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.

Lazy Sunday.

This past Sunday, Darlington and I let our hair down and enjoyed a day of decadence.  No, we didn’t go on a whirlwind shopping spree or spend hours at the spa getting buffed, polished and bronzed — we stayed home, ate pasta, baked brownies and watched the first two discs of Gossip Girl, season one.  All in all, it was a fun day.

The two of us had spent a good portion of last week debating as to what we wanted to cook for lunch; I had suggested a pizza, but Darlington then brought up stuffed shells.  I had never eaten a stuffed shell, let alone made one, so it seemed like a great idea: educational and literally smothered with cheese!  It was even more exciting when I learned that the recipe was actually low-calorie too, considering what goes into the dish.  Two shells came out to about 180 calories each, and also contained eleven grams of protein and twenty-five grams of carbohydrates.  Not bad, right?  And the results were pretty damn tasty.

Since Darlington and I can both get admittedly fiend-y about sweets, we knew that we would be interrupting our mini-marathon for some dessert.  When Darlington proposed brownies, I knew that regular chocolate wouldn’t be enough.  For years now, my friend Ben and I have been dreamily discussing how delicious a Nutella-based brownie would be, so I quickly searched my files for the recipe I had been dying to try out.

I’ve got to say, the product we turned out was merely okay — it just wasn’t, well, Nutella-y enough.  (This may or may not be because I am a recovering Nutella addict, and not amount has satisfied me.)  The other night, determined to get it right, I baked another batch with an amplified amount of the hazelnut-chocolate spread and was significantly happier with the result.  For anyone not as preoccupied with Nutella as me, don’t think that Sunday’s brownies were bad.  They were incredibly moist with a nice texture; chewing it was entirely optional, as it all but melted in the mouth, making it a perfect complement to smarmy Chuck Bass and sour Blair Waldorf (two of my favorite characters, I might add, since Kristen Bell‘s voiceover narration as the eponymous and anonymous Gossip Girl doesn’t really count).


Mrs. Howland’s Tofu Stuffed Shells
Makes six portions.

1 package large shells
8 ounces skim ricotta cheese
4 ounces skim mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
16 ounces tofu, pressed and drained
½ egg substitute or 2 eggs
¼ cup parsley, chopped
¼ cup breadcrumbs
32 ounces spaghetti sauce, or 2 16 ounce jars (though I would probably make my own, and use much less)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚ and bring four quarts salted water to a boil.  Add shells, taking care to add gradually so that water does not stop boiling.  Boil uncovered five to ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, mix cheeses, tofu, parsley, breadcrumbs and egg.  Add salt and pepper. Pour half of spaghetti sauce into a large shallow oven-proof baking dish; then, taking one shell at a time, stuff with approximately one tablespoon of tofu and cheese mixture.  Arrange stuffed shells in baking dish, seam up.  Spoon second half of sauce over the top of shells and sprinkle with additional cheese.  Cover and bake for thirty minutes.

Nutella Brownies, from Gourmet
Makes 16 brownies.

1 ¼ cups hazelnuts
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
3 ounces milk chocolate
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3  generous cup Nutella, plus two tablespoons (this is my amped-up amount; the original recipe calls for ¼ cup)
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½  cup sugar
2 large eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and butter and flour a nine-inch square baking pan, knocking out excess flour.
  2. Toast and skin hazelnuts. In a food processor pulse hazelnuts until coarsely ground (bits should be about 1/8 inch).
  3. Chop chocolates into small pieces and in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolates with butter and Nutella, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat.
  4. While chocolates are melting, into a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and a pinch salt. (I used coarse sea salt for an extra salty kick.) Whisk sugar into chocolate mixture until combined well. Add eggs, whisking until mixture is glossy and smooth. Stir in flour mixture and hazelnuts until just combined.
  5. Pour batter into baking pan and bake in middle of oven thirty-five to forty minutes, or until a tester comes out with moist crumbs adhering to it. Cool brownies completely in pan on a rack and cut into sixteen squares. Brownies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container at cool room temperature, five days.