Posts Tagged ‘teatime’

the best chocolate chunk cookies

After a party several months ago, I froze the half-dozen leftover chocolate chunk cookies for some future, unknown yet entirely foreseeable occasion when I’d feel like a intravenous shot of fudge. And then promptly forgot about them. I caught glimpses of them every now and then, like when I went rummaging in the freezer for some ice cream or coffee beans, but never thought of, you know, taking them out for a snack. Unthinkably, it seems, I’d forgotten that they were the best chocolate cookie I’ve ever had.

That changed this week. And I’m sorry, I know I swore off complaints about the weather, but I have to break: it’s the past seven days of gray skies, forty-degrees, and near-daily rain showers that drove me to the chocolate. Does anyone else feel cheated out of spring? True, our daffodils are very pretty. True, this month brought a couple truly springlike days, days when grilling felt slightly daring in the chilly-warm weather but the birds were singing. But otherwise, it’s felt like a warmed-over continuation of winter; it doesn’t have that lively spring air, the feel of awakening.

Long story short, it was a dreary Monday afternoon, I was yawning by four o’clock, I made myself a coffee and with the thought, Might as well do tea time right, pulled the cookie bag out of the freezer and blitzed one (okay, two) in the microwave for twenty seconds. I’ve kept it up every day since. I’m a creature of habit, especially habits with three kinds of chocolate.

Here’s the deal with these cookies. You melt together some butter and chocolate chips, and to this add all the usual ingredients — eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla extract. The key difference, of course, is that the foundation, the batter, is already quite chocolatey. Then you stir in the rest of the chocolate chips, so you get those delicious pockets of melted chips throughout the cookie when it’s fresh from the oven (or microwave). AND you top it with chunks of white chocolate. They are fabulous. They even make me perversely grateful for the dismal weather that drove me to them.

Dark and White Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(Bon Appetit Desserts)

N.B. The original recipe calls for half a cup of chopped crystallized ginger. I didn’t include it the first time because I didn’t have any on hand, and in times afterward I wasn’t interested in tampering with perfection. But I imagine the spicy heat of crystallized ginger would make a very interesting, grown-up addition. If you are intrepid enough to try, report back!

Makes about 2 dozen

  • 2 2/3 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup self-rising flour*
  • 1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger (optional, see head notes)
  • 3 1/2 oz high-quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Stir 2 cups chocolate chips and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until melted. Alternatively, place in a microwave safe bowl and melt in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until just melted together. Cool 10 minutes.

Beat eggs and brown sugar in a large bowl until well blended. Beat in melted chocolate mixture, then vanilla, then flour. Stir in ginger, if using, and remaining 2/3 cup chocolate chips. Let stand 10 minutes.

Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, spacing cookies 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. Press white chocolate pieces into tops of cookies. Bake until cookies look puffed and slightly dry on top, about 13 minutes. Cool thoroughly.

*To make self-rising flour, sift or stir together 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt in a small bowl. Measure from this.

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cooking up letters

I don’t know what Miss Manners or Ann Landers would say about this, but my thank yous to recommendation-penning professors have fallen into a pattern: a letter and some biscotti. I’m not quite sure how it happened. A compulsive gifter and, perhaps more to the point, an over-enthusiastic baker, I like to chase my cards with token gifts of thanks. And biscotti? Well, gift certificates feel a little too impersonal (not to mention more like money, which stumbles upon the awkward idea of paying off your professor), and cookies a little too juvenile. But biscotti? I mean, those are Italian. They are very grown up, not to mention they travel well and last a while.

I only have one (and a half! I saved a half!) biscotti left. But if I had an infinite stash, here’s who they’d go to: Dear Forever21, thank you for setting up an outpost in Iowa City. I’m informed I’ll be needing a maxi skirt this summer, and I’m betting you can do the trick for a couple pennies. Dear Anthropologie, the truth is, more than any particular designer line or dress shape or love of lace, I can’t quit your unabashed embrace of constant whimsy. It’s the sort of effortless, high-low, undone loveliness that I try to cultivate on a daily basis. It’s silly, but it’s inspiring. Dear Bank Account, is practicality really the most important consideration?

Dear Weather, I’m not digging your peak-a-boo sun routine, but these temperatures are pretty close to a home run, and I’m taking a vow of abstinence from complaining. Just … please hold out for our barbecue tomorrow night? Dear Katy Perry, When I’m driving with the girls I babysit and one of your songs comes on, odds are I change the station. What the hell is that “Peacock” song? Besides “INNUENDO DO YOU GET IT?” It is simply unendurable. But “Teenage Dream“? I’m a little embarrassed to admit how much I love it. It’s infectious and nostalgic and has this sweet, retro/new sound. And I definitely did not spend an hour youtubing Glee and Idol covers, thank you very much. Dear Boyfriend, I think your new retro Star Wars lunchbox shoe shine kit is perfect.

Sigh. Biscotti. They’re just the ticket.

Lemon-Walnut Biscotti
(Gently adapted from Bon Appetit Desserts)

Makes around 30 biscotti, depending on how you shape and slice them

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon peel
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 egg, beaten to blend
  • sugar for sprinkling

Whisk flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sugar, and lemon peel in a bowl until fluffy. Add the egg and beat thoroughly. Add lemon juice, then flour mixture. Stir in walnuts.

Divide dough in half. Place each on a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper. Form dough into an 8-inch logs and flatten to 2 1/2 inch-wide logs. Wrap plastic around logs and chill until firm, at least three hours and at most two days.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Unroll logs from plastic wrap and set atop baking sheet. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown and just firm to the touch, about 50 minutes. Cool logs completely and reduce oven to 300 degrees.

Using a long, serrated knife, carefully cut logs on the diagonal into 1/3-inch thick slices. Arrange biscotti, cut side down, on the same baking sheet. Bake until golden around the edges, around 10 minutes. They’ll crisp as they cool.

black and white

Cookies, no. Cupcakes, yes. On Saturday, after an Australian-themed brunch with two excellent New York friends on the Lower East side (complete with bottomless mimosas, in proper brunch fashion), three of us trooped down the street to Sugar Sweet Sunshine, a retro-vibed bakery on Rivington. I’ve talked about Magnolia Bakery and Billy’s Bakery here on the blog before, and in fact ended that entry, exactly 364 days ago, with the lament, “I wish we’d gotten to Sugar Sweet Sunshine, located on the Lower East Side and apparently the next big thing.”

Finally, that wish has been granted — and vindicated. Sugar Sweet Sunshine may no longer be the next big thing. Just a big thing. A big deal. It has legions of followers, and I feel (once again!) a bit late to the party. Nonetheless, their cupcakes are sensational. Late date notwithstanding, I am jumping on the bandwagon.

The problem with Magnolia is that, while the cake was always light, fluffy, and flavorful (and I know I am increasingly in the minority here), their frosting was over-poweringly, tooth-achingly sweet. The frosting at Billy’s is a sight better, but the cake is too dense. I know I am Goldilocksing you all, and I’m sorry, but there’s a light at the end of this paragraph: Sugar Sweet has that fluffy cake AND the sweetly balanced frosting.

We bought three. Two were the “Black and White,” evidently chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. The other was their eponymous “Sunshine,” or yellow cake on vanilla buttercream. (In this case, dyed green.) B and I each had one when we got back to the apartment . . . and I ate another when we got back from a friend’s house that night. A cupcake at 10:30pm, when the alarm clock’s set for 3:00am for a 6:00am flight? Probably not the best idea.

But it was worth it.

world nutella day

The big reveal. That very special, yet little-known holiday I mentioned yesterday is one exceedingly close to my heart. And stomach. World Nutella Day! Welcome all.

A week ago, I didn’t even know Nutella had a holiday, following my own brand of logic that something I celebrate daily requires no formal lauding. Luckily, not everyone is so cavalier about their love of this miraculous chocolate-hazelnut spread as I. Thanks to a couple of American expat bloggers in Italy, it’s official: on February 5, the world celebrates Nutella. I know I won’t have to push any of you into buying a jar and polishing it off by midnight. You can split it with someone if you must, but please know that I consider this chickening out. I used to eat it by the spoonful. When I was living in Paris during study abroad, my roommate and I would make late-night trips to the Turkish market three blocks away for a baguette and a 14oz jar of the stuff. When the bread was gone, we went in with spoons. (Sharing, yes, but not chickening out when you consider we’d just finished an entire baguette.) Point being, don’t chicken out on me now!

My friend Claire told me about this event about a week ago, via a facebook message that read, in part: “I hope that you and your blog are prepared and excited for this great day.” We are prepared. We are excited. We have cookies to share with you. (We also have the legally necessary caveat that Nutella is not, in fact, health food, as one California mother was “shocked to learn” and is suing Nutella’s parent company over. I know the jars carry the helpful caption, “An example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast: a glass of skim milk, orange juice, and Nutella on whole wheat bread,” but know what? Iz a joke! To wit: neither cookies nor Nutella are a health food. Moving on.)

There are a whole bunch of recipes that a “Nutella cookie” search generates, and this is one of those search results, a fabulous one at that. The cookies puff up in the oven and fall back down while cooling, leaving little mountains of chocolate chips. The surface looks a little scorched and earthquake-level cracked, it’s true, but the Nutella keeps them from getting brittle or crispy. They’re thin but chewy and soft. A real home run, in my book.

But of course, the real question remains, Is the cookie version better than straight Nutella? Does the baking improve upon perfection? You can’t sweep your spoon around the side of the jar and collect a heaping scoop of the fudgy, rich, sweet spread, and there are few greater pleasures in life than that. It won’t slide over a crusty baguette nub or shmear over a banana. But on the plus side, practically speaking, putting the jar towards cookies also prevents you from downing it, unadorned and by the spoonful, in one sitting — which is not to be underestimated. And it’s hard to imagine what isn’t improved by the addition of butter, eggs, vanilla, and chocolate chips. So make the cookies and decide for yourself . . . or, you know, make a Nutella/Nutella cookie sandwich. (These also make great ice cream sandwich cookies!) Up to you.

Nutella Cookies

(Via.)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur; vanilla is also fine
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until soft, about one minute. Add the two sugars and beat together until soft and fluffy, about three minutes. Add the egg and Frangelico/vanilla, then the Nutella. Combine thoroughly.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. (True confessions: or just stir ’em together with a fork. Like me.) With the mixer on low speed, add dry to wet and beat until smooth. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop by the rounded teaspoon full onto prepared cookie sheet. (I actually measured them out, then rolled them further into little orbs. Just my thing.) Bake about 8 minutes and enjoy!

Ps. Not what you had in mind? Check out the Nutella Cake I made a year ago.

chai city

I have never had a better chai latte than at Mud Coffee, 307 East 9th Street, New York, NY. Unlike so many other vendors (Starbucks, I’m eyeing you worst of all), they don’t shy away from the strong spices, and the predominate taste isn’t milk — or rather, sweetened milk with some shy, first-time-away-from-home cinnamon and nutmeg briefly shaken in to justify the name. At Mud, there’s ginger, there’s cloves, there’s cardamom and allspice and you can taste it all, strongly.


I thought I might fare okay at Java House, the estimable local coffee shop with five locations around town, all congenial spaces (one has a fireplace!) with ample tables and couches for studying, chatting, or reveling in coffee snobbery. But alas, no. Not as bland as Starbucks, but it still left me with the usual suspects of complaints. I am truly a bore to be around. Then, a couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon a recipe promisingly entitled “Amazing Spiced Chai Concentrate.”


Well, hey! thought I, I like amazing things! And amazing chai most of all! So I gave it a whirl. I collected the spices we didn’t have on hand (anise star, cardamom) from the hippie co-op, which sells them in bulk at steeply reduced prices. I bought some run-of-the-mill black tea, figuring its lack of pedigree wouldn’t matter after all the spicing. I added all the stuff up top to a pot of boiling water, let it steep, sweetened it with brown sugar, vanilla, and honey, and strained it over a cheesecloth. A cheesecloth because I hate grit and love complicating things.


The result was fabulous, with a happy ginger finish, far and away better than the milky mugs that go for almost $4 (gasp! yes, even here). It still wasn’t as satisfyingly strong and spiced as Mud’s, though, so after coming to terms with my draconian chai taste buds, I tinkered. I nixed the black pepper grinds for allspice berries, because I think they’re wonderful. I upped the cinnamon, the nutmeg (though you need not necessarily, if you’re using freshly ground unlike my prepackaged stuff), and the final swish of vanilla. N.B.: I’m considering swapping out the extract for a bean next time, and steeping it with all the other spices. If you’re brave enough to try, please report back! Finally, I dialed back the brown sugar, because it was giving itself airs, and let the whole thing steep for longer.

And kids, this is it. I think you should try this. I think it’ll convert you. Permanently, forever and always.

Spiced Chai Concentrate
(Adapted from Tasty Kitchen)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/2-inch thick coin of ginger, smashed
  • 4 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 5 allspice berries
  • 1 tsp pre-ground nutmeg (or 1/2 tsp freshly shaved)
  • 1 tsp orange peel, grated or peeled
  • 5 black tea bags
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Directions

Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags and spices. Let steep 20 minutes. Strain and add the brown sugar, honey, and vanilla. Return to heat briefly until sugar dissolves and strain.

To make a latte, combine one part concentrate with one part hot milk. (More of one or the other to taste.) Enjoy!

last night’s snack, v. 2

Last night I turned in two more grad school applications. That’s a total of six down, two to go. (In fact, maybe just one, depending on how uppity/over-analytical I get over a prospective professor’s snippy email.) The process is no longer difficult: recommendation letters, GRE scores, and transcripts are all in, CVs and writing samples have been definitively slapped with a “NO TINKERING ALLOWED” banner, and personal statements only require the substitution a single, school-specific paragraph. It is not difficult. It remains, however, a muddy-watered combination of mind-numbingly dull busy work and high-pressure, high-stress tight-rope walking. For instance, B.U., why you gotta make me manually input my entire employment history since 2005 if you ask for a CV anyway? Why you gotta do that? But as one-time roommate, longtime friend, and fellow sufferer-in-arms Ksenia bracingly observed, “Make some tea. I will too. We can have a virtual tea and crumpet session. We are making it out alive!!!!” And isn’t that a thought for sore minds!

a roundly abused recipe

All I wanted was a teatime snack.

The granola and cookies are finished, send to distant states or just down the street to Billy’s study group, merrily bouncing around his backpack with every step and fraternizing with far less merry study aids, like textbooks. The scones, you silly thing, are for breakfast, and accordingly squirreled away in the freezer until tomorrow morning, when they will be freshly baked up at (gulp) seven o’clock. On a Sunday. Disgusting, these exams. Force you to get up early.

So. All I wanted was a teatime snack.

I had a conundrum. Barely any butter, only unsweetened chocolate squares.

Oh, and a bar of eating chocolate I threw in my cart at the grocery register yesterday. Eating chocolate as differentiated from baking chocolate, and one being sold in the candy aisle (or at the cash register for those with wills made of pudding) and one in the baking aisle. Though I’d be hard pressed to tell you the actual difference, aside from marketing. Well, this one had hazelnut toffee in it. A picture of a rhino on it. It was on sale. Proceeds go to animals. Leave me alone, I make no apologies!

So I turned to my friend, my very dear friend Nigella Lawson, and when I inquired, “How to be a domestic goddess, Nigella?”, she whispered, as is her perverse and terrible penchant, “Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake.”

What? asked I.

“This is the plainest of plain loaf cakes — but that doesn’t convey the damp, heady aromatic denseness of it. To understand that, you just have to cook it. And as you’ll see, that isn’t hard at all. Simply sliced, with a cup of tea of coffee, it’s pretty damn dreamy.” I am powerless before such recipe preambles.

So I melted the rhino chocolate with a ounce of the unsweetened baking kind for the requisite “4 ounces best bittersweet chocolate.” I made up the cup of butter with an ad-hoc silly putty of unsalted and salted butter (having both, but still not enough for the recipe), applesauce, and canola oil. I used light brown sugar instead of the recommended dark. Oy. It’s rough in this kitchen, let me tell you.

From there, it was an effortlessly one-bowl affair of mixing sugar, butter, egg, and vanilla together, and alternately adding flour, baking soda, and boiling water. Question: Can a cake recipe that includes putting the kettle on be destined for anything other than tea time? I think not.

The cake rose in the oven and sunk outside (“Don’t worry if it sinks in the middle; indeed, it will do so because it’s such a dense and damp cake,” comforts Nigella), and was simply perfect with a cup of tea: crackly crust, gooey center, and chocolate through and through. Just as God, Nigella, and the snow outside intended.

Teatime Chocolate Loaf Cake
(Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, of course)

I will spare you my inane “substitutions” for the real deal, though you should know that the cake was absolutely wonderful despite my, um, inanities. So don’t let a little thing like not having the ingredients stop you.

  • 1 cup soft unsalted butter
  • 1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp boiling watr

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Line a loaf pan with parchment paper (didn’t have this, surprise) or tin foil, and butter this besides. No sticking here!

Cream the butter and sugar together. (Folks, this is a teatime cake, a one-bowl wonder. Just use a wooden spoon; electric mixers are for fancier affairs.) Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until fully incorporated. Fold in the melted and now slightly cooled chocolate. Spoon by spoon, gently add the flour and baking soda, alternating this with splashes of the hot water, until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter. Pour into the lined loaf pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. The cake will still be a bit loose and “squidgy” inside, so a tester won’t (shouldn’t!) come out completely clean. Let cool completely in the pan before gently lifting or turning it out.

Enjoy this!