baking Daring Bakers

Daring Bakers: For the Love of Chocolate

My first Daring Bakers post! This is so exciting!! I don’t think I’ve ever used so many exclamation points before!!!


The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s Blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. They have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan, a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm, and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

This cake has three ingredients: chocolate, butter, and eggs. With something that basic, quality really matters. I used Trader Joe’s dark chocolate, because that’s what I had in the house, and because three-quarters of my family really likes it. (All three of you loyal readers will know I’m the fourth quarter!) The resulting cake tasted exactly like that chocolate, but warmer and gooier. (That does not look like a word, but it is, according to the fine folks at Merriam-Webster.)

And because it tasted just like the chocolate, I really wasn’t terribly fond of it. It was interesting, and the texture was great. And it melded perfectly with the peppermint ice cream, but the cake on its own, not so much. Had I gone with the Trader Joe’s milk chocolate, or even better the absolutely amazing Icelandic milk chocolate I can get at Whole Foods on the extremely rare occasions that it’s on sale, I’d have loved it.

I was overruled, though. Everyone else loved it, including the four guests we had for dinner and dessert the night I made it. I didn’t interview the guests, but here’s what my people had to say:

Husband: It was semi-jelled pudding, in a good way.

#1 Son: Hugely rich, but gooey and wonderful too. Fantastic with the mint ice cream.

#2 Son: Delish. It was chocolate, but held together by butter and eggs! It was delicious. It was really good with the peppermint ice cream.


So there you have it. Chocolate Valentino comes from Chef Wan’s Sweet Treats, which is apparently not easily available in the United States. Here’s your opportunity to try out one of the recipes without spending $55 for the one copy available at

You can use any shape pan that gives you an area of about 50”; I used an 8-inch cake pan. A lot of people probably used heart-shaped pan, in keeping with the chocolate/Valentine’s Day thing, but I don’t have one.

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time:  20 minutes

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs, separated

  • Preheat the oven to 375F/190C.
  • Put chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
  • While the chocolate-butter mixture is cooling, butter the pan and line it with a parchment circle, then butter the parchment.
  • Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
  • Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry). Set aside.
  • Beat the egg yolks.
  • Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
  • Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then another 1/3, then the remaining 1/3. Fold until no white remains, being careful not to deflate the batter.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan. The batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full.
  • Bake for 25 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads 140F/60C. If you do not have an instant-read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
  • Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes, then unmold.

The Daring Bakers challenge included ice cream. I love ice cream. I love making ice cream. The challenge provided two recipes for vanilla ice cream, classic (with eggs) and Philadelphia-style (without eggs). Until I discovered David Lebovitz‘s Perfect Scoop I almost always made Philadelphia-style, but he has really converted me to the joys of custard.

This time, though, I thought less rich was the way to go, given the richness of the cake. And I was so right. I made peppermint ice cream using (with slight modification) the recipe in Bruce Weinstein’s Ultimate Ice Cream Book. Lots of good recipes in this one, kids.

Mint Ice Cream, Philadelphia Style

3 cups heavy cream [I used 2 cups whole milk and 1 cup half-and-half]
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon peppermint extract [the first time I made this, it was hideously strong, so I cut this down to 1 teaspoon; it was still pretty strong]

Heat the cream (or milk, or half-and-half) in a heavy medium saucepan until small bubbles appear around the edge. Do not let the cream boil. Remove from the heat and add the sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Cool to room temperature. Stir in the mint extract. You might want to start with ½ teaspoon and taste the result. Refrigerate till cold or overnight. Freeze in your ice cream maker!

Check out what all the other Daring Bakers did — there are sure to be all kinds of interesting ice cream variations. Enjoy!

baking Dorie Friday dinner

Tuesdays With Dorie: Caramel Crunch Bars

We’re back to cookies this time, but cookies of a different flavor. This week’s recipe, chosen for us by Whitney of What’s Left on the Table?, was for Caramel Crunch Bars — essentially chocolate-chip shortbread with chocolate and toffee bits on top.

This was not a big production. I made them fairly late in the day, and (unlike last week) they didn’t keep me up way past my bedtime. Make the dough — in the mixer, not the food processor, which is where I generally make shortbread — and bake the dough. This dough is thick and sticky, and I knew from reading the comments that a lot of people were using a smaller pan, but I’m brave (and I was having a party the next day); I went for the recipe-specified 9×13. But forewarned is fore-utensiled, and I used my offset spatula, sprayed with butter-flavored cooking spray, to spread it around. Easy as shortbread.

I am notoriously bad at knowing when to take things out of the oven; I can never make reality line up with the description in the recipe, and this time was no different. Dorie says the dough will look as if it’s “trying to pull away from the sides” of the pan. Never got that. The edges were browning and the center looked done, so I finally took them out after about 23 minutes. (My oven temperature is fairly random.)

I chopped the chocolate for the top in the food processor, and I made it very fine — almost like commercial breadcrumbs. So when I sprinkled it on top of the hot cookies, I didn’t have to spread it around; it just melted in place. One invariably frustrating step saved. Then I sprinkled on the the toffee bits and pressed them down with the back of my offset spatula. Piece of shortbread.

I liked these a lot. They weren’t World Peace league, but they were good. I’d have liked them better if I’d used milk chocolate on top, but I was pandering to the masses:

Husband: It just tasted like a big Heath bar, nothing particularly special. They were tasty, but I didn’t get the point of them. [Allow me to interject here that the point of them is the same as the point of Heath bars: They’re delicious.]

#1 Son: Pretty damned good. They could have used a little more crunch and a little less sweetness, but I liked them.

#2 Son: The bottom really adds nothing to it but texture — it’s just a Heath bar. But it’s a really good Heath bar. I would eat a billion of these again. And again. And again. [Allow me to interject once again to point out that Husband and #2 Son made these comments in isolation. They are scarily alike.]

There were four extra people at my house when I served these cookies, but there were also two whole cakes, homemade ice cream, and more cookies — not to mention quite a bit of my amazing homemade pizza — and every single cookie was eaten. One guest even asked for the recipe. I guess that means they were a hit.

Oh, and I apologize for the lack of photographs this week. My camera did something odd, and the 30 or so photos I shot seem to have vanished into the mist. My pictures are never all that good anyway, so no big loss!

Lots of other people made these, and I bet there are tons of interesting variations (and lots of photos!). Go check them out. If you’d like to try these for yourself, buy Baking: From My Home to Yours or head on over to What’s Left on the Table?.

boys meat

Better Late Than Never: Bacon Explosion

#1 Son found this recipe on the Internet, and he was immediately consumed with the need to make it. Right then. Luckily for me (and the family’s cardiovascular systems), it was two days before Superbowl Sunday. I managed to delay him by telling him what a marvelous contribution the Bacon Explosion would be to the Superbowl party we were going to attend.


I asked him to write this post, because he is a much better writer than I’ll ever be. It’s been three weeks, but here, at last, without further ado, I present to you: the Bacon Explosion, as written by #1 Son, with my comments in square brackets:


This. This is how cults are formed, when men create objects so perfect, so beautiful that they can only have come from the divine. Welcome your new god. Welcome the Bacon Explosion.

My recipe deviated from the initial incarnation of the One True Bacon Explosion, I’m afraid. As I had neither barbecue rub nor barbecue sauce, I substituted some City Tavern Herb Rub (excellent, highly recommended [salt, onion, garlic powder, white pepper, cayenne pepper, Hungarian sweet paprika, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sweet basil, sage]) and Peter Luger steak sauce, which I could happily drink from the bottle (really.)

The first step in ushering in the Age of Bacon is to weave the sacred meat together. Who would have thought religious devotion would be so much fun?


The weave was spread with the herb rub and topped with two pounds of Italian sausage, helpfully decased by the Acolyte [otherwise known as #2 Son] here.


That was further topped by the absolute maximum amount of bacon I could fit on my stove, which I realize now is wholly inadequate [the stove, he means].


After another layer of herb rub and a layer of steak sauce, the Assembly began. This unworthy one rolled the sausage mixture together first into a tight roll, then back the other way with the bacon weave.




Two and a half hours later, a tear came to this one’s eyes as he beheld his creation. He fell to his knees and prayed for salvation. The Bacon Explosion did not disappoint him. Two slices, a thousand calories and a Steelers win later, all was right with the world.



boys food

Dinner, Made by Someone Else

#2 Son wanted to make dinner the other night. I wasn’t going to stop him. He puttered around our almost-empty kitchen for a while (it had been a while since I’d been shopping) and came up with Trader Joe’s ravioli with pesto (made in September with my bounty of basil). That would have been a tasty if staid dinner; I often do the same thing with TJ’s tortellini.

But #2 Son took it further. He sliced up an onion, caramelized it, and added some toasted pine nuts.

He’s more creative in the kitchen than I am, that’s for sure. The kid has a future (of cooking for us, at the very least).

baking Dorie

Tuesdays With Dorie: Devil’s Food White-Out Cake



My sister’s birthday was Saturday, so I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to make this cake and not have to watch it devoured in a matter of seconds by the four of us. A whole cake for four people is just silly.

But the usual logistical nightmares meant my sister and the assorted other guests would not be joining us this weekend.

Plan B was cupcakes, but the cake was so glorious that I couldn’t bear to reduce it like that.

Plan C was making the cake, but sending a quarter to the neighbors and another quarter to #1 Son’s girlfriend and her mother.

The best-laid plans of mice and mothers …

So, I made the cake. It was after piano lesson and grocery shopping, so I didn’t start till almost 3 in the afternoon. That was dumb. It’s a cake. I’ve made cakes before. I know how long they take.


Couldn’t find my 9-inch cake pans. (I have sons who have lived in this house their entire lives and still can’t manage to put things away in the same place two times in a row.)

Couldn’t find a non-warped 9×13 pan. (That one’s my fault. I really need to upgrade my baking pans.)

But what’s this? A Bundt pan! It holds the same amount as two 8-inch pans!! Yes!!!

So I made it as a Bundt cake. I buttered and floured the pan, but skipped the parchment — my imagination was just not up to the task of figuring out how to line a Bundt pan with parchment. It baked fine and slid right out of the pan, smooth as silk.

I sliced it into four layers with considerably less angst and cursing than I was expecting, and crumbled the bottom-most one.

Then I made the frosting, increasing the amounts by 50 percent because I like frosting, and so that I could fill the center hole with lovely, fluffy whiteness.

From comments I’d read from other TWDers, I knew the sugar-water part of the frosting was going to have to cook for a while, and yet I didn’t start it till after 8 in the evening. I’m not always the brightest person around. But I had the cake, and I had people waiting for dessert, so I did it despite knowing it was dumb.

Put the egg whites in the mixer. Put the sugar and water and cream of tartar in the pot. Stirred. Boiled. It got up to 230 fairly quickly, maybe 10 minutes or so. And it stayed there. And stayed there. And stayed there. Maybe 20 minutes later it was up to 240. And it stayed there. And stayed there. And stayed there.

I had started to beat the egg whites when it hit 235, just like the book says, and they were done, so I turned the mixer down, just like the book says.

Still 240.

I leaned over the mixer bowl to see how the whites were doing, and when I looked back at the thermometer it read 250. Literally 10 seconds had elapsed, and it had jumped 10 degrees.

Husband later mentioned a slightly burnt aftertaste. I hit him.

But back to the slightly overcooked sugar syrup. I soldiered on, pouring it into the egg whites and beating them till they cooled. Here’s something I hadn’t considered: Increasing the ingredients by 50 percent increases the output by 50 percent. This was not buttercream frosting — this stuff was essentially marshmallow fluff. Marshmallow fluff that expands a lot when it’s beaten.

Filled my five-quart Kitchenaid right up to the top, but luckily no further.

It tasted kind of weird, though, beyond the aforementioned aftertaste. It tasted almost lemony. I figured that had to be the cream of tartar, although I’ve never noticed a flavor from cream of tartar before. It was a little offputting, at least to me. #1 Son liked it a lot.

Slapped the cake together pretty quickly — it was well after 9 by this point — but it looked pretty good, if I say so myself. #2 Son lovingly applied the cake crumbs.


The recipe says to refrigerate the cake for an hour before serving. That was not going to happen. We ate it. We mostly liked it, although we weren’t overwhelmed. That lemony taste turned me off, and I’m not a big fan of chocolate cake to begin with.

Husband: It didn’t thrill me in any way. The lemony taste of the frosting was overwhelming.

#1 Son: I really liked it. Something gave the icing the slightest hint of lemon, and it worked beautifully. The texture of the cake was also perfect; not too mushy, not too crumbly, but a happy, top-of-the-brownie-like middle ground.

#2 Son: I liked the cake, but the icing wasn’t very good. It tasted weird, so instead of eating the leftover frosting, I just put it in a bowl.

So I covered it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge, hoping for a better tomorrow.

I got one.

Twenty-one hours or so later, the lemony taste had gone, and the frosting was sweet and pillowy and lovely. The cake was fudgier, more like a brownie than cake. I liked the whole package much better. As for those people who live in my house:

Husband: It was better the second day, because the cake had more of a brownie consistency. But I didn’t find the chocolate taste at all special, and I found the icing tooth-piercingly sweet.

#1 Son: I really liked the contrast between the almost too dry cake and the frosting the first day. The second day, the cake got a moistness and a fudginess that I felt equalized the textures more, so I didn’t like it as much. But the flavor and texture of the icing intensified overnight, and I really like that.

#2 Son: It was overall much better today. The sweetness increased, which was good, because it decreased the weird taste in the frosting, but it also  started hurting my teeth. I would eat this again on the second day, but not the first. And I really do recommend milk with it [slurp].

Oh, and #1 Son, brilliant as sometimes, sprinkled cinnamon over his slice. That was amazing.


So there you have it. Mixed opinions, as usual, but I was happy. And that’s really all that matters.

Check out the myriad variations dreamed up by the other Tuesdays With Dorie bloggers. And if you want to try this cake for yourself, buy the book or head on over to Confessions of a City Eater, where Stephanie will have the recipe for you.

Dorie Friday dinner

Tuesdays With Dorie: Floating Islands

I believe this is my first Dorie failure. There have been some recipes we haven’t liked as much as others over my past seven months as part of Tuesdays With Dorie, but this is the first time that what I wound up with looked nothing like the lovely photo in the book.


The crème anglaise was lovely. The meringue tasted great, pre-poaching. Even the caramel was good, and I’ve had less than stellar results in past sugar-boiling efforts. But as a dish, eh.

I made the crème anglaise a day in advance, because the recipe mentioned that the flavor would be better that way. It tasted like a nice, rich vanilla ice cream base — which is, essentially, what it was.

I whipped up the eggs whites just perfectly — I make meringues fairly frequently, so I’m familiar with the process — but when I tried to poach them, it was a disaster. The egg whites just dissolved into the simmering milk.

I tried whipping them some more. Didn’t help. Still disappeared.

I tried using more egg white mixture at a time. This time I got little tiny pillowy things, looking nothing like the photograph. But since I had at least achieved something, I kept using larger and larger amounts.

By the end (I cut the recipe in half, because there were only three of us eating dessert), I had one decent-size island (not nearly as pretty as Dorie’s), one smaller one, and two tiny ones.

I refrigerated them for a couple of hours, as instructed, and then plopped them in the crème anglaise and flicked some caramel on top. That part looked pretty.


But I’ve always been pretty bad at presentation, and I was prepared to like them despite their appearance. But I didn’t. The poached meringues came out like a souffle rather than like meringues, and there just wasn’t anything to them. The family agreed:

Husband: They tasted like little omelets. They were perfectly good little omelets. Just not desserty.

#2 Son: While the ocean was tasty, the rest was pretty bad. The island was too eggy, and the caramel almost cut my gum.

#1 Son has no opinion this week, because he chose to spend the afternoon and evening with his girlfriend rather than at our Friday dinner. No more will be said on the matter.

Look at the pretty one again:


There was a bunch of caramel left over, so I saved the day. David Lebovitz has an amazing candied peanut recipe. I had sugar and water. I made candied peanuts! And they were good.


Go check out what all the other TWD bakers did with the floating islands. There will no doubt be hundreds of better renditions out there. And if you want to try it for yourself (go ahead, make me look bad), Shari will have the recipe over at Whisk: A Food Blog.

Next week is another week!

baking Dorie

Tuesdays With Dorie: World Peace Cookies


Dorie Greenspan has changed my life. I love chocolate candy, but I’ve never been a huge fan of chocolate cake or cookies (although I love brownies; go figure). But these cookies have changed all that.

I have made World Peace cookies before. And as we’re trying to cut back on the sugar and fat around here, if this were any other recipe in the book I’d probably have gone back to old photos and written the post from memory.

But this is not any other recipe.

These are, bar none, the best cookies in the world. Nay, in the universe. Dare I say in the megaverse?

I love these cookies.

But even though I’ve made these three or four times already, I tried two new techniques this time. Both were brilliant, if I do say so myself.

First, I shaped each half (well, actually, quarter; I doubled the recipe) of the dough into a rough log and wrapped it in plastic wrap before final shaping. Boy, did that made things easier. Then I slit a paper towel roll (as suggested by Dorie herself) down the side and used that to make sure the dough logs were the right diameter for their whole length. So much neater!

I also baked half a dozen of these little darlings before refrigerating the dough (and after it had been sitting on the counter for an hour or so). They flattened in the oven much more than the refrigerated ones, but they were scrumptious. I think I like them even better that way. (Who would have thought that was possible?) They were thin, but soft and chewy like the best chocolate chip cookies. I was going to save one so I could report on how it was the next day, but I couldn’t resist. Sorry.


The next afternoon I baked the rest, and surprise! They were just as thin and chewy after having been refrigerated for 20 hours or so. In the past, my World Peace cookies have always come out almost like chocolate shortbread. This time they were completely different — if I’d had these somewhere else, I wouldn’t even have recognized them as the same recipe. And I have to say, we like them even better this way.

There were two very small differences in the ingredients this time around: First, #1 Son had been cooking all day on the day I made the dough, and he had left almost three sticks of butter out softening for me. I needed 22 tablespoons, but the nearly full stick had seven rather than six tablespoons left, and, throwing caution to the wind, I tossed the whole thing in there. So that’s essentially an extra half-tablespoon of butter for the basic recipe. And then when I was adding the dry ingredients, I spilled some — no more than two tablespoons or so.

So there you have it: a tiny bit more butter, a tiny bit less flour. A totally different cookie. Fun with chemistry!

I have two photos here to demonstrate the huge difference. The top one comes from the lovely blog She’s Becoming Doughmesstic; thank you, Susan, for so generously allowing me to borrow it. Mine have always looked just like that. The one on the bottom is, of course, this batch.



I made about six dozen of these. By the time we got to the party I made them for, it was down to four dozen or so. Fifteen minutes after I laid them out on the table, there were only crumbs.

I didn’t interview people at the party, but here’s the family:

Husband: I actually liked them better before, when they were more shortbready. They were more special that way. They were good this time, too, though.

#1 Son: The added butter and reduced flour gave them a beautifully crumbly texture without being as dry as I’ve found some past batches. [We’re planning to send him to military school for suggesting that these cookies have even been anything but fabulous.]

#2 Son: They were just as delicious as they were last time, if not more so. They were especially good with the ice cream [coffee and vanilla]. I think they would have been even better if you’d used the 72% chocolate. [I debated between regular bittersweet and the crazy dark stuff, and I went with the regular. I’m a milk chocolate gal!]


Go read 300 other bloggers raving about these cookies. And if you don’t already own Baking: From My Home to Yours, buy it. While you’re waiting for the chance to get to the store or for the book to come in the mail, you can find the recipe at Cookbookhabit. In the name of all that is chocolatey, make these cookies.