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Sunday, December 13, 2009


For the second year in a row, instead of buying Christmas gifts for our friends and co-workers, the DH and I opted to make sweet treats to give. Half the fun of this process is deciding which treats to make. Weeding through the recipes, deciding which ones were hits last year, and still trying to keep it fresh and new by throwing in some new things. Once the recipes are decided upon, and all ingredients purchased, we take an entire weekend preparing everything. Our own sugarpalooza, if you will.

Since this is the first Christmas since I started my blog, I decided to include one of the recipes from BFMHTY in the gift roster. I chose the meringue cookies because the picture in the cookbook was very appealing, and I needed one more chocolatey cookie to balance out the cookie list.

Meringues are made from whipped egg whites, and this particular recipe calls for cocoa, almonds and bittersweet chocolate to be added. Egg whites can be notoriously tempermental because so much can go wrong. If the bowl you're using for whipping isn't clean, if you end up with yolks bleeding into your eggs whites during separation, if you overbeat the whites, all of this can lead to disaster.

These cookies were the very last treat to be made during this crazy weekend, and frankly, by the time I got around to seperating the eggs, I couldn't have cared less if something went wrong. I was just too tired to care. I got a little of the yolk into my whites, and that caused a little whining on my part, but I was determined to press on and if the cookies what.

I whipped the whites, sugar and salt. I folded the cocoa, flour, chocolate pieces and ground almonds into the mixture. I spooned out extremely sticky dollops onto painstakingly prepared pans ( I love Silpats and parchment paper so much, you'll never even know), and baked them off.

Visually the end product looks a little like cocoa colored rocks. But when you taste them, oh my. To spite my lackadaisical attitude during the preparation of the recipe, they turned out perfectly. This is a light, airy delicate cookie. When you bite into the crispy outer shell cracks, and almost shatters. It's a very nice texture. Once you hit the inside of the cookie the filling is slightly chewy and sticky. This cookie is not overly sweet, but you do get a wonderful cocoa flavor out of each bite. They're like eating little clouds.

Since these cookies are so delicate, I fear that they will not travel very well. So, at least one of my friends will not be getting this treat included with the rest of the Christmas package. Sorry Crystal, there's no way these things can survive a trip to Maryland. :(

I think I may have underbaked these meringues just a little. In the cookbook pic all the cookies have cracked, jagged looking tops, my didn't turn out that way. But I'm still really happy with the result.

I've posted the recipe below along with a pic or two of some of the other confections that we gave as gifts this year.

(makes about 30 cookies)

1 cup confectioners' sugar, plus extra for dusting

1/3 cup finely ground blanched almonds

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

4 egg whites, at room temperature

pinch of salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Sift confectioners' sugar, ground almonds and cocoa. Set aside dry ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and salt until the whites are opaque. Increase to medium-high speed and continue to whip while adding the granulated sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue whipping until the whites are shiny and hold a stiff peak. Beat in vanilla extract.

Remove bowl from mixer and gently fold in the dry ingredients with a large rubber spatula. The whites will deflate a little bit, but fold quickly and gently to minimize the deflation.

Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls onto your prepared baking sheets spacing them about 2 inches apart. Dust the tops lightly with confectioners' sugar.

Bake at 300F for 10 minutes, then, without opening the oven door, lower the temperature to 200F and bake for 1 hour more. Remove from oven and allow meringues to cool completely on the baking sheet. Carefully peel meringues off the parchment. If desired, dust with a little more confectioners' sugar before serving.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


These cookies were good. Very Good. Rich, filling and delicious. Just don't expect them to taste like a Snickers candy bar in cookie form.

Once again Dorie Greenspan has taken an familiar food and attempted to give it a unique twist. Not quite a desconstruction, but more like an experiment where the stakes are not very high if you fail.

The crust on the squares is described in the cookbook as having a "buttery shortbread" flavor. It's not quite as buttery as a true shortbread, but I understand what she's shooting for here as far as taste goes. The crust is fairly easy to make with basic ingredients that most bakers keep on hand. While the dough was still in it's raw form I don't feel that I pressed it down into the pan quite hard enough. I used a very light hand because I have a bad habit of pressing the dough too hard and it then comes out of the oven with the conistency of drywall. So, this time I was determined to change my evil ways (baby). I guess I went too far in the other direction, because the "shortbread" came out a little too loose and crumbly. The texture is quite nice, but when you're trying to eat the bar it wants to collapse in your hand.

Once the base cools you then spread store bought dulce de leche over the crust.

You've heard me drone on in my other posts about living in Hickelvania, and not being able to find "exotic" ingredients. This time was no different. I considered ordering the dulce de leche from the internet, and then was saved the shipping charges by my well timed and much needed vacation to Florida

While in Florida I easily found the canned dulce de leche, and thanks to my mother-in-law brought back a large cache with me. Let us all take a moment and give a shout out to my MIL, who just happens to be AWESOME. Hi Carol :)

Anyway, the dulce is just a very firm, sweet caramel in a can. It's really not a good idea to try using a substitute ingredient here. This is not that lame ass ice cream topping people, this is potent stuff! You also make your own candy coating that is used to cover peanuts with. As the cookbook says, the nuts, once coated, should taste similar to Cracker Jack peanuts, and lo and behold, they do. You press the peanuts into the dulce de leche, then top the whole thing with melted, bittersweet chocolate.

Let me say, the bittersweet chocolate is a great call on this recipe. Any other type of chocolate in conjunction with the extremely sweet dulce de leche, would have made for an overwhelmingly sweet dessert and could have ruined this very nice cookie bar.

The cookbook picture shows the squares sitting beside a tall, cold glass of milk. I advise having a glass of milk nearby while you eat these too. The milk helped with the intense richness of the overall experience.
I say that you give making these bars a shot, just keep your mitts off my dulce de leche stash.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tiramisu Cake


If you aren't familiar with tiramisu, it's a creamy, layered dessert that consists of a base layer of ladyfingers soaked in coffee. The ladyfingers are then covered with a mixture of mascarpone cheese and zabalione custard then cocoa is sprinkled over the top before chilling.

Okay. There's no point in trying to hide it. There are very few foods that I don't like. But, the few I don't are biggies in the food world. They all seem to be the ubiquitous foods that are hard to avoid. The biggest one being...cheese. There I said it, please keep your comments of outrage to a minimum. One of the other foods/flavors I don't like is coffee. I've tried drinking coffee every imaginable way and I just don't like it. Now, if everyone is finished judging me we can get on with the post.

I decided to let my friend Jessica pick which recipe would be featured in this blog entry, you know, change it up a bit. I should have known she'd pick the tiramisu cake. That girl is crazy for tiramisu. Since I don't like all, and Jessica chose the recipe, once it was finished, I handed the entire cake over to her. So we kinda have a guest blogger with us today.

Me:  How was the cake?
Jessica: It was good cake.

Ummm. Thanks for that graphic description Jess.

Luckily, the Darling Husband does like coffee, and was able to snag a piece of the cake from Jessica and gave me the analysis I was looking for.

Here is his take on the cake.... "If you want tiramisu, make tiramisu, not this cake." Harsh. Finally, the blatant honesty that I was looking for!

For the recipe you bake a sponge cake. You then mix together an espresso extract (espresso powder and boiling water). Then you concoct an espresso syrup (water, sugar, Amaretto). Take the espresso extract and mix some of it with the espresso syrup. After mixing, brush the mixture onto the cake layers, until the layers have soaked up the coffee flavored fluid. Set the layers aside, then mix the mascarpone cheese, some powdered sugar, vanilla and more Ameretto. Then whip some heavy cream. Mix the heavy cream and the mascarpone mixture. Together they make the filling and the frosting for the cake. There are a few other steps to the construction of the cake, like adding chopped, semi-sweet chocolate to the filling, and I opted to decorate the top of the cake with sifted cocoa powder and chocolate covered espresso beans. Quite frankly by the time I put together all the different cake coponents, it felt as though every bowl in my kitchen had been dirtied, and I felt quite a bit of exasperation for this recipe.

The cake layers were dry, which wasn't a surprise. So often cakes made from scratch turn out dry,and in this case, I think it was it was done purposely. The cake layers have to be dry so that when you soak them with coffee they won't become overmoistened and fall to pieces. But, the coffee flavor was barely detectable in the cake portion. There also wasn't much coffee flavor in the filling and frosting. Somehow the semi-sweet chocolate and the cocoa dusting brought very little chocolate flavor to the party. The texture was good, but the flavor was bland.

In theory this cake is a good idea, it just doesn't pan out when applied to real life. The goal being to get the full tiramisu experience without all the work. BUT tiramisu is already pretty easy, this cake recipe is actually more time consuming than making tiramisu and doesn't taste nearly as good....or so I'm told.

In conclusion, I wouldn't make this recipe again, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else. I've grudgingly listed the recipe below. Grumble, grumble.

Up next, Snickery Squares. And I promise not to be so negative about the upcoming recipe.

Tiramisu Cake

For the cake:

2 cups cake flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

1 ¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract

¾ cup buttermilk

For the espresso extract:

2 tbs. instant espresso powder

2 tbs. boiling water

For the espresso syrup:

½ cup water

1/3 cup sugar

1 tbs. amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy

For the filling and frosting:

1 8-oz. container mascarpone cheese

½ cup confectioners sugar, sifted

1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tbs. amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy

1 cup cold heavy cream

2 ½ oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, or about ½ cup store bought mini chocolate chips

Chocolate covered espresso beans, for decoration (optional)

Cocoa powder, for dusting

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To make the cake: Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in three additions and the buttermilk in two (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.Bake for 28-30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool then for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

To make the extract: Stir the espresso powder and boiling water together in a small cup until blended. Set aside.

To make the syrup: Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Pour the syrup into a small heatproof bowl and stir 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract and the liqueur or brandy; set aside.

To make the filling and frosting: Put the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla and liqueur in a large bowl and whisk just until blended and smooth. Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir about one quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream with a light touch.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lack of Posts

I haven't been posting much in the past couple of weeks because things have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster around our place. It's gone a little something like this...death..vacation...death. Sometimes we don't stop and think about how much our friends, co-workers and pets really mean to us until they're gone. Of course, sometimes we do think about it, and then it hurts even more when you lose them. You don't necessarily have to be related to someone for them to feel like a part of your family.

Thanks for Following Me

Welcome to the new site. The old site I was using didn't allow me enough space for the photographs for each recipe. Also, on the new site, you should be able to post comments. I enjoy feedback, positive or negative, throw it at me!Let me know what you think about the new space.