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Archive for the ‘dessert recipes’ Category

Having a child isn’t like what they say.  Most of the time as parents, we navigate a private, intimate, singular relationship, one that happens while lying together on a hammock and staring up at the clouds, or holding hands and watching two linked arms cast long shadows across the hot asphalt, or sitting together in the darkened room with only a tiny nightlight to see each other by.  These moments have nothing to do with Supernanny’s naughty seat, Ferber’s sleep technique, the Magic 1-2-3 method of controlling tantrums, or Jessica Seinfeld’s recipe for sneaking pureed spinach into brownies.  Most of the time, we’re parenting off the grid, and no manual or methodology can help us.

Take my almost-5-year-old daughter’s bad dreams, for example.  She has been waking up many nights, moaning and/or crying, and either my husband or I will drag into the room, perch on the edge of her bed, and hope that it subsides quickly without too much bargaining over how many more minutes she needs us to stay and stroke her tiny legs.  Neither one of us is a particularly gracious night waker.  Dave turns into Sherlock Holmes, quizzing her on who, what, where, when, and why, hoping to solve the problem right then and there.  Then he stumbles back into the room saying, “I don’t know what’s going on.  But she fell back asleep.”  I, on the other hand, become Marcel Marceau.  I grope my way through the dark, my eyes barely open.  I lie down beside her on the bed, rub her back, then creep back into my room and hope that she doesn’t wake up when I step on that creaky spot at the top of the stairs.

Because our 3:00 a.m. tactics manage but do not in any way prevent these episodes, my husband devised a new strategy.  He told Sofia that she should draw a picture of the very scene she wanted to dream about each night and put the drawing near her bed, so it could guide her dreams all night long.  She got very excited, and announced: “I’m going to dream about riding on a horse!”  So we set her up with some paper and pens and retreated downstairs for dinner, wine, and quiet conversation.

At bedtime, I walked upstairs to my bedroom and found a lovely drawing sitting on the floor, at the entrance to my bedroom.  It pictured two horses, one with a girl on its back.  Everyone in the picture looked very happy, peaceful even.  She does this often.  She leaves her drawings under our bedroom door, like a little love note we get to see before bed.  But this one was an obvious depiction of the horses she so badly wanted to dream about.

Dave had tears in his eyes.  He was so happy she took to heart his ‘visualize your dreams’ project.  I was overcome with a bittersweet feeling, acutely aware of the ways that we’re trying to protect her from the pain our own minds will inflict, both in sleep and while awake.  How much longer would a “magic wand” beside the bed, or a drawing of her ideal dream, or any other technique we devise, work?  And who am I to be dispensing sleep wisdom anyway?

Before bed, every night, I read a book, listen to a meditation podcast (not that I actually meditate, but the guy’s voice is like Ambien), or ask my husband to tell me a story.  Sometimes I do all three.  Judd Apatow spoke about this on Fresh Air not long ago.  He said he needs to hear other people’s voices in his head at bedtime to avoid listening to his own thoughts.  That’s probably a very good description of what I’m doing.  At the end of the day, I don’t want to be with my own thoughts anymore; so I substitute someone else’s.  It works like a dream.

Sometimes I feel that we’ve given our daughter this flimsy tool, a creaky mechanism to deal with her nighttime fears.  An artistic dream journal. But then I have to ask myself: isn’t that what art is for?  It’s a place to express your dreams, to visualize the world and your place in it; to see what is, and to imagine what could be.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In landscapes, the painter should give the suggestion of a fairer creation than we know.  The details, the prose of nature, he should omit, and give us only the spirit and splendor.”  Children seem to know this instinctively.  My daughter’s drawing are filled with smiling suns, gorgeous butterflies, rainbows.

I guess what I’m saying is, we don’t have any overarching strategy, or explicit guiding principles, or road map for this.  The best we can hope for is to teach our kids a few coping skills, so they can navigate their way through those long, dark nights, years and years hence, when nobody will come in to stroke their back and say, “It’s ok.  Everything’s ok.”

Oh, hey, how about those chockablock cookies?  They’re a tour-de-force of oatmeal, molasses, chocolate chips, coconut, raisins, and almonds.  At the same time, they’re a touch out of control, hectic, unbalanced.  I had these for two nights in a row, then went back to my favorite NY Times chocolate chip cookies, and it was a relief.  My dad likes to quote Thoreau, so I will, too: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.  I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”

What he said.  And that goes for cookies, too.

Thanks to Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet for selecting this week’s chockablock cookies.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 86 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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I used to be a big fan of the dense, fudgy, flourless chocolate cake.  You know, the low, smooth, intense sliver that’s usually topped with raspberry sauce and a dollop of whipped cream.  But lately, as I mentioned last week, I’ve been more drawn to the classic layer cake, with its fluffy interior and thick layers of frosting.

Of all the great chocolate layer cakes out there, this one is my current favorite.  It manages to be both light and tender, and dark and intense, all at the same time.  The cake is fluffy and moist (using 1 1/2 cups brewed coffee), but the frosting is more like a ganache-y glaze, packed with melted chocolate.  It makes an enormous two-layer cake.  I usually cut the recipe into 1/3 and bake it in a square 8×8 pan.  That makes just enough for me and my little family to be very happy for several nights in a row of blissful dessert.

Double chocolate layer cake

Adapted from Gourmet magazine

For cake layers
* 3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
* 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
* 3 cups sugar
* 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
* 3 large eggs
* 3/4 cup vegetable oil
* 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
* 3/4 teaspoon vanilla

For ganache frosting
* 1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
* 1 cup heavy cream
* 2 tablespoons sugar
* 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
* 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Special equipment

* two 10- by 2-inch round cake pans [This makes a LOT of batter.  Don’t use smaller pans, or they will overflow like crazy]

Preparation

Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.  [If you make 1/3 batch in the 8×8 pan, bake ~ 40 minutes.]

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Make frosting:
Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency).

Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

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There’s something about the word cake.  I love that word.  When I hear “cake,” I may appear composed on the outside, but inside I have a response more akin to a werewolf.  At first, I think, calmly, Cake.  Then, in a singsong voice, Mmmmmmmm, cake!  Left unchecked, it devolves into a primal growl, Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake!!  I don’t think I grow long fingernails and tufts of fur, but do (cake) werewolves ever really know?

The werewolf response is reserved for my ideal cake: tall, fluffy, tender, moist, with a thick layer of frosting or pudding in the middle, and another layer of frosting on top.  Boston Cream pie.  Tall and creamy Hummingbird cake.  Chocolate Blackout cake.

Tea cakes are so dainty, they don’t qualify.  That’s why I’ve relegated them to breakfast, where they’re perfect.  This Swedish visiting cake deserves a prize for it’s many lovely tea cake qualities.  First, it’s so easy to make, you can fit it in even on a busy morning.  I made this while getting my kids ready for preschool (which is saying something during “Teacher Appreciation Week,” where I have to cajole the kids into making six, count ’em, six homemade cards).  The cake is baked in a cast iron skillet and the results are delicious: lemony, almond-y, lightly crisp on the outside, soft and tender on the inside.  This is my favorite tea cake from Dorie’s cookbook, hands down.  And I assure you, when I eat tea cake, I’m very ladylike.  🙂

Thanks to Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs for selecting Swedish Visiting Cake.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 197 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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You’ve got to love a recipe that fits into the general chaos of family life.  I made this coconut tea cake last week, on a weeknight evening, between 5-6 pm.  I proceeded cautiously, moving in little, manageable, non-committal steps.

I got out the ingredients.  Looked around.  Noticed that the kids were dragging the coffee table to the edge of the living room and pulling off all of the pillows from the couch.  I know what’s coming, and it’s a good sign for me and my little baking project.

Sift the dry ingredients.  Set the bowl aside to answer the high-pitched pleas for music.  A request for Coldplay.  Oh, thank god, because I’m not sure I can stand another round of songs from The King and I.

Warm the coconut milk and butter in a saucepan amidst cries of “I don’t want this song.  I want ‘bum-BUM, bum-BUM, bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-BUM.'”  That’s 2-year-old speak for Coldplay’s Death and All his Friends.  The kid has an uncanny ear for rhythm and that’s how he names one of his favorites.  I change the song and return to my project.

I’m getting a little more committed now.  It’s time to beat the sugar and eggs.  But both kids are dancing full out now, and my daughter suggests that they put on dresses, a request my son agrees to instantly.  So they run upstairs to put on more formal dancing wear.

This is my chance.  I’m all in.  I beat in the vanilla and rum, reminding myself for the hundredth time to adjust the measurements (I’m only making 1/4 batch), then add the dry ingredients, knowing full well that the baking powder is already doing its work and I can’t turn back now or the cake won’t rise properly in the oven.

Both kids come giggling down the stairs in their “princess” dresses and resume dancing to Cold Play.  They’re dancing mosh-pit style, crashing into each other and tumbling onto the couch pillows, pink tulle and sparkly sequins flying up.  They come much too close to the sharp edge of the coffee table. and though I’m in the middle of pouring the batter, I set it aside to clear the coffee table far away from their barely-controlled “princess” slam dance.

I finish pouring the batter and I’m almost there, but then realize that my oven is still set at 425 because I’m roasting fennel.  I yank that fennel out and turn the heat down to 350.  But there’s no time to wait for the oven to cool down because my son climbed up the back of the couch and hoisted himself up onto the two-inch window ledge, flattened himself against the window pane, and he’s asking for help, so I shove the cake into the oven, slam shut the door, and come to his rescue.  Does everyone bake like this?  Is it just me?

In any event, these coconut tea cakes were delightful.  My 1/4 batch allowed for three mini-cakes.  The first night, after the kids were in bed, I made a buttered rum glaze and my husband and I split the cake.  Yum.  The second night, we got wise and each had our own individual cake.  This time, I made some vanilla pastry cream, cut the individual cakes in half, and filled them with pudding.  I put hot fudge on mine (Boston cream pie-style) and Dave put caramel on his.  Divine.

The cake itself is a cross between a pound cake and a sponge cake.  Dense, slightly springy, with a small crumb, perfect for brushing or soaking with a sweetened glaze.  I loved the combination of coconut and rum, and the buttery rum glaze couldn’t be easier.  Here’s the recipe:

Buttered rum glaze

1 1/2 sticks butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup rum

Boil butter, water, and sugar for five minutes.  Stir in rum.  Drizzle over anything you like!  Because I didn’t make a whole cake, I reduced this recipe a good bit: 2 Tb. butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tsp. water, 2 Tb. rum

Thanks to Carmen of Carmen Cooks for selecting this week’s coconut tea cake.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 194-195 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.  And thanks to my two young children for making life such a crazy, beautiful ride.

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I shamelessly stole from the Vosges line of chocolate bars *and* the pastry chef at Magnolia Grill for inspiration this week.  My favorite Vosges chocolate is the Barcelona Bar: milk chocolate, sea salt, and smoked almonds.  My favorite dessert at Magnolia Grill is the Barcelona Tart: dark chocolate, sea salt, smoked almonds.

I’m not sure why they both have “Barcelona” in the title.  Spain is famous for its Marcona almonds, but then shouldn’t they be called Marcona Bar and Marcona Tart?  I’ve been to Barcelona and my strongest food memory involves me and my husband eating paella on a terrace, poking at several mysterious chunks of meat in hopes of identifying their origin.  Eel?  Horse?  Meanwhile, several cats rubbed against our legs beneath the table and my husband inspected the meat, gazed back at the cats, looked more suspiciously at the meat, looked back at the…. well, you get the idea.  Me-ow.  We didn’t have much of an appetite that night.

Dorie’s original tart recipe calls for berries, but I substituted toasted almonds and smoked sea salt.  I hoped to smoke the almonds, but I don’t have a smoker, or a dehydrator, or any of the other nifty tools that are used for smoking.  And soaking the almonds with liquid smoke?  Forget it.  The smoked sea salt would have to do.

I’m getting crotchety in my old age.  This dessert wasn’t chocolate-y or silky enough for my taste.  It tasted too much like a brownie in a pie shell, and I was hoping for rich, dark, and intense.  Ah well, at least I can say with confidence that no cats were harmed in the making of this soft chocolate “Barcelona” tart.  🙂

Thanks to Rachelle of Mommy? I’m Hungry for selecting this week’s soft chocolate and raspberry tart (the original title).  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 354 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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I just noticed this is my fourth consecutive post about cookies: chocolate chip, honey-wheat, more chocolate chip (the championship), and now jam thumbprint cookies.

Is it too revealing to note that I also have ginger molasses cookie dough in my freezer, cherry scones on my kitchen counter, and chocolate-marshmallow whoopie pies in the fridge?  The whoopie pies probably push it over the edge, but they were mandatory last night.  Ever since my friend Michaela served whoopie pies at her Oscar party (almost ten years ago!), it’s been an annual tradition in my house.  I also have some carrots and mixed greens in the vegetable bin….

Does anyone else live this way?  I’m not the hoarding type by any stretch, but food does not go to waste in my house.  Not ever.  It’s become a bit of a joke around here.  If I bake a batch of anything — cookies, scones, cinnamon buns — my family must stake a claim after 24 hours or the entire batch will disappear.  Not into the trash (horrors!).  It goes straight to the freezer, carefully wrapped and dated, so it stays active in the rotation.

If something can’t be frozen, I craft a meal around it.  This can get extreme, but, you know, that’s why the culinary category of “hash” was invented.  It can create a bit of anxiety — I’ve got to do something with those lemons/avocadoes/mushrooms/fill-in-the-blank — but it’s not in me to throw something out.  So there it is.

Luckily for me, cookies freeze well.  Not that I even freeze cookies.  I freeze the dough, so I can get that fresh-baked, warm-from-the-oven goodness.  In any event, Dorie calls these “thumbprints for us big guys,” because she adds hazelnuts and raspberry jam.  I’ve always loved jam thumbprint cookies, though these tiny little morsels are more appropriately called jam pinky cookies.  I substituted almonds and I only had strawberry and apricot jam in the house, so these weren’t all that grown up after all.  But they were lovely.  And though they aren’t ideal candidates for freezing, this recipe makes a lot, so they’re in suspended animation.  Waiting for their second act.

Thanks to Mike of Ugly Food for an Ugly Dude for selecting this week’s thumbprint cookies for us big guys.  You can find the recipe on his site or on page 164 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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Nobody loves a tie.  We create layers of local, regional, state, national, and world championships and we need someone to be declared a winner, unequivocally.  An unwieldy trophy, a sleek gold medal, or a laurel wreath must be bestowed.  Can you imagine if, after the Final Four or the NFL playoffs, we announced that the two teams about to play for the national championship or the Superbowl could just head home: “Hey, let’s quit while we’re ahead.  You both win!”  Uh-uh.  Wouldn’t fly.

One of the things I love about Wimbledon is that slightly sickening realization I get when two very well-matched players are battling it out.  I’m always aware that this match could, in theory, last forever.  Deuce.  Ad in.  Deuce.  Ad out.  Deuce….  Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe could still be playing their classic 1980 tennis match today, right now.  We cannot let any game end without declaring a clear-cut winner.

Given our love of victors, I’m a little uneasy about the results of my chocolate chip cookie world championship.  Officially, it’s a draw.  Unofficially, I declare the NY Times chocolate chip cookie recipe the world champion.  My democratic nature bridles at this edict, this monarchic decree, particularly when I lassoed my neighbors into a one man-one vote system.

But it was a split decision.  The two husbands liked the Ad Hoc cookies best.  The two wives liked the NY Times cookies best.  That left it to the four children, ages 1, 2, 3, and 4, to break the tie.  It was not lost on me that little Ben, age 1, grabbed a NY Times chocolate chip cookie, took a bite, then reached his tiny fist back into the bowl for a second.  I wish I had a photo of his face, smeared with chocolate and cookie crumbs, to insert here, particularly as he cast the final and deciding vote.

I’m very happy to crown the NY Times chocolate chip cookie the winner — it is my personal favorite.  And yet.  I’m aware that new challengers will come along.  This project is not complete until I’ve conducted further testing.  Can’t rest on our laurels now, can we?

Thanks to Cathy of The Tortefeasor for inspiring the sports metaphors and giving me the idea to hold a chocolate chip cookie championship.  She conducted a taste-off between the NY Times ccc, Alton Brown’s “The Chewy” ccc, and Dorie Greenspan’s ccc, so be sure to check out her results.

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