TWD: Chipster-Topped Brownies

The theme at my house this weekend seemed to be “little pieces of heaven.” Between the smell of freshly baked-from-scratch brownies and the fluffy/fudgy texture of the dessert, it was wonderful dessert heaven, which has now turned into breakfast heaven, appetizer-while-I’m-making-dinner heaven…..

The comments during the baking process didn’t conjure the same cherubic bliss.  We started with nearly a pound of butter, a half dozen eggs and the double-dessert task of making brownie batter, washing to dishes, and then making cookie dough.  But you still only get one dessert out of the deal!  After I created the batters – which were each wonderful to lick off the spoon- Mom went to work on the pan, placing tiny drop of cookie batter on a smooshy base of brownie batter.  “Tedious” was I believe the word she used (right before she reminded me that she was, in fact, doing a “superb” job).  But her face said far more.  I don’t think her Dorie experience on this vacation did much sell her one of Dorie’s books.

Chocolate Chipster BRownies

But, an hour later when we were smelling the brownies and lifting them from the pan, all was forgiven.  They are spectacular! The brownie part is heavy on the chocolate, but also moist and dense and delicious. The cookie top provides a non-chocolate crunchiness to soften the blow of the brownies – it’s not far from the Toll House cookie recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag, but the not-for-a-box brownies make it taste like so much more.

I recommend that if you have a whole afternoon to kill making one dessert that you will eat for every meal all week long, you visit  Supplicious, where Beth has posted the recipe. (BTW, Mom recommends using many small drops to get the cookie dough onto the brownie batter, rather than large clumps of dough.)

Food Find: SugarBliss Cake Boutique

I had one Wednesday not long ago that was just one of those days.  It started with a very frustrating call from my realtor (nine days before closing!), followed by a  frustrating conference call, a do-it-yourself plant arrangement (how many Senior Staff Writers can say they’ve arranged Birds of Paradise and orchids with their executive directors?)  and finally a Norwegian man who walked into my office seeking asylum from a private company (we’re a professional society, not a church).  I needed something sweet.

So when I happened upon SugarBliss on my way to the train station, I found a $10 bill in the bottom of my wallet and picked two: lemon drop and Texas red velvet.  They are both fabulous: dense and light at the same time, sugary sweet, made with real ingredients, and TONS of frosting.  Perfect!


(The menu also lists frosting shots for $1, which I feel might be in my future, as well as breakfast cupcakes.  I’ll have to investigate that further.)

Yet another day called for more of the same, but with limited cash on me I popped for just one cupcake to eat on the train going home:  orange creamsicle.  It made me a bit nervous, but it was the best available option.  It did not disappoint. The frosting alone was a bit cloying, but eaten with the delicate vanilla cake it was delightful – the cake totally mellowed out the frosting and I was one happy commuter.  I just wish they had better packaging for a single cupcake fix so that I wasn’t forced to lick frosting off the bag on the train.


TWD: Fresh Mango Bread

I baked this two weeks early and STILL didn’t get it posted on time…AARGH!!

Regardless, I really enjoyed this selection by Kelly, of Baking with the Boys. Thanks for picking the recipe and posting it on your blog.  I don’t think I would have tried this on my own, but I’m glad we all did it together!

Mango Bread

I trusted the title of this recipe and served this “bread” alongside a Caribbean chicken (cooked in orange and lime juices in the crock pot for several hours) and some carrot pudding.  HA!  While we all certainly enjoyed the sweet bread at the main meal, it was far more breakfast cake then bread.  I’ve been eating it every time I walk through the kitchen (before work in the morning, after I get in from the train in the evening, on my way to bed….).

I should have known when I pulled the ingredients for this cake that I was too sweet for a main course Sunday Supper, but by then I was too close to dinner time to scrap it and shop for some other starch – and I made so many substitutions I thought maybe it would be more savory that Dorie had intended. So I continued on: white sugar, brown sugar, golden raisins, frozen mangos, lime zest, ginger and cinnamon.  YUM to all of it, and especially when it’s baked with oil and butter.

Keep in mind, though, that I was short on vegetable oil so I used some olive oil.  I diluted the white flour with whole wheat flour. I used frozen fruit rather than fresh.  AND, mangoes are a good source on antioxidants A, C and E, and potassium – so there are health benefits to this sweet treat.

The bread browned quickly on top, so I wrestled with the aluminum foil as I tried to tent it while wearing oven mitts. It stayed in the oven longer than the  90 minutes the book recommended, too, and each time I took it out of the oven to test it with a knife I had to readjust with the foil tent WITH THE OVEN MITTS.  I must have been quite the sight, but I soldiered on and it was worth it.

The browned crusty top was wonderfully crunchy in contrast to the moist cake and sweet fruit. The Other Eater and I gobbled it donw for breakfast every day that week.

Next week: chipster-topped brownies.  I am SOOO looking forward to these!

man vs. ape

The New York Times recently previewed a book, due out later this month, in which an anthropologist proposes that cooking is what separates man from ape. Tool-making and meat-eating are all well and good, this Harvard professor suggests, but it’s cooking foods over a fire that enabled higher development.

“Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” explains that cooking made foods richer and healthier as long ago as 1.8 million years. Foods became softer, safer and more nutritious. Though no evidence of fire dates that far back, Dr. Ricahrd Wrangham says biology suggests cooking is just that old – that’s when man’s body type changed from apelike proportions with a big gut to upright bodies topped by larger brains. Teeth got smaller, too, suggesting that they weren’t as needed for chewing because foods were softer – because they were cooked.

I’m not sure how I feel about his theory (keep in mind that the doctor has also lived like a chimp, eating only what he found, while he studied the animals – this included eating raw monkey that the other chimps had cast off – eewww), but I like the idea of cooking as an social tradition that has always shaped our development; it continues to shape families and dictate traditions today. I think about this when I consider the Tuesdays with Dorie experiment, and how 200+ young cooks in various corners of the world are all learning to bake because one woman wrote one book.  Dorie’s labor of love will no doubt become the center of family traditions. It’s exciting to think that this little blog is part of that grand idea.

My friend Ken Patchen recently wrote a guest column for the Illinois Agri-News, recalling the various vegetable gardens that have shaped his life: A gradeschool friend’s mom’s where the boys picked grapes and made jelly, his mother-in-law’s carrot patch where fruit stayed in the ground well into December, Ken’s garden that enabled them to continuation her family’s canning tradition, the plot his daughter used to explore her taste for obscure vegetables (and to test her father’s patience, no doubt),  and now the container garden that Ken’s daughter is sharing with his granddaughter in an urban setting.

“Growing a garden is an inter-generational act of faith, reflects a sense of hope, offers exercise, creates memories and puts food and great taste on the table in hard times,” Ken explained as he commended the White House for planting its table garden this spring.  The First Garden likely won’t make a dent in the national deficit, but it will undoubtedly remind parents and grandparents of how they spent their summer days and prompt them to reconsider what their children will remember about this summer.

I guess in a way that’s how I think about cooking, and I thank Ken for helping me to understand that.  I’m still planning my summer garden; I’ve yet to really identify what I’ll have and what kind of containers I’ll use. But my house on McCraren Road always had a garden when I was young (actually, it still does), and I wouldn’t know what else to do with the space now that I have a home of my own.

TWD: Tiramisu cake parfaits

Like many of my TWD colleagues, the idea of having a whole cake in my house is not appealing. I’m not really the kind of person who makes a whole cake just for fun, and so rather than gobble the whole thing down it tends to dry out and tie up valuable real estate in my refrigerator. This is especially gross when the cake has a lot of dairy it in that gets crusty and makes the whole fridge smell.

Tiramisu cake

A parfait, on the other hand, lasts mere hours before my will power caves in an I am licking the glass clean (no wonder the dessert’s name translates to “perfect”). Many thanks to Megan of My Baking Adventures for picking this week’s Tiramisu Cake recipe recipe, and posting it on her blog. Tiramisu literally means “pick-me-up” and even though I left out all of the espresso powder the pure pleasure of indulging in this treat on a sunny Sunday evening lifted my spirits.

I spread Dorie’s fabulous vanilla cake batter into a 13×9 baking pan and made a really shallow sheet cake that I cubed and tossed into parfait glasses (which I had previously purchased at the local church-run consignment store for 25 cents each). I scrapped the espresso syrup and extract in favor of Starbucks liqueur I had in the house, and layered the cake with the filling and the mini chocolate chips, as Dorie recommended.  It was a hit at Sunday dinner with The Other Eater in my household and his mom! Light and fluffy, just the right portions and not too rich to stomach after a nice dinner and a walk through the neighborhood on one of the first really great spring days of the year.

(Earlier in the meal we tore into the [frozen] fresh mango bread that my TWD colleagues will be making later this month – what a treat! More about that later….)