Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TWD Brownie-Cherry Torte and DB's Macarons, oh my

It has finally happened...the perfect storm of blog posting. Two of the baking groups I belong to, Tuesdays with Dorie and The Daring Bakers, have challenges that have to be posted today. As George Costanza would say, "worlds are colliding!" So rather than make 2 separate posts, today's blog will be a super-duper-mega-big post about two delicious things I've made recently: a brownie-cherry torte and (pumpkin spice and nutella) macarons.

It's kind of a shame these guys have to share the limelight, because I thought they were both worthy of their own entry. First up, TWD's brownie-cherry torte.

As you can imagine, my husband, being married to a pastry chef and candy writer/recipe developer, eats a lot of sweets. A LOT. I wouldn't say his enthusiasm for sugar has waned, but it takes more to really impress him these days. And friends, he was blown away by this torte. We're talking head rolled back, tongue sticking out of the mouth, making guttural moaning sounds. I think it's true love.

For the most part, I loved it too. I made a half batch in a 6" pan and it was still super deep-dish and dense. The brownie part was rich and fudgy, and the mascarpone mousse was a surprisingly nice topping. I wasn't sure about the combo as I was making it, but the mousse was so light and creamy, it was the perfect foil to the dark, fudgy brownie. I also loved the cherry flavor, but I wasn't sold on the texture of chewy dried fruit in my brownie. Next time I'd either use fresh cherries or morello cherries instead of dried.But there will be a next time, because this? Was amazing!

Now on to the DB's macarons. I know this is blasphemy, but I don't really like macarons. Shhhh, don't say it so loudly! I've had some that I've thought are pretty good, but for the most part, I think they're just not my ideal cookie. They're often too sweet, and I don't usually love the texture. I guess I'll always be a warm chocolate chip cookie girl at heart. And also, I think they're annoying to make, but that may just be because we have to make jumbo 3" ones at work and let me tell you, the good lord did not intend for macarons to be made so large. They're constantly causing problems and I think I have developed a big macaron-shaped chip on my shoulder because of it.

Aaaaanyways, I sucked it up and made two variations of macarons this time around: pumpkin spice, with a spiced cookie and pumpkin-flavored buttercream, and nutella, with a cocoa-hazelnut cookie and homemade nutella in the middle.

Did y'all know it's possible to make homemade Nutella? And if you did, why didn't you send me any?? This stuff is awesome! It's just ground hazelnuts, with some cocoa, sugar, and a bit of hazelnut oil and vanilla. The texture is closer to natural peanut butter than Nutella, but the hazelnut taste is much more intense, plus it doesn't have any nasty trans fats. Yes please! Subbing hazelnuts for the almonds in the cookie also worked like a dream and gave them a nice subtle hazelnut flavor.

The nutella cookies might have been my favorite because they were less sweet, but the pumpkin spice were a surprising dark horse contender! I added big pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves to the cookie batter, and then used some pumpkin flavoring oil (used to make candies, like Lor-Ann brand) to make a pumpkin buttercream. It was like a delicious mouthful of autumn. I would also consider using pumpkin butter as a filling, to give it a pumpkin flavor and maybe cut down on the sweetness.

Making the decorations on top is the simplest thing in the world. Just mix a little liquid orange food coloring with water, and use a (clean) paintbrush or pastry brush to lightly stroke it across the top. You might need to experiment with several brushes to get the effect you want. Allow it to dry for about 10 minutes, and you're all set.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. It can be found on just about any blog by googling, so I'll skip that for now, but I have put the homemade nutella recipe after the cut...

Homemade Nutella

from the Los Angeles Times

Servings: Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Note: Use good-quality cocoa powder, such as Scharffen Berger.

2 cups raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons hazelnut oil, more as needed

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the hazelnuts evenly over a cookie sheet and roast until they darken and become aromatic, about 10 minutes. Transfer the hazelnuts to a damp towel and rub to remove the skins.

2. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts to a smooth butter, scraping the sides as needed so they process evenly, about 5 minutes.

It was awesome to watch the hazelnuts go from this...

...to this!

3. Add the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, salt and oil to the food processor and continue to process until well blended, about 1 minute. The finished spread should have the consistency of creamy peanut butter; if it is too dry, process in a little extra hazelnut oil until the desired consistency is achieved. Remove to a container, cover and refrigerate until needed. Allow the spread to come to room temperature before using, as it thickens considerably when refrigerated. It will keep for at least a week.

Each tablespoon: 109 calories; 2 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 13 mg. sodium.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Pumpkin-Swirl BrownieCakeThingamajig

Sorry, TWD'ers. I can't think of many things that sound less tasty than sweet potato biscuits. Biscuits should be of the buttermilk variety, and sweet potatoes should be of the not-in-my-house variety, so it's a pass for me this week.

However, I have been baking up a storm lately, and one of my recent favorites were these Pumpkin-Swirl "Brownies." The recipe calls them brownies, but as you can see, the slices are approximately as tall as your average toddler, so I would place them firmly in the "cake" category. And what a lovely slice of cake they yield!
I had my doubts about these browniecakes (brakes? brokes? crownies?). Of course, the 9x9 pan filled to the brim with batter was a bit suspicious, but there wasn't a graceful way to remove the artfully swirled batter to a large pan without catastrophe, so I let it be. And then they seemed to take ages to bake--waaaaay longer than the recommended 40-45 minutes--and I was sure I was going to end up with burnt toast ends on the outside and gooey pumpkin baby food on the inside after all was said and done. It also didn't help that the top turned kind of a uniform muddy brown color. (Alas, beautiful swirling, I hardly knew ye).

However, my utter lack of faith was rewarded with deeeelicious pumpkin-chocolate brownie-cake extravaganza! The pumpkin kept it nice and moist, and the spices (the usual fall suspects, plus cayenne) made it interesting and flavorful. The chocolate flavor wasn't too pronounced, which is another reason I think this falls closer to a pumpkin-chocolate cake than an actual brownie.

My only regret was that I didn't have any ice cream to serve with it. Because this cake, plus vanilla ice cream? Sounds obscenely good. If you've been looking for a recipe to jump-start your fall baking, and if you don't mind that said recipe is tragically misnamed, give these browkes (cawnies?) a go. Recipe after the jump...

Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies
From the Queen of Baking herself

* 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
* 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 3/4 cups sugar
* 4 large eggs
* 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
* 1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
* 1/4 cup vegetable oil
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or other nuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter lining. [I recommend a 9x13 pan if you want more of a "brownie" sized bar.]
2. Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. [...or not. This is why microwaves were invented!]
3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.
4. Divide batter between two medium bowls (about 2 cups per bowl). [Or just stir half into the chocolate bowl, and add the pumpkin to the remaining half in the mixing bowl. Save yourself some washing up.] Stir chocolate mixture into one bowl. In other bowl, stir in pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don't set.
5. With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle with nuts.
6. Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. [If using a 9x9 pan it might take longer, mine was closer to 55 minutes. Use a toothpick in the center to test for doneness.] Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

TWD: Allspice Crumb Muffins

These Allspice Crumb Muffins looked great, but they really, really did not work for me. And I love muffins! And I love crumb topping! And I love spices! I even added some diced pears to the batter to give it a nice fall, fruit-and-spice-and-everything-nice flavor. However, all the pears in the world couldn't help these puppies...

I don't know why I disliked them so much. Nothing was wrong with them, per se, but I couldn't even make it through a whole muffin. I pulled the top off, Seinfeld-style, expecting to love it and all of its spicy, crumby, muffiny glory. Instead, it coated my throat and left me wanting water and a good tooth brushing. I felt like a dog eating peanut butter:

I could. not. stop. making those wet lip smacking sounds, but it wasn't a ooh, delicious-style smack, more of a why can't I swallow properly, get this gooey stuff out of my mouth-lip smack. Uch. Even typing this now, a week after eating it, I'm making that face. Not good.

My husband ate several and thought they were fine (not outstanding), so I know I didn't accidentally add arsenic or fatally screw up the recipe in some other way. However, the leftovers ended up getting tossed, which is unusual round these parts, so it's safe to say these were not a big hit with anyone. Now let us never mention allspice muffins again. Anyone seen my peanut butter?


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

TWD: Mint and Chocolate Split-Level Pudding

Originally, I wasn't going to make these split-level puddings. We're not...how you say...pudding people around my house, and it seemed like a waste of time and energy to make something no one would really eat. But then, my friends, I had a vision.

A vision of adorable mini pudding glasses filled with rich chocolate ganache sloping downward at an artistic angle, a vision of creamy pale green pudding infused with fresh mint leaves, a vision of these pudding glasses topped by the weensiest of chocolate truffles and garnished with more fresh mint leaves. And friends, I had to make this vision a reality. CAN I GET AN AMEN?

Yes, for me, this week was all about style over substance. If we weren't going to gobble down the pudding, at least we could rhapsodically gaze at it for awhile. Want to recreate my vision? Making the asymetrical ganache layer is dead simple--the hardest part is finding a sturdy way to tilt your glasses/containers so that they can stay at an angle. Sometimes balancing them in an egg carton works. For these glasses, I placed them in a box, leaning against the side, and wedged a book underneath so they wouldn't fall. Then I piped in the ganache when it was nice and warm and liquidy, and carefully placed the box in the fridge to set the ganache. Once it's set, you can remove it from the setup and the ganache will stay at an angle in the cups.
I'm a little obsessed with mint right now, so there was no question that the pudding would be infused with fresh mint leaves. The flavor is so subtle yet refreshing, there's really no comparison with mint extract. And it's so lovely against the chocolate ganache. I wasn't sure about coloring the pudding, but the thought of a mint-flavored pale yellow pudding seemed wrong (I guess I'm a literalist) so I added just a smidge of green color and prayed that green pudding wouldn't be too off-putting.

The extra ganache was rolled into tiny truffles, and some extra mint leaves were used as garnish on top. They were mainly for decoration, but I also liked how they added more chocolate flavor, since the recipe as written provides a lot more pudding than ganache.

And how did they taste? Well, someone--let's not name names, now--forgot to add the butter to the pudding, so it was a little stiffer and less silky than one would hope. And rubbery pudding, even when paired with nice chocolate ganache, is not so delightful. But the flavors were good, and they looked great, so I guess this counts as a win for the week, once again proving that it's appearances, not what's inside, that truly counts.