Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fudgy Brownies: an Update

Just as I thought, the great fudgy brownies needed too be baked a lot less longer--they were perfect at 20 minutes. The center of the brownie was nice and dense, chewy, and most importantly delicious!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Giving whoopie pies a try

The nice thing about living in the West Village is that ever since March, it seems like there's a street fair somewhere every weekend. Usually, they're filled with crepes, hot dogs, and the like. Three weeks ago, however, we experienced something different... Ye Olde Village Fair.

Now I'm all for blasts from the past, but I despise--despise!!!!--added e's or any other such absurdity that aims at throwing us back into the colonial era.

No more "centre", "shoppe", or "olde"!

That said, this "Olde" village fair was actually quite nice. It was sunny, the trees finally have leaves, and there was a jazz band, cute like the ones you would find at the Sweet Corn Festival in Urbana. We were walking around when all of a sudden, I spotted a white cap. Not a marine, and not a chef either. Mennonites! Growing up not too far from Illinois Amish country, I knew that the Amish are really good at woodworking, but also baking. If that's any hint as to what mennonites are renowned for, I was hoping to see some great furniture (just kidding, really) or some delicious bread. Good thing for me, the latter was in attendance. Apple bread, cranberry loaves, but above all...whoopie pies!

See, I had never tried a whoopie pie before; I just accumulated recipes thinking that someday I would try them out. Faced with pumpkin, chocolate, and oatmeal whoopies pies, I finally realized that I had to give "real" whoopie pies a try before attempting to make my own.

We bought all three, and tried oatmeal first. It was a clear favorite: the oatmeal cookies were dense and chewy, not overly sweet, which provided a good balance to the super-sweet filling. Pumpkin was alright, although I don't think I'm such a fan of the cakey exteriors. By then, I was full and honestly a little over whoopie pies so I never got around to trying the chocoalte one.

My mennonite whoopie pies were fresh, which is important with any kind of dessert having such high proportions of marshmallow fluff, and good. But they won't top my list of favorite desserts anytime soon--I'd much rather settle on an ice cream sandwich (only a month left to eat them, get ready to see me turn into one) or just a simple, delicious cookie anyday. Or several times a day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

Saturday mornings in Urbana meant a lot of things: math tutoring, soccer games, but mostly breakfast. My drink of choice was--and still is--hot chocolate, but not just any hot chocolate. My chocolate powder just had to be Nestle, and from France. Nestle chocolate powder was a very important component of the sacred food suitcase brought back from France twice a year, along with Carambar caramels and assorted cookies, soups, etc.

Nestle chocolate powder has a main advantage: when it's -20 degrees Celsius in Urbana, it can be added to hot milk. When it's 40 degrees Celsius, the magic of Nestle is that it's just fine with cold chocolate milk as well. Conveniently, one of my favorite treats with both hot and cold chocolate milk is lemon poppyseed muffins. Storebought and delicious, they were perfect; sort of sticky and just the right consistency with chocolate milk. Especially when dipped in milk, they became even softer but didn't fall into the mug, which, all the dippers out there will agree with me, is oh-so-important.

On a side note, some people find that dipping pastries in milk or cafe au lait is something "qui ne se fait pas", or completely devoid of savoir-vivre. I really couldn't care less, and don't fully appreciate a good pain au chocolat, croissant, or lemon poppyseed muffin if it can't be dunked into a mug of chocolate milk.

Anyway, I had been wanting to recreate the taste of those Saturday mornings for a while, and finally decided to give it a try. After marveling at the price of poppyseeds around here (here being the West Village), I ended up with all the ingredients necessary for the perfect muffins from the America's Test Kitchen book (notice a trend?). The batter smelled of fresh lemons and was more than promising.

Like all things linked to a specific food memory, you can hardly ever make them as good as they are in your mind. My muffins were really quite delicious--tasty, soft with a little crumble, crunchy but not too much so with the poppyseeds--but they still lack that special something. I'm thinking maybe I should use oil instead of butter, but that will be for another day. In June I'll be back in Urbana for a few days and who knows, maybe my muffins will be there, waiting for me on a warm Saturday morning just like they did 10 years ago.

(Of course I forgot to take a picture.)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Brownies : To be (fudgy) or not to be...

Blurry Brownie

I believe I've pretty much mastered the one single blondie recipe I've ever made. A sign of 'mastering' a baking recipe, in my opinion, is being able to eat the whole thing--even better, hiding it from friends to keep more for yourself--and that's exactly what baking a blondie results in for me.

Brownies are on a whole different level. Sure, I can eat a brownie, but I can't really eat 15 of them. Not that I could eat 15 blondies, right? I can sense that I'm not really fooling anyone--I can eat 15 blondies, but over the course of a 24-hour day. That sounds better.

Anyway, prior to last week I had only made one batch of brownies. It was more cake-like than fudgey, and my disappointment shot up every time I would bite into them and taste...cake. So imagine my excitement when I found an America's Test Kitchen recipe for Ultimate Fudgy Brownies. I was already picturing dense and gooey fudge brownies, especially since there are other non-fudge-like recipes in the America's Test Kitchen book. If this is the "ultimate" fudge brownie, I thought, I'm in for a wild ride.

It started out great: the batter was delicious. So delicious that I had too much and got a stomach ache for the rest of the night (note: this never ever happens with blondie batter). I followed the recipe's baking instructions and even took them out 3 or 4 minutes earlier than recommended. I didn't wait for them to cool--who does, really--and popped a tiny chunk into my mouth.

Fudgey, sort of. Cakey, sort of.

How can that be?? I was so disappointed, but they were still good. Not as good as I hoped though (however my expectations were high and very precise), so I'll have to try again. Or just make plain old fudge, and let the brownie be itself.

Ultimate Fudgy Brownies - America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
makes 16 brownies

5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped coarse
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped coarse (I didn't differentiate between the two and just used Nestle Dessert Noir brought back from France)
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/4 c. sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. all-purpose flour.

Preheat oven to 350°F and adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with a foil sling and grease the foil--I used a standard rectangular glass pan and it was fine.
Melt chocolates, butter, and cocoa together in the microwave (or over a double boiler). Let the mixture cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt together. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until combined. Stir in the flour until just incorporated.

Bake the brownies until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes (test it at 25 minutes, it might be just how you want it!). Rotate the pan halfway through baking. 

Le the brownies cool completely in the pan, about 2 hours (ha! yeah right, like anyone can wait that long). Cut into squares and serve.