This cake came to me in a snow-covered dream. I woke up Sunday knowing I had to do three things: shovel my driveway, take my kids sledding, and bake something. It’s no secret I love to be snowed in; I view it as nature’s permission to let everything go — I don’t stress about it, I don’t complain about it, I just let it all go. Northern Virginia was in the epicenter of the recent “snowzilla” storm. We had historic snowfall and the world shut down for a few days. It was pretty wonderful. I’ll be back at work tomorrow, so while I’m enjoying my last day of snowed in freedom, I thought I’d hop back on the blogging wagon and share this wonderful, easy recipe. No mixer required, and I bet you have most of the ingredients in your pantry. Continue reading →
Chocolate Chip Cookies: Ever since I discovered Martha Stewart’s Crisp and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, I’ve looked no further. I could make them in my sleep; everyone loves them; they are just so good—chewy and bendy. In fact, every time I make them I say, “these are the best cookies I’ve ever made,” and my son always smiles, rolls his eyes, and says, “You say that every time!” It’s become a joke between us, but they really are! It’s like I forget how irresistibly good a fresh, warm chocolate chip cookie is—even for me, a girl whose salty tooth is far more demanding than her sweet tooth.
So, over the years I’ve been hearing this constant buzz about Jacques Torres, AKA Mr. Chocolate, and his famous NY Times cookie recipe. I thought to myself, “how good can they really be?” I mean, chocolate chip cookies are great, and yes, I’ve been known to eat a few right off the tray while they’re still warm and melty… Is there any other way?? But they’re just one of those things. I didn’t feel the urge to try this hyped up, fancy recipe for something I consider homey and traditional.
Alas, my curiosity got the better of me. Amazon.com supplied me with the bittersweet chocolate fèves, and I followed the recipe exactly—something I never do! Oh boy am I happy I did. Jacques Torres, I doubt you will ever read this, but I am a believer. These cookies are like the Rolls Royce of chocolate chip cookies. They are chewy and soft; just a little crunchy around the edges; loaded with silky layers of chocolate—and the sprinkle of sea salt on top just sends my taste buds to the moon. Salty. Sweet. Irresistible.
I’m still devoted to my favorite recipe (which I hope you will try too!), but these will be my special recipe that I whip out when I’m feeling a little naughty and indulgent. I hope you try them, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Just a few notes:
Making the dough is pretty standard, but definitely fold the chocolate pieces in by hand. The large, flat size of the chocolate disks is necessary for the layers, and they will break if you toss them in the mixer. (A few will break when you scoop them, but don’t worry!)
Because the dough is cold from the 24-36 hours in the fridge, scooping it is kind of a pain in the neck. I used my biggest scoop, which is two inches in diameter and holds about 1/4 cup of dough. I kind of squished it in with my palm, then dropped it onto the cookie sheet. This part might frustrate you (as it did me!), but I promise it’s worth it!
Last thing: these are meant to be eaten warm, and they really should be, but they are delicious cool as well. How fun would it be to serve a warm chocolate chip cookie to your dinner guests, though. If you had these scooped and ready to go into the oven, you could pop them in half way through dinner, and make your friends feel very special. And very, very happy. The best dinner guests are the ones who aren’t afraid to lick gooey chocolate off their fingers in front of you…
Time: 45 minutes (for 16-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.
Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.
Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods (or Amazon.com)
This is the kind of recipe you want to make for someone you really love, even if they aren’t around to share it.
My brother Julian loved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with a passion–something that certainly rubbed off on me. He would have been 38 years old today. I remember his first birthday after he died. It had been a little over 7 months since his accident, and when I realized what day it was I felt this deep emptiness and confusion. It was a shocking emotion that I had never felt before. I remember talking to a friend and telling her how strange it felt to not know what to do. What could I do? It was still his birthday. I didn’t want to just let it pass by; I couldn’t tell him happy birthday; I couldn’t go visit him or call him on the phone. I felt like I couldn’t do anything.
Cooking and baking, for me, is truly an act of love. Although it is often done with whimsy, it is never mindless. I care about what I make, and I think about who I am going to share it with, keeping them in mind during the entire process. So, this is what I decided to do for Julian. Rather than sit around and feel helpless, as I did that first year, I’ve created a tradition of baking something for him every year. The sadness never goes away and I will always miss him, but when I bake something in his memory it’s therapeutic; while I bake I think about how great he was–sweet, funny, handsome, and kind, with a mischievous side and the longest eyelashes you’ve ever seen. Such a special person, gone far too soon. This year, I made my choice with his love of peanut butter cups in mind. I know he would’ve loved these. He might have even loved them enough to forgive us for teasing him for getting so old.
Make these for someone you love, or someone you miss.
The cupcakes are moist and very chocolatey, and the frosting is something indescribably wonderful. I am not a frosting fan; I scrape it off of birthday cakes; I strategically avoid the corner pieces that have loads of it… I could eat this by the spoonful. (I have eaten this by the spoonful.) Just wait… You will, too. I promise. The frosting recipe makes enough for 20 cupcakes, plus a few spoonfuls leftover for shamelessly eating straight from the bowl.
*This recipe was inspired by and adapted from The Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook. I made a few small changes, but she certainly deserves the credit.
Makes 20 regular sized cupcakes
1 1/2 sticks butter at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream at room temperature
1 3/4 cups A.P. Flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
Preheat oven to 350, and line cupcake pans with paper liners.
Combine buttermilk, sour cream, and vanilla in a bowl or measuring cup and set aside.
Normally, I’m not a sifter… but I think it’s necessary with cocoa powder. So, over a piece of parchment, or large bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter, sugars, and coffee powder until light and fluffy. About 5 minutes on medium-high speed.
Scrape sides, add eggs, and beat again until light and fluffy. About 2 minutes.
Next, with the mixer running on low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and dry mixture, alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Don’t over mix. Using a rubber spatula, scrape sides and bottom of bowl, making sure everything is combined.
Fill liners almost to the top. I use a large ice cream scoop, and get exactly 20 cupcakes.
Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
Peanut Butter Frosting
(AKA the best frosting you will ever taste. Ever.)
Makes enough for 20 cupcakes, plus a little left over…
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 stick butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon fine salt (a pinch)
1/3 cup heavy cream
Combine all ingredients except heavy cream in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed at first, then increase to medium-high until well blended.
Scrape down sides, add cream, and beat on high speed until creamy and fluffy.