Sunday, September 14, 2014

Flourless Late-night Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

It’s not uncommon for me to bake at 10 o’clock at night.

Most of those recipes don’t make the blog since I’m too hungry and impatient to take photos.

These types of recipes are quick and efficient – 5 minute prep, no more than 7 ingredients, one bowl, one spoon, maybe a whisk…. And I can be eating whatever it is in 15 minutes.

That’s how nighttime baking rolls and I'm about to show you just how fast it can go!

You and me both know that if it's been 2 posts since I've shared a chocolate peanut butter recipe, that's 2 posts too many.

I just checked, it's been 4! Withdrawal has kicked in...

Last month I brought you Peanut Butter Cobbler Brownies.

Today I bring you a late night quickie but a goodie.

1. I have certain criteria when it comes to night baking. A recipe is only late-nightable if:
2. It can be prepared in less than 10 minutes.
3. It can be baked in less than 20 minutes.
4. It is a one-bowl deal.
5. Doesn't require a mixer.
6. The dough or batter is equally delicious so I can lick the utensils.
7. No more than 7 ingredients necessary.
8. It's a small batch story.

I'm normally not a huge stickler for rules, but when it comes to getting baked chocolate things into my mouth in record time on a craving-wired Tuesday night, then rules are necessary.

This recipe makes a perfect total of 10 cookies. Or 9 if you eat the dough in the process. I'll give you one guess how I know this...

They're dual purpose for me - night time snack and breakfast fuel. Double whammy (a good whammy).

Above are cookies baked at night.

Below are cookies ready for breakfast.

NOTE: baking soda is important to help these cookies spread, but if you use too much all you will be left with is a bitter, soapy taste. Grab the measuring spoons for this one - don't eyeball it.

If you have 10 minutes to spare, a bowl, a spoon and a few token ingredients then it's happy days. Keep this recipe on your fridge and you'll be able to prevent a few craving-driven hanger-derived pointless arguments with the family. This is how I manage my hanger (that and a secret stash of gummy bears and Lindt 70% chocolate block). Be prepared!

Goodnight/Good Morning.

Flourless Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 10 cookies

2/3 cup (150ml) smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup (75g) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup (50g) large flake rolled oats
¼ tsp plus 1/8 tsp baking soda
2 oz/56g dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.

Stir together peanut butter and brown sugar in a bowl with a spoon until well combined. Stir in egg and vanilla vigorously until incorporated. The dough should stiffen up. Stir in oats and baking soda, followed by chocolate.

Roll dough into 10 balls, place on lined baking tray, flatten slightly and bake until golden, 12-14 minutes. Let cool completely on tray before transferring to an airtight container.
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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Nocciole (Italian Hazelnut Cookies) and some Food Science thoughts

Can we talk about chemicals today?

Seems like marketers all over the world have managed to convince everyone that anything you buy in the supermarket contains "chemicals".

Well they'd be right. Your produce aisle is full of them. Water, sugar, salt and the wonderful essential oils in the skins of oranges, lemons and limes, and the compounds in fragrant spices are chemicals.

Let's back up a bit. I'm a baker. I adore the art of making cakes, brownies, tortes, cupcakes and cookies with the finest ingredients - pure unsweetened cocoa powder, excellent Lindt chocolate, New Zealand butter and seasonal fruit (to name a few).

I'm also a Food Scientist and I spend a lot of time developing delicious and safe products for you to buy in the supermarket. I work with natural and artificial flavours, but more and more I'm only working with the natural ones. And this is driven by consumer demand. The public is telling us that they do not want "artificial colours or flavours" in their foods.

What's the difference? Artificial flavours are synthesized in a laboratory to produce all of the (sometimes hundreds) of molecules to create the perfect combination that sends signals to your brain saying "strawberry!". Natural flavours are also manufactured in a laboratory, however they contain elements that are extracted from the original food source, ie. cherry extract, strawberry extract, vanilla bean extract... 

Here's some perspective on this: These "chemicals" that make up artificial flavours are just a bunch of molecules - molecules that can be found all over nature - put together and thoroughly tested to be safe for consumption. Everything we eat, breathe and feel is a chemical - air, water, fruit and vegetables, your desktop, your cell phone.

Legumes contain carcinogenic, toxigenic compounds called aflatoxins produced by fungus. Aflatoxins are widespread in nature - did you know that your daily dose of peanut butter contains aflatoxins, but the government has deemed it at a level low enough for safety? True.

Potatoes are full of chemicals, some of which are extremely toxic. I can't keep track of the number of times I've passed the produce aisle to find green potatoes. Realise that they are selling poison. The green colour on skins of potatoes is an indication of high concentrations of a toxic compound called solanine. If ingested in high amounts, solanine can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, nervous disorders and even death in the most severe cases. 

Commercial potatoes are screened for solanine content, however improper storage during transport and in supermarket warehouses, like prolonged exposure to light and high temperatures, will increase production of this toxin. 

Even boiling or frying will not eliminate it, so if you find a green potato either throw it away or cut away the green portion which is mostly near the skin.

Why would potatoes turn green anyway?
The humble potato is meant to grow underground in the darkness. If it gets exposed to light, it produces chlorophyll (like leaves do) and at the same time it produces defences in the form of bitter solanine toxins to warn creatures from eating it.

This is nature. We're just blinded by the fact that nature doesn't require an ingredient list.

TIP: store potatoes in a dark, dry and cool place and trim away any green areas as well as sprouts and eyes before cooking.

I didn't imagine this post to be all about potatoes, but this is where my head's at! Bottom line is that there are more important things to worry about than the thoroughly tested and safe-proven artificial flavours in your favourite cake mix or salad dressing. 

If the world would turn to 100% natural flavours, we would end up using somewhere near 90% of the world's agricultural land to produce strawberries just to make flavours for our milkshakes! There are simply not enough strawberries, lemons, raspberries and green apples in the world to feed 7 billion people with natural flavours, unless you never want to eat a fresh strawberry, lemon, raspberry or green apple ever again.

About these pictures... I made simple little Italian cookies using Italy's favourite nut, hazelnuts! Nocciola or nocciole (plural) is famous over Italy and can be found as a feature flavour in gelato, biscotti, pastries and cakes. 

These little bites are crunchy and keep for weeks in an airtight container. The backbone of the recipe is similar to shortbread with the addition of ground nuts and an egg yolk for added richness as well also a bit more structure and bite so that these aren't quite as crumbly as shortbread (hence the crunch-factor). There's no creaming step. Instead, all of the ingredients are combined together to form a smooth dough like most Italian biscotti and pastry recipes - they like to keep things simple and I'm down with that.

These cookies are full of flavour, none of which have been synthesized in a lab, but have been synthesized in nature probably by the same mechanisms. 

I bet you can't eat just one.

Nocciole - Italian Hazelnut Cookies
Makes about 34 cookies

1 ½ cups (140g) hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (on how to toast hazelnuts, click here)
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp cocoa powder, sifted
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (100g) sugar
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
2 ounces (56g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Put the toasted hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them until very fine; they should be the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.

Transfer the ground nuts to a bowl with the flour and sifted cocoa powder. Cut the butter into pieces then add the butter, sugar, egg yolk and salt to the dry ingredients. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together until the butter is dispersed and completely incorporated. The dough should be very smooth and hold together. 

Divide the dough into three equal pieces and roll each piece into a log with about 3/4 inch (2 cm) diameter. Try to get them as smooth as possible, with no cracks. Place the dough logs on a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate until firm.

Preheat oven to 325°F (165°C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut off equal-sized (½ oz or 15g) pieces of dough using a knife and then roll the pieces into smooth little balls. Place the balls on the baking sheet, slightly spaced apart. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden brown. Let the cookies cool completely.

In a clean, dry bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate until smooth. Either dip the tops or the bottoms of the cookies in chocolate and then transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray to set until the chocolate is firm.

These cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Squares (gluten-free)

The world of food chemistry is so fascinating, and more relate-able than one might think.

Like human chemistry, foods often go well with each other when they have something in common. There's the whole "opposites attract" thing that works once in a while, but it doesn't always last. Like those food trends that only stay around for a few months or so. Whoopie pies... really. 

I'll be the first to try the new black garlic and elderflower ice cream out of curiosity and to just plain switch it up a bit, but there will be a tub of classic Bourbon vanilla sitting in my freezer at all times. Forever and for always.
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Best Double Dark Chocolate Pudding

This is for those times when I realize I have no ice cream in the house.

Big mistake. A close second to realizing there's no toilet paper in your stall when you're already squatting. Yeaaahhh....

This is my brain sequence in withdrawal mode:

                        All the shops are closed.
                                                       I have milk!
                But no more cream...
                                   Plenty of chocolate.
                                                           Eggs - of course.

Pudding will do the trick. It's cold, creamy, smooth and thick.

Pudding is custard at its core. The stuff that comes in plastic cups at the supermarket is thickened solely with corn starch, which is also what you pay for in those instant pudding packets.

Try making your own - it's gold. It's also easy and here's how to get 'er done.
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cool Confetti Faux-Fudge

There's a lot of sadness plastered all over the TV screen these days.

Seems like all news is bad news.

It's easy to lose sight of happiness in these times and I find myself wanting to stay informed but exhausted from feeling so ruined by it.

Scientifically Sweet is mainly about butter & chocolate, a little life talk and plenty of FUN. Today, I'll dig a bit deeper.

I've been reading things that are not recipes lately. My down-time reading normally doesn't extend past cookbooks and food magazines. Right now I'm onto three Jamie Oliver books (trying to catch-up), a couple of Donna Hay issues and Caramel.

In my reading, what I've learned (aside from how to make a paella in 20 minutes) is that YOU can actually control how happy YOU are?

Happiness and well-being is mostly driven by our own thoughts and behaviours. In these not-so-joyous times it is important to find joyful and positive points and focus on them. I don't mean to just think everything is always hunky dory - that's just ignorant, and people might want to punch you. But, recognize the unfortunate and then focus on the positive. It's important to constantly recover and move forward or the only direction you will go is back.
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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Peanut Butter Cobbler Brownies

There are only two thoughts going through my head right now...

1) I bet 4 sticks of celery balance out 4 pieces of brownie.

2) Hand-washing is the devil.

How can those two things occupy the same brain space?

I guess it's no surprise that thoughts of chocolate run through my head nine times out of ten.

But, you probably never guessed that thoughts of hand-washing regularly creep up in between to torment me. I hate hand-washing! But I have too many silky, lacy, beaded clothes that require a delicate touch. They end up piling up into Everest until I can no longer see the surface of my desk... they just sort of hang everywhere. Every night I say, "I'll do the hand-washing"... but I eat brownies instead.
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Chocolate Olive Oil Granola Bars

One of the things I immediately stopped buying long ago after figuring out how awesomely easy and wonderfully delicious they are to make at home are granola bars.

I'm about to give store-bought bars a run for their money...

I'm giving you olive oil and dark chocolate today - a wildly unexpected combination that works outrageously well. It's the slight tang and fruitiness of olive oil that makes it marry so well with chocolate - DARK chocolate that is. Milk chocolate doesn't hold a candle here.

Chocolate is so distracting and a total attention hog, but let's not disregard the almonds and seeds. Sesame seeds in particular provide a nice savoury note.
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

3-Minute Hot Fudge Sauce (the real deal!)

It's all those little things...

...those little things that can really affect people.

I have a story to share with you that really means a lot to me. A reader of this overly chocolatey blog e-mailed me a while back asking for some guidance and advice around the study of Food Science and the best Universities with such programmes. I love when this happens because it means I've connected. It means that all of the foodie love I have spilled out from my heart and my brain (and my stomach) to the internet space of webpages, blurbs and far too many photos of Justin Bieber has actually found its way into someone else's heart, brain and stomach.

I love when I hear from any of you, period.

But, this was a special case. She told me how it was through reading my blog that she actually learned that the study of Food Science even existed, and the idea of becoming a Food Scientist really excited her. She contacted me in search of advice on where to apply. I told her my opinion and of course encouraged her to pursue the open world of food and science!

A few months later I receive another lovely email from her letting me know that she followed my advice and has ended up accepted into the Food Science programme at Cornell University starting this Fall. Knowing this makes all my 6 years of blogging worth it - aside from the fact that it gives me a very regular excuse to eat cake.
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chocolate Mousse Buttercake

Where is the "off" button for our brains?

Has anyone ever found that?

I need one.

I made this "OFF-switch" cake. A Homer-sized slice of this helps to slow things down. All I can think about is how creamy, velvety and delicious it is. But it's a bit of work that involves a reasonable dose of whisking, creaming, baking and waiting.

A button would be faster and more convenient. For now, this Chocolate Mousse Buttercake will more than suffice.

What we've got on the bottom is a soft biscuit-y base - somewhere between a biscuit and a butter cake. It is a thin layer that won't take long to bake, so keep an eye on it. Over-baked = dry = no thank you.

Gently perched on top is a smooth, thick & creamy yet airy shmear of classic chocolate mousse. Chocolate mousse is so wonderfully easy to make and a sure-fire winner with friends every time.
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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Honey Quinoa Clusters of Oats

Someone once told me one day I will turn into a muesli. I'm still trying to figure out what that looks like...

I eat a lot of the stuff. It's something about oats that's so satisfying and comforting.

There was this one "Swiss-style" muesli that I was addicted to when I lived in Dublin. I bought it from my local Tesco shop. There was milk powder blended right in so I didn't even need to add milk! I would eat it with a spoon dry from a bowl and the milk powder would dissolve in my mouth. It was like making instant milk - really, really concentrated milk. That's weird... I shouldn't tell you these things.

I haven't been able to find it anywhere since then. If you know where to get this stuff, shout!

I also love granola, and in Australia they call granola "toasted muesli". Granola bars are also "muesli bars".

They're perfectly correct because granola is a mixture of oats, nuts and seeds (basically muesli) that is baked until crisp. It's full of long-lasting energy and super easy to make at home. The best part is that you can control how much oil and sugar is added.
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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Remember that episode on Friends where Ross calls Monica "uncooked batter eater!". I can entirely relate to that.

This cake rightfully should be taller since I ate about one-sixth of the batter. It tastes like ice cream and I have no self control....

This cake comes at the request of my mamacita (aka. mom) and her friend who are looking for a good recipe for pound cake. Apparently Martha Stewart's recipe is no good.

Pound cake was named after the fact that the original recipe used 1 pound each of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. This makes one heck of a lot of batter! So if you can ignore the literalness, it really refers to a recipe with an equal weight (or 1:1:1:1 ratio) of all four ingredients. The texture is firm, dense and not as moist as your typical buttercake despite all that butter because there is little liquid. As the batter bakes, starch in the flour absorbs what liquid there is from the eggs leaving the finished baked cake with not much free moisture. This is how it was intended.
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Monday, June 30, 2014

Baked Fruit & Nut Toffee Chews

I'm sitting here and all I can think about is how much I want the weekend to last a little bit longer.

Two days is not enough and so NOT proportional to 5 days of work.

A 3-day weekend to a 4-day work week would be so much smarter and make me way more productive. Come on guys, let's figure out how to make this happen!

Who do I have to call? Who should I write a letter to? Who do I need to send (persuasive) cookies to?
Just don't let the Lindt factory workers know because I still need my chocolate fix 7 days a week.

There's this thing that happens to me on Sunday evenings that completely cuts my weekend down by half a day. Suddenly it hits and all of the things I need to do and want to get done just tumble through my head. Let's be real guys, I develop dessert mix recipes for a living and love it. But, there's lots of important stuff that comes with it to make sure that the food I make arrives to your supermarket shelf safely and at the finest quality. At the end of the day... it's work!
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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Chocolate & Cream Butter Bars

If I were a food, I'd be butter.

I'd be butter more than I'd want to be chocolate.

Butter simply makes life taste better, and would probably never have issues fitting into leather pants if it wanted to. Fans of Friends would know that 'paste pants' are not a good scene.

In little bits or large pads, it's just good. A couple teaspoons mixed in with your olive oil to start the sofrito base of bolognese sauce or any risotto will take it to that next level. Or, how about a bowl full of beurre blanc with that seafood dinner?

A little goes a long way and a lot goes even longer...

A tablespoon or two stirred into fresh lemon curd adds body, sheen and richness. Then a generous cup marks the beginning of irresistible shortbread.

That's where we are heading today - straight into shortbread city with a few dark alleyways and a cheeky detour.
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Sunday, June 15, 2014

After Eight Cookies

It took a while for the combination of mint and chocolate to win me over.

When all the kids were swooning over mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, I was happy with my double chocolate choice or probably went for a hot fudge sundae - I prided myself as a purist.

Mint chocolate chip was definitely a favourite flavour among kids when I worked at Baskin Robbins. 

Over time I learned to like it - especially with fresh mint. I make a brownie with fresh chopped mint in it and it is mind-blowing. I'll have to share it with you some day.

The key to this flavour combination working for me is using very dark bittersweet chocolate (not surprising here on this blog...). It has to contain at least 70% cocoa solids and the overall recipe shouldn't be too sweet. Since mint is already a rather "sweet" herb, it becomes over-whelming and nearly sickly when paired with too much sugar.
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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Italian Raspberry Crostata (Crostata Marmellata)

There's a cafe across the road from where I live.

I can see it from my living room window.

Every weekend morning the place is busy beyond the bees. Tables are full and the cue for coffee is pretty consistent. I'm close enough that I can actually read the menu on the board and avocado toast with eggs tops the list. Great, right? I love avocado and avocado on toast with a runny egg is probably as close to breakfast perfection as you can get. That is, when I'm not eating brownies or chocolate chip cookies.
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