Friday, January 28, 2011

Black Forest Cookies

photo by Anthony Palatta

My friend Teddy, whose sweet tooth rivals mine, loves these chocolate cookies, stuffed with chocolate chips and dried cherries. Teddy's quite the connoisseur of New York baked goods, so I felt very flattered when he told me once, "These cookies are so amazing--and you can't find them anywhere!"

To tell the truth, I can't remember where I got this recipe. I know it was a cooking show on PBS, but that's all I can remember.

What I do know is that they're quite simple to put together and wonderfully decadent, loaded with chocolate and then the unexpected sweet and sour note of dried cherries.

Part of the reason these cookies pack such a chocolate punch is that they have cocoa powder, melted bittersweet chocolate, AND an entire package of semisweet chocolate chips.

The last time I made these, they came out the best I'd ever made them, and here's why. First, I used high quality chocolate chips (Ghirardelli in this case). Second, I was careful to underbake them slightly. Keep checking the cookies in the oven. As soon as the surface sheen is gone, take them out and let them rest on the baking sheets a while. They'll seem wet and fragile inside, but they'll firm up as they cool. You're going for the consistency of a fudgy brownie.

I know January's the time for dieting, but if you need a reward for gnawing on all those celery and carrot sticks all month, these would be it.

Black Forest Cookies
Makes 36
1 cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 package (about 12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks
1 1/2 cups dried cherries


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder; and salt; set aside.
2.  Place chopped chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; stir until melted and smooth. Remove from heat; whisk in sugars, then eggs, until smooth.
3.  Whisk in dry ingredients just until combined (do not overmix). Fold in chocolate chunks and dried cherries; press plastic wrap directly onto surface of dough, and refrigerate until firm, 30 to 45 minutes.
4.  Drop mounds of dough (equal to 2 level tablespoons) about 2 inches apart onto prepared sheets. Bake just until edges are firm (but not darkening), 11 to 13 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 1 to 2 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Raspberry Bars

photo by Anthony Palatta

Now that the holidays are over, I'm trying to cut down on sweets as much as I can. I've also been getting some feedback on the holiday cookies I've been baking, and I was surprised to hear that the overwhelming consensus favorite were these raspberry bars.

The bars were a last-minute addition to my holiday cookie plans. The only reason I made them at all was that my partner and highly esteemed photographer, Anthony, was saying he had a craving for a raspberry crumb bar from a fine local bakery, Ciao for Now. "Why go there?  Why don't you let me make you one?" I asked.

After looking through various cookbooks I have on hand, I found a recipe in my old standby, the Martha Stewart Handbook that contains just six ingredients:  butter, blanched almonds, flour, sugar, salt, and raspberry jam. Because of that, it's important to use the best quality ingredients possible, especially for the jam.

(Click here for the exact recipe.)

You start by combining the butter, almonds (ground), flour, sugar, and salt, then pressing half the mixture into a rimmed baking sheet and baking it until it's lightly browned. Here's where I departed from the recipe. Rather than use the 1 3/4 cup of jam called for, I slathered on an entire jar of jam, taking care to completely cover the crust. Then I crumbled the remaining mixture, as directed, over the jam, and returned the pan to the oven for another 20 minutes.

The bars were delicious, and I think a bit decadent because I'd used so much jam, maybe even too much, but in a good way. I'll definitely be repeating these.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Drink in a Pie: Grasshopper!

I love this pie. Maybe because I love the combination of chocolate and mint. Or maybe it's the pretty pale green color. Or maybe it's the combination of the creme de menthe, creme de cacao, the press-in chocolate cookie crust, and the chopped Andes candies on top.

Or maybe because it's so simple to make.

I found the recipe in 500 Pies.  You'll have to get the book for this exact recipe, but it's well worth the investment.

It begins with a chocolate wafer crumb crust, which I like to press into a springform pan. The filling is made with gelatin, sugar, the two alcohols listed above, and egg yolks, stirring over medium-low heat. (Be careful not to overcook!) As soon as the gelatin has dissolved into the gelatin mixture, pour it into a metal bowl and set it into an ice bath. If you're using a creme de menthe that's green, you're good, but mine is clear so I have to add a bit of food coloring.

When the mixture has thickened, beat a cup of heavy cream to stiff peaks, and the fold it into the mixture until well combined. Pour into the cooled crust and refrigerate until the filling is set. Garnish with chopped mint-chocolate candies.

Absolutely delicious, a perfect ending to a dinner of fish or pasta with tomato sauce.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cupcake Training

photo by Anthony Palatta

Nick Malgieri is something of a dessert legend at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York, and I've always wanted to take one of his usually sold-out classes. Recently, however, I had the opportunity to take a cupcake class with him. On the menu, cupcakes in the following flavors:  Lemon Vanilla Bean, Gingerbread, Brownie Chip, Spiced Apple, Devil's Food, and Almond, in addition to various frostings.

Here are a few tips I took away from the experience:

1.  A kitchen timer is just a reminder that you've got something in the oven.  To test if a cupcake is done, you've got to stick a toothpick or paring knife into the cupcake, and if it comes out mostly clean, you're done.

2.  Follow the recipe's directions, and if it says "makes 12," you should use all the batter to end up with 12 cupcakes, not 10, not 14.

3.  When using almond paste, always buy the canned kind which have more flavor, not from a tube. Try Solo or Lov 'n' Bake brands.

4.  Many cupcake batters can be mixed entirely by hand.

5.  To make a successful meringue buttercream, you need to take a good long time, much more than you may think.  You'll end up with a lighter yet richer frosting than a typical buttercream frosting.

6.  The secret to delicious buttercream frosting?  Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of orange juice instead of milk.

7.  Cupcakes are best served the day they're made.

8.  Using an ice cream scoop to fill the cupcake liners with batter helps ensure that you'll get an equal amount in each liner.

Click here for Nick Malgieri's easy meringue buttercream frosting recipe.  Enjoy!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Greetings to all you Sweet Spot Fans.  Have a great 2011. I'm taking a break this week, but
will be back with more treats next week.  Stay tuned...

Happy New Year!