Thursday, June 20, 2013

Nutella Chip Cookies

I'm hoping I had you at "Nutella", but just in case you need convincing, these were delicious, thin and crispy, not too sweet, and perfect with a cup of coffee (or probably with a bowl of ice cream, although I haven't tried that yet) cookies. On board yet?

What you'll need:

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 150g nutella 
  • 340g self raising flour (I used Dove's Farm GF blend)
  • 2.5 tsps baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 75g chocolate powder
  • finely chopped hazelnuts
  • 100g finely chopped milk chocolate

What to do:

Preheat your oven to 180C/360F.

Then combine the sugars, eggs, butter, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. I used an electric mixer on a low/medium speed for about a minute, or until everything is fully blended. Set this mixture aside for a moment while you combine the remaining dry ingredients - the flour, baking soda, chocolate powder, and salt. Mix thoroughly then blend, little by little, into the wet mixture using the handheld electric mixer.

Once you have a cookie dough with an even consistency, blend in the nutella, hazelnuts, and chopped milk chocolate. Make sure to blend thoroughly, or you risk having a few disappointingly chocolate chip-less cookies!

Roll the dough into balls that fit neatly into the middle of your palm and flatten a bit before placing on the cookie sheet. A ready to be popped into the oven sheet should look like this:

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes. Fresh from the oven, your cookie sheet should look like this:

 Let cool just a tiny bit before eating - this step will be difficult, but trust me on this one. Try to remember that a warm cookie is so much better than a scalding hot cookie.

Enjoy the final results! Sharing is recommended, but mainly because I have no self control if left alone with these. Seriously. NO self control.

The contents of this plate did not last long. And there were really NOT that many people helping.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Somoa Brownie Cupcakes

My favorite Girl Scout cookies were always (and still are) Somoas. This definitely fits with my general love of the chocolate/coconut combination (see this post for additional evidence). Unfortunately for my taste buds/fortunately for my daily sugar intake, delicious Somoa cookies are only available during "cookie season".

These Somoa Brownie Cupcakes should fill the void during off-season though. What do you think?
Somoa Brownie Cupcakes - YUM!

Somoa Brownie Cupcakes

(Inspired by Somoa Girl Scout cookies, makes 2 dozen)

What you'll need:

For the brownies:

  • 150g flour
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 50g milk chocolate
  • chocolate powder
  • vanilla

 For the topping:

  • 3.5 cups shredded coconut
  • 14 oz caramels
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbls milk
  • 3 oz chocolate

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 180C/360F. 

Evenly spread the shredded coconut on a cookie sheet and pop into the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Move the coconut around with a spatula a few minutes into the toasting process, so that it toasts evenly. You'll set this aside for the topping.

While the shredded coconut is toasting, melt the solid chopped dark and milk chocolate and 75g butter in a double-boiler. Stir constantly and remove from heat once a little over half of the chocolate is melted. Continue stirring and the heat of the melted chocolate will melt the remaining chunks. Set aside for a moment after melting - you'll use this soon.

Next, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and chocolate powder with a mixer - low speed unless you particularly want chocolate powder to coat your entire kitchen. Gradually add in the melted chocolate, then the flour.  Mix until fluffy - I used an electric mixer on medium for about 2 minutes.

Fluffy brownie batter

Lightly butter a muffin tin, and spoon in the brownie batter. Fill about 1/2 of the full. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until they pass the toothpick test! Let cool before icing.

Ready to go in the oven.
Once your brownie cupcakes are in the oven and baking away, you can start on the topping. Chop the caramel pieces, and melt in a saucepan over low heat with the milk. Stir constantly. This will take some time.

Melting caramels

Once the caramels are (finally!) melted, pour in the toasted coconut and mix thoroughly. This should be a reasonably sticky topping, and not at all liquid-y once the coconut is stirred in. If your caramel coconut topping can be poured, rather than spooned, add more shredded coconut!

Stirring in the toasted coconut
Once your brownie cupcakes have cooled, spoon the caramel coconut topping over each one. Be generous. 

Finally, melt the remaining chocolate with the double-boiler and pour into an icing bag (or a plastic sandwich bag with a small hole snipped in the bottom corner, which is what I did!). Squiggle a little chocolate design on top of the coconut caramel topping, so each brownie cupcake will now really look like a Girl Scout Somoa cookie!

Voila! A close up of the final product!

I hope you enjoy these! I definitely did!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Up, up, and away!

I'm off to see the family, which means a long haul flight before the visiting fun can begin. Not super comfortable, but here are some things I make sure to bring with me in my carry-on every time:

(1) A light (also literally, no 600-pagers!) entertaining read. I just finished this book and highly recommend it! I'm bringing it along to share with others. One of my favorites from last year was this. (2) Long flights always seem to dry my skin out, so I always bring lip balm. I'm currently using this kind from Burt's Bees. Bonus: it gives you some color post-flight. (3) Stomach of steel I definitely do NOT have, so I bring a box of Gin Gins for when the flight gets a little bumpy. (4) Let's face it, airplane coffee/tea is pretty terrible. I pack a few individually wrapped bags of mint tea - my favorites are Pukka's Three Mint and Yogi Tea's Purely Peppermint. If you ask nicely, you can get a cup of hot water and brew your own (much nicer tasting) tea. (5) Finally (back to that dry plane air problem) some unscented hand lotion - this one from Aveeno works well for me.   

I've also finally realized the usefulness of a good pair of over the ear headphones and a very cozy sweater for long flights. What about you? Any personal travel essentials I'm missing? Any long (or shorter) flights on the horizon for you?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pizza Night

I started making pizzas from scratch about two years ago, but ever since a trip to Sicily last year - during which pizza was eaten almost every day - I've been aiming for thin, Italian style crusts and more inventive toppings. All experiments really should end with a fresh pizza, don't you think?

You'll want to plan ahead just a little bit on this one, in order to give the pizza dough adequate time to rise - at least an hour.  I adapted this recipe from Jamie Oliver:

For the pizza dough, you'll need:

(Makes 3 thin 12x12in pizza crusts)
  • 330g Tipo "00" pasta flour
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoon olive oil
  • 220ml warm water
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder 
  • dried rosemary to taste (I like a lot of rosemary!)

What to do:

Combine the yeast, sugar, warm water, and olive oil in a smallish mixing bowl. Give this a light whisking and leave for a few minutes to give the yeast time to wake up.

In a separate, larger, mixing bowl, mix together the flour, sea salt, garlic powder, and rosemary. I like a lot of rosemary, so I generally use at least 1/2 tbsp. I find this amount pleasantly noticeable, but not overwhelming. Use more or less depending on your personal preference.

After leaving the yeast mixture for about 5 minutes (you should notice a little bit of froth), pour it into the flour mixture. Start mixing the wet and dry together with a fork, then progress to hand kneading once the consistency starts to look more dough-like. Continue until you have one big ball of pizza dough.

Leave the ball of dough in a floured bowl, cover with a cloth, and place in a warmish area - or just somewhere useful in your kitchen. It is rarely warm here, so I technically skip that recommendation most of the time, and my pizza dough still turns out well! Leave for at least an hour.

As you're waiting, you can ready your toppings.

Toppings needed for a Tribute to Taormina Pizza:

  • tomato sauce (between 100-150g per pizza, usually)
  • 2 vine tomatoes
  • asparagus tips
  • orange bell pepper
  • Parma ham (or not, vegetarians!)
  • grated cheese (Someone else here likes Emmental cheese, so we use that a lot - it's not normally my favorite, but it does well on this pizza. You're welcome to use whatever cheese you'd like/have on hand!)
  • rocket

Tasty veggies!

What to do (part 2):

To prepare your toppings, you should chop the bell pepper and tomatoes into smallish chunks. I recommend lightly steaming the asparagus. 

After about an hour, your pizza dough will be ready. The dough should have doubled in size. 

Preheat your oven to 200C/390F.

Knead the dough a bit to knock the air out of it. Next, lightly flour a surface, and take about 1/3 of the dough ball from the bowl. This will be your pizza base. I recommend using a floured rolling pin to work out the dough. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/2cm (or 1/4in) thick. Transfer onto a lightly oiled baking sheet and pop into the oven for 2-3 minutes.

Take the dough out of the oven, and spoon the tomato sauce over it, spreading evenly. Then arrange your toppings,

Aesthetically pleasing configuration of veggie toppings.

Sprinkle cheese over the toppings,

I like cheese (maybe a little too much), but a thin layer of cheese works best with this pizza.

Then put the decorated pizza back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes. I usually keep an eye on the pizza, and remove it once the cheese is nicely melted and the ham looks just a little crisp on the edges (this may be a socially unacceptable way to eat Parma ham, but man, is it tasty!).

Back in the oven you go, pizza!

Remove from the oven, cut into slices, and sprinkle with rocket. Candles and "business juice" optional.

Pizza date time!

What is your favorite kind of pizza? Any unusual toppings or sauces? I plan to try to replicate a broccoli pesto pizza (also from the Sicily trip) soon. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Going to the Zoo Zoo Zoo

Made a trip to the London Zoo a few weeks ago. Highlights from this most recent expedition include:

Seeing the new Tiger Territory, which is so much nicer and more spacious than the old setup:
Hunting what looked like bits of raw steak

Watching penguin feeding time:

All very interested in the fish bucket.

Catching the birds of prey showcase, which was an open air show-and-tell with some impressively-close-to-the-audience fly overs.

Zoo Lates are happening again this year, every Friday night in June and July from 6-10pm. (So now!) These nights are for big kids only and you can book advanced discount tickets on the website here. In addition to seeing the animals, you can catch performances, indulge in some face painting (perhaps you've always wanted to look like a zebra?), and have grown-up (beverage) picnics. Have you been before? Will you go again this year? I hope to!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Quest for the Perfect Brownie

In my view, the perfect brownie is chewy and moist and dense - a little fudge-like in the middle, even - with a   very thin crispy top and slightly crisp, very chewy edges. It should not be cakey. It should be chocolatey and just sweet enough. Before it's cooled completely, it should be about the right consistency to scoop out with a spoon (I mean, what? I'm totally not admitting to eating freshly baked brownies with a spoon...or maybe I am admitting, just a little), but should hold classic brownie shape once cooled.

I am on a quest for this brownie recipe. I WILL find/tweak/make this brownie recipe. Suggestions are very welcome!

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is my first (documented) attempt (adapted from this brownie recipe):

You'll need:

  • 115g soft light brown sugar
  • 85g greek yogurt 
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 150g milk chocolate 
  • 1 egg

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 175C/350F.

Roughly chop up the chocolate (or use chocolate chips, if you have them on hand!). Then melt the chocolate in a double-boiler, stirring constantly. Once about half of the chocolate starts to look like it's melting, remove from the heat and continue stirring. This will ensure that the chocolate doesn't burn/do that weird crumbly thing and the heat of the melted chocolate will melt the remaining, more solid pieces. 

My trusty handheld mixer, doing it's job like a (semi-)pro.

Once the chocolate is completely melted, mix in the yogurt, egg, vanilla, and soft brown sugar. Set aside for a moment and combine the remaining dry ingredients - the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually blend this into the wet mixture. I recommend using a handheld electric mixer on medium for about 2 minutes. This should result in a very light and fluffy batter.

It's so FLUFFY!

Grease a baking dish (I used unsalted butter), and pour in the brownie batter. Smooth off the top a bit with a spoon or spatula, then pop into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the brownie appears to be close to set in the middle (doesn't wiggle a lot) and/or a fork or toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out sticky, but not gooey and wet.

If you're going to cut these into socially acceptable individual portions, let cool for at least 10 minutes. If you're not so concerned with social acceptability, wait about 3 minutes and grab a spoon.

Wrapped and ready to go individual brownies - yum!


These definitely tasted like a proper brownie. They were not cakey at all, which means that the consistency is on the right track. These brownies were fudge-like in the middle and chewy on the edges.


Not massively aesthetically pleasing. I am blaming this on using the wrong baking dish. I would definitely suggest using a square, perhaps 9x9 baking dish. NOT a pop-out cake tin. Whoops.

These didn't quite hold the classic brownie shape once cooled; they were maybe just a little too pliable. I was possibly a little over eager to get these out of the oven and try them. Or maybe I should have used a touch less yogurt. What do you think?

Do you have a favorite brownie recipe? Or perhaps any suggestions for me? I would love to hear from you!