Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Guessing Game

Guess who just had a birthday?
That's right, the hungry hungry hubby, the ravenous rhino, the Cool J to my LL, just celebrated a milestone birthday.

Guess how old he turned?
Every day closer to decrepitude now!

Guess how we celebrated?
We had a little-boy party with old-fashioned party games, including this variation on Pin the Tail on the Donkey. (He's almost finished with his PhD and wants to be a professor.)

Guess what his birthday dessert was?
None other than Dorie's pecan pie! Pecan pie is his absolute faaaaavorite dessert, and it was beautiful serendipity that it was chosen as one of this month's recipes. And let me tell you, Dorie knows how to make a mean pecan pie. He loved it. I actually made a mondo 11" deep dish version, and doubled the recipe in the one crust.

Guess how I fed it to him?
"Make like a dolphin and jump for it, boy!"

Guess how I ate it myself?
Ever so delicately, with my pinky finger out.

Just kidding! It was more like this:

Guess how we ate the leftovers?

In huge slabs with melty vanilla ice cream.

Guess the best part about this pecan pie?
The ooey, gooey innards full of chocolate chunks and toasted pecans. Props to Beth for the great pick, and head on over to her blog for the full recipe.

Merry Christmas to everyone!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Brownie Cookies, the Best of Both Worlds

First off, a bit of business. My Oh Nuts! giveaway ended last night, and the winner, as chosen by the random number generator, was lucky number 17: Caroline of Sweet Caroline. So Caroline, email me your contact information and I'll get the gift certificate sent your way!

Speaking of nuts and dried fruit and yumminess, I have a great cookie-brownie-mutant recipe to recommend. I found the recipe for these Orange Cranberry Brownie Cookies on Baking Bites, and they had me at hello. It's basically all of my favorite ingredients smooshed into a fudgy chocolate cookie.

Dried cranberries, toasted pecans (my little recipe tweak), lots of orange zest, and big chocolate chunks commingle in the rich belly of this brownie-cookie beast. If you've had enough of holiday sugar cookies and gingerbread men (or just want another chocolate addition to the holiday gift plate) I give these cookies two chocolate-smeared thumbs up.
My one caution is that I didn't think they kept very well; after about 2 days they tasted stale. However, if your family is anything like mine around the holidays, they won't last longer than 2 days anyhow, so it's a moot point.

Orange Cranberry Brownie Cookies
from Baking Bites

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange zest
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup chocolate chips (pref. dark chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together melted butter and sugars. Mix in the eggs, stirring them in one at a time, then add the vanilla and orange zest.
With the mixer on low or working by hand, stir in the flour mixture, mixing until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in dried cranberries.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet (dough balls were a bit larger than 1 inch in diameter). Leave about 2 to 3-inches between cookies to allow for spread.
Bake for 9-11 minutes, until cookies are set at the edges and tops are slightly cracked looking. Cool on baking sheet for 5-10 minutes, until firm enough to transfer to a cooling rack.
Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes about 3 1/2 - 4 dozen.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Cafe Volcano Cookies, or, What Am I Missing?

I am humble enough to admit there are a number of things in this world I don’t understand. Theoretical physics, for example. Or the differences between Marginalist and Instiutionalist schools of economic theory. Or the continual popularity and acceptance of Lady Gaga, lack of pants and talent notwithstanding.

To this list you can now add this week’s Café Volcano Cookies. It’s a meringue cookie…but you don’t whip the egg whites. They’re full of nuts…but when you bite into them, it’s like you’re eating air. They have volcano in the title…but there’s no lava involved whatsoever. (Okay, so you can scratch that last one.)

Other people who made these cookies used words like “pleasantly surprised” in reaction to them, so I put aside my reservations about such a flimsy ingredient list and gave it the ole college try…after reading the instructions about two dozen times. I was sure I was missing some crucial step or ingredient. All you do is toast some nuts, add sugar and egg whites, stir it all together in a saucepan for a few minutes, then dollop the gooey mess onto a cookie sheet and bake? And somehow, from the ashes of this baking disaster, like a phoenix, delicious cookies arise?
Where's the beef?

Not in my kitchen, sadly enough. I was not feeling these. I added cocoa powder instead of coffee, but they still tasted like…nothing. Sort of nutty, very sweet, crumbly air. I thought of dipping them in chocolate, but that just seemed like throwing good money after bad, and especially during this time of year, there are so many other, tastier things to be blowing my diet on.


Monday, December 07, 2009

TWD: Pecan Sables

You don't have to tell me how good Dorie's sable recipe is. Just this past summer I was swooning over the spiced version--such good flavor, such good texture, such easy, delicious little cookies.

So this time I decided to shake it up a bit, and try a pecan version. I added ground roasted pecans to the dough, and rolled the outside of the cookies in the same ground pecans. I'm afraid the coating pushed their appearance from "rustic" to "chewed up." Next time I'm sticking with plain sugar around the outside instead.
The taste was good, although I wished I'd added some spices along with the pecans--they could have used a little more oomph. But I loved the texture, as always, and these were the perfect topper to a bowl of pumpkin praline ice cream.

I still need to try some other additions, like citrus zest, or parmesan, or grated chocolate. These sable and I have a lot more bonding to do before we're done. What's your favorite variation?

Pssst! If you haven't already, don't forget to enter the giveaway to win a gift certificate for free Oh Nuts! merchandise!


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Deep Chocolate Brownies

Recently I received some samples of TCHO baking chocolate to try. If you're not familiar with TCHO, they're an artisan, bean-to-bar chocolate company based in San Francisco. I'd tried their chocolate bars in the past, and found them very good, but far too pricey to do any baking with...it's the kind of chocolate you savor square by teensy tiny square.

So I was excited to hear that they now have a baking line of 66% and 68% baking "drops," designed with cooking and candy making in mind. I am here to tell you, though, that the chocolate is also pretty amazing eaten straight from the bag. (All in the name of research, you understand.) The 68% conventional blend was my favorite--smooth, rich, with a deep chocolate taste. The 66% organic blend was very fruity and bright, and I can't wait to try it in truffles this Christmas. I think it'll be delicious with citrus flavors, or maybe paired with my new BFF, pistachios. But back to the chocolate!

I took it for a test spin using a brownie recipe provided with the chocolate. These TCHO Deep Chocolate Brownies are my favorite kind of brownie--dense, fudgy, with a crackly top and slightly crisp edges. These brownies were pretty outrageously good, with a great chocolate flavor. Here's my little brownie quirk: after cutting the batch into squares, I always cut my piece into small cubes to eat one at a time, just like a piece of chocolate. It's a good way to feel like you're indulging yourself...and also a good way to mask how many tiny brownie bites you actually eat!

What about you? Any brownie quirks? Favorite type of brownie? Any blondie lovers in the house? (The baked good, not the tired comic strip character.) Read on for the brownie recipe...

TCHO Deep Chocolate Brownies

Recipe by Emily Luchetti, courtesy of TCHO

8 ounces TCHO 68% Cacao Baking Drops, finely chopped
5 ounces (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and line it with parchment paper. Melt the chocolates and butter in a double boiler over hot water. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture. Sift together and then stir in the flour, salt, baking powder, and cocoa powder. Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake until a skewer inserted in the center, comes out fudgy and not dry, about 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan. Place a cutting board on top of the pan. Invert the pan and board. Remove the pan and carefully peel off the parchment paper.