Chef Michael Smith’s Triple Chocolate Brownies: The Second Best Brownies Ever

Let’s get one thing out of the way: the best brownies ever are the Outrageous Brownies from Purebread (which started in Whistler but now has a few Vancouver locations, too). It doesn’t matter if you get the banana ones or the raspberry ones or the regular ones, they’re the best – plain and simple.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the recipe for them. However, I do have the recipe for the second best brownies: Michael Smith’s Triple Chocolate Brownies.

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I first tasted these brownies as at book club meeting back in the late winter or early spring. There is another member of my book club who is very passionate about baking – in addition to talking book plots and characters, we like to swap recipes and drool-worthy baking photos and tips. She brought these triple chocolate brownies and they were amazing. She said the Michael Smith recipe was her go-to, so I decided to look them up and give them a go myself.

They were just as good when I made them, so I dubbed them my favourite recipe, too. (Until I can get a hold of the Purebread recipe…)

As the name suggests, this recipe uses three different sources of chocolate: regular chocolate (like a bar), cocoa powder, and chocolate chips. The result: a tasty triple threat that is moist, fudgey, and overall fantastic.

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First, the chocolate. I discovered they sell Callebaut chocolate in blocks at Save on Foods in Squamish – hallelujah! Although Nesters has the best fancy baking stuff, Save on Foods has a better assortment (and a bulk section to die for) – they will be my new go to for baking goods. The recipe calls for 8 ounces of chocolate, which gets melted along with a cup of butter over a double boiler. Once everything is melted and mixed, the recipe says to whisk the whole thing to make it extra smooth. I’m not sure if this is really necessary, but better safe than sorry, right?

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Next up: the cocoa powder. The cocoa powder gets mixed with some flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Simple, right? Those are your dry ingredients.

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The chocolate chips come a little later – first, you have to mix 4 eggs with some brown sugar and a whopping tablespoon of vanilla. These wet ingredients then get combined with the melted butter/chocolate combo, which has had a chance to cool down. Then, the dry ingredients get incorporated, along with the chocolate chips (at last!)

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Hot tip: the Squamish Save on Foods also offers a few different types of chocolate chips in the bulk section, so you don’t have to buy a whole bag when you only need a cup, as is the case in this recipe.

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You’re supposed to bake the brownies in a 9 x 13 pan, but I opted to do two 8 x 8 pans instead. The directions say to oil the pans and dust them with flour, but I once learned a hot tip that involves using cocoa powder instead of flour for dusting pans used for brownies, chocolate cakes, and other chocolatey things, so that’s what I did.

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Though the recipe calls for 25 minutes or so in the oven, mine were for about 32 until I thought they looked sufficiently cooked through (without getting dried out – it’s a fine line).

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Here’s what I like about this recipe:

  • The ingredients are simple. Yes, it calls for 3 types of chocolate, but the rest of the ingredients are  things you probably already have in your kitchen.
  • You don’t need an electric mixer (yup, mine is still busted).
  • It’s a pretty straightforward recipe – then again, most brownie recipes are.
  • The brownies taste exquisite – I have to say, these brownies surpass the ones I’ve made from my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook and from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook.
  • Chef Michael Smith – I mean, how CAN’T you love the soft-spoken east coaster?!?!

Dorie’s Cookies’ Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies: Good – But Not the Best

I am sad to report that my KitchenAid stand mixer is still broken.

[Update: I am happy to report that I got a new one for Christmas 2018!!! However, I am sad to report that this post has no photos. I’m publishing it anyway.]

Depending on when I actually come around to publishing this post (which, let’s be honest, could be half a year after I write it at the pace I’m going) […yep], that means I have been several months without my trusty mixer. Considering how much I love to bake, that is a big deal.

But the good stand mixers aren’t cheap (I need the high quality ones to handle my bread baking needs!), and between general life expenses and preparing for a baby (who, weird to think, might be born by the time I post this) [… yep], a new mixer isn’t in the cards for the time being.

While that may have slowed my meringue and macaron production, it hasn’t stopped my baking altogether. I’ve just started looking for recipes that require little to no mixing – anything I can do by hand is fair game. After all, isn’t that what our grandmas did?

The Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies recipe from my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook didn’t seem to require too much mixing, and best yet, it reminded me of another recipe that I LOVE: the No-Bake Almond Butter Cup Bars from Minimalist Baker.

I can’t remember how I found that recipe but it is definitely is not my usual way of doing things. I almost NEVER use online recipes for baking (there is too much junk out there), and this is one of those “healthier” recipes that uses crunchier ingredients (think dates and maple syrup instead of regular white sugar, and a ganache made with coconut milk and coconut oil). However, it is super easy to make (hence the no bake) and easily accommodates the gluten-free folks in my life, so I have made it quite a few times and I LOVE it. It packs SUCH a punch. (Note that I use peanut butter instead of almond butter – and I make my own).

I figured that the Dorie’s Cookies recipe would be at least as good as the Minimalist Baker one – if not better, because it uses more decadent ingredients. As it turns out – I actually didn’t like it quite as much. It seemed a little less flavourful than the Minimalist Baker one – each layer was a little more subdued. But it was still a very delicious recipe (I mean, peanut butter + chocolate = how can you go wrong), so it’s worth discussing anyways.

This recipe has three components:

  1. The brownies
  2. The peanut butter frosting
  3. The chocolate glaze

The Brownies

First up, the brownie base. It all starts with a little saucepan action, where you mix butter and melted chocolate over a low heat til it slowly becomes melty and delicious. Off the heat, you whisk in white sugar, vanilla, and salt by hand – no stand mixer needed (woohoo!).

Next, four eggs get added to the mix one at a time. Again, whisking by hand is the way to do it. This recipe advises to use cold eggs, which is noteworthy because I feel like room temperature eggs is the usual baking norm – cold is fine by me because half the time I forget to take the eggs out of the fridge anyways.

Once the eggs are mixed in, you gently fold in some flour with a spatula. You know what you can’t use to gently fold in flour? That’s right – a stand mixer! The final step – and, in my opinion, a very important one – is to fold in some chopped peanuts. I know not everyone loves nuts in their brownies, but I think the texture it adds is well worth it. Plus, the peanuts tie in nicely with the peanut butter frosting. Don’t skip this step.

So making the brownies is pretty easy and straightforward. The batter gets baked for about half an hour at 325 degrees. Don’t even think about adding the frosting before the brownies cool, or else it’ll turn into a melty, soaked up mess – delicious, surely, but not as pretty.

The Peanut Butter Frosting

The peanut butter frosting is what elevates this dessert from regular old brownies to something a little more special. Now, this section of the recipe begins with, “Working in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment” – discouraging! – BUT it then says “or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer” – better!

You know what’s even better than a hand mixer? A HAND! I used my brute strength and a mix of a whisk and a flexible spatula to “beat” a mixture of peanut butter (homemade) and room temperature butter, When it looked incorporated and smooth (probably not as pro as a stand mixer, but hey – I got a bicep workout), I mixed in icing sugar, a wee bit of sea salt, some nutmeg (which I’m not sure I would add in again – I didn’t love this flavour in the frosting), some milk, and some vanilla. Boom – icing complete.

If your brownies are fully cooled (no cheating!), it is now time to spread the peanut buttery frosting over the brownies.

I think that the frosting layer is the “weak” point of this recipe compared to the Minimalist Baker one. This layer of the MB recipe almond butter (peanut, in my case), a bit of maple syrup, and a bit of sea salt. It is ultra flavourful and nutty and delicious, whereas this frosting almost gets diluted by the icing sugar and butter.

The Chocolate Glaze

Because we can all agree that all baked goods are made better when coated in a layer of glossy chocolate, the final step to this recipe is adding a delicious layer of decadent chocolatey goodness.

The glaze is easy to prepare: butter + chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, similar to the first step in making the brownies. The whole thing gets poured and spread over the frosted brownies, then you have to let it sit in the fridge for a tantalizing hour and half before you can dig in.

The Verdict

I pretty much made these brownies for no real good reason – it wasn’t anyone’s birthday or anything, I just wanted to have something on hand for when I needed to satisfy my sweet tooth. I cut them into small squares and wrapped most of them in tin foil, then put them in a plastic bag and froze them. This made it easy to pop them into lunches or the like.

I actually enjoyed them more out of the freezer (and thawed) than fresh out of the oven – I think it gave the flavours a chance to settle in more or something.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed overall at these brownies because I couldn’t help but compare them to my beloved Minimalist Baker recipe. However, those who tried them who HADN’T had the MB recipe seemed to really enjoy them. They certainly weren’t a bust or anything, I just don’t know that I will be quick to make them again.

My Recipe-less Stab at Peppermint Bark… from 2017

Oh, my poor blog! I have woefully neglected this thing and truthfully, I don’t have plans (or time) to resuscitate it any time soon. It turns out that balancing a new baby, a job, a relationship, many friendships, hobbies, fitness, and a household is a lot of work. Maybe one day I will bring it back – but in the meantime, I have a number of old posts that I wrote but never posted that I shall schedule for the coming days. I hope the archives help people down the road who are keen on reading a recipe review or a race recap.

 


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Fun fact: I made this recipe TWO YEARS AGO. I wrote the draft for this post ages ago but wanted to wait til the holidays to post it. Then, I forgot all about it.


Let’s talk peppermint bark. The best peppermint bark that I have ever experienced is the classic Williams Sonoma variety:

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It is SOOOOO GOOD – and so very expensive. At $30 to $50 a tin, it is an outrageous indulgence in the midst of a season of outrageous indulgences. Thus, it usually gets left off my shopping list.

I have tried various knock-offs of the Williams Sonoma bark, but most taste kind of stale, with candy cane that feels too chewy rather than nice and crunchy. The best alternative at a reasonable price (about $10 USD) I have found is the Trader Joe’s version – it’s worth the cross-border trip.

As I snacked my way through the Trader Joe’s tin, I had the thought that every baker has when they’re eating something delicious: “How can I make this?” Peppermint bark seems easy enough, so I decided to tackle it myself without a recipe.

First up, the crushed candy cane. I had a bunch of candy canes – my challenge was now to smash them down to teeny tiny pieces while minimizing the amount of effort and mess involved. Cue the food processor.

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Unwrapping the individual candy canes was a bit of a static-y mess, but it was smooth sailing afterwards. I only had to pulse the candy canes a few times to get them to a satisfying crumble.

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Inevitably, my crushing produced a fair bit of fine candy cane dust. That wouldn’t have quite the right look on my crumble, so I sifted it out and later stirred it into my chocolate for a bonus peppermint touch.

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I couldn’t find white chocolate in large quantities, so I decided that my version of candy cane bark would consist of a dark chocolate layer and a milk chocolate layer rather than the traditional dark and white layers.

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I chopped up 500g of dark chocolate, then put about 80% of it into my homemade bain marie (my aluminum mixing bowl hovering over – not in – a shallow pot of simmering water).

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When the chocolate was melted, I removed it from the heat and stirred in the remaining solid chocolate that I’d left behind, piece by piece. I took a chocolate course many moons ago, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had to temper chocolate. (As it turns out, I didn’t quite nail it – my chocolate developed that telltale chalk-ish colour over time. But hey – it still tasted good.)

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I spread my chocolate out on a parchment-line cookie sheet (much like I did in my English Toffee post), then left it to harden. I then repeated the process with the milk chocolate layer.

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After spreading the milk chocolate over the now-solid dark chocolate layer, I sprinkled the crushed candy cane over the mixture to set. I had lots of candy cane, so I used a “the more the merrier” approach. It is, after all, Christmas.

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My last step was to melt a bit more dark chocolate and drizzle it over the slabs of chocolatey candy cane goodness.

After the whole she-bang had a chance to set, I chopped it into somewhat irregularly shaped chunks and placed the pieces into cellophane bags, tied with a ribbon. I put the bags into a big Ziploc freezer bag and sealed them up until I was ready to distribute them at Christmas. They were a little worse for wear after a cross-country plane trip, but you know what?

They tasted delicious – because they TASTED LIKE CHRISTMAS!

 

Dorie’s Cookies’ Chocolate and Walnuts Bars – the Not Brownies

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A little while ago, I made a brownie-with-walnuts recipe from the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook, which was very delicious. However, here’s something intriguing I noticed: another recipe in the same chapter was for something called “chocolate and walnut bars”.

Chocolate brownies with walnuts. Chocolate and walnut bars. How different could they be?!

The only way to resolve this kind of riddle, of course, is to bake both and experience each recipe firsthand. So, with the brownies already ticked off my list, it was time to tackle the rather un-inspiringly named Chocolate and Walnuts Bars.

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There are three things to know about this recipe. One: it calls for a lot of chocolate – 12 ounces total, between the cake and the glaze. Two: it calls for a lot of eggs – 8 total. For one recipe. Three: it calls for a lot of dishes.

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Not discussed: the many dishes used in the mise en place.

First dish: the heatproof bowl in which you melt some of the chocolate.

Second dish: a small bowl in which you place some chopped (but not melted chocolate) and some chopped (… but not melted…) walnuts. These two ingredients get mixed together. Chocolate and walnuts for the Chocolate and Walnut bars – makes sense, right?

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Third dish: the food processor bowl (a.k.a. my least favourite dish for cleaning purposes) in which you process some of the walnuts alongside some flour. Then, after dumping out the walnut-flour (fourth dish), the butter gets pulsed with some sugar, salt, and eight whopping egg yolks (one by one).

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Third dish continued: the food processor bowl in which you combine all the components (so far): the melted chocolate, the walnut-flour, and the eggy butter sugar (already in third dish – are you keeping track here?).

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Fifth dish: a stand mixer bowl in which you whip up egg whites – eight of them (you guess it!) – into a foamy opaque cloud of goodness, which turns into a stiff, glossy mixture after adding some sugar. [Note: okay, busted – this post is from FEBRUARY, back when my mixer worked. #rip]

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The whites are then added to the rest of the ingredients (see: third dish) in two ways. First, you plain old mix a quarter of the whites into the chocolate and stuff – then the rest of the whites get folded in properly. We’re chasing after a light and fluffy texture here, folks.

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Now, it’s baking time: the cake gets baked for 25 to 28 minutes (I think mine was more like 30 – I used the toothpick test to make sure it was fully cooked). Then, it’s time for…

Sixth dish: You didn’t think we were done with dishes, did you? Dish number six is a saucepan, in which cream, sugar, and water comes to a boil to make the base of a delicious topping.

Seventh dish: Almost there now, folks. Dish number seven is another heatproof bowl in which chocolate is placed, then the boiled cream-sugar-water is added while it is still hot. The heat melts the chocolate into a glorious, shiny, decadent glaze. Pouring this over the cakey part is incredibly satisfying.

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And that’s how you make Chocolate and Walnut Bars. Now, it’s time to discuss how Chocolate and Walnuts Bars differ from walnut brownies:

  1. Colour: the C&W bars are much lighter in colour than the rich, fudgy brownies.
  2. Texture: while the brownies are very dense, the C&W bars benefit from the folding of the eggs whites. Dense is the opposite of what these are: think fluffy and airy like a delicious cake.
  3. Chocolately bits: The addition of the un-melted chocolate chunks (see second dish) is DELIGHTFUL. It’s like bonus chocolate chips in an already wonderfully chocolatey dessert.
  4. The glaze: Oh, the glaze! While the brownies were a quick-and-easy icingless recipe, the C&W bars get a gorgeous glaze (at the expense of extra dishes). The glaze takes it to the next level – do not skip under any circumstances.

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Here are my final thoughts about the Chocolate and Walnut bars: these are not meant to be bars. This recipe is really meant to be a torte of sorts. It should be baked in a round dish, then served topped with delicious raspberries. I feel like Dorie had this amazing recipe and was like, “Hmm, how can I fit this into my latest book? I know – bake ’em in a square pan, cut ’em up, and call ’em a cookie.” Don’t get me wrong – it’s delicious – but it definitely feels like a cake in disguise.

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Dorie’s Cookies Classic Brownies – Far Better than a Convenience Store Treat

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I thought the brownie looked very small and lonely on a plate, so I put it on a coaster.

We live dangerously close to a convenience store. When the craving for something sweet hits, it can be awfully tempting to run over and get a candy or a chocolate bar.

When this happens, I often feel myself underwhelmed with the same old mediocre-tasting options – sometimes I just go back home because nothing is calling to me. When I do find something I like, most of the time the enjoyment is merely fleeting. Blaaaaah.

Here’s an alternative I prefer: something easy to whip up – preferably something deliciously decadent – that involves little to no grocery shopping and that takes long enough to make to build anticipation, but is fast enough to enjoy within the hour.

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The Classic Brownies recipe from the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook that I’ve been dipping into is the perfect recipe for this. While I wouldn’t say this is the best brownie I’ve ever had (that honour goes to any brownie from Purebread – all hail Purebread!), it certainly hits all the criteria I listed above.

You probably already have butter, sugar, eggs, salt, flour, and vanilla on hand in your pantry. If you do, you’re most of the way there. The only other two ingredients needed are chocolate (bittersweet or semi-sweet) and optional walnuts. We opted for the walnuts, and I’m glad we did. I don’t trust people who don’t enjoy nuts in their brownies. (Unless, of course, those nuts would kill them or something.)

I always like it when a recipe starts by telling me to preheat the oven – that means there won’t be much waiting around. So far, this recipe is off to a solid start, right?

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With the oven doing its thing, the next step is to melt the butter and chocolate over a double boiler, then once it’s just about finished, you take it off the heat and stir in the sugar. Then the eggs go in, followed by the salt and vanilla.

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The last step is the flour: unlike the previous ingredients, which get mixed in with no abandon, the flour needs to be gently folded in. The last items to get added to the batter are the delicious (and optional) walnuts.

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If you’re reading between the lines here, folks, you’ll realize that this recipe does NOT require a stand mixer (or an electric mixer of any sort). THIS is what a call the perfect quick recipe – minimal waiting, minimal dishes.

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Pre-baked…

Finally, the brownies get baked for 27 to 29 minutes – I put mine in for 29 and they were perfect. These brownies are dense and squat – they’re not the prettiest, to be frank, but I like that they’re firmly in the brownie category, not in the cake category.

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Post baked (droooooool)

Of course, the brownies are delicious while warm, but we managed not to devour the entire pan straight out of the oven. I can attest that they are indeed good after a few days if you take care to store them in a tupperware.

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While I appreciate these no-nonsense brownies for what they are, I am a little intrigued with some of the variations proposed for them:

  • Rum raisin (not so much)
  • Chopped-chocolate brownies (with chunks of chocolate inside – yes, yes, yes)
  • Ginger brownies (sounds weird but probably delicious)
  • Orange brownies (as an avid Terry’s Chocolate Orange fan, sign me up)
  • Cinnamon-mocha brownies (could be interesting)
  • Peppermint brownies (saving this for Christmas)

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Dorie’s Cookies “My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies” Recipe Review

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A picky comment – the photography in Dorie’s Cookies is not my favourite. But as I continue to bake (and photograph) my own cookies, I’m realizing it is kind of hard to photograph cookies in exciting, unconventional ways. Respect to food stylists!

It is no secret that Cedric is a fan of chocolate chip cookies.

As I have previously explained, in our household, we like to make a batch of cookie dough and freeze individually portioned cookies so that when the need for something sweet hits, we simply have to throw a few cookie pucks in the oven and voila: instant fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies.

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Recently, our freezer stash dwindled down to dangerously low supply levels and I decided it was time to make a new batch. Naturally, I knew I had to try a chocolate chip cookie recipe from my new Dorie’s Cookies cookbook – but which one?

I should have known that a cookbook devoted entirely to cookies would contain more than one chocolate chip cookie recipe – it is, after all, a classic. Here were my options:

  • Kerrin’s Multigrain Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • My Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Two-Bite One-Chip Cookies

I opted for “My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies” – Dorie’s latest remix of her original “My Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe.

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So what’s different about this recipe? Most chocolate chip cookie recipes vary only very slightly – but even the smallest change in sugar/butter/flour ratio, type of sugar used, cooking temperature, and cooking time can have radical effects. (Yes, chocolate chip cookies can be radical.) This particular recipe features a blend of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour and white and brown sugar for optimal chewiness. It uses baking soda, not baking powder, and it calls for a couple of unconventional spices (for chocolate chip cookies at least): nutmeg and coriander.

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I didn’t have any coriander on hand (isn’t coriander cilantro? do I really want that it my cookie?), but Dorie says that we can use our discretion when it comes to including or omitting the spices. I kept the nutmeg but left out the coriander.

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This recipe is as quick to make as any chocolate chip recipe is, though it calls for at least an hour in the fridge before baking. I rolled up most of my dough into individual cookies to freeze for later, but I did bake a few so that I could give this recipe the review it deserves.

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The recipe says to bake for 9 to 11 minutes. I left mine in for 10, and they looked perfect coming out: pale in the middle (chewiness galore!), brown on the edges. The pictures in the cookbook look a little darker than mine, but after I let mine sit for a few minutes, they were the perfect texture. If I had let them get darker, I think they would have been too crispy for my liking.

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Right out of the oven

The greatest challenge with chocolate chip cookies is knowing that they taste even better if you let them sit for a little while and cool fully – but also knowing that there is nothing better than a still-hot cookie with chocolate that oozes. I compromised: I ate my cookie straight out of the oven, and I left two cookies to cool fully for Cedric to sample when he got home.

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We both really liked this cookie. I’ll have to try a few more of the freezer ones before I make a final judgment call, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying some of the other chocolate chip cookie recipes in this book (the Kerrin’s recipe includes buckwheat flour and kasha – I don’t even know what kasha is!)

One final note on chocolate chip cookies: some people wonder if there is really such thing as a bad chocolate chip cookie. Oh, but there is – and for some reason, cafes and bakeries often serve substandard versions. As a kid, I loved the Tim Horton’s and Subway ones, but now the texture bothers me and so does the crystalized sugar taste. One local cafe (I won’t name names) serve puck-like chocolate chip cookies that are too hard and crumbly; another is disappointingly bland and low on actual chocolate.

So yes, it is possible to botch the chocolate chip cookie. And no, that is not a concern with this recipe – thankfully.

Dorie’s Cookies’ Chocolate Oatmeal Biscoff Cookies

Christmas was very good for me this year. In addition to plenty of quality time with many of my favourite people, I was also lucky enough to land some pretty swell gifts, including a few tantalizing cookbooks. Among them was this one:

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Meet Dorie’s Cookies. Yes, a cookbook exclusively about cookies – I LOVE it! In fact, this book contains more than just your traditional cookie: it has brownies, bars, madeleines, and lots of other nice things – but everything is generally cookie-like in nature and, by golly, the recipes looked darned good.


I’ll get back to Dorie and her cookies in a moment – but first, I want to talk about Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter.

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I adore Trader Joe’s (please, oh please, let us have TJ’s in Canada one day), and I have often heard about the infamous cookie butter, but I’d never tried it myself. Before Christmas, I did a cross-border run to the Bellingham Trader Joe’s and I picked a jar on a whim to give to my friend, Jessica. I’m not sure why I had the inclination to do so – I’ve never talked about the cookie butter with Jessica, but she shares my affinity for delicious treats and I figured if it was something I wanted, it was something she’d probably like. As I wrapped it with her other gifts, I’m not going to lie: a tiny part of me wanted to keep it for myself.

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Golden Retrievers not included.

You can probably guess what happened. Jessica gave me Trader Joe’s cookie butter for Christmas, too. No joke. The weirdest part is that this is not the first time we’ve gotten each other identical Christmas gifts. I am so, so grateful for our friendship and our ability to read each other’s minds.

After finally tasting the cookie butter, I can tell you that the rumours are true: it is absolutely delicious. It’s a sweet, gingery spread the texture of smooth peanut butter but with slightly crunchy morsels, and it is dangerously addicting. I loved it – but aside from eating it out of the jar with a spoon, I wasn’t sure how to use it.


Now back to Dorie’s. As I flipped through the recipes, tackling the impossible task of deciding which to conquer first, I came across this one for Chocolate Oatmeal Biscoff Cookies. After a bit of research, I discovered that Biscoff is the exact same thing as TJ’s cookie butter. Boom: I had my first recipe.

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This is a wonderful, weird recipe that uses all kinds of good stuff: the gingery cookie butter, of course, but also oatmeal, cocoa powder, and chunks of chocolate. I knew I couldn’t go wrong.

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One of my favourite sights. (Stained cutting board and all.)

I love cookies because, generally, they are pretty easy to make. (I’m sure that will come back to haunt me as I tackle some of the more complex recipes in this book). This one is no exception: whisk the dry, cream the butter and sugar (and cookie butter), add an egg, add the dry stuff, then add the chopped chocolate.

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I should note here my New Year’s resolution for baking: I hereby vow to ditch measuring cups, where possible, and to solely rely on my food scale instead. I know – I should have been doing it this way all along. Now, I will.

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This recipe directs you to stash the dough in the fridge for a couple of hours before baking. I read the preamble stuff in this book and my takeaway is this: if Dorie writes out a specific instruction (like pop the dough in the fridge), she does it for a reason – don’t ignore her. Another tip I liked: after preheating the oven, leave it alone for an additional 10 to 15 minutes to get it nice and hot. Since cookies don’t bake for long, the right temperature makes a big difference.

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I used an ice cream scoop to produce uniform mounds of dough, then, as directed, I rolled each into a ball and squished it a little flat with the bottom of a jar. The instructions said to space the cookies about an inch apart, which ended up being about right – I had a few that spread to touch, but most kept to their own nicely.

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Dorie says to let the cookies cool for 3 minutes before transferring them to a wire cooling rack. When I tried at the 3 minute mark, they were still too soft. I let them sit about 10 minutes total before moving them.

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These cookies taste not quite like any cookie I’ve ever had before. The oatmeal gives texture, but I wouldn’t call them an oatmeal cookie. The cookie butter is almost undetectable flavour-wise – they don’t taste like the gingery cookie spread, but there is a little something in them that’s different that would be hard to put your finger on if you didn’t know the ingredient list. The cookies are definitely chocolatey – just the right amount.

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If you follow the directions exactly, as I did, you’ll end up with an absolutely perfect cookie consistency: firm but soft and chewy, just begging to be paired with a glass of milk. Best of all, my final product looked identical to the picture in the cookbook itself – always a good sign.

Based on my first batch of cookies from Dorie’s Cookies, I have a strong feeling I’m going to have quite a nice time baking my way through this book. More cookies coming your way soon!

Bobbette & Belle’s English Toffee with Toasted Almonds

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I’d been feeling a little blah a few weeks ago when I realized that I hadn’t baked anything fun* in a little while.

(I’d baked sourdough and sandwich bread, which are more practical than fun – they don’t count.)

So, I flipped open my Bobbette & Belle cookbook for a little inspiration. I landed on a page for English toffee with toasted almonds and thought, “Yes – this looks good.”

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I’m always a little hesitant to tackle anything that requires a candy thermometer, but I figured I could use a little practice because I’m planning on doing a little candy-making for some Christmas gifts this year. I headed to Craig’s to pick up some semi-sweet chocolate and almonds, then I got to work.

I wasn’t baking this for any occasion, but the recipe appealed to me because it said that the final product could be stored in an air-tight container for up to two months, which is pretty darned good shelf life. Still, I decided to halve the recipe, which was probably a good idea – the toffee turned out so tasty that I’ll be surprised if it lasts two full days, and Cedric and I definitely don’t need to eat two whole cookie sheets’ worth, which is what the original recipe whips up.

The premise behind the toffee is pretty straightforward:

  1. Make the toffee, spread it out onto a baking sheet, and let it cool.
  2. Melt chocolate, pour it onto the cooled and hardened toffee, sprinkle toasted almonds into the chocolate, and let it cool.
  3. Flip the slab over and repeat Step 2 on the other side.

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First, I had to chop and toast my almonds. Friendly insider tip: there are whole unroasted almonds in the ethnic food aisle at Craig’s. These are cheaper than the ones in the plastic tubs in the aisle with the rest of the nuts. For some reason, the chic peas in the ethnic aisle are also cheaper than the chic peas in the canned goods aisle. The ethnic aisle is where it’s at!

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Tip: the recipe says to chop up some chocolate, but I didn’t really think about the fact that I was just going to melt it – I could have just broke it into the squares and saved some time.

While I toasted the almonds, I got to work on the caramel. Melting the ingredients together – butter, sugar, water, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt – was easy. The thermometer was a little tricky, but I thought I had it figured out. I clipped it to the side and made sure it wasn’t touching the bottom of the pan.

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As the mixture of ingredients came to a boil, the thermometer starting to rise. Things were working! The directions say it takes about 15 minutes for the mixture to reach 300 degrees Fahrenheit, but mine seemed stuck around 220 degrees. Hmmm…

I waited a few more minutes, but then I noticed the mixture was smelling a little burny. NOT good. I tilted the mixture so that the thermometer was more immersed, and wouldn’t you know – it shot up to like, 315 degrees.

I spread it out as quickly as I could and let it hardened, then I sampled a bit. It tasted a little burnt, but I felt like it was salvageable with chocolate and nuts. It was a tough call – do I waste the ingredients I used to make the toffee and start over? Or do I risk wasting the nuts and chocolate (neither of which are especially cheap – even when sourced from the ethnic aisle) by using the semi-burned toffee?

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I decided to risk it. I melted the first batch of chocolate and poured it over the toffee, spreading it with a rubber spatula. This was oddly satisfying.

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After sprinkling in half of the almonds, I let it sit for about 10 minutes, then stuck it in the freezer to expedite the hardening. (I seem to have lost my touch at properly tempering chocolate… apparently it’s not quite like riding a bike.) It worked.

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I very carefully flipped the slab over. Only a small piece broke off, which I decided to sample. Good news: it tasted awesome – not burnt at all.

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I proceeded with the second coat of chocolate and almonds, let it harden (with a little freezer help again), and broke up the pieces.

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SO GOOD! It tastes like a Skor bar, but better. This is some serious gourmet-tasting stuff that is actually not too difficult to make (as long as you can figure out your candy thermometer… I’m getting there). The good news is that if my Christmas baking plans fail, I have a solid bake up.

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Another win for Bobbette & Belle!


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Bobbette & Belle’s Banana Chocolate Fudge Cake (in Cupcake and Mini Loaf Form)

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Although I have baked numerous recipes from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook, there is a chapter I haven’t touched. (Until now.)

Layer cakes.

I’ll admit that I don’t like making cakes. Layer cakes? Even worse! They’re tricky to get even, they take forever to assemble, and they’re just so much cake. Cupcakes, muffins, brownies, mini tars – these are all so easy to split up, transport, and share with the masses. Cake? Not so much.

But one day while flipping through my Bobbette & Belle cookbook, I came across this eye-opening text book that is so obvious that I can’t believe I overlooked it:

This recipe also works wonderfully as muffins or a loaf. No toppings necessary.

Wait a minute – you mean I can bake the cake and skip the stacking, assembling, icing, and cake cutting? Brilliant!

The particular recipe that enlightened me was for a Banana Chocolate Fudge Cake. The photo looks decadent and delicious, but it involves a dark chocolate fudge frosting, a chocolate buttercream, a chocolate gaze, and banana chips and chocolate chips as garnishes. That’s a lot of sweetness – and a lot of dirty dishes.

However, the combination of banana bread and chocolate is perfection, so I decided to make these in cupcake form for a friend’s birthday. As a bonus, I’d even throw in one of the toppings: the chocolate glaze, which ended up giving it a gorgeous finish.

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In cake form, this recipe makes three cakes. It yielded me something like two dozen cupcakes and eight mini loaves. I ended up sharing – a lot. (And I can attest to the fact that these freeze and thaw well.)

The execution of this recipe is pretty simple and straightforward. First, you mix ripe bananas with brown sugar, then you add in eggs, vegetable oil, and a bit of salt. Then, you mix in dry (flour, baking powder, baking soda) and wet (milk) ingredients, alternating between dry and wet for a total of five additions. Finally, you stir in chocolate chips by hand. The recipe calls for one cup, but I always add the whole bag.

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The chocolate glaze is relatively easy, too. It calls for melting and mixing dark chocolate and butter in a bain marie, with a bit of corn syrup, vanilla, and fleur de sel.

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At first, I wasn’t quite sure how to glaze the cupcakes and loaves – pouring the glaze over, as I would with a cake, seemed wasteful. I decided to dip the mini cakes into the bowl of glaze. This was super easy, quick, and I think the final result looked pretty pro.

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The glossy topping solidified after a bit of time, but it didn’t lose its sheen. It was the perfect complement to the cake, but the cake really is the star element here (you might say it takes the cake). It’s impossibly moist and has a nice spring to it, if that makes any sense. It’s not overly sweet, although I imagine the three different types of frostings may kick up the sugar level a few notches.

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I’m probably not going to be baking a ton of layer cakes any time soon, but this definitely isn’t the last time I morph a B&B cake recipe into a cupcake recipe.

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Bread Illustrated’s Chocolate Babka: Dreams Really Do Come True

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There are certain recipes in my Bread Illustrated cookbook that get me very excited. These are the recipes that caught my eye in the initial flip through and that have been sitting in the back of my mind ever since, waiting for the perfect opportunity to be baked. The cinnamon buns are one such example.

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The chocolate babka is another recipe that I’ve been dying to make – but I couldn’t find the right occasion. I contemplated waiting until Easter (Is babka even an Easter bread? Did I make that up?), but then one day, I decided that life is too short to not make babka. I bought some bittersweet chocolate, rolled up my sleeves, and prepared to babka.

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My last enriched pastry dough (the Portuguese Sweet Bread) didn’t go so well, so I was a little apprehensive about the babka. I suspected the sweet bread’s demise began in the early stages, when I had difficulty “catching” the dough on the hook of my stand mixer. The babka recipe includes the following troubleshooting tip:

Problem: The dough doesn’t engage the dough hook in a large mixer.

Solution: Scrape down the mixer bowl.

It goes on to say that you need to scrape the bowl down often to ensure it’s not sticking to the bottom of the bowl. This is spot on: whereas with the sweet bread, I’d mainly cleared it from the sides, for the babka I made sure to get that spatula right underneath the dough to dislodge it from the bowl. I had to do this several times – like, every 5 to 10 seconds at first – but eventually, the dough started spinning and the butter incorporated as it should. When I popped it out onto my counter top, it looked exactly like the picture in the book.

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That is a satisfying feeling.

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I left it to rise, and when I returned to it, it looked great: light yellow, perfectly smooth, and just the right amount of puff. Time to tackle the chocolate filling.

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The recipe says to microwave the chocolate, butter, and cocoa powder, but I used my homemade bain marie instead (i.e., my mixing bowl perched over a saucepan of simmering water). Icing sugar is then mixed in, then the whole thing is supposed to cool down before adding in egg whites. The cooling is key, otherwise I imagine you’d end up with a chocolate omelette of sorts.

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My dough rolled beautifully and the chocolate filling spread easily – just look at that gorgeous shine! When I rolled the dough into a log, I was worried that the filling would gush out of the ends, but no such thing happened.

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However, when it came time to twist, some of the chocolate mixture escaped just a little. It didn’t matter much, but I knew my final product would be a little less picture perfect than the one pictured in the cookbook.

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After a second rising in the pan, it was baking time. Waiting the 45 minutes it took to bake was agony – IT SMELLED SO GOOD. Waiting for it to cool was even harder. But man oh man, was it worth it.

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Of course, I didn’t wait the 3 hours for it to cool completely – I cut a slice right away, and I’m glad I did. The babka is delicious, but its tastiness peaks right out of the oven (as is the case with so many baked goods).

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How can I describe the deliciousness of this bread? For one, it’s chocolatey, not sugary. The taste is rich but not too sweet. The bread itself is stretchy and springy and light. It’s almost like a pain au chocolat, but as bread, not a pastry – if that makes sense.

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The layers of my chocolate and bread swirl separated a little (overproofed, perhaps?), so my slices aren’t nearly as neat or photogenic as the cookbook picture – but that’s fine by me, because I’m sure it tastes just as good as the one the America’s Test Kitchen folks whipped up.

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I’m pleased to say that the chocolate babka lived up to my sky high expectations. If you’re looking for an excuse to make babka, I highly suggest you just make one up as I did.


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