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IMG_4253This brownie is an elaborate affair. It involves a salted caramel filling and a whole bunch of different ingredients I don’t normally keep (heavy cream, sour cream, corn syrup), but the resoundingly positive response to these have been worth every minute of labor I put into these.

The texture is rich, fudgy, and just a touch gooey with the help of the salted caramel sauce filling and underbaking on my part. The directive on The Vanilla Bean Blog said to be sparse with the caramel, and due to my temporary shock at how much butter and sugar a 12×9 inch pan brownie contains, I was very sparing with it but definitely could have used more. I’m not that experienced in caramelizing sugar and the caramel sauce could have used more heat too.

I generally prefer to convert volume measurements (cups/spoons) into weight (ounces/grams) but this recipe must have been made with the homemaker’s cavalier measurement style in mind – using a 100g = 1/2 cup ratio for sugar meant that this brownie had almost a pound of sugar in a 12×9 pan and I freaked out and hastily retrieved maybe 1/2 cup/100g worth of brown sugar lumps to reduce the caloric content and the brownie still turned out perfect.

The fleur de sel and coarse sugar topping really makes the dish, so be sure to hunt down some turbinado sugar or the like.

Salted Caramel Fudgy Brownies
Link from The Vanilla Bean Blog, Recipe from Baked Explorations
Makes 1 12×9 inch pan

filling
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (I used dark brown corn syrup to no ill effect)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/4 cup sour cream

for the brownie
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate [60-72%], coarsely chopped
1 cup [2 sticks butter], cut into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups sugar (I used probably about 1 cup and it was completely fine)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla

for the assembly
1 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel
1 teaspoon coarse sugar

make the caramel
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with ¼ cup water, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350 degrees F, or until the mixture is dark amber in color (keep a close eye on the caramel at all times, as it goes from golden brown to black and burnt very quickly), 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, and slowly add the cream (careful, it will bubble up) and then the fleur de sel. Whisk in the sour cream. Set aside to cool.

make the brownie

Preheat oven to 350. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light-colored metal 9×13-inch pan. Line the bottom and sides with a parchment paper overhang, and butter the parchment that is in the pan

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

Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl of a double boiler set over a pan of simmering water, and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler, and add both sugars. Whisk until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be at room temperature.

Add three eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage, or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate. Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until there is just a trace amount of the flour mixture still visible.

assemble the brownies

Pour half of the brownie mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Drizzle about ¾ cup of the caramel sauce over the brownie layer in a zigzag pattern, making sure the caramel doesn’t come in contact with the edges of the pan or it will burn. Use an offset spatula to spread the caramel evenly across the brownie layer, leaving about a ½-inch border around the edges. In heaping spoonfuls, scoop the rest of the brownie batter over the caramel layer. Smooth the brownie batter gently to cover the caramel layer.

Bake the brownies for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs

Remove the brownies from the oven and sprinkle with the fleur de sel and coarse sugar.

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Scones are a very summery sort of baked good to me. I think it might be the fact that it often incorporates summer berries such as raspberries and strawberries, and also its quick bake time – nobody wants to leave the oven on all day and toil away in a hot kitchen, especially in the summer, do they? The petite sizes also don’t weigh you down, leaving you free to pop a couple in your mouth and then get going with basking in the summer sun.

The nice thing about this recipe is how simple the ingredients come together. There’s no complicated butter-browning or whisking-to-stiff peaks; it’s pretty much a one-bowl recipe that involves stirring. Because the ingredients are so minimal, I recommend getting quality, sweet strawberries as it would really improve the outcome of these scones. I used frozen strawberries that I defrosted, but they weren’t very sweet. I also didn’t have turbinado sugar, so I used dark brown sugar mixed with granulated sugar for topping, but I suspect turbinado sugar would have added a more delightful crunchy texture.

Since scones tend to do best straight out of the oven, definitely freeze the dough if you have excess and bake them when you need them, instead of all at once.

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Mini Strawberry Cream Scones
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Makes 35 1-inch wide scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream plus more for brushing the top
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh strawberries
turbinado sugar for topping

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift flour into bowl. Whisk in baking powder, salt, and sugar. Slowly stir in 1 1/3 cups of cream and vanilla extract. Add the strawberry chunks. Toss together. Add a tablespoon or two of cream if the flour doesn’t come together – but you want it just be cohesive, not wet and sticky.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead into a 3/4 inch thick sheet and cut into one-inch sized squares with a sharp knife. Brush each circle with heavy cream and generously sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Place 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Remove from the oven and serve warm.

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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.

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Trifles are one of my favorite desserts to construct. This is why:

1. It’s no-bake and thus super quick to assemble.
2. You can even use all store-bought, ready-made ingredients to assemble your trifle.
3. If your layer cake fails, turn it into a trifled “deconstructed” dessert.

This chocolate cake trifle was borne out of the third reason. I had made a chocolate whiskey cake, only I tweaked the recipe to double the amount of whiskey to 1 cup, and omitted the coffee chocolate chips. If I found the original recipe a tad too sweet, this new incarnation was excessively alcoholic. I legitimately felt tipsy after a slice, and would mostly eat it with a scoop of ice cream to offset the dryness and high alcoholic content.

The poor cake languished in my freezer for a while, until I chanced upon this chocolate sauce recipe. I loved that it didn’t contain any ingredient that couldn’t exist outside the refrigerator, which would imply that it’d have an extended shelf life much like a commercial chocolate sauce. I made a batch of it, and I saw it as the perfect solution to my dry and un-sweet chocolate cake. Then I had another great idea. I had some heavy cream left over from the Sachertorte. What if added a bunch of whipped cream to it and made it a trifle?

I made short work of it, both in making and eating it. I added some white chocolate chips for textural contrast and added sweetness. It ended up being a high whipped cream to cake ratio, which meant that the flavors ended up balancing out perfectly.

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Chocolate Whiskey Trifle
This is not so much a recipe as guidelines for freewheeling creativity. Go wild!

An amount of chocolate cake – I used this chocolate whiskey cake recipe
Chocolate sauce – homemade from this Allrecipes recipe, or store-bought is fine
1 cup of heavy cream
Granulated sugar to taste
White chocolate chips

1. Start whipping heavy cream on high with a mixer (or laboriously by hand if you don’t have a mixer – it is possible, just tiring) and add granulated sugar to taste.
2. Crumble chocolate cake into a container – ideally glass, so everyone can see the strata that make up your trifle. Spoon some whipped cream into it and even out. Squirt a bunch of chocolate sauce on to it. Sprinkle a handful of chocolate chips.
3. Repeat until a limiting factor presents itself – for me, the whipped cream ran out first.
4. Let sit for an hour so the cake moistens from the sauces and whipped cream. If you’re not patient enough, go ahead and eat it right there and then anyway.

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About a year ago, I attempted my very first Sachertorte – a classic Austrian chocolate cake with an apricot jam filling and a chocolate glaze. Unfortunately, my version failed miserably. This cake is a really old-school recipe that doesn’t involve any chemical leavening, and since I didn’t have an electric mixer at the time, whipping egg whites into stiff peaks was an utter bitch by hand.

But things are different now. This recipe is in fact, quite a piece of cake with a stand mixer.

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My cake ended up with a tight crumb that was still light in texture, and soaked up all that rummy Stroh-apricot jam goodness. The chocolate cake itself is rather dry and not very sweet by itself, so liberal amounts of apricot jam mixed with rum (if you can use authentic 160 proof Stroh, even better) is imperative. Let the glaze harden and set before eating even though it might be tempting – I promise it will be worth the wait.

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I chose to go by Wolfgang Puck’s recipe because I knew he was Austrian, so he must know what he’s talking about. It didn’t fail me, but I have some edits that I made and I’ll recommend going forward.

  1. I used XL eggs, and hence just used an equal number of egg yolks and egg whites.
  2. My cake ended up rather thin, and without a specialized cake layering tool, it’ll be nearly impossible to cut it horizontally into thirds. Just make a half cake by slicing it all the way through and stacking it, like I did.
  3. To that note, I would halve the amount of apricot jam filling I make. I had quite a bit left over.
  4. I cannot emphasize more the importance of sifting your flour before mixing. This is a tight-crumbed cake that’s relatively low in fat compared to American cakes, so the texture of the flour will make an appreciable difference to the outcome of the cake.

Sachertorte
Makes 1 half 9-inch cake
Adapted from Wolfgang Puck

Cake:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
3 ounces butter
4 egg yolks
1 ounce sugar, plus 3 ounces
5 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup flour, sifted

Apricot Filling:
3/4 cups apricot preserves
1/2 tablespoon apricot brandy or rum

Glaze:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
1 ounce butter
2 ounces heavy cream
Schlagobers, or whipped cream

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 by 2-inch cake pan.

In a bowl, combine the chocolate and butter and melt over a double boiler. Set aside to cool. In a mixer, using a wire whisk, whip the egg yolks with 1 ounce sugar until light and ribbony. Beat in the chocolate mixture.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 3 ounces of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks. Fold in the flour and then fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining egg whites, gently but thoroughly. Pour into prepared cake pan.

Bake for 40 minutes or until done. To check for doneness, insert a paring knife in center of cake. It should come out dry. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

To make the apricot filling: puree the apricot preserves. Stir in brandy.

Slice the cake into half to get two half-moons. Spread half of the apricot filling on the bottom layer. Top with a second layer of cake. Spread a thinner layer of apricot filling on top, but scrape off any protuberant preserve pieces. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To make the glaze: in a bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Melt over a double-boiler. Bring the cream to a boil. Stir into the melted chocolate. Cool until it reaches glazing consistency. Spread over and around the cake. Chill for another 30 minutes before serving. Serve a slice with Schlagobers or whipped cream.

Bacon. Whiskey. Chocolate. Based on my latest kitchen endeavors, I’ve found that these three ingredients are universally appealing to just about everyone, and especially when used together. I used to be a clear liquor sort of girl that scrunched her nose in the face of brown liquor, but then I started watching How I Met Your Mother and decided that Robin was the kind of girl I wanted to be and the rest is history. Simon suggested this dish to me, and I was like, fuck yeah! Let’s do this!

I trawled the Internet and found this Food Network recipe, but decided to use pork instead of beef. The pork ended up tender and juicy because it was baked instead of pan-fried like the steak would have been. We also substituted cognac for whiskey because that’s all there was available, and cognac, being a spirit distilled from wine, gave the gravy a more delicate flavor than whiskey would have. The gravy is really, really tasty, and the copious amounts of heavy cream and bacon makes it better. It’s not a terribly complicated recipe, and it’s certainly restaurant-worthy. Try it!

Cocoa-Rubbed Pork Loin with Bacon Whiskey Gravy
Adapted from Food Network
Makes 6 servings

Ingredients
For the pork:

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
2 1-pound boneless pork loin
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cubed

For the gravy:

4 strips bacon, diced
1 leek (white and light green parts only), finely chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whiskey (I used cognac)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves (I omitted this)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

Make the pork loin: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Mix the cocoa powder, both paprikas, brown sugar, cayenne and 2 teaspoons salt; rub on the pork loin and bring to room temperature, 30 minutes. Distribute butter on pork loin and bake in a pan for 30-40 minutes.

Make the gravy: Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove to paper towels with a slotted spoon; set aside. Add the leek to the drippings and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the whiskey, then return to medium heat; if the alcohol ignites, let the flames die out. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture is reduced by one-quarter, about 8 minutes. Whisk in the heavy cream and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the gravy coats a spoon, about 7 minutes. Stir in the butter, reserved bacon and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

When pork loin is done, transfer to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes. Season with salt. Slice and serve with the gravy.


Most bakers are usually reluctant to bake in the summer time, because no one wants to have yet another source of heat bearing down on them. Out comes the no-bake recipes: no-bake cheesecakes, puddings, trifles. Icebox cake (or zebra cake) is one variation of the ever-classic trifle. I strongly believe that contrasting textures makes a dish especially compelling, and the basis of most trifles: a creamy spread and a cakey layer offers that palate-teasing complexity.

I opted to make my own chocolate wafers, but I’m sure you can purchase them if you preferred to save some time. However, these wafers are top-notch, and if you’re one of those people that prefer the cookie bit of an Oreo to the cream (it’s an atrocity but I used to discard the cream bit), these cookies would really hit the spot. I also added a couple of tablespoons of Bailey’s in the whipped topping – because why not, right? It added a subtle alcoholic touch to the dessert with an accented chocolate taste Because of how light this dessert tastes in your mouth, it’s very easy to eat quite a lot of it. Restraint, my friends, restraint.


Icebox Cake
Serves 3 normal people, 2 sweet-toothed people

1 batch of chocolate wafers (recipe below)
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
2 tbsps of powdered sugar
2 tbsps of Bailey’s (optional)

Whip the cream till stiff peaks form. Add in sugar and Bailey’s, if using. Alternate layers of chocolate wafers and whipped topping in a bowl, with the wafers forming the bottommost layer. Leave to set at least overnight or up to a day, until wafers soften and become cake-like.

Chocolate Wafers
Makes about 30 to 40 wafers
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3/4 cups (3.38 ounces) whole wheat flour
6 tbsps (1.2 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and baking soda in the bowl of food processor and pulse several times to mix thoroughly. Cut the butter into about 1/2 inch chunks and add them to the bowl. Pulse several times. Combine the milk and vanilla in a small cup. With the processor running, add the milk mixture and continue to process until the mixture clumps around the blade or the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a large bowl or a cutting board and knead a few times to make sure it is evenly blended.

Form the dough into a log about 7 inches long and 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in wax paper or foil and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour, or until needed.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the log of dough into slices a scant 1/4-inch thick (I went thinner, closer to 1/8 of inch. If you’re trying to emulate the store-bought wafers, slice as thin as you can, and watch the baking time carefully, as it might be less.) and place them one inch apart on the lined sheets (cookies will spread). Bake for a total of 12 to 15 minutes. The cookies will puff up and deflate; they are done about 1 1/2 minutes after they deflate.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on racks, or slide the parchment onto racks to cool completely. These cookies may be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks or be frozen for up to two months.

Note: These cookies should crisp as they cool. If they don’t, you’re not baking them long enough, in which case, return them to the oven to reheat and bake a little longer, then cool again.