Chocolate marzipan scone loaf

Watching traditional weekend morning cooking shows (i.e., old-school cooking shows with recipes, not reality or competition-based shows) is still one of the things I like to do.  Recently, I've been watching Molly Yeh's new show, Girl Meets Farm, and spotted a cool recipe I had to try.
It was her chocolate marzipan scone loaf, and I was captivated in more ways than one.  First of all, if there's one thing I really struggle with when it comes to making scones is...cutting and shaping them.  My dough is invariably too dry and it's a high-wire act trying to cut them into individual scones that don't fall apart.  Here was a chance to make scones in an easy loaf cake form!  Not only do I get to skip the shaping and cutting, the result promises to be more moist, and stay that way longer.  
Beyond being technically easy, the flavors drew me in as well.  Because if there's one type of pastry/dessert that I particularly favor, it's got to be ones that include things like chocolate and almond paste.  In this case, the loaf is studded with chunks of marzipan - the sweeter sibling to almond paste (I considered subbing it with almond paste but stuck with the recipe in the end) and bits of dark chocolate chips.  They provide tons of flavor and each bite of this scone loaf is like a treasure hunt for these generous bits.  
I adored how this scone-bread baked up...its rustic top with craters of marzipan and specks of chocolate chips on display.  A sprinkle of sanding sugar gives it extra crunch and sweetness.  And true to promise, the scone loaf stayed moist for a few days.  We enjoyed it for breakfast and it's just a fantastic treat for lovers of almond and chocolate baked goods.
I have baked my fair share of almond and/or chocolate treat (from buns/rolls to scones and babka, to name a few) and they rarely disappoint.  This one didn't either! 


Jordan Marsh's blueberry muffins

I've got blueberries on my mind lately.  Certainly because it's that time of year - summer, when fresh berries and berry desserts take center stage, particularly around the 4th of July.  But beyond that, I've got blueberries on the mind since getting back from a short road trip to Maine.  There, it was a constant lookout for wild Maine blueberries in every form - from donuts, to ice cream and lemon tarts!
Though there are no wild Maine blueberries to bake with at home, I made do with the usual garden variety.  And the easiest way I can think of to bake with blueberries is certainly in muffins.  It's lucky that I happened to have spotted "Jordan Marsh's famous blueberry muffin" recipe from i am a food blog not long ago and vowed to give them a try.  
I'd never heard of Jordan Marsh until spotting the recipe but I now know it was a popular department store based in Boston until the mid-90's.  These muffins were served on the top floor of the department store and deemed "the best" by many.  I've been disappointed more than a few time when it comes to my hunt for bakery-style muffin recipes but it truly pays not to give up because I finally found a winner (and I'm doing the happy dance)!  
So I wanted to post this gem of a muffin recipe. It turns out some lovely bakery-style muffins, which I think of as soft and tender yet hearty muffins that sport a signature slightly-domed, golden brown top.  Now these are the muffin tops I've always wanted!  A sprinkle of coarse sanding sugar before baking accentuates the crust.  I just adore these golden craggy tops with its crisp crust.  
And the crispy top and edges (which taste remarkably like Danish butter cookies) give way to soft, moist, cake-like muffin studded with juicy blueberries in the center.  All that and these muffins can be mixed together by hand very quickly.  I'm glad I didn't give up my search for bakery-style blueberry muffins.  i am a food blog tweaked the recipe to make a banana chocolate chip version, which I'm more than willing to try.  In fact, I might have to do some experimenting of my own because this base recipe, and the results it produces, is too good not to daydream about.  
Temps were much cooler when we were up in Maine but we've been having a serious heat wave back home in NJ.  Even with the heat, I still can't resist turning on the oven and baking.  It was definitely worth it in this case!



Teenager in the house!

When June comes around, my mind is all wrapped up around my son's birthday.  Plus, June is always an exciting time - with Father's Day, the start of summer and the end of the school year.  The days are longer, and there's a different energy in the air around here.  
This year, my son's birthday was actually on Father's Day so it essentially eclipsed the holiday; of course, my husband didn't mind one bit.  And now, after the celebrations and affirmations, we officially have a teenager in the house!  It's hard to believe the infant who wouldn't nap for more than 25 minutes at a time is now nearly as tall as I am and morphing into a young man.  The same goes with his friends, many of whom we've known since kindergarten.  This growth is truly an amazing thing to witness.

I thought my son turning 10 was a big deal but at 13, it really felt like a *moment*.  Not to make it all about me...but I'm now the mom of a teenager and I approach it with equal parts trepidation and excitement.  In all seriousness, every day and every year is a gift and birthdays are a great time to celebrate a person and let them know how important they are and how much better the world is because they're in it.  
When it comes to birthday festivities, of course there's cake involved!  Why have one cake when you can have 3?  We started off with 2 ice cream cakes...because you can't beat that when it comes to kids birthdays, particularly those in the summer.  One came from a local ice cream shop and we picked another fun one from Haagen Dazs.  We cut into one during a cousins pizza party night we had at the house about a week before the birthday; we took the other one to a restaurant where we celebrated the birthday boy on the eve of his day with a few of his friends.
Finally, I had to make a cake, too, because I really wanted to.  I went with chocolate, of course.  The young fella and I are very much in sync when it comes to desserts and our preference for chocolate.  

I decided to make the fabulous Chocolate Heaven Cake from Cheryl Day.  I've adapted the recipe in the past as cupcakes and this time, I divided the original cake recipe in half to make a 6-inch round cake.  We didn't need a huge cake but I thought it would be fun to make it a tall one, 3 layers instead of the typical 2-layer I usually make.  
Having more cakes means more chances to celebrate, to sing happy birthday, and blow out birthday candles.  All the cakes were devoured and while you can never celebrate enough, hopefully the newly minted teenager felt the love in all the little ways we tried to show it.  Here's to our new teenager!  May this next chapter of his life be better and sweeter than ever.  



Fran's truffle brownies (with Vietnamese coffee ice cream)

Could I possibly interest you in another brownie recipe?  In all likelihood, you already have a favorite one of your own but when it comes to things like brownies (things that we like to eat with regularity), I think there's always room to experiment and try one more variation.
That's what I figured when I spotted this recipe for truffle brownies from Fran's Chocolates.  I think I must've first heard about Fran's from Ina Garten, who would rave about the company's caramels on her show.  I've since sampled some of their chocolates but haven't been to Seattle where their boutiques are located to really explore their offering.  The chocolates that I have tasted were delicious so if I ever find myself in Seattle, you can bet that will be a key stop. 

So I trust that Fran knows her chocolate and I wanted to make these truffle brownies I saw online.  I thought they'd make a nice dessert on their own, or paired with ice cream.  
I churned up a batch of Vietnamese coffee ice cream to go with the truffle brownies.  I was inspired by a spurt of warm, sunny weather we were having a couple of weeks ago and while that might have distracted me to the point of baking these brownies a few minutes longer than I wish I had, they were still satisfying.  The truffle brownies are moist and have a texture that's somewhere between cake, brownie, truffle, and chocolate mousse.  How can you not want to try that!
Cut into small squares, I individually wrapped and kept my stash of truffle brownies in the fridge.  I shared some with a friend and the rest, we enjoyed on their own as well as a nice bonus accompaniment with a bowl of ice cream!  There are few things better than brownies and ice cream.  



Brazilian cheese bread (pão de queijo)

One of the fun things we did recently on vacation in Aruba was having dinner in a Brazilian steakhouse, a churrascaria, featuring amazing grilled meats that are brought table-side in skewers, sliced to order.  It's an endless parade of succulent barbecued meats you enjoy with a generous buffet of side dishes.  
Throughout the years, the idea of going to a churrascaria had popped up but we never actually found the occasion to go.  My husband and I thought our meat-loving "little" guy (who is almost a teenager now!) would enjoy it so we took advantage of going to one when we were in Aruba.  We were right about the young one enjoying it; in fact, we all loved it. 

I could go on and on about the delectable meat - the juicy and succulent picanha (top sirloin) cut and such - but what I wanted to focus on here today is something that was served in a little bread basket at our table at the steakhouse.  They turned out to be Brazilian cheese bread, or small cheese rolls or puffs, called pão de queijo.  
My husband fell hard for these little rounds of cheese bread!  I thought they were good (I mean, it's cheesy bread so what's not to like) but I have to admit I was more focused on eating Brazilian black beans, rice, and sampling all the meat.  But I do remember the rolls - particularly not only for their great cheesy flavor but the uniquely chewy texture that made them so interesting.  

They are not your typical fluffy, soft breads rolls but more like French gougeres but with a very different interior texture.  Brazilian cheese bread is soft and slightly crisp on the outside but dense and incredibly chewy inside.  The key is they're made with tapioca flour, which give it its distinctly chewy, stretchy texture.  
My husband was really smitten by the little Brazilian cheese bread and kept talking about it.  So naturally, I came home and read up on it a little bit and decided to try making them after finding a recipe.  It was a fun project and they turned out very well!  My husband swears they're just like the ones we had at the restaurant.  I say they're close enough and more importantly, we had a lot of fun talking about and tasting these at home.  It's always fun to relive vacation memories and make them last by recreating it in some way.  
Weekend dinner!  This meal featured Jacque Pepin's recipe for crispy chicken thighs and of course, the Brazilian cheese bread 



Peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies

Last Friday, I was in the kitchen making cookies again.  Nothing out of the ordinary there.  If I needed a reason, I'd say it was Friday and the sun was shining and it actually looked as though spring might be here to stay.  
But we don't need any particular reason to make cookies any/all the time other than simply wanting to make life a little sweeter with a little treat.  Cookies are quick and easy to make, and ever so universally beloved.  It really is the simple things - and the little things - in life that make it special, and I am grateful for cookies.  I love baking them, eating them, and sharing them.
Just as cookie-making is a routine, this is not the first peanut butter chocolate chunk cookie I've made.  It's a good thing there are so many versions of everything, always a slightly different yet still familiar recipe, to try on our favorite themes.  And chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter, cookies in general, are some of my favorite themes.  

So last Friday, I was filling our cookie jar with the latest batch of cookies - these peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies.  I saw them recently and was just waiting for a day to make a batch because, again, favorite themes play on repeat and make us happy.  
And they did make us happy because these are some solid cookies peanut butter and chocolate cookies.  If you share some of my favorite themes then you can imagine that you really can't go wrong with this formula - soft, chewy chocolate chunk cookies full of peanut butter flavor.  A mix of dark and semisweet chocolate gives the cookies a little variety and interest.  I think they're the kind of cookies meant to come out of your home oven.  And I sure hope my oven continues to churn out cookies like these for a long, long time to come.  



Flourless chocolate almond butter cookies

I'm going to say honestly that I have something of a love-hate relationship with these flourless cookies.  
Despite a few trials with certain flourless cakes and cookies, I still find that I generally don't love them (of course, there are always plenty of exceptions...such as flourless chocolate cake - the kind leavened with eggs - and macaroon cookies, which I do love).  Fortunately, I have no need to avoid gluten so I don't purposely seek out gluten-free baked goods. These flourless double chocolate almond butter cookies intrigued me because they looked wonderful and I was happy to have the chance to use almond butter in baking.  In the last couple of years, I've come to enjoy almond butter almost as much as peanut butter.  
Somehow, I think I was expecting conventional, sturdy, cookies to come out of the oven but these are truly the flourless kind - super moist.  Just beneath the thin, dry crust that develops on top of these cookies, the center is ultimately fudgy and chewy.  And therein lies the love part of the equation.  The moist, chewiness - almost brownie-like texture - is something I adore and find addicting.  As such, these cookies remind me of energy bars/balls made with dates that I am still trying to figure out whether I like or not.
All in, I'm a fan of the chocolaty, salty, rich flavor and the chewy texture of these chocolate almond butter cookies yet I miss the sturdiness of the traditional cookie (clearly, I need to approach it with proper expectations).  They may not be my regular cookie of choice but they were certainly a nice change once in a while.  Since they are so moist, I find it best to store the cookies in a single layer, in the refrigerator.  We actually found we preferred them cold. The fudge factor increases and the cookies were easier to handle/hold.  Serving these cookies with a scoop of vanilla ice cream would not be a bad idea.  



Petit fours

After 7 years of blogging, with plenty of home baking throughout that time, it amazes me that there are always still things I've wanted to make and find myself finally doing for the first time.  
This time, I'm finally making petit fours (or petits fours, or "fancies", as the Brits call them). Really, they're nothing more complicated than small bites of iced almond cake but made ever more attractive - and, yes, just a bit fancy - by their petite size.  I've always been drawn to pretty little things, particularly in pastel colors, and I've always adored these little cakes that look like miniature presents all on their own.  I recently made them right before Easter and they are perfect for celebrating spring, or for a wedding or baby shower, a tea party, or, thinking slightly ahead, for Mother's Day.  
These petite cakes are great for any celebration...including a 7th blogging anniversary!  Yes, it's now 7 years since I started this little blog and I have a healthy roster of favorite recipes, and lots of memories and learning, to show for it.  I've slowed down the pace of my blogging quite a bit in the last year or so but I am cooking and baking as much - if not more - than ever.  It's nice to spend time baking family favorites and to try recipes on a whim without documenting every endeavor.  No matter how much or how little I blog here going forward, I hope to be baking and cooking - trying new things and learning along the way - for a long time to come.  
Now back to the petite cakes.  As you might know, I favor small batch baking and as simple a process as possible so that's the approach I took here.  After looking and saving many petit four recipes through the years, I settled on a recipe from Martha Stewart that I've had my eye on for a long time.  I made a few adjustments by dividing the recipe in half and using apricot preserves as a filling instead of cherry.  
It starts with a moist almond sponge cake.  Once baked in a single layer, the cake is sliced crosswise to be stacked into 2 layers.  I filled the center with smooth apricot preserves, reminiscent of one of our favorite things - Italian tri-color (or rainbow) cookies.

Some petit four recipes call for frosting.  A layer of frosting on top of the cake can provide a smoother surface for the glaze to rest on but I think this version without it is simpler and I like the sharp flavor from the jam filling.  These petit fours are coated with a basic glaze of confectioners' sugar and milk.  I really like this simple 2-ingredient glaze from Martha Stewart that doesn't require corn syrup, and you can tint it to whatever color you like; I went with white and a pale pink.  There's plenty of room for customization in not only the jam filling you use but also the color and design you choose for your glaze.  I topped some of the cakes with ready-made sugar flowers.
And now because this is me, the resident chocoholic, I could not resist coating some of my petit fours in chocolate!  They might not be quite as visually appealing but they sure taste amazing; I used (one of) my favorite 70% dark chocolate and the combination of almond cake, apricot jam, and dark chocolate is, as always, stellar.  
So here's to great times in the kitchen and at the table!  Let's celebrate as often as possible and may there always be some form of cake involved!



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