Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TWD: Baking Chez Moi - Pink Grapefruit Tart

This week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe is Pink Grapefruit Tart.  This is a tasty recipe that has a LOT of steps.  I am not trying to dissuade you from wanting to make this recipe, I am just warning you that there are lots of steps that have hours of timing inbetween.  Figuring out how to actually plan for this tart was more than I could handle, so it wasn't actually chilled enough at dessert time and was eaten later.  No big deal, it just meant that the clever girl didn't get a piece at that time as she was already in bed.  However that worked out fine, as quite honestly I don't think she would have cared for this tart. Which is not to say that it isn't good, because it is.  But there is a bitter component that I am certain she would not like.  You'll understand as I go along...

Are you ready for the components of this tart?  Looks like there isn't much, doesn't it?  Ha.  First, there is the sweet tart dough.  Easy to mix together, and the it is refrigerated for at least 2 hours, then rolled out and placed into the pan, then chilled again for 30 minutes.  Bake for approximately 35 minutes and allow to totally cool.  That's step 1.  Other steps can be made simultaneously, as there are lots of different timing issues in this recipe.

Next:  Lemon Almond Cream.  This is essentially butter, brown sugar, almond flour, lemon zest and an egg, that get whirled together and the refrigerated for at least 1 hour.  I was excited for this element, as it gave me a chance to use the almond flour that I made by drying some pulp from making almond milk!  Almond milk is my new true love and I make it extremely often so we always have some available.  Thus I have lots of almond pulp left over for which I try to figure out uses.  Almond flour is one of my first!  The bonus is that this almond flour also contains a little vanilla and date, as that is how I make my almond milk.  Mmmm.  I digress...  Let's continue with the Pink Grapefruit Tart components as we are still just beginning...

The next item is grapefruit cremeux.  Here is where I learned a great lesson.  Well, maybe two lessons.  Fresh grapefruit juice is used in this mixture.  So of the 100's of giant Texas grapefruits I purchase and eat every year, there are always a handful that are not very sweet, they are a bit more bitter.  Of course the grapefruit I grabbed to juice for this recipe was one of those!  And of course, I did not taste the juice before using it, as that would have been the OBVIOUS thing to do.  I realized the problem when the cremeaux was almost finished and I noticed a tiny bit of grapefruit pulp sitting by, so I tasted it.  Ack!  I was horrified.  Doubly horrified as I knew that another ingredient for the cremeaux is Campari.  I didn't know anything about Campari before I bought it and then checked it out via my friend Google.  (Had I done that first I probably would not have purchased it, and used Grand Marnier instead or something).  About.com uses these terms to describe Campari:  "extremely unique flavor" of "very bitter orange", it "takes some getting used to" which "might take a few years".  Years?  Good grief.  So here I have a bitter liquor mixing with bitter grapefruit to make a tasty dessert?  Yikes.  I used  little less Campri and added 2 tablespoons of light brown sugar towards the end of making the cremeaux (when I realized my predicament) and hoped for the best.  Honestly, had i used a normal sweet grapefruit, it would have been MUCH better.  You live, you learn.  My lessons here?  Taste, taste, taste.  Oh, and don't work on desserts after drinking 3 glasses of wine.  Just saying.  Probably not my best choice...

Oh, in case you are wondering, the cremeaux has to chill for at least 6 hours.

Then there are the grapefruit supremes.  They are supposed to sit between thick layers of paper towels for 3-8 hours BEFORE you plan to eat the tart.

The lemon almond cream is spread in the tart shell and then baked, then it has to chill completely before the cremeaux is spread inside.  Then, guess what, the whole tart is refrigerated AGAIN after you place the supremes on top, for at least 2 hours.

You see the timing confusion here?  Easy steps, but lots of timing issues!

Taste:  The crust is kind of like a shortbread cookie, yum.  The lemon almond cream is good, though I probably could have used less lemon zest.  It called for the zest of one lemon, and since lemons differ in size I may have used too much.  Good though.  The cremeux definitely has a bitter tone, but isn't bad, especially when you get a piece of the supreme with your bite.  The burst of sweet juiciness of the supreme makes up for the bitter in the cremeux.  Oh, and I served it with lightly sweetened whipped cream.  Mmmm. 

Would I make this again?  I would love to taste it with a sweet grapefruit inside instead of the crummy bitter one I used.  But I don't think it is worth the extensive timing for this dessert.  It is beautiful and fairly tasty, but a ton of prep.  Maybe one of the other bakers figured out a better way to coordinate the timing of this one.  I should have planned this by figuring out what time I wanted to eat the tart and worked backwards from there to figure out the right timing, probably.  But that takes real forethought, which I rarely have on  good day it seems, and certainly don't have after 3 glasses of wine!

The recipe for the Pink Grapefruit Tart is on pages 139-141 of Baking Chez Moi

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Yummy Chocolate Chip Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

I regularly get a hankering for chocolate chips cookies.  Very very regularly.  This time my hankering took a different turn... I wanted oatmeal, too.  Weird, as I am often a chocolate chip cookie purist, but I had to go with the craving.  What else was I to do?  So I found a recipe that I thought might just  be what I "needed", and boy was I right!  Whooey, these are some delicious cookies!  I changed the recipe a bit by adding chopped toasted pecans to the batter (if I am going to get crazy with my cookies, I might as well go all the way)!  Holey moley, these are so good I wonder if I will still make my regular chocolate chip cookie recipe as often....?  We'll see!

Here is an awesome trick I tried with this recipe.....  FREEZE cookie balls, then just pop a few in the oven when you start eating dinner to have FRESH BAKED cookies whenever you want them!!!  Oh, heaven...   Why haven't I done this before???

Chocolate Chip Pecan Oatmeal Cookies
adapted a bit from King Arthur Flour
yield depends.... see below

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 TB vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats (quick cooking would work, too)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 3/4 teaspoon regular salt)
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 325F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the butter and sugars together until they are smooth.  Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Whisk the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add to the butter mixture and mix until everything is thoroughly incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.

Decide what size cookies you want.  I used my new 3/4 oz. cookie scoop (1 1/2 TB) and ended up with approximately 36 cookies.  If you use a muffin scoop (1/4 cup) you'll end up with about 20 cookies.  A tablespoon cookie scoop will give you around 50 cookies. 

Scoop the dough onto the parchment covered sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie.  Scoop as many as you want to bake right now onto that sheet.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the cookies are a light golden brown and slightly darker on the edges.  Remove from the oven and let them sit on the pan for around 5 minutes, until fully set.  Transfer to racks to cool.

Scoop the remaining batter onto another parchment covered sheet, as close together as you want.  This pan will go into the freezer so the spacing does not matter.  Freeze  until the cookie balls are solid, then remove the pan from the freezer and place all of the cookie balls into a freezer zip-lock bag.  Mark on the bag that you will want to bake these at 325F for around 14-16 minutes (a tad longer because they start from frozen).  When you are ready for more fresh cookies, place some cookie balls onto a parchment covered sheet and bake! 
Printable Recipe

These cookies are finger-licking good!  Yum.  Another benefit of having frozen cookie dough?  You have fewer actual cookies sitting around, so it is harder to act on impulse and eat a cookie.  You have to actually heat the oven and wait, instead of just popping your hand into the cookie jar.  That extra step is SUPER helpful to me and my complete lack of self control when it comes to chocolate chip cookies in the house!

I will be very sad when my freezer bag is empty.  Knowing that there are cookie balls in my freezer is very comforting to me.  All is right with the world.  It's a good thing the ingredients for this cookie are items I always have on hand!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

TWD: Baking with Julia - Creme Bruleed Chocolate Bundt

Our recipe for Tuesday's with Dorie this week is Creme Bruleed Chocolate Bundt cake.  Since it was chosen at a time that corresponds with Valentine's Day, I think many of us probably served it then.  I did, anyway!  We had some neighbor friends over for dinner, which is a good plan as this cake serves a lot and I certainly don't need to eat the entire thing!!

So let's think about this - it is a chocolate bundt cake that is filled with liqueur soaked raspberries and then topped with a light creme brulee custard and then caramelized.  Um, okay, sign me up!  Let's go over the individual elements:

The cake itself is a recipe I would make again even just on its own.  It is delicious.  Super moist and chocolatey.  And guess what, it involved lots of folding and I did a good job!  Maybe I am getting better at this folding business...  Hoping that is true, anyway!  So, chocolate bundt?  Yum.

The next element is the berries...  This is simply raspberries that are tossed with liqueur.  I used a raspberry brandy that we happened to have.  I think I would use less liqueur next time, as it was a bit strong for me.  Plus it ran out under the cake and then mixed a bit strangely with the custard that came next.  So, liqueur soaked raspberries?  Okay but needs a slight revision.

Finally, we get the creme brulee.  To be honest, I am not sure what makes this a creme brulee and not a creme anglaise.  Is there a difference, really?  This is a creme brulee that you can pour, which is unlike any creme brulee that I have ever had.  Which is not to say that this was bad in any way, but I had a different idea in my head as to what it was going to be like.  Unless maybe I screwed up somewhere and it really was supposed to be thicker?  But then you couldn't pour it over the top of the cake, so surely not.  Anyway, the "creme brulee" was delicious (as it always is, thick or thin!)

Overall?  Yum.  The adults all really liked the cake.  The kids did not, but I think that was because of the brandy in the raspberries.  This was not a difficult dessert to make,  it just took a little planning ahead to allow the creme brulee to refrigerate for a while.  It certainly has great visual appeal and looks like you did something tremendous, especially when you pull out a brulee torch! 

You can find the recipe on pages 280-281 of Baking with Julia, or you can find it here.  To see what some of the other bakers thought of this dessert, head to the Baking with Dorie blog and check out the LYL posts (leave your link). 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Healthy Valentine Treats

Are you having a Valentine's Day party this year?  Or attending one in which you are supposed to bring some sort of treat?  Here is a healthy idea for you!  Cupid's arrows made of watermelon and oranges!  This is super easy and (I think) will be a hit with people of all ages. 

Here's what you need:
heart cookie cutter
sharp knife

  • Slice the watermelon into slices that are approximately the same width as the depth of your heart cookie cutter.  Cut out a bunch of hearts.
  • Slice the ends off an orange.  Slice the orange into rings, about 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick.  You can't make them too thin or the toothpick won't hold.  Cut some of the rings into triangles for the point of the arrow and slice other rings into wide wedges for the back of the arrow.
  • Create!  Poke the orange rinds first to secure the orange pieces, then stick the other end of the toothpicks into the watermelon hearts.  Each heart gets 2 toothpicks.  
Done.  Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, as the clever girl would say!  Make up a pile of these treats and serve to anyone (except maybe tiny kiddos as toothpicks and toddlers are not a good combination)! 

I  made these for the clever girl's Valentine party at school tomorrow.  She says the will be a hit, so I wanted to share the idea in case you are searching for something fun and healthy, too!  Enjoy!

Animal Cookies

Aren't these just the cutest little cookies ever?  Homemade animal cookies, my friend.  Simple and DELICIOUS and without the random multi-syllable chemical ingredients and random preservatives that the store-bought ones have.  You don't actually NEED the special animal cookies cutters, but they are super awesome and, let's face it, ADORABLE.  If you want a set, you can find them here.  The awesome thing about these cutters is that they have a pop-up button.  You place the cutter on the dough and then press a little button that lowers a piece that presses the detail into the animal.  SOLD.  I have way way too many cookie cutters, but these are WORTH IT.  I wish I could find more like this!  Tip:  flour the heck out of these cutters before use!

Anyway, back to the actual cookies.  I have always loved animal crackers (as they were called when I was growing up).  They used to come in that little red box that looked like a circus car or something, remember?  Ahh, I am probably aging myself.  Anyway, when I received a set of the animal cookie cutters as a gift, I clearly needed to make my own batch of these little treats.

And, no surprise here, the homemade ones are WORLDS better than the ones from the store!  They aren't as break-your-tooth hard, and they have a delicious flavor.  Yum.  The recipe is from King Arthur Flour, and it calls for one of their specific extracts, Princess Cake and Cookie Flavor.  I do not have this so I substituted vanilla extract and lemon extract, on the advice of one of the people who reviewed the recipe on the KAF site.  I have no idea what the Princess flavor tastes like, but supposedly it is vanilla/lemon-ish.  Regardless, my substitution was delicious, so it worked for me! 

Animal Cookies
makes a ton (recipe says 80-90), I got way more than that!
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3 TB honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Princess Cake and Cookie Flavor, OR 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract + 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup oat flour, or finely ground rolled oats

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, honey, salt, baking soda and flavor/extracts until combined.  Add the flour and oat flour and mix to combine.  Divide the dough in half and make into flattened disks.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line several baking sheets with parchment.

Take one piece of dough out of the refrigerator, leaving the other in to stay cool.  Place it on a lightly floured surface and roll the dough 1/4 inch thick.  (Mine were probably thinner, thus my zillion cookies!)

Dip the animal cookie cutters in flour (very important!) then cut the dough and transfer to prepared baking sheets.  You can place these pretty close together, as they don't spread much at all.  Place the cookie sheet with the cut out cookies in the freezer for about 15 minutes.  This helps the cookies retain their shape and details.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until they are lightly browned around the edges.  Remove from the oven and let them cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, until they are set.  Transfer the cookies to a rack and allow to cool completely.  Repeat with the remaining dough.
Printable Recipe

These are delicious.  They are dangerously small, making it very easy to justify eating 4-5 in a sitting, or popping in a few every time you walk near the kitchen.  The clever boy LOVED them.  They will become a regular item in our house!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TWD: Baking Chez Moi - Marquise au Chocolat

It's Tuesday's with Dorie time again!  This week our recipe was from Baking Chez Moi, and we made Marquise au Chocolat.  That is fancy French for frozen chocolate mousse.  Sounds fancy, yes?  I served mine with vanilla creme anglaise (another recipe in the book) and some fresh raspberries.  The raspberries are actually crucial, in my opinion, as they add a nice tart zip to a sweet dessert.  Which is not to say that the dessert is too sweet.  No.  It is not.  It is absolutely delicious and divine.  But I do l like a little zip to cut the sweet sometimes, just me.

This recipe is really not difficult at all, and it even includes FOLDING ingredients (a word that makes me tremble with anxiety).  It simply involves melting a large quantity of bittersweet chocolate (my fave) with some butter (how could this possibly go wrong?).  In the mean time you whip some egg yolks with sugar and some fleur de sel or sea salt.  Fold the chocolate in to the yolks then whip up some lightly sweetened heavy cream and fold that into the mixture as well.  Pour it into a plastic wrap lined loaf pan, wrap it up and put it in the freezer.  You are done.  It needs to freeze for at least 6 hours, so it is best to think ahead a bit with this dessert.

Here is where some bakers got stumped, though.  If you look closely to my abbreviated instructions above, you will see that in no place do the egg yolks actually get COOKED.  Uh, huh.  You mean this includes RAW EGGS?  Yep, essentially that is the case.  There are things you can do to change this up, which some bakers in the group tried, but I didn't go there.  I just bought some pasteurized eggs and called it a day.  Those eggs are safe enough for me.  The percentage of eggs that contain salmonella is very small and since my eggs were pasteurized they were theoretically safe from being part of that small percentage anyway.  Plus, if you added up all of the raw cookie dough/cake batter/etc. that I have munched in my entire life, I have probably eaten about a zillion raw eggs already!  Maybe this was chance-y, but it is the route I took.  If you follow this blog, you might recall that while I was pregnant I made a tiramisu for a birthday celebration that included 2 other pregnant gals.  Tiramisu (at least my recipe) also involves uncooked egg yolks and I took the pasteurized route that time too.  You have to bake/cook in a manner that makes you comfortable, and this works for me!

Anyway, back to the dessert.  Since the mousse freezes overnight, you can also make a creme anglaise to go with it, which is refrigerated overnight.  Then the next day, at dessert time, you can just grab these two pre-made amazing items, plate them, and you are ready!  No sweat! You can see in the photo below that my plastic wrap had some wrinkles, which were sort of carved into the marquise, but I don't mind.  I am actually not sure how to line the pan without getting wrinkles?  Maybe one of the other bakers did a better job and will have some tips to share!

This dessert was made as part of my very dear friend H's birthday dinner.  Happy birthday, H!  Your friendship is an amazing blessing in my life.  What would I do without you?  It is just too dreadful to contemplate!

The recipe for Marquise au Chocolat can be found on pages 357-358 of Baking Chez Moi, and the creme anglaise can be found on page 441.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fingerprint Skyline - a school class art project!

The clever girl's school has a pancake breakfast each spring, which is the big fundraiser for the school.  Each classroom is responsible for making an art project to be part of a silent auction.  Somehow, the powers that be figured out that I am sort-of crafty, so I was asked to spearhead the art project for the clever girl's class.  I found an example of a fingerprint skyline on Pinterest and a video tutorial on Youtube, so I  thought I would try it out.

It takes a bit of prep work on the front end, but the kids had a blast doing their part.  I was in the classroom for maybe an hour and they were done.  It didn't interrupt their lessons very much and they really enjoyed creating art together.  In a time where so many schools cut art classes out of their curriculum because of crappy standardized testing (ooops, am I letting my true feelings show here?) and poor funding, I think it is important to introduce art whenever you can! 

If you want to make such a project with your child's class, here is what you will need:

  • A gallery wrapped canvas, 8x24-inches
  • fairly good sized jar of black acrylic paint 
  • small bottles of other random colors of acrylic paint for the dots
  • fine-point white paint pen
  • high gloss varnish (could also use a matte varnish if you like) 
  • paintbrush
  • masking tape
  • exacto knife or fine blade
  • sharp scissors
  • computer
I purchased the canvas, black acrylic paint (I used Liquitex brand), fine-point white paint pen, and the high-gloss varnish (also Liquitex brand) at Dick Blick online.  I already had many (many) bottles of colored acrylic paint but did purchase a few other colors and the paintbrush at Michael's craft store.   I already had the rest.

First, you need to paint your canvas black.  Use the paint sparingly, as you don't want to get the canvas too wet or it might warp a bit.  I did 2 coats of black paint.  Paint all the way around the back and over where the canvas is stapled on the back.  That way you don't have to worry about lines/edges from where the paint stops and the blank canvas starts.  Let this dry.

While it is drying, go to your computer, pull up Google and click on "images".  Type in your city and the word "skyline", i.e. "Houston skyline".  You will get several skylines to choose from, and you can narrow your selection by clicking on "drawing" so you get more of the skyline black and white drawings instead of photographs.  Find one that you like and then use some sort of software to expand it to approximately 6 1/2x24-inches.  Whatever dimension the height is when you get to 24 inches in length should work, as long as it isn't over 8 inches!  I used Microsoft Publisher but there are probably many things that would work.  Print out your skyline that is now the right size and cut it out. If your cutting lines are thick, cut on the inside part, closer to the building.  This will help give you more space for when you are doing the masking tape part.

Gently tape the paper skyline to your black canvas.  I used rolled up scotch tape in random places, not too many but enough to stay down.  Trace around your paper skyline with the white paint marker.

Ta-da!  I added the word "Houston" on top, to clarify what the heck this was, in case it wasn't obvious from looking at the skyline.  If your city has a more well known skyline, you probably don't need to add the city name.  However, if you want to add a name, here is what to do:
  • Use Microsoft Publisher (you could use whatever) to write the city name in a font you like.  I used Gill Sans Ultra Bold.  
  • Print it out in the size you want on a piece of paper.  
  • Now cut off a piece of masking tape that is longer than your word, and stick it onto a piece of waxed paper.  Put the waxed paper/masking tape over the top of your city word.  You should be able to see through the masking tape.  
  • Trace the word onto the  masking tape.  
  • Place the waxed paper on a piece of cardboard and carefully cut it out with your blade.  I did keep the dots in the center of the "o's", but for some reason did not place them on the canvas for the photo.  
  • Very carefully remove the masking tape from the waxed paper and place it on the canvas where you like. Use your fingernail to really stick down the tape around the letters.  
 Now you are ready to tape up your canvas.  You want to put tape right up to the the edges of the white paint, covering the entire sky with tape.  Make sure the white lines are in the building areas that will be finger-painted, so that the lines will be covered up. 

I somehow forgot to take a photo of the buildings before we finger-painted it, sorry.  But you get the idea - the tape goes in the sky so the buildings are painted.  This taping part takes a bit of patience, especially if you have tiny slivers of gaps between buildings.  Just do your best.

Now bring the project up to school.  Here is what I brought with me:
  • paper towels (mess!)
  • small paper plates
  • paintbrush 
  • cup for water
Squirt a medium sized blob of paint on a paper plate, one plate for each color.  I used the paintbrush only when I had to mix up a color, which happened with my blue.  My blue color was too dark and wasn't so visible, so I mixed in some white to make it brighter.  I had 3-4 kids come paint at a time, each using a different color.  Ask them to just use the tip of their finger, not the entire finger pad.  And then we just kept going until it got pretty full.  At first I told them each to do 20 dots, then they came again and did 10 or so more, and then the kids that really were getting a kick out of painting continued with different colors until it was more full.  I touched it up a little when I got home, filling in a few areas that I found where the black showed through in the buildings.

When you are sure it is totally dry, gently pull off all of the tape.  If there are building lines that look a little shaggy, carefully paint that area with black paint and a tiny paintbrush to smooth things out.  Don't do too much, as you don't want it to show.  Plus this was made by kids and it does not have to be PERFECT.  It will be awesome regardless.  Last, use your white paint pen to draw in any significant antenna or random things that are on the tops of the buildings.  If you scroll back up to the top, you'll see that one of my buildings had a big cross-type antenna on the top, which I drew with the paint pen.  The pointy building to the left of the cross had some small antenna that I added as well. 

Make sure to write the year and the teacher's name on the bottom edge of the painting.   I did it on the side that faces the floor, but you can do it anywhere.

When it is completed, bring it by your child's classroom so they can all see the end result.  The clever girl and her classmates were astounded by their creation and were super excited.  It was great fun!

Our silent auction was yesterday and there were lots of bids on this beautiful masterpiece!  It was a hit and brought in a great price for the school.  Yeah!

Now I just have to start brainstorming for next year....  The clever girl goes to a public Montessori school so she will be in this class for 3 years.  I'm now the room parent for this class so I'll be spearheading art projects for the next 2 years!  If you have any ideas, please share!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

TWD: Baking with Julia - Salsa Quitza

I'm back with this week's Tuesday with Dorie/Baking with Julia recipe:  Salsa Quitza!  Are you wondering what the heck a quitza might be?  It is sort of what you would get if you combine a quiche and a pizza, according to the book.  Hmmm.  I"ll try to go with you on that one....

This recipe was written for use in a bread machine, but I gave mine away a few years ago.  Luckily, some of the other members of this group made this in advance and posted on the TWD site what they did, which helped a lot.  Oh and get this....  at first one person made a post about how to make it without a bread machine and DORIE GREENSPAN HERSELF posted back her thoughts.  Hello!  How cool is that?  (Yes, I really am a food dork, I know.)

This is one weird recipe.  The dough is just weird - it contains the usual suspects, i.e. yeast, flour, salt, water, egg, yeah okay no surprises there, right?  Keep reading though and you'll see nonfat dry milk, chili powder and refried beans!  Yes, IN the dough.  Interesting, huh?  I think this makes this sort of bread VERY HEALTHY to eat because obviously it is now a source of protein, right?

Anyway, instead of using a bread machine I put everything into my mixer, mixed it together and let it rise until it was about double in volume, which took about 1 1/2 hours.  Then it goes into a pan, which is supposed to be a 12-inch springform but I don't have one that big so I used a 10-inch cake pan.  I trimmed off a little dough to make it fit the pan better since it was smaller and hoped for the best since it wasn't a springform.  On top of the dough, you spread soft cream cheese.  Then pour over some salsa (I used a peach cherry salsa that was a gift) and top with grated cheddar cheese.  Let it rise some more as the oven heats to 475 and it's ready to bake.  I used less salsa than was called for because the bakers that finished this in advance pretty unanimously determined that the requested amount was TOO much.

My verdict?  Well, it is different.  The clever girl liked it, which makes me think I should definitely make it again as dinnertime has become quite interesting with this child. But I am just not totally sold, I suppose.  There was too much cream cheese though, and I even reduced the amount, using 10oz instead of 12.  Maybe with different toppings in general...  Not sure.  

I can't wait to see what the other bakers thought!  You can find this recipe here, but it differs from the book in these two areas:  the book calls for 12 ounces cream cheese, not 8 (though I agree with the 8) and the book calls for 2 cups salsa, not 1 1/2 (though I used 1 cup and it seemed perfect).  So really, the recipe on that link is probably about right!  You can also find it in the book, Baking with Julia, on pages 440-441.  Check out this link to see what the other bakers thought of this recipe!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Brownie Test

We recently had a function at my church wherein I offered to contribute approximately 130 brownies.  Yeah, a ton, right?  But they were supposed to be bite sized, so it wasn't SO terrible of an undertaking.  This gave me the opportunity to (A) purchase a kit of numerous circle biscuit cutters (FUN!) and (B) put my super awesome brownie recipe to the test.  Ha! 

Here is the thing.  Lots of people think that some particular brownie recipe is THE BEST.  Right?  Well, I do too.  I think I have the best brownie recipe.  In fact, there are some random people in my neighborhood who know me as "the brownie lady" because ONE TIME, MANY YEARS AGO, I brought these brownies to a wine tasting event and was identified as the person who made the brownies.  When these random people see me in the neighborhood, they will mention those brownies and how they still remember them.  It is kind of bizarre, really.  But also, a testament to how incredible these brownies are, right?!? 

Recently, someone whose blog I follow (who will remain unidentified) mentioned a brownie recipe that she had found that was THE BEST.  Humph, I thought.  But I followed her link to another blog and checked out the recipe.  And I printed it out because then I was curious.  These were described as the perfect brownie, and the more I read, the more it piqued my interest. 

Since I had to make a truck-load of brownies for church, I decided that this was my opportunity to put the brownie recipes to the test.  We will call the blog recipe A, and my recipe B, okay?  There were a few big differences between the two recipes, the major one being in the chocolate itself.  My recipe (B) uses Dutch cocoa powder and chocolate chips.  The other recipe (A) used bittersweet chocolate melted with chocolate chips.  Note something here:  Both used chocolate chips, but in one recipe they are melted.  Another big difference is in the treatment of the butter.  In both recipes they are melted, but they are treated differently.  In my recipe (B), the butter is melted, then sugar is added, and the mixture is heated again.  In the other recipe (A), the butter is melted with the bittersweet chocolate and chocolate chips.  The only other difference that I think is significant is in salt.  Recipe B used more salt.

Here are the two pans before they went into the oven.  Recipe B is on the left, and A is on the right.  (Sorry everything is backwards here, with B always being first, but it relates to the brownies in the first picture for the taste test, K?)  Recipe A was written for an 8x8-inch pan and I did not want to double the recipe to make it a 9x11, for pure testing purposes.  Hence, one smaller pan.  Here is something brilliant about that Recipe A, however.  See that foil?  You lay foil into the pan and then spray it with cooking spray, then when you are ready to slice, you can just lift the foil out of the pan, straighten it out, and cut the brownies on a cutting board.  Nice.  And easy cleanup!  Love that.

Here they are freshly out of the oven.

To make this a fair test, I made it blind for my Mr. Clever Mom, because he has an obvious bias.  And I texted my neighbors to see if they wanted to partake in the test as well.  They came running!  I love those neighbors!  

So, scroll back up and look at the taste test photo.  The brownies are labeled accurately, so the blog recipe is A, on the left, and my recipe is B, on the right.

MY RECIPE WON HANDS DOWN.  It was unanimous!  Don't get me wrong, both brownies are yummy and delicious.  We are splitting hairs here, ok?  But here are the reasons I got:  My recipe (B) has more depth of flavor ("A is more one-note chocolate") and the whole chocolate chips that are in the recipe give you an extra chocolate-y burst when you bite in.  Also, my recipe has that nice crackle on the top, the layer that sort of shatters as you bite into it.  I believe that the differences I pointed out above are the reasons for the success of Recipe B.  Obviously, the whole chocolate chips.  I think the extra salt also brings out more flavor in the brownie.  Finally, by melting the sugar a little in the butter, you get the crackly top.  

It was a fun experiment!  This doesn't mean that I won't test other brownie recipes.  I may find more interesting recipes and give them a shot sometime.  But for now, my original recipe remains THE BOMB-DIGGITY BROWNIE.  Want to make it yourself?  Here's the recipe!  You might get a silly happy-bliss smile on your face after eating one of these brownies, just warning you.