A Baking Weekend.

Marcella and I had A Plan for my Valentine’s visit.  For several weeks we had been swapping recipes, talking about kitchen tasks and asking each other questions about cookies, so it seemed only natural that we would have a baking weekend — in addition to our normal to-dos like catching up, gossiping and eating out.  Not too long ago, Marcella had purchased a new cookbook — Baked: New Frontiers in Baking — that was calling our names, and I had been wanting to try another madeleine recipe, so I packed my pans in my bag before leaving home.

browniesAfter thumbing through Baked (which, I should mention, is from the men at the eponymous Brooklyn bakery), we decided to make brownies, which apparently is one of Oprah’s favorites.  Since we didn’t have quite the right size pan, we doubled the recipe — big mistake.  Normally, having twice as many brownies is a scrumptious and wondrous thing, but in this case it was terrible.  You try dealing with two times as many fudgy-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside chocolate bombs and then tell me how you feel.  Honestly.  We cut them up into bitty bites for a reason.  These suckers are intense.

madeleinesAlso intense are David Lebovitz‘s madeleines: a lemony glaze amps up the sunny citrus flavor, and each little cake walks along, holding hands with her friends Moist and Dense, combining to make the most perfectly textured thing ever.

We gave a shell-shaped sweet to Marcella’s mother; not knowing what she was eating, Mrs. Hammer said, “I’m sitting underneath the Eiffel Tower.”  When we told her what she had in her palm was a classic French treat, she beamed.

Indeed, I can’t tout this recipe enough, though when I make them again I will omit the baking powder to compare the difference in its consistency.  I’m not worried though — like Marcella says, “You can’t go wrong with a recipe from David Lebovitz.”

So true.

“Baked” Brownies, from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
Makes twenty-four brownies

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13 inch glass or light metal baking pan.
  2. Whisk the flour, salt and cocoa powder in a medium bowl.
  3. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water; stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth.  Turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the water; add sugars.  Whisk until combined, then remove the bowl from the pan.  Cool the mixture to room temperature.
  4. Add 1 egg to chocolate, whisking to combine.  Repeat with remaining eggs, whisking each egg thoroughly into the chocolate before adding the next.  Whisk in vanilla.  Do not overbeat.
  5. Sprinkle the flour mixture over chocolate.  Using a spatula, fold flour into chocolate until just combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway point, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out with only a few moist crumbs sticking to it.  Let cool completely before cutting into squares.
  7. When tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies will keep at room temperature for up to three days.

Lemon-Glazed Madeleines, adapted by David Lebovitz from his book The Sweet Life In Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious — and Perplexing — City
Makes twenty-four cookies

for the cookies
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
rounded 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
zest of one small lemon
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus additional melted butter for preparing the molds

for the glaze
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

  1. Brush the indentations of a madeleine mold with melted butter. Dust with flour, tap off any excess, and place in the fridge or freezer.
  2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, whip the eggs, granulated sugar, and salt for 5 minutes until frothy and thickened. Spoon the flour and baking powder, if using, into a sifter or mesh strainer and use a spatula to fold in the flour as you sift it over the batter. (Rest the bowl on a damp towel to help steady it for you.) Add the lemon zest to the cooled butter, then dribble the butter into the batter, a few spoonfuls at a time, while simultaneously folding to incorporate the butter. Fold just until all the butter is incorporated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (Batter can be chilled for up to 12 hours.)
  3. To bake the madeleines, preheat the oven to 425°.  Plop enough batter in the center of each indentation with enough batter which you think will fill it by ¾’s (you’ll have to eyeball it, but it’s not brain-surgery so don’t worry if you’re not exact.) Do not spread it. Bake for 8-9 minutes or until the cakes just feel set. While the cakes are baking, make a glaze in a small mixing bowl by stirring together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and water until smooth.
  4. Remove from the oven and tilt the madeleines out onto a cooling rack. The moment they’re cool enough to handle, dip each cake in the glaze, turning them over to make sure both sides are coated and scrape off any excess with a dull knife. After dipping, rest each one back on the cooking rack, scalloped side up, until the cakes are cool and the glaze has firmed up.

Storage: Glazed madeleines are best left uncovered, or not tightly-wrapped; they’re best eaten the day they’re made. They can be kept in a container for up to three days after baking, if necessary.

Note:  If you use baking powder, they may take another minute or so to bake since the batter will rise higher. They’re done when the cakes feel just set if you poke them with your finger. Avoid overbaking them.

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