Looking for a cake with “Wow”

My cousin throws an annual party that has evolved from a “Death by Chocolate” theme to encompass all food, but the heart of the party is still chocolate.  I have enjoyed the competition, but the success that I have in the past with winning the “bake-off” engenders a problem.  I can’t repeat myself by baking the same thing!

Past winners that I’ve used include the Inside Out German Chocolate cake (from the Bridge Street Bakery of Waitsfield, VT written up by Gourmet March 2000), Maida Heatter’s fabulous “Queen Mother Chocolate Flourless Cake,” the Triple-Chocolate Mousse Cake” from season 10 of America’s Test Kitchen, and the Pine Cone Chocolate cake from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s “A Passion for Chocolate.”

There is a common theme here—all these cakes are all desserts that taste absolutely great, look wonderful, but are very laborious and time consuming to make.  I’m very proud of the results, but it raises the bar as to what to make next!  I can work with fondant, and I can decorate with all kinds of tips with a pastry bag, but that does not mean the results are ethereal.  After all, I’m not trying to make a wedding cake (which often don’t taste great anyway, no matter how impressive they look).  So I am always on the lookout for recipes that have that “show-stopper” element.  The result must have eye appeal, and taste extraordinarily good.  A lack of complexity is not a criterion, nor is the time required.  Great things often require some effort!

I just made what I thought was one of the best show-stoppers yet, a recipe from Season 14 of America’s Test Kitchen that they called Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise.  Dacquoise cakes have their difficulties.  The first one I ever made was a recipe from Jacques Pepin with 2 discs of meringue and a pastry cream and whipped cream filling (a wonderful cake by the way).  Last year, I made the torte au chocolat cake, and I have posted it below.  However, this chocolate-espresso cake  from ATK  is truly stellar.   I made some modifications that relate to the pastry cream and ganache quantities that remove some problems from the recipe:

Dacquoise Aux Chocolat

Modified from Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise from ATK

Author Notes
The components in this recipe can easily be prepared in advance. Use a rimless baking sheet or an overturned rimmed baking sheet to bake the meringue. Instant coffee may be substituted for the espresso powder. To skin the hazelnuts, simply place the warm toasted nuts in a clean dish towel and rub gently. We recommend Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar with 60% cacao for this recipe.

Source: America’s Test Kitchen Season 14: A Fancy Finale

We made this elaborate and impressive-looking dessert more approachable by reworking the meringue and buttercream, making them simpler and more foolproof. We swapped the traditional individually piped layers of meringue for a single sheet that was trimmed into layers after baking, and we shortened the usual 4-plus hours of oven time by increasing the oven temperature. While many recipes call for a Swiss or French buttercream made with a hot sugar syrup, we opted for a German buttercream. With equal parts pastry cream and butter, this option required no hot syrup and it enabled us to use up the egg yolks left over from the meringue.

This multilayered showpiece of meringue and buttercream coated in ganache might just be the best dessert you’ll ever make—plus you can prepare it the day before.

SDR notes:  the amount of buttercream in the original recipe needed to be increased by at least 50% in order to have enough to put ½ cup between each layer and on the top, and still have enough to skim coat the sides of the cake.  Therefore, I’ve adjusted the amounts.  I doubled the amount of ganache, as I knew the recipe would be too scant, and this is also changed in the recipe below.  The other observation is that it is very difficult to spread the meringue evenly to allow it to end up with perfectly even thickness.  It would be worth the effort to pipe the meringue with a pastry bag and a large tip, then smooth with an offset spatula.  The meringue quantity is sufficient as per the original recipe.

3/4 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1 Tbs cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup sugar (7 ounces)
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/8 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
2 tsp cornstarch
3/8 tsp salt
3 Tbs amaretto or water
1 tsp instant espresso powder
24 Tbs unsalted butter (3 sticks), softened
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tsp corn syrup

12 whole hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

1 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted

1. FOR THE MERINGUE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Using ruler and pencil, draw 13 by 10 1/2-inch rectangle on piece of parchment paper. Grease baking sheet and place parchment on it, ink side down.

2. Process almonds, hazelnuts, cornstarch, and salt in food processor until nuts are finely ground, 15 to 20 seconds. Add 1/2 cup sugar and pulse to combine, 1 to 2 pulses.

3. Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and whip whites to soft, billowy mounds, about 1 minute. With mixer running at medium-high speed, slowly add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to whip until glossy, stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Fold nut mixture into egg whites in 2 batches. With offset spatula, spread meringue evenly into 13 by 10 1/2-inch rectangle on parchment, using lines on parchment as guide. Or as I suggest, pipe the meringue with a pastry bag and smooth to even with an offset spatula.  Using spray bottle, evenly mist surface of meringue with water until glistening (this will prevent cracking during baking).  Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off oven and allow meringue to cool in oven for 1 1/2 hours. (Do not open oven during baking and cooling.) Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes. (Cooled meringue can be kept at room temperature, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.)

4. FOR THE BUTTERCREAM: Heat milk in small saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in bowl until smooth. Remove milk from heat and, whisking constantly, add half of milk to yolk mixture to temper. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to remaining milk in saucepan. Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is bubbling and thickens to consistency of warm pudding, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer pastry cream to bowl. Cover and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Before using, warm gently to room temperature in microwave at 50 percent power, stirring every 10 seconds.

5. Stir together amaretto and espresso powder; set aside. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter at medium speed until smooth and light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add pastry cream in 3 batches, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Add amaretto mixture and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes longer, scraping down bowl thoroughly halfway through mixing.

6. FOR THE GANACHE: Place chocolate in heatproof bowl. Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Pour cream mixture over chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Stir mixture until smooth. Set aside to cool until chocolate mounds slightly when dripped from spoon, about 5 minutes.

7. Carefully invert meringue and peel off parchment. Reinvert meringue and place on cutting board. Using serrated knife and gentle, repeated scoring motion, trim edges of meringue to form 12 by 10-inch rectangle. Do not press down with the knife blade, but let the serrations and repeated strokes score deeper until the cut is complete.  Discard trimmings. With long side of rectangle parallel to counter, use ruler to mark both long edges of meringue at 3-inch intervals. Using serrated knife, score surface of meringue by drawing knife toward you from mark on top edge to corresponding mark on bottom edge. Repeat scoring until meringue is fully cut through. Repeat until you have four 10 by 3-inch equal rectangles. (If any meringues break during cutting, use them as middle layers.)  Be very careful in handling the meringue rectangles, as they can easily fracture.

8. Place 3 rectangles on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Using offset spatula, spread 1/4 cup ganache evenly over surface of each meringue. Refrigerate until ganache is firm, about 15 minutes. Set aside remaining ganache.

9. Using offset spatula, spread top of remaining rectangle with 1/2 cup buttercream; place on wire rack with ganache-coated meringues. Invert 1 ganache-coated meringue, place on top of buttercream, and press gently to level. Repeat, spreading meringue with 1/2 cup buttercream and topping with inverted ganache-coated meringue. Spread top with buttercream. Invert final ganache-coated strip on top of cake. Use 1 hand to steady top of cake and spread half of remaining buttercream to lightly coat sides of cake, then use remaining buttercream to coat top of cake. Smooth until cake resembles box. Refrigerate until buttercream is firm, about 2 hours. (Once buttercream is firm, assembled cake may be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

10. Warm remaining ganache in heatproof bowl set over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until mixture is very fluid but not hot. Keeping assembled cake on wire rack, pour ganache over top of cake. Using offset spatula, spread ganache in thin, even layer over top of cake, letting excess flow down sides. Spread ganache over sides in thin layer (top must be completely covered, but some small gaps on sides are OK).

11. Garnish top of cake with hazelnuts in a line down the long axis of the center of the cake.  This decoration also acts as a cutting guide for slicing the cake.  Lift the cake with a spatula, and with one hand holding the bottom of cake, gently press the toasted almonds onto the 4 sides with other hand. Chill on wire rack, uncovered, for at least 3 hours or up to 12 hours. Transfer to platter. Do not let the cake warm prior to serving.  Cut into slices with a sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water and wiped dry, then slice.  Reheated and dry the knife before the next slice.  Serve.

Yes, this cake is very time consuming, but the results are worth the effort.

A similar cake of even more complexity was featured on one of Ina Garten’s FoodTV shows, and Paul Lemieux, the pastry chef at Auberge de Soleil in Napa, purported to give Ina the whole technique for making his signature dessert.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to duplicate his results in a home kitchen.  I found that plastic wrap (saran wrap or equivalent) will melt when trying to make the chocolate decadence the way it is described, and the hazelnut meringues did not come out with the cooking times and temperature given (even though I used a convection oven).  This recipe requires a lot of special equipment (6 inch ring molds, 6 inch cake pan, etc), plus glucose (available from Wilton).  This cake is spectacular in appearance and taste, but I think I like the ATK version better, and it is slightly less work.

Torte au Chocolat

  • Difficulty: very hard
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Author: Paul Lemieux, Executive Pastry Chef, Auberge de Soleil, Napa Valley, CA
Source: http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/french-pastry-chocolate-torte/116389.html

There is a problem with this recipe’s cooking temperatures.  The dacquoise must cook at a different temperature, maybe even as high as 350°F, not 200°F, and for a different time. I have yet to refine this.  I bought a 6 inch cake pan for the chocolate decadence, and I need to work out the cooking time for the cake in this pan.  Cooking the decadence in non food service plastic is a disaster.

Recipe Type: Cakes, Pastries, and Desserts, chocolate, Dessert

Hazelnut Dacquoise
6 large egg whites
4 ounces granulated sugar
4 ounces confectioner’s sugar
2 ounces toasted hazelnut meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
cocoa powder, for dusting of meringues
Chocolate ganache
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
8 ounces Bittersweet chocolate
1 to taste glucose
1 to taste salt
Hazelnut purée
6 ounces hazelnuts, roasted in 350° oven for 8 min to remove skins
1 to taste confectioner’s sugar
Chocolate Decadence
10 ounces Bittersweet chocolate
10  ounces unsalted butter, melted
12 ounces sugar
7 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
For assembly
cocoa powder
candied hazelnuts
kitchen torch

1. Take 6 egg whites and beat until increased in volume by 3/4.  Then slowly add 4 ounces of sugar on low speed until the meringue is shiny and at medium peaks.  Take the bowl off the mixer, and fold in the powdered sugar, 2 ounces at a time.  Create hazelnut meal by toasting hazelnuts, removing the skins, and grinding in a food processor to create a fine meal.  Use 2 ounces of this meal and fold it into the meringue, then fold 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Create a template of a 6 inch circle, and, using a silpat on a half sheet pan, spread the meringue in a thin layer to fill the circle, smoothing with an offset spatula.  Repeat for a total of 4 discs,  Bake in a convection oven at 200° F for 25 minutes to dry the dacquoise (see notes above about temp and timing).  Dust finished meringues with white cocoa powder to help them remain crisp.

2. For the ganache:  Heat the cream to near boiling.  Put the chocolate with a little glucose and salt in a mixing bowl, and pour the hot cream over it.  Let sit for 1 minute, then stir to emulsify.  Set aside for use.

3. For the hazelnut purée:  Toast hazelnuts and rub the skins off.  Put in a food processor and add some confectioner’s sugar to make a thin paste.  Alternative:   Coarsely chop one pound roasted hazelnuts. In a food processor or blender, finely grind about 1/3 of the nuts at a time, until mealy.  Add egg whites from 3 large eggs, 2 cups powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons hazelnut liqueur.  Blend until paste forms. Wrap and store in a covered container, up to 2 weeks.  Makes 2-3 cups.  Also this hazelnut purée is known as “Gianduja”, and this is a sweet chocolate containing about 30% hazelnut paste, and is found in this country as Nutella (originally called “Pasta Gianduja.”  However, the hazelnut purée used here is composed of sweetened hazelnuts in a relatively thin paste.

4. For the chocolate decadence:  Melt 10 ounces of unsalted butter, and pour it over 10 ounces of bittersweet chocolate.  Whisk it together, then add 12 ounces of sugar, then add 7 large eggs and whisk it thoroughly, then add 1 teaspoon of salt.  Prepare a 6 inch ring mold with plastic wrap to line the interior, lightly spray the interior with canola oil, tie the plastic wrap on the exterior of the ring, and pour 9 ounces of the mixture into the mold.  The recipe makes 3 of these 9 ounce rounds.  Put the rings on a half sheet pan and fill the pan half way up with hot water.  Bake in a 325°F convection oven for 25 minutes.  See notes above, as I bought a 6 inch cake pan for this step.

5. Assembly:  using a 6 inch by 3 inch ring mold, put a meringue layer down and spread 1½  to 2 tablespoons of the ganache in a thin layer with an offset spatula.  Place another meringue disc on top of the ganache, and spread a thin layer of the hazelnut purée on top using an offset spatula.  Put a chocolate decadence cake in as the next layer, and spread a layer of hazelnut purée on the top of the decadence.  Then another dacquoise layer goes on, another layer of ganache, then the final dacquoise.  Warm ganache is poured over the top of the last dacquoise and fills the space in the periphery of the rounds.  Dust the top with cocoa powder.  Chill the cake.

6. To finish, use a blowtorch to heat the edge of the ring to melt the edge of the cake to allow easy removal of the ring.  Dust the edge of the cake with candied hazelnut, a mixture of ground hazelnuts and sugar.  Chill again before serving.

7. At the restaurant, an 11th layer is added with the addition of a 2 inch round of chocolate with the symbol of the Auberge de Soleil embossed in eatable gold leaf (secured to the top layer with a drop of chocolate ganache).  To me, this is a little bit of overkill!

Servings: 12

The wow factor is great for this cake, and the taste is wonderful.  However, it is a lot of work!

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While it’s still summer, let’s make ice cream

My son’s girlfriend gave me her Cuisinart electric ice cream maker, a vast improvement over the hand powered ice cream maker I had previously used.  For the upcoming block party this weekend, I’ve already made turtle cookie bars, so why not some homemade ice cream to go with them.  I thought I would try the Ina Garten recipe that I downloaded some time ago for a dark chocolate gelato, but I’ll also publish a wonderful lighter chocolate ice cream recipe from David Lebovitz.

Since it is summer, one also thinks of delicious sweet ripe stone fruits, like peaches, nectarines and plums.  I’ve put in some lovely recipes for fresh peach ice cream to satisfy these sweet desires!

Deeply Chocolate Gelato

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: easy
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Web Page: http://www.justbestrecipes.com/alcoholic/deeply-chocolate-gelato.html
Copyright: © 2012 justbestrecipes.com

From Ina Garten.

2 1/4 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (do not use chocolate chips because they contain stabilizers)
4 extra-large egg yolks
2 Tbs mexican coffee liqueur (recommended ( Kahlua)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large pinch kosher salt
8 chocolate hazelnut candies, roughly chopped, optional

1. Heat the milk, cream, and 1/2 cup sugar in a 2-quart saucepan, until the sugar dissolves and the milk starts to simmer. Add the cocoa powder and chocolate and whisk until smooth. Pour into a heat-proof measuring cup.

dutch process cocoa powder

dutch process cocoa powder

fine dark chocolate

fine dark chocolate



mix of cream, cocoa powder, chocolate and sugar

mix of cream, cocoa powder, chocolate and sugar

2. Place the egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and very thick. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the hot chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Pour the egg and chocolate mixture back into the 2-quart saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. A candy thermometer will register about 180°F Don’t allow the mixture to boil!

mix egg yolks and sugar to yellow ribbon stage

mix egg yolks and sugar to yellow ribbon stage

thicken mixture by heating to 180 degrees F

thicken mixture by heating to 180 degrees F

3. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a bowl and stir in the coffee liqueur, vanilla, and salt. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the custard and chill completely.

Final additions

Final additions

4. Pour the custard into the bowl of an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. Stir in the roughly chopped chocolate, if using, and freeze in covered containers. Allow the gelato to thaw slightly before serving.

Chocolate Ice Cream (from the Perfect Scoop)

Author: (From The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

2 cups heavy cream
3 Tbs unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
5 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
½ tsp vanilla extract

1. Warm 1 cup of the cream with the cocoa powder in a medium saucepan, whisking to thoroughly blend the cocoa. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer at a very low boil for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Then stir in the remaining 1 cup cream. Pour the mixture into a large bowl, scraping the saucepan as thoroughly as possible, and set a mesh strainer on top of the bowl.

2. Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in the same saucepan. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

3. Stir the mixture constantly over the medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (170°F on an instant-read thermometer). Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the chocolate mixture until smooth, then stir in the vanilla. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

4. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (If the cold mixture is too thick to pour into your machine, whisk it vigorously to thin it out.)

Yield: 1 quart

Ben & Jerry's Fresh Georgia Peach Ice Cream

Author Notes
The best way to capture the elusive flavour of summertime. Ben and Jerry prefer small peaches because they have more flavor and less water than the larger ones. Prep is 2hrs 15 mins which is almost all chill time. Freezing time is however long it takes for your ice cream maker to freeze it.
Read more: http://www.food.com/recipe/ben-jerrys-fresh-georgia-peach-ice-cream-210584?oc=linkback%3C/a%3E
Source: food.com

Recipe Type: American Classics, Desserts, Ice Cream

2 cups peaches, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 lemon, juiced

2 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk

1. Combine the peaches, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the lemon juice in a bowl.

2. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, stirring the mixture every 30 minutes.

3. Remove the peaches from the refrigerator and drain the juice into another bowl.

4. Return the peaches to the refrigerator. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes.

5. Whisk in the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more.

6. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend. Add the peach juice and blend. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following manufacturer’s instructions.

7. After the ice cream stiffens (about 2 minutes before if is done) add the peaches, then continue freezing until the ice cream is ready.

Fresh Peach Ice Cream

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Source Williams-Sonoma
Web Page: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/fresh-peach-ice-cream.html
Copyright: © 2012 williams-sonoma.com

For the best possible flavor, use only the ripest, juiciest peaches for this summertime treat. To peel peaches, cut a shallow X on the blossom end of each one, then immerse in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a work surface. When cool enough to handle, slip off the skins with your fingertips or a small, sharp knife.

2 cups peeled, pitted and finely chopped ripe peaches
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the peaches, 1/4 cup of the sugar and the corn syrup. Cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and the peaches are heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour into a large bowl and set aside.

2. In the same saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the half-and-half and 1/2 cup of the cream, bring to a simmer and remove from the heat. In a metal bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until blended. Gradually pour the hot cream mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil.

3. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into the peach mixture. Transfer three-fourths of the mixture to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Pour the puree back into the remaining peach mixture. Add the vanilla and the remaining 1/2 cup cream and whisk to blend. Refrigerate for about 1 hour.

4. Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container, cover and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days, before serving.   Serves 8.

Servings: 8

I made an amalgam of the two peach ice cream recipes.  The Ben and Jerry ice cream doesn’t cook the egg yolks, and the Williams-Sonoma recipe does (with beating with sugar, mixing with hot cream, and creating a custard cooked to 180 degrees F).  I used 3/4 of a cup of  agave nectar instead of the 1 1/4 cups of sugar to mix with the chopped peaches in the first step.  I think the agave could have been reduced to 1/2 cup and still have sufficient maceration effect on the peaches.

Because there is no “peach juice” generated by the agave, the end result is a peach ice cream that tastes like a rich vanilla ice cream flavored with but not overwhelmed by peaches.  I added some fresh peaches at the very end of ice creaming, and it goes from the ice cream maker into the freezer for final chilling.


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Belly up to the bars (cookie bars, that is)

It’s the weekend before Labor Day, and time to think about what to make for dessert for the annual block party (not that I really need an excuse).  For an informal party, cookies make a good choice for dessert, as the ease of eating a cookie, and having different flavors to choose works well.  In this blog, I’ve talked about cookies and blondies, so today, let’s look at other bar cookies.

I don’t know about you, but I love turtles, the candy of caramel and pecans covered with chocolate.  Here in Chicago, if you go to Fanny May’s Candy, they call them Pixies, but it is the same thing.  I prefer them coated in dark chocolate, but you can find them with milk chocolate as well.  The flavor combination is a classic.

Now, I readably admit that I am a food and cooking snob, and I do not apologize for this.  I like to control what I eat, and I refuse to use any recipe that utilizes prepared food products.  I do make a few exceptions; one of which is the Ghirardelli Triple Brownie mix (which I can only find at Costco as I’m not talking about the double chocolate Ghirardelli Brownie mix found at the supermarket).  My brownie gold standard is the Ina Garten Outrageous Brownie (made from scratch, not from the outrageously priced box), but the Ghirardelli Brownie is an excellent choice.

Many of the recipes on the Web for turtle bars use store bought caramels.  I recently bought a new cookie cookbook, The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett (copyright 2001 Houghton Mufflin) and in the chapter on bar cookies is a recipe for Turtle Bars.  I figured that I had to try it, as it calls for making everything from scratch.  Basically, it is a turtle candy on a shortbread cookie base.  The caramel is created from butter, cream, sugars, and heat.  As long as you have a candy thermometer, it is no problem to make.

Turtle Bars

Turtle Bars (modified from Nancy Baggett)


2 1/2 cups pecans

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut in small dice

4 tablespoons whole milk

For the caramel:

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup unsalted butter

2/3 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter the inside of a 9×13 inch baking pan.  Using heavy aluminum foil, create a sling the width of the pan and overhang the length of the pan by 2 inches.  Place in the pan and butter the inside of the foil.  It is not necessary to flour the pan.

2. Toast the pecan pieces in the oven on a baking sheet for 7 to 10 minutes, being careful not to burn them.  Let cool in a small bowl.  Take 1 3/4 cups and coarsely chop, and finely chop the remaining 3/4 cup.

3.  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt.  Cut in the stick of butter using a pastry blender or your fingers.  Sprinkle the milk over the mixture and combine to create a dough that just holds together, but is not too wet.  It might take anywhere from 1 1/2 tbs to 5 tbs of the whole milk to accomplish this.  Do not overwork the dough.  Press the dough into the baking pan to create an even layer of dough all the way to the edges.  Refrigerate the pan for at least 30 minutes.

Chill the dough in the fridge

Chill the dough in the fridge

4. Bake in the center of the oven for 21 to 25 minutes, until the center is firm, and the edges are slightly brown.  Do not overcook.

5.  In a large saucepan, combine the cream, corn syrup, 1/2 stick (1/8 lb) butter, the brown and white sugars, and salt.

Combine the sugars, salt and cream in a heavy saucepan and mix together.

Combine the sugars, salt and cream in a heavy saucepan and mix together.


Bring to a boil and reduce heat to keep at a mild boil.  This will boil out much of the water.  Put a candy thermometer in the pot and you will see the temperature remain at boiling for several minutes.

Use a candy thermometer to take to a hard boil, 245 degrees F

Use a candy thermometer to take to a hard boil, 245 degrees F


Stir with a heat proof spatula occasionally.  As with any candy making, be careful not to splash any of the very hot mixture anywhere!  Carefully control the heat under the saucepan, and stir the caramel as the temperature rises above boiling.  As soon as the temperature reaches 245 degrees F, remove from heat, and add the coarsely chopped pecans and the vanilla.  Stir thoroughly, and pour onto the prepared shortbread, using a spatula to even the layer out to the edges.

Pecan caramel layer spread on top of cookie dough

Pecan caramel layer spread on top of cookie dough

Immediately, sprinkle the chocolate morsels evenly over the hot caramel.  After a couple of minutes, the chocolate will be melted.  Using an offset spatula, even the chocolate layer to the edges.

Melted chocolate spread evenly over caramel layer

Melted chocolate spread evenly over caramel layer

Sprinkle the finely chopped pecans on the warm chocolate as evenly as possible.  Refrigerate until completely cooled.

6.  Lift the foil sling to remove the slab.  Cut with a sharp knife into small squares.  Serve either at room temperature or slightly cooled.

The turtle cookie--shortbread dough, caramel pecan layer, chocolate top with finely chopped pecans

The turtle cookie–shortbread dough, caramel pecan layer, chocolate top with finely chopped pecans

Another winner of a bar is the black and white bar, a lovely combination of brownie base and coconut top.

Brownie Coconut Bars

From the show Everyday Food on PBS

Recipe Type: Cookies, Desserts, American

For the chocolate base:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, dutch process
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
For the coconut topping
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
7 oz sweetened shredded coconut, (1 package) reserve 1/2 cup for sprinkling

1. For chocolate base: Preheat oven to 375°. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a slight overhang; butter bottom and sides of foil (not overhang).

2. Place butter in a large microwave-safe bowl; melt in microwave. Add sugar and salt; whisk to combine. Whisk in egg, then cocoa and flour until smooth. Spread batter in prepared pan.

3. Bake just until sides begin to pull away from edges of pan, 10 to 15 minutes (do not overbake). Let cool slightly while preparing coconut topping. Keep oven on for topping.

4. For coconut topping: In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with sugar and vanilla. Gently mix in flour and coconut (except ½ cup reserved for sprinkling).

5. Drop mounds of mixture over chocolate base; spread and pat in gently and evenly with moistened fingers. Sprinkle with reserved ½ cup coconut.

6. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Lift cake from pan, peel off foil, and cut into 24 bars. Store in an airtight container 3 to 4 days.

Yield: 24 cookies

Try these, they are both winners!

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Making the best Chicken Parmesan better!

I watched America’s Test Kitchen show on classic Italian fare, and thought that their preparation of Chicken Parmesan solved many of the problems of this dish.  http://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/7323-best-chicken-parmesan

However, I thought it through and realized that by eliminating one step, it makes it even better.  The process is very similar to my Chicken Pesto Milanese, with removing the 1st step of dusting in flour, and using panko as bread crumbs.  ATK recommends a 20 minute salting of the chicken breasts to ensure a moist cutlet, but I think that is completely unnecessary and adds too much sodium.

Here is my take on an even better Chicken Parmesan:

A better Chicken Parmesan


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon each Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes mashed by hand
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste


  • 3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup coarsely grated whole milk mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cup coarsely grated fontina cheese
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (grapeseed oil is best because of its high smoke point)


  1. Making the sauce is better than a store bought marinara.  Heat the olive oil with medium high heat in a large sauté pan, and add the finely minced garlic and stir for 30 seconds.  Then add the red pepper flakes, and the oregano, stir for another 30 seconds to bloom the herbs.  Take a large can of crushed tomatoes of good quality and add to the pot.  If using whole tomatoes, crush them slowly in a bowl with your hands before adding them to the pot.  Add the sugar and enough tomato paste to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.  Cook over low heat for 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.
  2. Finely chop the parsley, thyme and tarragon.  Add them to the panko.  Add the parmesan or romano cheese to the bread crumbs.  Mix 2 tbs  of flour with 2 eggs to create a batter.
  3. With a sharp chef’s knife, slice the chicken breasts horizontally.  Remove any tendons from the tenderloin portion. Take a plastic freezer bag (Ziploc or similar) and place the sliced portion in the bag, and pound to a uniform ½ inch thickness.  See my comments relating to this in the Chicken Pesto Milanese post
  4. Dredge the chicken in the egg batter, and transfer to the plate with the herbed/cheese panko crumbs, pressing the mixture onto the breast portion.
  5. Heat the canola or grapeseed oil to near smoking point (about 365 degrees) in a skillet.  Add the chicken breast portions without crowding the pan (cook in batches) for 2 minutes per side, and transfer the cooked breasts to a tray lined with paper towels.  Finish all the portions and arrange them on a half sheet pan lined with heavy foil.  Combine the mozzarella and fontina together.  Cover the top of each piece with the mixture of mozzarella and fontina.  Turn the broiler on high.  Place the tray 4 inches from the broiler element of the oven, and brown (not burn) the cheese onto the chicken pieces.  This will take about 4 minutes.
  6. Plate the chicken with the tomato sauce on the top and/or on the side.

This recipe is nice and simple, and the results are spectacular.  The use of herbs in the panko crumbs elevates the taste and elegance of the dish, and the cooking method prevents soggy chicken portions.

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In the pursuit of caramel uses, take 3

As promised, I’m still looking at uses for the excellent caramel sauce (the recipe is in a prior post 3/3/14).  Today, I took the lessons learned from the less than perfect caramel chocolate cookie and applied it to a bar cookie, the coconut blondie from the 1992 Gourmet recipe (see 1/23/14).  If you don’t want to look back at what happened to the chocolate chip caramel cookie; basically I mixed the caramel into the cookie batter, and created a cookie that spread excessively and cooked too fast.

Today I took the coconut blondie recipe with no alterations until the spreading of the batter in the 9” X 13’’’ X 2 ½” inch pan.  I put ½ of the dough in the bottom of the pan, plus just enough more dough to ensure complete coverage of the bottom of the pan.  I then took cold caramel sauce from the refrigerator, and spread ribbons of caramel on to but not mixed in the dough.  I used the remaining dough to create a top layer, and spread it evenly.  I was careful not to have exposed caramel.  It might have been easier to have warmed the caramel sauce, but by using it directly from the refrigerator, it is probable that this prevents the caramel from mixing directly into the batter before cooking.

Into a preheated 350 degree oven, checked at 20 minutes, removed at 25 minutes when the edges got brown and pulled away from the sides of the pan.  Here is a picture at removal:


Let the blondies cool completely in the baking pan on a wire rack before cutting into squares.  This picture shows the cut bar cookie:


I’ve learned the lesson.  The secret is not directly exposing the caramel to direct heat.  The blondie cooked normally, but the caramel adds a layer of complexity to the already excellent taste of the bars, and is a notable improvement.  Of course, it helps to have already made caramel sauce in the refrigerator!

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Caramel and toffee, take 2, or building a better cookie

I promised a further investigation into the use of the caramel recipe of a prior post on this site.  Here’s what I discovered so far:

Mixing the caramel into a toll house type chocolate chip cookie dough was interesting in taste but doesn’t have a good appearance, at least not the way I tried to make it.  Putting toffee into the cookie dough worked much better.

First things first:  the cookie recipe.  1st, the original Toll House Chocolate Chip recipe (yup, that’s the one printed on every bag of Nestle’s Toll House Chocolate Chips, the recipe the Ruth Wakefield sold for a lifetime supply of chocolate chips!), and 2nd, America’s Test Kitchen’s “improved” version.

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies (half recipe)

Recipe Type: American Classics, Chocolate, Cookies, American

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour, (1 cup + 2 tbs)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 lb unsalted butter, softened ( 1 stick)
3/8 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup + 2 tbs
3/8 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, (6 ounces)
1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

1. Preheat oven to 375° F. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt. Mix softened butter, sugars and vanilla until creamy. Add in eggs, one at a time, beting well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips (plus the 1/2 cup of optional chopped nuts).

2. Spoon cookie dough (rounded tablespoon) onto ungreased baking sheet and bake 9 to 11 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer cookies to cooling rack.

Yield: 2.5 dozen

Now, as much as the original recipe is the “gold” standard, I think the ATK version is the platinum standard.cookie 3

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies Redux

Author Notes
Why this recipe works: Rich and buttery, with their soft cores and crispy edges, chocolate chip cookies are the American cookie-jar standard. Since Nestlé first began printing the recipe for Toll House cookies on the back of chocolate chip bags in 1939, generations of bakers have packed them into lunches and taken them to potlucks. But after a few samples, we wondered if this was really the best that a chocolate chip cookie could be. We wanted to refine this recipe to create a moist and chewy chocolate chip cookie with crisp edges and deep notes of toffee and butterscotch to balance its sweetness?in short, a more sophisticated cookie than the standard bake sale offering.
Melting a generous amount of butter before combining it with other ingredients gave us the chewy texture we wanted. Since we were melting butter, we browned a portion of it to add nutty flavor. Using a bit more brown sugar than white sugar enhanced chewiness, while a combination of one egg and one egg yolk gave us supremely moist cookies. For the crisp edges and deep toffee flavor, we allowed the sugar to dissolve and rest in the melted butter. We baked the cookies until golden brown and just set, but still soft in the center. The resulting cookies were crisp and chewy and gooey with chocolate, and boasted a complex medley of sweet, buttery, caramel, and toffee flavors.
Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter; as the dark color of the nonstick coating makes it difficult to gauge when the butter is browned. Use fresh, moist brown sugar instead of hardened brown sugar, which will make the cookies dry. This recipe works with light brown sugar, but the cookies will be less full-flavored. Our winning brand of chocolate chips was the Ghirarelli 60% cacao bitterswett chocolate chips, for a better flavor and more complex taste.

Author: America’s Test Kitchen
Source: Season 10 “The Cookie Jar”

a “perfect” chocolate chip cookie

Recipe Type: America’s Test Kitchen (PBS), American Classics, Chocolate, Cookies, Desserts, American

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 8 3/4 ounces
1/2 tsp baking soda
14 Tbs unsalted butter, 1 3/4 sticks
1/2 cup granulated sugar, 3 1/2 ounces
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar, 5 1/4 ounces
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips, or chunks
3/4 cup chopped pecans, or walnuts (optional)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)

5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

Servings: 1
Yield: 16 cookies

So, I used the ATK cookie and tried taking the caramel sauce and mixing it into the batter.  Big mistake, as it dilutes the batter, and the cookie spreads too much and cooks much faster.  The result was a flat sheet of dark brown cookies joined to each other.toffee cookie


Another use of a form of caramel is english toffee, and I tried a recipe from Arizona.  This recipe is not without hazards, as I will describe.  The idea of putting toffee into a cookie is a nice touch, as the toffee has nuts, you get the crunch of the nuts and buttery goodness of the toffee in one bite.

English Toffee

Author Notes

There are recipes that call for roasted nuts. The toffee is cooked to 290 degrees and the roasted nuts are layered on a sheet pan. Next, the toffee is poured over the nuts. We prefer to use raw almonds and roast them in the butter-sugar mixture, which infuses the nutty flavor into the toffee and creates a toffee that isn’t overly sweet.

We add a dose of “Vitamin L-O-V-E” which translates to a lot of stirring – absolutely key to a successful batch of toffee.

We use a combination of both milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Our favorites are Belcolade and Callebaut. Callebaut milk chocolate has caramel undertones and marries nicely with the toffee.

Author: Donna Gabrilson, Goodytwo’s Toffee Company
Web Page: http://m.cookingchanneltv.com/videos/goodytwos-toffee.html

1 lb unsalted butter
1 lb granulated sugar
1 Tbs water
8 oz raw almonds, chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
Melted milk and dark chocolates (recommended: combination Belcolade and Callebaut)

1. In a saucepan, melt the butter and then add the granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon water. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil and cook to 260 degrees F.

2. Stir in the raw almonds and continue cooking to 290 to 300 degrees F. Remove from the heat and add 1 teaspoon vanilla.

3. Immediately, pour the mixture onto a sheet pan that is upside down and covered with heavy aluminum foil.  Spread to an even thickness.   Cool and cover with melted chocolate with additional crushed almonds as an option added after the chocolate.

I tried making this toffee, and it didn’t work.  I think I know the reasons for the failure.  The 1st thing to be sure all the sugar is dissolved into the butter, and to do this on lower heat.  Then, stirring continuously, gradually increase the temperature of the mixture to 260 degrees F, add the raw nuts, and take the temperature of the mixture to 290 degrees F.  Immediately remove from the heat, and add the vanilla, let the vanilla steam for 1 minute (mix well), then pour out on the prepared surface.  Let cool and set up overnight, then covered with the mixed chocolate followed by the finely chopped nuts, first the top side, and when set, flip over to coat the other side.

The failure is that the mixture can separate out the butter oils and turn into a hard mass of crystalized rock!  If it is poured out before it sets up as a rock in the pan, it still is a tasty mix of sugar/nuts with toffee crunch!  I used some of this (without coating with chocolate) in the cookie dough, and got a nice toffee cookie.cookie 2

In a final note about the above toffee recipe, the source of the recipe, the shop “GoodyTwo Toffee,” in Scottsdale, has closed (although they are apparently still selling toffee online).

So, what have we learned?  Caramel sauce and cookie dough should be mixed by creating a standard size cookie, and taking a ½ teaspoon of caramel sauce on the top and press into the dough but not all the way down!  I need to experiment with a thicker dough to make a chewy cookie that can withstand the caramel addition.  The toffee cookie works well, but again, I will try a different batter and might try the chocolate coated toffee (which will prevent the toffee itself from melting as the cookie bakes).  I might try some other toffee recipes to find a more fool-proof recipe as well.  More results to come!

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Chicken Pesto Milanesa

Pesto, especially freshly made pesto, is a wonderful addition to many different dishes.  It works well as a top coating for baked fish.  It makes a great appetizer using squares of puff pastry, onto which is placed a layer of pesto, topped with a slice of Roma tomato, and finished with an herbed goat cheese.  It is excellent on pasta.  There are many uses for this excellent ingredient.

Our previous version of chicken de pesto is a chicken salad that we first had from the Café at Spiaggia in Chicago back in 1985, and have duplicated at home for years.  It consists of cooked chicken breasts (usually grilled), pesto, golden raisins and roasted pine nuts.  Great the year round, but a wonderful picnic dish in the summer.

Now, first, let us be specific.  I don’t mean pesto variations that use spinach or walnuts, or other less expensive options.  I define true pesto to be the Liguria pesto genovese—a combination of fresh basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano please, no substitute allowed).  If you can get some Fiore Sardo (a cheese made from sheep’s milk) to add, even better, but to my mind not necessary.  Some Pecorino Romano is not misplaced, but again, not fundamental.

The first mention of pesto is from a book by Giovanni Battista Ratto, La Cucinera Genovese, written in 1863.  In southern France, they use pistou, a mix of basil, parsley, garlic and optional grated cheese but no nuts.  Pesto became very popular in the US in the 1980’s.

Freshly made pesto is great, but there are alternatives.  Most markets sell pesto in their refrigerator sections, but many of them are not great (remember what I said about walnuts and spinach).  We found a true Genovese pesto at Costco, and it tastes almost as good as freshly made.


So, a new use for this superb combination is my new Chicken Pesto Milanesa

chicken de pesto

Instead of a typical pounded chicken breast schnitzel style (3 dips:  flour, beaten egg, and seasoned bread crumbs), I used a 2 dip method with a wonderful result.

Chicken Pesto Milanesa

  • 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, tendons removed from the tenderloins, the larger portions cut into smaller pieces, pounded thin and even
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons fresh tarragon
  • 3 tablespoons fresh watercress
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large clove garlic, sliced
  • olive oil as needed for sauté
  • ½ cup pesto
  • optional:  sliced almonds and 3 tbs unsalted butter
  1. Beat the eggs with a fork and beat in the pesto sauce.
  2. Mix the Panko with the finely minced herbs and minced garlic.
  3. Pound the chicken breast portions to an even 3/8 inch thickness.  The best way is to take a ziploc gallon size bag, put a sprinkle of water on the chicken piece to be pounded, place the piece in the bag and flatten with your favorite implement (flat meat pounder, frying pan, rolling pin, whatever).  The ziploc works better than 2 pieces of plastic wrap (the old way).  I find cutting the chicken breast in half horizontally first, then pounding the pieces gives more uniform size pieces.  This is important so that the cooking time of sauté gets consistent results.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick skillet, and when hot, add the garlic slices to flavor the oil.  Turn the slices so both sides are evenly golden brown, and remove before the olive oil burns the garlic.
  5. Dip each piece of chicken in the pesto/egg batter, then coat with the seasoned Panko.  Be sure to press the Panko into the battered chicken evenly.
  6. Sauté each chicken piece for 2 minutes a side, putting no more than 4 pieces in the pan at a time for even cooking.  Transfer the cooked pieces to a heated platter.
  7. A nice addition is the use of thinly sliced raw almonds sautéed in butter (use the same skillet after the chicken pieces have been cooked) until golden brown and served on top of the chicken.

Try it, it is easy and tastes great, with predictable success every time.

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A Perfect Caramel Sauce

I am on a search to make a wonderful toffee chocolate chip cookie, and of course, it has to be made from scratch (no Heath bars or equivalent).  So I figure the first step is to make a great caramel sauce and go on from there.  This post just relates to the caramel, subsequent posts will relate to trying to find cookie nirvana.

So, got on the handy Google search and found lots of caramel recipes.  I decided to try one from Michelle Norris, aka The Brown Eyed Baker.  Her recipe is for a salted caramel sauce:  http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2012/05/22/homemade-salted-caramel-sauce-recipe/

Now, I altered the recipe by not using salt, and the result was just perfect.  There are some tricks to making this, but it is not difficult.


Caramel Sauce

2 cups pure cane sugar

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in 12 pieces

1 cup heavy whipping cream, at room temperature

Use a heavy large saucepan (do not use nonstick as the temperature needed gets too high).  Cast iron would be fine for the heat, but you can’t visualize the caramel development properly.  I have the perfect pan, which is a large heavy nickel lined copper sautesuse (a 4.5 quart pan with slightly sloped sides).  You need a pan with a stainless steel or equivalent lining  with good heat distribution to allow for even cooking and so you can see the bottom of the pan easily as you are cooking, and judge the change in color of the cooking sugar properly.  I like the All-Clad d5 series for this purpose for its even heat distribution (and, although it is expensive, it is still a lot cheaper than nickel lined heavy French copper), but there are less expensive and similar pots available from Cuisinart and other manufacturers.  The important thing to look for in the construction of the pot is the aluminum core needs to completely cover the pan’s bottom and extend up the sides of the pan.  The older designs which just used a sandwich of stainless exterior and interior with a core of aluminum only across the bottom of the pan will often cause burning at the edges of the pan’s interior due to poor spreading of heat at the sides of the pan (they can be used with a lot of extra whisking!).

So, now that you got the right pan, put 2 cups of white cane sugar in the pan and place the pan on medium high heat.  Use a heavy stainless steel whisk and stir the sugar.  Nothing will happen at first, but be patient.  It takes a while for the internal temperature to build.  While this heat buildup is occurring, cut the 1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter into 12 pieces, and pour the cream into a 1 cup measure.  You will start to smell the caramelization before you see any changes, and then the sugar will form small clumps, and then melt.  Don’t whisk at this point, just keep a close eye on the color of the melted sugar.  It goes from a mild almond color to red-brown quickly, and if untended, goes on to burn, and you have to stop and start over.  Use an instant read thermometer or a candy thermometer clipped to the side of the pan.  The temperature will go quickly from 330 degrees to 350, so watch carefully.  As soon as it reaches 350 degrees, remove from heat and add the butter all at once.  It will bubble up (which is the reason for a big pan).  Whisk carefully (the sauce is very hot) to incorporate the butter completely, and then add the cream.  It will bubble up again.  Whisk thoroughly again, and you’re done!  Let the caramel cool at least 15 minutes before use or transfer to a jar for refrigerator storage.  It will last for 2 weeks in the fridge.

Makes 2 cups of caramel sauce.


Over ice cream (yum)


We tried mixing ½ cup into the Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie mix, and I liked it, but Jori did not.  I think it would work better if we had used ½ of the brownie mix into the 8×8 pan, poured the ½ cup of caramel sauce on it, and then covered the sauce with the rest of the brownie mix.  (We tried swirling the caramel sauce into the pan after the brownie mix had been placed, and the texture that resulted was a little too chewy).  So I will try the layer approach next.

I have to experiment with the sauce and cookies.  The sauce itself is great, so I have high hopes for these trials.  If anyone has done things with the sauce, please let me know.

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Crazy for Coconut Oil?

A lot of people have been on the coconut oil bandwagon lately.  As an alternative to other oils and butter, coconut oil has medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) in the saturated fat lauric acid, which increases the good high density lipids in the blood to improve cholesterol levels.  In addition, coconut oil promotes the conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone, a precursor to hormones that the body needs.  It help thyroid function as well.  Coconut oil is also reputed to help handle blood sugar by improved insulin use within the body.  Because of the fact that 90% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, it had been deplored in the past, but new studies show the “artery clogging” is a myth.  The MCTs are much better to consume than long-chain fatty acids, as they are metabolized differently.

In cooking, coconut oil has the same caloric impact—120 calories per tablespoon—as butter, olive oil, or soybean oil.  Now, the reason that I’m even talking about this now as that my lovely spouse saw something on the internet that peaked her interest—the use of coconut oil in brownies.  A potentially healthier brownie?  Had to try it.

She took the regular Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie mix and used coconut oil instead of vegetable oil, with a layer of sweetened coconut flakes in the middle and on the top.  Ok, it’s a mix, I know, but it is a damn good one.  The brownies came out more fudgy in the middle than normally, but tasted great.  I’m going to have to try coconut oil with my personal favorite, Ina Garten’s outrageous brownies http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/outrageous-brownies-recipe3.html and see what happens.  I will try to replace half the butter with coconut oil.  Just remember, the full recipe makes a half sheet pan of brownies, so I cut the recipe in half for a 9”x13”x1” pan.  Here’s the recipe:

Barefoot Contessa Outrageous Brownies scaled for 9″X13″X1″ pan

Author Notes
Flouring the chips and walnuts keeps them for sinking to the bottom. It is very important to allow the batter to cool well before adding the chocolate chips, or the chips will melt and ruin the brownies. This recipe can be baked up to a week in advance, wrapped in plastic, and refrigerated.
Inspiration for this recipe came from the Chocolate Glob in the SoHo Charcuterie Cookbook published by William Morrow in 1982. In its heyday, the SoHo Charcuterie was the cutting edge of New York restaurants. The giant confection was a blob of chocolate dough filled with chocolate chips and nuts. I though I could make a brownie with almost the same formula. They’ve been flying out the door for fifteen years!

Author: Ina Garten
Source: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Copyright: 1999

Recipe Type: American Classics, Cakes, Chocolate, Food Tv, American

1/2 pound unsalted butter
14 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3 ounces bitter chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/8 cups sugar
5/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
if using bittersweet instead of bitter chocolate, reduce sugar to 1 cup minus 1 tbs sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Butter and flour a 9 x 13 x 1-inch baking pan.

3. Melt together the butter, 1/2 pound of the chocolate chips, and the bitter chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.

4. In a medium bowl, sift together 1/2 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 6 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/8 cup flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour onto the baking sheet.

5. Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into 20 large squares.

Servings: 10-16

So, if I’m going to replace half the butter (16 tablespoons total), I’d use 1 stick (8 tbs) of butter and 8 tablespoons of coconut oil.  I’d change the cooking time to a total of 30 minutes, as you want the center to be a little gooey.  I will update this post as soon as I try it with the definitive results!

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Attack of the Blondies

I’ve been struck by the baking bug again.  This time, I’ve been working on the “yes, it’s not a brownie, but almost” route.  That is to say, a cookie in the form of a bar, a blondie.  There are many blondie recipes out there, and I’ve made a few, but I think these 3 are some of the best.

I altered the first 2 recipes with the use of chunks of bittersweet chocolate instead of semi-sweet morsels.  I think it is a more interesting chocolate flavor.

The first recipe is from Ina Garten.

Barefoot Contessa Chocolate Chunk Blondies

Author: Ina Garten
Source: Barefoot Contessa Foolproof
Copyright: 2012

Blondies have a tendency to be dry but there are two solutions:  underbake them a little and store them in the fridge wrapped tightly with plastic wrap.  Chocolate chunks have a more intense chocolate flavor than chips.

Recipe Type: chocolate, Cookies and Bars, Dessert

1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 extra-large Eggs (room temp)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1.5 cups chopped walnuts
1.25 pounds semisweet chocolate chunks

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour an 8½X12X2-inch baking pan.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar on high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.  With the mixer on low, add the vanilla.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well, scraping down the bowl after each addition. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  With the mixer still on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.  Fold in the walnuts and chocolate chunks with a rubber spatula.

3. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Don’t overbake!  The toothpick may have melted chocolate on it but it shouldn’t have wet batter.  Cool completely in the pan and cut in 12 bars.

The next 2 are from the epicurious site.

Coconut Blondie Take 1

Gourmet  | March 1992 blondie

Makes about 32 blondies


  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted and cooled


In a bowl with an electric mixer cream together the butter and the brown sugar, beating the mixture until it is light and fluffy, add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in the vanilla. In a small bowl whisk together the salt, the baking powder, and the flour, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat the batter until it is just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and the coconut, spread the batter evenly in a buttered and floured 13- by 9-inch baking pan, and bake it in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and crumbs adhere to a tester. Let the mixture cool completely in the pan on a rack and cut it into squares.

Note:  oven timing is important, as you need to remove from the oven when it pulls away from the sides, as cooking will continue in the cooling pan.  Check at 20 minutes.  Baking is done when the top is just set, and the sides a darker color and slightly retracted from the sides.

Coconut Blondie Take 2

Very similar to take 1, but with pecans and no chocolate.

Source Gourmet magazine 2008
Author: Ruth Cousineau

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups pecans (6 ounces), toasted and cooled
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, divided

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 13- by 9-inch baking pan.

2. Melt butter in a 3-qt heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring, until smooth. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Whisk in brown sugar and vanilla. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time until mixture is glossy and smooth.

3. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt, then whisk into butter mixture. Stir in pecans and 1 1/2 cups coconut.

4. Spread in pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup coconut. Bake until a pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool completely.

Servings: 32

Now, to take any of these recipes over the top, make a chocolate ganache with equal parts cream and bittersweet chocolate (8 ounces cream heated to near boiling, removed from heat, and 8 ounces chocolate added and whisked together).  Make any pattern of drizzle or even better, use a star tip and bag to create a criss-cross pattern of chocolate on the top of the bars.  Yum.

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