Friday, July 31, 2009

The BAKED Brownie

If you're like me and you're really into food porn, then you've seen these brownies in the blogosphere a zillion times. And if you're not a food porn addict, then you might have either heard Oprah talking about them or writing about them in her magazine. These are her favorite brownies, apparently.

Even though I have about a trillion recipes bookmarked, printed out, post-it flagged, I knew it was only a matter of time that this recipe cut line. I made these over Father's Day weekend.

These brownies are good. My favorite? Nah. These are very similiar to my favorite though. They are thin and chocolatey and fudgy and borderline gooey. But, at least now I can cross this off my list. Now, I have about a 15 other recipes from the Baked cookbook that I want to try.

My favorite Brownie Recipe:
1st: Rich and Dark Brownies
Runner up: Dorie Greenspan's Tribute to Katharine Hepburn Brownies

The Baked Brownie
Yield: 24 brownies

"The Baked brownie is a beautiful thing. It has won the hearts and minds of many people, been featured on the pages of O Magazine as a favorite thing, and won best brownie by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen and the Today Show. Our brownie really owes many kudos to our friend and superstar pastry chef Lesli Heffler-Flick. She created the original ultimate brownie for us. It is dense, chocolatey, and slightly fudgy, and we are forever grateful to her for letting us adapt her recipe.

Baked Note: A great brownie is easy to make, but you have to be aware of several factors. 1. Use a dark cocoa powder, like Valrhona. A pale, light-colored cocoa does not have enough depth. 2. Make sure your eggs are room temperature and do not overbeat them into the batter, and 3. Make sure you check your brownies often while baking. Once the brownies have been overbaked slightly, they have reached the point of no return."

Ok, now my commentary...
These are easy brownies to make and they are really good. But don't be like me and take their words too literally. You want to make sure that the eggs are mixed into the batter. Otherwise, you'll end up with cooked egg whites on top of your brownies. Not attractive or tasty, but luckily easily removable.

1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons dark cocoa powder
11 ounces quality dark chocolate (60-72%), chopped coarsely
8 ounces butter (2 sticks), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light colored metal pan 9x13x2 pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the salt, and cocoa powder.

Configure a large sized double boiler. Place the chocolate, the butter, and the instant espresso powder in the bowl of the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both sugars. Whisk the sugars until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. Mixture should be room temperature.

Add three eggs to the chocolate/butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not over beat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour/cocoa/salt mix over the chocolate. Using a spatula (DO NOT USE A WHISK) fold the dry into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour/cocoa mix visible.

Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with your spatula. Bake the brownies for 30 minutes (rotate the pan half-way through baking) and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Golden Peanut Butter Bars

As an adult... my love for peanut butter has grown. It's more than just a love... it's actually turned into something like an addiction. In the past I've always enjoyed peanut butter flavored things... or things with peanut butter and chocolate. But, I'd never been one to really enjoy peanut butter on it's on.

Until now. I sometimes find myself sitting on the couch with a spoon and the jar of peanut butter in my hand. After mindlessly shoveling 800 calories worth of peanut butter into my mouth... I realize... ummm... I don't remember going into the kitchen and getting the jar of peanut butter. But that's what peanut butter does to me, now. It's so salty and creamy and it just puts me into this trance-like state. It's dangerous. But, it's damn good.

I've had this recipe for awhile now. But, I've been choosing to eat the peanut butter in it's purest state to feed my addiction. I didn't want to compromise it's goodness by putting into a recipe with other inferior ingredients. But... I needed something to take to a pot luck with a bunch of runners and I knew that they would likely share my love of peanut butter, too.

The thing that drew me to this specific recipe... (besides the peanut butter) is the fact that it has sweetened condensed milk. I mean, let's be honest here, friends: have you ever made something that has sweetened condensed milk in it that has turned out bad? I think not. Sweetened Condensed Milk is the savior of all things baked. It can turn anything into delicious-ness.

Ever cracked open a can of Sweetened Condensed Milk and ate the whole thing by dipping graham crackers into it... and then eventually you run out of graham crackers and just go for it with your finger? Oh. No? Well, me either... but I've heard of other people doing that.

This is a good recipe. It's chewy and peanut buttery and delicious. I hate to say it, but... I actually think it would be made better with some chocolate chips sprinkled underneath the crumb topping (or... wait for it... white chocolate chips. Yum!). There is just something about baked peanut butter and sweetened condensed milk that screams out for melty chocolatey goodness.

Golden Peanut Butter Bars
recipe from Jif

This recipe is super easy and quick. The only change I made to the recipe is that I used all white whole wheat flour. This made for a more nutty (almost bitter) flavor in the aftertaste and next time I think I'd use one cup of white whole wheat flour and one cup of regular flour. I Also skipped the peanuts (just because I didn't have any).

2 cups of AP flour
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup chopped peanuts
1 (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, brown sugar and egg; cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in peanuts. Reserving 2 cups of crumb mixture for the topping, press remaining mixture on bottom of 13x9 inch pan. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

In large bowl, with mixer, beat sweetened condensed milk with peanut butter and vanilla. Spread over the prepared crust; top with reserved crumb mixture.

Bake 25 minutes longer or until lightly browned. Cool. Cut into bars. Store leftovers covered at room temperature.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Peach Hand Pies

Something happened to me when I signed the 30 year mortgage on my condo at the end of 2007. I kept hearing the words "30 years" over and over in my head. When I moved in, and looked around, I thought to myself... I'm going to be a 57 year old-old maid rumbling around this place one day. I closed my eyes and pictured myself as that weird lonely old lady who lives down the hall, smells like cat piss, and lingers too long at the elevator hoping you'll talk to her. To put it mildly: I freaked the freak out. I realized: holy shit! I'm single! And 27! And I want 4 kids someday! And I have zero prospects! What's a girl to do?

I'm not really sure what other girls do if they find themselves in that predicament, but what I did was thrust myself into the dating world full steam ahead. I was on Match and E-Harmony like it was my job. I went out on literally a BAZILLION dates. I e-mailed, texted, chatted on the phone with a BAZILLION more guys.

It was exhausting.

Some weeks I went out 3-4 times with 3 different guys. What? You think that sounds fun? HELLS NO. It sucks. Imagine your worst 1st dates. Now imagine having 2-3 of those a week. For a year and a half! Right. Finally, after dating a ton of non-compatible guys, a handful of guys that I considered compatible, but didn't feel the same way about me, and then another handful of guys that were just the most inappropriate scum of the earth (and yes... I have so!many!stories!) I decided that it was time for a sabbatical. Initially, it was just going to be a month break. No dating for a month.

Then that month turned into 2 months. And I was loving having MY life back. My independent, fly by the seat of my pants, do-whatever-the-hell-I-want-without-having-to-plan-around-douche-bags-lives life. One night a friend and I went out and ended up having a "sad drunk." The night started off well, but eventually it turned into a drunken woe is me and while we're at it, let's order another shot of something night. I bitched about dating and about being rejected by all the guys that I was into, he bitched about his own love/dating issues. And we got shitfaced and depressed. Not a good combination.

The next morning, I woke up with a massive hangover and a flat tire. I shook my fists at the universe in disgust. Why me? Why haven't I met someone? Why did I get so freaking drunk and sad last night? Why do I have to have a flat tire and a hangover on the same blessed day? I spent the first half of the morning sitting at my desk at work (oh yes... it was a workday, no weekend sad drunk hangover nursing for me) willing the tears in my eyes and the booze remnants in my stomach to stay put. It was bleak.

At lunch, my brother helped me with my tire, removed it (in like 20 degree weather with no coat) and took it to a local gas station to have it plugged and then he put it back on for me. I made it through the work day. I got home and chugged a gallon of gatorade which finally seemed to do the trick. And it was then... at the end of this awful, no good, piece of shit day that I realized: despite feeling defeated and sick all day... I'm happy. The happiest I've been in my adult life, in fact. Why did I spend so much time and effort torturing myself with seeking out something to fill a void that I didn't have in the first place? Who cares that I was 28? I'm 29 now, in six months? I'll be 30... I mean that's what happens... time progresses, and FAST. Nothing in life is guaranteed. So, as long as I'm happy right now, that's all that matters.

My 29th birthday was one of the best I've had. And it's because I had let go of all these preconceived ideas of where I should be at certain points in my life. I'm 29, I'm single and you know what? I'm loving every minute of it.

I know what you're thinking... what does this have to do with Peach Hand Pies? Well, if you'll allow me to really stretch a metaphor here... these hand pies are a lot life my life these past couple of years.

I had been wanting to make a peach pie for a long time now. I love pies. I picked up a ton of peaches at the farmers market awhile back and decided I was going to tackle a peach pie. And then... I got the opportunity to bake something for a poolside cookout that my mom was going to. I decided that a pie isn't really poolside type of dessert, so I thought... that's okay, I can just make these hand pies. Mini peach pies, if you will.

These handpies were a freaking mess. The dough was ornery as all get out, my filling was super wet. I spent a crapload of time on them and when I test baked one... it tasted like like a niblet of peach wrapped inside a toilet paper roll. The dough was so tough and you barely tasted the filling. I was sad. I decided to let them hang out in the fridge overnight and hoped that the rest would help before I baked them all.

The next morning, I baked them, the dough was still a little cardboardy, but not as bad. And, as they sat around all day, they started to get better. Softer, flakey-ier. And by the time I delivered them to my mom for the cookout... they were pretty good.

We all have expectations. Big expectations of how our life is going to turn out or small ones like how a recipe is going to turn out. And sometimes... you think you've failed when things don't go exactly the way you've planned. But just because things turn in a different direction and cause some awfulness, doesn't mean all hope is lost.

Peach Hand Pies
from Smitten Kitchen

This recipe took a lot of time. I had issues with the dough and I think I eventually overworked it. It was a little tough, but as the day went on, it softened up a bit.

The thing about hand pies is that you're going to get a lot more dough flavor than you would if you were to just make a peach pie (obviously, but i wasn't really thinking about that when I made them). I think maybe the hand pies are better suited to a fruit that is more tart and robust in flavor than a sweet, ripe peach. My peaches got flavor-bullied by the dough. Maybe blackberries? Or tart cherries?

I wanted these to be more like fried pies. The fried pies that I was offered so much as a child and didn't have the palate for yet. They aren't like fried pies. But they are pretty good. And, regardless, you end up looking like a freaking master pastry chef when you show up with a basket full of these.

Makes 14 to 24 (depending on cutter size)

For the pastry:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into
1/2 cup sour cream
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup ice water

For the filling:
2 pounds of peaches
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon bourbon (I used rum)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

One egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons water (for egg wash)
Coarse sanding sugar, for decoration

1. To make the pastry, in a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. If preparing ahead of time, the dough can be stored at this point for up to one month in the freezer.

2. Divide the refrigerated dough in half. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 4 1/2-inch-round biscuit cutter, cut seven circles out of the rolled dough. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and chilling process with the remaining half of dough. (I used a 4-inch cutter–if you can call a “cutter” the tin edge of the container that holds my smaller round cutters–and managed to get 12 from each dough half, after rerolling the scraps.)

3. Make the filling: Peel and chop the peaches into small bits (approx. 1/2-inch dice), much smaller than you’d use for a regular-sized pie. Mix them with the flour, sugar and pinch of salt, and add the bourbon and vanilla, if you wish.

4. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature until just pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon about 1 to 2 tablespoons filling (use the smaller amount for a 4-inch circle) onto one half of each circle of dough. Quickly brush a little cold water around the circumference of the dough, and fold it in half so the other side comes down over the filling, creating a semicircle. Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat process with remaining dough. Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

5. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut a small slit in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle sanding sugar generously over the pies, and place pies in the oven to bake. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown and just slightly cracked, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven, and let stand to cool slightly before serving.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

TWD: KathArine Hepburn Tribute Brownies

I am sorry. I haven't exactly been burning up the blogosphere here lately, now, have I? And, unfortunately I don't have any awesome excuses like... I've been traveling (because I haven't) or I've been super busy (not really been that, either). No... my reason is basically the baking blogs worst nightmare: I've been trying to lose weight.

The latest weight loss plan for me? Eliminating sugar and alcohol. Which, if you know me... know that these two things are the reason I exist. Sugar and alcohol are what I live for, what I wake up for, why I exercise, etc. Sugar and alcohol are also the reasons that I carry around about 25 extra pounds mostly in my mid-section. But, I'm shunning them both for a few weeks. We'll see how it works out.

Meanwhile, it will be fairly quiet around these parts. Luckily, all us bakers have been given a hall pass on the summer recipes for Tuesdays with Dorie . The requirements have been relaxed for the summer and we have been encouraged to do as many as we can, but to not worry about being kicked out of the group. And for that, my waist-line thanks the admin peeps at TWD. I do have a couple of recipes already saved up to post, so it's not going to be entirely silent. And at some point, I might try to soothe my sugar deprived, cranky bastard soul with some sort of splenda-ed up recipe. But, who knows. For now and the next few weeks, I'm just going to be a real bitch that no one will want to hang around. Awesome.

Anyway... now that we have that out of the way... let me drool all over myself for a minute while I tell you about these awesome brownies I made a couple weeks ago. These brownies are excellent. They are fudgy and chocolate-y. I eliminated the cinnamon, the instant coffee and the walnuts that the recipe called for and I think I even overbaked them a little and they still turned out delicious. Sadly, they don't look that great, though, because I used dark cocoa in the recipe and black brownies just don't look as appetizing as brown brownies. Whatev. They still tasted awesome.

I'll see ya when I see ya.

Check out Lisa's blog Surviving Oz for the recipe for these brownies.