Chocolate cake

If you’re getting back on the horse, do it with chocolate.

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Giant cookie

I’ve done more baking in the last month than I’ve done in a year. Blame the baby. But now that I’m catching up again, here’s another from a recent spate of cookery…the GIANT cookie made as a birthday cake for my husband.

Fresh from the oven, placed beside "The Cake Bible" for scale.

So so easy, and so much fun. Use the standard Tollhouse cookie recipe, but instead of butter, use butter-flavored shortening. I like the Crisco ones that come in bricks because one brick equals the 1 cup of butter you need. Using shortening means the cookie is more prone to rise rather than spread. And you want this cookie to rise!

Other tweaks: I used both dark and milk chocolate chips for a little texture variety in the chips and scaled back a bit on the walnuts for fear of it tasting too dry (wasn’t an issue). I also added a shot of bourbon, and was heavy handed with the vanilla. It gave the cake a more adult dimension, for lack of a better word.

To eat? Grab a pizza cutter and a big glass of milk.

Googling “dark chocolate cake”

I’m making a wedding cake for a dear family friend and her fiance.  I was feeling unimpressed with the chocolate cake recipes of the past, so I Googled “dark chocolate cake.” Turns out this one from All Recipes has been tried by some 22,000 people. It’s a 4 1/2-star cake with 850+ reviews. Who am I to turn my nose up?

Glad I didn’t. This is one yummy chocolate cake and, as many comments note, even better after a night in the fridge. Meaning it’s perfect for a wedding cake that must be baked a day or so in advance.

Here’s the raw data from a test run:

Meringue Challenge

I’ve been going through old photos (in a digital sense, which means I’m clicking on folders), and I came across this photo from my trip to Ireland of the Husband’s and my 3rd anniversary:

Strawberry Merguines

This is a pile of meringues — strawberry, I think — from a bake shop in Galway called Gourmet Tart Company. I didn’t get to try them. It was too late in the day when we got there and the shop girl told me that they sell out of these amazing confections by noon. And regardless, they wouldn’t consider selling them past noon anyway because the consistency would have been shot (too chewy).

I’m feeling inspired. I want to recreate these meringues I never tasted. My dear friend Lisa is coming into town next week…the same one with which I made those scones eons ago. Perhaps she’ll join me in the challenge? I’ll keep you updated. In the mean time…aren’t these just divine?

***Ooh! Edited to add this link to Travel Sweet. Apparently I’m not the only one to have been denied a meringue on a quality contingency!

Oatmeal-To-Go “Muffins”

I had a breakfast in Burlington, Vt., a few years back that I’ve wanted to recreate but never got around to it. Now that I’m a busy mom of a 3-month-old and going back to work, I’m inspired to finally give it a whirl.

The original was a steel-cut oatmeal cake topped with whipped cream, fresh berries and maple syrup. The oatmeal is prepared,  poured into a baking pan, cooled in the fridge and then individual, square servings are cut out and placed under the broiler to get all the edges browned and crisp. It was oatmeal the way your mother never made it and I could have eaten by the brick. The way the berries and cream and syrup ran down into the cracks of the oatmeal cake, like water over stones…oh…so tasty.

My version adds some portability, though it admittedly lacks the same flair. Instead of a cake, I’ve turned it into a muffin and baked the fruit and syrup into it. I’ve omitted the cream, too (though in the picture, I’ve added a little half-and-half and maple syrup for kicks). I eat these hot or cold, and they can be frozen and reheated at work for an oaty pick-me-up.

Oatmeal-On-The-Go Muffins

Oatmeal-To-Go "Muffins"

The Recipe:

4 cups old fashioned oatmeal

4 cups water

1 tsp salt

1 diced apple

1/2 cup dried dates

1 cup crushed walnuts

3 Tbs. maple syrup (Grade B from Morse Farm)

Liberal dash of cinnamon

Brown sugar for topping (optional)

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Oatmeal mash

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bring water and salt to a boil. Add oatmeal. Lower heat to medium and cook oats for approx. 5 minutes. Oatmeal mixture should be thick. Remove from heat and add apples, dates and walnuts (and feel free to vary the fruit and nuts to your liking). Stir in and then add maple syrup and cinnamon. Spoon heaping helpings into a greased 12-count muffin tin (approx. 1/3 cup in each hole). Sprinkle tops with brown sugar if you like. Omit if you’re counting calories. Place in oven for 25 minutes so tops can get browned and a bit crisp. Remove and let cool. Serve as you see fit.

Finished muffins

Fresh from the oven

New House, New Oven

We’re in the new house! And hence…I have the time again to do the things for which this blog is named!

When we bought our house, I knew the range already had two tricksy burners. What I wasn’t expecting was a non-functioning oven and a not-up-to-code gas line.

*heaves big home-ownership-lesson sigh*

But I’m very lucky that there are people in my life who love me enough to sponsor my need for a functioning oven in which to bake. I owe my new Kenmore Gas Range and Convection Oven to my Omi and Opa and my Uncle Chris–I have named burners in your honor.

I’ve baked with convection before and knew I wanted to make that upgrade, but I’m wondering if anyone out there knows any interesting convection secrets? If so…hit me!

Putting the “Mmm” in Mistakes

Lately everything I bake has been turning out all goofy-footed. It always ends up tasting great, but it’s never without its surprises. And I think I can blame it on the somewhat lax attitude I’ve taken to following directions these days — a completely un-Jen mindset that’s producing mixed results across the board.

The other week I tried my hand at a Nigella recipe — her Sour Cream Chocolate Cake from “How To Be a Domestic Goddess,” p. 169. My intent was to vary the recipe only enough to add the zest of a whole orange and substitute triple sec for vanilla. Oh…and since I only had fat-free sour cream, to substitute that for the full-fat version. Um…and since that was far thicker than the full-fat version, to make is a little thinner with some milk. Ah yes…and I didn’t have 8″ pans avilable, so I used my trusted 9″ers.

Sigh…

And I wonder why baking occasionally gives me such conniptions.

It didn’t rise. Not a lick. Each layer was less than an inch high. The interior of the cake was terrifically moist and the orange came through beautifully, but there truly wasn’t a bit of height in the whole thing. So I manufactured height. I filled the middle with a basic cream cheese icing spiked with more Triple Sec and orange zest, then piled a whole pint of whipped heavy cream on top and grated zest and chocolate shavings over that. Tad-da! Chocolate-Orange Cream Cake!

It was a hit at the party I took it to. Now, if only I could keep myself from confessing each baking blunder…

Hapless Party-goer: Mmmm, this is good!

Me: Oh, well, you see I completely screwed it up, so I’m shocked it tastes good, let me tell you all about it, it all started with the sour cream….

Hapless Party-goer: I see a drink with my name on it waaaay over there.

Next up? My adventures with rhubarb — my typically stalwart dessert fruit of choice that is also falling victim to my yummy experimentation.

Scones: Ginger-Lime-Orange; Chocolate-Butterscotch

 

The best thing about being a baking addict? When I travel to see friends, they want to bake with me! This is excellent since most of my baking happens between me and my KitchenAid (which I have to name, I think, as she…or maybe he…has become such a trusted companion). But otherwise, I’m generally alone. The Husband is wise and stays in the other room — especially when I’m ruining yet another batch of buttercream.

So it was with much delight that my friend Lisa in St. Louis announced upon my arrival that we were going to 1) shop, 2) bake, and 3) play music. Trifecta of Happiness!

What did we bake? Scones courtesy of the goddess that is Julia Child. I believe Lisa used her basic Buttermilk Scone recipe from Baking With Julia. Lisa, can you confirm this? It was dietetically criminal how easy they were to make. Just a little hand-mixing and patting together of the scones in a lumpy kind of scone-shape. The end product was far less dense than scones of my past; more like a heavy biscuit. But, oh, they were divine.

We made two batches: ginger-lime-orange for me and Lisa, and chocolate-butterscotch for Lisa’s chocoholic-studying-for-med-school-exams-and-therefore-should-get-whatever-he-wants-husband Jim. I much preferred the ginger variety. We used candied ginger chopped rough, and zest from a few limes and an orange to flavor the batch. I apologize in advance that we have no “finished” pictures. They simply didn’t last long enough for me to remember to pull the camera out.

See that butter? That’s gonna go on top. The sugar, too. Ohhhh yeahhhh.

The Jim-Scones

Two batches of British love.

 

Mmmmmadeleines

My friend Jen (yes, we Jens roam in packs) has something of a madeleine addiction, and for the last two years she has been angling for a madeleine baking day. For reasons that range from pregnancy (The Other Jen) to ludicrous travel schedules (This Jen), The First Madeleine Baking Bash has alluded us…until now.

The stars aligned and on Saturday, March 29, we cracked open the KitchenAid and, using a recipe The Other Jen found online at Chez Pim’s, we went to town. The following documents The Baking Bash as we attempted to convert grams to ounces, and discern just exactly how brown is butter before it’s simply burnt.

First…our baking assistant Chef Lydia. The whisk was a big hit and, yes, we washed it after after she sucked on it:

Beurre noisette a.k.a. browned butter. Pim’s recipe calls for browning it in the microwave. I was dubious, but we tried it. After three minutes, we had terrifically melted butter with no sign of burning milk solids, so I finished it in a pan on the stove over low heat. No biggie:

Infusing the browned butter with Lady Gray tea leaves. The recipe calls for an Earl Gray, but we opted for a feminist take. Eggs wait prettily in the background:

Whisking the eggs and sugar using a double-boiler method:

Whipping the daylights out of the egg mixture (with honey added). Also, a lovely glamor shot of the KichenAid:

The egg mixture has tripled in bulk. Note how it ribbons back into the bowl, a sign of the batter’s readiness:

Adding the cooled browned butter to about a cup of the egg mixture to aid incorporation. We didn’t get all the tea leaves strained out, but decided we liked it that way better. More “rustic.” (Read: we couldn’t find a fine enough sieve):

Flouring The Other Jen’s pans:

Piping the madeleines:

Hot out of the oven. Our proudest achievement? The humps:

Hot tea, madeleines and a side of forsythia:

END NOTES:

  • Again…glee that our madeleines humped!
  • This recipe, while intimidating at first glance, is actually very straight-forward. Pim lays out the steps in an easy-to-follow manner, so don’t let grams and French terms scare you.
  • While the scent of the madeleines was perfumey from the tea infusion (and thus, worrisome to The Two Jens), the taste was less intense and very balanced.
  • You can eat one…maybe two. But they are very rich. Far less “popable” than the Starbucks variety. Which is probably a very good thing.
  • Everyone in The Other Jen’s family loved them (especially her father-in-law who popped over the next day for any extras lying about). Many raves all around. My mom loved them, too. The only dissenting opinion was my dad’s. To quote: “They taste like a wet dog.” Hmmm… My apologies to Pim.
  • I want to try different teas. In particular, orange.
  • We need to have a Second Madeleine Baking Bash because the consistency was not quite perfect…a little too cakey. Did we overbeat? Was there an improper AP-to-cake flour ratio to make up for lack of pastry flour? Did we rush the chilling process in our eagerness to bake? We won’t know until we try again. Other Jen…are you game?