Chocolate Speckled Salted Shortbread

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I wanted to get back into my baking groove, and instead of being paralyzed by the wide variety of recipes at my disposal, I decided to keep it sweet and simple: a bare bones shortbread recipe. It was also easy to shape – all I needed to do was press it flat with my hands and cut it up into little rectangles. Sometimes, even balling cookie globs can be quite tedious when all you want to do is just end up with a finished product.

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I’m actually really surprised by how tasty these are for the amount of effort. The texture is light and crumbly, and the cookies truly melt in your mouth. Taking care to actually shave a bar of semi-sweet chocolate down into little flakes adds so much more dimension to an otherwise standard-issue butter shortbread cookie – it fulfills chocolatey cravings but imparts more flavor than cloying richness to the cookie. The cookie is also on the salty side, so you may want to skip the coarse salt topping.

Overall, this would make a great tea-time snack.

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Chocolate Speckled Salted Shortbread
From Bake or Break

Ingredients

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 & 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 ounces dark chocolate, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon water, if necessary
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, such as fleur de sel

Instructions

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla until fluffy.

Reduce mixer speed to low. Sift flour, add salt to flour, then add to mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate.

Dough will be crumbly but should hold together when pinched. If dough is not holding together, mix in 1 tablespoon water. Don’t be afraid to dig your hands in to mix it all up if it’s not coming together properly in the mixer.

Form dough into 2 balls and flatten into discs. Wrap each disc tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 disc of dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut dough into 1″x 2″ strips. Carefully transfer cookies to prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake 18-22 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool on pans for 10 minutes. Then, transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Light and Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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These cookies were inspired by a mom’s homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that she had sent to her (adult) children. When I was vacationing in California and visiting a friend, he opened up a package he had just received from his mom and inside was a big tupperware of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Having felt deprived of honest-to-goodness homemade food for a while, those cookies were manna for my hungry soul. Oatmeal cookies tend to get a bit of a bad rap because of those darn raisins that fool you into thinking that they are chocolate, but those cookies were all oatmeal chew with the deliciousness of chocolate and none of that raisin deception. I did a bit of research on the Internet for a recipe that would replicate those cookies’ chewy yet light texture, and I struck gold with this one. Just look at the alluring crackly tops in these cookies!

I’m typically all for a chewy cookie, but chewy cookies tend to be a little denser, and I wanted something that had some levity to it. This Cooking Light recipe seemed like it might be a good fit, and the 1/3 cup of butter confirmed my intuitions. The cookie itself has a crisp exterior, and a chewy interior due to underbaking it just a touch.

cookie inside

Baking soda and baking powder lent volume to the cookie, while oatmeal added bulk and texture without the density of flour. Pecan pieces added just a right touch of crunch. Instead of using chocolate chips, I used semisweet Trader Joe’s Pound Plus chocolate, chopped it up into small, almost flaky pieces, which adds subtle chocolate flavoring here and there, with an occasional melty chunk. I used 1/2 cup less sugar than the recipe recommended and it was still sweet enough. Since these cookies are meant to be light, use a weighing scale to measure out your ingredients as far as possible.

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In the vein of Louis CK, you don’t stop eating these cookies when you’re full – you stop eating when you realize you have just eaten 7 of these at a go and nothing else for the day.

Light and Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Cooking Light
Makes 3 dozen

1 1/4 cups (150g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (80g) old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (100g) packed brown sugar
1/3 cup (75g) butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60g) chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 cup (48g) semisweet high quality chocolate, chopped

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk; set aside.
Place sugars and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add vanilla and egg; beat until blended. Gradually add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Stir in pecans and chocolate. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Cool on pans 2 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool on wire racks.

Bourbon Brownies

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I’ve missed baking with bourbon, and ever since I moved to my new apartment, I knew that this was the time to buy a handle of bourbon to fulfill all my baking desires. While I enjoy a nice top-shelf bourbon for sipping, Jim Beam works just fine when it’s going to be complemented with chocolate and copious amounts of sugar. The first recipe to kick off this bourbon baking dry spell was this batch of bourbon brownies.

The original recipe recommended a sea salt topping, but I forgot and now this is just a fudgy brownie with notes of woodiness. It’s not going to make you drunk but you can definitely taste the bourbon. I’d recommend eating these brownies chilled; it really enhances the fudginess. Whiskey and chocolate just go so perfectly together… I actually had some chocolate-infused, locally-made moonshine from King’s County Distillery and really enjoyed it.

As usual, I sub in gluten-free flour when adverse effects are minimal. I used Carol Fenster’s baking mix of 1 cup rice flour, 1/2-3/4 cup potato starch and ¼ cup tapioca starch/flour. The downside to this flour is that it tends to clump up and might lead to clumps in your batter.

Bourbon Brownies
Adapted from Baking Bites
Makes one 8-9 inch square pan

1/2 cup butter
2-oz dark chocolate (60-70% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp bourbon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup all purpose flour (or gluten-free flour)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt together butter and dark chocolate in the microwave. This should be done in 30-second intervals to avoid overcooking the mixture, stirring to ensure that the chocolate has melted. Allow mixture to cool slightly and transfer into a large mixing bowl.
Whisk sugar and cocoa power into butter mixture. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, followed by 1/4 tsp salt, bourbon and vanilla extract. Whisk in the flour and stir until it is just incorporated, and no streaks of dry ingredients remain visible.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Allow brownies to cool in the pan, then lift the foil to easily remove them before slicing.

Dark Chocolate Rum Cake Balls

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I made some of these incredible chocolate rum cake balls for a work party and judging by how only two out of 60+ balls were left at the end of it, I’m guessing they were a big hit. Chocolate and booze just never goes wrong!

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As someone who prides herself on making things from scratch, I opted to make the chocolate cake and the glaze from scratch, even though I would be mashing them up into little balls later. The original recipe didn’t include rum, but I subbed some of the hot water that went into the cake with rum for some added booze. The cake itself was pretty darn delicious and moist and rich, but I knew I couldn’t just bring in a sheet cake to the party. No, that wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive nor delicious. I saved half the cake for non-party eating purposes, giving it away to appreciative friends who don’t get no homemade goodies all that often.

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As for the other half, I smushed it all up into little balls, while also throwing in some rum, heavy cream, and chocolate sauce, the proportions of which I eyeballed until the cake mixture became suitably compact.

While the original recipe called for a dark chocolate coating, I knew it was going to be a bit too bitter, so I used half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate instead. It was an excellent call.

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Dark Chocolate Rum Cake Balls
Adapted from Cookie Madness
Makes 60~ balls

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups (8 oz) all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, natural type (try Dutch)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk, room temperature
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water (or coffee)
1/2 cup rum

Ganache
3 ounces of chopped semisweet chocolate
3 ounces of heavy cream
6 oz milk chocolate
6 oz semisweet chocolate

Instructions
Preheat oven to 325 F. Spray a 13×9 inch pan with flour-added baking spray.
Mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add oil, milk, eggs and vanilla. Beat two minutes with electric mixer at medium speed. Stir in water and rum until blended. Batter will be thin.
Pour batter in the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until skewer or pick inserted comes out clean.
Let the cake sit in the pan for about 10 minutes, then carefully turn it from the Bundt.
Let the cake cool and then drizzle it with ganache. To make ganache, heat 3 ounces of heavy cream in microwave or saucepan. Pour over 3 oz chopped dark chocolate and stir until smooth. Let cool until thick enough to drizzle.

When you are ready to make the cake balls, set aside half the cake in a large mixing bowl. Mash up the cake. If you used all the ganache in the recipe, you won’t need any extra. Add rum, heavy cream and/or chocolate sauce until cake balls hold together. I recommend adding more rum than the other two ingredients.

Line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment. Shape the scoops into smooth balls. Line the balls up on a tray, cover the with plastic wrap and put them in the freezer until firm.

In a chocolate melting pot, top of a double boiler or in the microwave, melt the milk and semisweet chocolate.

Dip cake balls into melted chocolate and lift with two forks, allowing extra chocolate to drip back into the pot. Put the balls on a wax paper lined cookie sheet to set.

Review: Serious Eats Food Lab’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

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After “32 pounds of flour, over 100 individual tests, and 1,536 cookies”, Kenji of Serious Eats’ The Food Lab finally settled upon the “best chocolate chip cookie” recipe. Of course I had try this recipe worthy of a superlative, especially after such extensive experimentation. Nothing like trial and error to yield the best results, am I right?

My verdict? Short answer: not the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. The long answer is as follows.

1. Spread too thin: when I first baked these cookies after a night of refrigeration, they ended up spreading and gave nowhere near the crackled, chunky effect of Kenji’s version. I then put it in the freezer and ended up the texture as shown in the pictures. The cookies have a bit more height, but still don’t have an attractive texture.

2. Too salty: So I used Sel de Guarande, a French sea salt – which is not Diamond Crystal kosher salt, as was recommended in the recipe. From what I could tell based on my research, the fleur de sel I had was similarly, if not more coarse than Diamond Crystal – and thus shouldn’t over-salt my cookies. I was wrong. It ended up too salty for my taste and diminished the sweetness, and I am glad I didn’t garnish the cookies with more salt – that would have been overkill. Perhaps I didn’t brown the butter enough, but I thought that there wasn’t a strong enough toffee/caramelized flavor, and the taste was simply too salt-centric for a chocolate chip cookie.

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3. Fluffy texture: A fluffy texture might be a boon or a bane depending on who you ask, but personally I prefer a denser, more chewy cookie. Because the eggs and sugar are beat on medium-high for five minutes, a lot of air is incorporated into the dough, lending lightness and airiness. I didn’t really care for that, personally. If I had let the butter solidify completely after browning it, that might have helped with giving a denser texture that I personally prefer.

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I don’t think I’ll be making this again, since clearly it doesn’t fulfill my vision of what a chocolate chip cookie should be.

Click here for the recipe I used.

 

Marshmallow Brownies

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Don’t these brownies look like they have a crispy bacon topping? Yeaaahhh. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask), those golden brown curls with the white edges aren’t crisp-roasted bacon strips. They are actually formed by marshmallows. Pretty neat, eh? I saw this recipe on Cookie Madness, and I was kind of surprised at how mine turned out. It doesn’t look nearly as neat as the one in the picture. It’s probably because I used cut-up pieces of large marshmallows instead of mini ones.

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I personally wasn’t very fond of the brownies, because I thought it had too eggy of a taste, and not enough chocolate. I don’t even like marshmallows all that much… I just had some around and I felt a need to use them. I didn’t use chocolate chips in my recipe because I thought the marshmallows would provide sufficient sweetness, but evidently I was wrong. I would highly recommend the use of chocolate chips and pecans as per the original recipe.

Marshmallow Brownies
Makes 1 8X8 inch pan
Adapted from Cookie Madness

Ingredients
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut up
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, slightly cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup miniature marshmallows

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8 inch square metal pan with foil or parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a large (3 quart) heavy saucepan set over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, add chocolate and stir until smooth. If you are using a metal saucepan and butter is very hot, you can remove the saucepan from the heat and then add the chocolate, letting it melt over residual heat. Remove from heat when melted.
With a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir both sugars and salt into the chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and stir until well mixed.
Fold in the marshmallows.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly.
Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out moist but clean.
Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for about 30 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator and chill for a few hours.
When brownies are very firm and cold, lift from the pan and cut into squares.

Small Batch Gluten-Free Molten Lava Cake

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I’ve known in the back of my mind how simple molten lava cakes are to make, but can you believe that I’ve never actually attempted this half-baked ubiquitous restaurant concoction? Now I have. And it’s actually really easy! The small amount of flour involved also means that the quality of the cake wouldn’t suffer too much with the substitution of gluten-free flour.

I used a Paula Deen recipe, fully well knowing that it would be excessively rich, which is why I third the recipe to create two ramekins worth of molten lava cake instead of six. And even then, each portion was way too rich for me – I ate it in fits and starts, and each ramekin took approximately three tries to finish. Whew.

This is a one-bowl recipe with little clean-up, and can be modified to your liking depending on what kind of flavorings or extracts you want to include. Sub the vanilla essence with peppermint oil, and you get a melty, cakey, After Eights. Add a dash of paprika for an inexplicable tingle on the tongue. Just let your imagination guide you 🙂

Small Batch Gluten-Free Molten Lava Cake
Makes 2 6-oz ramekins
Adapted from Paula Deen

47g bittersweet chocolate
47g butter
20g all-purpose or gluten-free flour
1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 tablespoons orange liqueur (optional)
Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Grease 2 (6-ounce) ramekins. Melt the chocolates and butter in the microwave, or in a double boiler. Add the flour and sugar to chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and orange liqueur. Divide the batter evenly among the ramekins. Place in the oven and bake for 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center will be runny. Run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto dessert plates.