Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nuts about chocolate and caramel

I've had way too many baked goods in my kitchen lately.  There are the cookies that I baked for Brianna's after-school teachers and to have for her lunches (still trying to finish those off).  There were the cranberry pecan rolls that I made for the BBA Challenge (post coming tomorrow, I hope).  I took a bunch of those to Gillian's teachers.  There's the poundcake (in three variations) that I baked via Twitter with Nancy, Sarah and Amy.  Some of that is destined for Brianna's first grade teacher.  There's bread too (baked with Nancy, Kayte and Jessica), but I really needed to make that because we were completely out.

And on top of all that, I needed to make this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, chosen by Carla of Chocolate Moosey.  Once I got a look at the recipe, I knew there was no way I was going to skip it, and not just because I missed last week (still hoping to catch up on that and the chocolate souffles at some point).  Carla picked the Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart for us to make.  Chocolate and caramel, what's not to love?  Plus Dorie's buttery, crisp sweet tart crust, which is always fantastic.

One of the things that was nice about this recipe was being able to make the components in advance.  In fact, I think doing so made it much quicker to assemble the finished tart.  To start, I made the tart dough on Sunday afternoon.  I wasn't paying attention to the recipe, though, and I didn't quite do it the way I was supposed to.  I chilled the dough and then rolled it out, rather than patting it into the pan.  But it worked out okay in the end.  Once I had the dough in the pan, I stuck it in the freezer for several hours, since my oven was busy cooking chicken for dinner.  I eventually got as far as blind baking it (letting it stay in for a few extra minutes so it was nice and browned) and then left it out to cool to room temperature.

Next up was the caramel.  Again, I failed to follow directions, but this time it was on purpose.  Dorie's recipe calls for making a dry caramel by simply sticking the sugar in a pan and heating it until it melts and caramelizes.  I don't like making caramel by that method, so I went ahead and added a bit of water to the sugar along with the corn syrup.  It takes a bit longer, since you have to wait for the water to boil off, but I have better luck doing it that way.  Once the caramel was done (and by the way, did I mention that I'm amazed that making caramel no longer fazes me at all?), I also let it cool to room temperature.  That was it for Sunday.

Monday morning before work, I made the ganache.  It was pretty straightforward, blending the chocolate (I used El Rey Mijao, which is 61%) with some of the cream, then whisking in the rest of the cream and some softened butter.  I put plastic wrap on the surface of the ganache and left it out at room temperature for the day.  By evening, it had set nicely to a thickened but still spreadable consistency.  I then assembled the tart.  I warmed the caramel in the microwave for a few seconds then added a couple ounces of chopped cashews (just plain, not honey-roasted; I'm not fond of peanuts).  I spread the caramel mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart crust.  Then I used my small offset spatula to spread the ganache on top of the caramel.  The quantities were perfect to fill my tart shell.  I put the tart in the fridge for about an hour to make sure it was set, then left it out at room temperature as suggested in the recipe.

The verdict?  This is one of my favorite TWD recipes so far, I think.  The components are all very good on their own, but the finished tart is even better.  Brianna didn't want to try it (wasn't happy about the nuts, even though I made a point of using ones that she usually likes to eat), but Gillian enjoyed it a lot.  Jamie thought it was quite tasty as well, which isn't surprising since he likes caramel and salty-sweet things.  I was a bit surprised how much I really liked the tart.  It has a great contrast of flavors and textures.  The crisp cookie crust makes a nice contrast to the softer ganache filling.  I decided that the tart was way too dangerous to keep the whole thing around the house, so I took half of it to work.  It was a big hit with everyone there, as well.

If you want to give this fabulous dessert a try for yourself, head on over to Carla's blog for the recipe.  And be sure to check out the TWD blogroll to see what everyone else thought of this week's tart.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Changing seasons

The calendar finally says that fall has arrived.  I am more than ready for it.  Last weekend I had a fabulous time on a girls' weekend with my three sisters.  After the pleasant days and cool nights in the northeast (I managed to hit five states--Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania--plus the District of Columbia in four days), I was not eager to return to hot central Texas.  Glad to be headed back to my own bed, yes, but not excited about the 95 degrees that the pilot told us about as we were landing in Austin.  Fortunately, the first day of autumn was rainy and cool (not sure if we even got out of the 60s).  We had a few more pleasant days after that as well, but today we were back up to about 90. Ugh.

A lot of my eagerness for fall is because I'm ready to bake with fall ingredients--bring on the apples and pumpkin, the cinnamon and nutmeg.  A couple weeks ago, we did have several cloudy days that made it feel like fall was finally on its way.  I stopped into Starbucks, which is a fairly rare thing for me.  I'm not a coffee drinker, but they do make a couple things that I like.  My usual drink is hot chocolate (with peppermint once the weather is cool for good).  But I wasn't in the mood for that.  I also drink tea, but I have a hard time paying Starbucks prices for a teabag and hot water.  As I stared at the menu, hoping for inspiration, it hit me.  Caramel Apple Spice!

For those who may not be familiar with it, Caramel Apple Spice is hot apple juice with a squirt or two of cinnamon syrup, topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce.  Now the fall weather isn't really here to stay yet.  And while it really hit the spot that day, Caramel Apple Spice is too sweet for me to drink very often.  But I started thinking some more about it and realized that I might be able to capture the flavors of this fall drink in a summery concoction if I made ice cream out of it.

It's still a work in progress, but I'm off to a good start, I think.  I started by looking for Treetop apple juice (which is what Starbucks uses) at my local grocery store.  Unfortunately the only bottle they had was a huge jug that we wouldn't have room for in the fridge.  So I settled for Motts, and figured Gillian would drink the extra (plus it has vitamin C added, which is good since she doesn't get orange juice).  It took some experimenting to figure out the best quantity, but I ended up putting three cups of the juice in a saucepan with half a cup of sugar and a cinnamon stick.  I simmered it until the sugar was dissolved and the quantity was reduced to two cups.  Once the syrup was cooled to room temperature, I added a couple cups of heavy cream.  Then I put it in the fridge for about 6 hours so it would get pretty cold (churns better that way).  When I tasted the mixture before churning, the cinnamon flavor wasn't very strong, so I decided to add a bit of ground cinnamon to the mix.  I spooned a couple tablespoons of the cream into a small bowl, whisked in about 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon, then whisked that back into the rest of the cream.  After churning, I put the soft ice cream into a container, adding spoonfuls of caramel in layers so the ice cream would be swirled when I scooped it.

The verdict?  Pretty darn good!  It could probably still use a bit more apple flavor, so I may try reducing four cups of juice down to two cups next time.  I made my own caramel sauce (like in this post, but with a bit more cream so it wouldn't get too hard in the freezer), but you could use prepared caramel if you wanted to.  Everyone else here seemed to enjoy the ice cream too.  And it was quite tasty with the turnovers I made a couple weeks ago.  I'll definitely be trying this one again.

Caramel Apple Spice Ice Cream

3 cups (24 oz) apple juice
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups (16 oz) heavy cream
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

caramel sauce (cold), either homemade or purchased

Place the juice, sugar and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is reduced to 2 cups.  Let the syrup cool to room temperature.  Remove the cinnamon stick and stir in the heavy cream.  Chill the mixture until very cold before churning.  Taste the mixture before churning.  If the cinnamon taste is not strong enough, put several tablespoons of the cream mixture into a small bowl.  Whisk in the ground cinnamon, then mix back into the rest of the cream mixture.  Churn the mixture in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Transfer the soft ice cream to a storage container, alternating scoops of ice cream with spoonfuls of caramel sauce so that the ice cream will be swirled when scooped.  Freeze until hard enough to scoop.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sometimes you feel like corn...

...sometimes you don't.  And I have now determined conclusively that I do not like actual corn in my cornbread.  In the past I've avoided it, figuring I probably wouldn't like it that way.  But the next bread in the BBA Challenge was cornbread, including actual corn, so I figured I'd finally give it a try.  Since it's a quick bread, the batter doesn't take all that long to mix together.  You do have to plan ahead a bit, though, since the recipe calls for coarse cornmeal (polenta) that has to soak overnight.  The cornbread also has bacon on top.  Reinhart recommends cooking the bacon in the oven, and that's my usual method anyway.  It's nice to be able to do a whole batch at once and not make a big mess of the stovetop.  One thing I do recommend is completely lining your sheet pan with foil to make clean up a lot easier.  The batter is made with the standard muffin method--combine dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another, then combine the two.  I decided to make muffins--a dozen, since I only have one muffin pan--and used an 8" round pan for the rest of the batter.  I heated the pans in the oven, added a bit of the bacon fat, added the batter, and put everything in the oven.  Oh, and I did add corn to the round pan, though not to the muffins.

The verdict?  Big failure on this one.  The muffins had leavening issues, I think.  They ended up with divots in the middle.  And they tried to stick to the pan, though I was able to pry them out intact.  The round pan was a total disaster.  I think the pan wasn't hot enough (plus the only pan I had was shiny aluminum, and I think a dark pan would have worked much better).  The cornbread stuck in the middle, so I ended up with a ring of soggy cornbread.  Yuck.  I did sample it, and as I mentioned above, I definitely don't like corn in my cornbread.  Gillian seemed to like the muffins okay.  She ate one and part of another.  Brianna mostly picked the bacon off the top of hers and left the rest.  Jamie thought the cornbread was okay, though not great, but he eats almost anything. =)  I ate a muffin and wasn't impressed.  Just not my cup of tea, I guess.  I prefer my cornbread sweeter, and despite containing white sugar, brown sugar and honey, this cornbread was not particularly sweet.  I'm fairly certain I won't be making this one again.

Others had a lot more luck with this recipe.  Head over to the BBA Challenge blogroll to see how everyone else is doing with the challenge (the main group is well past the cornbread).  And check out Nancy's blog sometime soon for a cornbread round-up from the Slow and Steady sub-group.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


...is a pretty good description of how I've been feeling lately about way too many things.  I looked around my bathroom this morning and all I could think was, when am I going to find to clean up here?  There just aren't enough hours in the day.  Plus I'm stressing out a lot about trying to get Brianna and Gillian to bed earlier.  It's just so hard, since on the nights I work late I don't get home until about 7:45, and on the other days we're lucky to be home by 7:00.  *sigh*  Any of you moms out there have any suggestions?

I knew I didn't want to miss another Tuesdays with Dorie, so I was committed to making the apple turnovers picked for us by Julie of Someone's in the Kitchen.  I love pastry.  That wonderful browned butter flavor you get is addictive.  Much as I love chocolate, pastry is my real weakness.  Croissants, danish, palmiers, all-butter pie crust, you name it.  And as I've discovered how rewarding it is to make it all myself, I can't see going back to the store-bought stuff.  It's just not as good.  Thankfully, some of it, like this week's recipe, really isn't that hard to make.  After reviewing the recipe, I did decide to stick with half a batch of dough, since I really don't need more temptation than that...

As Dorie often recommends, I started mixing the dough by hand, rubbing butter into the dry ingredients. I deliberately left some fairly big bits of butter, knowing that it would add to the flakiness of the dough when I rolled it out.  Once I was done working the butter in, I added the sour cream and ended up with a fairly soft dough.  Into the fridge it went to chill overnight.  That was Sunday.  It was Monday night before I got back to it.  I rolled the dough out and gave it a turn as Dorie indicates in the recipe.  Since the dough was still pretty cold, I actually decided to do a second turn as well before putting the dough back in the fridge to chill again.  It was late, so I didn't actually get to the turnovers themselves until Tuesday morning.

I had just enough time before work Tuesday morning to roll out half the dough.  I ended up cutting it into 9 small squares (about 3 1/2 inches on a side) and making some mini triangular turnovers.  I think of triangles when I think of turnovers, not the rounded shapes that are indicated in the recipe.  Plus then I was able to use pretty much all of the dough.  I used one Granny Smith apple for the filling and eyeballed the corresponding amounts of sugar, flour and cinnamon.  After filling and sealing the dough, I brushed the tops with a bit of water (didn't want to mess with egg wash) and sprinkled them with some turbinado sugar.  I baked the turnovers for about 22 minutes, let them cool slightly, and took them to work with me.

I tacked the rest of the dough Tuesday night after instead of dinner.  I made slightly bigger turnovers with that portion of dough, ending up with 6 turnovers from squares that were about 4 1/2 inches on a side.  When they were done baking, I plated one with a scoop of Caramel Apple Spice ice cream that I made over the weekend (you can now find the recipe here), drizzled it with some more caramel sauce and dug in.  As Tracey said, it has fruit, so that makes it healthy enough to eat for dinner, right? =)

The verdict?  These turnovers were fabulous.  The crust was nice and flaky.  Unlike some of the other apple things I've made recently, the filling was well cooked and tasty.  The minis fared well at work; I think the guys were surprised that I made them myself from scratch.  Gillian really seemed to like the "apple pie" she ate for breakfast this morning.  Brianna thought it was okay, too, but I think she would have preferred more filling.  Jamie thought the dough worked quite well--sturdy enough to hold up to a bit of handling, but tender and flaky once you bite into it.  I ate them plain, with the ice cream, then plain again for breakfast this morning.  All I can say is, yum.  Oh, and it's a good thing I only made the half-batch.  Though I'm pretty sure it won't be long before I make them again.

Head over to Julie's blog for the recipe.  And be sure to check out the other TWD bakers to see what everyone else did with this week's recipe.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

LiveSTRONG with a taste of lemon

I was very happy to see that Barbara is hosting the LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow event again this year.  I participated last year, and very much enjoyed reading all the posts from everyone else who joined in to support the fight against cancer.

As I tried to decide what to write for this post, one thing in particular was on my mind.  Regular readers of my blog (and my baking friends on Twitter) will remember that my husband Jamie had his tonsils out back in June.  What I didn't talk about much at the time was the unexpected effect that his surgery had on me.  We've been together for 12 years, and that was the first time he ever had anything medical come up (aside from the usual colds, allergies etc).  I wasn't at all ready for the near-panic attack that hit me.

My first husband, Nate, died of cancer on January 22, 1996.  Over thirteen years ago.  And as I sat in the hospital, waiting for Jamie's surgery to be done, it felt like it was yesterday.  This was a totally different situation, and part of me understood that.  But another part of me remembered what it was like to sit in a hospital and feel totally helpless in the face of a terrible disease that was destroying someone I loved.  Cancer is so hard on the people who have it.  But it's also incredibly hard on the caregivers who know that there is only so much they can do to help.  The ones who go to the doctor appointments and wait through the tests and treatments.  The ones who help their loved ones do all the daily things that they can't do for themselves.  The ones who get annoyed sometimes and just want everything to be normal again and then feel guilty for feeling that way.  The ones who are strong because they have to be, but who cry in the shower because sometimes they can only let their feelings out when they are alone.  This post is dedicated to all those people...

For this year's event, I decided to make lemon bars.  This recipe is special to me because it's based on one that Nate got from his mom.  Luscious, very tart filling on top of a shortbread crust.  This time I decided to play around with the crust.  For something just a little different, I went with Dorie Greenspan's Sweet Tart Crust.  The filling I left alone, since it's fabulous as is.

Lemon Bars
(adapted from Laverne Morrison and Dorie Greenspan)

1 recipe Sweet Tart Dough

3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1 1/8 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (4 oz) freshly squeezed lemon juice

powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Press the tart dough evenly into an 8" square pan (I use a Pyrex pan).  Prick the dough all over with a fork.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the dough is just starting to color around the edges.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling.  In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together.  Whisk in the flour, then whisk in the lemon juice.  When the crust is ready, remove the pan from the oven.  Pour the filling over the hot crust and return the pan to the oven.  Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until most of the filling is set.  There may be a small section in the middle that is still slightly jiggly.  That's okay, since the bars continue to cook for a bit after being removed from the oven.  Remove the pan from the oven and place on a rack.  Let cool completely.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Be sure to check out the round-up on Barbara's blog.  She'll have it up on LiveSTRONG Day, October 2nd.  And to learn more about how you can join the fight against cancer, visit the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

To swirl or not to swirl

Do you ever have foods that you like, but you just don't eat them all that often so you forget how much you like them? Raisin bread falls into that category for me. When I saw that the next bread for the BBA Challenge was Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread, I was excited. I don't recall ever making raisin bread before. And I like just about anything with cinnamon.  (Oh, and for the record, I did make the Cinnamon Buns that came before this bread.  I just didn't blog about them, since I didn't manage to take many pictures.  I've actually made them before, and you can read about that here.)

I mostly stuck to the recipe, but I did substitute white whole wheat flour for some of the bread flour (swapped out 4 ounces).  I've been trying to do that with a lot of the bread that I bake.  It's not enough for my girls to notice (or me, for that matter), and I figure it's a step toward eating more whole grains.  Eventually I'll get a copy of Peter Reinhart's whole grain book, but in the meantime, I'll just play around a bit with the recipes I have.  I did leave the walnuts out, since I figured the girls wouldn't be excited about nuts in bread, and I'm not that keen on them either.  I did try one of the variations in the recipe, as well.  Reinhart gives instructions for how to add a cinnamon swirl.  I decided to do that with one of the two loaves, so I could see which one I like better.

The verdict?  I loved this bread.  I'm pretty sure I'm responsible for eating most of it.  Gillian liked it quite a bit as well.  Brianna wasn't as big a fan, but I know she doesn't like cooked raisins.  I think Jamie got a slice or two, but that was it.  The only issue I had was that I think my bread overproofed a bit during its last rise.  As a result, I ended up with a big gap above the swirl under the top crust, so slices from that loaf tended to unravel.  The plain raisin loaf worked better for toast.  Oh, darn, I guess I'll have to make the swirl version again to see if I can get the swirl to work better.  =)

If you'd like to try this wonderful bread for yourself, check out the book!  And be sure to take a look at the BBA Challenge blogroll to see what all the other bakers have been up to.  You can also see a list of the other bakers in the Slow and Steady subgroup here, on Margaret's blog.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Soufflé delay

I'm really disappointed to say that I haven't had a chance to make this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe yet.  It was chosen by Susan of She's Becoming Doughmesstic.  I really enjoy reading Susan's blog, and I was really looking forward to making the Chocolate Soufflé that she picked.  And I will, just not in time to post it today.  Brianna managed to pick up a cold (gotta love the start of the new school year...) and decided to share it with me.  So I'm going to have some more tea, and probably some toast, and go to bed early.  But hopefully I'll get the soufflé made later this week.  In the meantime, be sure to check out the blogroll to see how everyone else fared with their soufflés!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sharing the wealth

What favorite products do you use all the time?  Do you talk about them in your blog (if you have one)?  One of the things I love most about the food blogging community is the sharing of ideas.  And that includes favorite ingredients and equipment as well as recipes.  If there's something that I really like, I love telling people about it.  Anyone who's been reading my blog for a while knows that I use King Arthur flours and Scharffen Berger cocoa powder and love Clearbrook Farms fruit butters.  I don't get anything from these companies, I just think they have marvelous products that I've used a lot.

Every once in a while, though, I am offered free samples of new things to try.  Some I turn down, if I know it's something that I wouldn't normally use.  I started this as a baking blog, to share my experiences with recipes, not really to talk about products.  But sometimes I will go ahead and accept the offer to try something, if I know I will use it for baking and it comes with no real strings attached.  One such offer came my way several months back from Stonyfield.

They sent me coupons to try their (relatively) new Greek Yogurt, Oikos.  (Ooh, and they sent me the coolest reusable shopping bag--it folds up really small so I can carry it in my purse, which means I actually use it frequently!)  Fairly soon after getting the coupons, I got a couple of small flavored containers (vanilla and honey) and a big container of plain.  I ate the small ones as part of my lunches for work.  Pretty good, but what I was really interested in was using the plain yogurt as an ingredient for baking.  But I had the hardest time deciding what to use it for.  So it sat, and sat, and sat in the back of my fridge. And yes, yogurt does eventually go bad.  I was pretty annoyed with myself.  So I waited a while, and finally picked up another small container of the plain yogurt, promising myself that I would use it soon.  And it got pushed to the back of the fridge too, and sat there until I found it again on Sunday morning.

I wasn't actually looking for it at the time.  I was working on making the coffeecake that I'd promised Gillian.  She must have asked me every ten minutes if the coffeecake was ready yet.  I wasn't moving very fast, and was having a hard time deciding what recipe to make.  It went from being coffeecake for breakfast, to being for lunch, to finally being afternoon snack. =)  But I remembered seeing a post about crumb cake a while back on Baker's Banter, and when I looked it up, it was pretty similar to what I was in the mood for.  But I wanted a brown sugar cinnamon crumb topping, so I modified my favorite one that I use for apple pie.

A nice thing about the recipe for the cake part is that it calls for either yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream.  Very versatile.  I was digging in my fridge to see what I had on hand when I remembered the Oikos.  It worked quite nicely--it almost seems like a cross between yogurt and sour cream.  It has a thicker texture than regular yogurt, but is fat free.  That's great, because it tastes good and doesn't have any weird ingredients.  Fat free sour cream scares me.

And the verdict for the crumb cake? Well, Brianna pronounced it "one of the best things I've ever eaten!" So I guess it's safe to say it was a hit. =) I've made a number of variations of crumb cake over time, and I have to agree with her that this one is a keeper. I really like the texture of the cake. And I knew the crumb part would be good. Gillian and Jamie loved it too. I think this one will be going into the regular rotation.

Here's my version of the recipe:

Crumb Cake
(adapted in part from these recipes)

For the cake:
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
8 3/4 ounces (1 1/4 cups) vanilla sugar
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
6 1/4 ounces (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
heaping 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
4 ounces greek yogurt, such as Oikos

For the crumb topping:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) light brown sugar
1 3/4 ounces (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9" square baking pan with a parchment sling and spray with baking spray (such as Pam for Baking--yes, another favorite).

For the cake batter, put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and salt and cream them together with the butter, beating for about 2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. After the last egg has been added, continue to beat for another 3 minutes, until the mixture looks smooth and fluffy. Gently stir in the flour and baking soda, just until incorporated. Then stir in the yogurt until well blended. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes.

While the cake is baking, prepare the topping. Place the sugars, flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl and mix them together, breaking up any lumps in the sugar. Add the butter, and work together with your fingers until you have crumbs of varying sizes. After the 30 minutes is up, remove the cake from the oven. Scatter the crumbs evenly over the top, and return the pan to the oven to bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool it on a rack. Once the cake is cool, dust the top with powdered sugar.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Brownies on the brain

I really think that something happens to your brain during pregnancy. And while it may seem to return to normal, it's never quite the same afterwards. I particularly noticed this when I was pregnant with Brianna. My memory had some definite issues. On many occasions I ended up telling Jamie, "I believe that you told me _____. I just have no recollection of it..." (Heck, that one still happens--I do wonder if lack of sleep also kills brain cells...) One big sign of my absent-mindedness was when I was baking. One recipe in particular was a problem on several different occasions.

Quite a few years back, one of my aunts gave me a recipe for Black and White Cheesecake Brownies. I think it must have originally come from the back of a bag of Nestle Mini Morsels. Any time I would make these brownies, everyone would rave about them. I must have messed them up at least three times when making them while pregnant with B. One time I put the salt that was supposed to go in the brownie base into the cheesecake batter. Not good. Another time I set the oven to the completely wrong temperature (I must have had pizza on the brain, because I set it way too hot) and realized it about 20 minutes into baking them. I know I messed them up at least one other time, but I can't remember what I did wrong (see, I told you it doesn't really get better after you have the baby...). Fortunately, I have made them since without incident, so it wasn't a completely permanent sort of thing.

I was reminded of all this by this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. Melissa of Life in a Peanut Shell picked Espresso Cheesecake Brownies for us to make. They consist of a brownie layer on the bottom topped with a cheesecake layer (with a bit of swirling the two together) and a sour cream topping. I figured I'd be playing around just a bit with this one. I'm not a big fan of coffee flavored things, but I do keep espresso powder around since it adds a deeper flavor to chocolate desserts. So I decided to go with a vanilla cheesecake on top of espresso brownies. Since there were some reports that the brownies weren't that chocolatey, I figured that would help. I also used 70% chocolate (El Rey) for another flavor boost. Since I planned to take most of the brownies to the daycare, I left off the sour cream part for easier transportation.

The brownies were easy to make. To start, I lined my 9" square pan with non-stick foil. I find it helps tremendously with getting brownies out of the pan. Then I mixed up the cheescake batter (be sure to have your cream cheese at room temp--helps avoid lumps). Next, I mixed up the brownie batter (oh, forgot to say above that I added some chocolate chips to it, as well) and put it in the pan, reserving some for swirling. I added the layer of cheesecake batter, dropped spoonfuls of the reserved brownie batter on top, and swirled them together. I ended up baking the brownies for 33 minutes.

The verdict? I'm sad to say that these really didn't turn out that great. Brianna and Gillian didn't like them, and they both love brownies. Jamie thought they were okay, but nothing outstanding. They looked really pretty, but the brownie part was rather dry, and just not that chocolatey, even with my modifications. The cheesecake part was pretty good, but overall, this one wasn't a favorite. I definitely prefer my existing cheesecake brownie recipe. When I compared the two, the main difference that I saw was that the brownie base for my usual one has about three ounces more chocolate. Like the brownie buttons, I do like the concept, but I'd like to try again and play around with the brownie base.

If you'd like to give these brownies a try for yourself, head on over to Melissa's blog. When I have a little more time, I'll type up the recipe I usually use, but you can also find it (or something very similar) by googling "Black and White Cheesecake Brownies."