Saturday, March 25, 2017

Salted Caramel Swirl Brownies topped with Nutella and Toffee Bits

Salted Caramel Swirl Brownies - made March 11, 2017, adapted from The Merchant Baker
Do you see the salted caramel swirling through these dark chocolate brownies? Ribbons of rich caramel peeking through the fudgy goodness? Yeah, me neither.

The original recipe called for using dulce de leche but I was out of dulce de leche and only had a jar of salted caramel on hand. Past experience has taught me that if I just swirled the caramel in with the brownie batter, during baking, the caramel would sink to the bottom and I'd be left with struggling to cut clean pieces and picking the foil off the bottom of each piece because the caramel sank to the bottom and clung to the foil. I usually go around this difficulty by spreading half the batter, baking the bottom layer just long enough to firm up and be able to hold the caramel, pour the caramel layer over that partially baked bottom layer and top with the remaining batter before baking the whole thing.
It's a good plan in theory but my execution left something to be desired this time. Mainly because I didn't bake the bottom layer long enough to actually firm up enough to hold up the weight of the caramel. I didn't want to bake it for long because it would have to bake even further after I added the caramel and the top layer and I had visions of a dry bottom brownie. So, instead, my method made it worse because the batter warmed up enough to be even more liquid and the heavy caramel promptly sank to the bottom since the layer wasn't baked enough. I knew it too as I was spreading the caramel that I should let the bottom layer bake for longer but I have such an aversion to overbaked brownies that I was physically incapable of letting that bottom layer bake long enough before adding the caramel layer.
It would probably be hard to spot the caramel anyway since, thanks to the cocoa I used, the brownie came out really dark. But I won't be apologizing for that because I use Pernigotti cocoa and refuse to use any other cocoa. Not if I want dark, rich, chocolatey goodness in my brownies. And I do.
To cut some of the dark chocolate richness from the Pernigotti cocoa, I defaulted to the lazy baker's frosting, i.e. Nutella, which I spread on top of the slightly cooled but still hotter than warm brownie about 5 minutes after I took it out of the oven. When it had cooled to lukewarm, I sprinkled the top generously with toffee bits and mini chocolate chips for a prettier presentation and to add a little more sweetness and crunch to complement the dark rich fudginess of the brownie.
2/3 cup dutch process cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose or bread flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla
Salted caramel
Toffee bits
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8" square baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Whisk together cocoa, granulated sugar, confectioners' sugar, flour, baking powder and espresso powder in a large bowl.
  3. Add the eggs, oil, water and vanilla; mix until smooth and combined.
  4. Spread a little more than half of the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from oven and drop dollops of salted caramel over partially baked layer. Top with remaining batter and return to oven.
  6. Bake another 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool for 5-10 minutes before spreading with a layer of Nutella. Sprinkle with toffee bits. Let cool completely before cutting. For the cleanest cuts, refrigerate for a few hours before cutting with a sharp knife.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Baked Carbonara

Baked Carbonara - made January 30, 2017 from Off the Shelf by Donna Hay
One of my guilty pleasures is Spaghetti Carbonara. It's totally bad for you and horrific with calories so I don't eat it often. If I do, I double up on my workouts before and after. I'm not a bacon lover and, if confronted with a choice of breakfast meats, will go for sausage or ham before I'll eat bacon. But when it comes to carbonara, bacon is my protein of choice. Because all that heavy cream and pasta just cry out for crunchy bacon to go with them and really harden up your arteries in a team effort. In a for a penny, in for an extra couple of pounds.
As with almost all Donna Hay recipes, this is easy to make. Seriously easy. Traditional carbonara calls for mixing the egg and cream mixture then tossing it with hot pasta just drained from a pot of boiling water. It's the heat of the pasta that cooks the egg and thickens the mixture. A carbonara made well is worth every calorie as nothing beats that creamy sauce coating each strand of pasta. Your noodles need to be hot enough to cook the eggs in your liquid mixture just enough to thicken but not so hot that it literally cooks your eggs or you'll have bits of scrambled egg instead of a creamy sauce.
This version is baked so you don't have to worry about the temperature of your pasta. There will seem to be a lot of sauce but remember you're baking the pasta and it'll absorb a lot of the liquid. The risk with baking a carbonara sauce though is your sauce may get too hot and bake some of the egg into scrambled eggs. If you're worried, try baking at a slightly lower temperature like 325 degrees and covering with foil for the first 10-15 minutes. Leave uncovered for the last 15 minutes though to make sure the bacon stays crisp.
This is rich, no doubt about it, and consequently, is a "sometimes" meal. But it can't be beat for how easy it is to put together.
14 ounces pasta
1 pack of bacon
4 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Boil pasta until al dente. Drain.
  3. Fry bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels and chop into pieces.
  4. Whisk together eggs, cream, milk and Parmesan cheese.
  5. Place pasta in an 8-cup (4-pint) ovenproof dish and pour egg-milk-cream mixture over it. Top with bacon and mix with pasta. Bake for 30 minutes or until set.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Layered Chocolate Chip Cookies

Layered Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough February 28, 2017, adapted from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Of all the things I've made in my baking life, chocolate chip cookies have to rank as one of the top baked goods in terms of how many recipes I've tried for them, how often I've made them and how much I like eating them. I feel like I've tried every variation there is in terms of ratio to brown sugar vs granulated sugar, all-purpose flour vs cake flour vs bread flour or some combination of all three, chilling them, freezing them, chilling then freezing them, chocolate chips vs chunks, semisweet vs milk chocolate vs white chocolate and so on. It's hard to find a chocolate chip recipe whose actual recipe would surprise me.

Well, guess what? I found one. Layered chocolate chip cookies. Who knew they were a thing? That Skinny Chick Can Bake found it out from Martha Stewart and I found it out from her blog via pinterest. The ingredients themselves didn't surprise me. I always use dark brown sugar in my chocolate chip cookies to get more caramel flavor, even if the recipe calls for light brown sugar. In fact, I don't even buy light brown sugar anymore for baking. It's always the dark brown sugar. The ingredients also deviate from the norm in that it uses four egg yolks instead of 2 whole eggs. That means there's more fat in the dough which makes for a richer cookie. That's fine by me.

But it's how the cookies are made that's different from what I'm used to. You mix up the cookie dough as normal but stop before you add the chocolate chips. In fact, you don't add chips or chunks at all. Instead you use shards of chocolate. So you're going to need a block of chocolate for this recipe. I used Trader's Joe's Pound Plus Milk Chocolate. I didn't cut into chunks but instead angled my knife to cut long, thin shards of chocolate.
After you mix up the dough, you divide into three equal portions. You can weigh each portion to be exact but I just eyeballed it. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. After the dough is chilled, roll each piece into approximately same-size rectangles. You don't have to be perfect but some degree of uniformity is desirable since you're going to stack the portions on top of each other. Once I rolled out the first rectangle, I deviated from the recipe by spreading a thin layer of Nutella over it. The original version just called for spreading the chocolate shards between the dough rectangles but since we're talking about layers, I wanted a real layer in there and that layer would be Nutella. Layer the Nutella then sprinkle a layer of the chocolate shards over it. Cover with the second piece of dough, layer with Nutella and chocolate shards, cover with the third piece of dough.

I pinched the edges sealed and then used my rolling pin to flatten the whole thing slightly. If I had to do it differently, I wouldn't have rolled it out as thinly as I did since I like chubby cookies. These cookies do spread a bit so you don't want the three layers to be too thin. Then I used my round cookie cutter to cut out round cookies. This is why you have to cut the chocolate into shards because the cookie cutter will cut through them more easily than chunks.

As with anytime you cut out anything from dough, you'll always have "dough scraps". Don't bother trying to reroll them to cut out more cookies since the Nutella makes it all messy (in a good way). Instead, I gathered scraps together to form dough balls. These looked like more normal scoops of chocolate chip cookie dough instead of prissy rounds but both will have a place in your stomach, believe me.

When you bake them, the round-cut cookies will look demurely "perfect" with the Nutella and chocolate shards tucked inside. In hindsight, next time, I would press more chocolate shards on top of the cookies to indicate what they are inside. The cookies made from rolled dough scraps will likely not be that distinguishable from normally scooped out chocolate chip cookies but they will have nice swirls of Nutella in every bite, thanks to the layering. Cool, huh?

The best part is, regardless of how you put this together, the recipe for chocolate chip cookies itself is delicious. You know how jaded my taste buds are for something I've made so many times for so long but this is a terrific cookie recipe. Yes, the layering part takes a little more time and trouble than the average cookie recipe but layering in the Nutella and chocolate shards makes it worth it.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 ounces bittersweet or milk chocolate chocolate, chopped into shards
Nutella - as much or as little as you want, optional but recommended
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, dark brown sugar and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eqq yolks and vanilla; mix to combine.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, add flour mixture and mix until just combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  3. Divide dough into three equal portions. Wrap each portion in plastic wrap and flatten slightly. Chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Unwrap one portion of chilled dough and place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a rectangle less than an inch think. Spread a thin layer of Nutella. Sprinkle with half the chocolate shards.
  5. Roll out the second portion of dough to a similar size and use to top the Nutella-and-chocolate coated layer. Spread another layer of Nutella on top and sprinkle with remaining chocolate shards. Top with last portion of dough, rolled out to a similar size as the first two portions.
  6. Lightly dust the cookie dough with flour and gently roll out dough to a rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches thick. Using a 2-inch-round cookie cutter, cut out rounds of dough. Cover and chill several hours or overnight.
  7. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space dough rounds on baking sheets. Bake until cookies are set, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool for a few minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies - Levain Bakery copycat #4 from Parsley Sage Sweet

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies - Levain Bakery copycat #4, made dough on February 24, 2017, adapted from Parsley Sage Sweet
Baking time just after middles are barely cooked
My saga to find a decent copycat of Levain Bakery's chocolate chocolate chip cookie continues. Although I'm finding that I need to space out the experiments a bit more than when I tried out chocolate chip cookie copycats. Mostly because I can't handle too much of the richness of the chocolate. At least if the cookie is done right. I need a longer break between getting my chocolate quotient. Which is fine because it does make me appreciate each new attempt a little more.
Took out a little sooner than normal

The good news is, while this still doesn't quite make it, it's closer than the others I've tried so far. Partly because I'm learning what to adapt and adjust/look for in a copycat recipe, especially regarding baking times, and partly because I think this recipe is genuinely closer.

What I learned with the previous attempts is, to replicate the Levain cookie with any accuracy, you can't make smooth cookie dough balls and bake as is. You either need to glop the dough mounds by hand and leave the rough, jagged exterior to bake as is or, if you make dough balls, break them in half and smush the rounded sides together to form the middle and leave the "broken halves" to form the outside, also garnering a more craggy appearance. That will help the craggy edges bake a little more and crisp up while the rest of the inner cookie remains fudgy dense.
Baked a little longer, cooled to just past lukewarm

For this recipe, you really need to underbake to get the fudgy texture. I tried a couple of baking times and the one that was the best at room temperature is when I took out the cookies even though the middles were just slightly still "wet looking". Usually I pounce and take them out a bare few seconds after the middles are no longer raw or shiny looking in the middle. For best results, I took these out a bare few seconds right before it seemed like they were past that stage. I don't have time estimates on the "perfect" time to take them out since all ovens are different plus it depends on how big you make your cookie mounds. But be sure to use a light-colored, thick baking sheet (USA pans are my favorite) and line with parchment paper.
Baked a little less time, cooled for several hours
This didn't maintain the crisp-crunchy exterior of a true Levain cookie but it's the closest one so far in terms of the dense interior. I'm starting to think a key component of that "crust" is to bake at high heat just long enough to set the outside but short enough to keep the inside fudgy, similar to baking bread where you have a crusty outside and a mealy inside. I care more about the inside but will keep experimenting with the outside.
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups chocolate chips
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until well-blended and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. Beat in cocoa powder.
  2. Mix in flour, salt and baking powder until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in chocolate chips.
  3. Divide dough into 4-ounce portions, cover and chill for several hours or overnight. 
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough portions. Bake 16-20 minutes or until middles are no longer raw and edges are set. Remove from oven and let cookies cool completely on wire rack.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Brown Butter Toffee Cookies

Brown Butter Toffee Cookies - made dough February 21, 2017 from That Skinny Chick Can Bake

This was a more typical toffee cookie recipe that I had expected would turn out well. Or at least better than the Soft Toffee Cookies. And for the most part, it was fine. Brown sugar caramel overtones? Check. Not too sweet? Decent check. Plus you can't go wrong with browned butter. Ever.
However, I have to admit, this wasn't as good as the Toffee Crunch Cookies. This one was more like a typical chocolate chip cookie with toffee bits rather than an actual toffee cookie. It had a softer texture, not a crisp one. Surprisingly I liked the crisp texture from the Toffee Crunch Cookies because that suited the cooled, still-crunchy toffee bits when the cookies were at room temperature.

I made these smaller but they still spread to a uniform thinness that would actually be good as a sandwich cookie with nutella, caramel or cookie butter as a filling and sprinkled with more toffee bits on top of the filling before sandwiching with the second cookie. If you wanted to get a little fancy and surprise your eaters will both creamy and crunchy when they bite into the cookie.

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted and browned
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
8 1.4-ounce Heath bars, chopped into 1/4" chunks
  1. In a large bowl, mix together sugar, brown sugar and salt. Add vanilla. Mix in warm brown butter and mix until sugar starts to dissolve. Add eggs and mix until combined. Add flour and baking soda; stir until just combined. Fold in toffee chunks.
  2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours or up to overnight. 
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake until edges are golden in color and tops start to look set, about 10 minutes.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sour Cream Cake Doughnuts

Sour Cream Cake Doughnuts - made February 14, 2017, adapted from The Sweet and Simple Kitchen
I've always said I'm not a doughnut person. I have nothing against doughnuts but I don't love them enough to go to any extra effort to buy them and I don't really make them like I make brownies, cookies and cakes. I've even made pies more often than doughnuts and I rarely make pies. When Krispy Kreme first opened and doughnuts were such a huge thing, I got sucked in to try one just to see what the fuss was all about. It was good but I didn't see why people would line up for that or obsess about the "HOT" sign flashing. I mean, it was a doughnut.
Then, based on the recommendation of a coworker a few years ago, I tried Stan's Donuts. And, okay, wow, I could see why people liked doughnuts. I still wouldn't go out of my way for it (not really) but hey, it was a really good doughnut. Lately, as I took some time off between jobs, I'd taken to walking to my local library since I had the time and wanted the exercise. Stan's Donuts was across the street from my destination and I usually tacked on an additional walk to Target after the library so it didn't seem unreasonable to get a doughnut from Stan's in the midst of an 8-mile walk. Carbo-loading and all.
The original glazed doughnut, which Stan's loyal following lined up for and bought by the dozen(s) and inspired cult-like devotion (read their yelp reviews; they're hilarious), was as good as I remembered. Then, one day, I decided to try Stan's buttermilk doughnut. It's not as light as their yeasted original glazed and was more like a cake doughnut. But it was the best cake doughnut I'd ever had. Lightly glazed to add a bit of texture and sweetness, the doughnut itself wasn't very sweet. It wasn't bread-y or light-cake-y but had exactly the  right texture. My "I'm not that into doughnuts" mantra fell like a thud.
I started walking to the library and Target on the flimsiest of excuses just so I could buy a buttermilk doughnut from Stan's. Needless to say, I ate back every calorie I walked off. But it was worth it. So, of course, thinking I had awakened a hitherto latent love of doughnuts in my inner being, I decided to try out this recipe for Sour Cream Cake Doughnuts. I didn't expect it to be as good as Stan's (nothing ever is) but I could try, right?
Doughnuts are actually not that hard to make. They just take a little more time because you need to chill the dough, a bit more mess due to flouring and rolling out the dough, cutting out the doughnut shapes and you need to turn a blind eye to all the oil you'll be deep frying the doughnuts in. Stan's fries their doughnuts behind the counter for everyone to see so there would be no experiments with baking doughnuts here.
The recipe said to add lemon zest but I wasn't looking for a lemon doughnut but a plain doughnut so I left off the zest. I dutifully chilled the dough, rolled it out, cut out the requisite shapes (it's all about having fun with making doughnut holes) and fried with abandon. These were actually pretty easy to make. No messing about with yeast or waiting for a rise.
I dunked them in glaze and took a bite out of still-warm doughnut. So....first I'll say these weren't bad. If you like doughnuts, these are fine. Second I'll say, I remembered I'm not a doughnut person. These just weren't as good as Stan's Donuts and not worth the deep-fried calories to me. These didn't have the moist, fluffy but not too fluffy, cakey but not too cakey, tender texture of Stan's buttermilk doughnut. They didn't have the flavor of a Stan's doughnut. Actually, they didn't have much flavor at all. The glaze helped and that was fine but I couldn't get into the doughnut.

I'm glad I tried the recipe, if only to amend my previous mantra to something more accurate. I'm not a doughnut person but I'm a Stan's Donut person.
Sour Cream Cake Donuts
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup sour cream

Canola oil for frying

Vanilla icing
2 cups powdered sugar
enough whole milk to make a thin glaze (several tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; make a well in the center and set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl using an electric mixer, cream together eggs, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest until pale and thick. Slowly add in the melted butter and beat until combined. Add half of the sour cream and beat to combine. Add the remaining sour cream and beat until smooth and just combined.
  3. Pour wet ingredients into the well of the dry ingredients and fold gently until just combined. Do not overmix.
  4. Spoon the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  5. After chilling dough, heat a heavy-bottomed pot of about 2 inches of oil over medium heat to 350 degrees.
  6. While your oil is heating up, lightly flour a cool work surface and turn out doughnut dough. Dust the top with flour and roll dough to about 1/2" thickness. Using a round cutter about 2 inches in diameter (or however large or small you want your doughnuts), cut out 12 doughnuts. Using a smaller round cutter, cut out the doughnut holes in the center of each doughnut. Roll any scraps and cut into doughnut holes; do not over-handle.
  7. Once oil is 350 degrees, gently place 2-3 doughnuts at a time into the oil to fry. Flip after several minutes or when doughnuts are golden brown on the bottom. Continue frying until both sides are uniformly golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove doughnuts from fryer and let excess oil drip back into pan. Place cooked doughnuts on plates lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
  8. Make glaze but whisking together glaze ingredients. Dip warm doughnuts into glaze, let set slightly and dip again if you want a thicker glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Below are pictures of the buttermilk doughnut from Stan's - my doughnut heaven.