Skip to content

Best Cocoa Brownies

May 2, 2014

Brownies are something I rarely ever make, not because I don’t love them– nothing is quite as enjoyable as eating a big slab of brownie with an ice-cold milk 24 hours later… But mostly because I love boxed mix brownies.

 

IMG_9136_2

 

Some people have their guilty processed pleasures of Oreos, Cinnabons, Lucky Charms, Girl Scout Cookies, etc., but I am a box mix brownie guilty processed pleasure kind of gal. In my experience, Ghiradelli, Betty Crocker, and Duncan Heines have it down to a T! My personal favorite is Ghiradelli, but when you’re in a pinch, any of those will do.

 

IMG_9224_2

 

I’ve never cared to hassle myself with actually measuring out ingredients for brownies because I am perfectly satisfied with a box mix brownie. However, since all the boxed mix brownie options in Italy look like they’ve sat on the shelf since 1950, I decided I better change my ways of thinking.

 

IMG_9166

 

I went out into the world (or maybe just to the closest market to my apartment) on a search for unsweetened chocolate and came home with nothing… “Senza zucchero” brought me to an assortment of artificially sweetened chocolate and I wasn’t going to have any of that. I always like to keep a handful of 70-85% cacao chocolate bars on hand at any given day… because you never know when you’re going to want cookies or ganache! But 100% cacao chocolate bars are something I rarely ever have on hand… Why would I want a chocolate bar that I can’t enjoy an occasional bite of?

Anyway, I had brownies on my mind and a bunch of half eaten 70-85% chocolate bars on hand… So what’s a girl to do? Nix the chocolate bars altogether and make Cocoa Brownies.

 

IMG_9209_2

 

I liked this recipe A LOT. It’s super easy and moooost people have all the ingredients on hand, unless you’re a 22-year old male college student… Don’t even get me started on the state of Tony’s kitchen when I met him in college. But I digress, back to these brownies. You can’t fully appreciate this recipe without knowing the reasoning behind her cocoa-only brownies. Yes, I discovered them by default, but Alice Medrich made them with the complete intention of using only cocoa powder so she could control the fat and sugar contents of the brownies to create a chewy, candylike top, hence why Alice Medrich’s recipe is called the “Best Cocoa Brownies,” and that they are.

 

IMG_9197

 

These brownies are deep and rich in chocolate flavor and have a crackly and shiny crust with a dense and fudgy middle. They are simply perfect for both the boxed mix brownie lover and the brownies from scratch lover.

Best Cocoa Brownies originally from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet, found on Smitten Kitchen:

10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
½ cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (75 grams) walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

  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. (I go further and throw mine in the fridge or freezer for a while; it’s the only way I can get them to cut with clean lines.)
  5. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Blueberry, Lemon, and Mascarpone Tart

April 29, 2014

I was so pleased with the appearance of my Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart that I ran out to the store and bought another tart pan the following day. One can never have enough bakeware, even if you only use it once… I’m looking at you mini cupcake pan that I just HAD to have… But really, bite-sized things are just too cute! ;)

 

IMG_8937_2

 

IMG_8944_2

 

 

I was also slightly ready for a detox of all things hazelnut/chocolate/caramel oriented. I realized I went a little overboard in that department in the past few weeks and I’ve neglected all the non-chocolate dessert lovers out there!

 

IMG_8994_2

 

IMG_8998

 

 

Now, I have thought long and hard on what dessert to make that didn’t include any of my seven guilty pleasures of chocolate, Nutella, caramel, dulce de leche, peanut butter, sea salt, and browned butter– a very difficult task, I might add! After consulting friends and family for recommendations I decided to make a Blueberry Lemon Tart… Mostly because I thought it would look pretty and because I really really despise cheesecake, which everyone always seems to request.

However, I did make some sort of compromise and made a mascarpone cream filling? Kind of the same thing as cheesecake, no?

I loved this tart for a handful of reasons. The first and foremost was the tart crust I found on David Lebovitz’s blog… I’m the absolute WORST at making pie crusts, but this tart crust is kind of fool-proof ANNNND there’s no food processor, mixer, pastry cutter, or rolling pin required! All you need to do is dump your ingredients into an oven-safe bowl, let the oven work it’s magic until your house smells of browned butter, stir in your flour, and then you have dough! As David Lebovitz puts it, there couldn’t be a more interesting method to make tart dough.

 

IMG_9025

 

For the filling, I made a light and fluffy lemon-mascarpone cream and plopped some blueberries on top. It’s one of those desserts that you can easily whip up in an hour or so and proudly bring to a friendly gathering. Zero stress and minimal effort. It was almost too easy to make that I felt the urge to make something immediately after.

Blueberry, Lemon, and Mascarpone Tart by The Bite-Sized Baker (Tart Shell by David Lebovitz):

Tart Shell:

90 grams (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used canola)

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

150 grams (5oz, or 1 slightly-rounded cup) flour

Filling:

8 ounces heavy whipping cream

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

2 lemons, zested

250 grams mascarpone

1 cup blueberries

  1. To make the tart shell, preheat the oven to 410 degrees F (210 degrees C). In a medium-sized ovenproof bowl, such as a Pyrex bowl, combine the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt.
  2. Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes, until the butter is bubbling and starts to brown just around the edges.
  3. When done, remove the bowl from oven (and be careful, since the bowl will be hot and the mixture might sputter a bit), dump in the flour and stir it in quickly, until it comes together and forms a ball which pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  4. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch (23 cm) tart mold with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula.
  5. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, pat it into the shell with the heel of your and, and use your fingers to press it up the sides of the tart mold. Reserve a small piece of dough, about the size of a raspberry, for patching any cracks.
  6. Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork about ten times, then bake the tart shell in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.
  7. Remove from the oven and if there are any sizable cracks, use the bits of reserved dough to fill in and patch them. Let tart shell cool completely.
  8. To make the filling, place the sugar and heavy whipping cream in a bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Beat just until cream reaches stiff peaks. Fold in mascarpone and lemon zest.
  9. To assemble, spoon the lemon-mascarpone cream into the prepared tart shell, smoothing the top with a spoon or rubber spatula. Arrange blueberries in a decorative pattern over the top if desired. Store in fridge until ready to serve.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart with Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts

April 24, 2014

So the other day I had some free time on my hands, which is typically the case when you’re fun-employed in Italy…

 

IMG_8783

IMG_8765

 

Like most days, I started my morning by going to CrossFit, drinking a coffee, showering, and making a trip to the Mercato Centrale… Which, by the way, has become quite an enjoyable experience. Louie and I made friends with our butcher and whenever we see him, he gives Louie free scraps and bones and cheers me on when I ask or say something in Italian… I would imagine his name is Enzo, but one could never be too sure. Once I got home at around 2:00PM, I was contemplating what to do for the next three hours until I had to start preparing dinner. Like a respectable citizen of society, I could use those next few hours to practice my Italian OR I could pick up some hazelnuts and bamboo skewers and master the art of Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts… I think we all know what the obvious choice was here.

 

IMG_8795_2

 

I feel like my desserts sometimes lack the “WOW” decorative factor and these little hazelnuts definitely add some “WOW.” Once I made the caramel, the rest was pretty fool-proof– poke, dip, and dry. Thanks to Martha Stewart, bless that woman. But afterwards I was left with 25+ Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts and no dessert to add some “WOW” to.

 

IMG_8812

IMG_8874

 

Now my wheels were really turning and I started to brainstorm which showstopper dessert I could waste the afternoon with… Since these are Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts, there obviously had to be caramel involved and something that goes well with hazelnuts… Chocolate, yes. But, a chocolate, caramel, and hazelnut what?

 

IMG_8842

 

 

Cue in tarts. A crispy cookie crust with layers of salted caramel, smooth and creamy chocolate ganache, and toasted hazelnuts for an additional crunch factor. It’s decadent, silky, gooey, salty, crispy, and crunchy all in one bite. It’s prettttty much every food adjective you could want in a dessert, hence making it a showstopper dessert on its own… And then you add Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts?! Wow is the word.

 

 

IMG_8856_2

 

I wish I could say I only had one bite of this rich and decadent dessert and then I was done with it… But that would be a flat out lie. I was feeling very proud of myself after I only had one bite during my little photo shoot, but then later that day I ate about a quarter of the tart… all the while standing up in my kitchen and adding the extra Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts to every bite… Nothing goes to waste in this kitchen!

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tar with Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts slightly adapted from The Perfect Finish and Martha Stewart:

Tart Shell:

10 tablespoons butter, room temperature

½ cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

Caramel:

½ cup heavy cream

1 cup granulated sugar

5 tablespoons water

Pinch of sea salt

1 cup hazelnuts, skinned and toasted

Chocolate Ganache:

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 cups heavy cream

Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts:

10 hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

  1.  To make the tart shell, cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix flour and salt. On low speed, add in flour mixture, ¼ cup at a time, and mix until dough comes together. Shape dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to a ¼-inch thick. Transfer dough to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and press dough evenly into bottom and sides of pan. Freeze for 30 minutes. Prick the tart shell all over with a fork and bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes.
  3. To make the caramel, heat the heavy cream over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil and set aside. In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer inserted in the syrup reads 375 degrees F. Remove man from heat and slowly whisk in cream until smooth. Pour caramel into cooled tart shell, sprinkle hazelnuts over caramel, and refrigerate until firm.
  4. To make the chocolate ganache, place chocolate morsels in a large non-reactive bowl. 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 slowly pour the ganache over the caramel and refrigerate until firm.
  5. To make the caramel-dipped hazelnuts, gently insert pointed end of a long wooden skewer into the side of each hazelnut. Place a cutting board along the edge of a countertop; place newspaper on the floor, directly under cutting board.
  6. Prepare an ice-water bath. Heat sugar and the water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and syrup is clear. Stop stirring; cook until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming. Continue to boil, gently swirling occasionally, until medium amber. Plunge pan into ice bath to stop the cooking; let stand until thickened, about 10 minutes. (To test: Dip a skewer in caramel and lift a few inches; if a thick drip slowly forms and holds a string, the caramel is ready.)
  7. Dip a skewered hazelnut into caramel, letting excess drip back into pan. When dripping syrup becomes a thin string, secure opposite end of skewer under cutting board. Repeat with remaining hazelnuts. (If caramel hardens before all hazelnuts have been dipped, rewarm it over low heat.) Let stand until caramel string has hardened, about 5 minutes; break each string to desired length. Carefully remove skewers. Candied hazelnuts should be used the same day; store, uncovered, at room temperature until ready to serve tart.
  8. To serve tart, sprinkle with sea salt and garnish with candied hazelnuts prior to serving.

Fesenjan Chicken

April 22, 2014

Since moving to Italy I have been cooking like it’s my job! Which in all fairness, it kind of is.

I’ve always blamed my sub-par cooking skills on my desire to eat healthy and since most of my meals lack copious amounts of butter, oils, cream, sodium, etc.– my cooking isn’t “exquisite.” The way I see it, if I’m going to indulge, it’s going to be in dessert so I always try to eat relatively clean meals…

 

IMG_8702

 

But we all know that’s an excuse because “healthy cooking” can still be equally delicious, my issue is I just don’t spend nearly enough time researching and experimenting with new savory recipes as I do with desserts to become a better cook.

It is a timely process to plan meals for the week, shop for ingredients, prepare ingredients, and cook a meal on a daily basis! Especially when cooking is still brand new territory for me… Fortunately, I ain’t got nothing but time so that’s exactly what I do!

 

IMG_8707

 

This past week I decided to make Fesenjan Chicken, a classic Persian dish of chicken, toasted walnuts, and pomegranates. I chose to make Fesenjan Chicken on the sole basis that Tony looooves pomegranates and I bought a bottle of Pomegranate Molasses on impulse and had no idea what to do with it.

Like every night, I gave myself ample time to mentally prepare myself and my ingredients before getting down to business… Starting with a glass of red wine and some James Vincent McMorrow tunes.

 

IMG_8709

 

I’m still learning how to properly use a knife and I definitely still wear swimming goggles while cutting onions so delegating my time wisely is key. I was especially on edge this night because I had to finely grind a half pound of walnuts with a knife since I am not in possession of a food processor… After about 45 minutes of hand chopping walnuts to a fine meal that otherwise could have been completed in 2 minutes with a food processor, I was already peeved when I moved on to preparing the raw chicken. About halfway into browning the chicken and burning myself with spitting oil, I realized that silly me, assigned Tony to pick up chicken at the store, and like a boy, he picked up a bunch of chicken wings and thighs, all with skin and bones… None of which is acceptable in this dish… Okay, I thought, “I’ll just remove the skin and the bone myself…” It was bad. I was just mutilating half-cooked, greasy chicken and infecting my entire kitchen with salmonella, which I had cleaned earlier that day… At that point, I had splinters of chicken bone swimming in my chicken broth and salmonella in my hair. I threw in the towel, literally… because that was surely infected with salmonella too.

Fortunately, we live in Florence, where there are hundreds of restaurants within walking distance of our apartment, so we didn’t starve that night… But I still had Fesenjan Chicken on my mind. After all, I did ALLL of that work for the walnuts.

The next day, I went to the Mercato Centrale in a search for boneless and skinless chicken breasts, which to my dismay, they only sold whole chicken breasts with the bone.. and I wasn’t going down that road again. I went to the supermarket and the same thing, so I manned up and I deboned a chicken breast for the first time.. However, this time it was raw and much more effective.

 

IMG_8711

 

After the deboning, everything went swimmingly. I chopped my onions in record time, thanks to a trick I learned from Ina about leaving the onion root while chopping, I cut my chicken into a uniform size and then cooked them evenly, and my walnuts were already finely ground… The rest was just seasoning and mixing. Easy!

This was to date, one of the top five meals I’ve ever cooked. It’s one of those meals that I was literally patting my own shoulder while we ate dinner because I was so proud of the final product. The chicken is so tender and juicy it literally falls apart as you mix it and it packs so much flavor with the pomegranate molasses, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric too! The nutty aroma of the walnuts filled my kitchen and I was singing its praises before even serving it. I served it over plain Basmati rice and topped it with pomegranate perils and freshly chopped parsley. So delicious and surprisingly, pretty nutritious!

 

Fesenjan Persian Chicken Stew with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce from Simply Recipes:

1 to 2 large yellow onions, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

5 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

½ pound walnut halves (about 2 cups)

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts, trimmed of excess fat, cut into medium size pieces, patted dry and salted

2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of sugar

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Salt

  1. First toast the walnuts. You can do that one of two ways. You can either spread them out in a single layer in a large skillet, and toast them on medium high heat, stirring frequently until lightly toasted, or you can spread them out in a single layer in a baking rimmed baking sheet, and toast at 350°F in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. In either case, once toasted, remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pulse in a food processor or blender until finely ground.
  2. In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, pat the chicken pieces dry again and place the chicken pieces in the pan, working in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan, and cook until golden brown on all sides. Sprinkle the chicken with salt while they are cooking.
  3. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the chicken from the pan, set aside. Add a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil to the pan. Lower the heat to medium low. Add chopped onions to the pan and sauté until translucent, stirring on occasion to release the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. Return the chicken pieces to the pan with the onions. Pour 2 cups of chicken stock over the chicken and onions. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
  5. Stir in the ground walnuts, pomegranate molasses, sugar, and spices. Cover and cook on very low heat for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to prevent the walnuts from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  6. Remove from heat and adjust sugar/salt to taste. At this point the chicken should be fall apart tender.
  7. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley. Serve over basmati rice.

Nutella and Dulce de Leche Stuffed Double Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt

April 18, 2014

So I’m sitting there, waiting for my Pavlova for my Strawberry Eton Mess to slooooowly bake… Like an hour and a half to cook and then an additional hour in the oven to rest… and I am getting kind of impatient and bored at this point. It’s not like I can leave the house with the oven on!

 

IMG_8505

 

If I had any self-restraint, which I don’t, I would have put away all of my baking ingredients and cleaned my kitchen. But really, where’s the fun in that? So instead, I made Nutella and Salted Dulce de Leche Stuffed Double Chocolate Chip Cookies, which I’ve had my eye on for quite some time now. I feel like they’re the Nutella-Stuffed Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt on crack. Chocolate Crack. And whooo can resist chocolate crack? Certainly not me.

 

IMG_8509

 

There are a few golden rules I live by and one of them is to always have homemade cookie dough ready to go in the fridge or freezer at any given time. If you’re having a bad day, freshly baked cookies can immediately cheer you up or if you’re having a spectacular day and you want to celebrate, cookies are a great way to do just that! Other golden rules include (but are not limited to):

  1. Wearing work-out clothes anywhere and everywhere (even in Italy, where everyone stares at you)
  2. If you’re too embarrassed to write it in your diary, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
  3. When in doubt, just smile and nod even when you have no idea what’s going on (people will think you’re so charming!)
  4. It’s acceptable to talk to your dog in public as if he is your furry child/BFF
  5. Dessert is appropriate for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner
  6. If you’re going to post a picture of your hand eating or holding some sort of delicious food, your nails should be painted– unless you’re a male.

… More bits of wisdom to come… I know you’ll be eagerly waiting.

 

IMG_8574_2

 

Cookies are my ultimate comfort food AND weakness, for that matter. I can never pass up a freshly baked cookie, especially when there’s a glass of cold milk nearby. I saw these cookies on Pinterest and I knew I had to make them immediately, like most things that include big, fat, puffy cookies, Nutella, and sea salt. For the most part, I followed the recipe exactly as is, except I took it a step further and browned the butter for maximum flavor and substituted dulce de leche for the salted caramel… Only because I am lazy and that’s what I had on hand.

 

IMG_8598

 

These cookies are like puffy, brownie-like, chocolate clouds… Not to mention they are stuffed with every little guilty pleasure of browned butter, chocolate chips, Nutella, dulce de leche, and sea salt… They are heavenly in a sense. Annnnd now I have this heavenly cookie dough sitting in my fridge waiting to be devoured on a sunny or a rainy day… Whichever comes first!

 

IMG_8673

 

 

Nutella and Salted Dulce de Leche Double Chocolate Chip Cookies very slightly adapted from Top With Cinnamon:

½ cup unsalted butter

1 ½ cups light brown sugar

½ cocoa powder

2 eggs

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon baking powder

2 cups all-purpose flour

3.5 ounces milk or dark chocolate chips

½ cup Nutella, chilled

½ cup Dulce de Leche, chilled (I used store-bought since it’s what I had on hand)

Sea salt for sprinkling

  1. To make the cookies, mix cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and flour in a large bowl until combined and set aside. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt and cook down the butter until little brown bits appear in the pan and you smell a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat. Once the butter has cooled slightly, stir in the brown sugar and eggs. Gradually add the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Place cookie dough in the refrigerator for at least two hours to let the flavors meld together.
  2. Once the dough has rested for at least two hours, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  3. To assemble, roll 1½ tablespoons of dough and flatten the dough to make a flat circle. Place 1 teaspoon of chilled Nutella and 1 teaspoon of dulce de leche in the middle of the cookie and then place another flat circle of cookie dough on top. Crimp edges to seal. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Strawberry Eton Mess

April 15, 2014

Sooo… I did something a little risky the other day.

I bought high-waisted jean shorts that are slightly cheek exposing. This means one of two things– one, I’ve become a girl who can rock cheeky shorts.. Or two, I’ve become THAT girl who wears cheeky shorts and really should not be.

 

IMG_8456

 

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes, okay, a lot of the time, I judge a book by its cover. It’s not a good quality, I know, but it’s the truth and admitting it is the first step, right?

I judge a girl when she’s wearing too cheeky of shorts and shouldn’t be, I discriminate against Pavlova, I choose desserts based on chocolate quality, I decide which restaurants to go to depending on the atmosphere, select coffee shops because of the sweet foam art, and choose books to read because of one quote I liked, etc.

 

IMG_8446

 

So, how are Pavlova, cheeky shorts, and judgmental thoughts interlinked?? In brief, I didn’t want to be the second girl who wears too cheeky of shorts and shouldn’t be and my desserts-only diet doesn’t help me avoid that. Except for you, Pavlova, you sexy little thing.

In the case of Pavlova or really any meringue-based dessert, I’ve always been less than amused. Not because I have tried it and I didn’t like it, but because at first look, it’s just not my kind of chocolate/ice cream/decadent dessert. I decided to make Pavlova after I fell in love with the Chocolate and Hazelnut Meringue Cake and because it is relatively healthy in the grand scheme of desserts… which should help me with my cheeky shorts dilemma. And also, because I really really wanted to make a naked cake. No, I’m not talking about a cake you bring to a bachelorette/bachelor party, but a simple cake with fresh fruit, minimal frosting, and layers.

 

IMG_8467

 

For my first naked cake to celebrate Spring, Pavlova seemed like the obvious choice. Now, I know it’s debatable if Pavlova is actually considered a cake since it’s kind of just a large meringue… But one bite into it and I promise you will not be bothering yourself with a cake debate.

But alas, as you can see by the title of this post I did not succeed in making a pretty naked Pavlova cake. I did, however, succeed in convincing Tony that Pavlova was “totaaaally healthy” as we quickly demolished the entire thing in a swift ten minutes and then proceeded to go on a run. But case in point, this is a healthy dessert because had it been a Chocolate Cake, we would most definitely have felt too sick to go on a run after eating it!

 

IMG_8485_2

 

So since my first naked Pavlova cake was slightly unappealing in a strictly aesthetics sense, I created Eton Mess. Also known as, smashed up meringues with whipped cream and fresh fruit, which also happens to be the best solution for ugly Pavlova.

Eton Mess calls for meringues, but I LOVED the texture of the Pavlova and I didn’t want to search for another recipe. Besides, I figured meringues and Pavlova are pretty much the same thing, except for the fact that meringues do not call for cornstarch and are cooked all the way through, whereas Pavlova has a delicately crisp exterior and a soft and fluffy marshmallow inside. Whether you make Eton Mess with an ugly leftover Pavlova or meringues, it is a simple dessert with minimal ingredients, light as air, and is then topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit… The perfect way to celebrate Spring!

 

IMG_8491_2

 

Stawberry Eton Mess adapted from Ina Garten:

Pavlova:

4 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Strawberry Sauce:

½ pound strawberries, hulled and quartered

¼ cup granulated sugar

Juice from half a lemon

Sweetened Whipped Cream:

1 cup cold whipping cream

1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. For the Pavlova, preheat the oven to 180 degrees F. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Draw six 4-inch circle on the paper, using a 4-inch pint glass as a guide, then turn the paper over so the circle is on the reverse side. (This way you won’t get a pencil mark on the meringue.)
  2. Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until firm, about 1 minute. With the mixer still on high, slowly add the sugar and beat until it makes firm, shiny peaks, about 2 minutes.
  3. Remove the bowl from the mixer, sift the cornstarch onto the beaten egg whites, add the vinegar and vanilla, and fold in lightly with a rubber spatula. Pile the meringue into the middle of the circles on the parchment paper and smooth it within the circles, making a rough disk. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven, about 1 hour. It will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
  4. For the strawberry sauce, combine strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 4 minutes. Pour the cooked strawberry mixture into a food processor and pulse a 2-3 times until strawberries are roughly chopped. Place in the refrigerator to chill.
  5. For the sweetened whipped cream, whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until firm.
  6. To assemble, roughly crumble the pavlova nests in a large bowl and fold in sweetened whipped cream and strawberry sauce. Arrange in 4 serving glasses and top with strawberries. Alternatively, you can layer the pavlova, sweetened whipped cream, and strawberry sauce in 4 serving glasses.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Meringue Cake

April 7, 2014

This is a personal opinion, but as a baker and blogger, there is nothing worse than a failed recipe. I know every failure is a lesson and blah, blah, blah– but I learned nothing from this failure because I repeated the same mistake two more times. Oh wait, I did learn that I shouldn’t allow myself to eat my feelings…

 

IMG_8296

 

I  wasn’t even going to post this recipe because it caused me so much grief. Every time I attempted to make this cake or the meringue something went wrong. By the third time around, I was literally eating my feelings… I was so upset that I took out a pint of ice cream, scooped it on top of my failed cake, and ate it. ‘Cause when you have a whole lot of ice cream over something, even a sub-par cake, it still tastes pretty good… Not as good as it is supposed to taste (which made me even more upset), but enough to eat it while standing over the sink and trying to force myself to stop eating it by running water over it… Now I have a tummy full of cake and not even a recipe to show for it.

Flash forward to the following day, when I FINALLY got it right. This isn’t a difficult recipe, I have made the different components of this recipe multiple times, but for some reason my skills were off or the oven wasn’t working correctly… Must have been the oven. But I felt COMPELLED to complete this cake because I knew its potential.

 

IMG_8340

 

Every morning on my way to and from the Mercato Centrale I pass by the cutest little bakery called, Il Vecchio Forno, and every morning I make a mental note that I MUST stop in and try a pastry or two on a special occasion… Especially before the owner starts to think I’m a creep for walking into her bakery every other day and admiring all the delicious baked goods without ever buying anything.

It wasn’t a special occasion, just a random Thursday morning with Tony’s mom that we finally decided to indulge– much to the astonishment of the owner, as she repeatedly asked us “É questó un regalo?”… No, it’s not a gift… And we continued to order more brioches, biscotti, breads, and cookies. Our excitement must have been infectious because she gave us a free taste tester of some of her most popular treats, which were all delightful.

 

IMG_8344

 

We climbed the 83 steps to our apartment and we justified our excessive purchases while doing so. The first thing we tried was the brioche. I told myself I was only going to eat half of the brioche that day, but Judith quickly exclaimed that we shouldn’t waste half of a freshly baked brioche because it would most definitely not taste as good the next day and one bite into it I knew I didn’t stand a chance.

 

IMG_7969

 

The Nutella Brioche was everything you could want in a perfect brioche; light, buttery, flaky, and delicious. But the real stand-out of the loot was the Scopeti. They were displayed right in the middle of all the different varieties of cantucci, including chocolate and orange, fig and walnut, and almond. I was too excited about everything else I was ordering that I didn’t realize they weren’t biscotti, but a delicious and light chocolate and hazelnut meringue cookie-bar.

 

IMG_8362 2

 

That night we presented all of our goodies to Tony and tried the Scopeti for the first time. It was a mistake. As soon as we bit into one, we ate every last piece. They were chewy, light, nutty, and chocolatey– the perfect treat to end your night. The next day I knew I needed more of these Chocolate and Hazelnut Meringue Bars in my life, but out of self-respect, I restrained myself from going back the following morning. So what’s a girl to do? Why, bake my own, of course!

 

IMG_8369

 

I had a general idea of how to recreate these delicious treats, but for recipe comparison purposes I did a quick search on the Internet and found THIS… Which, I fell in love with immediately… I used my staple Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe for the cake part and a variation of a Washington Post recipe for “‘Ugly But Good’ Chunky Chocolate-Hazelnut Meringues.” The result was a moist, dense, and fudgey cake with a crisp, crunchy, and chocolate meringue topping. It was perfection and exactly what I was aiming for.

 

IMG_8386 2

 

The worst part of this recipe is waiting to eat it. You will want to eat it straight out of the oven, but like many great things, you must wait. Wait until it is completely cooled and the longer you can wait, the better.. and maybe eat it with some ice cream or sweetened whipped cream. You will not be disappointed! Also, I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t tell you that I ate half of the cake that night. It was worth the failed attempts.

 

Chocolate and Hazelnut Meringue Cake inspired by Tartlette, adapted from Martha Stewart and Maria Bruscino Sanchez:

Cake:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

6 large eggs, separated

½ cup granulated sugar

Meringue:

1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 to 2 egg whites

  1. For the cake, preheat the oven to 275 degrees with the rack in the center. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.
  2. Place butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and microwave in 30-second increments, stirring each time, until completely melted. Let cool slightly. Whisk in egg yolks.
  3. In a large bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add granulated sugar, and continue beating until glossy stiff peaks form. Whisk 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture; then gently fold in remaining egg whites.
  4. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula, and bake for 25 minutes. While the cake is baking, prepare meringue.
  5. To make the meringue, increase oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Use an electric beater to beat the egg whites in a clean, dry bowl until firm peaks form. In another bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa and cinnamon in a mixing bowl until combined then add chopped hazelnuts. Use a wooden spoon to gently fold in half of the egg whites until the mixture is evenly moistened; it should be thick and hard to stir. If there’s not enough moisture to make the mixture hold together, add some of the remaining egg white, a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture just holds together but is not runny.
  6. Using a spoon, gently spoon meringue on top of the cake as to not to deflate the meringue, and return to oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until meringue is lightly browned and firm.
  7. Cool completely on a wire rack; remove sides of pan. Serve at room temperature, dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 782 other followers