Makes 16 brownies
8 ounces (225 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup or agave syrup
Happy Valentine's Day!
In case you might still be looking for a last-minute treat to bake for your darlings, here's a little round-up of my favorite chocolate delights that are, for the most part, easy to whip up with what you've got in your pantry already (or that you could get on an emergency run to the store or gas station, if you live in Germany where stores are closed on Sunday).
I'm still undecided on what to make, though I'm leaning heavily towards these tahini brownies. Better get cracking!
Evelyn Sharpe's French Chocolate Cake - This is the best nearly flourless cake I know. Rich and intense, it's definitely for grown-ups.
Karen DeMasco's Devil's Food Cupcakes - Gorgeous little cupcakes with a thin cap of chocolate icing and a cream middle. A lovely baking project and sure to please your littlest Valentines.
Jane Hornsby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake - This may be labeled birthday cake, but if you bake it in a heart-shaped pan instead, hey presto, you've got an easy, totally satisfying chocolate Valentine's cake. Don't skip the frosting!
Barbara Fairchild's Chocolate-Toffee Cookies - Imagine a brownie-like cookie, but stuffed with bits of crunchy toffee and walnuts. I know.
Bret Thompson's Double Chocolate Cookies - These excellent cookies call for a whopping 1 1/4 pounds of chocolate.
Deb Perelman's Intensely Chocolate Sablés - Easy to whip up with what are probably staples in your pantry. I recommend adding a drop of peppermint extract to the dough to make Thin Mint facsimiles.
Le Pain Quotidien's Belgian Brownies - These tender, almost creamy little cakelets come from the way-back depths of the blog, but have definitely held up over time.
Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies - This is basically the only brownie recipe we ever use, because it's easy and classic and reliable and never fails to satisfy everyone.
Ashley Rodriguez's Bittersweet Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting - The brownies are good on their own, but the silky swaths of peanut butter frosting on top take these into total romance territory.
Drowning as I am in cakes and cookies and sweet breads, I have absolutely no business - none! - making brownies on my day off. But I couldn't help it! I'm sorry! It's just that I was looking through a book that a British publisher sent to me last year (written by a German baker living in London) when something on page 141 called Boston Brownies caught my eye.
Now as you know, I have spent many a year in Boston, both as a child and a college student, and I have never, in all that time, heard of a Boston brownie. (Have you?) I had to read a little closer. My interest was piqued! Turns out that Gerhard Jenne, inspired by the fresh cranberries he discovered on a trip to Massachusetts, decided to pop a bunch of them in a brownie batter. The result - sort of like an American take on the Black Forest Cake of his youth - was so good he put the recipe in the book.
I was intrigued. I was also a little skeptical. I mean, fresh cranberries? With chocolate? (Also, er, Anglo-German brownies?) The recipe looked really easy, though, and it was Sunday and I happened to have frozen cranberries in the freezer, so I decided to go for it and I am here to tell you now that these brownies are amazing.
You all. The brownies themselves, made with a mix of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa, are incredibly fudgy and dark with a gorgeous crackling crust. So the recipe would be a keeper for that alone. But the addition of the cranberries is, in fact, totally inspired - the sour, fruity pop against all that rich, dark chocolate is really delicious. We took the brownies to tea at our friends' house, where we each ate two pieces (Hugo included!) and then the men each ate a third while I tried to distract Hugo from demanding more by throwing myself on the floor and pretending to be a car. (It worked!)
A.The world does need another brownie recipe.
B. Fresh cranberries in brownies are brilliant.
C. Anglo-German bakers have got the brownie thing figured out.
Oh, and furthermore! Do not repeat my dunderheaded mistake of always leaving the pan of brownies wherever I bring them. Make sure to keep a few for yourself the next day or you will regret it. Speaking from experience. Ahem.
Gerhard Jenne's Bittersweet Brownies with Cranberries
Adapted from Deservedly Legendary Baking
Note: The original recipe calls for 200 grams of chocolate and only 1 tablespoon of cocoa, but I didn't have enough chocolate in the house that day, so I made do with what I had and upped the amount of cocoa. I loved the result, so that's what I've listed below.
1 1/3 cups (275 grams) sugar
6 1/4 ounces (175 grams) butter
6 1/4 ounces (175 grams) dark chocolate (54 – 60% cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces
1 1/3 cup flour plus 1 tablespoon (175 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 1/4 ounces (175 grams) fresh cranberries
1. Heat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with parchment paper.
2. Break the eggs into a mixing bowl, then whisk in the sugar until frothy. Set aside.
3. Put the butter in a pan and melt over medium heat until it has completely melted and small bubbles are just beginning to rise to the surface. Turn off the heat, add the chocolate, and stir until melted.
4. Whisk the eggs and sugar again until pale and frothy, then whisk in the chocolate mixture until well combined. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and stir gently with a spatula until there are no white streaks remaining. Add the salt. Fold in the cranberries. (If you're using frozen, this will cause the batter to seize up slightly, so work quickly.)
5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and even the top. Bake for about 25 minutes, then take the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely. Cut into squares and serve.
According to the internet, the East Coast of the US is about to be swathed in an apocalyptic amount of snow. Meanwhile, over here, it's just miserably gray, as it always always always is this time of year. I can't remember the last time I saw the sun. Hugo, who is really into SAAHN! and MOOOON! and DAHK! and LIGHT! and COWDS! is very confused.
Luckily, I have just the thing for all you over there and all of you over here to make while the winds howl and the sun remains stubbornly behind that impenetrable bank of clouds: Brownies. Bittersweet ones. With SALTED PEANUT BUTTER FROSTING. (If you can, imagine me yelling those last four words, getting increasingly louder with each word.)
For the past five years, I've been loyal to one single brownie recipe: Alice Medrich's Cocoa Brownies. They're easy, they're fudgy, you don't need a single special ingredient and everyone who eats them falls instantly in love with them. Why, even my husband now knows how to make them. (This, my friends, is saying a lot. Ahem, Mister Instant Mashed Potatoes, ahem.) I was pretty happy with my one single brownie recipe! It felt pretty good to have found The One. After all, at least on the brownie front, I didn't have to do any more looking.
But. Then. Along came Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt and her beautiful, vulnerable, touching first cookbook called Date Night In (more on that in a second). In one flip of a page, her recipe for bittersweet brownies with a salted peanut butter frosting very unceremoniously kicked those sweet little cocoa brownies right off the ledge. Pow!
Ashley used to have her own custom cake company, and before that she learned the tricks of the trade at Spago, working under pastry chef legend Sherry Yard, so when it comes to sweets, she's a voice of authority. In Ashley's brownie recipe, you build layers of rich flavor by first browning the butter and then using a combination of chocolate and cocoa. She also gives you tips on how to get the fudgiest brownie possible (just use 2 eggs instead of 3) and that lovely crackly top, but the salted peanut butter frosting is really the, uh, icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the gilding of the lily. It's the whole raison d'être of these brownies (though they are pretty fabulous on their own, too).
You whip peanut butter, butter and confectioners' sugar together, beating them together at high speed until the mixture gets lighter and lighter, and then spread great swoops of it onto the cooled brownies. Ashley has you sprinkle the pan with flaked salt at the end, but I happened to have some of this fancy French butter with salt crystals hanging around and used that in the frosting instead, eschewing the salt sprinkling at the end.
But whatever path you take, definitely include salt. It's an essential finishing touch that keeps all the flavors together, that cuts the richness, that makes you sit up and take notice. It's no coincidence that Ashley's blog is called Not Without Salt. These aren't just any old brownies, no sirree. These are paradigm-breakers.
As for Ashley's book, which is a collection of seasonal menus (from cocktails to dessert) that she's made for a weekly date night at home with her husband Gabe, it really is so lovely. Each menu is preceded by a little story she tells about her marriage and its natural ups and downs. With busy jobs, three children, and 10 years of marriage under their belts, several years ago Ashley and her husband found themselves drifting apart. Determined not to slide into a deeper hole, they started going on dates at home every week. Gabe would mix cocktails and Ashley would create a restaurant-worthy menu just for the two of them, no kids allowed. Through this very purposeful, conscious way of approaching their marriage and their need to connect again, they created a whole new level of commitment to each other. It is, to say the least, inspiring.
Also mouthwatering, because Ashley really knows food. A few of her menus are ambitious (for a tired working mother, at least), but that's sort of the point. It's her way of showing her husband her love and commitment and she expects no less from her readers. And there are plenty of menus that are more straightforward. I've already earmarked the recipes for their perfect burger, the French 75 cocktail, salted toffee popcorn, a pickled vegetable salad and salmon cakes with chiles and fresh herbs. (Plus, thrillingly, Ashley includes a recipe for pickled peppers in the style of Mama Lil's, which Molly sent me for Christmas once and which I haven't stopped thinking of since!)
Now all I have to do is get my husband to mix me a cocktail...
Ashley Rodriguez's Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting
Adapted from Date Night In
Makes 16 square brownies
Note: The original recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, which isn't available in Germany. Instead I substituted an equal amount of 70% chocolate and then reduced the sugar from 300 grams to 175 grams. I was thrilled with the result, especially paired with the sweet-salty frosting. Depending on your taste, though, if you go this route, you may want to up the sugar amount to 200 grams.
3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
3 ounces (90 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter with salt flakes, at room temperature
3/4 cup (100 grams) smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup (40 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1. For the brownies: Preheat the oven to 325 F (160 C) degrees. Grease an 8-inch square pan. Line the pan with parchment paper so that a couple of inches hang over the edge. Then grease the parchment.
2. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium-high heat. Allow the butter to cook until the milk solids bubble up and then settle into the pan and caramelize. Swirl the butter in the pan in order to see the color of the little bits on the bottom. As soon as the milk solids are golden and the butter smells nutty, about 3 to 5 minutes, remove the pan from the heat.
3. Pour the browned butter into a medium bowl and add the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute to melt, and then whisk together. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla while the butter mixture is still warm. Stir in the eggs, and salt until well blended. Sift in the cocoa powder and flour. Fold the ingredients together until just combined using a spatula.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle pulls out clean. Let cool to room temperature.
5. For the frosting: With an electric mixer, whip together the butter, peanut butter, and confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Continue to mix until everything is well combined and the frosting has lightened in color. Frost the cooled brownies, cut into squares and serve. Brownies can be made 1 to 3 days in advance. The frosting can be made up to 1 week in advance.
On Friday afternoon, Hugo and I were hanging out at home when talk turned, as it so often has lately, to cake. "CAAAAYKE, mama, ja?" So I said something responsible and mom-like, like, "well, it's dinnertime soon, so there's no cake today. But tomorrow is Saturday! So we can make a cake tomorrow." To which Hugo responded, "Ja! But no baby cake, mama. BIG CAAAAYKE."
(NEVER GROW UP, HUGO, PLEASE AND I PROMISE I WILL MAKE YOU BIG CAAAAAYKES FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.)
Luckily for us, we were invited to a friend's surprise birthday party the next day and I'd volunteered to make the birthday cake anyway. Ever since receiving Jane Hornby's cookbook, I'd been itching to make her malted chocolate birthday cake. Finally, I had the chance.
The cake itself was nice and simple to put together; actually, it just the thing to do with a child whose skillset just about encompasses whisking. And the cake baked up perfectly, moist and fragrant. As Hornby promises, it's not too rich but still pleasingly chocolatey. The malt flavor is very subtle, giving the cake and the icing only the faintest toasty flavor. If you didn't know what to taste for, you might not even taste it. But for malt-lovers among us, it's a lovely hint of a thing to taste and gives the whole cake a slight lift out of the dark depths of chocolatiness.
But the real reason this cake was a total home run and up on this blog now for posterity is the icing. The gorgeous, silky, dark and lovely icing that I literally licked off every single part of the whisk and then the spatula and then the bowl. (For your information, I do not normally lick anything related to baking, ever. I don't know why, I just don't. It sort of grosses me out. BUT NOT THIS TIME OH NO SIRREE BOB.)
First of all, what I loved about it is that it's not a buttercream. Too buttery, too rich, too slick and oily in my mouth, buttercream is just not my thing. (I recently discovered the beauty of Swiss buttercream, when I wrote a piece in the September issue of Harper's Bazaar Germany about fancy cakes, but unless I'm making the kind of cake that's supposed to look better than it tastes, I steer clear of buttercream.) This icing is more of a butter-enriched ganache, but lightened with milk, so it's spreadable and swishable and doesn't land in your belly like a 10-pound bag of bricks.
Plus, it's cinch to make - you make a milk, malt and cocoa paste, then beat in soft butter and confectioners' sugar before beating in melted chocolate. The icing is silky-smooth and a little runny as long as it's still hot, but as it cools, it gets firmer and swoopier. It's lovely.
I can see it swirled onto cupcakes and smoothed onto vanilla cake, even possibly used as a sandwich cookie filler. You can play a little with the proportions (less sugar, vanilla or peppermint flavoring instead of malt, more cocoa solids in your chocolate or less) or leave it just as is. I used less sugar than the original and a higher percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate and got a slightly grown-up icing that all the adults at the party swooned over. (Hugo ate his piece happily enough, but was totally distracted by the discovery of blue M&M's on his piece. He ate them with much the same expression on his face as a roomful of scientists witnessing the Mars landing.) At first I thought that the yield of the icing was too much for the panful of cake, but I piled it all on anyway, and I'm glad I did.
In other news, I'm so honored to be giving an hourlong talk at the Apple Store in Berlin this Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm. I'm going to be talking about how I started my blog and what it was like when I was blogging anonymously at the beginning, how I found my voice and then an audience, how the blog grew over the years, and how I've stayed inspired. There will also be an audience Q&A. Click here to register (filter for "events" and you'll see mine). Hope to see you there!
Jane Hornby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake
Adapted from What to Bake and How to Bake It
Makes one 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33cm) cake
Note: The recipe below reflects a few changes I made to the original recipe. I reduced the sugar in both the cake and the icing slightly and I upped the percentage of cocoa solids for the chocolate in the icing a little bit too. If I were making this for a children's birthday party, I'd use the original amounts of sugar (300 grams in the cake and 250 grams in the icing) as well as a milkier chocolate (50% instead of 60%). You will notice I did not include the conversions to imperial; I just don't have the time at the moment. My apologies. A kitchen scale will set you back between $10 and $30, or else the internet can help you out with the conversions.
For the cake
140 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
350 grams all-purpose flour
25 grams cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
275 grams light brown sugar
300 ml milk
150 ml vegetable oil
1 teaspon vanilla extract
For the icing
200 grams dark chocolate, about 60% cocoa
120 ml milk
25 grams cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
140 grams soft butter
200 grams confectioners' sugar
A handful of M&Ms, optional
1. Heat the oven to 180°C (350 F). Line a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) cake pan with a piece of parchment paper. Melt the butter in a pan and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Mix the flour, cocoa, malted milk powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the sugar and break up any lumps with your fingers. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Whisk the milk, oil and vanilla into the melted butter and pour this mixture into the well.
3. Using the whisk, mix the wet and dry ingredients together slowly. Once combined, give the batter a good beating until smooth and evenly blended. Pour into the prepared pan.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, until the cake has risen, is firm and slightly shrunken from the sides. A skewer inserted into the center should come out clean. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
5. For the icing, break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place it over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't touch the water. Let the chocolate melt, stirring once or twice until smooth. Alternatively, microwave in 20-second bursts, stirring each time. Leave to cool a little.
6. Heat the milk in a small saucepan or the microwave until steaming hot. Sift the cocoa and malted milk powder into a large bowl, then slowly stir in the hot milk to make a smooth paste. Leave to cool for a few minutes.
7. Now add the butter to the paste, sift in the confectioners' sugar, and beat together with an electric mixer until very creamy. Follow with the melted, cool chocolate, and beat to make a silky, soft icing.
8. Decorate the cake with the M&Ms, if using. The cake can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept in a cool place, well wrapped or, if frosted, loosely covered on its board.
Darlings, I have an apartment! With real walls, ceilings, windows - windows! - and a balcony looking at rooftops. The balcony is currently filled with snow drifts, but does that matter? Not one little bit. It features largely in my nighttime fantasies in which pure golden sunlight drifts down from the heavens as I sit outside in the morning on that balcony, drinking tea and feeling blessed. Around the corner from the apartment is an Italian wholesale grocery store and a lovely greenmarket on Tuesdays and Fridays (here some summertime photos of said market that might make your eyes hurt what with all the sunshine and the green leaves). Plus the Charlottenburg Palace is in spitting distance. I interpreted these three things as auspicious signs that I should take the apartment. Doesn't that sound sensible? I sign the lease in two days and move next week. Next week!
All in all, these past few days have felt wonderful. An apartment to call my own, the acceptance of my health insurance application (making the black ice all over Berlin's sidewalks feel just a little less treacherous), and the discovery of Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies. Yes, I did just put a brownie recipe on the same level as finding a home. With good reason. These brownies can bridge cultures. They can make people fall in love. They can bewitch you into making them twice in two days. They are powerful, killer brownies.
Furthermore, they are a piece of cake. I mean, all you do is melt butter, sugar, cocoa and salt into a coal-black, grainy sludge in a water bath. Then you beat in vanilla extract, two eggs and a fillip of flour. The batter looks like silk. And that's it. A monkey could make these brownies. A small child could master them.
The first time I made these, on Friday, I underbaked them. The middle was oozy and gooey and when I brought them to a party, people fell upon them. And can I say, there's something sort of deeply satisfying about seeing one of America's greatest exports, the humble brownie, being so fervently appreciated. Like I said, culture-bridging. I got all warm inside.
The second time I made them, on Saturday, I brought them to a somewhat more intimate gathering. In which, err, I was hoping rather hard to show off my baking prowess. This time, I baked the brownies a little longer. The centers were now all purely fudgy, without any goo, but with the same deep, dark chocolate flavor and that alluring chew. Ooh, they were spectacular. Certain eaters present ate three brownies in one go, making me feel all warm inside, too, but of a distinctly different order.
Apartment, insurance, brownies. I'd say it was a pretty great week.
Best Cocoa Brownies
Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies
10 tablespoons (141 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (280 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (82 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (66 grams) all-purpose flour
1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added.
3. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
4. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. (Deb suggests putting the cooled pan in the fridge or freezer for a while, which helps if you want clean lines when cutting the brownies.)
5. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.
Uhh. Looky there. Chocolate. On chocolate. More chocolate. Can't speak, can't think. COOOKIE.
Is this what it feels like to be a 15-year old boy in the presence of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model?
The Culinary SOS column has struck again and with a vengeance. I read it last Wednesday and by Thursday night was in the kitchen, up to my elbows in chocolate. It's January! We're meant to be eating brown rice noodles and copious amounts of steamed spinach! Instead, these cookies - these insane, ridiculous, almost unbearably good cookies - will bewitch you. You will not be able to resist. Just try to! You won't.
Think about this: 1 and 1/4 pounds (yes, pounds) of chocolate. To only 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 stick of butter. Are you starting to sweat a bit? These cookies demand respect. And yet are easy enough to make on a school night. You don't even need an electric beater. I did the whole thing with a whisk and a wooden spoon.
You know, melt chocolate and butter, whisk eggs and sugar, fold in dry ingredients, the usual deal. And then dump in one entire pound of chopped bittersweet chocolate. Yeah, that's where things get interesting.
Somehow I managed to keep my wits about me and, instead of following the instructions to make 16 cookies out of this batter, decided to make smaller cookies, 26 to be exact. You can fit about 12 spoonfuls of the dough on a regular baking sheet. I advise that you do the same, because 16 cookies out of this amount of batter will make monster cookies, ones that might just kill you.
You have two choices when baking the cookies. You can slightly underbake them (5 minutes on each side), which leaves them ooey-gooey and you in desperate need of a napkin when eating them. Or you can let them go one or two minutes longer on each side, so that they firm up a bit. The benefit of doing this is that when you remove them from the oven, you don't have to (cruelly) wait until they cool completely, as per the recipe. You can pace for a few minutes, pour yourself a glass of milk and then dig in while they're still hot and the chocolate is molten. This is possibly the best thing since sliced bread.
Not too sweet, velvety and complex and rich, tasting almost of coffee, though there's none in them, yes, these are possibly among the world's best cookies. There, I've said it.
Now, the milk. You cannot - I repeat, cannot - eat these cookies without milk. Oh sure, you might try to, but you will fail. I tried, I really did, and I hit a chocolate wall after about my second bite. A chocolate wall that could only be scaled by having a glass of cold 1% milk nearby. Yes, they are that intense.
Another thing: you should not eat more than two in one sitting. You might die of chocolate. When you try these, you'll see that it's totally possible. (My friend Seb managed three in one sitting, but he's 6 foot 8 and operates differently.) I have to warn you that in the presence of these freshly-baked discs, greed and insatiable desire will take over you and you will want to eat as many as you possibly can. It's practically evolutionary! You will be powerless. But try to resist. Will you believe me if I tell you that I almost regretted eating two in one go? And yet, couldn't help myself. So just be forewarned.
These cookies are a force to be reckoned with.
Double Chocolate Cookies
1/4 pound (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (chunks or chips)
1. In a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
2. In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a fork, combine the eggs, vanilla and sugar. Mix just until incorporated and set aside.
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
4. Add the melted chocolate to the egg mixture and mix just until combined. Stir in the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until combined, then stir in the bittersweet chocolate.
5. Cover the batter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to chill thoroughly. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
6. Drop spoonfuls of the dough on a greased, parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving 2 inches between each.
7. Bake until the edges of the cookies are just set and the center is still soft, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Place the cookies, still on the parchment, on a rack and cool slightly.
Fine, you got me. I skipped a day, yesterday to be exact. I'm sorry. It's just that Sunday was such a nice day, so pretty outside and so full of other things to do besides cook and write, like walking in the Gardens and talking about our wedding and sitting around being indolent. Oh, and eating chocolate chip cookies with buckwheat groats. Of course. What were you doing?
Now I know that some of you pricked up your ears at chocolate chips, some others at cookies and then the rest at buckwheat groats. Otherwise known as kasha. What? In cookies? I know.
It's like this: a few months ago, in July, to be exact, we took a day trip to Fire Island with some friends. While waiting for one of the trains (we took two trains, a minibus and a ferry to get there) just before lunchtime, my friend Sara pulled out a Ziploc bag filled with cookies and offered me one. I don't usually eat dessert before lunch, but it was one of the those summer days where rules like that don't matter, where you happily drink beer at two in the afternoon and eat cookies before lunch and spend the day dreaming about moving to a beach community.
Anyway, the cookie. This was no ordinary chocolate-chip cookie. It had serious crunch to it, but also good chew, and then there was the taste: mysteriously minerally and roasty-toasty, in addition to the more familiar flavors of caramel and butter and bittersweet chocolate. "What's in this thing?", I wondered. Sara promised me the recipe. She got it from a friend, who got it from another friend, who got it from, well, I don't know.
It turns out that the cookie is made with whole-wheat pastry flour (though it's pretty resilient: this latest batch I made half with regular whole-wheat flour and half with white pastry flour) and buckwheat groats - which give the cookies that gorgeous crunch (the groats retain their integrity throughout the baking process). Don't mistake the groats and the whole-wheat necessarily for virtue: there's still a stick of butter in the recipe and a whole cup of sugar. But you can count on a bit more fiber and some blood-sugar regulation, apparently.
But all of that mumbo-jumbo aside, the real point is that these cookies taste delicious. I absolutely adore them. When they first come out of the oven, their centers are soft, with little crystals of crunch, and their edges are caramelized and the chocolate is oozy in the center. With a glass of milk, you're all set for nirvana. The next day, the cookies are a little harder perhaps, but no less brilliant. They keep well and make for excellent afternoon snacks.
Shall I go ahead and do it? It's been a while. Okay, here goes. They're lamination-worthy! Yes, indeed.
Chocolate Chip Cookies with Buckwheat Groats
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buckwheat groats (kasha)
6 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped into chip-sized chunks
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a mixer or bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and two extracts until well-combined.
3. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt and buckwheat, and add to the butter mixture, beating to incorporate. When combined, add the chocolate and stir to combine.
4. Drop 2 tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto ungreased cookie sheets, 3 inches apart. Bake for 6 minutes, then reverse the sheet pan in the oven and bake for an additional 6 minutes. The cookies should be still slightly pale in the center and golden brown on the edges.
5. Cool the cookie sheet on a rack for 5 minutes, then transfer to the rack directly with a spatula.
I know it's only Thursday. I know we technically have a whole new day to get through before we can collapse in good conscience. But in the last four days, I've battled a fever and a cold and a smattering of seriously evil hormonal swings, so I've decided that this week is done. Done and over with. Move along, week. We've had enough of you here. Wake us up when it's next week and we can go back to speaking, walking, and living like normal people again.
If you've not yet been stricken by this miserable plague making the rounds of the Tri-State area, bless your lucky stars, then rush rush rush into the kitchen to bake something, preferably this banana cake. Trust me, it'll be the one bright and shiny spot in an otherwise miserable week when you, too, are felled by this winter ailment and need to eat something other than yet another half a grapefruit, a dusty Ricola lozenge, and that never-ending thermos of mint tea. (Oh yeah. It's coming for you. Don't think you can escape it.)
I happen to like baking my banana cake in a loaf pan, and if it's baked in a loaf pan, then I happen to like calling it banana bread instead of cake. You know? The butter versus oil debate is secondary to the pan debate and while it's true that all of this is semantics, yes, it's about the only thing my fever-addled brain can handle at this moment.
In fact, I don't even really seem to be capable of stringing coherent sentences together anymore, at least not without going cross-eyed and yelping feebly at the computer screen, so with that I leave you, folks. I'm going to bed and if my prayers are answered, I'll be waking up in about 72 hours.
Over and out.
Banana Chocolate Walnut Cake
Note: I made a few changes from the original recipe, like eschewing the whole streusel thing Gourmet's version has going for it by incorporating the cinnamon, walnuts and chocolate directly into the batter. Oh, and reducing the sugar a little. Just a little! Yeesh.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
2/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Trader Joe's chocolate chips)
1 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped
Sometimes - do you know those mornings? - all you want is a truly trashy breakfast. No ascetic shreds of wheat in a bowl with thin, blue milk, no virtuous globes of fruit cut up into a stern puddle of white yogurt, no hard-boiled egg eaten, hurriedly, on the way to the train. Some mornings, the ones when you wake up languidly, stretching like a cat, with sun streaming through the blinds and a blissful sense of purposelessness enveloping you, the perfect breakfast is puffy and sweet, threaded with butter and sugar and pockets of melting chocolate, and best eaten on the couch. Absolutely no balance is needed when you're starting the day off with something like that, well, other than a cup of something hot and steaming.
Ben was still asleep on Sunday morning when I snuck into the kitchen. Doing my best not to wake him with my kitchen clangings, I stealthily shook flour into a bowl, heated milk and butter on the stove, and came to a screeching halt when I read, then re-read, Nigella's amounts of instant yeast. Three packets? As in Three Entire Packets? As in 6 and three-quarter teaspoons of instant yeast? I went online in an attempt to figure out if this was a misprint, then found my answer in Nigella's How to Be a Domestic Goddess on my bookshelf: yes, she really does mean three whole packets, which will seem like a positively obscene amount of yeast, but just go with it, it'll be fine, I promise. Because what you'll end up with will be a riotous tangle of fragrant dough baking up into burnished perfection just in time for when your sweetheart shuffles into the kitchen, eyes growing wider by the second when he spies what awaits him on the kitchen counter.
(And remember, folks, instant yeast is also known as bread-machine yeast or rapid-rise yeast. It's not the same as active dry yeast, which needs to be proofed in liquid before being added to the flour. Instant yeast goes directly into the dry ingredients.)
So, yes, the dough - it was easy-peasy. It comes together in a matter of seconds, then all you have to do is knead it to a smooth, elastic state. This takes a few minutes, if you're doing it by hand, but on a lazy Sunday morning, there's no better way to ease your way into wakefulness. And, while I didn't exactly miss baking with yeast during the summer, there's no better way to welcome our cooler temperatures than by slapping around a yielding piece of dough. The dough, buoyed by the ridiculous quantity of yeast, practically exploded out of the bowl - billowing puffily upwards with what looked like almost unrestrained glee.
I punched down the dough, spread it with a paste of sugar and butter, scattered chopped almonds (in place of the splintered pistachios called for in the original recipe) and fat chocolate chips over the dough, then rolled it up into a plump, nay, corpulent sausage of doughy, sweet goodness. Nigella also has you roll one reserved piece of dough into a rectangle to form the bottom of the rolls, but I'm not exactly sure why. If you make these, I'd suggest skipping this step. After another quick rise, the pan went into the oven and the dough practically shot skywards, growing and twisting and glowing in the heat of the oven.
The recipe says to bake the buns at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, but after only 20 minutes, that bottom rectangle was scorched into a flat, black plank. So, my suggestion to those of you itching to make these right now is to bake the buns at 400, without that bottom sheet of dough, for 25-30 minutes. Keep an eye on them, maybe they'll have to go for a few minutes longer, but something tells me that will be just right.
Oh, you're meant to wait until these puppies have cooled a bit before tearing them apart and eating them, but to that I just say good luck. The scent of them baking will wake up even the deepest sleeper in your house and, before you know it, pleading eyes and beseeching hands will push your careful self aside to reach for the hot pan. In a blink, you'll be on the couch, popping sweet, plump strands of fluffy dough studded with chocolate chips and crispy almonds into your mouth, thinking it was sensible indeed to throw caution to the wind. Who cares about burned mouths when there are more buns to be eaten?
Chocolate-Almond Whirligig Buns
Makes 20-30 buns
5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 packets instant yeast (6 3/4 teaspoons)
7 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
8 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
3/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 large egg, beaten
1. To prepare the dough, combine 5 cups of flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In a small saucepan, combine butter and milk and heat to lukewarm. Beat the eggs lightly, then whisk them into the milk mixture. Sitr the liquid ingredients into the dry ones.
2. Using a mixer with a dough hook, or by hand, knead dough until smooth and springy, adding more flour if necessary. Form into a ball and place in a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 30 minutes.
3. Punch down dough. Line a 13 x 10-inch baking pan with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll out one-third of the dough and place in pan (I skipped this step and think you should, too). Roll out remaining dough to a rectangle about 20 to 10 inches.
4. For the filling, mix together the butter and sugar to a paste. Spread the paste over large rectangle of dough. Sprinkle almonds evenly over the dough, then top with chocolate chips. Starting from longest side, carefully roll up dough so it looks like a long sausage. Cut dough into 20 slices, about 3/4 inch thick, and arrange with a cut side up on top of the dough in the pan.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (original recipe says 450). Brush buns with beaten egg and let them sit in a warm place until puffed up and snugly fitting pan, about 15-20 minutes. Bake until buns have risen and are golden-brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from baking pan to cool on a rack. Serve warm.