Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chocolate and Coffee {Indulgent Brownies}

I am a baker's daughter. This means that I grew up walking in to a home that smelled like fresh, warm, homemade bread. It also means that I had (quite literally) never heard of brownies from a box until I was a sophomore in High School. My mother, a baker and a chocolate lover, has never made brownies in anyway but the best way. In one pan, from a base of melted chocolate. This year, she perfected her recipe--which she calls "Classic Chocolate Brownies." I think you will agree, however, these are so much MORE than classic chocolate brownies. There's a nice kick of Kahlua liqueur that makes these just-the-right-amount-of ooey-gooey. And the instant espresso brings out different, deeper notes in the chocolate, as coffee always does to chocolate.

I wrote the recipe a bit differently this time, instructing you to prepare for baking these in the exact way that I do: I measure and set everything out first, put the containers away, and then can toss everything in (in order) as soon as the chocolate mixture cools. It is convenient, and that way you can concentrate on conversations while you cook without worrying that you'll end up with double the flour or sugar in your mixture because you've lost count. Without further ado, then, I give you "The Ultimate Chocolate Brownies."
Indulgent Brownies
Marcella Rogers

4 ounces Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate baking bar (1 bar)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8 teaspoon Medaglia D'oro Instant Espresso Coffee
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 Tablespoon Kahlua liqueur
2 large eggs
1 cup flour, plus extra for dusting the pan
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/3 cup Hershey's Special Dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, lightly toasted for 10 minutes at 350 degrees *
Confectioners' Sugar for dusting (optional)

*My boyfriend dislikes nuts in his brownies, so if you mustn't add them--I guess I'll understand. They are, of course, optional. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour an 8"x8" square or 9" round pan.

Sift or whisk flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne together in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and instant espresso, and in another (much smaller) bowl, combine the vanilla and Kahlua. Set these aside, too.
Bring your eggs to room temperature by gently submerging them in a glass of warm (not hot) water.

Is that your oven, all preheated and ready to go? Well, then, put 1/3 c. chopped walnuts or pecans on a cookie sheet (with edges) and toast for 10 minutes--be sure to turn the nuts at least once during this time. And, be quite careful not to burn them (if you can smell them, it is probable that they are done.)

Alright, now you're ready to go. Break up the Ghiradelli chocolate bar, and the cut up cold butter and place in a medium saucepan (or pot), over low heat. Use a whisk to create a smooth mixture of the two, as they melt. Once the mixture is smooth, take it off the heat and walk away for 5-10 minutes and allow it to cool. It doesn't need to be room temperature, but it needs to be cool enough so that it doesn't cook the eggs you're about to add.

When the chocolate and butter mixture has cooled:

  1. Stir in brown sugar mixture.
  2. Add eggs (now room temperature), mixing well.
  3. Slowly fold the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture, until just incorporated. Do not over mix.
  4. Stir in chips and nuts.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees, until the tester comes out with just a little bit of dough (almost clean)
  7. When the brownies reach room temperature (or, you know, almost room temperature) lightly dust with sifted confectioners' sugar. You should have about 12 brownies.
  8. Enjoy. Then, share with friends--if you've got any left.

Monday, December 13, 2010

{Holiday Gift Guide} What to Get For Your Foodie Friends

The holidays are upon us and some of us are....just getting around to the holiday shopping. If you've still got a foodie friend or two to cross off of your shopping list (or, if friends and family are asking for a wish list you don't have time to make and you are the foodie friend), then look no further. I've tried to list options in multiple price ranges that any foodie would love. I've also listed only things that can be purchased (with a shipping option) online. Because, well, the Internet is my saving grace when it comes to last-minute holiday shopping. A sincere thanks to Miranda @Haute Headquarters for the gift guide inspiration...

1. Real Vanilla Extract  $10-$19

7. High Quality Chef's Knife $130

8. Cooking Classes** $95-$595

*=Before giving countertop appliances as gifts, keep the size of your foodie friend's kitchen in mind. If your foodie friend lives in a tiny apartment in New York City (or anywhere else for that matter), you might want to ask before giving anything that would take up valuable counter or closet space. Or, you may want to search for some smaller version of that gift.

**= I really enjoyed the multi-day course I took at the Institute of Culinary Education this summer (from Chef Jane Brock), which is why I mention these specifically. If these classes are out of your price range (or out of your way), there are many other options. Most mid-sized and large cities have culinary schools that offer amateur courses. 

All of the prices above are as listed on websites I frequent, and do not include shipping and handling. The brands I've represented are brands that I actually use, and have not been paid or otherwise compensated to mention. 

Stay tuned for chocolate indulgence at its finest, coming later this week. And, Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gingerbread Cake with Hot Orange Sauce

It is officially the holiday season. That means time spent with loved ones and, if you're lucky, logging some time in front of a fireplace or maybe a string of holiday movies. This season always reminds me of childhood--rehearsing Christmas music in choir, playing holiday tunes on the piano, playing in the snow (on occasion), and making gingerbread from the Samantha American Girl Cookbook. 

I haven't made gingerbread in a number of years--probably over a decade. But, a couple of years ago, gingerbread made a comeback with me. Specifically, gingerbread cake covered in hot orange sauce and vanilla ice cream. I was visiting friends in St. Vincent and The Grenadines and had the dish for dessert one night in Bequia. It was served to me at a hotel named (most appropriately) The Gingerbread. Ever since then I have literally dreamt about this dessert--which won't surprise those of you who read this blog regularly. I had no choice but to make it. Plus, gingerbread seems appropriate for the holidays, doesn't it?
I must say, the results were divine. There is something about the contrast of sweet, citrus sauce that contrasts so well with the heavy molasses and bright ginger flavors in the cake. The whole combination just smells and tastes like comfort. 

Because I couldn't find the original American Girl cookbook, or access the chef of the exquisite dish in Bequia, I went digging around the Internet and tried out some delicious sounding recipes. I found what I believe to be the best combination, and have shared it below.

Gingerbread Cake with Hot Orange Sauce
Gingerbread Cake adapted from the Food Network recipe
Hot Orange Sauce from Darra Goldstein's (inspiring) site
{Gingerbread Cake}
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 ½ Tablespoons fresh grated ginger
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fine salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of fresh ground black pepper
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon baking soda 

{Hot Orange Sauce}
½ cup tightly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
8 teaspoons corn starch
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
4 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 Tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
4 Tablespoon salted butter
1½ cups water 

{Gingerbread Cake}
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter a 9" x 13" cake pan, and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. 

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together flour, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, coriander, salt, cloves and pepper. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix together first four ingredients. Once combined, add room temperature eggs (this is very important). Then, slowly add the flour and spice mixture to the molasses mixture. Beat until combined. 

Meanwhile (and this is where the recipe begins to feel a little like a 5th grade science experiment), boil one cup of water over the stove. Add the baking soda and stir to combine. Once combined, slowly add this to the batter mixture and mix until just combined. 

Pour batter into pan, spreading evenly, and put the pan on the center rack of the oven. Cook for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean (it took a little over 50 minutes for my oven to cook the cake thoroughly). 

The cake should be fluffy and fragrant. Let it cool in the cake pan, or--if you have one--on a wire cooling rack. Once cooled to almost room temperature, cut and serve with ice cream or whipped cream and hot orange sauce. 

To be honest, I didn't let mine cool for long enough and it ended up quite crumbly but nobody in my household complained.

{Hot Orange Sauce}
In a medium pot, or saucepan, mix first three ingredients together. Place pot over medium/medium-high heat and slowly add the fresh juice, whisking very quickly to prevent lumps form forming. Add zest and butter and whisk into the mixture until thoroughly combined. Add water and whisk together. Let mixture boil for 5-8 minutes, until reduced. Serve hot, over gingerbread cake.
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