Tuesday, February 24, 2009

TWD: Caramel Crunch Bars

These Caramel Crunch Bars are like the Clark Kent of baked goods. Mild in manner, mundane in appearance, but put them in a telephone booth...okay, the analogy kind of breaks down after awhile. But my point remains: these simple little bars are spectacular.
From the description and procedure, I was expecting these to be kind of like a bar cookie. Instead, they seemed almost like a candy, like that saltine toffee you make where you pour boiled butter and sugar over crackers and then bake it. They had that same crunch, and the same caramelized brown sugar and butter flavor. Only better, because they also had chocolate and cinnamon and toffee (oh my).
I made a half batch to save our waistlines, and half of me--the half ruled by my taste buds--regretted it, while the other half--that doesn't want to buy a new, larger wardrobe--was profoundly grateful. This was one of those baked goods that I could have easily eaten in a day. Break off a corner here or there, have some while making dinner...gone in a flash! So addicting.
These were awesome by themselves, but they were absolutely outrageous when used to make ice cream sandwiches. I paired them with a homemade salted butter caramel ice cream. The caramels blended perfectly, and the salt in the ice cream helped balance out the sweetness. The ice cream had chunks of salted butter toffee folded into it, to add more crunch and texture. [Stay tuned, ice cream recipe coming later this week in another post.]
Well played, Clark Kent Bars. Well played indeed.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chocolate White-Out Cake

There's nothing like a minor cake freak-out to make you feel like a jerk.
The situation was thus: I had a fairly busy day scheduled, and everything was running behind. I didn't get up early enough, so my gym trip ran behind, so I got home later than planned and had only a few minutes to finish assembling and photographing this cake before running off to an appointment and a full afternoon of errands. I was literally rushing around my apartment like crazy, totally frantic, spilling things and making a mess and feeling extremely anxious to get it all done in time.

Somewhere in between dropping a bowl of chocolate cake crumbs on my kitchen floor, staving off hyperventilation, and taking the world's fastest shower (fact!), I had a glimmer of just how crazy I am sometimes. Crazy, and ungrateful, and totally short-sighted. If the biggest stressor in my day is photographing a cake, made for no occasion in particular, so I could post it on my personal blog in time for a self-imposed deadline, well, I guess life's not so bad, is it?

Ever lose perspective like that? It's okay, I do it all the time. Here, have a piece of cake.

This week's cake was good, but certainly not worth an anxiety attack. Three layers of devil's food cake sandwiched a fluffy marshmallow frosting. A fourth layer is crumbled and used to coat the sides and top of the cake, unless you're like me and decide that seems too easy and time-efficient, in which case you should painstakingly smooth out the top of the cake and try drawing several different designs on it and scraping them off, only to finally give up once the frosting is on the verge of disintegration. I'd made this frosting recipe before, with another cake, so I was looking forward to reuniting it with its original mate, the ultra-chocolatey devil's food cake.
...but. Well...maybe they're not meant to be together, is all I'm saying. The trouble started when I tried to layer the cake. (I used one 3" high pan, instead of two smaller ones.) I needed to get four layers out of it, but the chocolate chunks in the batter, and the texture of the cake itself, made it really hard to cut. Helloooo, more unintential crumbs!

And then, once assembled, the cake and frosting combo just didn't do it for me. The cake was so dense, almost like a brownie, and the frosting was so light. I kept wishing the cake was a little lighter, maybe a chocolate chiffon cake, so the frosting wasn't so overwhelmed. Or that I'd added some butter to give the frosting some heft. Either way, I got a lot of this squirting action when I tried to eat it:
Waaah-waaaaah. BUT, in keeping with my new philosophy of keeping everything in perspective, I will simply say that everything tasted great, and I am feel extremely blessed to have the free time and resources to make unnecessary baked goods that I later complain about. Life is good!

[Belated props to MacDuff, whose post about grace in small things keeps simmering in the back of my head, makin' me feel all grateful and stuff on a regular basis. A big virtual slice of cake to you!]


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TWD Rewind: Quintuple Chocolate Brownies

Presenting this week's TWD recipe, Floating Islands:
Okay, just kidding. I skipped the floating islands, because I am all alone in the house this week and wanted to make a dessert I could easily share with other people. For some reason the idea of transporting creme anglaise, poached meringues, and decorative spun sugar strands into work wasn't too appealing. So, as is often the case when confronted with a problem, I turned to chocolate. Specifically, Dorie's Quintuple Chocolate Brownies.

These brownies have five, count them, five, kinds of chocolate in one recipe! The unsweetened and semi-sweet are melted into the batter, which also contains cocoa powder. The milk chocolate stays in chip form (and brings along some toasted pecan friends to add more texture) and the white chocolate is made into a ganache topping.

The white chocolate glaze seemed a little skimpy in spots, but I was worried that doubling it would add too much sweetness. So I made some semi-sweet ganache and added it on top. Once the brownies were set and cut, they seemed really playful and almost had a pop-art vibe to them. So, I decided to give them some cute outfits to go along with their look. (Why yes, I did recently go to Ikea, why do you ask?)
In addition to being lookers, the brownies tasted fabulous. The texture was pretty fudgy (just the way I like them!) but the milk chocolate chips and the pecans kept them from seeming too cloying or rich. If you're a cakey brownie person this isn't the recipe for you, but if you're a "more is more" chocolate addict, you need to welcome quintuple chocolate brownies into your life.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

TWD: At Long Last, World Peace

Sometimes the problems of the world seem overwhelming. Despotic governments, economies in shambles, wars everywhere you turn...it's enough to make you want to stay in bed with the covers pulled up. Ladies and gentlemen, I have finally found the solution to all of life's ills. I present to you:

World Peace Cookies are so named because it is a scientific fact that they bring happiness and peace to whomever eats them. Really. Science said so, and would Science lie?

I was actually a little nervous to make these, because I'd heard such awesome things about them. This is how my life usually goes: the entire population of the world falls in love with something (a book, a movie, leggings as pants, etc.) I eventually get around to reading/watching/trying whatever everyone loves, and find myself invariably disappointed. One bottle of Hateorade, please. So although I wanted to love these cookies, I was worried that I would find them lacking, and then I would have to write another whiny blog post, and eventually you would all get sick of me and start throwing things.

Needn't have worried! These are AMAZING. They're a chocolate sable cookie studded with chunks of bittersweet chocolate, and laced with a powerful pinch of fleur de sel. The salt really intensifies the flavor and makes the cookies more interesting than your typical chocolate cookie. I didn't think I was the biggest sable cookie fan, but these babies have made me re-think my position.
I think my whole life has been spent in preparation for this moment of sable-embracing, peace-loving, chocolate cookie-stacking bliss:A few quick tips: many people complained about very crumbly dough. I think a few extra turns of the mixer make a big difference. Don't overmix, but don't be afraid to give it a few more rotations if the dough's not coming together! I loved the tip about forming the logs in an old paper towel cardboard roll: this helped me get really round, even logs, and also helped keep them to the recommended 1.5" (which is always much smaller than I think it is!). Finally, I like to add a small sprinkling of extra salt on top of the cookies before they bake, to make them even awesomer.
Can you believe I made it through a whole post without flogging the old "Give Peace A Chance" horse? Trust me, the song has been running through my head all day.