Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chocolate v. Vanilla

It isn't always plugged into my brain that I have a blog and need to post new entries from time to time.  Truthfully, I don't even plan ahead about what to write - mostly I just go with the "divine inspiration" theory (this can be greatly enhanced by a glass of wine).  The problem with that, however, is that it's hard to come up with photos "after the fact."

We drove to Durham last Friday to visit our youngest son Eric and were looking forward to one of those good family weekends since Andy (our eldest) was flying in from NYC.  And it was exactly that, except for the fact that my assignment was to cater a dinner party for 15 in Eric's apartment that evening.  After driving 6 hours to get there, we the catering vehicle arrived at 4:30pm.  Yikes!  Suffice it to say I pulled it off, but that's another blog (again without decent photos).  Suffice it also to say that I was exhausted by the time we drove back on Sunday.

So yesterday my alarm went off bright and early and I could barely make it out of bed.  I felt like I had been run over by a truck.  An eighteen wheeler.  I stumbled into the kitchen to get the day started and realized that it just wasn't going to happen.  So I took 2 Advil and went back to bed. 

And then I remembered I had promised to make lunchbox desserts for a trip we were taking on Tuesday to the Georgia Aquarium with a group of veterans from the VA Nursing Home.  Oh, crap!

I dragged myself out of bed, hit the grocery store and came home to bake.  (Never thinking to photograph any of it, I might add).  Coincidentally, a cookbook I ordered online had just shown up.  That would be "Ad Hoc at Home" by the chef extraordinaire Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se fame.  I quickly flipped through it and came across his brownie recipe.

Brownies.  Okay, nothing special.  I have a recipe I've relied upon for years and it has never failed me (and it produces amazingly dense and fudgy brownies every time).  But this recipe had a different technique so I decided to be disloyal and try it.

Good call, Liz!  This rivaled my tried-and-true recipe.  (Of course, why wouldn't it?  Why on earth would my brownies be better than Thomas Keller's????)

But then, as usual, I decided to overthink the situation.  "Hmm," I thought, "not everyone likes chocolate.  Maybe I should bake something else as an alternative."  Can someone please tell me why I wasn't an overachiever like this when I was in school?

So I baked my favorite Cream Cheese Poundcake.  It's the one we used to make when I worked at Watershed and the baking method comes from Scott Peacock.  It's wonderful the first day (or the second or the third) but my favorite thing is to toast a slice or two for breakfast then slather with good butter.  Heaven!

I took all of it with me today on our sodden trip to the Aquarium.  It rained like crazy and you should have seen us trying to get all of these wheelchairs into the building without drowning.  We were soaked but it was a good time.  Made even better by those brownies and slices of pound cake.  Make them both and decide which one rules.  Chocolate v. Vanilla.

Sorry about the "afterthought" photos!

Brownies (adapted from "Ad Hoc at Home" by Thomas Keller)

3/4 cup all purpose, unbleached flour
1 cup good unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valhrona, purchased at Whole Foods)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
3 eggs (I used extra-large)
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (available at Whole Foods) or substitute 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 bag Ghirardelli chocolate chips, 60% chocolate

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and line bottom and sides with parchment paper cut to overhang sides.  Butter parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Set aside. 

Melt half of the butter in a small saucepan.  Put remaining butter in a medium bowl.  Pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir to melt.  It should look creamy, with small bits of unsalted butter and be at room temperature.

Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes or until thick and pale.  Mix in vanilla.  On low speed, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then 1/3 of the butter.  Continue until all are used.  Do not overmix.

Use a spatula to fold in chocolate chips.  Spread batter evenly in pan.  Rap on counter once to remove air bubbles.  Bake 4-45 minutes until center is just done.  Do not overbake.

When completely cool, invert onto a cutting board.  Cut into squares, as desired.

Yield:  12 to 16 brownies, depending upon how generous you are when you cut them.

Cream Cheese Poundcake (from Scott Peacock at Watershed)

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 lb. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 eggs (at room temperature - you can achieve this by placing them in a bowl of warm water)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups sifted White Lily flour

Butter and flour a tube pan.  Set aside.

Place butter and cream cheese in electric mixer and combine well on low speed.  Add sugar and salt.  Increase mixer speed and beat for 10 minutes, scraping well two to three times.

Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.  When all eggs are added, increase mixer speed to high and beat for 1 minute until mixture is no longer grainy.  Reduce speed and add flour in 2 parts.  When just incorporated, add vanilla and blend briefly.  Scrape down sides and use a spatula to combine well.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Run a knife around center then bang once on countertop to remove air

Place pan in cold oven.  Turn temperature to 200-degrees and bake for 20 minutes.  Increase heat to 250-degrees and bake 20 minutes more.  Increase heat to 275-degrees and bkae for another 10 minutes.  Increase heat to 300-degrees and bake for another 50-60 minutes or until done and a cake tester comes out clean.  Let cool, then remove from pan.

Yield:  12 - 16 servings

(Oh, and in case of any of you faithful readers are wondering, yes I am still sticking to "the diet."  Didn't eat any of this, other than a small taste just to make sure it was edible!  I did that for you guys, of course!)

1 comment:

  1. The baking method for the cream cheese poundcake is interesting. I wonder, what is the reason for slowly raising the temperature? I'm looking forward to trying it.