Bake Sale Favorite: Sea Salt Brownies

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Lately, I have been seeing sea salt in just about everything – from savories to sweets.  I’ve even started to substitute sea salt in day-to-day cooking.  I think it does provide more flavor than regular table salt.  I admit, I am a sucker for goodies that are savory and sweet and when you have this combination in a brownie, it’s simply sinful.  The local community garden’s fall plant and bake sale is this Saturday, and I’ve been thinking about what to bake this year.  The garden coordinator sent an email this week that chocolate treats are always a good bet with adults and the kiddos, so it was settled:  brownies it is.  It will be difficult to part with these yummy treats, but here’s hoping they’ll generate some funds for the garden. 🙂

Recipe:  Fudgy Sea Salt Brownies

*I follow this recipe down to the last letter.  It produces the richest and moistest brownies ever!

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread – A New Fall Favorite

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Fall is in the air:  Halloween displays are starting to pop up in stores and pumpkin treats abound at local coffee shops and bakeries.  I’ll be honest, I am not a huge fan of pumpkin in the form of pie, but I do enjoy a bit of pumpkin flavor in muffins and cakes.  In perusing Pinterest, I came across this lovely pumpkin and cream cheese bread recipe.  It sounded irresistible (particularly because it incorporates cream cheese), so I gave the recipe a try.  The result:  a wonderful sweet and spice-filled cake, with just a hint of pumpkin, that’s the perfect accompaniment to post-dinner coffee.   Cold days and nights have never been better!

Cream-cheese Filled Pumpkin Bread

http://www.averiecooks.com/2014/08/cream-cheese-filled-pumpkin-bread.html

*I could not find pumpkin pie spice, so I substituted it for all-spice, which worked fine.  I would recommend baking the cake for 60 minutes.  The 48 minute bake time in the recipe is an approximate.

I used parchment paper to line the pan for quicker clean up.  Cream cheese layer shown below.  As mentioned in the recipe, ensure that the entire surface area is covered with cream cheese, including the corners.  A table knife works great to spread the cream cheese.

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After the final layer of batter.  Just as with the cream cheese later, ensure that the entire surface area on top of the cream cheese layer is covered, including the corners.

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Flourless Chocolate Cake: the Ultimate Chocolate Fix

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I came across this recipe about a year ago; I was looking for a cake to indulge in while watching my favorite “Downton Abbey” on Sunday nights.  This recipe does not disappoint the chocolate lover:  deep chocolate flavor without the “cakey-ness” of regular chocolate cake.  Pair this with raspberry compote or raspberry jam and a light white wine for a professional touch at a dinner party.  Your guests will think you spent hours on this easy-as-sliced-bread recipe!

Box it up with a pretty ribbon – makes a great hostess gift as well!

Flourless Chocoate Cake

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Flourless-Chocolate-Cake-14478

* For a deeper complex flavor, change up the recipe to 1 cup of sugar (instead of 3/4 cup), 4 eggs (instead of 3), add a dash of sea salt, and a teaspoon of vanilla (right before baking).  Bake for 18-20 minutes for a moist cake.  Let sit for 30 minutes to cool and settle, before removing from pan (I alternate between using a tart pan, or a well-greased, round parchment paper-lined 9-inch pan).  Both work well.  If not serving immediately, I cover the cake and refrigerate it overnight.  Before serving and for the final presentation, I sprinkle powdered sugar over the cake using a tea strainer.

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The Experiments Continue

With food prices going up everyday, the price of a meal out is going up as well (more incentive to cook at home).  While eating out, the least one can expect is the food to taste good, right?!  Cooking at home has made me super-picky about eating out (dare I say I am evolving into a culinary snob).  I’ve never considered myself someone with a refined palate, but lately I have noticed that food in your everyday restaurant has a lot of salt.  But there is a reason behind the high salt content of restaurant food – it drives consumers to buy more beverages.  Yes folks, it’s a conspiracy.  I’d given up soda about six months ago, but after a slice of pizza or a sandwich from Subway, I can’t wait to chug a 12 ounce can of Coke (classic, please).  Sigh.

Lately though, in a step towards social responsibility (and nudged by legislation) some restaurants have been including calorie counts next to entrees on menus.  I was at a Starbucks in Hayward last week, and I was surprised to see that a caramel latte was a whopping 330 calories.  That was small potatoes compared to anything on Macaroni Grill’s menu – nothing less than 700-800 calories.  Now normally, I don’t count calories but it’s hard to ignore the numbers when they are staring back at you.  So the food experiments at home continue:  to create gourmet dishes with wholesome/fresh ingredients and limited preservatives.  I intend to have my cake, and eat it too (in moderation).

One of my favorite desserts is tiramisu – the queen of all cakes.  Surprisingly, this light and spongy cake is quite easy to make and tastes heavenly with a cup of tea.  I found this great recipe on http://www.showmethecurry.com. I found the instructions quite easy and the final product tasted divine.  I modified the recipe by adding two or three tablespoons of dark rum to the coffee mixture and by using mascarpone cheese instead of cream cheese.  I also put chocolate shavings as well as the cocoa powder on the top layer, for a decadent touch.  The ladyfingers were a little difficult to find, but they can be found at Whole Foods or Draeger’s.

Tiramisu

(Source:  www.showmethecurry.com)

Ingredients:

Cream Cheese – 8oz box at room temp
Sugar – 6 Tbsp (divided)
Whipped Cream – 3/4 cup Heavy Whipping Cream plus 1 Tbsp Sugar whipped to 1 1/2 cups (1 1/2 cups of Cool Whip may be used as an instant alternative)
Egg Yolks – 3
Strong Coffee – 1 cup (or as needed) mixed with 2 Tbsp Rum (optional)
Lady Fingers – 1 package (Alternative: 1/2 box white cake mix, see below)
Cocoa Powder & Powdered Sugar – for garnishing

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix softened Cream Cheese with 3 Tbsp of sugar until sugar is completely dissolved.
2. In a separate bowl, mix 3 egg yolks with remaining 3 Tbsp of sugar and whisk continuously in a double boiler until eggs are cooked (approx 1-2 minutes). The color of the yolks will turn a lemon yellow when done.
3. Immediately mix the egg mixture into the cream cheese mixture and stir well.
4. Add 2-3 Tbsp of the coffee into the mixture and mix well.
5. Whip Heavy Whipping Cream and 1 Tbsp Sugar in a bowl over ice until fluffy. Fold Whipped Cream into cream cheese/egg mixture until well incorporated.
6. Dip each Lady Finger into the coffee (for 1-2 seconds on each side) and place into square or rectangle tray until the bottom is completely covered.
7. Spread 1/2 of the cream cheese filling evenly on top of the fingers.
8. Lightly dust cocoa powder over the filling. Tea strainer works great!
9. Repeat with another layer of coffee dipped fingers.
10. Top with remaining filling.
11. Sprinkle cocoa powder over the top to form a coating.
11. Chill overnight to set.
12. Garnish with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

Alternative Method Using Boxed White Cake Mix:

1. Bake cake per package directions. Only 1/2 box is necessary for this recipe.
2. After cake has cooled, flip baking pan over on a flat dish or work surface.
3. Using a long bread knife, cut the cake in half horizontally, creating two thin layers of cake.
4. Carefully place the top layer back into the baking pan.
5. Using a pastry brush, dab coffee onto the cake. More coffee may be required to soak the cake.
6. Spread 1/2 of the cream cheese filling onto the cake and dust with cocoa powder.
7. Carefully place the second layer of cake on top of the filling.
8. Dab more coffee onto the cake.
9. Spread remaining filling evenly and dust with cocoa creating an even layer.
10. Cover and chill overnight.