Sunday, April 30, 2023

For All You Chocolate Lovers

It's been a while since I baked anything with chocolate...which is too bad because chocolate treats are some of the best. Sweetie likes his on the soft side, so I wandered through my cookbooks and found a recipe in Dorie Greenspan's Dorie's Cookies that sounded just right. A bar cookie, so easy to make multiple servings, all at once. The addition of walnuts adds to the joy. A little espresso brings out the chocolate richness. Extra chocolate in the form of chips or chunks (I went with the latter). Don't overbake...and that's chocolate perfection.

This cookie is a cross between a blondie (due to lots of brown sugar), a brownie (it even has the paper thin 'crust' that good brownies often have), and, according to Dorie, shortbread. I suspect I would have had to cook mine longer to get that last one, but, again, Sweetie like his cookies soft and even gooey.

They were a hit! I served them for tea one day, with lunch another, for a snack at tea time another and even put one into a lunch bag with sandwich and apple for a friend who was driving a long way home and needed lunch...and maybe dinner...from it all. You choose if you go for the really gooey inside pieces or the outside ones that have a firmer texture except for the corner toward the center on each, where they, too, are gooey (see photo below- right hand corner is toward the center, left side is outside edge). Enjoy the sweet chocolate flavor offset by the espresso powder and the chewy walnuts...and the occasional burst of chocolate chunks. Wonderful!!

Fudgy Mocha Bars

from Dorie Greenspan's Dorie's Cookies
16 squares

1 3/4 cups (238 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (21 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tablespoons ground espresso or coffee beans (or instant)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons; 6 ounces; 170 grams) unsalted butter; cut into chunks, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup (134 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces; 170 grams) chocolate pieces (finely chopped in recipe, chunks in my version) - semisweet, bittersweet or milk
1 cup (120 grams) walnuts (finely chopped in recipe, coarsely chopped in my version)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. - center rack in the oven. Butter or spray with baking spray a 9-inch square baking pan and line bottom with parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, cocoa, espresso, baking powder and baking soda together in a bowl. Set aside.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a bowl with an electric hand mixer, beat the butter, brown and white sugars and salt together on medium speed for 2 minutes, until smooth.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Use a flexible spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl and the beaters.

Add the dry ingredients all at once. On lowest speed, pulse on and off (to avoid most of the flying flour) a few times then beat on low until almost incorporated. 

Add the chocolate and nuts and mix briefly, then finish mixing in by hand with the spatula. The finished dough will be sticky and heavy. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and use the spatula to push the dough into the corners and to even the top as best you can.

Bake for 33-36 minutes, rotating the pan after 15 minutes. When done the top will be dry and papery and a tester inserted in the center will come out clean (unless you hit a chocolate chunk like I did!). Transfer to cooling rack and let cool 30 minutes.

Gently run a table knife around the sides of the pan. Invert the cookie block onto the cooling rack, then invert again onto a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares. Let cool or eat warm. Store any leftovers at room temperature, wrapped, for up to 3 days. Tightly wrapped, they can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

BBB - It's The Seeds

Each month the Bread Baking Babes bake a new bread and post on the 16th. There are seemingly endless bread recipes out there. This month we are baking a delicious seeded ciabatta, thanks to Cathy of Bread Experience.  She said, "My version is adapted from the seeded ciabatta and buckwheat ciabatta formulas from The Larousse Book of Bread Recipes to Make at Home by Eric Kayser, and includes an overnight poolish similar to the method in The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking from The French Culinary Institute.". The recipe includes a poolish, which mellows overnight, seeds, and a combination of different flours. I've baked seeded breads many times, but this is the first time that the recipe called for roasting the seeds first and immediately covering them with water to soak for a few hours. I loved the way the kitchen smelled after all the seeds were roasted!

I used four different seeds and roasted them separately since they took different amounts of time. The poppy seeds needed the least time, followed by the sesame seeds. The pumpkin and sunflower seeds both took about the same amount of time and it was more than double what the smaller seeds needed. I'm not going to give a time because ovens vary in their roasting abilities and how hot they get so you need to use your nose when you roast your own. You should just be able to smell the seeds giving off an aroma when you pull them from the oven. You can also see if they have browned a bit with the sesame and sunflower. Harder to do with the pumpkin seeds and impossible with the black poppy seeds. Be sure to use freshly purchased seeds for the best flavor.

The bread was also interesting to make. I did the poolish with some instant yeast and whole wheat flour since my sourdough starter is no more. I also made an additional poolish with all-purpose flour and water (and I subtracted that amount of both from the recipe for the next part to keep the proportions true) and then stirred that into the poolish which had sat overnight. I gave the new mixture another couple of hours to mellow and for the yeasties to grow before doing the rest.

I had a difficult time mixing the next seemed too dry... and I don't think it was because I used oat flour for some of my flour I added a bit more water so that I could actually combine the ingredients fully...through adding the olive oil. Later I had to add additional flour to make up for that extra water, but it did eventually turn into a nice dough, although a damp one. If I were to do it again, I think I would put things into the bowl in a different order.

The last thing that was an issue was totally my fault. I used a pie tin for the ice tray on the top shelf, but didn't check to make sure it was watertight. It had a small leak, so some of the bread had standing water next to it on the baking sheet. It took a bit of doing to finish baking those wet parts without drying out the rest.

The final part was tasting the bread. I was very happy with the amount of seeds and the flavor and the crust, too. It makes superb toast! I think that each ciabatta was enough bread for two people, so next time I might divide it into eight pieces. This was a lot of fun to make (although nerve wracking at the end when I discovered the unbaked leaked on part) and delicious to eat. Do give it a try!

If you do bake this, become a Bread Baking Babe Buddy by emailing Cathy your URL and a photo, plus a brief description of your April 29th. You'll get a badge similar to the one below.

Be sure to check out the other Babes sites, too, to see how they made this delightful recipe their own.

Mixed Grain Seeded Ciabatta

Makes: 4 loaves (~280 grams each)


45 grams water

45 grams whole wheat flour (such as red fife or spelt)

15 grams sourdough starter or a pinch of dried yeast

Final Dough:

400 grams all-purpose flour

150 grams whole wheat flour (I used spelt)

350-385 grams water, divided

Poolish all of the above

½ tsp. instant yeast

10 grams salt

30 grams extra virgin olive oil

90 grams mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, fennel, sesame, millet, poppy, etc.)

½ cup water for soaking the seeds

1 cup ice cubes for steam



The evening before you plan to make the final dough, blend the whole wheat flour, water, and sourdough starter (or pinch of instant yeast) using a wooden spoon or dough whisk. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a bowl scraper or spatula, cover, and set aside at warm room temperature (75 degrees F. / 25 degrees C.) for 12 to 14 hours.

Roast the seeds:

The evening before, or 2-3 hours before you prepare the final dough, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Spread the seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 7 to 10 minutes.  Depending on the type of seeds you choose, it could take more or less time.  Watch the seeds so they don’t burn.

Immediately tip the roasted seeds into a small bowl and cover with ¼ to ½ cup of water. Allow the seeds to soak for 2 hours.  Drain the excess water before incorporating into the dough.

Final Dough:

You can use a stand mixer to mix this dough, but isn’t necessary. 

In a large bowl, mix together the flours and 325 grams water.  Cover, let rest 15 minutes.

Add the poolish, along with the salt and instant yeast and mix until fully incorporated.  The dough should be slightly sticky.

Drizzle in the olive oil and mix until thoroughly combined.  Fold in the seeds. Add in additional water, a little at a time, if necessary and continue to mix until you have a smooth and elastic dough.

Form the dough into a ball, place back in the bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

After the first hour, uncover and fold the dough. Recover and let rest for 1 hour.

Dust your work surface with flour. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (~280 grams each).  Fold each piece over itself and stretch into a log.  Cover the dough pieces with a damp towel and let rest 15 minutes.

Take one piece of dough. Leave the other pieces covered. Using the palm of your hand, flatten it very gently.  Fold a third of the dough (long side) toward the center and press along the edge with your fingers or the side of your hand. Fold the other long edge towards the center and press the seam closed with your fingers.  Continue shaping the other 3 loaves the same way.

If desired, coat the loaves with additional seeds (not soaked).  Place the seeds on a plate. Brush or spray the loaves with water and press them into the seeds to evenly coat the tops.  Transfer the loaves seamside down to a parchment lined baking sheet or seamside up on a baker’s couche heavily dusted with flour.  (Although I enjoy using a baker’s couche, you don’t really need it for these loaves.  The parchment works great.)

Cover with a damp cloth and let the loaves proof for 1 hour.

During the final proof, preheat the oven to 460 degrees F. with a baking stone on the lower middle rack and a steam pan or iron skillet on the top rack.

Transfer the loaves (on the baking sheet) to the baking stone and immediately place 1 cup of ice cubes in the steam pan. 

Bake the loaves for 25 -30 minutes, rotating the pan partway through for even baking.  The loaves should sound hollow when thumped lightly on the bottom.

Remove the loaves from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Brush lightly with olive oil.  

Friday, April 14, 2023

Inspiration for Entertaining

A while ago when I was visiting family in Phoenix, they threw an evening gathering and decided to go with wine, beer, sodas, water, and an amazing charcutier board. It was purchased from a local store and was the most amazing collection of snack foods I can remember seeing...and so delightful to the eye.

I'm not sure that I have the skill to replicate something like this, but you might be able to using the photo. There are swirls of things like salami and pepperoni, wedges of cheeses, slices of cucumber, cherry tomato halves, olives, pepper strips, broccoli and cauliflower florets, all kinds fruits, fresh and dried, and nuts and pretty things like oranges cut with spiked 'petals' and a few orchids. Their special extra was to sprinkle glitter powder - edible of course - lightly over a few places for sparkle. I think that they started by putting the brie wedges in a curved line in the middle of the platter, then arranged, mostly, fruit and nuts on one side and veggies on the other with meats and cheeses on both sides.

The nice thing about a platter or charcutier board like this is that it can be done in advance and it looks spectacular! You really don't need much else besides beverages. It did come with a bag that had thin slices of baguette. We added to that. Toasting them a bit prior to the party is also a good idea. Provide a few spreaders for spreading the cheese on the baguette slices, too.

Ready, set, party!

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Happy Easter!

We have had a cool and rainy spring...even today was cloudy and cool for us...but the tulips are blooming and I have seedlings of tomatoes and squash growing in the sunspace, waiting for warmer soil and more sunshine.

Wishing you, dear reader, a most happy Easter, Spring, and vernal time of year. 

We're going to enjoy strawberry shortcake for Easter tomorrow. The strawberries are not local...too much rain...won't seed local berries until May...but it will still be delicious, with home-made biscuits, sliced strawberries and their juice, and freshly whipped Straus Dairy cream from local something is local. 

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Lemon Raspberry Crumble Bars for Spring

There is something really nice about the combination of lemon and raspberry. Lemon is a winter flavor and raspberry is a spring flavor, but together they are heavenly and not limited to any season. This recipe was found in the Costco Connections magazine for April, so thinking spring. I needed something sweet to serve with tea a couple of days ago...a friend was coming over for tea and to play a game. This seemed like just the thing...and I had almost all of the ingredients handy.

First you have an oatmeal-rich bottom crust, then a sweet and creamy lemony filling, then fresh raspberries for a topping...topped with crumbles of the bottom crust mixture which bake up crispy and golden brown. What a great combination! Lot of textures as well as flavors, sweet offset with the tartness of lemon and fresh raspberry.

You do need to chill these after baking and before cutting, which is tough because the kitchen smells so good that you want to just dig in!

You also should be prepared for a few dishes to clean while they bake, but they are so delicious that it is worth it, too.

At the bottom of the post is a photo of a jack-in-the-pulpit wildflower that I found near the baseball field where we walk Pi. You can see how it got it's name! Happy Spring dear reader.

Lemon Raspberry Crumb Bars

Serves 12

3/4 cup butter, at room temperature (12 tablespoons)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup quick oats
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
zest of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 large lemons)
1 egg yolk
1 cup raspberries
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Zest the lemon. Set aside.

Juice the lemons. Set aside.

Separate the egg. Set aside the yolk. Reserve the white for another use.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare the crust/topping: In a large bowl, mix together the crust/topping ingredients until there are no butter chunks and the mixture begins to clump together. (I found that using a pastry cutter first and then my fingers, that I could cut in the butter and then rub it into the dry ingredients until I could squeeze clumps on the mixture that held together.) 

Press three-quarters of the mixture on the bottom of a lightly greased 7 x 11-inch baking pan. (First line the pan with parchment paper hanging over the sides to easily lift the dessert out of the pan once baked and chilled.) Set aside.

Prepare the filling: In a separate bowl, mix together the sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and egg yolk. Spread onto the crust. Toss the raspberries with the flour and sugar in another bowl. Mash lightly with a fork, keeping some fruit intact, then dollop the raspberries onto the lemon filling, spacing over the whole pan. Some areas won't have raspberries. Crumble the remaining crust mixture over the top of the raspberries.

Bake 30-35 minutes in the preheated oven until the crust browns and the center of the filling is set when tested with a toothpick. Cover with foil if browning occurs before the filling is set.

Chill 1-2 hours before cutting and serving. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 12 servings.