That really wasn’t a dough….

It was really more like softened butter mostly held together in a flour structure. I mean technically it was dough and it certainly baked like dough (like it should), but holy gods, that was the butteriest dough I have ever worked with. And I bake a lot! Not pastry chef levels of a lot, but for a home baker? What the [expletive] was I making, you ask?

Brioche

And for those of you who, like me, have/had never heard of brioche before, the Wiki page.

Yes, this one has chocolate. Adam taste tested for me. I don’t think he minded:Adam

Why the [expletive] was I trying to make a pastry involving three different rises (one 4-12 hours long), involving an ingredient that I can’t eat, and enough butter to kill half the cardiologists at the AMA? Well… I’ve never tried brioche before, and Adam is doing a French themed Feastly in July – I claimed the dessert in order to participate (and have an excuse to try more dessert recipes) so brioche seemed appropriate. And I definitely want to try the recipe at least once before serving it to people who’ve paid for a dinner.

Honestly, I think the only reasons this one worked for me on the first go are threefold:
1) I may have mentioned I’ve baked a lot?
2) We own a marble pastry board. Yes, I know that is utterly ridiculous. We put it on our wedding registry figuring that we were just noting things we’d buy eventually. Because I like making lists and this way we could export it and save the idea. And then our family and friends bought out our registry. We were very confused. Highly gratified, don’t get me wrong. But also confused.
The relevant bit being that we own a marble pastry board. Which really did make working with a very buttery dough easier.
3) Adam’s aunt and uncle own a bakery. Which means Adam has watched his uncle transfer very buttery, wet dough from one surface (like a marble board) to another (like a wood cutting board you’re comfortable taking a knife to the dough on). The trick is to lay down one layer of plastic wrap on top of the dough and then roll the dough onto a rolling pin, like you’re rolling up a scroll. … That may not be the best analogy there, but it’s the one I’ve got, so we’re going with that. 🙂 The plastic wrap keeps the dough layers separated, the rolling pin lets you walk the dough to the new surface and then you just unroll. It’s a neat trick. And thankfully one I don’t need to execute very often.

I would not recommend these brioche to y’all. I mean, they’re tasty and interesting. But heck, see above on how I got it to work. And that’s before I’ve mentioned that I started on Tuesday night, left the dough in the refrigerator about 8-10 hours longer than is called for, and finished up on Wednesday night. I’ll probably use these guys for the Feastly, but then I’ll be able to start on a Saturday morning (and I’ll be using an sweetened egg wash on the brioche before putting them in the oven next time). Also, marble  pastry board. Plus I like crazy hard baking challenges. I just don’t, in good conscience, recommend that anyone else try it. Unless you’re a pastry chef – ’cause then you’re probably giggling that I think brioche are kinda tricky.

So, from the Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary edition, I present

Brioche au Chocolat

make ~20-30 pastries
Recipe Count – 11 left
Section Count – Dessert Binder:  5 more left, Subsection – Dessert breads: 2 more

  • 1/3 cup warm milk, 105°F-115°F – original called for whole milk and although I used 2%, I would really recommend sticking with that whole milk – it’ll give a richer dough and really, that’s what you should be going for
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (i.e. leave it out on the counter at the start of the recipe and it’ll be soft by the time you need it)
  • Your favorite type of chocolate (dark or semi-sweet recommended)
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1-2 tbsp milk or water, optional (I did not use it this time but will in the future, so am including it here)
  1. Combine the milk and yeast in the bowl you will be mixing in the flour – preferably the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer. Allow to stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup flour, the eggs, sugar and salt; mix by hand or on low-speed, gradually stirring in the other 1 cup of flour. Mix until all ingredients are blended, about 5 minutes.
  2. Knead the dough: with a dough hook on low to medium speed for 7-10 minutes or by hand for about 15 minutes. Using a dough hook, the dough should clear the side of the bowl but may stick to the bottom. If kneading by hand, slap the dough down on your work surface, lift half of it up with both hands (it’ll be sticky and part will remain stuck to the surface), and slap it down over itself. Dough is kneaded when it is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky.
  3. Vigorously knead the butter into the dough until completely incorporated and the dough is again smooth. Transfer dough to a buttered large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place (75°F – 85°F ideally) to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Punch the dough down and knead briefly. Refrigerate, covered, for 4-12 hours, until doubled. Do not leave in too long to rise or the dough will taste yeasty.
  5. Punch down the dough and roll out into an 18″x15″ inch rectangle. Cut into 3″ squares and place a generous sliver of chocolate on each square. Fold the dough over the chocolate and, if desired, brush with the egg yolk mixture. Place dough packets on an un-greased baking sheet. Cover with oiled plastic wrap (I used the plastic wrap we used to transfer the dough) and allow to rise until doubled, about 40 minutes.
  6. 15-20 minutes into the rise, start preheating the oven to 400°F.
  7. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Serve when reasonably certain chocolate will no longer burn your mouth. 🙂Finished Brioche

Fudgy Brownies

Yeah, I needed that break – Adam’s work went into overdrive and he was getting home around 10/10:30 every night. And somehow, despite doing a load of dishes every night, they seem to keep piling up.

We seem to have gotten on top of them now… even after hosting a nine person party/Feastly this weekend. In which there was all the baking – me and baking produces a lot of dishes.

Any rate, in preparation for that Feastly, I tried out a new brownie recipe – Adam wanted to make brownie pops (square of brownie on stick really. with icing!) and while we have an excellent brownie recipe, hey excuse to experiment with a new dessert recipe! I’ll take one of those. But wait, you (might) say – Laura, doesn’t chocolate give you migraines? Yes, yes it does. This is what Adam and friends from college (i.e. 10 years) are for – they get chocolate baked good, and I get honest feed back. Honestly, these are the friend who have been giving me feedback since the day I started learning to cook. They’re awesome for still being willing to try my stuff after those first couple of months 10 years ago – I had to learn to use salt. Any salt.

So these brownies – they originate (for me) from Edible Sound Bites and are very rich. To the point of I’m wondering if maybe I should look up how fudge is made, leave out the flour, baking powder, & eggs, and just refrigerate until set – violá, fudge. Huh… maybe I should actually try that. The weird cooking challenges/experiments I come up with for myself while writing these blog posts. If anyone else tries that before I do, please leave a comment on how it went!

As brownies, they need a contrasting point to them – add hint of cayenne pepper for a bit of a kick, add your favorite nuts for a texture contrast, and/or just own the richness – add some toffee or caramel for a different type of sweet.

Rich Fudge Brownies

Originally from Edible Sound Bites
Makes an 8″ x 8″ pan of brownies – cut to your preferred serving size

Recipe Count – 16 left
Section Count – Dessert Binder: 6 more left, Subsection – Cupcakes & Brownies: no more

  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp pur vanilla
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  1. Preheat an oven to 350ºF. Grease an 8″x8″ baking pan.
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bain marie or by placing the chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl which fits snugly in a saucepan of simmering water, without the bowl touching the water. Stir consistently until melted, then set aside to cool for 5 minutes. You do not want it to cool completely – the brown sugar is easier to mix in if the chocolate is still warm. Add the brown sugar and vanilla; stir to combine. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Separately, mix together the flour and baking powder, then add it to the chocolate batter, mixing well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the center is almost firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Set on a cooling rack and allow the brownies to cool in the pan. Cut and serve.

 

Update – yep, skipping the eggs, flour, and baking powder to refrigerate the chocolate mix does make fudge. And judging by the look on Adam’s face, pretty good fudge too.

ALL the cookies

So last Saturday I was a co-host for a friend’s baby shower – I provided the desserts, the co-host brought ALL the main course-type food. Two slow cookers, plus aluminum trays. And a water jug with one of those little lift spouts. And the favors she just whipped up. While being a volunteer firefighter. This woman puts Martha Stewart to shame. I have all of the awe for her skills and all of the envy for her organizational skills and energy. Energy to do all the things would be nice to have. Really nice.

So desserts!

1) I made my signature dessert – Chai Snickerdoodles

  • Snickerdoodles are the recipe I made repeatedly out of my first cookbook – Better Homes and Gardens’ New Junior Cookbook
  • I made it for years exactly as the recipe called for, all the way from elementary school, through middle school, high school, and into college
  • and then I saw a recipe with more spices in the cinnamon-sugar coating – it’s a mix based on ‘chai’ spices from India: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom – it is even more delicious
  • (Snickerdoodles – yeah I have no idea where the name came from, but it’s basically a sugar/butter cookie ball rolled in spices and baked)

2) Pumpkin Cookies

  • we have [had] a couple cans of pumpkin purèe in the pantry; I insisted on buying a couple cans this year – ever since the year of there being NO pumpkin purèe in the supermarket [bad harvest year], I’m a little weebly about not having pumpkin in the house for baking
  • Next time, I really need to believe the serving size notes – the recipe does in fact make 6-7 dozen cookies. Big and chunky and beautiful cookies

and 3) a personal favorite, Ghriba Walnut Cookies

And, because in talking with the co-host ahead of time, she mentioned having a cupcake stand (she essentially did her own wedding), I made 4) cupcakes. Actually, I decided to make cupcakes first and decided on the rest after deciding on cupcakes. First, though, I’d have to pick a cupcake recipe. And um, it turns out, I only have one recipe for cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes. I may have mention this before, but chocolate gives me migraines. Nasty, blinding migraines.

Adam at first taste: “Love, these are totally worth the migraine.”

(What the heck, it’s late, I can sleep through the worst of the migraine.)

Adam at second taste: “Oh my god, it’s like a drug!”

(Sweetie, you already convinced me!)

Warm, moist, good crumb, and rich (really rich. really, really rich).

Yeah, totally worth the migraine.

Chocolate Cupcakes

8 cupcakes
originally from allrecipes.com/recipe/chocolate-cupcakes

This one is going to be customizable – change up the cocoa powder to suit your tastes: like dark chocolate more? use a darker chocolate powder. white chocolate fan? I’m sure there’s a white chocolate powder out there. Somewhere. Oh look, Amazon has everything.

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda (I guess-timated this one with a 1/4 tsp measure and they came out well)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp + 1.5 tsp butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk

(I tripled this to 24 cupcakes very easily)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a muffin tin with paper or foil liners OR liberally spray with cooking spray.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa, and salt together; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, beating well, then stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternatively with the milk; beat well.
  4. Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 15-17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the cakes comes out clean. Frost when cool. Or eat straight. They’re delightful straight.

And because I like desserts but try not to make them too often (because I would EAT ALL THE COOKIES), have a bonus recipe.

Ghriba Walnut Cookies

~ 2 dozen cookies
originally from Morocco

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 1/4 cups (225 g) walnut pieces, coarsely ground (food processors are great for this)
  • powdered sugar, for dredging & dusting
  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg and butter. Blend in the sugar and cinnamon.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder. Work it and the ground walnuts into the egg-butter mix. Mix to form a consistent, smooth dough. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C or gas mark 4). Place the powdered sugar in a bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Roll the dough into 1 inch / 2.5 cm balls. Roll the balls in powdered sugar and place on baking sheet, about 1 inch / 2.5 cm apart. Bake for 4 minutes, rotate the sheet, and bake until golden and firm at the edges and cracked on the surface but soft in the center, another 3-5 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and let cool on the sheet, then transfer to a rack. If desired, dust with more powdered sugar before serving.

Next time, I think I’ll try coating with a big crystal sugar (turbinado maybe) instead powdered sugar, just to see what happens.

From back to front on the stand, chocolate cupcakes, snickerdoodles, ghriba walnut cookies, and pumpkin cookies.

From back to front on the stand, chocolate cupcakes, snickerdoodles, ghriba walnut cookies, and pumpkin cookies.

In which we Feastly

So Adam and I joined Feastly (http://eatfeastly.com/) and hosted our first dinner on Saturday.  The idea behind Feastly is for people to get together over dinner at each other’s homes. Some members sign up as cooks (like Adam and I) if they want to host – there are amateurs, professional cooks, and every thing in between. Other members sign up as ‘feasters’. Cooks host dinners, parties, brunches, cooking lessons, or whatever they choose to – they set the menu, the house rules, the number of seats available, price per head, etc. Some use the site to drum up business or as another source of income, others try to just cover the cost of the meal, and, again, everything in between.

Adam is so busy these days at work that all he really wants to do after work is eat dinner and recharge, so we made a deal: this is completely my thing – I take care of the planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning up, advertising, write up on Feastly; Adam knows the date and time and does his hosting/interacting with new people thing. Which let me tell you, makes dinner parties a success – he’s got a gift for getting conversation going and keeping it going. Trust me, I’ve tried dinner parties on my own, I need Adam and his hosting thing – it must be his southern charm.

What can I say, I like the team we make. Good thing too, since I married him 🙂

So what did we actually, you know, cook?

Well, having pulled together a menu, I spent about 10 minutes staring at the screen trying to come up with something to fill in my nemesis on forms.

The title.

Let’s just say I’m not confident about my naming abilities. Among other things, this is how a male child of ours will end up with the initials REBL. Took me months to notice Adam had snuck that past me. And he had to be the one to point it out. Bloody [expletive], this northern Jewish white girl is not too comfortable with her male child by a gentleman from the state that kicked off the Civil War having initials spelling out ‘rebel’. Bloody promises…

ANYRATE – I named our Feastly ‘Steak and Chocolate’

(I am looking forward to when Adam has the brain-space to do naming work, again.)

The menu:
Steak à la Alton Brown’s method
Tagine of Butternut Squash, Shallots, Cranberries, and Almonds
Stir-fried Broccoli
Homemade Challah
and
Deep-Dish Chocolate Chip Cookies

Quick run down on the ones I’m not talking much about:
the tagine – I need a new tagine. The one we got for our wedding (because that came up while I was on a Moroccan kick) is this beautiful, hand painted, lovely, small, 1 or 2 cup tagine – basically big enough for a side dish for 2 people. I was serving 4. Also, I have eventually figured out that this is one of the tagines intended to be a pretty serving dish, rather than a cooking dish that you pull off the stove and place on the table as, ta-da!, now it’s a serving dish. So, yeah, I’ve managed to do bad things to this one, namely a crack in the ceramic in the bottom portion that goes all the way through, as evidenced by the drippy, drips along the crack after cooking. This, Le Creuset Moroccan Tagine, is the one I’m lusting after, these days.
Stir-fried broccoli – mostly like steamed broccoli in a wok. Cut the broccoli into florets, heat oil in a wok, stir-fry as much minced garlic as you like, add the broccoli, sprinkle with a teeny-tiny bit of sugar, pour in some water, cover the wok and cook until bright green and tender.

I’ll get to the dishes I do want to talk about more in a second, but I’m gonna plug Feastly for a second. Click here if you rather skip the plug.

So Feastly – yeah, my reaction that evening (after our guests left) was ‘I totally want to start planning the next one’. I got to meet two new people who were interested in food and interesting dinner companions, while having a good meal with good conversation. The Feastly team was awesome – quick to contact us in response to our original application to be cooks, fun to talk to, honest in where the site is, who they are, what info they have and what they hadn’t thought about until we asked, and really good about advertising my dinner in their email and on twitter. The tools to set up a ‘feast’ on the site were clean and easy to use, as well as giving me as much control as I wanted plus, prompted me to add in info about a couple things I hadn’t thought of, like if I wanted shoes on or off in our house and dress code (either way and casual. this time. 🙂 ). The tool to manage the feasts I’m hosting is good and allows you to re-use menus if you want. They also let feasters tell you they’re ‘craving’ a particular past menu, so you know what was popular. It’s like a ‘like’ button, but for food. Also, it’s now the Tuesday after the Feastly and we’ve been paid – 3 days (2 business) after the event. Check them out if you’d like to eat out some nights, but rather not deal with a full-fledged restaurant experience. They’re mostly in the Washington DC area but open in the New York and San Francisco areas and looking to expand. I’d love to host some of y’all over for dinner.
Plug over.

Normally, when I cook, especially multiple recipes at one, attempting to time them to come out together, an end result is a mountain of dishes in the sink. This time not so much. My secret? The challah and the cookies were mostly made the day before. As the two real ‘baking’ recipes (and thus my main source of dishes), I could then wash the dishes the day before.

Challah (at least the recipe from the Joy of Cooking I use) just has a step ‘allow to rise in the refrigerator, covered, for 4-12 hours until doubled in size’. Yeah, that’s gonna happen overnight. It’s been years since I made a challah though, so the next day, I had to watch a Youtube video on how to braid 4-strand challah. ::shrugs:: I found one, it produced a pretty loaf.

Feastly Challah

Adam and I have been buying our flour from the bulk section of Glut (it’s a food co-op in Mt. Rainer, MD) where they have everything I can think of – except all-purpose flour. Well, they do, it’s bags of Red Mill all-purpose emptied into a bulk bin; not doing that. So we’ve been using whole wheat pastry flour at a one-to-one substitution for white flour all-purpose – the extra grinding to produce pastry flour seems to balance out the extra bindiness (that’s totally a scientific term there) of whole wheat and the 1-to-1 substitution is working for us. I also don’t sprinkle the loaf with poppy or sesame seeds like Joy calls for – other wise, follow the straight up recipe from Joy of Cooking and you too shall have challah. Yummy, yummy, eggy challah.

Steak à la Alton Brown
Alton Brown is a cookbook author who should work perfectly for me – science based, good explanation of why he does what he does, and so on.  I think I just hit him at the wrong point in my learning career. If he’d been one of the first authors I’d read, I’m sure my whole method of cooking would be different – totally would have learned to substitute ingredients much earlier. Maybe even have reached a point where I feel confident enough about what I’m doing to start experimenting sooner. But as it is, I didn’t. And I have no idea how to copy his recipes out succinctly.
Be that as it may, for this dinner, I got two NY strip steaks (about 1.25 lb) from Harvey’s Meats in Union Market the morning(ish) of. Countered them around 5pm to bring them closer to room temp, lightly misted with the oil we keep in a spray bottle (per Alton’s suggestion), rubbed it over the meat to distribute, salted and peppered each side, and heated our cast iron griddle pan on high heat. Luckily Adam remembered to turn on the vent in our microwave at this point. So looking forward to somewhere (anywhere) we can have an actual hood. Put the meat in the pan, waited three minutes, stuck my fingers in my ears as I flip the steaks and Adam takes the batteries out of the smoke alarms and opens some windows. Wait three minutes (produces rare to medium-rare steak; cook to your tastes), pull off heat, put on resting rack (i.e. a dinner plate with enough chop sticks laid across it to hold up the meat) and plop a bowl over the plate. Slice on the diagonal upon arrival of guests and serve.

And now for the recipe you’ve been waiting for:
Deep-dish Chocolate Chip Cookies

So, I may have mentioned in ‘Things you should know about Laura’ that I’m allergic to chocolate. Adam, on the other hand, loves chocolate and totally doesn’t get it as often as he’d like since he thinks it’s just silly to have it available when I can’t eat it. … Yeah I’m not sure about that logic either. He might just be telling himself that in order to keep from having it every dayFrom my perspective, chocolate is a staple of baking and something most people absolutely love. So, unless I can bake the chocolaty goodness, I am not a good baker. … Yeah, I’m not too sure about that logic either. Too? In addition? So, if we have an ‘event’ (good dinner party, someone’s birthday, other celebrations…) I like to bust out the baked desserts because randomly keeping them in the house is a recipe for bad things (mostly eating all of them within two days).  And I like to use try out the chocolate desserts at these events since I can get more feedback that way – not being able to taste test them myself.

Ramekins came out of oven.
Ramekins go on table.

1 minute later, ramekins are empty.

I think everyone liked them. 😀

Recipe count: 44 left to try
Section count: Desserts – 11 left
originating source: TheKitchn

yields 3 ramekins/servings

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup/2oz unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup/4 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1/6 cup/2.5 tbsp white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg (medium or small is fine)
  • scant 1/2 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. If the chocolate chips are large (à la Ghirardelli 60% coco dark chocolate chips), chop into smaller pieces. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy but not whipped. Add both sugars and beat until fluffy (and pale), about 2 minutes. Or less if you turn the stand mixer up. Add the vanilla extract and egg; beat for about a minute.
  3. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until dry ingredients are fully incorporated. Using a wooden spoon, mix the chips into the batter.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between 3 ramekins; use a spatula or the back of a spoon to push batter to the edges of the ramekins and smooth down evenly. Place ramekins on a baking sheet (for ease of taking in and out of the oven) and bake for 18 minutes, or until gold-brown on the edges and still a little golden and soft in the middle. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving with or without a scoop of ice cream.

Variation: (and what I did) Cover the ramekins of unbaked cookie dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1 day ahead; cook for 20 minutes.
Originating recipe claims you can freeze these bad boys for up to 3 months and bake without thawing (although will need more time in the oven) – I haven’t tried it, but thought I’d let y’all know. Drop me a line in the comments if you try it – let me know how it went.