Best Brownies

I prepared the following recipe for my Book/Movie club. You can read about my event and view other links to recipes I made for it HERE.

I found this recipe in a thrift store, believe it or not. I was shopping around for a nice glass pitcher for cheap and there lost with the piles of books was a copy of a Cook’s Illustrated. Inside this whopping $.40 gem was Cooks Illustrated’s recipe for Best Brownies. I made their recipe verbatim, but to put a twist on it, I topped the brownie with pecan halves… and drizzled the top with buttery caramel. Here is Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe for Best Brownies to which I added some caramel over the top for a little more indulgence:

1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped medium
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 baking powder
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 6-1 inch pieces
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
caramel sauce (optional)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; jeat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 18-ince length foil and foild lengthwise to 8 inch width. Fit foil into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width, fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil lined pan with nonstick cookin spray. (Basically, line your baking pan well with foil, allowing some excess foil to hang off the edges for esay removal once its baked.)

2. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5-8 minutes. Set aside to cool. (I didn’t bother toasting the nuts because I knew it would bake up in the oven.)

3. Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside.

4. Melt chocolate and butter in a large heatprood bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occassionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 second, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatual until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.

5. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30-35 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2 inch squares and drizzle caramel generously over the top before serving. (Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.)

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Peach Berry Cobbler

The following recipe was shared during my Chef Spotlight Dinner highlighting recipes of Chef Wolfgang Puck. You can view other recipes and pictures of the event HERE.

Peach Berry Cobbler
shared at the event by Mary
Original recipe found here

1 1/3 cups (330 ml) cake flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
1/2 cup (125 ml) heavy cream, plus extra for brushing

Filling:
2 pounds (4-5 large) peaches
6 cups mixed berries, such as raspberries, blueberries and blackberries
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Peach brandy, Kirsch or Grand Marnier
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Streusel Topping:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
2 tablespoons quick cooking oats
Pinch each cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamon
2 tablespoons heavy cream for glazing shortcakes
2 tablespoons sugar for glazing shortcakes

Make shortcake: In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and pulse just until the mixture forms small gravel-like pieces. With the motor running, pour the cream through the feed tube, stopping just before the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead just until it forms a smooth ball, being careful not to overwork it. On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough to a 1/2-inch (12-mm) thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch (6-cm) cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out 6 circles, gathering and re-rolling the scraps if necessary. Place them on a baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cobbler.

Prepare filling: In large pot of boiling water blanch peaches for about 1 minute. Plunge into an ice-bath. Remove skins, cut in half and remove pits. Cut each half into 4 or 5 slices and place in large bowl. Add mixed berries, brown sugar, lemon juice, Peach brandy and cinnamon. Stir to mix thoroughly. Spoon fruit mixture into a lightly buttered 13x9x2½-inch baking dish.

Prepare streusel: In a medium bowl, combine flour and sugar. Using a fork, cut in butter until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in remaining streusel ingredients.

Assemble cobbler: Preheat the oven to 375. Sprinkle prepared streusel mixture over fruit filling in dish. Place prepared shortcake circles on top. Lightly brush shortcakes with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until shortcakes are golden brown and fruit filling is bubbling and thickened. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Presentation: Warm the cobbler, if made earlier in the day. Serve with your favorite ice cream or softly whipped cream or just as is with a sprinkling of sifted powdered sugar.

White Cupcakes w/Raspberry White Chocolate Frosting

This recipe was featured in my Springtime Cupcake swap event, which you can read about HERE.

Susan’s White Cupcakes
w/Raspberry White Chocolate Frosting:

2 2/3 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 large egg whites at room temp
1 cup + 2 tablespookns whole milk at room temp
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp, cut into tablespoons
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Frosting:
1/2 cup soft unsalted butter
1 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup raspberries, pureed & strained
4 ounces white chocolate finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cupcake tins with cupcake liners.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Whisk together egg whites and milk in a small bowl; set aside.

Beat butter using flat beater attachment until soft and creamy (about 2 minutes). Add the sugar gradually and beat until very light and fluffy(about 3 minutes). Scrape down the bowl once ot twice and then beat in vanilla.

Add the flour mixture in 4 additions, alternatively with the egg white/milk mixture. Begin and end with flour mixture. Beat until smooth on low-medium speed after each addition.

Fill cupcake holders. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool

For Frosting:

Beat butter until flurry. Add sugar. Once blended add raspberries. Mix. Add 2 ounces of white chocolate. Spread on cupcakes. Garnish with 2 ounces of remaining chocolate.

Pound for Pound…

For my tea party, I decided to make a classic vanilla pound cake, which I served with real whipped cream and fresh strawberries. It’s a classic recipe from a magazine (condensed version), The Best of America’s Test Kitchen: Best Recipes and Review 2008. My only change is using vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract, which was called for in the recipe. Vanilla paste is my new fave ingredient du jour because it adds so much more vanilla flavor than regular vanilla extract. I prefer the Nielsen-Massey brand:
Well, here’s the recipe I used for Classic Pound Cake:
Best of America’s Test Kitchen: Best Recipes and Review 2008
(page 60)

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold + more for the pan
3 large eggs + 3 large yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste)
1 3/4 cups cake flour + more for the pan
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
  • Cut the butter into 1 tablespoons pieces and place in the bowl of a standing mixer, let stand at room temperature 20 to 30 minutes to soften slightly (the butter should reach no more than 60 degrees.) Using a dinner fork, beat the eggs, yolk and vanilla in a liquid measuring cup until combined. Let the egg mixture stand at room temperature until ready to use.
  • Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan.
  • In a standing mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and salt at medium high speed until shiny, smooth and creamy, 2 to e minutes, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl once with a rubber spatula. Reduce the speed to medium with the mixer running, gradually pour in the sugar (this should take about 60 seconds). Once all the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is fluffy and almost white in color, 5 to 8 minutes, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl once. With the mixer running at medium speed, gradually add the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream; this should take 60 to 90 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl; beat the mixture at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes (the mixture may look slightly broken.) Remove the bowl from the mixer; scrape the bottom and sides.
  • In 3 additions, sift the flour oover the butter/egg mixture; after each addition, fold gently with a rubber spatula until combined. Scrape along the bottom of the bowl to ensure that the batter is homogeneous.
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. Bake until golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 70 to 80 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes; invert the cake onto a wire rack, then turn the cake right side up. cool the cake on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours. Slice and serve.

What makes this a best recipe: Pound cake only requires a few ingredients, but it is far from simple. More often than not, it bakes up heavy, squat and dense. Pound cake recipes date back to the 18th century and originally called for a pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. But the historical recipes we’ve tried were too heavy and dense to please modern palates. For this recipe, we put an end to all the nonsense and retooled a classic recipe to make it more reliable. We found that giving the cake lift and a lighter crumb without the addition of a chemical leavener demanded maximum aeration from the butter. After much trial and error, we realized that warm butter is too slack to aerate, so our recipe started with chilly 60 degree butter. After the butter and sugar were properly creamed, we beat the eggs and added them very gradually, which produced a more voluminous batter and higher rise in the cake. It was time to add the flour, and we liked the more delicate crumb that cake flour produced. We found that sifting the flour over the batter (and folding it in by hand) lightened and fluffed the flour, making it easier to incorporate, which also reduced the overworking the batter. We serve this cake on its own, but its also great with fresh berries and whipped cream.

Coming Out of the Dark: Chocolate Blackout Cake

As I was shopping at my local Whole Food’s Grocery store, I was inspired to bake after coming across their beautiful bakery case. The case was filled with scrumptious looking fruit tarts, fluffy layer cakes, deep chocolate brownies… it was enough for me to hit the kitchen and bake something myself. The question was, what should I bake? Looking at the random ingredients I had on hand and stashed away, it became clear the thing to make was Brooklyn Chocolate Blackout Cake.
I decided to adapt the recipe from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen: Best Recipes & Reviews 2008 (pg 62). This chocolate layer cake is unique in that the chocolate pudding filling doubles as frosting and the entire cake is covered in reserved chocolate cake crumbs. Heavenly! Here’s the recipe… enjoy!

Chocolate Blackout Cake
adapted from ATK
serves 10 to 12

Pudding:
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups half & half
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cake:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
(I used cake flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
(I used extra dark cocoa powder)
1 cup brewed coffee
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FOR THE PUDDING
1. Cook the granulated sugar,, chocolate, half & half, milk, cornstarch and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, whisking occassionally, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture begins to buble, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Transfer the pudding to a large bowl and refrigerate, with plastic wrap pressed flush against to surface, until cold and set, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

FOR THE CAKE
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour two 8″inch cake pans. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the cocoa and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Off the heat, whisk in the coffee, buttermilk, and sugars until dissolved. Whisk in the flour mixture. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and smooth with a spatula.
2. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out clean, 30 to 35 mintes, rotating the cake pans halfway through baking. Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. Cool the cakes to room temperature before frosting, at least 1 hour.
TO ASSEMBLE
1. Using a large serrated knife, slice each cake into 2 even layers. Crumble 1 cake layer into medium crumbs and set aside. Place 1 cake layer on a cake plate or cardboard round. Spread 1 cup of the pudding over the cake layer and top with another layer. Repeat with 1 cup more pudding and the last cake layer. Spread the remaining pudding evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Sprinkle the cake crumbs evenly over the top and sides of the cake, pressing lightly to adhere the crumbs. Slice and serve.

WARNING
This cake is extremely dense, creamy and rich. Be sure to have coffee or a glass of cold milk on hand!