Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fruity Oat Bars

Lest my readers think that it's all chocolate and caramel and butter around here, I offer you an old favorite, highly modified from the original which, I think, came from Quaker Oats. This is a dense, sturdy bar studded with goodies like dried cherries and almonds. Kind of a homemade granola bar only softer and full of flavor.

My version has less sugar and more nutrition than the original recipe and had proven to be a welcome addition to any expedition as they travel well and pretty much can't go stale. The recipe is flexible so you can make changes depending on your tastes, your whims, or your pantry.

Especially after the recent super-indulgent cake, these bars were just the wholesome sort of thing to tuck into my tote bag for a day trip with a friend yesterday. They were very welcome when we left out destination absolutely ravenous. I think you'll like them. The recipe is here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sweet and Salty

I mentioned in my last post that the book Baked: New Frontiers in Baking had a few things I was eager to try. Today I found myself with enough time to try the Sweet and Salty Cake, a three layer production which took most of the afternoon to complete, in addition to this morning's trip to The Meadow for fancy-schmancy fleur de sel. Given that the saltiness is a big part of the flavor I figured my standby salt (Diamond Kosher) was maybe not the best choice. I can make my way through any number of exotic supermarkets with confidence but this place with its Wall of Salt was just a wee bit intimidating, especially with a couple of slightly rambunctious kids in tow. The salesperson was quite helpful and talked me into buying a tiny, precious jar of very expensive salt which smells faintly of old basement. That and some wildly expensive chocolate set me back more cash than I'd care to admit, but the salt proved to be perfect in this case. I had my doubts but it turned out well, holding its crystalline shape atop the cake and providing tiny salt explosions within the creamy ganache.
What intrigued me about this cake was the use of salted caramel between the layers and as a component of the ganache frosting. While I love chocolate as much as anyone, caramel is my real weakness. Luckily with this cake there's plenty of both. Much as I love it, I haven't made caramel in ages because prior attempts were both stressful and unsatisfying. I think my so called candy thermometer may have had something to do with it. The Baked boys said to cook the caramel until the thermometer read 350 degrees but my first batch was a blackened, smoky mess at about 310 degrees. Once I got that cleaned up, I decided to skip the thermometer altogether, watch carefully, and remove the caramel from the heat the second the first bit of smoke appeared and this was a good call. The resulting caramel was absolutely perfect and I had a hard time keeping my fingers out of it. I can't wait to dive in to it after Shabbat dinner.
Later: Wow. That's a crazy-good, super-rich, over-the top cake. It's the kind of cake you'd make for a something huge: a graduation or a wedding. Even though I spent all afternoon making the thing I didn't quite feel I'd earned the right to eat it. I only used about 2/3 of the caramel ganache frosting and even so it was wildly decadent. And really, really good. When you need a showstopper cake, I'd highly recommend this one.

You'll find the recipe here. I'd love to hear what you think. I notice I haven't had a comment since November. Sometimes it feels like I'm talking to myself here. I know you're out there, people. Why don't you pop in to the comments and say "hi"? I'd love to know who's reading.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baked Brownies

Hello Readers! I'm still here, but with winter term just getting under way there hasn't been a whole lot of adventure in my kitchen.

I'd hoped to write about almond cardamom stars. I found the recipe in a back issue of Cooking Light which is not a publication I generally read. But I was offered a stack of used cooking magazines recently and took the lot. Almond paste and cardamom together in a cookie sounded lovely and the dough smelled heavenly. It even rolled out easily and cut with no problem--maybe that should have made me suspicious. Because the texture of these were awful, like dense cardboard, chewy and tough when I wanted them to be buttery and light. Oh, they were eaten, because the flavor was delightful, but I am going to have to import that heavenly combination to a more edible cookie. I'll keep you posted.

It's nice to be able to balance out our culinary failures with a huge, flamboyant triumph and thus I am offering you the Baked brownie. I generally find brownies underwhelming. Usually they are dry, crumbly, with only a hint of dusty chocolate. The opposite, of course, is the goopy frosted monster, sweet enough to make my teeth ache and leaving me feeling slightly nauseous and full of regret after the smallest piece. Brownies are either something my kids whip up because they aren't too difficult and my expectations are low, or they're an extra dessert during Passover because I've suddenly realized the seder menu is deficient. Passover brownies are generally better than regular brownies though I have no idea why. The lack of leavening maybe?

Anyhow, on a recent evening I was neither preparing for work or preparing dinner as we'd planned to eat here. This left me with a quiet bit of time to drink a cup of coffee and leaf through a new library find. Baked: New Frontiers in Baking is full of all kinds of enticing sweets although they almost lost me with their use of white chocolate (which is, in my mind, not chocolate at all and just, I don't know, icky) and the the thought of root beer bundt cake actually made me a bit ill. But paging through the crazy stuff, I found a few gems. I can't wait to make the Sweet and Salty cake which combines deep chocolate flavors with salted caramel. Oh my! But a layer cake requires planning and lots of time and I wanted to dip into this book with something a bit more manageable. I thought I'd give their brownies a try and I am so glad I did! These are crazy good--moist and chewy with a deep, dark chocolate flavor. The authors insist that only Valrhona or Callebaut will do but I was quite happy with my results using Guittard dark chocolate chips which I can buy for under $3 a bag on sale. So was everyone else who tasted these. And you will be, too, I promise. The recipe is here.