Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Praline Butter Bars

About a month ago, I blogged about some extraordinary bars that my friend Steph brought me one day. They were called Praline Butter Bars and she bought them at Whole Foods. One of the first things she said to me after I took my first bite was... we've got to learn how to make these!

I was fairly sure that I could do the top layers no problem.. it was the crust that I was nervous about. It was SUPER buttery and moist. I came across a recipe for Caramel Butter Bars on a blog. The recipe was written by Jill O'Connor and is in her book: Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth. I decided it was now time to attempt to copycat the Praline Butter Bars using this crust and the filling and topping from Paula Deens Low Country Bars.

I decided to put all this together this weekend and see if I could get close to the original Praline Butter Bars. And I was very pleasantly surprised when this first experiment pretty much nailed the recipe. The only difference is the filling and topping are reversed. In the original Praline Butter Bars... the white is the filling and its thicker, while the praline part is a thinner topping. But, I don't really mind it being reversed.

The picture was taken with the bar sitting out at room temperature for awhile. Normally the white topping is firmer.

These were great and I don't really think I'm going to need to experiment anymore with them.

Praline Butter Bars

For the crust:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups all purpose flour

For the filling:
12 tbsp butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup coconut, optional
2 cups graham cracker crumbs

For the topping:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp butter, softened
3 tbsp milk

Spray a 13x9 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.

To prepare the crust:
Preheat oven to 325.
In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugars. Using an electric mixer mix at medium speed and beat together till creamy. Add the vanilla and salt and beat until combined. Sift the flour into the butter mixture adn beat on low speed until smooth and soft.

Press the dough evenly in the bottom of the pan and slide into the oven for 20-25 minutes. Until dough is soft, but lightly puffed. It doesn't need to change color. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To prepare the filling:
Measure your nuts, graham cracker crumbs and coconut (if using) and set aside. Melt the butter in a saucepan on low heat and add sugar. Beat the egg with the milk together in a prep bowl and then pour into the dissolved sugar and butter mixture. Stirring constantly (to keep the eggs from scrambling), turn the heat up a little and stir until mixture comes to a bowl. Remove from heat and add the graham cracker, nuts, and coconut. Stir to combine and pour and spread over the crust.

To prepare the topping:
Beat all ingredients together and spread over the filling.

Chill the bars and allow them to set up before cutting into squares.

Recipe adapted from Jill O'Connor Caramel Butter Bars and Paula Deen's Low Country Bars.

Monday, April 28, 2008

TWD: Fluted Polenta & Ricotta Cake

Cornbread is one of my most absolute favorite things in the whole entire world. My mom’s cornbread, especially. I love the crispy edges, the coarse but tender texture. Yum.

In my family… cornbread is always savory. We refer to sweet cornbread as yankee cornbread and because it’s just something so foreign to me and also because I like my sweet dishes to be sweet and my savory dishes to be savory… I’ve just never been a big fan of sweet cornbread… whether it was made for dinner or dessert.

So, yes, I was quite nervous about this recipe. I honestly, would have skipped it altogether, but I’m going to be out of town all next week and won’t be able to participate, so I knew that I needed to complete this week’s recipe.

It came together really easy. I used dried figs and also dried cherries in the recipe. And when it was made… all I could think was… wow, this is just like a really sweet piece of cornbread. So, I took my pictures and then proceeded to throw the rest away.

I wish I could shake this whole sweet vs savory texture thing… maybe one of these days my palate will mature enough for that.

Anyway, a lot of other people really liked this recipe… so if you like sweet cornbread and would like it as a dessert, you should definitely give this recipe a try. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the groups cakes at Tuesdays with Dorie

And thanks to Caitlin for picking such an unusual recipe this week! Check her blog out, too.. it’s really good! Engineer Baker

Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

About 16 moist, plump dried Mission or Kadota figs, stemmed
1 c. medium-grain polenta or yellow cornmeal
½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 c. ricotta
1/3 c. tepid water
¾ c. sugar
¾ c. honey (if you’re a real honey lover, use a full-flavored honey such as chestnut, pine, or buckwheat)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 10 ½-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.
Check that the figs are, indeed, moist and plump. If they are the least bit hard, toss them into a small pan of boiling water and steep for a minute, then drain and pat dry. If the figs are large (bigger than a bite), snip them in half.
Whisk the polenta, flour, baking powder, and salt together.
Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the ricotta and water together on low speed until very smooth. With the mixer at medium speed, add the sugar, honey, and lemon zest and beat until light. Beat in the melted butter, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are fully incorporated. You’ll have a sleek, smooth, pourable batter.
Pour about one third of the batter into the pan and scatter over the figs. Pour in the rest of the batter, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, if necessary, and dot the batter evenly with the chilled bits of butter.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The cake should be honey brown and pulling away just a little from the sides of the panm, and the butter will have left light-colored circles in the top. Transfer the cake to a rack and remove the sides of the pan after about 5 minutes. Cool to warm, or cool completely.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I’m kind of a routine eater. I eat essentially the same thing for breakfast every morning, I eat at the same 4-5 restaurants for lunch and eat the same thing at each restaurant. It’s not that I’m not adventurous when it comes to eating… because, I can be. It’s that I’m generally too lazy to try new things. I mean… the old stand-by is stable and for sure. I don’t want to have to read a menu or think up something new to have for breakfast.

Eventually, though… I get bored. It takes a long time to happen, but it does. Such is the case of the bananas that had been sitting on my kitchen counter for a week or so. My favorite way to eat bananas is in cereal. So, when I’m not eating much cereal… I’m not eating many bananas. I only like bananas when they are bright yellow, still a little green at the stem and devoid of any black or brown spots. At the onset of even one brown fleck, the banana is essentially dead to me and must be used up in a recipe.

Which is why I was looking for a new banana recipe...for whatever reason I have become a peanut butter fanatic in recent months, so I was really feeling like I wanted to try some sort of peanut butter and banana combination. And… with bananas and peanut butter… why not throw some chocolate chips and pecans in there, right??

Yum. These were delicious.. but you know…I might add more peanut butter and more chocolate chips next time.

I made half a batch and got 10 muffins.

Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Also… so.. I really need to figure out how to manipulate my camera to blur the background more and focus in on the actual baked good. I also need to learn how to notice shadows when I’m taking pictures instead of later when I’m looking at them on the computer. Hopefully the issue is my skills and not my camera, cause I really don't want to have to buy a new camera.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lesson... Pay attention when measuring.

So, a couple of weeks ago, my friend Leigh was in town for the weekend. She was here during a stressful and sad time for both of us, but we managed to enjoy each other’s company and also enjoy catching up one-on-one, which we hadn’t gotten to do in years.

Usually when someone comes to visit me, I like to make something for the occasion. Cookies, muffins, whatever… I like to be the hostess with the mostest, ya know? But, this time around… I didn’t really have the time to make anything before she came into town. So, on Sunday afternoon, while we were relaxing, I decided to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I have two favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes. This one which is crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside and the one posted at the bottom of this post which I adapted from this recipe.

So, we were chatting away and she was talking about how she never makes chocolate chip cookies from scratch, etc.. and I was all like.. “ohhhhh.. they’re so easy, who needs cookies from a tube?” And while I was going on and on about how easy cookies are to make and how this recipe is awesome… I measured some ingredients wrong.

I thought that the dough seemed a little runny, but I was confident in my cookie making skills… I chilled the dough for a bit in the freezer and then started scooping them out. 8 minutes later when I checked the oven… I laughed my ass off:

And that is when I realized… hmmm… I seem to have measured either the wrong amount of butter or the wrong amount of flour. Whoops.

This recipe is awesome though if you like soft, chewy cookies. I made some last week with great results. Just make sure you measure everything carefully...

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup plus 2 tbsp of unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups chocolate chips
2 cups of flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend butter, sugars, baking soda and powder, vanilla and eggs until ingredients are mixed.
Add chocolate chips and mix.

Add flour and continue to mix until well blended.
Cover and chill in fridge for 45-60 minutes.

Use a cookie scoop or a tbsp to measure out dough and form a ball of the dough in your hands and then slightly flatten it and place it on non-stick baking sheet.

Bake for approximately 7-9 minutes. Cool on pan and then transfer to baking rack

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

TWD: Bills Big Carrot Cake

Generally, I don’t like surprises. Well, I should probably preface that statement with the following disclaimer: I do like surprises. But only if I have no idea that it’s coming. On the otherhand, if I know about something that is coming up… but it’s a surprise. I freaking HATE that. I’m the type that overanalyzes everything and so knowing that I’m going to be surprised by something in advance… drives me absolutely crazy. And not in a fun way… but in an irritable, cranky, and annoying way.

So, when I’m culinarily surprised by something… I tend to not like it. For example… let’s take sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a vegetable and supposed to be like a potato (at least by their name). That means, to me they should taste like a yukon gold potato. They should be served alongside steak with lots of salt and butter. But, no. No, they are sweet and should be served for dessert not for dinner. You see.. that’s the problem.. I don’t want sweet food for dinner. I want savory food for entrees and sweet foods for dessert.

It is because of this rule I have about food, that I had never had carrot cake previous to my friend April’s wedding last year. I mean… first of all, I don’t even really like carrots and second of all… a carrot isn’t supposed to be sweet. It’s a vegetable. Someone mentioned to me that a carrot cake really just tastes like a spice cake. That you can’t taste the carrots. I started thinking… I do like spice cake. And lord knows I love cream cheese frosting. So, at Aprils wedding, I tasted the grooms cake which was a carrot cake and loved it! That was the first and last time I’ve had carrot cake… so I was pretty excited about this latest Dorie recipe.

When does a single gal need a whole cake? Well, sometimes… but, not this weekend.. so, I opted to Quarter the recipe and came out with 6 cupcakes. The cake was absolutely delicious! So moist and tender and full of flavor. I loved the addition of the nuts (I used pecans). And actually… I think I’ll make this recipe as muffins. I mean, the cake part was by far my favorite part (which usually, I’m a big frosting fan) and I think with some whole wheat flour they would make healthy, delicious muffins.

This was a definite winner for me and it will become my go-to carrot cake recipe from now on. Hooray for carrots. Thanks to Amanda from Slow Like Honey (you should check her blog out anyway, it's awesome) and be sure to check out all the other Carrot Cake posts over at Tuesdays with Dorie

Bill's Big Carrot Cake
Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Yields 10 servings


For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (about 9 carrots, you can grate them in food processor fitted w/ a shredding a blade or use a box grater)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
½ cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs

For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick ( 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound or 3 and ¾ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
½ cup shredded coconut (optional)
Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut (optional)

Getting ready:
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter three 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Put the two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.

To make the cake:
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on a medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.
The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

To make the frosting:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice or extract.
If you'd like coconut in the filling, scoop about half of the frosting and stir the coconut into this position.

To assemble the cake:
Put one layer top side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. If you added the coconut to the frosting, use half of the coconut frosting to generously cover the first layer (or generously cover with plain frosting). Use an offset spatula or a spoon to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer. Top with the second layer, this time placing the cake stop side down, and frost with the remainder of the coconut frosting or plain frosting. Top with the last layer, right side up, and frost the top- and the sides- of the cake. Finish the top with swirls of frosting. If you want to top the cake with toasted nuts or coconut, sprinkle them on now while the frosting is soft.
Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.

This cake can be served as soon as the frosting is set. It can also wait, at room temperature and covered with a cake keeper overnight. The cake is best served in thick slices at room temperature and while it's good plain, it's even better with vanilla ice cream or some lemon curd.

The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen. Freeze it uncovered, then when it's firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

TWD: The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Tart

With a recipe name like... The Most Extraordinary Lemon Tart, your expectations are high. Very high.

And honestly, for me... it just didn't live up to the hype. And I love lemon. I really do. The texture of this was really nice, I did like that part a lot, but the crust was a little crunchy for me (even after a couple of days in the fridge) and I felt like the lemon flavor could have been enhanced somehow. Like with some raspberry sauce drizzled all over.

I rarely want whipped cream with my pies, tarts, etc... but, this tart was just begging for it. Sadly, I didn't have any.

It was good. Just not out of this world good. I actually thought that the filling was tastier when it was fresh out of the food processor. I think I might like this better with limes and lemons!

As far as making it goes... it wasn't too bad. It gave me the opportunity to buy some things I hadn't bought yet. Like... a microplane grater, a tart pan (although I couldn't find one, so I bought a quiche pan instead) and an instant read thermometer. This recipe required lots of stirring. But overall, not too scary.

Sorry for the crappy post. But it's the busiest week of the year for me... Better next week, I promise :) Thanks to Mary of Starting from Scratch for picking this recipe and be sure to check out all the other tarts over at Tuesdays With Dorie.

The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart
From Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature
1 9-inch tart shell

Getting ready:
Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender or food processor at hand. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water.

Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk - you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling - you'll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180 degrees F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point - the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don't stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience - depending on how much heat you're giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.
As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going - to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days or, tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator).

When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Serve the tart, or refrigerate until needed.

Makes 8 servings.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cake with Cream Cheese and Butterfinger Frosting

My family never celebrates anything on the correct date. Like, seriously, my immediate family is allergic to pre-set schedules. I don't even think my parents own a calendar. It kind of drives me crazy in a way, but I'm used to it by this point. Their constant spontaneity has turned me into a little bit of an OVERplanner.

It's refreshing in a way. To know that they live life by their seat of the pants. A lot of people are too scared to do that (me). A lot of people like to know when they aren't going to be in town in advance so they can pre-plan the previous weeks in preparation for the trip(me).

Anyway... long story short. My family celebrated Easter one weekend after Easter. Ham, deviled eggs, the whole bit. Strangely missing were easter baskets, but whatever. I'm 28, I'm not going to complain about that. Too much.

So, family get togethers are awesome for me, because I get to make a full-size recipe of something decadent. I searched through my recipe folder and came across this recipe. It was noted as being from Bon Appetit originally. But, I'm sure I got this recipe from someone else's blog. Unfortunately, I didn't put that blog link on the recipe (like I usually do).

I really enjoyed making this cake. I made it in about 3 different stages in about 3 different days and I eagerly anticipated the final day... putting all the delicious components together. But, I think I had overloaded on all the individual components to the point where the final product wasn't as awesome as I had expected it to be. It was delicious, don't get me wrong. But, not quite as delicious as I thought it was going to be.

A few notes on the cake: It's supposed to be a 3 layer cake, but I only have two cake pans, so I made it a two layer cake. For whatever reason, I didn't split the filling recipe in half though, which is why my filling is SO thick. But, it was good that it was thick, because it wasn't too rich at all. My cakes seriously feel in the centers, as you can tell by the cake. I probably should have ran my knife along the edges as soon as I pulled it from the oven and I probably should have leveled the layers out with a serrated knife. Life and Learn.

Anyway, this cake is really good (the peanut butter cake is very light in peanut flavor, I think I would add more peanut butter next time, but it's so moist!) and though it seems kind of daunting, it's totally not.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with Cream Cheese and Butterfinger Frosting

Begin preparing the cake one day before.

2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
12 oz bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used semi sweet chips)
1/2 cup old-fashioned (natural) chunky peanut butter (I used smooth JIF)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
10 tbsps unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup old fashioned (natural) chunky peanut butter
1 pound brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 8 oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature (basically 12 oz of cream cheese)
2 cups powdered sugar, divided
6 tbps unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
Butterfinger candy bars, coarsely chopped

For filling:
Bring cream and sugar to simmer in saucepan, whisking to dissolve sugar (this took me a LONG time, I dont think I had the heat up enough to start). Remove from heat. Add chocolate; let stand 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in peanut butter. Chill uncovered overnight.

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 9 inch diameter cake pans with 1 1/2 inch high sides. Line bottoms with Parchment paper (I then buttered the parchment paper, too). Sift first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and peanut butter until blended. Beat in sugar. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. At low speed, beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions.

Divide batter among pans and spread evenly. Bake cakes until tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes 5 minutes. Turn out onto racks, peel off parchment paper. Cool cakes completely.

For frosting:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Whisk whipping cream and 3/4 cup powdered sugar in bowl until mixture holds medium-firm peaks. Fold into cream cheese mixture in 3 additions; chill until firm but spreadable, about one hour.

Place one cake layer, bottom side up, on a 9 inch round tart pan bottom. Spread half of filling. Place another layer, bottom side up, on work surface. Spread with remaining filling; place atop first layer. Top with remaining cake layer, bottom side up.

Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome; chill. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours before continuing). Press candy onto top and sides of cake.

Makes 12 servings
Bon Appetit

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Pecan Pie Muffins

My favorite pie is easily pecan pie. With this cherry pie a close, close second. Anyway, I have a really sweet sweet tooth. Like, it's ridiculous. I love all things super, super sweet and if they're gooey, then I've died and gone to heaven. Take for example my love of cadbury eggs. I know that there are scores and scores of people out there who cannot stand the sugar, tooth-achinginy sweet cadbury egg. But, dude... thats my favorite seasonal candy. Oh, that and chocolate covered cherries. But... don't try to get all gourmet on me and give me the dark chocolate covered cherries from some fancy dancy chocolate shop.... no sir. I want the milk chocolate covered cherries made by Queen Anne and sold in your local wal-mart and walgreens. Yum. See, I love my super sweet chocolate and pure sugar fillings.

So, is it any wonder that my favorite pie and maybe my favorite dessert in general is the pecan pie? I also love pecans, so that doesn't hurt.

Now, pecan pie was one of those things that I usually only had at Thanksgiving and Christmas. If my mom was going to make a pie... it was almost always cherry because that's my dad's absolute favorite pie. But, when I went to my grandma's house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, there were always two pecan pies sitting on the dessert table. Each of them made by my Aunt Rita. My Aunt Rita was a very special person in my family. She was extremely intelligent and extremely silly. She didn't have any children, but was basically like a big kid herself. And while all the adult men sat at the kitchen table, the kids at the dining room table and the women (well... did the women even actually eat? I just remember them hovering over the kids and the husbands making sure we were all happy), Aunt Rita always sat with us kids. And we would all laugh and tease. She had a great laugh.

Tragically, my Aunt Rita passed away in a car accident when I was a freshman in high school. Her laugh and smile is something that we all really miss and that I can't help but think about at every family get together.

Since her passing, there have been empty spots on the dessert table where her pies used to be. The pecan pie was her contribution and I guess no one can bear to bring pecan pies, for fear of "stepping" on her memory? A couple of years ago, an outsider brought a store bought pecan pie and it sat untouched on the dessert table. Even with my love of pecan pie (yes, I even love store bought ones, I'm not picky with my pecan pie) I couldn't bear eat a slice of this "foreign" pie.

But, I've kind of decided, that after all this time.... almost 15 years now, that maybe making a pecan pie would honor her memory, instead of step on it. I'm still not sure, I've got some time before thanksgiving to think about it...

The memory of her and the pecan pies is something that makes me love pecan pies even more! Because, when I have pecan pie, I can't help but think about her and smile. But, pecan pie is one of those things that I just can't make for myself. I mean, I could seriously eat an entire pie at one sitting and still be craving more. So, you see how dangerous it is?

I saw this recipe ages ago on Recipezaar for Pecan Pie Muffins. Everyone raved over them in the comments section and they seemed easy enough, so I printed out the recipe, although, I was very skeptical that they actually tasted like pecan pie. How can a muffin taste like pecan pie?

Then, recently... Jennifer at Bake or Break made them. And let me just say... I have made a ton of the recipes she posts over there... and they are always delicious and always right up my alley. I kind of consider myself a Bake or Break stalker, actually. When I get a random 5 minute break at work, I always click on my favorites and she's at the top of the list, so I probably click on her site 3 times a day, just to see if she's posted anything new, or to look over some of her past recipes, to see if there's anything that sounds good for that day. I do that with Cookie Madness too and a few other blogs, but those two I definitely visit the most.

Anyway.. wow, I can get off on a tangent, can't I?

So, I made these muffins last week, and y'all... I have no idea how it can be... but these taste SO much like a pecan pie. I mean, they are obviously a little cakey-ier than a pie, but they are so delicious and so easy to make! They are chewy and gooey (although my picture doesn't really do that justice) and moist and sweet. Perfect! And so easy, too! I will definitely be making these again and again and passing this recipe on to lots of folks.

And while, it's not a pecan pie, it still makes me think of my Aunt Rita. I know she'd love these muffins and heck... maybe I can make these to bring to the holiday gatherings instead of an actual pie!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Gooey Chocolate Baby Cakes

This weekend, my friend April came to visit me!

How serendipitous that this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was the perfect thing to make for her visit!

Now, I’ve had Chocolate Molten cakes before at like Chili’s or Ruby Tuesday’s or somewhere equally as crappy. But it wasn’t something that I ever considered making myself. I mean… it seemed like the perfect “only when you go out to a restaurant” type of dessert. Ya know? Lord knows some things I should never attempt on my own. Particularly an easy and delicious recipe like this one!

The timing worked out perfectly, also… I knew that April was having dinner with her family and then would be at my place around 8:30/9:00pm. So, I started making these cakes at about 8:10. By 8:40ish, I was pulling these out of the oven and going downstairs to meet her.

By the time we got around to eating them… around 9:00, they weren’t hot, but they were lusciously oozy and gooey and delicious. Perfect with a glass of milk. I even had one the next morning and it was delicious then, too!

Later on in the weekend (after we had already eaten the all the cakes), I saw someone make little cakes like these on television and then I realized.... ohhhhhh.... right, you're supposed to turn the cakes over upside down to serve them! I forgot to do that. Oh well. I'm not a very good food stylist, apparently. I was too busy preparing to eat these suckers!

Soundtrack: Ummm.. well, I was flipping television channels between NCAA basketball and TLC’s What Not to Wear, sooo… no soundtrack this time.

Recipe Notes:
I halved the recipe and ended up with 4 baby-cakes that I made in a regular muffin pan.

I also used different ratios of chocolate (because I’m not a huge dark chocolate fan, although I knew that April was…) I used ½ bittersweet, 1/4 semi-sweet, and ¼ milk chocolate.

This is April... modeling a piece...

Thanks Leigh aka Lemon Tartlet ! This was a great choice!

Gooey Chocolate Cake
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate,
4 ounces coarsely chopped,
1 ounce very finely chopped
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
6 tablespoons of sugar

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. butter (or spray – it’s easier) 6 cups of a regular-size muffin pan, preferably a disposable aluminum foil pan, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Put the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Sift the flour, cocoa and salt together.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, put the coarsely chopped chocolate and the butter in the bowl and stir occasionally over the simmering water just until they are melted – you don’t want them to get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until homogenous. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and, still using the whisk, stir (don’t beat) them into the eggs. Little by little, and using a light hand, stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and sprinkle the finely chopped chocolate over the batter.

Bake the cakes for 13 minutes. Transfer them, still on the baking sheet, to a rack to cool for 3 minutes. (There is no way to test that these cakes are properly baked, because the inside remains liquid.)

Line a cutting board with a silicone baking mat or parchment or wax paper, and, after the 3-minute rest, unmold the cakes onto the board. Use a wide metal spatula to lift the cakes onto dessert plates.