Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Brownies for the Busy Baker

Here's a recipe so easy that it makes you wonder why anyone would want to make 'em any other way. Not only is this one of the simplest brownie recipes out there, but it's one of the tastiest.  These are really great for Baking Emergencies such as "Ack!  I forgot to pick up cookies for the meeting!"

Saucepan Brownies

  • ¾ unsalted butter (revised downward from 1 cup -- makes firmer, chewier brownies)
  • 1½ cups white sugar
  • ¾ cup cocoa
  • ¾ cup white flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract
No baking powder or baking soda is required in this recipe.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Start by lining an 8x8 or 9x9 square pan with parchment paper.  To get the paper to stay put, give the pan a light coating of butter or margarine. Set aside.

Next, start to melt the butter in a fairly deep saucepan, on medium-low heat.  While it's heating up, combine the sugar, cocoa and flour in a bowl.  As soon as the butter is melted, take it off the heat; add the bowlful of dry ingredients; and stir until smooth.

Now you can add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each one.

Finally, add the vanilla.  Give the batter a good stirring, then scrape it out into the prepared baking pan.  The batter is thick, so use a water-dampened spoon to even it out.

The oven should be at temperature by now, so go for it. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, then test by lightly pressing down on the top.  If the dent doesn't spring back up, bake for 5 more minutes and test again.  Repeat as necessary, 5 minutes at a time.

Let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack and wait at least another 10 minutes before cutting into squares.  These should be moist on the inside, crunchy on top, and brownies through and through.

Monday, March 19, 2012

World Domination via Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy Equinox Eve! Today's treat was loosely adapted from The All New Purity Cookbook (ISBN 1-55285-13-4), a Canadian guide to cooking alchemy that was first published in 1967 and is not all that "All New" any more. Astreja K.'s copy of said tome is the 2001 printing (5th edition) and falls open at certain places.

This is one of those places.  You can tell by the break in the spine of the book, and the penciled-in notation "Use ungreased parchment paper," but mostly because of all the chocolate on the page.  Here goes:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • ½ cup unsalted butter (Original version used shortening)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup lightly packed golden-brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla, but feel free to add a bit more
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (1 standard 6-ounce bag) chocolate chips (We suggest milk chocolate rather than semi-sweet)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (Original version used ½ cup chopped walnuts)

Allow the unsalted butter to soften at room temperature, or very quickly microwave it (10-15 seconds, tops).  Cream the butter together with both sugars until blended.  Add the egg and the vanilla.

After the wet ingredients are ready, it's a good time to preheat the oven to 325°F. (Original version says 350°F; don't do it! Keep the temperature down, and your cookie-making success is virtually guaranteed. They taste better, too.) Make sure the rack is roughly in the center of the oven, not too close to either element.

In another bowl, mix the flour and baking soda; then add the chocolate chips and the pecans.  Mix the dry ingredients well, then mix into the creamed butter mixture.

Put a sheet of ungreased parchment paper on a cookie sheet.  Start forming the cookie dough into small balls, a bit more than an inch in diameter, until you've arranged 12 of them in a 3 x 4 array spaced about an inch apart.  Pop them into the oven and set a timer for 12 minutes.  Check them at the 12-minute mark; they may need 1 or 2 minutes more, depending on your oven.

When they're done, carefully pull the whole sheet of parchment paper onto a cooling rack, cookies and all.  If you have 2 cookie sheets, you can let each batch cool for a couple of minutes before you do this.  If you only have 1 cookie sheet, after you get the cookies safely onto the rack you can put on a fresh sheet of parchment paper and start rolling the next batch.

Makes 24-36 standard cookies, depending on the size of the dough balls.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Oh, fudge!

Greetings and salutations!  I'm Glori, your host.  I originally hail from the M42 nebula in the constellation of Orion.  Nowadays I can be found in donut shops, waiting at the head of the line at Humphrey Bogart film festivals, or shadowing the Springy Goddess, Astreja Odinsdóttir, just in case She needs assistance, advice, or a raspberry jambuster.

To set the tone of this blog, I thought we'd start with something sweet:

Peanut Butter Fudge

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 heaping tablespoons peanut butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons corn syrup (white or golden)
  • Enough milk to make a smooth batter (start with 1/2 cup and add more as required)
  • Unsalted butter (a little bit to grease a plate, plus a tablespoon or two to add to the cooked mixture)
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla (also to add near the end)

First things first:  Butter a heat-resistant plate of your choice, right up to the edges.  Set aside for now.

Mix the sugar, peanut butter, corn syrup and milk in a deep pot.  Cook at medium heat, stirring very occasionally, until it starts to do a slow, rolling boil.

At this point, let the mixture continue to cook as you go to the sink and fill it several inches deep with cold water.  Also fill a small bowl with cold water and bring it back to the stove.

Every minute or so, take a small amount of the mixture (half a teaspoon or less) and drizzle it into the cold water.  At first it'll just go splat and spread all over the bottom of the bowl.  Dump the bowl into the sink and refill it with fresh water.  Wait another minute and try again.  After about 5 or 6 minutes, the mixture should start to form into balls as it hits the water, and have a firmer texture.  This is the soft ball stage, where the sugar in the fudge starts holding together properly.

Stop stirring!  Turn off the burner, take the pot off the stove, and transfer it to the sink that you filled with water.  (Aim the tap somewhere else so that water doesn't drip into the fudge.)  Drop the remainder of the butter into the mixture, but don't stir; just let it melt on the top.

When the butter has finished melting. pour in the vanilla in  (and continue to refrain from stirring -- If you stir fudge when it's too hot, things frequently go Terribly Wrong and you end up with sugary, grainy fudge).

After a few minutes more, you'll be able to touch the bottom of the pot with your hand and it'll feel warm-ish rather than hot.  Now's your big chance!  Take the pot out of the sink, wipe away any water drips, and stir fast, trying to whip lots of air into the mixture.  As it starts to thicken, you'll have to play it by ear to know exactly when to pour it onto the plate.  Too soon and the fudge will be thin and flat (but still taste pretty good); too late, and you'll have to gouge it out of the pot.  Best to make your move when you feel that first bit of resistance that indicates the fudge is hardening; by the time you've finished transferring it, the last few spoonfuls will be almost solid.

Subdivide your fudge with a water-dampened kitchen knife as it hardens.  Serve immediately, or cover lightly with plastic for later consumption.