Sweet

THE Best Freaking Blueberry Muffins

(IN THE WHOLE WORLD!!!)

Picture it:  industrial, pre-packaged “blueberry” (flavored-ish) muffins.  Oh god, they’re the worst thing EVER to have been invented.  Every so often when I’m at an airport or a rest stop I stupidly break down and buy one (if I’m desperately hungry) and I always regret it.

Every. single. time.

Until now.  Now I have the willpower to resist those jet-lag/car sickness induced cravings because I have consumed The Best Freaking Blueberry Muffins in the Whole World.  Twice.

I think I had a blueberry deficiency.  Last summer at the mountain house market I bought two plateaus of blueberries and froze some of them.  I’ve been pulling them out every so often and making blueberry muffins, and they’ve always been pretty good, but when Mom and Dad came last month I decided to try a new recipe based on one from Cook’s Illustrated.  (Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see their recipe unless you have a subscription or sign up for a free trial).

I had to modify their recipe slightly — sidenote:  isn’t interesting how we ALWAYS have to modify a recipe, we can’t just leave it alone.  No, we have to add more chocolate chips or cut down the sugar because it will definitely be better that way….or so we think…Maybe I should speak for myself.

Anyways, their recipe calls for lemon zest and I only had mandarins, they wanted buttermilk, but I only had yogurt, they wanted vegetable oil and I only had butter and I never have vanilla extract.  Plus I wanted to make them slightly healthier (ok I was running out of butter) and less salty.

I made the recipe again this morning with the same fantabulous scrumdidiliumpscious result (in fact just 6 hours laters there are only 2 left).

Ingredients

2 cups fresh blueberries
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
2 eggs
1  cup sugar (plus a little more for sprinkling on top)
1 1/4 cup yogurt
1/2 an orange or lemon
6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
Preheat oven to 425°F.  Butter the muffin tin.
Zest the lemon or orange and mix the zest with a couple tablespoons of sugar for the topping.
Method
1.  Make quick blueberry jam.  Simmer 1/2 of the blueberries (1 cup) and a teaspoon of sugar in a small saucepot for a few minutes, mashing the berries occasionally.    Note: I use a potato masher and it works great.  The berries should be slightly concentrated into a sort of jam when you’re done.  While berries cook you can measure the other ingredients. Set aside to cool.
2.  Prepare dry ingredients. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
3. Combine wet ingredients. Whisk eggs and sugar together for a couple of minutes until the batter is uniform and looks like a liquid marshmallow (kinda fluffy).  Slowly add the melted butter and continue to whisk.  Add the yogurt and a little lemon/orange juice (NoteIf using lemon, a couple tablespoons is plenty, otherwise the juice from half the orange).
4. Fold everything together. Dump the cup of fresh blueberries into the flour mixture.  Quickly and gently fold the flour mixture into the butter/yogurt mixture.  (NoteYou just want to barely mix them together, it’s okay if there are some dry flour spots.  Don’t overmix!) Transfer the batter into the prepared muffin tin, mounding the batter up in the middle of each muffin.  Using a small spoon, spoon some of the blueberry jam into the middle of each muffin (I know, it’s a pain, but it’s worth it!)  Use a skewer or a chopstick to swirl the jam around in the muffin, sprinkle with the flavored sugar and get those bad boys in the oven for 15 minutes.

OH MY GOD, THE BLENDER!!

Luca bought me my very first blender a couple of months ago. I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s been sitting in its box in our bedroom until yesterday when I got a craving for crepes. Let me just tell you, I’ve never actually owned my very own blender. I’ve used other peoples’ blenders:  in college to make mudslides and daiquiris and whatnot, and in Las Vegas I accidentally broke my roommate Jen‘s blender making chocolate soy milkshakes..I must admit that I’ve been suffering from blender envy for a good decade now.

For the inaugural run of the blender, we made crepes – and I can assure you that it was a liberating experience.  Since then, we’ve been experimenting with a variety of crepe recipes, and our favorite so far is one adapted from the King Arthur Baker’s Companion.  (Julia Child‘s was too heavy – too eggy and too buttery for our tastes).  This version makes plenty of crepes for two people craving something sweet and satisfying.  It’s quick and easy (though the cooking part can be a bit stressful, but after the first couple, you get the hang of it).  We like to fill our crepes with nutella or lemon and sugar.

Ingredients

1 cup AP flour
pinch of salt
6 oz milk
2 eggs
1/4 stick of butter, melted

Method

1. Dump all ingredients into blender and blend until smooth.  Let batter rest 30 minutes.
2. Heat a small pan and lightly grease with butter.  Holding the pan in one hand, pour in just enough batter to barely cover the surface of the pan.  Make sure to rotate the pan as you pour the batter in to evenly distribute the batter.  Allow to cook until the edges start peeling away from the sides.  Using your fingertips, quickly flip over and cook for another minute or so on the other side.
3.  Slide your crepe onto a plate, fill and roll or fold into quarters and voilà!

Dad’s Favorite Brownies

Well, I officially started baking for the big Valentine’s Day party the night before last.  I swear, I think this is the first time I’ve made a dessert and managed to freeze half of it before eating it all!  Willpower.  I made my Dad’s favorite brownie recipe, which is incredibly quick and easy:

Dad’s Supreme Brownies

Ingredients

1 cup (8oz, 2 sticks) Butter, unsalted
2 cups Sugar
1/2 cup Baking Cocoa, superior quality
4 Eggs, beaten
2/3 cup AP Flour
1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
Salt, to taste
2 tsp. Vanilla or other flavoring, optional
2 cups Chocolate Chips/Chunks
1/2 cup Nuts, optional
Method

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 13×9 pan.
1. Barely melt the butter in a small saucepan; remove from heat.  Add sugar and cocoa; mix well.  Add the eggs & mix.

2.  Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl.  Form a well in the middle, and slowly add the chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients.  Mix just until all the flour has been incorporated.  Stir in the chips and nuts.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the brownies pull away from the edges of the pan.  Do not underbake.

Chef Jorin’s Super Secret Milk Chocolate Caramels

As you can see from the title of this article, I should not even be posting this recipe online.  I promised Chef that I would not publish all of the CIA’s top secret recipes, and I intend to keep that promise.  This recipe, however, was one of his personal recipes, and I am duly giving him credit for his ingeniousness, so hopefully he won’t come track me down with a pot of boiling sugar to dump over my head.  I have actually changed the recipe slightly, but the basic proportions are his, so let us all bow down and thank the Great Jorin for these scrumdidilyumpsciuous chocolates; one of my all-time favorite truffle recipes.

Milk Chocolate Caramels

Yield: Enough for a Small Village  (Seriously, this makes a ton of truffles, if you want less, I would recommend using the same amount of sugar to make the caramel , half all the rest of the ingredients, and throwing half of the caramel away–very carefully–before adding the cream.  Making a smaller dose of caramel can get tricky as the sugar crystallizes more easily.)

Ingredients

4.5 oz. Sugar

Juice from 1/2 a lemon

1 cup Heavy Cream, very warm

18oz. Superior Quality Milk Chocolate (I like Lindt)

2 Tbsp. Butter, room temperature, chopped

A dash of liquor (hazelnut or almond flavored is nice) 

Chocolate for finishing, see Step #8

Method

1.  Chop the chocolate with a serrated knife and place in a large bowl.  Make sure your butter is at room temp and chopped into pieces–throw it into the bowl with the chocolate.  Get a cup of water and a pastry brush out to wipe the sides of the pot while you make the caramel.  If you have a pastry bag, get that out and put in a 1/4-1/2 inch round tip.  Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Put the heavy cream in the microwave for a minute to warm it up–it should be hot, but you don’t want a skin.

2.Place the sugar and lemon juice in a medium sized saucepan over low heat and mix.  Let the sugar melt slowly, if it seems like there are little pieces of sugar on the sides of the saucepan that are starting to burn, brush the sides down with a little bit of water.  When the sugar has barely turned to liquid, stir with a whisk so that the sugar cooks evenly (there will probably be hot spots in your pan; you don’t want one part to burn black and the other to not cook at all: stir to combine).  When the sugar starts to really bubble, you can stop using your whisk.  Watching all the time, allow the sugar to cook until it’s one shade lighter than you want your caramel.  Use your best judgement; if the sugar is too dark, it’s going to taste burnt, if it’s too light, it’s not going to taste like anything (remember you still have to add all that chocolate and the cream, so that will dilute the caramel flavor a bit).  I usually let it go until it’s a deep amber brown.  In some boutique chocolate shops, Burnt Sugar is a very popular flavor, so don’t despair too much if your caramel is a little darker than you anticipated.  If it’s black however, you’re better off starting again.

3.When the sugar is one shade lighter than you want your caramel to be, carefully add the hot cream (BE CAREFUL, the sugar will bubble up drastically when you add the cream!!), whisking constantly over medium heat until you have a uniform consistency.

4.  Quickly pour the caramel sauce over the prepared chocolate and butter.  Let sit for a minute (so that the chocolate has time to absorb the heat of the caramel) and then stir briskly with a whisk; add liquor. 

5.  When you’ve got a uniform consistency, and the chocolate and butter have completely melted, cover with plastic wrap and put into fridge until your ganache is cool enough to pipe.  Put ganache into your pastry bag and pipe small domes (about the size of your thumbnail).  Pipe your domes close together to save space and don’t worry if they’re not perfect domes; we’re going to roll them between our hands later to even out the major imperfections. 

If you don’t have a pastry bag you can spread the ganache in a 9×13 baking dish lined with parchment (so that the parchment comes up the sides as well, you want excess to make it easy to pull it out of the pan later).  Cover with plastic wrap and put into fridge to cool.  Later when the ganache has hardened you’ll be able to slice little squares and then roll them to make globes.

6.  Let the ganache sit in a cool dark place until hardened, or if you want to speed up the process put it in the fridge.

7.  When the ganache has cooled, put on a pair (or if you have really hot hands, put on two pair) of plastic, single-use gloves and gently roll your chocolates until they’re round.  Remember, they’re called truffles for a reason–real truffles, the mushrooms that are hunted in northern Italy and France by dogs and pigs, are FAR from perfectly round.  Your truffles don’t need to be perfectly round either.

8.  Now you’re ready to finish the truffles in tempered chocolate. (Or if you don’t want to bother with tempering, you could roll them in cocoa, powdered sugar, ground nuts, or something like that).  Here is a good article on how to go about tempering your chocolate (use whichever you like, white, milk, dark….).

9.  When your tempered chocolate is ready, prepare a baking sheet or two with clean parchment, put on a clean pair of single-use gloves, smear some of your tempered chocolate on your left hand, pick up one or two trufflesand roll them into the chocolate on your hand and over your fingers, making sure the truffle is completely covered.  You don’t want there to be a lot of excess chocolate on your truffle, because it will make a “foot” or a flat bottom on your truffle.  (A major no-no amoung professional chocolatiers).  Place on the parchement paper in nice neat rows and keep going!!

Prunes & Chocolate

prunes.jpgI am addicted to prunes and dark chocolate together. OH YUMMERS! There is a typical wintery dish from Piedmont that involves wild boar, cocoa and prunes that is just to die for. I’ve seen people do a garnish for this dish where you pit the prunes, insert a chunk of dark chocolate, roll them in bread crumbs and fry them. (Crunchy bread crumbs, plump fruit, molten chocolate…) I feel it would make a great snack or pre-dessert as well! I’ve been wanting to make a dark chocolate fondue to dip my new favorite fruit in for awhile now…

Prunes are so flavorful and so under-appreciated. Today I had a snack of prunes & chocolate with a new chocolate bar from Perugia that incorporates little pieces of cocoa nibs. It was highly enjoyable with the extra crunch of the nibs.

I love this great combination of savory and sweet!

In other prune news, a couple of weeks ago Luca made a pot roast with prunes in the sauce that was awesome. I’ll get him to post the recipe.

In honor of the prune, I leave you this WONDERFUL recipe for Prune Armagnac Cake, which was published in either Gourmet or Bon Appettit several years ago. They say you can substitute the armagnac with cognac or grappa barricato, but I’ve tried all three and the armagnac version is 10 times better. Don’t be afraid to open a new bottle of armagnac just to use in this recipe–it will keep for a long time, and I guarantee you’ll want to make the cake again soon!) This cake is great for both breakfast and dessert. It’s nice and big too, and freezes wonderfully, so put half in the freezer to save for a rainy day if you can’t eat it all in one weekend. Enjoy!

Prune Armagnac Cake
16 Servings
Ingredients
Pitted prunes 12 oz. (Save yourself the work and buy them already pitted!)
Water 2 cups
Armagnac 1/2 cup

Vegetable oil 1 1/2 cups
Sugar 2 1/4 cups
Eggs 5 ea.
Vanilla 2 Tbsp.
All Purpose Flour 3 cups
Baking Soda 1 Tbsp.
Cinnamon 2 1/2 tsp.
Nutmeg 1 tsp.
Allspice 1 tsp.
Cardammon 1/2 tsp. (if you don’t have it, don’t worry, it’s great without this spice too!)
Cloves 1/2 tsp.
Salt 1 tsp.
Buttermilk 1 1/2 cups (if you don’t have buttermilk, add 2 tsp. of lemon juice or vinegar to the milk and stir)

Glaze
Sugar 1 1/2 cups
Butter 3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks)
Armagnac 1/2 cup
Light Corn Syrup or Honey 2 Tbsp.
Lemon Juice 2 Tbsp
Baking Soda 1 tsp.

Method
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Butter & flour a 12 cup bundt pan. In a medium-sized sauce pan, place the prunes, water and armagnac and simmer until fruit is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain prunes reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid for glaze (I hate to throw the rest of that great sauce away–if you’re using the cake for dessert, save all of the sauce and use it for garnish!) If you feel like it and have time, coarsely chop the prunes, if not, simmer the prunes a little longer so that they’re soft enough to break up with a spoon during mixing.

2. Beat oil, sugar, eggs & vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. In a separate bowl (or on a piece of parchment/foil), combine flour, soda, spices and salt.

3. Mix dry ingredients into the oil mixture. Add buttermilk, beating batter just until smooth. Fold in chopped prunes, distributing evenly throughout batter. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan (it’s a big cake!). Bake until tester inserted in center comes out clean–about 1 hour & 5 minutes.

4. Towards the end of the baking time, prepare the glaze (you want the glaze to be warm when the cake comes out of the oven). Combine the 1/4 cup of reserved prune cooking liquid, sugar, butter, armagnac, corn syrup, lemon juice and baking soda in a med-large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly (about 2 minutes).

5. When the cake comes out of the oven and is still nice and hot, pierce in several places (poke the devil out of it!!) with a long wooden skewer (or similar instrument of torture). Brush/pour/spoon the glaze onto the cake covering thoroughly. Make several passes to use up all the glaze. Cool at least 30 minutes before turning out of pan. Bon Appettito!!

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