Saturday, January 24, 2015

Chocolate Molasses Cookies






Over the past few years, my husband has bought a few vintage cookbooks for me, and I just love looking through the old recipes and notes.  It's interesting how much recipe writing has changed over the years.  Whereas in one of these old books it might oversimplify a process by stating, "cook sugar in a saucepan until caramelized", perhaps assuming that the cook was experienced enough to understand what heat to use, how dark the sugar should be, etc.  But now cooks and bakers expect a much more detailed description of the step-by-step process of such a finicky technique as caramelizing sugar, even including what to do to avoid burning or crystallizing the caramel.

For Christmas, he gave me a Hershey's 1934 Cookbook, with either cocoa powder or chocolate syrup used in every recipe, and as I paged through it, these chocolate molasses cookies just sounded so good that I wanted to stop what I was doing and make them immediately.  Imagine my disappointment to discover that we were out of molasses.

The next day, though, I made a point of picking some up while we were out running errands, and that evening, the kitchen was filled with the scent of freshly baked cookies.  I changed the recipe up a little, of course, adapting it for high altitude as well as evening out the ingredients a little (because why would a recipe be written to use 7/8 of a cup of flour instead of just a full cup?).

With the bitter cocoa and rich molasses, the cookies were spicy and not too sweet, soft and full of plump raisins, and after we ate a few warm cookies straight from the pan, I made the rest into ice cream sandwiches with the last of the toffee ice cream I'd made over Thanksgiving weekend.  Delicious.







Chocolate Molasses Cookies
printable
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup raisins
In your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with 1/2 cup sugar for several minutes until light and fluffy.  Beat in the molasses, egg and vanilla until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture just until combined.  Stir in the raisins.  Refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375.  Roll the chilled dough into balls, and coat each ball in the remainder of the sugar.  Place two inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand.  Bake for 7-8 minutes, until set around the edges, but still soft in the middle.  Cool on the pan for 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Yields about 2 - 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen, adapted from Cocoa-Molasses Drop Cakes by the Hershey's 1934 Cookbook




Monday, January 19, 2015

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Cherries and Dark Chocolate Sauce




Cherries and chocolate are ubiquitous on Valentine's Day, and I remember we always had a box of those tooth-achingly sweet chocolate-covered cherries in the house when I was growing up.  Observing Valentine's Day without loads of sugar seemed unthinkable.

These days, though, I like desserts that let the ingredients shine without being overwhelmed with too much sweetness.

The vanilla bean cheesecake is simple enough on its own, demure but sophisticated with specks of vanilla bean throughout.  The cheesecake sits on a graham crust, buttery and surreptitiously salty, a pleasant contrast to the sweetness of the cherries.








I spiced the cherries with cinnamon and nutmeg, and cooked them until thick like pie filling.  Once cool, I spooned them over the cheesecake, their red juices staining the creamy white filling.

Homemade chocolate syrup, dark, rich and bittersweet, is the finishing touch.  Poured over top, the chocolate caresses the cherries in its kiss, dripping down into a reflective pool on the plate.  This tryst of cheesecake, cherries and chocolate is truly a swoon-worthy dessert, and quite appropriate for the upcoming holiday.







Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Cherries and Dark Chocolate Sauce
printable


Cheesecake.
  • 1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
Cherries.
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen and thawed pitted sweet cherries
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Chocolate Syrup.
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, (preferably "special dark")
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Note, all components should be prepared the evening before, so they can chill overnight before serving.

Crust.
Preheat the oven to 325.  In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers and salt.  Drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork until moistened.  Press against the bottom of an 9-inch springform pan.  Bake for 12 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant; set aside to cool completely.

Filling.
Pour 1/4 cup cream into a microwave-safe dish.  Add the gelatin and whisk with a fork to combine.  Let stand for 5 minutes; it will be thick and clumpy.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds to completely dissolve the gelatin.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups cream with the vanilla bean seeds at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, gradually adding the powdered sugar as the cream thickens.  Add the cream cheese and gelatin mixture and beat until smooth and thick with no lumps, about 2-3 minutes.  Immediately spread over the cooled crust, smooth out the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 4-6 hours, or overnight.

Cherries.
In a saucepan, combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, water and spices.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.  Once the mixture boils, stir constantly, cooking for a minute or two longer until thickened.  Chill completely in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Syrup.
In a saucepan, combine the water, sugar and corn syrup; bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt, whisking until smooth.  Simmer on low until the syrup has thickened enough to coat a spoon, about 3-5 minutes (it will also thicken more as it cools).

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.  Pour into a glass jar and refrigerate.

Serving.
Run a sharp knife around the sides of the cheesecake, and carefully remove the sides of the pan.  Just before serving, spoon the cherries over the cheesecake, or serve on the side.  Serve the chocolate on the side.

Yields 8-12 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, January 16, 2015

Nipples of Venice Cupcakes




My husband and I stayed home for New Years this year.  We had been painting all day, but when the sun set, we put everything away and got all dressed up for a little celebration at home.  I even wore a sequin skirt, because although I still had paint in my hair and under my fingernails, I felt the need to be fancy while drinking champagne and watching the Star Wars trilogy.  It was quite sexy.

Also sexy were these cupcakes.  In Chocolat, she makes a little chocolate truffle with the tip dipped in white chocolate and offers them to the uptight Comte de Reynaud.

"Nipples of Venice?" she says with a smile, making him blush.

So named from that movie, the cupcakes are a little bit naughty, and fantastically delicious with dark chocolate cake dipped in ganache and Grand Marnier vanilla buttercream.








Nipples of Venice Cupcakes
printable


Chocolate Cupcakes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably "special dark")
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Chocolate Ganache
  • 3 ounces heavy whipping cream
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Grand Marnier Vanilla Buttercream
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-3 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Cupcakes.
Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with 12 liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, salt and baking soda.  Add the eggs, heavy cream, sour cream, oil and vanilla, and whisk vigorously until well combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Divide the batter between the liners.  Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool the cupcakes on a wire rack, covered loosely with a clean kitchen towel.

Ganache.
Warm the cream in a small saucepan, just until it begins to simmer around the edges.  Remove from the heat; add the chopped chocolate and let stand for 3 minutes; stir with a spatula until smooth.

Dip the cooled cupcakes into the ganache; you should have some extra ganache left for dipping the tops of the cupcakes later.  Refrigerate the cupcakes for 15-30 minutes, to let the ganache firm up before piping the buttercream.

Buttercream.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for several minutes until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, mixing on low to combine.  Add the vanilla and Grand Marnier; whip on medium high for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.

Pipe the buttercream on top of the chilled cupcakes.  Refrigerate for another 15-30 minutes to firm up the buttercream.  Quickly turn the cupcakes over to dip the tip of the buttercream in a little more ganache, and top each with a single sugar pearl.

Yields 12 cupcakes

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Banana Chocolate Chip Streusel Bread




Last night, I meant to take a break.  My shoulders were kinked from the redoing-of-the-kitchen-cabinets project and spending too many hours in the basement sanding, painting, shellacking and sanding some more.  So instead, I worked at my sewing machine and altered a couple of skirts.

I know. It wasn't really a break after all, but there's just always so much to be done that I have a hard time relaxing and doing nothing.  It's been months since I've even been able to indulge in the time to read a book, and I've had to satisfy my love of words with my word-a-day e-mail subscription.

So tonight, I took a real evening off (other than editing some photos and writing this blog post), curled up on the couch, and watched a movie.  P.S. I Love You is always a good idea, especially because, you know, Gerard Butler.







I love that in the movie, he refers to the stone wall as his "fort", and she is able to discover it, too, when she reads one of his letters there.

My fort was an old, dilapidated trailer - the kind that can be hitched to the back of a car to haul things.  It was a rickety, broken mess, with half the floor missing, although my dad covered it with a slab of wood so stuff wouldn't fall through.  It was usually parked along the side of our house in South Carolina, and was probably a little bit of an eyesore.

But a child's imagination is able to see past all that, and to my brother and sister and I, it was a fort.  We set up a bucket of water with a cup attached to a string and drew up water from our "well".  We filled it with discarded Tupperware and pretended to cook.  We laughed and fought and played and told each other the most secretive of secrets in our fort.






Banana bread evokes comforting memories of childhood also.  Everyone I know grew up eating banana bread, and everyone thought they had the best recipe.  I've made mine with chocolate chips and a crumbly streusel topping.  A pinch of espresso powder enhances the flavor and cuts the sweetness of the moist, cinnamony bread.  It really is the best thing ever.









Banana Chocolate Chip Streusel Bread
printable

  • 4 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
streusel topping
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 and line 3 standard loaf pans with parchment paper so the paper hangs over the sides.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas, melted butter, brown sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and espresso powder.  Mix the dry ingredients into the wet just until moistened.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Divide the batter between the pans.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the streusel topping ingredients and use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter until crumbly.  Sprinkle the topping over the bread and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then lift the bread out of the pans by the parchment paper and cool on a wire rack before cutting.

Yields 3 loaves

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, January 9, 2015

Toasted Coconut Caramel Cheesecake with Ganache






I don't make cheesecake often, but when I do, I sure do it right.  I was on a bit of a coconut kick for a while, loving its crunchy, sweet nuttiness when toasted, and the thought of toasted coconut folded into velvety, creamy cheesecake sounded purely decadent to me.

Any occasion worth celebrating is worthy of making a beautiful, delectable treat, and this cheesecake just begs to be served for something special.

After pouring chocolate ganache over the cheesecake, I chilled the extra ganache, rolled it into truffles, and dipped them in white chocolate to garnish the top with a little toffee and more toasted coconut.

But what's really special about this cheesecake is that it's sweetened with not just sugar, but rather homemade salted caramel sauce.  If you don't happen to have a batch of caramel already made, the thought of making caramel simply to add to this recipe might seem a little daunting, and I wouldn't blame you if you just added brown sugar instead.  But then, you wouldn't be able to call it a Toasted Coconut Caramel Cheesecake, would you?













Toasted Coconut Caramel Cheesecake with Ganache
printable

crust
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
filling
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 2/3 cup salted caramel sauce (or substitute just dark brown sugar)
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup toasted coconut
topping
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 5 ounces heavy whipping cream
  • toasted coconut

Crust.
Preheat the oven to 350.  In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers, salt and cinnamon.  Drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork until moistened.  Press against the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.  Bake for 12 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant; set aside to cool completely.

Filling.
Pour 1/4 cup cream into a microwave safe dish.  Add the gelatin and whisk to combine.  Let stand for 5 minutes; it will be thick and clumpy.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds to completely dissolve the gelatin.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups cream at medium-high speed until soft peaks form.  Add the caramel, cream cheese, vanilla and gelatin mixture and beat until smooth and thick with no lumps.  Fold in the toasted coconut.  Spread over the cooled crust and smooth out the top.  Cover with plastic, and refrigerate for 4-6 hours, or overnight.
 
Topping.
Finely chop the chocolate and place in a bowl.  In a small saucepan, warm the cream over medium-low heat, just until it begins to simmer around the edges.  Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate; let stand for 3 minutes.  Stir with a spatula until smooth and shiny.

Remove the sides of the pan, and set the cheesecake on a serving pedestal.  Pour the warm ganache over the cheesecake, letting it drip over the sides, and sprinkle with more toasted coconut.  The ganache will set in about an hour at room temperature.

Yields 8-12 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Frost



The branches of this tree were covered in frost when I left for work this morning.  Silvery white, frosted in a sparkling sheet of ice, as though they had been dipped in a powdered sugar glaze and left to harden.  The air was still, grey and cold, and I wanted nothing more than to go back inside where it was warm and curl up with a blanket, a book and a hot cup of coffee.

I've had to take a little bit of a break from posting as many recipes lately, as we continue to balance work and all the projects on the house that need attention.  We're busy making our house a home.  I'm sure you understand.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Seventy-five





My good friend Kim asked me to make a cake for her dad's seventy-fifth birthday party a few days before Christmas, which also happened to be the very same weekend we moved into our house.  And even knowing how busy and tired I would be after moving, I just couldn't say no to her after everything she did to help me with my wedding.

Moving day was indescribably exhausting, but it was only the beginning, as everything needed to be unpacked and put into place, and the first room I tackled - at least after unpacking our sheets and making up the bed - was the kitchen.  Nearly everything fragile made it safely, including all of my cake pedestals, except one which broke cleanly in half, but hopefully can be glued back together.  Sadly, a box of coffee cups fared the worst, with at least six broken cups and several more cracked.  It's strange that so many sturdy coffee cups broke, when there wasn't even a single broken wine or champagne glass.








I am learning my new oven.  It's a gas range and oven, which is new to me, and the oven runs low, so although my cake took a little longer to bake, it still baked beautifully.  We are trying to figure out if we should over-compensate on the temperature or see if we can get the oven re-calibrated, but regardless, there haven't been any disastrous results due to the wrong temperature.

Kim asked for carrot cake, so I made my browned butter carrot cake with a salted pecan cream cheese buttercream.  Since it was Christmas, I melted bittersweet chocolate into Christmas tree cookie cutters and sprinkled the chocolate with chopped pecans before letting it harden again, for a wintery garnish for the side of the cake.  I did the same thing with the 75, melting the chocolate onto lollypop sticks so I could insert them into the top of the cake as an edible topper.

The cakes were so moist and fragrant, I wished I could have a taste, but Kim told me later that her family could not stop raving about my cake, and that it was the best they had ever tasted!

Click here for the cake recipe published in a previous post; note that instead of pressing the pecans and salt into the sides of the cake, I mixed them right into the frosting.