Friday, April 23, 2010

No Fuss Chocolate Bliss

photo by Anthony Palatta

This recipe comes from a slim white volume called The Book of Afternoon Tea, one of British series of cookbooks called "The Book of..." published by HP books in the 90s. Though the recipe is titled "Double Chocolate Cookies," I like to call them "Reverse Chocolate Chip Cookies" because it consists of a chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips.

The ingredients and method couldn't be simpler. Cream butter and brown and white sugar, add egg and vanilla, then stir in some flour, baking soda, a pinch of salt (my addition to the recipe) and a mere two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder. Amazingly, these two tablespoons pack a powerful chocolate punch. Be sure to use a good quality cocoa powder for this one.

Next, fold in some white chocolate chips. I've been experimenting with different brands. Most of the white chocolate chips you'll find in your ordinary supermarket aren't officially chocolate because they contain no cocoa butter. Just look at the ingredients and you'll see.

I've tried mine with both ordinary imitation white chocolate and expensive "authentic" white chocolate (miniature sized), and I have to say I think I prefer the imitation kind. The authentic stuff is too rich and competes with the cookie rather than compliments it, but see what you think.

Whatever you do, be sure and chill your batter for half an hour before baking. This ensures that your cookie will stay nice and moist after you bake it. When I use a 1-inch ice cream scoop, I bake them at 350 degrees for exactly 7 and a half minutes in my oven and they come out perfect. I let them rest on the baking sheet a few minutes to set before removing them.

So here's the recipe:

Reverse Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from the Book of Afternoon Tea)

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (go high quality here!)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup white chocolate chips (Nestle is fine)

Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment

Cream sugar and butter, then slowly beat in egg and vanilla extract. In another bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Stir into the batter, then fold in white chocolate.

Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets, with at least two inches in between. Bake 7 to 8 minutes, until firm. Cool on baking sheets a few minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Yield: about 33 cookies

Friday, April 16, 2010

Adventures in Red Velvet

top photo via Food Network

bottom two photos by Anthony Palatta

One afternoon I was flipping channels while on the treadmill at my gym, and I happened to land upon Cooking for Real, which features Sunny Anderson. Though I haven't made any of her recipes before, I like watching Sunny, who strikes me as a fun, big sister type, and also seems to enjoy food even more than I do.

That afternoon, Sunny was making a red velvet cake, but not just any red velvet cake. This was a four-layer, frosted extravaganza. It began by baking a single wide sheet of cake in a jelly roll pan. The sheet was cut into quarters, and then layered with a creamy-looking sugar frosting that Sunny had cooked on her stovetop, just as she used to watch her grandmother do.

I immediately went home and printed out the recipe. However, it's taken me about six months to actually dare to make it.

There were a few modifications. Sunny's recipe calls for two ounces of red food coloring, which I couldn't find in any of my usual grocery haunts. Instead, I ended up buying professional grade food gel from Broadway Panhandler, which worked just as well. (The batter looked rusty pink, but the cake turned deep red as it baked.)

One of the people commenting on the recipe at the Food Network site said she'd added a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the party, which sounded like a good idea to me to keep the cake moist. And the cake took only 22 minutes to bake in my oven, as opposed to "about 30" in the recipe. Finally, I decided to omit adding chopped pecans between each layer (mostly because I don't like nuts in cakes), though I did sprinkle a few on top for decoration.

After taking the cake out of the oven, I made the boiled frosting, which came together easily, though it was thinner than I'd expected, more of a glaze or sauce.

My biggest issue was trying to stack the layers as Sunny had done so easily on her show. Once the cake was cool, I inverted it, as the recipe directed, onto a cutting board. I then cut the cake into quarters and transferred it to a plate, one layer at a time. Unfortunately, the moist top of the cake kept sticking the plastic cutting board. Also, the cake was so tender that it broke in half. Finally, I resorted to making two four-layer square cakes instead of one long rectangular one.

I may not have used enough icing between the layers, either. My result ended up looking nothing like the luscious picture on Sunny's recipe at the Food Network. (See top photo on this blog for a comparison.)

Still, the taste was absolutely delicious. The cake is one of the best red velvets I've ever tasted, though four layers are a bit decadent. I think one reason it came out so moist was that I used buttermilk from a wonderful cheesemonger called Saxelby in the Essex Street Market, here on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

My verdict is still out on the frosting. The flavor compliments the cake, but the runny consistency made it difficult to work with and build up volume between the layers.

All in all, a successful red velvet adventure!

Friday, April 9, 2010


photo by Anthony Palatta

I'd never heard of "scotchies" until Anthony begged me to bake him some.

A scotchie is a cinnamon oatmeal cookie with butterscotch-flavored chips rather than raisins. Not being a raisin lover, I'm all for that substitution. Not being particularly fond of oatmeal cookies either, I didn't realize was how delicious these scotchies could be.

The recipe couldn't be easier: You can find it on the back of the butterscotch chips bag. After creaming butter and two kinds of sugar (brown and white), you mix in the other ingredients and you're ready to bake. If for some reason your chips bag doesn't have the recipe, you can find it here.

Like most recipes from Nestle's, I've found that if you make the cookies immediately, they spread almost lace-thin. If you can chill, or even better, freeze the dough, you'll get puffier results. You just need to increase the baking time a bit longer, which browns the cookie a bit on the edges, which is nothing to worry about. Also, if the dough's still a bit shiny when you take it out of the oven, just leave the cookies on the warm pans. The cookies will firm up nicely as they cool.

TIP: For amazing cookie sandwiches, get a pint of high quality vanilla ice cream (I like Ben and Jerry's), leave it in the fridge twenty minutes or so to soften, then place a scoop between two scotchies, squeeze, and re-freeze.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Learning to Write a Recipe

photos by Anthony Palatta

I'm currently taking a food writing class at NYU taught by chef Corinne Trang.

Our first assignment was to make up our own recipe and write it up. I decided to create what I thought would be a totally original concoction: limoncello cupcakes.

For those of you unfamiliar with limoncello, it's a deliciously sweet and tart after-dinner liquor made from vodka, sugar, and the rinds of Sorrento lemons. The best limoncello comes from the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and with a little perseverance, you can find it at your local liquor store.

As it turned out, there are already a fair number of variations on cupcakes involving limoncello out there. However, I haven't found any yet that do what mine do, which is to include limoncello in all facets of the cupcake: cake, frosting, and filling.

I start with a lemon curd that gets spiked with limoncello. (You can add it during the cooking process, but I found the alcohol upset the delicate balance of the curd.) Then I make cupcakes (with limoncello in the batter), hollow them out, and fill them with curd. Finally, I frost the cakes with a limoncello-flavored cream cheese frosting, then drizzle more limoncello curd on top for color. A few yellow sanding sprinkles don't hurt either.

When I submitted my first draft of the recipe to my class to workshop, a few of my fellow students had panicked looks on their faces. My recipe had about 22 ingredients and 11 steps, which I learned was far too daunting. After reducing the number of ingredients, combining some steps, and separating my curd recipe from the main recipe (it's now added on as a "bonus"), I managed to reduce some of the shock factor.

As for the cupcakes themselves, I got rave reviews for my taste testers, but I'm going to tweak the recipe further before publishing it. Lemon freak that I am, I want to amp up the lemony-ness of my cake. In the meantime, here's a sneak peek at how the first ones came out.