Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Date Nut Bread Extraordinaire

The beauty of baking your way through a cookbook is that you routinely discover recipes you never would have chosen on your own, and you absolutely and unexpectedly fall in love with them.

Even though this has happened to me many times with Baking From My Home to Yours, I really couldn't imagine it would happen with this recipe. I've never liked date bread and scarcely ate dates until about six years ago when I gave them another try and found I liked them. But a lifetime of not liking something takes time to reprogram, so my initial reaction to this pick was "great...date bread...ugh." But it was picked by my friend and blogging buddy Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet. If Mary had chosen brussels sprouts pudding, I would have gamely attempted it.

The recipe calls for 3 ounces of cream cheese, and cream cheese is something I never buy unless I'm making a cheese cake. It might be the secret weapon that gives this bread its lovely texture and makes it an excellent keeper. The preparation is typical quick bread except that it bakes for a long time. It smelled great while it baked and made me curious (I wouldn't say eager, nope).

Once it cooled, I sliced off a piece and took a tentative bite. It was incredibly delicious, crusty on the outside, soft and tender on the inside, little pockets of sweet, chewy dates contrasted with the crisp crunch of the walnuts. Absolutely fabulous. It was even better the next day. I was in love, so much so that I promptly bought more dates so I could make it again.

If you'd like to try this recipe, Mary has it for you here. She made two versions, one with dates and one with apricots, and they both look scrumptious. As much as we love apricots, I can't imagine making this bread with anything other than dates, my new favorite fruit.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Oatmeal Fudge Bars

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Tracey of Tracey's Culinary Adventures must be blushing. Whenever I'm trolling for a new recipe, her blog is my first stop. Tracey made these bars earlier in the week and like so many things I see there, I had to make them pronto.

That the bars worked in spite of my best efforts to screw up the recipe is a testament to their versatility. Indeed, I added the dry ingredients with the chocolate and still ended up with a sinfully delicious but easy bar cookie. They're flavored with a healthy dose of espresso powder, and I snuck in some cinnamon as well as I learned with this pie that chocolate + espresso + cinnamon = bliss. They're rich, so cut them in tiny little pieces.

Oatmeal Fudge Bars
from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book by way of Tracey's Culinary Adventures
Printer-friendly recipe 

1 cup (3 oz) quick-cooking oats
1 cup packed (7 oz) light brown sugar
3/4 cup (3 3/4 oz) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup (1 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 oz) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (I used Vietnamese for its flavor & spice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg

To make the crust: Preheat oven to 325 F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite sides to lift the bars out after they're baked.

In a large bowl whisk together the oats, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the melted butter and use a rubber spatula to stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Set aside about 3/4 cup of the crust mixture for the topping. Press the remaining crust mixture into the prepared baking pan in an even layer.

Bake for 8 minutes, or until light golden brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool the crust completely, about 1 hour. Maintain oven temperature.

Make the filling: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, espresso powder and salt. Add the chocolate and butter to a medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat in 30 second intervals at 50% power (stirring in between each interval) until the chocolate and butter are melted and smooth. Let cool slightly. Add the egg to the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture just until combined (the mixture will be thick).

Spread the filling over the cooled crust. Smooth the top, then sprinkle the reserved oat topping over the filling. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the bars cool completely in the pan. Use the parchment overhang to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into squares.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chocolate Almond Biscotti

My first attempt at biscotti was, shall we say, less than perfect. A lot less. My inexperience led me to follow the recipe exactly without listening to my instincts.

Fast forward a couple of years. I know a lot better and I still make mistakes, but blindly following the recipe is rarely one of them. So I was eager in a nervous sort of way to try this recipe.

What are biscotti? The Italian name roughly translates as "twice baked" because the dough logs are baked, cooled slightly, then sliced. The cookies are then returned to the oven for the final baking, yielding the dry and crumbly texture that makes them so perfect for dipping in coffee or milk.

These were easy to mix up and the scraps (after slicing) were yummy to snack on. In fact, these would be fine cookies without the second baking. I set them out to cool, and then it happened...

They fell in a bowl of melted chocolate.

We gamely ate them anyway, and I must admit that, shockingly, the chocolate dipped biscotti were even better than the plain ones. The plain ones were good, but the chocolate dipped ones were top 10 worthy. Truly.

If you want to make these yummy cookies, visit Jacque of Daisy Lane Cakes. She has the recipe for you here. And it you'd like to dip yours in chocolate, melt about 5 ounces of the very best bittersweet chocolate you can afford, along with 1/2 tablespoon of corn syrup. Tap the biscotti against the plate before dipping (to dislodge any crumbs), dip one side, allow it to drip, then set it down face up on a parchment lined baking sheet. Once dry, your biscotti will keep for a week in a ziptop bag. But they won't last that long.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bittersweet Decadence Cookies

Unless you don't like chocolate (and not everybody does), the name of this recipe alone should be enough to send you to the kitchen. But if it isn't, check this out:

These cookies have been a favorite here for years. We love the slightly crackly outside that covers a soft center with chunks of walnuts and chocolate chips. There is no wrong temperature to serve them at, no wrong time of day to eat them, and no wrong event to take them to. They're always the star of the cookie tray, no matter how enticing you make the shortbread and peanut butter cookies. They're like the friend who has so much personality that no one notices she's a bit homely and everyone wants to sit next to her at dinner.

Bittersweet Decadence Cookies - adapted from Alice Medrich

1/4 cup/70 grams all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups/225 grams bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I use Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chips)
2 tablespoons/28 grams unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1/2 cup/95 grams sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups/200 grams walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
1 cup/175 grams bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks (I use Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chips)

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350℉. Line two cookie sheets with parchment or wax paper.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and stir with a small whisk to combine. Set aside.

Place the 1 1/3 cups of chocolate and the butter in a large heatproof bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water (you can also use a double boiler) and stir frequently just until melted and smooth. Remove the chocolate from the skillet and set it aside. Leave the heat on under the skillet.

In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together thoroughly. Set the bowl in the skillet and stir until the mixture is lukewarm to the touch. Stir the eggs into the warm but not hot chocolate. Stir the flour mixture, then the nuts and chocolate chunks.

Scoop slightly rounded tablespoons of batter 1 1/2 inches apart on to the cookie sheets. Bake until the surface of the cookies looks dry and set but the center is still gooey, 12 to 14 minutes. If you used parchment paper, carefully slide the cookies, still on the parchment, onto racks or set the pans on the racks. Otherwise, let the cookies firm up on the pans for a minute, then transfer them to racks with a spatula. Let cool completely. Store in a tightly sealed container.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Blueberry Brown Sugar Bundt Cake

Blueberries and I have a uneasy peace. Ever since I was a little girl on vacation with her parents in Mexico, we've not been on great terms. I know they're good for me, high in anti-oxidants, etc. But I can't help remember how violently ill I was after eating blueberry pancakes at IHOP, something I've never forgiven them for.

So this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, chosen by Cindy of Everyday Insanity, had me skeptical. And something as straightforward as a "plain" blueberry cake had to do cartwheels to get my attention. So it did.

Made in a bundt pan, it was just so beautiful I shamelessly showed it off to a few coworkers, hoping to elicit enough oohs and ahhs to lure me into tasting it. It worked. It was so lovely (not that you can tell with my iPhone photos) that I broke down and ate a slice.

The verdict? The brown sugar lent a caramel note to the cinnamon scented cake, and it was incredibly moist. It didn't turn me into a blueberry lover, but it did turn me into a brown sugar bundt cake lover. I will definitely make this one again, but will probably skip the blueberries in favor of another fruit.

If you'd like the recipe, Cindy has it for you here. Just double the recipe if you want to bake it in a standard bundt cake pan. It will bake for 55-60 minutes.