Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dark Chocolate Brownies

I will let myself eat these... oh, maybe twice a year. And, since I made two batches of these heavenly brownies in one week, I'm done for 2009 and a good portion of 2010.

Dark Chocolate Brownies
from Craving Chronicles

½ c unsalted butter
1 c sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cups 100% dark cocoa
½ t salt
½ t baking powder
½ T vanilla extract
¾ c all-purpose flour
1 c dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 8″ x 8″ pan.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and add the sugar, stirring to combine. Return the butter mixture to the heat briefly, just until it’s hot, but not bubbling.

In a smaller bowl, crack 2 eggs and beat them with the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla until smooth.

Stir the hot butter mixture into the egg mixture until smooth.

Stir in the flour until just combined. Let the batter cool in the bowl for about 20 minutes before stirring in the chips. Allowing the batter to cool keeps the chips intact instead of melting into the batter.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased 8″ x 8″ pan and bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean, with some moist crumbs but no loose batter. Cool on a rack before serving.

I served mine with a melon-baller scoop of coconut frozen custard.

These are the best brownies I have ever eaten. The are extremely satisfying. I cut them into small squares and I could easily stop eating after only one brownie. I didn't... But I could.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Cranberry Cake with Orange Frosting and Candied Cranberries

I will make this cake every year for Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other Fall/Winter occasion I can think of. It is showstopping in its beauty and taste. It is easy to make and easily altered for slight variations. Please, please, please make this cake. I know you'll love it, too.

Pumpkin Spice Cranberry Cake with Orange Frosting and Candied Cranberries

1 box spice cake mix
3 eggs, beaten
1 can pumpkin puree
1/3 c milk or water
1 bag of cranberries
2 c water
2 c + 1 c sugar
16 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
zest of one large orange
2 t vanilla extract
2 c powdered sugar

Empty the boxed spice cake mix into a large mixing bowl and add three beaten eggs, one can of pumpkin puree, and 1/3 cup of milk (or water). Blend together thoroughly. Empty a bag of cranberries into a colander, rinse and toss out the soft or spoiled berries. Drop 1/4 of the berries in the batter whole, halve another 1/4 of the remaining berries and add them to the batter, as well. Reserve the remaining 1/2 bag of berries to be candied. Stir to combine and divide evenly into two 8 or 9" cake rounds. Bake as directed on the box. What you've got is Spiced Pumpkin Cranberry Cake.

For the frosting take two of the 8oz packages of cream cheese and two sticks of unsalted butter, soften and blend together with the zest of a big orange, 2 t of vanilla and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of powdered sugar, adding the sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Once the cakes are completely cooled, frost with your delicious orange frosting.

For the candied berries dissolve 2 cups of sugar in 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and allow to cool for a minute. Drop a cranberry in the syrup. If after 30 seconds or so the berry does not burst, then the solution is cool enough. Drop all the remaining berries, about half of a bag, in the sugar water. Then cover them with a plate or bowl that is almost the same size as the pan. It should just act like a weight to hold the berries underwater. If one or two pop up over the bowl, don't worry about it. Now let the berries absorb the sugar until the whole shebang is completely cool or overnight. Once cool, remove the berries with a slotted spoon and place them on a some wax paper or foil. Quickly, while they are still wet, sprinkle them with remaining cup of sugar. Once they are dry put them on your cake. PuhPow! Candied Cranberries.

The cake I made for Thanksgiving was a delicious variation of this cake. It started with a boxed white cake mix. I added the three beaten eggs, replaced the water called for on the back of the box with whole milk, and replaced the oil with melted butter. The batter was thick. I added the berries, baked and decorated as in the recipe above. It was perfect.

I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I do!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Baker's Instincts

This weekend I tried to make a Red Velvet Cake for a friend's birthday. It was not very successful. In the end, the entire experience taught me that have some fledgling baker's instincts, and that next time around I should trust them.

When I started my search for a recipe I had the idea that I should find the most authentic recipe out there. I don't know why exactly, but it seemed like such a specific cake steeped in tradition. I didn't want to make a simple knock off. I was going to go for the glory. After looking some recipes over, I found the more traditional versions had some ingredients I was unsure of. The idea of adding vinegar to a cake just seemed unappealing. I also saw that the older, more traditional recipes called for only two tablespoons of cocoa powder, while the newer ones had a quarter cup or more. Here's where those instincts made their first appearance. Just looking at the recipes, the newer versions looked better to me. My instincts said, "Just go with what looks better." But, I ignored them and continued down the path of tradition and authenticity.

As I continued to read about Red Velvet Cakes, I learned a bit of lore about them. There are plenty of stories about how the red cakes came about, but the one that stood out to me as the most likely was one about poor folks in the South. In the 1940's when chocolate cakes were in fashion, but cocoa powder was expensive and hard to come by, some creative bakers came up with a colorful alternative to a white or yellow cake. With couple tablespoons of cocoa and a bunch of food coloring, a new tradition with just a dash of the coveted cocoa was born. It sounded like a beautiful tradition of folks making the best of what they had, but again my instinct came into play. They whispered to me, "If this is true, that Red Velvet was the cake you made if you couldn't afford chocolate, and I CAN afford chocolate... Why not just make chocolate?"

"Shut up," I said to my instincts. "Surely Red Velvet (the poor man's chocolate cake) is a special cake that is just as good as chocolate cake (the rich man's chocolate cake)." Why? Why would I say that to myself? The poor man's anything is never as good as the rich man's something!

I settled on a recipe that seemed authentic and was detailed and easy to follow. I went out and bought some really choice ingredients and got to work. I carefully measured, sifted and mixed. It was really a fun project to work on. The cakes turned out a brilliant shade of red. I felt at this point very successful.

I let the cake cool overnight. I decided not to go with the traditional roux icing (all of a sudden tradition wasn't important?) and made a cream cheese frosting that was highly recommended on a well respected food blog. The frosting was delicious, however, it was a tad soft. I had followed the recipe carefully, that must be how it's supposed to be, right? Well, I frosted the cake and it looked great for a minute. But only moments later my cake was nearly naked again, sitting in a puddle of frosting. It was just way too soft! I still had plenty of frosting so I added a couple of cups of powdered sugar to the frosting to stiffen it up. I also turned on the air conditioner (it was a little warm in the kitchen) and frosted the cake a second time then quickly put it in the fridge to set. I peeked in after five minutes to check on it and my heart fell. The frosting was still oozing down the side of the cake.

It was such a frustrating experience! I had imagined this creamy, white frosting hiding away a stunning, deep red cake. I kept ending up with a puddle of frosting! After the second frosting attempt, I threw in the towel and made a chocolate ganache that I KNEW would stay on. However, all the frosting drama had left the cake a bit disheveled and I couldn't bring myself to present a messy cake to my friend. I cut him piece and left the rest in my fridge. Finally, three days later, I was able to bring myself to taste it. I let it rest on the counter to come up to room temperature, poured myself a glass of milk, and dug in.

It was surprisingly good! Not great, certainly not as good as a chocolate cake, but good. The cake was a bit grainy, like a corn cake, and not very sweet, but the remnants of the cream cheese frosting and ganache were a nice sweet balance.

In the end, I'm glad I had this baking experience. I learned that, even though I still so new at this, I can trust myself and my instincts.

Here's a picture of the cake.

I'm not going to link to the recipe this time, because I really can't recommend it, especially the frosting. If you're interested in baking a Red Velvet cake, you'll have to do your own search. Just remember to trust your instincts!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I just put together some wooden bead curtain tie-backs for my kitchen. Although they are hardly similar, they were inspired by some tie-backs I saw in the West Elm catalog years ago. John and I picked these beads out at the craft store and I strung them up on some nylon wire. Zumi got a hold of one the other night and I came home to a kitchen floor covered with chewed up beads. She seems to have had her fill so, for the moment, the others are safe.


John and I bought these silicone cutting mats a while back. They seemed like a great idea. They're flexible, easy to clean, and non-porous. They help avoid cross contamination and are stored easily. Perfect, right?


We treated these mats with reasonable care and we washed them by hand as we don't have a dishwasher. This is what we got. Immediately.

The color on the back of the mats easily rubbed off leaving hard to remove marks on our counters.

Avoid these mats, folks. Stick to time-tested wooden cutting boards. We currently have bamboo boards and they certainly do the trick.


We like BIG breakfasts at my house. John has this saying, "Breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a peasant." I think that makes sense but, even if I thought it was rubbish, nowadays I'm always on board for breakfast sweets and savories. There was a time though were I would pass on traditional breakfast foods. I'd take a bowl of cereal, but couldn't stand the though of pancakes. Growing up my dad would make us his favorite breakfast items every Saturday and Sunday. It was eggs (scrambled or omelets), bacon or sausage, pancakes, toast or biscuits, etc. Often they were delivered to us in bed as he was always up so early to get out on the golf course. Anyway, all those years of decadent breakfasts in bed had the unfortunate effect of turning me off of breakfast completely. I was just tired of it. But, after a a few years of a steady breakfast diet of Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal, a craving for bacon and eggs popped up out of no where. Now, maybe twice a week, we'll take a break from cereal or toast with fruit and have something a little more... hearty!

When we go all out for breakfast it always includes an egg, sunny side up and fried in butter with salt, pepper, thyme, and Romano cheese. It is so rich and delicious. I almost always serve it with some asparagus, lightly seasoned and either steamed, grilled or sauteed. We most commonly have bacon, but occasionally there will be some sausage or ham we need to use up. There is usually toast with butter or Smart Balance and jam. If there is a potato in the pantry I'll chop it up for some home fries, but I'm not too good at frying things, so this is a rare occurrence. I'll throw in whatever fruit we have on hand, usually berries or stone fruit and sometimes mix it into a bowl of Greek yogurt with raw local honey or fat-free cottage cheese. These are all usually served with a glass of juice, milk, tea, coffee or all four! With a breakfast like this, we don't usually have lunch, just a snack to tide us over until dinner.

Healthy Brownies?

I saw this recipe on Spork or Foon? for "healthy brownies." I thought to myself, "Can this be true?" I love deep chocolate, fudgey brownies, but I never make them. For one, I've always been a terrible baker. My out-of-the-box brownies always ended up bland and hard as a rock. I also have a terrible habit of eating far too many than I should (more than one...). With my new found confidence in baking, the idea of a brownie that I could guiltlessly indulge upon was intriguing. Plus, these were certainly talked up over at Spork or Foon. I had the evening free, so decided to give them a try.

Healthy Brownies
from Spork or Foon

1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
3 egg whites
1 c sugar
1 t fine sea salt
1 t vanilla extract
1 t instant coffee granules
1/2 c white whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an individual brownie pan or 8 inch square baking pan, with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl mix together all of the dry ingredients. Mix the applesauce and egg whites and gently fold into the dry mixture. Stir only until moistened.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until desired texture is reached. Less time will result in a more dense, gooey brownie and longer time will produce a cake like brownie.

These were a major miss. I added chocolate chips in an attempt to make them more tasty. I failed. They are a sad waste of quality ingredients. They tasted like chewy, grainy, chocolatey apple wedges. I might try to make them again, maybe I missed something. For now, though, I'll stick to terribly unhealthy brownies.