Tuesday, July 27, 2010

{TWD} Chewy Chunky Blondies

Back in the day, nearly 30 years ago, when I was newly married, I was introduced to my first "blondies" (so-called because they are a light, non-chocolate version of brownies) in two different ways.

There was a bakery on the mezzanine level of the big Davison's Department Store about a block from my office downtown. The only thing I remember from that bakery is their "blond brownies" - they were big and wonderfully chewy in the center - a perfect mid-afternoon snack. (There was also a cookie store in the ground floor of my office building, so even though I had no time to spend in the kitchen, thanks to those two shops I was not starved for freshly-baked goodies)

Around the same time I learned of an old recipe in my husband's family called "Butterscotch Delights" (which I recently posted, here). Over the years when I had just a bit of time I'd whip up a batch of those bar cookies and they always make a hit. In fact that's part of of the charm of a good blondie recipe: nearly everyone loves to eat the final product!

This week's assigned recipe for the baking group Tuesdays With Dorie is Chewy, Chunky Blondies, chosen by Nicole of the blog Cookies on Friday. I was eager to bake this version, which is filled with lots of chips and nuts.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Dorie's recipe (which you can find on Nicole's post, here) calls for light brown sugar and granulated sugar. I used dark brown sugar and palm sugar - to emphasize the butterscotch-y flavor.

- Although I forgot the vanilla (accidentally) I doubled the salt (on purpose) to wake up the flavors.

- My add-ins were: toasted chopped pecans, toasted sweetened coconut, chopped Heath bar, chocolate covered cocoa nibs, and 72% chocolate chips.

- I baked half a recipe in an 8x8 pan, which I lined with a buttered parchment sling so the blondies would release easily from the pan.

- The blondies stayed in my oven about 40 minutes. They were a bit moist in the center, but I knew they'd pull together as they cooled.

- Earlier this year I tried a different loaded blondie recipe, "Killer Blondies" from the kitchn, which I posted here. That recipe was more intensely flavored; it used dark brown sugar along with even darker muscovado sugar, and instant coffee dissolved in brandy. (It also had a topping which I found to be a bit too crumbly and quite sweet.)

the verdict:

These blondies were nice and chewy and were packed full with add-ins. Mine turned out to be quite chocolatey, from the generous quantity of chips, the chocolate in the Heath bar and in the chocolate-covered cocoa nibs that I'd used, and I found myself wishing I could taste more of the blondie and less of the chocolate. The coconut added a subtle, but nice, note. Overall, I prefer the "Killer Blondies" from the kitchn's recipe (minus the topping), but I liked these blondies very much.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

{TWD} Baby (Basic) Banana Cake

The official name of this week's recipe for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group is "Lots-of-Ways Banana Cake" because Dorie Greenspan gives, well, lots of different ways to bake, fill, frost, and/or serve her recipe for banana cake. I've got to admit that despite all of the available options I baked a very plain version of this cake, and a tiny one at that, hence my name for it: Baby Basic Banana Cake.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Kimberly of Only Creative Opportunities chose this week's recipe and you can find the recipe for the cake on her blog.

- I baked 1/8 recipe in a smallish loaf pan.

- At first I was a bit dubious about this cake; I had loved Dorie's Classic Banana Bundt Cake (that I posted here) so much that it was hard to imagine how this recipe could stack up to that one.

- Although I'd love to taste this cake baked with coconut milk and toasted coconut in it, my main taster - my husband - is anti-coconut, so I baked a coconut-free version.

- Since the quantities of ingredients were so small for 1/8 recipe I didn't use a mixer but just creamed and stirred with a big spoon by hand.

- For liquids I used a creamy thick plain yogurt, the optional rum, and a double quantity of vanilla extract.

- 1/8 recipe fits into a pan with an area of 15 or 16 square inches. I used a 3"x5" loaf pan, which I greased and floured, then lined with a parchment sling so that the cake would easily release from the pan.

- The little cake took around 27 minutes to bake.

- Rather than fill or frost the cake, I sprinkled it with powdered sugar and served it with vanilla ice cream. It would be great with whipped cream and toasted walnuts, too.

the verdict:

This cake turned out to be a wonderfully fluffy, soft yet moist, cake-ish version of the best banana bread you've tasted. We enjoyed it with vanilla ice cream; perfect for a hot summer evening. My husband rated this one an "11" on a scale of 1-to-10.

Here I'm going to sound like a broken record: I don't know why I ever doubted Dorie. She definitely knows her way around banana cakes. I loved this cake nearly as much as her banana bundt cake. In fact I'd need to taste them side by side to see which one I like better.

If you have any love in your heart for banana baked goods, this is a recipe to keep in your back pocket. Thanks, Kimberly for a great pick this week!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Minnie Lane's One Pot One Pan Butterscotch Brownies

Today is my two year blog anniversary, and to celebrate I'm giving all of you a little gift: an old family recipe for blondies, or as we always called them, butterscotch brownies.

My husband's grandmother, Minnie, lived to age 90 and was quite the character. Opinionated, feisty, and outspoken. She was also thrifty and handy, she sewed clothes for herself and her daughters, and was an excellent cook. I have a few of her recipes, and the one that I make over and over is her Butterscotch Brownies, which combine ease of preparation with chewy texture and meltingly sweet taste.

These blondies don't have any baking chips stirred in; instead they get their butterscotch-y goodness from butter and dark brown sugar. The other virtue of the recipe? It can be made with a minimum of fuss and dirty dishes. Using a good digital kitchen scale, you can whip up a batch of blondies with a cooking pot, a spoon, a measuring spoon, and a baking pan!

the recipe:

Butterscotch Brownies

1 stick butter (115 g, 4 oz)
2 cups firmly-packed dark brown sugar (350 g, 12.25 oz)
2 eggs (100 g without shell, about 112g including the shell)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (212 g, 7.5 oz)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Butter and flour a 9" x 13" baking pan.

3. In large saucepan, melt 1 stick butter. Stir in remaining ingredients in order listed above.

4. Spread batter in the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes. Brownies are done when a knife inserted in center of pan comes out clean.

5. Cool on a wire rack in the pan. When cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into 1" squares.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

{TWD} Brrrrr-ownie Ba-rrrrrs

Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours is admirably comprehensive, but brownies might be the category best represented. No matter what your taste, there is a brownie to fit (unless of course you don't like chocolate!) This week's recipe for Tuesdays With Dorie is designed for mint lovers. Called Brrrr-ownies, the name indicates the frosty flavor contributed by peppermint patties stirred into the batter.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Karen of the blog Welcome to our Crazy Blessed Life chose the recipe this week - click over to her blog post to find it.

- I baked 1/4 recipe of the brownies in a small loaf pan, and cut the brownies in bars when cooled.

- Although the recipe call for unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate, I used a bar of 85% chocolate bar instead of the two other kinds. The way I looked at it, 85% is the average of the 70% bittersweet and the 100% unsweetened chocolate I would otherwise use.

- I'm getting spoiled by these easy recipes lately; this one used just one bowl.

- After 22 minutes in the oven my brownies registered done using the knife test.

- The brownies looked a bit alarming when they came out of the oven. Some of the peppermint patty pieces had erupted through the chocolate as the brownies baked.

- I chilled the brownies before cutting them. When I cut them, I could see how dense and fudgy they were. There were empty pockets in the baked brownies where the peppermint patty pieces had been before they melted and oozed elsewhere.

the verdict:

These brownies were chewy, fudgy, almost candy-like. Even though I rarely like the chocolate and mint combination, I loved it in this recipe!

To make the "brrrrr" part of this recipe complete, it would be fun to chop the brownies into pieces and churn them into a batch of ice cream. I might try that with the leftover bars that are currently in my freezer.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

{TWD} Ooh la la! Tarte Noire and Paris

It's been quite an adventure being a member of the baking group Tuesdays With Dorie for the past two years, as we work our way through Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours, one recipe per week. I've grown to love the cookbook. As Dorie explains on her wonderful website:
"My... book ... is my most personal, in that it's like a kitchen journal recording the recipes I made and the things I learned over 30 years of baking at home and in the kitchens of some of the best chefs in America and France."
The title of Dorie's book might have more accurately read "Baking From My Homes to Yours" because Dorie has a home in Paris as well as two in the US. She has worked with French chefs on both sides of the Atlantic and luckily for us, many French recipes have become part of Dorie's "home" baking, and through the book, they can be part of our home baking also!

One such recipe is the Tarte Noir, which has become a favorite in our home. It is one of the first recipes that my daughter JDE baked two summers ago when she bought the book. Her tart was elegant in appearance (unfortunately there are no pictures of that tart, as it was before my blogging and TWD days) and, truly, nothing that sublime had ever come from my kitchen. A buttery and sweet crust combined with a velvety chocolate filling made for a perfect dessert. JDE baked it for a meeting of my book group. The general consensus of the members was that my daughter should go into the baking business!

This week my very good blogging and baking friend Jessica (aka Dharmagirl), of the blog bliss: towards a delicious life, got to choose the recipe for TWD. She recently returned from a trip to Paris, and chose the Tarte Noir as a way to celebrate her experience there. Jessica's choice turned out to be perfect timing for me, for two reasons. First, JDE had just come home from college and in a turnaround, this time I baked the tart for her.

Chocolate tarts in the window of Maison du Chocolat in Paris (sorry about the terrible photo; no inside photography was permitted)
Second, a few days after baking the tart, JDE and I traveled to Paris. We left that fabulous city yesterday after enjoying a wonderful week there. We stayed in the 6th - Dorie's neighborhood - and had a great time pretending it was our home too. There's a lot to love about Paris, but I have to say it was a special thrill to see chocolate tarts in right there in the bakery cases! Of course we had to sample the Parisian variety and see how it compared with the home-baked version. I've included some of our pictures of Parisian chocolate tarts.

Chocolate tarts (both noir and milk chocolate) in the pastry case at Bread and Roses in Paris.
n.o.e.'s notes:

- If you'd like the recipe for this tart, you'll find it on Jessica's post.

- Here are my notes about the tart I baked.

- I'd already enjoyed this tart with Dorie's fabulous crust, when my daughter baked it. This time around I decided to experiment with a gluten-free coconut crust. I adapted the crust I used for the ice cream pie (posted here) by adding an egg and blind baking it. Dorie always says that she dislikes an underbaked crust; she'd be very proud of me because mine was baked to a deep toasty brown color.

- Rather than a full-sized tart, this time I made a partial recipe and baked three small, deep, individual tarts.

- I used Callebaut bittersweet chocolate, which I love to use in baking. I think a very dark bittersweet chocolate would be good in this tart also.

- For some reason, this time my chocolate ganache wasn't very smooth. I probably should have thinned it a bit with some more cream. My tart doesn't have that coveted (by me at least) smooth, glassy-sea appearance, but luckily the deficiency was only cosmetic; the ganache tasted as great as ever.

- The chocolate caramel tart that we baked for TWD last year (posted here) is nearly the same recipe, with the added attraction of a caramel layer and salted nuts. It is one of my all-time favorite recipes!

My daughter and I split this chocolate tarte noir as a dessert after a lovely lunch at Bread and Roses in Paris. That is a bit of edible gold leaf casually placed on top!

the verdict:

The little tart tasted like a coconut cookie with a creamy, chocolate-y filling. The rustic coconut was a perfect counterpoint to the smooth perfection of Dorie's chocolate ganache. Every time I make this ganache it takes my breath away!

And the chocolate tart we had in Paris? Here's JDE's verdict:

My impressions of the Parisian chocolate tart: The chocolate filling was extremely similar to that of my home-baked tart! The crust was good, but I prefer Dorie's recipe. Thanks, Dorie, for making this French classic (and many others as well) achievable to ordinary home cooks, no matter where our homes are! And thanks to Jessica for this fabulous pick this week.