Monday, August 11, 2014

Spicy Chocolate Brownies

 Last summer, my dad and I spent three days in Paris. He had been there several times in the past, so he told me that I could plan the trip as I wanted, and he would be happy to follow along. I made sure that we got to all of the usual tourist spots - the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de triomphe, etc. - but also planned our days around p√Ętisseries. I had spent years reading about food bloggers' adventures eating in Paris and had been making a mental list of places to go - so when I got three days to play with, I had to fit in as much as I could!
On our first day, we were walking down a narrow street on our way to lunch and were stopped by a man who offered us a chocolate sample from his little shop. It was a thin dark chocolate bark with chili in it - it wasn't something I would usually go for, but we were in Paris, so why not? Even though his shop wasn't one on my list, he ended up giving us one of the best chocolates we had ever eaten.
 This brownie uses that same combination of dark chocolate and spice. With cinnamon and a hint of cayenne pepper, the chocolate flavor is enhanced, and it makes for a brownie you can't eat just one of. These are more cakey than the usual brownie, but in this case it works surprisingly well; that said, if you want them fudgier, feel free to leave out about 1/4 cup of the flour.
  Enjoy!
Spicy Chocolate Brownies 
(slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine)

2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
2 cups brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 baking dish with butter.
Melt the 2 sticks of butter in a nonstick saucepan over medium-low heat; do not boil. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Add the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
Add the cocoa, flour, cinnamon, chili powder, salt, and baking powder and mix until smooth. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack before slicing.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Honey, Lavender, and Vanila Bean Ice Cream

 I got my first "real" job this summer. By "real," I mean doing something other than working as a camp counselor, which, as rewarding as it is, wasn't in my plans this year. Instead, I'm basically spending a couple of weeks doing secretarial work for a family friend who is a doctor; entering his patients' information into an online database and so on.
 While it's not exactly the most challenging job in the world, it's been surprisingly entertaining. Not only have I learned how to spell hundreds of last names I have no idea how to pronounce, I've had the Brandenburg Concertos on as background music more times than I'd care to admit. It also makes me smile every time I'm entering a baby's information, and the parents have listed five or six different emergency contact numbers. (The doctor says he's never once had to use an emergency number, much less six.)
 I try to make the time that I'm not working as "summery" as possible. Last week, I decided that a batch of freshly churned ice cream was in order.
  On their own, honey, lavender, and vanilla beans aren't particularly overwhelming flavors. But when mixed together, some kind of magical taste fairies make them incredibly warm and refreshing at the same time; put this together with smooth, rich ice cream, and you've got quite the summer afternoon ahead of you.
  Enjoy!

 Honey, Lavender, and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
(adapted from The Perfect Scoop)

½ cup good quality honey
¼ cup dried or fresh lavender flowers
seeds from 1 large vanilla bean (scraped out)
1½ cups whole milk
¼ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1½ cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks

Heat the honey, 2 tablespoons of the lavender, and the vanilla in a small saucepan.  Once warm, remove from the heat and set aside to steep at room temperature for 1 hour.
Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan.
Pour the cream in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.
Pour the lavender-infused honey into the cream through the strainer, pressing on the lavender flowers to extract as much flavour as possible, then discard the lavender and set the strainer back over the cream.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to avoid cooking, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.
Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons lavender flowers and stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator.
The next day, before churning, strain the mixture, again pressing on the lavender flower to extract their flavour.
Discard the flowers, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: I used vanilla bean-infused honey, so if you happen to have some around, you can use that instead and leave out the fresh vanilla.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch Cookies

 Cookies seem to be everybody's go-to dessert, and are definitely what I most often am asked to bake. If you think about it, they're perfect in so many ways: they're easy to make in big quantities; there are a million and one variations on the original sugar cookie; and, they please just about everybody. Oh, and (in case you didn't know), more often than not, they're delicious.
Certain cookies also tend to make people nostalgic. Everybody has that one recipe that brings back childhood memories, be it chocolate chip cookies made from a refrigerated tube of dough or decorated Christmas sugar cookies.
 Every time my dad's side of the family gets together for the holidays, it's pretty much our mission to bake as many kinds of cookies as possible. We've had our great moments and our not-so-edible, but I guess you could say this tradition instilled a certain cookie adventurism in me.
 As soon as I saw this recipe in a book my friend gave me for my birthday, I knew I had to try it - Cap'n Crunch cereal, in a cookie? With peanut butter?
 As it turns out, this little combo is a fantastic idea. The cereal gives a great crunch to the soft, chewy cookies, and the peanut butter and cinnamon manage to be perfect together. As a plus, eating sugary breakfast cereal inside of a cookie totally makes anybody feel like a 5-year-old again.
  Enjoy!
Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch Cookies
(slightly adapted from Coolhaus Ice Cream Book)

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnmon
2 1/2 cups sifted pastry flour, or 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups Cap’n Crunch cereal

In a large bowl, mix brown sugar with butter and whisk to combine. Add peanut butter and whisk to combine. Whisk in egg and yolk, one at a time, then whisk in vanilla. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.
Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture, mixing until just combined. Add cereal, mixing until evenly distributed. Be careful not to overmix or overcrush cereal. Refrigerate dough for at least 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325F, with racks in lower and upper thirds. Line two half-sheet baking pans with parchment paper. Form dough into balls about the size of whole walnuts. Roll each in the cinnamon sugar mixture before placing 2 inches apart on baking sheets.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until edges are light brown and centers are still soft; don’t overbake. Immediately transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Let cool before serving.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Blueberry Buttermilk Brown Sugar Bundt Cake

 When I was about eight years old, my parents and I drove to Massachusetts to spend the 4th of July with our friends. We planned a fun weekend, stocked the fridge with the makings of quite the barbeque, and bought plenty of glow sticks to wear at night.
   On the 4th, after our little backyard party, we walked up the road to an open field and settled in in our lawn chairs to watch the fireworks. (Side note: it still amazes me that for some people, this is an everyday occurrence; in New York, the most we can do is climb up a fire escape to get to somebody's roof and watch fireworks. This is probably illegal. I will forever be jealous of the small-town life.)
   Just as the fireworks started, our friends' dog started to bark uncontrollably. It took us all of two seconds to realize that we were about to be hit with a rainstorm emitting from the sprinklers on the field. That night, we walked back to our friends' house soaking wet, but it's a moment we still laugh about every 4th of July.
    This year, I'm spending the 4th at Westminster Choir College, where I'm doing a voice program for a couple of weeks; it's great here, but our cafeteria food certainly doesn't compare to the homemade picnic lunch my parents will be putting together. So before I left home, I made this cake as my own little celebration of the start of summer. It's light, moist, not too sweet, full of fresh blueberries, and topped with a thin, almost crunchy glaze. I think I just found myself a new favorite tradition (with quite the tongue-twister recipe title).
   Enjoy!
Blueberry Buttermilk Brown Sugar Bundt Cake 
(adapted from Food Network Magazine)

For the cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups blueberries (about 1 pint)

For the glaze:
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
4-5 tablespoons milk

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a nonstick 12-cup Bundt pan. Whisk 3 cups flour, the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat 2 sticks butter, the brown sugar and vegetable oil in a bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, at least 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low; beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the vanilla. Add about one-third of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk; beat until almost incorporated. Add another one-third of the flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk. Beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until just combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat 30 seconds. Finish incorporating the flour by hand to avoid overmixing.
Toss the blueberries with the remaining 2 tablespoons flour in a small bowl. Spoon one-third of the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Sprinkle in half of the blueberries, then top with another one-third of the batter. Scatter the remaining blueberries on top and cover with the rest of the batter; smooth the top. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour, 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool 30 minutes in the pan. Run a small sharp knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert onto the rack to cool completely. 
 
Meanwhile, make the glaze: Whisk the confectioners' sugar, butter and 4 tablespoons milk in a bowl; if the glaze is too thick, whisk in up to 1 more tablespoon milk, a little at a time. Pour the glaze over the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Double Chocolate Strawberry Tart

Some situations simply have no shortcut. The work you put in is the result you get, and in most cases, this makes sense; I'm not going to ace a test without studying, get into college without filling out a million and one pieces of paperwork, or learn my arias without spending a few hours sitting at my piano.
But every now and then, life decides to be awesome and throw you a shortcut curve-ball just when you need it. A few weeks ago, when I was in the middle of studying for finals and having late-night rehearsals, I discovered this tart.
 The truth is, baking is deceptive. It seems so complicated, with countless steps (and steps within steps) to a recipe, but the truth is, when it comes to fairly straightforward desserts like this one, you look at the recipe and follow it. It's as simple as that - for real. I promise. You can make this dessert, even if you've never measured out a cup of sugar before in your life. No worries, I'll hold your hand.
 This crust is a breeze to throw together in a food processor; the filling can be whipped up even more quickly; and, within a few minutes, you have a tart that's picture-perfect. Not to mention ridiculously delicious.
 Enjoy!
 Double Chocolate Strawberry Tart
(adapted from Baking Bites)

1 prebaked chocolate crust (recipe below)
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
7 oz (1 container) marshmallow creme/fluff
4 oz dark chocolate, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
16 oz fresh strawberries 
2 tablespoons strawberry jam (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, whip together cream cheese and marshmallow fluff until smooth and well-combined. Blend in the melted and cooled dark chocolate, followed by the vanilla extract, and mix until the filling is a uniform color.
Trim the strawberries and thinly slice.
Fill tart shell with chocolate cream, spreading it evenly, and top with a layer of fresh strawberries. If desired, mix the jam with a teaspoon or so of water, microwave it for 30 seconds to thin it out, and brush it onto the berries for a shiny finish.
The tart should be served shortly after adding sliced berries. (To make the dessert in advance, refrigerate the filled tart and add the berries right before serving.)


Chocolate Shortbread Tart Crust
1 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, cold

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Pulse to combine.
Cut butter into several pieces and add to flour mixture. Pulse until mixture is sandy and butter is well-incorporated.
Pour crumb mixture into a 9" tart pan. Press firmly up the sides and into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.
For a baked crust, bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, until firm. Allow to cool completely before filling.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie

The older I get, the more I realize how fast time goes by. This may seem ridiculous coming from a teenager (17 as of this week!), but it's true. My friends and I are shocked that the school year is ending so quickly, and while we're excited for all the fun plans we have for summer, it's also kind of terrifying.
This past year has been by far the busiest, most stressful of my life; but it's also been the greatest. I had a great time with my friends, got to know my teachers better, had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places, and became more involved in music.
I also watched the seniors at my school go through the crazy college application (and audition, for those pursuing music) process, and the idea of really starting that (and not just talking about it) can be a bit daunting.
That said, I'm excited to see what lies ahead, and wow I just realized how cheesy this post got. Anyway, right now I'm focusing on celebrating the start of summer, no matter how much German diction I have to learn, or how many application essays I have to write!
This dessert is perfect to kick off a season of fresh, bright flavors. The tart lemon curd and berries are a perfect contrast to the creamy, sweet vanilla ice cream, and it's all nestled inside a crunchy, almost cookie-like pie crust. And hey, what isn't better with toasted meringue?
(Shout-out to my best friend's mother for the recipe - it's quickly become one of my absolute favorites!)
Enjoy!
Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie
(slightly adapted from Epicurious)

For the lemon curd 
2 large eggs 
2 large egg yolks 
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter 
1 cup sugar 
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel 
Pinch of salt

For the crust 
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans 
1/4 cup sugar 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted 
3 cups vanilla ice cream, slightly softened, divided
1/2 cup chopped berries of your choice (I used raspberries)

For the meringue 
4 large egg whites, room temperature 
Pinch of cream of tartar 
6 tablespoons sugar

For the lemon curd
Whisk eggs and egg yolks in medium bowl. Melt butter in medium metal bowl set over large saucepan of simmering water. Whisk in sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt; gradually whisk in egg mixture. Whisk until thick and thermometer inserted into curd registers 178°F to 180°F, about 8 minutes. Transfer to small bowl. Press plastic wrap on top of curd; chill 4 hours.  


For the crust Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix pecans, sugar, and butter in medium bowl until moistened. Press pecan mixture onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish (mixture will be crumbly). Bake until crust is lightly toasted, about 12 minutes (crust will slip down sides of dish). Use back of spoon to press crust back into place. Cool crust on rack. Freeze crust 30 minutes.
Dollop 1 1/2 cups ice cream over crust; spread into even layer. Spread lemon curd over ice cream; freeze until firm, about 2 hours. Dollop 1 1/2 cups softened ice cream over lemon curd; spread into even layer. Cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

For meringue Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in medium bowl until frothy. Beat in cream of tartar. With mixer running, gradually add sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Spoon meringue over pie, spreading to seal at edges and swirling decoratively. Freeze pie until ready to serve.
Using a kitchen butane torch, toast meringue until golden in spots; or, place pie in a preheated 500°F oven or broiler until meringue is golden in spots, watching to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. (Seriously, watch it the entire time - it can go from raw to burnt in a second.) Cut pie into wedges; serve immediately.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Perfect Banana Bread

 It deeply annoys me when people title their recipes "the best," "the greatest," or even "perfect." Who proclaimed your food the most wonderful ever created? You and your official declaration committee? Let's get real, there's a 99.99% chance your chocolate chip cookies are nothing particularly mind-blowing.
If you notice my own recipe title, you may choose to call me a hypocrite. That's kind of valid in this case, but hear me out.
Banana bread is one of those sweets that most Americans have grown up eating. Everybody has their own "secret" family recipe they swear by, and the variations on the basic formula are endless. However, my parents don't bake at all, ever, so I've spent the past seven years trying to find my perfect banana bread recipe. This is soft, fluffy, incredibly moist, and studded with slivers of dark chocolate (hi there, in case we haven't met, chocolate is kind of a necessity in my kitchen).
Thanks to a college road trip that took me and my dad through Boston, we stumbled across Flour Bakery and Cafe. (Okay, I won't lie to you, I googled "best bakery in Boston.") The place is adorable and wonderful and full of delicious pastries, and it's because of Joanne Chang's beautiful book that I got my hands on this recipe. So thank you, Flour, for helping me create my own family tradition.
Enjoy!
 Perfect Banana Bread 

1 2/3 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (230 grams) sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (100 grams) canola or other flavourless oil
3 1/2 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 1/2 cups or 340 grams mashed bananas)
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate disks, roughly chopped (or chop up a dark chocolate bar)

Position the rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 325°F (165°C). Butter and flour a 9x5" loaf pan.
 In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or a handheld mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes for the stand mixer, and about 8 minutes for a handheld mixer; or until light and fluffy.
With the machine on low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Do not pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn't deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding the oil should take about 1 minute.
Add the bananas, creme fraiche/sour cream, and vanilla, then continue to mix on low speed just until combined.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and chocolate just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible and the chocolate should be evenly distributed.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until golden brown on top and the cake springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, it needs to bake a little longer.
Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes; flip bread out of pan and allow to cool completely before slicing.
(Note: I feel that I should follow standard recipe rules and advise waiting until this has come to room temperature to taste it. However, if you were to accidentally have a piece warm out of the oven, I'd be pretty proud.)