Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Labor Day Desserts

Hello from the other side of Labor Day! This early September post brings tidings of how I spent - or more specifically, ate during - my long weekend. I visited towns of the new and port varieties, doing Newburyport, MA one day and Newport, RI another. Your blogger is a sucker for New England seaside villages, so she got the most out of summer's last hurrah.

Ah, Newburyport - perhaps my favorite of all those villages, the place I could easily visit each weekend, the town which every other town should emulate. My family has a bit of history with the area, so I try to get there each summer. I'm so glad I was able eat fresh seafood at Michael's, sample fresh beer at Newburyport Brewing Company, enjoy live music in the waterfront park, browse endearing local shops, and eat raspberry chip ice cream at Gram's Homemade Ice Cream.

Gram's makes many fantastic flavors, but years (decades?) of trips have led me to zero in on this one. The raspberry flavor of this bright pink ice cream is not the diluted, overly saccharine version you usually find. Rather, it is bright and tangy, with a freshness (and occasional seed) that convinces me that real berries are in it. Imagine a sorbet's pert flavor with an ice cream's composition. Then, it has two kinds of chocolate chips! First, we have large, flat, semisweet chips. These brittle additions add a nice crunch, though they don't really melt in your mouth. Then, we have the scene-stealers. Imagine the tiniest possible peanut butter cups, but instead of having peanut butter on the inside, they're filled with raspberry jam. Such glorious nuggets were liberally incorporated into the ice cream, so that one could get tangy berry freshness, smooth creaminess, a bitter chocolate crunch, the warmth of milk chocolate, and a small burst of fruit all in one bite. A treat if I've ever had one!

Gram's always gets me going, but I was beyond excited to discover a new bakery off State Street! Buttermilk Baking Company's unassuming sign somehow caught my eye; when I walked up to their storefront and opened the door, I knew I had found the Clear Flour of Newburyport. You're greeted by the heady scent of warm, buttery dough and fresh fruit; you see cases filled with fruit tarts, pies, cakes, cookies, scones, all with that hearty and rustic look. It turns out that they're a year-old farm-to-table operation that clearly takes pride in what they've hand-made from local sources. (Thanks to Buttermilk's site [linked above] for this image!)
I took a small peach raspberry pie home, and boy, did it deliver! It made a fantastic visual impression, due to a lightly browned crust ornamented with sparkling turbinado sugar and occasional oozed filling. Also, I love the little dough heart that crowned it all!
The interior was similarly impressive. The filling had peach slices, finely-chopped peach bits, and whole raspberries, reduced by the oven into a soft and gooey mixture. I doubt any sugar was added to the filling, it was so delightfully tart. There may have been spices in there - I couldn't quite place what I'd call a faint chutney quality - but that quality didn't take away from the main event, the superior fresh fruit.
The combination of crust and filling was perfection. The crust was solid, chewy, and buttery, and it really stood up to the dense filling. Its bottom and sides did not get soggy! No flimsy flakes here, phew. The filling had mostly settled into the pie's base, but the top crust crumbled nicely (with its crunchy sugary bits!) into the filling to guarantee all bites had fruit and pastry.

Buttermilk offers a wide range of pies. I wonder what they'll have when I'm next in town. Will I bring home an apple cranberry? A strawberry rhubarb? Or even a Mississippi Mud?!

I saw a different side of Rhode Island's tony town this weekend. A past excursion involved the lovely Cliff Walk and amblings among stately homes, while this trip centered on the (unfortunately tourist-trap-like) shopping area and waterfront scene. At least there were delicious desserts among the tacky tees!

To me, fudge isn't eaten under "normal" circumstances. I won't crave it in the city or my hometown. Rather, I'll get it on getaways only. It's like it can't exist without quaint architecture, wildflower gardens, cobblestone streets, a town square, and fresh mountain or seaside air. Fortunately, such places tend to have at least one small-batch fudgery - and Newport was no exception! The Newport Fudgery's fudge is hand-whipped in copper kettles; imagine churning butter on a larger (and tastier) scale. They had at least 10 flavors available, so I left with (only) two! I ate the gooey treats over the next few days. I don't have pictures for you, but one description might get your mouth watering.

The fudge's texture was perfect - talk about incredibly smooth and consistent, entirely lacking the graininess that often spoils fudge. Flavor-wise, I'm happiest with the chocolate peanut butter fudge. It was a creamy, harmonious blend of milk chocolate and peanut butter; I really can't imagine a better expression of those two ingredients together. The only downside? It had occasional peanuts mixed in, which got soggy over time. Gross! The triple chocolate fudge was much less appealing, even though it lacked nuts. I thought of Baker's chocolate squares, fudgified - sure, you can tell it's made predominantly from semisweet chocolate (as the other two chocolate flavors stayed hidden), but there's also a waxy, chalky taste that really disappoints. I wonder if more sugar would have helped? This was my first semisweet fudge, and I won't need another.

I ate a completely different dessert on-site! Newport Cookie Company has a delightful bakery store that offers cookies, cupcakes, and ice cream in a tea room-inspired setting. Their big draw, for us, was the make-your-own ice cream sandwich. You could choose any of their varied cookie offerings, and an ice cream flavor, to create your own dessert heaven. I chose a heath bar cookie, a chocolate peanut butter chip cookie, and cookies 'n' cream ice cream.
Look at that monster! The ice cream was made by Gifford's, a Maine creamery whose distribution pattern seems to match wherever I'm allowed to have fudge. (I've seen their New England-inspired flavors before, at Woodman's of Essex - a fried-seafood institution just a short drive from Crane Beach.) Their cookies 'n' cream flavor is solid, though they use more Oreo crumbs than actual cookie pieces. The cookie "bread" was what really stole the show! The chocolate peanut butter chip cookie was lumpy and soft, almost like a chewy brownie, with a pleasantly rich chocolate flavor. The chips were sweet and gooey, obviously preferable to actual peanuts. The heath bar cookie was flatter and stronger, made of a sugar cookie dough with heath bar crumbles scattered throughout. I appreciated the cookie's (very high) candy density! I love the caramel notes and solid crunch that toffee brings to baked goods.

That said, these three parts didn't stay together too well. I spooned most of my ice cream out the sandwich's sides, and broke off cookie pieces as they crumbled away. However, those cookie bits that got soggy with melting ice cream were particularly good.

I'd stop by the Cookie Company again, though who knows if I'd get a cookie? I might have to encourage their tendency to decorate with my favorite color - seriously, all non-cookie items had purple flourishes - by buying a cupcake. :-)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Random Acts of Sweetness

I recently discovered a New Hampshire cupcakery that puts Windham's Sophisticakes, formerly known as Shabby Chic, to shame. Said cupcakery is Random Acts of Sweetness, in Portsmouth. Their website suggests a focus on custom orders, but their storefront and bakery also serve dessert-craving passersby.

Portsmouth has had the highs and lows of New Hampshire's dessert scene. The highs are provided by Byrne & Carlson, a chocolatier whose refined confections are exquisitely delicious; the lows were supplied by the now-defunct (with reason) Portsmouth Baking Company. I was so happy to stumble upon another high, across the street from Byrne & Carlson as you meander down State Street toward Prospect Park.

The exuberant, cheerful, and colorful sign grabbed me first. It really stood out against the prim backdrop of Portsmouth's brick townhouses:
Then, I peered in the shop's window. More good cheer and happy colors were found there, as fabric and paper flowers and butterflies decorated its perimeter.  A simple dessert counter could be seen within, full of good-sized and, dare I say it, colorful cupcakes. How could I NOT go in and buy a cupcake from this shop?!

I don't have a picture of the cupcake in question, so my description will have to suffice. All dozen or so flavors were tempting, but I chose In the Pom of My Hand - yes, they all had punny names - because I had never had a chocolate pomegranate cupcake. It was a good choice. The cake itself looked like a hybrid of devil's food and a fudgy brownie. It was rich and moist, with assertive chocolate and fruit flavors. I doubt I would have identified the fruit flavor as pomegranate - in the context of the cake, it could have been any number of sweet, tart red fruits - but even with that ambiguity, I loved the bright freshness it imparted to the cake. The light-as-air frosting was more obviously a pomegranate concoction. Clearly whipped, it tasted equally of sugar and the dark, intense fruit. Appearance-wise, it was a pale pink color, and had been swirled onto the cake in a spiral pattern with a pastry bag. Oh, and because icing on the cake is apparently not enough, the frosting was dotted with neon-pink sprinkles. Too cute!

I left the cupcakery with a full stomach, a smile on my face, and a few stickers of the adorable logo pictured above. I was the first adult to ask the owner for some; she had them on hand for children. :-)

I hope RAoS does well. I also hope they install a few tables and chairs in their store, even if custom orders and treats to go are their priorities. People will pop in for a cupcake and want to eat it there, much as we did. The only furniture at present is an awkwardly curved wooden bench. We had a difficult and messy time, divvying up and sharing a cupcake on that bench. Still, I plan to contribute in my small way toward their success by making each future Portsmouth trip a cupcake trip! They change up their flavors on a regular basis, so I'm guaranteed an adventurous new flavor (or several) when I return.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Portlandia!, East Coast Edition

It's a weird and long story as to how I ended up in Portland, Maine the other weekend. Suffice it to say that I (finally) made it there, and I reaped delicious rewards for doing so. The trip was inspired by Maine's exploding craft beer scene, but I had several sweet treats alongside the Belgians and saisons. This travelogue will speak as much (or more) about the meals (and brews) as the desserts!

I have a weakness for - or, perhaps more accurately, obsession with - Belgian-style frites. Portland has a restaurant specializing in frites fried in duck fat. The appropriately-named Duckfat, therefore, was the first place we ate, and wow, were the frites amazing! Take a look at them in their cone, accessorized with garlic and Thai chili mayos as well as a hefeweizen from Belfast.
The Maine potatoes were substantive and earthy, and their frying medium imparted a rich, fatty flavor as well as a delightfully consistent, crisp coating. The cone was depleted in record time, washed down by the refreshingly light, orange-tinged hefe. Duckfat also offers panini sandwiches, so I enjoyed their house-cured ham and local Gruyere pressed on bakery bread.

That filling meal did not obviate dessert. Two Fat Cats Bakery specializes in pies, but they also have smaller treats. We split a chocolate whoopie pie with chocolate filling while walking back across the city. The cake part had a tough surface, with a soft and airy interior. Its chocolate flavor was very rich, analogous to that of Flour's homemade Oreos; I'd love to know what cocoa powder they used! The intensity was disproportionate to how light the cake was, which made for a very strong impression in relatively few bites. The filling was subtly flavored, somewhere between white and milk chocolate, and light on the tongue while being more solid than standard whipped offerings. There was a lot going on here, and I loved it! (I apologize for not having a picture; I did not want chocolate cream on my phone.)

Next came the pilgrimage-worthy Novare Res Bier Cafe. You could spend hours, days, weeks in that bar - it's a fascinating hybrid of cellar-style beer geek hangout, German-inspired biergarten, and hipster dive. Anyone and everyone fits in! I went there to access Maine brews as well as something rare and European (their list of Cantillons had me drooling), both of which were easily found. Maine came in the form of Oxbow's Freestyle #15, a light saison with Centennial hops that had an odd (but delicious) Fruit Loop quality...and Europe appeared as Brasserie de Cazeau's Saison Cazeau.
It's a dry, rustic saison that's brewed with elderflowers. I have likened elderflower to the mythical nectar of the gods; its honeyed, floral sweetness is among the most transcendent flavors (and aromas) I have ever encountered. Now a hint of that glory manifested in a favorite beer style, and I wept. Well, not really. But my appreciation was deep and sincere.

Eventually, it was time for a nightcap. An imposing edifice along Commercial Street promised "haus-brewed beer"... in we went. In'finiti Fermentation and Distillation opened 2 months ago, and I wish them every success! The atmosphere is great - think dark, shiny wood tables and chairs; lighting fixtures made from barrel staves and hoops; portholes in the wall; visible brewing apparatus; and a sweeping view of Portland's industrial harbor. Their drinks and food are similarly excellent. I sipped the dankly floral Headstash DIPA, brewed in collaboration with Maine darling Oxbow, and snacked on a soft, sweet pretzel dipped in mustard.

The following morning brought a return to Two Fat Cats - but not for another whoopie pie! Instead, this cheerful chalkboard sign dictated our eating.
Here's my slice o' blueberry pie on the bakery's outdoor picnic table.
The pie, predictably enough, contained tiny Maine blueberries. Those small fruits are sweeter than their larger cousins, which made the filling rather sugary; I'm sure the actual sugar in the filling didn't help. However, the filling also had a Julie-approved (read: excessive to most) quantity of cinnamon. The spice cut through the sweetness nicely! The flaky yet substantive pie crust was near perfection...and the coffee? Two Fat Cats' proprietary blend, of course!

Lunch was a waterfront lobster roll and clam cake, courtesy of Portland Lobster Company. Their lobster roll's filling is simply lobster meat, tossed in butter - none of the 'lobster salad" embarrassments often seen elsewhere. Delicious! Also: lemonade with maple syrup is fantastic.

After lunch came The Reason I've Wanted to Go to Portland All These Years. I've been a fan of Allagash Brewing Company since 2009's Interlude triggered THE moment of my beerwakening. Their Belgian lineup is both accessible and creative, offering standard abbey ales as well as inspired experiments in yeast, flavors, fermentation, and storage. I was eager to get closer to their processes and products via a tour and a tasting! Their tour took us through their expanding operation, which involved shiny new fermentation tanks, barrels...
a foudre... 
and this cheerful definition.
This apparatus lover was in heaven. Post-tour, our guides offered pours of Allagash's four flagship beers - White, Dubbel, Tripel, and Curieux. I left the brewery with a bottle of Coolship Cerise (a lambic-style cherry beer, brewed in an open fermentation vessel [the coolship] inoculated with naturally-occurring area yeast) and FV 13 (a sour ale brewed in the aforementioned foudre). I also have a cookbook of dishes inspired by Allagash's beer. I can't wait to try the recipes!

I knew it would be hard (read: impossible) to top the Snallavisit, but dinner and dessert back at In'finiti was a solid way to end my time in Portland. Their pilsner wasn't as noteworthy as their DIPA, but I appreciated its calm drinkability after all the Allagash hullabaloo. My fish 'n' chips were fried in a delicious and substantive beer batter; the batter was solid enough that I could eat the fish as finger food, dipping the pieces liberally in a tangy, spicy sauce. Then, our dessert defied all expectations.
The Gingerbread & Bacon dessert features a gingerbread cake and black pepper ice cream, both of which are drizzled in salted bourbon caramel and joined by granola and candied bacon. The cake was soft and moist with an assertive ginger flavor, while the ice cream's pepper was subtle and complementary. The salted bourbon caramel won by having some bourbon flavor, but none of the boozy zing I dislike - much like the Curieux sampled earlier! The bacon's candy coating was sweet and grainy, though the bacon bits themselves were a tad fatty and chewy. I've never had a dessert that combined so many unusual or savory elements together; the fact that it disappeared in 5 minutes or less is a testament to how well it worked. I can't wait to see what In'finiti is up to whenever I'm in town again.

...and with that, I was on my way back to Boston.

Oh, I almost forgot a treat I saved for the trip home! Bam Bam Bakery sweetened last summer's business trip; now, I had a gluten-free treat on my own time. The chocolate chip cookie dough bar was an immense square - at least 3"x3"x1.25" - of blondie-style dough, baked and interspersed with chocolate chips, that in turn was topped with heaping chocolate chip cookie dough crumbles. A bittersweet chocolate drizzle decorated the top of the bar. Part gooey, part crumbly, and all so good, I highly recommend this treat (and bakery) to the gluten-free crowd and omnivores alike.

Lastly, some words on the city itself. I had assumed it would be a larger version of the standard seaside village - quaint streets, neatly manicured buildings and gardens, cute shops, creative eateries, waterfront parks, and so on. Portland has all those things, but in limited quantities; the city as a whole is grittier, and more dilapidated, than I anticipated. There's an edginess and tiredness to the place that you don't see or feel in the seacoast's other havens. Also: so many hipsters! The whole thing almost felt out of place in the larger context of New England. Still, I appreciated the exposure to something so unusual - and as this post attests, there's plenty to enjoy and go back for.

Until next time...

Monday, June 17, 2013

BBF Brownies

As several past posts attest, I love baked goods and craft beer. The latest Bocoup Beer Fest inspired me to combine the two in a new way - namely, baking with beer. (I don't know what took me so long...)

I knew I had a winner when I saw an appealing recipe from The Kitchy Kitchen. Why did I choose it?
  • It uses three distinct chocolates - cocoa powder, semisweet chips, and dark (70+% cacao) chocolate.
  • It uses three distinct spices - cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and espresso (not technically a spice, but you know what I'm getting at).
  • It uses beer - something dark and malty, which makes sense for baking with chocolate (though not for my personal drinking enjoyment).
What better, or more intriguing, way is there to get creative with brownies?! I'm sharing the slightly-reworded recipe here, with my notes in italics.
  • 1 C flour
  • 1/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder. The original recipe suggests Valrhona, but I already had Ghirardelli.
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper. I more than tripled this, but I could barely taste it in the finished product.
  • 1/4 t cinnamon. I more than tripled this, too, and WOW - the pungent spice really came through in the end. I loved it!
  • 8 T (1 stick) butter
  • 1 T instant espresso. I used 3 packets of Starbucks' Via Italian Roast. It's not technically espresso, but it successfully imparts a strong coffee flavor to whatever I put it in.
  • 3 1/2 oz dark chocolate. I used Valrhona's Guanaja feves.
  • 1/2 C malty beer. I used Southern Tier's Choklat, an imperial stout brewed with...chocolate!
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 C white sugar
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 1 C semisweet chocolate chips. I used the Whole Foods house brand. Their chips bake better than Toll House's ever have!
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degres. Line a 13x9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and spray it with a nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, pepper, and cinnamon together.
  3. Melt the butter, dark chocolate, and espresso in a saucepan over heat. Stir the beer in once everything is melted, and let the mixture cool. The beer bubbled and frothed when it was added. It was here that I realized the carbonation was a key component of the recipe.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugars, and vanilla together.
  5. Add the dry and wet ingredients alternatively to the egg mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Do not overmix. The batter is very thin, almost watery - more like a cake batter than a brownie mix.
  6. Fold in the chocolate chips. I enjoyed seeing the beer's bubbles poke up between the chocolate chips.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, and bake for 30-35 minutes. 32 minutes worked just fine.
(Two side notes: I omitted toasted walnuts for reasons my regular readers understand. Also, Claire said any malty beer would work, even a Belgian-style quadrupel! I'll use a quad next to see what Belgian yeast flavor, if any, makes it to the end.)

I am obsessed with these brownies for two reasons. First of all, the chemistry of baking with a carbonated beverage fascinates me. The beer provides carbon dioxide, so the recipe did not call for baking's typical White Powders. Secondly, the brownies look, feel, and taste unlike anything I've ever made or eaten.
The surface turned out pock-marked and irregular. (Thanks, beer bubbles!) Their texture was like a moist, dense cake with a soft, large crumb. The brownies' only fudgy aspect was at the bottom of the pan, where the chocolate chips had sunk and melted into a gooey layer. This almost-fudge was fantastic, and the melted feves plus cocoa powder added plenty of chocolatey depth to the cakier portion. Aside from the chocolate, the most aggressive flavors were the cinnamon and espresso. Both were so strong that I was reminded of Mexican chocolate. The cayenne pepper, even in its tripled quantity, was barely noticeable. The beer added some maltiness, but that, too, would have slipped past my taste buds if I hadn't been actively searching. Still, the variety in something as simple as a brownie has me wanting more, ASAP! My BBF compatriots must have agreed, since, yet again, the treats were gone in an hour.

What other items, if any, have you baked with beer?

Also, for those of you who may be wondering when I'm going to start a beer blog:

I already have one, in the form of Untappd! This app is basically a Facebook for beer. You check in beers as you drink them, with the option of adding your current location (powered by Foursquare), a rating for the beer (up to five stars, in increments of 0.5), a photo, and a Twitter-style 140-character-limit description. I'm pretty diligent about using it, so I have a record of nearly every beer I've had, plus tasting notes, since I downloaded the app last August.
Follow your friends and see what they're drinking. Like - or in Untappd parlance, toast - and comment on your friends' check-ins. Get ideas for future beerventures from the beers the app suggests following each check-in. Make a note of beers you'd love to have by adding them to your Wish List.

If you're as nerdy about craft beer as I am, find me on Untappd - and if you're curious about the check-in pictured above, you'll learn more in my next post! Don't worry, there will be plenty of desserts.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Maple Cranberry Pecan Breakfast Cake

Are breakfast baked goods desserts? Well, they are in this blog! They're also my biggest food weakness. I probably get more satisfaction from a fluffy, chock-full-of-something-tasty muffin than almost any dessert. However, such indulgences are not practical - so, I usually settle on cereal or Greek yogurt. Unless it's a week when I do a lot of running...

...or there's a potluck brunch at work.

A year ago, we had work brunches fairly regularly. All team members contributed something, and we'd have "team meetings" while noshing on all manner of morning treats. An ideal meeting scenario, correct? I was so excited when my manager put a brunch back on the calendar in 2013. I jump at any opportunity to try another Flour recipe, so I thumbed through my baking Bible, hoping for inspiration. Inspiration came in the form of a maple cranberry pecan breakfast cake.

The recipe is in Joanne's cookbook, so I won't copy it here. This post's title lists its flagship ingredients, and Joanne's instructions, though verbose, are easy to follow. That said, I have two suggestions.
  • Thaw, then chop, the cranberries. The frozen fruit rolled out from under my knife, which nearly sliced the fingers holding the fruit in place. Next time, I'll either thaw the fruit to room temperature before chopping, or I'll use fresh cranberries. The chopping is necessary to keep the fruit incorporated throughout the batter; the whole cranberries floated to the top of the loaf as it baked.
  • Line the loaf pan in parchment paper. As the berries floated to the top, the caramelized pecans sank to the bottom. I was not prepared for how sticky they'd be, frustrating all efforts at removing the cake from the pan. I finally got the cake out in chunks, with the base of the loaf separated from the crown; fortunately, it wasn't too hard to reassemble, and it held fast once set. Still, none of that would have happened if I had lined the loaf pan in parchment paper for easy removal. Lesson frustratedly learned.
Here is the reassembled cake, ready to go in its glazed glory! (Yep, that's a drizzle made of powdered sugar and maple syrup. Whoa.)
Inconsistent distribution of contents aside, I was really pleased with this cake. First of all, it looks extremely festive. Secondly, it has a taste to match! It has a syrup-soaked flavor without a syrup-soaked texture; just the right amount of syrup, apparently, goes in the batter. Its texture varies from top to bottom; you start with something fluffy and buttery, and end with something dense and moist. The overall effect is like a buttermilk pancake, stuffed with tasty fruits and nuts, that has been exposed to varying degrees of maple syrup. Another way of saying that is that it's a Friendly Toast pancake, in actual-cake form. (Cantabrigians and New Hampshirites will understand the praise in that analogy.) The cranberries provided pleasant bursts of tart juice that cut through the sweetness, and the caramelized pecans enriched the batter with their dense chewiness and earthy flavor. Oh, and that maple glaze? It was literally icing on the cake!

The baked good went over well at our potluck brunch, alongside the chocolate chip pancakes, French toast casserole, miniature quiches, maple sausage meatballs, donuts, bagels, and fried chicken with waffles ( ! ) that rounded out the spread. But really, would you have expected a lesser reception for anything from Flour? I hope not.

Here's to the next brunch, whenever it may be!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Things In Things: Oreo Peanut Butter Brownies

I'm seeing a trend when baking recipes surface on social networks. Everyone's combining multiple mass-produced treats into any number of uber-desserts - or so I've seen in friends' recipe suggestions, culled from Facebook and Pinterest. Think of them as homemade via premade. One colleague is particularly good at sharing these ideas with me, so that a small part of each workday is spent salivating over [insert CANDY NAME plus SOMETHING TASTY AND SPREADABLE plus BAKED GOOD TYPE here] rather than, say, project management. I baked the most tempting of Shannon's recommendations just the other week.

The treats in question were Oreo and peanut butter double-stuffed brownies. If there's usually a correlation between name length and difficulty of recipe, these are an exception to the rule. You will need:
  • Cupcake liners. Spray their interiors with cooking spray before you start. Doing so will keep your treats from sticking at the end.
  • 1 box of Oreos. You could be ambitious and use Double Stuffs, but they're probably too thick for the cupcake pan.
  • Creamy peanut butter
  • Brownie mix, prepared as directed on the box. I normally make brownies from scratch, but that effort's not worth it when the brownie is just one of many "things" in the "thing".
And now, the process!

Take an Oreo, and spread one side with peanut butter. Do the same with another Oreo. Stick one on top of the other, and place them in a cupcake liner. Repeat until your cupcake pan is full.

Prepare the brownie mix according to the package's instructions. Then, pour some over each Oreo.
Bake the treats for 15 minutes, remove them from the oven, and let them cool in the pan on a cooling rack FOR A WHILE. I tried removing them too soon; they remained gooey well after the cooling limit for cakes and muffins.

The finished product tastes exactly as you would expect. There are a lot of soft Oreo crumbles, and not enough Oreo filling. (This is when I wish the Double Stuffs would have fit!) There's gooey peanut butter oozing between the layers, which flows like fudge after being heated. Lastly, there's a thin coating of brownie around it all. I was very pleased with the fudgy and flavorful Ghirardelli mix, but there isn't enough of it per treat to really satisfy a brownie craving. That said, the dessert in its entirety satisfies any sweet, and a hint of savory, craving that you might have had due to its size.

These are so easy to make, and they go over so well, that I highly recommend making them if you ever need a quick, tasty crowd-pleaser. Thanks, Shan, for the idea!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New Orleans, New Desserts

I know, I know. It's been 3 months since my last post. Let's imagine that, in those months, you read about:
  • the German chocolate cake I made for Christmas,
  • Flour's maple cranberry pecan bread, and
  • the 2013 edition of this wintry vacation.
You might still read about them, but for now, you get to read about your blogger's first trip to New Orleans! I traveled there for a conference, which didn't leave much time for Julie-style exploration. What little taste I did get of the city, outside of the mile-long convention center (no joke), came in the form of nightlife and restaurants. I learned a few zydeco dance steps. I listened to live jazz on Frenchmen Street. I walked through the French Quarter on a balmy evening. I had the best pulled pork sandwich. And I discovered Boucherie

As soon as my coworkers and I set foot in the restaurant, I had an idea of what the experience was going to be like - and said idea came to be true. Bostonians will understand when I describe Boucherie as "the Craigie of New Orleans". I'm a huge fan of Cambridge's Craigie on Main, and Boucherie has a similar friendly welcome, casual yet refined feel, appreciation of local gastronomic traditions, and pride in its food that made me question for a moment - before the warm night air and accented speech brought me back - whether or not I was back home. Think: smiling staff; simple, modern, yet rustic decor; snout-to-tail menu items; herbal cocktails; wine, wine, and more wine; and a groaning table ready to hold 16 eager eaters. In other words, Boucherie is a slice of restaurant heaven.

My group sampled most of the small plates on the menu, which gave me a wide insight into creative Louisiana cooking. I researched more terms on this menu than any other restaurant's, and as a result I can confidently tell you what boudin is as well as how it tastes! (Pork rice sausage; fantastic. And I don't even like sausage!)
We also split several entrees to maximize our tasting options. Here is the Wagyu beef brisket with parmesan fries. I can't think of another piece of beef, or any gastropub's fries, that are better than this.
We ended the meal with desserts for the table. It was a good decision.

I rarely order bread pudding, since bread's taste and texture is too savory and rough for a satisfying dessert. However, there's an easy way to get around that issue: use a sweeter bread or cake in the pudding. Boucherie implements that workaround with a Southern level of excess by replacing the bread with Krispy Kreme donuts. That's right - this is a Krispy Kreme bread pudding.
It would be hard for me to not love this, considering the ingredients and process - donut pieces, an abundance of sugary glaze, and caramel, all baked into a square of deliciousness. My few forkfuls were very happy ones.

Next up was a type of dessert I had never seen. Wikipedia defines it as a single crust filled with a mixture of eggs, butter, white and brown sugar, vanilla, and cornmeal. I'm sure Boucherie honors those ingredients, but they add hot spice and chocolate to their spin on the Southern classic. Behold the Thai chili chocolate chess pie.
The pie's texture was very strange, somewhere between brownie batter and a (fully baked) buttermilk muffin. The exposed part of the filling had crusted into something resembling a dense, dry brownie; thinking back on it now that I know the ingredients, I wonder if it had a hint of cornbread flavor. The chocolate wasn't as strong as I would have liked, but the Thai chili sure poked through - especially a few seconds after starting to chew a bite! You can see that whipped cream was on hand to help with the heat, and the actual crust provided a nice, mild, buttery base. I'm not sure if I'd order a chess pie again, but I'm glad gave the regional specialty a try.

Who knows when I'll be back at Boucherie, and if they regularly change up their desserts to entice repeat visitors. Perhaps a meal at Craigie will suffice until then?

Several folks suggested I try the cafe au lait and beignets at the French Quarter's famous Cafe du Monde. I had every intention to do so, really - but I didn't get up in time before my departing flight. (The alarm was already set to an unseemly hour!) I'll make them a priority if I'm ever back in town.  

I connected through Chicago's Midway airport when heading back to Boston. It wasn't until I was looking for lunch that I remembered - I could find Fannie May candy here! As a Chicago-born daughter of Midwestern parents, I grew up on this regional chocolatier's sweets. Heck, it's still such a part of the family candy consciousness that I get a Fannie May chocolate bunny every Easter. So, I had to come back with something. None of Midway's convenience stores had the boxed assortments I was hoping for, but I did find a row of colorfully-wrapped chocolate bars! (Please excuse this promotional image in lieu of a photo taken while hauling luggage.)
A bit later, I got on my plane with a few raspberry dark chocolate bars! My family and I enjoyed the bars the following weekend. Fannie May, at least in this range of bars, does not buy into the irritating "percent cacao" trend. (Phew!) They use a simple, solid, and delicious dark chocolate that has an extremely smooth texture and just a hint of sweetness. A raspberry bar has 6 sections, and each section is filled with chocolate raspberry fudge. This surprised me, as I usually see bars filled with raspberry jam or glaze; the different medium ended up being just as tasty. It had a smooth creamy texture, sans seeds (a definite win over jam!); the raspberry flavor was tart and assertive. It held its own against the similarly strong chocolate, resulting in a satisfying flavor combination.

Each section melted in my mouth, and when I saw the empty wrapper, I wished I had another one to open. Still, I shouldn't get too mopey. Easter's right around the corner!