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Coffee Meringue Brownies

October 7, 2014

While Tony was driving to Copenhagen with a few of our friends to compete in a 24-Hour CrossFit Throwdown last weekend, Louie and I spent a rigorous 48 hours of relaxing, pampering ourselves, watching Meryl Streep movies and Sex and the City re-runs, and baking… A much better alternative to driving 34 hours, in my opinion.

 

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The first thing I made was Coffee Meringue Brownies from Milk and Honey. The first time I saw this recipe, I knew I had to make it and it’s been bookmarked on my computer for quite some time now… I love coffee, I’ve just recently become meringue-obsessed, and I love anything and everything that requires a blowtorch. Unfortunately, since I don’t typically carry corn flour and coffee liqueur in my pantry, I’ve put off making this recipe until last weekend and I am so happy I finally made it!

 

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The brownies are simple, not too sweet, with a fudge-like texture, but the real show stopper is the Coffee Meringue– it’s like eating a coffee-spiked marshmallow. Since I’m a coffee fanatic, I added an additional teaspoon of coffee liqueur so the coffee flavor was more pronounced and the result is somewhat comparable to s’mores spiked with coffee. Not a bad combination at all.

 

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The only thing I regret about this recipe was making it on a Saturday afternoon when Tony didn’t get home until Monday… and it’s also a slightly difficult dessert to transport so I couldn’t just give it away like I usually do… So I ate brownies for more meals than I care to admit and I eventually ended up throwing half most of it away, for fear that I would eat the entire recipe on my own.

 

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Coffee Meringue Brownies ever so slightly adapted from Milk and Honey:

Brownie:
200 grams dark chocolate, chopped
250 grams unsalted butter
150 grams caster sugar
175 grams light brown sugar
4 eggs
200 grams cake flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (I used Tia Maria)
Coffee Meringue:
4 egg whites
220 grams caster sugar
1 tablespoon corn flour
2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons coffee liqueur

  1. To make the brownies, preheat the oven to 160 C. Lightly grease a 13cm x 37cm loose-bottomed tart tin and set aside.
  2. Combine the butter and chocolate in a small heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.
  3. Combine the sugars, eggs, and coffee liqueur in a medium bowl and mix to combine. Stir in the chocolate mixture with a wooden spoon and when the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and cocoa powder and stir until you cannot see it any longer. Spread evenly in the prepared tin and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until set. Let cool completely on a rack.
  4. To make the coffee meringue, put the egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk until soft peaks form then gradually add the sugar and whisk until the mixture is glossy and thick. Add the corn flour, vinegar and coffee liqueur and whisk to combine. Spoon the meringue over the cooled brownie and blast it with a kitchen blowtorch (or broil in the oven on high for a minute), until toasted.

Peach and Blueberry Galette

August 13, 2014

Since Tony is in full vacation mode now, I have taken advantage of the opportunity by dragging him to the Mercato every morning… After all, carrying those bags can be quite the workout and reinforcement is much needed!

 

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I went a little overboard now that I have an extra set of arms and I bought several kilos worth of fresh peaches, plums, heirloom tomatoes, and blueberries. What can I say, I’m overcompensating for the last five years of mediocre produce in Chicago and I want to make sure I’m taking full advantage of summer produce!

 

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If there’s anything I hate, it’s wasting food, and seeing as though I bought more produce than two people alone can consume in a given time period, a habit very much so passed down from my dad, I decided to bake with all my seasonal fruit. Something about handing someone a single peach or handful of blueberries isn’t as enticing as sharing a warm slice of Peach and Blueberry Galette!

 

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I have wanted to make a galette for a very long time now. Galettes are so rustic, fuss-free, and imperfectly perfect… If there was one person in this world that reminds of galettes it’s Ina Garten. Goodness, I love her. I love everything about Ina and how she describes everything as “gorgeous” and always has an overwhelming amount of attractive gay men attending her fabulous dinner parties in the Hamptons. I read a quote from Ina saying, “Simple’s the most sophisticated thing of all.”  and I cannot agree more, especially when it comes to galettes. Not to mention they are the perfect vehicle for consuming warm seasonal fruit topped with melted ice cream!

 

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For my Peach and Blueberry Galette, I used a new-to-me method called frisage from America’s Test Kitchen to make sure the crust has that perfectly delicate flakiness. Frisage is basically smearing the dough with the heel of your hand across a lightly floured surface. I loved this technique, it’s super easy, super forgiving, and nothing like kneading, which still scares me. It’s just super.

 

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Unfortunately, I used too much flour on my surface during my frisage step so when I began to roll out my dough it was a bit dry and started to crack and crumble whenever I rolled my dough out into anything thinner than ¼ inch. Fortunately, this recipe is as fuss-free and forgiving as can be so I just made my dough circles a bit thicker than I originally anticipated (as you can tell by the pictures the crust is quite thick and doesn’t have that nice pleated look to it). But as I said earlier, galettes are allll about imperfection so I wasn’t overly concerned with the aesthetics as long as it tasted delicious. And, boy did it taste fantastic! The crust was still flaky and delicious, and the additional thickness might have even helped hold up my mountain of ice cream.

 

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This is the perfect summer night dessert and a great way to celebrate the end of summer! Since I didn’t use an Ina Garten recipe, I felt it was only fair to pay my tributes to the only and only by putting a spin on her Tomatoes and Burrata with Garlic Toasts recipe using the heirloom tomatoes I bought earlier. I added cubed avocado, ditched the toast, and served it alongside pan-seared chicken and then devoured this galette with heaps of ice cream for dessert. How easy is that?! 

 

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Peach and Blueberry Galette recipe slightly adapted from from America’s Test Kitchen (inspired by In The Kitchen):

Dough:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

3-6 tablespoons ice water

Filling:

2-4 peaches, pitted and sliced into ½ inch pieces

½ cup blueblerries

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

2-4 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling

  1. To make the dough, process the flours, salt, and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, and the butter is the size of small peas. Add the water through the feed tube 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough holds together when pinched (about 10 pulses).
  2. To fraisage the dough, (also, a You Tube video here) turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and gather into a rectangular shaped pile. Use the heel of your hand to smear the dough against the work surface. Continue to smear until all the dough has been worked. Gather into a pile again, and repeat. Flatten dough into a 6-inch disk (or divide into two equal pieces if making smaller galettes), wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about an hour.
  3. Roll the dough into a 12-inch circle (or 2 smaller circles, about 8-inches wide each) on a  piece of parchment paper, and refrigerate  for 20 minutes. Adjust your oven rack to the middle position and heat to 375.
  4. To make the fruit filling, toss the peaches and blueberries with the cinnamon and salt. Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired sweetness is reached. Mound the fruit in the center of your rolled dough, leaving a 2-inch border (or 1-inch border for smaller galettes). Fold the outermost dough over the fruit, pleating it as you go (about every 2-3 inches). Brush the dough with water and sprinkle with an additional 1 tablespoon sugar.
  5. Bake until tart is deep golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, about 1 hour (less for smaller galettes – about 40-45 minutes). Rotate baking sheet halfway through baking.
  6. Cool the tart on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then use the parchment to transfer tart to a wire rack. Cool about 25 minutes. Serve plain, or with ice cream.

The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

August 8, 2014

Holy smokes, it’s already the second week of August! Florence (as does most of Italy) pretty much shuts down for the entire month of August, which has it’s pros and cons. One huge pro is that Tony is off work and I now have a second partner in crime on my daily funemployment! Louie will always be No. 1. Unfortunately, my only butcher friends, Piero and Giacamo, are on holiday as well so I have to blindly navigate the chaotic world of the Mercato Centrale without my go-to meat guys. It seems like the only people who aren’t on holiday this month are the guys at the parking garage, who work more hours than anyone else in Italy, so in true Bite-Sized Baker fashion, I promised to bring in baked goods… Because if you can’t have a month of holiday vacation, at least you can have some treats!

 

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When I asked the guys what dessert they prefer, they told me to make whatever is my favorite thing to bake. Although I love trying new recipes that can put my baking skills to the test, my favorite thing to bake, eat, and share will always be chocolate chip cookies. Some people might argue that it’s just a cookie and cookies are relatively easy to make in the grand scheme of baking… and for that I am truly sorry.

 

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I feel like chocolate chip cookies are the true testament of someone’s baking abilities. If you can make an unforgettable chocolate chip cookie, chances are you’re an excellent baker and I want to be friends. I love baking chocolate chip cookies because there are literally thousands of recipes out there to try, each claiming to be “the best” and even if it might not be “the best” cookie you’ve ever had, it’s still a chocolate chip cookie, which is still pretty close to perfection.

 

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For the last two years, I have used my go-to recipe for Nutella-Stuffed Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt when I feel like eating freshly baked cookies, but I’ve made it my mission to find another go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe… Two years is too long! There are about fifty chocolate chip cookie recipes that I’ve wanted to try, some use bread flour, while others call for cake flour or all-purpose flour, eggs and/or egg yolks, milk or no milk, melted butter or creamed butter or coconut oil, baking soda and/or baking powder, white sugar and/or brown sugar, additional maple syrup or molasses or neither, bittersweet, dark, or milk chocolate, chocolate chips and/or chocolate shards, nuts or no nuts… and don’t get me started on the difference of how and when these ingredients are incorporated.

Just to get your brain thinking and also because I was curious… Just the use of different ingredients alone has the possibility of 5184 different cookie outcomes!!! Check it… Yeah, baking AND math.

3 flours x 2 types of eggs x options of milk x 3 types of fat x 2 leavening agents x 2 sugars x 3 additional sugars x 3 types of chocolates x forms of chocolate x 2 options of nuts = 5184 outcomes!!!

 

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I decided to test out Joy The Baker’s “The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies” because I made her Browned Butter Blueberry Muffins earlier this week and I remembered how much I love every single recipe of hers. I followed her recipe to a T, timing precisely how long I beat my butter and sugars together. The result was a chewy and crisp cookie with an extraordinary depth of flavor. Tony claimed that they were “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies” I’ve ever made and a future “Get Out of Jail Free” card… While I thought these cookies were quite delicious, as our most chocolate chip cookies, I would have preferred my cookies to be a bit taller and thicker. A combination of the day-old Levain cookies I’ve tasted, Carol’s Cookies, and Lot Sixty One’s cookies… That’s not too much to ask, right? I think beating the butter for 3 to 5 minutes might have caused the butter to become overly warm and in return, it wasn’t able to get enough air so the cookies ended up a bit flatter than I would have liked… But this is an experiment for the next recipe I try.

 

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Overall, I thought these cookies tasted fantastic and depending on your cookie preference they might be “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie,” but since I’m on a quest to find MY perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, the search continues. I apologize in advance for the excessive amounts of chocolate chip cookie recipes that will soon be posted on The Bite-Sized Baker. But if there’s one thing I don’t mind, it’s testing out chocolate chip cookie recipes, because even a “failed” recipe is still quite enjoyable with a tall glass of milk.

What is your idea of the BEST chocolate chip cookie?!

The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe from Joy The Baker:

1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon molasses

½ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

½ cup coarsely chopped pecans

Coarse sea salt, to sprinkle on top

  1. To make the cookies, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Place half the butter (8 tablespoons) in a medium skillet. Melt the butter over medium heat, swirling it in the pan occasionally. It’ll foam and froth as it cooks, and start to crackle and pop. Once the crackling stops, keep a close eye on the melted butter, continuing to swirl the pan often. The butter will start to smell nutty, and brown bits will form in the bottom. Once the bits are amber brown (about 2 ½ to 3 minutes or so after the sizzling stops), remove the butter from the burner and immediately pour it into a small bowl, bits and all. This will stop the butter from cooking and burning.  Allow it to cool for 20 minutes.
  3. Beat the remaining ½ cup butter with the brown sugar for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth.
  4. Beat in the vanilla extract and molasses.
  5. Pour the cooled brown butter into the bowl, along with the granulated sugar. Beat for 2 minutes, until smooth; the mixture will lighten in color and become fluffy.
  6. Add the egg and egg yolk, and beat for one minute more.
  7. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda, beating on low speed just until everything is incorporated.
  8. Use a spatula to fold in the chocolate chips and pecans and finish incorporating all of the dry flour bits into the dough.
  9. Scoop the dough onto a piece of parchment paper, waxed paper, or plastic wrap. Flatten it slightly into a thick disk, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. About 15 minutes before you’re ready to begin baking, place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat your oven to 350°F.
  10. Scoop the dough in 2 tablespoon-sized balls onto the prepared baking sheets. Leave about 2″ between the cookies; they’ll spread as they bake.
  11. Sprinkle the cookies with sea salt, to taste — as much or as little as you like.
  12. Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to rest on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before moving them.
  13. Serve warm; or cool completely, and store airtight at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, wrap well and freeze.

Banana Nut Muffins

July 18, 2014

Some super exciting yet bittersweet news, my friends! On the same day I started my Whole30 challenge, I also landed my first gig in Italy– baking American-style desserts for a local gelateria. The irony is almost laughable… almost. This will be an exercise of will power like I’ve never experienced.

 

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Normally, if I’m baking something and I am trying to refrain from eating any of it, I simply pop in a piece of gum and then voilà! No one wants a lick of peppermint batter… But that’s not entirely true either, especially when making Peppermint Crinkle Cookies, Peppermint Truffle Brownies, or Peppermint Mocha Cupcakes, but that is much different  than licking brownie batter with gum in your mouth, ya know?

 

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I had a hunch gum wasn’t Whole30 compliant with all of it’s added sugars, unpronounceable ingredients, and what have you, but I decided to double check, just in case… because I’m not really eating it, just chewing on it?? Well, in case you’re wondering, it’s not, but they did suggest brushing your teeth more frequently or chewing on mint leaves or fennel seeds for fresh breath alternatives… I already brush my teeth at least three times a day and at some point, brushing my teeth four times a day starts getting a bit excessive.

 

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My other alternative was to drink coffee while baking, but that proved to be ineffective considering I was making all breakfast treats and coffee would only complement my baked goods. Also, during the Whole30 I can’t consume dairy so my daily lattes are now just gagged shots of espresso. I’ve recently bit the bullet and started forcing myself to stomach plain espresso (after all, Italians look at you funny if you order anything with milk after 12 o’clock), but I always add copious amounts of sugar and since I’m not consuming sugar.. Well, now I really have to take it like a shot.

 

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But enough complaining and more sharing, since drinking espresso plain is pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things… With the exception of baking for a few weddings, bridal showers, and baby showers, I’ve never really baked for a crowd and since my dream/goal in life is to open a bakery with my sisters, I thought this would be the PERFECT opportunity to experience baking for a crowd! Thankfully, we’re starting off slow with baking only two days a week, depending on how well received my desserts are, we’ll adjust accordingly.

 

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After sharing my classic Blueberry Muffins, the owner of the shop had the wonderful idea of introducing a breakfast-like treat for the morning as well as my desserts. Since my Blueberry Muffins were a hit, I decided to make Banana Nut Muffins! Alas, I have finally baked all the flavors of Costco’s variety-pack! I personally love banana baked goods because if done right, they are always super moist and flavorful and you can always get your hands on a bushel of bananas!

 

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These Banana Nut Muffins are no exception; moist, not too dense, flavorful, and crunchy with a slightly crisp, caramelized crust. They are super easy to make and they rise to the perfect little domed tops- just how I like my muffin tops. Of course, I refused to cheat on Day 1 so these are the opinions of others, but I know I’ll be making these again when I can eat all of them straight out of the oven!

Banana Nut Muffins recipe from Tyler Florence:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

4 overripe bananas

1 cup brown sugar

¾ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½-1 cup pecans, chopped

Raw sugar, optional

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and lightly butter a muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Mash 2 of the bananas with a fork in a small bowl so they still have a bit of texture. With an electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk, whip the remaining bananas and sugar together like you mean it, for a good 3 minutes. Add the melted butter, eggs, and vanilla and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Fold in the nuts and the mashed bananas with a rubber spatula. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins to fill them about three quarters of the way. Give them a rap on the counter to get any air bubbles out. Sprinkle raw sugar and chopped pecans over the top of the muffins.
  3. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the muffins comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before turning the muffins out. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Brambleberry Crisp Ice Cream

July 15, 2014

The sun is shining, the air conditioner is blasting, and I’m sweating in a tank top and cut-offs. Summer is here and the season of homemade ice cream is among us!

 

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Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home cookbook is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. Each time I flip through it, I fantasize about all the different recipes of hers that I’ll eventually get around to making, like Beet Ice Cream with Mascarpone, Orange Zest, and Poppy Seeds or her assortment of  Sour Beer Sorbets. Not to mention, Jeni’s go-to ice cream base is the absolute perfect at-home base for experimenting with and making a flavor that’s truly your own… If you really wanted to make me happy, you could order me a copy of her newest cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts (hint hint, Tony).

 

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Jeni’s Ice Cream is kind of a tradition between Tony, my best friend and college roommate, Chelsea, and her boyfriend and Tony’s BFF, Hunter. The four of us are not above buying two pints of Buckeye State and Salty Caramel and devouring it all under 10 minutes with four spoons. Chelsea and Hunter are also the only two other people in this world that are as obsessed with food and can eat as much as Tony and I. It’s a beautiful relationship. Since Jeni’s opened up shop on Southport in Chicago, we’ve made it a tradition to get Thai food at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Sticky Rice, and then make our way over to Southport for an after-dinner treat.

 

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During our last visit to Chicago, the four of us squeezed in one last trip to Jeni’s before Tony and I departed and I had my first taste of Brambleberry Crisp, or as I like to mistakenly call it, Bumbleberry Crisp. Whether its ice cream, frozen yogurt, or gelato, I am a creature of habit and I always choose a chocolate-y or caramel flavor. Fruit is for the birds. But since I am not ashamed of sampling every Jeni’s flavor available (Jeni’s little helpers are always so encouraging and friendly), I sampled Brambleberry Crisp. Oh. My. Word. I’ll just copy and paste the description from Jeni’s website since words are beyond me when describing this ice cream, “

Buttery, oven-toasted oat streusel and a striking, sweet-tart “brambleberry” jam of blackberries and black currants layered throughout vanilla ice cream.

 

It’s truly like eating a slice of heaven mashed into a delicious and creamy vanilla ice cream. I was so excited to recreate this flavor at home aanddddd luckily for me, ALL of the different components of this ice cream (oat streusel, brambleberry jam, and Ugandan vanilla bean ice cream) are featured in her first cookbook.

 

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I made my way to the market to pick up brambleberries… What the heck are brambleberries? Pretty much the family of berries grown on “bramble” bushes. Anyway, I couldn’t find black currants anywhere, so I just bought extra blackberries and some raspberries. So yes, technically this isn’t a Brambleberry Jam, but a Blackberry-Raspberry Jam, but it does the trick. I cooked my jam and my oat streusel on the first day to save some time and popped my ice cream bowl attachment into the freezer, that is, after a few minutes of reorganizing the freezer and removing two drawers (silly, small Italian freezers and fridges).

 

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The next morning, I woke up with a smile on my face– it’s ice cream day! I seeded my vanilla bean, cooked my cream, made my slurry, and cooled my milk mixture; only to find out that my American KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment DOES NOT FIT my European KitchenAid. What do you mean??? What do you mean this does not fit?! I was furious. I thrashed around the kitchen for a bit and then did some research on the Internet to find a solution. The solution entailed using a bunch of gizmos and gadgets to remove a washer, which is completely unnecessary in the first place, and quite frankly, it just sounded like a lot of work that I wasn’t willing to do. But I wasn’t about to give up that quickly.

 

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I have a newfound respect for “hand-churned” ice cream because boy, that is an arm work-out and a half! The entire 50 minutes I hand-churned my ice cream, I was thinking, “How in the world did people do this before machines??” and I felt completely justified, almost compelled, to eat this entire batch of ice cream because I surely just burned all of the calories I would consume eating it while churning it. The ice cream ended up getting a little icy, because sue me, I threw in the towel after 50 minutes of churning and placed it in the freezer as is, kind of a melting, hot mess. But even my icy Brambleberry Crisp was amazing… and totally worth a 50-minute arm work-out of hand-churning.

So yeah, if I could hand-churn this ice cream, you can surely make this recipe with an ice cream maker because it is THAT GOOD.

Brambleberry Crisp Ice Cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home:

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream:

2 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 ½ ounces cream cheese, softened

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 ¼ cups heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out, seeds and bean reserved

“Brambleberry” Sauce:

2 cups blackberries and raspberries

1 cup sugar

Crisp Streusel:

½ pound unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups old-fashioned oats

  1. To make the sauce, combine the berries and sugar in a 1-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 220 degrees F (5 to 8 minutes). Let cool slightly, then force through a sieve to remove seeds. (Or leave a few seeds in there just to prove you made it.) Refrigerate until cold before using.
  2. To make the crisp streusel, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put all the ingredients except the oats in a bowl and blend by rubbing the dry ingredients into the butter with your fingertips. Work quickly so that the butter does not melt. When the mixture looks like coarse sand, add the oats and mix well. Spread out on an ungreased baking sheet. Break apart any large clumps into crumbs about ¼ to ½ inch in size. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until toasted and browned, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, especially in the corners, and to turn over the unbaked portions. Let cool completely, and then freeze until ready to use. The streusel can be frozen for up to 1 month.
  3. To make the ice cream, mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
  4. Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla seeds and bean in a 4-quart saucepan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes precisely. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  5. Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the vanilla bean. Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy.
  7. After churning, pack into a storage container alternating it with layers of bramblerry sauce and crisp streusel. Press a sheet of parchment paper directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least four hours.

Blueberry Muffins

July 12, 2014

As a dessert feign and avid baker, I am always trying to intensify flavors and add complicity to classic desserts (i.e., Browned Butter Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt, Nutella and Dulce de Leche Stuffed Double Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt, Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart with Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts, etc.). I love overly sweet things and I tend to cram as much as I can into one single dessert and I tend to lose sight of the beauty of simplicity when it comes to desserts.

 

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Tony and I made a quick trip to Amsterdam this past weekend and stopped by our favorite coffeehouse, Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters, like an actual coffee shop not a pseudo-Amsterdam-coffeeshop. I discovered Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters before our first trip to Amsterdam on Instagram believe it or not. I can’t tell you how many different restaurants, cafes, and bakeries I’ve discovered by stalking Instagram and hashtags; it’s almost sad, but definitely worth it. Anyway, after scrolling through hundreds of photos of this coffeehouse, I knew I had to make it a priority to get to this place and order a flat white and a chocolate chip cookie.

 

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On our first trip to Amsterdam and Lot Sixty One, we were fortunate enough to meet the owner, Adam, an expat from Australia who travels the world and opens the most amazing coffeehouses that are designed and operated to perfection. As we walked in the door, Adam was walking up the stairs with a baking sheet of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I almost tumbled over in pure delight right then.

 

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As Adam graciously answered our 100+ questions about his experience and different shops, I tasted quite possibly the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had in my life. I stopped him in mid-sentence and asked if he made these himself and where he got the recipe… Of course, he couldn’t give away all of his secrets, but he was willing to offer me the ingredient list and to my surprise, it was nothing out of the ordinary… He used a high quality butter, granulated sugar, eggs, baking soda, flour, and high-quality chocolate chips. No special tips or tricks. He simply used the highest-quality of ordinary ingredients and made something truly extraordinary.

 

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Our most recent visit back to Lot Sixty One was no exception. We arrived to Lot Sixty One as soon as they opened and we were greeted by the overwhelming aroma of fresh wild blueberry muffins hot from the oven. Since we were slightly early, the chocolate chip cookies were still baking, but Tony was unwilling to pass up on the Blueberry Muffins… As we waited for the chocolate chip cookies to bake, my baking talents were stomped all over once again by this simple and classic blueberry muffin. Like their chocolate chip cookies, these Blueberry Muffins were simply sensational, emphasis on simply. They only used the highest ingredients available and didn’t mess around with any special gimmicks; no browned butter or crumble topping to speak of. They were so good that we ordered two more flat whites and another muffin to go along with my cookie.

 

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After listening to Tony rave about how amazing these Blueberry Muffins were and how they were the best baked good he’s ever tasted, I decided it was time to make a classic Blueberry Muffin recipe using Italy’s seasonal wild blueberries and the highest-quality ingredients I could find.

 

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Even while looking for a classic Blueberry Muffin recipe, I was tempted by the lemon sugar, brown butter crumble, and jam swirling additions of other recipes, and kept having to remind myself to stick to the goal! Simple and classic! This recipe is an old New York Times favorite and I fell in love with it because of its simplicity and ordinary ingredient list.

 

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Although these muffins weren’t comparable to Lot Sixty One’s because they were much lighter than Lot Sixty One’s dense muffins, they were still a huge hit. I used Lurpak butter, which is a delicious salted Danish butter– quite frankly I can eat it plain and I also found a special blend of organic flour for sweets and desserts to use as a substitute for the cake flour. It is a super-light crumb, almost cupcake like, moist, subtly sweet, and full of flavor with blueberries bursting throughout each bite! Delightful.

 

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Until next time, Amsterdam!

 

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Classic Blueberry Muffins from The New York Times, originally published with On Blueberry Hill:

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 ½ cups fresh blueberries, cleaned

½ cup milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using an electric mixer, combine the butter and lemon zest. Add 1 cup of sugar and beat until light. Mix in the egg and then the vanilla.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Place the blueberries in a bowl and toss with ¼ cup of the flour mixture. Add the remaining flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just to combine. Gently fold in the blueberries.
  3. Line a muffin pan with paper muffin cups. Spoon the batter into the cups, filling them about ¾ full. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining sugar. Bake until muffins are lightly browned and spring back when touched in the center, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Triple Layer Peanut Butter Brownies

July 8, 2014

A few weeks ago Tony and I went to a BBQ with a handful of our friends from CrossFit and I took it upon myself to make all the desserts for the outing. I have been pretty inactive in terms of baking and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to dust off the old Zia Francesca (the name I’m given my Italian KitchenAid, for those of you who don’t know). Although it was a week before Fourth of July weekend, I figured it would be the closest thing to a Fourth of July party we would be attending in Italy so I made it my mission to make all my desserts in true American fashion.

 

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I made Banana Cake, mostly because I really wanted to try my hand at making a Naked Cake again, Peach Brown Butter Buckle, because what’s more American than peaches and a crumble, and Triple Layer Peanut Butter Brownies, made with Skippy Peanut Butter, because what else would I use? I don’t want to toot my own horn, but they loved EVERYTHING… Specifically these Triple Layer Peanut Butter Brownies.

 

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I hadn’t even finished slicing the cake before these brownies disappeared. Literally, seconds! Thank goodness I had already eaten a few “ugly” brownies while packing them in the Tupperware or else we would have had a real problem on our hands. I must admit, it was a cruel trick, introducing all of these Italians to the beautiful combination of peanut butter and chocolate… But don’t be alarmed, you can find Skippy in a few grocery stores throughout Florence! It costs an arm and a leg for a measly jar of 12 ounces, but I’m not about to use their version of canned peanut butter– especially when baking.

 

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Unfortunately, I was too occupied with assembling cakes, heating up cast iron skillets, keeping gelato cool, and transporting desserts that I didn’t get a final product of ANY of the desserts. Fortunately, I made way too much ganache and I had the perfect excuse to whip these bad boys up again three days later!

 

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I found this recipe on Not Without Salt and I was smitten. The brownie is pretty much the exact same recipe I posted a few weeks back with the exception of a ¼ cup sugar to counterbalance the sweetness for the peanut butter frosting… But then I added a dark chocolate ganache for an extra touch… It’s a winner.

 

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Triple Layer Peanut Butter Brownies slightly adapted from Not Without Salt:

Brownies:

10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) butter

1 cup sugar

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cold large eggs

½ cup all-purpose flour

Peanut Butter Frosting:

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) softened butter

¾ cup peanut butter

1 cup powdered sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon Maldon

Ganache:

1 cup high quality dark chocolate chips

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

  1. To make the brownies, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. (It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added.)
  3. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
  4. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion but it took me at least 10 minutes longer to get them set. Let cool completely on a rack. Once cool, frost with peanut butter frosting and sprinkle with flake salt (Maldon) or Fleur De Sel.
  5. To make the peanut butter frosting, cream the butter and the peanut butter until combined. Slowly stir in the powdered sugar until completely incorporated. Spread over cooled brownies. Sprinkle the Maldon all over.
  6. To make the ganache, place chocolate morsels in a large non-reactive bowl and in a medium saucepan, heat cream until bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Let chocolate and cream mixture sit for 3 minutes. With a wooden spoon, begin stirring small circles in the middle of the bowl. As the smooth mixture begins to form in the middle, slowly expand the size of the circle until the cream and chocolate is fully incorporated. Let ganache cool for 5 minutes and then gently spread over the top of the pie and decorate as desired. Cover with foil and let ganache set in the freezer for an additional two hours.

 

 

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