February 24, 2013

Another reason to break out the almond paste

I've proclaimed my love of almond paste in the past and I'm saying it again!  Aside from chocolate, almond paste is one of my favorite ingredients to bake with.  I love how fragrant it is, how good it tastes, and how it gives cookies that delectable chewy texture.  Use it in cake or bread and the almond paste gives it a ton of almond flavor and a wonderful moisture. 
Almond-Orange Cloud Cookies - with chocolate on the right
Since my family and I love these intense almond cookies and they're easy to make, I'll make a batch every so often for no other reason than to enjoy them together. 

Over time, I've made a few variations of the basic chewy almond cookie recipe.  The cookies are basically flourless macaroons (not the French kind).  Generally, they're a simple combination of almond paste, egg whites, and sugar, with a little something added on top.  I've gone with just almonds, made the pignoli/pine nuts version, and added candied cherries for the holidays. 
This recipe was another excuse to play with almond paste and this time, these cookies feature orange zest.  I've been buying citrus like orange and grapefruit like mad since they're in season and because I need fruit to balance out all the chocolate I eat! 

I adapted the recipe from Joy the Baker, who traces it back to cookies she tasted at King Arthur Flour.  Her version uses orange zest and vanilla beans, which sounds terrific.  I love how you can tweak these cookies and take it in slightly different directions, and I imagine I'll make other variations in the future.
There are a few differences between this recipe and the other variations I mentioned.  Instead of confectioners' sugar, granulated sugar is mixed with the almond paste, although a generous coating of confectioners' sugar goes over the top of the cookies before baking.  You poke a few holes into the thick cookie dough and that, along with the coating of powdered sugar, gives them a cloud-like look.  I was pretty amazed that the confectioners' sugar didn't melt during baking and I think the finished cookies looked very nice (I was a little doubtful going in). 

Also in this recipe, instead of just adding egg whites into the mix (like I'm normally used to doing), the whites are whipped so they can be poured in gradually.  This is a practical way to do it because it allows you to control how much egg whites go in; if you need to, you can stop once the mixture thickens to a stiff paste.  I'm not absolutely sure but I suspect whipping the whites and even the use of granulated sugar creates more of a meringue like outer crust on these cookies.  However, the edges and center are still wonderfully soft and chewy.
To satisfy my curiosity, I added chocolate to some of the cookies!  I've never used chocolate in any almond paste cookies before but to my mind: almonds + orange + chocolate = a delicious combination.  That's one of my favorite combinations in a chocolate bar but, to be fair, I have a lot of "favorite" chocolate bar combinations.  I decided to finely chop the chocolate I used because I didn't want any big crunchy chunks to compete with the chewy texture because these cookies aren't meant to be eaten warm.
After tasting them, I say if you want a strong, clear almond and orange flavor, go with the plain orange zest.  If you like a bit more complexity and something to cut through the sweetness a bit, add the chocolate.

To try a simpler method, I also baked some without the indentations or confectioners' sugar on top.  They don't look as good as the "cloud" like ones but have the same crisp shell and deeply chewy edges and center.
When pressed (by me), my husband thinks he prefers the ones with chocolate best, which surprised me.  I kind of feel like maybe the chocolate is better reserved for that full-on warm, melted chocolate chip cookie experience as opposed to here where the almond paste is the star.  Frankly, I have no complaints about any of these cookies.  I roll my eyes in happiness while eating them but to be severely picky about it, I'd have to say the no-fuss basic almond cookies with nuts on top are still my favorite.

On a different note, I mentioned Joy's blog earlier.  It's one I've gotten used to checking in on in the past couple of years.  The other day, she wrote an interesting post on blogging and invited bloggers to leave their blog addresses in the comments.  As I was clicking away at some of them, it really hit me how much we all have in common in this gigantic community of food bloggers (and readers).  What we do and the scale of it may be vastly different but we all have this wonderful love of food, of cooking-eating-sharing and making memories around it.  I love this camaraderie of people who love to cook and eat, knowing that we all exist whether you have a food blog or not.  I really think food is one of the greatest bonds we all share with each other.

February 21, 2013

Now for the orange version...orange yogurt loaf cake

Without further ado, I went straight ahead and made an orange version of the lemon yogurt loaf cake.  There are some great, sweet, navel oranges at the market right now so it's a good time to cook/bake with this ingredient.
I'll keep this short and simple since it is essentially the same recipe as the original lemon version.  For its orange counterpart here, I used the zest of 2 oranges in the loaf.  To make the orange-sugar syrup that goes on top of the baked yogurt loaf, I sweetened 1/3 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice to taste.  My orange was pretty sweet and I ended up using 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar for the syrup. 
The orange yogurt loaf was delicious and I would absolutely make it again, like I would the lemon loaf as well.  I thought I would have a clear favorite between the two flavors but I honestly like them both.  I would say the lemon loaf is probably the "flashier" of the two; the lemon syrup (1/3 cups of lemon juice to the same amount of sugar) provides a really strong punch of sweetened lemon flavor.  The orange is a bit more subtle - in part because it's less sweet from the smaller amount of sugar in the syrup.  For me, subtlety is not a bad thing and I really like that purity of flavor. 

I'm reluctant to pick favorites or call something "my favorite" anyway unless I've tried it many, many times and know it's a proven entity.  For now, I'm grateful to have found two great, lighter, yogurt loaf cake recipes and plenty of uses for any extra yogurt around the house!  For everyday, I may lean more towards this orange loaf.  For making a bigger impression and for lemon fanatics, the lemon loaf would not disappoint!

February 18, 2013

Lemon yogurt loaf cake

Do you eat or cook a lot with yogurt?  I don't eat yogurt on its own (but I'm going to work on that), unless frozen yogurt counts, but I have gotten into the habit of cooking with it in recent years.  I buy whole-milk yogurt pretty often to bake this banana bread and with plenty left over in the tub after doing that, I automatically make chocolate yogurt snack cakes for my son, who adores them.  Lately, I've also been using the yogurt to marinate chicken with tandoori spices to make chicken tikka marsala.

But I hate seeing things go to waste (more and more so as I get older) so I still find myself  scrounging around for new inspiration and good uses for that yogurt.  This time, I took advantage of some basic ingredients to make a simple - and what turned out to be, very tasty - loaf cake.  A lemon yogurt cake, to be exact, and one that's mixed together without even needing to plug in the mixer.
This recipe comes from one of Ina Garten's cookbooks that I have; I found it right behind the very stained pages for Beatty's chocolate cake - my favorite chocolate cake as far as traditional layer cakes go. 

What I really like about this is the use of yogurt and vegetable oil (I used canola oil), instead of butter, to tenderize the cake.  I'm always looking for lighter and/or healthier options that are just as flavorful and appealing as their richer counterparts.  And while butter provides flavor, you won't lack for that here thanks to a lemon syrup that's applied to the cake after baking.

The fact that this is easy to make is a big plus.  The only extra step required for this is the lemon-sugar syrup that's poured over the baked cake.  You really can't skip this step since it provides the majority of the lemon flavor but since it simply involves heating an equal amount of sugar and lemon juice together, it's really no sweat.  You could go one further step and add a final glaze over the top but I skipped that since I'm generally not a fan of baked goods with a layer of hardened confectioners' sugar on top.  Plus, it really doesn't need any more sweetness after the lemon syrup.
The still-warm loaf ready for a dousing of lemon-sugar syrup 
The lemon-sugar syrup gives the cake a lemon bar-like flavor and adds so much moisture
I have to fess up - I made a litte boo-boo and accidentally used 1/3 cup of oil instead of 1/2 cup.  I actually thought it odd at the time I was measuring but since there are a few 1/3-cup measurements in this recipe, it got stuck in my mind and I obviously didn't think twice about it.   Luckily, the finished loaf was plenty-moist, particularly as that lemon syrup gives it a ton of extra moisture (it's literally soaked!) while a full cup of yogurt certainly helps as well.  Next time, I would even stick with using 1/3 cup of oil.  I wish every mistake could work so well.
When I try one of Ina's recipes, I'm realize why people line up in droves at one of her book signings.  I saw the phenomenon at a mall once and I couldn't believe my eyes.  I don't make a ton of her recipes but the ones I've tried are usually quite good.  And speaking of Ina, I'm really enjoying her new season of shows on location in California!  It makes me want to move out West where all that sunshine awaits instead of sitting here wrapped up in sweaters and scarfs!

That was my usual long-winded way of saying this lemon loaf cake is really tasty!  My husband and I really liked it.  The little one, who drinks lemonade religiously and loves lemon Italian ice, is ironically not a fan of most lemon desserts.  He usually won't even try it but he did give this a taste and pronounced it "pretty good", which is actually more of a compliment than it sounds.

Typical of yogurt cakes and even more so in this case because of the syrup, this cake is super moist, with what I'd call a "springy" texture to it.  I really liked how the lemon syrup gives it that lemon bar flavor.  That sweetened lemon flavor is a little more muted towards the bottom of the loaf, where the glaze doesn't quite penetrate as far through, but it's still very moist and creates a nice balance eaten altogether.  I love the crispy crust on the freshly cooled loaf but like other yogurt cakes, this holds extremely well and stays moist for several days.  We made good use of it as breakfast, a snack, and as a simple but satisfying dessert.

I suspect this yogurt loaf could be quite delicious using orange instead of lemon.  As it is, it reminds me of the Florentine orange cake I posted about a long time ago.  I really adored that cake, but for some reason, have had trouble with it the last few times I've attempted it.  It's been turning out dense, and just doesn't fluff up the way it did the first two times I made it.  I wonder if this loaf cake with orange instead of lemon could be an answer to my quest for another good, dependable, orange cake...

February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day memories

Valentine's Day is tomorrow and it always puts a smile on my face!  I know some people feel it's too commercial or that it comes with undue pressure to celebrate in a spectacular way but, for me, it's not about pressure but about celebrating love in its many forms and having a really good reason to indulge in chocolate!  Plus, I'm just a sucker for all the hearts and pink-everything around Valentine's Day.  To me, it's just a happy day.
When I was "little" (i.e., in High School), us girls used to look forward to Valentine's Day with excitement as well as a little bit of dread to see if our boyfriend or perhaps some secret admirer (anyone!) had sent us a rose.  I guess it was part of some fundraiser at school but you'd order the roses in advance and they'd be delivered to the recipient's homeroom.  As nonchalant as we all acted, it was a point of pride to walk around all day holding a certain number of roses. 

My boyfriend (now husband) would not only send me a few of those but there'd also be a big bouquet waiting for me back home.  It was really sweet!  As I got older, my taste ran more toward tulips and mixed arrangements but I'll never forget those huge bouquets of red or pink roses he used to bring me every now and then from a florist near our homes in Brooklyn.  Very often, there'd be a box of Guylian chocolate seashells to go with it too because they were one of my favorites back then. 
When I graduated college and started working, my husband would send me big, tall bouquets of French tulips at the office for Valentine's Day.  It was a little over the top but so beautiful.  Nowadays, I think I might've lost some of the romantic in me because I always find myself telling my husband not to bring me flowers since it seems such an unnecessary extravagance. 

I guess maybe it's not so much about being less romantic than maybe being a little wiser in knowing that it's not about the flowers or gifts (I'm not giving up the chocolate though) but about just being together and enjoying another occasion to celebrate.  I love to stay in and share a quiet dinner and a good long chat.  I feel very lucky and grateful to have that.
I've always loved to read and write so I loved receiving letters.  My husband and I exchanged plenty of cards and little notes through the years.  I haven't kept everything but  there's a good slash in my closet.  I love that huge heart envelop, by the way.  We were in a Hallmark store in the World Trade Center long, long ago when I spotted it and hinted ever so obviously that I had to have it!  Needless to say, I got it and I still have it.  I was very silly back then and still a bit that way now...

Now I have a funny story about lollipops.  One year when we were in our late teens, I made a bunch of them for my husband (then boyfriend) for Valentine's Day.  I must've made nearly 30 of them that time - some plain, some in white and pink using not even chocolate but those candy melts that come in a bag.  I was very proud of my homemade gift!

I dug up the very same molds I used then and made a few for fun. 
Back then, I wrapped my lollipops in plastic and ribbon and put them all in a gift bag for V-Day.  The sweetest thing is my husband held on to those "chocolate" lollipops and ate them for well over a month!  When I finally told him to throw them out, he refused to and I remember taking a taste of one towards the end and nearly spewing it out because it tasted like plastic!  I think it was a combination of the candy melts and plastic wrapping hanging out together for too long.  I looked at him and couldn't believe he'd been eating it when it tasted that bad!  It's a story my husband and I laugh over still - and to this day, he still says it wasn't bad but I tell you, it tasted like plastic! 

And that is the reason I don't like to use candy melts anymore.  The few I made recently that you see above were done with real dark chocolate.  It may not look shiny since I didn't temper the chocolate but they actually taste good this time.
I devoured these chocolates last Valentine's; I love how the box looks like a little book.
I love Valentine's Day because it just brings back all these good and funny memories.  I remember class parties we had back in grade school, the Valentine crafts we'd make and cards we'd exchange.  That was back when treats like cupcakes and chocolates were allowed in the classroom - those were the days!  At least we still have bake sales.  But whether or not there are sugar cookies or cupcakes lying around, I'm glad that we still have the tradition of celebrating love, in all its many forms. 

February 11, 2013

Devil's Food cake

I started celebrating Valentine's Day a little early with - what else - (more) chocolate!  I can't think of a better time to make a deep, dark, luscious chocolate cake than right now.  
The reality is, chocolate is a regular part of my life and I really don't need any excuse to enjoy it.  Every time I stir up a batch of ganache and smell that intoxicating aroma, I hope that I come back in my next life as a chocolatier.  I used Valentine's Day as the special occasion to make this Devil's Food cake.  It was also comfort food ahead of the snow storm we just had.  We ended up with almost a feet of snow but the power stayed on so no complaints!

Now, I don't know about you but my family and I most definitely prefer the "devil's food" over "angel food".  The precise difference between chocolate cake and Devil's Food cake isn't really clear but I do know that we always have room for another good chocolate cake recipe in our repertoire.  So to expand my own chocolate cake repertoire, I made David Lebovitz's Devil's Food Cake, a recipe on his website I've eyed for ages now...you need only a glimpse of that frosting to fall in love!
This cake was easy to make and so easy to eat.  I think it's just a great version of classic Devil's Food cake.  If I'm to compare it to my favorite chocolate layer cake, I'd have to say that one is moister and has a deeper chocolate flavor (I like to eat it plain even without frosting), mainly because that cake has oil - instead of butter - and a solid cup of coffee in it.  This Devil's Food cake has butter, a bit less coffee, and milk in it.  It's likewise moist but has more of a classic, slightly firmer, yet still fluffy, texture to it.  There's a time and place for everything and I really like both.

The frosting on this cake is ganache, my very favorite!  And it pairs really well with this cake.  I opted to use water instead of cream in the ganache since it's already rich enough with a stick and a half of butter in it.  Believe it or not, the cake was surprisingly "light" (in taste and texture, not calories, unfortunately) and certainly not overly sweet.
My favorite part of making a cake, besides the actual making part, is slicing it up and sitting around the table enjoying it with my husband and the little guy (who digs right into the frosting but systematically plows away at the entire slice of cake).  Being together, sitting down, relaxing over good food is one of the best aspects of life.  It could be Valentine's Day or any old day but I love a reason to celebrate.

February 9, 2013

Peanut butter cravings

I can't pinpoint exactly when it started but I've got this fairly constant peanut butter craving that just won't go away.  I've always been more of a Nutella girl but lately, I've been reaching for the peanut butter a lot more often. 
Soft peanut butter cookies - crunchy PB and chopped salted peanuts boost their flavor
So what's a girl to do but make some peanut butter cookies.  I find that when I crave something, I should go ahead and have it or I'll just obsess about it and end up way over indulging.  So I've been eating peanut butter a few times a week and my favorite way of getting that PB kick is to it spread it on a toasted whole wheat English Muffin, which I genuinely prefer over regular.  It might not make a lot of sense but I spread the chunky variety over the already crunchy toasted English Muffin because I love lots of crunch and texture (okay...I sometimes mix a little creamy PB in there to make sure I've got every nook and cranny covered).  That love of texture partly explains this cookie I ended up with, which has crunchy peanut butter and also chopped salted peanuts thrown into the mix.
When I thought about peanut butter cookies, I considered whipping up a batch of proven favorites like these but you know something...?  I'd never had a traditional, pure, peanut butter cookie before - the kind with the classic crosshatch imprint on top - so I thought it was time to see if I've been missing something.  I've heard that classic peanut butter cookies like the kind I'm talking about can be dry, which is not something I want to hear about a cookie so I went in search of a recipe that promises a soft, chewy outcome.

The cookies I ended up with is something of a marriage between two recipes.  It's based largely on the recipe in David Lebovitz's cookbook as well as a recipe I recently came across in a magazine from America's Test Kitchen.  I also looked at the version from Flour Bakery, a recipe I tagged a while ago.  Ultimately, those 3 recipes weren't radically different.  The major differences came down to creamy vs. crunchy peanut butter, a slight difference in leavening, and in one case adding nuts.
I started with David Lebovitz's recipe because it clearly promised soft and chewy cookies.  I liked that, unlike other recipes, it calls for melted butter.  It made me think of a soft, gooey brownie, which usually starts the same way.  Instead of creamy peanut butter, I went with the other recipes' version using crunchy.  My husband and son both prefer creamy but I'm all about the super chunk.  I used a little more salt than the recipe suggests and, most importantly, intead of using just peanut butter, I did as America's Test Kitchen and incorporated finely chopped salted peanuts.  The total amounts were 1/2 cup peanut butter and 1/2 cup of chopped peanuts.  If you opt out of the chopped nuts (particularly if you prefer using creamy PB), I'd go closer to one full cup of peanut butter to make sure I have enough PB flavor.

I probably put a little too much thought behind what should be a simple peanut butter cookie but I think it paid off (plus, that's just how I am).  These cookies had crunchy peanut butter flavor and texture, wrapped up in a soft and chewy package.  Overall, I think I orchestrated a compatible "arranged marriage".
Ultimately, I'm very glad I went with the crunchy peanut butter and added salted peanuts.  The bits of nuts really reinforced the peanut flavor and add texture while the extra salt gives the cookies more dimension so that it's not just a sweet cookie with a peanut butter profile.  So I say go crunchy and add more peanuts!

February 7, 2013

Butternut squash soup

I'm interrupting our regularly scheduled sweet programing to talk...soup.  I made butternut squash soup today - certainly nothing earth-shattering but a first for me.  I liked it so much I wanted to put the recipe down here so I can pull it up whenever I need it. 

It's been bitterly cold here the last few weeks and as I sit here writing this, they're talking about a big blizzard coming our way.  The New England area could be hit with as much as 2-3 feet of snow while predictions for New Jersey are in the range of 10-12 inches right now.  Schools have already announced early closing tomorrow.  I hang my head in defeat hearing all this and just hope there are no power outages or gas shortages again.

So it was a good day to make soup.  It's comforting and I've been wanting to make butternut squash soup for a long time.  What I love is that thick, creamy sweetness you get without needing to use cream or any other dairy.  It's satisfying, hearty and good for you at the same time.
I probably looked at half a dozen recipes before making my version.  In the end, I took the basic premise of simmering butternut squash in broth with some aromatics in the form of onions,  carrots, and garlic, and then took inspiration from my cupboard.  I added a pinch of saffron (because it makes everything better, particularly anything involving broth), some paprika, ginger, and a bay leaf. 

And I finally put my immersion blender to good use.  I've had that thing for years, probably got it over ten years ago when I got married.  I haven't thought much about it until I read somewhere recently that an immersion blender was more useful than a blender!  That got me digging mine out and I've been using it to chop small amounts of nuts and now, finally, to blitz up this soup.  It works like a charm!  If you have an immersion blender, I highly recommend it for soups like this.  It is far neater, quicker, and more convenient than using a blender.
I like my butternut squash soup kind of chunky and hearty like this.  Others, including children, might prefer a thinner soup, in which case just puree it further and add a bit more broth if necessary.  I took inspiration from a restaurant nearby that serves a delicious creamless pumpkin soup and added some chopped chestnuts as a garnish like they do to my butternut squash soup.  I just used ready-to-eat chestnuts I buy at the Asian market.  The chestnut complements the flavor of the soup and adds a little extra texture to it that works really well.

They say that people who cook are more creative, free-thinking than those who like to bake.  Bakers are rule-followers.  I've noticed that when cook, I hardly ever use a recipe but I don't think I have a single dessert recipe committed to memory.  I've always been more of a draw-within-the-lines kind of a person but I'm trying to shake that up a bit.  And when I do try something new on the savory side and it works, like this soup today, it is a really good feeling!  That said, I'll be returning to chocolate tomorrow and baking a cake.  We need chocolate cake when a storm is coming...

February 6, 2013

Chocolate panna cotta redo

I had some extra heavy cream in the refrigerator the other day after making ganache for the brownie cake and decided I'd try a do-over and make chocolate panna cotta again.  I posted about it back in April 2011 when I first started this blog.  Back then, I was motivated to make it after having a delicious version of it at a nearby Italian restaurant.  Since my husband enjoyed it so much, I tried recreating it at home.  Unfortunately, it didn't come out nearly as well as the restaurant version.
My chocolate panna cotta do-over...much improved over the last time
The main problem I had last time was I didn't get the chocolate to melt thoroughly into the cream and milk mixture.  I ended up with a darker top layer where the chocolate kind of sank into (the top is actually the bottom since it's flipped over when you unmold the custard) and a paler base.  I really wanted to see if I could get the custard smoother and achieve a more even result the second time around.

This time, I adapted a recipe from the William Sonoma website.  Because I didn't want to go overboard with the richness (we are talking about a dessert whose name translates into "cooked cream"), I used cream and a little bit of milk and skipped the mascarpone cheese.  The recipe isn't all that different from the last one I tried.  The main thing I wanted to do was try to incorporate the chocolate more fully throughout.
When I added the chopped dark chocolate into my cream and milk mixture, I had the same problem I faced last time.  The chocolate doesn't fully melt and you see specks and grains of chocolate in the mixture.  This time, I put the saucepan back on the flame, on the lowest possible setting, and continued to whisk it until the chocolate melted some more and the whole thing thickened further. 

I seriously think I'd need to call in the blender or go at it with an immersion blender to completely smooth it out because dark chocolate can be difficult to melt in this way (in David Lebovitz's ice cream book, the Philadelphia-style chocolate ice cream mixture needs to be processed through a blender because of that very issue with the chocolate).  I took the simple way out and just kept whisking away on the stove top until it was as smooth as possible.  It also helps to strain the custard through a sieve as a final step - something I didn't do last time.
I was much happier with my redo.  This panna cotta came out a whole lot better than the first.  No funky sunken chocolate or uneven layers this time; the chocolate is fairly distributed throughout (though not perfectly).  In my memory, it's still not as good as the restaurant version but I'm happy with this and my husband enjoyed it.  I think I can now close the panna cotta chapter of this blog for the time being.

February 4, 2013

Salty oat cookies (with chocolate chips)

It's time to fill that cookie jar again!  There's something really comforting about having cookies around the house.  I like making them and I feel good seeing them nestled in a clear container on the kitchen counter. 
This time, I filled the cookie jar with some salty oat cookies.  The recipe comes from the America's Test Kitchen Christmas Cookies magazine - the one where I found that terrific recipe for banana bread cookies

Now, you know how they say you should always follow a new recipe exactly as written the first time you make it before making any tweaks and playing around with it?  There's a lot of sense in that but why not live a little dangerously once in a while - especially when it comes to something as familiar as the oatmeal cookie.

So I went off-script and did a few things different from the written recipe - I used a little more brown sugar (for a softer texture that we like), added some whole wheat pastry flour into the mix, and threw in some chocolate chips for the majority of my batch.  No, the original recipe does not involve chocolate and is simply salted oat cookies...I think adding chocolate chips is practically a reflex reaction.  A pure salted oatmeal cookie sounds intriguing but something just seems to be missing without the chocolate.  As my son pointed out, "why would anyone want one without the chocolate?" 
The little guy makes a very good point.  I prefered the oat cookies with the chocolate chips, and the boys certainly did too.  Without the chocolate, you can appreciate the pure buttery flavor of these cookies.  And it may even be true that the flaky sea salt accentuates that buttery oat flavor whereas when there's chocolate involved, the chocolate tends to take center stage and overwhelm everything else.  That's okay with me though.  So let me just go ahead and admit that I found myself eating the plain cookies with a piece of dark chocolate on the side!

Like other good oatmeal cookies, these are very satisfying and just the kind of thing to keep around the house in your cookie jar.  The oats naturally provide that wonderful chewy texture I love, while the salt - the flaky sea salt sprinkled over the top before baking - wakens everything up and makes you take notice.  It's isn't exactly earth-shattering stuff but I really like how the salt seems to dance around in your mouth and pop up somewhat unexpectedly.
I watched these carefully in the oven to make sure they come out browned and slightly crisp around the edges but still soft in the center.  I just love the texture of an oatmeal cookie and, naturally, we can all feel good about eating all these oats even if it is in cookie form! 

February 1, 2013

Brownie cake with ganache frosting

There's a bakery in my town that sells a small round "brownie cake" among their offerings.  It has a thin layer of chocolate frosting on top and a festive crown of sprinkles around it.  When I first saw it, I thought "what a cute idea", followed quickly by "I can do that".  So here is yet another way to enjoy brownies - one of the most satisfying chocolate desserts ever invented.  We've already done pie so now let's do cake.  This is my little "knock-off" of that bakery's brownie cake.
This is really simple and straightforward.  I'm not sure if theirs is done the same way but mine is literally a brownie.  I used a good brownie recipe and instead of the typical square baking pan, I baked it in an 8-inch round cake pan.  A springform pan would make life a lot easier but since mine measures 9 inches, I think the cake would be too thin.  Just make sure to line the bottom of your cake pan with a round of parchment and grease the sides and you should not have a problem removing the cake. 
Once the brownie is baked and cooled, I added a thin layer of dark chocolate ganache, my frosting of choice. 
And since Valentine's day is coming soon, I decided to make this an early Valentine's Day dessert with some appropriate sprinkles.  It looks a bit like a giant chocolate donut from some angles!  The thing I like about it is not only does it make the everyday brownie a little bit more special, it's also rustic and casual enough to just pick up and eat too.
I used Smitten Kitchen's favorite brownie recipe, similar to the peppermint brownies I experimented with over Christmas, and it was a good decision.  The brownie is rich, with deep chocolate flavor; it's heavenly moist and fudgy in the center, with a bit of chew and crispness all along the edges.  It actually tasted very much like those Fat Witch brownies (the ones I buy at the actual bakery) that I love so much.  Very satisfying stuff!

If you ask me, a good brownie like this one needs no adornment (except maybe vanilla ice cream) and already has plenty of chocolate flavor.  I wouldn't normally add frosting but it's appropriate here since we're going for "cake".  You won't hear any complaints about frosting from kids.  I'll never forget a playdate a couple of years ago when I offered up some brownies.  My son's friend looked at it, a little puzzled, and asked me where the frosting was?  I told him I don't usually put anything on top of brownies and he looked a little surprised and dismayed.  He told me he and his babysitter make brownies together and add frosting and sprinkles too.  Well, I think he would approve of this version...I know my son did.
Now about Valentine's Day...I just love it!  When I feel bummed that the holidays are over, I console myself with the fact that at least Valentine's day is around the corner.  I love the hearts, the chocolate, the expressions of love and sweetness.  I hope you'll do a little something sweet for yourself that day and hopefully share it with someone you adore. 


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