pretty darn good brownies

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we're back to baking with julia this week. i have so much catching up to do.

does this blog need yet another brownie recipe? probably not. but here you go! 

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julia, dorie and rich katz all seem to agree that these are the best-ever brownies. they are good. ridiculously fudgy. impossible to over-bake. 

the texture is light and creamy, in part from the technique, which has you hold back half the eggs and whip them into a fury. the bubbles help give the brownies structure without the weight of too much flour.

i threw in some walnuts at the request of a friend, and they added a nice crunch. 

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we've discussed my freezer issues before. in addition to loving to freeze unbaked cookies and all manner of other things for cooking, i love a good frozen baked good. the somm was the lucky recipient of various delightful thin mint treats for christmas that went straight to the freezer when we got home. there is something about the mint and chocolate combination that tastes right cold.

i really did try not to eat them all.

love you honey!

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anyway, the recipe promised that extreme fudginess would keep the brownies from fully freezing. thus making them supreme ice cream mix-ins. 

the frozen brownies lasted approximately five seconds in my house. so i pass the challenge onto michi, who has the added benefit of having her ice cream maker accessible in her home. rather than locked in storage container in the wild of the suburbs.

someday, dear ice cream maker, someday i will see you again. in the mean time, there is plenty of trouble to be had.

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want more fun tips on the recipe? new york times, to the rescue. in addition, this recipe was hosted by a beautiful mess through the tuesdays with dorie: baking with julia project.

Best-Ever Brownies
from Baking with Julia

1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift the flour and salt together and set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently and keeping a watchful eye on the pot to make certain the chocolate does not scorch.  Add 1 cup of the sugar to the mixture and stir for half a minute, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Pour the mixture into a large bowl. 

Put the remaining 1 cup sugar and the eggs into the bowl of a mixer and whisk by hand just to combine.  LIttle by little, pour half the sugar and eggs into the chocolate mixture, stirring gently but constantly with a rubber spatula so that the eggs don't set from the heat.  Fit the whisk attachment to the mixer and whip the remaining sugar and eggs until they are pale, thick, and doubled in volume, about 3 minutes.  Using the rubber spatula, delicately fold the whipped eggs into the chocolate mixture.  When the eggs are almost completely incorporated, gently fold in the dry ingredients. 

Pour and scrape the batter into an unbuttered 9-inch square glass or ceramic pan.  Bake the brownies for 25-28 minutes, during which time they will rise a little and the top will turn dark and dry.  Cut into the center at about the 23-minutes mark to see how they are progressing.  They will be perfect if they are just barely set and still gooey.  Cool the brownies in the pan on a rack.  Cut into bars and serve.

The brownies will keep, covered, for 2-3 days at room temperature and can be frozen for up to a month!

 

christmas cookies

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so, i made you some really adorable and yummy cookies for this holiday season. packaged them up in sweet little boxes with tissue paper and ribbons. and then proceeded to take many, many horrible photos of them.  

you are welcome!

i've been struggling to get into the holiday spirit this year. too many cocktails, not enough general cheer.

too many packages gone missing in the brown ups truck in the sky.

Christmas, it's on.

my gifts for my sisters-in-law may not arrive until february, but i had a pretty solid cookie strategy.

my go-to sugar cookie recipe is a cut above due to the addition of an aggressive amount of citrus zest.

i upgraded my oatmeal chocolate chip recipe with some cranberries for color and tang.

several of our nation's dairy farmers are having a fine christmas thanks to the brown-buttery deliciousness of rosemary walnut shortbread.

and because it isn't christmas without some powdered ginger and sparkle, i added dorie greenspan's speculoos buttons into the mix, but mine aren't nearly as cute as those gracing the cover of bon appetit.

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extreme walnut close up. please just be grateful it isn't blurry.

these shortbread cookies will melt in your mouth. did i mention the butter? they left darling little grease spots on the tissue paper. 

allow me to warn you about the speculoos buttons, however. it will be nearly impossible to tell when the little buggers are done since they are such a warm lovely brown color to start. so you must remain vigilant about over baking them, which will turn them into tiny spiced hockey pucks. you will lose a tooth. you have been warned.

but aren't their sparkly edges nice?

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believe it or not, this was one of the better photos. in my next life, my kitchen will be nothing but windows. WINDOWS I SAY.

ahem.

for those of you who know my sommelier, you will enjoy the image of him on the couch on a saturday night, watching a dreadful movie involving horses and the end of my respect for steven spielberg, delicately frosting reindeer antlers with a squeeze tube of royal icing.

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i think we generally ended up with a nice mix of frosted cookies that looked nearly professional, but just charmingly off key so as to seem legitimately homemade. 

towards the end of the rather nice bottle of twomey 2008 napa valley merlot, the cookies looked a lot closer to what you might expect out of a kindergartner with some fine motor skills challenges.

those cookies ended up at the bottom of the box. just slightly out of frame. 

not that you would even be able to tell much about the quality of our handiwork, based on my mad skills with a camera. so, with that, i will leave you with this gem and some links to cookies that you should revisit in march perhaps, when the gray sky and several months of pretend-dieting leave you in the need for something sweet.

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does the filter make it seem like it was supposed to be fuzzy? good. let's go with that. it was quite the pretentious little display of cookies anyway.

 

twd: baking with julia: peach & blueberry galette

first, i would like to thank everyone who visited my blog last week and for all the comments! i appreciate you!

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on to this galette . . . such a fancy name for such a simple, rustic and homey tart.

this was light, thin crust and studded with crunchy cornmeal. just the right note with sliced peaches and the most blueberry-tasting of blueberries i've had all summer.

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i was a little less than excited about two weeks of pie . . . see last week's posting if you have any questions about my pie attitudes. while the closest this galette gets to my beloved streusel topping is the crunchy turbinado sugar on the crust edges, i would make this again.

it's the type of light summer dessert that perfectly highlights the natural sweetness of any fruit at the peak of it's season.

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and it's so light you can serve it with ice cream. lots and lots of ice cream. this is sweet corn ice cream with raspberry chambord sauce and lemon frozen yogurt with white chocolate. thank you, again, jeni's fabulous ice cream recipes.

the ice cream? it was for the birthday girl.

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birthday galette on a steam august evening, after a night of champagne cocktails, cut-throat board gaming and good friends.

not bad way to wind down the summer.

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to find more posts on this lovely galette and the recipe, visit tuesdays with dorie!

twd: baking with julia: summer fruit pie

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in my book, pie is a winter food, best left for graham cracker crusts and creamy pumpkin filling with the warmth of the oven and scent of nutmeg making a cheery end to a cold and dark evening.

 

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summer is why we have crisps and crumbles. the glorious lack of fuss of a crumble, the messy abundance of a crisp, puts the focus on the fruit, just as it should be. beyond which, crumbles are supremely easy, virtually impossible to mess up (evidenced by a happy discovery that boxed cake mix makes a fantastic substitution for flour, should your weekend cabin getaway come so stocked). a crumble topping is just so much more interesting. how can you argue with mounds of brown sugar and oats? why would you even wish to try?

summer desserts – particularly not summer fruits at their peak – are not meant to be weighed down with the onerous task of perfecting a flaky, tender and buttery crust. why waste a single bikini season calorie on anything less than sublime?

 

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i am aware that this is not a widely shared sentiment. there is a whole contingent of summer pie advocates, many of whom i am guessing are passionate tuesdays with dorie bakers who will not be amused by my anti-pie tirade.

i mean, i'm crazy in the kitchen, just not freezing my flour and my food processor blade crazy. pie crust isn't something i'm willing work for.

homemade ice cream?  that's a different story.

 

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in any event, i did my best to compromise. i endeavored greatly to produce a passable bottom crust for this luscious fruit filling, and then topped it with an epic mass of brown sugar, oats and other crumbly deliciousness.

victory.

 

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this pie was as wonderful warm out of the oven as it was cold from the fridge for breakfast.

 

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and now back to my original summer programming . . . lazy afternoons, evenings with chilled wine and moonlight and homemade mint chip ice cream, with nary a pie crust in sight!

here's the recipe from the wonderful baking with julia, which you can also find on my cohost's blog, that skinny chick can bake! to find more lovely blogs and photos, visit tuesdays with dorie.

 

Blueberry-Nectarine Pie

Pie Crust

  • 5 1/4 cups pastry flour or all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 3/4 cups (11 oz) solid vegetable shortening, chilled
  • 1 cup ice water

To make the dough by hand, mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter and using a pastry blender (or your fingers, if you prefer), cut it into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Be patient – this takes a while. Break up the shortening and add it in bits to the bowl. Still working with the pastry blender (or your fingers), cut in the shortening until the mixture has small clumps and curds. Switch to a wooden spoon and add the ice water, stirring to incorporate it. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold it over on itself a few times – don't get carried away. The dough will be soft, but it will firm sufficiently in the refridgerator.  

To make the dough in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, put the flour and salt into the bowl and stir to mix. Add the butter and mix on low until it is cut into the dry ingredients and the mixture looks coarse and crumbly. Add the shortening in small bits and continue to mix on low. When the mixture is clumpy and curdy and holds together when a small bit is pressed between your fingers, add the water and mix only until it is incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold it over on itself two or three times, just to finish the mixing and to gather it together. 

To make the dough in a food processor, start with very cold ingredients and take care not to overwork them. Place the dry ingredients in the food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse just to mix. Take the top off, scatter the chilled cubed butter and shortening over the flour, cover, and pulse again, working only until the fats are cut in and the mixture resembles slightly moist cornmeal. Add a little of the liquid and pulse a few times, then add more liquid and pulse again. Continue until the mixture has curds and clumps and sticks together when pressed between your fingers. Don’t process until the dough forms a ball that rides on the blade – that’s overdoing it.

Chilling the dough: Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or for as long as 5 days.

The Filling

  • 3 cups fresh blueberries (about 1 ½ pints)
  • 2 cups sliced nectarines (about 3 large)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Large pinch of grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons (approximately) fresh lemon juice

Put half of the fruit in a medium saucepan, keeping the remaining fruit close at hand. Add the sugar, flour and lemon zest and stir to mix. Bring the mixture to a soft boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. The fruits will release their juices and the liquid will thicken. Turn the mixture into a bowl and stir in the uncooked fruit. Taste a spoonful, paying particular attention to the saucy liquid, and add lemon juice as needed. Cool the filling to room temperature.

The Crust

  • ½ recipe Flaky Pie Dough (chilled)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water, for egg wash
  • Crystal or turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Lining the Pie Pan: Cut the dough in half and roll one half out on a lightly floured work surface into a circle about 11 inches across. Fit the crust into a 9-inch cake pan with 1-inch-high-sides. (Alternatively, you could use an 8-inch cake pan with 1 ½-inch-high sides.) Allow the excess dough to hang over the sides for the moment.

Roll the remaining piece of dough into a circle about 10 inches across. Place the pie pan in the center of the dough and, using the pan as a template, cut the bottom round of dough so that it is about ½ inch larger all around than the pan.

Filling the Pie Pan: Spoon the cooled filling into the pie shell and dot the top with the butter.

Top Crust: Trim the overhanging dough to about ½ inch. Lift the rolled-out circle of dough onto the pie (this is easily done by folding the dough into quarters, transferring it to the top of the pie, and then unfolding it), aligning the edges of the top crust with the bottom crust. If necessary, use a kitchen knife or scissors to trim any ragged edges.

Fold both layers of overhanging dough under to create a thick edge around the rim of the pan. Crimp the edges by pushing the thumb of one hand against the thumb and index finger of your other hand, creating scallops every 1 or 2 inches around the rim. Press the tines of a fork against the flat scallops to decorate. Paint the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little crystal or turbinado sugar.

Chilling the Pie: Using the point of a thin knife, cut 4 to 6 slits in the crust and chill for about 20 minutes. At this point, the pie can be frozen. Place it on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, then wrap airtight and freeze for up to a month. There’s no need to thaw the pie before baking, but you should apply another coat of egg wash and will have to bake the pie about 10 minutes longer.

Baking the Pie: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the pie on a parchment- or foil-lined jelly-roll pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit bubbling. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before you cut it so that the crusts, top and bottom, have a chance to set.

Storing: Pies are at their peak the day they’re made, but you can cover and chill leftovers for a day.

almond chocolate biscotti . . . or chocolate toffee cookies.

Biscotti, anyone?

i don't really understand biscotti. i like a gooey cookie. a chewy, melty chocolate chip cookie. i can handle a crispy cookie . . . a ginger snap or crumbly shortbread. but biscotti. what, my friends, is the point?

this isn't to knock the joy of dunking. i very much enjoy a good milk-soaked oreo or graham cracker. but the biscotti doesn't do it for me.

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i tried here. the baking with julia recipe was for hazelnuts. but i decided to pull a total hilary. i used almonds. and rather than buying frangelico, i made amaretto.

that's right. i have two mason jars of boozy almond goodness in order to put two teaspoons of almond liqueur in these bad boys.

but neither the homemade amaretto or the judicious addition of chocolate could save the biscotti from their inherent hard as a rock biscottiness. they were lovely biscotti, easy to make (even with the exceptionally unnecessary step of homemade liqueur, a recipe for which you can find at shutterbean) and were munched down by italian and spanish fans alike at my euro cup party.

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but still. if i'm going to eat a cookie, friends, biscotti will not get the job done. my newest cookie obsession will: chocolate toffee cookies, courtesy of smitten kitchen.

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

yeah, that's the stuff. the perfect slightly gooey center, crisp and chewy edges, intense chocolatey goodness with the crunch of slivered almonds and caramely, toothiness of the heath bar crumbles. dunking optional.

if you insist on enjoying biscotti, check out the recipe at tuesdays with dorie

berries & cream cake

Happy Birthday Marilyn

it was a good weekend, full of family, sunshine and good food.

also, many photos in extreme variations of lighting and camera source. brace yourself.

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everything tastes better when eaten with your fingers and an endless supply of raspberry sauce.

Goat cheeses and cherries, fresh & preserved

goat cheeses and cherries . . . summer berry season is officially in full swing.

you know it's a good weekend when it includes more than one birthday cake.

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berries & cream was my contribution.

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chocolate on chocolate. purty.

my cake talked a good game. a light genoise, layered with macerated berries and whipped cream frosting.

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my execution? well, it looks pretty. and i learned an important lesson about how long you really, really, really need to whip your eggs for a genoise.

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the bottom layer did not raise. my generous father-in-law may have called it a tasty crust.

that's love, right there.

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but, also? fresh summer berries, macerated in a little booze, plus whipped cream frosting? made for a very special birthday?

that's also love.

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for the recipe – french strawberry cake - visit tuesdays with dorie. make extra whipped cream frosting and macerated berries. and whip your eggs!

baking with julia: strawberry rhubarb “shortbread”

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summer has arrived. with a vengeance. 

luckily, we can temper the crankiness brought on by heat and humidity with the sweet pucker of strawberries.

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i love the classic sweet tart of strawberries and rhubarb. i like my food with balance. not too much one way or the other.

the way a sprinkle of sea salt on dark chocolate brings the sweet and bitter together a little more harmoniously on your tongue.

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if it is pink, all the better.

i learned a new technique with this recipe. you put together the dough, chill it, and then grate it into the pan.

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the grated dough sandwiches homemade jam of the strawberry rhubarb vanilla bean persuasion. don't be tempted to add something sweeter. it needs a bit of the sour bite of the rhubarb. and the vanilla bean deepens the flavor a bit. i love the almost woody caramel flavor of a real vanilla bean.

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grating the frozen dough keeps the butter cold but brings a lightness to the finished cake. because, let us be clear.

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if you are looking for the crisp crumble of a walker shortbread cookie, this is not your recipe.

this is cake.

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have a bite!

For the recipe, visit Tuesdays with Dorie or buy the book!