Friday, April 29, 2011

The Search for the Best Brownie Recipe

I never thought I would come across a recipe that could match Nick Maglieri's Supernatural Brownies. They are deep, rich, moist, and simple to make. All the characteristics of the best brownies recipe in my book.

But that was before I discovered Baked in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  I love everything about the place from the incredible frosting on the cup cakes to the owner's story. Baked was founded by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. They met while working at an advertising agency, but their first love was dessert. All the stories I came across about the pair said they were tired of the cupcake craze and cakes that were shaped like purses, but tasted like cardboard. Matt Lewis went to ICE (back when it was still the Peter Kump School) at night and the two ended up opening a wonderful bakery with a focus on classic American desserts, made even better.

So back to the brownies.

While I was doing research on Baked and toying with the idea of interning their for class (why 'o why is there no subway that goes to Red Hook) I came across my new favorite recipe: Matt and Renato's Baked Spicy Brownie. It has so much flavor it left me speechless. After my first bite I had a look on my face that made my husband jealous. They are that good. These brownies earn my high praise because they have a little kick to them with some ancho chilli powder, fresh ground ginger (I used grated fresh ginger root - amazing) and cinnamon. I gave some to friend of mine and she told me they were too good to share with her husband. I take that as the highest compliment.

My deepest thanks to Matt and Renato for coming up with the best brownies recipe imaginable!

The Baked Spicy Brownie

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. Dutch cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp. ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 5 ounces coarsely chopped dark (60 percent) chocolate
  • 1 stick unsalted butter , plus more for pan
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated ginger
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter sides and bottom of a glass or light-colored metal 8" x 8" pan.

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

Configure a double boiler (fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches of water and fit a metal bowl on top without letting it touch water; bring water to a boil). Place chocolate and butter in bowl and stir occasionally until both are completely melted and combined, about 6 minutes. Turn off heat, but keep bowl over water and add both sugars. Whisk until completely combined and remove bowl from pan. Let stand until room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Add eggs to chocolate-butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Add vanilla and ginger; whisk to combine. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or the brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle flour-cocoa mixture over chocolate mixture. Using a spatula (do not use a whisk!), fold the dry ingredients into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour-cocoa mix visible.

Pour batter into the greased pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake brownies for 27 to 30 minutes; brownies are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool brownies completely before cutting and serving.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Passover - Now Please Pass the Dessert

I am hear to debunk the myth that it is impossible to make a Passover cake that tastes good.

I remember a few years ago, before I had a reputation as a good cook, I offered to bring dessert to a Passover sedar at an ex-boyfriend's house. His mother made a face and told me all Passover over desserts taste like cardboard.

Proving her wrong made me very happy. That is probably one of the reasons that relationship didn't work.

But I digress. Here is an easy Passover dessert recipe that can be served with meat or dairy - it was a big hit at our sedar last night and I had to fight to get a slice for myself!

Apple Nut Cake
Adapted from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Green

For the filling:
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 generous teaspoon cinnamon
1 large golden delicious apple or other baking apple


2 large eggs, one separated
1 cup sugar divided
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup orange juice
3/4 cup matzah cake meal
2 large egg whites

Grease an 8'' square baking pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling combine walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon, set aside.

Peel the apple if desired (it's not necessary and I don't usually do it). Core and thinly slice it.

For the batter combine 1 whole egg and one yolk (reserve the white) in a medium mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until thick. Gradually add 3/4 cup of the sugar and beat until light. Beat in the oil and orange juice until well combined. Then at slowest speed mix in matzah cake meal.

Put the remaining three eggs into a mixing bowl and use clean beaters to beat til frothy. Gradually add last 1/4 cup sugar and beat until forms stiff peaks. Fold whites into the matzah cake meal mixture mixing completely.

Pour half of the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan and use a spatula to spread it evenly. Sprinkle with 2/3 of the nut mixture . Arrange apple slices in one layer on top of the nuts. Cover with the remaining batter and then sprinkle the remaining nut mixture on top. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely on wire wrack. Cut into squares or rectangles to serve.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's not all easy but worth it

I realize my perception of easy has changed dramatically since I started culinary school.

I recently brought a fruit tart to work that I made over the weekend in class. My co-workers thought it looked impressive. All I saw was it's flaws...the crust was slightly uneven, the kiwi not perfectly cut. But I was still proud of it considering how neverous I was about the assignment: design a beautiful cake that could sell for $35 in a bakeshop.

The next day when I brought the cake to work, and people asked me how I did it, I told them it was easy. My stress and nervousness of the day before disappeared when I saw what I accomplished. The steps of making the crust, filling it with rasberry flavored pastry cream, cutting up fruit and the struggle to artfully arrange rasberries, kiwi, strawberries and blueberries on the tart didn't seem so difficult the morning after.

But the truth is when I am in class the work seem more than a little intimidating. There are plenty of frustrating moments when I worry that I can't do something, or I feel like I am back in the third grade being criticized by the teacher for having bad handwriting that she hinted would doom my entire future.

But the assignments I've worried about the most -like being able to roll  out croissant dough and shape it perfectly, turned out pretty good. When I start to get too frustrated, I remind myself that our instructor has been doing this for nearly 40 years. I tell myself not get discouraged that I can't get something perfect the first time, or that it is a lot harder than he makes it look.

Success rolling croissants before they want in the oven

During the week in between I mull over my successes and failures in class. After a few days pass, my confidence increases. I realize I am learning a lot and if I keep I'll be able to make it seem as easy as the chef one day. For now my creations might not make the cut at Bouchon Bakery or Balthazar, but they impress my friends and co-workers and taste pretty good. While I have a learning curve ahead of me, for now I'll take that as my little victory to celebrate.

Success! My instructor called this mini tart beautiful!

 And at leat my most important critic approves.

Jeff enjoying a chocolate croissant I made in

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My New Favorite Treat

All these years that I've been spreading cream cheese on bland matzo, I've been missing out on a much more tasty treat: Hot Cross Buns.

Guess I shouldn't be surprised since these fragrant buns crop up in bakery windows in time for Easter - hence the cross.

But they are so tasty with freshly grated nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon, candied orange peel and currants mixed in the dough that I think I'll ignore their association with the holiday (like I do with cadbury eggs and chocolate bunnies) and grab some they next time I spot them in a store.

My obsession started when we made Hot Cross Buns in Chef Sim Cass's class at the Institute of Culinary Education. Cass was a founding baker at Balthazar, and I've heard him called one of the best bread makers in the country. So I feel really lucky to be in his class, no matter how rigorous it is or how beat I am when I get home.

I'll share the recipe we used in class, although it might be a little labor intensive for a home baker. But unlike some of the breads we made with Cass, these buns can be cooked in an ordinary oven so it is not impossible to make it on your own.

But if you see them in a bakery window take the easy way out pick up about half a dozen - they are so worth it!