm hesitant to say that I disliked these cookies, because there was nothing overtly offensive about them, but I will say that I was distinctly underwhelmed. There's just too much going on! In addition to regular cookie ingredients like butter and sugar, they call for granola (I used my favorite homemade variety), two kinds of nuts, raisins, coconut, and wheat germ. (What, no kitchen sink?)

I even did these cookies a favor and replaced the raisins with a mix of chocolate chips and peanut butter chips, and how did they repay me? By tasting like the scraps found at the back of a snack cupboard--every bite had a different taste and texture, but the end result was more disjointed than exciting. It's disappointing, but I guess I can't expect to love every single Dorie recipe, right? Onward and upward.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hooray for Hollywood!

Living in Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign is a constant presence in our lives. My daily runs in Griffith Park often take me up near the base of the sign, and we have gotten so used to the large block lettering on the hills, we barely notice it unless we have out-of-town visitors.
Given the sign's ubiquity, it didn't seem all that unusual when I was asked to construct a Hollywood sign cake for a man who was described as "obsessed with Hollywood." This baby was a full half-sheet of red velvet cake, layered with loads of cream cheese frosting--enough to feed 50 people!

I started by constructing a typical four-layer half-sheet cake. I filled it and crumb-coated it the night before the party, so that the frosting would have time to really set and the cake layers would hold together better. The next morning, I cut into the two long sides of the cake at a diagonal, creating triangle-shaped strips of cake I was then set on top, to form a rough wedge-shaped cake.
At this point I considered abandoning the hill idea and going for a teepee cake instead, but I resisted the urge and buckled down.
I frosted the outside of the cake with more cream cheese frosting, pulverized sugar cookies in the food processor, then sprinkled a fine layer of crumbs over the entire surface. I colored some of the crumbs green and some a darker brown, to give the hillside a more nuanced look.

Finally, I added the lettering. Earlier in the week I had made fondant (never recommended--seriously, it's easier to just spend a few bucks and buy it pre-made), rolled it out and hand-cut each letter using an X-acto knife. It was tedious but not terribly hard, and it allowed me to get exactly the size and shape I wanted the letters to have. While the letters were still soft I stuck toothpicks into the bottom to help secure them to the cake, then let them dry for a few days.

Here's a tip for those of you following along at home: always make extras! This is, like, the basic rule of cooking, but somehow it didn't occur to me while I was blissfully razoring my way through a wad of fondant. Here's another tip: don't use two toothpicks per letter--one is plenty, and two will just cause the letters to crack in half. I learned both of these lessons from sad, sad experience. Fortunately I was able to repair the letters and they held together, but the final assembly was stressful and it could have been so much easier had I realized these details ahead of time. they say...the show must go on, and on it went! The cake was fun to make, and a big success at the party.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Tale of Two Brownies

Dear readers: This story has a tragic beginning, but do not fear--it has a happy ending.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who diligently read the food section of the LA Times each Wednesday. Even though it was shamefully skimpy and often featured wine articles she didn't care about, she still looked forward to reading the stories, drooling over the recipes, and lusting over the gorgeous photos. One day she spied a recipe for "Midnight Chocolate Brownie Bites," dense and fudgy chocolate brownies flavored with orange. These sounded divine, so she clipped the recipe and vowed to make them soon.

A few weeks later she planned a picnic with friends. Aha, she thought, the perfect opportunity to make those delicious brownies. She made the recipe diligently, but about halfway through, she paused. The recipe called for chocolate and butter to be melted together, then sugar was added, then eggs, then dry ingredients. She thought this methodology was suspect, and that the sugar should be whisked with the eggs instead of being added separately. However, in the end she deferred to the recipe--after all, it was published! Surely it wouldn't be wrong.

How wrong it was. The brownies, although tasty, came out a crumbly, grainy mess. They resembled several inedible, unappetizing things.

One minor change in method resulted in majorly disappointing brownies.

Not to be defeated, she made the brownies again the next week. This time, she whisked the sugar and eggs together before adding them to the chocolate. Success! The brownies were moist and fudgy, with a rich interior and a crisp top. The difference was obvious:

I would like to say the moral of this story is something along the lines of "believe in yourself" or "listen to your heart" or "every beast is just a handsome prince waiting to emerge, blah blah happily ever after," but the truth is, I just really hate to be defeated by recipes, especially when I know I'm right, and also...I like brownies.
Here is the modified Chocolate-Orange Brownie recipe. I recommend eating them warm, right out of the oven, with a tall glass of milk. You will NOT be disappointed.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon orange juice
Zest of one orange
2 eggs
1/4 cup best-quality cocoa
1/4 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch-square baking dish with aluminum foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Lightly spray the bottom and sides of the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Melt the butter and bittersweet chocolate in a large microwave-safe bowl. Whisk together the eggs and the brown sugar in a separate bowl, then add the mixture to the chocolate. The mixture will be thickened at this point.

3. Stir in the vanilla, orange zest, and orange juice.

4. Sift together the cocoa, flour and salt, then stir the flour mixture into the batter until blended. Fold in the mini chocolate chips.

5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake for about 35 minutes, until puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges with a few moist crumbs. Do not overbake. Cool while still in the pan, on a wire rack.

**Be sure to check out Ruth's blog to see more bookmarked recipes.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Key Lime Pie

Recently a friend came to visit, and in the course of a ravenous trip to the local 99 Cent store (bastion of cheap, adventurous eats) we found huge bags of key limes for only a dollar.

If you're not familiar with key limes, they're tiny but--if you pick them right--packed with tart, flavorful juice. I think I got more juice out of some of these quarter-sized limes than from the fist-sized limes sold in my regular grocery store. This key lime pie recipe was from Cooking Light, which means that we could feel slightly less guilty about eating several slices at a sitting...and then having leftovers for breakfast the next day.

Key Lime Pie

2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup Key lime juice
1 teaspoon grated lime rind
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
1 (6-ounce) reduced-fat graham cracker crust

Preheat oven to 350°.

Beat eggs and egg whites at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Gradually add juice, rind, and milk to egg mixture, beating until well-blended. Spoon mixture into crust, and bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until almost set (the center will not be firm but will set up as it chills). Cool pie on a wire rack. Cover loosely, and chill 4 hours. Can top with whipped cream if desired.

[Recipe Source]


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Black and White Banana Loaf

I am so excited to finally be joining the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group. My old boss had Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours and I used to paw through it, drooling over the photos and recipes, and occasionally making something from the book as a special at the bakery. However, I didn't get around to ordering a copy for myself until last week. It came in the mail yesterday afternoon, and I hurried to make this week's recipe last night so that I could join the fun.

And how could I not be excited about this recipe? I love banana bread, and I love chocolate, so obviously any recipe that incorporates the two is going to please me. Leaving aside the flavor combination for a moment, this is just a really good basic banana bread recipe. It's very moist, and flavorful, and is just a bit unusual, with its embellishments of fresh nutmeg and lemon zest. It's perhaps a little denser than I like, but the flavor can't be beat. And then the addition of the dark chocolate and the gorgeous marbling makes it all the better.

Black and White Banana Loaf
Recipe by Dorie Greenspan

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1 1/2 ripe medium bananas
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Squirt of lemon juice
1 Tbsp dark rum (optional)
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 stick plus 2 Tbsp (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp freshly grated or ground nutmeg, 1 1/2 ripe medium bananas, 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest, small squirt of lemon juice, 1 Tbsp dark rum, 3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, 1 stick plus 2 Tbsp (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened, 2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 4 large eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 cup whole milk

Heat oven to 325°F. Butter an 8×4 x 21/2-in. loaf pan; dust with flour; tap out excess. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a small bowl until blended.

In another small bowl, mash bananas with lemon zest and juice; stir in rum. Microwave chocolate and 2 Tbsp butter, stirring every 10 seconds, until melted and blended.
Beat remaining butter with mixer on medium speed 3 minutes or until creamy. Add sugars; beat 2 to 3 minutes until light and smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each. Beat in vanilla (batter will look curdled). Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in 1/2 the flour mixture just until blended. Beat in milk until combined, then remaining flour mixture. Scrape down bowl; beat in banana mixture (batter will look lumpy).

Stir a little less than 1/2 the batter into melted chocolate to blend. Drop alternating spoonfuls of both batters into prepared pan. Using a table knife, swirl batters together, taking care not to overdo it.

Bake 1 hour and 20 to 30 minutes (check cake after 45 minutes and cover loosely with foil if it’s getting too brown), until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes before inverting on rack, turning right side up and cooling completely.