doing s’more grilling

Happy Memorial Day! Happy start to all things summery finally popping up around here! I nearly shed tears of joy when I found myself breaking a sweat while laying outside and needing to run into the shade to protect my bare feet from scorching on my friend’s sun-soaked balcony, which is where I found myself this afternoon for a lovely BYO cookout hosted by my grillmastering friend Sarah.

IMG_0214

We were encouraged to BYO-anything that would be made more delicious by a stint atop her grill. Naturally, my sugarcured mind went the dessert route, inspired by this decadent recipe for Grilled Banana S’mores that I came across over the weekend. Nothing screams summer and cookouts more than s’mores, but stuffing graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate into an ooey gooey banana shell… now that just screamed “Joanna, you must make me now!”

IMG_0216

The process was incredibly easy: take back a thin strip of peel, scoop out about 1/3 of the banana (freeze the extra for smoothies!), and pile the banana shell with mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, and bits of graham cracker. Wrap the masterpiece in foil, throw it on the grill for a few minutes, and open it up to find yourself a soft, melty, and decadent dessert. Although unnecessary, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream sent these Grilled Banana S’mores to even greater heights.

IMG_0213

This technique is endlessly adaptable to different fillings: chocolate+hazelnuts, peanut butter+marshmallow, brown sugar+cinnamon+walnuts. I can envision laying out a bunch of toppings and hosting an interactive make-your-own-grilled-stuffed-banana party, and I’d venture to guess this would be a real hit with kids too! Thankfully, we have a whole summer ahead of us to make these visions come to life…

IMG_0211

Grilled Banana S’mores (from Neighbor Food blog)

Recipe for 1 banana. Depending on how hungry your guests are, plan on 1/2 to 1 banana per person.

1 banana

1 tbsp marshmallows

1/2 tbsp chocolate chips

1 graham cracker, broken into small bits

Other topping ideas: peanut butter, hazelnuts, jam, chocolate candy bars, toffee bits, butterscotch, dulce de leche, cinnamon, brown sugar… go wild!

Heat grill.* Peel back a thin strip of the banana peel without removing it completely. Scoop out about 1/3 of the banana and set aside to save for a later day. Fill the cavity you’ve created with marshmallows, chocolate chips, and graham cracker bits. Place strip of peel back over banana. Wrap the entire banana tightly in foil. Place on the hot grill for 12 minutes, turning occasionally, until marshmallows and chocolate are melty. Unwrap and enjoy on it’s own or a la mode!

*Although I haven’t tried this yet, if it wasn’t grilling weather, this could easily be done over a gas stove or roasted in the oven at 350 for 12-15 minutes!

Advertisements

minisummer

Right now we’re in the midst of a strange but wonderful time of med school. Post-boards and pre-third year clinical rotations, we have a month-long research block to work on independent projects and also to recharge and refresh ourselves for what is touted to be the most rewarding, yet most grueling year of med school. During this time, I’m working on a project on healthy cooking and nutrition and having a great time doing it. I’m also embracing the weekends and evenings to enjoy exploring the city and spending time with friends before the marathon that is the third year of med school begins.

IMG_1768

In the spirit of this mini summer, last night we pretended the rain and wind weren’t whipping around us and enjoyed a very summery meal. My friend Camil expertly whipped up a batch of these amazing strawberry basil drinks and cooked up a delicious meal of carnitas tacos with all of the fixings. I was on dessert duty and thought that something citrusy and berry-filled would be fun and festive.

IMG_1774

The combo of blackberry and lime struck me as a good one, and I came upon a recipe for blackberry lime bars. A buttery graham cracker crust is topped with a simple filling of sweetened condensed milk and eggs spiked with fresh lime juice and zest and folded around big juicy blackberries. It took less than an hour to put together and was incredibly good, complete with all the components of a decadent key lime pie, but lighter in size and bursting with a healthy dose of fresh fruit, which was perfect after our delicious Mexican feast. I can definitely imagine many other berry and citrus combos working beautifully here, like blueberry & lemon or grapefruit & raspberry. Add this to your summer dessert repertoire immediately!

IMG_1780

Blackberry Lime Bars

adapted from Sweet Basil

1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs

6 tbsp butter, melted

¼ cup sugar

dash of salt

14 oz sweetened condensed milk

2 egg yolks

zest of 2 limes

½ cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1 pint fresh blackberries

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a square baking pan (9×9 or 8×8). Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar, and salt and press into the bottom of the pan, distributing the mixture evenly. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together condensed milk and egg yolks in a large bowl. Add lime zest and juice. Fold in fresh blackberries. Pour filling mixture over crust and bake for another 12-15 minutes, until set. Allow to cool in the pan on a rack to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until ready to serve.

unleavened and unloved

Matzah is perhaps the most innocuous yet polarizing food I have ever known. For many people, the mere mention of matzah conjures looks of complete disgust and utterances of descriptors such as “bland,” “gag-inducing,” and “cardboard-box-like.” Then you have people on the opposite side of the spectrum, like my father, who buy matzah in bulk every spring so they can eat it year-round. It’s likely not matzah itself that people hate so much. After all, it’s really just a giant plain cracker. But rather, it’s what matzah represents: eight long days of unleavened torture, where soft slices of sandwich bread, tender cakes, and oodles of noodles are uniformly wiped out and replaced by a crispy, flat, and admittedly sub-flavorful food.

IMG_1439

I personally am a member of the matzah loving camp and would argue that this poor little unleavened creation deserves a bit more credit for all its versatility. While my enjoyment of matzah will never near that of my father’s, I do happily eat my fair share come Passover time: scrambled with eggs as matzah brei, as a scooper for hummus, or simply spread with butter and a topped with a sprinkle of salt.

However, in our family, there is one ultimate way to eat matzah:

IMG_1441

That would be Chocolate Toffee Matzah, a Passover confection that my mom and I have been making for over a decade. This indulgent matzah treat is clearly a Passover dessert darling of many beyond our family, as I have seen countless similar recipes printed across the internet. However, I would be remiss to not share this delicious family tradition here on sugarcured.

A quickly boiled toffee topping of melted butter and brown sugar is placed on sheets of matzah, baked for a few minutes, and then topped with chocolate chips. The softened chocolate is spread atop the toffee and allowed to set in the fridge. In a couple of hours, chocolate toffee matzah bliss in yours.

IMG_1415

If you are a matzah hater, this recipe will make you a convert. If you’ve never had matzah before, I hope this recipe makes you run out and buy a box (although word on the street is that you can adapt this same technique with saltine crackers). And if you are a matzah lover, I hope this recipe will only make you show it all the more lovin’.

Chocolate Toffee Matzah

5-6 sheets of matzah

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 400. Line a large cookie sheet with foil. Lay down sheets of matzah to cover the entire surface of the pan (you’ll have to break the sheets to make them fit). In a medium saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar together. Allow mixture to come to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Pour toffee mixture over matzah and spread it to evenly coat the sheets. Bake for 4 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Return to oven for 1 minute. Remove from oven and spread the melted chips out evenly across the matzah. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes at room temperature and then place pan in refrigerator for at least 3 hours before breaking into smaller pieces. Store broken pieces in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

churning up a challenge

I think I’m going to toss out all my perfume bottles and start walking around wielding a stalk of lemongrass instead. It really smells that incredible. As I sit here trying to think of how to bring its scent to life for you, two words jump to mind: lemony and grassy—creative, huh? But true to its name, this reed-like herb has a bright, citrusy fragrance mellowed out by an earthy undertone. Not only does it smell good, it’s quite eye-catching as well. It has a sturdy, pale green exterior that slices into beautiful rings of purple and white. In the spirit of exploring this ingredient to its fullest, I bit into a raw piece, and its texture—a bit fibrous and a bit watery—was reminiscent of sugar cane. It was even a tad sweet. Suffice it to say, this humble little stalk is quite a complex ingredient, and one that Kate and I both embraced with fervor for our first ingredient challenge.

IMG_1398

Lemongrass is perhaps best known for its incorporation into many Asian dishes. Although I’m no expert in Asian cooking, I’d venture to guess that its lemongrass rearing its citrusy fresh bite behind many rich curries and spicy soups. But for this challenge, and to celebrate the warm weather and equipment-laden kitchen I’m frolicking in at home, I decided to take a more unconventional route.

I bring you Lemongrass Basil Sherbet.

IMG_1409

Sherbet is a lighter version of ice cream, made with a greater milk to cream ratio. To play up the Thai-inspired flavors of lemongrass and basil, I used two cups of coconut milk in place of whole milk. While the tang of the lemongrass and punch of the basil could have potentially been overpowering, the flavors of this ice cream turned out to be quite subtle and wholly refreshing. I feel a bit guilty for saying this, as I know many of you are reading this wrapped in blankets and parkas, but I enjoyed this as a poolside snack on a warm and breezy Saturday afternoon.

IMG_1412

Whether you go sweet, savory, or somewhere in between, I hope that our premiere ingredient challenge has inspired you try your hand at cooking with lemongrass.

Lemongrass and Basil Coconut Milk Sherbet

Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 cups coconut milk

1 cup milk

1 cup chopped lemongrass (from about 2 stalks)

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat coconut milk, milk, lemongrass, and cream in a large saucepan over medium heat until mixture almost comes to a boil. Remove from heat and let steep for 20 minutes.

Fill a medium bowl with ice water. Blanch basil leaves in a small pot of boiling water until just wilted, about 10 seconds; immediately transfer to ice water; let cool. Squeeze basil to release excess water.

Place milk/cream/lemongrass mixture into a blenderr. Add basil, sugar, corn syrup, and salt to blender. Purée on high speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Transfer to a medium bowl. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Base for sherbet can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Strain chilled cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the bowl of an ice cream maker. Process sherbet in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, cover, and freeze. (Sherbet can be made 1 week ahead. Keep frozen.)

Scoop into bowls or glasses and serve.

study break

In my perfect world, all nights would end like this…

IMG_1203
Such was the case one evening last week, when I decided to take a little study break to do some baking. What I had envisioned being a brief endeavor turned into a two hour long extravaganza of grating, chopping, melting, whisking, and glazing.

Was it worth it? When I got to accompany my studies with Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread the next day, you bet.

IMG_1204
I had bookmarked this recipe from the beloved pages of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home To Yours a while back, but due to the shear volume of ingredients involved in making it, I hadn’t gotten around to it until now. With three different types of ginger (fresh, powdered, and candied), molasses, buttermilk, chopped and melted chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon, this cake boasts a complexity of flavors. It is delightfully moist and has a definite gingery punch. It begs to be paired with a hot cup of coffee or tea, and if you close your eyes while savoring a bite of this cake, its warm flavors almost make you forget that it’s the dead of winter.
IMG_1205
If you’re a ginger lover, this cake is for you. While it takes a bit of time, the results are well worth every minute.

Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread
from Baking From My Home to Yours

For the Cake
2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate – 2 ounces melted and cooled, 4 ounces finely chopped
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon finely chopped stem ginger in syrup (available in Asian markets and supermarkets; optional)

For the Icing
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon strong coffee
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Getting Ready:Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and put it on a baking sheet. (Pan must be a full 9-inch square size or batter will overflow – measure first).

To Make the Cake: Put the fresh ginger and sugar in a small bowl, stir and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and spices together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment,or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar and butter together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled at this stage. Pour in the molasses and beat until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the melted chocolate, along with the sugared ginger. Still on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the buttermilk in 2(begin and end with the dry ingredients),mixing the batter only as much as needed to blend the ingredients. Fold in the chopped chocolate and the ginger in syrup. Pour the batter into the pan.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Don’t be concerned if the cake has domed and cracked-it will settle down as it cools. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes, then unmold the cake. Turn right side up to cool to room temperature before icing the cake. (The edges of the cake might be quite brown, but don’t fret-you can trim them after you ice the cake.)

To Make the Icing: Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, put the chocolate and coffee in the bowl, and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted. Remove the bowl and, using a small whisk, stir in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Sift the confectioners’ sugar over the chocolate and stir in. Transfer the bowl to a counter and let the icing sit for about 10 minutes.

Put the gingerbread, still on the rack, on a piece of wax paper or foil (the drip catcher). Pour the icing onto the center of the cake and use a long metal spatula to spread the icing evenly over the top. Allow the icing to set for 30 minutes (you can hurry it along by chilling the cake briefly). If the edges of the cake are overbaked, now is the time to trim them. Then cut the gingerbread into 9 even pieces.

school is sweet

I tend to have an optimistic outlook on life. Which is why, even after today’s 12-hour lecture/lab/review session marathon, I can honestly say that there are some really great things about spending so much time in class as a second year medical student. For one, these long days of study provide protection from the frigid temperatures outside. When most of my activities are housed in one building or in the hospital, which is a short underground tunnel walk away, I can almost forget that it’s zero degrees outside! From a nerdier standpoint, it’s pretty rewarding to walk away from day of class knowing that I’ve accumulated a great deal of knowledge, which I’ll be putting to use to take care of people scarily soon. But perhaps the biggest advantage of being in class so much these days is that I am constantly surrounded by my wonderful, intelligent, and most importantly, dessert-loving classmates.

IMG_1136

Among our class, there is a strong culture of baked-goods-passing during lecture. I couldn’t help but laugh when a few weeks ago, as we were being schooled on the detrimental effects of diabetes and the rampant pace at which it is growing in the U.S. as our diets continue to deteriorate, a box chock-full of chocolate cake and cookies was making its way around the room.   While as med students, we know the importance of eating healthily, we also know that desserts, in moderation, definitely boost our moods and make all the learning we do just that much more enjoyable. Because of this, I am never at a loss for people with whom to share my late night baking experiments, and I am a regular provider of in-class sweets.

IMG_1135

My most recent contribution was cranberry orange bread with dark chocolate chunks. I had a stash of cranberries in my freezer that needed to be put to a noble use. Kate had been telling me about a great recipe she had for cranberry orange bread, and while I usually consult far too many books and websites before settling on a recipe to make, I trusted Kate’s judgment on this one and I’m so glad I did. This bread was dense, but extremely moist. The dark chocolate chunks were optional, but I’d highly encourage adding them. They added depth to the bread and helped cut through the acidity of the fresh cranberries and orange. Like many baked goods I’ve shared here recently, this would be great to serve at any occasion, but from my experience, it is especially suited to serve as a mid-lecture pick-me-up.

IMG_1138

Cranberry Orange Bread with Dark Chocolate Chunks

Adapted from The Shared Table

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup butter, softened

¾ cup orange juice

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

1 egg, room temperature and beaten

1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

One large (9×5) or two small (7½ x 3½) loaf tins, greased or Teflon. If glass, reduce oven heat to 325

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With a pastry blender or two knives cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

In small bowl combine orange juice and grated rind with the beaten egg. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix just enough to dampen. Don’t beat. Carefully fold in the nuts and cranberries.

Butter pan well, line the long sides and bottom with one length of wax paper, butter paper in place, for easy removal of the loaf. The mixture will be stiff and must be pushed into the corners of the pan with a spoon or spatula. Form it slightly higher on the sides to compensate for the rising crown.

While oven preheats to 350°, allow the filled pan to rest.

Bake in the the oven until the loaf tests done when pierced in the center with a metal skewer or toothpick, about 50-60 minutes. If it comes out clean and dry, the loaf is baked. If moist particles cling to the pin, return the loaf to the oven for an additional 10 minutes. Test again.

Remove bread from the oven . Carefully turn from the pan, peel the wax paper away and cool on a metal rack. An easy way to remove the loaf is to turn the pan on its side, tug gently at the leading edges of the wax paper to work the loaf loose. Allow the loaf to age overnight before slicing.

a cake for january

Hello friends! It’s been a very long while since we’ve given this blog some love. A combination of finals, a trip to South Dakota, a week at home with family celebrations nearly every day, and a running start to the new academic quarter all contributed to blog delinquency, but we promise that we are back and ready to shower Sugar Cured with plenty of recipes, stories, and drool-inducing photos in 2013.

IMG_1127

One of my goals in this new year is to make more recipes from my cookbook collection, especially more baked goods from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. I received this beloved baking bible over five years ago, and everything I’ve made from its pages, from lemon cream tarts, to towering layer cakes, to fudgy brownies, has been a resoundingly sweet success. In my down time, I love leafing through the pages of this book and imbibing the delectable pictures and poetic stories that accompany the recipes. Each time I peruse the pages, I find myself drawn to one recipe in particular: Cinnamon Squares. A cinnamony cake batter rippled with a chocolate, espresso, cinnamon sugar filling, capped with a melted chocolate glaze. As someone who finds the combination of coffee and cinnamon irresistable and is always in the mood for a healthy dose of chocolate, this recipe has screamed my name from the moment I first read it. Yet for some odd reason, I had never made it. I resolved to end this madness for once and for all, and last night I baked this humble, yet complex cake for a dessert party.
 IMG_1128
The result: really, really good. And, as Kate said upon tasting it, “This is the perfect January cake,”—reminiscent of the recently passed holiday season with its cinnamon spice and chocolate decadence, but standing in a flavor realm of its own and emboldening the new year with a caffeinated jolt. This cake is perfectly suited to snack on all day long (say, while you’re at home studying on a Sunday), yet is sophisticated enough to serve as a dinner party dessert. Please don’t do as I did and wait five years to make this.
IMG_1129
 
Wishing you wellness, happiness, and of course, good eats in this new year!
Cinnamon Squares

Cake
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp instand espresso powder
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped or 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Frosting
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake: Stir 2 tablespoons of the sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons of the cinnamon and the espresso together in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, the remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar, the baking powder, salt and the remaining 1 tablespoon cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients over the flour mixture and gently whisk until you have a homogenous batter. Now, using the whisk or a rubber spatula, fold in the butter with a light touch, just until the butter is absorbed. You’ll have a smooth, shiny batter.

Scrape half of the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the chocolate over the batter and dust with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Cover with the rest of the batter and smooth the top again.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan; a thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let it rest for 15 minutes before unmolding it onto another rack. Peel off the paper, invert it onto the first rack, and cool to room temperature right side up.

To Make the Frosting: Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and fit the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring gently and often, just until they melt. Be careful not to overheat the mixture so much that it thins out; the chocolate should be smooth, very shiny, thick and spreadable. (If it thins, leave the frosting at room temperature for a bit, until it thickens a little.)

Using an offset metal icing spatula or a table knife, spread the frosting in generous sweeps and swirls over the top of the cake. Allow the frosting to set at room temperature, then cut the cake into 9 squares, each about 2 1/2 inches on a side.

For Cappuccino Squares (I did this): If you like the cappuccino flavor combination of coffee and cinnamon, you can easily switch the balance in this recipe by adding a jolt of coffee flavor to the batter. Just mix 1 tablespoon instant espresso into the milk and warm the milk in a microwave oven until it is hot enough to dissolve the coffee. Cool the milk and carry on.

happy birthday noura!

Yesterday was my wonderful roommate Noura’s birthday. As you may have noticed, no birthday around these sugar cured parts goes without the creation of a cake, and Noura’s birthday was of course no exception. Kate and I had every intention of making a rich chocolately creation, but Noura’s parents beat us to the punch by bringing her a gorgeous giant chocolate cake. While I’d like to think a girl can never have too much chocolate on her birthday, I figured a change of cake plans might make things a bit more interesting. I wracked my brain for Noura’s favorite desserts and one of the first things that came to mind were milkshakes. A liquid cake seemed a bit messy, but what if that milkshake were frozen, sandwiched between brownies, covered in ganache, and topped with whipped cream? A birthday ice cream cake was born.
IMG_0851
I won’t be winning any awards for my melted chocolate penmanship anytime soon, but what this cake lacked in decor it made up for in flavor. I used my all-time favorite Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie mix and Breyer’s cookies and cream ice cream, which made for a winning combination. While a bit of assembly time was required, this creation came together in less than two hours from start to finish. As for the taste, imagine a brownie sundae compacted into a six layer slice of decadence. The only thing that could have made it better would have been warm hot fudge sauce to pour on top… but that’s what next year’s birthday (or next week’s finals period?) is for!
IMG_0853
Happy Birthday, Noura! Here’s to a sweet, happy, and fulfilling year!
Double Decker Brownie Ice Cream Cake
1 box Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie mix
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup water
1 cup chocolate chips
8 oz. heavy cream
1/2 gallon ice cream (any flavor of your choice)
1 tbsp powdered sugar
Brownie: Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9” springform pan and grease and line with parchment a round cake pan of similar size. Combine brownie mix, oil, water, and egg and divide evenly into the two pans. Bake for 22 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans on a rack for about 10 minutes. Transfer to the freezer to cool for another 30 minutes.
Chocolate ganache: Meanwhile, in the microwave melt 1 cup of chocolate chips with 1 tbsp heavy cream for 1 minute on power level 6. Stir until melted (if needed, microwave in 30 second increments at low power level until completely melted). Set aside to cool down.
Whipped cream: Using a handheld electric or stand mixer, beat remaining heavy cream with 1 tbsp powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Cover and strore in refrigerator.
To assemble: Take out ice cream from freezer and allow to soften. Remove springform pan brownie layer from freezer and spread a layer of chocolate ganache on it (use 1/3-1/2 of ganache). Return pan to freezer for 10-15 minutes, until ganache has hardened. Once ice cream has softened to a point where it can be spreadable but isn’t liquidy, take out both brownie layers from the freezer. Place entire 1/2 gallon of ice cream in springform pan on top of brownie+ganache layers. Spread to edges and smooth out the top. Remove second brownie round from pan and place on top of ice cream layer. Place remaining ganache on top of brownie layer. Return pan to freezer for another 10 minutes so that ganache hardens. Finally, add whipped cream on top and decorate as desired. Cover entire pan in plastic wrap and foil and place in the freezer for at least 2 hours before serving.
To serve: Remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving. Remove sides of springform pan. Cake cuts easiest with a knife dipped in hot water.

on the cusp

Right now, I feel like I’m on the cusp of many things. In school, we’re on the cusp of final exams, although we still have an entire body system to learn about in the next week (expect lots of stress-baking to appear around these parts). Weather-wise, Chicago is on the cusp of having long-standing bitter winter cold, but until that hits, I’ve enjoyed basking in the downtown holiday decor amidst deliciously mild temperatures. Calendar-wise, we’re on the cusp between Thanksgiving and all of the festivities that December brings. And food-wise, my palette is on the cusp between craving the pumpkiny spice of fall cuisine and beginning to experiment with the rich indulgences of the holiday season.
 IMG_0849
This latter cusp is what inspired last night’s midnight baking project. For the past few weeks, the combination of dark chocolate and fresh cranberries has been dancing in my head. Sultry dark chocolate paired with plump tart cranberries just seemed like a winning match. I’ve also been wanting to make pumpkin bread, and I had half a can beckoning to be used up in my fridge. I decided to pair these two sugary visions together to make a marbled pumpkin chocolate cake, studded with tart cranberries and loaded with semisweet chocolate chips.
 IMG_0837
I used pumpkin in both parts of the batter to keep things extra moist, and what resulted was a soft, spicy, and light-yet-rich cake that I think is one of my favorite creations to date. I am glad I had plenty of people to share this cake with today, or else I might have devoured the entire pan myself. I encourage you to celebrate this cusp-y part of the season and indulge yourself in a slice, or two, or three of what I’ve dubbed as the On the Cusp Cake.
 IMG_0847
On the Cusp Cake (Marbled Pumpkin & Chocolate Cake with Cranberries)
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup soy milk (or regular milk or buttermilk)
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 cup fresh whole cranberries
Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×9 square baking pan.
Place cranberries in a small bowl and mix with 1 tbsp sugar. Set aside while making batter.
Get out two separate medium mixing bowls, one for the pumpkin batter and one for the chocolate batter. In each bowl, mix 1/4 cup vegetable oil with 1/2 cup sugar. Add 1 egg to each bowl and mix. Add 1/2 cup pumpkin to each bowl and mix.
In pumpkin spice batter bowl: Add 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Mix until just incorporated. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/4 cup soy milk and mix until just combined.
In chocolate pumpkin batter bowl: Add 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Mix until just incorporated. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup soy milk, and 1/2 cup chocolate chips and mix until just combined.
Pour half of the pumpkin batter into the pan and spread to cover the whole surface. Using half of the chocolate batter, drop large spoonfuls of the chocolate batter over the pumpkin batter. Spread all of the cranberries evenly on top of the batter currently in the pan. Pour remaining pumpkin batter into the pan. Drop remaining chocolate batter in large spoonfuls on top. Swirl the batters together using the edge of a knife to make a marble pattern. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate chips on top and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon sugar on top, if desired.
Bake cake for 40-50 minutes, until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool on rack in pan. Cut into squares to serve.

carte blondche

I’d like to share something simple and sweet with you tonight. It’s a twist on my favorite blondie recipe, the basic version hailing from Mark Bittman’s bible, How to Cook Everything. This recipe is a snap to put together and with an ingredient list that calls for “one” of everything, it’s easy to commit to memory and whip up on the fly. Best of all, it’s amenable to endless variations. A carte blondche of sorts… sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
I’ve been making these for years and have added a little something different nearly every time. The constant variable has been how delicious they always turn out. These blondies have a strong brown sugar flavor and a gooey texture that pairs well with everything from oats, to nuts, to chocolate chips, to fruit. Today’s version was inspired by a jar of homemade cherry jam from the Adkins family that I’ve been hanging onto for months, waiting for the right opportunity to use this precious good. I added oats and toasted almonds into the batter and then swirled generous dollops of jam into it before putting it into the oven. Twenty minutes later I was met with a pan of warm, soft blondies whose sweetness was offset by the slight tartness of the jam and saltiness of the almonds. This combination was a definite winner, but it’s hard to go wrong when you’ve got Adkins family jam in the mix!
Take this recipe and make it your own. Serve them warm from the oven with a dollop of ice cream as the perfect capstone to a dinner party (or a late night of studying). These also store and travel well, and have always been a welcome addition to a potluck table or picnic spread. I hope this recipe brings you many sweet memories!
Cherry Almond Blondies 
(ideas for more variations below)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
1/2 cup cherry jam
Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter on stovetop or in microwave. Place butter into a medium mixing bowl and allow it to cool slightly. Add brown sugar and stir to combine. Add egg and mix thoroughly. Add flour, salt, oatmeal, and almonds. Place into a greased 8×8 or 9×9 square pan. Spoon the cherry jam evenly on top and use a knife to swirl it through the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean (jam will be sticky, but test the batter for doneness). Allow to cook on a rack before cutting into squares.
Note: The base recipe includes the first six ingredients (butter –> vanilla). After that, go wild with mix-ins! I often add oatmeal for a bit of chew and heartiness. Other winning combos I’ve made are chocolate chip + fig butter, white + semisweet chocolate chips, peanut butter + chocolate chips (notice a love for chocolate here?), mashed banana…+ chocolate chips, really anything! Whatever toppings you choose, I suggest adding only a total of 1 to 1 1/2 cups of toppings.