Mint Julep Brownies

October 21, 2011

I want you to close your eyes and imagine the following scene. There’s an open bottle of whiskey on the counter and brownie crumbs, not to mention smears of melted chocolate decorating the countertops, sink, and all unfortunate kitchen appliances within reach. If you watch Arrested Development, think Tobias and blue paint. (If you don’t, watch it. Now.) I’m standing at the counter, in my disgusting pink apron, with a bowl of melted chocolate, holding a spoon en route to my mouth. The chocolate from the spoon is dripping all over the floor. My roommate, K, walks into the kitchen and that’s the first time she sees me today. I’m heartily ashamed, but she takes one look at the whiskey bottle, one look at the floor, and then one last look at me, and then gets really excited and happy that there are good things going on in her kitchen.

These mornings serve to remind me not of my embarrassingly hedonistic tendencies but of how awesome my friends are. She not only continues to take me seriously EVEN after she finds me standing in a pool of dripped melted chocolate and whiskey and eating it out of the bowl before 11 am, but also joins in by taking her finger, running it alongside of the bowl, and picking up rogue brownie crumbs to pop in her mouth. I love these moments so much, when a wonderful relationship, or thing, becomes almost brutally clear. Brutal in the sense that the amazingness and all its parts and manifestations seem simply to be laid out before you and, for a brief second, you can see  how perfectly everything fits together.

Like these brownies, too, all the flavors work so well together that you’ll consider not eating anything else for the rest of day because, psh, how do you top the mint-chocolate-whiskey combination?!

Mint Julep Brownies

(Recipe adapted from Fragrant Vanilla Cake)

Yields an 8 by 8 inch square pan, serving anywhere from 6 to 9, depending on how you slice

 

Notes: I halved the original recipe, which made a 9 by 13 inch pan of brownies, and it worked beautifully, so I’m copying down the recipe using half portions. I baked my brownies in four 4 ½ inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms, but in my experience the baking times don’t differ much between the tartlet pans and an 8 by 8 inch square pan. I also omitted the vanilla extract called for originally and used an extra tablespoon alcohol instead. The last note is my use of whiskey instead of bourbon. From what I understand (which is not a whole lot, as you’ll see), some whiskeys are bourbons and all bourbons are whiskey. It’s also what I had on hand, so there’s them apples. My last note concerns the amount of mint; I eyeballed it and may or may not have added more than necessary. I’ve found that mint is easily overwhelmed by chocolate when you bake with it, so I erred on the side of caution, used almost a ¼ cup mint leaves, and was rewarded.

 

Ingredients:

1/4 fresh mint leaves

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ cup, or 1 stick, unsalted butter

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

3 eggs

3 tablespoons bourbon/whiskey

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup all-purpose flour

 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. If using an 8 by 8 inch square pan, line with foil, leaving an inch and a half overhang on at least two sides, and spray with non-stick cooking spray (a spray especially for baking or a non-flavored oil spray, such as canola). If using removable bottom pans, just coat pans with non-stick cooking spray.

2. If you have access to a food processor, or similar kitchen contraption, combine mint and sugar and process in food processor until mint is very finely chopped. If can’t use a food processor for this step, chop the mint as finely as you can and rub into sugar using your fingertips, until mint is evenly distributed.

3. Melt together butter and chocolate, either in a microwave, mixing every 30 second interval until melted, or in the top of a double boiler.

4. In a medium mixing bowl, combine melted chocolate mixture and mint sugar. Whisk until smooth.

5. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, followed by the bourbon. Whisk until mixture is uniform and smooth.

6. Whisk flour into batter. When batter is smooth, pour evenly into pan(s). Smooth top, making sure batter is distributed evenly.

7. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Be careful not to overbake!

8. Cool brownies in pan until pan is cool enough to handle. Remove brownies from pan and let brownies cool completely (room temperature). Once cooled, top with chocolate ganache (recipe follows). Let ganache set for a few hours before slicing.

Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients:

6 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped

¼ cup milk or cream

Optional: 1 teaspoon whiskey

Method:

1. Using a double boiler or microwave, melt chocolate and milk.

2. Stir until smooth, then let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before using.

Store left-over ganache refrigerated and in an airtight container for up to a week.

 

It seems like I’m breaking free from a cold that has kept my head underwater for the last four days. I’m finally able to smell, and therefore taste, the food I make AND can look at words on a computer screen for more than ten minutes without feeling like I’m being abducted by aliens aboard a ship with bright lights and weird symbols. Not being sick also means I can enjoy dairy with the reckless abandon to which I’ve grown accustomed over the years. I wanted to celebrate all these things – not being sick, regaining the ability to enjoy food, being able to live my life free of haze – with dessert. Celebrations, in my mind, always call for dessert.

The weather is cooling down, so I wanted a celebration dessert that could not only be served warm but also provide the same feeling of full-body warmth, like soups and stews. It had to be chock full of dairy and chocolate, because I needed to up the indulgence ante. Maybe some whiskey, if I could swing it. Lo and behold, I came upon some recipes for rice pudding and my decision was made. Rice pudding fulfills all the requirements listed above, along with the added nostalgia of eating rice pudding my entire life. I grew up eating rice pudding with my family in PA, went on many late night grocery runs with boyfriends to get rice pudding and eat it out of the tub, and now I can add making rice pudding and sharing it with my friends as a adult wanna-be to the nostalgia check-list.

Rice pudding takes a little bit of time to make, but that’s it. The process is straightforward, the ingredients are usually on hand, and the final product is worth every minute of it. I plan to make rice pudding pretty often this coming winter! (My roommate has been warned.)

Chocolate Rice Pudding

(Recipe adapted from My Feasts)

Yields about 4 cups of pudding

Notes: The original recipe calls for ¼ cup arborio rice, but I did a little research and it looked like a lot of people used a cup rice per quart of milk. I took the leap and added an entire cup of rice. The pudding was delicious off the stove and delicious warmed up, but very, very rice-y. If you prefer a higher pudding to rice ratio, I’d recommend using 1/2 to ¾ cup rice (1/4 cup seems like very little if you’re craving rice pudding). Also, the addition of whiskey at the end is optional but AWESOME. If you’re not a whiskey drinker, try Irish crème or another fun liquor. You have a lot of leeway.

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

4 cups milk

1 cup arborio rice, uncooked

2 tablespoons whiskey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Method:

1. In a medium saucepan, combine cocoa powder, sugar, salt, milk, and rice. Whisk to fully incorporate all ingredients.

2. Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat, and then reduce heat to low and let pudding simmer gently for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently so the rice does not scorch, until rice is cooked and pudding is thickened.

3. Take pudding off heat and stir in whiskey (if using), vanilla, and chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted.

4. Let pudding cool to desired temperature and serve!

Storage: This rice pudding kept well in the fridge for three days, and, although it cooled into a block, was great heated up. Keep pudding in an airtight container. If you decided to store pudding in a bowl and don’t enjoy puddin’ skin, place the plastic wrap cover directly over surface of pudding.

I consider myself a healthy eater. Don’t laugh. I eat carrots with my lunch almost every day, cook at least  three times a week, and keep active by pretending to run* around whatever body of water is closest to my apartment. My all-time, top favorite food might actually be tomatoes. Sometimes K, my roommate, and I eat quinoa and spinach and other super-health-hero-type foods. And then there’s this baking blog. How does one consider oneself a healthy eater when she has to buy butter every single time she goes to the grocery store, or eats some sort of cake/ice cream/pie/cookie every single day, or runs out of heavy cream on a weekly basis? I try, desperately at times, to balance out my baked good obsession with healthy things.

*My idea of running usually means jogging peacefully while making many stops to talk to chipmunks that, more often than not, turn out to be rocks, to coo at ducklings, or, as of late, to ponder how quickly the leaves change in Boston as compared to where I grew up in Pennsylvania.

Well, I’ve been baking a little less lately due to stress and extreme lack of time-management skills, but still have been eating like a normal, healthy adult. A little too well, if you ask me. People, sometimes I just need to go crazy, forget about superfood, and make something ridiculous. I present you with booze-infused hot fudge. Two of the most viciously delicious hedonistic pleasures, whiskey and chocolate, are combined in liquid form, and are just begging you to be eaten warm with ice cream or straight from the fridge, rolled in graham cracker crumbs. I think I hear it calling me now…

Whiskey Hot Fudge Sauce

(Recipe adapted from kitchenplay)

Yields 2 cups hot fudge

Notes: Original recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, which I switched for dark, and a bit of instant coffee, which I omitted altogether. I also upped the whiskey from 3 tablespoons to ¼ cup. Shhh.

Ingredients:

7 ½ to 8 ounces dark (60% cacao) chocolate, broken up into 2 inch chunks

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons water

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ cup whiskey

Method:

1. Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler, or in a boil over gently simmering water. If using a microwave to melt chocolate, put chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 45 seconds, take it out and stir, then place back in microwave for 30 seconds, and stir again. Repeat this process until chocolate is melted. Once chocolate is melted, set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring granulated sugar, corn syrup, water, and cocoa powder to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 1 to 2 minutes, stirring or whisking constantly to both dissolve cocoa powder and keep mixture from burning.

3. Keeping mixture over medium-low heat, whisk in melted chocolate until smooth. You can take it off the heat now if you prefer and more liquid-y hot fudge. If not, boil hot fudge for a few minutes until it reaches desired consistency.

4. Once off the heat, whisk in whiskey until smooth.

Keep fudge, stored in an airtight container, in fridge up to a week. To reheat, melt over low heat on stovetop or microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.

These cookies were so good that I’m not even sure where to begin. Whiskey (or bourbon, or scotch, whatever happens to be in my liquor cabinet at the moment) is one of my favorite ingredients. I love baking with booze, just love it. The flavor of your final product is much more complex, but in a way that’s hard to identify. You simply know something is different. One of the reasons I’m completely enamored with this recipe, with these cookies. They certainly aren’t your normal chocolate chip cookies, though they look the part. When you bake with whiskey the alcohol bakes off and you are left with the sweet, almost-but-not almondy flavor. My powers of description are a mess; I just keep thinking “coooookie”.

Chocolate chip cookies are one of those desserts for which I’ll never stop researching recipes. Just when you think you have a favorite go-to chocolate chip recipe, you find another one that is irresistible and interesting. I’m admitting here, in writing, that these are my new favorite chocolate chip cookies. There’s no doubt that I’ll bake and eat from other recipes, but this is one that has officially made my “must bake again, then forever and ever” list.

You should note that these cookies are best slightly under baked, perfect when taken out of the oven just as the edges start to brown, that way the center stays dense and moist, but the edges are nice and crispy.

Boozy Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Recipe adapted from Une Gamine dans la Cuisine)

Yields around 2 dozen rounded tablespoon size cookies

Ingredients:

2 ¼ cup all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup, or two sticks, unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 eggs, room temperature

5 tablespoons bourbon, scotch, whiskey (or combination thereof)

1 ½ cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped*

1 ½ cup chocolate chips, or chopped bittersweet/semi-sweet/dark chocolate**

*To toast walnuts or pecans (either before or after they are chopped), preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread nuts on an ungreased baking sheet, and bake them in preheated oven for 8 to10 minutes. Let nuts cool before stirring into batter.

** My normal chocolate chip strategy is to use a blend of chopped chocolate, but chips work just as well.

Method:

1. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or separate large bowl, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

3. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl and beating well after each addition. Beat in alcohol of choice, making sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated before adding flour.

4. With stand mixer on lowest speed or by hand, stir in flour mixture until just combined, or when white streaks have disappeared.

5. With a large wooden spoon stir in walnuts/pecans and chocolate.

6. Cover bowl with plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, otherwise dough will not be manageable.

7. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper.

8. Drop cookies by the rounded tablespoonful onto prepared baking sheets about 1 ½ inches apart. Bake each sheet for 8 to 11 minutes (for some reason my cookies took about 12 minutes and still didn’t brown, but these cookies are best when under baked!) or until edges start to brown.

9. Let cookies cool on sheet for a minute before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store cookies in an airtight container (like a cookie jar!!) for up to 5 days at room temperature.

Whisky Pear Tart

January 4, 2011

There’s no denying it, I love a project. So when my roommate, who loves to eat and loves to cook, proposed a fancy, schmancy roommate dinner, I jumped at the chance to make dessert. It was just the justification I was looking for that would allow me to spend my two days off preparing a dessert!

This recipe was flagged under the category of “Wishful Thinking, Colleen” with the subtitle “Where do you suppose you’ll get the time to make that?” My patience paid off, the opportunity arose, I did the legwork of making the tart (and by “legwork” I mean waiting patiently between steps), and it was worth it. My roommate, who doesn’t normally like desserts, ate her piece with rare enthusiasm, and it absolutely made me warm inside.

It’s a behemoth of a recipe, but yummy and fancy and DEFINITELY appreciated by those fortunate enough to wrangle a bite!

I did not have the foresight to take pictures of the whole thing. By the time it was made and glazed, I was ready to slice and devour it. Sorry.

Whiskey Pear Tart

(Recipe adapted from Baked Explorations)

Yields one tart in an 11 inch diameter pan, or one tart in a 14 by 4 inch pan

Ingredients

For the pears and soaking juice:

One 15 oz can of pear halves in heavy syrup (or 6 halves, if you want to poach your own pears)

1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons whiskey

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For the dough:

¼ cup sugar

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup, or 1 stick, unsalted butter, cool but not cold (if you take the butter out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before using, you’ll get cool but not cold butter)

1 large egg, beaten

For the almond filling:

¼ cup, or ½ stick, unsalted butter, cool but not cold

4 ½ ounces almond paste (the tube I found at the grocery store was 7 ounces)

1 large egg

1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon whiskey

For the glaze:

Drained syrup from the canned pears

Soaking juice drained from marinated pears

1 teaspoon whiskey

¾ teaspoon cornstarch

Method

Day One…

For the pears and soaking juice:

1. Strain the pears, making sure to keep the heavy syrup. Put the heavy syrup in a covered container in the fridge until you need it for the glaze.

2. Whisk together the wet ingredients (lemon juice, whiskey, sugar, and vanilla extract), until the sugar is dissolved.

3. Combine the strained pears and the whisked mixture (your soaking juice) in an airtight container, and keep in the fridge overnight.

For the dough:

4. Whisk together sugar, flour, and salt until combined.

5. Cut the butter into ½ inch cubes, then added to the flour mixture. Cut with a pastry cutter, or use two butter knives, until the mixture is sandy looking.

6. Add the egg, and mix with your hands until the dough comes together.

(If the dough is not coming together, as mine didn’t, add a tablespoon of cold water, mix, and try to form the dough into a ball. Repeat as necessary; however, try not to over mix the dough. This part was tricky because you still want to see lumps of butter.)

7. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap, and keep it in the fridge overnight (or at least an hour).

*** I’m going to copy the instructions for this part of the recipe verbatim, because if you have a food processor, you should follow these instructions instead.

“Put the sugar, flour, and salt in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and pulse until sandy (about 6 to 10 quick pulses). Add the egg and pulse until the dough begins to form a mass. Form the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly in plastic, and refrigerate it overnight (or for at least 1 hour).”

Day Two…

To bake the crust:

8.  Take the dough out of the fridge and place it on a work surface sprinkled lightly with flour. If you left the dough in the fridge overnight, let it sit for 10 minutes at room temperature before rolling.

9. Roll the dough to a thickness of ¼ inch, in a circle (or in what ever shape pan you have) one inch larger in diameter than the tart pan. The dough is a bit sticky, so make sure to run a butter knife underneath the dough to un-stick it while you are working.

10. Glide the rolled dough into the tart pan, and press it to shape the pan. Trim the excess dough from the sides. At this point, I usually reinforce the sides with the scraps, but it’s not necessary.

11. Place the molded tart shell in the freezer for at least thirty minutes.

12. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

13. When the oven is preheated and your tart shell is sufficiently chilled, line the shell with foil and place pie weights or beans over it. You need to weigh the crust down enough to prevent puffing.

14. Bake the shell for 15 minutes with the pie weights, then remove the foil and pie weights to bake the shell for another 7 to 10 minutes, until it is light brown in color.

15. Move the shell to a cooling rack, and leave the oven on.

For the almond filling:

16. Cream the butter and almond paste until the mixture is light and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes if you have a mixer. To facilitate the process with cool butter, I cut the butter into more manageable pieces (thin slices, or you could do small cubes).

17. Add the egg and beat until combined.

18. Add the cornstarch, sprinkling it or sifting it into the mixing bowl, then mix to combine. If you are using a mixer, turn the speed to low.

19. Add the whiskey and beat until everything is combined and cream-like.

To assemble the tart for baking:

20. Spread the cream evenly in the baked tart shell.

21.Take the marinated pears out of the fridge. Drain them and reserve the juice (I added it to the extra pear syrup right away).  Arrange the pears in the cream spread on the tart shell.

22. Bake the tart for 35 to 40 minutes in the preheated, 375 degree F oven. Watch it after 30 minutes, though, as mine started to dangerously brown after 32 minutes.

To make the glaze:

23. Place the pear syrup and soaking juice together in a medium/small saucepan over medium heat, boiling the mixture until it is reduced to ¾ of a cup.

24. Remove from the heat, and whisk until the mixture stops steaming (a minute or two).

25. Add both the whiskey and cornstarch, whisking until smooth.

26. Put the pan back on the heat, but this time over medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook at a boil for a minute.

27. Use a pastry brush to generously apply the glaze to the tart.

Serving the tart as soon as possible is highly recommended, but it can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for three days.