Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Everyone likes Brownies

A woman at my work, who I'm confident in saying is hardly more than a casual acquaintance, loaned me an entire TV series on DVD this past month. Now, I take my DVDs very seriously and when you loan them to someone - even family and friends - sometimes you don't see them again for many many months (brother! oh, wait, I still have his Transformers DVDs...)

I was terribly grateful she put that trust in me and I rushed through about 65 hours of TV in three weeks flat. I wanted to make her a little thank you goodie and figured brownies were pretty universally liked, yes?

I, foolishly, tried the top brownie recipe from All first.
And it was all right but nothing to write home about and certainly not something I'd give as a gift. It used cocoa as opposed to melted chocolate. Then I tried the Best Recipe's Basic Brownie and, once again, they came through. Their brownie was moist and rich, fluffy but not airy. It falls apart with softness but isn't gooey (although I love gooey but that's a personal preference; these were supposed to be universal).

If I were making them again for myself, I'd add some walnuts and maybe even caramel (mmm, extra gooey!) but otherwise, they were perfect. A definite keeper!

Source: The Best Recipe

To melt the chocolate and butter in a microwave oven, microwave chocolate alone at 50 percent power for 2 minutes. Stir chocolate, add butter, and continue microwaving at 50 percent for another 2 minutes, stopping to stir the mixture after 1 minute. If chocolate is not entirely melted, microwave an additional 30 seconds at 50 percent power. Make sure to cool the melted chocolate and butter for about 10 minutes - it can be warm to the touch but not hot. Batter can be doubled and divided evenly between two 8-inch pans or poured into one 13 x 9-inch pan. If using one large pan, bake for about 26 minutes.
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2/3 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • (optional) 1/2 cup chopped nuts
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. In medium, heatproof bowl set over a pan of almost simmering water, melt chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth. (Alternatively, melt chocolate and butter in microwave oven. See instructions above.) Set mixture aside to cool.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl; set aside.

3. Whisk sugar into cooled chocolate mixture. Whisk in eggs and vanilla, then fold in flour mixture (and nuts if using) until just combined.

4. Pour batter into greased 8-inch-square baking dish; bake until toothpick inserted halfway between center and edge of pan comes out with a few fudgy crumbs, about 20 minutes. If batter coats toothpick, return pan to oven and bake 2 to 4 minutes more. Cool brownies completely in pan set on wire rack. Cut into squares and serve. (Pan can be wrapped in plastic, then foil, for up to 2 days. To preserve moistness, cut and remove brownies only as needed.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Flan, the Finicky

In my search for that perfectly textured vanilla-y, cake-y-but-not-cake dessert, I've kind of wandered into custard-y territory. When all's said and done, I think I really craved a light bread pudding (is that possible?) but time's run out and I will soon succumb to Chocolate February in all it's Valentine's glory.

With one last vanilla hurrah, however, I tried a flan for the first time. Now, my mom's been making this for years during the holidays and she's perfected it however I hit a few bumps on the way but that's why I'm here: to warn you of where you might go wrong.

First, the sugar you melt to pour into the bottom of the custard cups for that pretty syrup that runs down everywhere when upturned. It has to be done on medium and SLOWLY. The moment it's liquefied, take it off the heat and pour away. Do not let it burn! I hesitated to make sure it got that one bubbling all over and it was too long. Side note, DO NOT try to taste it to SEE if it's burnt. This lesson is brought to you by Retarded Niki 101: liquid, scalding sugar = bad on finger and tongue. It tastes like BURNING.

Second, the texture of flan is very important. That's what makes good flan great. It should be completely smooth. If you overcook, it comes out a little chunky and not great. Keep a very close eye on it after 30 minutes (for 6 oz custard cups) and test with a knife often. If you think it's rather close to being done, know that it's going to continue cooking a little in the hot water bath after you take it out.

So. Better to take sugar and custard out of or off the heat than to overcook because they'll ruin if they go over.

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs plus 3 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature

Place sugar in small skillet over medium heat and stir while it liquefies. Watch carefully so that it does not burn. Pour the caramel into the bottom of 6 oz custard cups (or 9-inch flan pan or soufflé dish) and, working very quickly, spread it evenly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place eggs, yolks, vanilla, milks and cream cheese in a blender or food processor and process AT LEAST 5 minutes. Blend to death!

Pour mixture into the cups and place in larger baking pan in the center of the oven. Pour boiling water halfway up the sides of thecups. Bake 30-35 minutes (or 1 hour and 10 minutes for 9-inch pan) or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Watch carefully and cover the flan with foil if the top seems to be getting too brown. Remove from oven, cool to room temperature, then cut around the edges and invert onto serving plate.

Serve each piece with some of the caramel syrup.

Monday, January 21, 2008

January for new!

I've been having a hard time deciding on what I was in the mood for in January, the month of new, fresh starts (read: light and healthier) but still, you know. Dead of winter. And I live in Alaska. It looks like this:

I started concocting this elaborate, perfect dessert for the season that I attempted but dare not speak its existence for fear of being smited, it was so awful. Let's just say, the syrup soaked dough balls came out looking like mini jellyfish (that wanted to eat ME).

Luckily, I had a backup plan to ALSO try my first tart ever this weekend after I got a food processor for Christmas. I could finally make dough without the debilitating terror of having to touch it (and screw the whole thing up with my lava-fire hands that would melt the butter, then stretch it too much and omg!) It was time consuming (refrigerating the dough a couple times) but I've got a new appreciation for pans that shape stuff prettily (look at the little crinkles! They're perfect!).

It came out surprisingly good! My confidence in my tart-making abilities is through the roof. w00t!

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Pie & Tart, by Carolyn Beth Weil


1 egg yolk
2 Tbs. very cold water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
8 Tbs. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into
1/4-inch cubes


8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room
1/2 lb. almond paste, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup apricot jam (or raspberry, plum or cherry)
1/3 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup apricot jam (or peach)
2 Tbs water
1 tsp. of Almond Extract (or 1 tablespoon Disaronno Amaretto)

In a small bowl, stir together the egg yolk, water and vanilla; set aside.

Stir together the flour, sugar and salt in the medium bowl and put in food processor. Add the butter and pulse processor until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal, with butter pieces no larger than small peas. Add the egg mixture and pulse just until the dough pulls together.

Transfer the dough to a work surface, pat into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, about 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured board, flatten the disk with 6 to 8 gentle taps of the rolling pin. Lift the dough and give it a quarter turn. Lightly dust the top of the dough or the rolling pin with flour as needed, then roll out from center until the dough is about 1⁄8 inch thick. Fold the dough round in half and carefully transfer to a 9 1⁄2-inch tart pan, preferably with a removable bottom. Unfold and ease the round into the pan, without stretching it, and pat it firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Trim off any excess dough by gently running a rolling pin across the top of the pan. Press the dough into the sides to extend it slightly above the rim to offset any shrinkage during baking.

Refrigerate or freeze the tart shell until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 375°F.

Line the pastry shell with lightly buttered aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or raw short-grain rice or beans. Bake for 20 minutes, then lift an edge of the foil. If the dough looks wet, continue to bake, checking every 5 minutes, until the dough is pale gold, for a total baking time of 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and reduce the heat to 350°F.

In a bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed or a whisk, beat the butter until smooth. Add the almond paste, one piece at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. While continuing to beat, sprinkle in the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the flour.

Spread the jam evenly over the bottom of the partially baked tart shell. Spoon in the almond paste mixture and spread evenly over the jam. Sprinkle the surface evenly with the sliced almonds.

Bake the tart until the filling is golden and the middle is firm to the touch, 35 to 45 minutes.

Heat glaze preserves and water in a 1-quart saucepan over moderately high heat, stirring, until preserves are melted. Remove from heat and force through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl, discarding solids. Stir in almond extract.

Brush top of hot tart generously with glaze and cool in pan on rack 15 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool tart completely, about 2 hours.

Serve at room temperature. Makes one 9 1/2-inch tart; serves 8.