Chocolate


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So clearly it’s been awhile since our last post.  I have no excuses except  for work, school, life, and a DVR full of West Wings.  And here it is almost Christmas  – that wonderful food-filled holiday – and this blog has been silent.  As an early New Years resolution I resolve to do better – to post more, to take more pictures, to experiment more in the kitchen.  There is holiday baking to be tackled and Dorie Greenspan’s Brownie Bites are the perfect place to start.

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When I was growing up, one of my good friends got a chocolate orange every Christmas.  At the time I was more entranced by the fact that orange would magically split into perfect sections once opened rather than the combination of orange and chocolate.  Truthfully,  I’ve  never been one to like fruit flavors with my chocolate – usually I think it messes up the perfect balance of chocolate.  But chocolate and orange seem to go together around Christmas; when I saw that Dorie’s recipe for Brownie Bites  called for orange zest it seemed to be a sign that this could be a new option to add to the cookie tray.

brownie-batter

The batter was easy to put together.  You just melt the chocolate, brown sugar and butter; once this mixture is off the heat you add vanilla, an egg, some sugary orange zest and flour.  It’s a basic brownie recipe – the thing that makes this cute and Christmasy  is that fact that they are cooked in mini muffin pans.  Once popped out of the pans and cooled, the brownies really do look like buttons.

brownie-bites

But what really makes these special is the white chocolate glaze.  Simply melt white chocolate chips then dip the tops of the brownie buttons in the melted chocolate and twist your wrist as you pull them out.  If you do it right it looks like the brownies have a cute little white hat on – just right for a Christmas cookie tray.

tray-of-brownie-bites1

Brownie Buttons
from “Baking, from my Home to Yours” By Dorie Greenspan

Grated Zest of 1/2 Orange
1 teaspoon Sugar
1/4 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Flour
Pinch of Salt
1/2 Stick (4 Tablespoons) Unsalted Butter, Cut into 4 Pieces
2 1/2 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Coarsely Chopped
1/3 Cup (Packed) Brown Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Large Egg

For the optional Glaze:
2 Ounces White Chocolate, Finely Chopped

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two miniature muffin pans, each with a dozen cups, and place them on a baking sheet.

If you’re using the orange zest, combine the zest and sugar in a small bowl, rubbing them between your fingertips to blend: set aside. Whisk together the flour and salt.

Melt the butter, chocolate, and brown sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula and keeping an eye on the pan so that nothing overheats or burns. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and cool for a minute or two. Stir the vanilla, egg and the zest into the chocolate mixture. When the mixture is well blended, add the flour and stir only until it is incorporated. You should have a smooth, glossy batter.

Spoon the batter into 16 of the muffin cups, using about a teaspoon of batter to fill each cup 3/4 full. Put 1 teaspoon of water in each empty cup.
Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until the tops of the buttons spring back when touched. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 3 minutes before carefully releasing the buttons. Cool to room temperature on the racks.

To make the glaze: Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Stir constantly and don’t leave the chocolate for even one minute- white chocolate scorches easily. As soon as the chocolate is smooth, remove from the heat.

One by one, dip the tops of the buttons into the chocolate, twirling the buttons so that you get a little swirl at the center of each one and the excess chocolate drips back into the bowl. Refrigerate the buttons for 15 minutes to set the glaze.

When I think of my favorite cookies, I always fall back on the classics – chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies and even oatmeal cookies. And when I feel the need to bake for my colleagues at work, I often use a recipe for one of these cookies. But in flipping through my well-worn copy of Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking: From My Home to Yours, I discovered that my favorite baking goddess has a recipe that combines all three of those classic cookies. She calls it the Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipster. It’s like the holy trinity of classic cookies – clearly I had to make this recipe.

The recipe comes together like a normal drop cookie. The butters (both the peanut and the normal kind) are creamed with sugar and the rest of the wet ingredients. The oatmeal and the rest of the dry stuff is added in later along with the chocolate chunks. The dough will be a bit on the sticky side, so I agree with Dorie‘s recommendation to chill it for a few hours (if you have the time). The dough will set up quite nicely and be much easier to work with.

So here’s the part where I confess – I made a mistake with this cookie. I didn’t even realize it until the last of the cookies were in the oven and I was tasting the warm cookies for the first time. They were good – chewy and flavorful – but something was off. And as I looked at my countertop of ingredients, which I had not yet put away, I realized that salt was not among them. I left out an ingredient that I am fanatical about adding into baked goods – I left out the salt. Gasp.

If you are not a big baker, then leaving out a 1/4 t. of salt in a cookie may not seem like a big deal. But the salt helps complete the cookie. It makes the flavors of the cookie – the peanut butter, the chocolate, the spices and, most importantly, the sugars – all work in harmony. You don’t taste salt in the cookie – but you taste it if it isn’t there. So as I looked at the dozens of freshly baked warm cookies that I was going to surprise my co-workers with, I was disheartened. Until, that is, I decided to experiment. I grabbed some fine sea salt and lightly sprinkled a bit over the tops of the cookies. Because the cookies were still warm, the salt stuck, like little crystals on top of the cookie. And as for how it tasted – it tasted perfect. Because I used sea salt there wasn’t an overpowering saltiness, and just a tiny sprinkle allowed the salt to do its work. Now I would not advise anyone to make this mistake on purpose – best to add the salt right into the batter – but know that some baking mistakes are fixable. And my co-workers didn’t notice a thing – in fact the words “best cookies ever” were heard more than once. So I managed not to ruin the holy trinity of classic cookie – not to mention retaining my baking reputation with the ever important colleagues.

Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipster

From Baking: From my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients:

3 cups old-fashioned oats

1 cup AP flour

1 t. baking soda

2 t. cinnamon

1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 t. salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter – soft

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 t. vanilla

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped into chunks or 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together oats, flour, baking soda, spices and salt.

In a stand mixer beat butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating fully after each addition, then add the vanilla. Reduce the mixer to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, beating only till blended. Add in the chips. If you have time, chill the dough for 2 hours or up to 1 day.

Drop rounded tablespoon of dough 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone mats.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 7 minutes. Take out the cookies when they are gold and just firm around the edges

According to popular culture, I should have an insatiable desire for chocolate.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I like chocolate, but I do not go out of my way to procure it.  On the other hand, H loves chocolate.  In fact, he loves it so much that he keeps multiple bars of dark chocolate in our house at all times.  You know, just in case…

A couple of years ago, in my pre-baby, pre-marriage, still-trying-to-impress-this-guy world, I decided to bake H a cake for his birthday.  His request — a “chocolate, chocolate, chocolate” cake.  I scoured my growing collection of cookbooks and after a couple of days found one that looked like it might work.  You dust the pan with chocolate…you use cocoa powder in the batter…you stir in additional chocolate pieces…and you finish it with chocolate ganache.  This is one serious chocolate cake.  Not surprisingly, he loved it and now I bake this cake once a year to celebrate the completion of another fabulous year in the life of H.

Now, I am not a baker.  So when I do bake, I have to have a recipe and of course, all appropriate measuring devices.  I turn into a total nervous nelly, checking my recipe 5 times before adding my perfectly measured ingredients.  Of course, this is rarely an issue as I am usually in the comfort of my own kitchen with my 2 sets of measuring spoons and more cups than really necessary…oh and my trusty scale.  However, this year, we planned a trip out of town for the weekend, and I trusted that our destination would have what I needed.

Silly me!!  Measuring cups yes, but measuring spoons no.  Now, I have made this cake about a dozen times, but again, I am not a carefree baker.  I might be laid back about the chocolate, but never about baking soda and salt.   Those two simple ingredients strike fear in my would-be baker confidence.  I searched high and low in the kitchen for a set of measuring spoons, but alas I was completely empty handed.  I faced the reality that I would have to tell H his dreams of Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate birthday cake were destroyed.

I hear you seasoned bakers out there…just use a regular spoon.  I know, I should have thought of that sooner.  When I finally did think to use a regular spoon, it did not quell my anxiety, but it did present a fun challenge.  Would the cake turn out ok if I just guess at how much a 1/4 teaspoon is?  Would it be too salty?  What if I added too much vanilla?

In one of my jobs, I was told by my manager to just “fake it till you make it.”  So I did just that, I baked the cake like that was exactly the way it was supposed to happen, and in the end the cake was great.  H proclaimed it one of the best!  He asked what I had done differently, and all I could say was that I added a little something extra…some much needed confidence in my baking.

So for the nitty gritty on the cake…I used a Maryann Pan for this recipe and I must say it is one of my favorite pieces of cooking equipment. I just turn the cake out and fill in the middle well with whatever…ganache, lemon curd, whipped cream, etc…and people think I am amazing.  I LOVE this pan!  Of course often the reality is that I am hiding the spot I forgot to grease right in the middle of the pan.  When something does not release right just slather on a little more ganache.  Really who complains about extra ganache.

The recipe calls for semi-sweet morsels in the cake, but H wanted chocolate-chocolate-chocolate cake, so I have always swapped in chopped pieces of a bittersweet chocolate bar. The same for the ganache, which I have already doubled in the recipe below.  I kept finding that I needed just a little bit more.  Also, if you have some leftover cake, it gets very dense in the fridge and is best served with a tall glass of ice cold milk.

Chocolate Mary Ann Cake with Fresh Berries
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen

Ingredients:

For the cake:
3/4 cup cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 tsp. baking soda
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups boiling water
12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. 70% cocoa dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces (of course you can adjust the type of chocolate to your liking)

For the ganache:
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 pints fresh berries (strawberries-sliced, raspberries, currents, blackberries, etc.)

Directions:

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease a Mary Ann cake pan and dust with cocoa powder.

To make the cake, over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the 3/4 cup cocoa, the sugar and boiling water. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, eggs and vanilla. Pour into the cocoa mixture and whisk to combine. Whisk in the flour mixture in two additions. Pour the batter through a fine-mesh sieve into the prepared pan and stir in the chocolate chips.

Bake until the cake springs back when gently touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Tap the pan gently on a work surface, invert the pan onto the rack and lift off the pan. Let cool completely, about 1 hour.

To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a small bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute, then slowly whisk until smooth. Let cool for 10 minutes before using.

Pour the ganache into the well of the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread evenly. Sprinkle the berries into the middle well. Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes to set the ganache. Add more berries as needed.  Serves 12 to 16.