Monday, February 28, 2011


When I saw that Astheroshe at Accro had chosen cracaos for this month's Chocolate with Francois recipe, I had no idea what it was. Cake, tart, confection? No clue.

It turns out that cracaos are slice and bake chocolate nut cookies. They're easy to mix and bake and rely on Dutch process cocoa, cinnamon, walnuts and pistachios for their personality. I made the dough ahead and sliced off a few to bake fresh when we wanted a cookie. After a few days I baked the rest of the dough and shared the cookies at work.

They were good, though not overly exciting. The first time I made some I baked them 10 minutes (the lower end of the range) and they ended up very crisp though not overdone. After that experience I pulled them out at 8-9 minutes, while they were still chewy with crispy edges. Much better.

If you'd like the recipe, Astheroshe will have it for you here. The other Chocolate with Francois bakers are here. Thanks Astheroshe, for hosting this month and picking an easy, do ahead recipe!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Florentines + Chocolate Panna Cotta with Coffee Gelée

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

Normally, one Daring Baker challenge a month is all I can keep up with, so I was a little concerned to learn this month's challenge had two components. Once I read the recipes, I breathed a sigh of relief. I actually made both of these before work. On the same day. And wrote the post before midnight on the posting day. Wow.

The Florentines were so easy that you can throw them together at the last minute, melt the chocolate while they're baking and serve them within 20 minutes. I drizzled half with melted 61% Valrhona (sorry, Nestle) and half with melted gianduja. I found the texture and aesthetics much better after they sat for a couple of hours--the extra time allowed the butter to be reabsorbed in the cookie. Mine spread like crazy but none of my tasters seemed to mind. If you wanted to, you could drape the warm cookies over a rolling pin like tuiles.

The panna cotta was a little more work but not a crazy amount. I opted for the chocolate panna cotta rather than the vanilla one for obvious reasons, and almost made a strawberry gelée but the strawberries were in the garage freezer and it was 6 AM and raining. Yes, I'm lazy. Enough said. I made the coffee gelée first so it could cool while I made the panna cotta. I'm not sure if my gelée turned out the right way as it was more liquée (not an actual word) than gelée. Not so fluid that you could drink it, just a very soft jelly-like substance. The practical joker in me filed that away for a hot summer day...

Because I was in a rush, I didn't do a great job of melting the chocolate so the finished panna cotta had tiny bits of chocolate, almost like a straticella, but no one complained. Anything with chocolate is almost a guaranteed hit here with coffee a close second. The finished panna cotta was a-mazing! I used Valrhona 70% for the panna cotta. It was my first time making panna cotta but it definitely won't be my last. The coffee gelée was a fun technique to try but I think it distracted from the panna cotta and I would skip it next time. 

Thanks, Mallory, for picking this challenge for us. I can't wait to see what the other Daring Bakers did with this one (I fully expect wildly creative flavors and presentations). 

Chocolate Panna Cotta

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) unflavored powdered gelatin
2 cups (480 ml) whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
½ cup (115 gm) (4 oz) sugar
¾ cup (145 gm)(5 oz) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) vanilla extract

Pour milk into a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over the top, set aside for 2-5 minutes.

Place a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir in cream, sugar and vanilla. 

Bring to a low boil.

Add chocolate and whisk until melted. Whisk the milk/gelatin mixture into chocolate cream mixture. Whisk until gelatin has dissolved.

Transfer to ramekins, or nice glasses for serving. Cover and chill at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Nestle Florentine Cookies

Recipe from the cookbook “Nestle Classic Recipes”, and their website.

2/3 cup (160 ml) (150 gm) (5.3 oz) unsalted butter
2 cups (480 ml) (160 gm) (5 2/3 oz) quick oats
1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) (8 oz) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) (95 gm) (3⅓ oz) plain (all purpose) flour
1/4 cup (60 ml) dark corn syrup
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1½ cups (360 ml) (250 gm) (9 oz) dark or milk chocolate

Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F (190°C) (gas mark 5). Prepare your baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then remove from the heat.

To the melted butter add oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. Drop a tablespoon full, three inches (75 mm) apart, onto your prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your tablespoon, or use a spatula.

Bake in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool completely on the baking sheets.

While the cookies are cooling melt your chocolate until smooth either in the microwave (1 1/2 minutes), or stovetop (in a double boiler, or a bowl that fits atop a saucepan filled with a bit of water, being sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl).

Peel the cookies from the silpat or parchment and place face down on a wire rack set over a sheet of wax/parchment paper (to keep counters clean).

Spread a tablespoon of chocolate on the bottom/flat side of your cookie, sandwiching another (flat end) cookie atop the chocolate.

This recipe will make about 2 1/2 - 3 dozen sandwiched Florentine cookies. You can also choose not to sandwich yours, in which case, drizzle the tops with chocolate (over your wax paper).

Coffee Gelée
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

2 cups (480 ml) good quality brewed coffee
1/4 cup (60 ml) hot water + 2 tablespoons (30 ml) cold water
1/2 cup (120 ml) (115 gm) (4 oz) granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons (7½ ml) (3½ gm) (1/8 oz) unflavored powdered gelatin
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract

Place granulated sugar and 1/4 c. hot water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Sprinkle gelatin over 2 tablespoons cold water and let it soften 2 minutes or so.
Stir the coffee, sugar, hot water, and vanilla into a small metal bowl, add gelatin mixture and stir well until gelatin has dissolved. If pouring over Panna Cotta, be sure that this mixture is no longer hot, it will melt Panna Cotta if it is, let it come to room temperature.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Meyer Lemon Bars

I wish I had a better photo of these for you but they disappeared faster than I could snap the photo.

This week, Mary at The Food Librarian declared this lemon week, which I discovered when I checked in with my Twitter buddies. I made these earlier in the week but it was a hectic week at work and I couldn't get this post written.

My very favorite lemon bar recipe is from Cook's Illustrated, which I usually make with Meyer lemons from a friend's tree. Meyer lemons, with their floral fragrance and sweet/tart flavor, make great lemon bars. Lemon bars are not that hard to make, but the crust is critical. It needs to be firm enough to support the lemon curd and hold together when you take a bite but tender enough to eat without breaking a tooth. These lemon bars will make you realize that the ones you buy at your local coffee shop are not the real deal.

Meyer Lemon Bars - adapted from Cook's Illustrated by way of Leite's Culinaria
Printer friendly recipe
For the crust:
2 1/2 cups/350 grams all-purpose flour
1 cup/120 grams powdered sugar
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

For the lemon filling:
14 large egg yolks, plus 4 large eggs
2 cups plus 4 tablespoons/425 grams granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups lemon juice from 8-9 Meyer lemons, plus 1/2 cup finely grated zest
Pinch of salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
6 tablespoons/95 grams heavy cream

Powdered sugar, optional

Make the crust:
Spray a 9x13" baking pan with cooking spray. Create a sling with parchment paper  or foil and fit in pan. Spray the sheets with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Put the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the butter and pulse 8 to 10 times, then process until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second pulses. Dump the mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly with your fingers into an even layer in the pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the crust until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

Fit a strainer into a nonreactive mixing bowl or 4 cup measuring cup and set aside.

In a medium non-reactive bowl, whisk together the yolks and whole eggs until combined. Rub the lemon zest into the sugar, which brings out more lemon flavor, then add to the eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the lemon juice and salt; whisk until combined. Transfer the mixture to a medium non-reactive saucepan, add the butter pieces, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until the curd thickens slightly and registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour the curd through the strainer into the measuring cup or bowl. Stir in the heavy cream; pour the curd into the warm crust immediately.

Bake until the filling is shiny and opaque and the center 3 inches jiggle slightly when shaken, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Remove the bars from the pan using the sling and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chocolate Oatmeal Drops

I've been quiet for the last week or two as I've tried very hard not use my wrist and to stay off my foot. It must have worked because I'm free of wrist pain and I haven't worn my splint for three days. Yippee! My foot is finally starting to mend, and although I'd be shocked if the doctor released me when I see her Wednesday, I'm still hopeful.

On to the cookies. Looks can be deceiving and these cookies are a prime example of that. You could just as easily call these brownie cookies as this is what they resemble - the crunchy outside edge of a brownie in cookie form. I made this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie last week (It's deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra has said) but am just now posting them. I added some walnuts to underscore their brownie roots.

While not especially attractive, they were delicious and easy. After reading the P&Qs, I knew the batter was delicious and the high ratio of butter to dry ingredients made mixing them just right even more important than usual. I was careful not to let the chocolate melt all the way over the heat, and I didn't let the mixture stand too long before scooping out my cookies. This kept the massive amount of butter from leaching out, though they do look pretty shiny.

Many thanks to Caroline and Claire of Bake with Us for choosing this recipe for the group to make last week (they have the recipe posted here). And apologies to Mike of Living Out West as this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. Scones are popular here so I know I'll make them some time, just not this week.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You've Got to Have Friends

I never intended to be a blogger. I'm a deeply private person, and until I found some Tuesdays with Dorie bakers, I had no blog, hardly knew what a blog was, and no idea how one "started" one.

Over 2 years later I have become comfortable with the level of sharing when one blogs. And I have found on Twitter a group of like minded bakers who inspire and encourage me, and who mean so much to me. We pop in and out, jump into impromptu baking projects, share experiences with cookbooks and sourdough starters, and prop each other up through life's twists and turns.

It was after a 12 hour day at work that I came home and found an unexpected package waiting for me from Nancy. Inside was a lovely note that brought tears to my eyes, and a gift of a bread pan, a pan just like hers, pans that have been passed down in her family, the ones in which she bakes her glorious breads. After coming into a box of similar pans, Nancy thought of her Twitter pals and wrapped up a pan, wrote a lovely note, and sent off these well-loved pans to some of us. For me, it underlined the meaning of friendships between people who know each other virtually, many of whom have never met. 

It had been a while since I had baked a loaf of bread due to a lingering problem with my wrist. I knew the first loaf of bread I wanted to make was one which Nancy had first shared with us, Dan Lepard's simple milk loaf. And so this weekend, I made a double batch of this easy and adaptable bread in my new pan. 
Simple milk loaf starts with all-purpose flour and bread flour, but I usually substitute whole wheat flour for a bit more than 1/3 of the total flour. I also add a tad more butter than the recipe calls for, which makes the bread a little silkier than a traditional wheat bread.

Simple Milk Loaf (adapted from Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf, thanks to Nancy, Kayte, Margaret, Di, and Tracey)
Printer friendly recipe 
350 g (12 oz) whole milk, at room temperature
20 g (3/4 oz) maple syrup (you can use a bit more for a sweeter loaf)
175 g (6 3/4 oz) all-purpose flour
125 g (4 1/2 oz) bread flour
200 g (6 3/4 oz) whole wheat flour
1 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp instant yeast
37 g (1.5 oz, 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra for brushing loaf
olive oil, for greasing
flour, for dusting

Place the milk and syrup in a measuring cup or bowl and stir together. Whisk the flour, salt and yeast mix together in a mixing bowl. Pour in the milk mixture stir together with a wooden spoon then with your hands to bring together as a soft, sticky dough. Pour the warm melted butter over the dough and mix into the dough with your hands. Cover the bowl and let stand for 10 minutes.

Grease your hands and a flat clean surface with olive oil (or, use a Silpat as I do). Remove the dough from the bowl and knead for ten seconds, then form the dough into a smooth round ball. Wipe the bowl clean and grease with olive oil, then return the dough ball to the bowl and leave for 10 minutes.

Repeat this ten-second kneading and resting process every 10 minutes twice (a total of three kneadings), then let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Grease a deep 5 x 8 inch loaf pan and dust with flour. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, shape into two balls and place side-by-side into the loaf tin. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for one and a half hours, or until almost doubled in height.

Preheat oven to 410 F. Brush the top of the loaf with a little melted butter and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 F and bake for another 25-30 minutes, or until the top of the loaf is a shiny dark brown and the loaf has come away from the sides of the tin. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack. Warm bread is pretty irresistible, but your loaf will have the best texture if you wait until it cools completely. That said, if you cut off a few slices to try, only the cut end will be a little moist, the rest of the loaf will completely normal.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Self-Frosting Nutella Cupcakes

It's World Nutella Day. How did I celebrate? By swirling a spoonful of Nutella into my oatmeal (you should try it sometime-it's yummy!) and by baking these Nutella cupcakes. I originally saw them on Amy's blog, Playing House, and they went into my mental file of recipes I HAD to make. Although the recipe says to cool them completely, they are sooo yummy while still warm.

Self-Frosting Nutella Cupcakes (adapted from Playing House)
Printer friendly recipe
10 tbsp (140 grams) butter, softened
3/4 cup (150 grams) white sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups (200 grams) sifted all purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
Nutella, approximately 1/3 cup

Preheat oven to 325F. Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners.

Put the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk together to combine. If you're weighing your flour, you can skip the sifting and just whisk the flour, baking powder and salt well. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light, about 2 minutes. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated. Don’t worry if the batter doesn’t look smooth. Add vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until batter is uniform and no flour remains.

Using a small ice cream scoop for uniformity, fill each muffin liner with batter. They should be 3/4 full, if you’re not using a scoop. Top each cake with about 1 1/2 tsp Nutella. Swirl the Nutella in with a toothpick, skewer, or sharp knife, making sure to fold a bit of batter up over the Nutella. Don't worry about making it look pretty.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until cupcakes test done (poke the cupcake with a toothpick, making sure to miss the Nutella swirl). Remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Banana + Chocolate Crumb Muffins

A couple of years ago, before I started my blogging and baking journey with Tuesdays with Dorie, I followed baking recipes to the letter. Although baking is chemistry, a certain amount of modification is possible. Two plus years of weekly baking has taught me a lot about what to play with and what to leave alone.

One of the big favorites from the last two years is this banana bundt cake. I recently bought these cute tulip cupcake liners and I wanted to use them. And I had brown bananas. Banana crumb muffins were born.

Revisiting the banana bundt cake recipe from Baking From My Home to Yours, I was shocked to discover it didn't have chocolate chips. I've made it many times, and I could swear the recipe calls for chocolate chips. Well, my version of it does. And because I had the dramatic height of these tulip cupcake liners, I added some crumb topping I had made and frozen a couple of months ago.

These are a little more work than some muffins, but they are so worth it.

Banana + Chocolate Crumb Muffins (adapted from BFMHTY and Ina Garten)
Printer friendly recipe
Crumb topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
About 4 very ripe bananas, mashed (you should have 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups)
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Place cupcake liners in two muffin tins.

Make the crumb topping: combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and the butter crumb topping ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. Rub the mixture with your fingertips until it's in big crumbles, then set aside in the refrigerator, tightly covered, until ready to use.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then add the eggs one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the bananas. Finally, mix in half the dry ingredients (don’t be disturbed when the batter curdles), all the sour cream and then the rest of the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips with a spatula. Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners and sprinkle each muffin with 1 tablespoon of the crumb topping. Remaining crumb topping can be frozen, well wrapped, for up to two months.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted deep into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Transfer the muffin tins to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before moving the muffins to the rack to cool to room temperature.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Great Grains Chocolate Chip Muffins

Who says chocolate can't be good for you? Or that things made with whole grains are boring?

Not these delectable muffins. Christine of Happy Tummy selected Great Grains Muffins for the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers to make this week. They looked good to me as is, but in case you're new around here, I like adding chocolate to almost anything I bake. These were no exception. When armed with a muffin with chocolate chips, it's a happy morning. A muffin made with whole wheat, cornmeal, oats, maple syrup and dried blueberries with chocolate chips? It's going to be a great day!

These muffins were even good after several days of sitting in my car. I ate one for dinner on my way to an evening event and it was still moist and delicious, and, of course, chocolaty.

Stop by and visit Christine. She'll have the recipe for you. And you can see what the other bakers thought by checking them out here.