Thursday, January 29, 2009

Plain Old Brownies

For this week's PLTI class, I made a batch of regular old brownies. For the zillions of brownie recipes I probably have access to, both in cookbooks at home and from Web sites, I have got to admit that my favorite fallback recipe is the one on the box of Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate. It's a straight-ahead, fudgy brownie that does well with a cup of something added. (Their recipe calls for a cup of chopped pecans, but in this version, I used a cup of white-chocolate chips.) The big tweak that I make is that I add salt; just a small amount of salt (I've settled on 3/8 teaspoon) really enlivens the chocolate flavor.

If you don't want to click through to the Kraft Web site, here's the recipe:

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted and cooled to room temperature (or substitute 1 cup of some other mix-in: chocolate chips, peanuts, chopped-up peanut-butter cups)

Heat the oven to 350°F. Line 13x9 baking pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides of pan. Grease foil.

Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on high 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and pecans; mix well. Spread into prepared pan.

Bake 25 to 30 min. or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. (Do not overbake.) Cool in pan on wire rack. Remove brownies from pan, using foil handles. Cut into squares. Store in tightly covered container at room temperature.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I was prompted to try the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Marcel Desaulniers' Death by Chocolate after a friend had a disappointing experience with the recipe, finding that the dough and cookies were too crumbly. I hadn't even looked in that cookbook for a while, so it was kind of like getting a visit from an old friend.

My experience with this recipe? I thought the cookies turned out OK. The dough is crumbly, maybe a bit more fussy to work with than a regular cookie dough. But I think that peanut-butter cookie doughs can be like that. Also, this dough has a pretty big amount of peanuts (1/2 cup) and chocolate chips (2 cups) incorporated into the dough; that made the dough a bit fussier to work with.

Since the dough was crumbly, I scooped it out, then compacted it into a ball before I flattened it slightly on the baking sheet. A couple of my cookies crumbled a bit in the oven, but otherwise no problems. If I ever make these cookies again, I think I will be tempted to chop the peanuts a bit before adding them to the dough, and also maybe try the recipe with mini chocolate chips to see if that makes the dough slightly easier to handle.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

For a Girl Scout dinner, Claire volunteered "us" to bring a batch of Nana Cookies for dessert. Nana Cookies are chocolate crinkle cookies, so named because a family recipe for them came from Karen's mom. I like that recipe, but have wondered about other recipes for this type of cookie, mostly because the traditional Nana Cookie dough is very sticky and can be difficult to work with. When my assignment came up, I decided to try a recipe from Shirley Corriher's new book, BakeWise. For her recipe, one intriguing aspect is rolling the balls of chocolate cookie dough first in granulated sugar, then in powdered sugar. Corriher suggests that this helps more powdered sugar to adhere to the cookies.

I can't argue that more powdered sugar stayed on the cookies, giving them a higher contrast between chocolate and sugared sections. This dough was very easy to work with, too. However, the cookies are alarmingly sweet -- almost painfully sweet. I think that the use of semisweet chocolate in the dough combined with the amount of sugar in the dough (2.5 cups) is too much. I am now interested in making this recipe again, but substituting unsweetened chocolate for part of the semisweet.

Bon Voyage, Brittany!

Last week, Brittany, one of my wife's colleagues, moved on to new adventures, and I got to make a going-away cake for her. (It is the least I could do for a fellow parade-balloon wrangler.) Although I knew only that chocolate was the prime directive, I wasn't sure what cake to make. Then I was browsing through the recipes section of the Williams-Sonoma Web site, and I found this Sour Cream Chocolate Bundt Cake. I ended up being so curious about how it was going to taste that I made another one the next night and brought it in for the first Lost Lunch Thursday of the new season. The cake is remarkably moist (I guess that 1.5 cups of sour cream will help with that). For the glaze on both cakes, I used a mango ganache that I had planned to make into truffles (but that really lacked enough mango flavor to work as a truffle base).

Lemon-Poppyseed Cake

Now that we're at the start of a new year, that means the start of a new PLTI class. This week (well, technically last week), I sent along a Lemon-Poppyseed Cake, with a lemon glaze. This cake came from a recipe in a book called Bundt Cake Bliss by Susanna Short. By all accounts, it was a success. Plus, I got to use the new cake dome I got at Target (it was marked down to something like $3.89).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Prolonged Hiatus

If you've checked in and seen no activity for a while, I apologize. With the crash of too much to do and not enough time to do it, I allowed The Leavening Agent to languish. It did not helped that my camera broke a couple of months ago and I have yet to replace it. I've continued baking, but it has seemed unworthwhile to post without photos. If all plans work out, I should have a new camera in the next few days, and will have a bit more time for blogging and baking since I'm not going to be running much (make that at all) for another couple of months or so.