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!



Breakfast (for dinner) potato skins

I begin typing up this post on the first day of spring and the brink of yet another nor'easter here in New Jersey.  School will be closed again tomorrow and I find myself, once again, hoping for the best.  It's hard to believe it's officially spring today (as I write this) and Easter is only a short week or so away.  Looking on the bright side, it means warmth, sunshine, flowers, and colorful produce is on its way too.  I have to believe it. 
In the meantime, I thought I'd take my mind off storms by thinking and writing about food.  It's always about food.  When a storm is imminent, we immediately think about food and hit the grocery stores.  I've already got a bowl of oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough sitting in the fridge, ready to be baked tomorrow while we're hunkered down at home.  As long as we don't lose power, we'll be good to go.  

But how about an egg dish and something hearty while we're still waiting for spring to actually be felt?  We love eggs and come Easter time, it seems especially appropriate to feature them.  My fellas also love twice baked potatoes and I these potato skins are a great way to have it all.
Cheesy potato shells holding a egg, topped with bacon is a hearty and satisfying dish for any meal.  I adapted this recipe from Smitten Kitchen's latest book and I'm dubbing it breakfast (for dinner) potato skins because, frankly, I can't imagine "whipping" these up for breakfast given the time it takes to get them ready.  I took a shortcut by microwaving the potatoes instead of baking them in the oven; that shaves about 40 minutes from the cook time but you'll still need up to an hour to (leisurely) get them on the table.  

So if you want my advice, make these for brunch, lunch, or dinner.  There's nothing like a good potato and some eggs to fuel you through the long winter (I mean, spring...) days.  


Cream scones

Sometimes, I buy cream for a particular recipe and find myself with some leftover that I'd like to use up.  This last time, I thought I'd make some cream scones.
These cream scones are made with butter, egg, and cream - these are rich, crumbly, somewhat flaky, biscuit-like American-style scones.  They're a bit like shortbread cookies with a soft interior.  (In contrast, British-style scones are more cake-like, fluffier and softer - well-suited for splitting and topping with things like clotted cream and jam.)
Once in a while, I'll make a batch of scones and pop them in the freezer so we can have them freshly baked and warm for breakfast.  It's very easy to take them straight from the freezer and into the oven.  So this is what I had in mind and what I did.  That said, it's a struggle for me to work with this kind of American-style scone dough (so it's good to have more practice)...I find the dough generally dry and it's tricky to bring it together to shape and cut without over-handling it.

Frankly, I muddle through and do the best I can.  And while British-style scones might be better suited for splitting and slathering with jam and whatnot, I still sliced these and spread them with things like lemon curd (I use this small-batch recipe) and strawberry jam.  

That way, no one really notices if my scones aren't quite as light and tender as they could be!  

Before baking, I brushed the tops of the scones with cream and showered them with sanding sugar for a little extra color and even more texture.  As you can see, these scones are quite biscuit-like with a flaky, crunchy top and sides.  I didn't manage to slice them without breakage - be ready for lots of crumbs while eating these!



Easy puff pastry ("rough puff")

This may be my year of making things I didn't think I'd ever attempt to make! From bagels to English muffins (both of which I've now made several times), I moved on to...puff pastry.  At least, it's a simplified, easy puff pastry recipe - what's been called the "rough puff".
Incidentally, I can't stop saying "rough puff" after hearing the term.  So what makes it a rough puff?  Well, rather than having to go through the intricate and very time-consuming process of rolling out a butter packet and incorporating it into the dough, folding, rolling, and repeating the process several times between refrigeration (reasons I've never been tempted to try making puff pastry), this dough starts off a bit like pie dough and comes together in no time.  We're talking 15 minutes if you're efficient and maybe more like 30 minutes if you're not, like me!

This recipe is another I learned about from the fabulous site, Dessert for Two.  As you can gather from the photos above, cubes of butter are cut into the flour, then brought together with ice water to form a rough dough.  You roll the dough out into a rectangle, fold it like a letter, give it a quarter turn, then roll it out again.  Repeat this process of folding, turning, and rolling 6-7 times (no refrigerating in between) and you have your rough puff pastry dough.  
You don't need me to tell you there are so many uses for puff pastry.  I decided to take my rough puff and use it to make some shortcut chocolate croissants (or pains au chocolat) and chocolate-almond croissants.  I've done it before using store-bought puff pastry. 

True croissants involve leavened dough.  It's basically a cross between a yeasted dough and butter-layered dough like puff pastry.  The result is a stretchy, chewy, yet flaky texture, that's, of course, encased in buttery richness.  For a shortcut, puff pastry alone will due here.  I filled the dough generously with chopped dark chocolate, and for the almond version, I tucked in a bit of almond paste as well.   
The rough puff I made may not have boasted tons of layers but the result was very similar to what I get when I use store-bought puff pastry for this purpose.  My family really enjoy my endeavor and the rough puff was truly surprisingly easy. This experience may help me work up the courage to branch out even further...maybe try my hand at actually making a small batch of homemade croissants (or chocolate croissants) one of these days!



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