Saturday, February 16, 2013

Peanut butter swirl brownies

The thing I love about baking is that it is all about science. With cooking, there is an artist element that I just can't always be bothered to deal with. But baking is like a delicious math problem. As long as you have all of the primary numbers in place your answer will always be right.

After a particularly trying day at work this week, I came home and went straight to the kitchen. All I wanted was the peaceful assurance that only baking can bring. The deliberate measuring of ingredients, the soft scrape of a spatula stirring melting chocolate, the zen feeling of accomplishment when a warm and inviting smell wafts out of the oven. But I didn't want to be baking for hours. Just a quickie to unwind. So I whipped up these bits of perfection. About 30 minutes of prep and 35 minutes in the oven and that's all it took!

You'll need:
7 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6.5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 large eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup honey roasted peanut butter (freshly ground if possible)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8x8 inch square baking dish. Line dish with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to hang over the edges by about 2 inches and lightly grease the foil. (Why am I doing this?)

In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring butter, sugar, and water to a boil, stirring. Remove from heat and stir chocolate chips into the sugar mixture until completely melted. Let cool to warm. Stir in eggs until well blended.

In a small bowl thoroughly mix together flour, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour batter into baking dish and spread batter to edges. Drop small bits of peanut butter on top of the batter and use two toothpicks to swirl the peanut butter through the batter.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Homemade Soft Pretzels

After a snowy weekend, I am feeling reminiscent of our trip to Munich in the winter of 2010. It was one of my most favorite trips and thinking of it always makes we yearn for a warm, doughy pretzel.

In Germany, pretzels come in many varieties including flakey, sweet dessert pretzels. Although the orgin of the pretzel is widely debated, most people agree that the pretzel was born as a symbolic treat to celebrate Christian holidays. (The crossed dough symbolizing arms crossed over the chest.)

Although their beginnings are unknown, they have become rooted in German speaking cultures and have been part of German baking traditions for centuries. This recipe is easy and would also be a fun way to introduce the chemical reactions of baking soda to your children. :)

And feel free to experiment. Maybe mixing some spices into the dough or sprinkling with cinnamon and sugar instead of salt.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tbsp dry active yeast
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp butter, softened
5.5 ounces water
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tbsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp butter, melted
coarse sea salt

In a large bowl, stir together 1/2 cup flour, yeast, sugar, softened butter and 5.5 ounces of water. Let stand until mixture is bubbly (about 10 minutes). Stir in kosher salt and then gradually add remaining flour.

Knead the dough until springy, about 4.5 minutes, adding more flour if needed. Divide the dough into pieces - the size of which depends on how big you want your pretzel to be. Allow the pieces to rest for about 2 minutes. Roll out each piece into a long rope and twist into your pretzel shape.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bring the remaining water to a boil in a large pot. Add baking soda to the water and lower heat. Soak each pretzel in the water bath for about 30-45 seconds, flipping over halfway through. The pretzels will grow to about twice their original size.

Place on a baking sheet and brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for about 8 minutes or until golden brown.

It's time to eat!