The apple cranberry muffin obsession has been going on for kind of forever. Like circa fall of 1993. back then, I was living on Sullivan Street in SoHo (basically the last time I had even a remotely swanky address) and Once Upon a Tart (an awesome NYC bakery totally worth checking out) was essentially my next door neighbor. They sold a myriad of delicious goodies (and still do), but I only had eyes for their muffins. First, they were jumbo, and as has been noted before, I’m a sucker for a large treat. Second, they were sweet, but not cake-sweet (okay, if we’re being honest here, I really wish muffins were cake, but I know most people are not as palette-challenged as me). Third, they were super moist (kind of like extremely important to me in a muffin). And fourth, they were bursting with whatever ingredients they’d been filled with (apples and cranberries, ginger, pears, and raisins — you get the idea). And my true love, of course, was their apple cranberry muffins, as the tangy sweet combo of the two fruits (in my opinion) could not be beat.
So, even though I love a bar featuring caramel — like, who doesn’t? — I never intended to develop a recipe for one. Instead, I thought I might riff on this chocolate, pecan and caramel tart. However, a friend begged me to post a recipe for a bar, as she was still obsessing over these espresso caramel bars, a treat I had made for her many moons ago, and so I obliged. As I began musing over chocolate caramel bars, in all their sweet and salty glory, the first salted caramel bar I ever made at home came to mind. It was a recipe from a 2007 issue of Bon Appetit. I loved that bar (basically a millionaire’s shortbread bar) — a lot. So much so, in fact, that years later, when I developed a caramel chocolate bar while working at Baked (“the salted caramel,” or “Twix,” bar), it was the Bon Appetit bar that I was trying to replicate. However, during this most recent chocolate-caramel-bar-go-around, I wasn’t really feeling the shortbread crust, or the caramel made from sweetened condensed milk of my all time fave.
Okay, so when I posted my recipe for homemade Oh Henry Bars (the Rice Krispies version), I explained that I had not actually set out to develop such a treat. Instead, my intention was to develop an oatmeal based Oh Henry Bar, like those my husband grew up snacking on. Now, I had never had an opportunity to snack on such a bar growing up, as my childhood home was not really of the “homemade-bar” variety — I don’t think my mother has ever made a bar in her life (unless you count brownies, which I don’t). In my house, we snacked on Drake’s Devil Dogs, instead, and if I hadn’t developed my own Devil Dogs for Baked Elements, you can be sure I’d be posting a homemade devil dog recipe sometime soon, but I’m getting off point.
This is an amazing cookie. I’m just going to come right out and say it. It is chocolate-y and spicy and chewy and totally divine. I made these cookies for Thanksgiving, and served them along with this pecan slab pie and this apple sour cherry slab pie, and they held their own like nobody’s business. (Okay, maybe some people even liked them best — as my cousin’s boyfriend told me, “these are empirically good.”) But no worries that you missed your chance to serve them on Turkey Day, as these chocolate ginger cookies will make the most truly spectacular Christmas cookie, as well.
To begin, some thoughts on blogging about slab pie: Yes, I realize I’ve been going a little overboard with the slab pie posts as of late. And yes, I realize I am not the only slab pie-obsessive out there. And, no, I will not reiterate all of the slab pie’s amazing traits, as I have already done so in my black and red raspberry slab pie post. Instead, I will merely remind you that all of the slab pies on this blog (all made in half sheet pans, by the way), such as this pecan chocolate bourbon slab pie, can easily be converted into a 9-inch traditional pie by cutting the filling recipe in half (flaky vodka dough and flaky pie dough recipes are already for a 9-inch pie, and are doubled for the slabs). Okay, phew, I got the blogging-about-slab-pies housekeeping out of the way. Now, let’s talk about this particular apple cherry slab pie.
I don’t know about you, but up until this past summer I had never heard of, read about, tasted, or even imagined a chocolate carrot bundt cake. And yet when a friend of a friend asked if I’d like the recipe for one (after she clicked on the link to my website in an email and discovered my preoccupation with all things sweet) I couldn’t email her back fast enough with a, “yes, please.” The combo of carrots and chocolate seemed suddenly so obvious, and yet so perfect. I mean, duh, it works for zucchini cake.
There is so much good stuff to say about this chocolate bourbon pecan pie, I almost don’t know where to begin. This is a pecan pie that is not overly sweet (like, not at all). It has a slightly gooey, deeply chocolate flavored, rich brown filling (from the cocoa powder and dark corn syrup) that pairs beautifully with the ultra flakey and uber-buttery crust. It includes a healthy glug of bourbon (I’m partial to the one produced by my neighborhood distillery) and a copious amount of toasted and roughly chopped pecans. It comes together quickly (no cooking of fillings) and might just end up with a permanent place at your Thanksgiving table.
Okay, first let me just say that I get that this is not the most seasonal of posts, but it’s hard to hold back a berry fanatic, even in November. Second, I know I am going overboard with all these posts about slab pie, but I’m a tiny bit obsessed. Now it’s possible my obsession is just a response to having made almost nothing but icebox cakes for the last two years — a fruit-filled slab pie is about as far away as you can get from a cake made of pudding, whipped cream, and graham crackers. But I really think slab pies are kind of unusually special.
So, I first heard about the vodka pie crust thing in the fall of 2008 when I was still working at Baked. My lovely and oh, so dear colleague at the time, Sefania, arrived one morning raving about a Cooks Illustrated pumpkin pie with a vodka crust that she had baked and brought to a dinner party the night before. Now, I’m going to bastardize the story a bit here, but somehow Mark Bittman heard about her pie (maybe someone who was at the dinner party with Stefania worked with him?) and long story short, a few weeks later, there was a post on the NYT Diner’s Journal blog about Stefania’s pie (or, more accurately, about how her pie had influenced the writer of the post). And the vodka pie dough phenomenon was forever etched in my brain.
Yup, it’s a chocolate whoopie pie post; and I know what you’re thinking: they’re totally kind of last year. But I love them — which makes sense in light of the fact that I am a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting fanatic, and back in the day I was all about a Hostess Suzy Q or a Drakes Devil Dog, two very whoopie-ish packaged treats from my late 70s/80s childhood. Moreover, even when my whoopie love has been tested, I’ve remained steadfast. (While working at Baked, I always opted to celebrate my bday with a chocolate whoopie pie (or several), even when offered any cake of my choosing).
I actually baked my first apple cake about seven years ago. And I mean cake, not a crumble or pie or some kind of brown betty-thing (nothing against brown betties, by the way — my mom has been making them for forever and i am a huge fan). No, I made cake — this apple cake with toffee crust to be exact and it was good, but not life-changing. Of course, while working for Matt and Nato, I baked a lot of their apple cake, and assisted in getting it “book-ready/home-cook accessible” by testing it before it made its way into Baked Explorations. But their particular apple cake is apple sauce-based, and I’m here to tell you about apple sheet cake that is made apple-y with chunks of apple coated in sugar and cinnamon (much like pie).
The berry scones thing happened when I stumbled upon this blackberry scone recipe. I’m not even sure what I was searching for that day — certainly not a scone recipe, seeing as scones weren’t really my thing at the time. Maybe I was just perusing the web in search of inspiration. Long story short, when I clicked on the above post, and saw the photograph of the sugar crusted scones bursting with blackberries, my interest was piqued. I have a bit of a blackberry thing, maybe that’s why. So I made the berry scones once and thought they were pretty insane. I then proceeded to make them about a billion times (I’m a creature of habit after all — when I find a good thing, I have trouble letting it go). I made them for basically anyone and everyone who walked through my door (this is easier than it sounds if you’re partial to freezing pre-baked goodies, as I am wont to do). After making, freezing and baking batch a-billion-and-one, however, it occurred to me that maybe I should develop my own scone recipe (not a bad thing to have in one’s repertoire).
It’s been almost a year since my slab-pie obsession began. (Thanksgiving 2013, to be exact, when 30 people showed up unexpectedly at our house for Thanksgiving — okay, I’m lying, they were invited.) My slab-pie of choice is one baked in a half sheet pan (as opposed to the daintier version described in my strawberry rhubarb pie recipe). But I like them all. I like the crust to filling ratio in slab pies, I adore the presentation, and am partial to desserts that feed a crowd — even the smaller slab pie offers up about four more slices than a traditional pie-dish pie.
As documented in my post on pie dough, I am relatively new to the world of the pie-obsessed. And my first pies were all of the mixed-berry variety (I’ve been mixed-berry/pastry focused since third grade, when Pepperidge Farm raspberry turnovers were a dessert staple). Thankfully, however, I’ve branched out in the pie filling department (I can get just the tiniest bit set in my ways when it comes to a particular ingredient/flavor/food item) and am newly preoccupied with strawberries and rhubarb (just about the tastiest of pie fillings), given the tart/sweet dimension. So preoccupied in fact, that I insisted on picking more than I could use and freezing much of it, in an effort to insure that I would be eating strawberry rhubarb pie past June. Which I am.
So, full disclosure here: I am not technically a pie person. Or a bread-baking person, for that matter. I have always been very much a cake person. (I happen to believe there are two camps: the pie/bread camp and the cake camp.) However, my allegiance began to shift last summer (just a bit) and I found myself not only craving pie, but baking it, as well. I suspect the shift away from cake and towards pie may have had something to do with the copious amounts of icebox cakes I was developing — and eating — last summer for the Icebox Cakes cookbook. But who knows?
I first learned about the “World’s Best Cake” from Bakers Royale (although the original recipe is Sweet Paul’s) and thought it sounded completely amazing: fluffy cake, with a baked, slightly chewy, yet crispy, marshmallow-y meringue, layered with creamy whipped cream. So very “world’s-best” sounding to me, in fact, that I knew then and there that I wanted to develop my own variation with a coconut twist (in my world, a cake with meringue and cream demands coconut). A little bit of internet research revealed almost no recipes for cakes with baked meringue (save for this meringue cake from Joy of Baking) and only a handful for “world’s best” cakes other than Sweet Paul’s (such as this Midsummer Cake).Sweet Paul’s version was republished on HuffPost but no one appeared to be tweaking it. Because I had other goodies up my sleeve in need of developing, I put my thoughts of the world’s best cake on hold, until i saw this espresso, cinnamon, maple cake and decided I, too, had to make my mark on the world with an attempt at the best.
My absolute favorite flavor of ice cream when I was a kid was mint chocolate chip. But not any mint chocolate chip ice cream, I loved mint chocolate chip ice cream fro Baskin Robbins. I loved everything about it — the green color, the creaminess, the mint/chocolate flavor combo — but what I really loved the most, was the size of the chips. This was not a mint ice cream with chunks of chocolate throughout, or actual chips. Instead, Baskin Robbins’ flavor included tiny, shaved, or grated, bits of chocolate, that contributed to the most perfect balance of chocolate to mint, as well as adding just a hint of texture to this otherwise super creamy treat.
So, the whole buttermilk bar doughnuts thing started when I was having dinner with friends and they mentioned a doughnut they had eaten in Los Angeles. A mere mention, and I was instantly smitten. And not with the doughnut’s purported attributes (which I insisted they share with me), but with the name of the doughnut: BUTTERMILK BAR. Brilliant. Who doesn’t want to eat buttermilk bar doughnuts??
The truth is I am not a huge flourless chocolate cake person, but I like fast; I like chocolate; and I like short ingredient lists. And so when I first stumbled upon the recipe that inspired mine, Molly Wizenberg’s Winning Hearts and Minds Cake, and began tinkering with it, it didn’t even occur to me to make it flourless (even though her recipe calls for a measly one tablespoon of flour). Instead I made it passover appropriate, substituting 1 1/2 tsp of potato starch, for the flour, reworked the technique (more on that below), and called it a day.
It goes without saying that not everyone is on board with confectioners’ sugar-based buttercream frosting, as many find them just too sweet, a little low-brow, and a bit heavy. In addition, a version of the buttercream frosting recipe is found on the box of Domino confectioners’ sugar, and maybe that turns people off. Who knows? The long and short of it is, however, that I am not one of those people. I actually love traditional/old school powdered sugar-based frosting (which probably comes as no surprise in light of my admission in my post about chocolate birthday cake that I love the flavor, texture, etc. of a cake made from a mix) and am always looking for ways to perfect my own version of the classic.