hot chocolate mix

hot chocolate mix 2

I’m not usually much of a Christmas baker, but I got this grand idea last month that I should send my in-laws packages of cookies for Christmas. I sort of had a bad feeling about it, like it was probably going to end up stressing me out, but once I get a hold of an idea that sounds fun, I have a hard time letting go. And so it was that a week and a half before Thanksgiving, I was mixing, forming, and freezing dough for Christmas cookies.

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I didn’t have much of a plan from the beginning. I love this bourbon pound cake recipe and thought it would ship well. I knew I wanted something fruity and something chocolately. Hazelnut dried cherry biscotti covered the fruit requirement, but the decorated sugar cookies I couldn’t resist adding wouldn’t help with the chocolate. And then I remembered this hot chocolate mix recipe, which I first made several years ago.

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It’s the perfect thing to ship off to northeastern Ohio in December, sure to be appreciated through the upcoming snowy months. There’s no worry about breaking in transit, a relief after individually wrapping 28 treat bags containing sugar cookies in bubble wrap. And it’s easy, a relief after spending the greater part of a weekend decorating elaborate sugar cookies (that had better not break in transit). I think it’s safe to say that my cookie packages were a great success – assuming those 28 bubble-wrapped sugar cookies arrive safely, at least.

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One year ago: Mushroom Farro Soup
Two years ago: Gingerbread Cake
Three years ago: Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream
Four years ago: Candied Orange Peel

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Hot Chocolate Mix

Makes about 36 servings

To make vanilla sugar, mix a vanilla bean into the sugar and let it set for a few days.

I used 2 cups of sugar, but the mix was two sweet for me, so I’ve reduced it in the recipe.  It might depend on how sweet your chocolate is too; mine was 72% cocao.

The amount of espresso powder you add might depend on who you plan to serve the hot chocolate to: more adds complexity and cuts the sweetness, but less is more appropriate for kids.

20 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) vanilla sugar
2¼ cups unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1-3 teaspoons instant espresso powder

Grind chocolate in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the remaining ingredients and process until mixed. Transfer to an airtight container. To serve, mix 3-4 tablespoons into 8 ounces of hot milk.

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raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes

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I did a lot of things I’m proud of this weekend. I didn’t have to work Friday, so I kicked off the three-day weekend with the second-longest run I’ve ever done, and the longest run that wasn’t part of a big race. Then I made Dave give me hourly high-fives for the rest of the day.

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The next day, I had my first-ever paid baking order. A coworker hired me to make a dozen each of two different types of cupcakes for her daughter’s wedding. Two dozen isn’t a lot of cupcakes, but I wanted to get them just right, with great taste and beautiful garnishes.

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Less than an hour after I dropped those off, we had a bunch of people over to watch football – the first time Dave and I have entertained more than a couple friends at a time since we’ve been married. By keeping things casual (or at least, my version of casual), enlisting a lot of help from Dave, and being creative with what I already had around, I managed to entertain the way I like to – with a lot of food, of course – but without a lot of stress.

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One of the ways I made the most of what I had available was to make extras of these cupcakes. The wedding’s colors were black, ivory, and red, so the bride chose these raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes drizzled with chocolate and topped with raspberry truffles, as well as chocolate cupcakes with champagne frosting topped with chocolate-covered strawberries. While I was at it, I went ahead and made extra chocolate-covered strawberries and raspberry truffles for my friends too.

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Both sets of cupcakes turned out every bit as good as I’d hoped, and that never happens! The swirls on the cheesecake were pretty and not sloppy, the drizzle didn’t cover up as much as the swirls as I was worried about, the fresh raspberries fit nicely onto the tops. The chocolate cupcakes rose into a perfect mound, and the swirls of frosting didn’t look too amateurish. My first time making chocolate-covered strawberries went just fine, even the stressful part that involved melting white chocolate. I dropped the cupcakes off and then entertained guests all evening, only spitting half-chewed chips on someone once! This is about as successful as my life gets.

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One year ago: Croissants (Tartine Bread)
Two years ago: Coffee Break Muffins
Three years ago: Green Chile Huevos Rancheros
Four years ago: Pan-Seared Steak with Red Wine Pan Sauce

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Raspberry-Swirled Cheesecake Cupcakes (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 32 cupcakes

The truffles and drizzle make for a nice presentation, but the swirled cupcakes are plenty tasty and pretty on their own.
For the crust:
1½ cups (about 8 full crackers) graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar

For the raspberry swirl:
6 ounces (¾ cup) frozen or fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the filling:
4 (8-ounce) cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line 32 muffin wells with paper liners.

2. For the crust: In a food processor, process the graham crackers and sugar until evenly ground. Add the butter and pulse to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Press 1 tablespoon of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of each liner. Bake until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, maintaining the oven temperature.

3. For the raspberry swirl: Combine the raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth, then pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. (Or press the raspberries through a food mill, stirring the cornstarch and sugar into the puree.)

4. For the filling: Beat the cream cheese on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and salt, then the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

5. To assemble, spoon 3 tablespoons of the cheesecake batter over the crust in each cupcake liner. Dot ½ teaspoon of the raspberry puree in a few dots over the cheesecake filling. Use a toothpick or a wooden skewer to lightly swirl the puree.

6. Bake until the filling is set, about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Raspberry Truffles (seen on Annie’s Eats, but I didn’t use the same recipe)

6 ounces fresh raspberries
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2½ tablespoons heavy cream

1. Gently wash and dry the raspberries.

2. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

3. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until it’s thick enough to hold a shape, about 45 minutes, then, using a pastry bag with a small opening, pipe into the stemmed opening on the raspberries.

Chocolate Drizzle (adapted from Tartine’s Chocolate Friands)

I didn’t make this separately, I just stirred in more cream to the ganache leftover from the raspberry truffles. I’m offering it here separately as a good chocolate drizzle recipe.

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup heavy cream

In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

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For the chocolate cupcakes, I used this recipe for the cupcake portion; this champagne buttercream for the frosting; and this method for the chocolate-covered strawberries.

chocolate chip cookie comparison 2

chocolate chip comparison 2
The Chewy

I’ve done all these comparisons and experiments with chocolate chip cookies, and yet, I don’t make any of those recipes. Usually, I make chocolate chip cookies to please myself, because I think it’s fun, so I’m more concerned with which recipe I most enjoy baking instead of which recipe has the best result. But maybe this isn’t so bad – maybe my hacked combination of recipes could stand up to the originals.

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The Chewy dough

It was time to find out. For a comparison of the best of the best, I chose Alton Brown’s The Chewy recipe, winner of my last comparison; Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie, a true standout; Kelsey’s Best Ever Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Anna Olson’s original recipe), which are the most popular post on her blog; and the one I always make when I’m too lazy to follow an actual recipe.

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The Chewy

What sets Alton’s recipe apart is the use of bread flour instead of regular and the replacement of an egg white with milk. Cook’s Illustrated Perfect recipe is designed to mimic the effects of the overnight rest of the dough recommended by the New York Times, which it does using melted browned butter. Compared to the traditional Tollhouse recipe, Kelsey’s recipe uses a higher ratio of flour (plus a bit of cornstarch). My recipe has some similar traits to those above, like bread flour instead all-purpose and an overnight chill to enhance the butterscotch flavor.

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my recipe dough

Between the four tasters I had, there was no unanimous favorite. Dave’s favorite was CI’s Perfect cookies. My sister and her husband both chose Alton Brown’s The Chewy as their favorite; it was chewier, but, to Dave, it was too greasy. Kelsey’s recipe was drier than the others; compared to the ultra-rich versions it was being compared to, it had less flavor. My hacked together recipe was the most traditional, crispy around the edges and gooey in the middle.

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Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect

As for me, I’ll certainly keep making the version I have been, now that I know that it can hold its own with the big dogs. I love it because I don’t have to look at a recipe and the dough is perfect for snacking. The Chewy tends to come out a little too flat, and I don’t like the dough for CI’s Perfect (which makes it the recipe of choice when self-control is necessary!), plus it simply isn’t as fun to make cookies with a whisk as it is with a mixer. Slight differences aside, these were all standout recipes, but I appreciate the validation to keep being lazy with my hacked together version.

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left to right: The Chewy, my recipe, Kelsey’s Best-Ever, Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect

One year ago: Kofta
Two years ago: Grilled Corn Salad
Three years ago: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies
Four years ago: Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

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Accidental Variation of The Chewy (adapted from Alton Brown)

As I was writing up this recipe, I realized I did not actually make The Chewy, which I now see is supposed to use melted butter. I used room temperature solid butter. The recipe below is what I did. This means that the only difference between my recipe and The Chewy is a lower ratio of brown sugar to white and the use of an egg white instead of milk.

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2¼ cups (11.25 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup granulated sugar
1¼ cups brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

2. Add the butter to the mixer’s work bowl with the sugars. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk, and vanilla extract, and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are browned around the edges and do not look wet on top, 8-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Cook’s Illustrated May/June 2009)

I baked smaller cookies – tablespoon-sized dollops of dough – for about 9 minutes at 375 degrees.

1¾ cups (8¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1¾ sticks) unsalted butter
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
¾ cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whish for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

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Best-Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies (rewritten but not changed from Kelsey’s Apple a Day, who adapted it from Anna Olson)

2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) brown sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking soda.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a stand mixer), beat the butter, salt, and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the egg, beating until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are slightly browned around the edges, 8-10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from nearly every single chocolate chip cookie recipe I’ve ever read)

I haven’t found a dependable measurement for the weight of 1 cup of bread flour.  I used to assume 5 ounces for 1 cup of bread flour, but I think this is on the high side, so I’m changing the volume measurement in this recipe from 2¼ cups to 2⅓ cups.  Unfortunately,  it could be as high as 2½ cups, depending on how you measure your flour.  If you can, definitely measure by weight and not volume (food scales are cheap!)!

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (7 ounces) brown sugar
½ cup (3.5 ounces) white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2¼ cups (11.25 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking soda.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a stand mixer), beat the butter, salt, and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are browned around the edges and do not look wet on top, 8-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

chocolate oreo blackberry cake

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I know there are bakers out there who are sad when their birthday rolls around and none of their friends offer to bake them a cake, because their friends are all used to the baker making the cakes. Or maybe their friends don’t feel like their cake could ever live up to one of the baker’s cakes. But even if the baker is the one known for their delicious and beautiful birthday cakes, a birthday cake is more than dessert, it’s a gift, so I understand why people are disappointed when no one makes them one.

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But I am not one of those bakers. Without family or a large group of friends nearby, my opportunities to make dramatic layer cakes are few and far between. My birthday is one of those rare chances, and I soak it up for all its worth. For me, letting me bake my own cake is the gift.

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This year, I did have someone to share that cake with, when my family celebrated my birthday on vacation last week on the beach in Mexico. Vacation baking holds its own challenges, but I can adapt. I did as much as possible at home – mixing up the dry ingredients, measuring and crushing the oreos, and making and freezing the buttercream. The cake itself is an easy one to mix up, no mixer required, but the swiss meringue buttercream needed to be re-whipped after defrosting to restore its smooth and airy texture. My original intention was to smooth the buttercream over the top and sides of the cake and coat the cake with a glossy and dramatic chocolate glaze, but with the scalloped edges of the disposable pans I baked the cakes in, that seemed like a messy prospect. Fortunately, I love the look of an open-sided cake like this.

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With eight people to share it with, this cake went fast! It probably doesn’t hurt that chocolate and berries are such a great flavor combination, not to mention that everyone loves moist cake and fluffy frosting. And the best part is that, since my family celebrated early and this cake was gone by my actual birthday, I get to make another cake just for me!

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One year ago: Pesto
Two years ago: Banana Peanut Butter Muffins
Three years ago: Lemon Meringue Cake
Four years ago: Black (and Pink) and White Chocolate Cake

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Chocolate Oreo Blackberry Cake (cake adapted from Dessert for Breakfast; buttercream adapted from Martha Stewart)

Makes one three-layer 8-inch cake

Note that the 8 ounces of blackberries is before straining. You should end up with about ¾ cup (which is 6 ounces both by weight and volume) of puree.

Cake:
2 cups (8 ounces) cake flour
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
1 cup (4 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, room temperature
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk, room temperature
1 cup hot coffee

Buttercream:
8 ounces (by weight; about 1¼ cups) blackberries, pureed and strained
3 egg whites
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
pinch salt
18 tablespoons (2¼ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For assembly:
18 Oreos, coarsely chopped or crumbled

1. For the cake: Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8-inch round pans.

2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking powder, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, oil, and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until evenly distributed. Pour in the coffee and mix until smooth.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let the cakes cool for 10 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the sides of the cakes from the pans, then invert the cakes onto the wire rack and remove the pans. Cool completely before frosting.

4. For the buttercream: Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the bowl from heat and attach it to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition. With the mixer on low, add the strained blackberry puree, mixing just until incorporated. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth before using.)

5. To assemble the cake: If necessary, trim the top of each layer to make a flat, even surface. Transfer one layer to a cake plate or large platter. Spread one-third of the buttercream over the cake, then distribute one-third of the crushed cookies evenly over the buttercream. Repeat the layering of cake, buttercream, and oreos twice more. Serve immediately or loosely cover for up to 8 hours.

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strawberry white chocolate brownies

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I know white chocolate isn’t as sexy as its darker sibling, but I think it has its own charm. It’s not much beyond sweet and soft, which could be boring, but you can use those traits to the advantage of the treat you’re making with it. Mixed into a batter, it adds a little more interest than plain white sugar would, although I think you’d be hard-pressed to pick out the white chocolate flavor if you didn’t know it was there.

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That being said, while I expected these to turn out quite nice, they exceeded my expectations. I reduced the sugar from the original recipe, suspecting that the white chocolate would contribute plenty of sweetness, and that, combined with an extra dose of salt, resulted in the perfect balance. Bright, juicy strawberries added a welcome flavor and texture contrast. Forced to choose between these and my favorite dark chocolate brownies would be a tough call, but these tamer white chocolate brownies would stand a good chance.

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One year ago: Pizza Bianca with Goat Cheese and Greens
Two years ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Three years ago: Tribute to Katharine Hepburn Brownies
Four years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

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Strawberry White Chocolate Brownies (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Makes 16 squares

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅓ teaspoon salt
5 ounces white chocolate, chopped fine
5 tablespoons butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
4 ounces strawberries, hulled and quartered

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

2. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter; stir frequently until the mixture is melted and smooth, then remove from the heat. Whisk in the sugar (the mixture will appear curdled), then add vanilla and the eggs one at a time, whisking constantly.

3. Switch to a rubber spatula and add the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in the strawberries. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it into an even layer.

4. Bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; cool completely. Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into 2-inch squares. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

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tiramisu

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I got confused when my coworker told me, while studiously avoiding eye contact, that the only thing they needed to figure out for another coworker’s rehearsal dinner was the dessert. I started trying to evaluate our previous history of eye contact. Was the lack of eye contact normal between us, or was that a hint? I was willing to help her out, but I was going to feel awfully silly if I jumped in to bake for thirty people I’d never met if it wasn’t necessary.

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Well, I did volunteer, of course, because it was an opportunity to make desserts without eating them all myself! The dinner had an Italian theme, with big pans of lasagna, loaves of garlic bread, and pots of Italian wedding soup, so tiramisu was a natural choice. It didn’t hurt that I’d made this recipe once, years ago, and had wanted a reason to make it again ever since.

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It’s the perfect balance of sweet and bitter and tinged with alcohol. The ladyfingers soak up just enough of the coffee and rum to turn soft and cakey, but not enough to get mushy. The creamy mascarpone layer is like a rich custard filling between layers of cake. The cocoa and grated chocolate (optional, but I added it) provide a welcome hint of chocolate, but it doesn’t dominate.

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I made a double batch for the party (and was lucky enough to have a friend come over to dip and arrange nearly a hundred ladyfingers in the pan) and kept a tiny taster serving for myself. It was a smart move, because there wasn’t one bit leftover from the rehearsal dinner. Savoring my tiramisu at home that night, I didn’t regret volunteering to bake this dessert one bit.

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One year ago: Lemon Ricotta Strawberry Muffins
Two years ago: Slaw Tartare
Three years ago: Chocolate Amaretti Torte
Four years ago: Breakfast Strata with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Monterey Jack

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Tiramisù (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Cook’s Illustrated’s notes: Brandy and even whiskey can stand in for the dark rum. Cook’s Illustrated prefers a tiramisù with a pronounced rum flavor; for a less potent rum flavor, halve the amount of rum added to the coffee mixture in step 1. Do not allow the mascarpone to warm to room temperature before using it; it has a tendency to break if allowed to do so. Be certain to use hard, not soft ladyfingers.

2½ cups strong black coffee, room temperature
1½ tablespoons instant espresso powder
9 tablespoons dark rum
6 large egg yolks
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
1½ pounds mascarpone cheese
¾ cup heavy cream (cold)
14 ounces ladyfingers (42 to 60, depending on size)
3½ tablespoons cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed
¼ cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, grated (optional)

1. Stir coffee, espresso, and 5 tablespoons of the rum in a wide bowl or baking dish until the espresso dissolves; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the yolks at low speed until just combined. Add the sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1½ to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons rum and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds; scrape the bowl. Add the mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and set aside.

3. In the now-empty mixer bowl (there’s no need to clean the bowl), beat the cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1½ minutes. Increase the speed to high and continue to beat until the cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1½ minutes longer. Using a rubber spatula, fold one-third of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set the mascarpone mixture aside.

4. Working with one at a time, drop half of the ladyfingers into the coffee mixture, roll, remove, and transfer to 13 by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. (Do not submerge the ladyfingers in the coffee mixture; the entire process should take no longer than 2 to 3 seconds for each cookie.) Arrange the soaked cookies in a single layer in the baking dish, breaking or trimming the ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into the dish.

5. Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers; use a rubber spatula to spread the mixture to the sides and into the corners of the dish and smooth the surface. Place 2 tablespoons of the cocoa in a fine-mesh strainer and dust the cocoa over the mascarpone.

6. Repeat the dipping and arrangement of ladyfingers; spread the remaining mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers and dust with the remaining 1½ tablespoons cocoa. Wipe the edges of the dish with a dry paper towel. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours. Sprinkle with the grated chocolate, if using; cut into pieces and serve chilled.

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whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

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I was never a big fan of roast turkey, so when I was a kid, my favorite part of Thanksgiving was that it was the only time of year my mom bought white sandwich bread, because she liked it better for the stuffing. White bread! What a treat!  It’s been a slow adjustment, spanning close to ten years, but these days, largely due to Peter Reinhart’s trick and Tartine’s country bread, I actually prefer bread with a hearty portion of whole wheat flour. The flavor is deeper, more complex. I’m disappointed when a restaurant serves only pasty white bread.

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Cookies, in my experience, are a different matter. But my experience is only for substituting whole wheat flour in a recipe designed for white flour. Starting with a recipe designed for whole wheat flour is bound to give me better results. The only ingredient called for in this recipe that isn’t in the Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe, besides whole wheat flour of course, is baking powder, substituted for the baking soda in most chocolate chip cookie recipes. Other differences are more flour and sugar for the same amount of butter and eggs in the Tollhouse recipe and less chocolate.

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I was a little worried that the dough, my favorite part about baking chocolate chip cookies, wouldn’t be as tasty as dough made with white flour, but it definitely passed inspection. The cookies themselves were also irresistible. Obviously the whole wheat flour doesn’t make the cookies healthy – that isn’t the point. These cookies are just as loaded with butter and sugar as any other cookie, and the whole grains are just for flavor. For me, though, the flavor was perhaps a little stronger than I might prefer. Plus, the texture was more bread-like than tender. I still loved the cookies, but now I want to find a way to tone down the whole wheatiness and get the texture I want. Should I replace half of the flour in this recipe with white bread flour? Should I start with my favorite regular chocolate chip cookie recipe and substitute whole wheat flour for some of the white? I can’t wait to start experimenting.

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One year ago: Comparison of 3 Chocolate Mousse recipes
Two years ago: Brown Soda Bread
Three years ago: Deli-Style Rye Bread
Four years ago: Chocolate Cream Pie

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Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Kim Boyle’s Good to the Grain)

The original recipe is designed to start with cold butter, perhaps so the dough doesn’t get too warm and spread too much in the oven. However, because I have found that an overnight rest is good for both cookie dough and whole wheat doughs, I knew I would be chilling the dough before baking it and started with the softened butter that I’m used to. I also increased the chocolate and used chips instead of chopping my own.

3 cups whole wheat flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1½ teaspoons salt
1 cup (7 ounces) dark brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into ¼- and ½-inch pieces

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer, or a spoon or whatever), beat the butter and salt until creamy. Add the sugars and beat on medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs, one a time, mixing for one minute after each addition. Add the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour miture, mixing just until almost combined. Add the chocolate and pulse the mixer on low speed until the chips are dispersed and the flour is incorporated. Press a sheet of plastic wrap right against the dough; refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

3. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto the lined baking pan, spaced an inch or two apart. Bake the cookies for 7-10 minutes, until slightly browned around the edges and just set in the middle. Cool the cookies for at least 2 minutes on the sheet before transferring to a rack to finish cooling. (If they still seem fragile after 2 minutes of cooling, you can just leave them on the sheet to cool completely.)

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guinness chocolate cupcakes with irish cream buttercream

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Despite my penchant for baking, I’ve only very rarely baked by request. So when a coworker asked me to help plan for another coworker’s bridal shower, mentioning while studiously avoiding eye contact that one thing they needed someone to do was prepare dessert, I jumped at the excuse to bake, but then I got nervous.

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It’s one thing to bring extra crumbly rice krispy treats to set out in the office kitchen, where nearly anything sweet is appreciated during a long work day, but the standards are significantly higher for someone’s bridal shower. Complicating matters was the timing, because the party was scheduled for after work on a Thursday, so I would need to do everything during weekday evenings. (I know you can freeze cupcakes, but I haven’t tried it myself and wasn’t ready to experiment.)

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Neither the bride nor the host had any suggestions, so I decided that cocktail-inspired cupcakes would be fun for a bridal shower. I wanted a chocolate option and a fruit option and settled on Guinness cupcakes with whiskey ganache and Bailey’s buttercream (based on the controversially titled Irish Car Bomb drink, in which a shot of whiskey and Bailey’s is added to Guinness, and the whole mess has to be chugged before it curdles) and margarita cupcakes – lime cupcakes brushed with tequila and triple sec and topped with tequila lime swiss meringue buttercream.

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A couple days in advance, I mixed up the Bailey’s buttercream and attempted the whiskey ganache. Unfortunately, I learned that if the cream is too hot when you mix it with the finely chopped chocolate to make ganache, the mixture will curdle. I went home at lunch the next day to try to save my curdled ganache, but it remained curdled. (It’s in my freezer now. Does anyone have any suggestions on what I can do with broken ganache? Some sort of cake with chocolate and cream maybe?) Wednesday evening, I still needed to bake both batches of cupcakes, make the swiss meringue buttercream, remake the ganache, brush the margarita cupcakes with alcohol, fill the chocolate cupcakes, and frost both. Thursday I would go home at lunch and apply garnishes.

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One problem I consistently have with cupcakes is the wrappers pulling away from the cake, and I’ve finally figured out that this is a result of moisture building up, probably in large part from the frosting, while the cupcakes are stored tightly overnight. I only loosely covered these overnight, because loose wrappers would not do for the party, and only a few wrappers separated just slightly.

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Surprisingly, everything went off without a hitch, and I wasn’t even up all night on Wednesday. Even the hardest part of preparing cupcakes, getting them to your destination without mussing them, went smoothly. My first attempt at baking for an event was a definite success that gave me more confidence to do it again – which is good, because I had agreed to make dessert for the rehearsal dinner just a week later.

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One year ago: Baked Reuben Dip
Two years ago: Masa Pancakes with Chipotle Salsa and Poached Eggs
Three years ago: Spinach Bread
Four years ago: Almost No-Knead Bread

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Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Bailey’s Buttercream (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 24

For the cupcakes:
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
⅓ cup sour cream

For the filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (optional)

For the frosting:
4 cups (16 ounces) confections sugar
8 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 to 8 tablespoons Irish cream (or milk or heavy cream)

1. Make the cupcakes: Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin wells with liners. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring 1 cup stout and 16 tablespoons of butter to a simmer. Add the cocoa powder; whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, and ¾ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the eggs and sour cream to blend. Add the stout mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add the flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined.

3. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners, filling them about ⅔ full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, rotating the pan once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, 18-22 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

4. Make the filling: Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until just simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if using) and stir until combined.

5. Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped, about an hour. Meanwhile, using a 1-inch round cookie cutter, an apple corer, or a paring knife, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes about ⅔ to the bottom. Fill the holes with the ganache, using either a piping bag or a spoon.

6. Make the frosting: With a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer), whip the butter very light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and gradually add the powdered sugar, then the Irish cream. Frost the cupcakes with the Bailey’s buttercream; serve.

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butterscotch peanut butter chocolate rice krispy treats

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I did something very, very stupid with this recipe. It calls for 1½ bags of butterscotch chips. The thing is, I don’t like butterscotch chips very much, so I didn’t want half a bag leftover that I would feel obligated to keep around indefinitely, where it would take up valuable cabinet space. I only bought one bag, deciding to wing it (always trouble) for the remainder.

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I started regretting this shortly after leaving the store. Because obviously I could have just dumped that half bag of chips into a batch of chocolate chip cookies and they would be hardly noticeable. Or, heaven forbid, I could just throw a handful of butterscotch chips away if I didn’t plan to use them.

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Instead of making an extra trip back to the store, I forged ahead. Things looked bad from the beginning when I measured out my single bag of butterscotch chips and it was even less than I was expecting. I still forged ahead, adding in a couple tablespoons of butter and another couple tablespoons of corn syrup to make up for the fat and sugar I was missing from the extra chips. I knew I was in bad shape when I poured in the entire box of cereal, and it filled my pot to the brim. I thought about shoveling some of the cereal out before mixing it into the melted butterscotch and peanut butter mixture but stubbornly forged ahead instead.

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No one is surprised that my rice krispy bars were a crumbly mess, are they? There simply wasn’t enough glue to hold together all that cereal. They tasted good, like that classic combination of peanut butter and chocolate, but, while I did manage to cut a few clean squares, they’re so delicate that they crumble as soon as they’re touched. Of course I ate them anyway, because they’re butterscotch peanut butter chocolate rice krispy bars. Crumbles aside, what’s not to love? But next time, I’ll follow the directions, half bag of extra chips be damned.

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One year ago: Strawberry Buttercream
Two years ago: Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Dates
Three years ago: Beer-Battered Fish
Four years ago: Julia Child’s French Bread

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Butterscotch Peanut Butter Chocolate Rice Krispy Treats (slightly adapted from Cara’s Cravings)

About 32 tall bar cookies

3 cups (1½ to 2 11-ounce bags) butterscotch chips
1½ cups (13½ ounces) creamy peanut butter
salt
1 (12-ounce) box crisp rice cereal
4 cups (2 12-ounce bags) semi-sweet chocolate chips
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup water

1. Spray a 9-by-13 inch pan with cooking spray.

2. In a large (at least 5-quart) pot over medium-low heat, melt the butterscotch chips with the peanut butter and ¼ teaspoon salt. When the mixture is smooth, which will take 8-10 minutes, add the cereal and stir to thoroughly coat the cereal with the peanut butter mixture.

3. Meanwhile, bring 1-inch of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Place the chocolate, water, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and butter in a heatproof bowl and set it over the simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the powdered sugar.

4. Transfer half of the cereal mixture to the prepared pan; use a rubber spatula or greased hands to pat the mixture into an even layer, pressing lightly to compact. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the cereal in the pan. Top with the remaining cereal mixture. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

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Normally I wouldn’t waste your time describing such a mistake, but this recipe was on my list of 2012 goals for February.

chocolate sugar cookies

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Once the holidays ended and we got into the slower part of the year, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my newfound free time. Get my garden up, which we can do early in the year where I live; fix up my house a bit; set up a recipe database; get better at Photoshop; relearn how to ride a bike; and, maybe, if there’s time after everything else, decorate sugar cookies more often.

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I haven’t decorated sugar cookies since I made these, for Valentine’s Day last year. I distinctly remember staying up long after my normal bed time, on a weeknight, using toothpicks to manipulate royal icing into hearts, then cleaning mixing bowls and squeeze bottles at midnight. I think I’m up until midnight every time I decorate sugar cookies.

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Rationally, I know that when I decorate sugar cookies with royal icing, I should think of it as a day-long project – and that’s assuming that I’ve already made the cookie dough, rolled it out, cut shapes, and baked the cookies. But every time I actually work with royal icing, I wait until the end of the day, because I can’t convince myself that a simple outline and filling of sugar cookies could really take several hours. And then it takes that long, every time.

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These hearts, although not any less time-consuming than regular royal icinged sugar cookies, are at least more foolproof. Instead of painstakingly (at least it’s painstaking for me) detailing on top of hardened icing, you use toothpicks to manipulate two liquid royal icing colors. All you have to do is drag a toothpick through a dot to turn it into a heart.

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The over-the-topness of tiny hearts set into pink, red, and white icing on top of heart-shaped cookies should not detract from the chocolate cookie itself, which is soft, meltingly tender, and most importantly, intensely chocolately. It was almost worth the loss of several hours of sleep. Still, I’m not sure how often I see myself doing this, no matter how much free time I have.

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One year ago: Fettuccine Alfredo
Two years ago: Oatmeal Pancakes
Three years ago: Crispy Bagel Roll
Four years ago: Olive Oil Bread

I’m not qualified to give a royal icing tutorial. I used Karen’s tutorial for these hearts, and Annie later did one as well.

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Chocolate Sugar Cookies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

I reduced the flour slightly from Deb’s original recipe; this increases the chocolate flavor, although it has the potential to lead to more spreading in the oven. But as you can see, the scalloped hearts retained their decorative edge after baking. Still, if you’re working with a delicate shape, freeze the dough until firm after cutting shapes, then bake the cookies directly from the freezer.

2¾ cups (13.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted to remove lumps
½ teaspoon baking powder
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, and baking powder; set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter and salt until creamy, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar; beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing to incorporate each one before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined, with no dry pockets of flour. Shape the dough into a 1-inch thick disk; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

2. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

3. Lightly flour a large sheet of wax (or parchment) paper. Transfer the chilled dough to the paper and top with a second sheet of wax paper. Roll the dough into ⅛-inch thickness, flouring as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the paper. Use floured cookie cutters to cut shapes; transfer the shapes to the prepared pan. Re-roll and cut shapes from the scraps, using as little flour as possible.

4. Bake the cookies until the tops look dry but are still slightly soft, about 8 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

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