Category Archives: Desserts

I Love to Bake

It’s true, I do.  My maternal grandmother’s kitchen always smelled like freshly baked bread, cinnamon toast, and banana bread.  When I write “cinnamon toast,” I don’t mean sprinkling a cinnamon sugar blend on buttered toast from the toaster.  I mean that you spread butter (no substitutes) on bread, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar blend to taste (my mixture tends to be dark – more cinnamon), and place in the oven broiler (or toaster oven) until the sugar starts to bubble and carmelize – super fantastic! 

My maternal great aunt’s kitchen smelled like freshly baked bread and what is commonly known as “monkey bread.”  We never called it that.  I first heard that term less than 10 years ago.  The recipe card in my box is labelled “Aunt Mary’s Coffee Cake.”  Mind you, Aunt Mary did NOT use frozen bread dough, only the real thing from real ingredients.  The eggs were from chickens that lived on the property.

A favorite family story centers around the time that my uncle and I were babysitting my younger siblings at Grandma’s house and really craving banana bread.  Neither one of us had made it solo before, but we really wanted it, so we went for it.  Heck, we’d seen it done countless times, how hard could it be?  One thing that both my grandmother and mother always obsessed about was making sure the bananas were thoroughly mashed.  Well…neither one of us had the patience at the time to heed that instruction.  As a result, our first banana bread attempt was a bit gooey, with wet chunks of banana.  It just wasn’t the same as when Grandma and Mom made it.  Frankly, it was gross.  I’m proud to report that I am now an expert.  I expect he is, as well.

For the past 5 or so months, my baking adventures have been quite limited, by choice.  My quest to give away a number of extra pounds of weight have deterred me from tempting myself with baked goods.  However, when hosting a small and casual dinner party a couple of weeks ago, I made a recipe from one of my favorite books – Chocolate Pound Cake by Alice Medrich.  I made a vanilla yogurt, cream cheese, and honey topping, which one of my young guests liked so much that I sent all of it home with her. 

The name, pound cake, originated from an original recipe of the 18th century, which included 1 pound each of eggs, butter, flour, sugar.  The recipe has evolved over the centuries and there are numerous variations, but the original essence remains.

For anyone that loves chocolate, desserts, and would prefer to dial down the calories, fat, etc., of a traditional luxury dessert, but are not willing to sacrifice quality and flavor, I highly recommend this book – Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, by Alice Medrich.  It is my go-to source for chocolate recipes.  The recipe for Michael’s Brownies is the only one I make.  Here is the recipe for that wonderful chocolate pound cake.  It is forgiving in substitutions, as I have used skim (fat free) milk in my recent bakings.  Today, I substituted almost half of the regular, white flour, with wheat pastry flour.  I very much enjoyed the three small slices.  The recipe can easily be halved.  As with most pound cakes, it is better a day or two after baking.  The crumbs compact and the cake becomes more dense.  It is just simply wonderful.

Chocolate Pound Cake – Alice Medrich

2 – 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
4 egg whites
2 tablespoons instant espresso or coffee powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 – 2/3 cups sugar

1. Have all ingredients at room temperature. Position the rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 F.  Spray 12-cup tube or bundt pan, or two 5-cup loaf pans, with vegetable oil spray.
2. Combine and sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Whisk the whole eggs with the egg whites in a small bowl. Set aside. Dissolve the espresso powder in 3 tablespoons warm water and combine with the vanilla and buttermilk in a small bowl.
3. Cut the butter into chunks and place in an electric mixer bowl. Using a stand mixer, beat to soften, about 1 minute. Add sugar gradually, beating constantly for about 3 minutes at medium speed. Gradually dribble eggs into sugar mixture, beating at medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes. On medium-low speed, beat in a third of the flour mixture, scraping the bowl as necessary. On medium speed, gradually dribble in half of the buttermilk mixture, scraping the bowl as necessary. On low speed, beat in half of the remaining flour followed by the rest of the buttermilk, always scraping the bowl as necessary. Beat in remaining flour mixture until well combined. Batter may look slightly curdled.
4. Scrape batter into the pan or pans and smooth the top as necessary. Bake loaves for 45 to 50 minutes, or until cake starts to shrink from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out barely clean. Cake in a tube or bundt pan will bake in 55 to 55 minutes. Do not overbake.
5. Cool cake, in the pan, on a rack for 10 minutes. Invert and remove pan. Turn right side up if baked in loaves. Cool completely on the rack before storing.
Cake remains moist and delicious for 4 to 5 days, well wrapped. Cake may be frozen for up to 2 months.  Best if baked 1 day before serving.

Serves 20 (slice=0.85 in) to 24 (slice=0.71 in)
Calories per serving: 196
Fat: 7gm
% calories from fat: 31%
Protein: 3.1gm
Carbohydrates: 32.4gm
Cholesterol: 33.4mg

Alice Medrich’s blog
http://alicemedrich.blogspot.com/

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Simply Chocolate Mousse

This is a recipe that I’ve eaten and made my entire life.  It’s amazingly easy and has countless variations – raspberry liqueur, almond extract, espresso, coffee liqueur, etc.  Using different types of chocolate also varies the flavor. 

Chocolate Mousse
Servings:  6
Work time:  15 minutes
Chill time:  2-3 hours

Ingredients
4 egg whites, beaten stiff
6 ounces chocolate chips or high quality chocolate (best with semisweet or dark)
5 tablespoons boiling water
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons brandy (or any favorite liqueur)

Instructions
Blend chocolate chips in blender or food processor.  Scrape to loosen. 
Add water, blend/process about 10 seconds. 
Add egg yolks, one at a time.
Add brandy or liqueur of choice.
Gently fold mixture into egg whites until combined.
**Note:  Once you add the boiling water, continue until finished without stopping.  Otherwise, the chocolate mixture will begin to set up and it will be difficult to mix into the egg whites.

Carefully spoon into 6 glasses.  Chill for 2-3 hours.  Serve topped with whipped cream, slivered almonds, fruit, chocolate shavings, or whatever you desire!

Oddly, I’ve only disregarded the note about not stopping once the water is added one time – today!  The chocolate mixture absolutely starts to set up and I had to stir, rather than fold, everything into the egg whites.  The results were not ideal, but, there is absolutely no reason to waste chocolate, no matter how it looks!

For those leery of using uncooked eggs in recipes or that are sensitive to eggs, try recipes from Epicurious or Alton Brown.  Epicurious’ cooks the egg mixture.  Alton Brown’s uses heavy cream and gelatin.

Alton Brown
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/good-eats/chocolate-mousse-recipe/index.html

Epicurious
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Chocolate-Mousse-107437

Caramels – Love to Eat Them, Like to Make Them, Hate to Wrap Them

I am stimulated by new adventures and challenges.  Therefore, I decided to make caramels for the first time in 2009.  I performed the standard Google operation and a multitude of recipes resulted.  I selected one, based on subconscious criteria.  I already had the one tool I needed – a candy thermometer.  I purchased it a few years ago at an estate sale. 
Taking a trip off topic, estate sales are marvellous places to find quality kitchenware, books, dinner and serving ware, and furniture, at very reasonable costs.  My sister is the master of estate sales and once suggested I bid on an antique accountant’s desk.  The desk was made by a Boston cabinetmaker, Stephen Smith, in the middle 1800s.  Mr. Smith invented the roll-top desk.
http://www.capecod.edu/files/nickerson/stephen-smith.html
Much to my and everyone’s surprise, I won the bid and now sit at that desk.  Thanks to my mother’s husband and my brother for moving the grand piece of furniture from the estate sale to my home.
Now, back to the caramel experience.  The 2009 caramel cooking adventure was a success.  The caramels were so fantastic that my super-cook mother was impressed and made the same recipe today.  During the cooking, I was a bit annoyed by the time required for the caramel mixture to reach 240-250 degrees Fahrenheit, but stayed with it until the end.  There is chemistry involved, here.  I never did take a formal chemistry course, so I cannot explain it in detail.  However, my uncle and godfather, a semi-retired chemistry teacher, did recently educate my mother on the two temperature plateaus in making peanut brittle.  I know caramel has at least one temperature plateau, which occurs between 210 and 220 degrees Fahrenheit.  It takes *forever* to get above 220.  [I’m not recognized for my patience.]  When I made the caramels in 2009, I didn’t have a chance to cut and wrap them, so I took them to my mother’s house.  She proceeded to take care of the post-cooking processes.
It’s now 2010 and I found an intriguing gingerbread caramel recipe from Martha Stewart.
http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/gingerbread-caramels
I proceeded with the cooking process and experienced the same frustration with the temperature stall.  However, there is a feeling of satisfaction when you watch the color of the mixture darken and thicken.  It’s exciting.  Due to lack of patience, I did turn up the temperature a bit too high, but the caramels do taste exactly like gingerbread.  They are just a bit harder than the ideal.
About that wrapping — I have little patience for tedious tasks, so the thought of cutting the caramel and wrapping all those little pieces was ominous.  I finally took on the challenge with the butcher knife and cut the caramels.  I need improvement on size consistency.  I started wrapping the pieces in plastic wrap that I cut to size, but quickly grew tired of that exercise.  I wished I had thought to purchase pre-cut wrappers.  I decided to try the little paper cups used for candy boxes.  In theory, it was a great idea, but they do not stack well.  I finally went with tearing wax paper into appropriately-sized pieces to wrap the caramels (my mother’s suggestion, of course).  I might outsource the wrapping next year…

Almond Triangles – Warning – These Are Not PointsPlus-Friendly

If you finished your holiday baking and just haven’t had enough, try these almond triangles.  I made these for the holidays in 2009.  They are fantastic.  Be sure to have the ingredient amounts with you at the market.  The amount of almonds will surprise you.  For a moment, I was tempted to rewrite the recipe to be more PointsPlus-friendly, but there are some things you just shouldn’t change. This recipe is one of them. Thanks to Ron Read for sharing with me last year.

ALMOND TRIANGLES
Makes about 6 dozen cookies.
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. “I found this recipe many years ago in First for Women magazine,” wrote contest winner Charlotte Midthun of Granite Falls, Minn. “Everyone who tastes them wants the recipe. They are my family’s favorite.”
• 2 c. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
• 3/4 c. granulated sugar, divided
• 1 egg
• 3/4 tsp. almond extract
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 23/4 c. flour
• 1 c. packed brown sugar
• 1/3 c. honey
• 1/4 c. heavy cream, at room temperature
• 1 lb. (about 51/4 c.) sliced almonds
Directions
Carefully line a 10- by 15-inch jellyroll pan with aluminum foil, shiny side up.
To prepare dough: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 1 cup (2 sticks) butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add 1/2 cup granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, almond extract and salt, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour and mix until just incorporated.
Press dough evenly into pan and push dough up sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a fork, prick dough in 20 to 24 places all across dough and bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
To prepare topping: In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, honey, remaining 1 cup (2 sticks) butter and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.
Increase heat to medium-high, bring mixture to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Stir in almonds.
Spread almond mixture evenly over crust. Return pan to oven and bake until bubbling, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. While bars are still slightly warm, cut into triangles.