It has been weeks since I have added anything to my blog. I continue to be recovering from my illness, and as I noted in my last post (I think), since I have been sick I have been repeatedly baking the same things or at least recipes that are very familiar. I have bags of my new favorite heath bar shortbread cookies in my freezer (the salty/sweet sable created by Dorie on her blog) and a fair number of Tish Boyle’s peanut bars…another favorite. I have been a part of two baking groups (TWD and Sweet Melissa Sundays) and have learned something about myself over the last few months. I have been fairly consistent about watching out for the recipe of the week on each baking site. I realized, however, that I find it difficult to take a recipe at face value. Several weeks ago, the Sweet Melissa’s recipe was carrot cake. Yum! I love carrot cake. However, I found it very difficult to just make the recipe that was in the book. Instead, I pulled out dozens of cookbooks, looked over the carrot cake recipes, compared them and then decided (ultimately) that I wanted to try the recipe in a different book. Since I was only going to be making one carrot cake (and likely not make another for months, I felt compelled to make the one that was going to be THE BEST). I felt guilty about this and then didn’t write up my experience.

So, when it was time to make this week’s TWD bundt cake, I felt worried I would never actually get to the point of making this cake, getting waylaid by other recipes. However, this recipe was unusual enough that I didn’t immediate see any points of comparison. I followed the recipe as laid out by Dorie, used almond meal rather than ground walnuts (I find them too bitter at times), and make the cake in two loaf pans rather than a bundt. It was….perfect. I loved the intensity of the mocha paired with the sweetness of the vanilla cake. It was really moist, not too dense, and perfect with coffee. Thank-you, Dorie, for another great recipe. I think I will be comparing other bundt cakes to this one in the future, which might get in the way of my straying too much from this recipe when other recipes are crying out to be tried.

I’m Back

March 10, 2010

It has been more than a month since I have posted anything on my blog. I have been baking very little, having been sick for the last 5 or 6 weeks. I can honestly say I have not in any way been myself and I hope I am on my way back. I have, on occasion, been following the recipes and posts of other TWD and SMS bakers and have enjoyed imagining what the baking has been like. I must also confess that the main thing I have been baking over the last 6 weeks has been Dorie’s Sable variation that she wrote about in her blog after having visited Bretagne, I believe. Made with salted butter, cut up heath bars. and rolled in sugar, they have been one of the foods I have craved most during my convalescence. I have dough in my refrigerator right now, ready to be sliced when I complete this entry. If you haven’t tried them….well, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Really perfection.

So, with those cookies serving as the backdrop for the last weeks, I can say I was slightly disappointed with my performance with the thumbprints that were today’s TWD recipe. I had been thinking for some time how I wanted to make these. I finally settled on making them in mini-muffin pans to avoid spreading. I also wanted the jam to be well cooked, so I filled the cookies prior to baking rather than after. I think the mini-muffin thing would have been a great idea if I had buttered the pan. Since my pans are non-stick, I didn’t think it was needed, and I was wrong. I also thought the cookies were too nutty for my taste. I do think that using almond meal, rather than ground hazelnuts might have been better. Anyway, a reasonable first effort after many weeks and I look forward to more baking in the future. As LW says, “Bake on.”

All’s Well That Ends Well

January 24, 2010

I began this last week feeling an incredible amount of pressure as the host of this week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays baking. I am a member of two on-line baking groups: Tuesdays With Dorie (I may have a chance to choose a recipe and host the weekly baking in 2020 if I’m lucky) and Sweet Melissa Sundays.  While I often bake along with both groups, I lead an extremely busy life and to write about my baking experiences, get a picture of what I’ve completed, and visit the blogs of my fellow bakers is sometimes more than I can manage. Could I be a responsible host?

Knowing that I was “in charge” of the baking assignment this week and needed to be responsible meant I had to start the process way in advance.  I carefully surveyed the cookbook, consulted with my daughters and ultimately decided to choose Black Bottom Brownies. I have two favorite brownie recipes that I typically make during the holidays: Cappuccino Brownies (an old recipe from Gourmet that includes about a pound of bittersweet chocolate, produces rich brownies, cream cheese frosting and a chocolate ganache glaze) and the Cream Cheese brownie recipe from Stars Desserts. Both are amazing!!!! I was a bit reluctant to choose Melissa’s recipe, because I was worried that it couldn’t possibly compete with these two other favorites (more on that later). My older daughter, Cameron, was adamant that this was the recipe to choose and I agreed to go along with her suggestion.

So, the choice had been made and the week before “my Sunday” was coming up. I thought I would bake the brownies in advance so I could be a resource to other bakers during the week. Somehow the weekend came and went and I didn’t have the time to bake. I was absolutely determined that I was NOT going to be baking frantically on Sunday morning or somehow shirk my hosting responsibilities. I rarely bake during the week, but this week I had about 2 ½ hours free on Wednesday and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bake the Black Bottom Brownies. I was ecstatic.

I began by turning on the oven.  So far so good. It was really from that point on that the baking became a comedy of errors. First, I discovered that I needed unsweetened chocolate, not bittersweet (I had just purchased a large block of Scharffenberger Bittersweet for this recipe). I clearly did not have time to buy unsweetened, so I turned to my old friend, Bittersweet by Alice Medrich. She has gotten me through some tough times in my baking life. Broken ganache? Medrich has the solution. Need to substitute bittersweet chocolate for unsweetened in a recipe (absolutely!). Medrich could tell me how. So, I got the proportions of chocolate, butter, and sugar under control and learned that if I had used Melissa’s original recipe with unsweetened chocolate, I wouldn’t have had enough sugar. So, the chocolate fiasco was a blessing in disguise. Then, after putting the recipe together, I realized I would have to leave in about one hour to take my younger daughter to her unicycle class, but Melissa reports that baking time is 1 hour and 15 minutes. Yikes! I threw the brownies in the oven, kept my fingers crossed and hoped that my using a metal 9×13 inch pan would miraculously impact the baking time. After one hour, the brownies appeared lightly browned and firm and even if they were not done….I had to leave. I took them out of the oven and hoped that the brownies would be edible.

My fears were not realized. Even with the wrong chocolate and inadequate baking time, this recipe resulted in PERFECT BROWNIES! So, I had a few worries along the way…All’s well that ends well and this ended very well. While my iPhone photo (Sorry!!! I can’t seem to get the photo on this post. I will keep trying and add it ASAP) does not do my baking creation justice, these brownies are rich, fudgy, and the perfect combination of chocolate and cream cheese. While I cannot imagine cutting them into 12 squares (mine made more like 20), I will come back to this recipe again and again. Thanks, Melissa, for a new brownie recipe that easily stands up to some of my other favorites. Hmmm, maybe I need to have one now. Hope you enjoyed them too.

Black Bottom Brownies

From The Sweet Melissa Baking Book

(All substitutions are in italics and done according to Medrich’s instructions in Bittersweet)

For the Brownie Bottom

6 ounces best-quality unsweetened chocolate (I used 10 ounces of Scharffenberger bittersweet chocolate)

½ pound unsalted butter (I used 14 T. because of the chocolate substitution)

1 2/3 cups flour

½ t. baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

4 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks

2 cups sugar (I used 1 ½ cups plus 2 T. sugar)

1 T. pure vanilla extract

For the Cheesecake

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

1 ½ cups sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

6 large eggs

1 ½ t. pure vanilla extract

2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9×13 pan. Line the pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil (I used aluminum foil and then lightly buttered it, as well. I would not butter the pan as noted in the future. I found it difficult to get the chilled brownies out of the pan because the buttered pan stuck to the foil).

  1. In the top of a double boiler over simmering, not boiling water, melt the chocolate and the butter, stirring to combine. Set aside to cool to warm.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.
  4. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and combine with a whisk. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate/egg mixture and stir until just combined. Pour the brownie batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
  5. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese, sugar, and the salt until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs, 2 at a time, and mix well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the vanilla.
  6. Pour the cheesecake mixture over the brownie layer. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the cheesecake layer.
  7. Bake for about one hour and 15 minutes (I felt they were done after about one hour, but I used a metal pan) or until golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Cool completely ( I cooled them on the counter for several hours and then in the refrigerator overnight).
  8. May be served cold or at room temperature. Store the brownies in a single layer in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. For longer storage, freeze in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Don not uncover before defrosting.

It’s All About the Cookies!

December 22, 2009

Around Thanksgiving, when I saw that an upcoming TWD recipe would be pecan pie…I was thrilled. I  had thought that I would bake a pecan pie in November for our family celebration and would be ahead of the game when December 22nd rolled around. As it turned out, my family was adamant that I had to bake an apple pie and a pumpkin pie and I didn’t have the time or zip to add a third pie to the menu. So, that left me this week with the dilemma of baking a pie or not taking part in this week’s baking. Since I have felt as if I have been on the sidelines of TWD baking I really wanted to participate, but the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is really dedicated to…baking cookies. Up until today, I have made 23 kinds of cookies and I have several more to go before I pack them  up and give them to neighbors and friends as gifts on Christmas Eve. I didn’t see how a pecan pie was going to fit into my tight baking schedule. Then, I figured it out…Make the pie into cookies. One of my grandmother’s favorite cookies was a small pecan tart that she called “tea-time tassies.” I decided to take Dorie’s recipe and adapt it for Christmas cookie giving. I used a tassie dough from Tish Boyle’s cookie book (I wish I had used my grandmother’s cream cheese dough instead) and then made 1/3 of Dorie’s filling recipe for my tarts. The results were incredible. I loved the addition of coffee, cinnamon, and chocolate to the traditional cookie. With the small addition of the cream cheese dough, I think these will be part of my future Christmas cookie repertoire.

While I love experiencing aspects of life for the first time, I often find myself wanting to re-live joy-filled moments from the past. I will often seek out walks along the water to remind me of the joy I felt walking along the coast on the Isle of Skye and will re-tell the story of baby Isabel calling her sister “Do-Do” as a way to keep that moment close to my heart. I find that food will serve a similar purpose. I love cheese. While going to my favorite cheese store, I am searching not just for a good Cheddar or Beaufort, but an opportunity to reminisce about past trips to England or France.

This week, after making Dorie’s Sable, I found myself taking a wonderful trip down memory lane. Many years ago as I was discovering all things French, I happened upon a lovely little bakery in my town…Napoleon’s. This bakery had incredible croissants, shortbread (Sable), and Buche de Noel. I would go there as often as possible, and inevitably buy the sable, thick hunks of buttery shortbread enrobed in crunchy sugar. I have been on the hunt for a recipe that would bring me back to those days of eating Napoleon’s sables…days in graduate school, beginning to bake for myself, and dreams of future travels to France. This week, after making Dorie’s sables, I was able to finally connect with those memories. I LOVE these cookies. Whenever I want to remind myself of what it was like to be 25, I will bake a batch of Dorie’s cookies, smile about my life then, and smile more as I think of all I have now. Thank-you, Dorie!

Life Happens

December 6, 2009

I had the best intentions, I really did! Today, “fellow” SMS bakers are making an espresso cheesecake, something I had promised the group (and myself) that I would complete. As you look at this post,  you may notice that there are no blurry photos of cheesecake (at this point I am still doing my food photography with my iPhone). In fact, there is nothing on this post that would lead any reader to think that I had done any baking at all. Really…that is not the case. I found myself faced with a dilemma. As I told my family my baking plans for the week, my oldest daughter, Cameron, looked shocked and disappointed. She reminded me that this weekend was not only her first semi-formal dance, but the birthday of one of her best friends. She had promised Catie that I would bake her a chocolate birthday cake to have after the dance and she didn’t think that espresso chocolate cheesecake would fit the bill. It became clear to me what the priorities for the weekend would be…bringing my daughter to her dance (she’s on the far left), baking a cake for her dear friend, and letting my baking group know that I had not been able to take part in the assignment for today. Thanks for your understanding! I look forward to baking with SMS bakers in 2010. I am pleased to say, I will be hosting a recipe in January. Yahoo!! Stay tuned.

Cranberry-Apple Crisp, Oh My!

November 11, 2009

I have to say, I just love the crisps in Dorie’s book. I was quite pleased to see this recipe as this week’s selection for the TWD baking group. What could be a better autumn fall Sunday night dessert than apple crisp? I followed the recipe fairly closely, but made the following changes: First, I really didn’t envision coconut in the crisp, so increased the oatmeal by 1/2 cup and omitted coconut. Second, I used 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, rather than all white. Third, I mixed the topping in a mixer to maintain the integrity of the oats, rather than using a food processor and lose the great oatmeal texture. And the results were…stupendous! My family was in apple crisp heaven (and continues to be as we eat some of the leftovers for most meals of the day). Thanks, Dorie for a go-to crisp recipe that will be used time and time again.