A Small Symbol For a Special Occasion

March 24, 2009

Have you ever known a couple who were perfect for each other? Not just happy together, but really perfect for each other. Who just strengthen each other in ways most of us will never know. I happen to know such a couple. These two… it’s hard to describe, you’d have to meet them to see how well they work together and complete each other but honestly, you just have to spend five minutes with them to see it. There is a certain flow that you just don’t see in most relationships.

Anyways, my dear friend Dean, is the guy-half of this couple. I baked a bunch of stuff for their engagement party last summer and have been really looking forward to their wedding. Unfortunately, because of various things in their lives (my wonderful, dear, sweet friend is being sent to Afghanistan!) they had to rush things, and had a pre-wedding-wedding. I still had to make them something though (of course!) and while the cookies I chose to make might seem simple, I thought the symbolism of joining two types of cookies (though perhaps a bit cheesy), was perfect. 

I really wish I could do more for my friend as they prepare for the future, but hopefully this little act, this punny symbol meant something to them.

Two Heart Cookies
Slightly adapted from: Epicurean Escapism

Chocolate Cookies:
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz chocolate, melted and cooled
2 1/4 cups plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Sugar Cookies:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

You can follow the same directions for each recipe, just make sure to keep things separate.

In a medium bowl mix dry ingredients (except the sugar). Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter. Add the egg and vanilla or chocolate liqueur to the sugar and butter. With the mixer on low speed, beat to combine until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time and beat with the electric mixer on low speed until the mixture is just combined.

Wrap the dough tightly with saran wrap and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. More is better, especially for the chocolate dough.

Remove the dough from the wrap, place it on a smooth, lightly floured surface, and use a rolling pin to roll it out to a thickness of 1/8 inch. You can also roll between two sheets of waxed paper.

Cut out shapes with heart shaped cookie cutters, using two different sizes (cutting one inside the other). Carefully pick up the cookie, remove the inner heart and put aside, placing the large heart on a greased cookie sheet. Combine and roll out the leftover dough and continue cutting out cookie shapes to place on cookie sheets. Repeat with the other batter, placing the smaller chocolate hearts inside the big sugar hearts and the smaller sugar hearts in the large chocolate hearts. Place the hearts on your cookie sheets in the freezer until ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 350F and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, turning the tray halfway through, until the edges of the sugar cookies just begin to turn very light brown.

Remove cookie sheet from the oven and allow to cool for 1 minute. Using a flat spatula, transfer the cookies to the cooling rack to cool completely before storing or eating. Enjoy!

The original recipe called for peanut butter dough, rather than a simple sugar cookie dough, but as I have mentioned I am weird and picky and only like my peanut butter on a nice slice of bread so I went with the much favored sugar cookies. But I highly suggest trying the original recipe if you like that stuff.

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Pie Day II: My Chocolate Pie-Lettes

March 14, 2009

One of the fun things about living in this country is all of the made up holidays. Days randomly picked out of the year to make us do silly things (anyone else celebrate backwards day when they were in school?) or on the side of the spectrum, force us to buy yet another gift to prove we love the people in our lives. There are holidays to make us more aware of environmental or health issues and there are holidays to celebrate the joys of things like yo-yos, and bubble wrap!

Last year I celebrated what has quickly become my favorite fake holiday. Pie Day! Not only does it celebrate a delicious dessert, but it makes this day (3.14) so wonderfully punny! It isn’t as funny if I explain too much so I really hope you get it 🙂

Anyways, last year I made a naked chocolate pie, with yummy caramel squished between a chocolate crust and a thick brownie layer. It was delicious and evil and more than a bit naughty.

This year I decided to go with something a lot more simple, but something that has always been my favorite (especially at thanksgiving…pie day for all the non-bloggers). A simple chocolate silk pie…or should I say mini chocolate pie-lettes. 🙂

I tend to prefer a graham cracker crust with my chocolate pie. I don’t know why but it just seems to work better with the chocolate than a crispy, flaky but not as sweet crust. However, this year we decided to go with a shortbread crust and I think I have become a convert. The contrast between the silky chocolate and the delicately sweet, crumbly crust is just amazing, especially considering we decided to make little bite-sized pie-lettes. 🙂

Chocolate Silk Pie-lettes
Source for crust: Joy of Baking

Crust:
1 cup (227 grams) (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (72 grams) confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) all purpose flour
2 tablespoons (30 grams) cornstarch or rice flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Chocolate Filling:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt
2 cups whole milk
4 oz chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
generous splash of chocolate liqueur

Whipped Cream:
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon chocolate liqueur

Crust:
Lightly butter miniature muffin tins or fill the tins with miniature cupcake wrappers. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325F. 

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together (approximately two minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract.

In a smaller bowl whisk the flour, cornstarch and salt. Gradually add this into the butter mixture and mix just until incorporated. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill approximately 1 hour.

Divide the dough into even pieces (approximately 1/2 ounces each, 32 balls) and place one ball of dough in the center of each muffin tin. With your fingertips, press the dough up the sides of the individual muffin tin so there is an indentation in the center. Once filled, place the tart pan, with the unbaked shells in the freezer for about 10 minutes so the shortbread can become firm.

Bake for approximately 18 – 20 minutes or until lightly browned. About halfway through the baking time, lightly prick the bottom of each shortbread, with the tines of a fork, if they have puffed up. Check again after another five minutes and prick again if needed. Once they are fully baked, remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Filling and Topping:
Mix all of the ingredients for the whipped cream in a bowl, but do not whip yet. Put in the fridge with your beaters/whisk to chill.

Whisk cornstarch, sugar, cocoa and salt in a saucepan, then gradually whisk in milk.

Place on the stove and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Allow to simmer until it’s nice and thick. Do not stop whisking while it’s cooking or you’ll get lumps. Remove from heat and whisk in chopped chocolate and butter until melted.

Transfer filling to a metal bowl and quick-chill by setting in an ice bath, stirring constantly. Allow to sit until completely cool.

Pour filling into a ziplock bag or piping bag and fill the crusts.

Take out the bowl with the whipped cream ingredients and beat until stiff peaks form. Generously top the pie-lettes, then decorate as desired. Enjoy!

These things really are amazing, and the few leftovers we had were even better after sitting in the fridge! (Don’t you love that?) If you try them yourself, keep in mind that the crust really does rise quite a bit if you aren’t careful so make sure you keep it nice and cold before popping it in the oven, or you won’t be able to put enough chocolate…and the more chocolate you can fit, the better. You can even use pie weights or rice (on top of foil, of course) if you decide to make a full sized pie.

Also, anything will work well for decorating: shaved chocolate, chocolate chips, berries, brownie crumbs… just be creative! You can also add 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder to the whipped cream for chocolate whipped cream.

Whatever you decide, it really is an incredible pie, and well worth any holiday…even the fake ones. 🙂


A Great Way to Die

March 9, 2009

What is it about the phrase “death by chocolate” that fascinates us so? If you do a google search on the phrase, among the many different recipes you can find all sorts of strange and fun things. Like a site handing out shirts and chocolate syrup for you to fake your death, a murder mystery party for pampering yourself and your girlfriends, a death by chocolate bake-off (looks like we just missed it!). There is even a music video!

If you think about it literally, the idea isn’t actually all that great. You could choke on an m&m – painful. You could eat nothing but chocolate for years – not … enough .. variety. You could fall in a river of chocolate…okay, maybe that one is not so bad. Sure you would drown, but you would be wrapped in warm, silky goodness. By time it happened you might not care!

But in all seriousness, my man and I decided to make a Death By Chocolate Cake earlier this year.

When you make something like the flourless chocolate cake we made, it’s hard to top. This one doesn’t do that, but it’s just as good, it’s easier to make as you don’t have to set it in a pan of water to bake it. But more than that, what could be more appealing than the image of the chocolate cake itself drowning. 🙂

Death by Chocolate Cake
Source:
The Great Book of Chocolate

Cake:
8 oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, separated
3 tbl chocolate liqueur

Ganache:
8 oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tbl chocolate liqueur

Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour (or sugar) a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water. Let cool.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating until just blended after each addition. With mixer at low speed, gradually beat in the cooled chocolate, dry ingredients, and liqueur.

With mixer at high speed, beat the egg whites in a bowl until stiff peaks form. Use a large rubber spatula to fold the egg whites into the batter.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake until springy and a tester comes out clean – 40-50 minutes.

Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

To prepared the ganache, heat the cream and butter in a pan over medium heat and bring just to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Add the chocolate liqueur and mix well.

Spread a very thin layer of the ganache on the cake and refrigerate for five minutes. Pour the rest of the ganache over the cake (being careful to pay attention to what you’re doing, and not the camera so you don’t drown your kitchen). Spread with a butter knife as needed, add whatever decorations you desire and refrigerate until the ganache is set or you’re ready to serve. Enjoy. 

We did the cake-drowned-in-ganache instead of the frosting recipe originally given but if you’re curious just let me know and I can send you the frosting recipe. However, we are obsessed with ganache and this recipe, leaves for a very simple but … to die for chocolate cake. (Sorry, I had to say it)  🙂


Some of the Best Things in Life are Easy!

March 6, 2009

I think I have run into a slight problem. You see, I love homemade bread, as I have mentioned here many times (maybe too many), and whenever I have some in the house I tend to eat more than I should.

The good thing is that it tends to take so much time out of the day that I can only make it once or twice a month, so those extra calories don’t make it into my system that often.

The problem, is that I have run into a solution to that. That sentence just sounds wrong, but anyways, I managed to get my hands on a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.

This bread is amazing. Not only is it just as easy as it sounds, but the depth of flavor is incredible. This means that I can have fresh bread any day I want. Isn’t that horrible? 😉

This also means that all of you out there who have been hesitant to try making bread can take that leap and be assured you’ll have great bread without even trying! Don’t be afraid of the length of the recipe. Even though I edited it down a lot it’s still a bit wordy, but the actual process isn’t any more difficult than making cookies 🙂

Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)
Source: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
6  1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose flour

Mixing and Storing the Dough:

Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 F. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours.  Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.

Mix in the flour but do not knead. Add all of the flour at once by gently scooping up flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is uniform. If you’re hand-mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach in with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

Cover with a lid (not airtight). Do not use screw-topped bottles or Mason jars, which could explode from the trapped gases. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours, depending on the room’s temperature and the initial water temperature. Longer rising times, up to about 5 hours, will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try our method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf.

On Baking Day:

Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough*, using a serrated knife.

Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere during resting and baking. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no longer than 30 to 60 seconds.

Place the shaped ball on a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Allow the loaf to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes (it doesn’t need to be covered during the rest period). Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking.

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450F.

Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour. Slash the top as desired, about 1/4-inch-deep.

After a 20-minute preheat, you’re ready to bake, even though your oven thermometer won’t yet be up to full temperature. Place the loaf on the sheet in the oven. Quickly but carefully through ice cubes in the oven and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and a thermometer inserted inside reads 200F.

Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack, for best flavor, texture, and slicing. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled. Enjoy!

You can store the remaining dough in your refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days. You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. Cut off and shape more loaves as you need them. The dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.

*The recipe states that you can have four loaves with this bread, but with two of us 1/4 of that dough really wasn’t enough. I think 1/2 is really more appropriate. And the longer you leave the dough, the more the flavor will develop, just make sure you don’t leave it past 10-14 days or it just won’t be as good.