Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tuesdays With Dorie: Cocoa-Nana Bread

Some recipes sound so promising on paper, but fall flat in the execution. Others surpass even your greatest expectations. I'm afraid this week's Tuesdays With Dorie pick, Cocoa-Nana Bread, chosen by Steph of Obsessed With Baking, belongs to the former group.

Cocoa-Nana Bread. What's not to like? A rich batter strongly flavoured by cocoa powder. Semi-sweet chocolate chips added to the mixture to intensify the chocolate taste. And, of course, bananas: two of them, in fact.

The end result, though, was nothing spectacular. Not bad - just not as good as I was expecting. I couldn't taste the banana, leaving me with a run-of-the-mill (and rather dry) plain chocolate cake. Unfortunately, this isn't one I'd make again, although I appreciate the concept.

Thanks to Steph for this choice, and if you're interested in trying it out, click here for the recipe.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesdays With Dorie: Chocolate Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars

I’m a big fan of what I’ll call Dorie Greenspan’s “combo-desserts.” In my time with Tuesdays With Dorie, I’ve made cloyingly rich chocolate chip cookie-covered brownies. And I’ve made chocolate chip cookie bars smothered in chocolate and sprinkled with nutty Heath toffee bits. This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie pick, Chocolate Oatmeal Almost Candy Bars, belongs in the same vein.

In this recipe, chosen by Lillian of Confectiona’s Realm, two layers of chewy peanut- and oat-filled cookie batter sandwich a layer of soft, creamy semi-sweet chocolate fudge. The contrast between the chocolate and the cookie batter, both in terms of taste and texture, is perfect: softness from the chocolate and chewiness from the oats; saltiness from the peanuts and sweetness from the batter itself and the chocolate. The peanuts also give the bars a nice crunch, and of course, help create that unbeatable (at least, to me) chocolate and peanut butter flavour pairing.

The recipe also tastes different depending on the temperature at which it’s served: fresh from the fridge, I found the differences in texture less pronounced. At room temperature, the diverse flavours and textures popped.

Regardless of the temperature, though, this recipe is a winner. Thanks, Lillian, for the excellent choice! I can’t wait to make it again. Click here to visit her blog and snag the recipe.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Brownie Ice Cream Pie with Chocolate Pie Crust

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays pick made SMS members everywhere the deciders of their own dessert destiny. Yes, one element of the dish was predetermined by this week's host, Donna of L'Amour de Tarte: chocolate pie crust. But everyone knows that a pie crust needs a filling, and that's where our own creativity got to play a huge role: we could choose our own filling from outside of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book.

My pick? Ice cream and brownies, or, brownie ice cream pie. Yum.

Now, a lot of the barometers for what makes a good pie dough kind of go out the window when you throw it in the freezer after it's baked. Was the finished crust light and flaky? I have no idea - it was too frozen to tell.

But I can say that it was relatively easy to throw together, although it did require more than double the water called for the in the recipe, and probably could have used more. I can also say that it wasn't very sweet, which came in handy with a filling that was very high in sugar. But for a less sweet filling, the dough would definitely need more sugar. It also wasn't very pretty, but I'm blaming that more on my dismal dough-rolling skills than on the recipe itself.

In the end, I just loved this recipe because it was chocolate pie crust. I had never heard of such a recipe before, and I can't find too much fault with anything that allows me to infuse chocolate flavour into a pie crust. There are so many fillings that would benefit from this crust: peanut butter, coconut, caramel. Even berries.

My own filling was very semi-homemade. Store-bought ice cream along with brownies made from store-bought mix. I added about 1L of vanilla ice cream to a bowl and crumbled cooled brownies into it, then stirred it together until it was well-blended and looked like cookies and cream ice cream.

I don't think I would freeze the crust again as it was just too hard. But the flavour combination was fantastic: the unsweetened, slightly bitter flavour of the crust contrasted by the rich chocolate sweetness of the brownies and unmatchable taste of vanilla. And pretty to look at, too.

For the pie crust recipe, visit L'Amour de Tarte.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Curtis Stone's Pots of Gold

After a much-needed break, I am back - to school and to this blog.

This semester is shaping up to be very interesting. I'm taking a food writing class, and I think it's going to be a fantastic learning experience. I think it will help me to develop a more distinctive voice, something I've always felt that this blog lacks.

In addition to improving my writing, I'm also looking to improve my health - and after the holidays, I know I'm not the only person who is. My willpower is annually on hiatus from December 24 to January 1. After a holiday with seven different Christmas celebrations (all but one with food) and even a couple of New Year's gatherings, my body needs some help. So consider today's recipe a bit of self-sabotage: Curtis Stone's Pots of Gold.

You might think calling a dessert a "pot of gold" is a bit hyperbolic. And most of the time, it probably would be. But in this case, you'd be wrong - here's why: This recipe involves a layer of dark caramel covered by thick, creamy custard. Sound enticing? It is.

(a before and after of the caramel)

Think of it as a reverse creme brulee. Rather than crack through a layer of hard caramel, your spoon cuts through the springy custard and a pool of syrupy caramel spills out. It is absolutely delicious, and worthy of its golden name.

Ah, Curtis Stone. Eye candy and culinary talent to spare. Here's the recipe:

Pots of Gold
From Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone
Serves 6

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

1 1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/3 cup whole milk (Note: I used 1% to great effect)
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract

Position an oven rack in center of oven and preheat to 275F. Set six 6-oz ramekins in a roasting pan.

To make caramel, combine sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium size heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir gently over medium heat for 5 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Then boil without stirring, occasionally swirling pan, until syrup turns a deep golden brown, about 4 minutes. Immediately remove saucepan from heat and divide syrup among the ramekins, tilting each ramekin to coat the bottom. Note that if you add syrup to the same ramekin twice, the first layer of caramel will set and not dissolve - which is okay, but makes clean up not so fun. Try to accurately guess how much to put in each ramekin on your first attempt. Set the ramekins aside and allow caramel to cool until hardened, about 10 minutes.

Bring cream, milk and sugar to simmer in medium size heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk eggs, egg yolks and vanilla in a large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk cooled cream mix into egg mix. Strain custard through sieve into a large cup measuring cup (4 cups or larger). Pour custard over hardened caramel in ramekins, dividing it equally.

Transfer roasting pan to oven. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until outer 1 inch perimeter of custards is slightly set but centers are still loose, about 1 hour. To test whether it’s cooked push a small knife into the center of one of the dishes; if caramel rises out of the hole made by the knife, they are done.

Remove roasting pan from oven and remove cups to a cooling rack. When slightly cooled, refrigerate overnight.

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