Monday, February 28, 2011

Chocolate Pot de Cremes, A Cure For the Common Plague

I am back from the brink. Hallelujah and high-fives all around!

For the past two weeks I've been suffering from something I not-at-all melodramatically termed "the plague," which also not-at-all resembles the actual plague, either in symptoms or severity.


It was gnarly.

My body is recovering, my drugs are doing their job, my husband is no longer forced to listen to me complain for hours at a time and then go to work and read emails with more complaining, and--most importantly--I am feeling like myself again!

Today really felt momentous. I had a full day of kitchen work planned, and instead of dragging my feet and moping around and taking breaks to photograph the progression of the plague for posterity, I was happy to be back at work. Singing to my ipod, dancing in my apron and kitchen clogs, doing endless dishes with nary a grumble.

Wait, that last part doesn't seem like me at all. Must be the plague talking.

Honestly, how could I not be happy to be back cooking, when I had these adorable chocolate pot de cremes* to greet me? Pot de creme is like a baked custard--somewhat similar in concept to pudding, but with a smooth, firm texture that comes from being thickened with egg yolks instead of cornstarch or arrowroot.

*pots de creme? pot des creme? Probably not that last one

I'm not always a custard fan, but something about these little cups hit just the right note. Their petite size means their richness isn't overwhelming, and they were barely sweetened, letting the chocolate flavor really shine through. In fact, my husband asked if there was caramel (!) or peanut butter (!!) mixed in, because they had a depth of flavor you wouldn't expect from a simple chocolate custard.

The pot de creme recipe will be on Christine of Black Cat Cooking's blog. Make it, bake it, love it. No plague required.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

TWD: Chocolate Oatmeal Drops

This week's recipe, Chocolate Oatmeal Drops, is a toughie to explain. Imagine cookies with the flavor and texture of brownies. Yum, right? Now mix in...oatmeal.

It's weird, it's unexpected, but it actually kind of worked. Much like other unusual couplings--french fries with milkshakes, chocolate with bacon, Taylor Swift with Jake Gyllenhaal--sometimes it's the contrasts that make the pairing work so well.

Not so much with Taylor and Jake, though. That was just weird.
[Call me, Jake.]

Ahem. Back to the cookies! They were rich, and chocolatey, and surprisingly chewy from the oatmeal. They reminded me a bit of those oatmeal no-bake cookies that have oats, chocolate, and peanut butter, and that in turn made me think that these would be awesome with some chopped up Reese's pb cups in them. Am I a baking mastermind? Quite possibly.

Other things I can tell you from experience: these are awesome...
1) as dough before being baked
2) right out of the oven
3) a few hours later
4) the next day
5) three days after that
6) defrosted from the freezer a week later

Also, four of them in a baggie fit nicely into a slipper tucked in a know, just in case the rest of you were hoping to travel with these and wanted to know the best way to keep them from crumbling. The ole slipper trick hasn't failed me yet. Bon appetit!


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Salted Fudge Brownies: Happy Valentine's Day to YOU

Fresh on the heels of the salted caramel bars, I'm back with another dessert guaranteed to raise your blood pressure and lower your life expectancy.

I promise, they're worth it.

Salted Fudge Brownies are my Valentine to those of you who, like me, can never get a brownie fudgy enough. It could be half-raw and oozing in the middle, and I'll think, "It's pretty good…but can't it get more fudgy?!"

These babies finally answer that question: NO. They cannot possibly be more fudgy. They're decadent and dense and loaded with chocolate flavor. The only thing that saves them from being chocolate overkill is the generous portion of salt in the batter, which cuts through the richness of the chocolate. But the real star is the flaked sea salt on top, that add the occasional crunch and pop of pure salty bliss.

I gifted these to a few friends as an early Valentine's present, and I do believe it's the best idea I've ever had. Everyone loved them. Of course, you don’t have to cut them into heart shapes, but if you do, I have it on good authority that the resulting brownie scraps make a delightful mid-morning snack. If you're in to that kind of thing.

Happy early Valentine's Day, Fudge-o-holics!

Salted Fudge Brownies

6 oz (1.5 sticks) Butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
3 whole eggs, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp large-flaked sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Press a piece of foil inside a 9x9 pan, and spray the foil with cooking spray.

2. Melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate in the microwave, stirring occasionally, until the butter and chocolate are entirely melted. Whisk to combine.

3. Add the sugar and cocoa powder and whisk until they're incorporated. At this point the mixture will look grainy and not very appetizing. Add the eggs one at a time, being sure to whisk well after each addition. With each egg added, the mixture will get smoother and shinier, and after all 3 have been added and the batter has been well-mixed, the graininess should be gone.

4. Add the vanilla extract, then stir in the flour and fine sea salt until any dry streaks disappear.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the remaining large-flaked sea salt over the top of the brownies.

6. Bake for about 35 minutes, until the edge is set but the center is still a bit soft and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out coated with a little of the batter. Cool at room temperature in the pan for about an hour, then refrigerate just until they are firm. Lift the brownies from the pan and remove foil. Cut the brownies into 12 or 16 squares, or use a cookie cutter to make shapes.


Monday, February 07, 2011

TWD: Outrageously Good Orange-Chocolate Bread Pudding

Few things make my heart pitter-patter more than bread pudding. Done properly, it's one of my top 5 favorite desserts. (Done wrong, it's borderline inedible, but I don't like to think about such scary things so close to bedtime.)

This week's TWD recipe was for Bourbon Bread Pudding, but being a teetotaler, I made a few necessary adjustments. Since my "Bourbon Bread Pudding" didn't contain any alcohol, I figured it needed a new, more accurate name. How about...

Bourbon-less Bread Pudding

The Bread Pudding That Bourbon Forgot
Bread Pudding: The Prohibition Years
Don't Tell Dorie The Pudding Has No Bourbon
Are you There, Bourbon? It's Me, Bread Pudding

Don't get me wrong, those are all great options, but I like it by this title best of all:

Outrageously Good Orange-Chocolate Bread Pudding

Instead of making a plain bread pudding (yawn) I infused the cream with the rind of one orange overnight, to make sure orange flavor permeated every bite of the pudding. For the bread I used stale challah, which might just be my favorite yet. I've used brioche, croissants, and cinnamon raisin bread to good success in the past, but the challah had the best texture and flavor, I think, and it stayed nicely moist throughout the baking. Holla for challah!

Here's my other secret weapon:

I chopped up strips of freshly candied orange peel and added them, along with a big handful of bittersweet chocolate chunks, to the bread-and-custard mixture. The orange peel softened during the baking, so I had large pockets of juicy orange peel and melted, gooey chocolate studded throughout the pudding. Chocolate, orange, rich custard, crunchy crust of bread on top? I'm calling this

America's Next Top Bread Pudding

The hungry hungry husband is out of town, so I forced myself to make a half batch in little baby ramekins, because a whole batch of bread pudding + unsupervised me = serious trouble.

You know what else is trouble?

The ginooooormous mound of oranges and grapefruit I have shoved in my (perilously overloaded) refrigerator! SEND CITRUS RECIPES STAT.

Okay, so the condensed milk has nothing to do with bread pudding, bourbon, oranges, or silly pop culture references. I just also happen to have a ridiculous amount of condensed milk as well (oh my poor fridge) and am soliciting condensed milk recipes too.

Q: Are you a bread pudding fan? If so, what's your favorite variation? And if not--come over! This bread pudding'll convince you.

Q: Any ideas for yummy orange/grapefruit/condensed milk recipes? (Definitely not all at the same time.) Aside from key lime pie, that is...


Saturday, February 05, 2011

Nutella Semifreddo for World Nutella Day

My Google Reader was a thing of beauty this morning: dozens of new posts from my favorite food blogs, bursting with delicious Nutella recipes in honor of World Nutella Day. It's the most wonderful time of the year...

I've already featured two different types of homemade nutella, and four-ingredient Nutella cupcakes, but trust me when I tell you, I've saved the best for last.

Nutella Semifreddo is perhaps the best thing I've eaten so far this year. This may not seem like an earth-shattering statement, but in the last month I've created 16 new recipes for the candy site, made multiple baked goods for this here blog, and eaten my way through the patisseries of Boston and New York.

(Also, I have vowed to start eating well aaaaaaany day now...just as soon as I find a diet that endorses Nutella and full-fat cheese.)

Semifreddo, if you're not familiar with it, is an Italian word that means "half-frozen" and it can refer to any number of desserts, most of them in the sorbet/frozen mousse/ice cream tart category. This Nutella Semifreddo is perhaps most similar in taste and texture to a frozen mousse. Slightly warm and liquid Nutella is stirred into well-beaten eggs, then soft whipped cream is folded into this mixture to lighten the texture and round out the flavor. The final touch is stirring in shaved dark chocolate and chopped toasted pistachios, for pockets of bittersweet crunch sprinkled throughout.

This semifreddo can be made in a loafpan and served in slices (easy way) or spooned into individual glasses or serving dishes (bonus credit). I liked it best after it had sat out of the freezer for about five minutes. The edges start to soften, the way good ice cream gets melty along the edges, but the rest of the dessert holds its body when you put it in your mouth, silky-smooth and lighter than air, where it ever so gently melts with your body heat until all that's left is the taste of chocolate and hazelnuts coating your tongue.

If you like mousse, you'll love semifreddo.
If you like ice cream, you'll love semifreddo.
If you like Nutella, you'll love semifreddo.
If you don't like any of these, you've probably come to my blog by mistake because you meant to type Death of Cake but got Cake or Death instead. I'm sorry. It happens. Perhaps some semifreddo will make you feel better.

Chocolate Nutella Semifreddo
Adapted from More Than Burnt Toast

4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 13 ounce (400 gram) jar Nutella
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon chocolate or hazelnut liqueur, or vanilla extract
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, shaved
2/3 cup roasted pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
Chocolate curls, for decoration

Line a mold of your choice with plastic wrap, taking care to leave about a 3 inch length hanging over the edge. I recommend a loaf pan about 8x4, or you can use individual serving cups and not worry about the plastic lining.

Gently whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Be careful not to overwhip and cause the cream to break or become grainy.

Heat the Nutella in the microwave for about 20-25 seconds to soften it up. Set aside.

Place eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Place mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the eggs are warm, about 2 minutes.

Place the bowl in a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes.

Add the softened Nutella and the chocolate or hazelnut liqueur, or the vanilla extract, to the egg mixture and mix on low speed until blended.

Gently fold in the whipped cream, half of the shaved chocolate and 1/2 cup of the chopped nuts.
Scrape mixture into the mold and spread evenly, or spoon into the individual serving cups. Top with the remaining shaved chocolate. Cover the top of mold with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 8 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to serve, unmold the semifreddo and flip it upside-down. Cut it into slices and top them with a few curls of chocolate and the remaining chopped nuts. Like ice cream, this would be bonkers with a warm chocolate (or chocolate-hazelnut?) sauce and/or whipped cream. But it's pretty epic just the way it is.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Four-Ingredient Nutella Cupcakes

Just when you thought Nutella couldn't get awesomer, someone comes along with the idea of making cupcakes out of it. But not just any cupcakes--four-ingredient cupcakes.

To be honest, I think these are actually even three-ingredient cupcakes, because one of the ingredients (chopped hazelnuts) is a garnish and could easily be omitted with no hard feelings. So the equation is really something like this:

Nutella + 1 egg + a few spoonfuls of flour + 11 minutes in the oven = CUPCAKE PERFECTION

I know, I had my doubts too. I was mostly worried that they would turn out to be rubbery, in the way that so many fishy pseudo-cupcakes often are. But they were actually moist and fudgy--denser than many cupcakes, but in a good way. These may be small, but they have a lot of flavor from the Nutella "frosting" and crushed hazelnuts on top.

I actually feel a little bad sharing this recipe, because I think it could be dangerous. Delicious cupcakes in 12 minutes with only 4 ingredients? THAT is a recipe that could do some serious damage. But, the upcoming World Nutella Day leaves me no choice. I apologize in advance.

Four-Ingredient Nutella Cupcakes
adapted from Savory Sweet Life
yields 9 mini cupcakes

1 cup Nutella spread, divided use
1 large egg
5 tablespoons all=purpose flour
2 tbsp cup chopped hazelnuts

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 9 cups of a mini muffin pan with paper or foil liners.

2. Put 1/2 cup of the Nutella and egg in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth and well blended. Add the flour and whisk until blended.

3. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins (about 3/4 full) and bake until a pick comes out with wet, gooey crumbs, 11 to 12 minutes. Don't overbake!

4. Set on a rack to cool completely. Once cool, warm the remaining 1/2 cup of Nutella in a small bowl in the microwave just until warm and fluid, about 15-25 seconds. Dip the tops of each cupcake in the Nutella, so that it's completely coated. (You will have extra Nutella left over. I trust you can find something to do with this.) Sprinkle the tops of the cupcakes with the chopped hazelnuts. These keep for up to 3-4 days in an airtight container at room temperature.


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

World Nutella Day: IT'S COMING

Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Sound like big holidays? WRONG.

These holidays are nothing--nothing--compared to what's coming up this Saturday.

Friends, are you prepared? Giant 26-ounce jars of Nutella purchased? Pantry stuffed with baguettes, pretzels, bananas, and apples, all ready to be slathered with Nutella? Starvation diet enacted to compensate for the calorie bomb that is a spoonful of Nutella?

Bring. It. On.

Nutella Day isn't until Saturday, so there's plenty of time to make preparations if this holiday has caught you off guard. There's lots of information and about a million recipes at the Nutella Day website, to whet your sweet tooth.

To kick things off I thought I'd start with a recipe for homemade Nutella. I've actually made two different versions. One can be found at the Oh Nuts blog--that recipe uses melted chocolate and condensed milk, and has a smoother, fudgier texture. That blog post has step-by-step photos for making Nutella, if you're new to this sort of thing.

The recipe I'm posting here uses cocoa powder instead of chocolate, and the end result has a bit more texture, but it's a little less sweet, which is my personal preference. Either way, you absolutely cannot go wrong with freshly ground roasted hazelnuts and chocolate!

So go forth, my friends, and create luscious Nutella creations. I'll be back tomorrow with another Nutella recipe for ya.

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, rind the hazelnuts to a smooth butter, scraping the sides as needed so they process evenly, about 5 minutes.

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.


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

TWD: Great Grains Muffins

In trying to articulate my feelings about the Great Grains Muffins for this week's TWD recipe, I decided that it would be easiest to explain with a visual aid.*

If you will please refer to the above figure, it is evident that my enjoyment of a food increases proportionally to the degree to which said food resembles dessert.

In making these calculations, there are a few additional considerations. Extra weight is given for the presence of a) frosting b) chocolate ganache and c) whipped cream. Points are deducted for a) pastry cream b) excessive meringue and c) booze.

Now then. Given that my sweet tooth is the boss of me, and given that these muffins tasted fairly healthy-ish, it is safe to say that there were not my new favorite thing. Don't get me wrong--they weren't bad at all. In fact, Jason really liked them. (But that makes sense, since he's the MC Skat Kat to my Paula Abdul.)

For a healthy muffin, these performed admirably. I used whole wheat flour, spelt flour, oats, and cornmeal, and will all of that, they still stayed nice and moist for days. I tried to jazz them up with dried apricots, pistachios, and bittersweet chocolate, but I still found myself picking out the clumps of chocolate and chunks of fruit and leaving the rest of the muffin sitting around all morning.

None of this is the muffin's fault. Remember those Costco superpacks of muffins? I was the girl who always made a beeline to the double-chocolate muffins, which we all know are basically unfrosted cupcakes on steroids. I cannot be trusted to define what constitutes a delicious muffin.

So yes--these can stay earmarked as "treats to make for other people who value healthy baked goods," but as for me--I'm counting down the days until we make bread pudding (!!) next week(!!!)

*This super-scientific graph is brought to you by every single liberal arts class I took in pursuit of my English & American Studies degrees. Who says the humanities are useless?