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I’m a big fan of Clif chocolate brownie bars. They’re only a dollar at Trader Joe’s, taste like a brownie, and unlike Luna Bars, don’t have rice crispies in them. I might have discovered the holy grail to making no-bake, gluten-free sweets that taste very similar to Clif bars – Medjool dates. By themselves, they are sweet, chewy, and have a rich caramelly flavor that makes me think of chocolate. However, I do find them a tad bit dense, and they are fairly caloric (about 60-70 calories per date; for context, an average apple is about 90 calories). However, their sticky nature means they act as an effective binder when blended in with oats and other nuts.

I browsed around for some recipes, and it is really great how flexible this recipe is. Some combination of dates and oats along with almond flour and other berries would work well. I think this would be a pretty good hiking mix since it’s so compact and easy to eat, but note that there isn’t a ton of protein in it compared to the Clif bars. I made my version with cranberries and cocoa powder, but I imagine you can switch up the flavors as you like, using dates (to bind) and almond flour (for protein) as a base. I imagine raisins, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, maple syrup, and honey would work well here too. I also used a Vitamix to blend the ingredients since I don’t have a food processor, but that seemed to work out fine.

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No Bake Homemade Cranberry Chocolate Oat Clif Bars
Makes 6-8 snack-sized bars

120g Medjool dates, pitted (10-12 dates)
3/4 almond flour (or 1 cup raw almonds)
1/2 cup cranberries
1 cup oats
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup water

Put everything in a food processor and blend till it is reasonably mixed up. You still want some chunks, so no need to puree it up. Mold it with your hands into balls or bars, and either eat right away if you’re hungry, or refrigerate so it hardens up.

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These cookies were inspired by a mom’s homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that she had sent to her (adult) children. When I was vacationing in California and visiting a friend, he opened up a package he had just received from his mom and inside was a big tupperware of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Having felt deprived of honest-to-goodness homemade food for a while, those cookies were manna for my hungry soul. Oatmeal cookies tend to get a bit of a bad rap because of those darn raisins that fool you into thinking that they are chocolate, but those cookies were all oatmeal chew with the deliciousness of chocolate and none of that raisin deception. I did a bit of research on the Internet for a recipe that would replicate those cookies’ chewy yet light texture, and I struck gold with this one. Just look at the alluring crackly tops in these cookies!

I’m typically all for a chewy cookie, but chewy cookies tend to be a little denser, and I wanted something that had some levity to it. This Cooking Light recipe seemed like it might be a good fit, and the 1/3 cup of butter confirmed my intuitions. The cookie itself has a crisp exterior, and a chewy interior due to underbaking it just a touch.

cookie inside

Baking soda and baking powder lent volume to the cookie, while oatmeal added bulk and texture without the density of flour. Pecan pieces added just a right touch of crunch. Instead of using chocolate chips, I used semisweet Trader Joe’s Pound Plus chocolate, chopped it up into small, almost flaky pieces, which adds subtle chocolate flavoring here and there, with an occasional melty chunk. I used 1/2 cup less sugar than the recipe recommended and it was still sweet enough. Since these cookies are meant to be light, use a weighing scale to measure out your ingredients as far as possible.

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In the vein of Louis CK, you don’t stop eating these cookies when you’re full – you stop eating when you realize you have just eaten 7 of these at a go and nothing else for the day.

Light and Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Cooking Light
Makes 3 dozen

1 1/4 cups (150g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (80g) old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (100g) packed brown sugar
1/3 cup (38g) butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60g) chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 cup (48g) semisweet high quality chocolate, chopped

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk; set aside.
Place sugars and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add vanilla and egg; beat until blended. Gradually add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Stir in pecans and chocolate. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Cool on pans 2 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool on wire racks.

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Scones are a very summery sort of baked good to me. I think it might be the fact that it often incorporates summer berries such as raspberries and strawberries, and also its quick bake time – nobody wants to leave the oven on all day and toil away in a hot kitchen, especially in the summer, do they? The petite sizes also don’t weigh you down, leaving you free to pop a couple in your mouth and then get going with basking in the summer sun.

The nice thing about this recipe is how simple the ingredients come together. There’s no complicated butter-browning or whisking-to-stiff peaks; it’s pretty much a one-bowl recipe that involves stirring. Because the ingredients are so minimal, I recommend getting quality, sweet strawberries as it would really improve the outcome of these scones. I used frozen strawberries that I defrosted, but they weren’t very sweet. I also didn’t have turbinado sugar, so I used dark brown sugar mixed with granulated sugar for topping, but I suspect turbinado sugar would have added a more delightful crunchy texture.

Since scones tend to do best straight out of the oven, definitely freeze the dough if you have excess and bake them when you need them, instead of all at once.

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Mini Strawberry Cream Scones
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Makes 35 1-inch wide scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream plus more for brushing the top
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh strawberries
turbinado sugar for topping

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift flour into bowl. Whisk in baking powder, salt, and sugar. Slowly stir in 1 1/3 cups of cream and vanilla extract. Add the strawberry chunks. Toss together. Add a tablespoon or two of cream if the flour doesn’t come together – but you want it just be cohesive, not wet and sticky.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead into a 3/4 inch thick sheet and cut into one-inch sized squares with a sharp knife. Brush each circle with heavy cream and generously sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Place 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Remove from the oven and serve warm.

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I’m starting to get a little suspicious of Serious Eats dessert recipes, because I’ve tried a couple and they haven’t always turned out. Even Kenji’s “best” chocolate chip cookie turned out meh. Granted, this recipe never promised anything more than marrying the flavors of browned butter, bourbon and pecan, but I found the texture a little lacking.

When cooked to the suggested timing, the cookies were hard, crumbly and just not entirely appetizing given the less-sweet formulation. I underbaked them just slightly the second go-round so the texture would be softer and hopefully chewier. It acquired a spongy, muffin-like texture, which isn’t bad as well, just not what I look for in a cookie.

All that aside, if you like your cookies hard and crunchy and not too sweet, this would be a good recipe for you. The bourbon taste is strong in this one, and the nuttiness imparted by the browned butter does indeed complement the bourbon and pecans in here.

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Browned Butter Bourbon Pecan Cookies
From Serious Eats

Ingredients
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 ice cube
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
5 tablespoons bourbon
1 cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped

1
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, gently swirling pan constantly, until particles begin to turn golden brown and butter smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to a medium bowl, whisk in ice cube, transfer to refrigerator, and allow to cool completely, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally.

2
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

3
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, dark brown sugar, and egg. Add cooled melted butter and vanilla and whisk until combined. Add flour mixture and stir to incorporate with a wooden spoon. Add bourbon and stir until liquid is absorbed. Stir in pecans. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

4
Adjust oven rack to upper and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5
Drop dough by the rounded tablespoon onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake, flipping sheets halfway through baking, until golden on the bottom but still soft to the touch, 15-18 minutes. Cookies will continue to harden and set as they cool.

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I’ve missed baking with bourbon, and ever since I moved to my new apartment, I knew that this was the time to buy a handle of bourbon to fulfill all my baking desires. While I enjoy a nice top-shelf bourbon for sipping, Jim Beam works just fine when it’s going to be complemented with chocolate and copious amounts of sugar. The first recipe to kick off this bourbon baking dry spell was this batch of bourbon brownies.

The original recipe recommended a sea salt topping, but I forgot and now this is just a fudgy brownie with notes of woodiness. It’s not going to make you drunk but you can definitely taste the bourbon. I’d recommend eating these brownies chilled; it really enhances the fudginess. Whiskey and chocolate just go so perfectly together… I actually had some chocolate-infused, locally-made moonshine from King’s County Distillery and really enjoyed it.

As usual, I sub in gluten-free flour when adverse effects are minimal. I used Carol Fenster’s baking mix of 1 cup rice flour, 1/2-3/4 cup potato starch and ¼ cup tapioca starch/flour. The downside to this flour is that it tends to clump up and might lead to clumps in your batter.

Bourbon Brownies
Adapted from Baking Bites
Makes one 8-9 inch square pan

1/2 cup butter
2-oz dark chocolate (60-70% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp bourbon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup all purpose flour (or gluten-free flour)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt together butter and dark chocolate in the microwave. This should be done in 30-second intervals to avoid overcooking the mixture, stirring to ensure that the chocolate has melted. Allow mixture to cool slightly and transfer into a large mixing bowl.
Whisk sugar and cocoa power into butter mixture. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, followed by 1/4 tsp salt, bourbon and vanilla extract. Whisk in the flour and stir until it is just incorporated, and no streaks of dry ingredients remain visible.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Allow brownies to cool in the pan, then lift the foil to easily remove them before slicing.

IMG_4172The heralding of what might finally be spring has spurred me to make something light and summery, like these lemon bars. I’m typically much more of a chocolate person, but I do have to appease the warm-weather gods by baking up an offering. These bars turned out to be just the right balance of sweetness and tartness, but I did alter the recipe quite a bit.

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For the filling, I used three jumbo eggs instead of four regular sized eggs. I also didn’t have enough lemon juice, and I didn’t use Meyer lemons. I just used what was in the supermarket. I clearly didn’t mix the egg up enough, hence the splotchiness, but it didn’t affect the taste at all. I reduced the sugar to compensate, but I entirely eyeballed it. Then for the crust, I decided to do a spinoff of this almond crust I made for a key lime pie, subbing half the flour for almond meal. It turned out pretty darn good overall, despite my slightly haphazard approach.

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Lemon Bars
From Baking Bites
Makes one 9×9 pan

Crust
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup almond meal
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp Meyer lemon zest
1/2 cup butter, room temperature

Filling
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup Meyer lemon juice, freshly squeezed and strained

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 9×9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil.
Make the crust. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Cut butter into chunks and add to flour mixture. Blend in with an electric mixer at low speed until mixture forms coarse, sandy crumbs. Pour into pan and press mixture down (with your fingers or the back of a spoon) into an even layer.
Bake for 16-19 minutes, until just lightly browned around the edges.
When the crust is almost done baking, with just 1-2 minutes to go, make filling. Whisk together all filling ingredients in a large bowl. Do not let the filling mixture sit around on the counter while the crust bakes.
When the crust comes out of the oven and is still hot, pour in filling mixture.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until filling just barely begins to turn golden at the edges. It may appear very wet, but filling will continue to set as the crust cools. Allow to cool to room temperature, then, when bars are completely cooled, refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours before slicing.

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I made some of these incredible chocolate rum cake balls for a work party and judging by how only two out of 60+ balls were left at the end of it, I’m guessing they were a big hit. Chocolate and booze just never goes wrong!

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As someone who prides herself on making things from scratch, I opted to make the chocolate cake and the glaze from scratch, even though I would be mashing them up into little balls later. The original recipe didn’t include rum, but I subbed some of the hot water that went into the cake with rum for some added booze. The cake itself was pretty darn delicious and moist and rich, but I knew I couldn’t just bring in a sheet cake to the party. No, that wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive nor delicious. I saved half the cake for non-party eating purposes, giving it away to appreciative friends who don’t get no homemade goodies all that often.

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As for the other half, I smushed it all up into little balls, while also throwing in some rum, heavy cream, and chocolate sauce, the proportions of which I eyeballed until the cake mixture became suitably compact.

While the original recipe called for a dark chocolate coating, I knew it was going to be a bit too bitter, so I used half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate instead. It was an excellent call.

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Dark Chocolate Rum Cake Balls
Adapted from Cookie Madness
Makes 60~ balls

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups (8 oz) all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, natural type (try Dutch)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk, room temperature
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water (or coffee)
1/2 cup rum

Ganache
3 ounces of chopped semisweet chocolate
3 ounces of heavy cream
6 oz milk chocolate
6 oz semisweet chocolate

Instructions
Preheat oven to 325 F. Spray a 13×9 inch pan with flour-added baking spray.
Mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add oil, milk, eggs and vanilla. Beat two minutes with electric mixer at medium speed. Stir in water and rum until blended. Batter will be thin.
Pour batter in the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until skewer or pick inserted comes out clean.
Let the cake sit in the pan for about 10 minutes, then carefully turn it from the Bundt.
Let the cake cool and then drizzle it with ganache. To make ganache, heat 3 ounces of heavy cream in microwave or saucepan. Pour over 3 oz chopped dark chocolate and stir until smooth. Let cool until thick enough to drizzle.

When you are ready to make the cake balls, set aside half the cake in a large mixing bowl. Mash up the cake. If you used all the ganache in the recipe, you won’t need any extra. Add rum, heavy cream and/or chocolate sauce until cake balls hold together. I recommend adding more rum than the other two ingredients.

Line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment. Shape the scoops into smooth balls. Line the balls up on a tray, cover the with plastic wrap and put them in the freezer until firm.

In a chocolate melting pot, top of a double boiler or in the microwave, melt the milk and semisweet chocolate.

Dip cake balls into melted chocolate and lift with two forks, allowing extra chocolate to drip back into the pot. Put the balls on a wax paper lined cookie sheet to set.

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