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Today, I Will Not Be Salty. Today, I Will Leave That To My Pie.

16 Dec

So, I’m going to try to use today’s post to express some positivity, which is going to be hell quite difficult for me because I am super cranky right now. Below, in brackets, is a small taste of where this post was originally going:

[BAH HUMBUG YA’LL!

I am in such a crap mood these days. Is sugar a depressant? How can it be, when it’s an essential part of any this grown late-twenties Indian woman’s daily diet?! HAVE SOME HUMANITY, SYBIL’S INNER WORKINGS!]

It got wayyyyy darker than that. So yeah… scrapped. Let’s talk happy stuff?

BUT I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT HAPPY SH…. see? Even I can’t stop me. Whew. Ok. Let’s start over. Hey! Let’s make a list!

In the spirit of the holiday, here's a picture of Hoover, my favorite Christmas ornament from our tree. (I purposely left out the "whole tree" pic. I like to keep it tasteful around here. ;))

In the spirit of the holiday, here’s a picture of Hoover, my favorite Christmas ornament from our tree. (I purposely left out the “whole tree” pic. I like to keep it tasteful around here.)

1. The holidays are approaching. For me, this used to mean grumbling about the lines at Macy’s and over-salting eggnog with my bulbous, lonely tears. Now, it means shopping online and not salting my eggnog at all, because I finally realized I hate eggnog! Also, I like people again.

2. To repeat, the holidays are approaching. I have amassed a booklet of recipes to try– cookies, brownies, eclairs (!), something involving turning things that shouldn’t be fudge into fudge, and on and on. Who knows how many of these I will actually complete, but damnit, I am determined. F*&$%ing positivity, guys!!!

3. The holidays…they are upon us. This means Sylvapotamus and I are doing our damndest to get ourselves invited to the fanciest winter soiree this side of De Stuteville Drive (I Googled “fancy place names” and that popped up). This adventure is proving, so far, to be an utter failure…. but IT’S SO MUCH FUN.

4. Oh, and since you casually mentioned the holidays– that was you, right?– I went to the Holiday Train Show this weekend at the Botanical Garden. It was super overpriced and the ticket takers are monsters  gorgeous. Really, really breathtaking, and despite some early hiccups (see: crossed out part of the previous sentence), we all had a lovely time. Even my dad had a ton of fun, and he’s just as surly as I am!

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Photo credit: Sylvapotamus, The Wonderful.

 

Being a completely ridiculous human being at the Train Show.

Being a completely ridiculous human being. Photo credit: The Incredible Sylvapotamus

Those all sound pretty great, right? Writing that out is certainly giving me perspective on what truly matters: sugar. Wait… sugar AND loved ones.  In no particular order. Actually, no, those two things are in the right order. Sugar rules all.

Speaking of sugar, let’s talk pie. Speaking of pie, let’s talk chocolate pie. Speaking… ok. We’ll just get to it then.

Salted Chocolate Caramel Tart (makes one 9-inch round tart)

pie crust from Canal House & filling from Saveur

CRUST

3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of sugar

1/2 teaspoon of salt

12 tablespoons of very cold, unsalted butter,  grated (Yes! Grated! It’s genius!)

1 egg, beaten, mixed with enough cold water to produce 1/2 cup

Pie weights (I usually use uncooked rice, but dried beans or actual pie weights work too)

FILLING

For the caramel

1 1/2 cups of sugar

3 tablespoons of light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon of salt

6 tablespoons of butter (note: I used salted because it’s what I had; if you’re in the same boat, omit the above salt)

6 tablespoons of heavy cream

For the ganache

1/2 cup of heavy cream

4 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Sea salt for garnish

Ok, before we start, I kind of think I’ve finally found a pie crust recipe that doesn’t make me want to throw in the tea towel in defeat. I found it very easy to work with, which I’ve never, ever been able to say. I’d love to hear what others think of it.

Butter and lightly flour a 9-inch pie tin; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Add in the butter, then blend in using either a pastry blender or a fork. Using your fingers, rub the mixture together just until it feels like wet sand. Stir in the egg mixture with a fork until it begins to come together into a dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface, kneading just until it holds together. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into flat discs, then cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour or up to three days (you can freeze it for up to three months). When ready to use, remove dough from fridge and let it come to room temperature.

On a large, floured flat surface, roll dough out to 14-inch round (and if yours actually stays round, I envy you, magic baker). Gently roll the dough onto a rolling pin, then lay into pie plate. Trim off any excess, leaving 1/2 inch or so of overhang, then curl overhang under lid and crimp decoratively if you have the skills for this. Alas, I do not. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

It's a pie crust that LOOKS LIKE A PIE CRUST!

It’s a pie crust that LOOKS LIKE A PIE CRUST!

To blind bake the shell, preheat your oven to 400ºF. Line shell with parchment paper or foil, then place weights evenly along the bottom of the shell. Bake for about ten minutes, then remove weights and parchment/foil. At this point, I like to cover the edges of the pie with a ring of foil to prevent them from burning. Send back into the oven for 5 to 8 minutes, until the shell is golden brown. Let cool before filling.

Now let’s work on the most amazing caramel. In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together sugar, corn syrup, salt and 6 tablespoons of water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Continue to cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer inserted into the pan reads 340ºF. Ok, full disclosure: I kind of let this go to 350ºF because I was curious as to what would happen/not paying attention, and I actually really liked the nutty, deep taste the extra time gave the caramel. Remove the pan from heat, then whisk in butter and cream (the mixture will bubble up considerably). Whisk until smooth, then pour evenly into pie shell. Refrigerate for 4 to 5 hours, until caramel is firm.

Almost there, folks. Almost.

Almost there, folks. Almost.

I know, I know this is like a days-long pie recipe, but you will thank me dude. We’re on the last step, the ganache. In a medium-sized saucepan, bring cream to a boil. Place chocolate in a medium-sized heatproof bowl, then pour in the boiled cream. Let the mixture sit for one minute, then gently stir together with a rubber spatula until smooth. Pour ganache evenly over the tart and chill in refrigerator for at least 5 hours. Sprinkle sea salt evenly over the top before serving.

Heaven's surface is sea salty and chocolatey.

Heaven’s surface is sea salty and chocolatey.

So? So. No– no it’s not so-so. It’s anything BUT so-so. It’s like the fanciest, most wonderful candy bar your mouth has ever had the pleasure of receiving. I know there’s been a bit of a backlash against salty desserts, but my brain does not have time to comprehend this. If you have the time– and, truth be told, from start to finish, it’s entirely possible this pie will take days of prep work– please, please make this for yourself and the people closest to you.

*Definitely* make sure this pie is chilled before you slice it if you're looking to photograph it. I simply could not wait any longer.

*Definitely* make sure this pie is chilled before you slice it if you’re looking to photograph it. I simply could not wait any longer.

How it looked after a couple of days. Am I a bad blogger because I did this to this tart, or a good blogger for being honest with you?

How it looked after a couple of days. Am I a bad blogger because I did this to this tart, or a good blogger for being honest with you?

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Twenty Eight And Still Miraculously Kicking. And Screaming. And Baking.

21 Oct

Lots of older people shake their heads wistfully, smile and gently say, “Well, it’s all downhill from here!” once I tell them that I’ve just turned twenty eight. I know it’s a joke, but I’ve heard it enough times in the past two weeks to be suspicious. Really, ya’ll? It can’t be that bad. Look at George Clooney! Hell, look at Flavor Flav! Flavor Flav has the best life ever.

Truthfully, there have been some sad times recently– too many sad times, to be honest– but, fortunately, also some very, very happy times. I’ve spent the past month or so struggling to weigh the great stuff against the horrible, and I realized that I have always had a serious negative bias. Are you shocked? That’s shocking, right? I’m trying as hard as I can to get rid of it, or, at least, shrink it to the point where you’re all giving me the shady side-eye and wondering what I’m on.

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One of those great things…

So that’s what I plan to do with this new year: be a little bit more positive. If you know me, you are laughing hysterically, given that I seem to have the unfortunate ability to turn even the greatest news (only when it comes to me, of course) into a complete nightmare. I assure you, I am changing. Slowly, very slowly, but I am trying. Even the negative events of late have put things into perspective, which is very necessary, given my tendency to sweat/cry/shake/cry/cry the small stuff. Here’s what I’ve realized: there isn’t time. There isn’t time to worry about my frizzy hair, or the almond milk I forgot to pick up, or the completely fixable minor work mistake I made. There isn’t time. And yes, I’ll still beat myself up over ridiculous situations from time to time, but now I’m also going to try to take as much time as possible to just be thankful.

First thing I’m thankful for? The invention of cake. Specifically, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake. Yeeee-up.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (makes one 3 layer 8-inch cake)

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the cake

2 cups of all-purpose flour

2 cups of sugar

3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons of baking soda

1 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of vegetable or canola oil

1 cup of sour cream

1 1/2 cups of water

2 tablespoons of white vinegar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or coffee liquer (I used the latter…awesome)

2 large eggs

For the peanut butter frosting

10 ounces of cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese, softened

2 tablespoons of butter

3 cups of powdered sugar

2/3 cup of smooth peanut butter

For the peanut butter chocolate glaze

8 ounces of semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons of smooth peanut butter

2 tablespoons of light corn syrup

1/2 cup of heavy cream

So, as you can see from the above, this cake is a little bit of work. But, as you can also see… it’s a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting AND freaking peanut butter chocolate ganache. So, you know, worth the couple of hours of fun.

To start, preheat your oven to 350ºF and butter and flour (confession: I use cocoa powder instead of flour because I’m wild like that) three eight-inch round cake pans. You can also line the bottoms with parchment paper, but since I didn’t have any I was able to get away with a generous buttering/powder dusting. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt until totally combined. Stir in sour cream and vegetable oil and whisk until fully mixed. Stir in water, then blend in vinegar and vanilla. Lastly, beat in your two eggs until completely mixed in and batter is formed. Yes folks, one bowl. Be still my lazy heart. Divide batter among your pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out with just a few stray crumbs on it. Let cool in pans for 15-20 minutes, then invert onto cake racks. I’m going to second Deb from Smitten Kitchen in saying that these cakes are very, very soft. If you plan on frosting them (and don’t think twice about it, you plan on frosting them), it’s a good idea to wrap these cakes tightly in plastic wrap and freeze them for at least half an hour. It will firm them up and make them much easier to work with.

To make your frosting, beat cream cheese and butter together in a large bowl, with a hand mixer or stand mixer on high speed, until fluffy. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula from time to time. Beat until completely combined, 2 to 3 minutes, then add in peanut butter and mix until smooth.

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To frost, unwrap a cake layer and place on a cake stand/paper plate (I’m poor, guys). Top with a generous amount of frosting, then place another layer on top and repeat. Top with third layer, then frost top and sides. It’s easiest to frost the sides by doing a light “crumb coating,” where a thin layer of frosting is spread along the sides and top of the cake as a base. Then you can continue with more frosting layered on top of this base.

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Lastly, we’re going to work on our chocolate peanut butter ganache. In a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, combine your chocolate, peanut butter and corn syrup. Heat while stirring often, until the mixture is smooth.

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Remove from heat, then whisk in heavy cream. Beat until smooth, then pour evenly over cake, like so:

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Make sure to cover the entire top of the cake, then basically just wait for the goodness to drip down the sides. You can smooth the top with a rubber spatula, if you’d like, but I chose to keep things pretty rustic, because, um, I’m rustic and this was my birthday cake?

Refrigerate the cake, uncovered, until the ganache is firm.

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Ohhhhh. Yeah.

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So this cake was terrible. I mean it obviously was, right? After all of that work, and those weird ingredients no one ever puts together, how could this have been anything but a disaster?

Guys, I’ve eaten my weight in this cake. I should be embarrassed. “Should be” are the key words there, folks. Everyone who has had a piece of this cake has expressed nothing but wonder. It certainly rivals last year’s S’mores Cake and WILL be making repeat appearances in my life.

(One more for good measure)

(One more for good measure)

 

Homemade Mallobars. (East Coast… Can Ya’ll Really Feel Me?)

1 Jul

*Today’s post is going to be focused on the dessert and will contain little to no complaining on my part, just to see what being a primarily baked good-centered blog feels like.*
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRhHwHHKBss

So, how do you all feel about Mallomars?

I have no idea if those of you not in the Northeast are privy to the awesome power of the Mallomar. Last I heard, it was an East Coast thang.

I am unsure of my feelings on them.

So unsure that I had to go through several boxes of the seasonal treat this past winter to determine my feelings on them.

So unsure that I attempted to store three boxes away in my freezer so that I could continue to test them during the off-season. (Note: the aforementioned boxes have since mysteriously disappeared)

So unsure that when I realized my reserve boxes had gone missing (Ed note: contents of box were later determined to have been consumed by one James Hilger. Mr. Hilger resides with the author, and will pay dearly for his mistake) I furiously hunted down a homemade recipe for the treat, and vowed to make them as a summertime treat. In your sugar-coated face, archaic Nabisco rules!

If you want the truth, I actually respect Nabisco for attempting to limit my intake of this marshmallowy, chocolate-covered delight on a graham cracker platform. It’s a pretty good marketing strategy, considering the number of salivating Mallomar-devotees lurking outside of my– let’s face it, everyone’s– local Key Food come wintertime. But I just can’t live without ’em. I… I can’t. And so I attempted to make my own. Let’s do this, friends.

Homemade Mallobars (they’re bars because I cut them into bars, because I did. These made about 40 for me)

From the James Beard Foundation

For the Graham Crackers

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour (also called graham flour)

Pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon of baking soda

6 tablespoons of softened butter

2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of white sugar

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

5 teaspoons of honey

1 egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

For the Marshmallow

1/3 cup of water, plus extra for cooking

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 envelopes of plain gelatin

1 cup of white sugar

1/2 cup of light corn syrup

For the chocolate coating

1 1/2 cups of dark chocolate, chopped

We begin with our graham crackers. Now, if I were you, I’d start making these at least a day in advance of when you’d like to enjoy them, mostly because the graham crackers require a fair amount of chilling before being baked. Trust me, these will be well worth the wait.

In a large bowl, whisk together your flours, salt and baking soda. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar until combined, then add in honey. Mix in the egg and vanilla until fully incorporated. Combine with dry ingredients and mix just until batter forms. Cover bowl and chill dough for at least two hours.

Remove dough from bowl and place between two large sheets of parchment paper. Roll out into a 1/8 inch thick sheet. Transfer flattened dough to a baking sheet and refrigerate again for at least an hour, or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325ºF. Carefully remove parchment sheet on top of dough. From here, you can either cut rectangles/squares of dough or bake as an uncut sheet, which is what I did. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 14 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Remove from oven and let crackers cool completely.

These are what my rando-shaped graham crackers look like. They look so weird, I know. The taste, however, will make you want to slap the makers of Honey Maid in the face for ever deceiving you.

These are what my rando-shaped graham crackers look like. They look so weird, I know. The taste, however, will make you want to slap the makers of Honey Maid in the face for ever deceiving you.

So…. I decided to taste-test these before continuing on in my mission, mostly because I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten a homemade graham cracker. And I am now sorry that I have spent so much of my life on the store-bought stuff. The homemade ones were soft, sweet and had a deep, almost nutty flavor to them. I hope I never again let my laziness get the better of me by going with the pre-made stuff.

And now, on to the marshmallows. We’ve made marshmallows here before, and this won’t really be any different, but I’ll take you through the steps again so you won’t have to click back and forth.

To make your marshmallows, combine water and vanilla in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin evenly over water and set aside for at least 10 minutes. In a separate saucepan, mix together sugar and corn syrup. Pour in just enough water to make the mixture resemble wet sand. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat to medium. Cook until the mixture reaches 260ºF (note: if you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can cook until the mixture reaches “soft ball stage.” Place a tiny amount of mixture in a bowl of cold water– if it becomes a soft ball, the mixture is ready to be taken off the heat), then remove from heat. Carefully stir water/gelatin mixture in, and stir until dissolved.

Transfer mixture to a stand mixer and whisk on high speed, taking care that mixture doesn’t splatter. Mix until thickened as much as possible, about 7 minutes. Next, you can either fill a pastry bag with marshmallow mixture or use a rubber spatula to spread mixture directly onto graham crackers. Gently smooth the top of mixture with wet fingers. Let firm and cool completely. At this point, if you haven’t already, you may cut into squares/something that vaguely resembles squares/amoebas/anything you want.

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When cooled, melt your chocolate (either in microwave or in a double-boiler), then pour chocolate over. Let chocolate harden, and serve.

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Words of warning: you will probably not be able to wait until these things are even close to not-still-hot before reaching for them. If you are, kudos, but if not, you were warned, genius. My fingers are still medium-rare from that mistake. Seriously, let these cool…

… Because once you do you will be left with magic. To be honest, they tasted more like s’mores than Mallomars, but I didn’t really care, because they were ridiculous. Also, I discovered that they are somehow even more amazing once frozen. O.M.G. DO THIS. With Independence Day approaching, I cannot think of a better way to salute ‘Murica than this magic.

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Homemade Mallobars. (East Coast… Can Ya’ll Really Feel Me?)

1 Jul

*Today’s post is going to be focused on the dessert and will contain little to no complaining on my part, just to see what being a primarily baked good-centered blog feels like.*

So, how do you all feel about Mallomars?

I have no idea if those of you not in the Northeast are privy to the awesome power of the Mallomar. Last I heard, it was an East Coast thang.

I am unsure of my feelings on them.

So unsure that I had to go through several boxes of the seasonal treat this past winter to determine my feelings on them.

So unsure that I attempted to store three boxes away in my freezer so that I could continue to test them during the off-season. (Note: the aforementioned boxes have since mysteriously disappeared)

So unsure that when I realized my reserve boxes had gone missing (Ed note: contents of box were later determined to have been consumed by one James Hilger. Mr. Hilger resides with the author, and will pay dearly for his mistake) I furiously hunted down a homemade recipe for the treat, and vowed to make them as a summertime treat. In your sugar-coated face, archaic Nabisco rules!

If you want the truth, I actually respect Nabisco for attempting to limit my intake of this marshmallowy, chocolate-covered delight on a graham cracker platform. It’s a pretty good marketing strategy, considering the number of salivating Mallomar-devotees lurking outside of my– let’s face it, everyone’s– local Key Food come wintertime. But I just can’t live without ’em. I… I can’t. And so I attempted to make my own. Let’s do this, friends.

Homemade Mallobars (they’re bars because I cut them into bars, because I did. These made about 40 for me)

From the James Beard Foundation

For the Graham Crackers

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour (also called graham flour)

Pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon of baking soda

6 tablespoons of softened butter

2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of white sugar

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

5 teaspoons of honey

1 egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

For the Marshmallow

1/3 cup of water, plus extra for cooking

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 envelopes of plain gelatin

1 cup of white sugar

1/2 cup of light corn syrup

For the chocolate coating

1 1/2 cups of dark chocolate, chopped

We begin with our graham crackers. Now, if I were you, I’d start making these at least a day in advance of when you’d like to enjoy them, mostly because the graham crackers require a fair amount of chilling before being baked. Trust me, these will be well worth the wait.

In a large bowl, whisk together your flours, salt and baking soda. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar until combined, then add in honey. Mix in the egg and vanilla until fully incorporated. Combine with dry ingredients and mix just until batter forms. Cover bowl and chill dough for at least two hours.

Remove dough from bowl and place between two large sheets of parchment paper. Roll out into a 1/8 inch thick sheet. Transfer flattened dough to a baking sheet and refrigerate again for at least an hour, or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325ºF. Carefully remove parchment sheet on top of dough. From here, you can either cut rectangles/squares of dough or bake as an uncut sheet, which is what I did. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 14 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Remove from oven and let crackers cool completely.

These are what my rando-shaped graham crackers look like. They look so weird, I know. The taste, however, will make you want to slap the makers of Honey Maid in the face for ever deceiving you.

These are what my rando-shaped graham crackers look like. They look so weird, I know. The taste, however, will make you want to slap the makers of Honey Maid in the face for ever deceiving you.

So…. I decided to taste-test these before continuing on in my mission, mostly because I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten a homemade graham cracker. And I am now sorry that I have spent so much of my life on the store-bought stuff. The homemade ones were soft, sweet and had a deep, almost nutty flavor to them. I hope I never again let my laziness get the better of me by going with the pre-made stuff.

And now, on to the marshmallows. We’ve made marshmallows here before, and this won’t really be any different, but I’ll take you through the steps again so you won’t have to click back and forth.

To make your marshmallows, combine water and vanilla in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin evenly over water and set aside for at least 10 minutes. In a separate saucepan, mix together sugar and corn syrup. Pour in just enough water to make the mixture resemble wet sand. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat to medium. Cook until the mixture reaches 260ºF (note: if you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can cook until the mixture reaches “soft ball stage.” Place a tiny amount of mixture in a bowl of cold water– if it becomes a soft ball, the mixture is ready to be taken off the heat), then remove from heat. Carefully stir water/gelatin mixture in, and stir until dissolved.

Transfer mixture to a stand mixer and whisk on high speed, taking care that mixture doesn’t splatter. Mix until thickened as much as possible, about 7 minutes. Next, you can either fill a pastry bag with marshmallow mixture or use a rubber spatula to spread mixture directly onto graham crackers. Gently smooth the top of mixture with wet fingers. Let firm and cool completely. At this point, if you haven’t already, you may cut into squares/something that vaguely resembles squares/amoebas/anything you want.

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When cooled, melt your chocolate (either in microwave or in a double-boiler), then pour chocolate over. Let chocolate harden, and serve.

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Words of warning: you will probably not be able to wait until these things are even close to not-still-hot before reaching for them. If you are, kudos, but if not, you were warned, genius. My fingers are still medium-rare from that mistake. Seriously, let these cool…

… Because once you do you will be left with magic. To be honest, they tasted more like s’mores than Mallomars, but I didn’t really care, because they were ridiculous. Also, I discovered that they are somehow even more amazing once frozen. O.M.G. DO THIS. With Independence Day approaching, I cannot think of a better way to salute ‘Murica than this magic.

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Sad Shibow’s Checkered Recent Past (Mostly The Cake Is Checkered)

10 Jun

So, here I am, back from going dark yet again. I can’t really explain the hermit life I’ve been living lately, except by saying the passage of time has me depressed yet again.

I’ve realized that certain people just don’t believe I’m living my life the “right” way unless I’m living it their way. I’ve realized that no one is going to do anything for me, look out for me, care about me, any more than I’ll ever care about myself. That’s not a “wah, wah no one gives a hoot” I’m expressing. It’s just a realization that nothing will happen to change or improve my life unless I make it happen.

This is poutine. You're going to hear the word poutine a lot in this post, so I might as well show you what it is in all its glory.

This is poutine. You’re going to hear the word poutine a lot in this post, so I might as well show you what it is in all its glory.

With that in mind… I dropped everything and hightailed it to Montreal. It’s a city that I’ve always wanted to visit for its culture/poutine, and I was starting to get to a point in my life where I just couldn’t justify not going. There will always be money issues, or time issues, or future issues, or “I bleeping hate driving on the thruway” issues. Might as well just try to have a little bit of fun in the midst of all of that garbage. Also, I’m, like, awesome and bought my boyfriend tickets to see one of his favorite hip-hop acts as a belated birthday present while we were up there. (But mostly… POUTINE!)

Morning walks along St. Laurent River. I know. Bananas.

Morning walks along the St. Laurent River. I know. Bananas.

Now that I’m back from a rather relaxing, albeit far too short, vacay, I thought it was time to get back into the swing of things by sharing with you all a dessert I have always wanted to make: the checkerboard cake! I had an excuse in boyfriend’s aforementioned recent birthday, so I completely ignored his request for a –*gasp* —Duncan Hines cake and got all selfish up in this popsicle stand.

Checkerboard Cake (makes one 3-layer, 8-inch round cake)

from Good Housekeeping: Great Baking

For the cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour (or 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of salt

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of milk

1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups of sugar

3/4 cup of butter, softened

3 large eggs

3 ounces of semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled

For the frosting

1/3 cup of butter, softened

3 ounces of semisweet baking chocolate, melted and slightly cooled

3 cups of powdered sugar

2 teaspoons of vanilla

3 to 4 tablespoons of milk (have more on hand, just in case)

Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms of each with parchment paper. Grease and lightly dust the parchment with cocoa powder.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate cup, mix together 3/4 cup of milk and vanilla. In a separate large bowl, beat together butter and sugar on low speed using a hand or stand mixer, until mixture is blended together. Continue to beat, increasing speed to high, until mixture looks smooth and creamy. Reduce speed back down to medium, and add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Next, reduce the speed back down to the lowest setting, and alternate between adding in the flour mixture and the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat together just until smooth.

Transfer half of the batter to a separate bowl. Stir melted chocolate into one half of the batter until completely distributed. And there you have it. TWO batters!

Now, at this point, some recipes will advise you to just bake a vanilla cake in one pan, and a chocolate cake in another. Then, you’d cut out blocks of each cake and basically Lego this thing together to give it the checkered effect. I personally think that’s a wack way of doing things. That’s like licking your building blocks and hoping they stick together. Not that I ever did this. (Probably I did this.)

Anyway, take a chance! Trust yourself! I say this mostly because the method I used worked, which shocked me, since almost nothing I touch ever works the first time (true story: I bought my first smartphone a few years ago, had it set up by people smarter than I am, and it immediately stopped working once I touched it. I returned it to the store, and the tech there said he’d never seen anything like it. There is a similar story involving an Easy Bake Oven and my childhood, but it’s too painful to talk about that failure). So let’s get to this!

This is what you should do:

One pan that looks like this.

One pan that looks like this.

Two pans that look like this.

Two pans that look like this.

 

And in word form: place vanilla batter in one pastry bag (or plastic Ziploc bag with a 1/2 inch corner snipped off), and chocolate batter in another. Alternate between rings of chocolate and vanilla batter, moving slowly and trying to keep the rings uniform (you can see how I did on that front). Try to make the bands of batter about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Make sure to have one pan with an opposing pattern: so, if you started with chocolate on the outside of your rings in two pans, start with vanilla on the third.

Lightly tap the bottom of each pan against a counter to remove as many air bubbles as you can. Place pans in the oven, staggered on two racks, making sure one pan is not directly above another. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester/toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and let cool completely on wire racks.

While the cakes are cooling, work on your frosting: using a hand or stand mixer on medium speed, mix together everything but your milk. Once smooth, slowly add in milk, a little at a time, until you reach the consistency you desire. You may need a little more than 4 tablespoons (I needed about five). Lay one of the two identical cakes on a flat surface and generously frost. Top this layer with an opposing layer, and frost again. Top with final layer and GO CRAZY.

I went way cray cray with the osting-fray.

I went way cray cray with the osting-fray.

So I was pretty disappointed with myself when I baked this, just because I was trying to get it to look perfect, since it was for my love’s birthday and since I’ve been extra hard on myself and mean to myself lately. And once I saw how my rings of batter (“battered rings” sounds vaguely violent, no?) looked more like somewhat circular globs of batter in a sort-of discernible pattern, I kind of figured this was going to just be a disaster that I would have to season lightly with my salty tears and deem a “marble cake,” as if that’s what it was supposed to be all along.

Well…

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WHAT?!

It… it worked.

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How in the hell did it work?! Beats me. But it did. I think I may have eaten more of this cake than the birthday boy did. No, wait. We probably had the same amount of cake, but I definitely sliced more pieces off (thus causing us both to have wayyyy too much cake), mostly in awe that IT WORKED!

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And, not only did it look super cool, it tasted AMAZING. As you can probably tell from the ingredient list, it’s an incredibly buttery creation, which pretty much means it’s bound to be so freaking good.

 

Double The Desserts. Double The Apologies. Double The Pain! Wait…No

4 Mar

I totally woke up yesterday feeling all sorts of blog-related guilt. Guys… what’s my dealio? I abandon this thing that I love, that I’ve come to enjoy doing because… because I’ve been lazy? What gives? Well,  I supposed I’ve been writing-lazy and life-preoccupied. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

What I’m trying to say is I’m sorry I’ve let this blog lay dormant for so long.  I feel like I’m making it sound as if I’m apologizing to myself in a public forum, which seems like a twisted, self-serving public flogging. Aren’t you glad you’re joining me for this?

Props to my boyfriend for this.

Props to my boyfriend for this.

Anyway, I am mad at myself for not writing nearly as much as I have in the past, which is why I’ve decided to throw myself a mini-challenge: For the next two months, I’m going to publish a new post every week, by, at the very latest, that Wednesday. I hope you’ll all either a. keep me accountable by scolding me heavily if I fail to make good on this promise or b. at least not, like, tell me I suck and should never write anything again if I do come through (oh and I do plan to come through, good sirs and madams).

Hell, this might even be the time to have all of you hear my to-do list for the first half of this year. Maybe ya’ll can keep me from lazing out on those too:

1. Go to at least one Prince concert in my life, and preferably in my life this summer

2. Go to Montreal at least once in my life, and preferably in my life this summer

3. OMG OMG OMG you guys Prince is playing a jazz festival. In Montreal. This summer. This maybe shouldn’t be numbered, but is, because…

4. Take more risks in my writing (e.g., numbering things that shouldn’t necessarily be numbered. SCANDALOUS!)

5. Spend less time around bright, flashy screens and more time with other things that haven’t almost completely ruined my eyes, like books and chocolate

6. Cut out sugar

7. Check to see if anyone was paying attention to #6 and hope you are all laughing with me over how ludicrous a resolution that is

8. RETIRE MY SNOW BOOTS FOR A LONG, LONG TIME

Yeah. That last one has hit me, and a lot of us I imagine, pretty hard. I’ve finally accepted that I have a mean case of seasonal affective disorder that nothing short of sunshine, 80-degree weather and giant bowls of ice cream (shut it, that one’s totally necessary) can cure. I think maybe that’s part of what’s been keeping me from updating this blog, or doing anything productive, really. I…hate things right now. Yup, that sounds articulate and sensible. Let’s move on to our DOUBLE DOSE OF DESSERT, shall we?

Indeed I did decide to share two sweet treats in one post, mostly because of the aforementioned guilt over my lack of posting. Let’s get to it, friends!

So dessert #1 was supposed to be one of those ooh-la-la Valentine’s day desserts that would accompany a fancy-schmancy homemade dinner, but V-day’s kinda dumb and also was on a Friday night after a long, lame week, and both of us were dead tired. So instead of presenting it as a romantic dessert, I’m presenting it as portion-controlled chocolate cakes (that you can have two of if you aren’t down with sharing).

Chocolate Lava Cake For Two (makes…uh, two)

adapted from Eva Bakes

1/4 cup of semi-sweet dark chocolate chips

2 tablespoons of softened butter

1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, beaten

3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of vanilla

Strawberry ice cream, or NOTHING (or another flavor of ice cream, or berries, or whipped cream. But probably strawberry ice cream)

Preheat your oven to 400ºF and butter two 6-ounce ramekins. In a medium heat-safe bowl over a pot of simmering water, melt chocolate with butter, stirring until chocolate is completely melted (you can also do this in a microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each session).

Stir in confectioner’s sugar, then beat in eggs and flour, whisking until the batter is smooth.

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Stir in vanilla, then divide batter between your ramekins. Place ramekins on a baking sheet, and send into the oven for 9 to 11 minutes. Make sure to watch these, as they’re done before you think they’re done– the center will still look gooey and jiggly, two very important, official baking terms. Let cool in ramekins for five minutes, then invert onto plates for serving.

Top with strawberry ice cream. I make room for no other option because there should be no other option. Strawberry. Ice. Cream.

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So, if I’m being honest, I didn’t love the way these cakes looked, which is completely on me, for using ramekins that were way too wide, making these look like overdone veggie burgers. However, once we cut into these and liquid chocolate came oozing out, I was SOLD. I didn’t even have time to get a picture of the inside because of how completely freaking sold I was.

Now, for our second dessert of the post (how lucky are YOU), we’re working on something easy, fun and oven-free. Hooray!

So, apparently for people who are not Indian people, popcorn balls are a classic sweet treat. This is what my boyfriend, who is not Indian people, tells me, at least. Can anyone chime in on this? Is it like me saying that halwah and papadam should be staples in every American household?

Anyway, I decided to surprise him by trying my hand at this “classic treat” because I am generous and also can never turn down the opportunity to combine three most excellent ingredients: butter, sugar, and popcorn. Let’s get “classic!”

Popcorn Balls (makes 6 baseball-sized balls)

adapted from CHOW

9 cups of plain popped popcorn, seeds removed, unless you hate having teeth

1 cup of turbinado sugar (you can use regular white sugar, but I love the deep flavor this imparts)

1/3 cup of light corn syrup

1/3 cup of water

1 teaspoon of white vinegar

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) of salted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

Grease a large glass bowl, and place popcorn in it. Set aside.

Large glass bowl. Popcorn. Creative captioning.

Large glass bowl. Popcorn. Creative captioning. World’s Finest Chocolate wrapper because I am nostalgic. Jar of peanut butter for me to snack on whilst “working.”

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, water and vinegar; stir to combine. Place pan over high heat, and cook– stirring constantly– until sugar is dissolved. Bring mixture to a boil and cook until it registers at 260ºF on a candy thermometer (if you don’t have one, don’t fret, just cook the mixture for 5 to 7 minutes). Remove from heat, then stir in butter and vanilla. 

Quickly pour hot sugar mixture over popcorn, using a rubber spatula to spread the mixture evenly over the popcorn. Stir until the mixture is just cool enough to handle with bare hands, about three minutes. Seriously, these are good, but not burn-your-palms good. I don’t know what would be burn-your-palms good. I have some ideas, though. None are suitable for this blog.

With oiled hands, grab a chunk of popcorn and mash together, compressing popcorn into a ball. Let balls cool completely on parchment paper. *Giggle*

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Ok…these were good. If they really are a classic treat, I can totally understand why. They’re buttery, salty/sweet, and somehow miraculously melt almost as soon as a bite hits your tongue. This dessert’s been a repeat offender in our home, half because my boyfriend is sentimental and half because we’re sugar fiends. I actually think it’s probably 78% because we’re sugar fiends, but it’s six popcorn balls in one hand and a half-dozen in the other. Or something. See you next week!

What The Fudge Is Everyone’s Problem? Also, Fudge.

3 Jun

You GUYS. I am SO MAD! I’m not even kidding. I’m so… mad.

I wish I were kidding or talking about something kind of insignificant. Okay, yes, I am a bit disappointed in the latest season of Arrested Development. All the random cameos–especially of the people from Outsourced… brown peeps, don’t even play like you weren’t as happy as I was to see those guys–did kind of lessen the blow, but wow, it kind of isn’t that great, right? All jokes and television programs aside, though, I’m finding myself really disappointed in the level of toxicity around me.

BUT SHIBOW. YOU LIVE IN NEW YORK. YOUR WHOLE HOOD MUST BE LIKE THAT DIRTBAG FROM THE PEANUTS CARTOONS.

I made the joke for you. You’re all welcome. Har har.

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Inserted to break up the tension. It’s getting too serious, ya’ll, I know.

Sorry. I realize I sound pretty snippy and irritable. Those are two things that I presently am, though, and it ain’t because of the strange smells coming from the return of the New York City summer. It’s mostly because I’ve found myself in contact with some really foul moods lately, and I’m not a fan. I’m not interested in fighting or yelling or throwing fits or treating people badly, and I cannot comprehend it when others are. Seriously, I think in the last week I’ve had to deal with each of those things at least twice. Why treat someone poorly over nothing when you have no idea what the object of your wrath/annoyance/twisted amusement is possibly coping with? I’ll just never understand it.

There are a couple of things that kept me going this week. One was a pair of elephant shorts that my boyfriend randomly gifted to me earlier in the week. If you don’t know me, maybe this sounds small to you. If you do know me, you know why I lost my mind after having received them. He had to convince me not to wear them three days in a row. I love this man (Editor’s note: My friend Afshan brought to my attention that many readers may not know to what I am referring, and may think I mean elephant-shaped shorts. Her exact words were that she “pictured mc hammer pants with a frontal private cover.” These are the shorts I am speaking of. That’s my bad.)

Also, last weekend I kind of went on a baking rampage and churned out like seven different amazing goods, from rosemary rum cocktails to well, fudge. It sort of healed me in a weird way. And now I hope it heals you :).

Lavender Chocolate Fudge (makes 64 tiny blocks of goodness), adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook

3 1/2 cups of sugar

1 1/3 cups of milk (I used 1%)

1/4 cup of light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon of salt

4 ounces of unsweeted baking chocolate, chopped, or 2/3 cup of cocoa powder (I used cocoa)

1 1/2 teaspoons of dried lavender (skip this if you want the classic stuff)

1/4 cup of butter, cut into small pieces

2 teaspoons of vanilla

Grease the bottoms and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with butter and set aside, and have a candy thermometer ready as well.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, milk, corn syrup, salt and cocoa, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the cocoa as liquefied.

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Stir in your lavender, if using, and cook until your thermometer reaches 234°F.

Keep watch over this thing; after the mixture reaches boiling, the temperature will increase rapidly. If you don’t have a thermometer, keep cooking until a small amount of the mixture forms a soft ball when dropped into a bowl of cold water. I’ve used this trick. This trick is what’s up.

Good trick courtesy of the internets: Lay a wooden spoon over a pot of boiling stuff to keep it from spilling over.

Good trick courtesy of the internets: Lay a wooden spoon over a pot of boiling goodness to keep it from spilling over.

Remove mixture from heat and stir in your butter. Cool to 120ºF, without stirring, which should take about an hour. Add vanilla, then beat the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon– no stopping, so have a trusted adult nearby just in case– for 5 to 10 minutes or until the fudge is thick and doesn’t have a sheen to it. This took me about 6 minutes.

Spread evenly in pan and let stand until firm, about 1 hour.

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Cut into 1-inch squares once cooled, and store in airtight containers (if you can bring yourself to step away from these babies).

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So, it’s a little hard to cut these without getting little bits of fudge popping out all over the place. I found that eating those little pieces helps quite a bit, though. Food for thought…and for your belly.

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Unbelievable. Insane. Insane. Since I’d also made marshmallows when I made these, we decided to try s’mores made with this fudge instead of a chocolate bar. Holy…holy holy. I can’t even tell you. I just can’t. I can still, one week later, taste that miracle in my mouth. Just… do this.

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