Tuesday, May 27, 2008

One Tough Cookie

Sugar cookies are simple and I've yet to encounter a bad one. I mean really, all it takes is a heap of butter, a couple cups of flour, sugar and an egg. Add a dash of vanilla, refrigerate for a few hours and you've got yourself a mound of edible clay. Versatility is, after all, what makes this classic treat so appealing to the masses. You want a crimson-frosted heart? You got it. How about Barbie's disproportionate figure or, better yet, her little pink corvette? Done and done.

Not only do sugar cookies trump every other pastry's ability to morph into classic characters and toothsome organs, but the things never go out of season. St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Valentine's Day, Halloween,Christmas--show me a holiday that hasn't inspired a novel shape from the sweet dough. Hell, I've even seen a pair of freshly-pedicured and painted feet, ready to hit the beach, in the pastry case at Sensational Bites.

If ever in a pastry show-down, the sugar cookie would undoubtedly take the cake-- head on, in the form of frosted mini shotguns. A simple pastry, yes. But one of the toughest cookies to beat.

Here's a favorite, no-fail basic sugar cookie recipe, courtesy of Blueprint Magazine.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I Ate My Mail Today

It isn't too often that I'm excited to check the mail. Typically it's just a pile of crap from Comcast informing me of some 'limited time only' deal, coupons to joints that aren't even in reasonable driving distance and the occasional letter from a certain soldier. Nothing to gush over, really.

But for the past week I'd been checking the little steel box with all the enthusiasm of a toddler on Pop Rocks. I even searched the damn thing before and after U.S. Postal Service hours. Why, you ask, was I being such an irrational freak? Simple. Because I knew that at any moment that box would open to a pristine little package containing one of my favorite indulgences; chocolate.

Ah, yes. Chocolate. But not just any chocolate, mind you. This was not Hersheys, Mars, or Cadbury. And it certainly wasn't anything you'd find at the local Jewel, at least not yet. This one is a newcomer to the world of cocoa confections and it's appropriately called Chocolatea by Smile Chocolatiers. Back in March I mentioned my new love for the pistachio and green tea bar by the same company. One of Smile's employees happened to read the post and asked me if I'd like to try another white chocolate concoction, this time with rosemary tea (why, yes I would, thank you).

Upon my seventh visit to the mailbox today, it had finally arrived, all wrapped up in a lovely little package just like the candy of my dreams. Along with the rosemary tea confection was a smaller package containing four scaled-down versions of a few other chocolatea bars. These started with a white chocolate and gradually increased in cacao to 72%. Here's the line-up:
  • pistachio green tea (37% cocoa butter)
  • wild raspberry tea (37% cacao)
  • coconut green tea (64% cacao)
  • pomegranate white tea (72% cacao)
In all honesty, the rosemary tea just didn't do it for me. The bar itself was rather fetching, a solid block of pale pink cocoa butter flecked with bits of the flowery herb. I wanted nothing more than to dub this my new favorite treat, but the flavor and texture were off. There wasn't even a hint of white chocolate, and the signature infusion was so subtle that all I really tasted was a hunk of wax. Yes folks, it was kind of like chewing a candle. Perhaps my expectations were too high after the revelation I had after first trying Smile's pistachio green tea bar.

Regardless, the four tiny chocolates that I previously mentioned were nothing short of brilliant. I'm still trying to decide which is my favorite. I'd say it's a serious toss-up between the coconut green tea, which reminded me of a refined mounds bar (without the hard-to-chew middle) and the trendy pomegranate white tea with 72% cacao, because I just can't get enough of the dark stuff.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Eggless Chocolate Cake with Hops

Inspired by a recent NY Times article on the art of baking cakes, I decided to whip up one of my own. It's no secret that I spend most of my free time baking, but rarely do I tackle the ominous cake. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about the decadent fluffy stuff-- I just normally prefer to indulge in the treat when I'm at a bakery and someone else has gone through the labor of creaming, sifting, mixing, baking, cooling and frosting the thing.

Cakes are no simple feat. They're temperamental little bastards-- open the oven too soon or tread the kitchen floor too forcefully and there it goes, falling in on itself like a testy soufflé. The fact that my downstairs neighbors crank the bass on their stereo system so high (that I feel like I'm caving in on myself at times) had me just a tad worried that my rigorous efforts to compose the perfect cake would still fall short. Nonetheless, I set my mind on something chocolatey.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my kitchen is not the most well stocked in foodstuffs. It is, however, loaded with all sorts of alcohol. And you can be sure there is always a stick or two of butter in my fridge. I had no sugar, but I did find a canister of flour and a box of unsweetened cocoa powder. Surely I could do something with these ingredients. I've never made anything cakey without eggs, but I knew there were countless recipes for such things. After using the gloriously convenient "ingredient search" on Allrecipes.com, I settled on the aptly titled Eggless Chocolate Cake.

The original recipe calls for a 12 ounce can of cola, something that I never have in my apartment because I can't stand the sickly-sweet beverage. This is where the alcohol comes in. I cracked open a can of Heineken (left over from my father's last visit) and dumped it into the clumpy batter. I've heard tales of successful chocolate stout cakes, but I had no idea how well the cocoa would blend with a pale lager. I was about to find out.

Forty-five minutes of bass-bumping and floor vibrations later, my beer-infused cake had risen! Too anxious to sit through the cooling process, I sliced a sliver from the end and plopped it in my mouth. The first thing I tasted was cocoa, which was suddenly overcome by notes of barley from the beer. The overall flavor was slightly bitter, but that's nothing a slathering of sugar-rich fudge frosting didn't fix. The texture was surprisingly airy, yet moist enough to nix the need for a milk chaser.

I have to say, I was quite impressed with the way it turned out considering the strange mix of ingredients. While it's probably best to stick with Guinness or a similarly dry stout, this pale lager cake is the perfect treat for anyone who loves hops.