Category Archives: Cookbooks

What I Don’t Know About Brownies. . . .

What I don’t know or understand about brownies could fill a cookbook. I have no interest in eating one, and I have never received high marks for the ones I’ve made. Looking at a brief comparison of four recipes shows one reason I might be excused for my incompetence:

Brownies

People can’t even agree on the ratio of butter to flour, even when two of the recipes come from the same chef. And moving between those baked in 8″ square or 9″ x 13″ pans, you still can’t figure out how or why the ratios change.

Probably, you just found your favorite recipe once and stuck to it. Me? I have just avoided making brownies. I do have one post on this site that reviews a packaged brownie mix that turned out very well, but I haven’t made any from scratch since then. So, I can’t answer why I’m putting myself through the torture of making brownies from scratch, again, but here I am. The good news is that my husband will eat them even if he thinks they aren’t premium.

To save myself the further headache of trying to create a new recipe from these 4, I’m just going to take the first recipe in the list and double it for a 9″ x 13″ pan, with a few changes:

  • I bought semi-sweet instead of unsweetened chocolate, mostly because I don’t think straight when I buy chocolate
  • I’m leaving out the baking powder—I don’t like it in banana bread, so why would I use it here?
  • Most of the recipes use pecans, but I’m using walnuts
  • And, of course, I added salt

Surprisingly, these brownies were dubbed “Quite a brownie—chewy, fudgy, and with frosting.” Maybe I should save this recipe.

Fudgy Frosted Brownies

  • Servings: 24 2-inch brownies
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • The brownies are adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook (1995) “Iced Brownies.”
  • The frosting is from Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book (1961) “Creamy Cocoa Icing.”

Preheat oven to 350°; butter a 9″ x 13″ baking pan. I used a dark pan and the edges were pretty dark, but not burned. Stewart suggests a glass dish.

Brownies

2 sticks butter

4 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate

2 cups sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 cups walnuts, barely chopped

  1. Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler, then set aside.
  2. In large bowl, mix together dry ingredients.
  3. Pour in butter and chocolate and mix until combined. I used a hand mixer.
  4. Continue mixing, adding eggs and vanilla, until well combined. It makes a glossy batter.
  5. Stir in nuts.
  6. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Test with a toothpick in the center.
  7. Cool in pan, then frost and cut in 24 or more squares.

Creamy Cocoa Icing

2 2/3 cups confectioners sugar (I did not sift mine and it turned out fine)

1/3 cup cocoa

1/3 cup soft butter

4-5 tablespoons milk

Mix all the ingredients until smooth and creamy. I used a large spoon, but I’m sure a mixer would be quicker.

Links to the compared recipes from the web:

Best Ever Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate Brownies

Fudge-Topped Brownies

Martha Stewart’s “Iced Brownies” (not available online, see image below)

IMG_5656

 

Peanut Butter Pecan Cookies

With the addition of coconut oil as the shortening, the cookies have a slight coconut flavor, but they retain the classic texture of a peanut butter cookie—a little sandy, a little crisp, a little chewy. The chopped pecans are a bonus.

I started with the old Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book (1961) recipe for “Peanut Butter Cookies” (p. 206) and made just a few changes, adding the pecans and the semi-solid extra-virgin coconut oil for the shortening. The recipe says it makes 3 dozen cookies, but I only got 2 dozen, so I guess I rolled the balls a little too large, but the cookies seem the right size to me. I thought I was following the “size of large walnuts” direction, but when was the last time I saw  a walnut in a shell?

Peanut Butter Pecan Cookies

  • Servings: 2-3 dozen small cookies
  • Difficulty: easy
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Preheat oven to 375°; line cookie sheets with parchment.

1/2 cup each:

  • extra virgin coconut oil
  • peanut butter
  • granulated sugar
  • brown sugar, packed

1 egg

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Beat the coconut oil, peanut butter, sugars, and egg until creamy.
  2. Stir in the pecans and dry ingredients until well combined.
  3. Form the dough into balls of 1-1 1/2″ in diameter. I found this crumbly but moist dough forms better by squeezing and shaping with the fingers than by rolling. Place the balls on a cookie sheet, then press to flatten with the tines of a fork or the bottom of a glass or think of something creative.
  4. Bake for about 10 minutes. I generally err on the side of underbaking cookies, but they seemed to be browned enough after 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Savory Butternut Squash Soufflé

We like butternut squash roasted in chunks until they brown on the edges, or mashed with butter and salt, and especially in butternut squash risotto. Today I figured it was time for something else, and I wondered how difficult it would be to get the heavy mashed pulp to rise in a soufflé. I haven’t made a soufflé for eons, but I remember the high hat that puffs out of the dish before it falls a little, and the airy texture of the soufflé in your mouth. Surely this one will be different, still with a lighter texture than simple mashed squash, but not like  a squash custard.

“Soufflés have the same kind of life as the ‘breath’ for which they are named. . . .”

My old Joy of Cooking (1967) has a whole section on soufflés—the one with eggplant looks yummy—but I have only ever made the traditional cheese soufflé. It starts with a thick white sauce, but that wouldn’t be necessary when you start with a thick mashed vegetable like squash or sweet potatoes. In the eggplant soufflé, there are breadcrumbs and chopped nuts mixed with the eggplant pulp, but a little milk is only recommended if the mixture seems “stiff.” It’s that point before you fold in the beaten egg whites that determines whether you need more moisture. The sweet potato soufflé uses a little applesauce for that moisture. If I need it, I will use a little milk, but I think I will try to infuse both moisture and lightness with eggs alone—4 eggs in total.

I’ll be mixing the squash, seasonings, and egg yolks in a food processor to a smooth puree, and then folding in the beaten egg whites by hand in a large bowl, but you could make it all by hand or with a hand mixer up to the egg white stage.

Savory Butternut Squash Soufflé

  • Servings: about 4
  • Difficulty: moderately easy
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Recipe Timing: Timing this recipe depends on your method of cooking the squash. If you roast it in the oven, whole or peeled and in chunks, that will take time, but it could be done the day before, especially since it should cool before mixing with eggs. I cooked mine, whole, in the microwave for 10-16 minutes, so that expedited the process. With cooked squash, the rest of the recipe goes quickly, even with separating the eggs and whipping the egg whites.

Baking dish tips: Butter a 1 1/2 qt baking dish with high sides. Dust the bottom and sides of the dish with finely grated Parmesan cheese or flour. A dish with a smaller round  circumference and higher sides works better than a low-sided larger dish, such as an 8 or 9 inch square baker.

Preheat oven to 350°

1 medium-large butternut squash, cooked—about 2 cups

1 tablespoon bacon fat

1 tablespoon finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

4 egg yolks

4 egg whites, stiffly beaten

  1. In bowl of food processor, combine squash, bacon fat, and seasonings to a puree. Taste for seasoning before adding egg yolks. Add egg yolks and pulse to blend.
  2. Transfer squash puree to large bowl. Fold in beaten egg whites with large spatula—a silicone spatula with a large paddle works better than a small one. Mine measures 5″ and is curved to fit the sides of bowls. Mine is blue, but you can see it in red here: http://www.amazon.com/KitchenAid-Silicone-Mixer-Spatula-Red/dp/B0095PC75C
  3. Pour mixture into prepared dish and bake at 350° for 40 minutes, then check to make sure the center has risen to the same height as the edges. If it is sunken in the middle, let it go for another 10 minutes.
  4. It does rise in the baking dish, but if you want a photo, take it quickly, because the whole thing sinks about an inch in a few minutes. I forgot to get one until it was too late.

The texture is lighter and airier than a squash custard (such as a pumpkin pie) but a little heavier than the traditional cheese soufflé made with white sauce. The edges/sides—if you dust the dish with grated cheese—have a nicely browned crust. A soufflé is a nice change for a traditional vegetable side dish. Think of all the ways you can work vegetables into one.

Maple Pecan Pie

A hunting friend with a farm and a sugar shack (a lucky friend) gave us some of his maple syrup, so I decided to make this pie with a cup of it. There are a lot of recipes for maple pecan pie out there—some of them too fussy and time-consuming—but all you really need to do is take your favorite pecan pie recipe and substitute maple syrup for the corn syrup. The resulting pie is really a sugar custard—wow! that doesn’t sound very healthy, but the Easter holiday is surely one of the worst holidays for over-consumption of sugar. I’m taking the pie with us on our holiday trip, so I only plan to have a tiny, tiny slice and leave the rest for the gang. The rest of the sugar feast (peeps and bunnies), for me, will be watching while others do their thing. One of us has to be sober.

Unlike a regular custard pie, which bakes in about 25 minutes, a pecan pie, with all that sugary syrup takes a little longer to set, up to an hour or more depending on the recipe. With that longer time, I don’t worry about the crust being underdone, so it doesn’t need to be prebaked, but I do worry about the crimped edges. I’m unbelievably out of foil, so I have to use a silicone edge cover, which doesn’t work as well as foil; I’m expecting the crust to be more browned than we would like. Better to have realistic expectations.

I’m making a few changes to the recipe in my Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book (1961):

  1. substituting 1 cup maple syrup for corn syrup
  2. substituting brown sugar for white sugar—which will create a little caramel sweetness with the 1/3 cup butter
  3. adding both chopped and whole pecan halves for a nuttier texture and flavor
  4. adding 1 teaspoon vanilla

Maple Pecan Pie

  • Servings: one 9 inch pie
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Preheat oven to 375°

1 9″ unbaked pie crust

3 eggs

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup butter, melted

1 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup whole pecan halves

  1. Beat eggs and sugar, then beat in butter, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt with a hand mixer.
  2. Stir in chopped nuts and pour mixture into pie shell.
  3. Arrange pecan halves on top in any sort of order or just try to fit them all in to cover.
  4. Cover the pie edges with strips of foil or a pie crust shield. Bake for 40 minutes. The filling will jiggle a little, but don’t overbake; it will set upon cooling. Remove to cooling rack.