February 24, 2009

Caramel Crunch Buttons

This week's challenge for Tuesdays with Dorie is Caramel Crunch Bars. I mini-sized mine as buttons made in mini muffin cups and they came out pretty darn cute. Not much to report on these, to be honest. They have a buttery shortbread crust scented with a bit of espresso, studded with dark of chocolate and topped with dark chocolate and toffee bits. Mmm mmm good. I think that says it all.

If you'd like to try your hand at these as either buttons or bars, you can find the recipe on Whitney's blog, What's Left on the Table.

February 16, 2009

Tuesday with Rose, Nick & Molly

I did a bunch of baking this weekend, but had to cheat on Dorie & TWD. As much as I love chocolate layer cakes, it just wasn't in the cards for us as I was more tempted by other treats.

First, I started out with some scones from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible. Rose's recipes always intimidate me when I first look at them - the complicated chart of ingredients by 3 different measures must be what does it. But once you start following the instructions, she is so clear & precise that I feel comforted and certain it's going to work. Which is why I found myself rolling out and folding scone dough five times, rather than just patting it together once like I usually do.

It wasn't as hard as I thought and WOW! Look how high these things rose up in the oven. These scones have more of a biscuit texture than that of flatter, crumblier ones. They were light as air. I threw in chopped dried cranberries as well as currants, in a nod to the red theme of the weekend.

Next I moved onto a new brownie recipe from Nick Malgieri's new book, The Modern Baker. These are so scrumptious and get a little crunch from cocoa nibs. I can't wait to try more of Nick's bar recipes - they are calling out to me from the photos. Right now I just have a copy from the library but I think I may have to buy the book. So far the brownies alone are worth the price of ownership. I made these brownies in heart shapes and handed them out to some friends for Valentine's gifts, packaged in pink Chinese take-out boxes.

Finally, for my sweetheart of a husband I made Molly of Orangette's apple cake-tart. He loved this so much the first time I baked it that I thought I would enchant him again. It was our dessert on Feb 14th and the following two nights as well (did I mention there were also brownies in the house - well it was a holiday weekend after all!).

The apple cake-tart (or apple cart as one Orangette commenter dubbed it) is really easy and if you're someone who doesn't think you can bake or doesn't like to, this might be the apple dessert for you. It's a tart that involves no rolling pin and a cake that involves no folding, frosting or layering. I made a few adjustments to Molly's original (albeit recycled) recipe. I added a touch of almond extract and reduced the sugar to 3/4 cup.What I love most about this apple cake/tart/cart/thing is that the edges of the crust get nicely caramelized and crunchy, which contrasts nicely with the soft cake interior and apples. It's a keeper in our house, for sure.

I'm going to be checking out how the other TWD bakers did with this week's chocolate cake, and you can too by going to the blogroll, or find the recipe by visiting Stephanie's blog, Confessions of a City Eater.

The Recipes:

Rose's Scones

2 sticks (8 oz) sweet butter, cold
4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 liquid cups heavy cream
1 cup currants and/or dried cranberries or other fruit

Cut the butter into one-inch cubes and chill for 30 minutes, minimum.
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the butter and with your fingertips or a pastry blender, press the cubes into large flakes (you could also do this in food processor if you have a large one).
Mix in the cream and toss with rubber spatula just until the flour is moistened and the dough starts to come together in large clumps. Add in the currants.
Knead the dough in the bowl a few times until it just holds together, then turn out onto a lightly floured board.
Lightly flour the top of the dough and roll out into a rectangle that is 1inch thick, and about 8x12 inches. Use a bench scraper to keep the edges even.
Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter. Lightly flour the board and rotate the dough so the smooth sides face to the left. Roll out again to same size rectangle and fold again. Do this for a total of 4 "turns". Refrigerate the dough if it starts to get too warm between turns.
Preheat oven to 400, with rack in middle.
Now, roll out the dough one more time and trim the edges so it's all nicely squared off (the scrapes can be re-rolled).
Cut lengthwise so you have two pieces, about 4x12. Cut each piece of dough into triangles (I got 6 from each piece but the scones turned out very large - you might try to get 7 instead).
Chill the scones on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet until ready to bake.
Bake 15-20 mins until nicely browned on bottom and golden on the tops and sides (but not too dark).
If you want to be fancy, you could brush the tops with heavy cream or beaten egg before baking but I don't think they need it.

Store airtight at room temp up to 2-3 days (re-heat in toaster oven) or freeze up to 3 months. I like to freeze half the batch unbaked, flash freezing first and then wrapping in saran.

Nick's Cocoa Nib Brownies

8 oz sweet butter, cut into 12 pieces
9 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1-1/4 cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs vanilla
1-1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa nibs (optional)

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir a few times, and let bubble for 30 seconds, then remove from heat. Stir in the chocolate and set aside for a few minutes to let it melt. Use small whisk to mix smooth.

Put brown sugar in bowl of electric mixer. Beat in 1 egg at a time on the lowest speed.
Add salt, sugar and vanilla and beat smooth.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the chocolate-butter mixture with rubber spatula.
Mix in the flour, followed by 1/4 cup cocoa nibs if using.

Line a 9x13 baking pan with buttered foil (you may need 2 pieces - let it overhang the sides).

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and scatter rest of nibs on top.
Bake in a 350 oven until firm but still very moist in center, about 30 mins (toothpick will still have some moist crumbs clinging to it - don't let it go until dry).

Cool brownies in pan on rack, then refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Let come to room temp, then invert, peel off foil and invert again.

You could use nuts or dried cherries in place of the nibs but the nibs are nice addition - adding crunch and bitterness.

February 2, 2009

World Peace Cookies (TWD)

Oh, Dorie, if only we could bring about world peace through cookies! Our little TWD group would be the biggest peacemakers of all.

Yes, this week, my fellow bakers and I are blogging about Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies. I won't tell the story behind the name as I know many of the other bloggers will do so and it's in the book (buy the book! you won't regret it!). But if you believe sharing good food can great good will, then you get the idea.

This was my third batch of World Peace Cookies. The previous two times, I was frustrated by the dough's crumbly-ness and ended up cursing a lot as I tried to slice the logs into neat circles. So this time, I tweaked. I added an extra tablespoon of butter and subtracted two tablespoons of flour. Yes, the dough was easier to form into logs and to slice. But, I also learned why it's hard to mess around with baking recipes. While not a flop by any means, the cookies seemed a bit too buttery, almost verging on, dare I say it, greasy. They also spread more than the original version and were therefore thinner and crisper. And I didn't like them much more than the previous attempts, when I was less-than-enamored of their sandy texture. Don't get me wrong, I can still easily pack in a handful or so because, after all, they are made with lots of chocolate. But I generally prefer my cookies on the chewy or cakey side or more like shortbread. Thin and crisp is not my thing. But if YOU like thin & crisp cookies, then these will work great for you.

These cookies incorporate a healthy dose of fleur de sel, which I love. I even sprinkled more fleur de sel on top before baking. Mmm...salty and sweet together...so good. I am such a fan of adding a good amount of salt to your sweets.

I also decided to make another change - mostly for visual purposes - and use white chocolate instead of dark chocolate chips. It worked nicely, though they did come out a bit sweeter.

If you'd like to try your own hand at encouraging world peace one cookie at a time, head over to Jessica's blog and check out the recipe.

Peace out, fellow bakers. :)