Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pumpkin Pie Muffins

I needed to make something to donate to a bake sale. Given my ongoing need to use up various ingredients, I was able to finish off a can of pumpkin puree with these Pumpkin Pie Muffins from Mostly Muffins, a classic (published in 1984) by Barbara Albright and Leslie Weiner. These are pretty much what they would seem to be: muffins with the flavors reminiscent of pumpkin pie, especially those spices: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg. These muffins also have chopped pecans and dried cranberries (I strayed from the dates called for in the original recipe). I also sprinkled a little cinnamon sugar atop each muffin before I baked them.

Cookie Day 2007

Many years ago, we used to host a holiday party featuring only desserts. It was a lot of fun, but a grueling amount of work. There's nothing like making cookies for the holidays, though, and I was glad to learn that my running pal Ryan also liked to bake. A few years ago, we got together for our first-ever Cookie Day, a preholiday celebration of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and chocolate.

The first two years of Cookie Day were major throw-downs. Last year, the first pan went in the oven at around 10:15 a.m., and the last batch of cookies didn't come out til around midnight. Although this Cookie Day format was fun, this year we decided to approach things differently. Each of us prepared a bunch of doughs ahead of time to bake off on Cookie Day. All in all, this worked out really well, making for a far-less frantic day. In the end, we prepared only a few "live" doughs; the rest was stuff we'd done in advance.

Ryan brought along a variety of items:
  • Chocolate-peanut butter pinwheels
  • Caramel-pecan biscotti
  • Chocolate sticks (a biscotti-like chocolate cookie)
  • Magic in the Middles (a chocolate cookie dough wrapped around a peanut-butter filling)
My advance doughs were the following:
  • Cranberry-cornmeal cookies
  • Lime-coconut cookies
  • Oatmeal cookies with dried mango, coconut, and macadamia nuts
  • Ribbon cookies
  • Chocolate-cherry-pistachio swirls
  • Dark chocolate crackles
The live doughs:
  • ANZAC biscuits
  • Snickerdoodles
  • Espresso-toffee chocolate-chunk cookies
All the recipes I tried were new for me except for the espresso-toffee-chocolate chunk cookies, which I blogged about earlier this year as the best chocolate chip cookies ever, and the ribbon cookies, which we made for Cookie Day 2006; both are Dede Wilson recipes.

Of these new doughs, I'd rate the oatmeal cookies as my favorite. They're soft and chewy, and can you go wrong with dried mango? The cranberry-cornmeal cookies are also very good; it's an unusual combination for a cookie. These two are from Lauren Chattman's Mom's Big Book of Cookies, which was published in time for Cookie Day 06 but somehow never was used.

The dark-chocolate crackles, an Abby Dodge recipe from Fine Cooking's December 2007 issue, are superb; the dash of orange zest really brings them to life. I keep thinking that there are interesting ways to tweak the recipe with different-flavor chips and/or zests.

The final two cookies I made were also from the Lauren Chattman book. I liked the lime-coconut cookies enough, but felt that they could use a bit more lime zest to really make them jump. The swirled cookies were my only real disaster of the day. The cookie dough is very soft, and in hindsight, I think it would have benefited from chilling prior to being rolled out. The first batch of swirls rolled up OK, with a bit of difficulty, but the second roll was a nightmare.

This just in: comments from Ryan!

Here's my feelings about the cookies I made. Feel free to edit and append to your blog entry if you'd like.

* Chocolate-peanut butter pinwheels

I've made pinwheel cookies a couple of times before using different recipes. The recipes for both doughs came from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. I was disappointed with the doughs. They both went from being cold and unmalleable to warm and sticky quickly with no middle ground. This made rolling them out and then together a joyless experience. Further, the texture of the cookie isn't that good. It could be that I slightly underbaked them but they aren't crispy.

* Caramel-pecan orange biscotti

Biscotti ships well but in previous Cookie Days, making it has been a real time hog since it has to be baked twice. So, since I was making it in advance (I prepared it through baking the log), no reason not to make a fancy recipe. This comes from Tish Boyle's The Good Cookie, a cookie book that I adore and cherish. The recipe calls for making caramel and then letting it harden over chopped pecans on a cookie sheet (doing this on a silpat worked out nicely). I like the flavor this brought to the cookie.

* Chocolate sticks (a biscotti-like chocolate cookie)

This is also from the KACC. They have a lighter texture than biscotti. It is both chocolaty and crunchy. I would definitely make these again. They seem ideally suited to dunking in a glass of milk or a cup of coffee.

* Magic in the Middles (a chocolate cookie dough wrapped around a peanut-butter filling)

Another recipe that would demand too much time to make on Cookie Day. The recipe from KACC calls for rolling sweetened PB into balls, rolling the chocolate dough into balls, flattening the chocolate dough balls, and reforming them around the PB balls. I've made this before and it did not disappoint this time around. It's the closest one can come to a Reese's PB cup in cookie form.

* ANZAC biscuits

I've seen these in several cookie books and I've been curious. ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps and the biscuits were shipped to soldiers in WWII. So, they are fit for shipping out on Cookie Day, too. They're pretty simple with just oats and butter as the main flavors. There's also some coconut, which seems to mainly add a bit of chewiness to the texture. They're interesting cookies and I like them. I might add chocolate chips to them if I make them again. Or dried fruit.

* Snickerdoodles

A classic New England cookie and one that I always enjoy baking. I used the recipe from The Good Cookie. For whatever reason, Tish doesn't call them snickerdoodles but cinnamon crinkle cookies but in the description she says they're snickerdoodles. I don't get it. Whatever she calls them, it's a good recipe that came out pretty well.

P.S. I'll be back later to update links.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Espresso Cinnamon Coffee Cake

I really wanted to try this cake from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours because I loved the idea of the combination of espresso and cinnamon. Although the cake turned out fine, I definitely erred when putting the batter in the pan. The cake is supposed to have a layer of sugary-chocolatey-espresso goodness waving through the center. However, I cluelessly dumped all the batter in the pan, then sprinkled the filling on top of the batter.

On the plus side, I didn't feel obliged to make the suggested icing for this cake.

Applesauce Cake

This cake came to be in a fairly roundabout way. I've been prowling the dented-and-dinged produce rack lately, and have gotten some great deals on bananas (there's a lot of banana-themed blog entries on the way), red peppers (which I used for stuffed peppers), and apples. I figured I'd use the apples (and a few pears) for a couple of batches of homemade applesauce. Since I didn't add any sugar -- I just cooked down the fruit with a little apple cider and a couple of cinnamon sticks -- I had unsweetened applesauce, perfect for a cake.

While browsing through the Holiday Baking special edition of Everyday Food, I saw this recipe for Applesauce Cake. This cake is spicy and moist, but there was a bit of a problem removing the cake from the pan. My gut instinct told me to line the bottom of the tube pan with parchment paper, and I didn't. I went with just the usual shortening-flour pan release. It was not adequate -- hence the coating of cream-cheese frosting on the cake. (In case you were wondering, yes, I had to serve it upside down.)

Pumpkin-Ginger Pound Cake

For Thanksgiving dessert, I didn't want to make a pie or a cheesecake, but I wanted something pumpkin. I settled on Pumpkin & Ginger Pound Cake. This recipe was published originally in Fine Cooking's October/November 2002 issue, and has recently reappeared in the collection How to Cook a Turkey. (This book is really terrific, by the way.)

It's unfathomable why I waited five years to try this cake. This cake has a gorgeous, fine crumb and a wonderful warm ginger flavor. I tweaked the recipe slightly and buzzed the ginger and the sugar in the food processor before I creamed it all with the butter to start the cake. I think that that helped to distribute the ginger flavor more evenly than simply adding in minced ginger. On the other hand, it's an extra step that I bet you wouldn't have to pursue to get a great cake.

Just for indulgent holiday fun, I had the cake with a scoop of this special flavor of Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Great Yellow Cake

This one is from Marcy Goldman's new book, A Passion for Baking. The recipe is Classic American Chocolate Layer Cake, and that is maybe a bit of a misnomer: It's a yellow cake, actually, with chocolate frosting. In fact, it's a beauty of a yellow cake, with a tight crumb and a pound-cake-like texture. The creamy chocolate frosting is an ideal counterpoint.

A Good Chocolate Cake

From time to time, I browse through the book archives, and inevitably while turning pages in a book, I’ll see a recipe and think, “Why have I never made that?” The coincidence of a book browse and the bottom of a container of whole milk nearing an expiration date led me to try this chocolate cake from Wayne Harley Brachman’s American Desserts, which was published in 2003.

Initially, I was afraid I’d overbaked the cake. At first testing, the layers were way not done. Five minutes later, they were quite done. I was almost afraid to slice it for fear that I’d discover a dried-out interior. As it turned out, the cake has a pretty dense, compact texture, almost more like a brownie than a cake. And it was plenty moist.

One thought: I wonder if a different liquid (say, cold coffee) might intensify the color and flavor of the cake. The frosting is nice and fudgy.

Two Birthdays

We started November with a couple of work birthdays within a couple of days of each other. For the first birthday, I made Golden Applesauce Pound Cake from Marcy Goldman's A Passion for Baking. I used some homemade applesauce for this cake. The recipe calls for golden raisins, which I didn't have, so I substituted dried cranberries. All in all, a nice autumnal cake.

For the second birthday, I made Banana Chocolate Chip Cake from Carole Walter's Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More. This cake is a trip. Based on the ingredient list, which includes cake flour and superfine sugar, I figured that this would be a cake with a fine texture. But never before have I gone the extra step of straining mashed bananas for a cake. In the end, I think it made a difference and contributed to the cake's silken texture. This is an excellent banana cake, strained bananas and all.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Saturday in New York

Today I hauled a bunch of baked goods in to New York City to share with some friends who are either running or spectating at tomorrow's NYC Marathon. In addition to some items I'd baked a couple of weeks ago and frozen, I supplemented with two additional items: Pumpkin Brownies (from a recipe I saw posted at Cookstalk, the forum at the Fine Cooking Web site), and Apricot Crumb Brownies from Baking from the Heart.

The brownies were OK, although I think they ended up just slightly overbaked. The recipe specifies a 50-minute baking time. I set the timer for 40 minutes and took the fully baked brownies out of the oven at 38 minutes. I think they could go a few minutes less. The flavor combination of the spicy pumpkin-cream cheese batter swirled into the brownie is really nice. Here's the recipe:

Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies

* 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
* 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1 large egg
* 1/3 cup canned pumpkin puree
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon ginger
* 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
* 5 1/2 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
* 1 1/4 sticks (5 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
* 4 large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 heaping cup large walnut pieces (about 4 ounces), optional


1. MAKE THE PUMPKIN BATTER: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. In a small bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter with the cream cheese until smooth. Beat in the sugar, scraping the bowl occasionally. Beat in the egg, then add the pumpkin puree, vanilla, cinnamon and ginger. Stir in the flour.
2. MAKE THE CHOCOLATE BATTER: Combine the semisweet chocolate and butter in a medium bowl. Set the bowl over a saucepan with 1 inch of simmering water and stir occasionally until melted. In a large bowl, combine the eggs with the sugar, vanilla and salt; set the bowl over the saucepan of simmering water and, using an electric mixer, beat at low speed until blended. Increase the speed to mdeium and beat until the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and continue to beat until the mixture is think and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the melted chocolate. Sift the flour over the warm batter and fold it in just until combined. Fold in the walnut pieces.
3. Spread the chocolate batter evenly in the prepared pan. Using a tablespoon, drop dollops of the pumpkin batter all over the top. Using the back of a butter knife, swirl the pumpkin batter into the chocolate; don't overdo it or the swirl pattern will be lost. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the brownies cool completely before cutting.

Then there were the Apricot Crumb Bars. They're a Susan Purdy recipe contributed to Baking from the Heart, a book published in support of Share Our Strength. These bars are instantly one of my favorite bar cookies ever. Resting on a shortbread base, there's a layer of semisweet chocolate topped with a layer of apricot (both preserves and plumped, pureed dried fruit), and finally with an oat-and-walnut-studded crumb topping. I didn't have quite enough dried apricots for the fruit layer, so I supplemented with a bit of dried mango. The mix of textures and flavors (shortbread, chocolate, fruit, nuts) is brilliant. I'm already thinking about variations for this bar cookie (like maybe dried cranberries with a layer of white chocolate).

(Apologies. I have no photos of the brownies or the apricot bars. They were distributed and devoured -- I hope -- before I could take a photo.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Cupcakes

Halloween demanded a baked good of some sort, and cupcakes seemed like the ideal thing to make. I tried a couple of recipes from The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook, one recipe of Dark Chocolate Cupcakes and one recipe of White Chocolate Cupcakes. As it turned out, the actual chocolate part of each cupcake was in the ganache frosting, and I opted out of that. Otherwise, the cake portion of each recipe is a pretty straightforward chocolate and vanilla cupcake.

On the plus side, the vanilla cupcakes are nice, almost a miniature pound cake in texture and consistency. On the other hand, the chocolate cupcakes are a disappointment, if only because the extremely loose batter is awkward to work with. It's made by hand, and I kept thinking that I should have prepared it in a large measuring cup. It would have been easier to get the batter into the cupcake tin that way.

As mentioned previously, I opted to forgo the ganache frostings in lieu of a regular old butter cream, which I tinted orange for the holiday.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Another Coke Cake

Since there's still some Coke left, I've become fixated on unearthing the mystery of Coke Cake. I tried this recipe yesterday. I didn't like it as much as Lora Brody's. The marshmallows here are simply stirred into the batter. I guess that maybe, best-case scenario, they dissolve into the cake while it's baking. That didn't quite happen with this cake, however, leaving it with a gummy texture. I also liked Lora Brody's Coke Cake frosting better, too

I've dredged up a couple more Coke Cake recipes. I'll keep going til that 2-liter bottle is empty.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Baking (With) Soda

For reasons that defy easy explanation, we have various 2-liter bottles of soda in our house that no one will ever drink, including regular Coke and Sierra Mist. Because I'm too cheap just to dump them down the drain, I figured that now would be a good time to try a couple of recipes I'd seen while browsing cookbooks.

First off, there's Coke Cake. I gather that this is a Southern thing, although if it is, I'm puzzled by how it didn't end up in Nancie McDermott's Southern Cakes. I decided to try a recipe from Lora Brody's Chocolate American Style. The cake batter contains not only a cup of Coke but also marshmallows. I'm still slightly befuddled about this formula. I mean, honestly, who starts off with Coke as the liquid in a cake, then says, "Hey, I know! Let's add three-quarters of a cup of marshmallows to this batter, too!"

To deal with the Sierra Mist, I am going to try 7UP Cake from the new America's Best Lost Recipes, from the folks at Cook's Country.

Updated 29 October 2007: The 7UP Cake is terrific. It's a dense pound cake, extremely moist, not terribly sweet, with a nice lemon glaze.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Weekend of Baking

This all started innocently enough -- as these baking things are wont to do -- with a sale at Stew Leonard's. This week, Stew's has raspberries on sale, two half-pint containers for $4. I've been eating lots of raspberries since last Wednesday when they went on sale.

Then I figured I could bake something with raspberries, and I remembered a footnote to Kathleen King's Cream Cheese Brownies (from the Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook), in which she suggests scattering raspberries on the cream cheese layer. I've done that before, and the results are exceptional.

Then I had to deal with some leftovers (pumpkin) and overripes (bananas). For the pumpkin, I made Gina DePalma's Pumpkin Loaf Cake with Chocolate Chips from Baking From the Heart. For the bananas, I tried the Old-Fashioned Fragrant Banana Bread recipe from Marcy Goldman's new book, A Passion for Baking. Both of these loaves are still too warm to slice, but they both turned out looking great. I think I might slice and wrap them for future consumption and/or distribution.

Finally, to bring it all back to raspberries, I embarked on the latest version of The Cake. This time, The Cake is made with apples and raspberries. If The Cake Version 1.0 is the original, I guess this edition might be The Cake Version 1.2. The variations:

1.0: original
1.1: apples, glaze
1.2: apples, raspberries, glaze
2.0: pears
2.1: pears, crystallized ginger
3.0: cherries

The Cake is so insanely adaptable. No wonder I love it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sweet Potato Pound Cake

Continuing on with the bakefest from Southern Cakes, today I made Sweet Potato Pound Cake. I started early in the day by baking four sweet potatoes for the cake. While they were baking and cooling, I cleaned out the fridge. (I really know how to live it up on a day off.) The intro to the recipe says that it's a cake "aromatic with spices," yet the ingredient list includes only nutmeg. Although it was difficult, I resisted the urge to tweak the recipe first time out, including not adding some of the warm autumn spices (cinnamon, ginger, allspice) I thought might be nice in this cake.

The cake has a beautiful golden color and a remarkably tender crumb. Even Claire likes it. Go figure. This cake is worthy of revisiting often. Next time out, I think I'll spice it up just a bit. A bit of minced crystallized ginger might be another nice touch (although I don't know how Southern that would be).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pumpkin-Raisin Cake

Since I couldn't get a pumpkin cupcake a couple of weeks ago, I dealt with my pumpkin craving by making a cake. I'd seen the recipe for Pumpkin-Raisin Cake while leafing through Nancie McDermott's Southern Cakes in search of a recipe for Claire's birthday cake. Pumpkin, raisins, walnuts. It sounded good, and it turned out really well. I made it as a 9x13 sheet cake rather than as two 9-in. layers. It's an option outlined in the recipe; however, I wish the recipe had indicated that in that size pan, the cake would require an extra 20 min. of baking time. The cake recipe is accompanied by a recipe for Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting, which I used for the cake. Not sure I loved this frosting. It's essentially powdered sugar, cream cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice. It ended up having a pasty, glazy texture.

I'm really taken with Southern Cakes. It's a terrific little book. I think that tomorrow, I might try a sweet-potato pound cake.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Last weekend, I was in Minneapolis/St. Paul for the Twin Cities Marathon, soaking up the joy of a couple of unseasonably warm and humid October days. On the plus side, the race course is beautiful. On the even more plus side (the plusser side?), my pals accommodated a sudden U-turn on the way back to our hotel post-race for a stop at Cupcake, a bakery we drove past (3338 University Ave SE, Minneapolis). The cupcakes were a bit pricey, but in this post-race case, they were worth it. I got a sampler of flavors: Triple Vanilla, Cookies & Cream, Orange Dream, Peanut Butter & Banana, Turtle, and Chocolate Cream Pie. I think I liked the Turtle best: a chocolate cupcake with a bit of caramel filling, topped with a rich layer of chocolate icing and garnished with a drizzle of caramel and some chopped pecans. The Triple Vanilla was a pleasant surprise. The vanilla-frosted vanilla cupcake had a surprise vanilla-pudding filling. (OK, the filling shouldn't have been a surprise. It was Triple Vanilla, after all.) The only thing lacking with the Peanut Butter & Banana (PB frosting; banana cake) was a splash of something chocolate. Additionally, I was incredibly sad that I got there too late for a Pumpkin Cupcake. Pumpkin and its associated spices are definitely tempting my palate these days.

Sorry, no pictures of the cupcake bounty. They definitely were enjoyed, and Cupcake is worth a visit if you're in Twin Cities. In addition to cupcakes, they also have cookies, breads, some pastries, and savory selections (soups, quiche, etc.).

Claire's Birthday

Claire turned 12 yesterday, but her "party" -- taking five friends to see The Game Plan, a film that made me comatose; I might still not be conscious -- was today. For her birthday, she requested the Hershey's chocolate cake I'd made a few weeks ago, but because I listen as well as she does, I decided to pursue a different recipe. I ended up making Helen Hudson Whiting's Celestial Chocolate Cake from Nancie McDermott's Southern Cakes.

The technique is very similar to the Hershey cake, oddly enough, with cocoa powder bloomed in boiling water combined with the rest of the ingredients. (The technique similarity absolves me from guilt for using a different recipe, right?) The prep is slightly different in that the butter-sugar-egg mixture gets all the flour and leavenings before the cocoa slurry is added in. The recipe recommends a filling of whipped cream, but I made a plain white butter cream rather than mess around with that. I did use the chocolate frosting recipe recommended for the cake and liked it a lot; it's smooth, creamy, and easy to spread.

All in all, this cake was a huge success. As I was reminded yet again, it's always Karen's cakes that go awry. Claire's turn out just fine. And I myself am long overdue for a birthday cake from Costco.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Brownies and Blondies

This week, I've been doing some baking in anticipation of a weekend event. I've made some brownies and blondies, one new recipe (the brownies) and an old favorite (the blondies). I also made a batch of my favorite brownie-top/blondie-bottom bar cookies. In every case, there were issues.

I was utterly perplexed, especially after the batch of brownie/blondies baked 10 minutes longer than usual, then was still terribly underbaked in the center, a situation that had been the case to greater and lesser degrees all week. When I thought it over, the only common thread I could come up with was that I'd used the same pan for each batch of bar cookies. It's a shiny, silvery, reflective aluminum 9x13 pan. Is there something about the shiny pan vs. a matte gray nonstick-coated pan? It makes me wonder if the use of that pan contributed to the creamy success of the Oreo Cheesecake I made earlier in the week.

Anyway, recipes made:
Omigod Brownies from Rick Rodgers
Peanut Butter Brownies from The Ultimate Brownie Book by Bruce Weinstein
The Great Blondie from The Greyston Bakery Cookbook

I also did a batch of Kara's Blonde Brownies from Kathleen King's Tate Bakeshop Cookbook, but they did not survive the pan debacle. First time I've ever botched that recipe.

Oreo Cheesecake

October is full of work birthdays. The first one fell at the start of the month. For a while, I'd been tempted to try an Oreo Cheesecake, so I decided to give this one a go. For something with a recipe from the back of a package, I'd say it turned out pretty well. It's not baked in a water bath and contains no starch to stabilize it, either, yet mine turned out beautifully creamy. The only cosmetic glitch was a few cracks in the top.

P.S. I used a few Oreos with peanut-butter filling (hence the orangey-brown color of some of the cookies on top of the cheesecake).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I Am the Baker

For Reach the Beach relay this year, our friend John made us a snarky little CD with special songs for everyone. My song was The Baker by Aquabats; it includes the line, "A small vacation/I think I'll take/As soon as I bake/A chocolate cake." The six runner-passengers in Vantoo got an enormous chuckle from this song. (You can find it at iTunes if you're interested.) Anyway, I got home from RTB desperately wanting to make a chocolate cake. Go figure.

I made this Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake with a recipe from Hershey's. Nothing groundbreaking here. I've made variations of this recipe before. The cake is phenomenally moist. My only words of wisdom: If you make the cake and also the accompanying frosting recipe, double the batch of frosting. One recipe's worth is not enough.

This cake was a big-enough hit that Claire has requested it for her birthday cake.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Banana Snack Cake

The other day, I was lurking at Cook's Talk, the online forum at Fine Cooking magazine, and saw a thread for banana cake. That reminded me of the two overripe bananas on the counter at home. Much to my complete delight, someone at the forum posted a recipe for a banana snack cake that sounded pretty simple to put together. Before I took Claire to her Girl Scout meeting, I set out the refrigerated ingredients so that they could come to room temperature, and also assembled the dry ingredients. Then, while Claire was at her meeting, I made the cake batter, got it in the oven, and had the cake done before I needed to head out the door to pick her up.

This cake is very good. It's extremely moist and bakes up tall in the pan. You could eat it plain, I suppose, or if you happen to have any leftover chocolate frosting sitting around the house (I mean, seriously, who doesn't?), you could finish it off with that. I've been thinking that this cake could be really good split into two layers, filled with frosting and sliced bananas, then frosted on the top and sides.

Bundt Cake

Usually when a new magazine arrives, I turn the pages, think "Hey, I need to make this one at some point," then put it aside and forget about it. When the October 2007 issue of Bon Appétit arrived, I took a look at the dessert feature by Julie Hasson and had to make Brown Sugar and Chocolate Chip Pound Cake with Maple-Espresso Glaze later that day. I ended up bringing the cake along for our weekend in New Hampshire for the Reach the Beach relay, and we managed to devour most of it in a couple of days. It seemed to be a big hit. From a baker's perspective, the only minor quibble I had was that the chocolate chips seemed to sink in the batter. Maybe next time I'll make it with mini-chips.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Morale Booster

Things have been a little hectic at Karen's work, so she asked me to make a work birthday cake for Ben, one of her colleagues. As it turned out, September 11 is also the birthday of another colleague, Robin. For their celebration and evening pick-me-up, I made them the ever-reliable Magnolia's Vanilla Cupcakes, only I made the batter as a three-layer cake. It's finished off with Magnolia's Chocolate Buttercream. Yes, I left the Hello, Kitty! water bottle in the photo on purpose. Does that qualify as food styling? Also, the three things sticking out of the cake are skewers. I inserted them to assist with the structural integrity of the cake. Our weather has been so disgustingly muggy the past week or so that nothing is setting up within normal parameters.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Reach the Beach

For the past four years, I've had the privilege to run Reach the Beach, a 200-mile relay race in New Hampshire, with 11 of my good running buddies. On Friday at 1:30 p.m., Becky will commence this year's event near the Flume Gorge in the White Mountains, and at some point on Saturday afternoon, Ken will scurry across the finish line in Hampton Beach. A good time will be had by all; new jokes will join the pantheon of one-liners; and as usual, everyone will go home with a goody bag of baked treats.

Since my ice-cream-making pal and teammate Ryan also likes to bake, we got together on a torrid September afternoon to prepare some treats for the Fellowship of the Bubblewrap's fifth Reach the Beach adventure. When Ryan and I are baking, each of us tends to prepare his own things. It's mostly just fun having company in the kitchen while baking is occurring.

On Saturday, I got things going with a batch of Chewy Orange Granola Bars from Chewy Cookies by Eileen E. Talanian. Last year, we made granola bars, and they were a huge hit. I have to admit that I tweaked this recipe from the get-go. First, I doubled the recipe and made it in a 9x13 pan instead of the 9x9 that was called for. Then I substituted dried cranberries for raisins. Also, I subbed a mix of whole toasted cashews and almonds for sliced almonds. Finally, since I had no orange to zest, I subbed a teaspoon of orange oil for orange flavor. Although they looked good in the pan, there were clearly problems when I attempted to slice them (photo above). I'm not sure what happened, but there was far more liquid than the granola could absorb. (Perhaps it was the unrelentingly muggy weather; perhaps it was the super-moist Bear Naked granola.) What to do? How about mix in about 2 cups of oats and rebake them? That seems to have done the trick (photo below).

Next up, Ryan made a batch of Chocolate Peanut Butter Surprise Bars from Tish Boyle's Good Cookie, which has become an often-used volume on Cookie Day (the Saturday in December when we spend upward of 10 hours making holiday treats). These bars have traveled to previous RTBs and, not surprisingly, have been a big hit. Seriously: Is it possible to go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter?

I then segued into Chewy, Chunky Blondies from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. I'm always leery of leavening in blondies and brownies, and this recipe was a good reason why. The blondies baked with a big puffed-up top crust that rose far above the batter, leaving the bottom and top thin and fragile, with a big air gap in between. These blondies were a bit of a disappointment.

Ryan, meanwhile, prepared Banana-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies from The Good Cookie. Only he was leaving out a key ingredient: "Martha can't eat chocolate, so I'm making them without the chips." Of course, his point was well taken, but still. No chocolate in the cookies with "chip" in the name? As you can see (photo), I made a chipped cookie for my own personal enjoyment.

Next up: Chipster-Topped Brownies from the Dorie Greenspan book. These two-layer bars (brownie bottom, blondie top) turned out better than the blondies, although the chocolate-chip layer was thinner than I'd hoped. I've made other versions of these cookies (Abby Johnson Dodge, Kathleen King), and they were more balanced between the blondie and brownie layers. The Dorie Greenspan edition is far more brownie than blondie. That's not at all a bad thing, just a different thing.

Finally, Ryan made a double batch of snickerdoodles, using a recipe from The Good Cookie. We've made these cookies before (filed under the recipe Cinnamon Sugar Crinkles), and as ever, I jumped in to help out on these. It's a marvelous version of a classic cookie.

Now everything is in the freezer, awaiting packing Thursday morning and devouring over the weekend. (That's the Chipster-Topped Brownies in the photo.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Magnolia Doubleheader

Yesterday was just another one of those days where I figured I had too much on my plate. After I got home from work, I not only had to get Claire to a Girl Scout meeting (which I also thought I needed to stick around for in an effort to gather information for an upcoming weekend event); but I also had to bake for a work birthday and for a PLTI alumni meeting the next day.

Not knowing how much time I realistically had to work with, I decided to make cupcakes for the work birthday. I needed a recipe that worked and made a lot of cupcakes. Thus, I turned to the tried-and-true Vanilla Cupcakes from More From Magnolia. (This same recipe also appears in The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook and The Buttercup Bake Shop Cookbook.) The published recipe yield is two dozen, but I always end up with 30 cupcakes from a batch of this batter. That would more than accommodate the work crew. I went with the Magnolia chocolate buttercream for the frosting, then sprinkled a little praline crumble on top of each cupcake for a garnish.

Then, after discovering that I didn't need to linger at the Girl Scout meeting, I zipped home and made peanut caramel brownie bars, also from More From Magnolia. I've also made these bars before. They're a layered concoction, with brownie at the top, with a layer of peanut-butter-chip and toasted-pecan-studded caramel below, all atop a graham cracker crust. I spent a few minutes racking my brain to remember what exactly it was that I thought I should do to the recipe after the first time I'd made it. I'm pretty sure it was to bake the graham-cracker crust before adding the toppings, so I did that. The bars are time-consuming to assemble, but I think they're worth the effort.

I managed to get all this baked, and the cupcakes decorated, and myself to bed nearly on time. Imagine my surprise, then, when I extended birthday wishes to my colleague this morning and she replied that her birthday is actually Friday, not today. Good grief. I've been late before, but never early.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A Day in New Haven

For many Connecticut runners, Labor Day is not only a day off, but is also the day for the New Haven Road Race, a 20K event that serves as the national championships for that distance. I'd opted out this year, a fortuitous decision given the party that some overachieving virus decided to hold last week in my upper-respiratory and sinus system. Although I wasn't totally sure I'd be in shape even to spectate at this year's race, I felt well enough by Sunday and forged ahead so that I would not go empty-handed.

To share with my running (and non-running) buddies in attendance in New Haven this year, I prepared a couple of items from Lisa Yockelson's Chocolate Chocolate. First up was Cookie Crumb and Coconut-Swirled Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake. This recipe had caught my eye when I was making Sour Cream-Milk Chocolate Chip Pound Cake last week. As with all of Lisa's recipes, this one is detailed and clear, but I realized that I do have one gripe. She refers to the pan size required as a 10-inch Bundt pan, and I think that almost every other recipe writer calls it a 12-cup Bundt pan. Perhaps it's just me, but I tend to think of tube pans in volume sizes, not in diameters. I almost prepped a pan that would have been, like the Grinch's heart, two sizes too small.

On the plus side, the cake is fantastic: moist, rich, and chocolatey. The cookie-crumb tunnel (ground Oreos, coconut, and a bit of sugar) is a visual and textural counterpoint.

Next up was Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chunk Bars. These gooey peanut-butter based bars contain a bunch of chopped-up peanut-butter cups, chocolate chunks, and peanuts, then are topped with more chopped-up peanut-butter cups. To someone with a puritanical bent, these rich treats might seem excessive. The rest of us, of course, will be happy to indulge. I have to admit that I think there's something about this recipe that didn't quite work. Although I baked the bars for the full recommended baking time, they seemed underdone. At the same time, the bars were becoming fairly browned at the edges, and I feared overbaking. Should I make these things again, I think I'll try covering the pan with foil and baking them a few more minutes. They're super-gooey and taste great, but they're almost too soft to eat out of hand.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Another Work Birthday

This week, we celebrated another birthday at work. This time, it was mine, and we celebrated a week late because I was out of town on my actual birthday. Over the years, I've simultaneously tried to commemorate everyone else's big day while trying to conceal mine, but I guess that maneuver became untenable long ago.

This year, my colleagues Maureen and Krysta teamed up to prepare Incredible Chocolate Cake. As you can see from the photo Krysta so kindly sent me, it's a real showstopper. The cake layers are dense, with an almost flourless quality although the cake is not flourless at all. The layers sandwich a chocolate buttercream spiked with a touch of dark rum and a layer of raspberry preserves, and the cake is then covered with a bittersweet-chocolate ganache.

The cake was an enormous hit, and I lucked out because Maureen shared the recipe with me. I'm happy to have added Incredible Chocolate Cake to my collection, and a lucky guy to have had such a great birthday cake. (I now feel a lot less bad about not having gotten around to making my own birthday cake.) Thanks, Maureen and Krysta!

Cranberry Walnut Coffee Cake

To celebrate the first day of school, our friend Patti had a "drop off your kids at school and stop by " open house. Although I suspected that she'd have out an enormous spread of food (and I was right -- it included a lot of great fresh fruit and a terrific spinach strata), I could not allow myself to go empty-handed. As I'd pulled out Sally Sampson's Bake Sale Cookbook for other purposes, I had it available and saw a recipe for Cranberry Walnut Coffee Cake. Her recipe is based on one from Sarah Leah Chase's Open House Nantucket Cookbook. I've actually made that version of this coffee cake before, so I knew it was good. Luckily, I had a bag of cranberries in the freezer, so I was able to avoid having to use dried cranberries in the coffeecake. With a rich, sour-cream-based cake layer topped with cranberries and a nutty struesel, this cake deserves to be prepared more often than I've made it.

My confession: I was in such a hurry (or maybe in such a fog from the cold I've had) to get the cake in the oven last night that I forgot to put the walnuts in the struesel. I don't think it hurt the cake at all.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sour Cream Milk-Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

I got back from vacation just in time for a work birthday. Because I was still in the midst of post-vacation frenzies, I needed a reliable recipe that would make a big cake that would assemble quickly and still allow me time to mow the lawn. Driving home Monday night, I decided to make the Deep Chocolate Pound Cake my friend Ryan had had for his birthday. It’s a recipe from Lisa Yockelson’s Chocolate Chocolate.

Unfortunately, when I got home and pulled out the recipe, I discovered that it called for milk. I had no whole milk in the house, and I didn’t feel like going out to buy any. Trusting Lisa, I turned through pages of pound-cake recipes until I found one that had ingredients I actually had in the house. I landed on Sour Cream Milk-Chocolate Chip Pound Cake (because I did have sour cream and milk chocolate chips at hand).

All in all, this cake was enormously pleasing. It’s dense, and the milk-chocolate chips give the cake a mellow, candyish flavor. Not all milk chocolate is bad. Just bad milk chocolate is bad.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Bakery Tour of the Upper Midwest

Since we've been on vacation for the past week, I've been indulging in bakery visits along the way as opportunities have arisen. Here's the rundown.

1. Norske Nook, Osseo, Wisconsin. Our first day of vacation, we traveled from Minneapolis to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where we had a terrific dinner with my college friend Sue and her two kids, Katie and Jack. When Sue pulled out a dessert of blueberry crumb pie from Norske Nook, I nearly fell over. I'd never had Norske Nook pie, and I secretly harbored an itinerary delusion that somehow, we'd end up going past the restaurant so that I could snag a piece of their renowned pie. This blessing of pie was a good omen for the rest of the vacation. Thanks, Sue!

2. Dessert First Bakery Cafe, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. A zillion years ago, I went to college in Eau Claire. I spent much time anticipating taking a nice run around town, getting to see old sights and discover what had changed. Things gone? The hideous fried-chicken restaurant I worked at for a couple of months one summer, the former layout of the children's department of the public library (where I worked after the chicken restaurant), the street layout where one of my old apartments was, much of downtown Eau Claire. Things new? A gorgeous downtown park, a miles-long bike- and runner-friendly trail hugging the Chippewa River, and a new dessert spot right across the street from the Ramada hotel downtown. Even better, I got to be among the first customers of Dessert First Bakery Cafe because we happened to be in town on their opening day. Their selection was somewhat limited on day one, but I was enormously pleased with the chocolate mint cookie and mocha cupcake I got there. I hope that the next time I'm in Eau Claire, I'll get to sample from their planned full assortment of cupcake flavors.

3. Dan's Bakery & Coffee Shop, Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. Whilst driving across Minnesota on a rainy Saturday, we were zipping through the town of Sleepy Eye. My eye, however, was not sleepy when I espied Dan's Bakery & Coffee Shop. I picked up a couple of bags of cookies (peanut blossoms and M&M cookies); both provided vital sustenance during our travels.

4. Lange's Cafe, Pipestone, Minnesota. I'd seen Lange's referenced at Jane and Michael Stern's Roadfood web site. They raved about a beef sandwich at Lange's (no beef for me, thanks) and also raved about the sour cream raisin pie. When I realized we'd be in the area to visit Pipestone National Monument, I knew we'd have to eat at Lange's. The dinner (a super-loaded grilled cheese) was fantastic and left no room for dessert. So we got pie to go: lemon meringue for me, French silk for Claire, and a cinnamon roll for Karen. Lange's: definitely worth the stop.

5. Hagman's Bakery, Brookings, South Dakota. When I went running Sunday morning, my goal was to find Hagman's. Brookings' downtown isn't too big, and a nice run from the hotel got me there. On a Sunday morning, their bakery selection seemed limited, so I got a cinnamon roll. It was a totally OK cinnamon roll, but I didn't eat much of it. I think it may have looked better than it tasted. Or maybe I wasn't really craving a cinnamon roll.

6. A Piece of Cake, Rapid City, South Dakota. En route to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, we drove past A Piece of Cake. This quaint spot is more of a small teahouse or lunch place than a bakery, but the assortment of baked goods was worth the stop. I tried an apple maple roll, which consisted of an apple filling inside a crispy, maple-glazed rolled crust. Think of a churro, but filled with apple. I liked it enough, but I think I'd have appreciated it more with a non-apple-pie filling. (My sense is that it was a canned filling.) I also tried a slab of banana-chocolate cake. The cake had a top layer (banana-walnut) and a bottom layer (chocolate), all coated with frosting. (I'm pretty sure it was vanilla buttercream.) Not bad, and it definitely gave me some ideas for cakes I could make.

7. Jerry's Cakes and Donuts, Rapid City, South Dakota. We stayed in Rapid City for three days, and for those three days, I availed myself of a nice running trail through a park along a creek. The first day through, I saw Jerry's Cakes and Donuts across the way and tucked the thought of going there into the back of my mind. As we were leaving Rapid City on Wednesday morning, we dropped in at Jerry's before heading to the Badlands. All I can say is thank you, Jerry, for some of the best doughnuts I've ever eaten. We purchased a selection of items from Jerry's: cake doughnuts, raised doughnuts, a cookie. I'm still swooning over the memory of biting into the chocolate-glazed, cream-filled long john I got; I'm also still mad at myself for sharing it with Claire. (Just kidding.) (Or not.)

8. The Cookie Jar, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We'd stayed overnight in Sioux Falls en route back to Minneapolis, and quite unintentionally drove past this bakery while we were heading out of town after an unplanned excursion to see the falls. It was a fortuitous happenstance. The Cookie Jar's salad-plate-size cookies are exceptional. I couldn't resist a sampler, so I got a big variety: chocolate-frosted chocolate-chocolate chip, chocolate-frosted chocolate, peanut butter-chocolate chip, frosted ginger, ginger, frosted sugar, Heath crunch, and a sour cream-raisin bar. The cookies are big and soft, definitely meant for sharing. Then there was a cinnamon roll -- and not just any cinnamon roll, but quite possibly one of the best cinnamon rolls I've ever eaten. Pillow soft, laced with a swirl of cinnamon, and capped with a luscious frosting, this cinnamon roll will stay in my memory as a benchmark.

9. Denny's Fifth Avenue Bakery, Bloomington, Minnesota. This bakery was up the street from our hotel in Bloomington. While they have a big variety of items in the store (cakes, cookies, doughnuts, breads), I limited my purchases to a couple of "wedges"(triangular doughnuts with a cream filling) and a chocolate nut roll (chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, rolled in chopped peanuts). The yellow-coated wedge has strawberry filling and a banana glaze; unfortunately, it tasted medicinal. The chocolate-glazed wedge, however, was thoroughly traditional and fairly tasty. The nut roll was fine, too.

10. Nestlé Toll House Café, Bloomington, Minnesota. In the Mall of America, amid scads of places to shop, eat, and play, you can find a couple of Nestlé Toll House Cafés. Plenty of cookies and brownies to choose from, along with beverages. Claire and I each had a mini-chocolate chip cookie sandwich (the perfect recovery food after a dozen roller-coaster rides), and I had a Butterfinger brownie. It was like something I'd make myself, a frosted brownie dusted with Butterfinger pieces.

Pre-vacation Baking

In a mad effort to use up some perishables before leaving for vacation, I made a batch of Cook's Illustrated's Double Chocolate Cookies and a banana streusel coffee cake from Sally Sampson's Bake Sale Cookbook. My friend Ryan has made the CI cookies before and recommended the recipe, and it was clearly with good reason. The cookies are immensely fudgy; I upped the ante by stirring a bagful of chocolate chunks into the cookie dough. After I started making the dough, I realized the dough needed to be chilled for an hour before baking. I ended up letting the dough chill overnight, with no apparent ill effects.

The coffee cake is instantly one of my turn-to recipes for overripe bananas. The cinnamon-spiked cake is incredibly moist. Between the streusel topping and the cake batter, I sprinkled a layer of mini chocolate chips. Cinnamon, banana, chocolate: great combo.

Banana Streusel Coffee Cake (my version)

For the topping
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold or at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

For the cake
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 overripe bananas, mashed
1 cup and 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup buttermilk

Heat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour an 8x8 pan.

To make the topping: Place the butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a mixer fitted with a paddle. Mix until combined and crumbly. Add the walnuts, if using, and toss to combine. Set aside.

To make the cake: Place the butter, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat until light, fluffy, and light lemon-colored, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. add the bananas and mix until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and mix until well combined. Add the buttermilk and mix until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and pour into the prepared pan.

Sprinkle the top of the batter with the miniature chocolate chips. Then crumble over the streusel topping. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until cake tests done.

That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Just in case you have some prepackaged cookies sitting around, here are a couple of nifty recipes to try because what else would you do with a dozen Oreos or a bag of Milanos other than chop them up and use them as an ingredient in a cake, right?

Since I'd picked up Maida Heatter's Cakes book a couple of weeks ago, I'd been carrying it around, reading recipes and feeling inspired. I ended up trying her Oreo Cookie Cake. On its own, this cake would be a lovely, moist white sour-cream pound cake. With chopped up Oreos, it's got a little something extra. The Oreos didn't become soggy as I figured they would; instead, they stayed crunchy. I'm glad I chopped them fairly small.

Then there's the Milano Coffee Cake from Lora Brody's Chocolate American Style. In the intro to this recipe, Lora relates an anecdote about the origin of this recipe, in which an unfortunate bag of Pepperidge Farms Milanos sadly becomes a bag of crumbs. This misfortune led her to use the Milano crumbs as a streusel topping for a marbled chocolate and vanilla coffee cake. When I first read this recipe eons ago, I couldn't get past the idea that someone could possibly allow a bag of Milanos to become crumbs. Then I dropped a can of tomatoes on a bag of mint Milanos a few weeks ago. Sigh. The Milanos make a pretty good topping for the cake, although I suspect I overbaked this cake a bit even though I took it out of the oven five minutes before the recommended baking time. I think this cake would be nifty with a drizzle of chocolate glaze. Maybe I can try that the next time I have a Milano accident.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Rediscovering Maida Heatter

Today we celebrated my boss's birthday. His actual birthday was last Friday, but I had the day off. Celebration deferred.

For all other work birthdays, I bake what catches my eye or what I feel like preparing. For Kevin, I go out of my way to find something that sublimely blends chocolate and peanut butter, one of his favorite flavor combinations. (To be sure, I've never heard anyone complaining about the various dynamic-duo combos I've brought in for Kevin's birthday.) This year, I was feeling a little stumped. I hadn't found a recipe that caught my eye. I browsed one cookbook and saw recipes for peanut-butter mousse and chocolate mousse, then toyed with the idea of mini-refrigerator cakes (the mousses stacked with chocolate wafers). Then the leading contender became a peanut-butter mousse cake recipe from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book.

Eventually, I started browsing my stack of supplementary baking books and flipped to the index of Cakes by Maida Heatter. It's one of her compilation books (companion to Pies & Tarts and Cookies). Although I have several Maida Heatter cookbooks, the only recipe of hers that I can remember making is her legendary Palm Beach Brownies (with their insane preparation technique, baked at 425F). These brownies are great, and I've made them several times.

At any rate, browsing the index of Cakes, I saw a listing for Chocolate-Peanut Butter Icing, so I figured I'd check to see what it was all about. Much to my utter delight, the frosting recipe was associated with the recipe for Chocolate Festival Cake, a monster of a tube cake featuring chocolate, bananas, and peanut butter. I felt as if I'd hit the motherlode and shouted out loud, "Maida Heatter, you rock!"

I am extremely pleased with this cake. It's a dense beast of a thing, overwhelmingly rich with peanut butter and chocolate goodness. The batter has mashed banana in it, but that flavor was unnoticeable, primarily because I had to use barely ripe bananas. The cake is slathered with a thick coat of chocolate-peanut butter frosting. The frosting was the only tweak I made in the recipe. It called for an egg. I didn't much feel like messing around with a raw egg in a frosting recipe, so I substituted 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Then I drizzled in enough additional heavy cream to give the frosting a nice consistency.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Summer Blahs

Heat. Humidity. Summer doldrums. It’s the saddest time of year for a baker.

I’ve been wanting to bake but, because of the weather, have been feeling slightly uninspired. Nevertheless, like a junkie needing a fix, I’ve made a few things over the past couple of days. (I apologize in advance for the lack of photos. Camera has started to act weird.)

On Tuesday night, after slogging through a lawn-mowing session, I made Chocolate Chip Scones, using a recipe from the King Arthur Flour Web site. The recipe called for their Mellow Blend pastry flour, and I happened to have a bag of it stashed away. The scones were nice and tender, but I think I patted the dough a bit too thin because the scones weren’t as tall as I’d envisioned them being.

Last week, during a visit to the library, I borrowed The Deen Bros. Cookbook: Recipes from the Road, the new cookbook/travelogue by by Jamie and Bobby Deen with an assist from food writer Melissa Clark. It’s a culinary voyage across the country, containing a mix of savory and sweet recipes. Last night, I tried a couple of things that had caught my eye, both recipes from Butters Brownies in Austin, Texas. The first, espresso brownies, are superb. The batter went together nicely and had a good coffee flavor. The brownie baked a lot faster than the recipe indicated, though, done at more along the lines of 30 minutes instead of the 35 to 40 that was directed. After the brownie has cooled, it's finished off with a batch of espresso and Kahlua-laced icing. Brilliantly excessive.

Then I made a batch of brownie cupcakes. Their recommended baking time was 12 minutes, but even after 16 minutes in the oven, they were underdone. It seemed like 18 to 20 minutes was more appropriate. Perhaps the baking times should have been averaged between the two recipes. These cupcakes are for Karen to take along on a work picnic.

There are a couple of work birthdays coming up in the next 10 days or so, so I’ll either be baking (after having been hoping for cooler weather) or I’ll be working up some treats requiring refrigeration but not baking.