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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.

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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.

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.

It’s been a busy, busy week and tomorrow S and I leave for Florida for his youngest brother’s wedding (very exciting!). But before we head out of town, I have to share this recipe for Chocolate Friands. I have confessed many times my dislike of chocolate, but I believe I have stumbled upon the recipe that has changed my mind.

I don’t often make chocolate things but as S was celebrating his 30th birthday last weekend, I knew I needed to bake something to please his palate. Chocolate he requested so chocolate it would be. I recently picked up a copy of Tartine and remembered pausing at the recipe for Chocolate Friands (friand is French for “small mouthful”).

I love to bake cakes but with just the two of us we usually never make it beyond a few slices. The rest of the cake hangs around the counter begging to be eaten. With any luck the remainder finds its way to friends and neighbors.

The friands remind me a bit of brownies–the best brownies I’ve ever made (without question). I worried that the crown of ganache would be overkill, but I was mistaken. The friands weren’t too sweet at all. The tiny treats were perfect for S’s birthday celebration.

These were a delight to make-buttering and flouring the molds and filling them with the thick chocolate batter. Be forewarned–if you use smaller molds, the recipe will produce quite a lot. We were up to our elbows in friands, but they keep in the refrigerator for up to five days. And it’s much easier to share a cute little brownie with the co-workers than a half-eaten cake.

Chocolate Friands
Excerpted from Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Batter:
6 oz, bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup, unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp, sugar
3/4 cups, ap flour
2 tbsp, cornstarch
1/4 tsp, salt
4 large eggs

Ganache
4 oz, bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup, heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line up 24 mini-muffin-cup paper liners on a baking sheet, or butter and flour 24 mini-muffin-tin wells, knocking out the excess flour.

To make the batter, place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until very hot. Pour the butter over the chocolate and whisk or stir until smooth. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt and mix well. Add teh flour mixture to the chocolate mixture in 3 batches, whisking well after each addition. Add 2 of the eggs and whisk until combined, and then add the remaining 2 eggs and whisk just until incorporated. Be careful not to overmix the batter.

Transfer the batter to a liquid measuring cup for pouring, and fill the cups three-fourths full. Bake until the cakes just start to crack on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, adn then unmold them if you have baked them in the muffin tins and let cool completely. If you have baked them in the paper cups, just let them cool in the cups.

To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to just under a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for a minute or two. Stir gently with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Make sure the friands are cool before dipping them into the ganache. Holding each friand by its sides, dip the top into the ganache and then shake gently to let the excess run off the side. Return the friand to the rack and let the ganache set up in a cool place for about 1 hour.

Don’t put the friands in the refrigerator to set up if your kitchen is hot because condensation will form on the tops when you take them out, ruining the smooth look of the ganache. The only way to avoid the condensation is to place them in an airtight container before putting them in the refrigerator adn then to leave them in the refriderator and then leave them in the container when you remove them from the referigerator until they come to room temperature, or to serve them right away.

Serve the friands within a day of making, or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

After a long weekend of fast cars (H went to the Porsche Driving School), spa treatments(I got a massage and a facial at the Ross Bridge Resort), and amazing food (Incredible meals at Bottega and Hot and Hot Fish Club), one should not expect much upon returning home. So imagine my surprise when a package greeted us at the door from Earth and Sky Confections. Co-Owner Chris Parks, a long time family friend, trained at The French Pastry School. This is the first time I had had the pleasure of enjoying some of Chris and Laura’s confections since my wedding. (Chris made our favors.)

Each piece of this handmade chocolate was beautiful, so much so that I was having a really hard time trying to pick which one I wanted to eat first. The salivating was interrupted by JC. He had spotted the bananas and was rubbing his chest (the sign for please) and saying “nana, nana!” with increasing urgency. H deposited JC in his highchair with a banana then joined me around the sliver box of deliciousness. I choose the sea salt caramel and H the spicy peanut butter. WOW!

We really tried to show some restraint, but with a little less than a week since it arrived, it is completely empty, save one bananas foster. (I kept to eat tonight after I finish this post.) Maybe I should have waited, but even the the expiration date…everything is made with fresh ingredients…encouraged me along. I kept telling myself you don’t want them to expire! Each and every one was delicious!!!

Over the past few days I have told everyone I know about these chocolates! Literally everyone…my pilates instructor, person standing next to me waiting to get her car at the garage, the waitress at lunch, etc. So as I have done since that first bite…I will evangelize a little more…Check out these amazing chocolatiers!

Earth and Sky Confections – Jonesboro, TN