a Fat Tuesday cake for you

I’m going to start with the bad news: unfortunately I did not bring home a prize at this year’s bake-off.  I was bummed but have consoled myself with these two thoughts: 1) a second trophy would just be plain ostentatious on top of my fridge, and 2) this cake recipe was not meant to be consumed in one-square-inch portions.

You see, at this bake-off we were asked to cut our desserts into one-square-inch pieces so that many people would be able to sample them and then vote for their favorite.  Problem is, this cake is best enjoyed as one big sloppy piece.  It’s a triple layer cake and you gotta get all three layers and the frosting in a single bite to capture all of its wonderment.  You live, you learn.

I  will admit that this recipe is not for every home baker.  If you are looking for a simple cake to make for a loved one’s birthday, this ain’t it.  This is the cake you make when you’ve got a few hours to spare and really want to impress people with something a little out of the ordinary.

My mom has a rule that any recipe she tries has to be two pages or less– if it’s more than two pages she says it’s too complicated.  Well Mom, this is a three-pager.  Sorry.

It starts out with a white chocolate/malt/milk powder crunch.  Then there’s the malt fudge sauce.  And the malt chocolate cake.

The one fussy thing about this recipe that I don’t love is that you have to whip up egg whites until they form soft peaks and then fold the egg whites into the batter.  It takes an extra seven minutes to do and then you have to figure out what to do with the egg yolks you don’t need, (I froze mine to save for ice cream-making at a later date) but I will admit it makes for a nice light, fluffy cake.

Once you’ve made the malt crunch, the malt fudge, and the malt cake you start to layer them up…

…and up…

…and up.

Then you whip up some cocoa mascarpone frosting and frost the heck out of those layers.  I mean, who says this cake is not a winner?  In my book it is.

Chocolate Malt Crunch Cake

Malt Crunch (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Momofuku Milk Bar” by Christina Tosi)

  • ¾ cup milk powder
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 6 ounces white chocolate, melted
  • ¾ cup malt powder

Heat oven to 250 degrees.

Combine ½ cup of the milk powder (reserve ¼ cup for later), flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium bowl.  Toss with your hands to mix.  Add the melted butter and toss, using a spatula, until the mixture starts to come together and form small clusters.

Spread the clusters on a parchment- or Silpat- lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes.  Cool the crumbs completely.

Crumble any milk crumb clusters that are larger than ½ inch in diameter, and put the crumbs in a medium bowl.  Add the reserved ¼ cup milk powder and toss together until it is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

Pour half of the melted white chocolate over the crumbs and toss until your clusters are enrobed.  Then add the malt powder and toss with the milk crumbs until all of the crumbs are a light brown.

Pour the remaining melted white chocolate over the crumbs and continue tossing until all of the clusters are enrobed.  Refrigerate for about 20 minutes to cool and then toss again and break up large clusters.  The crumbs will keep in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.

Malt Fudge Sauce (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Momofuku Milk Bar” by Christina Tosi)

  • 2 ounces 72% chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup malt powder, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream

Combine the chocolate, malt powder, molasses, and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

Combine the corn syrup, sugar, and heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir intermittently while bringing to boil over high heat.  The moment it boils, pour it into the bowl holding the chocolate.  Let sit for 1 full minute.

Slowly begin to whisk the mixture.  Then continue, increasing the vigor of your whisking every 30 seconds, until the mixture is glossy and silky-smooth.  The sauce can be used immediately or stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks; do not freeze.

Chocolate Malt Cake (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito)

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup malted milk powder
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups ice cold water
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.  Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

Sift the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg together into a large bowl.  Whisk in the malted milk powder.  Set aside

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low.  Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg white until soft peaks form.  Do not over-beat.  Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops.  Bake for 40 minutes to 45 minutes, rotating the pans twice during the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.  Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes.  Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely.  Remove the parchment.

 

Cocoa Mascarpone Frosting

  • 1      (8-ounce) package mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1      stick butter, softened
  • 2      cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • ¾      cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 3.5      oz. milk chocolate bar, chopped and melted

Blend mascarpone cheese and butter together in a mixing bowl with beater or stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment at medium speed until combined. Add cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar and blend on low.  Add melted milk chocolate and blend until smooth.

Assemble Cake:

Place one cake round on plate.  Re-heat the Malt Fudge Sauce if necessary by microwaving at 30-second intervals in the microwave until at spreadable consistency.  Spread approximately half of the Malt Fudge Sauce over the cake and smooth with a spatula.  Sprinkle about ½ cup of the Malt Crunch over the fudge.  Place second cake round on top and repeat with Malt Fudge Sauce layer and Malt Crunch.  Place third cake round on top.  Frost top and sides of cake with Cocoa Mascarpone Frosting.

life-changing marshmallows

Growing up I always enjoyed marshmallows.  My brother taught me to eat them directly from the bag that my mom always seemed to have hanging around in the cupboard for future baking projects.  However, I did not know that marshmallows could in fact be life-changing until I had the homemade ones at City Bakery in New York.

Fortunately for me they sell them by the bag so when I was in NYC for work in December I bought two bags to take home.

This weekend I wanted to bake something that featured these beautiful, pillow-like marshmallows and thought what goes better with marshmallows than chocolate?  My brother’s girlfriend gave me some awesome German chocolate for Christmas so I thought I’d use that and make some brownies.

I did all sorts of searching on the interweb for the perfect marshmallow brownie but was not feeling it for any of the recipes I found.  Then I remembered that around this time last year I made some award-winning brownies and thought I would adapt that recipe to incorporate the marshmallows and voila.

The results were a fudge-y brownie with nice caramelized, almost crusty marshmallow bits on top.

I’m not suggesting you run out to New York to scoop up a bag of these heavenly marshmallows in order to make this recipe (though if you are there, you owe it to yourself to do so) as I think this recipe would work just fine with store-bought marshmallows.  If you wanted a s’more-like effect you could add some graham cracker crumbs into the batter and I think that would be great too.  Or you could combine graham cracker crumbs and butter and line the bottom of the pan with that!  It’s fun to experiment with baking, so go nuts.  (You could add nuts too!  Now we’re just getting plain crazy…)

Marshmallow Brownies

  • 1-½ stick butter
  • 2 ounces dark or milk chocolate (or a combination of the two), broken into chunks
  • ¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 3 whole eggs, warmed to room temperature
  • 1-½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 9 marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place a large piece of foil in a 9-inch square metal cake pan, draping the foil over the edges. Grease foil with butter.

Melt the 1 ½ sticks of butter with the chocolate chunks over very low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat. Whisk to combine. Add the cocoa, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and flour.  Whisk to combine, though be careful not to over mix.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula.  Insert whole marshmallows into brownie batter.

Bake for about 18 minutes then rotate pan.  Bake for an additional 20 minutes

Cool at room temperature in the pan for about a half hour, then lift the brownies from the pan and refrigerate in the foil just until they are firm.  Remove from foil and cut the brownies into 12 or 16 squares

christmas cookies

Today is another bonus post as I am sharing three (three!) recipes of sweet treats.  Unfortunately I was not so great with the photography of said sweet treats while making them… You will see that I got some beginning images of two of the cookies and nothing at all of the buckeyes.  So even though you will not have much of a visual feast with this here post I guarantee you that the recipes herein are winners.  Guarantee!

One of my favorite traditions of the season is exchanging plates of various Christmas cookies and candies with neighbors, friends, coworkers, etc.  The variety of cookies is key because there’s bound to be something you’ll like on the plate and conversely something that the recipients of your plates will like.  For example, those little peanut butter cookies with the Hershey’s Kiss in the middle that seem to be so popular this time of year– I love those things!

So this year I made jam thumbprint cookies for people who don’t like super sweet things, caramelita bars for people who like rich treats, and buckeyes for everybody.  Because who doesn’t like buckeyes?  They’re crowd-pleasers.  Peanut butter and chocolate is the finest food pairing that ever existed, for shizz.

The buckeyes went first, then the caramelita bars, and finally the jam thumbprints.  Add one or all to your Christmas cookie plates this year!

Jam Thumbprint Cookies (from recipes for “Basic Vanilla Dough” and “Thumbprints and Ball Cookies” at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Jar of fruit jam of your choice (I used raspberry and blackberry)

Whisk together flour and salt in a large bowl. Beat butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and beat until combined.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls.  Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing each 1 inch apart.

Press well into the center of each ball using your finger.  Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.  Bake at 350 for 7 minutes.  Remove from oven, and press well again with handle end of a wooden spoon.  Bake until firm, 7 to 9 minutes more.

Let cool completely.  Spoon filling into thumbprints.

Crunchy Buckeyes

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 2 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 3 cups crispy rice cereal
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (chips or baking bars—both work)

Mix butter and peanut butter in a large bowl.  Add crispy rice cereal and blend, then add confectioners sugar and blend.  Form dough into balls and place on foil-lined baking sheet.  Place sheets in freezer to harden for about 30 minutes.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in heat-proof bowl placed over saucepan with boiling water, stirring until smooth.  Dip peanut butter balls in melted chocolate with fork until only an “eye” of peanut butter is visible (i.e. ¾ of the ball should be completely covered in chocolate.)  Set on foil-lined baking sheet to cool and set.

Oatmeal Caramelita Bars

CRUST:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cup butter, softened

FILLING:

  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chopped nuts, optional
  • 12 oz jar of caramel ice cream topping
  • 3 tablespoons flour

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 13”x 9” pan with butter.  In large bowl combine all crust ingredients.  (I recommend using a pastry knife or a fork to do so.  I used my stand mixer and it pulverized the oatmeal to flour consistency.)  Press half of crumb mixture, about 3 cups, into prepared pan.  Reserve remaining crumb mixture for topping.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Sprinkle warm base with chocolate chips and nuts if using.  Combine caramel topping and flour.  Pour evenly over chocolate chips and nuts.  Sprinkle with reserved crumbs.  Return to oven and bake 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool completely.  Cut into bars.  (Note: refrigerate prior to cutting to make it easier on yourself.)

a chill is in the air

Saturday afternoon I came home to find a pumpkin next to my front door.  Isn’t that sweet?  My upstairs neighbor left it for me and it got me in such a fall spirit I pulled out my fall wreath and put it on the front door and then decided it was high time to do some fall baking.

Fall is for sure my favorite season by far.  Mostly because of the food.  I love all things relating to the squash and root vegetable categories.  And while I am sad to see summer go I am more than happy to welcome back fall and all of the wonderful flavors it brings. 

About a month ago when it was approximately 92 degrees at 10 o’clock at night I came home to find a bat flying in circles in my living room.  Bats do not belong in my living room.  I immediately freaked out and shut myself in my bathroom calculating how long I could survive in there if need be.  Fortunately I had my cell phone with me and was able to call for back-up.  My friend volunteered her boyfriend to remove the bat from my apartment and that he did, ever so calmly.  To thank him I bought him a 6-pack of beer and decided to bake him pumpkin chocolate chip square bars.

Seems like a fair trade, right?  Well, fortunately he seems to think so too.

Pumpkin and chocolate chips compliment each other very well.  I have also used both ingredients in pancakes and muffins and they were equally as tasty.  These bars are dense and sweet with the distinct fall flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and all-spice. 

Makes that hot summer night and the bat seem like a distant memory…

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares (slightly adapted from recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (if you don’t have pumpkin pie spice, substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon each allspice and cloves [all ground])
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (I used mini chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on all sides.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pie spice, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth; beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in pumpkin puree (mixture may appear curdled). Reduce speed to low, and mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely in pan.

Lift cake from pan (using foil as an aid). Peel off foil, and use a serrated knife to cut into 24 squares.

get along little cowgirl

I’m a big fan of cookies that have the kitchen sink in them– you know, chocolate chips, marshmallows, peanut butter, pretzels, cornflakes– the more the merrier.  One of my favorite cookies from a bakery in New York even has potato chips in it.  Craziness.  So over the weekend when I was looking through cookbooks and found a recipe for Cowboy Cookies I felt like I hit the jackpot.  Better yet I found it in a cookbook that my aunt put together of my grandma’s recipes and there’s a funny photo of my grandma looking very uncomfortable on a horse next to the recipe.  So that settled it.

You start with a basic cookie dough recipe and then add oatmeal:

Chocolate chunks:

Toffee chips:

These are the mix-ins I chose, but this is a recipe you can get creative with.  Next time I think I’m going to add crushed pretzels, dark chocolate chips, and candied bacon.  Oh yes, I said bacon.

In honor of my grandma I’ve decided to re-name this cookie the Cowgirl Cookie.  Giddyup.

Cowgirl Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 1 package semi-sweet chocolate chunks (or chocolate chips)
  • 1 package toffee pieces, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Cream butter and sugars in mixer fitted with paddle attachment.  Add eggs and beat until incorporated.  Scrape down sides of bowl and add vanilla.  Beat for 5 seconds.

Add flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder and beat until incorporated. 

Stir in oatmeal, chocolate chunks, and toffee pieces.  (Note: you could experiment with a variety of mix-ins.  Butterscotch chips, pretzel pieces, and peanut butter chips would all be great.  Go crazy!)

Put spoonfuls of dough on parchment paper-lined sheets.  Bake for 11 to 13 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.

twist on a classic

This may look like your standard, run-of-the-mill chocolate chip cookie but it is not.  Oh no.  In a belated nod to Cinco de Mayo I decided to make Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookies.  What makes them Mexican, you ask?  Cinnamon and a touch of black pepper.

The cinnamon and pepper add a nice touch of spiciness.

As they might say in Mexico: delicioso!

Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookies (from www.epicurious.com)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips

Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then vanilla. Sift next 6 ingredients over butter mixture; beat just until blended. Mix in chocolate chips. Refrigerate dough until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 large baking sheets. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto sheets, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake cookies until golden brown but still soft to touch, about 10 minutes (for crisper cookies, bake 12 minutes). Let stand on sheets 3 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool.

the premiere post

Hello world.  I’d like to tell you about the most exciting thing that has happened to me so far this year. 

First, you must understand that I like to bake and that I have been doing so since I was a little kid when my mom would put a step stool in front of the kitchen counter so I could help roll out and frost cookies with her.  As an adult I have become known for my baking– always bringing homemade brownies, cookies, cakes, and pies to celebrate various occasions amongst coworkers, friends, and family, and at the risk of sounding immodest, I have been told that I’m pretty good at it.  I once even received a marriage proposal from a gay man after he had a bite of one of my confections.  However, hearing it doesn’t mean you believe it so this winter when I saw an ad for a bake-off at the local library I decided to go for it and see if there was any legitimacy to that marriage proposal.  The theme of the bake-off?  Chocolate.  Something I know a lot about.

I wanted to try something a little different from the ordinary and have always been a fan of salty and sweet combinations so I opted to make a fleur de sel brownie.  Never heard of fleur de sel before?  I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s just salt.  Fancy sea salt.  From France.

And let me tell you: it’s not cheap and it’s not easy to find in a medium-sized city in the Midwest but I made it happen, and boy was it worth it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning, with butter– where all good things start.

You melt some butter with some chocolate…

…then you mix it with things like eggs, cocoa powder, and sugar:

You also have to make caramel that starts out looking like this:

And ends up looking like this:

Put it all together, sprinkle some of that fancy French sea salt on it:

And bake it:

So how did my first bake-off go, you ask?  Well let’s just say, perhaps I should have taken my friend’s proposal more seriously…

Fleur de Sel Brownies, adapted from Salted Fudge Brownies from Food & Wine magazine (recipe by Kate Krader), and Sweet and Salty Brownie from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

  • Prep Time 15 Minutes
  • Cook Time 38 Minutes 
  • Servings: 8

Brownie Ingredients

  • 1-½ stick Butter
  • 2 ounces Dark Chocolate, broken into chunks (I used chocolate with 72% cocoa content)
  • ¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 ¼ cups Sugar
  • 3 whole Eggs, warmed to room temperature
  • 1-½ teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup All-purpose Flour
  • ½ tablespoon instant Espresso Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel (coarse sea salt)

Caramel Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Light Corn Syrup
  • ½ cup Heavy Cream
  • 1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel
  • ¼ cup Sour Cream

Caramel Preparation Instructions

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with ¼ cup water, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the side of the pan.  Cook over high heat until the mixture is dark amber in color, 6 to 8 minutes.  Remove from heat, and slowly add the cream and then the fleur de sel.  Whisk in the sour cream.  Set aside to cool.

Brownie Preparation Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place a large piece of foil in a 9-inch square metal cake pan, draping the foil over the edges. Grease foil with butter.

Melt the 1 ½ sticks of butter with the dark chocolate over very low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat. Whisk to combine. Add the cocoa, sugar, eggs, vanilla, espresso powder, and flour.  Whisk to combine, though be careful not to over mix.  Pour three-quarters of the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula.  Set aside the remaining batter.

Bake for about 18 minutes then remove from oven.  Drizzle about ½ cup of the caramel over the brownies and use spatula to spread around, avoiding the corners of the pan.  Put the remainder of brownie batter over the layer of caramel and spread around with spatula.  Sprinkle top with fleur de sel.  Bake for an additional 18 to 20 minutes.

Cool at room temperature in the pan for about a half hour, then lift the brownies from the pan and refrigerate in the foil just until they are firm.  Remove from foil and cut the brownies into 12 or 16 squares.