Chocolate Pudding with Blackberry.

This is becoming one of my favorite recipes. It’s pretty quick and not too hard, and the outcome is completely delicious. I also use slightly lower-fat ingredients than Nigella’s original recipe calls for—hers is a perfectly rich chocolate pudding made with whole milk and heavy cream, where I’ve turned the fat content down a bit with skim milk and half-and-half and added a hint of berry flavor. I’ve tried this one with raspberries too, and it’s equally out of this world. I’d love to hear if anyone tries it with other berries, or other chocolate-and-fruit combos that might be delicious. What’s your favorite? Can you even choose? Maybe not. Either way, yum! Billy Madison and your snack packs, eat your heart out.

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INGREDIENTS

2 tbsp just-boiled water
3/4 cup skim milk
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp corn starch
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 egg yolks
about 3/4 cup blackberries
splash of vanilla extract
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
more berries and cream, for garnish

Just the Recipe link: Chocolate Pudding with Blackberry

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DIRECTIONS

Gently warm the milk and half-and-half in a saucepan. Don’t let it come to a bubble – just let it slowly heat, stirring occasionally.

Put the blackberries in a food processor and puree.

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In another pan, sift together the sugar, corn starch, and cocoa powder. Whisk in the just-boiled water until combined. Then whisk in 1 egg yolk at a time. Slowly whisk in the warm milk/half-and-half mixture. Then, pour the blackberry puree into a sieve, place the sieve over the cocoa mixture, and stir the puree to push through all the juice, leaving behind the seeds. Add the vanilla extract and whisk it all together.

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Turn the heat on medium. Whisk vigorously for about 30 seconds, and then continue to stir pretty consistently for the next minute and a half. Repeat this process for about 8-11 minutes, until the pudding has thickened slightly and will thickly coat a spoon. Turn off the heat.

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Next, add the chopped semi-sweet chocolate and stir in to melt.

Pour the pudding into ramekins or other cute little cups.

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Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap or tinfoil, being very careful to make sure that the covering makes contact with the surface of the pudding. This contact will prevent a skin from forming on top of the pudding – blech. However, if pudding skin is your thing (you and George Costanza have that in common) feel free to cover just the top of the ramekin, without making contact with the top of the pudding itself – you’ll have a pudding skin in no time. Either way, put the pudding in the fridge and chill for at least 4 hours.

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Then, enjoy!

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If you like, garnish with a bit of lightly whipped cream or some berries, or both.

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Sticky Glazed Vanilla-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies.

I haven’t been baking much recently. I miss it! Cutting way down on sugar and processed grains, as I have been, means a lot of my favorite baking activities are on hold. This weekend, however, I was up at my family’s lakehouse in Wisconsin, celebrating my sister’s seventeenth birthday with a handful of her girlfriends. And I saw my chance. My chance to make these cookies, inspired by 101 Cookbooks. Ever the pragmatist, I recognized in this group of high schools girls a captive audience; I knew, if I placed a platter of gleaming sweets in the midst of their Beyonce-listening sunbathe-fest of Saturday, they’d happily help me out by disposing of the evidence. And they did not let me down—when we left the lakehouse on Sunday, only one cookie remained. Nicely done, girls. And happy birthday, Kathleen!

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INGREDIENTS:

for cookies:
12 tbsp (or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup brown sugar
, plus more for sprinkling
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 scant teaspoon salt
about 3 tbsp chocolate, finely chopped (I used semi-sweet)
2-3 tablespoons milk (I ended up using about 1 ½ tbsp)

for glaze:
2 tbsp milk
about 6 heaping tbsp. powdered sugar
splash of good quality vanilla extract (you want to use the good stuff here – don’t skimp on quality)

Just the Recipe link: Sticky Glazed Vanilla-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

DIRECTIONS:

Using an electric mixer (or your best elbow grease), cream the butter until it’s fluffy. Then add half the brown sugar, stir it in, and scrape the sides of the bowl, and repeat with the other half. Beat in the egg yolks and the vanilla until combined.

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In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and chopped chocolate. You want the chocolate very finely chopped – if the pieces are too big, your dough won’t hold together as well when you’re rolling it out.

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Stirring by hand, gently mix part of the flour into the butter and sugar, just until it combines. Add the rest of the flour, careful not to over-mix. If the dough looks too dry, add a tbsp of milk or two – we’re looking for the dough to just hold together when pressed into a ball. Which, conveniently, is the next step.

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Turn out the dough into a cutting board or countertop and form it into a ball using your hands.

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Then divide the ball into 4 equal sections.

IMG_8660Form the sections into balls and then flatten them into discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

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When the dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350 F.

Take one of the discs out of the fridge. Lightly flour a flat workspace and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough very very thin, like wafer thin.

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With a cookie cutter (or a small glass, because I couldn’t find any cookie cutters) cut out the cookies and place them on a baking sheet. They don’t spread out much, so crowding the cookies is okay. Sprinkle each one with a bit of brown sugar. Repeat with the other 3 sections of dough.

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Now, to the oven. Depending on how big the cookie cutter you use is, these bake pretty quickly because of how flat they are, so watch them. Mine baked about 8 minutes, just until the edges started to turn golden brown.

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Put the cookies on a cooling rack and cool completely before glazing.

To make the glaze, pour the milk into a small bowl and add the vanilla. Then add 4 tbsp of powdered sugar and whisk or use a fork to combine. From there, add the rest of the powdered sugar as needed until you reach the right consistency – thin, but not watery.

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When the cookies have cooled, glaze them. The quick way is to spoon the glaze over the cookies, drizzling a bit on each one. If you want to put a bit more TLC into the glazing process, dip the top of each cookie into the glaze. Either way, set them back on the cooking rack to set before plating.

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That’s all! Enjoy.

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But be careful – my tasters found these pretty addicting.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake.

As ever, Nigella Lawson dishes out another perfect dessert recipe. There isn’t much need of an introduction for this beaut. I’ll just say that every step of the process is spoon-smackingly, bowl-lickingly good, and that the finished product is indulgent and fluffy and dreamy in every way. A graham cracker crust with bits of chocolate in it, filled with a smooth and creamy peanut butter cheesecake, and finished with a sweet, chocolate topping. Glamorous. Indulgent. Chocolate peanut butter cheese cake. Enjoy.

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PS I looked for the video footage from Nigella’s show of the episode for which she makes this cheesecake, but I couldn’t find it. It looks so dang amazing when she makes it, I’ve had it on my list for at least a year.

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INGREDIENTS

for crust:
12 graham crackers (or 1 1/2 packets, from a box of three 8-cracker packets) (sub any gluten-free cookies if you like)
4 tbsp butter, softened
1/4 cup salted peanuts
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-2 tsp vegetable oil

for filing (all these ingredients must be at room temperature):
16 oz cream cheese or neufchatel cheese (I used one packet of low fat and 1 packet of full-fat)
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
heaping 1/2 cup of sour cream or Greek yogurt (I used non-fat Greek yogurt)
1 cup smooth peanut butter

for topping:
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 scant cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

Just the Recipe link: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

Let your puppy eat the pieces of graham cracker that you'll inevitably drop.
Let your puppy eat the pieces of graham cracker that you’ll inevitably drop.

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 338 F (okay, so you can go with 350 F if you like and you’ll be fine. I converted this recipe from metric, and the original 170 C is exactly 338 F. I do what I’m told).

Next, the crust. In all honesty, crust is my favorite part of any cheesecake, and this one is awesome. One thing I didn’t do, but I think I will next time, is to start by pulverizing the chocolate chips in the food processor, so that they’ve broken up before the rest of the ingredients are added. This time, I added all the crust ingredients at once and pulsed until they came together, drizzling in just enough of the vegetable oil until the crust started to hold together. There were some chunks of chocolate left un-blitzed, so next time I’ll blitz the chocolate separately first.

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Turn it out into a well-greased spring-form pan and use your fingers to press it into the bottom and up the sides. Put the crust in the fridge while you make the filling.

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In a food processor, combine all the filling ingredients until totally smooth. Jeez, that’s beautiful.

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Pour filling into the graham cracker shell. Spread it gently into all the “corners ” (can circles have corners?), careful not to mess with the tenuous architecture of the crust.

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Bake for about an hour, but check it as it nears the end of the baking time. You want the top to be set and no longer wet or sticky, but for the inside to still be jiggly. In Nigella’s words, we’re looking for the center to have “just a hint of inner-thigh wibble.” Perfection. But I forgot to take a picture before I doused it in chocolate. See next step.

When the cheesecake is nearing the end of it’s bake time, melt all the topping ingredients in a pan over low until they come together. Pour over the cheesecake once it comes out of the oven, and then pop it right back into the oven for about 10 minutes, so that the topping can set.

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Take it out of the oven and pop it right into the fridge to chill overnight, cake pan and all (careful when you take it out of the pan though, as the chocolate topping is prone to stick to the sides). To be honest, I made this cheesecake to give to friends, so all it got was a quick chill in the freezer for an hour and then another hour or so in the fridge until we ate it. So the overnight chilling time isn’t mandatory, but it is nice.

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Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake.

This is Nigella Lawson’s recipe for old-fashioned chocolate cake – I haven’t changed a thing! Except to cut the recipe in half, since hers makes a nice big double-layer cake. My sister and I decided to exercise some self-control and make just a small one for our little dinner party. We used a pretty big pan and then cut the unfrosted cake in half and stacked it, so that we had a two layer half-cake, but you can of course play around with shape and stacking if you like. And feel free to double my amounts for a full-sized, two layer cake. Either way, you’ll get a light and fluffy cake with a sweet, chocolatey frosting – an old-fashioned dessert that would make our chocolate cake-inventing foremothers good and proud!

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INGREDIENTS

for cake:
3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/6 cup cocoa powder
6 tbsp butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup sour cream, room temperature

for frosting:
3 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
3 tbsp butter, softened
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream, room temperature

Just the Recipe link: Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine all cake ingredients in a food processor and blitz. Pour into a greased springform cake pan (or two pans, if you’re doubling the recipe).

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Bake for about 15 minutes for a small cake, and up to 30 minutes for a larger cake. The baking time will change depending on the size pan you use, so use a toothpick to check the middle for doneness every once in a while.

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Let the cake cool completely. Then, make the frosting. Melt the chocolate and butter together over a double boiler. When smooth and cool, stir in the vanilla, corn syrup, sour cream, and powdered sugar.

At this point, we cut our cake in half, right down the center, so that we had a half moon-shaped cake with 2 layers. However you’re doing it, frost the cake to your liking.

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Nigella topped this cake with cute little sugar flowers. I didn’t have any (though it would have been pretty adorable), so I used pomegranate seeds. You really don’t need to garnish with anything – either way, it tastes awesome and is maybe the easiest from-scratch cake I’ve ever made!
*Serving tip: I think cold chocolate cake is pretty unbeatable. We put our cake in the fridge for 2 hours before serving it, and it makes a huge difference. The frosting becomes thick and almost ice cream-like, and the cake itself also takes on a creamier quality. Give it a try!

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An Award! and, Brown Butter Pecan Cake with Chocolate Ganache.

I arrived home from a fun weekend in New York to find a nice surprise—I’d been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Laurie from A Taste of Morning! Laurie is a fellow philosopher who writes a beautiful blog from her bed & breakfast in Kansas. In particular, I love her photography of flowers and plants. Thanks for thinking of me, Laurie!

Nominees share 7 things about themselves and then nominate 15 of their favorites blogs for the award in return. Here are my 7 things:

1. I majored in philosophy in college. Ethics is my favorite.
2. I’ve lived in St. Louis, Chicago, Massachusetts, Ireland, and Moscow. I was only in Moscow 2 months, but I love that city so much that I just have to count it!
3. My favorite TV shows are Arrested Development and The Simpsons.
4. I’m a crazy Cubs fan. I’ve been to more than 50 Cubs games in my life and don’t plan on slowing down any time soon!
5. My favorite foods are baklava, quesadillas, grapefruit, Wienerschnitzel, and raspberries.
6. Every time I pass someone walking a Siberian Husky on the street, I have to stop and give that puppy some love!
7. I refused to eat seafood of any kind until 2009. Now I love it.

And here are my 15 nominations, in no particular order, for the Versatile Blogger Award:

1. Hungry Hinny
2. Grown in Texas
3. We Call Him “Yes! Chef!”
4. Fiona Grows Food
5. The Soulsby Farm
6. The Patterned Plate
7. Natalie’s Daily Crave
8. The Sprout Diaries
9. The Budget Cooking Blog
10. With the Grains
11. Natasha’s Kitchen
12. Charles and Kimberly’s Recipes
13. Hungry Foodie Pharmacy
14. Toy Kitchen Chef
15. Czech That Out

To all my nominees, I love your blogs and I’m happy to give you a shout-out for your great work!

…….

And now, the recipe:

Some recipes are born of utility, and this is one of those. Or, more simply said, a few days ago I wanted dessert. The things I had in the house were: pecans, Greek yogurt, and standard baker’s materials. No fruit, just a tiny bit of chocolate, and in general, nothing particularly interesting, and that meant not a lot of options. But I nosed around a few of my favorite cooking blogs and found some inspiration that sent me down the path of cake-making. If you’re a cake maker, and you’ve never tried this method of preparing your wet ingredients, I highly highly recommend it. It’s the same method I used in Drunken Squirrel’s Cake, and I love the way it makes the cake so airy and fluffy, but dense at the same time. And the chocolate ganache…just make this cake already!

INGREDIENTS

Cake:
1 cup pecans
1/2 stick (4 oz.) butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 cup minus 2 tbsp Greek yogurt
squeeze of lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Ganache:
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 oz. unsweetened bakers chocolate
3/4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp powdered sugar, plus more to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large sauce pan, toast your pecans until they’re fragrant and slightly browned. Let them cool, then blitz them in a food processor to the consistency of wet sand.

In a saucepan over medium high heat, melt and brown your butter, stirring occasionally. When little brown bits are bubbling to the surface and the butter itself is brown, remove from heat and set aside to cool (you’ll know it’s done because it will smell amazinggg).

Now, the eggs. Separate the whites and the yolks. Put the yolks in a metal bowl and add the sugar.

Place the bowl over a pot of gently simmering water and whisk like crazy. At first, the yolk and sugar seize together and stick inside your whisk, but keep beating them and they’ll eventually turn into a thick, pale yellow cream.

Remove yolks from heat and gently stir in the ground pecans, yogurt, milk, lemon juice, and cooled brown butter.

Meanwhile, beat the whites until they form stiff peaks.

Take a scoop of the whites and gently stir it into the yolk mixture, to even out the textures a bit. Then fold in the rest of the whites.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Sift into the wet ingredients, and gently fold together until combined.

Pour batter into a greased spring-form pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top just starts to turn golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow your cake to cool completely before you cover it with the ganache.

Now, the chocolate glaze. Gently heat the cream in a pan over medium heat. Just when it reaches the boiling point, remove from heat and pour over the chocolate and butter.

Add the powdered sugar and stir well until all the chocolate has melted and you’re left with a smooth ganache. Taste and add more powdered sugar as necessary to reach desired sweetness.

Pour evenly over the cake.

Place your cake in the fridge to firm up a bit. That’s it!

Cayenne Pepper and Orange Brownies.

Remember that Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche movie called Chocolat? About a mother and her daughter who move to a little French town and open up a patisserie? It was a pretty cute movie, but more importantly, it was about chocolate. There’s one scene where a character drinks a cup of hot chocolate with some kind of chili pepper in it, and she loves how exotic and surprising the flavor is. This scene really stuck in my head–what an interesting combo that would be! I’ve wanted to try the chocolate-and-chili flavor duo ever since I first saw Chocolat, and when I decided to make brownies yesterday, I gave it a try. They turned out really well–the tiniest hint of pepper and orange gives these brownies a really deep and complex flavor.

INGREDIENTS

200 g unsweetened bakers chocolate
1 1/4 sticks softened butter
1 scant cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup almond meal (all-purpose flour works too)
1 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp orange juice
4 eggs, lightly beaten

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a pan over very low heat, carefully melt butter and chocolate until smooth. Don’t burn it!

In a separate bowl, combine cocoa powder, almond meal or flour, baking powder, and sugar. Stir in the melted butter and chocolate and mix well.

Add cayenne pepper and orange zest and juice and combine.

Add to batter and stir until smooth.

Pour into greased pan and bake for about 25 minutes. Cool 1 hour before cutting into them. Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy with a frosty glass of Blue Moon and an orange wedge…yum.