Archive | August, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie

29 Aug

Well I’ve moved into my first apartment.  It’s all furnished and decorated, filled with food and cutlery and dishes, lamps and records and varieties of espresso, posters and maps and library books that almost scrape the bottom of my loft bed from where they wobble uneasily on my desk.  I have a red desk chair that looks like an Eames chair, my film cameras hanging from the rail of my bed, and a little corner for my instruments, both musical and photographic.  I’ve been here one week, with another week spent out West on vacation, yet it feels so lived in.  I’ve claimed the kitchen table, where I sit facing East, looking through the window at the overgrown lot behind our building, sunlight flaring in the morning and shocking my cereal and book with its stark brilliance.

Now that I’ve settled in, of course, it’s time to get this baking train out of the station and heading cross-continental.  Or something…  The first thing I baked in this, my first kitchen, was Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie, and I think it’s safe to say that this pie heralded the beginning of Good Times in the Kitchen quite auspiciously.

In other words, goddamn, this pie is stellar bomb and you should make it.  You will be so very happy that you did.

Adapted from Joy the Baker and one of the King Arthur Flour Cookbooks to create one harmonious recipe of deliciousness that will get your taste buds jamming.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz chocolate, your choice
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (I used white chocolate peanut butter, because it is awesome)
  • a pie tin with crust in it (you can make your own, but I just bough a pre-made one to save money and effort)
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp and 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 tbsp butter, cut into one-tbsp blocks
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

You can use store-bought whipped cream to go on top, but why would you?  To make the whipped cream, you’ll need 1 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1/4 cup SIFTED confectioner’s sugar.  I hate sifting with a passion for some reason, but you do not want to leave your sugar unsifted or the whipped cream will look like cottage cheese.

Let’s throw this thing together, man:

I was having a weird-in-a-bad-way, sort of shitty day when I made this, and it made me feel so much better.  So much.  In fact, a friend of mine brought some hitchhiking vagrants she picked up at church, and I shared the pie with them and my roommate.  Watching everyone scrape the plates clean with their forks was just as gratifying, if not more so, than the taste itself.

Now.

Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler, or whatever improvised contraption you care to use.  Once melted, spread across the bottom of your pie shell.

Ready the peanut butter!

I want to tell you a little bit about the peanut butter I use.  It’s made by the Peanut Butter Company, which is a shop in New York City that I have sadly never been to.  My dad brought it home from its factory in New Jersey one day, swearing by it, and the next thing I knew, our cupboard was invaded.  Never has an invasion been such a happy event.  The peanut butter is all natural, with no gluten, trans fat, blah blah blah, it’s delicious, okay?  Amazingly so.

It doesn’t have the ridiculously high salt content that other brand name peanut butters have, and is therefore ideal for baking and also everything else.  It comes in a variety of wonderful flavors, like honey, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and just plain regular.  You can chunky, you can get smooth.  But no matter what flavor you buy, what you’re really getting is damn good peanut butter.

Now you’re going to want to spread that peanut butter over the chocolate once the chocolate has cooled and hardened.  That part is important, all right, because otherwise you’ll end up smearing the chocolate into the peanut butter and creating a marbled mess.  It could be delicious, sure, but I like distinct layers, if only for their aesthetic appeal.

 

Whisk the sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt, and eggs together in one bowl.

 

Look at this!  I have containers for my dry ingredients!  Last year, when I lived in a dorm, we kept the dry ingredients in ziploc bags, squeezed onto a bookshelf with my political science and Latin textbooks.

I even have cabinets now.  That’s right.  Cabinets.

 

 

 

Boil the milk, stirring often so it doesn’t form a skin.  Milk skins are the bane of my existence.

Add the milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly.

Return that nasty gloop to the stove and stir, stir, stir until it bubbles in the middle and thickens.  Stir live your life depends on it, or it will be lumpy.  Mine was lumpy.  It worked out in the end, but it looks kind of weird pre-bananas.

 

Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla.

Slice the bananas.

 

I meant to buy three bananas, because I don’t like them that much but I do occasionally eat them.  But when I was standing in the middle of a long line at Trader Joe’s, I realized I had picked up a bunch of five…  I don’t want five bananas.  I also forgot my cereal at a different grocery store, or the cashier didn’t bag it or something.  Then I stood there waiting for a receipt for a while before the cashier said, “Oh wait, you haven’t paid yet have you?”  Ummm… why no, I haven’t.  Haha.  Ha.  How did that happen…?

 

Add the bananas to the custard-y mixture.

 

Pour all of that into the pie shell.

 

Refrigerate for two hours.

 

In the meantime, make some whipped cream!  I made the whipped cream in the evening, so the lighting was a bit strange, but I actually like how it turned out.  It reminds me of Impressionist paintings, since their whites were never just white, but a subtle combination of purples and yellows and red and blues.

Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form.

 

 

I would like to point out, for the record, that that is hand-whipped whipped cream.  As in, I did not use an electric mixture, but beat the shit out of it by hand.  It took a long time, especially because I messed up the first batch, but it was well worth it.  It’s truly a magical baking moment when a pool of cream coalesces into a soft and light bowl of fluff.

Then add the vanilla and powdered sugar, stirring until combined.

 

Let that chill until the pie is ready and you’re about to eat it.

 

And the finished pie:

 

The first slice, mangled:

 

And the first bite:

 

The only problem I have with this recipe is that the chocolate bottom makes it incredibly hard to slice, and I was standing at the counter sawing and hacking while everyone looked on.  I started to panic a little, thinking that I had made a goddamn pie and messed it up, and now no one could eat it.  It turned out fine, and my roommate found that a smaller knife makes it easier to cut, but it is frustrating.  I suppose you could use fudge instead of pure chocolate, but the hard snap of the chocolate layer really plays off the gooey softness of the rest of the pie, and I wouldn’t give that up.

 

 

Now I have, of course, a book to recommend.  Many, in fact, but I will stick with just one.  It’s called Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, and it’s a novel about Frank Lloyd Wright’s first mistress, the feminist and translator Mamah Borthwick.  One review by, I believe, the Washington Post, said that readers will pick up the book because of Wright, but they will keep reading because of Mamah.  That sums it up perfectly.  I was utterly taken with Mamah.  Because the book is from her point of view, it’s not just about Frank Lloyd Wright, but about feminism at the turn of the century and the role of women in the traditional family.  I had no idea who Mamah was when I picked up the book (do not Google her name, for the love of god, you will regret it, trust me), and I had no idea feminism would feature so heavily in the story, but I was very, very happy that it did.

Mamah was mostly involved in women’s suffrage and equal pay, so the first part of the book talks briefly about her efforts in that area. When she goes to Europe with Wright, however, she encounters the European feminism that transcends equality in the workplace and in society and works towards emotional and sexual equality for women.  The European feminism championed free love, but not in the kind of crazy way the 60s and 70s did.  Free love, for them, was more about having the freedom to fall in love over and over again, and not be bound by marriage and ruined by divorce.  It was about breaking “societal chains”, so the speak, and loving for the sake of loving–not for the sake of having and raising a family, or settling down, or insuring your security.  It was about enjoying sex and being with someone who maybe terrified you in your love for them.

Because of the adulterous nature of Wright’s and Mamah’s relationship, the author took the two kinds of feminism and applied them to a love story, which really humanized the strangely large amount of theory floating about and made me emotionally invested in feminist philosophy (more than I was already, which was a lot).  You don’t have to identify as a feminist or even really know what it means to be one in order to love this book.  You just have to be willing to fall in love with a love story.

Make no mistake, though.  This is not “chick lit”.  It’s a beautiful book, and a tragic book, and a book that will make you think about how rigid society was and still is, how puritanical we are as a race, it seems, and what love and marriage are and should be all about.  That sounds like a lot, but I read it in two days, wholly unwilling to set it down for more than a few hours at a time.

It is also a book that will tear your soul out, set it on fire, and the blow it to fucking smithereens, especially if you don’t know any of Frank Lloyd Wright’s history.  Do not Google Frank Lloyd Wright’s history just because I said that.  If you read this book, do not read about any history beforehand.  Unless you want to avoid being devastated and wandering aimlessly around your house feeling like your life just got stepped on.  But what’s the fun in that?

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New York’s Finest Chocolate Chip Cookies

10 Aug

These cookies have a bit of a story behind them, so gather round folks.

The recipe is adapted from the chocolatier Jacques Torres, printed in the New York Times.  I would link you up, but I reached my monthly limit of articles.  Jacques Torres was born in France, but opened up a chocolate shop in New York, where they make chocolate from the beans up.  It’s great stuff, and their hot chocolate is essentially warm, thick magic in a cup.

But the chocolate chip cookies will change your life.  They’re huge, first of all, and second of all, instead of chips, they use chocolate fèves, which are chocolate discs.  The result is large swaths of chocolate swirled into delicious, slightly salty dough.  Absolutely divine.

The real miracle is that Torres is French, and no this is not about to become a French joke.  I have a recipe book from a bakery in NYC called Milk and Cookies, and Torres provided the foreward, where he wrote that in France, there is no such thing as a warm chocolate chip cookie and a glass of milk.

Please, revive yourself.  Because I know you just fell out of your chair gasping for breath and squeaking pitifully for help.  Believe me, I know.  What kind of anywhere is a where with no chocolate chip cookies?  Yeah France has macarons and mille feuille and moulleux (how the hell do you spell that…?), and soufflé, and gelato…. But chocolate chip cookies, man.  This means, of course, that Torres did not have any until he came to the States.  And somehow, he managed to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie, without being raised on them.  Quel miracle, if you ask me.

What a happy miracle indeed.

Ingredients:

(I will warn you now that these cookies seem like more effort than they’re worth but they’re NOT.  Also, the dough requires refrigeration for 24 hours, so don’t make these if you need cookies NOW.)

  • 2 cups minus two tbsp cake flour (I don’t know, just trust the man)
  • 1 2/3 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 1/4 light brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus two tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate fèves.  You can get these at Whole Foods, or you can just use very large chocolate chips like I did

Let’s do this thang:

Sift the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.

 

I like how this flour pile is its own landscape.  Its bleak, shadowed white peak reminded me of Mars, but that could be because I stayed up until 3 am watching Curiosity’s landing and the subsequent press conferences.  Talk about an historic moment.  It was such a thrilling event to watch, and so completely joyous.  When the control room all leaped to their feet and started high-fiving and rushing about and hugging, they looked so happy.  Purely happy.  I was refreshing Tumblr and Twitter, and let me tell you, it was a real moment of unity.  I think it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Anyway.

 

Some of these pictures are purely to show off my nail polish.

Beat the butter and sugars together for about five minutes, or until they’re light and fluffy.

 

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Mix in the vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

 

 

Now throw in the chocolate.

 

I heard these were pretty quality, or something?

(My mom and I sampled them and just went, “Oh”.  But oh, they are divine.)

 

See all that chocolate?  That’s not even the entire pound and a half.  It took two of those bags pictured above.

 

There.

 

Yeah, good luck stirring in the chips.  It took freaking forever.

Now this is the worst part, and I’m sorry to do this to you, but…

Press plastic wrap right onto the dough and refrigerate for 24 hours.

 

I know, okay?  It hurt me, too.

Now spend an entire day not thinking about these cookies.  Distract yourself with one of my book recommendations, maybe.  Sit outside and admire nature.  Go get ice cream.  Go get all the ice cream.  Eat everything else in your kitchen.  Listen to music.  Go see an opera, that’ll take up plenty of time.  Invent something.  Learn the Charleston and dance while you’re waiting in line for coffee.  James Brown it down the grocery line.  Whatever works for you.

(James Brown is a blues dancing move, by the way.  I sort of blues dance.  I’m more of a Lindy person by dint of longevity.)

After 24 hours, form the dough into “the size of generous golf balls” (“whiffle balls?” suggests my dad).  I had trouble here because the dough was so stiff from refrigeration.  I waited until the dough warmed up a bit, and then I pried it out of the bowl with an ice cream scoop.

 

Another problem I had was that this recipe is supposed to yield six very large cookies.  Mine made about twenty.  They’re a bit smaller than the original Jacques Torres cookie, but not by that much.

I’m not complaining, mind you.  Just pointing out a quirk in my process.

 

I think we can all agree that my golf balls are very generous.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 18 minutes.  I am a chronic underbaker, and 18 minutes was perfect, so if you like crunchier cookies, I’d leave them in for a bit longer.

 

 

I was having a hard time with some apartment-related stuff when I made these, so when the first batch came out of the oven, I just sat down on my kitchen floor with a too-hot cookies and a mug of milk and pumped up the jams.  (Jams = Mendelssohn violin concerto no. 1, because hot damn.)

It didn’t work, but it helped.  Giant, melty Guitard chips in massive, gooey cookies will not solve every problem, but if they do not alleviate the situation at least a little bit then you are in deep shit.  That’s how good these cookies are.  I would have one right now, but I just ate some Scharfen-Berger chocolate and feel kind of disgusting.

 

And that’s a wrap.

Public service announcement: I have no idea when I’ll be able to post next, because I am moving back to Chicago and into an apartment, and I am having some trouble setting up the utilities.  I will probably throw something together and make a short post about it, because I find this whole process traumatizing and baking helps.  But don’t expect much for a few weeks, okay?

 

 

Now, I’m going to tell you a secret, and I only ask that you please don’t judge me.  I don’t care overly much if you do, but I’d prefer it if you didn’t.

You know that Gotye song, Somebody I Used to Know?  That song is kind of my jam.  I know it’s not really a good song, but I heard it on the radio when my sister was in charge of the radio.  And now.  I just listen to it.  All the time.  All day today, it was a Mendelssohn fest, and then I went to see Porgy and Bess, wound down with some Sinatra, and what do I play next?  Gotye.  I just do not know.

In any case.

Your recommendation this week is a documentary called Eames: The Architect and the Painter, which is a rad little film about Charles and Ray Eames, who designed the gorgeous chairs and revolutionized (and I’m not using that word lightly) photography, film, and design.  It’s great, it’s beautiful, it’s inspiring, and it’s on Instant Netflix.  Hurray!

 

Espresso Brownies

2 Aug

You know it’s a good day when you manage to round up 11 dollars in random change from various bags and backpacks.  Oh yes.

Of course, it was a good day before that, too.  Yesterday and today have been truly lovely, and so quintessentially summer-y.  I had breakfast outside and read, I spent all day reading Vogue, GQ, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Wired, and various blogs, which made me so, so happy.  I love reading things online.  So very much.  I watched some movies.  I made a stop-motion video with some jamming music.  I tried drawing with interesting results.  (I don’t know how to draw, but I thought it would be fun to learn. (It is.))  I have been gliding across a stage set with the very picture of tranquility minus the soul-numbing boredom that I often experience.

 

 

Is this not the essence of summer?

And today, I have done mostly the same, with one very notable exception.

I made these brownies.

These brownies…

Let me warn you.  They sneak up on you.  I had one and thought, “Oh… well.  Now I know what those taste like.”  But I couldn’t accept my own mediocrity, so I had another.

Wow.  These are sneaky little bastards, and not until you’re halfway through one of them will you go, “Ohhhh, man.  That is.  A brownie.”  Seriously, these brownies are basically coffee in solid form.  And the chocolate, oh, the chocolate.  These are not fudgy, which initially put me off, but they are very chocolate-y nevertheless, perhaps in a more subtle way than your average brownie.  They also have dark chocolate espresso chunks in them.  Which.  As you can imagine, is divine.

They’re dry, they’re dense, they suspend their flavor in a tense fermata before washing over you quite suddenly.  They are a surprise.  They are an “Oh!” halfway through. They are so, so very good.

The recipe is from Fat Witch Brownie, which is a New York-based bakery with a location in Chelsea Market and a couple more besides.  I finally went to the bakery recently, and it did not disappoint.

Ingredients:

  • 7 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped espresso-flavored chocolate (optional, but come oooon)

Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler or whatever improvised contraption you can come up with.  Set aside to cool (I mean it–you’ll cook the eggs before this stuff even gets into the oven otherwise).

 

Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla together until combined.

 

 

Add the melted chocolate and continue beating.

 

In a small container, mix together the boiled water and espresso powder until the crystals have melted.

 

So not like that.  Then pour that into the batter.

 

Beat until well-combined.  Have you ever thought about how amazing egg beaters are?  The concept is seriously cool: spindles of metal that whirl around very quickly, stirring everything up while you move it about in a bowl.  Two stirring actions are being performed at any given time, like the Moon rotating the Earth rotating the Sun.  And the idea that you can take separate ingredients that are quite nasty apart and spin them together with enough force, then essentially set fire to them, and come up with brownies.

Science is cool, huh?

Especially baking science.  Oh yeah.

 

This stuff is so gross.  I only keep instant espresso crystals for baking.  While I made these, I add a double shot with two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk stirred in, because I actually care about the kind of coffee I drink.  I just cant believe people drink those crystals.  Ugh.

Measure out the flour and salt and sift them in tandem into the batter.

Is it still called batter if not everything’s in it yet?  I’ve always wondered.

Then chop your optional-but-not-really chocolate.

 

I used Green and Black’s espresso dark chocolate and didn’t bother actually measuring a quarter cup.  I don’t know anything about the company except what I just read about 30 seconds ago on their site, but it seems reliable.  If Scharfen-Berger made espresso-flavored chocolate it would change my life and these brownies, but alas, they do not.  I suppose you could go for something seriously fancy if you went to a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but I guess that’s not necessary…  Just… preferable.

Green and Black’s seems interesting though.  I will have to read up on these folks.

 

Stir the chunks into your batter, and pour the batter into a 9×9 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or longer because you were trying to e-mail your flatmate about furniture and then started worrying about buying an entire apartment’s worth of furniture, which is an idea you feel highly allergic to.

Allow to cool, and then eat all of them.  I’m currently working on this part of the recipe.

All right, I have to tell what these brownies make me think of.  First of all, the word that best describes them is “strong”, and not just for the sheer force of the chocolate and espresso flavors.  Strong, because they are emotionally powerful.

Don’t laugh at me, I’m being serious.  There was no better way to say that, okay?

When the real taste finally hit me, these brownies sort of swept my mind out the kitchen door and over to Greenwich Village.  In particular, a little coffee shop called McNulty’s.  Ever since my family moved to New York, I can remember going to McNulty’s with my parents to pick up freshly ground coffee.  I can remember the labelled bags in our freezer with names like Irish Cream (which my mom hates), Mocha, Mocha Java, and Colombian Vanilla.

That store has an ambiance.  In the winter, it insufferably suffocating, warm, and close.  The already-small shop, crammed to the antique doors with jars upon jars of tea, coffee-making apparati, and bags of beans, will coax streams of sweat from you in minutes.  And you will be in there for many, because the lines are long and wind around the tea jars towards the back of the store.  In the summer, it’s just as hot, but somehow bearable, perhaps because the weather is as well, and you’re already stripped to the skin if you’re wandering about the Village.

The men who work there have probably worked there since the primordial soup boiled on the surface of the Earth, and have probably not aged since then.  They talk about baseball with my dad, hockey with my mom. They pour beans into the brass scale, expertly tossing in just enough to meet the demanded weight.  They fold the grounded beans into paper bags, whipping a strip of paper tape over the top to seal them shut.

But what got me, in regards to these brownies, was the smell.  Of course a coffee shop will smell divine.  Obviously.  But this place has boards up at the ceiling with the neatest handwriting you’ve ever seen spelling out at least a hundred different beans.  Imagine that much coffee in one place.  Imagine the density of the aroma, the overpowering fragrance of a metric fuck ton of coffee in a small, old ground floor room of a small, old building.  Imagine that.  That is what these brownies taste like.

Like the smell of McNulty’s; like the coded chatter of baseball scores that I have never bothered to understand but have listened to all the same; like the repetitive motion of tape on bags, tape on bags, tape on bags; like coming into the shop off of pretty, tree-lined Christopher Street and joining the reverent queue around the tea jars; like the whiteboards crammed with names of more coffee than you can actually imagine.  They taste, essentially, like the earliest memories I have of New York City.  Am I being melodramatic?  Are you rolling your eyes at me?  Then why don’t you just go and make these lovely little things, read this post again, and see who’s scoffing now.

Mocha Meringue

2 Aug

I have never made a successful meringue before in my life.

Never.

Until two nights ago.

I made these adorable little confections:

Lovely.

I don’t know what possessed me to make some, but I did the night I got back from camping in the Adirondacks with the family.  (I mean, the a lot of family.  Four out of five sisters, a father, and a niece and nephew, good lord that is more folk than I am used to in one place.)

This is my new go-to recipe.  It’s so simple, and it’s so joyful to look at these little blobs of severely fluffed sugar and egg white.

From Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup sugar (or more, to gets things extra fluffy, which I may have done)
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature (room temperature eggs fluff more easily)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Für machen:

Stir the sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs whites and salt together until frothy, which should not take too long.  You want to be very sure that neither the bowl nor the beaters have any grease on them, or it will be very difficult to whip everything to the right consistency.

While beating, add one tablespoon of sugar at a time until stiff, glossy peaks form.  (I love baking adjectives, don’t you?  Glossy peaks of sugar and egg just sounds so awesome.)

Now, here’s where I had trouble, and it’s probably because of the cleanliness of my equipment, which is exactly why I wrote that warning above.  I couldn’t quite get mine whipped enough, even after a damn long time.  So I started adding sugar.  Perhaps not the most expert solution, but throwing in spoonful after spoonful of sugar did work eventually.  Something to think about, if your peaks are not peaking.

 

Eventually, though, it should like this.  Is that not supremely beautiful?  Come on.  It reminds me of this painter I read about in the New Yorker a few years ago named Will Cotton, who does these gorgeous paintings of landscapes made of meringue, cotton candy, and the like.

Like so:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add espresso powder and cocoa.

 

Beat until combined.

 

Drop by the tablespoon onto baking pans covered in parchment paper or tin foil, if you don’t have parchment paper because the last strip of it was covered in bugs.

I used an ice cream scoop because it seemed easier.

 

My mother thinks she is funny and photobombs me frequently.

 

How precious are these little blobs?  Seriously.

 

Scrape that bowl clean.  Scrape it.

Bake at 300 degrees for forty minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.

 

The best way to eat these, I think, is on a sundae.  I made on last night with vanilla ice cream, sea salt caramel gelato (the fashionable flavor these days), two meringue, silver and pink sprinkles, and an enormous amount of grated Scharfen-Berger chocolate.

I am depraved.  It’s okay, I accepted that a long time ago.

 

Check that out.  Look at how much grated chocolate is on that thing.  And you know what there is not anything of?  Rules that say how much grated chocolate you can heap on a sundae.  Bring it on.

 

I was trying to read while I was eating this and was driven to absolute distraction once I had collapsed the first meringue with a spoon-jab.

Five minutes later, the last bite:

 

So satisfying.

And at long last, I do have a book to properly recommend to you.  Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de St. Exupéry.  You may recognize this fellow as the author of Le Petit Prince, but what you may not know is that, in addition to his writerly pursuits, he was an aviator.  He flew the mail across the Atlantic to South America, as well as to Africa until he went missing on one of his flights.  This book is about his experiences in aviation, and is scattered, true to form, with tiny pearls of philosophy that rise out of nowhere amidst his descriptions of the Sahara and the South American mountains, rather like the sharp crags he writes of, rising out of the fog on night flights.

The book moves far past the exploration genre with St. Exupéry’s thoughts on the nature of humanity, society, and relationships, and it has a stronger grounding in the reality of travel and geography than a simple philosophy text.  It’s also a pretty lofty read, and definitely not for everyone.  But I enjoy it, like I enjoyed Le Petit Prince, for its honesty and its very simple joy at flight and people and the Earth.

Stop-Motion New York City Summer

1 Aug

Hello everyone.  So I was messing about with stop-motion today, using some photos collated from various jaunts around Manhattan, and this is what I came up with.  Music is credited at the original source on Vimeo.

Summer, New York City

 

Chocolate-Frosted Peanut Butter Bars

1 Aug

I’ve just spent an age cleaning around my desk and I don’t know why.  I sat down to watch Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (highly recommend), and the next thing I know, I find myself sorting through a mountain of CDs and mysterious cables.  The CDs contained, as it turned out, old photos from various vacations, like camping in Gettsyburg and flying in a glider plane somewhere in NY state.   There was also a recording of me from four years ago at a flute recital.  I wasn’t too bad, you know?  I never wou;d have guessed, since it’s so hard to hear yourself when you’re playing.  But man, those turns?  Nailed ’em.  Crisp as a fresh Pringle.  (Remember Pringles?  Man, those were so 90s.)

But wait, you’re here for the baking aren’t you?  Fine, if you’re going to be like that.  Let me tell you, then, what I got up to last week.  I realize I’ve baked a lot these past two weeks, for lack of anything better to do.  And I wanted chocolate, so I made these deliciously decadent (oh I know it’s an overused word, but listen, it’s the best word, and you will see why) peanut butter bars with a friend of mine, who measured things, sat around, provided commentary, and foisted music upon me.  You know.  As friends do.

So here we go, chocolate-frosted peanut butter bars, from Joy the Baker because I love her to little sugar-y, chocolate-y pieces.

Oh, and check out this apron my wonderful mother got me.  She has the best taste, I swear.

 

How cute is that?  And best of all, it will keep my clothes safe from my flour-flinging ways.

Ingredients:

For the bars:

  • 10 tbsp butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter, your choice as to the specifics
  • 1/4 cup Nutella (you can just use an entire cup of peanut butter if you prefer)
  • (but why would you)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder

For the frosting:

  • 6 tbsp butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2-2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips, melted (yes really)

To make:

Melt the butter and sugar together, quelling your disgust at the molasses-y mixture it produces, until the butter has just melted.

 

Why yes, that is a lot of butter.  Why yes, that is a veritable mountain of sugar.

 

It should look like this, yes?  When it does, remove it from the stove and allow it to cool for five minutes.  Then add the peanut butter.

I used white chocolate peanut butter, from the wonderful, wonderful Peanut Butter Co., which was founded by a Vassar grad, as the Vassar undergrad in my kitchen informed me.

 

Stir it in until it’s incorporated and then allow to cool some more.  If you don’t, you might end up cooking the egg.

I took a lot of pictures of this peanut butter for some reason.  It is very photogenic stuff, I suppose.

As I said in the ingredients list, I added a quarter cup of Nutella in place of the final quarter cup of peanut butter, just to make things interesting.  Nutella always makes things interesting.  It is a fact of life.  You don’t have to do this, but I really can’t imagine any reason why you wouldn’t want to.

Also, you could use honey peanut butter, chocolate peanut butter (which I love, love, love), almond butter, hazelnut butter (oh man, I’m doing that next), or whatever nut butter makes you happiest.

 

Goodness, enough of that.  Now add the egg and vanilla.

My egg was sweating it was so hot outside.

Whisk together the dry ingredients, and throw them into the bowl of sugar, butter, and egg all at once.

 

Stir until just incorporated.  Then dump that in a 13×9 pan and bake for 20-25 minutes at 325 degrees.  It seemed to take forever for these to cook, but I think that’s because the peanut butter made the bars look squishier than they actually were, and therefore undercooked for a long time.  In other words, if your baking tester comes out of the middle with some fudgy peanut butter clinging to it, I wouldn’t worry overly much.

Now for the frosting!  Which is divine, good lord.

Beat together the butter, cocoa powder, and salt.

 

Add half a cup of powdered sugar, then a tablespoon of milk, etc., etc., beating well after each addition.  Or do it all at once because you didn’t bother to read it and had two different people hovering over the bowl.

It’s fine.

Melt the chips.  If they are not completely melted when you dump them into the frosting bowl, do not fret.  It’ll just add more body to the frosting.

Beat until combined.  Then, when the bars are cooled down, frost them.

As you can see, we couldn’t wait until they’d completely cooled off.  So we threw the whole thing in the fridge when we made the frosting, and when they still weren’t cool, we pried a corner out, frosted it by itself, and ate the scalding mess.  It.  Was.  Delicious.  But better when it actually cooled down.

I had several one for breakfast the next day after having forgotten to cover them up for the night and it was fine, but really, cover these with plastic wrap or something because they go stale pretty quickly.

Mmmm…

So here’s your book of the week!  I mentioned I was going to watch Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, which I saw when it came out in January, or whenever that was.  The reason I was going to watch it tonight was that I just finished the book today, in the car driving back from the Adirondacks.

Man, it was good.  Slow to get started for sure, and I actually picked it up this weekend after forgetting about it a few months ago.  It’s a good summer read…  You know, I don’t know why people say that.  Well, I suppose I do.  People say it because everyone wants a nice, easy read for their summer, right?  They don’t want to think too hard, but they do want some stimulation of the brain.

Well you know what?  That’s not what I want in my summer reading.  I want to be challenged.  I don’t have school to keep me going, so I need some complicated books.  Or at least something really engaging.  That was partly why I was reading the Richard Feynman/quantum physics biography.  Also, because Feynman was a boss, but that goes without saying.

In any case, TTSS is good for those of you who like an easy summer read, because by the end you have a clear indication of the “bad guy”‘s identity and what happens to everyone without working too hard.  And it’s good for those of you like me, who try to work the whole thing out ahead of time.  It’s just a good, solid book.  Nothing special, but nice.  I couldn’t put it down for the last hundred pages, needing to know what happened next, even though I pretty much knew, so that tells you a lot about how engaging the book can be.

And there you have it, folks.  Come back sometime tomorrow for a meringue recipe that won’t make you want to tear your face off.