Saturday, June 28, 2008

lazy caramel brownies

I hate to go all Cake Doctor on you, but before I met Pierre Herme's recipes and learned what True Cooking was, I had this favorite brownie recipe. I'm sure you've seen some form of it online. You take a cake mix and throw in caramel and chocolate and marshmallows, and you get a chocolate confection that will put you in a diabetic coma. Being a sugar fiend and lazy, I modified it a bit. I increased the fillings, because if a little caramel is good, a lot is better, right? And I replaced the caramels + evaporated milk with plain old caramel sauce from a jar, because no one wants to spend half an hour unwrapping caramels.

This recipe comes with a warning: This is a *ton* of sugar. Too much for many people's taste. And you *cannot* serve it warm. You just can't. The brownies need to cool completely to room temperature to be good. If you serve them warm, not only are they ridiculously messy, but they taste much sweeter. To the point of being basically inedible. I made these for a sugar-eating contest with a friend this weekend and served them warm, and neither of us could get more than one of them down. When they're cold, I've single-handedly eaten a pan of them by myself in two days. They're that good.

caramel brownies

1 box chocolate cake mix, (the darker the better)
.66 C butter, melted
.33 C evaporated milk
1 C pecans, finely chopped or food processed until size of large crumbs
1 jar caramel ice cream topping
.5 bag mini marshmallows
.5 bag milk chocolate chips
.25 bag dark chocolate chips
handful of white chocolate chips (optional)

Mix the evaporated milk and melted butter into the cake mix until thoroughly combined. Add the nuts. Press 1/2 of dough into sprayed 9 x 13" pan. Bake about 6 minutes at 350. Sprinkle chocolate and marshmallows across crust. Pour caramel over top. Roll out remaining dough and press over the top. Bake about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

floating islands

Carol Blymere's recent rendition of Thomas Keller's Iles Flottante reminded me that I'd been wanting to try Dorie Greenspan's version of this dessert.

I'd never made creme anglaise before, and I'd never poached anything, so I had fun trying this recipe. My creme anglaise turned out rather yellower and grainer (even after straining) than Dorie's beautifully smooth and white sauce, but it tasted great and added color to the dish, so I didn't mind. I had been afraid the islands would dissolve into a pan full of bubbles when I poached them, like the gnocchi I once tried to make, but they came out just fine. The dish as a whole was, well, really eggy. Without the caramel, it was nice, but not amazing. I decided to add the optional caramel.

I don't like hard caramel, but I topped the first servings with Dorie's caramel, just to give it a chance. And I still didn't like hard caramel, so I topped the next servings with generous portions of my honey caramel, and I loved it. The deep caramel flavor and the honey were just what the dish needed to give it some flavor, without sacrificing any of my fillings in eating it. Next time, I'd like to try a nice tart strawberry sauce in place of the caramel. (Or maybe with the caramel, although that seems weird. Maybe with a dark chocolate sauce instead of the caramel?)

Also, I had an unusual problem with my pictures this time. Normally, I take ten or twenty shots and spend half an hour deciding which is least ugly. This time, I couldn't decide which one I loved most--several of them actual looked edible. Many thanks to my husband for suggesting that I try a different lighting source.

Floating Islands
creme anglaise
2 C whole milk
6 large egg yolks
.5 C sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla

Bring the milk to a boil. Combine yolks and sugar in a heavy saucepan and whisk vigorously until thick and pale, 2-3 min. Temper yolks with a small amount of hot milk. Slowly add the rest of the milk while continuing to whisk. Put saucepan on medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until custard thickens, lightens in color, and coats the spoon (up to around 10 min.)--if you run your finger down the spoon, the track should remain. The anglaise should be cooked until it reaches 180 F.

Immediately remove from heat, strain into a bowl, and add the vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap pressed against the surface. Chill thoroughly (best if at least overnight, up to three days).

2 C milk
4 large egg whites, aged, at room temperature
pinch of salt
.25 C sugar
(makes 12)

Spread a clean kitchen towel on the counter near the stove and have a large slotted spoon at hand. Put the milk in a wide saucepan and bring to a simmer at low heat.

Beat whites on medium speed until foamy. Beat in salt. When eggs are opaque, increase speed to medium-high and add sugar 1 TB at a time. Whip until meringue is firm but satiny and still glossy.

Scoop up islands (about twice amount of egg) and lower into simmering milk, adding only as many as fit in the pan without crowding. (For smoother islands, transfer meringue between two large spoons a few times.) Poach for 1 minute. Gently turn over and poach 1 minute on the other side. Remove from milk and place on towel.

After cooking all islands, remove from towel and place on wax-paper lined sheet. Refrigerate 1-3 hours.

Dorie's caramel
.5 C sugar
.33 C water

Combine sugar and water in small, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat, bring to a boil, and cook without stirring (swirling pan occasionally) until caramel turns a pale gold color (6-8 min.). Remove from heat and allow to cool just until thick enough to form threads when dropped from a fork. If it is too hard, rewarm slowly over low heat.

Pour creme anglaise onto plates. Place an island in the center and drizzle with caramel. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

tea party cupcakes

My sisters came over for a tea party recently. My husband and I made these cupcakes for the party, and then my sisters helped me frost them. They are Oreo cream and Nutterbutter cream-topped chocolate cupcakes and white chocolate raspberry cream and strawberry cream-topped yellow cupcakes. Because we spent too long shopping, we threw the toppings on it a bit of a rush. I didn't have a big enough icing tip for the cookie crumbs to get through, so after the white chocolate raspberry, we gave up on making them cute and just slapped the whipped cream on. I liked this effect with the cookie crumbs, anyway.

chocolate cupcakes (Baking, Dorie Greenspan)
1 C flour
1/4 unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cube unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 C sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C buttermilk
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Grease 2 miniature muffin tins and line with muffin cups. Preheat oven to 350.

Mix together dry ingredients (except sugar). Beat butter until soft and creamy. Add sugar and beat 2 min. Add egg, then yolk and beat for 2 min. Beat in vanilla. On low speed, mix in half dry ingredients. Add buttermilk and mix until incorporated.. Mix in remaining dry ingredients. Mix in chocolate.

Fill muffin cups with batter. Bake until cupcakes pass toothpick test.

yellow cupcakes (The New Best Recipes, editors of Cook's Illustrated)
1.5 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 C sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
.5 tsp salt
8 TB unsalted butter, softened
.5 C sour cream
1 large egg, plus 2 yolks, at room temperature
1.5 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 mini muffin tins and line with muffin cups.

Mix dry ingredients. Add butter, sour cream, egg, yolks, and vanilla, and beat until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl with rubber spatula and stir by hand until smooth and no flour pockets remain.

Divide among muffin cups. (This may take more than two tins, I'm not sure.) Bake until cupcake tops are pale gold and cupcakes pass toothpick test.

To top the cupcakes, I whipped a quart of whipped cream and added some vanilla. I left 1/4 unsweetened and added white chocolate raspberry ganache (1 lb. white chocolate, 1 bag of frozen raspberries food processed, simmered, and strained, and enough cream [started with 1/2 C] to make it goopy; I just added it to taste to the whipped cream). The white chocolate raspberry whipped cream needs work--more raspberry, less white chocolate. It came out tasting yogurty and not very raspberryish.

I sweetened the remaining whipped cream and divided it into equal parts. I stirred crushed Nutterbutters into one part, crushed Oreos into another, and food processed, heated strawberries into the last. The strawberries I used weren't very flavorful and didn't work well. The Nutterbutter and Oreo whipped creams were great, although they have to be eaten quickly or the cookie pieces go mushy.

fallen fairy cake

When I was baking the fairy cake, I thought it would be fun to make a honey caramel, too. One of the fairy cakes fell rather drastically, so I topped it with the caramel instead of filling it with whipped cream. By itself, the honey caramel is a bit strong for my taste. On the cake, though, I enjoyed it.

honey caramel

.5 C honey
1 C sugar
1.25-1.5 C heavy cream

Heat honey in pan and allow to reduce and darken (15-20 min. on med. heat). Remove from heat and whisk in half of heavy cream. Heat sugar on medium heat without stirring until dark translucent patches start to appear. Quickly stir together and add first the honey and cream mixture and then the remaining cream. Whisk until mixed thoroughly. Remove from heat. Serve over fairy cake base.

fairy cake

Every time I see a recipe for fairy cake or hummingbird cake, I get visions of this light, airy, summery, ethereal cake. And then I read the list of ingredients and realize that, while the cake sounds good, it is nothing at all like what I'd hoped for. The problem is, I can't figure out what it is I want.

Every time I condition my hair with Joico (recommended to me by the girl who cut my hair last and totally not worth the money, incidentally), I think, I want to eat this.

When I was drinking a Henry Weinhardt vanilla cream soda the other day, these ideas collided and I realized that the light, airy cake I've been craving is a citrusy honey vanilla cake.

So I pulled out Chocolate Desserts and used the cocoa cake for a base recipe to make a honey vanilla orange lemon cake. I soaked it in a honey vanilla orange lemon syrup and filled it with vanilla and honey whipped creams. The cake fell a little, so it was tough, and the whipped cream was too sweet. I think next time I'm going to add more vanilla, cut most or all of the honey out of the soaking syrup, and leave the powdered sugar out of the honey whipped cream. If there is a next time. I may make the cake base again; I'm not sure if I'll fill it with whipped cream. It just wasn't hitting the spot.

Fairy Cake

honey vanilla cake (adapted from Cocoa Cake, Chocolate Desserts, Pierre Herme)
7/12 C cake flour, -1 TB
3 1/2 TB corn starch
5 1/2 TB unsalted butter
9 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 1/4 C sugar, -1 TB
1 TB honey
1 TB vanilla
1 drop lemon oil
2 drops orange oil
5 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Sift together flour and starch. Melt butter and set aside to cool to room temperature. Divide sugar in half. Beat egg yolks until pale and fluffy, adding one half of the sugar sugar a bit at a time. Beat in vanilla, orange oil, lemon oil, and honey. Clean beaters. Beat egg whites to a soft peak. Gradually add the remaining half of the sugar and beat until peaks are firm and shiny.

Fold the dry ingredients and 1/4 the beaten whites into the yolk mixture. Stir a few teaspoons of this mixture into the cooled melted butter, stirring to incorporate the butter as much as possible. Add the butter and remaining whites to the yolks. Quickly and gently fold everything together.

Pour batter into a buttered 8 3/4" cake pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Set cake aside to cool.

soaking syrup
6 oz water
2 drops lemon oil
2 drops orange oil
1 tsp honey
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all together. Heat briefly to ensure complete mixing. Set aside to cool.

honey and vanilla whipped creams
3 C heavy whipping cream4.5 tsp vanilla
1 TB honey
approximately 3/4 C powdered sugar

Beat whipping cream to soft peaks. Beat in 3 tsp. vanilla. Take 2 C of whipped cream and put in another bowl. Add app. 1/2 C powdered sugar and additional 1 tsp vanilla to larger bowl of whipped cream. Beat to firm peaks.

To 2 C of whipped cream, add 1 TB honey, 1/2 tsp vanilla, and app. 1/4 C powdered sugar. Beat until firm.

to finish:

Slice cake into 3 rounds. Soak each round with syrup before layering with whipped cream. On the bottom layer, spread vanilla whipped cream. In the middle, use the honey whipped cream. Finish the top with vanilla whipped cream.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


I tried madeleines for the first time at a local store about a month ago. We went back to buy more two weeks ago but couldn't find any. When we inquired about them, an employee told us they were seasonal. I'm hard pressed to understand how a cookie is seasonal, but this gave me a good excuse to go buy madeleine pans.

traditional madeleines (Baking, Dorie Greenspan)

2/3 C flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 C sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Rub lemon zest into sugar until sugar is fragrant. Add eggs and mix 2-3 minutes on medium, until pale, thick, and light. Beat in vanilla. Gently fold in dry ingredients with spatula. Fold in melted butter. Press plastic wrap against surface of batter. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Butter and flour 12 full-size madeleine molds, tapping out extra flour. Fill with batter. Bake 11-13 min. at 400 F.

classic brownies

One of B's bosses had a barbecue last night, so I made these brownies to bring. Fortunately, like most brownies, they were very forgiving. Somehow, I combined the butter, sugar, chocolate, and pecans but neglected to add the flour. (I really don't know what my deal is lately. I also almost wrecked the car yesterday--while B was driving.) I baked them fifteen minutes this way, realized what I'd done, and scraped them back out of the pan. I mixed them with the flour, baking powder, and salt and put them back in the oven, and they turned out just fine. Better than fine, actually. These are great brownies.

Classic Brownies (The New Best Recipe, Cook's Illustrated)

1 C pecans, chopped medium
1.25 C plain cake flour
.5 tsp salt
.75 tsp baking powder
6 oz unsweetened chocolated, chopped fine
12 TB unsalted butter, cut into six pieces
2.25 C sugar
4 large eggs
1 TB vanilla

Toast nuts on a baking sheet 5-8 minutes at 325 F. Melt chocolate and butter over a double boiler. Do not allow butter to separate. When melted, remove from heat and stir in sugar. Mix together flour, salt, and baking powder.

Spray 9 x 13" pan with vegetable oil and line with foil. (The CI folks claim this is to make the brownies easier to remove. It sort of seems like a waste of time to me.) Pour brownie batter into pan. Sprinkle nuts on top. (This is to prevent them from being steamed during baking.) Bake 30-35 minutes at 325.