Tag Archives: chocolate

Surrender

IMG_9050IMG_9029Despite Harry having just recovered from the flu, we pulled off a stellar 8th birthday party for Charlie last weekend. Our house was covered with squares and cubes to honor his Minecraft obsession. It was nice to have his party to prepare for on the heels of our news. It kept me focused on celebrating. I served Smitten Kitchen’s so-crazy-addictive-they-must-be-cocaine-infused rice crispy treats with a hint of green as “slime balls”, and her amazingly fudgy brownies as “coal” and “redstone”, along with savory bites like bell pepper “TNT.”

I thought we’d spend this week pushing through a few of the woes of unemployment, like finding health insurance, but it has been a doozy. I threw out my back Monday morning while lifting weights, Friday I got word that my SLP license is going to be held up for at least a month unless I can convince someone that their red tape makes absolutely zero sense, and last night Harry began a round of GI eruptions. This time food poisoning has him prostrate.

I wish we would raise white flags during times of need and our neighbors would take turns dropping off meals, watching the children, leaving good books on our doorstep or pulling a few weeds. While overwhelmed by a three year old and a newborn, I remember dreaming of a service that hooked up grandparents missing their grandbabies with moms of young children desperate for help. Maybe there should be a similar set-up for families dealing with illness, unemployment, death and other major life events. (What’s that you say? Move to Sweden or Holland? Ok!)

My jerry-rigged white flag system involves texts and emails. I’m getting better at this, quicker to fill people in. It still feels scary because I have voices in my head that tell me people won’t show up, are too busy, or really don’t want to hear about this Yet Again. But, here’s the deal. Just like I don’t care if someone’s sick repeatedly or needs a break from their crying baby, they understand our situation. They show up because they love us.

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Friends have been my rays of light. They have been the bright notes to counter the gray. One arrived at our door holding enormous bottles of beer and a bottle of wine. (She knows we stop buying alcohol when future income is unclear, so she became our party Jesus, turning our water into wine.) Another friend’s thrift store birthday party provided some serious belly laughs. I realized that even though I wasn’t buying clothes, I could still try them on. I found the most horrifically ugly outfits to model, an activity I can’t recommend enough. My BFF Anne Lamott retweeted one of my tweets. (!!!) Another friend sent a link to a blog post she “knew” I needed to read and, indeed, it contained words that powered me through the week.

I also savored an evening with my graduate school girlfriends. The plans were made long before Harry lost his job and I re-injured my back, but I kept them because I knew time with them would be therapeutic. We can laugh, be sarcastic, cry and be ridiculously silly within a ten minute window. I’ve known these women over a decade and we’ve walked each other through major piles. We know how to show up for each other, in celebration or consolation. I feed them chocolate, they bring wine. An additional bonus is that they don’t mind the obstacle course of Legos, crumbs, nerf darts and discarded crafts covering my floor.

There is an abundance of beauty in my life. I feel deeply loved. I feel cared for. I am excited about what opportunities may arise from this shift. I’m just equally scared they may not happen soon enough. That we might have to let go of a few dreams that made my heart flutter. My little control problem turns me into an unpredictable geyser during these periods, erupting in tears at the wrong look from a dog. Stability and predictability are my game. However, I don’t wave my white flag when I’m in control. And I receive the most amazingly rich food for my soul whenever it waves. So, I’ll keep surrendering. Again and again.

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The lone remaining slice when I decided I would blog this. Isn’t she pretty? Imagine an entire loaf!

Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake

Yet another from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. Yields 12 servings.

Cake batter

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream

Filling

  • 1/3 cup raspberry or cherry jam
  • 1 teaspoon water

Frosting

  • 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350℉.  Butter a 9 1/2 x 5-inch loaf pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess.  Place the pan on two stacked regular baking sheets or on one insulated baking sheet.

Whisk or sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs individually, beating each for about a minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low to add the sour cream. Still working on a low speed, add the dry ingredients but mix only until they have just disappeared into the batter. Stir one last time with a sturdy rubber spatula and scrape the very thick batter into the pan. Even it out using a spatula.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. After about 45 minutes if the cake looks as if it’s browning too quickly, loosely cover it with a foil tent. Let the cake cool on a rack for about 5 minutes before turning it out. Cool to room temperature upside down.

Bring the jam and water to a boil over low heat. (Or make your own and just don’t let it get too thick. No need for water. This step was fun for me because I had some raspberries in the freezer begging to be used up.)  Stir to smooth it.

If the loaf cake is extremely uneven on top, slice off the very top using a serrated knife so it will lay flat on a plate. It will serve as the base of the cake. Slice the loaf twice more, creating three layers. Put the first layer (originally the top of the cake) cut side up on a serving plate and spread half of the jam on it. Top this with the middle layer and the rest of the jam. Place the top layer cut side down. Use a small pastry brush or a gentle hand to remove any crumbs on the top or sides of the cake.

To make the frosting, use a double boiler or fit a heatproof bowl into a pan of gently simmering water. Add the chocolate and stir it occasionally until it has melted. Continue working over the hot water and stir in the sour cream. The cream may tighten up, but just continue to stir gently and the frosting will become smooth enough to spread. Once it’s ready, remove the frosting from the heat and cover the sides and top of the cake with the warm frosting.

You may serve immediately or wait a bit. It will last covered and at room temperature overnight, otherwise it is best to refrigerate it. Just bring it to room temperature prior to serving. Serve with pretty much any sort of cream and you won’t regret it.

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Crunchy consolation for a crappy week

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

The rain on our skylights sounded like a jackhammer this morning. It was a quick deluge, fitting for how various news landed on our doorstep last week. Gorgeous, mysterious fog was replaced by a pelting downpour. Unfortunately this change was an appropriate marker. Last week can eat it.

As much as I know that life comes with death, light with dark, joy with pain (Oh no! Now Milli Vanilli is in my head.),  I never snuggle up to death and it’s tendency to pop up uninvited. There’s the obvious ways, like the passing of those we love, but there are other ways death shows up. Ways that don’t come with a memorial or expected grieving period. The fading friendship. The dissolving marriage. The termination of a job.

The only place I’m super comfortable with death is in the garden. There, it’s easy to respect that the richest soil forms through the decomposition of things once alive. There are tangible benefits at the end of the process, too. Luscious tomatoes, stunning flower beds.

Monday brought the stabbing news of friends’ divorcing. I sobbed with the intensity of this morning’s rain, heartbroken. It’s devastating to know someone you love has to push through a hurricane of grief, unsure when she’ll step out of it. I woke up Tuesday and cried more. This is one of those times I desperately want to wave a magic wand even though I know that journeying through the grief is critical for healing. I just really, really hate that part.

For someone nearing forty, I’m astonishingly unfamiliar with divorce. Only a few friends have been through it, but none with whom I was walking closely at the time. Equally amazing, none of my close friends parents’ divorced as I was growing up. Until now, my only intimate experience has been through my husband’s family, and I walked into that scenario several years after the fact. I see their scars, but I wasn’t present in the acute stage. I didn’t have to survive the flood.

Thursday, Harry came home with word that HR Guy was traveling from headquarters to the Seattle office. Since the only time he comes is to lay people off, we had a hint. The entire Seattle office was laid off Friday. Saturday evening he started to feel bad, Sunday morning he had a fever. He’s currently holed up in our bedroom suffering through the flu.

I stress baked Friday. Baking centers me. (Especially kneading dough. I forget until my hands are in the thick of it, but man, it’s therapeutic. I should keep dough rising all around the house as a preventative care measure.) Since Harry felt pretty certain he knew what was coming, I felt pretty certain my husband would return home sad. I flipped through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and found her Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars. My caramel-loving, sweet-toothed, out-of-a-job husband would be all over those.

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Miles claims that these are The Best Treat I’ve ever baked. After Harry commented that they were delicious, Miles corrected him. “No, Papa. They are THE BEST.” They are reminiscent of a candy bar. An extremely satisfying one. The brown sugar base tastes a little nut-buttery. The dark chocolate layer counters it’s sweetness nicely. Top that off with the awesomely crunchy caramelized crispies and you have a winner in our household. These will appear again. Hopefully in celebration instead of consolation.

I’m currently savoring each little chapter of Anne Lamott’s Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. These words resonate with me right now:

When you’re in the dark, you have to try to remember that it’s a dance – dark, light, dark, light, dim. Or when you’re in the sun but the clouds come, of course you instantly think, Oh God, now it’s going to get cold and wet, and it’s all fucked, but then you might remember that when it was dark an earlier time, your friends shined a little thin light on it, and you remember one thing that sort of helped, one more step you can take, maybe one more thing you can try.

I see my friend watching for light. Taking great care of herself during torrential grief and looking to friends to help her navigate, to hold the light. I feel hope for our family, too. Just a few days in and we already feel buoyed by the support our friends have lended. I hate the dark, but I’ve walked this path before and the rays break through often enough to keep me steady.

If you’re walking through a storm right now, please be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Seek out your friends. Let them know you’re sad and need support. Exercise. Sleep. Nourish yourself. Hang out with people who make you laugh yet are compassionate and kind enough to know when silence and a hug is more appropriate. And maybe bake yourself and your loved ones a delicious treat.

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Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. Yields 16 bars

BASE

  • 4 ounces (8 tablespoons; 113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (102 grams) all-purpose flour

TOPPING

  • 3 1/2 ounces (99 grams) dark chocolate (60-80% cacao), finely chopped
  • 1/2 recipe Caramelized Rice Crispies (or alternately 1 cup rice crispies, large flake coconut, popcorn, or mixed nuts, etc… as a topper)

Preheat the oven to 375℉. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite sides so you can lift the bars out of the pan. Butter the paper.

Beat the butter, brown sugar, sugar and salt together on medium speed until smooth, light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour all at once and pulse the mixer about five times to beat in the flour. If it doesn’t completely blend in, mix on low speed until it disappears.

Scrape the sticky, thick dough into the lined pan and spread it over the bottom of the pan to make an even layer. I used my fingers, wetting them down a bit to counter the dough’s sticky nature.

Baker for about 22-minutes, until the base is golden brown and puffed up a bit.

Immediately top the bars with the chopped chocolate. Sprinkle it evenly over the base and return the pan to the turned-off oven for a couple minutes, or until the chocolate is melted. Spread the melted chocolate evenly using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula.

Break off pieces of the Caramelized Rice Crispies (or whatever topping you choose) and lightly press them into the chocolate until the top is completely covered. Cool to room temperature on a rack. Once cooled, put the pan in the fridge for 20-minutes to set the chocolate if it’s still fluid.

To serve the bars, remove the cookie out of the pan by using the parchment overhang and place it on a cutting board . Cut them into 16 squares.

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Caramelized Rice Crispies

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups (53 grams) rice crispies

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Have a pastry brush (silicone preferred, but not necessary), cold water and a spatula standing by.

Sprinkle the sugar over the bottom of a large saucepan or a wide skillet that gives you enough space to stir comfortably. Sprinkle the water over all the sugar. Turn the heat to medium / medium-high and bring the sugar to a boil. Dip the pastry brush in cold water and wash down the sides of the pan if any sugar spatters. At the first sign of color, remove the pan from the heat and add the rice crispies.

Using a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, stir until the syrup disappears. You will see cakey white streaks on the bottom of the pan as the syrup gets absorbed and sugar hardens on the bottom of the pan.

Return the pan to medium / medium-high heat and stir without stopping. (Be careful, it’s incredibly hot.) As I stirred, the white cakey bottom of the pan liquefied again, helping to coat each grain of cereal with the caramel. I stopped stirring and took it off the heat once the entire pan’s white cakey bottom was reabsorbed into the crisps. You want the cereal to be a deep caramel color. (It’s alright if the sugar smokes. That flavor will be nice, too.)

Immediately scrape the rice crispies onto the lined baking sheet and spread them out into a single layer. Work fast, because they’ll harden quickly. Allow to cool. Use half of these to top the bars and the other half to snack on or throw on ice cream.

(Cleaning your pan will be significantly easier if you throw it back on the heat with some water in it. Bring it to a boil to soften the hardened sugar.)

 

December 24th

Hoi! Hello! ¡Hola! I decided to pop my head out from behind our Christmas tree and say hi to you all before we’re ringing in 2015. Our family is having an exceptionally quiet Christmas eve and day. Our calmest and quietest yet. No parties to attend, no hosting to tend to, no family to visit or visiting us. I am making simple meals. While I love to cook, elaborate meals take away from family time. All of this was intentional and it feels soooo good. We desperately needed to relax and play as a family. Anything that distracted from that got the ax.

We let the boys pick a present to open today, and they both happened to pick ones with Legos inside (good odds?), so Harry and I are reading and writing while the boys are building new sets. Watching Miles open his and jump all around in excitement, “I wanted this! Thank you so much!” started the day off beautifully.

This year involved a few lessons for us regarding city crowds. Santa is in demand, people. Finding an open Santa lap to sit on is harder than finding a parking spot at the mall. It may take days. We should’ve been sufficiently warned when we saw people carrying sleeping bags, coolers of food and toy baskets to the lines.

With under a week left until Christmas, Charlie informed us that he really wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. This has not been a tradition for us. In fact, Harry and I hated the idea of forcing our wary kids on some guys’ lap to make them cry so we could get a picture. Now that Charlie was instead desiring this to the point of tears, honoring it was a serious act of love. An act that led us on a tear-filled Santa scavenger hunt all around town.

First I called a local nursery to see if we could snag an appointment with their Santa. A set time seemed so civilized, but that’s what everyone thought so of course they were completely booked. Next we visited an outdoor mall close to our house. The line was a minimum of an hour and a half. Outside. There was no way the boys were going to get through that, so we told Charlie we’d need to try something else. Tears welled up. We headed downtown to visit Nordstrom’s Santa whose staff was conveniently texting you at your appointment time. Perfect! We’d go see the Gingerbread Village while we waited. “Mama, how can Santa be at the other place and downtown?” Let the Christmas lying begin.

We arrived at 2:30 and Santa was already booked until closing at 9pm. Even their consolation wait-list was so long that the elf told me it was pointless to put our name down. Surrounding this kiosk were many tearful little boys and girls and their shocked parents. We made more promises to Charlie, realizing we may have to return to a line first thing in the morning.

How did we get in this place of potentially devoting two days of our vacation to finding a Santa lap? I was ready to pay any old man on the street for his services. Anyone from this list would’ve been excellent, too.

While looking at the famous, and therefore also unbelievably crowded, Gingerbread Village structures, I had plenty of time to think and got a feeling we should try Macy’s. We headed there next. With an enormous sigh of relief, we took our spot in a reasonable line. An hour later, one boy was sitting on his lap while the other watched curiously and eventually talked to him from a very cautious distance.

“Santa, a lot of my friends say you don’t exist, but now I can tell them that you do!”

“Why do they say I don’t exist?”

“One of them stayed up all night and never saw you!”

“Well, part of my magic means that I can’t come while kids are awake.”IMG_5635

They talked for five minutes, about Santa’s magical ways and what Charlie wanted. (None of which, of course, was on his original list. Aint’ gonna happen, kid.) Charlie called it his “order.” We gently informed him later that Santa lists are wish lists and not guaranteed orders. There may be disappointment tomorrow.

But for those five beautiful minutes and much of our time afterward, his eyes were completely lit up. He kept asking question after question. “I meant to ask how old he is!” We may only have a year or two left of the magic with him, so I’m glad we embraced it. I’m also incredibly thankful I’m sitting with a blanket around me instead of waiting in a line right now.

Grasshopper Squares have been a Christmas tradition for us for at least five years and they’re one I can’t imagine ever giving up. Maybe it’s because I was conceived after my mom had a Grasshopper at a restaurant. Mint and cream are a part of my DNA. I remember making them while pregnant with Miles, so he’s probably hooked forever, too. These treats have that lovely peppermint chocolate combination (like a Thin Mint! Andes! Frangos!), with a smooth truffle-like top and a brownie base. They are a really luxurious bite. Or ten.

I decided to share these here after making my second batch this year. Our first batch was shared too quickly (lucky teachers and neighbors, right?) and the boys were super sad. Harry and I wanted more, too. A recipe this loved by my family needs to be on record so they can make it someday themselves. And you just may want to, too.

I wish you peace, laughter, gratefulness, play and rest. And a little bite of delicious.

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Grasshopper Squares

Adapted slightly from Gourmet Magazine. Yields 5-6 dozen.

Brownie base

  •  6 ounces (12 tablespoons; 3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 10 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate (between 55-65% cacoa), chopped
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 100g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 35 g (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Mint ganache

  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) heavy cream
  • 10 oz fine-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons clear or green crème de menthe (there’s no flavor difference- I just don’t like food dyes so I buy the clear)
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Chocolate ganache

  • 8 oz (1 cup) heavy cream
  • 10 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (55-65% cacoa), chopped

Preheat oven to 375°F, with a rack in the middle. Lightly butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and line with 2 crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Butter the foil, too.

To make the brownie base, melt the butter, chocolate, and brown sugar in double broiler (or a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat), stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in eggs and vanilla until thoroughly integrated. Whisk in flour, cocoa, and salt until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake about 20-minutes, or until set. Cool completely (uncovered, on a rack). This takes one to two hours.

While the brownie base cools, make the mint ganache. Heat cream and white chocolate in a double boiler (or bring the cream to a simmer in a saucepan and pour it over the finely chopped white chocolate in a bowl. Let it sit a minute before whisking.) Whisk until completely smooth. Stir in the crème de menthe and peppermint extract. Chill covered until thick. Stir occasionally. This takes about 1 hour.

Spread the chilled mint ganache on top of the cooled brownie base. Make a thin even layer by using an offset spatula. (Of, if you’re like me, just deal with it not being perfectly even. You won’t care when you taste one.) Chill covered until firm but slightly sticky, about 30-minutes.

While the mint layer chills, make the chocolate ganache. Heat the cream and dark chocolate in a double boiler (or heat the cream to a simmer in a saucepan, and pour over finely chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 1 minute prior to whisking.) Whisk until smooth. Chill covered until thick, about 30-minutes. Stir occasionally.

Carefully spread the cooled chocolate ganache over the mint layer and chill at least 2 hours prior to cutting.

Lift the dessert out of pan using the foil overhang. Carefully peel off the foil and place the giant bar on a large cutting board. Run a knife under hot water and wipe dry, then trim the edges of dessert (~1/4 inch off each side). Cut into squares (rectangles! triangles!) and serve.

The grasshopper squares keep chilled in an airtight container for 3-weeks. They can be layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment if needed.

White chocolate raspberry brownie bars

We’ve hit the point of summer in which I must suppress my alter ego, Nighttime Ninja Harvester. On our block alone there are two huge raspberry patches covered with berries, most of which are rotting on the canes. My berry-loving, food-waste-hating heart races every time I pass them. In another decade or two I could easily find myself knocking on doors saying, “Hi, may I harvest these for you?”

We don’t have a problem eating the berries at our house, partly because my canes are young and don’t yet have huge amounts of fruit. Still, I could set Miles loose on enormous urban patches and they’d be cleared in no time. We were lucky enough to have about a cup of berries enter the house every couple of days for the past few weeks because I cared for our neighbors’ garden. There was just enough to prevent Nighttime Ninja Harvester from getting into trouble. IMG_4760Did you know that if you’re a fruit tree owner in Seattle you can request to have your fruit harvested and donated to food banks? (Many other cities have similar organizations.) The first year we moved into this place, the Italian prune plum tree was overflowing. I was overwhelmed enough by the one-year-old and four-year-old. I signed our tree up and a friendly man came to harvest the plums, leaving us a box and taking the rest to food banks. We’ve since been able to handle our harvests, but I continue to donate a hefty amount to food banks.

Knowing that we are lucky to have an abundance, I work hard to use what we have or share it before it goes bad. Nonetheless, I experience food waste guilt quite regularly. While I’m not a depression-era baby, I was raised by WWII babies who subsequently enrolled their children in the Clean Plate Club. I also blame Tamar Adler. Reading An Everlasting Meal provided countless ideas for how to use food more efficiently and economically, but it also plagues me a bit. Now I sometimes feel guilty throwing away kale stems and radish leaves. I’ve contemplated taking all our discarded produce parts around to the neighborhood chickens and goats. Looney, I know. I really am just a decade away from being that person. (Buuuut, come on! I could dump kale stems at the chicken coops and come home with handfuls of berries in a period of ten minutes!)

Since emptying our veggie CSA box completely covers my kitchen counter every week, it is an act of kindness towards myself to immediately cut off the carrot tops and say, “Not this year.” Otherwise I’d nod to them in the fridge all week, debating about what I would do with them until they rot and I, of course, feel bad. That’s the pattern. So, this year I’m declaring it Good Enough to cook the normal parts. Maybe next year I’ll make kale stem pesto and carrot top purees. Or own chickens.

IMG_8619Now, back to raspberries. I rarely bake with summer fruit because it tastes so amazing raw. Raspberries are one exception because I find their flavor is often enhanced with baking. I first made these bars for my parents’ 50th anniversary party. While flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking (my desert island baked goods book), this recipe caught my eye. I really wanted to make cake for the party, but we decided in favor of finger food because of logistical challenges, so these helped scratch the pretty cake itch. Plus, my mom loves raspberries, oranges and chocolate, so I was hopeful she’d like these. (By the way, Dorie has a new book coming out and recently posted another alluring raspberry recipe from it as a sneak peak.)

While Dorie refers to these as brownies, I haven’t quite accepted them as such. They might belong in a class of their own. They are extremely moist, significantly more than a typical brownie. Also, the meringue dresses them up so much they’re like mini-meringue pies. Minus the pie crust. I still don’t know what to call them, so I’m sticking with Dorie but adding bar. Suggestions, anyone? IMG_8620White chocolate raspberry brownie bars
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. Makes 32 bars.

Brownie base

  • 2/3 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) finely ground almonds / almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 4 ounces coarsely chopped premium-quality white chocolate (This came out to be a little shy of 1 cup of Ghirardelli white chocolate chips, which were what I could find.)
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1+ cup (4 to 6 ounces) fresh raspberries

Meringue

  • 3 large eggs whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325℉, with a rack in the center. Butter a 9×13 inch pan and line the pan with parchment or wax paper so that the sides of the paper extend beyond the sides of the pan a bit. Butter the paper and dust the bottom and sides of it with flour, tapping out any excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

Make the brownie base by whisking together the flour, ground almonds and salt. Place the butter, topped with the chocolate pieces, in a double boiler (or set a heatproof bowl over a pan) to gently melt them together over barely simmering water. Stir frequently until they’re just melted. Watch this step carefully because they will separate if they get too hot and the white chocolate needs special treatment to not burn. Once they’ve melted, immediately remove the pan from the heat.

In the base of a large mixing bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the eggs, beating on medium-high speed about 3-minutes, until pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and blend in the butter-chocolate mixture. Continue on low, adding the dry ingredients until they are just integrated. Do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and place the raspberries evenly over the batter.

Make the meringue by beating the egg whites with salt on medium speed until they are foamy and just turning opaque. Increase the speed to medium-high to add the sugar in a slow, steady stream. Whip the whites until they form firm, but still glossy peaks. (I test for firm peaks by stopping the mixer and pulling away the whisk attachment up away from the whites. If they remain standing and don’t flop over, they are firm enough.) Gently spread the meringue over the brownie batter.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the meringue is browned and crackly. (In my home oven, this took 40-minutes. In a much newer and more reliable oven in Colorado, they took 30-minutes. But altitude was at play there, too, so who knows. Just watch them for some good light browning and crackles in the meringue.) The brownies will pull away from the side of the pan. Allow them to cool in the pan on a rack.

By carefully lifting the sides of parchment paper, lift out the bars and place them on cutting board. (Alternately, you can turn them out onto a rack and then invert them onto a cutting board, but I found this extremely difficult to do without squishing the meringue, so I changed course the second time I made these.) Dust them with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into bars.

Voila! Enjoy!

Salted Chocolate Rye Cookies

I have an overdue cookbook because I couldn’t let it go before getting this recipe archived. When you discover one of your favorite cookie recipes ever, the fines are definitely worth it.

I checked out the latest Tartine cookbook because I was excited that it focused on whole grains. Plus, I keep convincing myself that if I read about the process of making naturally leavened breads just one more time I’ll actually try. That has yet to happen. I remain intimidated, but increasingly intrigued. I think I’ll get there. Maybe I’ll cross that bridge after I visit the bakery in a few weeks on my birthday (!!!) (I’m going to San Francisco! To visit a dear friend! I danced around the house for days after my tickets were finalized. I also quickly inquired to see if a trip to Tartine could be fit in. She assured me that we can walk there every day if need be. I’m fairly certain there will be need.)

IMG_4078While I may hesitate to make and feed a starter, I never hesitate to melt butter and chocolate together. Whenever I see a recipe starting out that way, I’m willing to keep reading. This one lured me in completely with the additions of rye flour and sea salt flakes.

What results are basically truffles in cookie form. Or the best fudgy-brownie-cookie I’ve ever tasted. The outside provides a little chew, while the inside melts in your mouth. The salt makes it all sing. I might have even danced a little jig while singing hallelujahs after trying my first. (There’s been a lot of dancing lately.)

IMG_8113I highly recommend not skimping on chocolate quality because it will heavily influence the flavor. In fact, if you only have chocolate chips or some sort of chocolate look alike, I would hold off. These cookies are divine because of the high quality chocolate in them. It makes them more expensive than your average homemade cookie, but not your average truffle. (Such a bargain!) You do get a lot for your money, though. Plus, my husband said they’re his second favorite cookie ever. (This is both of our first, in case you’re wondering.) Are you convinced yet?

If you’ve never dove into the melting chocolate world before, my recommendations include Valrhona, Theo, Green & Black, Guittard, Scharffenberger, and Callebaut. All of these will be far better choices than Baker’s or Hershey’s. Ghirardelli is a step up from those, too.

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Tartine’s Salted Chocolate Rye Cookies

Yield: Four dozen small cookies

  • 454 g / 2 2/3 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate (70%)
  • 57 g / 4 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 85 g / 3/4 cup whole-grain dark rye flour (I used Bob’s)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (I used Diamond Crystal kosher)
  • 200 g / 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 340 g / 1 1/2 cups muscovado sugar (I used a combination of turbinado and brown- using a scale to pay careful attention to their combined weight, not volume)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for topping

Fill the base of a double boiler with an inch or two of water (or use a saucepan and place a heatproof bowl above it, making sure that the bottom of the bowl isn’t touching the water). Bring to a simmer. Melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat to cool slightly once it’s melted.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Using a standing mixer and whisk attachment, whip the eggs on medium-high speed, adding the sugar a little bit at a time until it’s all incorporated. Turn the mixer to high and whip the eggs until they’ve nearly tripled in volume, about 6-minutes.

Reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla and melted chocolate-butter mixture. Mix to combine, scraping down the bowl sides as needed. Mix in the flour mixture until just combined. (I did this gently by hand with a spatula.) The dough resembles a cake batter, very soft and loose. Don’t fret, it hardens as it chills.

Refrigerate the dough in the mixing bowl about 30-minutes, until it is firm to the touch. If you chill it longer, bring it to room temperature prior to scooping.

Preheat the oven to 350℉ / 180℃ and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough with a rounded tablespoon onto the baking sheets (I used a small ice cream scoop with a nifty release mechanism- my favorite cookie dough dispenser). Space the balls about 2 inches apart. (I fit 12 on each sheet.) Sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on each ball, pressing them in gently so they stick. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies have puffed up, have smooth bottoms and rounded tops. Let the cookies cool a minute or two on the sheets before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.

The cookies remain very moist and chewy for several days if you keep them in an airtight container. Speaking from experience, they pair nicely with coffee in the morning, milk in the afternoon and red wine at night.