Penguins in the Kitchen: Joy the Baker Melt-y Chocolate-Truffle Cookies

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One day I got a package in the mail from Amazon. I wasn’t expecting anything, so I had no idea what could be inside. The box contained two cookbooks: Joy the Baker Homemade Decadence and Brookes Headley’s Fancy Desserts, an unexpected “just because” gift from a friend in California.

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The first recipe I tried from Homemade Decadence was a classic yellow cake. It is a rock-solid basic recipe and should be anyone’s go to for birthdays, potlucks or just because. I made it for a friend’s birthday and baked it in a bundt pan and topped it with a chocolate ganache and sprinkles. The recipe makes one bundt or three 9″ layers or 24 cupcakes.

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I’ve started baking with a group of friends and I chose this cookie for our first recipe, based on ingredients I had on hand. I love chocolate truffles and was really excited to bake these.

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It was weird for me to put a cookie dough together by hand, I’m so used to using my stand mixer. They came together fast and with no issues along the way. The recipe was simple and straight forward. I put the dough in the freezer for 18 minutes instead of the fridge for 30, scooped them out and rolled them in powdered sugar and had them in the oven quickly. I was disappointed that the recipe only yielded 16 cookies: there are five people in my family and we all love cookies. Next time I’d definitely double the recipe.

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The cookie was supposed to be slightly underbaked. She recommended about 10 minutes bake time, but I know my oven: cookies this size will NOT be underbaked at ten minutes, they will be tiny bits of charcoal. I started them off at 5 minutes, rotated the pans and put them in for three more minutes. They were perfectly set and after cooling on the pan for five minutes I moved them to wire racks.

They were definitely best warm: melty and yummy. They were a cross between a chocolate crinkle, a brownie and a truffle. I love the color contrast between the confectioners’ sugar and the dark chocolate cookie, but I am curious to see if 3/4c. sugar/1/4 cup cocoa powder would make it taste even more like truffles.

The cookies pack a punch and are very very rich. I had two–they are definitely not snacking cookies, just a bit is enough. But even so–16 cookies will not cut it for my house!

Have you made these? What did you think?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Twice Baked

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I had decided to go rogue this time around so I could make the Wintermint Cake. I had already bought all the ingredients before and I really wanted to get rid of those candy canes while I still could. I decided to make Wintermint cupcakes to take to our friends’ house for New Year’s Eve.

I made them the same day and decided to skip the ganache because I didn’t have the time or the desire to both dip and frost my cupcakes, but next time I will make the recipe as a cake and will make the ganache too.

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It was fun to crush up my remaining candy canes to top the cupcakes with and even though I normally don’t like mint and chocolate together, I really liked the subtle fluffy buttercream paired with the delicate chocolate cake.

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I had no plans to make this week’s recipe, Hair of the Dog Cake. I just don’t dig alcohol with desserts and while this post contains two combos I usually don’t like–I’m really not that picky. There are not too many foods I don’t like: mint/chocolate, alcohol in desserts and mushrooms. That pretty much covers it.

But when one of my fellow bakers mentioned skipping the booze and making the cake as a vanilla cake I decided to give it a shot. I had most of the ingredients and I was curious about the boiled frosting. I didn’t want to run to the store to get the remaining ingredients so I tossed in some shortening a bit of sour cream to compensate for the egg and half a stick of butter I was missing and hoped for the best.

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The cake baked up beautifully, but I was still a bit confused by the boiled frosting. I pulled the cake when it turned bubbly, worried that I was going to overbroil and burn the cake, but I’m not quite sure I took it out at the right time.

The finished cake was delicious, though and we really enjoyed it. I loved the rich vanilla cake and the warm brown sugar/vanilla frosting and fluffy whipped cream. I’m glad I decided to make it as well.

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Go here to see how everyone else liked it! (and if they all kept or ditched the rum)

Next up: Gingersnaps with Lemon Sugar!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Date Squares

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I can’t say I was excited about this recipe. I think the name reminded me of my least favorite Baked recipe, Bale Bars. But, cookies are my favorite thing to make and this recipe sounded like a breeze.

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They were super easy to put together, and the only dates I found at my local store were already chopped into small pieces, making things go even quicker.

I had two small issues: the first was that my crumb mixture was too dry. It really did need more butter and I considered adding more, but in the end I just went with the original recipe. That made them more messy and I lost a lot of the crumbs, but there was a cohesive bar in there that cut nicely and came out of the pan easily, even without using parchment. (how could I be out of parchment?!)

My other issue was that I read the instructions wrong. It said to rotate halfway through baking, about thirty minutes and for some reason I took that to mean rotate thirty minutes in, then bake another thirty. I realized my mistake about five minutes after rotating so luckily I didn’t ruin my bars.

I have to say, the bars are really tasty and were nothing like my sad bale bar failure. My kid-testers enjoyed them too even though one of them was really disappointed that there was no chocolate involved. He thought ‘date squares’ were cookie bars you made for a date, and would naturally contain chocolate.

Go see what everyone else thought!

Next up: Wintermint Cake!! This cake is due the same weekend as my birthday, so I think I know what kind of cake I’ll have for my birthday this year!!!

Baked Occasions: Sweet Potato Tart with Gingersnap Crust and Heavenly Meringue

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I was excited to have a big holiday to bake something from the new cookbook. I chose the tart immediately and bought the ingredients.

Later I read through the whole recipe and my heart sunk. Not only would I be making a meringue for the first time (for some reason meringue has seemed intimidating and I’ve avoided making recipes that have it) but I needed a torch.

I don’t have a torch. I went to buy a torch at Bed Bath and Beyond and left empty-handed. I didn’t want to spend that much money for one recipe.

My husband went to Harbor Freight for something else and noticed that they carried very cheap mini torches. I went back and bought one ($7) and grabbed some butane from Lowe’s. ($5)

I made the crust, which was a breeze, although I always manage to extend my crust up too high which makes the edges too tall and jagged. I need to work on that.

Next up was the filling. This part was tricky because I was using a 10″ springform instead of the 9″ it called for so I wanted to make a bit more filling. I added a bit more of everything including an extra egg and crossed my fingers that it would set. (it did)

I put it in the fridge overnight and on Thanksgiving morning I made the meringue. It came together so much easier and quicker than I was anticipating. It was beautiful: bright white and glossy and it was fun to swirl it over the tart. The only thing left to do (besides unmold it) was to torch it.

I started to very tentatively brown the tops of the swirls and my husband was standing next to me trying to control the urge to grab it from me. I handed it over willingly and he perfectly browned the meringue for me.

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I took it in my lap to our friend’s house and removed the springform ring there. It came off perfectly and everyone ended up loving the tart. Of course I was making mental notes about what I would do better/differently next time but that’s what happens with a self-critical baker. 🙂

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The next-day leftovers (there was hardly any left!) were perfect and delicious although I don’t think I’d keep this tart any longer than that. I will happily add this to my regular holiday rotation.

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What did you bake for Thanksgiving?

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!)

Baked Sunday Mornings: Chocolate-Chip Orange Panettone

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Happy Almost-Christmas!! I just had a birthday (my twelfth twenty-fifth 😉 and I’ll write about that soon, but right now it’s the time of year when my boys are pacing the floors like madmen waiting impatiently for the morning they can rip open their presents. I’m feeling pretty much in the spirit–it’s our first Christmas in this house and for the first time in years we are staying home. Our presents are wrapped and ready to go and our beautiful tree (our biggest yet) is full to max capacity with all of our special ornaments.

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I felt a little weird/sad to not spend the holidays with our family like we normally do, so I was happy to hear that my in-laws were coming this weekend to drop off presents/hang out with us for Christmas. They are literally staying one day (not overnight) so I’m happy to be baking a special treat to share with them.

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I’ve never made panettone before, but I’ve eaten it store bought plenty of times. Whole Foods has a nice one that I used to get for the holidays pretty frequently. I had considered not making this since I waited so long to get the few ingredients I didn’t have on hand and I needed to clean the house, but when my husband came home this evening (at around 10pm) with paper molds and oranges and corn syrup (after my house was fully clean) I knew there was no turning back.

I was a little worried when I added the milk to the yeast/flour because I had a recipe (it’s been months but it still messed with my confidence…) that used yeast and didn’t rise properly so I’m still a little gun shy. The milk seemed a bit warmer than it was supposed to be and I was afraid I had killed my yeast.

I couldn’t remember what size it was before after I let it rise the first time so I’m not sure if it was doing it’s thing or not. It’s now 1am and I am waiting for my sugar to turn to syrup on the stove with my orange peels. My dough is in the mixer bowl and the chocolate chips are in the measuring cup on the counter, waiting patiently for their turn.

Once my peels are ready I am going to take a shower while they cool. After I get my dough in the paper mold I am hitting the hay and hoping that an overnight rise will be fine. (did I mention they will be here at 8am-ish?!)

I am minutes away from taking the peels off the heat, so I am going to leave you here. I will update in the morning after my panettone is baked (and we try a bit of it) and let you know what the verdict was.

Good Night!!!

Update:

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I woke up to perfectly risen panettone, much to my delight. I got the oven fired up and the panettone baking. My in-laws texted and let us know that they were going to be here a couple of hours later than we had originally thought so we made coffee and went back to bed. A few How I Met Your Mother episodes later and my panettone was complete.

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I meant to put foil on the top but I lost track of time. Luckily it seemed ok, not too dark.

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I set it out to cool and went back to bed. My in-laws are here now and the panettone was perfect for cutting. We just had a couple of sample slices and it was great. The orange-chocolate combo was perfect and the texture was great–lighter than bread but more chewy than cake. I definitely think this one was a winner!

**Note: I didn’t realize the recipe called for bread flour so I used A/P. I was worried, but it didn’t seem to hurt the texture. Also, my husband brought home milk chocolate chips so it a pretty mellow chocolate flavor as opposed to what it would have been with semi-sweet chips.

Go see what everyone else thought!

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Next up: Lemon lime champagne granita!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Antique Caramel Cake

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I really, really love caramel and I wanted to make this cake, but I wasn’t able to line up a dinner party play date for my family so I didn’t want to make a full cake and have it go to waste. Plus, I was able to get some cute, boy-friendly cupcake decorations that I wanted to try out for my guys, so I opted to make a batch of cupcakes instead.

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The batter was quick and easy to make although I was wondering how caramel-y it would end up tasting.

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It used a bit of vinegar at the end and it made me laugh to realize the brand was “Lady’s Choice”–should I be offended?

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I had lots of help from my little cupcake-loving guys. G “helped” fill the cupcake liners and M helped me make the frosting. I forgot to whisk in the heavy cream at the right time, so I added it at the end. Luckily it didn’t mess anything up. Sometimes it’s hard to focus when baking with 3 little boys running around. I *did* add a tablespoon of vanilla extract to the frosting. I don’t think I’m capable of making a cake (or cupcakes) without vanilla in some form.

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I ended up doing spooky red sparkes/knives for the big boys, rainbow sugar sprinkles for baby G, pink sprinkles for me and crystal salt flakes for my sweet man. I ended up “testing” two before I even frosted them, they made about 17 cupcakes, but I did overfill a few of them so they probably should have made closer to 20.

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I was happy with the way they turned out–very rich and caramel-y without being too sweet. I didn’t add any more caramel on top, but I did sprinkle a bit of kosher salt on them to contrast with the sweet caramel. Everyone in my family also gave them two thumbs up.

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I had to take a work call when I had five minutes left on the timer and forgot all about the cupcakes for about 8 minutes. I yanked them out in a panic, afraid I had ruined them. Even though they were a bit darker on the tops than I would normally allow, the finished cupcake was fine, not dry at all.

I will definitely make these again, both as cupcakes and as a layer cake. Go see how the recipe turned out for my fellow bakers!

Next up: Chocolate Velvet Walnut Fudge with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel.