Category Archives: dessert

Desperately Seeking: Taste Testers / Cookie Connoisseurs

I think it’s been established that I have a thing for cookies. I love cookies. Love ’em. The combination of sweet cream butter, brown sugar and all manner of fixins’ improves the quality of my life tremendously. (Although its effect on my life span is significantly more questionable.)

One question, however, has caused me deep emotional turmoil these past few months:

What is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe?

Some claim Toll House got it right the first time. Others swear by The New York Times formula. Sometimes I like mine with oats. Which is superior?

That’s where you come in. I’m seeking three voracious cookie-eating appetites for a taste test of three cookie recipes–to be rated based on a variety of criteria.

The application process is simple: leave a comment telling me why you’re qualified to be a chocolate chip cookie taste tester.

Applicants must:
1) Live in or be willing to commute to Chapel Hill for an afternoon in one of the last two weekends in April;
2) Be comfortable eating raw cookie dough;
3) Be capable of consuming at least three chocolate chip cookies.

Qualified? Tell me why in the comments.

Berry Pudding Cake

This recipe always reminds me of my high school graduation. My mom made it for my party since I raved about it constantly. For the record, my college graduation is 39 days away.

Cringe.

It’s simple, sweet and ideal for a spring/summer dessert, served warm with ice cream or whipped cream. It’s also wonderful for breakfast, served cold. I use Whole Foods’ frozen mixed berries in mine, but only until I can find some fresh, local berries!

Besides making this cake this weekend, I also filmed a video for a contest I’ll tell you all more about Monday. In the meantime, I’d really appreciate it if you could vote for my friends‘ video. I’m making the cupcakes for their wedding–we had a tasting this weekend that was divine.

Simply click here and click the thumbs up. Aren’t they precious?

Berry Pudding Cake:
Serves 12
5 cups fresh or frozen berries
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I sometimes use almond extract)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

1) In a 9 x 13 cake pan, evenly spread fruit and pour 1/4 cup sugar over the berries.
2) Stir the eggs, oil, orange peel, vanilla and remaining 1 cup of sugar in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the flour and baking powder.
3) Pour batter over the berries and gently spread to cover berries.
4) Bake at 350 degrees until top springs back slightly when pressed in the center (about 45 minutes).

Gluten-Free (or not) Individual Chocolate Lava Cakes

As I alluded to two weeks ago, I went on a cruise last week for spring break. (The biscotti traveled beautifully, by the way. Eating it kept me awake since I drove the whole way myself.)

The cruise itself consisted of an amusing combination of college students seeking to stay drunk for the duration of the trip, families trying to entertain rowdy children, and retirees attempting to make dents in their hefty retirement savings.

I fancied myself an observer, although I cannot deny my obvious association with the former group. I remember everything about our trip, though, which is more than I can say for most of the spring breakers.

I also had the opportunity to serve as a food tester and reviewer for the benefit of my vegan friend. I identified questionable ingredients to ensure that she maintained her vegan purity, and I generously described foods that she couldn’t actually consume.

Cruise food, in case you’re wondering, will lead to hypertension when consumed in large quantities. There was so much salt I began wondering if the chefs rinsed everything in sea water. Also, nearly all of the baked goods came from boxed mixes, which my tastebuds can detect almost instantly.

One of the best desserts on the cruise was a molten cake. Unfortunately, I made my own right before the trip, so I knew what potential a cake can possess when it is made individually, left under-baked and topped with vanilla ice cream. The cruise version paled in comparison.

I made these with my friend who has a wheat allergy (my friends have quite a diverse set of palates and dietary needs), but these cakes don’t have to be gluten-free. Still trying to work out how to make them vegan, though…

Recipe from here. Yum.

Gluten-Free (or not) Individual Chocolate Lava Cakes:
Serves 2
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
5 ounces dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
Large pinch of sea salt
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon flour (or gluten-free flour–we used Bisquick gluten-free baking mix)

1) Preheat the oven to 450. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double broiler (I create my own double broiler by putting a metal bowl over a boiling pot of water, making sure that the hot water doesn’t actually touch the base of the bowl) or melt everything in the microwave. Add sea salt.
2) Meanwhile, beat together the egg, egg yolks, and sugar with a whisk or an electric beater until light and slightly foamy.
3) Add the egg mixture to the warm chocolate; whisk quickly to combine. Add flour and stir just to combine. The batter will be quite thick.
4) Butter small ramekins and divide the batter evenly among the ramekins.
5) Bake for about 7 minutes if you want a little cake and a lot of lava. Bake for longer if you want the opposite.
6) To serve, place a plate on top of the ramekin and flip. Then place another plate on what is actually the bottom of the cake and flip again. Melt a little more chocolate to drizzle on top, or add hot fudge sauce. Serve with ice cream.

Almond Chocolate Chip Biscotti

If the trip takes less than 15 hours in the car, my family drives.

It’s a thrifty decision that never fails to irk me, since I love plane rides and loathe sitting in the car for long durations of time. And yet, as I get older, I find myself willing to drive farther and farther distances in the pursuit of saving money. Being a prudent traveler is encoded in my DNA, apparently.

This spring break is no exception. My friends and I are driving down to Ft. Lauderdale to participate in what appears to be some sort of senior-spring-break rite of passage: going on a cruise.

Of course, my immediate thought upon learning that I would be driving the 12-or-so hours southbound was “What should we eat to pass the time?”

The answer is constantly laying on my family’s kitchen countertop: biscotti. My mom has been on what can only be described as a biscotti kick. Every time I come home, there’s a new variation, a new flavor addiction to form and then try to combat with other dippable foods.

This technique rarely works, and I end up finishing whatever biscotti my other family members did not consume between breakfast and dessert.

No doubt that these biscotti would’ve turned my teenage angst/resentment toward having to drive all the way to upstate New York into something resembling appeasement.

Almond Chocolate Chip Biscotti:
Makes 36 pieces
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup almonds, roasted and chopped
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon orange rind (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking sheet, or line with a Silpat.
2) In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the almond extract.
3) Add the flour and baking powder and stir until just blended. Mix in almonds, chocolate chips and orange rind.
4) On the baking sheet, shape the dough into two 10-inch long by 3-inch wide loaves, a little more than 1/2-inch in thickness. Keep a few inches of space between the loaves. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until set. Cool for seven or so minutes. (The loaves don’t crumble as much when they’re cut still warm.) Cut the loaves into 1/2-inch slices with a serrated knife.
5) Lower oven heat to 300 degrees. Place biscotti slices back on baking sheet, one of the cut sides facing up, and bake for five minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, flip the biscotti, and bake for another five minutes. Let biscotti cool before placing in an airtight container.

Chocolate Coconut Crispies

Laura won my giveaway–here she is with the prize:

Two dozen chocolate coconut crispies.

Every family has one dessert that inspires such excitement that every member is willing to sneak into the kitchen for a peek, even at the risk of being assigned dish duty.

This cookie recipe is that dessert at my house.

We’ve affectionately deemed them “crack” cookies. (Actually, there are several cookie recipes that we’ve determined are worthy of the title, which can get confusing if one doesn’t specify which “crack cookie” recipe is being referred to.)

Regardless of where we are in the house, we come trailing in for a taste of the dough. For this reason, I imagine, my mom has always doubled the recipe.

We return to our respective posts briefly, ears perked for the sound of the timer beeping promisingly. Then, the accompanying springing noise of my mother returning her recliner to its original position, her footfall from living room to kitchen, her careful removal of the baking sheet from the oven.

We rush casually from our rooms, pour generous glasses of cold milk, and dive in.

Divine.

Chocolate Coconut Crispies:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup brown packed sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and cooled**
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut

1) Preheat oven to 350. Beat softened butter in a bowl, then add both sugars and beat for two minutes. Add egg and beat until creamy.
2) Pour in melted chocolate. (**You can also use cocoa: three tablespoons of cocoa and one tablespoon of butter for every ounce of baking chocolate needed.)
3) Stir in flour, baking powder and baking soda until just combined. Add oats and coconut.
4) Drop slightly rounded teaspoonfuls of dough onto cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes and let cool briefly on the pans before removing to a storage container.

Thumbprint Cookies & A Valentine’s Day Giveaway

I want to be a cynic about Valentine’s Day, I really do. I want to say that it’s a Hallmark holiday solely created to make up for 364 days of neglect. I want to say that it’s the cruelest form of torture for anyone who’s single.

I want to say that for those of us in relationships, it’s yet another day requiring careful consideration in the card department, in my case, perusing through cards of the clever, ironic, anti-establishment variety. (Yet as long as I participate in the latter behavior, regardless of the card’s source, Hallmark still wins. Tragic.)

From those first days of decorating a mailbox for the receipt of Valentines, however, I remember liking Valentine’s Day. It’s a nice reminder that I live a life surrounded by people I love, people who love me.

Furthermore, it’s one of those glorious holidays that encourages the consumption of sweets in larger-than-normal quantities. I’d always go straight for the chocolate in my glittery, Crayola-ed Valentine paper bag mailbox. (I shunned the chalk-candy hearts. Does anyone legitimately enjoy eating them?)

In honor of those exciting days of digging through Valentines, seeking out the best candy and overanalyzing the meaning of the line “Bee Mine” in the card from your crush, I’m doing my very first giveaway.

To enter, comment on this post answering the question: “What’s your best (or worst, if you’re into that) Valentine’s Day memory?” Make sure you leave your first name!

Wednesday night at 9 p.m., I’ll randomly select one lucky commenter as the recipient of either two dozen cookies or two loaves of bread. (Some options are here, here and here. I could also make something completely new. Winner’s choice!) You have until 8:59 p.m. on Wednesday (2/16) to enter.

You’ll also get one additional entry for tweeting the following:

I want to win a sweet treat from @pricharm! http://wp.me/p103ES-8o

Unfortunately, the giveaway only applies to those of you in the continental United States. I’m still a student, folks. I’ve got bills to pay.

If you’re feeling like doing a bit of baking yourself, these thumbprint cookies are a tasty departure from those traditional Valentine’s Day chocolatey affairs.

Thumbprint Cookies:
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for garnish
1 large egg
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped from pod, or 1/8 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/3 cup jam (I used peach, raspberry and mixed berry)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2) In another bowl, beat the butter and the sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla until just combined. Slowly add in the flour, baking powder and salt.
3) Scoop the dough into 1-inch balls with a cookie dough baller. Pour sugar in a shallow bowl and roll dough balls in sugar.
4) Place dough balls on baking sheets. Press a thumbprint into the center of each ball, about 1/2-inch deep. (Alternatively, make a heart shape like I did by making a “V” with your pinky finger.) Fill each indentation with about 3/4 teaspoon jam.
5) Bake cookies until the edges are golden, about 15 minutes. (For even color, rotate the pans from top to bottom about halfway through baking.) Cool cookies on the baking sheets.

Hot Fudge Sauce

So, let’s say it’s a Monday night. It’s 9 o’clock. You’re tired. You just left your amusing, but still mentally draining, three-hour course on the abysmal state of public education in this country.

You attempt to open your car door and are cruelly rebuffed. That’s when you realize that someone has hit it, while parked, at just the right angle to effectively prevent you from entering your car through the driver’s side door. A fender bender, to be sure.

You’re charmed. You slide into your seat through the passenger side, drive to campus police, file a report.

If you have dinner plans the next night, hot fudge sauce should be very deliberately added to the menu.

While photographing the hot fudge sauce in its pretty Bell jar the following day, you realize you’ve taken a self-portrait in its reflective glass surface. How appropriate.

You might also make and eat this hot fudge sauce if you’ve decided to spend February re-toxing. It’s chocolate month, anyway. Might as well make it count.

You might also eat this hot fudge sauce if you’ve been very, very good lately and have consumed 3+ green lentil “burgers” in a two-day span.

Recipe from the Italian momma of pizza and pesto fame. I’ll be sure to thank her for you.

Hot Fudge Sauce:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 squares/ounces of unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup (6 ounces) evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1) Melt butter over low heat in a small saucepan. When butter has melted, add chocolate and combine thoroughly until chocolate is melted.
2) Add sugar and milk, alternating while stirring. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and add vanilla.
3) Serve over ice cream. Store in refrigerator and reheat to serve.