Devil’s Food Cake with Fluffy White Icing {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Challenge recipe is the Devil’s Food Cake from the cover of the book. And I suspect that, like my friend Renee, a lot of people bought the book largely for the promise of this cake.

First things first, there is an erratum in this recipe in the original hardback version of the book. The fluffy white icing requires 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, rather than the 1 cup called for in the recipe. This error was corrected in the paperback version of the book.

This cake derives its characteristic moist, chocolatey crumb from a combination of dark brown sugar and unsweetened chocolate. And it’s a good cake. Really good. But for me, what sets this cake apart is the frosting.

Nick calls this “fluffy white icing”, and I was expecting it to be like a white buttercream. But with the combination of egg whites, sugar, and corn syrup, all of which are heated then whipped, it was more like marshmallow. Marshmallow creme, to be exact. And who doesn’t love that?

This was a great cake, one I’m sure I’ll make again. Definitely worth the price of the book. And I think that, like Renee, anyone who bought the book for this cake won’t be disappointed.

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Rum-scented Marble Cake {ModBak}

I was all set to make this recipe the other day when my friends Kayte and Margaret tweeted that they were making it, too. So we decided to have a Twitterbake and make it “together” in our separate kitchens (and separate States). It’s always more fun baking with others, even if you are baking and tweeting from far away.

This is the third recipe in the Cakes section of the Modern Baker Challenge. After starting with a delicious, if fussy, pound cake, I was looking forward to trying this recipe.

As impressive as it looks, this cake was really easy to put together, although it did dirty quite a few bowls. The base batter consisted of flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, butter (three sticks!), seven eggs, and dark rum. After making a heavy paste of the dry ingredients and butter, I whisked the eggs and rum, then added them to the butter mixture.

The chocolate swirl layer consisted of dark rum, milk, baking soda, bittersweet chocolate, and two cups of the base batter, all mixed together until blended.

To assemble the cake, I put half the base batter in the pan, smoothed the top, then topped it with the chocolate layer.

I covered this with the rest of the base batter, smoothed the top, then marbled it by dragging a knife through the batter from the center to the edge all the way around the pan.

I baked the cake for 75 minutes, until it was done through but still moist.

Pardon the pun, but the cake smelled intoxicating while it baked. The chocolate and rum combined to give it a rich, heady aroma, and I couldn’t wait to cut into it. I let the cake cool, then sprinkled the top with powdered sugar (although it really didn’t need any adornment).

My daughter and I decided to sample it for a bedtime snack.

I was planning to take the rest of it to work today, but after tasting it, my daughter announced that I would be doing no such thing. The cake was rich, but not overly sweet, and had a great balance of flavors. Calling it “rum-scented” is quite apt, as the rum adds more to the aroma than the flavor.

This was another great recipe from The Modern Baker and has me looking forward to the next seven months(!) of cakes.

Check out Kayte’s and Margaret’s posts to see what they thought and to get a look at their beautiful marbling.

Cappuccino Thumbprint Cookies {ModBak}

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not a fan of fussy cookies. My idea of making cookies is mixing the dough, dropping the cookies onto a pan, and baking. Bar cookies are even better, as you get to skip the individual cookie dropping step. So I tend to pass over recipes with a lot of shaping, dipping, rolling, and filling. Like this one.

These cookies had it all, and then some. First, you make the dough, shape it into a square (I put it in an 8×8 pan), and chill it.

After the dough chills, you unwrap it (as you can see, I had a bit of trouble getting mine out of the pan), then cut it into squares.

The individual pieces of dough (all 40 of them) are then rounded, dipped in an egg wash, rolled in ground almonds, and placed on the pan.

Next, you make a cavity in each cookie and then bake them.

While the cookies are baking, you make a white chocolate and espresso filling. I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate, so I made two fillings, one with white and the other with bittersweet chocolate. After the cookies cooled, I piped the filling into the cookies, then sprinkled them with cinnamon.

These cookies were a lot of work, but they tasted really good. To my surprise, I even liked the white chocolate ones. I could see making these cookies again for a holiday cookie tray. Maybe by next Christmas I’ll have forgotten how much work they were.

This recipe is from The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri and is part of the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge.

Butterscotch Chocolate Chunk Cookies {ModBak}

Come on. You know you want one of these babies.

This is the next recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge. I’ve bake these cookies twice already, in part because they’re so good. But also because I didn’t get any pictures the first time I made them. I went on a baking tear right before Thanksgiving, as we had lots of family coming into town. Unfortunately, I was so focused on baking that I didn’t get pictures of a lot of the stuff I made. I went ahead and posted some of the recipes without pictures, but these were such good cookies, I used the lack of photos as an excuse to make them again.

Although butterscotch is the first word in the name of these cookies, they don’t have any kind of butterscotch chips or other flavoring in them. The flavor comes from the combination of ingredients, chiefly the brown sugar. The dough also called for flour, baking soda, salt, butter, egg, and vanilla.

Oh, and chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

Bittersweet and milk chocolate chunks get folded into the batter after it is mixed. Both times I made these, I was surprised by how much chocolate there is compared to the rest of the batter. The addition of the chocolate chunks almost doubles the volume of the dough. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Having just enough cookie dough to hold together the chocolate is just fine with me.

After mixing the dough, I dropped the cookies onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment foil. I put the cookies in the oven, realized I had forgotten to take a picture of the dough on the pan, and took a quick shot of the cookies in the oven.

I baked the cookies for about 15 minutes at 350°F, per the recipe, although I think they should have come out a few minutes earlier. They didn’t burn, but they were crispier than we like them.

While the first batch of cookies was baking, M asked if we could make cookie bars with the rest of the dough, so she pressed the remaining dough into an 8×8 pan. We baked the bars for about 25 minutes, until the edges were starting to brown, but the center still looked nice and doughy. Unlike the cookies, the bars were baked perfectly.

These are really delicious cookies, with a definite butterscotch flavor. And, of course, a rich, gooey, abundance of chocolate. Even though the cookies were a bit on the crispy side, they were great for dunking in milk. And the bars were soft, crumbly perfection.

This is a recipe I will keep in mind when I want chocolate chip cookies. They are head and shoulders above your typical Toll House cookies, and not any more difficult to make.

Renee was the official blogger for this recipe for the Modern Baker Challenge. Check out her blog to see what she thought of them. And if you’d like to join the Challenge, you can jump in any time.

Sour Cream Brownies & Caramel Crumb Bars {ModBak}

Today, we bring you a Modern Baker Challenge two-fer. One thing that I love about baking cookies, brownies, and bars is that it’s almost as easy to make two recipes as it is to just make one. In fact, growing up I don’t ever recall my Mom making just one type of cookie when she baked. And she still makes them in multiples to this day, as evidenced by the fact that she often shows up here with bags of Snickerdoodles, chocolate chips, and peanut butter cookies.

So it was not at all unusual for me to decide to bake Sour Cream Brownies and Caramel Crumb Bars from the Cookies, Bars & Biscotti section of The Modern Baker on the same day. In fact, I’ve baked a number of the cookie recipes in this section this way, even though I’ve blogged them separately. But there was just something about the way these two looked on a plate together that made me decide they wanted to be in the same post.

I started with the Sour Cream Brownies. Like the Cocoa Nib Brownies, these babies are loaded with bittersweet chocolate. Nick Malgieri says that the inclusion of the sour cream cuts back the sweetness just a bit and keeps the brownies moist, and I’d have to agree. These brownies are very rich, but not cloying; and they are moist and fudgy, even after a day or so in the fridge.

If you’ve ever struggled with melting chocolate over a pan of simmering water while holding a bowl and trying not burn your fingers, or attempted to melt it in the microwave without burning it, you’ll appreciate Nick’s technique for melting the chocolate in this recipe. I melted the 6 ounces of butter called for in the recipe in a saucepan and let it bubble for a few seconds. Then I removed the pan from the heat, dropped in the chocolate chunks, and shook the pan to submerge the chocolate in the hot butter. By the time I had mixed the brown sugar, eggs, sour cream, salt, and vanilla in the mixer, the chocolate was melted and ready to be whisked into the butter.

I stirred the chocolate mixture, and then the flour and walnuts, into the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula — another trick I learned from Nick. Overmixing the batter results in tough brownies and fallen cookies, so he recommends mixing in the last few ingredients, including the flour, by hand.

I spread the batter in the pan, smoothed the top, and sprinkled it with a few more walnuts.

I baked the brownies at 350°F for 30 minutes, and not a second more. They still looked very moist in the center, but that’s exactly how the recipe said they should look.

I set the brownies aside to cool. Cutting them would have to wait a day, as Nick also recommends refrigerating brownies overnight. This makes moist brownies like these easier to cut and intensifies the chocolate flavor.

While the brownies were baking, I mixed up the Caramel Crumb Bars. These bars are Nick’s favorite cookie, and I can see why. They consist of three layers — a buttery dough, caramel filling, and crumb topping. And yet they are surprisingly easy to make.

I began by mixing the dough in the mixer. It was made of butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and flour, all mixed together to a soft, silky texture reminiscent of Scottish shortbread dough. I pressed 3/4 of the dough into the pan for the bottom crust. I put the pan in the refrigerator to chill and added a bit more flour to the remaining dough to make the crumb topping.

The next step was to make the caramel. Despite my previous issues with making caramel for semolina cake and pineapple tatin, I have since had better success with caramel, so I felt pretty good about making the filling for these bars. Besides, this caramel started with sweetened, condensed milk and light corn syrup, so I was halfway home before I ever began.

I put the milk and corn syrup into a pan with butter and dark brown sugar. I brought it to a low boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes, until the caramel was thick and had taken on just a little bit of color. I set the caramel aside to cool for a few minutes before assembling the bars.

I spread the caramel over the chilled dough, then sprinkled the crumbs on top.

By this time the brownies were finished baking, so I put the caramel bars into the oven, which was still set at 350°F. I baked the bars for 30 minutes, until the filling was a deep, caramel color and the topping had baked through.

I cooled the bars in the pan for about 20 minutes, then cut them. Because of the thick, gooey caramel, these bars are easier to cut when still slightly warm. And although the recipe says to cool them to room temperature before serving, I can attest that they are delicious when they are still a bit warm.

I can easily see why the caramel crumb bars are Nick’s favorites. The sweet, creamy caramel filling is out of this world, and it pairs nicely with the soft, buttery, slightly chewy crust. And of course, crumb topping goes well with almost any sweet. These are definitely on the repeat list. In fact, just writing this post has me thinking about making them to take to work tomorrow.

The brownies came out of the fridge moist and chewy. They were rich, dense, and oh-so-chocolatey. And of course, walnuts are a classic addition to brownies and gave these a nice crunch.

Having made a number of Nick’s brownie recipes, I am convinced that using real chocolate, rather than cocoa or chocolate chips, is the way to go for rich, moist brownies. The only thing I’m not sure of is whether I liked these brownies or the cocoa nibs ones better. I’ll probably have to make both of them together so I can do a side-by-side comparison. In the interest of baking science, of course.

Cocoa Nib Brownies {ModBak}

It’s a new month, and a new section for the Modern Baker Challenge. If you’ve been following along with the Challenge, you know that the next section in the book is Cakes. However, since the beginning of this section coincides with holiday baking season, we decided to jump ahead in the book to the last section, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti. And the first recipe in the Cookies section is Cocoa Nib Brownies.

When I first looked at this recipe, I had no idea what cocoa (sometimes written cacao) nibs were. In the intro to the recipe, Nick Malgieri explains that “nibs are cocoa beans that have gone through the fermenting, roasting, crushing, and skinning process.” Generally, cocoa butter and sugar are added to the nibs, and the resulting mix is processed into chocolate. 

Cocoa nibs have become popular in baking and are used to add a bittersweet crunch to baked goods. If you’ve never tried them, the closest comparison I can think of is coffee beans. If you’ve ever tasted a roasted coffee bean, you have an idea what nibs taste like. Bitter, astringent, and not something you’d want to eat on its own. Now think of a chocolate-covered coffee bean. It’s still has a strong bitter flavor, but the chocolate tempers it, and the crunch and bite of the bean can be enjoyed.

That’s pretty much what nibs are like. You definitely don’t want to eat them on their own (although if you’re like me, you have to try them just so you’ll appreciate the flavor and texture). But mix them into something like a rich, fudgy brownie, and the bittersweet crunch they add is truly something to experience.

Other than the nibs, the ingredients in these brownies are all fairly common. Like most really good brownie recipes I’ve tried, this recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, rather than cocoa powder. To make the brownies, I melted butter in a saucepan, then removed the pan from the heat and added chopped chocolate, allowing the heat from the butter and pan to melt the chocolate while I prepared the remaining ingredients.

I put dark brown sugar in the mixer bowl and added eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. After beating in salt, sugar, and vanilla, I removed the bowl from the mixer and folded in the chocolate-butter mixture with a rubber spatula. I mixed in the flour by hand, then folded in 1/4 cup of the cocoa nibs. The recipe is baked in a 9 x 13-inch pan, but only calls for 1 1/4 cups flour, so I knew the resulting brownies would be really fudgy.

I scraped the batter into the pan, which I had sprayed with pan spray. The recipe calls for lining the pan with buttered foil, so that the brownies can be lifted out of the pan in order to cut perfectly even squares. Since I planned to serve the brownies right from the pan, I skipped the foil.

I scattered another 1/4 cup cocoa nibs on top of the batter and baked the brownies in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes, until the brownies were firm but still very moist. After cooling the brownies in the pan (and maybe cutting off a tiny little corner to sample), I covered the pan and put it into the refrigerator overnight. The overnight rest made the brownies easier to cut — they were very moist — and really intensified the flavor.

I put the brownies on the snack table while my family was in town for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t around when the brownies were cut into, and everyone was trying to figure out what the crunch was from. No one had ever had cocoa nibs, but they all agreed that the bittersweet, chocolatey crunch was perfect for these rich, fudgy brownies.

This was a great start to the Cookies section in The Modern Baker and has me looking forward to the next five months of cookies, bars, and biscotti.

Truffle Brownies {Bake!}

The Bake! group is back in business after taking a break during August to catch up on missed recipes or just enjoy the final days of summer. Our first September recipe, chosen by Glennis, is Truffle Brownies. According to Nick Malgieri, these brownies derive their name from the fact that they are “almost as rich as chocolate truffles”.

Photograph “courtesy” of Margaret at http://www.teaandscones.wordpress.com

I had a computer breakdown last week and lost my photos of this recipe, so I borrowed the picture above from my friend Margaret’s blog.

 
The recipe for these brownies was fairly straightforward. It called for a lot of butter, brown sugar, and bittersweet chocolate, with just enough flour to hold it together. Nick wasn’t exaggerating about the flavor, either. They really did remind me of truffles.
 
These were by far the best brownies I’ve ever made, and probably the best I’ve ever tasted. The outside had just a bit of crunch to it, but the centers remained rich and gooey. These brownies would satisfy fudgy and cakelike brownie lovers alike.
 
The recipe says to cut the brownies the day after baking them, but we had a houseful of adolescent and teenage boys when I made these, so there was no chance of that happening. They were excellent shortly after baking. I can’t imagine them being better the next day (although I will definitely try them again to find out).
 
The Bake! bakers are a casual group of friends who make about two recipes per month from Nick’s book. Our Facebook page lists the upcoming recipes. Feel free to join in if you have the book!
 
Next up: Lattice-topped Apple Tart, chosen by Kayte.

Feuillettés with Berries & Cream {ModBak}

For the Puff Pastry section of the Modern Baker Challenge, I’ve decided to take a more organized approach to baking and posting the recipes. In previous sections, I made the recipes roughly in order (although not always) and wrote and published posts as I finished each recipe. As a result, I would often publish several recipes in a row over the course of a few days and would usually finish the section well before the end of the allotted time frame.

At the beginning of the month, as we moved into the Puff Pastry section, I decided to institute “Modern Baker Mondays”. As the name implies, I’ll be posting the recipes on Mondays. I’m going to post one per week, in the order the recipes appear in the book, regardless of when and in what order I actually bake them.

This week’s Modern Baker Mondays offering is the last in a series of sweet mille-feuille, which included chocolate-filled Napoleons and raspberry mille-feuille. The feuillettés are similar to the raspberry mille-feuille, the main differences being size (the feuillettés are mini mille-feuille) and the use of crème anglaise instead of pastry cream.

The feuillettés are comprised of four components — crème anglaise, macerated berries, whipped cream, and disks cut from a baked pastry layer.

Crème anglaise

 Making the crème anglaise is the most time-consuming part, but it’s not difficult. And it’s so good, you may find yourself making it again to use for other things, like berries and cream or crème anglaise ice cream.

Once everything is prepared, it’s just a matter of putting the feuillettés together. This simply involves layering pastry disks, whipped cream, berries, and crème anglaise. So easy a child could do it. Really.

Feuillettés, some assembly required

 We had fun putting these together, and even more fun eating them.

Feuillettés with berries and cream

 This was a simple, stunning, and delicious dessert. It would make the perfect finish to a summer dinner party.

Molded Chocolate-filled Napoleons {ModBak}

This week’s recipe for the Modern Baker Challenge is one of several versions of mille feuille, which consist of a filling (usually sweet, but sometimes savory) between baked layers of puff pastry. Mille feuille is French for “thousand leaves”, a reference to the delicate layers exhibited by the puff pastry when it is baked.

To make the Napoleons, I began by baking a pastry layer, which I then cut to fit a foil-lined pan.

Next, I made a richly flavored chocolate mousse to go between the pastry layers. Most of the chocolate mousse recipes I’m familiar with are made fluffy by the addition of either whipped cream or egg white meringue to a chocolate pudding base. So I was surprised to see that Nick’s recipe utilizes both whipped cream and meringue. I had no doubt that this would make a stunning mousse.

Another interesting twist to Nick’s recipe is a secret that I recently picked up from Dorie Greenspan‘s Around My French Table — the addition of unflavored gelatin to the mousse. As I learned when I made Dorie’s citrus-berry terrine, French chefs (both home and professional) see gelatin as just another pantry staple and use it for many things, including strengthening whipped cream and stabilizing mousse that’s destined to be used as a filling, as in this recipe.

I spread the mousse over the baked pastry layer in the pan.

Then I topped the mousse with a second pastry layer, compressed it gently, and chilled it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I removed the pan from the refrigerator and unmolded the pastry by lifting it out of the pan, peeling away the foil, then transferring the pastry to a cutting board with a large cake spatula.

I trimmed the edges of the pastry, then cut it into serving-sized pieces. I dusted the Napoleons with powdered sugar and cocoa, then plated them with a few raspberries.

My family is accustomed to my cooking and baking, which often includes exotic ingredients and fancy plating. But even they were impressed with these pastries, which we all agreed looked like they had come from a fancy bakery.

And the taste? Well, let’s just say it lived up to the appearance. The mousse was rich and deeply flavored. And the pastry was crisp, buttery, and flaky.

This is a dessert worthy of your best dinner party. It’s also perfect for a weeknight family supper.

Margaret wrote the official post for this recipe. You can read about her experience here.

Lemon Lime Tartlets & Chocolate Caramel Pecan Tartlets — A {ModBak} Twofer

With two weeks left to go in the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge, I found myself with four recipes remaining. The kids are out of town, and we decided to have a low-key day today, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to play a little catch-up. I decided to knock out three recipes at once. The lemon lime tartlet and chocolate caramel pecan tartlet recipes each make 24 tartlets, way too many to have around with just J and me to eat them. Since each recipe calls for the tart shells to be prebaked, I figured I would bake the shells together and then fill them.

As for the third recipe, well, that’s the tartlet shells for the chocolate caramel pecan tartlets. The recipe calls for shells made with chocolate nut dough, and since this is the first recipe to use that dough, I hadn’t made it yet. The lemon lime tartlets are made with sweet tart dough, which I’ve made for many of the recipes in this section.

I mixed up both doughs early in the day and let them chill in the fridge for a few hours. For the lemon lime tartlets, I rolled out the sweet tart dough, cut it into circles, and pressed each disk into a mini muffin pan. Then I did the same with the chocolate nut dough.

I chilled the dough in the pans for about an hour, then baked the shells in a 350°F oven for 12 minutes. Although I pricked the dough well with a fork before baking, the shells puffed up to the point where there was no room for filling. While the shells were still hot, I pressed the center of each one with a small ladle to make room for the filling. I cooled the crusts in the pan for a few minutes, then removed them to a cooling rack. A few of the bakers in the Challenge noted that their tartlet shells stuck when they baked them in mini muffin pans. Knowing this, I had sprayed my pan lightly with spray oil, and my shells came out beautifully.

While the tart shells were cooling, I toasted coconut for the lemon lime tartlets, then made the filling for the chocolate caramel pecan tartlets. (I didn’t have to make the lemon lime filling, as I had leftover lemon and lime curds in the fridge from making ice cream.) The chocolate filling isn’t particularly difficult, although it does require quite a few steps and dirties a lot of pans and bowls. The caramel is made in one pan while the cream is heated in another. These are combined, then scraped into a bowl to cool. Chocolate, which has been melted and cooled in another bowl, is then added to the caramel-cream mixture, and butter and nuts (which have been toasted in a separate pan) are added last.

After making the filling and shells, assembling the tartlets was a breeze. I spooned the chocolate caramel pecan tartlet filling into the shells and topped each one with a toasted pecan.

For the lemon lime tartlets, I had planned to mix my lemon and lime curds, which I had made and stored separately, but Nick cautions against overstirring the curd, lest it become too liquid. I tested this by putting a spoonful of each into a bowl and mixing them. Sure enough, the curd broke down and become too watery to hold up in the tart shells. So I filled half the shells with lemon curd and the other half with lime curd, then topped them with toasted coconut.

My wife and I enjoyed these tartlets for a late-evening snack. We loved the flavor of all three of the tartlets, although we did discover that it was best to eat the chocolate ones first, as they tended to taste a little bitter after eating the curd-filled tartlets.

These were delicious tarts, and I will definitely make them again. However, unless I’m making them for a finger-food event, I would be inclined to do them as full size tarts, rather than tartlets.

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