Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hot Chocolate Cakes

Hot chocolate cakes are a big deal in Israel. Every restaurant offers them on their dessert menus and everyone without fail passes up the apple pie in favor of these cakes. Why? I guess because the idea of them is so tempting. Hot molten chocolate cake paired with cold vanilla ice cream. What could be bad? The truth? These cakes are extremely overrated and a complete letdown. Something about them always tastes off and many times the cakes are always overcooked and consequently dont release any chocolate lava. So when one of my girls brought a couple into our room to share with us, I declined a taste, as I was sure they wouldn't be worth it. That's when I decided to make some of my own hot chocolate cakes, homemade always being better than their commercially made counterparts. And so, yesterday, I whipped them up. I chose this recipe from Sherry Yard's Desserts by the Yard. Calling for just a few ingredients, I decided to make a half batch, which was meant to yield four cakes, but ended up yielding five. The process was as simple as melting chocolate and margarine, whipping eggs and sugar and combining the two and baking briefly. The results? Sublime. The cakes fresh out of the oven are beautifully tall and when the center is broken into reveal a well of molten chocolate that is supported and surrounded by perfectly cooked cake. The flavor is just fresh, clean, delicious chocolate. I scraped my ramekin clean. Once these cool, the tops sink so they are not as attractive and I had trouble reheating and reliquifying them, so I would stick with serving them fresh. However, if you must refrigerate them, they do make a good cold dessert, as well. These cakes are so rich they need no adornment whatsoever.

Hot Chocolate Cakes
from Desserts by the Yard

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces margarine or butter
6 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease eight ramekins thoroughly. Place on a baking sheet and set aside.
Place the margarine and chocolate in a pan and melt until smooth. Set aside.
Place the eggs and sugar in a bowl.
Beat on hight until the eggs have doubled in volume, about three minutes.
Add the flour to the chocolate mixture and stir to combine.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the eggs.
Beat to combine.
Carefully pour the batter into the prepared ramekins.
Bake for twelve minutes. Rotate the pan and bake an additional two minutes. Serve straight from the ramekins or run a knife around them and release them onto serving plates.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Brownie Buttons

This past week has been a huge blur of phone calls and housing arrangements, and it all culminated in a successful weekend in a community called Nof Ayalon. As madrichot, we were responsible to find housing for 75 girls. So we put ourselves out there and called random people we dont know to see if theyd graciously open up their homes to our girls for the weekend. After a week and a half of nos and call backs, we succeeded. Shabbat was tiring but nice and the girls had really good experiences. Me? I was wiped out and so glad it was over. So when I came home Saturday night, the first thing I did was turn on the oven to unwind. (As Shabbat ends so early in the winter, this has become the habit.) I wanted something fast and easy and after making the critically unacclaimed date bars, I decided to go with something chocolate and made these Brownie Buttons from Dorie Greenspan's Baking. They are baked in mini muffin pans and Im not sure exactly why theyre called buttons except to say they are certainly cute as. Even more so when glazed with white chocolate. These were easy to make and yielded 16 mini muffins. These were good and fudgy and because of their size, dont make you feel guilty if you eat more than one. Technically speaking, I omitted the orange zest and although these were a hit, I'm really not sure how I feel about brown sugar in my brownies. I've tried it in Nick Malgieri's Supernatural Brownie recipe ages ago and I wasnt a fan. Same here. Im not sure why, I just feel like it detracts from the chocolate flavor and gives it a different mouthfeel. So the only change I'd make next time, and they are too cute and party-perfect not to make again, is to swap white sugar for the brown.

Brownie Buttons
from Baking:From My Home to Yours

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
pinch salt
4 tbsp margarine or butter
2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup light brown sugar, or white sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 ounces white chocolate, optional

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a 16 mini muffin wells with paper liners. Set aside.

Combine the salt and flour. Set aside.
Place the chocolate, sugar and margarine in a saucepan or microwaveable bowl.
Melt, stirring until completely smooth. Allow to cool for a minute or two.
Add the egg and vanilla,
and blend until smooth.
Add the flour,
and mix to make a smooth, uniform batter.
Using a small disher, scoop the batter into each of the wells.
Bake for 14-16 minutes. 14 minutes will yield fudgier buttons. If desired, melt the white chocolate and glaze the buttons with it. Refrigerate for fifteen minutes to set the chocolate.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

When someone makes a baking request, I'm always happy to oblige, no matter how tedious the project. I always welcome a challenge, especially a baking one. So when a friend asked me to make vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting, I jumped right in. Obviously, I turned to the chapter devoted to baby cakes in Rose's Heavenly Cakes. I selected the yellow butter cupcakes. Made with her trademark technique, these were easy to whip up. My batch yielded an even dozen instead of sixteen but that was no big deal. They browned nicely and the tops turned out nice and smooth, an ideal surface for frosting. The frosting was where I spent a lot more energy. As per the request, I made chocolate frosting. I opted for the chocolate egg white buttercream. Rose describes it as easy and foolproof. There were no temperature issues to anticipate, so with that in mind, I forged ahead. The frosting began with egg whites stabilized with cream of tartar (which my roommate insists is tartar sauce, and cant imagine why I bake with it..) and beaten with sugar until stiff. Then the margarine goes in. The point is to emulsify the two, but at first all you're going to see is a curdled mess. Keep beating until all the fat is added. I was nervous that it would never pull together, as I've never made this kind of frosting before, but once I thought it was as smooth as I was ever going to get it, I added the melted chocolate and all was okay; the mixture immediately smoothed out. It turned out creamy and uniform. The only problem was the flavor. It didnt taste anything like chocolate. My guess is because the cacao percentage of the chocolate I used wasn't the percentage Rose called for. As an intervention, I kept melting and adding more chocolate until the frosting finally tasted chocolatey. Success. So I began frosting. I didnt like the look of the frosting just smeared on so I whipped out the piping bag and tips and piped out some pearls and stars. Time consuming, yes, but worth it. And the flavor? I was pretty much sure they were delicious and my girls confirmed that as well.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream
from Rose's Heavenly Cakes

2 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream, divided
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks butter or margarine

Chocolate Frosting:
5 ounces dark chocolate, make sure it has a high cacao percentage
2 sticks butter or margarine
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat your oven to 350. Line a muffin pan with cake liners. Set aside.
Combine the dry ingredients,
whisk and set aside.
In a bowl, place 3 tablespoons of the sour cream, the eggs and the vanilla.
Whisk thoroughly to blend. Set aside.
Add the margarine or butter and the remaining sour cream to the flour mixture.
Beat until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Turn up to high and beat for about a minute.
This is what it should look like.
Add the egg/sour cream mixture in two parts.
Beat thoroughly, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. This is how the batter should look.
Evenly distribute the batter among the wells. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before removing the cakes to a rack to cool. Begin making the frosting.

Melt the chocolate and set it aside to cool.
Place the margarine or butter in a bowl and using a clean beater beat it until smooth.
Place the egg whites in a clean bowl.
Beat until foamy and then add the cream of tartar.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks are formed.
Gradually add the sugar until firm peaks are formed.
Add the margarine or butter about a tablespoon at a time beating thoroughly after each addition.
This is what my mixture looked like after it all was incorporated. The liquid from the egg should mostly be absorbed. If it still looks curdled, beat on high until it smooths out and be patient.
Add the melted chocolate and beat until the mixture becomes uniform in color. It should look like milk chocolate. Taste to make sure that it has flavor!
Frost as desired!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bakery Date Squares

This most recent bake is another crumble bar recipe. So sorry for the repeat but since the roomie wanted something sweet and I had a package of chopped, pitted dates sitting around the pantry waiting for ages to be used, I decided to finally put them to good use. Dates are a very naturally sweet fruit- I know, all fruits are naturally sweet, but just taste one and you'll see what I mean. They are one of the seven species that the Torah says Israel is blessed with, and it is true, they are plentiful here. Date honey is also quite commonly found on supermarket shelves, although I admit, that I've never used it for anything myself. Making the filling was a breeze using the packaged, pre-chopped dates. I added some water to them and brought them to a boil with some lemon juice and salt. After that, I added some vanilla. While it cooled, I made a simple oat, brown sugar crust. The filling was nice and easy to spread. These baked in just about 30 minutes. Honestly, I wasnt sure how these would be received as I feel like dates are a hit-or-miss, rather sophisticated flavor. I personally loved them. I really enjoyed the contrast of the smooth filling and crunchy crust. These did disappear, slowly but surely. Girls who claimed to not like dates tasted them and enjoyed them, even proclaiming them delicious. I dont know that I'd make them again for this crowd, but they were yummy.

Bakery Date Squares
from KAF Cookie Companion

15-16 ounces chopped dates
1 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups oats
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup margarine, melted

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a nine by nine inch pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
Place all of the filling ingredients except for the vanilla in a pan. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down to low and simmer for three to four minutes until the liquid has been absorbed. Set aside to cool.Add the vanilla. Stir and set aside while you make the crust.
Place all of the dry ingredients in a bowl,
and stir until combined.
Add the melted margarine or butter,
and stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.
Press two thirds of this mixture into the bottom of the pan.
Spread the date filling atop the crust.
Sprinkle with remaining crumble mixture.
Bake for thirty minutes. Cool and enjoy!