Baked Sunday Mornings: Going Rogue–The Great Brookster Experiment

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We were supposed to make a Simple Chocolate Whiskey Tart with Whiskey Whipped Cream over at Baked Sunday Mornings this time around. So I guess now is where I need to tell you that I don’t usually like mixing baked goods with alcohol. I like to keep dessert time and drinky time separate. 😉 I did make the Whiskey Peach Upside-Down Cake when it was assigned to us and tried hard to like it, but I just kept thinking that the whiskey was interfering with the delicate cake and juicy peaches.

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So I decided to take the plunge and attempt to make a recipe that I had wanted to try for a while: the Brookster. (cookie+brownie!) My fellow bakers tackled this recipe in September 2012, way before I joined.

Sometimes when I am going to make something new, especially if I think it might be difficult I like to google it so I can see photos from other bakers who have already made it and blogged about it. I have to say that may have not been a good idea in this case because it almost made me not want to attempt this recipe because the success rate seemed to be pretty low, and the people who DID succeed with it seemed to be meh about the outcome and prefer either a chocolate chip cookie OR a brownie separately.

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I decided to approach this from every possible angle. I knew that the recipe made almost double the amount of chocolate chip cookie dough as it did brownie batter, so I doubled the brownie recipe. I thought that would give me enough to work with so I could make muffin-size Brooksters, larger mini tart pan Brooksters, plus individual cookies and brownies for comparison. (to see if they were, in fact better separately)

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The recipe was straight forward: make the dough and batter and chill for 3 hours. But have you met me? I don’t chill for 3 hours. I’m cool with chilling overnight but if I want to make something same day I usually put it in the freezer to expedite the action. I chilled each in the freezer for an hour and a half. The cookie dough was still in the bowl, one muffin tin had cups half-filled with brownie batter and the remainder of the brownie batter was chilling in the bowl. I also half filled two mini tart pans with brownie batter to make Brooksters and filled 2 other 3/4 of the way full to make plain brownies.

I haven’t been this tense and nervous making anything since I screwed up a buttercream for a cake a few months ago. I was fully prepared for failure, at least for part of the experiment. Maybe the muffin tin Brooksters would be raw in the middle. Maybe the tart pan Brooksters would overflow and splatter all over my oven.

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After I pulled everything from the freezer I assembled the Brooksters. A circle of cookie dough roughly the size of a 50 cent piece was rolled and smooshed into a flat disc, then placed on top of the chilled brownies in the muffin tin. I pushed the discs into the batter slightly. I realized that my little cookie dough hats were fully covering the brownies so I made them a little smaller to see if that made any difference at all in comparison. (it didn’t)

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When the first pan of muffin-tin Brooksters were in the oven I scooped out a quarter sheet pan of plain chocolate chip cookies. I kept a close eye on the first Brookster batch as they cooked. Ten minutes on one side, pan rotated and timer set for ten more minutes. After twenty minutes I had to make a judgement call. If I was making regular cookies, I would have pulled them before they got as dark at the cookie part was on my Brooksters, but I had to remind myself that I usually underbake my cookies. I touched the tops and they seemed like they could safely bake a few more minutes so I set the timer for three more minutes.

I let them cool completely in the pan, except for one test Brookster that I broke in half. It was hard to tell when warm if the brownie was totally done but the cookie was definitely cooked through. I put one half in the fridge to cool for further observation. The plain cookies went in next and the mini tart pans went in after that. By that time the original batch had cooled enough for me to realize that I had achieved Brookster success! They were not raw or weird at all. I pulled the muffin liners off of that batch because they were really greasy and looked kind of gross. They peeled away easily and I set the Brooksters aside to further cool.

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The batch of cookies browned pretty quick and got a l lot darker than I would have liked before I had the chance to pull them. I was a little disappointed and just set them aside.

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By the time I decided to make a second batch of muffin tin Brooksters (since the first batch was fine) the tart-pan Brooksters were cooled and I took them out of their pans. I had been really worried about the tart-pan Brooksters because they were really buttery-bubbly. When I looked at them butter was oozing around them in the pan. It looked gross/weird and I was terrified that that meant certain failure. It turns out that by the time I pulled them the butter had burned off and by the time I took them out of the pan they were totally fine and not weird/greasy at all. Phew.

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I had originally thought: ok if the first batch of muffin Brooksters tanked then I could still take the second half of the brownie batter (chilled in a bowl, not a pan) and make plain brownies, and make regular cookies with the remaining cookie dough and all will not be lost. But since everything was going pretty well I just made a second Brookster batch. I was confident in baking times at that point and replicated the 10 on one side, 13 on the other and they were great.

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Amazingly enough, I still had enough leftover cookie dough to make 7 more cookies and this was after liberal raw-dough eating.
By the time everything was all said and done I had 24 muffin-sized Brooksters, 2 4″ tart Brooksters, 2 4″ brownies and 13 cookies. So obviously, I had plenty of product to work with to compare and choose a favorite. I have to say: I love warm cookies, but prefer brownies the second day, so after testing a couple of muffin Brooksters I put all the rest aside to rest overnight.

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I left the liners on the second batch of muffin-pan Brooksters and so the next morning I had half with and half without. The 4″ Brooksters unmolded from their pans with no problems at all.

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So here was my overall assessment: the muffin tin Brooksters were by far the crowd favorite. They were great in my boys’ lunches, they were perfect for a very satisfying dessert treat. Even though the cookie SEEMED too dark at first, it was not burned or overcooked. The brownie part was fudgy and dense and pretty much the best brownie on the planet. It didn’t rise, but the cookie did so the layers ended up being equals, which really surprised me because the disc seemed so small and thin and unsubstantial.

The buttery, chewy cookie was a great compliment to the super dense over-the-top fudgy brownie, and I really did prefer them together. I love brownies but sometimes the fudginess is just TOO much. The texture and buttery flavor of the cookie and the little burst of semisweet chocolate chips really did enhance the brownie for me. The Brooksters that still had the liners turned out to be the better choice because the liners kept them from drying out. The ones with the liners removed were a bit dry after a couple of days.

The cookies were good and you know…just chocolate chip cookies. They could have used a sprinkle of salt on the tops, but they were great/fine and although the color was dark, they stayed chewy and soft even days later.

The giant brownie was tasty and perfect but….the giant Brookster for me tasted so much better. (even though that size is a bit insane and I can NEVER make a dessert that only yields 6 in a family of 5 )

Next time I think I will stick to the recipe as is and make 12 Brooksters and freeze the rest of the cookie dough either for more Brooksters later or an emergency batch of cookies. (cookie emergencies happen!) 24 Brooksters, as glorious as that is–is just too many to have on hand at once.

Don’t get me wrong, we ate them ALL, and after they were gone my boys were like ‘where are the Brooksters?’ They had them after school and in lunches a few days and they said that ALL of their friends wanted one, which is a huge compliment.

I have to say–I have not been more proud of a baking success in a LONG time. I was so happy and surprised with the way everything turned out and I really think the reason I was able to do so well was because I was able to see ahead of time what some of the potential problems could be. I think smooshing the dough discs pretty thin was the way to go, I can see how a thicker disc would not have gotten cooked through and I can definitely understand the inclination to want to add more cookie dough on top of that huge mound of brownie batter. But truly, the layers end up almost the same, which is awesome.

I hope that if any other would-be Brookster bakers read this it is helpful for their own successful batch. Truly, this dessert was so so so good and I can totally see why the Baked boys sell so many at their bakery.

Next up: Bale bars! (I have no idea what that is, I’m off to check out the recipe!)

Share the Scoby Love

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With every batch of kombucha that is made, the scoby starts to get a bit thicker. Translucent gummy goodness is a sign that the scoby is having a baby. I hadn’t separated my fused mama/baby scoby until this last batch. I realized that as the holidays approach maybe a little starter kit with a scoby (swimming in the brew it was born in) directions and helpful hints (handwritten for a personal touch) and a bottle of my latest batch may be a fun gift for one of the kombucha lovers in my life.

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I know so many people who enjoy a bottle of store bought kombucha, and most probably don’t enjoy the $4 price tag. Just like anything else, it’s so cheap to make and I achieved success with my very first batch with zero experience or knowledge prior to giving it a shot. I have read a lot of blogs and websites discussing methods and equipment and was able to get a pretty solid working technique down quickly. (although I did use a spicy tea last time without realizing the essential oils may be harmful to my scoby, I guess we’ll see if it is ok by how my current batch pans out)

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Williams-Sonoma sells this kit online for $70 and even though the glass jar is cool, I think it’s a total scam. I don’t think I’ve spent $20 on supplies and I’m on my 5th batch.

I think I have a recipient in mind for my first little kit, if I get a good response I may continue to spread the scoby love around.

What are your favorite DIY gifts to give this time of year?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Mile-High Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

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I did NOT want to make this cake. I knew it was going to be delicious, but I just wasn’t in the mood for a layer cake, especially a SIX LAYER cake. I didn’t have an occasion to make it for and I hate having to toss yummy cake that was just too much for us to eat. I had bought the chocolate and heavy cream so I knew I’d end up making the cake, even though I would procrastinate like crazy first.

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I made the layers on Thursday, planning to finish it on Friday in time to share at my PTO night of gossip meeting. That didn’t happen.

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I asked my husband to cut the three layers in half for me, I was terrified of making a giant crumbly mess. He did a great job.

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I procrastinated the buttercream for hours–I put the kids to bed, I cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom….I listened to my favorite podcast…and finally I worked up the nerve to give it a shot. I always did fine with the Baked buttercream, but one batch failed recently when our A/C was acting wonky. I guess the heat just messed it up. But even after several successful cooked buttercreams, it just took that one bad egg to shake my confidence. When it turned out beautiful and fluffy…it was the best feeling in the world. Doing a happy dance in my kitchen at one am–well, I’m glad I was alone. 🙂

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The next step was assembling the layers. It took me a second to realize how to get the layers together without breaking the cakes. I used a flexible cutting board, slid them on and placed them one by one on the yummy buttercream. The layers made me laugh, the looked like Shel Silverstein-style flapjacks…tall and kind of leaning to the side. I didn’t mind.

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Finishing cakes is just not my strong point. I just don’t have enough focus to make them perfect. Once I feel good about the baking process I just want to get to the eating part. I might make it a goal to work on decorating, but right this second I don’t have a lot of interest.

I’ve noticed a direct correlation between the time of day I am baking and what the finished product looks like. When I am doing middle of the night baking (I’m a night owl and sometimes it takes forever to get the youngest boy settled down) my cakes end up looking a bit more…whimsical.

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Why did I choose to use my wavy-frosting comb thing? I don’t know. It was 2am and for some reason I remember thinking ‘it looks kind of like a tree trunk!’ I went to bed with a clean kitchen and a giant cake chilling in the fridge. I giggled a bit when I uncovered it this morning, but loved seeing how great the layers looked and how pretty it looked on the plate. If it had have been a birthday cake I would have covered it with sparkly, pretty candles and sang my loudest to distract from the fact that my cake was a bit imperfect wobbly. Of course my cake testers loved it and proclaimed it the BEST CAKE IN THE WORLD! (they kind of say that about everything I bake ;))

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Go over and see how my fellow bakers fared…did they cut the three cakes into six layers? Did their buttercream turn out? I’m going over to find out now!

Next up: Orange Almond Ricotta Cheesecake…yummy!! (and just one layer!!)