One-bowl oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (made with oil)

In general, I'm a fan of baking with oil and those recipes always appeal to me.  I suppose I feel somewhat "virtuous" using oil instead of butter, plus there's the convenience factor of not having to bring butter to room temperature, as you often need to do before the mixing and baking can begin.
Honestly, it doesn't take all that much to tempt me to bake a batch of cookies!  And this recipe from Half Baked Harvest was particularly tempting since it's just so simple - one bowl to mix everyone up, as you see below. And when a recipe is touted as a mom's specialty and one of the best around, I know I have to try it. 
The secret's in the oil.  The lineup of ingredients include the typical roster you'd expect in an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie but instead of butter, softened and creamed with sugar, you stir in canola oil.  The result is a somewhat crumbly, moist dough.  

I'd say the only tricky part of the recipe is molding the dough balls.  It doesn't want to stick together so you can't simply scoop the dough.  Instead, take spoonfuls of it and squeeze it together in your palm to pack it into a ball.  Be mindful to take some of the chocolate chips and incorporate it into the dough and on top to make sure you evenly distribute them among the cookies.
The little bit of finagling with the cookie dough balls was certainly a worthwhile effort.  In about 12 minutes, I had lovely little mounds of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies cooling on the counter.  The cookies have a great texture - thick, chewy, and moist.  They are chock full of chocolate from a generous amount of chocolate chips.   
I liked these cookies best a bit warm...the chocolate flavor is more intense and the caramel notes in the cookie seem to stand out more.  Enjoy them fresh from the oven if possible but you can always warm them for 10 seconds or so in the microwave.  Cooled, the cookies are still great - with a firm yet moist and chewy texture.  

My son is a big fan of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and these have his stamp of approval - whether warm or cooled!  That always makes a mom feel like she's accomplished a mission.  


Dinner lately ...

My, how time flies!  I hope life has been good lately.  I'm nestling into fall and in this sometimes crazy world that we live in, I find comfort and a little insulation in a good book and, of course, in the kitchen - by cooking meals to enjoy with my family.  

Recently, I've been trying some new things on the savory side.  I'm still baking but leaning on the treasure trove of great recipes I've already discovered from the past 6 years of blogging.  Since I wanted to pop in here and say "hello", I thought I'd indulge in a little dinner "show-and-tell" today. No specific recipes per se (in most cases, I took ideas from several recipes at a time) but just a little walk through of dinner lately around here...please pardon the hodgepodge of different-quality photos; many of them are my casual Instagram snaps, taken when lighting is not at its best around dinnertime.  

First up, there was my stuffed peppers project.
When we went to Charleston, we had a lovely dinner at Magnolia's where I had the most amazing vegetarian dish.  I wasn't exactly sure what would arrive but it turned out to be stuffed peppers, filled with the chewiest rice and topped with pepperjack cheese and a sweet tomato chutney.
It inspired me to make my own at home.  While the version I came up with was quite different from the amazing restaurant dish, it had similarities and I was very happy with dinner that night!  I filled my peppers with jasmine rice (cooked in chicken stock and some saffron), onions and corn sautéed with a touch of curry powder, garlic, and herbs, diced tomatoes, and some ground turkey.  The pepperjack cheese adds just the right touch of richness, making them all the more satisfying.


One-skillet beef mac & cheese

This easy, one-pan, beef mac & cheese immediately became a favorite at my house after I tried the recipe a few months back.  It is one of my son's favorite dishes and he can devour it in minutes (and could likely eat the entire pan himself if you let him). So after making it so many times, I thought I'd post it here on the blog for quick reference; I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots before the sunset as I plated it for dinner last week.
And with summer essentially in the rear view mirror (how did that happen!) and the change to cooler temps making us crave heartier meals, macaroni and cheese comes to the rescue.  This one-skillet dish comes together in less than 30 minutes so it's easy enough for busy weeknights.  

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Christina Lane's blog, Dessert for Two.  My son loves a bunch of her recipes, which I make over and over again. This skillet mac & cheese recipe is one and it comes from her savory cookbook, Comfort and Joy: Cooking for Two. Honestly, my son could eat the entire skillet so as time went on, I've snuck in a bit more meat and pasta (as much as I can without overflowing my 10-inch skillet) to amp up the portion.  If you're feeding more than two people as a main for dinner, I suggest some garlic bread and/or a big platter of roasted vegetables to go alongside.  
This macaroni and cheese gets its creaminess and thickness from a combination of milk, water, cornstarch, and, of course, cheese - cheddar cheese, to be exact.  The cheddar gives it such a great familiar flavor but I've also made this with some pepper jack cheese thrown in, and since it melts so well, it gives the mac & cheese a great texture.  In other words, don't be afraid to personalize it.  

I think the same goes on the flavor front when it comes to the spices.  A mix of spices including chili powder and smoked paprika give this mac & cheese a nice smokey flavor but I've experimented with different proportions and I sometimes throw in other spices from my spice box. When I first made this recipe, the flavors were a bit too strong for my son so I tampered down the spice levels.  But now...he's grown used to it and I'm pretty heavy handed with the spice.
Another way to mix and bulk this up - add some vegetables into your mac & cheese.  I often toss in some broccoli and when all else fails, there's always frozen peas on hand. It's fair to say that almost everything tastes good in a creamy cheese sauce!



Tiramisu

A couple of weeks ago, I made tiramisu for a very special occasion.  Not only did I recently celebrate a big birthday, my brother - who's ten years old than I am - marked a milestone birthday of his own!
About a week before my brother's big birthday, my sister in law planned a family gathering to celebrate not only his birthday but ones for two of my nephews (late August and early early September is a busy time!).  There was champagne and nibbles, ice cream cake for the kids, and we planned to go out to dinner.  I wanted to contribute a little something to the at-home festivities and I knew it would be tiramisu.

My brother orders tiramisu for dessert almost every time we go out.  It might well be that we tend to go to an Italian restaurant when my siblings and I go out to dinner together but all the same, tiramisu is just a favorite dessert of his (and my husband, too; it seems to be a "guy" thing). Before this, I'd made individual tiramisu but I'd never done the traditional classic version in a larger serving pan.
I was a little nervous about this.  Making something you haven't really made before for a special occasion - even when it's just family who wouldn't mind if things aren't exactly stellar - is a bit daunting.  This is the time when you do some homework, cross your fingers, and get to work.

Making this tiramisu wasn't without some minor hitches but all was well.  My tiramisu, with amaretto as the liqueur of choice, turned out just fine.  I'm told it was quite tasty, actually.  I have to say I enjoyed what I tasted very much even though I'm no expert.  The important thing is that the birthday boy said it was as good as any restaurant's, and I have to be satisfied with high praise like that!
The tiramisu I turned out is a compilation of a few recipes, leaning heavily on David Lebovitz's recipe I used previously for the individually portioned ones.  It uses egg yolks as well as egg whites (as opposed to heavy cream), which I think makes for a lighter texture and flavor.  We don't personally have issues with using raw eggs but you have to decide on your comfort level in that regard.
It's no wonder so many people love tiramisu.  It's rich and creamy, yet so light.  The coffee flavor, as well as amaretto liqueur in my case, gives it just the right kick.  
Photos of the sliced tiramisu above are actually from the second tiramisu I made.  My husband angled for his own "personal pan" and I was happy to oblige.



Chocolate Heaven in a cupcake

I realize it's not exactly a novelty for me to be here, ranting and raving about chocolate cake.  I mean, it was just a few months ago when I was swooning over those amazing ultimate chocolate cupcakes.  I can only assure you that I'm always sincere!
While I do like to "play the field" when it comes to chocolate cakes/cupcakes (and chocolate desserts in general), I have a lot of room in my heart to love a lot of recipes!  This gets proven again and again as I eat and discover all the wonderful chocolate cake renditions out there.  It's all about diversity and mixing things up.
So today, let me add another chocolate cupcake love affair to my list.  In a roundabout way, these cupcakes come by way of Savannah, Georgia.  You see...my family and I went to Charleston, S.C., recently on vacation.  During that trip, we drove to Savannah one day.  Aside from wanting to see the lovely city, I really wanted to visit Back in the Day Bakery.  I am so happy we made the pilgrimage (particularly as I learned that they would be closed the following week for summer vacation)!  The place was as charming as I expected and the people might well have been sweeter than the treats.

While we were there, we tasted these mind-blowing Chocolate Heaven cupcakes.  We tried one and went right back for another!  They were amazingly moist, with a super fluffy, tender crumb.  The cupcakes packed some wonderful chocolate flavor and somehow the cap of chocolate sprinkles on top of the creamy frosting was just right. I fell hard for these chocolate cupcakes.
The amazing Chocolate Heaven cupcake at Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia
We didn't make it to the bakery that day until early afternoon.  By then, and given the fact that August is a slow month for Savannah, there wasn't a ton to choose from and I can only say that I'm so grateful there were still some of these chocolate cupcakes in the case!  Chocolate Heaven, indeed!  I wish we'd had time and space to try more of their treats but we'd just eaten lunch in Hilton Head, had plans to visit Leopold's next for ice cream, and had dinner reservations.  To say that I'd want to go back to Savannah just to have more food from Back in the Day Bakery is not an exaggeration. Hopefully, someday...

In the meantime, you know what I love to do...try to recreate something wonderful I ate on vacation, back home!  Since one of the lovely women working at the bakery told me these cupcakes were a relatively new addition, I didn't have high hopes of finding the recipe...until I looked and realized there is a Chocolate Heaven cake recipe in the first cookbook!!  Bingo!  I realized this would take me pretty close to what we enjoyed in Savannah so I took the cake recipe, reduced it down from a 3-layer cake, and turned out some cupcakes!
So how did my homemade version compare to the ones at the bakery?  The good news is they taste very much alike.  I realized that to make a good old-fashioned bake, it takes good-quality ingredients, time and love in the way of patience in the process.  Here specifically, I also think sour cream is one of the "secrets" as well as really good chocolate in the form of Scharffen Berger, and coffee.  
Not surprisingly, the ones at the bakery were superior.  While the home version were moist, the bakery cupcake was fluffier, with more of an open crumb.  My cupcakes baked up with slightly rounded tops while the bakery's were flat, making a great base for an even and generous layer of frosting.  I skimped in comparison when it came to frosting on my cupcakes but for all that, these cupcakes still transport you to heaven for a few moments while you're devouring them.  I would surely love to eat them again and again!
Don't skip the chocolate sprinkles on top of these cupcakes because for some reason, they are just so right here!  They somehow reinforce the whole chocolate experience. 



Vanilla cashew clusters

I adore cashews and I love making easy snack mixes that involve nuts - whether as a nibble for a party, to pack up and gift to friends, or just to have around as a snack.
These vanilla cashew clusters I spotted from The Kitchn were too easy to resist.  Did I mention I love cashews?  I really do, and these simply involve a bag of cashews that you toss with an egg white, (brown and granulated) sugar, a touch of cinnamon, and vanilla extract to give them a fun sweet flavor with a little spice.  Let the oven do the rest of the work, toasting the nuts and setting that sweet coating on top.
I made these for friends and I'm hoping they like cashews as much as I do.  I also brought some along to a gathering with my family; they're terrific with drinks.  You can also enjoy them with yogurt for breakfast, as a topping for an ice cream sundae, or just pack up a bag and take them along on a road trip or as a snack on the go.  

In other words, there are plenty of ways to enjoy these and plenty of reasons to make a batch!


Simple chocolate party cake

It's been a busy couple of weeks, filled with celebrations and a vacation. I recently celebrated a big birthday and we just got back from a wonderful trip to Charleston, South Carolina.  
Before all that, I happened to be looking at some beautiful bakes from Style Sweet CA on Instagram and then spotted a simple chocolate cake on the site that I thought would be fun to make with my son.  It reminded me of the Texas sheet cake we made together last summer and it, in fact, is that with a different type of chocolate frosting on top.  
Instead of making a sheet cake, we divided the cake recipe in half and made a single-layer 8-inch cake (I made just 1/3 the recipe for the frosting and it was more than enough).  I decided to tag this as a "simple chocolate party cake" instead of "easy chocolate sheet cake" as the original is called since I baked it in the round, which I think is a bit more formal looking.  If you bake it in sheet cake form, it's great to slice into small squares or rectangle servings for a crowd. 

The chocolate icing - given the high ratio of confectioners' sugar in it - is the kind that forms a bit of a dry crust on the surface.  It's not what I'd call "fudgy" (which I think of as a smoother, more creamy, chewy texture like this) so instead of calling it a fudge frosting recipe as I found it, I'd say it's more a classic American-style chocolate frosting/icing on this cake.
My son and I had fun in the kitchen preparing this cake.  It's nice to sneak a few moments together doing something simple like baking or cooking.  And the final reward of having a homemade cake can't be beat.  As with all things homemade with care, it seems to taste all the better.
His shirt says "Never Skip Cake" (not true, but would be a good line)
Incidentally, I realized that we made this cake just a couple of days before my birthday (okay...not so coincidental...I may have planned it that way!) so I can say my son helped make me a birthday cake this year!  If I sound desperate, sometimes I am.  



Walnut sticky buns (small-batch)

There's been a pattern developing...what with cinnamon rolls, babka, yeasted coffee cakes, and the like, coming out of my kitchen lately.  Making sweet rolls may not be the best habit to get into but I have to admit I find myself doing just that lately. Maybe I just need to get it out of my system?  That's the rationale I'm going with for now.
Since becoming smitten with homemade cinnamon rolls, I've been thinking about trying my hand at sticky buns.  It's the "logical" next step because while cinnamon rolls are decadent, you up the ante with sticky buns, which are like cinnamon rolls with an added sticky sweet caramel topping.  Once in a while, you just have to go for it.  Like I said, I think I need to get it out of my system. 

My lone defense in all this sweet roll-making is that at least I've (mostly) been sticking with small-batch recipes.  Here, I adapted the pecan sticky buns recipe from Dessert for Two, which makes 4 buns.
I made a few tweaks to the recipe, including using walnuts instead of pecans because pecans are not a family favorite.  Instead of baking the 4 sticky buns using a jumbo muffin pan (which I don't have but sometimes wish I did), I baked them in an 8-inch cake pan.  Lastly, I reduced the amount of butter in the filling by half in an ongoing attempt to enjoy decadent treat in the least decadent way.  Maybe it's silly and futile when we're making sweet treats like this but I can't help but try.
Baked sticky buns before they're flipped over to reveal the caramel tops
Things were not looking good for my first attempt at stick buns.  The dough, which didn't require kneading but I felt could have used some, was wetter than I expected so the buns were fragile to handle (that sounds funny, doesn't it).  I was also concerned that I didn't have enough of the sugar mixture at the bottom of the pan (though that turned out not to be a major issue).  But the worse offense I committed might have been not running a knife around the pan to loosen the buns around the edges before attempting the all-important flip.  Because of that, I have no presentable photos of all 4 buns flipped over together showing off their sticky caramel tops. Suffice it to say a bit of each bun stuck to the pan.
I thought we would just eat these sticky buns in all the messy stickiness and I'd forget about it for a while...but I took a bite, then some more, and realized I had to post it so I can sing their praises.  They are so tasty! Why was I surprised?  As with most things filled with butter and sugar, these sticky buns did not disappoint.  And I might add that any leftovers are mighty tasty the next morning, with just a few seconds in the microwave to warm them up.  All that sticky sweetness preserve them quite well!
From the slightly hardened, almost-crunchy, caramelized edges to the moist chewy soft centers, these sweet rolls filled and topped with toasted walnuts are rather addictive!  The way I look at it, instead of buying them outside, make them occasionally at home so you can indulge responsibly.  They are a worthy occasional splurge!  I find myself craving sweet comfort foods like these lately even in the midst of summer...not sure why it is but I'm getting it out of my system by enjoying my cravings in moderation.  A small-batch recipe is the answer.



Crepes for two (or maybe three)

I think I've realized something: crepes are actually really forgiving to make.  When you start to think about it, you tend to worry about everything from getting the batter right to how you have to twirl the pan just so, and, most importantly, how you'll flip these delicate, thin pancakes without breaking them.  All fair considerations but from my experience, it's never as hard as you feared.  So don't think too much about it and just go ahead and make some crepes!
You don't need special equipment.  If you have a blender, great!  You can whiz the batter up in seconds.  But if you don't have one, a large bowl and whisk will do just fine. There's also no need for a crepe pan; a trusty non-stick skillet works perfectly well.  And even when it comes to recipes, there may be some variations - some calling for a bit more liquid ingredients than others - but they tend to work.  I may not be an expert but I've made crepes with low-fat milk and water, chocolate ones, and now this fairly classic small-batch recipe, all with ease.

There are tips for higher crepe-making success that I've read and followed, including...
  • Straining the batter through a fine mesh sieve
  • Letting the batter rest overnight (or at least a few hours) before cooking
...but even if you don't have time to do those things, many people will attest that you don't need to and your crepes will turn out just fine.
And the neat thing is that crepes are also a good make-ahead.  For example, I made my small batch of crepes on Friday afternoon.  I stacked them on a plate (I didn't even put wax paper in between; they don't stick together) and refrigerated them. Next morning, I simply warmed each briefly in a hot, dry skillet, then filled them and served them up for breakfast on Saturday.  Making and enjoying crepes at home seems "fancy" but it's really quite easy. 

And if you're looking for a recipe that makes a few crepes - 5, to be precise - this is what we have here.  It can feed two people nicely or three if you need to stretch it.  
I made sweet crepes, filling a couple with chestnut cream and with Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread.  Somehow, having crepes for breakfast made a foggy, dark morning a little more cheerful.


Brown butter chocolate chip (hazelnut) cookies

I took a break from making ice cream and brownies, and decided to make...cookies! What can I say...I'm a creature of habit.
When it comes to comfort-baking and eating, you can't beat chocolate chip cookies. Even with temps in the 90's like it was here last week, I can't stop myself from turning on the oven to bake and cook (luckily, these cookies are done in 11 minutes). And I still crave a gooey chocolate chip cookie in the summer as much as I do in the winter.
I have a few recipes I make often but it's always fun to find something new to try. This time, I made brown butter chocolate chip cookies - a recipe I adapted slightly from Displaced Housewife.  Since I associate brown butter with hazelnuts, and because I personally like nuts in most baked goods, I added toasted chopped hazelnuts to about half my batch of cookies (my fellas usually prefer their cookies without nuts). 
If you remember, I made Displaced Housewife's olive oil chocolate chip cookie recipe not long ago and they were sensational.  I had high hopes for these cookies - which is made with a combination of brown butter and a flavorless oil (I used canola), and a mix of bread and all-purpose flour.  They didn't turn out as chewy as the olive oil cookies but these were solid cookies - sturdy and moist, happily devoured by all.  I think it's hard to make a "bad" batch of chocolate chip cookies if you make sure to stuff it with enough good chocolate.  You pretty much can't go wrong!



Coffee chocolate chip ice cream

Summer is all about ice cream!  Even if you're not making it yourself at home, you're thinking about it, buying it, going to your favorite ice cream parlor for some, and seeing plenty of reminders to eat more ice cream just about everywhere!  It was National Ice Cream Day a few days ago and while I'm not sure how these national food "holidays" get conjured up and though I'm pretty sure none of us needs an excuse to eat more ice cream in the summer, I'm totally game for the fun of it all.
For our part, I feel like we've been swimming in ice cream in the past month! I must buy more cream in the 3 summer months than I do the rest of the year combined. Each batch seems to disappear faster than the last, and I'm still buying and taking the kiddo out for ice cream on top of it.  Honestly, I might need to give my ice cream maker a break and take a short ice cream-making hiatus.  But before I do that, I made this batch of coffee chocolate chip ice cream.  I had to try something new and this is what I picked.
The coffee ice cream base is from David Lebovitz (so you know it's good).  Unlike his Vietnamese coffee ice cream, which uses brewed coffee and condensed milk, this coffee ice cream gets its flavor from whole coffee beans, as milk and cream are steeped in it for about an hour.  It yields a clear, strong coffee flavor that's bound to satisfy the coffee lover.  And with an equal ratio of cream to milk, and a good 5 egg yolks in the custard, the texture is nice and creamy.
Of course, I added chocolate chips because to me, coffee chocolate chip ice cream is better than plain coffee ice cream in most circumstances.  If you feel the same, add 4 ounces of warm melted chocolate right at the last minute of churning like I did.  Pour the chocolate in a thin steady stream into the ice cream at the last moment of churning and it will turn into little lacy wisps of chocolate flakes (though I sure don't mind when I end up with a few chunks here and there) running throughout the ice cream.  
Some people love their ice cream plain and smooth while I'm all for texture and extra add-ins, particularly when it involves chocolate and/or nuts!  Whatever you prefer, hope you are cooling down with a sweet scoop every now and then this summer!  



Cinnamon rolls, 2.0

I've been in a yeast-dough making mood lately and one of the most rewarding yeast-doughs to make has to be cinnamon rolls!  It's hard to believe but we hardly ever ate them until I made my first batch about 3 years ago.  Since then, it's become a family favorite. My husband requests it all the time and I'm happy to oblige when I have the time.  A fresh batch of cinnamon rolls straight from the oven on a weekend morning is one of the ultimate treats, and we should treat ourselves!
For the last 3 years, I've been making the small-batch recipe I originally adapted from Oh Ladycake's vegan version.  They produce the softest, most squishy, delicate little cinnamon rolls!  I've taken that base dough recipe and made versions from peanut butter to Nutellachestnut cream to almond paste (mainly with chocolate thrown in). They're all heavenly but there's just been one problem...the recipe makes 4 small rolls and each time we have them, they seem to vanish more and more quickly, and we sit there wishing I'd doubled the recipe somehow.  Sometimes, you're just not in the mood for portion control!

So I toyed with the idea of making a larger batch - finding a recipe that would make slightly bigger, heartier rolls but would still be soft and pillowy like the small-batch version.  I've been reluctant to mess with a great thing but I finally tried it.  So now we have my cinnamon rolls, version 2.0!  It makes 9, more-substantially sized, cinnamon rolls that are soft and tender.
I think the key is nailing down the dough itself.  Once you have that, you can customize the filling beyond the basic cinnamon-sugar combination.  So I went back to Oh Ladycakes and found her coconut oil cinnamon rolls, which appeared to be the larger batch version I was looking for.  Again, I "de-veganized" it.  With no disrespect to coconut oil lovers, I swapped over to butter as well as regular milk over the coconut oil and almond milk in the original recipe.  
And the dough...well, it has a far heftier amount of yeast and the proportions make for taller, sturdier individual rolls.  Not over doing it with the flour, the rolls are soft and tender, with a nice chew.  They are slightly less fragile and squishy than the small-batch version but quite comparable.  I was very happy with the process of making them and the result.  It was so good to see all these gloriously puffed up cinnamon rolls come out of the oven and stand tall on their plates!
Playing around with this inaugural batch of my cinnamon rolls, 2.0, I realized I was a little too stingy with the filling.  More on that later...but I filled them with a mix of granulated and brown sugar, finely chopped chocolate, and cinnamon.  My family and I love a little chocolate in our cinnamon roll filling!  It was delicious and would be even better with just a bit more of the good stuff inside.  We made up for it with a generous coating of vanilla glaze.  Next time, I'll correct the filling situation and have fun with our other favorite fillings.  There's always an excuse to make another batch of cinnamon rolls!  



Chocolate and almond paste babka

Is it odd to try to make something that you've never actually eaten before?  I know I find myself doing that sometimes, as in the case of this babka.

I'd say I barely knew what a babka was (my husband is the Seinfeld fan in the family so I didn't even have that reference) until a year or so ago when it seemed to pop up everywhere.  Serious Eats called it a "babka renaissance" and rightly so because you started seeing these loaves of twisted bread, often swirled generously with chocolate, seemingly everywhere.  
That was all well and good but I can't say I was much drawn to making or eating babka until very recently when I saw a recipe for a marzipan & chocolate babka from Sweet Paul.  Right away, I thought about my almond buns - a spin off of another recipe from Sweet Paul where I add grated almond paste and chocolate as a filling to the small-batch cinnamon roll dough I use (it's delicious!).  So my brain immediately went to a babka filled with grated almond paste and chocolate.  I prefer swapping almond paste for the sweeter marzipan.  There is just something about a recipe using almond paste that gets me running into the kitchen!  Even in July, approaching a busy holiday weekend...
So I experimented and thought I'd give this babka idea a try.  I started by learning a bit more about what a babka was and how it was supposed to taste and be.  Babka translates into "little grandmother" and is an Eastern European yeast bread-cake that's similar to brioche.  The bread is somewhat dense, itself slightly dry, that's often paired with a moist chocolate spread filling (though there are ones with other fillings like cinnamon, nuts, and fruit...plus now we have almond paste!).  The mix of sweet eggy bread with a chocolate filling is its very appeal.

My imprecise/untraditional loaf is a blend and adaptation of two recipes: Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe for making babka dough via Smitten Kitchen and the filling inspiration from Sweet PaulThe Sweet Paul recipe was almost too simple and I felt I needed to follow more precise instructions. What resulted was a sweet bread that was dense yet light, slightly dry yet moist. The almond paste adds extra chew and a great almond flavor and fragrance, which I love; my only regret was maybe not using a bit more of it!  

I think 3 oz. of dark chocolate is a fairly modest amount for the filling, and you could use more if you want to be more indulgent.  You often see far more intense chocolate swirls in a babka loaf.  They are also often brushed with a sugar syrup or topped with streusel.  I like that, at home, I can practice some relative restraint, and this was flavorful and moist enough for us.  When it comes to the chocolate, using a deep, flavorful one you enjoy (Scharffen Berger 62% in my case) will give you more mileage. 
It was fun making this babka!  Aside from needing to plan ahead and set time aside for an overnight rest, the yeast dough was surprisingly easy to handle and the steps were not difficult to tackle at all.  My family and I enjoyed having "babka for breakfast" and I still have a few slices tucked away in the freezer to enjoy another day.  All in all, it was a very rewarding baking experience.



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