November: Outrageous Brownies

It’s December 30th and here I am, still scrambling to finish my cooking challenge. With Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies, I am left one recipe short with one day left in the year. Let’s see what I can scramble to make tomorrow, but for now, let’s get to the brownies.

The original recipe in Ina’s Barefoot Contessa cookbook is huge, requiring 4 sticks of butter, a little over 2 pounds of chocolate and a 12×18 inch baking pan that I don’t think would even fit in my oven. Not to mention the recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, which is hard to find in Manila.

Ina Garten’s new cookbook, Foolproof, has a variation of this recipe which conveniently only uses half of the batter, saving me the trouble of doing the computation myself. I’ve also been able to find locally made unsweetened chocolate (Goya, who knew?), so I finally had everything I needed to make these babies and see if they really are as “outrageous” as Ina claims them to be.

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Taste-wise, these do not taste like the brownies we’re used to. Probably because of the coffee powder used, the chocolate taste of these brownies is deeper and richer, even if there are only 3 oz of unsweetened chocolate to 8 of semi-sweet. I love that they taste of darker chocolate, but this might not be recipe to use if you want a sweeter, milk-chocolate-y taste.

Texture-wise… Well. I may have messed things up in that department a little. Weirdly enough, while the brownie wasn’t dry or sandy at all, it was still very crumbly. Is that possible, for something to still be moist but be crumbly? I guess it is, since that’s how these turned out. I don’t know what it was. I took them out of the oven even if the toothpick wasn’t coming out completely clean yet, even if they already baked longer than the 35 minutes recommended by Ina. Maybe it was because I used a glass pan instead of a metal one? Whatever it was, I ended up with this after slicing up the brownies:

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Brownie… clumps? I wouldn’t call them crumbs, because they were bigger than that. As you can see, there was a lot of them. And as you can also see, I couldn’t bear to throw them out. I hate things (especially good butter and chocolate) going to waste, and I figured this was a problem (if you could call it that) a little ice cream couldn’t fix.

So despite the initial annoyance at the texture of the brownies did not come out perfect, I guess ending up with yummy ice cream topping is not something I should be complaining about. Two desserts from one recipe is not such a bad outcome for an afternoon.

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October: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

One of my pet peeves about baking recipes is the fact that they all seem to require different sizes of pans. For instance, for the chocolate cakes I’ve baked, I’ve had to buy 8 inch pans and 9 inch pans. When I came across a recipe calling for a 10 inch pan, I flat out ignored it. The thing with baking is that, while you can use a smaller or bigger pan than what the recipe requires, you’d also have to tweak your baking time and/or temperature correctly, or you’ll risk burning or undercooking what you’re making.

And this is why it took me so long to make Dorie Greenspan’s Espresso Cheesecake Brownies. I thought long and hard about just using the 8 inch square pan that I already have. When I did finally decide to spring for the 9 inch pan the recipe required, it took me a while to find one. Anyway, I finally did get one (the last one in the store!) and made the brownies this weekend:

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I didn’t make the sour cream glaze in the recipe because I really didn’t want to a sour cream AND confectioner’s sugar layer to something that already had chocolate, cream cheese, sugar and eggs. And, I also didn’t have enough sour cream on hand. Hehe.

I would make a couple more changes for the next time I make them. First, I would double up on the instant coffee powder I used for the cheesecake mixture. The recipe called for instant espresso powder and I substituted the same amount of instant coffee powder. Yeah, someone didn’t do their research. Second, I would probably increase the brownie mixture by half because I think the brownie layer is just a tad too thin and I also need more of the batter to swirl on top.

But don’t get me wrong, these were yummy. I just need a little more batter to swirl and for the coffee flavor to be as intense as Dorie  meant to it be.

September: Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Panic time. Two months to go in the year, and before the recipe below, I had four recipes that I needed to cook. Thank goodness for the four day weekend (Yaaaaay!) and I got a chance to catch up on my challenge, even if it was just by one recipe. And my September recipe was Ina Garten’s Raisin Pecan Oatmeal cookies.

In the intro to this recipe on Back To Basics, Ina called herself an oatmeal cookie connoisseur, and that this recipe was the best one she could find after searching for decades. With such high praise from Ina herself, and my own love for oatmeal cookies, I just had to try the recipe.

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As usual, Ina came through for me. These cookies were yummy. Crisp on the outside, chewy and moist in the inside, with a slight hint of cinnamon. Admittedly, I might have slightly overcooked some of them, because they weren’t browning as much as the ones in the photo in the cookbook. So for some of them, I went over the recommended 15 minute maximum cooking time. Thankfully I didn’t burn any of them, but I think some could have been a touch more moist if I took them out earlier. Other than that, I daresay these are as or nearly as good as my favorites from Sonja’s Cupcakes.

Tip: I had a hard time finding pecans in supermarkets, and when I did find them at Rustan’s, they were ridiculously expensive at almost Php 600 for two cups. You can get them at about half the price from Chocolate Lover in Quezon City. Yep, as in the building that looks like a castle. They’re a great source not just for cheap nuts, but everything you’d possibly need for baking.

August: Devil’s Food White-Out Cake

One of the things on my agenda for my trip to NYC was to meet up with my friend J and for us to cook and bake together. J and I have exchanged literally hundreds of emails talking about food, cookbooks, cooking gadgets, baking pans, Food Network hosts and recipes. I think we even have each other to blame for the other’s KitchenAid mixers. Naturally, we just HAD to cook and bake together when I came over.

We knew what we wanted to cook months ahead of time (champagne risotto from Giada and a chicken dish), but we didn’t know what we wanted to bake. Then it hit us. Duh. We had to bake the cake on the cover of Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook:
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We both have the cookbook (it’s J’s fault that I bought one) and have been talking about making the Devil’s Food White Out Cake it for ages, but none of us never got around to it. There really was no other cake we should make together.

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The cake layers were pretty straightforward to make. It was the frosting that required a lot more rereads of the instructions, as neither J nor I have ever made a cooked frosting before. To me, it was all very complicated, since a candy thermometer was required (hahaha) and very specific temperature was needed. Between J and I, though, we managed the frosting quite well.

So I put together the cake, as J needed to start on the champagne risotto, and here’s how it turned out:
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I had a bit of a tough time crumbing the cake for the topping, as the cake was moist, and the chocolate chips in the layers (yes, there are chocolate chips in the cake!) tended to mush things up. A fork didn’t really work either because of the aforementioned moistness. But I’d rather have big crumbs on my topping than a dry cake, as you can see from the picture.

I thought the cake looked wonderful (if not entirely professional-looking), but we made it, so I’m biased. But the ultimate seal of approval came from Dorie, herself, who replied when I tweeted this Instagrammed picture of the cake:

Of course I favorited the tweet. Duh.

I. DIE.

And yes, we loved it. The cake was moist and chocolaty, and the addition of chocolate chips was genius, because you had pockets of real, gooey chocolate embedded in the already chocolaty cake layers. And the frosting was light and smooth, and not too sweet at all. With most marshmallow-y looking icings, you already know they’re too sweet just from looking at them. But this particular one, you have none of that cloying sweetness that makes most people scrape off the frosting from the cake. So even with three layers of frosting, none was left on the dessert plates once we were done with our slices. Yep, even after risotto and chicken.

Now that I think about it, maybe it’s a good thing J and I don’t have that many chances to cook together. I shudder at how much weight we would gain (and how much money would be spent on ingredients) if we cooked together as much as we would like.

July: Barbecued Chicken

What’s this? TWO recipes in one month? I took advantage of the four-day weekend to get some cooking in. Since I’m leaving for two weeks, I figured I better get in as much cooking as I can or I’ll probably find myself 3 or even 4 recipes behind.

And my recipe for July could be considered an Ina Garten classic: Barbecued Chicken. I remember seeing the Barefoot Contessa episode where she made this, explaining that it was a combination of two recipes: one that was too tomato-ey and one that was too Chinese-y. The result is that it has a lot of ingredients (13!) ranging from Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Hoisin sauce and cumin. I was curious how that would all come together, as I love those flavors individually, and have been intrigued ever since. So when I saw the recipe in her Barefoot Contessa cookbook, I knew I had to make it.

The resulting marinade is wonderfully sweet, tangy, sour and spicy. I recommend tasting and making changes to the original recipe only after the 30-minute simmering time, since the sauce needs that time to meld all those flavors together. There are 13 ingredients after all.

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It is perfect with chicken, although I think it would be great with ribs, too, and maybe porkchops. We had this for dinner, but it was absolutely made for an outdoor summer meal, like a backyard barbecue or a beach-side picnic at the Hamptons a la Ina (natch!).

I can’t wait to make this again, as I’m already dreaming of sides that would go well with this: potato salad, grilled corn, maybe some nachos with a spicy salsa… and a nice strip of beach would go nicely with it, too.

My June recipe and a rule change

First up, a rule change for my 2012 Cooking Challenge. Yeah, I know, this probably qualifies as cheating. But at the rate I’m going, I’d have to cook THREE recipes this month. And there’s no way that’s going to happen as I’ll be out of the country for two weeks. Which means I’ll have to cook FOUR recipes in September. And it’s not like I haven’t been cooking, it’s just that I haven’t been cooking from the Kitchen and Back to Basics. I have been cooking from other cookbooks, so I figured I might as well include them in the challenge.

So I formally include Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa cookbook
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and Dorie Greenspan’s iconic Baking: From my Home to Yours (yes, also the source of the most wonderful cheesecake EVER) in my 2012 cooking challenge. It’s not like anyone will complain anyway, since this is my personal challenge.

And with that, I present to you my June recipe: Dorie Greenspan’s Peanut Butter Torte. My sister chose it for her birthday cake as I gave her free reign to choose whatever she wanted from the cookbook, provided all ingredients in the recipe she chose were easy to find. Given my sister’s tastes, it’s no surprise that she picked a recipe that required Oreos, chocolate and peanut butter.

While the recipe was not hard, per se, it was A LOT of work. This recipe is probably the most labor intensive thing I’ve ever made. It’s just a lot of prep work: chopping up peanuts and chocolate, crushing Oreos, building that crust, emptying out the mixing bowl, etc. And once you’ve popped the thing in the fridge for four hours, the work ain’t over. You still have to make the ganache topping. This is the type of recipe that makes you think, after making it, “This better be good.”

Well, it certainly looked good:

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I seriously considered not making the ganache topping anymore, since I came home from work late and still had to make it. But I am so glad I made it because it made the torte look awesome. Without it, the torte would just look like a huge mass of speckled beige mousse. With it and the peanuts, it’s just that more visually interesting and delicious-looking.

And it IS delicious! The cream cheese and peanut butter mousse is thankfully light and delightfully nutty. The crunchy mix of chopped chocolate, salted peanuts, cinnamon and nutmeg provide a great contrast from all that creaminess, both taste-wise and texture-wise. And that dark chocolate ganache and the sprinkling of salty peanuts not only makes the torte look that much prettier, but it also provides another contrasting layer of flavor and textures.

Packed with cream cheese, cream, peanut butter and Oreo goodness, it’s probably a good thing that this Peanut Butter Torte was a lot of work anyway. At least I burned some calories while making it, to offset the ones I get from eating it. Maybe that’s how it was planned all along. Nice one, Dorie.

May: Baked Chocolate Pudding

I haven’t baked in FOUR weeks. I’ve baked at least once a week since I got my mixer back in January, but a combination of fiscal year end at work, Euro 2012 and sickness has prevented me cooking anything in general.

I was finally able to eke out some time to make something this weekend and I decided to make something for my cooking challenge, since I didn’t want to end up two months behind. Choosing Ina Garten’s Baked Chocolate Pudding was a no-brainer because, well, look at the photo of it in her cookbook:

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This was the first thing I wanted to make upon going through Back to Basics when I first got it, and, for the life of me, I cannot understand why I waited this long to bake it.

I realized the folly of my delay even more when I finally got to taste it. It’s gooey, rich and wonderfully chocolatey. It’s great a little warm, at room temperature and even straight from the fridge. It is to die for with vanilla ice cream (I used Merry Moo’s here). My mom likes it with Merry Moo’s Sea Salt Caramel, but I find that the vanilla and chocolate combination can’t be beat (besides, I prefer Sea Salt Caramel on its own).
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And the pudding is so easy to make. You don’t even have to wait for butter to get to room temperature since you use it melted anyway. The trickiest part is actually getting it in and out of the oven since you have to bake it in a warm water bath. But if you’re less of a klutz than I am and can move a pan brimming with water without splashing the kitchen floor with it, then the whole process will be a breeze for you.

Even if you are a klutz, though, I still say that you should make this. I daresay all the chocolatey, gooey deliciousness is worth risking the 1st degree burns.