bittersweet brownies

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There have been a lot of brownies around here lately, and there hasn’t been a one that I haven’t enjoyed. But I think I’m starting to feel like Dave – without having them side by side, it’s hard to pick favorites. When it comes to something that’s defined by being a square of buttery floury chocolate, it’s the nuances that set recipes apart.

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This recipe, like Dorie’s classic brownies and her ginger brownies, show her preference for a squat, dense bar cookie. These brownies don’t have a bit of cake fluffiness to them, but they aren’t greasy like some so-called fudgy brownies. They’re tender, almost as if a sablé could be a brownie.

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In short, I like them. Really, I like any brownie with good chocolate flavor, which these certainly have. I won’t complain about making three different brownie recipes that, to me, all seemed similar, because they were similarly good.

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Leslie chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I followed the mixing instructions exactly, but then decided to change things up and bake these in a mini muffin pan. I baked them at 325 degrees (the temperature called for in the original recipe) for about 12 minutes.

One year ago: Cranberry Apple Galette
Two years ago: Cran-Apple Crisps
Three years ago: Rice Pudding

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butternut squash pie

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The winter squashes are a multifaceted group. Pumpkin is obviously perfect with sweet flavors and can be used in custards, pies, cakes, quick breads, cookiesthe whole dessert (or breakfast!) spectrum. Pumpkin does take well to savory dishes, but it’s more common that you’ll see butternut squash used in dinner instead – despite their very similar flavor.

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Furthermore, pumpkin in desserts is nearly always pureed. Squash in dinner is often diced, sometimes pureed. This pie, with its diced butternut squash, did not follow the rules.

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My brain had some trouble deciding if this was dessert or dinner, is what I’m saying. The pears and raisins were obviously sweet, but the big chunks of squash had a strong earthy tone. I think with more sugar and smaller chunks of squash, they would blend into the other pie ingredients, and the whole thing would seem more dessert-like. It isn’t bad as it is, but, perhaps, a little confusing.

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Valerie chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. Instead of steaming the squash, I roasted all of the filling ingredients except the orange juice in the oven until the squash was softened, mostly because my oven was already on but also to potentially get some delicious caramelization.  Because roasting drove off some liquid, I didn’t feel I needed to add the breadcrumbs to the filling.

Two years ago: Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Three years ago: Gallitos (Costa Rican Breakfast Tacos)

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brown sugar honey madeleines

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My poor madeleine pan doesn’t get a lot of use. I love it; I got it for Christmas years ago, and seeing it in the cabinet has always made me happy. But I seldom bake with it.

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There’s no good reason for this, because I love madeleines. They’re miniature handheld cakes. The batter is easy to mix up. They look fancy with no extra effort on my part. There are endless variations to experiment with. I think I just convinced myself to like madeleines more than cupcakes.

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It’s possible that it’s just this recipe I love so much, with its brown sugar caramel notes. I wouldn’t know, since my only experience with traditional madeleines was years ago and a very qualified success at best. Clearly I need to try that recipe for madeleines again – and many more.

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Di chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. It’s originally designed for a mini madeleine pan, but considering how rarely I use my regular madeleine pan, I think a mini version is the last thing I need. I just added a couple minutes to the baking time recommended for minis. I had a difficult time prying the cakes out of the pan, even though it’s nonstick and I sprayed it with cooking spray. Next time I’ll give it a more thorough spritz of floury baking spray.

One year ago: Cranberry Shortbread Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake
Three years ago: Kugelhopf

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honey nut scones

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I made these for the first time almost three years ago, in the beginning of my scone phase, which has now become a scone way of life. While it is undeniably convenient to keep a stash of unbaked scones in the freezer that just need to be popped in the oven, my favorite part of scones is how easy they are to eat, not just to bake. A warm scone, a cup of coffee, and a food magazine make for a perfect weekend morning.

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I’m under no illusions that a smidgen of whole wheat flour in place of white makes these scones healthy; instead, the whole grains, plus the use of honey as the only sweetener, provides a wonderful earthiness to the scones, making them the ideal vehicle for jam or apple butter.  These are so good they might not even require a food magazine to make a perfect weekend morning – but the coffee is non-negotiable.

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Jeannette chose these scones for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted.  The only change I made was to double the salt, since I like my baked treats saltier than Dorie usually recommends.

Two years ago: Sandwich Rolls
Three years ago: Phyllo Triangles with crawfish and mushroom fillings

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far breton

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This doesn’t seem to be a very popular opinion, but I love custards. Far Breton isn’t the most custardy custard I’ve ever eaten, but it’s certainly on the eggy side of the cake spectrum. I was looking forward to a light, lightly sweetened and beautifully browned cake.

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I wasn’t so sure about the dried fruit, but I thought using small fruits like a mix of raisins, cherries, and cranberries would meld better with the batter than large prunes, and softening them in brandy couldn’t hurt. Unfortunately my math skills failed me and I messed up the proportions of the batter, using one-third of the total amount of egg and milk, and one-half of the full recipe worth of sugar, flour, and butter.

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Dave and I both enjoyed the cake, even with the mixed up ratios of ingredients in the batter. I still think the dried fruit were out of place, probably because I like cake/custard so much more than I like dried fruit. I think, for my tastes, pure custard would be just right.

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Nicole chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. Like I mentioned above, I made a handful of involuntary changes that I don’t recommend (even if the final result was quite good)!

My post on the honey nut scones, also chosen for TWD this week, will be up tomorrow.

One year ago: Peanut Butter Blondies
Two years ago: Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte
Three years ago: Rugelach

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apple nut muffin cake

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I wasn’t expecting great things from Pisa, although that wasn’t Pisa’s fault. I had a cold, because I learned the hard way that you have to eat the occasional fruit or vegetable, even on vacation. We had to get up early and rush to the train station, spend 2 hours on a train to get to Pisa, where we had 3 hours before we had to board another train to get to Rome, where I had a suspicion we’d get lost looking for the hotel. I knew it would be worth it to see the iconic Leaning Tower, but I wasn’t looking forward to the trains, the constant concern over my Kleenex supply, or the crowds I assumed surrounded the famous tower.


But I was wrong. Not about getting lost in Rome, which we did, and not about the need for Kleenex, which lasted for the next few days, but about Pisa having nothing to offer other than a poorly constructed tower and hordes of tourists. Instead, we took a relaxed walk down a lovely street full of bicyclists, shops, and cafes; peeked into a dark, quiet church that was perhaps my favorite of the trip; and detoured to a wonderful street market where, having learned our lesson, we bought some fruit to snack on while I ogled the squash blossoms, giant porcini mushrooms, crates of fresh figs, bins of artichokes, and baskets of uncured olives. Best of all, we found a farmacia that sold six-packs of Kleenex packets – a lifesaver for the 4-hour train ride ahead.

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But that was Pisa and now I’m back in southeast New Mexico, where fresh figs are nowhere to be found, to say nothing of squash blossoms and fresh porcini mushrooms. (They do have Kleenex here, gladly.) So I skipped the fig cake chosen for Tuesdays with Dorie – but here’s the apple cake I missed while traveling.

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I tried to pretty it up by adding streusel, but it melted into the cake and didn’t contribute much more than a delicious sugary crust. Not that the cake needed any help in the taste department, as it was already moist and sweet and pleasantly appley. Next time I’m in Pisa, I’ll pick up some fresh figs to make Dorie’s fig cake with; until then, apple muffin cake will have to do.

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Katrina chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie a few weeks ago, and she has the recipe posted. If you want to add streusel to the top, try this one; the one I used didn’t work very well.  I doubled the salt, as usual, since I like my desserts saltier than Dorie.

One year ago: Apple Pie
Two years ago: Sweet Potato Biscuits
Three years ago: Chocolate Cupcakes

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ginger-jazzed brownies

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I wasn’t confident in the ginger / chocolate combo, so rather than make a full batch of potentially less-than-perfect brownies to share at work, I made a just a small portion of the recipe and kept them for myself. Granted, my coworkers will eventually eat nearly anything sugary that finds its way into our kitchen (the same day that I brought in dulce de leche cupcakes, someone put a basket of Twinkies out; the cupcakes went faster, but the Twinkies went), but I have my standards, you know.

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I needn’t have worried. The ginger flavor was so subtle as to be essentially invisible. I might have been disappointed by that, but I was so pleased to have a mini-batch of deep chocolately and meltingly tender brownies all to myself that I had no reason to complain.

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Clivia, who chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted. Except for making only a third of it, I followed it exactly. It resulted in a very good regular brownie. However, if you want your brownies to have any ginger kick, you’ll want to increase the ginger; I would double both the ground and fresh ginger.

One year ago: Caramel Pumpkin Pie
Two years ago: Allspice Crumb Muffins
Three years ago: Pumpkin Muffins

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basic biscuits

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I just got back from two weeks in Italy, which I spent eating: croissants for breakfast, baskets of bread for lunch and dinner (and not a whole grain in sight), wine with lunch and dinner, gelato at least once a day, and so on and so on and so on. And guess what? I came home exactly the same size I was when I left.

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I wish I could use this as justification to throw all of my healthy eating ideals to the wind (I accidentally typed “wine” at first – I’m still in vacation mode) and just eat what I want to eat. And maybe I could, if I spent hours upon hours walking in my normal life, walking until my feet ached and then ached more, and then they kept aching hours after I’d stopped walking. Instead, I spend hours upon hours of my normal life sitting at a computer, both at work and at home, and that, my friends, is the difference.

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Biscuits, and their buttery bready cousins croissants and scones, become a weekend treat. Usually I make biscuits to sandwich with eggs and ham for breakfast, but occasionally I serve them alongside crab cakes for dinner. But just occasionally. If only my normal life burned as many calories as my vacation life, I could – and would! – eat biscuits almost every day.

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Jennifer chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I…made no changes? Maybe? I don’t know, I made these a while ago. It seems likely that I followed the recipe exactly, except I definitely used the cake flour option, because I love how light biscuits are when they’re made with cake flour.

One year ago: Fold-over Pear Torte
Two years ago: Split-Level Pudding
Three years ago: Lenox Almond Biscotti

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perfection pound cake

(The reason I’m talking about pound cake and not this week’s chosen recipe is because I’m off gallivanting around Italy and have been since before this month’s recipes were chosen.)

(Sorry to brag!)

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I’m under no illusions that pound cake is easy despite its simple ingredients. In fact, it’s just the opposite – without any fancy flavors spicing things up, there’s no disguising an imperfect texture. After struggling with a traditional pound cake recipe that kept baking up too dense, I finally gave up and moved on to one in which the egg whites are whipped separately, which is the only leavener in the recipe. It guarantees a light texture without drying out the cake.

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The majority of blog entries on Dorie’s recipe, which uses baking powder as the leavener, mention that it’s dry. I was tempted to tweak the ingredients to remedy any potential problems, but instead, I made the recipe exactly, following my best baking procedure – butter that’s soft but not too soft, all ingredients at room temperature, gradually adding each new ingredient, sifting the flour and gently folding it in rather than letting the mixer do the work (and potentially overmix the dough). But with ½ to ¾ cup more flour in this compared to my other recipes for the same amount of butter, and ¼ cup less sugar, I was worried that it was hopeless. If nothing else, I figured, pound cake is my absolute favorite thing to bake, so I wouldn’t be sad if it wasn’t perfect in the end.

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And while it may not have been as moist as my favorite pound cake, it wasn’t dry. It was dense, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a cake like this. And it tasted just like pound cake should – like sweet butter with a hint of caramel from the browned edges. In the end, I would call this a success.

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One year ago: Double Apple Bundt
Two years ago: Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart
Three years ago: Caramel Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake

Printer Friendly Recipe
Perfection Pound Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)

I used cake flour, and I strongly recommend that you do as well. As I show at the end of this entry, cake flour makes a lighter, more tender pound cake. I did not put the loaf pan on sheet pans during baking, because that trick tends to result in under-risen cakes for me. This could have resulted in a shorter cooking time – I took the cake out of the oven at 60 minutes, when it was golden brown and a toothpick came out dry.

2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour (or 2¼ cups (9 ounces) cake flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan or an 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked one on top of the other.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, a full 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater and reduce the mixer speed to medium. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 to 2 minutes after each egg goes in. As you’re working, scrape down the bowl and beater often. Mix in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it is incorporated – don’t overmix. In fact, you might want to fold in the last of the flour, or even all of it, by hand with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and smooth the top.

Put the cake into the oven to bake, and check on it after about 45 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. If you’re using a 9×5-inch pan, you’ll need to bake the cake for 70 to 75 minutes; the smaller pan needs about 90 minutes. The cake is properly baked when a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, transfer the pan to a rack and let rest for 30 minutes.

Run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan and turn the cake out, then turn it right side up on the rack and cool to room temperature.

Wrapped well, the cake will keep for 5 to 7 days at room temperature (stale cake is great toasted) or up to 2 months in the freezer.

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salt and pepper cocoa shortbread

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I brought these and the allspice chocolate cookies to work on the same day, and someone asked me if I come up with these flavor combinations on my own. I most definitely do not. Coming up with interesting variations isn’t really my thing. Not only do I love classic, simple flavors, it would just not occur to me to add black pepper to a chocolate cookie.

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But once confronted with the idea, I’m perfectly happy to try it. I can see how pepper would work with chocolate. I think pepper’s bite could compliment chocolate’s bitterness.

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I might have gone a little light on the pepper though. I was worried, I admit. In the end, the cookies were tender and chocolately with salty pockets. I didn’t really notice the pepper, but a few people at work told me they detected it and enjoyed it. I never would have thought of it on my own, but apparently, it works.

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Tia chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I actually didn’t make any changes this time!

One year ago: Coffee Break Muffins
Two years ago: Flaky Apple Turnovers
Three years ago: Dimply Plum Cake

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