October 27, 2011

Chocolate candy "cakes"

A while back, I picked up this little book called Cupcakes in the bargain section of the bookstore.  It was the pictures in the book that really drew me to the cash register.  Each brief cupcake recipe came with a beautiful picture of the finished product and as a bonus, there were some neat decorating tips in there as well.  It's lovely to look at even if I don't intend to make many of the recipes.  But I did tag a couple of ideas for the future.  One thing that I found cute was a recipe for "no-bake chocolate cakes."  It's really just a candy bar dressed up a bit.  I thought it would be a great little treat for Halloween when we all feel a little less guilty about consuming candy in general.  So here it is.
Milky Way bars (milk chocolate, nougat, caramel) are the basis for these little chocolate candy cakes.  Chop the bars up and melt them with a bit of butter and stir in crispy rice cereal.  The little "cakes" get topped with some milk chocolate and decorated with a little piece of the candy bar if you like.  I had intended these little treats for kids but I took a bite and found it hard to stop.  I'd forgotten how good crispy rice cereal tastes!  Man, it's good with chocolate.  I guess it's no wonder I like them so much since I love Nestlé's Crunch...it's been too long since I had one of those.
As much as our tastes may change as we grow older, I think convenience store candy bars have a special little place in our hearts for nostalgia's sake.  I have fond memories of how much I loved Caramellos and Symphony bars as a kid.  And of course there are M&M's and Nestlé's Crunch - old time favorites that I still enjoy today.  When I had my first full-time job out of college, I used to stash one or two candy bars (I think Nestlé's Crunch and Mars bars - the ones with almonds) in my bag all the time.  The hours were long and we were often traveling.  Heaven forbid I show signs of weakness by being hungry so I would sneak off to some corner and wolf down a candy bar when I had the chance.  Not very nutritional but those things were lifesavers for me then.    
Of course, our 6-year old loved these.  It was funny because he asked me "mommy, where did you get the recipe?" and asked me to show him.  I think these are a fun little Halloween treat or just fun to make if you feel like playing with some candy.  I was also thinking these would be great made in an 8x8 or 9x9 inch square pan and cut into bars.

October 22, 2011

Chiffon cake

On yet another raining day, I'm in the kitchen whipping egg whites and attempting to make use of that angel food cake pan.  Working with egg whites on a humid day is probably not the smartest thing to do but armed with some cream of tartar and a determination to make my investment in that tube pan worthwhile, I was raring to go.
This time, the experiment was chiffon cake.  I was watching Cook's Country From America's Test Kitchen and they were making this cake.  And I wanted to try it because I love plain, "egg-y" cakes without any frosting.  And oh, you know the people from Cooks Illustrated, right?  Their magazine looks like a big pathlet, is essentially black & white, with no advertising, and has diagrams and drawings in place of photography.  They study and test every recipe until they've got it down to a science and then explain it to you and me.  Their food always looks amazing and I've tried a couple of their recipes with success (I follow their technique for cooking Thanksgiving turkey) but it's usually a bit too technical and complicated for me.  But this cake was easy and sounded excellent.

If you recall my angel food cake experiment, I discovered that I really didn't like angel food cake all that much.  I missed the egg yolks.  Well, the chiffon cake is one great alternative.  Here, you have both egg whites and egg yolks.  The lofty texture comes from the whites but you get the richness from the yolks.  The cake is extremely moist like a sponge cake with the use of vegetable oil and water.  I love recipes that use water.  It makes me feel like I must be eating light.  If you like pound cake, this cake is a lighter option.  Of course, you won't get quite the robust richness you'd expect from a pound cake (that comes from lots of butter) but it's still rich and satisfying.  Even my 6-year old liked this cake and he rarely likes anything that isn't chocolate or covered in frosting.
The people on that America's Test Kitchen show make everything look so easy and perfect.  The woman was able to remove her chiffon cake with all the crust intact so that the cake was beautifully browned all around.  I did not fare so well, losing quite a bit of the crust to the pan.  But more importantly though, the texture was moist and spongy (even after a few days).  The taste is light and rich at the same time.  This is definitely more my cup of tea.  I'll be making this again and maybe I'll have better luck removing that crust next time.

October 17, 2011

Owl cupcakes...whoo's ready for Halloween?

Whoo...whoo wants a cupcake?  Halloween is coming and this is my nod to the holiday.  I've been wanting to make these since last Halloween when I first saw them.
I have to admit that Halloween is not my favorite holiday of the year.  Christmas is definitely more up my alley.  I guess it's because we didn't have Halloween in Hong Kong and growing up years ago in Brooklyn, Halloween not only meant costumes and trick or treating, it also meant hearing eggs whack the windows of the bus on the way home.  But I love Brooklyn and I do love the little ones dressed up in their adorable costumes during Halloween; I never get tired of seeing little Thing One and Thing Two's a la Dr. Seuss roaming around.  But I could do without the bloody masks and skeletons. 
But these cupcakes are sooo cute!  I saw them last year on One Charming Party but I'd already made a batch of spider cupcakes (see them after the jump) so I've waited a whole year to make them now.  It's simply chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache frosting.  Oreo cookies and a few reese's pieces complete the cupcake's transformation into an owl.  It's so creative yet simple - why didn't I think of that!  But I've come to terms with the fact that I'm just not the creative type but I think I'm a pretty good student.  The sprinkle "eyelashes" were my original addition though - what do you think?  She's the girl and I call her "Harriet."  It's kind of like having the lone smurfette in the midst of all the boy smurfs.
I also made some milk chocolate dipped pretzels rods to snack on.  I like to make these once in a while and it's fun also at Christmas with some green and red sprinkles.  I love the contrast between the sweet milk chocolate and the salty, crunchy pretzel.   

So whoo...whoo's ready for Halloween?
Have a fun and safe holiday!

October 13, 2011

Monster cookies

I thought this would be a perfect time to try a batch of monster cookies - you know, with Halloween just a couple of weeks away.  I'm not totally sure why these cookies are called monster cookies.  I guess because they're supposed to be big, hearty cookies...or maybe it's the kind of thing cookie monster would gobble right up. 
Sometimes these are called kitchen-sink cookies or anything cookies because you can add whatever goodies you like in them.  In general, we're talking about oats, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and M&M's.  That's the equation we have going here but you can get creative and mix in whatever you like: nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, puffed cereal, Reese's pieces, toffee bits, and on and on.
I was a little dubious about these cookies.  Though I enjoy M&M's, I'm usually not a fan of cookies with M&M's or other types of candy in them.  At the risk of sounding snooty, it just seems kind of "junky".  And peanut butter cookies tend to taste a little too rich for me (spoken by the girl who loves ridiculously rich and gooey chocolate desserts).  But these turned out to be really good.  There is a ton of oats in this recipe that provides a delicious chewiness.  The peanut butter adds richness (not overly so) and a wonderful fragrance.  Of course, the chocolate chips are always welcomed in any cookie and surprisingly, I get the role of the M&M's.  Like my husband says, the M&M's add a nice little crunch with its candy coating.  Best part, these cookies are not too sweet.  They were a pleasant surprise.  This is another great recipe from the guys at Baked.

October 10, 2011

Hazelnut shortbread cookies

Growing up, we didn't eat a ton of sweets...well, there were plenty of chocolates but dessert was not really common.  Not because we were a health-conscious family but because growing up in Hong Kong, desserts and pastries were just not the thing.  Yes, there were egg tarts, various dessert soups, and chestnut filled sponge cakes (one of my favorites) but in general, it was about the savory.  And believe me, there are incredible savories to be had in Hong Kong.  But one of the sweet flavors I do remember eating and loving a lot as a child was butter cookies.  Those Danish cookies in the blue tin?  Oh, I still love the smell and taste of those cookies - just the simplicity of butter and sugar.  I loved how they came in slightly different shapes, tucked away in little white paper liners.  I would pore over it considering my options, deciding which one I'd want.  My favorite was the pretzel shape with the sanding sugar on top. 
I thought about how much I love butter or shortbread cookies as a kid when I was making these hazelnut shortbread cookies.  It's fascinating how a scent or taste conjures up memories.  But gone are the days when I can eat whatever I want without some consideration of fat and calorie count and the ingredient list.  So while I may love butter cookies, I tend to shy away from them.  It's really hard to eat just one.  But when I saw this recipe for chocolate hazelnut cookies from Ina Garten's most recent book, I had to try it.  I love hazelnuts and this recipe did not disappoint. 
For someone who loves to bake, I've shamelessly proclaimed my dislike of making roll-out cookies in the past.  I really appreciate beautiful things and the natural talent and patience some people have to make a gorgeous sugar cookie iced to perfection.  But honesty, rolling out dough and busting out the rolling pin and cookie cutters are not my favorite activities since I'm not the most patient person in the world.  So I usually reserve roll-out cookies for the holidays.  But this recipe called out to me and I was willing to dig out my rolling pin to give it a go. 

Luckily, this was quite painless and practically enjoyable.  The dough holds together beautifully and this Fall weather is perfect for handling this type of butter cookie dough (it's not melting right under you).  Plus, there is no icing to conjure up.  I love the specks of hazelnut throughout this cookie dough and the wonderful smell they gives off when baking.  You could sandwich two of these cookies with Nutella as the recipe intends but ultimately, I liked it plain and unadorned best.  Even my little one preferred it plain and he's a fan of Nutella like the rest of us.  There's so much flavor in the cookie itself that the Nutella gets lost anyway.  I definitely ate more than one.
And confession time: I would've eaten more had I not over-baked half my batch.  I was chatting on the phone with a friend of mine and totally forgot about the cookies in the oven (hence, I didn't rotate the cookie sheets like I was supposed to) until they were just about done and the timer was ready to beep.  By that time, the tray at the bottom of the oven had over-browned.  It's a shame since these were so good but these things happen.  And I'm happy at any chance to chat with a friend even if it means sacrificing some cookies.  I can always make more another day.  And I will make these again.  There's something really elegant about them.  If I was the tea party throwing type (and in my mind, I am, but in practical daily life, it rarely happens), this is the perfect cookie to serve with a cup of tea.

October 5, 2011

Chocolate soufflé with orange crème anglaise

Thanks to motivation from having this blog, I made my first soufflé back in June.  That lemon soufflé was really good - I can tell you for sure since I've made it a couple of times since just to make sure it wasn't a fluke.  One of the things I learned is that it's actually pretty easy to make a soufflé at home.  So it was only a matter of time before I try a chocolate one.  Well...now the weather is cooler, schedules have slowed down a bit, and we had a relaxing Sunday dinner ahead of us.  The stage was set for my attempt at a chocolate soufflé with orange crème anglaise.
The whole orange crème anglaise thing might sound a little fancy but seriously, this custard cream sauce is easy to make.  I love to stir things over a stove and it's just that kind of recipe.  Plus, I keep thinking back to that apricot soufflé we had back at the Four Seasons restaurant those years ago where we poured the sauce over our piping hot soufflé.  And then David Lebovitz posted his recipe for this orange crème anglaise (I love his recipes) and for some reason, it just called out to me and I had this crazy urge to make it.  So here we are. 
My husband and I thought the sauce was the best part of this dessert and really made it special.  If you like the combination of orange and chocolate, you know what I'm talking about.  The chocolate really made the orange flavor in the crème anglaise pop.  It's smooth and creamy without being too thick or too rich or sweet at all.   The cold sauce is a great contrast against the steaming hot soufflé.  And in case you're interested in the opinion of a six year old boy, he preferred digging into the soufflé itself though he did give his "ok" to the sauce.

If you don't want to make the crème anglaise, this soufflé could certainly be served plain or with some whipped cream or ice cream.  Some melted vanilla ice cream would make an easy mock-crème anglaise in a pinch too.
There's something about a soufflé that makes you roll your eyes up and say "mmm...."  It must be that fluffy, soft, pillowy bite that still manages to pack a lot of flavor.  It's a special treat that's really not all that hard to make.

October 2, 2011

Banana espresso chocolate chip muffins

Since I thoroughly enjoyed those Baked brownies, I was eager to try another recipe in their cookbook that caught my eye: banana espresso chocolate chip muffins.
These muffins are rather like the muffin version of that banana bread with chocolate recipe that I love.  This recipe caught my eye because of the espresso factor.  I was really excited (and hesitant at the same time) about what that would taste like.  And somewhat disappointingly, I really couldn't taste espresso in these muffins at all!  Maybe my palate just isn't sensitive enough but the espresso element could definitely be bumped up if you're so inclined.  In comparison to the banana bread, these muffins are a bit drier (the bread has a bit of yogurt in it which adds moisture) but still very good.  The flavors are very much the same overriding banana and chocolate - a combination that I've discovered is quite addicting. 


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