Tag Archives: cookie bars

Thomas Keller’s Cocoa Brownies

I can’t tell you how often I dream about Thomas Keller. I think about him all the time. I hope this isn’t creepy. I just adore his imaginative and playful outlook on food, his down-to-earth personality, and immense knowledge of food and cooking techniques. He thinks about food in a way that is simply unparalleled. He wants to make awesome meals for his guests, yes, but he also wants it to evoke a memory and touch people in a personal way. It’s not just eating, it’s experiencing flavors and textures. Other chefs, even Anthony Bourdain, are humbled by his plates. No one can do what he does. I think he’s brilliant. Chad thinks he’s a stoner (the idea of “how else does he think of this stuff?!”). I just want to eat with him, talk to him, have him sign something, make him food. I think he’d like my split red lentil soup with red pepper paste. He’s incredible. Incredible enough that I would actually pay $300 to eat in his restaurants. If I had a spare $300. And I most certainly don’t. I do have his newest cookbook though and with it, I learned his brownie recipe. Oh lord. These brownies.

I’m reading his cookbook as if he wrote it just for me…to teach me to cook aaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way from Yountville. I mean, it’s just not practical to expect him to come to Indiana to teach me. So I understand why he wrote a book for me. He’s telling me how to properly cut up a chicken (two different ways) and why he’s against tongs. I’ve already followed his advice about dating my spice jars (see how well I follow directions, Thomas!) and I’ve made an imitation recipe for his cream of walnut soup. This is as close to French Laundry or Per Se or Ad Hoc as I can get (for now).

He seems to be in Julia Child’s camp on the butter topic, no? There are three, count ’em, three sticks of butter in these. And he’s solved the “I forgot to sit out my butter and it’s not room temperature!” problem too. He’s wonderful.

3/4 C AP flour
1 C unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp salt (Kosher is best here)
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into Tbsps
3 eggs, large
1 3/4 sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 C dark chocolate, cut in to pieces

Preheat oven to 350 and butter a 9×9 dish. Combine flour, salt, and cocoa and set aside. Melt half of the butter in a small saucepan. When completely melted, pour over the remaining, chopped butter. Stir well and smush with a fork until you can only see tiny bits of solid butter. Now your butter is room temperature and you have witnessed firsthand how the mad food scientist has solved a classic baking problem.

Mix together eggs and sugar in a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until thick and pale. Add vanilla and then the flour mixture and butter in thirds, first flour then butter. When all is incorporated, fold in chocolate bits. Spread the decadent batter into the baking dish. Let your roommate erase her bad day with the spatula and batter bowl. Bake brownies for the longest 40-45 minutes of your life.

Let brownies cool 20 minutes before cutting into pieces. Or, if you can’t be bothered to wait, just hack into them with abandon.

Let’s be completely honest here. I make a lot of brownies. I’ve come from the box brownie land to the classic one bowl recipes to various twists (like spicy brownies!) and intensely cocoa brownies. I thought I had found the best ever cocoa brownies (and don’t worry I’ll still post those since they’re better than these for storing in the freezer) but these are buttery and rich and so chocolatey.

And I feel like these will be a good bribe/thank you to the apple guys if/when they fix my computer for free. They haven’t called about it yet so I’m hoping that’s a good sign…a sign that they’re busy and up to their elbows in, um, modems and processors. Or something.

Lavender-Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are one of those things like deviled eggs that I love for other people to make. For some reason, it never seemed like something that would be easy. “Never seemed like something that would be easy?” I make bread and layer cakes and cappuccino fudge cheesecakes. Something being complicated never stopped me before! So I went for it today. I really wanted to try adding lavender to the next lemony thing I made so this was my chance.

Do your friends and family members  hate lemon-flavored things? My dad hates anything lemony which is so limiting. Of course, it’s also really funny when a person who doesn’t like lemons gets a lemon-meringue pie in his face on his birthday. (Yeah, that happened. Way to go, Clara.) No lemon-pepper chicken! No lemon cake! No lemon-poppyseed muffins! Shame. Chad usually doesn’t like lemon things, but he tried these lemon bars and actually really liked them. I had to be excited about that.

Adapted from The Bon Appetit cookbook 2006 ed.

1 Tbsp (+ 2 pinches) dried lavender flowers
1 1/2 C (+ 4 tsp) flour
1/2 C powdered sugar (plus more for dusting)
3/4 C unsalted butter at room temperature

4 eggs
1 1/2 C granulated sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1/2 C lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 350 and get ready to smell lavender! You’re going to find it easiest if you have a spice grinder or coffee grinder. A food processor could work, or you can just use a mortar and pestle. I used Chad’s spice/coffee grinder. It’s awesome. Grind up 1 Tbsp lavender in the grinder. The remaining 2 pinches will be left whole.

Mix together all dry ingredients for the shortbread in a bowl. Add the butter and blend in with a pastry blender (alternatively, you can do all of this in a food processor). It is combined enough when it looks like the picture above.

Now eat a thin mint. Because you worked hard making that dough and your roommate wants to reward you. Now put the dough in a 9×13 pan and press down firmly with your fingers. You want the dough to be even and well pressed. Bake for 20 minutes at 350.

Meanwhile, zest and juice two lemons. You’ll probably have more than a 1/2 C of juice but you can use that for salad dressing or lemon-pepper chicken. Or stick it in the fridge. By the way, do you have lots of fun zesting things? I do. I love it. And I love my microplane zester. It’s delightful and yellow and I got it on sale. Wonderful.

Here is the lineup for the topping. Mix the eggs and sugar until completely combined. Next add the lemon juice and zest and mix well. When the shortbread has baked, pour the topping mixture over the hot shortbread (this is important–don’t let the shortbread cool) and sprinkle on a few lavender flowers. Bake for another 20 minutes (still at 350).

Doesn’t that look yummy? And just ever-so-slightly browned. But you’re gonna have to let them cool. I KNOW. I hate when things have to cool before I can eat them.

Carefully cut the lemon bars into squares (or plain-old rectangles!) and place on a cooling rack. I put paper towels under mine for easy clean up, but you can just wipe the counter instead. Now dust the tops with powdered sugar and arrange on a pretty plate.

Oh my goodness.  These are easily the best lemon bars I’ve ever had. The lavender adds a perfectly light, floral aroma and complements the tart lemon. What amazed me most was the yummy shortbread bottom. Usually I’m not a shortbread person but this had just the right texture and floral flavor. And oftentimes lemon bar crusts are super buttery to the point of being greasy, but not these. It’s buttery, but not greasy. Please make these. It gives you an excuse to buy lavender and guys, it’s cheap and makes everything smell awesome. Just do it.

Army Care Packages & Magic-Magic Bars

I am frequently faced with the task of making food to be sent by plane, car, or mail. Having spoiled my California co-workers with strawberry-chocolate scones and multitudes of cookies and cupcakes, I was asked to send goodies along with my brothers and dad when they came to Indiana for a visit last Easter. The dilemma of making sendable food was made more difficult withthe addition of my Uncle Steve whose powerful and insatiable sweet tooth is talked about in hushed, reverent tones across the San Diego area. Baked goods and sweets of any kind are not safe in his presence. That weekend I supplied myself with extra candy for the candy bowls, made cinnamon crusted nutmeg muffins to be eaten with strawberries for a quick Easter breakfast, and called on my most sendable standby recipes to be packaged and hauled off.

That weekend I created my extra magic magic bars. Magic-Magic Bars. They’ve been called orgasmic. So when my super cute roommate wanted to send a care package to her husband, they immediately sprang to mind. She wanted to learn how to make granola bars and maybe try her hand at caramels, but I needed to make something too and without question, dear Danny would make friends with these goodies to hare. I mean Lt. Dan. That’s his name now. He’s important and probably decent at shrimping. But way cuter.
(Photo by Geyer Photography)
Wouldja believe that strappin’ young man and that cute lil lady are hitched? Oh, to be young and in love…Oh wait! I am. Hehe. Got carried away there.
Make these magic bars. Maybe make a double batch. Send these to someone you love who is far away and unhuggable. Send them to your people serving overseas. Send them love and food because Lord knows that crap they’re eating isn’t nearly deserving of their hard work and patriotism. Or send them to your kids in college. Dorm food sucks and even if you’re sending care packages every week, they could use another. I never got one living in the dorms. *sniff* So send them one for my sake.
I have always followed the Joy of Baking recipe and instructions, but it’s pretty much the same everywhere you look.
1 stick melted, unsalted butter
1 1/2 C crushed up graham crackers
1 1/2 C shredded coconut
3/4 C chocolate chips
1 C crushed mini pretzels (twisted or sticks)
1/3 C crushed pecans
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 325. Stir together the grahams and butter and press firmly into the bottom of a 9×9 pan. Sprinkle the coconut over top, followed by the chocolate chips and then the mini-pretzel/pecan mixture. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the whole pan and bake for 25 mins at 325.

IF sending by mail or plane, wrap first in cling wrap, then tuck into zip-top bags. Air is your worst enemy in these situations. Steal a sturdy box from your office or Starbucks or McDonalds (people rave about their boxes) and pack tightly. Got room? Send our boys and girls some hot sauce packets, barbeque sauces, and their favorite candies. I’ve been told hot sauce is neccessary for most Army food. Don’t skimp because they’ll share with buddies. Add a note, a kiss, and safe wishes.