Pure Deliciousness

This cake is by far one of my favorites.  The taste is like nothing I have ever had in a bakery.  This was made for a bridal shower for one of the women in my husband’s office.  I was not there to enjoy it or see their faces but it got rave reviews which was just as good.  The restaurant staff where the party was held asked which bakery it came from.  For me, that is a heck of a compliment.

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I will not take an ounce of credit for the recipes, kudos to those that came up with them.  Below are the links for the cake and frosting.  The design was just something I came up with because I know my limits with piping frosting since I have no training and really don’t know what I am doing there other than having fun.  I wanted something pretty on top so we went with a flower.  As I have mentioned in prior posts I am much better with the structural design over the frosting detail…I will get there though.

So let me introduce a tower of pure deliciousness…

Vanilla Bean Cake filled with Chocolate Ganache and Tiramisu Buttercream…covered in a light fluffy Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting.

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The Frosting…oh the frosting…I cannot begin to tell you how delicious this is.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

When I was choosing a recipe, I knew that I wanted to try something other than a traditional buttercream, made with butter and powdered sugar.  I was looking for a smoother, more delicate consistency.  I was always intimidated by any sort of meringue frosting but honestly I don’t know what I was waiting for.  This frosting is not any more difficult than any other, it just takes quite a bit more time and there is the added step of cooking the eggs whites.  I was going back and forth between Italian and Swiss buttercream.  I opted for the Swiss because there were so many review about it being more stable.  As well as that I didn’t want egg yolk, used in Italian buttercream, to influence the color of the frosting.

So from everything I read, there were a number of comments stressing the importance of adding the butter very slowly, allowing each tablespoon to incorporate completely before adding the next.  One writer commented that allowing it to whip on high for 15 seconds should do it.  I used the advice but I must admit there were a number of additions that it was far beyond 15 seconds.  I was multitasking and working on the flower while the frosting was being whipped.  I don’t know if the added time helped to ensure the frosting didn’t become runny (another concern with meringue buttercream) but whatever the reason, the recipe worked like a charm.  I wanted to do something in the meantime since I am a master (sometimes at fault) multitasker.  As you will see there are three cups of butter used in the recipe, all of which needs to be cut into tablespoon portions and added very slowly.  It takes quite a while to add at a tablespoon at a time so its likely you would want to find something to do at the same time.

NOTES:

  • I only used 2 1/2 cups of butter versus three.  I was happy with the consistency and didn’t feel that last stick was necessary.
  • A stand up mixer is a must unless you have the patience of a saint to stand in one place for what ends up being well over an hour, start to finish.
  • The recipe made approximately 9 cups of frosting.  I used just about half of it for this cake and froze the rest for next time.  You could easily just cut the recipe in half.

Recipe source: http://sweetapolita.com/2011/04/swiss-meringue-buttercream-demystified/

Additional tips and tricks:

The Cake….mmmmmh Tiramisu…

Recipe source: http://www.loveandoliveoil.com/2009/12/vanilla-cake-with-tiramisu-buttercream-and-ganache-filling.html

Notes:

  • I added a heaping half teaspoon of vanilla bean past in addition to the extract for added flavor.
  • I halved the buttercream recipe since I was only using it between the layers.
  • I made a traditional buttercream frosting for the Tiramisu buttercream using butter and powdered sugar rather than using the eggs whites called for in the recipe.  As long as you add the coffee as called for you will achieve the same flavor profile.
  • This was made as 4 layer cake in 8” pans.  Divided the batter in 4 2 1/3 cup portions and added soft pink food coloring at varying intensities to create an ombre effect inside of the cake as well.
  • I baked the cake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes, rather than 325 degrees for 26-28 minutes.  I read recently that cooking cake at a higher temperature, for a shorter time helps the cake maintain its height and not deflate.  So far, so good with that trick J
  • I made the cake a day in advance so I did use a simple syrup when assembling to ensure it was nice and moist.

Assembly

  1. Add a smear of frosting on the cake plate or cake board if using.
  2. Place first cake later
  3. Brush with simple syrup, if using.
  4. Spread a third of the chocolate ganache on the cake being cautious not to bring it to close to the edge.
  5. Pipe the frosting around the perimeter of the cake and cover the chocolate
  6. Carefully spread the frosting, again keeping clear of the edge.
  7. Top with second cake layer and repeat the process.
  8. Frost the cake as desired.  I did not do a crumb coat in the case, I just didn’t feel it was necessary.

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I was originally planning a more decorative ombre effect with the frosting but I wasn’t happy with the way it turned out so I just used a pastry scraper to smooth it out.  I’m very happy with the way it turned out although next time I will increase the darkness on the bottom layers a bit more.  The flower on top is simply melted white chocolate that I added a bit of food coloring to.  I used the back of a spoon to create the shapes on top of waxed paper.  I cut a paper towel roll in half lengthwise to create a canal and spread it open a bit.  I pulled the waxed paper into the tunnel to create the curve while the chocolate hardened.

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Chocolate Bowl of Heaven!!

Chocolate Kahlua Cake Trifle

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This recipe was passed on by a dear family friend, more family than friend. 🙂  I think of her every time I make it, I could just kiss her for passing on such a delicious recipe.  I was introduced to it when I was young so I am not certain it’s true to the source but I can assure you that it’s always a huge hit.  This is a decadent, yet light (if that is possible) layered bowl of heaven.  With layers of cake, spiked pudding, Cool Whip and crushed toffee and then layered again, you can’t wrong.

Just a few notes…

  • I believe the original recipe called to drizzle the liquor over the cake but evolution played a roll so I add it right the pudding.  Either works though.
  • If you can, prepare the trifle a day in advance.  This allows the flavors to blend and increase the creamy decadence.
  • If you will be feeding little ones you could alter the recipe by adding the liquor to the cake before baking or cutting it out altogether.
  • The cake is served using a spoon and it best served in a clear trifle dish to be sure to get your guests attention as they get a sneak preview of what is to come.
  • Gauge your ingredients based on the size of your trifle bowl, or whatever bowl you use.  Depending on the size you may have more cake and pudding than what will fit.  The cake recipe below makes a bit more than a boxed cake so I did have a bit left over.  My husband didn’t mind since I was able to make a couple of individual bowls since this one was going to the office.

What you will need:

  • Chocolate Cake – see recipe below but keep in mind that a boxed chocolate cake works just as well, it saves a lot of time and is a great shortcut.
  • 3 cups Chocolate Pudding – I used  a 2.1 oz box Jell-O Instant Chocolate Pudding (Fat Free & Sugar Free).  Homemade pudding would be fabulous as well, I just tried to cut back on the fat and calories.
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua
  • 1/2 cup crushed toffee – I used Hershey Toffee Chips here.  Normally I would but Health or Skor Bars and crush them but I had the toffee on hand so I went with it.  I did miss the chocolate coating from the candy bars though.
  • 8-12 oz Light Cool Whip – again, using homemade whipped cream is to die for here, and there are far less processed ingredients – either is delicious.  There are no rules, do what makes your happy.

Chocolate Cake

Recipe source: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/dessert/a14316/chocolate-cake-recipe/

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Ingredients:
2 cup  all-purpose flour
1 cup  unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon  baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 9×13 inch cake pan with parchment paper.  Spray paper and sides of pan with non-stick cooking spray.

  1. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat butter and brown and granulated sugars until blended. Increase speed to high; beat 5 minutes or until pale and fluffy, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Reduce speed to medium-low; add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla until blended. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat just until batter is smooth, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.
  3. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cook completely in pan, and allow it to come to room temperature before assembling the trifle.
  4. Once cooled, run a knife through the cake to cut small pieces. These pieces will be placed into the trifle so consider the size you would want to bite into.

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Chocolate Pudding

Prepare chocolate pudding according to package directions and add ¼ cup Kahlua or Bailey’s Irish Cream.   Again, in an attempt to trim fat and calories I used fat free milk.

* Adding the extra liquid will help to keep the pudding a bit more loose making it easier to spread.

* I have combined Bailey’s and Kahlua to play with the flavors a bit – yummy!!

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Assembly:

  • Add some of the diced cake in the bottom of the bowl ensuring that and gaps are filled with cake.
  • Spread half of the pudding over the cake.
  • Press the layer down a bit to ensure any gaps are filled.
  • Sprinkle half of the toffee over the pudding
  • Sprinkle half of the Cool Whip over the pudding toffee layer
  • Repeat the layers – pressing the cake layer down a bit again
  • Sprinkle some toffee or shaved chocolate on top

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I would love some feedback if you try this (or any) recipe!  Rest assured it is always a crowd pleaser!!

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Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate Cupcake

The combination of chocolate and peanut butter is pure harmony.  I surprised my husband Erik with these for his birthday a few weeks ago.  I may work on the recipe a bit more but overall they were delicious.  I found the peanut butter filling broke down while cooking quite a bit. It ended up working out though because I inserted some of the frosting into the center to fill the space.  It created a great combination of textures because the filling was like a peanut butter cup and the frosting was light and fluffy.  On second hand, maybe I won’t change a thing. 🙂

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Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients:

Filling:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup reduced fat creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cake:
3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg

Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup reduced fat creamy peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

Topping:
12 mini peanut butter cups
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
4 tablespoons heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line a 12 slot muffin tin with foil cupcake liners.

Prepare the filling:  In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar, peanut butter, butter and vanilla extract in a bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined.  Roll the mixture into twelve, 1-inch balls and set aside.  These can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.

Prepare the cake batter:  in a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; whisk together and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the sour cream, milk and vanilla extract. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar, and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the egg, scraping down as needed.  Turn the mixer to low and alternately add the dry ingredients and the sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Do not overmix.

Scoop a tablespoon or two of batter into the bottom of each cupcake liner.  Place a ball of the peanut butter filling in each cupcake well and top with the remaining batter so that all the cups are filled.  Be sure the peanut butter balls are completely covered.

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Give the pan a good smack on the counter to remove any air bubbles and level the batter.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Carefully remove each cupcake from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Prepare the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and peanut butter until smooth.  Add the vanilla extract and beat well to combine.  Turn the mixer to low, add the powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, mixing well until each addition is completely incorporated, scarping the bowl down each time.  Continue to beat on high until light and fluffy.

Transfer the frosting to a frosting bag.  Start by pressing the frosting tip into the center of the cupcake and squeeze some frosting in.  The peanut butter ball will create a bit of a well in the center of the cupcake as it cooks.  This becomes the perfect spot for an added layer of peanut butter.  Continue topping each cupcake with the frosting.

Finishing touch: Top each cupcake with a mini peanut butter cup.

Add the chocolate and cream to a double boiler and bring the water to a simmer.  Stir the chocolate until blended and melted.  Using a spoon, drizzle a bit of chocolate over the top of each cupcake.

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Romantic Dinner for Two

My husband and I enjoy going out for dinner quite often.  Although since moving to MA it’s been a little less frequent.  It’s probably a combination of there being fewer restaurants really close by and having a kitchen now that we can really spread out in.  It makes it so easier to cook.  Going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day really isn’t our idea of romance though – the crowds, the wait, the need to make reservations a month in advance, fixed menus…no thanks.  So while Erik was busy at work I decided to bring the restaurant to us.  I moved a table into our family room next the fireplace, added some candles, music and spent the day cooking a delicious meal.  A warm, cozy, quiet night at home with my love while the snow fell outside – utter perfection…until morning when it was time to shovel.

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THE MENU

SPINACH SALAD WITH APPLES AND PECANS SERVED WITH BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

Baby spinach topped with thinly sliced apples, pomegranate arils, a touch of cranberry and pecans.  The salad is drizzled with a fresh balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

FILET MIGNON WITH GORGONZOLA SAUCE AND PORT WINE REDUCTION

Perfectly seared Filet Mignon served atop a slightly sweet port wine reduction and topped with a creamy Gorgonzola sauce.  Accompanied by Potato Stacks baked to perfection with a touch of Parmesan and fresh rosemary.

FRESHLY BAKED POPOVERS ON THE SIDE

A delicate interior surrounded by a crisp crust with a hint of Parmesan.

BAILEY’S AND BROWNIE TRIFLES

The meal is finished with a layered trifle of perfection.  Gooey chocolate brownie nestled between homemade chocolate and Bailey’s Irish Cream puddings.  A touch of crunch with sliced almonds and topped with fresh whipped cream.


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Recipes and Instructions 

FRESH POPOVERS
Recipe adapted from Neiman Marcus Cookbook
Makes 6

  • 1 3/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat the oven to 450°F

Place the milk in a bowl and microwave on high for 2 minutes, or until warm to the touch.

Add the flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk until combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add the eggs and beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until foamy and pale in color. Turn down the mixer to low, add the warm milk. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Fold in the cheese. Let the batter rest for 1 hour at room temperature.

Spray a popover pan with nonstick spray. Fill the cups almost to the top. Place the popover pan on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn down the oven down to 375°F and bake for 30 to 35 minutes longer, until the popovers are a deep golden brown on the outside and airy on the inside.


SPINACH SALAD WITH APPLES AND PECANS SERVED WITH BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

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This is a super easy salad and was inspired by variety of salads that I love.  It was a last minute decision so I pulled it together with ingredients that I always have on hand.  The dressing is my go to.  I am pushing further and further way from store bought dressing, except for Ranch, that is something I will leave to the pro’s.

SALAD

  • 1 cups baby spinach
  • 1/2 Braeburn or Gala Apple, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup pecan, chopped
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate arils
  • 2 Tablespoons dried cranberries
  • Fresh, Shaved Parmesan cheese

DRESSING

  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • pinch of salt & pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

To make the vinaigrette, add all of the dressing ingredients, except the oil, to a blender.  Blend until combined.  While the blender is running carefully remove the cap from the lid.  Slowly drizzle the olive oil and continue to blend for 1-2 minutes.  The mustard will help to pull the vinegar and oil together so the dressing will become emulsified.  There is far more dressing here than needed but the great thing is that since its’ emulsified it will stay together in the fridge and wont separate.  You can keep this in the fridge and enjoy it for up to a week.

To serve, place spinach on a plate, top with apple, pecans, pomegranate arils, cranberries.  Drizzle with dressing and shave fresh Parmesan cheese over it. Serve immediately.


FILET MIGNON WITH GORGONZOLA SAUCE AND PORT WINE REDUCTION

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FILET MIGNON

  • 2 – 1 inch thick filet, trimmed of fat
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons tablespoon Old Bay
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt, plus more for sprinkling

To prepare the filet:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Sprinkle the meat with salt, pepper and Old Bay Seasoning. Allow the meat to come to room temperature at least 30 minutes.

Heat an oven safe sauté pan over high heat until the pan is very hot, about 2 minutes.

While the pan is heating Combine the horseradish, black pepper, garlic, and salt in a small mixing bowl and set it aside.

Sear the meat until evenly browned on all sides, about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from the heat.

Rub all sides of the meat with the mustard.

Using the back of a spoon, or your hands press the horseradish mixture over the mustard on the top and sides of the filet.  At this point I inserted the probe of my instant thermometer into the center of one of the filets.

Transfer the sauté pan to the oven and roast the filet until it reaches desired doneness – rare (120 to 125 degrees F on an instant meat thermometer) and about 35 minutes for medium-rare (130 to 140 degrees F on an instant meat thermometer).

Remove from the oven and rest for 5 minutes


PORT WINE REDUCTION

  • 1/4 cup(s) chopped shallots
  • 1 medium chopped carrot
  • 1 dried bay leaves
  • 1 cup port wine
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup mixed herbs, parsley, rosemary, thyme

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Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Simmer on medium to medium high for about 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced to about half of the amount.  At this point you will have far more vegetables than broth.  Strain the broth into a bowl through a metal sieve or cheesecloth. Set aside, this can be served at room temperature.


GORGONZOLA CREAM SAUCE

This can be prepared while the meat is resting…

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons cream or half and half
  • 1/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Add the milk and cream to a small saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking constantly until it has reduced to half of the amount, about 5-7 minutes.  Whisk in the cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.

To plate: Drizzle a bit of the port reduction on a plate, top with steak and drizzle some cream sauce on top.


RED BABY POTATO STACKS WITH PARMESAN AND ROSEMARY 

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped, plus extra for garnish
  • Himalayan pink salt and pepper
  • About 10 ounces (in weight) baby red potatoes, thinly sliced

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 4 large muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl whisk together butter, oil, Parmesan, chopped rosemary, salt, and pepper.

Add potatoes and toss to coat.

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Layer the potatoes slices in a spiral pattern so they hold their form.  Fill them to the top since they will shrink.  Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until the edges and tops are browned and center is tender.

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Remove from the oven and use a spoon to carefully remove them from the pan.  Transfer directly to the plate and enjoy right away.

Note: These would be just as delicious with Yukon Gold and your favorite variety of potato.


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BAILEY’S AND BROWNIE TRIFLES

Serves 4 (in 8-10 oz glasses)

CHOCOLATE PUDDING

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent)

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In a medium bowl add butter, vanilla, and chocolate and set aside.

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In a medium saucepan add sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Add egg yolk and whisk until combined, it will have a crumbly texture. Slowly whisk in the milk and mix until combined.

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Place the saucepan over medium heat whisking constantly to prevent it from burning. Cook until bubbles form around the edge.  Continue to whisk over the heat for another 1-2 minutes. Immediately pour the pudding mixture over the butter and chocolate.  Whisk until combined and cooled slightly. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate 3 hours.


FRENCH VANILLA & BAILEY’S PUDDING

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 cups skim milk
  • 1 nib (50 mil) or 1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional)
  • Pinch of salt

In a medium bowl add butter, vanilla, vanilla bean paste if using and Baileys.  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and cornstarch.  Add the egg yolks and continue whisking into a paste.  Slowly add the milk and whisk to combine.   Gently stir over medium heat until bubbling.  Once the mixture starts bubbling, continue to cook and whisk for 2-3 more minutes, whisking constantly.   Pour over the butter & vanilla mixture and whisk until combined.  Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate 3 hours.

Just for the record, I could eat the entire bowl of this pudding!  Seriously, it is that good! The vanilla bean paste puts it over the edge and that Bailey’s – my, oh my! I didn’t want to buy an entire bottle of Bailey’s because it would, well, it should, take us forever to go through.  I wanted the creamy flavor though.  I figured it was safer to buy a nib, a term I recently learned.  It was the perfect amount.  I found Vanilla-Cinnamon Bailey’s, it was delicious! Any of the flavors would be just as yummy.

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So for the brownie layer there is really only one cup of brownie crumbs needed.  Since I already had all of the ingredients I decided to make a full batch of one of my favorite brownie recipes. I trust they won’t go to waste.  The link for the recipe is below.  The site includes some great tips and thoughts on the preparation.  I use dark chocolate versus milk chocolate but other than that I followed the directions fully.

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ULTIMATE BROWNIES

  • 1 cup dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent)
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch or 7×11 inch baking pan with parchment paper allowing the paper to hang over the sides.  Spray with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Add a couple of inches of water to a pan and place a heat safe glass bowl over the pan to create a double boiler.  Be sure the water is not high enough to reach the bottom of the bowl.  Add the chocolate, butter and unsweetened chocolate to the bowl and bring the water to a simmer.  Stir occasionally, until melted and combined well.  Remove from heat and allow it to cool a bit.

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In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until light and thick, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula. Add the flour and salt, folding gently until combined.

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Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake until a tester comes out with moist crumbs still attached, 35 to 40. Do not overbake. Let cool in the pan for about 30 minutes.  Carefully remove by lifting the edges of the parchment paper and transfer the brownies (parchment still attached) to a cooking rack.  Cool completely

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Tip:  To “chop” the unsweetened chocolate I actually put it in a heavy duty ziplock bag and I used a kitchen mallet to break it into small pieces.  I find this so much easier than trying to cut it with a knife, less cleanup too.  Don’t close the bag all of the way.  Simply place your hand over the opening of the bag, allowing the air to escape as you pound away. Use caution depending on the type of counter top you have.  I use this trick a lot for chopped nuts too.  There could be some sharp edges on the chocolate that could tear the bag.  Keep this in mind when picking it up so you can avoid a mess.  Yup, I learned this the hard way.

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http://www.handletheheat.com/ultimate-brownies/

Brownie and Almond Layer:

  • 1 cup of crushed brownie crumb
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

Assembly:

  1. Add both chocolate and vanilla pudding to separate pastry bags or large ziplock bags.
  2. Snip the corner of each bag.
  3. Pipe a chocolate layer onto bottom of glass
  4. Sprinkle crushed brownie and sliced roasted almonds on top of chocolate layer
  5. Pipe vanilla pudding on top
  6. Continue layering by repeating steps 3-5
  7. Top with whipped cream and a few brownie crumbs

This is a decadent yet light dessert, the perfect ending to a perfect meal for two.  This could be served in a high ball or wine glass for a fancy presentation.  The pudding recipes make enough for four servings.  Prepare all now or leave the extra pudding aside to enjoy on its own tomorrow.

LEMON COOLER COOKIES

These are so refreshing and are perfect with a cup of tea.  They remind me of the lemon Girl Scout cookies that are covered in powdered sugar.  I think next time I will add a bit more lemon extract.  Below is my adapted version – the original recipe can be found the recipe on http://www.uncommondesignsonline.com/

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DSCN1376 - editedLEMON COOLER COOKIES
approximately 3 dozen cookies

  • 2/3 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

To coat cookies:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

 

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the butter for 1-2 minutes until it’s nice and light.  Add powdered sugar, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl down as needed to be sure everything is incorporated.  Blend in eggs, one at a time.  Add fresh lemon juice, vanilla and lemon extract, beat until smooth.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the lemon zest and stir to combine, taking care to break up any clumps.  Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture, add lemon juice, and mix until everything is just combined.

Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Use tablespoon or mini cookie scoop to scoop the dough into approximately 1-inch balls. Place balls on prepared cookie sheet leaving at least 1 inch between and flatten slightly. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes or until centers are puffy and cookies are very light golden brown on the bottom. Be careful not to over-cook.  Transfer cookie sheet to a wire rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

While cookies are baking, combine remaining 1 cup powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons lemon zest in a small bowl and stir to combine. Carefully dip and roll each cookie in the sugar to coat well and transfer back to a cooling rack to allow it to cool completely.  Repeat until all cookies are coated with powdered sugar.  Coating the cookie while still warm will help the sugar to stick much better.

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Almond Joy Cupcakes (reduced fat)

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  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 (3.9 ounce) package fat free/sugar free instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup al natural unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons buttermilk (see homemade buttermilk recipe below)
  • 1 large egg or 1/4 egg beater
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup hot coffee

This recipe makes approx. 30 cupcakes.

*To make homemade buttermilk – combine 4 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice and 1 cup skim milk in a glass measuring cup. Stir to combine and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.  The mixture will begin to curdle.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Prepare cupcake pans with liners.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pudding mix, cocoa, baking soda and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, apple sauce, buttermilk, egg and vanilla.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until thick and just combined. Stir in the hot coffee until smooth and well combined.

Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 to 3/4 full. DSCN1372 - edited

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Let cupcakes cool on wire racks for 15 minutes.  Remove the cupcakes from the pans and return to wire rack, allowing to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, prepare the frosting.

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Coconut Cream Frosting:

  • 8 ox reduced fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut extract
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Beat cream cheese and butter for 4-5 minutes. Add vanilla and coconut extracts, beat to mix well. Turn the mixer off and add powdered sugar, beating in one cup at a time, scraping bowl down between additions until you reach your desired consistency. Spread coconut cream on cupcakes and roll in shredded coconut, top with a few sliced almonds.

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These are a few of my favorite things…

The Superbowl is one of the few days of the year that I am not a complete pain in the rear (in my husband’s eyes) about making sure we eat healthy.  Normally if we cheat with dessert we will at least have a low fat, healthy dinner.  The big game is his night to request whatever he wants.  Well this year we didn’t go quite as crazy as prior Superbowl’s but we certainly had our share.

The menu included Buffalo Chicken Taquito’s, Baked Ham & Cheese Sliders, Chicken Nuggets and Waffle Fries, oh and a…salad LOL.  I snuck that right in there.  I had to find a way to fit some veggies in.  We had I a citrus and roasted beet salad with a dijon vinaigrette – he loved it!

As I was preparing for it all I really cared about was making a decedent chocolate dessert.  My brother in law recently mentioned that he loves a good chocolate cake with a nice mousse.  This idea got my taste buds in motion.  I decided to combine a few of my favorite things and my, oh, my, was it yummy!  It starts with a chocolate pecan crust.  I have to admit the pecans were a last resort because I didn’t realize I was low on chocolate graham cracker but I was so happy with the result that it will be my new go to crust.  The next layer is a chocolate cake which is from another three layer cakes recipe that I love.  The pudding layer is a simple homemade chocolate pudding that I make with skim milk.  The skim milk makes the dessert just a tad (teeny tiny tad) less sinful, right?  Top it off with some homemade whipped cream and call it a day!

Chocolate Pudding Cake with Chocolate Pecan Crust

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DSCN1297CHOCOLATE PECAN COOKIE CRUST

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 cups chocolate graham crackers (about 1 1/2 sleeves)
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly spray a 9-inch spring-form pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Place cookies and pecans in the bowl of a food processor; process to fine crumbs. Add melted butter and mix until combined.

Pour crumb mixture into prepared pan and press evenly into bottom and up sides, leaving about 1/2 inch between the top of the crust and top of the pan. Bake until dry to the touch, about 10 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool.

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CHOCOLATE CAKE

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent), chopped
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee (decaf was used in this recipe) dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, plus 2 egg whites, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar

Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees.

DSCN1310Add a couple of inches of water to a pan and place a heat safe glass bowl over the pan to create a double boiler.  Be sure the water is not high enough to reach the bottom of the bowl.  Add the chocolate and butter to the bowl and bring the water to a simmer.  Stir occasionally, until melted and combined well.  Remove from heat and allow it to cool a bit.

In a small bowl, whisk together espresso powder, coffee, salt, and vanilla; set aside.

In a separate bowl beat egg yolks with sugar until light and almost doubled in volume, about 5 minutes. Add the coffee mixture and beat until combined.

Add melted chocolate mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl and mix on low speed for another 5-10 seconds.

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DSCN1321In a separate bowl beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually increase speed to high beating until soft peaks form.

Transfer 1 cup egg white mixture to chocolate mixture and gently fold using a spatula to combine. Add remaining egg whites and continue gently folding until they are almost completely combined; do not over mix. Pour into cooled cookie crust and bake until cake is set but still jiggles slightly, 35 to 40 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool completely. The center of the cake will deflate quite a bit in the center as it cools. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours.

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CHOCOLATE PUDDING

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (skim was used in this recipe)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent)

In a medium bowl add butter, vanilla, and chocolate and set aside.

In a medium saucepan add sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk together until it creates a paste. Add egg yolks and whisk until combined. Slowly whisk in the milk and mix until combined.

Place the saucepan over medium heat whisking constantly to prevent it from burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook until bubbles form around the edge.  Continuing stirring another 1-2 minutes. Immediately pour the pudding mixture over the butter and chocolate.  Whisk until combined and cooled slightly. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate 3 hours.

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Once cooled, stir pudding to loosen and spread on top of cake. Do not spread it all the way to the edge of the cake layer. The cake layer will help to hold the cakes form when you slice it.

WHIPPED CREAM TOPPING

  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream
  • 1/4 confectionery sugar

Chill a mixing bowl and whisk attachment for mixer in the freezer.  Once chilled, add the whipping cream and beat until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  Be careful not to over beat. Spread whipped cream over chilled pudding layer.

Remove band from spring-form pan, transfer to a platter – Serve and enjoy!

I wish I had better pictures of the finished product but I couldn’t wait to eat it.  You will just need to take my word for it – YUM!  Creamy, chocolaty, decadent – YUM

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