Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TWD: Cocoa-Nana Bread

This week's Cocoa-Nana bread had me all excited. I like the chocolate-banana combo (although I was surprised to hear how many people hate it), I loooove adding chocolate chips to banana bread or banana muffins, and we all know banana cake is best when topped with chocolate-sour cream frosting. And my very first TWD recipe was for her chocolate marbled banana loaf, which is still one of my very favorites. So basically, all this bread had to do was wink at me from the corner and I was prepared to love it forever.
However, this bread was the rarest of all specimens: the baked good that looks better than it tastes. Charlatan.
I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either, and I was so ready to love it. Mostly I guess my taste buds were confused. The banana flavor wasn't very prominent, so I mostly just tasted the chocolate. And the texture was more like a cake than a quick bread, but because of all the cocoa it wasn't sweet enough to be chocolate cake. What...who...how...huh?

[How cute are sea otters?! That is all.]

The one thing this bread did have going for it was big chunks of chocolate. The nice folks at Dove sent me a Valentine's package with their milk and dark chocolate hearts, so I chopped up a bunch of those (a wee bit more than the recipe calls for, perhaps. Ahem.) and they added some nice pockets of melted chocolate for my tasting pleasure.

(Also, did you know that they're currently partnering with Martha Stewart, and inside each wrapper is a Martha-approved tip for making your Valentine's picture-perfect? Some are rather smurfy, but some are going to be used as weapons of husband hypnosis to ensure that I'm spoiled this holiday. Red roses in bud vases arranged in the shape of a heart, here I come!)

So yes. This week was a reluctant thumbs down for me, but it did remind me of how much I loved the marbled banana bread, so I may go ahead and make that and call it a success after all.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

TWD: Chocolate Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars

It's only January 19th and already my New Year's Resolutions are a sad crumpled heap kicked into the corner. I resolved to be a better blogger and ESPECIALLY a better blog commentor--I know I have the worst commenting karma ever and anyone who comments on this blog deserves major props and cupcakes and also apologies, because I am a loser--and not only have I not done better about commenting--sorry, sorry! Cupcakes are in the mail--but I'm also falling behind on blogging. Deep breath.

But at least this time, I have a 2 Legit excuse. I spent the long weekend up in the Bay Area, getting drenched in serious monsoon weather and eating Burmese food (where have you been all my life?) and walking around with my snooty nose in the air and my pinky out at the Fancy Food Show. You guys, food trade shows are so fun. It's a blast to be able to talk to people who are passionate about their products and sample so many squizillion delicious foods. There were trillions of truffles...

[These are from Norman Love and are hand-painted by art majors. Yes, really!]

and millions of macarons...
and beautiful brownie pops...

and cakes of both giant marshmallow...

and brie cheese.

Given the week's extracurriculars, it's only fitting that this week's TWD recipe is an "almost-candy bar," since I'm apparently on an all-candy diet. I can't quite see these as a candy bar, since they seemed more like a REALLY HEFTY bar cookie to me, but they were pretty face-rocking good.

I omitted the raisins (of course) and cut them into small bar shapes, which I later cut even smaller since these bad boys seemed to expand in the stomach. My only change for next time would be to not use all of the crust/topping, since I thought it was a little too thick in comparison to the fudge layer. But overall these were awesome and they're a definite make-again for me.

P.S. If anyone's interested, here are some of the candy/chocolate trends I noticed:
  • Antioxidant/superfruits are still big: goji berries, pomegranates, acai, etc.
  • Vegan/raw chocolate and truffles and other "good-for-you" chocolates
  • Yuzu and other exotic citrus fruits
  • Passionfruit! I'm really excited about this one.
  • Fun texture additions like popping candy, chips, etc. I saw panko used several times
  • Bacon everything. Vosges should rename their company Bacon R Us. There was even a bacon-maple marshmallow.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TWD:Scherben, Shmerben

Looking back on it now, it seems clear that I was destined to not like these "scherbens," IF that's their real name, from the start.

Exhibit A: their name, which I cannot say without developing a ridiculous German accent.

Exhibit B: the fact that they are, actually, German, and it is a documented fact that I do not like German desserts. See also kugelhopf, or as I like to call it, "frustratinghopf."

Exhibit C: I don't generally like fried foods. The last time I fried something was two years ago, when I made these deep-fried candy bars. (Nothing says "I hate you, heart" like a deep-fried candy bar.) And it's taken me this long to recover from the experience of using all that oil to cook something.

Well, I guess I'm a slow learner, because I fried my little heart out this weekend, and all I have to show for it are these sugar-dusted cardboard shards.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I didn't roll the dough thin enough, or have the oil at the right temperature, or maybe it's my subconscious prejudice against the German people and their fine, fine baked goods. But these...these were not gut.

Immediately after frying, once they'd gotten their initial sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon, they were okay. A bit bland, but crispy and fairly sugary. However, after sitting out for an hour or two, they were stale. Like, I did a spit-take into the trash can stale. Like, I couldn't believe that our mild-mannered apartment air could have such a horrible, near-instant effect on a dessert. Blech! At least they looked good:

In the interest of trying to at least pretend to be healthy, I baked some of of these scherbens (is that the plural?) instead of frying them, at the suggestion of the brilliant Caitlin. Well, it worked for her, but I was underwhelmed with the results. These bowls have the exact same number of scherben in them:

Yeah, I guess the oil is a necessary evil in this case. Ah well. I have had some medicinal chocolate to help me recover, and have bid a final auf wiedersehen to these scherben. Please remind me of this experience next time I want to make deep-fried Bavarian dessert pretzels or something.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Faaaaaaaabulous Birthday Cake for TWD!

This week is the second anniversary of Tuesdays with Dorie, the wonderful baking group that bakes each week out of Dorie Greenspan's book Baking: From My Home to Yours. I do believe that this group is the primary engine that keeps me blogging, since I am a chronic blog neglector and would probably let this blog wither and die without a weekly "date" with my fellow TWDers. So thank you, LW, for starting the group, thanks to everyone who has become my blogging buddies, and thanks especially to Dorie for writing such an awesome cookbook!

But enough chatter, let's have some birthday cake!
We had the choice of making an apple tarte tatin (love those!) or a cocoa-buttermilk birthday cake. Um, it's a birthday, how is this even a choice? Cocoa-buttermilk cake it is!

I knew I wanted to make a wild celebration cake, so I decided early on to go crazy with the colors and decorations. About halfway through decorating the top, the little voice in my head that sounds just like Tim Gunn from Project Runway started questioning that decision.

"Hmmm...Elizabeth..." Tim Gunn Head Voice said, "I'm concerned. That's a whole lot of color. It could be faaaabulous, or it could be a hot mess." TGHV was right. It WAS a whole lot of color. What to do?

After I made like Johnny from last season and cried in the corner for a few minutes while regretting giving up crystal meth, I pulled myself together, banished the Tim Gunn voice from my head, and continued to squirt my frosting streamers with abandon. The only thing worse than an over-the-top cake is a cake that's halfway there but afraid to commit. Go big or go home!

The cake was topped with a party hat made from an ice cream cone, fondant, and buttercream.

I filled the cake with the same vanilla buttercream used to decorate the outside. This decision was made by necessity more than taste--I didn't have enough chocolate for the outside and two inside layers--but it turned out brilliantly, as the vanilla nicely balanced the chocolate and kept it from being too intense.
The cake itself was awesome. For some reason, I expected it to be sort of a wussy chocolate flavor, since it didn't have "deep" or "dark" or "mega tunnel of fudge" in the title. But this was actually a really delicious chocolate cake--flavorful, and moist, but with a nice tight crumb so it held its body and layered easily.

I do still think I prefer oil-based chocolate cakes in general, since they don't dry out as quickly, but for a stable cake that will be eaten in a day or two, this is a great recipe.

I skipped the chocolate malt frosting since some people found it to be gritty and otherwise unappetizing. Instead, I used a nice fudge frosting recipe (found after the jump) that added just the right amount of chocolate flavor and structure.

This was a great way to celebrate two fun, sugar-filled years with the best bakers on the internet. Here's to another two...or three...or twenty...

Fudge Frosting

14 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 sticks (8 oz) butter, room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
pinch salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole milk

1. Melt chocolates and butter in microwave or over double boiler, stir until smooth. Allow to cool until just warm.
2. Sift powdered sugar and salt into bowl of large mixer.
3. Add milk and vanilla, and mix with whisk attachment until thoroughly mixed and no lumps remain.
4. Add melted chocolate/butter mixture to mixing bowl, mix on medium until smooth.

At this point, you can use it as-is, or you can put it in the fridge to firm up a little--15 or 20 minutes ought to do it. It does get stiff in the refrigerator, so give the frosted cake time to come to room temperature for best taste and texture.


Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year! Happy Caramel Corn!

Happy new year! Maybe I always feel this way and don't remember, or maybe this year in particular has overstayed its welcome, but I am so ready to begin a new year, and a new decade. The slate, she is fresh and ready to be filled with only good things, good thoughts, and good actions from here on out.

How did you celebrate? We went to a friend's house for a casual potluck-style party. In addition to bringing some virtuous veggies, I brought my new favorite nibble: caramel popcorn. I know there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about caramel corn, since you can buy mediocre versions everywhere, but I recently made this particular recipe for the first time and fell in love. It gets really crunchy, so it doesn't stick in your teeth, and instead of being cloyingly sweet it has a lovely caramelized sugar and vanilla flavor.

Of course, it wouldn't be a party without some chocolate, so I drizzled some bittersweet TCHO chocolate over some of the corn. I like both versions, but I might even prefer it plain--it's just that good.

The recipe is under the cut, and I followed it faithfully, except I used cashews instead of peanuts. (It's also wonderful without any nuts at all.)

I hope you all had a great New Year's Eve--did you know there was a blue moon last night? It only happens every 2-3 years and is said to be good luck. Hopefully it's a portent of good things to come this year. Cheers!

Caramel Corn with Salted Peanuts
Adapted from DamGoodSweet, by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel
Found on Orangette

1 (3½-ounce) package plain (unbuttered natural flavor) microwave popcorn, or about 10 cups fresh popcorn popped by any method, lightly salted
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup lightly salted peanuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

If using microwave popcorn, pop the popcorn according to the package instructions. Coat a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray, and dump the popcorn into the bowl, taking care to pick out and discard any unpopped kernels.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer, whisking often, until the mixture reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the baking soda and vanilla. Quickly pour the hot caramel over the popcorn. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the caramel into the popcorn, taking care to distribute it as evenly as you can. Stir in the peanuts, and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, stirring and turning the popcorn with a spatula every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and place on a cooling rack for 20 minutes. Gently break up the popcorn, and serve.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days (or thereabouts).

Yield: about 10 cups