Chocolate financiers

Whenever I make custard-base ice cream and have leftover egg whites, I often make financiers - those little French tea cakes made with almond meal, egg whites, and brown butter.  We love these little cakes dearly, and I have to say I'm a little amazed it took me this long to make a chocolate version!
Sometimes, it feels like it's this little blog's mission to talk about chestnuts and financiers!  Those topics come up a lot.  Honestly, these humble looking little cakes are one of my favorite things.  I urge you to try it and I think you'll see why I'm so crazy about them!  Because looks alone don't do them justice.  Bake a fresh batch at home and you end up with these warm little cakes that have a crunchy crisp texture on the outside, along the edges, and an incredible hazel-nutty, buttery flavor within. 

I love the basic almond financiers so much that it's the one I make most often, usually with a spoonful of chestnut cream tucked inside (I can combine two favorite things together!). But I've also swapped out the ground almonds for pistachioshazelnuts, and cashews to make those variations; plus, I've also made matcha financiers. Clearly, I'm a little financier-crazy!  And to further this madness, I went with a chocolate version this time.  I think it was long overdue.
All I did was add a couple of tablespoons of Dutch-process cocoa to the basic recipe I always use.  This simple move yielded these decadently-dark cakes, which have the same familiarly delicious nutty, buttery flavor, just now with a blanket of chocolate encasing the whole thing.  To get a little "fancy", you can grab some fresh berries - like I did with raspberries - and top a few on top of the cakes.  Add them about midway through baking so they don't sink into the batter.
I've mentioned before that I can never quite bake my financiers without a bit of a liquid center; I suspect it's because my batter is chilled.  It isn't a problem though. In fact, we love that slightly under-cooked center (it's the best part, tied with the crispy crust) so if you're willing, give it a try and see what I mean. 

These delicious chocolate financiers will be a part of the regular financier-making and eating rotation in our house going forward!  



Pistachio ice cream, with chocolate soufflé

My family and I had the best time sitting down to this dessert last Sunday afternoon. It started with a batch of homemade pistachio ice cream, then I made chocolate soufflé to go with it.  Boy oh boy, was it a treat!
I had a moment of pride bringing this to the table, feeling a little amazed I made it with my two little hands.  A few years ago, I wouldn't have thought it possible to create so many restaurant dishes and desserts at home.  But now, I know that many things that seem hard aren't so hard at all; it just takes a little planning and concentration.  
It actually started with the ice cream.  Months ago, I was looking through this breakfast cookbook and among the recipes, I found one for pistachio ice cream.  Like I've said before, pistachio desserts are always especially good for some reason!  I love everything from pistachio cake to macaronscookies, and biscotti, and a scoop of pistachio ice cream/gelato is always a treat when I can get my hands on it.  So I was very interested in this relatively simple pistachio ice cream recipe I found myself looking at. 
Funny thing though...when I set out to make the ice cream, I looked up pistachio ice cream recipes online to do some comparison and found the exact same recipe on epicurious.com that's credited to a different source.  It made me scratch my head a bit but I'll just leave that alone and say that as far as results go, I am very happy with this pistachio ice cream!  It turned out full of pistachio flavor - with a little almond extract in the background that I think compliments it quite well.  
The pistachio flavor comes from grinding pistachios with some sugar and flavoring/cooking the milk with this mixture (which is later strained and discarded). Stirring some chopped pistachios into the ice cream adds texture and reinforces the pistachio flavor. This recipe leans closer to gelato given more milk than cream (2:1 ratio) in it, and I think it works really well in cases like this where you want the delicate nutty flavor to shine through.  So basically, I can now have excellent pistachio ice cream/gelato at home anytime I feel like it!  
I was thinking a special ice cream/gelato flavor like pistachio needed to be used or showcased somehow.  I noticed that the epicurious recipe, which is sourced to a restaurant that was once in PA, mentioned that the ice cream was served with warm chocolate soufflés.  Well, it took me no time at all to decide to copy that idea!

I made chocolate soufflés using a David Lebovitz recipe I've posted about in the past.  All in all, the chocolate soufflé with the pistachio ice cream was just...fabulous.  I made four of these and the three of us wiped the ramekins clean in no time at all. That's the thing with both soufflé and ice cream - they're meant to be devoured without hesitation.
When it's all gone, it leaves you wanting more but I can savor the memory of this for a while yet...



Tate's (crispy) chocolate chip cookies

So far, this spring is passing by in a happy blur.  There's always something on the calendar and it's good to be busy and have things to look forward to so I can't complain. 
Even with things going on, we make time to cook, bake, and of course - eat! Nothing could be easier and more relaxing than making cookies so I'm dropping off a batch of chocolate chip cookies today.  I seem to be on a chocolate chip cookie kick lately but as far as I'm concerned, it's always fun to try another chocolate chip cookie recipe and one cannot live by strawberries and raspberries alone no matter how good they are right now!

This time, I tried to take a step back for a moment from those much-loved soft and chewy cookies to something different - thin and crispy cookies, studded with dark chocolate chips.  Its dark brown hue hints at its deeper caramel flavor.
These cookies were made from Tate's chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Are you familiar with Tate's?  They are known for their thin, distinctively crisp and crunchy, chocolate chip cookies and this is the recipe the owner, Kathleen King, shared in her cookbook for them.  

I've wanted to try this recipe at home for a while now because my son loves those Tate's cookies.  I remember he first tried them a couple of years ago when we were out shopping and he was given a sample.  He really took a liking to them.  I was a little surprised but I shouldn't have been when I think about his preference for Oreo cookies and crunchy snacks in general (I think most of us can relate). 
So we're happily munching our way through this batch of cookies and leaving crumbs in our trail but are these homemade cookies like Tate's?  Frankly, no.   At least my batch wasn't.  They sure are good cookies, with that nice familiar caramel flavor, but as far as comparison to the "real" thing, it's in the texture.  Mine didn't have that same uniform, all-through serious crunch you get when you bite into one of those thin Tate's cookies.  Baking a few extra minutes may be in order though I have to admit to a fear of veering too close to burnt rather than browned!  But though the recipe doesn't turn out the same thing as the cookies from a Tate's bags, I can't say it was a wasted effort given the tasty flavor and well, the general goodness of homemade chocolate chip cookies, period.  No one complained.



Blueberry buttermilk cake

When something works, you tend to do it (or eat it) on repeat.  That's the case with this simple buttermilk cake that I keep coming back to.  The base cake is a delicious canvas for seasonal berries, which is really making its appearance again in the market.  I've nestled raspberries and strawberries into the lovely batter in the past so naturally, it was time for blueberries to have a turn.
It's great because not only is the crumb tender and moist, the cake brings just the right amount of sweetness to the fruit nestled within.  And it isn't too much cake - just enough batter to hold the fruit together.  It's a great cake for tea and makes a wonderful dessert.

Each time I bake this, I enjoy how the batter rises as it bakes and you end up with this cobbler-like top to the little cake.  And mine is indeed little in this particular instance since I made a 6-inch version.  My fridge was happily ladened with a variety of berries last weekend (my other half lovingly loaded me up for Mother's Day) and I decided to take some of the blueberries to make this treat for my husband.
As much as I adore this cake myself, I have to say that I often make it for my husband, who tends to prefer his fruit consumption in the form of dessert!  His secret is out!  Well, maybe it isn't quite so earth-shattering considering those who know him likely know he has a serious sweet tooth, which can be partially credited for bringing about this little blog in the first place!  
A few days before this, I also made some basic blueberry muffins but cake - the kind that makes us slow down and slice, and take the time to sit and eat - is such an elegant way to go.  This particular cake is easy and fast to make and a great use of berries for when you need to transform them into a dessert like I often do for my husband.  How can you go wrong with a moist, tender buttermilk cake encasing juicy blueberries and an almost-requisite touch of lemon zest in the background?



Walnut olive oil cake

Making and tasting those wonderful olive oil muffins recently had made me eager to explore other recipes that involve baking with olive oil.

And when I was reading David Lebovitz's post/recipe for those muffins, I noticed someone mention another olive oil cake in the comments - a walnut olive oil cake recipe from Bon Appetit.  Since I love simple, no-frosting-necessary cakes packed with nuts, this walnut cake - one familiarly infused with orange zest - sounded right up my alley and I wanted to try it.  So I made a small version of it last Friday, for a little coffee date night I was having with my husband at home that evening.
So here's the thing.  I whipped up a small 6-inch version of the cake and after I did so, I actually thought I wasn't going to post it here.  You see, the cake is straightforward enough to make but I have to tell you: the middle sinks - rather pronouncedly - after it comes out of the oven.  Reviews for the cake warned about this - many people mentioned the sinking issue.  I wasn't overly concerned going in but sure enough, the center of my cake sank rather more than I expected as it cooled.  
But I changed my mind about posting it after I tasted it.  Because crater-in-the-middle or not, the cake was delicious.  The soft center, though sunken, is practically a selling point in moistness.  However, I almost favor the edges - comparatively dryer but with a lovely crust to it that's particularly full of toasted walnut flavor.  So in the end, the sunken center is not a deal-breaker for me and given the taste, I'd gladly make it again.
Now about that sunken middle.  I made sure the cake was cooked though (i.e., the cake tester came out clean).  The center is not wet, just moist.  Some have suggested in the recipe's comment section to reduce the amount of baking powder in the cake (and using room temperature eggs, which I did) to fix the problem.  I might tinker with that next time around but maybe it would be just as well to fill the "hole" with a small mound of orange-scented whipped cream if you're looking for a presentation "fix"? 


Lemon-almond biscotti

Biscotti, those crunchy twice-baked Italian cookies, are one of my favorite things to keep around in a cookie jar to munch on.   
I love the crunchy texture and given they're usually studded with nuts - and I love most kinds of nuts - I think they make a tasty treat to go along with a cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon or after dinner.  Since they hold well for a long time (they're dry to begin with), biscotti are a great make ahead.

The fellas don't love them as much as I do so I don't make them that often. That said, I've made a few varieties - from pistachio to hazelnut and chocolate - and I'd say the pistachio and almond ones are my favorite versions to fall back on.  But there's one thing I haven't tried...and that's making biscotti that contain butter.  
Until now, I've follow recipes that make biscotti without butter (I believe that is the traditional way), and I really like it.  If I'm to be totally honest, I admit it makes me feel a little virtuous eating a cookie that contains no butter or oil but I also genuinely love the hard crunch of a classic biscotti made without butter.  That's not the case for everyone.  My husband, for one, is a little fearful of losing a tooth on one of my biscotti.  It's funny but I see how some may want just a little yield in their crunchy biscotti.  
So this recipe deploys a little bit of butter - 4 tablespoons for my batch that will turn out approximately 20 biscotti.  It's very reasonable, and you know what?  I really liked it!  The biscotti is still dry and crunchy but the butter makes for a milder crunch.  The biscotti breaks away easily beneath your teeth and well, they're just easy to eat. Because they're not quite so hard, it doesn't necessarily call out for a cup of coffee to go with it but it sure is nice side-by-side.  Now that I've tried it, I can say I like my biscotti made both with and without butter.  I'll be happy to rotate between the two varieties!



Olive oil muffins

There's a restaurant, Maialino, in New York City that I've heard great things about.  I haven't had the chance to eat there but honestly, there are so many amazing restaurants in NYC that it's impossible to keep up.  
Specifically, I heard a lot about Maialino's olive oil cake and the recipe is available at Food52.  I remember seeing the recipe and being interested but ultimately passing on it because...well, it's hard to explain but in that moment, it seemed like almost too much cake.  It called for a lot of olive oil and I just thought it might be a treat best saved for eating out where you can savor a slice with your mate. 
I still haven't made it to Maialino but now I have a good idea what their signature cake tastes like, thanks to David Lebovitz!  Instead of cake, it's in muffin form (individual cakes we can justify eating in the morning - even better!), which is also how it's available at the restaurant.  It's just what I'd been looking for without realizing it - a small scale recipe!  Apparently, David had brunch there recently and the olive oil muffin made an impression on him so he took the cake recipe available at Food52 and reworked it into muffin form.  All I can say is...thank you, David!  
Now I totally get what all the raves are about.  These muffins are really good.  You might look at it and think it's just another muffin but truly, it exceeded my expectations.  They're moist and flavorful - with fruity extra-virgin olive oil and a flavor of orange, as the batter is infused with fresh orange zest, and a combination of orange juice and Grand Marnier liqueur.  You end up with a full-bodied cake/muffin that has a great mouthfeel in every bite.  My husband and I were both surprised by just how good it was. 
Baking the muffins in these paper muffin molds mimics how they arrive at the restaurant.  I love these baking cups and I'm seriously thinking I need to find a good bulk source because not only are they great to use in a practical sense, they make your muffins and cakes look pastry-shop ready!  The paper molds I used are slightly larger than the ones David uses so for a half recipe, I ended up with 3 muffins (instead of 4).  One made a perfect size for breakfast though you don't want to stop eating at all.  I can tell you they stayed lovely and moist the next day so next time I make these, I will bulk up my output.  



Almond croissants (and a chocolate version, too)

A few months back, my husband mentioned to me that he had a really good almond croissant from a patisserie near his workplace.  That got my attention.  So not long after that, when I spotted a recipe for "perfect almond croissants" from Chocolate and Zucchini, I quickly pinned it.
Making almond croissants involves: day-old croissants, almond cream filling, sugar syrup, and sliced almonds (chocolate version optional)
I have a pinterest account that I use mainly to pin recipes I spot online that I'd like to try.  I've actually managed to make quite a number of those recipes that I've pinned! In this case, I've been constantly reminded of this particular almond croissant recipe because I get a few email alerts daily saying someone has re-pinned or liked it.  
So the constant reminder became a call to action and I made a few almond croissants for breakfast over this past weekend!  I sometimes make a mock version of them using almond paste but actual almond croissants from a bakery start with day-old croissants.  These slightly dried out croissants are brushed with sugar syrup and filled with an almond cream filling.  The croissants are topped with a bit more almond cream and sliced almonds, then baked until the filling sets and the top and ends are crusty and golden. 
The best part?  Well, there's the essential reward of ending up with rich croissants encased with almond flavor for all us almond-lovers out there (texturally, the crusty edges are especially tempting).  Aside from that, these are a great day-ahead make-ahead.  Buy croissants and prep both the sugar syrup and almond filling the day before.  In the morning, slice the croissants, brush them with the syrup, fill them with the almond filling, and bake...you have fresh almond croissants for your weekend breakfast or brunch!
Now, when a chocolate option presents itself, I'm almost always inclined to go there. Just add some cocoa powder to the filling and tuck a tablespoon of chocolate chips inside for chocolate-almond croissants!
You can try both, like I did, and decide which version you prefer for yourself.  For me, I actually liked the traditional, or pure almond, one more.  It's rare that chocolate doesn't win out for me but once in a while, it can happen.
This was easy to put together and I'm certainly happy I tried it!



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