Sunday, February 26, 2006

On the flip side

My last post gushed over a brownie recipe. (The Since-I-Can't-Have-Brad-Pitt-This-Will-Do Brownie). It took one desirable trait of the brownie, a rich fudgy texture, and sent it to the extreme. While this does make for an excelent brownie, there are still other qualities in a brownie to celebrate.

My favorite part of the brownie as a child was bit between the fudgy part and the pan. That thin layer of overbaked goodness that had a little crunch, and was extra chewey. Bakeries often cut these off and discard them, selling only the "center cut" brownies. And as the one often doing the cutting, I have done most of my brownie nibbling off these ends.

I recently came across a recipe that gives me the same delight these "best end" of brownies have. It's called a Melting Chocolate Meringue. The recipe calls for a very minimal list of ingredients; eggs whites, sugar, and melted chocoalte. But rather than drying the cookie out in the oven for hours as meringues are commonly treated, this cookie is baked for a mere 10 minutes.

The result is a crackled, flaky top that gives way to a chewey interior. The flavor will reflect all the characteristics of the chocolate you include as it's only companions in the recipe are egg whites, and sugar, neither of which interfere with the chocolate.

Again I will include the recipe, as I often neglect to do. But it's sunday, I have all day, and I just happen to have the recipe at home with me. The recipe comes from a book that any fan of chocolate, and books that are centered around sound methodology and well tested recipes will find invaluable.

Melting Chocolate Meringues
Alice Medrich

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped coarsely
2 large egg whites at room temperature
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven

1. Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Keep melted chocolate in a warm place.

2. In a large bowl, or the bowl of your kitchen aid, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy, but not dry.

3. Add the warm chocolate, and nuts if desired, and fold in with a rubber spatula until the color of the batter is uniform. Do not let the batter wait.

4.Drop tablespoonfuls of the batter at least 1 inch apart onto parchment or silpat lined cookie sheets. (The perfectionist in me uses a piping bag and large round tip to pipe out quarter sized mounds.) Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheets form front to back, and top to bottom about half way through the baking period. The surface of the cookies should look dry and feel slightly firm but still gooey inside when you press them.

5. Slide the paper or silpat with the cookies attached onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely before removing and storing.

Friday, February 24, 2006

I heart Brad

I have a confession. A crush, really. And no, it's not Brad Pitt. (Well, it was once, but I was a bit younger, and that was before the sous chef I work with told me he has terrible B.O.)

It is a brownie. But not just any brownie. It's the "Better-than-Brad-Pitt Brownie". This brownie from the recently shut Polka Dot Cake Studio in New York city is fully addicting. I swear I don't even have a sweet tooth. I might, however have a Better-than-Brad-Pitt Brownie tooth now.

I found the recipe in a recent addition of Chocolatier magazine. The article features many of New Yorks favorite bakeries, patisseries, and such, offering a recipe from each. And I'll admit, the name of these brownies peaked my interest. Could a brownie really be better than Brad? (ok, so I may still have a little crush) I had to find out.

These brownies get their amazing texture by being baked for a short period of time, then chilled in the refrigerator. This sets the texture into what is closer to fudge than the bar cookie many brownies are. Texturally speaking, they are to a brownie, what a cheesecake is to cake.

They are already on my menu sitting next to a chocolate peanut butter crunch cake and salted peanut ice cream.

I rarely feature a recipe, but since I have now made them twice in two days, I thought I'd share it with the world. And find a healthier way to celebrate these brownies than eating 8 of them in a row. (ok, 12, but I cut them small) Since the world can no longer go get these brownies from The Polka Dot Cake Studio, as Lovescool tells us, we can bake these brownies in tribute as often as we want.

Better-Than-Brad-Pitt Brownies
Polka Dot Cake Studio

14 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I used bittersweet)
1/4 cups cocoa powder
12 oz butter, softened (1 1/2 cups)
3 cups granulated sugar (if you use bittersweet, only use 2 1/2 cups)
1 tsp salt
6 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 3/4 cups chocolate morsels (10 oz)
2 cups walnuts

Preheat oven to 300
Butter a 9 by 13 inch pan and line the bottom with parchment

1. Melt the chocolate and cocoa powder together in the top of a double boiler, or in the microwave in 5 second intervals.

2. Cream the butter, sugar, and salt for 2 minutes until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition and scraping the bowl down.

3. Add the melted chocolate and mix until the color is even.

4. Add the flour in 3 additions, mixing gently. When all the flour is incorporated, fold in the chocolate chunks and walnuts and mix well.

5. Pour into the prepared pan and spread the batter evenly. Bake at 300 for 25 to 30 minutes. The top will look set and papery, the middle will feel very soft, and the edges will have just started to pull away from the sides of the pan. Do not overbake.

6. Cool the brownies on a cooling rack on the counter until completely cooled, about 1 to 2 hours. Then chill them in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours. The chilling is the most important part as it sets the fudge like texture.

7. You can glaze them with chocoalte glaze and scatter nuts over them at this point, but I like the papery top as it is characteristic of a brownie, and the flavor is so rich as is, I cant see how you would want too much more.


8. Cut them small because they are very rich.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Busy Bee

While my blog remains empty of recent posts, my life has been full. It seems every day has multiple obligations, and yes, I did take a nice mini vacation, but mostly work work work.

I still don't have time for a proper post, but thought I'd offer a link to an article that I participated in. It poses the question, "how do chef's battle the lack of seasonal abundance in winter." The writer, Rebekah Denn asked the question of 3 chefs who's cuisine celebrates seasonal produce. This included Jerry Traunfeld of the Herbfarm who's cuisine not only highlights what is in season, he grows most of it in his own gardens surrounding the restaurant. Next was the Kevin Fogarty, chef of the vegetarian restaurant Carmelita, who faces a very interesting challenge when his entire menu relies on vegetables. And finally, little old me, who is now creating a pastry menu void of the fresh fruit that desert enthusiasts love so much.

The decision to include me came from this humble little blog, I was told. The writer read a post I had written in which I talked about how lucky I was to have started my job in the summer when the seasonal fruit was in it's height of abundance. I learned how to manage a menu, develop desserts, while the fruit was doing most of the work. I just had to step back my own skills and let the fruit shine. I could slice peaches, nectarines, strawberries, and put them next to a buttermilk panna cotta with a zinfandel syrup and be done. But now that it is winter, it is time to put my skills and learned techniques to work.

And I must add, as soon as fruit goes out of season, chocolate comes in to season. A hot, sunny, summer day wets the appetite for light, clean, fruity flavors. However, as soon as the days turn dark, and cold, richer, deeper, more luxurious tastes like chocolate are craved. (And yes, I know there are many who feel that chocolate season runs 365 days a year.)

So take a minute to read the article!

"Cold, bleak winter? Not on their tables"