IMG_4253This brownie is an elaborate affair. It involves a salted caramel filling and a whole bunch of different ingredients I don’t normally keep (heavy cream, sour cream, corn syrup), but the resoundingly positive response to these have been worth every minute of labor I put into these.

The texture is rich, fudgy, and just a touch gooey with the help of the salted caramel sauce filling and underbaking on my part. The directive on The Vanilla Bean Blog said to be sparse with the caramel, and due to my temporary shock at how much butter and sugar a 12×9 inch pan brownie contains, I was very sparing with it but definitely could have used more. I’m not that experienced in caramelizing sugar and the caramel sauce could have used more heat too.

I generally prefer to convert volume measurements (cups/spoons) into weight (ounces/grams) but this recipe must have been made with the homemaker’s cavalier measurement style in mind – using a 100g = 1/2 cup ratio for sugar meant that this brownie had almost a pound of sugar in a 12×9 pan and I freaked out and hastily retrieved maybe 1/2 cup/100g worth of brown sugar lumps to reduce the caloric content and the brownie still turned out perfect.

The fleur de sel and coarse sugar topping really makes the dish, so be sure to hunt down some turbinado sugar or the like.

Salted Caramel Fudgy Brownies
Link from The Vanilla Bean Blog, Recipe from Baked Explorations
Makes 1 12×9 inch pan

filling
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (I used dark brown corn syrup to no ill effect)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/4 cup sour cream

for the brownie
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate [60-72%], coarsely chopped
1 cup [2 sticks butter], cut into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups sugar (I used probably about 1 cup and it was completely fine)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla

for the assembly
1 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel
1 teaspoon coarse sugar

make the caramel
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with ¼ cup water, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350 degrees F, or until the mixture is dark amber in color (keep a close eye on the caramel at all times, as it goes from golden brown to black and burnt very quickly), 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, and slowly add the cream (careful, it will bubble up) and then the fleur de sel. Whisk in the sour cream. Set aside to cool.

make the brownie

Preheat oven to 350. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light-colored metal 9×13-inch pan. Line the bottom and sides with a parchment paper overhang, and butter the parchment that is in the pan

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.

Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl of a double boiler set over a pan of simmering water, and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler, and add both sugars. Whisk until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be at room temperature.

Add three eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage, or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate. Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until there is just a trace amount of the flour mixture still visible.

assemble the brownies

Pour half of the brownie mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Drizzle about ¾ cup of the caramel sauce over the brownie layer in a zigzag pattern, making sure the caramel doesn’t come in contact with the edges of the pan or it will burn. Use an offset spatula to spread the caramel evenly across the brownie layer, leaving about a ½-inch border around the edges. In heaping spoonfuls, scoop the rest of the brownie batter over the caramel layer. Smooth the brownie batter gently to cover the caramel layer.

Bake the brownies for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs

Remove the brownies from the oven and sprinkle with the fleur de sel and coarse sugar.

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I wanted to get back into my baking groove, and instead of being paralyzed by the wide variety of recipes at my disposal, I decided to keep it sweet and simple: a bare bones shortbread recipe. It was also easy to shape – all I needed to do was press it flat with my hands and cut it up into little rectangles. Sometimes, even balling cookie globs can be quite tedious when all you want to do is just end up with a finished product.

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I’m actually really surprised by how tasty these are for the amount of effort. The texture is light and crumbly, and the cookies truly melt in your mouth. Taking care to actually shave a bar of semi-sweet chocolate down into little flakes adds so much more dimension to an otherwise standard-issue butter shortbread cookie – it fulfills chocolatey cravings but imparts more flavor than cloying richness to the cookie. The cookie is also on the salty side, so you may want to skip the coarse salt topping.

Overall, this would make a great tea-time snack.

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Chocolate Speckled Salted Shortbread
From Bake or Break

Ingredients

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 & 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 ounces dark chocolate, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon water, if necessary
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, such as fleur de sel

Instructions

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla until fluffy.

Reduce mixer speed to low. Sift flour, add salt to flour, then add to mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate.

Dough will be crumbly but should hold together when pinched. If dough is not holding together, mix in 1 tablespoon water. Don’t be afraid to dig your hands in to mix it all up if it’s not coming together properly in the mixer.

Form dough into 2 balls and flatten into discs. Wrap each disc tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 disc of dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut dough into 1″x 2″ strips. Carefully transfer cookies to prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake 18-22 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool on pans for 10 minutes. Then, transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

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As a reluctant vegetable eater, I’d love any way I can sneak vegetable into my dessert. Summer is when zucchini is in abundance, and while I heartily enjoy a simply-seasoned zucchini roast, I’m actually a big fan of zucchini bread. The biggest reason why this is the case is because you barely taste the vegetable. It adds moisture and fiber while adding a touch of earthiness to an otherwise too-sweet confection. I don’t make zucchini bread more mainly because a) grating zucchini is so tiresome and b) I’m more of a cookie girl myself. Crunch over crumb!

I chose this recipe for its simplicity. There weren’t any funky ingredients that I didn’t already have in my pantry. Zucchini being as forgiving as a baking ingredient as it is, I added in about a 1/4 cup than the original recipe stipulated (didn’t want to waste that last nub of vegetable!) and reduced the oil needed. I also subbed half of the flour with Carol Fenster’s baking mix of 1 cup rice flour, 1/2-3/4 cup potato starch and ¼ cup tapioca starch. I also judge a recipe by the number of bowls I need to use, and this just used two. Yay for fewer dishes!

The texture of the cake ended up quite moist, if a tad too sweet. I may reduce the sugar by two to four tablespoons in the future. The cake didn’t have as much volume as I would have liked, but it was still appropriately fluffy and voluminous.

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Chocolate Zucchini Cake
From Cookie Madness
Makes 1 9×5 loaf pan

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used half gluten-free flour)
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1/2 tbsps cocoa powder
1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups grated zucchini
1/4 cup hand-chopped dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×5 inch metal loaf pan.

Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Beat eggs with an electric mixer. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until light. Reduce speed of mixer and beat in vanilla, cocoa powder and oil. By hand, stir in the flour mixture. Fold in zucchini and chopped chocolate. Pour batter into pan.

Bake at 350° for 60 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan.

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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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