Showing posts with label chocolate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chocolate. Show all posts

Friday, March 06, 2009

retro chic cream puffs


There are some baked goods and pastries whose names simply say delight - sticky bun, muffin, cream puff...And then there are some that call for thoughtful enjoyment - eclair, croissant, macaron...

Names matter. I prefer the former. So fun, so approachable.

Yet most "fun" pastries can't quite seem to earn the appreciation that say, a good croissant might command. You read heated debates about who makes a better croissant in the East Bay (Masse's or La Farine) - but no one can be bothered to comment on who makes a decent muffin.

The same is true for the cream puff, the ol' profiterole that's somehow made its way onto Bertucci's dessert menu. For the cream puff, raves are rare, the buzz factor, not so high. Which is why I was surprised to come across a Cream Puff recipe from who else but Thomas Keller of The French Laundry (Yountville, Napa), Per Se (New York), Bouchon (Yountville, Las Vegas), and seven-Michelin star fame.

So I made it for Valentine's Day.

Cream Puffs with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce
1 cup water
5 1/3 tablespoons (about 3 ounces) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups Chocolate Sauce (see below)
1 1/2 cups Vanilla Ice Cream

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Line one baking sheet with a Silpat and a second one with parchment paper (or line both sheets with parchment if you don't have a Silpat). Set up a heavy-duty mixer with the paddle attachment.

Combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the flour all at once, and stir rapidly with a stiff heatproof or wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and the bottom of the pan is clean, with no dough sticking to it. The dough should be glossy and smooth but still damp.

Enough moisture must evaporate from the dough to allow it to absorb more fat when the eggs are added. Continue to stir for about 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent the dough from coloring. A thin coating will form on the bottom and sides of the pan. When enough moisture has evaporated, steam will rise from the dough and there will be the nutty aroma of cooked flour.

Immediately transfer the dough to the mixer bowl and mix for a few seconds to release some of the heat from the dough. With the mixer on medium speed, add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating until each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next one; scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Turn off the machine. Lift some of the dough on a rubber spatula, then turn the spatula to let it run off: It should fall off the spatula very slowly; if it doesn't move at all or is very dry and falls off in one clump, beat in the additional egg.

Place the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Pipe 15 disks (this will give you 3 extras for testing) about 1 1/2 inches across and just under 1/2 inch thick on the Silpat-lined baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between them, as they will expand when baked. Pipe the remainder on the other sheet. (You will have about 4 dozen in all.) Bake the 15 puffs for the recipe and freeze the ones on the second baking sheet until firm, then transfer to a freezer container and freeze for another time.

Bake the puffs for 10 minutes, turn the sheet around, turn the oven down to 350°F, and bake 15 minutes more. Remove one puff and break it open: It should be hollow inside and not gooey or eggy; if it is still moist, return it to the oven and check in 5 minutes. Cool the puffs completely on the baking sheet. Store in an airtight container until serving time.

Chocolate Sauce
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, such as Valrhona Equatoriale, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup

Place the chocolate in a metal bowl.

Combine the cream and corn syrup in a small heavy nonreactive saucepan and bring to a simmer. Pour the liquid over the chocolate and allow it to sit for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the chocolate has melted. Whisk to combine. Allow the sauce to cool slightly, then pour into a bowl or other container. (Stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, the sauce will keep for up to 2 weeks.)

To Serve:
Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Warm the chocolate sauce in a double boiler or a microwave. Warm the profiteroles on a baking sheet in the oven.

Split each profiterole in half and arrange 3 on each plate. Place a small scoop of ice cream in the bottom half of each profiterole and top with the lid. Spoon the sauce over.

I've made no changes to the recipes above. For some reason, I've got no qualms messing around with something from Alton Brown or Gourmet, but when it comes to something on the permanent dessert menu at Bouchon, I draw a personal line. I will mention, however, that things will still turn out great if you 1) cut down the butter by 1 Tbsp, 2) do not have a mixer (use a fork and mix in clockwise circles), 3) do not have a pastry bag (a heaping teaspoon gets the job done), and 4) choose to use agave syrup instead of corn syrup (that's what Omnivore's Dilemma does to you).

What Thomas Keller also does not note is that these cream puffs perform a most wonderful wobbly dance as you pull them out of the oven. And that those 25 minutes of baking fills your home with a sweet smell of eggy goodness that will last for at least 36 hours.

It seems that it's become increasingly trendy to appreciate a sticky bun or cupcake in recent years. Cream puffs may still be more retro than chic, but you just never know when the tipping point will come.

For me, I'm still waiting for muffins to re-emerge as the finest modern-day delicacy.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

coconut pecan dream bars

There is this guy I used to work with - we used to get Barbecue for lunch (there's only one Barbecue when you work in West Newton, MA, and that's Blue Ribbon). He was the first to discover the Dream Bar. The Dream Bar was very sweet and just a bit over the top, smothered in coconut, chocolate, and nuts. I don't think either of us cared for its taste all that much, but we liked it for its name..."Dream Bar".

I wonder how Dream Bar got such a very special name, when it sat alongside such plain-sounding desserts as "Sweet Potato Pie" and "Fruit Cobbler". The Dream Bar. What fun, what promise of hope! It was anything you wanted it to be.

I made a Dream Bar of sorts recently, with inspiration from Gourmet (December 1996). This version is slightly less sweet.

Coconut Pecan Dream Bars
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
3/4 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Brownie Layer:
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 large eggs
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan.

Make topping:
In a 1 1/2-quart bowl stir together topping ingredients until combined well.

Make brownie layer:
In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan melt butter over moderately low heat. Remove pan from heat and stir in sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition. In a bowl sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt and stir into butter mixture until just combined well.

Spread batter evenly in pan and sprinkle with topping. Bake brownies in middle of oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a tester comes out with crumbs adhering to it. Cool brownies completely in pan on a rack before cutting into 16 squares. Brownies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container at cool room temperature, 5 days.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

to fill a ramekin


I'm spoiled. I mean, I still relish placing a thick slice of fresh white tuna in my mouth...biting into the sweet crunch of persimmon...swirling a tasty, full-bodied Napa Valley cabernet...but these experiences tend to happen a lot more now. It's hard to tell about them all.

But I could not let our annual Chinese fusion holiday dinner pass without comment.

Christmas was particularly good this year. This was the year that I woke up on December 24 with no recipes, no ingredients, not a single plan at all.

In my mid-morning state-of-the-kitchen assessment, I found six ramekins and a large, smooth wooden platter. And in a spirited effort to please my mother, I planned my portion of the menu around this stock of rarely-used Crate & Barrel dinnerware.

Off I went to brave the insanity that is Whole Foods on Christmas Eve (think Times Square, except people are armed with carts), sweeping up the more intriguing vegetables stacked in aisle 1, which I promptly sent into the oven to be roasted when I arrived home: eggplant, asparagus, fennel (this was blanched), summer squash, zucchini, red pepper, yellow pepper, garlic. I plated these with slices of toasted ciabatta, rubbed with roasted garlic, sea salt, and olive oil, all placed atop a bed of romaine, Kalamata olives, and cherry tomatoes, and dressed in a marinade from Gourmet:

Roasted Vegetable Marinade
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried orégano, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup olive oil

Whisk until emulsified.

I had heard about Roy's souffle during a recent trip to Hawaii (thanks Scott). After much searching online, I found the prized recipe at Best of LA in the food blogging community. I've tweaked the recipe a bit. I know, I know - who am I to mess with Roy Yamaguchi's famous chocolate souffle? But I actually found his version slightly too sweet. Also, I felt that the original recipe should best be doubled to make 6.


Roy's Chocolate Souffle
Makes 6 souffles

12 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
4 eggs
4 egg yolks

1) Melt butter and chocolate in saucepan over LOW heat. Set aside.
2) In mixing bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch.
3) In another bowl, whisk eggs and egg yolks together.
4) Add melted butter/chocolate mix to sugar mix. Combine thoroughly with wire whisk.
5) Stir in eggs. Whisk until smooth. Place in refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight.
6) Coat each ramekin with baking spray. Place ramekins in a shallow water bath in a metal baking pan (water should come about halfway up the sides). Fill each ramekin 2/3-3/4 full with batter and bake for 25 minutes in preheated 400° oven on the top rack.
7) Serve with powdered sugar and fruit.

It's good. Very, very, very good.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

happy pork-chops-and-ice-cream-cake to you


I turn my first quarter-century next week, and have started to wonder if this is that year when it will become increasingly less fun to welcome the arrival of any subsequent years.

That aside, I still have no problem making a big deal of other people's birthdays. My dad's was at the end of April, and we decided to cook for the family instead of risk another mediocre meal at one of Boston's many generic, overpriced restaurants (no, I am not jaded by the restaurant scene in this fine city of culinary magnificence).

It is not easy for my dad (I call him Baba) and me to share a kitchen. "I am the best chef," my dad will periodically remind me, whether he is surveying the steak he scored at Whole Foods, tasting a spoonful of his seafood soup, or pouring himself a Sam Adams. "Really. I am."


I like to create drama in the kitchen when I am cooking with Baba. "GET OUT OF MY WAY!! I NEED THE STOVE!!! arghhh...MOVE!" It's more interesting this way. My dad's too zen, and he spends 80% of his "active cooking time" on the couch, watching golf. Meanwhile, I am zigzagging, juggling my time between prepping veggies, mincing garlic, reducing sauces, rolling out and freezing dough, marinating meats, toasting almonds (I always burn the stupid almonds - arg)'s just not fair.

For his own birthday dinner last weekend, Baba prepared pan-fried pork chops (Taiwanese-style) and miso-baked salmon. I took care of salad and dessert. Yes, yes, I know - it seems unfairly balanced, but honestly, I spent way longer preparing my two courses. Pathetic, I know. (And Baba washed the salad greens, too.)


We composed our salad around a base of sliced honeydew melon and prosciutto, cushioned with frisee and arugula (my dad's favorites, after a particularly good experience at Lumiere in West Newton, MA). I topped the greens with blueberries and candied sliced almonds, then dressed everything with a blend of chili sesame oil, olive oil, cider vinegar, sugar, and toasted sesame seeds. The result was a satisfying mix of spicyness from the dressing and sweetness from the fruits and nuts. (I know it's overkill to post three photos for the separate steps I took in preparing the salad, but I happen to like the photos I took.)



on a bed of frisee and arugula with toasted almonds and chili-sesame vinaigrette

For dessert, I attempted my first-ever ice cream cake. Despite its 4 layers, it was extremely easy to prepare (though if you try it, budget for at least a half-day, to allow for ample freezing time). I followed a recipe orginally printed in Gourmet in 1991. A springform pan is a must.

Coffee Almond Ice Cream Cake with Dark Chocolate Sauce
1 1/2 cups fine chocolate wafer crumbs (couldn't find any - I used Oreos)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 pints coffee ice cream, softened slightly
1 1/2 cups well-chilled heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups crushed amaretti (Italian almond macaroons, though I used crushed biscotti)
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

For the dark chocolate sauce:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 tablespoons Amaretto, or to taste (I substituted with Bailey's)

To make the cake:
In a bowl with a fork stir together the crumbs and the butter until the mixture is combined well, pat the mixture onto the bottom and 1 inch up the side of a lightly oiled 8-inch springform pan, 2 1/2 inches deep, and freeze the crust for 30 minutes, or until it is firm. Spread the ice cream evenly on the crust and return the pan to the freeze for 30 minutes, or until the ice cream is firm. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat the cream with the vanilla until it holds stiff peaks (do not overbeat!), fold in the amaretti thoroughly, and spread the mixture over the ice cream. Smooth the top of the cake, sprinkle it with the almonds, and freeze the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the top is firm. Freeze the cake, covered with plastic wrap and foil, for at least 4 hours or overnight. Just before serving, wrap a warm dampened kitchen towel around the side of the pan, remove the side, and transfer the cake to a serving plate. Cut the cake into wedges with a knife dipped in hot water and serve it with the chocolate sauce.

To make the sauce:
In a small heavy saucepan combine the cream and the brown sugar, bring the mixture to a boil over moderately high heat, whisking occasionally, and boil it, whisking, until the brown sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolates, whisking until they are melted. Whisk in the butter and the Amaretto, whisking until the sauce is smooth, and let the sauce cool slightly. The chocolate sauce may be made 1 week in advance and kept covered and chilled. Reheat the chocolate sauce over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is warm.

I can't wait for my dad's birthday next year.

Monday, April 10, 2006

brownie bowl


When it comes to dessert, I like to write about my attempts at raspberry coulis and cardamom-ginger infusions. If the name sounds trendy and exotic, I will probably order it...(just throw in a flavor like rose, cayenne, or Earl Grey). Accented vowels help the cause, as do geographic references, like Mexican chocolate and Thai coconut. And I still, admittedly, believe that "flourless" means "awesome".

But Harvard Square's Pizzeria Uno, Chicago Bar & Grille is where I go for crispy fries, sugary margaritas, and my favorite dessert of all time - the Brownie Bowl. It costs $4.49 and is composed of three triangular Oreo brownies, weighed down by a generous heap of vanilla ice cream, liberal squirts of hot fudge, and a disproportionate mass of whipped cream, topped with a sunken cherry and, if you are lucky, an Oreo cookie. Every brownie bowl is different, because each one has been made by a different artist with a different style and level of apathy for his/her job. You never quite know what you are going to get.

The brownie bowl was a key part of my high school and college experience. My friends and I wagered brownie bowls. "I'll bet you a brownie bowl that George Clooney was in Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes." We bribed each other with brownie bowls. "I will buy you THREE brownie bowls if you come to my chemistry grad student halloween party." And, of course, we celebrated with brownie bowls - end of semester, end of exam, end of day. I owe brownie bowls to all kinds of people from school.

I have since found several respectable brownie bowl substitutes, most notably the Cheesecake Factory's (aptly named) Giant Brownie Ice Cream Sandwich and, more recently, Prairie Star's Double Chocolate Brownie Sundae, which I shared with my college roommates last weekend for old time's sake. Prairie Star is located on Dartmouth Street in Boston, between Back Bay and the South End. The owners' moist half-pound dark chocolate brownies are so popular that they are now available online for purchase.

And since I am in the mood for disclosing information...well if my no. 1 dessert is the brownie bowl, then the first runner-up is most definitely McDonald's vanilla ice cream cone. It is creamy, swirly, and delicious.

I promise I will start cooking again. I've been too busy eating the past couple weeks.

Monday, April 03, 2006

chocolate chip favor


Earlier in my blogging days, I posted a picture of Justin's French toast. Justin is still living in Beijing, but between the day of his Great French Toast Event and today, Justin did visit home and, while here, did me a huge favor. In thanks, I sent him a care package of chocolate chip cookies. (I figure he can't fill his whole food pyramid with just French toast and bacon).

They don't eat many cookies in China. Despite being over four times our population in size, the Chinese probably eat a tenth of all the cookies we eat here in the U.S. (note - this is not for work, so I am definitely making these numbers the best of my knowledge). In fact, as far as I know, few Chinese desserts are baked. They are traditionally steamed, fried, or cooked as delicious sweet soups, served hot and cold.

Further investigation has led me to discover that "cookie" is a concept entirely "Made in USA".

"Cookie" is not actually a translation of anything - it represents a baked American invention, an icon of Yankee ingenuity, most notable in its glorious form bursting with chocolate chips. It has since become a word that we lazily apply to all other small pastries and sweets of the world... (apologies, on behalf of American English, to those who bake in other countries). So now it suddenly makes sense why there are French madeleines, German spritz, Italian biscotti and Florentines, Scottish shortbread...etc.

Anyhow, enough with the words. I was excited to have the opportunity to try Marilyn's chocolate chip cookie recipe from her blog cauponilla. She, in turn, found this recipe on page 776 of The Best Recipe. I have made more than my share of chocolate chip cookies in my time but could not resist giving this one a try, seeing as it has stood up to the rigorous scrutiny of America's Test Kitchen. I am re-posting the recipe below.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until just warm
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts/pecans (which I omitted, per request)

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
3. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chips and nuts to taste.
4. Drop heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet 2 1/2 inches apart.
5. Bake until the cookies are light golden brown, the outer edges start to harden, and the centers are still soft and puffy, 15-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets with a wide metal spatula.

Not a bad cookie at all. I am happy to be using recipes posted by fellow bloggers, and am wishing that there were some smart central site that compiled all of these recipes into a friendly, searchable database...with a pretty interface.

A brief note about the practicality of sending cookies to China...the cost of shipping equals something around the value of 150 spicy roasted lamb skewers plus two beers in Beijing...and twice that in a city like Xi'an.


Monday, March 13, 2006

sand and dirt: equally delicious


So they've got the BBC, and we've got CNN. They ride the Tube, I take the T. They take responsibility for the Spice Girls, and we for the Backstreet Boys. They eat English trifle, and I have my sand cake.

I happily came upon this recipe for sand cake whilst searching online for beach-inspired foods.

Sand cake is the ideal party cake. It is meant to be messy and is thus easy to serve (ideally with a plastic shovel). It's a fun conversation piece. And best of all, you really can't screw it up. The only point to note is that it needs to sit in the fridge for several hours prior to serving.

Sand Cake
(many variations exist - this is G+Siri's version)

2 packages (3.5 to 4 oz. each) vanilla-flavored instant pudding
4 cups milk
1 container (8 oz.) nondairy whipped topping
1 package (15 oz.) chocolate-chip cookies, broken into quarters
2 cups vanilla-wafer cookie crumbs, divided
Gummy lobsters, shells, flip flops (if you can find them - use fish if you cannot)
Candy rocks
Paper umbrellas

In a large bowl, whisk pudding mix into 4 cups milk until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped topping, then fold in the chocolate chip cookies. Spoon half of the pudding mixture into a clean 2-3 quart plastic beach bucket (or glass trifle dish). Sprinkle with half of the vanilla cookie crumbs. Decorate with some of the candy items. Repeat the layers. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to allow the cookies to soften. Decorate the top with gummy candies, candy rocks, and paper umbrellas. Warn your guests that candy rocks can be hard on the teeth (sorry Peter!).

This fabulous example of sand cake above was made by my fabulous roommate Siri.

FYI - For those of you who may be wondering - sand cake is indeed the lesser-known relative of the other sediment-based cake, dirt cake. Dirt cake is similar in spirit, but with a few notable substitutions. It is made with crushed Oreos and chocolate pudding and topped with gummy worms. It is best served in a flower pot with a trowel.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

parallel giant baking


40 mph winds and temperatures with a high of 20 transformed an exciting Saturday of beginner snowboarding lessons into an intense and gnarly day of baking.

Amanda, Cafa, and I first consoled ourselves with breakfast at Sound Bites, a somewhat overrated but still highly satisfying neighborhood joint in Somerville. (I've been spoiled by San Francisco, where places like Chloe's Cafe have made whole wheat walnut toast and farm-fresh berries a standard part of the hangover brunch...)

We then moseyed our way into the Saturday scene at Market Basket, which is completely different from what you might find at the local Whole Foods (Cantabrigians sampling cheeses after yoga) or Shaw's (MIT grad students towing personal shopping baskets on wheels). Market Basket is frenzied. Market Basket is disorienting. Market Basket is wholly human and astoundingly cheap.

I could have spent hours wandering the aisles, but my companions kept us focused on our mission. We gathered the necessary ingredients and headed home, and for the next couple hours dedicated our full attention to our chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting and chocolate hazelnut bars.

Since my visit to Magnolia Bakery in the West Village last month, I have been thinking about the meaning of the quintessential cupcake. Ostensibly, Magnolia's does make the quintessential cupcake - simple flavors, deftly frosted with a thick, sugary smear. But they also make a big to-do of your entire experience in their store, which, unfortunately, takes away from the cupcake's innocent charm (note the bouncer at the door). The price of fame, I suppose.

Our chocolate cupcake recipe came from Martha Stewart, and our peanut butter frosting was the classic healthful mixture consisting primarily of peanut butter, butter, and confectioners' sugar.

Martha Stewart's Chocolate Cupcakes
(makes 12)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk or soy milk, room temperature
1 large egg, lightly beaten, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water

1. Place rack in center of oven and heat to 350°. Line cupcake tins (regular size) with 12 paper liners; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine cocoa, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter, milk, egg, and vanilla. Using a hand-held electric mixer on medium speed, beat for two minutes. (I did this by hand.) Add boiling water and beat to combine (batter will be thin). Divide batter evenly between cupcake liners.

3. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Peanut Butter Frosting

3 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp milk or soy milk

Combine butter and peanut butter in a medium bowl, and beat until smooth (an electric mixer helps, but we did it by hand). Gradually mix in the sugar and vanilla. Add milk one tablespoon at a time until all of the sugar is mixed in and the frosting is smooth. Beat for a few minutes for it to get fluffy.

Don't frost the cupcakes until they are cool! We topped our finished cakes with chocolate nibs made from crushed chocolate chips. (We had trouble getting them to stay on the frosting, so we sprayed each cupcake lightly with vegetable oil first.) The end product was delightful and a joy to eat. As Amanda described, it was just moist enough to be good, but not so dishonestly moist as a cupcake from Duncan Hines. (Better than a mix - it's a low bar, but the unspoken goal of anyone who takes the time to make brownies or chocolate cake from scratch.)

Meanwhile, we also took on the challenge of developing our own chocolate hazelnut bar recipe, which I will not share with you just yet, as it is still somewhat a work in progress. I will say, however, that should you be without a food processor, Cafa has found it useful to keep the household tool chest handy by the kitchen.

(a work in progress)

For a savory complement to our nutritious lunch, we added freshly popped popcorn, which our very resourceful Amanda made in a brown paper bag, and I buttered and seasoned with garlic, chili pepper, and salt.

Overall, the day was schwank, and I am beginning to wonder why Parallel Giant Baking has yet to be included as an event in the Winter Olympics. Would it be against the rules to seek sponsorship from KitchenAid?