February 25, 2012

Almost fudge gâteau for a gathering

My family came over for a little coffee klatsch last weekend.  It was a great excuse to get in the kitchen and bake something.  I keep a list of things I want to make and I decided to go with the "Almost Fudge Gâteau" from one of Dorie Greenspan's books.
I figured a wedge of chocolate cake would be nice with a cup of coffee in the afternoon and be popular with the kids (most of them anyway; my young niece is neither a fan of most chocolates or desserts for that matter...she prefers strawberries).  For me, I love any excuse to make and eat something with chocolate.
This is one of those basic, pure chocolate desserts.  Kind of like a little black dress, it's relatively simple but timeless.  When it comes to this gâteau, or cake, think flourless chocolate cake but with more structure since there is a modest amount of flour in the recipe.  It doesn't look like much - pretty rustic, in fact, with its sunken middle, but it is that wonderful kind of one-layer/no frosting kind of cake that I love to make and enjoy.
You could make a chocolate glaze for this cake but I opted out of that.  Without the glaze, it's not quite as decadent but a nice simple weekend afternoon treat.  Some of us enjoyed it with a scoop of ice cream but I thought it was nice all on its own.  The young boys in our family (my son and two of his cousins) wanted the cake with chocolate ice cream; I guess some of us can never have too much chocolate.
I think I'll keep this little black dress of a recipe in my files.

February 20, 2012

Hazelnut-toffee chocolate chip cookies

I was on an almond kick for a while and now, it seems to be hazelnuts.  I'm a big fan of most nuts in general and love incorporating them in baking.  And ever since I made toffee during Christmas, I've been wanting to make some cookies with toffee.  So here we are.  These are chocolate chip cookies with hazelnuts, English toffee (chopped Heath bars), and some ground oats thrown in for good measure.  They're crisp around the edges and chewy in the center, just the way my family and I prefer a chocolate chip cookie.
I took the easy route by using chocolate chips instead of chopping up some chocolate, which would be much better.  These were very satisfying just as they were.  I love recipes using ground oats in the cookie batter (even if it means a little more work) - it adds some chewy texture and a little something good for you.
If I close my eyes, I can't say that I'd be able to tell you right away that there's toffee in these cookies.  If you really eat and look at it carefully, you'll find little bits of slightly hard, chewy toffee, but in general, the toffee contributes an extra sweet, caramel note to these cookies.  I liked these a lot (particularly after resting the dough a few days in the fridge) but if I'm comparing, I'd have to say that those milk chocolate hazelnut cookies from Flour bakery edges out just a bit because the hazelnut flavor just really pops. 
But one can never have too many good chocolate chip cookie recipes and their many variations.  This is another one and quite a good one at that.  Make the cookies on the small side or scoop them a little larger if you like.  Either way, it makes a very tasty afternoon snack.

February 15, 2012

The sweet taste of success - Coffee Macarons

You know that saying, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again," or maybe "third time's the charm".  There must be some truth to it because I finally did it!  My third attempt at making macarons worked!  They all came out with "feet" and peeled off the baking sheets beautifully.  I nearly jumped for joy.  So I present you with my six-year old son's favorite macaron flavor: coffee.  I topped some with a sprinkling of cocoa nibs and filled them with chocolate ganache.  Being the proud chocoholic that I am, I've decided to stick with ganache filling as opposed to buttercream.
At first, I intended to try chocolate macarons one more time to try and finally get it right.  My very first attempt was delicious but a delicious disaster.   The second try came out a lot better but was inconsistent and the macarons still stubbornly stuck to the baking sheet.  I really wanted to get it right and make the chocolate ones (my personal favorites next to hazelnut/praline and maybe pistachio) one more time before moving on to other flavors.  But I thought to myself: "why be so rigid?"  I should try something different.  My son loves the coffee ones and has asked me to make them so I decided to give those a whirl instead.  And it finally happened.  We have authentic macarons in the house!
The first, and major, advantage I had this time around was a properly working oven.  I didn't realize the first time I made macarons that there was something off with my oven.  The second time around, I started to have an inkling.  Turns out, the lighter in the oven needed replacing, and now it quickly fires up nice and hot.  I also learned from books I've read and websites I've visited.  All the information confused me but also helped.  Specifically, the tips in Alice Medrich's book were very helpful and I took her advice about giving the macarons a head start (to "lift off") by heating the oven at a high 400 degree before turning it down to 300 when the cookies went in.  I also baked them longer this time.  It worked.
And miraculously, the macarons came off both the parchment paper and silpat with ease.  Despite how good they looked out of the oven, I was dreading the removal because I'm used to them sticking stubbornly to the parchment paper.  But in this case, the overwhelming majority of these practically peeled right off.  No need to pour warm water under the parchment paper or other tricks.  The backs are so smooth and undamaged, they almost look like the tops.
I really adore macarons.  Not only do they look lovely but I love the taste of the ground nuts in the macarons and its texture.  The outside is crisp and shatters under your bite into that chewiness that surprises you even though you expect it.
So I'm happy to report my successful macaron story today.  I know I still have a lot to learn and who knows how the next endeavor will turn out, but that's alright.  I thoroughly enjoyed the appreciative "mmm..." sound that came out of my little guy's mouth when he tasted these.  We definitely share a love for pastry and confections.

February 14, 2012

Valentine's day cupcakes

Happy Valentine's Day! 

And a special Happy Valentine's Day shout-out to my husband! 

I hope you have a lovely day filled with love and chocolate!
I thought I'd say hello with a few heart-themed cupcakes today.  The last time I made those football cupcakes, I whipped a few extra with the Valentine's Day theme. 
These little hearts and X's and O's are made of white chocolate, the pink ones tinted with a teeny bit of food coloring.  Pipe them out onto parchment paper and peel off once dried and set to decorate your cupcakes.

February 11, 2012

Chocolate Grand Marnier soufflé

A few nights ago, my husband and I had one of our fairly regular at-home date nights, which I really savor.  We had spaghetti carbonara along with salad (aren't we good to include the salad) and for dessert, I decided to make a chocolate Grand Marnier soufflé.  It is almost Valentine's Day, afterall, so a chocolate dessert is practically a must. 
I just noticed that I've been posting a few of these spoonable custard type chocolate desserts lately but I think we can definitely make room for this one.  There's something special about a piping hot soufflé straight out of the oven; it says "special occasion" but you can make it any night of the week.  For this one, I took the base chocolate soufflé recipe I've used before and tweaked it - mainly adding a good splash of Grand Marnier.  Instead of crème anglaise, I topped this one with some cold freshly whipped cream. 
I can't emphasize enough how perfect the combination of something cold is against a steaming hot soufflé.  And as I've said before, it is a real treat but not difficult to make.  My husband and I don't drink very much but he really enjoys things like chocolate with liqueur or something alcoholic in it (like champagne truffles).  I loved watching him enjoy his soufflé even more than eating it myself.

February 8, 2012

Chocolate pot de crème

Let me warn you, this dessert is eye-rolling good.  Chocolate pot de crème is a fairly simple loose chocolate custard.  It's the kind of dessert I just love, where excellent chocolate takes center stage.  I hope no one takes offense but I think of it as the somewhat more mature, French cousin of the American chocolate pudding or Italian panna cotta.
This chocolate pot de crème is made with dark chocolate, half-and-half, and egg yolks.  All these things combine to make for a rich and silky chocolate dessert that's reminiscent in taste of molten chocolate cake.  A high quality chocolate is recommended for this recipe and I used a chocolate with 61% cacao from Guittard.  I love Guittard - their chocolates are amazingly smooth. 
The custard is baked in a water bath and served slightly warm or at room temperature.  I like it best while it's still just a teeny bit warm.  The texture is creamy and the taste is pure chocolate.  You could serve it with a dollop of lightly sweetened whip cream and some chocolate shavings on top or you can keep it simple like I have and just dig in with a spoon.  The eye-rolling begins with the first bite.  It also smells divine.
This is February and it's all about chocolate (for me, anyway).  If you're looking for something a bit richer than the everyday chocolate pudding for your Valentine's Day dessert, let me suggest this.  It has a very romantic feel and taste to it.  To really drive the Valentine's Day theme home, consider placing a couple of raspberries on top of each pot de crème. 

February 6, 2012

Everyday chocolate pudding

Continuing this month's unofficial theme, chocolate, I'm offering an everyday chocolate pudding - it's on the lighter side and it's simple to make.  This could be a very nice, sweet ending to a Valentine's Day dinner at home. 
As simple as chocolate pudding should be, there are a lot of recipes out there.  You have variations using eggs and butter while others rely on cornstarch alone as thickener.  Even techniques are different; in some recipes, you cook the mixture over the stovetop while some are made in a double boiler.  And sometimes you should strain the pudding, other times, you don't.  I think you get the picture.
I've tried a few chocolate pudding (and chocolate pudding pie) recipes and, for now, I've adapted this one as my go-to, everyday chocolate pudding.  It's lighter - no eggs or butter involved unlike the last recipe I showed you.  That recipe made tasty pudding but looking back, you (and I) probably want a lighter pudding for everyday.  This one is a milk and cornstarch based pudding (and you can use whole or low-fat 2% milk depending on what you prefer or have on hand) and I use a combination of cocoa powder and dark chocolate for flavoring.  I cook the pudding right on the stove and it thickens up after about 10 minutes of whisking.  No straining either because who wants that extra step and extra equipment to wash.  You just ladle it into bowls and chill.  I don't think you need any whipped cream on top - it's just plain old-fashioned, comforting, chocolate pudding for everyday.
Dig in!

February 3, 2012

Superbowl Sunday

What I know about football and the Superbowl can be summarized as follows.  When it comes to the sport itself, I know there's a quarterback who handles the ball a lot and something called a field goal, a punt, and, of course, a touch down.  When it comes to the Superbowl, I know people like to eat things like chips and wings while watching the game and there's a halftime show involved.  That's about it.
While it may be fair to call me fairly ignorant when it comes to football and most sports in general (I did love to watch basketball with my brother back in the Michael Jordan days), even I appreciate the excitement that comes with organized sports and rooting for your home team.  The New York Giants are in the Superbowl this year!  Go Giants!
Our six-year old has been really into watching football this year.  He gets so excited and there's an abundance of shouting and cheering during games, with the demand to "pause the show" for him when he needs a bathroom break.  So there is much excitement about Superbowl Sunday this weekend.  Staying up for the entire game may be a bit of a stretch for him at six years old but we're still setting the stage for the game.  Chips, wings, pizza, chocolate egg creams are in place.  And football cupcakes are ready for dessert. 
Enjoy the game! 

February 1, 2012

Belgian brownie bites

It's February!  Thank goodness because I feel like it's okay to talk seriously about dessert again.  I'm also excited because to me, February is the unofficial month for chocolate.  Maybe it's a toss-up between December (the holidays) and February but with Valentine's Day, I have to say February edges out for the title.  I know some people complain about how "commercial" Valentine's Day has become but I don't see anything wrong with a holiday that celebrates love...with chocolate!  Even if you don't have a significant other, celebrate loving yourself and treating yourself well.  It doesn't have to be extravagant but a little box of chocolate goes nicely with it - I'm just sayin'.
So I'm starting February off with a chocolate recipe.  Yes, the majority of the recipes I make and post here involve chocolate so maybe this is just an excuse to do more of the same.  These are Belgian brownies, or Belgian brownie "bites" in their small form.  Specifically, this is the homemade version of Le Pain Quotidien's mini brownie bites that you can find in their bakeries.  I know they might not look particularly alluring but you have to taste them.
Did you ever watch The Golden Girls?  You know how Sophia would start a story by saying "Picture it!  Sicily, 1945..."?  Well, picture it: New York City, December, 2011; a family of 3 heads to Rockefeller Center to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show.  Afterwards, they stop into a bakery nearby for a snack and they pick a couple of things, including a little something humbly labeled  "mini brownie bite."  The mom takes a bite, shares it with her six-year old son, and swoons just a bit.  She vows to try and find the recipe to make it at home...
So that's how this came to be.  I remember how the little brownie bites at Le Pain Quotidien grabbed my attention.  Beyond the fact that hey, it's chocolate, I thought it was odd that these "brownies" were in mini cupcake-like form (I think theirs is a little bigger/taller than mine though; shaped a bit like Thomas Keller's chocolate bouchons - something else to try making  one day) and had these  sunken tops, which I'd never seen on a brownie.  I had a mini but I think they had larger, regular size brownies too but my eye is naturally drawn to cute, miniature things. 

These brownie bites look rustic and humble but the flavor is anything but.  They are actually quite rich and moist inside, with a nice deep, dark chocolate flavor.  I shouldn't be surprised since the Belgians know their chocolate!  When I found the recipe online, I realized this richness  was thanks to generous amounts of butter and chocolate.  What you really have here is  nearly-flourless chocolate cakes that you can pick up and eat.  If you're like me and like super chocolaty desserts like molten chocolate cake, flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, or truffles, this is for you.
Instead of miniature form, you can make these Belgian brownies in standard muffin tin sizes
These Belgian brownies remind me a lot of the brownies from Baked but in this case, the chocolate flavor really shines through whereas I think the inclusion of brown sugar in the Baked recipe masks some of the chocolate just a little bit (but what do I know).  Once baked, the tops of these brownies puff up but then fall and look a little sunken as they cool.  The top is slightly crisp and the center is fudgy and moist.  They are really easy to make (all by hand) and since they bake in muffin tins, they're compact, already individually-portioned, and easy to transport/share for a group.


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