Thursday, December 18, 2008

Toffee Chocolate Nut Wedges

Toffee Chocolate Nut Wedges

Toffee Chocolate Nut Wedges

Sometimes I feel like the holiday season is an unspoken competition. It can be a competition to give the best food gift, cook the best meal, or distribute the most cookies to the most people. When I go to a holiday party, I feel like it's a competition to make the most talked-about dish and go home with the least leftovers, without upstaging the hostess.

I know the holiday doesn't have to be competetive. Still, as a baker, there's nothing worse than to spend hours working on something elaborate and seasonal only to have no one eat it. Or have someone tell you they wanted to eat it, but they ate too many Candy Cane Joe-Joe's, or one too many pieces of Aunt So-and-So's super wonder fudge bark thing.

To cut back on holiday baking stress, it's good to have a repertoire of quick, impressive, cost-effective recipes. If you, like me, put off most of your holiday baking until the very last minute, you'll love this recipe for Toffee Chocolate Nut Wedges. With minimal effort, these delicious, elegant cookies can be baked and assembled in less than an hour.

Rather than crunchy, like shortbread, these cookies are tender with crisped edges. The toasted nuts add a needed textural contrast to the cookie base and smooth, creamy ganache.

I think these cookies could be even more visually striking with different topping combinations. I had mendiants in mind when I thought of different ingredients to add: cocoa nibs, sea salt, pistachios, almonds, candied orange peel, dried tart cherries, cranberries, and raisins. Even white chocolate with candy cane pieces.

I don't think these cookies would go unnoticed at anyone's party! Even if they least they keep well.

Toffee Chocolate Nut Wedges
adapted from Abigail Johnson Dodge's The Weekend Baker
8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ c dark brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ tsp table salt
1 yolk from large egg
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 c all-purpose flour
5 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 tbsp heavy cream
½ c chopped pecans (or walnuts), toasted

Position an oven rack in the middle and preheat to 350F. Lightly grease a 9.5" tart pan with a removable bottom. A pie plate or similarly sized baking pan will work, but you won't get the nice fluted edges.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, dark brown sugar and salt. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat just until combined. Pour in the flour and beat on low speed until the dough begins to clump together. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan, scattering the pieces evenly. Pat the dough into the bottom (not up the sides) of the prepared pan to form an even layer. Bake until the top looks dry and the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 25 to 27 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate with the cream in a double boiler or in the microwave. Stir until smooth. When the crust is baked, transfer the pan to a rack. Pour the warm ganache over the warm crust and spread evenly to within 1/2” of the edge. Scatter the nuts over the ganache and gently press them into the chocolate. Let cool until the chocolate is set, about 4 hours at room temperature or about 2 hours in the refrigerator. Remove the outer ring of the tart pan and cut the “cookie tart” into 16 wedges. Serve the wedges chilled or at room temperature.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf

Pumpkin Chocolate Loaf

Pumpkin Chocolate Loaf

This is a recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread, but we like to call it Super Chocolate Awesome Bread. These were literally the first words out of my friend's mouth when he took a bite.

It's one of two recipes i've tried from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking- the second one being the Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins, which were also nicknamed Super Chocolate Awesome Muffins. The same friend had already devoured two before I'd had two bites. They were that good.

It's the simplicity of these two recipes that made me want to try them first. Both can be mixed up in practically no time, and they yield beautiful, moist cakes oozing with melting chocolate. The pumpkin bread is quite spicy; several people actually thought it was gingerbread. I'm tempted to try it without the chocolate, as i've been hurting for a good plain pumpkin bread recipe.

For the muffins, I bought already over-ripe bananas from Penn Mac. It's usually a good place to go if you don't want to wait for bananas to ripen. The espresso powder in the batter is a nice, dark complement to the chocolate. The coffee flavor was hard to identify in the final product- I thought it was nicely balanced. You can view a reprint of the recipe here, but the original uses only semisweet chocolate.

Not all of the recipes in this book appeal to me, but I liked these two so much that i'll probably try a few more!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread
adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp clove
1/2 tsp ginger
2 tsp salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree (15oz can)
3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup water, room temperature
1 cup (12 oz) chocolate chips or chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350F and position a rack in the middle. Grease and flour two 9x5 inch loaf pans or line them with foil or parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk together the oil and pumpkin puree. Add the granulated sugar and whisk to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract and water. Mix in the chocolate with a rubber spatula.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. Do not overmix (and don't worry if you see a few small streaks of flour). Divide into the two pans and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then unmold leave to cool completely.