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Archive for May, 2009

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There are nights where I’m confounded by the thought: brownies or chocolate chip cookies?  I draw on all of my mental tricks to puzzle through this conundrum.  First, I close my eyes and imagine a plate of one or the other being put in front of me.  How do I feel?  Happy?  Or a tiny bit disappointed?  This usually works.  It’s the same trick I use at a restaurant when I can’t decide between the warm chocolate souffle cake or the… well… bad example.  Nothing ever beats out a warm chocolate souffle cake.

The point is, these two entities battle it out on a regular basis in my kitchen.  Frankly, the chocolate chip cookies usually win.  I’ve grown up on chocolate chip cookies.  I think they were one of the first things my brother and I ever learned to bake from scratch.  We had a hand-written recipe taped to the inside of our yellow kitchen cabinet for years and years and we never strayed from that recipe.  I wish we still had that little slip of paper.  It seems somehow important now, imbued with historical significance.

When my family gathers together for any reason, I usually set two sticks of butter out on the counter as an encouragement to my brother.  Make chocolate chip cookies.  On the night of his arrival, I’ll ask my mom in a panicky tone, “Did you buy the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies?”

“Yes, we have everything we need.”

Such security and comfort in those words.

This week’s recipe seemed like the perfect resolution.  Here it was, a dessert that combines chocolate chip cookies and brownies.  No more staring into the pantry, trying to divine my deepest desires.  Let’s have both!

But you know, it’s just not that easy.  I liked these brownies.  They’re delicious.  I gave these brownies the kind of treatment reserved for my most cherished desserts: i.e. eat a generous piece in the living room; return to pan of brownies in the kitchen, ostensibly to cover it with plastic wrap; notice a jagged edge; slice the edge so it’s even; notice that the brownie edge on the other side of the pan was cut at an odd angle; straighten the edge so its square…. My favorite part is the soft, warm center of brownies, not the crusty edges, so I tend to create an ever-widening square in the very center of the pan.  (Needless to say, each of the slivers that comes from a perfectly carved edge goes straight into my mouth; otherwise, really, what’s the point?)

But the chocolate chip cookie vs. brownie conundrum will not be put to rest by this hybrid dessert.  I don’t know, I think I like it that way.  Each one is a perfect dessert all on its own, and if, at the end of the day, I have the privilege of agonizing over which one to bake, I’ll take it.

By all means, make these chipster-topped brownies and judge for yourself.  Maybe some of my fellow bakers with deep inner conflicts will finally find peace.  They’re even better with ice cream and hot fudge on top.  For the recipe, check out Beth’s blog, Supplicious, or pp. 94-95 of Dorie’s book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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I’m beginning to think mangoes are manic-depressive.  One day, they’re high-intensity, full of vim and vigor, starring or even taking over an entire meal.  They’re like this when you eat them ripe out of hand, in a mango bellini, in mango salsa, lightly caramelized on top a coconut-lime rice pudding, in a cold mango soup.  You can’t stop them.  They’re gorgeous.  They shine.  They dazzle.

Other days, they mope around, bored, flavorless, utterly vanishing into whatever dish they’re supposed to liven up.  You curse at them under your breath, beg them to at least make an effort with your friends, but they can’t.  And you’re sunk.

The depressive mango usually turns up in baked goods, I’ve found.  A mango muffin or mango bread sounds wonderful and I’ve experimented with a few recipes in the past.  But each time it comes up short.  The mango loses its bright flavors and becomes inert.

That’s not to say I didn’t like this bread.  I did.  But not because of the mangoes.  With all the ground cinnamon, ginger, and lime zest, it makes a lovely spice bread.  I didn’t have quite enough mangoes, so I added a bit of pineapple and pecans, which gave it a pleasant boost.

The bread had a couple of drawbacks.  It was a little too dark and dense for my taste, even though I made a cozy little aluminum foil pup tent for it halfway through the baking process; but perhaps that’s to be expected in a bread that bakes for 1 1/2 hours.  Also, and this isn’t something I’d noticed before, but if you bite right into a mango that’s cooked into the bread, the edge of the mango bread where you bit down looks kind of like it’s sprouting very fine hairs.  Eek.  Makes me wonder if the mango is passive-aggressive, too.

You can find the recipe on Kelly of Baking with the Boys blog or on p. 45 of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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This tart uses one and a half whole lemons, including the juice, pulp, pith, and zest.  I suppose it isn’t technically the whole lemon — I did remove the seeds.  Nevertheless, I washed a lemon, dried it off, cut it into chunks, mixed it with sugar, and blended the whole thing in a mixer to form the base for this custard.  I felt like a real rebel including that white pith.  I mean, how many recipes have you read that caution you to be very careful to get just the outermost rind when zesting a lemon lest you accidentally include some of the “bitter pith.”  It’s always described as “bitter pith.”  What kind of recipe just chunks a lemon, pith and all?

Well, this one does.  And it’s really cool.  The finished product really shows off the whole lemon: it’s tart, but it’s also kind of woody and a tiny bit bitter and pleasingly sour.  Complex: that’s probably the word I’m looking for.  It reminds me of some of the more interesting white wines I’ve had, the ones that aren’t dominated by citrus, vanilla, and oak (delicious as those qualities may be).  They’re grassy or minerally, with flavors of hay and cat’s pee, and that makes them all the more interesting and memorable.

The same is true for this lemon tart.  The whole lemon brings layers of flavor that wouldn’t be there if we simply cherry-picked the lovely zest or the tart juice.  Heck, maybe next time I’ll throw the seeds in there, too.

I halved the recipe and made miniature lemon tarts with a shortbread crust.  You’ll notice a sprinkling of lovely gold flecks on top.  Can you guess what those are?  Crumbled amaretti cookies, left over from the lovely chocolate amaretti torte we made last month.

Thanks to Babette of Babette Feasts for selecting this week’s lemon tart.  You can find the recipe on her site or flip to p. 336 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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Although I always love boozy cakes when they’re served to me, not one has ever made it into my personal repertoire.  It’s probably my general bias that if a cake needs to be soaked in whiskey or marsala or amaretto, it must be trying to hide something.  The words dry, cardboard, and stale leap to mind.  Never mind that soaking cake in alcohol adds luscious flavor, intensity, depth.  What’s it hiding?

I’m suspicious that way.  I made tiramisu once about two years ago for an Italian dinner party with friends and I loved it.  There’s a note on the recipe to make it again soon, but, alas, I have not.  A handful of worthy desserts fall into that category for me — made it once, loved it, never made it again.

Baklava.  Apple tarte tatin.  Hummingbird cake.  I’m not sure why these recipes go into exile.  They deserve to join the regular rotation, but they somehow get left behind.

And so, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to make a version of tiramisu again.  The recipe looked intimidating on the page, divided into many separate steps: cake, espresso extract, amaretto syrup, filling/frosting.  But it’s a breeze.  I made a half-batch.  (See?  Underestimating good old tiramisu again….)  It’s a single 9-inch cake sliced in half to create two layers, so it’s a little short.  An 8-inch pan probably would have worked better, to give it more height.  But I had already buttered and floured the 9-inch pan and it was getting late.

The cake is supposed to be refrigerated for three hours so the flavors can meld.  Didn’t happen.  I finished the cake at 8:30 pm, gave it 10 minutes in the refrigerator while I cleaned the dishes, then ate a slice.  Three minutes later, I ate a second piece.  No discernible melding happened in the 3-minute interval between slice #1 and slice #2, but the unmelded version is delicious, I promise you.  The combination of coffee and cream, chocolate and amaretto, is perfect.

Thanks to Megan of My Baking Adventures for choosing this lovely cake.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 266-68 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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