Brownies

This recipe is from Sally’s Baking Addiction and it makes extremely delicious brownies.

One of my nutritional goals is to make as much as possible at home, and to buy as little in boxes as possible. Instead, I have adapted to keeping a pantry with basic ingredients that can combine to make anything. Instead of 8 boxes for different purposes, I have one bag of flour and 1 container of salt. Baking soda. Sugar. Vanilla. Elemental ingredients are much more versatile than pre-made mixes for specific things-they can be utilized for anything.

Baking is interesting because it feels much more like a chemistry experiment than regular cooking. An improvisational style isn’t welcome with baked goods unless you’ve already mastered ratios, and have a full & complete understanding of what exactly happens to each ingredient when combined. If you mix things in a different order, you will get a different result. The eggs need to be whipped a certain way, flour must not be over-mixed, and sugar is considered a liquid ingredient. It’s quite exciting to end up with a perfectly textured, delicious result, but things can go awry all too easily. The important thing to remember when baking is that, as a beginner, you are more of a chemist than an artist. The flair and flourishes come later.

These brownies are the first I tried to make on my own and they are everything a brownie should be. Easy to make and extremely easy to eat. I found the recipe looking for a new raspberry dessert recipe, and found Sally’s Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies. Those are probably the greatest things on the planet, but I’ve only worked with plain chocolate thus far…

brownies

Brownies
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
• 6 – 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
• 1 and 1/4 cups sugar
• 3 eggs
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 3/4 cup flour
• 1/4 tsp salt
• Optional: 1 tsp fresh coffee grounds
• Optional: walnuts

1. Chop chocolate. It is okay to cut semi-sweet chocolate with unsweetened chocolate. This goes against the chemistry thoughts earlier, but a couple ounces of unsweetened chocolate with a 4 ounce package of semi-sweet chocolate comes out okay. I tossed in about an extra tablespoon of sugar for this.
2. Add to bain-marie with butter, mixing constantly over medium heat until liquified. Allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Stir sugar into butter & chocolate mixture until combined.
4. Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition
5. Fold in flour and salt. If you are adding coffee, walnuts, or whatever other tasty objects you have in mind, sprinkle into mix at this step.
6. Butter and flour a square baking dish. Pour batter in and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, depending on your oven. If they are still not finished but seem to be getting dry around the edges, cover with foil until finished.

Croissants and Pain au chocolat

Croissants, like any bread, take a while to make, but I was surprised to learn that the actual work croissants require is minimal. They (thankfully) require no kneading — just rolling with a rolling-pin multiple times.

Due to the structure of waiting time, its good to begin the process the night before a day when you will be around the house, or the morning before you work. The first waiting time is longest and doesn’t involve you, the baker, at all. After it is mixed, the dough needs to rest for 6 – 8 hours or overnight. The second stage is similarly lengthy but punctuated rolling every 2 – 3 hours, 3 – 4 (or more) times. So, you will need to be home to make croissants, but will be able to concentrate on doing something else for pretty much the entire day.

In the end, you will have about a dozen large croissants, or many small ones. I like to make one pan with half the dough, then form and freeze the rest to have infinite fancy breakfasts.

croissant

• 2 cups flour
• 1 packet dry yeast
• 2 T sugar
• 2/3 c (almond) milk
• 1 1/4 tsp salt
• 1 egg
• butter

1. Pour milk into a medium bowl and microwave until 90-100 degrees, or for 2 – 3 minutes.

2. Add sugar and yeast; mix to combine. Add 1/2 cup flour. Mix and allow to sit for 15 minutes, when it should start to bubble.

3. Mix in remaining flour and form into loose ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

[[Optional Step 3.5: At this stage you can prepare the butter by allowing it to reach room temperature then slowly mixing until pliable or by slicing, laying out in a thin layer on plastic wrap, and beating it with a rolling-pin. In either case, you will form it into a medium-sized square and refrigerate to chill again. I did not do these steps as I wasn’t sure how big my dough square would be.]]

4. Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll, trying to maintain a square or rectangular shape.

5. When it is rather thin but not translucent, add cold butter. Slice and line up in continuous square about 2 – 3 inches from each edge.

6. Fold edge flaps over butter to form square. The butter should be tucked and nestled in there so the whole thing looks like a butter galette. Then, fold one edge one-third of the way over. Fold the opposite edge over that edge, so it is a rectangle of dough hugging itself.

7 . Roll gently into rectangle that is slightly smaller than your first rectangle. Fold one end one-third of the way, then fold the opposite end over it to create another hug. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours.

8. Repeat step 7, rolling dough, folding it over itself, then refrigerating for another hour. Repeat again once or twice, depending on how much time you’ve allotted for this process. It should be folded at least a few times, as more folds will mean more butter layers and therefore more flakiness.

9. Heat oven to 200 degrees (or the lowest possible setting) and roll dough into another rectangle. Make a single line lengthwise. Fold one half in thirds, cover with plastic wrap, and put back in refrigerator.

10. Coat a baking sheet with butter, then flour. Cut dough strip into triangles.

For croissants, roll, starting with the longest side, over itself, leaving the final tip on the bottom. Place on baking sheet straight or curve the ends together to create a crescent shape.

For pain au chocolat, position the triangle with the longest side near you. Put a vertical stripe of chocolate near each side closest to you, essentially making two mini triangles. Fold both sides over into themselves and place on pan seam side down.

11. Turn off oven. Brush croissants with water and put in oven for 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Alternatively, use a proofing box, set or otherwise regulated to maintain 70 – 80 degrees.

12. Remove from oven after about an hour. Croissants should be nearly double in size. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush croissants with beaten egg. If you are making pain au chocolat, sprinkle with sugar. Set aside for 15 minutes.

13. Bake for 20 minutes, or more if you prefer them darker.  Freeze remaining dough.

Choux Pastry

Choux pastry is a versatile and light dough that can be used for spectacular desserts and savory treats. Considering how special and *fancy* puffs are when baked, they actually are rather straightforward to make. If you’ve made choux once, subsequent attempts will seem incredibly simple. I like Jacques Pépin’s recipe and directions because the ingredients are minimal/elemental and the long wait times allow you to go about your day while making something magnificent.

I use most of the batter for sweet cream puffs, reserving a half or third for savory cheese gougères.

choux

Choux pastry
• 1 cup water
• 4 T butter
• 1 cup flour
• 4 eggs
• 1/4 tsp salt

1. Boil water, pieces of butter, and salt in saucepan.

2. When butter is melted, remove from heat and add all flour.

3. Quickly mix with wooden spoon until dough begins to form a ball.

4. Put pan over low heat and ‘dry’ for 1 to 2 minutes, mixing occasionally. Try to collect all dough into a single ball to avoid dry bits.

5. Transfer to a slightly larger bowl than would seem necessary and let cool at least 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. The dough will seem to resist coming together, with large pieces sloshing about in the egg (so the larger bowl should be helpful), but keep mixing. It is finished when the dough is thick and creamy.

6. Coat a heavy baking sheet completely with butter, rubbing with wax paper or just holding the stick and fully covering the pan. Sprinkle flour, then hit and shake the pan to coat completely.

8. For Cream Puffs, put dough into pastry bag with large round tip and pipe golf ball sized puffs.
For Éclairs, drag the pastry bag to make a puff that is about 3 inches long and oval.
For Gougères, add some shredded cheese (Gruyére, Cheddar, Parmesan, etc) and/or herbs to dough. More makes for flat puffs, which will look like boring, normal biscuits. Just using a tablespoon or two will allow for savory flavor while preserving the fun puffiness.

9. Brush with beaten egg, smoothing out tips and obvious imperfections as you go. For a design, drag a fork across the top. Allow to dry for at least 20 minutes.

10. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, until puffed and golden. When finished, turn off heat and open oven door halfway, letting the puffs cool slowly and dry for a half hour (inside oven).

Filling

Make Custard Cream Filling:
• 2 cups (vanilla almond) milk
• 2 beaten eggs
• 2/3 c sugar
• 1/2 c flour
• pinch salt
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 1 T butter

1. Warm milk in saucepan over medium low heat.

2. Mix flour, sugar, and salt in bowl. Add eggs and combine, beating well.

3. Slowly add flour-egg mixture to milk, stirring with whisk.

4. It will thicken in a few minutes, but if it does not, add more flour until desired thickness is reached.

5. Add vanilla, continuing to stir.

To fill puff pastry, stab side of puff with pastry tip and squeeze until puff feels full.

Éclairs can be filled the same way depending on your tool, but it is efficient to make a slit lengthwise along the side of the éclair and fill.

Gougères are great on their own or can be filled with a soft cheese and/or other vegetables. Goat cheese with herbs and minced mushrooms and olives is quite good.

Ganache
• 1/2 cup or 4 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
• 1/2 cup heavy cream or 1/4 cup regular milk
• 1 T dark rum or Kahlua

1. If you don’t have one (like me), make a bain-marie using two pans of approximately the same circumference. Fill the first with water and boil.

2. Turn heat down to high to preserve a delicate/light boil and place pieces of chocolate in second pan. Put second pan on top of water pan and allow chocolate to melt, mixing frequently with rubber spatula. Alternatively/rationally, melt chocolate in microwave.

3. Pour cream and rum into bowl, then pour melted chocolate into mixture. Whisk until it is creamy. It will be slightly thinner than seems necessary but if it is too watery/thin, melt and add more chocolate. It should be thick enough to coat a cream puff without being translucent, but thin enough to pour.

Pour over cream puffs or éclairs.
For gougères, sprinkle grated cheese and herbs on top instead of ganache.

Mint Chocolate Macarons

Untitled by Nico Paix
Untitled, a photo by Nico Paix on Flickr.
These were made using the Martha Stewart recipe. They weren’t as smooth or picturesque as previous efforts, but they were puffier and actually had ‘feet’. Structurally, they’re pretty strong so this is a nice beginners shell recipe.
Then again, the result might not have much to do with the recipe– macarons are very finicky and difficult, so if your technique is off or if measurements are too imprecise, you might end up with a different result. I found watching YouTube videos to be immeasurably helpful, pulling information from many sources to create a technique that felt ‘right’ for initial experiments. It’s also good to really look around as there are a few very different methods for making the shells, which mostly has to do with how you create the meringue. Martha’s recipe is the French method, but you can also use the Italian (where you heat the granulated sugar into a syrup) or Swiss (hand whisking in a double boiler) methods.
A good place to start researching is the link for the mint chocolate ganache, which includes really helpful guides & troubleshooting. This filling is also a great beginners recipe because it’s flamboyantly delicious. The first few batches I tried were hit or miss: raspberry preserves were the best, but they were rather plain. Apple butter frosting was sickeningly sweet, while chocolate caramel was sticky but somehow didn’t compel the two sides to stay together. A liquid filling like preserves or caramel are best integrated into a plain frosting to keep the cookies structurally sound and as adorable as they should be.
All-Purpose Macaron Recipe
• 1 1/4c confectionary sugar, sifted
• 1c almond meal/flour, sifted
• 6T egg whites (from approx 3 eggs, depending on size)
• 1/4 granulated sugar
• Pinch salt
• An electric mixer, parchment paper, and pastry bags/tips

1. Separate and measure your egg whites. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter until at room temperature, at *least* for a few hours. Refrigerate the yolks for use in another recipe, or treat yo self and make a crazy anti-health-craze omelet. While waiting, check the bowl of your electric mixer, ensuring that it is completely clean. Ideally, it should be stainless steel as (according to Julia Child) other materials (like plastic, etc) can retain fats that ruin your meringue. Wash and allow to dry completely.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine confectionary sugar and almond meal. Preheat oven to 300 – 350 degrees.

3. Pour egg whites into your super clean bowl and allow the electric mixer to whisk them until foamy. Add a pinch of salt, then gradually add granulated sugar and increase speed to high. You want stiff peaks to form, and for the mixture to be glossy. It is finished when you can turn the bowl upside down without spillage.

4. Gently fold in the confectionary sugar and food coloring.

5. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper. If you’d like uniform macarons, you can make circles on one side, flip the paper over, and pipe on the clean side. (There are also silicone maps for guidance.) I just pipe and match the bigger ones with the bigger ones, and the misshapen ones with fellow eccentrics.

6. Use a pastry bag with a round tip, a frosting dispenser (I use this), or a big plastic bag with the tip cut off to pipe the dough onto the parchment. If there are little peaks from where you stopped, pat down with your finger.

((This is, without question, the worst part of macaron making, as the dough is rather thin. But it definitely gets better with practice-as you get comfortable with your chosen piping tool, your circles become more uniform and there’s less mess.))

7. Bake at 300 – 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. I think I baked an earlier batch at a lower temperature to prevent browning. If your oven tends to burn stuff, it’s not a bad idea to hover and calibrate the time & temperature as necessary. Basically, you’re looking for the shells to have the feel of an eggshell and for the cookie to have a little foot at the bottom. Mine probably have cracks in the shell because my oven was too hot, so next time they should be baked in the 200s.

8. Fill with frosting, ganache, preserves, caramel, etc. These are filled with chocolate ganache (recipe below), but just plain raspberry preserves is an absolutely delicious filling. You can also make a flavored buttercream frosting, or combine textures, like adding a little piece of dried or fresh fruit, different spices (even savory ones), etc. You can also avoid filling the macarons and use them as cake decoration. Either way, as they don’t keep for very long (its best to start eating them after allowing them to rest a day-they’ll stay fresh for a few days after that) ensure they are delicious!

Chocolate Mint Ganache 
7oz (1c + 2.5T) or 200g chopped semi-sweet chocolate
Under 1/2c or 100g heavy cream
2-3 drops peppermint extract

1. Bring the cream to a simmer. Once warm, pour over chocolate, ensuring its submerged. Allow to stand for a minute, then softly stir.
2. Add a few drops of extract, as much as you feel is necessary.
3. Leave at room temperature until its cooled and thickened.
4. Drop spoonfuls onto macarons and cover with another shell.