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He Who Shall Not Be Named Ruins A Day That I Don’t Feel Like Talking About (I Made Cake)

6 Oct

But not birthday cake. Apparently that would be sad. And I am not one to be sad

This isn’t sad. Neither is this. Nope.

Nope. 

Yeah, so… it’s early October, which can only mean two things: the Fall TV season has started, and my birthday is nigh (as in, today. bleh). And that first thing also apparently means another thing. Ugh:

THE HELL? Who let you back in to ruin my life? I knew it. I felt it. The air was heavy with the scent of apples and terror; there was to be some (*shudder*) Stamos in my doomed future. Just the name, the name alone is upsetting. Jimmy is now well-trained enough to change the channel as soon as he hears either “John Sta-” (changed) or “Uncle Je”-(switched). But seriously, things have been lame lately. I, like many humans, have a tendency to want to cry uncontrollably around my birthday and I sort of don’t know why. It’s not really so much because I feel old– as I drunkenly found out last Saturday night, I can still climb a chain-link fence like a boss (though I also went to bed around 9:30 that night. “Bed” being the F train, but still, I would have been out cold if I had not been roused at my actual stop by my trusted companion). It’s more because I find the passage of time and all that comes with it to be almost too much to handle. So much is different this year, so much that I always thought would be the same– people I thought I’d know forever that I had to let go of, ideas about myself that I’ve had to change, velvet scrunchies becoming popular again. These things can do irreversible damage to one’s psyche. Permission to sleep this year off and come back for the little 3-0? Granted? Yes?

While you ponder, let’s talk about cake. Or, more accurately, Things That Are Greater Than Or Equal To Cake But Are Shaped Like Cake. Guys I didn’t know what to call this monstrosity. WTF Cake seemed like it was probably taken, I’m So So Sad Cake seems too on-the-nose, and Chocolate Chip Cookie/Peanut Butter Cheesecake/Dark Chocolate Brownie Cake with Peanut Butter Ganache seemed… lengthy. So bear with the title.

Not Birthday Cake, Because Apparently Baking Your Own Is Sad

For the Chocolate Chip Cookie layer

1 cup of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup of butter (I recommend browning it first: set in a saucepan over medium heat, allow to melt and then brown until you start to see little buttery bits and it smells nutty)

1 cup of brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

1/2 cup of chocolate chips or chunks

Coarse sea salt for sprinkling, optional

For the Peanut Butter Cheesecake layer

1 8oz package of cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup of confectioner’s sugar

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter

6 tablespoons of half-and-half

3 to 4 mini peanut butter cups, chopped (yeaaahhhh)

For the Brownie Layer (adapted from Smitten Kitchen, also first post on this blog!)

3/4 cup of cocoa powder

1 cup of white sugar

10 tablespoons of butter, softened 

1/4 teaspoon of salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup of flour

Yeah. This is a lot. Shibow never said this would be easy, just that it would be worth it, and NOT SAD AT ALL. Let’s WORK. 

For the cookie layer, preheat oven to 350°F and generously butter an 8×8 round cake pan. Combine all ingredients except coarse salt until batter forms. Gently fold in chocolate chips until distributed evenly. Spread batter in pan, evening out the top with a rubber spatula, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is set and the sides have browned. Sprinkle sea salt on top if using, then let cool in pan for 10 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely. 

GIANT. COOKIE. 

GIANT. COOKIE. 

Let’s work on our brownie layer next, since the oven is already on and we’re the kind of people who want our cake, want it now, and are slightly, disturbingly obsessive about the goals we make when the goals we make are cake-related. Preheat the oven to 325°F this time, and wash out that large bowl you used for the cookie layer, because you’re gonna need it again (fancy rich folks, sure, use another large bowl, whatever, not even bitter at all about it, kudos for making all those good life choices). Cover the bottom and sides of an 8×8 round cake pan with foil. Combine cocoa powder, butter, sugar and salt in bowl and sift together until lightly mixed. Heat in microwave for up to a couple of minutes, stopping every 30 seconds to stir everything together (alternatively, you can set this over a simmering pot of water as long as you’re not accident prone, which is to say, as long as you’re not me). You can stop when it’s warm but not hot and appears grainy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, with a wooden spoon, until mixture takes on a nice sheen. Stir in flour and beat vigorously until you’ve got yourself a gorgeous batter. Send into the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top is set and a cake tester comes out with just a few delectable crumbs on it (that you will not immediately lick, for you have manners and know the dangers of Licking Hot Things. It’s late guys. I’m well aware of how accidentally dirty this whole post is, and IDC). Let cool completely before removing from foil and pan.

If you’re not totally done with me yet, let’s work on our cheesecake middle (also what I call my torso, waka-waka?). Beat cream cheese with electric mixer on high until fluffy, then gradually add in sugar until combined. Mix in peanut butter, then slowly add in half-and-half until the mixture is creamy and totally smooth. Gently fold in chopped peanut butter cups and spread into a generously buttered, foil-lined 8×8 cake pan (yes, of course I recommend using the same pan over again thrice. Not the same foil though. We’re not animals). Freeze until completely solid, at least an hour. Remove and sandwich between your giant cookie and giant brownie. Refrigerate while making your ganache. 

Just some previews. idk. The paper towel? I knew this was going to be messy and I wanted napkins nearby, but I figured it would just make sense to have them under the cake, so I could just rip some paper towels off the actual cake to save time. I'm joking. No I'm not. I am. (I'm not)

Just some previews. idk. The paper towel? I knew this was going to be messy and I wanted napkins nearby, but I figured it would just make sense to have them under the cake, so I could just rip some paper towels off the actual cake to save time. I’m joking. No I’m not. I am. (I’m not)

Peanut Butter Ganache

2/3 cup of heavy cream

6 ounces of dark chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons of smooth peanut butter

Set chocolate aside in a heatproof bowl. Heat heavy cream in a small saucepan until simmering but not boiling. Pour cream over chocolate and let sit for one minute before stirring. Continue to stir until chocolate has melted and mixture is shiny. Stir in peanut butter until melted, then immediately pour this glorious nectar over your cake, letting it spill over the sides like the beautiful disaster it is. Refrigerate until ganache has set.

Top with more peanut butter cups if you like (you like). 

Top with more peanut butter cups if you like (you like). 

IT'S SO SHINY

IT’S SO SHINY

Uhhhh…. I know. I’m crazy. This is madness. It’s pure madness. But I needed it, dammit. I needed that glorious, messy, indulgent, unbelievably unhealthy madness.

Pretty much my view for the past couple days, because I love this cake and I am a shut-in.

Pretty much my view for the past couple days, because I love this cake and I am a shut-in.

Oh and other people had this cake and were able to confirm that it was completely not sad but, instead, positively OMG. 

So? Well. Currently I am sippin’ on some serious Courvosier, eating some Not Birthday (and Not Sad) Cake, and listening to Biggie, throwing my hands in the air, because I’mz a true player. Only two of those things are true, and it’s the thing about eating cake and listening to Biggie, because BIGGIE, and also because I have often spoken about how broke I am due to circumstance, the economy and some Star Wars-related purchases I recently made. I guess there are worse ways to spend one’s… regular old Tuesday. Baby. BABAYYYYY.   

 

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I’m A Brownie And I Had A Breakdown So I Made Brownies. Let Me Break It Down.

28 Feb

OH FRIED BUTTER have I been depressed lately.

It all started… well, actually, I’m not exactly sure where or when it started. I do remember that I had a silent, pretty solid cry when I realized there was a random (completely removable) stain on a dress I was planning to wear to work. I still can’t completely explain to you what had happened, because I’m not sure. But I am sure that IT SUCKED.

So, what’s it all about, man? Well, I hate not having any idea of where I’m going. I have a degree I don’t use and am not sure I’ll ever get the chance to use, and that upsets me. What’s next? Who knows. I sure as hell don’t, and that scares me to no end.  I know I shouldn’t complain since I have a good job and am surrounded by good people. But how do I not compare myself to all the other people my age–and even younger— who already know exactly what they want? So many of them have got it all figured out, and I’m stuck feeling, well, a little stuck.

This is here to break up the sob story a little and just because it needs to be here, because it needs to be.

To be a little more specific while still being annoyingly vague, about a year and a half ago I completed a graduate program that I’d hoped would lead me in a direction I was very prepared to commit to for the long haul. Then, thanks to budgetary constraints and various other pretty lame occurrences, the dream died and I felt like a massive failure. Sometimes I still feel a little dizzy just thinking about what went down, but I fortunately no longer beat myself up over all of circumstances that were out of my control. I always told myself I’d try again, though, and I have yet to make good on that promise.

Now, I know what you’re saying, and I might be saying the same thing to myself if I were you: “Shibow, those are some CHAMPAGNE problems!” And you’re right, they are. Like I said, I’m very blessed in many ways– more ways than I’ll ever be able to spell out in this post without boring you into a vegetative state– but I’m also Sad Shibow, dammit. I get to be SAD sometimes! So, to everyone I’ve neglected, ignored, cried in front of, elbowed in the face (yup) recently, this is why, and I really do apologize.

I needed comfort food, and that meant that I needed seriously fudgy brownies. Now, my very first post on this blog was about brownies. It was also about how a maniac kicked me in the behind. I’m pretty sure this is an appropriate time to try out another brownie recipe. Let’s try Fudgy Cream Cheese Cocoa Brownies.

Cream Cheese Cocoa Brownies (makes 16 large or 25 smaller brownies, maybe even more smaller brownies if you’re spatially challenged like I am)

For the chocolate part

1/2 cup of melted butter or vegetable oil

1 cup of granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

6 tablespoons of cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

3/4 cup of all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon of salt

For the cream cheese part

5 ounces of cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese, softened

5 tablespoons of powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, cream together your butter and sugar until combined fully. Beat in each egg one at a time, then stir in your vanilla. Next, add the remaining dry ingredients in (Yes, if you choose to make these regular brownies and not add the cream cheese portion, you’ll have one-bowl brownies. Lazies rejoice!) and mix until fully combined. The mixture will be a little bit grainy at this point. Spread it evenly into a 8×8 square pan.

Now, in a smaller bowl, mix the cream cheese and sugar together until mixed. You might need to break out the mixer for this. Spoon big dollops of this onto your chocolate mixture…

…and then do a better job of swirling these two together than I did. Send into the oven for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into it comes out with a few crumbs still stuck onto it. Let these cool completely before cutting into brownie squares.

I think if I had been a little more patient with these, they would have turned out better. I’m mad at myself for not making the swirls prettier and more obvious, but I guess I should leave the fancy stuff to the real artists :(. While these were pretty yummy, and satisfied my need for something chocolaty, I still prefer the first ones I made. These were a little more cakey, which some people prefer, while the pure cocoa brownies were much richer. Since I’m not quite out of this slump yet, I think I’ll revisit those, and then keep revisiting them until this funk passes. It’s a tough life, this life.

Sad Shibow and the Kicked Bottom…and Kick-Bottom Brownies

3 Apr

Welcome to Sad Shibow! Let’s get brooding.

A couple of months ago, I decided that I wanted to try kickboxing. I loved my first class and immediately decided I was going to become a professional fighter. Then, in a recent class, I was paired with a psycho banshee who kicked me in the tailbone (among other places I would rather not reveal in a family show) and punched me in the face. Now, I literally have a kicked bottom. More specifically, I have a slipped disc, but kicked bottom makes for a better headline. My dad says that I had no business kickboxing, because I am a “lady.” Tell that to my trucker’s mouth and drum set, pops!

Anyway, I’m being a total infant about this, except I’m the type of infant who, instead of whining for mommy to pick up after me, is whining for my sister Sylvia to pick up after me… while offering to repay her with brownies. I have also whined and gifted brownies to one truly awesome individual and fellow slipped-disc sufferer who drove to my place in Da Hurst to commiserate and provide remedies that have worked wonders. Special shout-out to you, dear hero.

Trust me, these are so yummy that– albeit BRIEFLY– I forgot all about my hernia. Then I fell up a flight of stairs and remembered it again.

I’ve always been a fan of cocoa powder. On its own, it’s quite bitter, and pretty much inedible. Still, it’ll do wonders for all things chocolate, and if you love the dark variety especially (ME!), you’ll greatly appreciate it. Most solid chocolate, including baking chocolate, contains a fair amount of sugar that, when added to the amount of sugar called for in any old dessert recipe, could produce something a tad too sweet for some of us. That’s why I was so thrilled to find this recipe for straight-up cocoa brownies from Smitten Kitchen. And if you’re a fan of box-mix brownies (not judging, because I know that Duncan Hines is kind of what’s up), you’ll want to listen up.

Cocoa brownies contain cocoa only. Sure, you can add in a few chocolate chips at the very end if you’re a bit cray-cray, but trust me when I say the cocoa powder in these babies will more than satiate your craving. You’ll need:

10 tablespoons of softened, unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups of white sugar

3/4 cup and two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder (Smitten calls for dutch-process or natural, but I had Hershey’s at my disposal, and they came out lovely, so don’t hate)

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

2/3 cup of walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional, and I’ve never opted for them because nothing comes between Shibow and her brownies)

Also, bust out the aluminum foil, a wooden spoon and an 8×8 baking pan. Have your oven preheated to 325° F, and line the pan with enough aluminum foil that the edges hang off two sides of the pan. Smitten says to have these cooking in the lower-third of your oven, but these came out beautifully on the middle rack of mine.

In a large microwaveable bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Mix until just barely combined, then heat it in your microwave for 30 seconds. Remove, stir, and send it back for another 30 seconds. Repeat until the mixture looks a bit grainy and is hot, but not boiling, to the touch. It took me about a minute to achieve this, but if you’re microwave is not as awesome it’ll take a bit longer, so chill.

Pre-microwave

 

With your wooden spoon, mix in the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Thanks to the eggs, the mixture will start to take on a nice sheen. When everything’s fully incorporated, stir in the flour until you can no longer see it, and then begin to beat the bleep out of it. Forty strokes is the recommended amount of lashes, for those of you who need numbers to keep you in line.

 

I had to take a break somewhere between strokes 25 and 30, because I'm injured 😦

Stir in any optional ingredients, and pour it into your foil-lined pan, making sure to spread the mixture evenly.

Bake the brownies until your house starts smelling like Heaven and the Oompa Loompas start slipping résumés under your door. Or, bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out with slightly-moist batter on it. This should take about 20 to 25 minutes (it actually took me closer to 30 minutes, so know your ovens, people).

Voila!

My cousin Rhea, who will be making several guest appearances on the blog and who is herself a fabulous baker, passed along a great tip: as soon as the brownies are out of the oven, stick them in the freezer for a good 20 minutes. This will allow for cleaner lines and easier cuts. Once cooled, lift them out of the pan using the foil and transfer to a rack or cutting board to slice. As you can tell from these pictures, I did not wait the full 20 minutes. Remember what I said about being an infant?

They may not be perfect squares... but neither am I! I'm just super corny.

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