Archive for the ‘Cake’ Category

Canelé…or can’t I?

Mini Pound Cakes

No. I didn't.

When I was a kid I had the most amazing wanderlust. This was, of course, in the days long before the internet, so I would buy pre-posted postcards at the Post Office and send them off to different companies requesting the most current brochures they offered. A few days later an envelope bearing my name would be on our doorstep. In those days travel brochures tended to be small tri-fold affairs, and I would voraciously unfold them like I was studying a map of buried treasure from a far-away island.

My favorites were ones from the steamship lines—in those days ships still looked like ships as opposed to the “hotel-with-a-smokestack” look they have now. I found it all endlessly entertaining.

I still do and evidently I’m not alone. There’s a thriving market for old ocean liner merch on ebay. A few years back I bought an enormous linen tea towel that had been sold as a souvenir on the famous liner “Queen of Bermuda.” I paid about three bucks for this pristine, colorful 1961 item, with the thought of having it framed to hang in my kitchen. The good news is that it hangs there as planned. The bad news is that it cost me an arm and a leg to have it framed. Add a couple of zeroes to the cost of the tea towel and you’ll get the idea. Oh well, I can honestly say that in all the years it has been hanging in my kitchen it has never lost its ability to make me smile.

My other passion as a kid was cars. This was during Detroit’s heyday. If you had money you lusted after names like Coupe de Ville and Corvette. A6? E300? Where’s the romance there? (Not that I’d turn my nose up at either of them, ahem.) New car showrooms always managed to stock enormous, glossy brochures, and if my little feet didn’t find me in a showroom, there was always the annual Auto Show.

The irony is that as an adult my travel wanderlust has all but evaporated, as has my interest in cars. There are probably multiple reasons why travel has lost its allure, not the least of which are: an ever more dangerous world, and the sheer discomfort of travel in the twenty-first century. For me the glamour of air travel is now all wrapped up in one question: does the airline have little seatback TV’s? Yes, that’s me. I’m the guy who goes on vacation to…watch TV.

Cars have lost their glamour because the air got polluted and gasoline got expensive, so the only guiltless pleasure behind the wheel is to drive an electric car or a hybrid. Zzzzzz.

My adult wanderlust is centered on food. This food wanderlust is, thankfully, easily explored within the walls of my own kitchen, and is at times, a bit silly. Let’s visit one of the sillier examples, shall we? (Grab your coffee: you’ll need the caffeine.)

I have no recollection of how the idea to make Canelés got into my head. Canelés are little pastries from Bordeaux that, like so many things in life, seem simple and straightforward, yet in truth require a strict observance of technique, timing, and practice. Also, the recipe requires the use of food-grade beeswax. Sans beeswax they are simply not the same thing, and disregarding the requirement is a little like saying that it doesn’t matter that Lucille Ball had red hair. No, wait, that’s a bad analogy. It’s a little bit like saying that it doesn’t matter if a Hershey Bar is made of chocolate. Okay, still not a great analogy, but you get my drift.

The beeswax in the Canelé is melted, often mixed with a bit of butter, and brushed into the Canelé mold. This serves to keep the batter from sticking, but also imparts a delicate flavor, a glossy sheen, a burnished warmth, and ever-so-slight crackle to the outside of the finished canelé.

The batter itself is a bit like a custard, and is definitely a close relative to the popover or the Yorkshire pudding. The common practice is to mix the batter, then allow it to rest for 24 to 48 hours. Here, unfortunately, are the shoals upon which my attempts to make Canelés have foundered. I never think to plan ahead. The sitting time is considered as essential as the beeswax.

I’ve been very motivated to try baking these, and even invested in a special silicone Canelé mold. It sat in my kitchen, in its box, in its Sur la Table shopping bag for weeks as I would trip over it, each time cursing it for being in the way, and myself for not having tried to bake Canelés yet.

Finally, I took the mold out of the bag and out of its box and declared that this would be the weekend when I would finally bake Canelés. And then I didn’t. But knowing that once unboxed a cake pan must be used (a cardinal rule in my kitchen), I decided to bake something a bit simpler, just to test the mold. Welcome, friends, to the department of reduced expectations.

My first thought was to bake Petit Fours. My second thought was that they are too icky, jammy, and sweet. What about something simpler…a l’il something to have with coffee. A nibble.

The result is a yummy little cake, dispatched with two or three bites. To give them a bit of finish, the little cakes are turned out of the canelé mold as soon as they are removed from the oven and dredged in superfine sugar mixed with just a hint of cinnamon. The silicone canelé mold gives them just a bit of crust and the sugar a sandy crunch. They’ll remind you of little raised doughnuts from some groovy country bakery.

Yeah, go ahead. Dunk them.

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Here’s the Mini Pound Cake recipe. (I’ve also included information on buying the Canelé mold.)

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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What is the French word for Tweets?

Happy Small Birthday

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

I recently had the pleasure of celebrating yet another birthday. I turned thirty-three, an age I chose because I enjoy the alliteration. (I received multiple Hallmark birthday greetings exhorting me to “do” whatever I want, after all, “…it’s your birthday!” I’m “doing” thirty-three. Thank you to Hallmark for the de facto permission slips.)

If you detect the slightest note of bitterness in my tone I will confess that I am not a big birthday guy. I don’t go around crowing, “Next Wednesday is my birthday! Yaaaay!” Just not my style. For me, birthdays help to tick the box on the following tasks: 1. Eat chocolate. 2. Check my surroundings and the overhead compartment to make sure I am still vertical, a/k/a breathing, a/k/a alive. Check. Double check.

The great thing about these reduced expectations is that I enjoy other peoples’ birthdays in a proportion equal to my own if not more—again, if there’s chocolate, and I’m still breathing, and they’re older.

On the surface it would seem ironic that I enjoy baking birthday cakes for my friends, but again, that simply ensures a socially acceptable source of chocolate consumption. Furtive chocolate consumption can be so…dreary. (Dreary is such a great word, but hard to use without sounding, well, dreary.)

Speaking of cake, a few months ago I got together with four or five friends to celebrate one of their birthdays. Someone had stopped by Magnolia Bakery and bought an enormous chocolate cake with frosting the color of a yellow highlighter. It was absolutely delicious. But the cake was so big that even after we all had seconds there was still enough left over for many, many more birthday boys and girls. I love birthday cake, but even a glutton like me has limits.

This is a scene repeated at birthday celebrations around the globe. Birthday revelers circled around a table, pointy hats perched jauntily on their heads, playing a game of, “Have another piece!”/ “No you have another piece.”/ “PLEASE, I’m just going to throw the rest away!”

Well, I’m here to end this game once and for all.

Here’s my proposal: I insist that it is easier to bake a little birthday cake than it is to bake a big birthday cake. Big cakes make you think of big metal pans, drums of frosting, and an endlessly whirling stand mixer.

But my little birthday cake concept is much more relaxed. Let’s break it down, shall we?

This is one time when baking from scratch has a clear advantage over a mix. When you bake from scratch you actually can scale down a recipe to make a smaller cake. Using a mix you are locked in to one or two pan sizes. While you could perhaps bake half a box of mix, the question would remain what to do with the other half? My easy chocolate cake recipe can be made with a big bowl and a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

Paper Panetone Molds

Paper Panetone Molds

Okay let’s talk pans shall we? I don’t have the nerve to insist that you should go out and buy five inch cake pans. (Martha would, but she and I run in different circles.) Instead, I recommend paper Panetone molds which will break the bank at approximately fifty cents a piece. Admittedly this is not a green solution. You use them once then toss them. But you won’t have to worry about your cake sticking to the pan.

So, the cake is done, but what about the frosting? For that thick, creamy, sugary frosting don’t you need a mixer? Fear not mixer-less folk! I have a magic ingredient. Sweetened Condensed Milk is a worthy short cut—yes, you may think I am taking a page from Sandra Lee, but the end result is too noble, and…uh, addictive for it to be offensive. It is a bit wholesome, and will pull together and smooth out the few other ingredients you’ll need to make frosting. (Like a Kitchen Aid in a can!)

I toyed with this concept for a while. Too much sugar? Too much fat? Then it dawned on me: this is cake frosting we’re talking about. It’ll never be health food.

As it happens, peanut butter is one of my favorite foods, and combining it with chocolate makes my heart sing. My Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting is worthy of the most important birthday on your list. It also tastes like something from an old-fashioned ice cream and confectionary shop, so if cake isn’t on your mind, warm it a bit and pour it over some ice cream.

Finally, don’t be afraid of decorating the cake. Just spread half the frosting between the layers and spread half the frosting on top. Don’t fret about getting the sides just right; Leave the sides naked to the breeze. Even cake maven Rose Levy Beranbaum endorses this concept for its relaxing informality.

But don’t forget the candles. Thirty three. Yes. That’s all.

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Here’s the Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting recipe.

And here’s the All Occasion Chocolate Cake recipe.

And here’s more information about the paper Panetone molds. (Available at Sur La Table.)

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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The first tweet of spring!

Downton Seder

Flourless Chocolate Napoleons

Flourless Chocolate Napoleons

It should come as no surprise that I am an unapologetic Downton Abbey addict. I was a huge soap opera addict too. If any of the words you’re about to read appear smudged it is because I am still teary-eyed over the loss of One Life to Live. The latter has only been gone since January 13, yet I continue to stare longingly at the list of scheduled recordings on my DVR praying for a miraculous return from the dead (hey, this is after all soap opera we’re discussing. Anything can happen…)

Downton Abbey was a wonderful diversion from my loss, although it was a bit like being given one of those tiny four-piece boxes of Godiva chocolates when you are used to having an enormous Hershey’s with Almonds: it’s delicious, but gone in a blink. Are you sneering derisively at my choice of programming? That, chum, was part of the fun of being a soap fan, so there. If you have any illusions about Downton Abbey, let me help you out: it is a SOAP OPERA. All caps. Period. That’s why you loved it and can’t wait for it to return.

Part of its distinction is the amazing attention to detail that goes into its production. Predictably, my eye is drawn toward the many dinner table and kitchen scenes—seemingly more than most shows. The kitchen and the cooks, Mrs. Patmore and young Daisy, figure prominently in every episode. The folks upstairs eat a lot, and they eat well.

I have always been fascinated by the women who ran the kitchens in those houses. They were from a class of society where they had to “go into service.” Mrs. Patmore is portrayed stereotypically as a bit of a drudge: short, stout, and frowsy. (In fact, Lesley Nichol, the actress who portrays Mrs. Patmore, recently joked in an interview that when she reported to friends that she’d been cast in a sort of upstairs / downstairs series she replied to the question “Which one are you?” with the answer, “What do you think?”)

Yet, think about the skill, judgment, and knowledge required to do the job. I’m not talking about long hours here; walk into any contemporary restaurant kitchen and you’ll see folks putting in some mighty long days. I’m talking about the juggling needed. The Mrs. Patmores of the world fed the folks upstairs and downstairs, and did so while keeping within the budget set by the folks upstairs. You can be sure that she planned every menu around what was available seasonally and had to be able to credibly prepare meals that more than pleased the master and his wife—even if the meal was hunted by the master on the estate (would you know what to do with mutton?)

You can also be sure that special occasions had to be met with a worldly, well-informed eye keeping up with what the more fashionable houses were serving; not just any cake would do for dessert. If Lord and Lady So-And-So served it you did too.

(Okay, yes, perhaps I get too involved with these stories. But good story-telling does that to me.)

So I was thinking it might be fun to bake something in tribute to Downton Abbey and Mrs. Patmore (geek!). I’ve also been on a jag about baking stuff that is Passover friendly and gluten-free. Hopefully there’ll be chocolate involved. (No calories or fat would be even better; alas I’m not a magician.)

Flourless Chocolate cake is certainly nothing new in either the gluten-free or Passover realms. It’s a good idea, but it’s been around the block enough times that it could already use a new outlook.

Surely a woman like Mrs. Patmore was no stranger to the roulade and the genoise. These are cakes that rely on air beaten into the eggs for their leavening rather than baking soda or baking powder and are more what we associate with European-style cakes or tortes than the big fluffy monsters (and I use that as a term of endearment) we bake.

Yes, there is usually flour involved, but eggs are sturdy little creations and if you ask them nicely and treat them with respect they’ll do triple duty for you by adding moisture, structure, and lift to cakes, giving flour the day off. Roulade is baked in a small sheet pan—a jelly roll pan—convenient because roulade is filled with jelly and rolled…usually.

But I have other plans for it.

Rolling a roulade can be fussy. My roulade (chocolate by the way) is simply turned out of the pan and cut into shapes with a knife. You could also pull out your trusty biscuit cutter and make little individual layered tortes…drizzle a touch of lukewarm ganache on top.

I stuck with something I thought Mrs. Patmore would be proud of, Napoleons. I piped a bit of sweetened vanilla whipped cream between two layers of the roulade, and finished with fresh raspberries and dusted the whole affair with confectioner’s sugar.

Gluten- free Passover at Downton Abbey anyone?

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Here’s the Flourless Chocolate Roulade recipe

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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Tweet this Masterpiece…

Grandmother in my briefcase

Executive Pinstripe Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Executive Pinstripe Cinnamon Coffee Cake

My Mom has always spoken about her Grandmother’s baking in rapturous tones. This was once used for the forces of delightful evil against one of her sisters-in-law. As happens in many families, my Mother had a somewhat competitive relationship with her sisters-in-law. I’d like to say it was all in good fun, but if I did my pants may burst into flames.

So, please travel back with me to the early or mid nineteen-seventies, just outside of Boston. Nixon (or was it Ford?) was in The White House and…well, you don’t need that much detail, do you?

The sister-in-law who is the star of this cautionary tale made strudel for a family celebration and placed it upon a table fairly groaning with goodies. I don’t remember my Mother’s contribution to this horn of plenty, but it was likely one of the many Bundt Cakes she used to bake. (Pistachio Pudding Cake, a close relative of the legendary Harvey Wallbanger Cake, rings a bell, its green tinged mellowness a properly coordinated accessory to the avocado-colored appliances that were the order of the day.)

Sorry. Back to the strudel…as an instrument of torture, my Mother praised her sister-in-law’s strudel on high for all to hear. It was a trap, and her sister-in-law fell for it, hook, line, and phyllo dough.

The sister-in-law made the mistake of asking, “Is it as good as your Grandmother’s?”

If she had just left well enough alone, no one would have been hurt.

The answer to that ill-advised question? Therein lay the sharpened tip of the instrument of torture: “Hmmm, not quite like my Grandmother’s. Well how could it be? Her’s was…oh, but it’s wonderful though.”

The ability to explain the specific qualities of her Grandmother’s Strudel that made it so extraordinary seemed to elude my Mother that afternoon, a deficiency that tortured her sister-in-law with its every twist and turn.

The real irony is that the sister-in-law in question was not your typical mid-twentieth century homemaker. In fact, she was an entrepreneur who, with her husband, ran a popular retail business. That she threw herself into her kitchen with the same intensity she threw herself into her business is to me, in retrospect, both admirable, and perhaps typical of her generation.

Sister-in-law is long gone, but interestingly, my Mom still hangs out with the same friends she’s had since she was a young suburban Mother. Like some modern-day extension of the Diaspora, they have all migrated from chilly New England to the same warmer location down south and after more years than I am allowed to report, they have remained close.

Their “get-togethers” then as now are marked by one inevitable characteristic: noise. Time—and hearing loss—have only heightened this ear-shattering cacophony. Where the “get togethers” used to be centered around a game of mah-jongg or cards, they now take place in a restaurant—and pity the poor waiter who has to split all those salads with dressing on the side. A couple of Extra-Strength Tylenols would not be out of place on the tip tray.

Of course the card and mah-jongg games were just an excuse to host the group at home, something that required endless reciprocation. The food was usually little deli sandwiches for don’t forget, this was long before the now well-trod path of platters of Costco Wrap sandwiches. Desserts usually met two important criteria: nothing sticky so that the cards or mah-jongg tiles would stay clean, and they had to be coffee-friendly. If one or two of the items were homemade you were assured a victory. (Fortunately this was not a tough crowd as long as you followed the rules…and left some for fat l’il Mikey when he got home from school.)

My Mom had one standby that fit these occasions perfectly. Family lore is vague on where the recipe came from—my Mother’s Grandmother? A cherished Aunt? We may never know, but what is clearly important is that at some point I had the foresight to write down the recipe. I carried the recipe around for years and never made it…I was put off by the large infusion of Crisco, an ingredient that has not stood the test of time.

After ignoring the recipe for many years, I happened to re-read it and was struck by its simplicity, its potential, and its retro style. It is the perfect Cinnamon  Coffee Cake. Why perfect? Moist. Fluffy. Delicious. Easy. Fast. (In no particular order.)

Well, it became the perfect Cinnamon Coffee Cake after I made one vital change: I use canola oil instead of Crisco. (I knew you’d approve.) The temptation remained to make other changes: brown sugar instead of white sugar? No. A touch of chocolate? Not necessary. It is one of those recipes that could go precariously off the rails if fiddled with too much.

It goes without saying that I rarely have occasion to have a group in for cards or mah-jongg, so just when do I use this cake? There are times when I meet with folks over coffee in a business setting. People who know I bake and write about it have certain expectations about me, one of which is that I won’t show up empty-handed. The perfect Cinnamon Coffee Cake fits the corporate meeting room like a pin-striped suit.

I wonder: what’s the cake version of the “power tie”?

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The recipe for my Executive Pinstripe Coffee Cake. Enjoy! Get a raise. Or a promotion.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Just like Grandma used to Tweet?

Goulash, not ghoulish

Meyer Lemon Savarin

Happy New Year!

Here’s a dirty little secret about me: I like reading the obituaries in The New York Times. There’s nothing ghoulish here. I actually think of these as sparkling little pocket biographies, for, if you are written up in The New York Times on the occasion of your death, chances are you did something notable in the years preceding.

Edie Stevenson, the woman who created the “Hey Mikey! He likes it!” television commercial? She was there last week. (My name is Michael. You can just imagine how many times I hear that line when I’m about to taste someone’s cooking.) She was right alongside Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-Il. How’s that for democracy in death?

I’ve read some screenplay-worthy stories of folks by reading the obits: Gene Tunney, the championship boxer? Great story. The obits also tend to make an excellent history lesson, albeit one that is centered mostly on the mid to late twentieth century.

Hey, I realize this isn’t for everyone, but personally I found the story of the creation of the Dorito inspiring. No less inspiring than the fact that Arch West, the former Frito-Lay exec who helped create what is considered one of the ultimate “junk foods” lived to the ripe old age of 97.

I had a college art professor who was fond of saying, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” At the time I thought this was almost horrifically jaded. Now I get it. That was his way of saying, “Yes, by all means celebrate creativity. Just remember that someone may have done it before; it’s your version of it that moves things forward.”  (Plus ça la change:  the more things change, the more they stay the same.)

Blogs about food? There may be one or two others besides the one you’re reading. But this one is different because I am writing it. (I didn’t say better, just different.) I don’t claim to be moving blogs—or even food writing forward, but I’m trying to do my own thing. I’m following a path well trod by M.F.K Fisher, Craig Claiborne, Benjamin Franklin, and countless cavemen sitting around a fire.

This is true of the world. The computer? Done. The cell phone? Done. But then Steve Jobs got a hold of them…and no I’m not comparing myself to Steve Jobs.

When it comes to food we always have a foot in two worlds: the first is where we came from and the second is where we’re going. We can’t help ourselves: someone served us something that soothed our soul when we were young and impressionable (last week.) That is now the barometer by which we measure future, similar meals. Today’s earth-shattering discovery is tomorrow’s touchstone.

But then there’s the magic surprise of the new and undiscovered that is always lurking around the corner with everything you eat. Maybe it is a new flavor of ice cream, a different way of grilling a steak, or even a cookie with that slight twist you never thought you’d like. (Sea salt on chocolate chip cookies? Who knew?)

That’s why I enjoy old recipes so much. I could never navigate a slavish route through Julia Child’s oeuvre. I’d be stopping every few pages with my own “What ifs?” What if I used olive oil here or Asiago cheese there? (I do that in the supermarket too. Don’t go shopping with me if you want to get in and out of the market in one day.)

Last summer a man named George Lang was written up on the obit page. He took a dark, dusty old restaurant on the Upper West Side, cleaned a few murals, and made the menu a bit more accessible. Café des Artistes became a legend, as much a pre-performance location for Lincoln Center audiences as a neighborhood “place” replete with atmosphere provided by interesting locals.

On the surface his story may appear to be of interest only to foodies. But he wasn’t born with a menu in his hand, and indeed it was the life lived before Café des Artistes came under his purview that is the really interesting part of his lore. (I won’t recap it here. Follow the link and read for yourself.)

A couple of years ago after the restaurant closed its doors Alex Witchel wrote a wonderful memory piece in the Times. The article was accompanied by a recipe for Orange Savarin, a wonderful, rich “continental-style” cake that was served toasted, splashed with a shot of rum, and “mit schlag”—with whipped cream.

George Lang is gone, his version of Café des Artistes is gone (although the restaurant is again open, now as “Leopard at des Artistes”) but I’m serving the savarin to my friends this New Year’s Eve as a nibble to accompany champagne. My version is made with Meyer Lemons which are plentiful this week in my market, and I’m skipping the splash of rum, but the “schlag” will be there if anyone wants it.

One step forward, two steps…

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Click here for the recipe for Café des Artistes Savarin.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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What are you tweeting New Years Eve?

It’s nice to be the King…

Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread

Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread

I hear this all the time: “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it is not all about the gifts.”

I agree, except for the gift part. Wait! Don’t judge me. In the case of Thanksgiving, the meal is the gift we all give each other. If it is better to give than to receive, then on Thanksgiving we happily have both sides of that equation amply covered. If food is love, then the last Thursday in November finds us all swaddled in a pumkiny, sagey, sugary hug.

Still, the other side of the coin is that for the folks preparing and serving the meal the day can be an absolute test of endurance, skill, organization, and patience. For some of those folks the best thing about Thanksgiving is…the day after. “Fiddle-dee-dee.” (For the incredibly young, the latter is Scarlett O’Hara’s punctuation to the exhortation that tomorrow is another day. Google “Gone With The Wind.”)

My Thanksgiving is actually all about the Macy’s Parade. Even though I am a New Yorker and can easily walk just a few blocks to watch in person, I subscribe to a parade watching technique that I like to call “Warm/Hot”. Here’s how it works: I sit in my warm living room with a cup of hot coffee. There is also usually a restrained combination of toast/pancakes/waffles/eggs in the mix—diet be damned, but still not an oink-fest; there’s a big dinner coming up in just a few hours.

Thanksgiving must be pretty darned great for it to be my favorite holiday because it has one glaring omission: chocolate. Turkey is great and all, but I nominate chocolate as the national bird…uh, I mean, Thanksgiving meal. I look at it this way: your family sits down to a Turkey dinner and after every single American has finished the communal thought, “Mmmm. It’s good. For turkey…” the squabbling and bickering begins, the kids start running in circles, and your Dad falls asleep.

Now picture the same scene, except everyone is served a plate full of chocolate. Yes, the kids will be running in even faster circles, but after you’ve eaten a plate of chocolate, who cares? And the caffeine in the chocolate will keep your Dad awake. Squabbling? Bickering? After chocolate? No way. (And clean up would be a breeze.)

However, until I am King of the World and can unilaterally enact this change, I will respect the current traditions. But that doesn’t mean that I will have Thanksgiving sans chocolate. And because I am subversive I shall sneak it in.

Case in point: dessert. Yes, I realize that Milton Hershey did not arrive at Plymouth Rock before the Pilgrims, and therefore was not waiting to greet them with a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, and therefore Thanksgiving has forever been the provenance of pumpkins and cinnamon. All of this has been carried down through the years in the service of “seasonal flavors”. Is there a season when chocolate is inappropriate? Not when I am King of the World and living in the Cocoa Castle.

I’m not reinventing the wheel here. Folks have been peddling Chocolate Pecan Pie for eons. My recipe for Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie has been heroically adding chocolate to Thanksgiving tables for hundreds of days. Why stop there? If I am to be King of the World I expect to have to earn the title through (easily attainable, moderately) good deeds. Let’s use a recent request for Gingerbread (the cake, not the cookie) as an example.

A friend asked if I would bake Gingerbread for her to take to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. She explained that her Mother has a fondness for gingerbread, but because my friend lacked a full kitchen (ahhh, New York apartments…) she didn’t think this was attainable. Oh and one more itsy bitsy little thing; her Mother hates molasses. The latter makes no sense to me because molasses is intrinsic to Gingerbread. But my friend insisted that her Mother always made hers without the stuff.

That’s when everything fell into place for me. My friend has just a tiny kitchen. Her “stove” is a couple of burners and a countertop oven. But that countertop oven is really good. It’s a Breville convection oven and is probably better than the stove in my kitchen, just smaller. My friend has no excuses; she can bake the cake herself. She doesn’t have a Kitchen Aid mixer, so I’ll be giving her a Bowl & Spoon recipe. It’s quick, which makes it perfect for last minute holiday baking.

Gingerbread really is just a spice cake with molasses which adds the well-known darkness and smoke to the sugar. Without molasses you really just have spice cake, but let’s dispense with names for now, shall we?

Molasses is frustrating to me because you may use a tablespoon or two during the holiday baking season, and then you’re stuck with an almost-full bottle staring at you from its shelf for the rest of the year. If you ask me we’re well rid of it. The question is, what can we use to replace the robustness of its flavor? Chocolate. (You saw that coming.)

There are a couple of ways you can use the chocolate. The first is for a subtle addition of dark notes—a kinder, gentler molasses. The other way is to let the chocolate do what it does best: be chocolate. It really depends on your audience. Are they traditionalists? Or are they in line with me, the King of The World? (In line waiting for our chocolate, that is.)

If it’s subtlety you’re after, then grate a half cup of dark chocolate with a microplane and swirl this powdery black snow through the batter just before baking. It will disappear into the batter, leaving behind only the dark, “caramelly” flavor.

If you want your chocolate to scream its presence, then add a half cup of chocolate chips, and swirl them through the batter. You’ll get little pops of chocolate with each bite, and you’ll find the synergy between the ginger and the chocolate to be a happy surprise.

(Yes, I know the microplane is a piece of equipment someone with a limited kitchen may not have, but they are cheap and can be used for everything from chocolate to shaved ice. You’ll get more mileage from a microplane than from a bottle of molasses.)

You can see from the photo that I finished my cake with a bit of powdered sugar, and a few grains of autumn-colored sanding sugar. But plain ‘ole whipped cream will be a hit, especially if you used the chocolate chips. If you happen to use whipped cream from the can, just don’t tell me. And for heaven’s sake don’t start a whipped cream fight or tell anyone you got the idea to do so from me. Unless you bring a can for everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving. Eat well, and be thankful for your bounty.

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Here’s the recipe for Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread.

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Keep these other Thanksgiving recipes in mind:

Maple Walnut Sticky Buns

Cranberry Sauce

Parker House Rolls

Anadama Bread

Baked Indian Pudding

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Thankful for your tweets too.

Summer Morning Mourning

Upside Down Muffins

Upside Down Muffins

It has happened. The yearly rite of passage. The arrival of the first Christmas catalogue. This year Harry & David were the first to show their collective faces.  How restrained of them to wait until after Labor Day! (I’m sad to report that Oprah’s favorite Chicken Pie is no longer available.) Running alongside this arrival was the first cool weather of the fall. (Or is it the last cool weather of summer?) Every year when this happens I breathe a small sigh of relief: I survived the summer. I know there are people mourning the end of summer just now, so I’ll be quiet and respectful in my celebrations.

Somehow the heat and humidity of summer dampen my breakfast yearnings. I’m not sure if it is the cool mornings or that I have been watching too many episodes of Barefoot Contessa, but lately my mind has been on breakfast. Actually, some vague concept of “country breakfast.” I have no idea that means other than there is foliage in the background.

I should explain that while I love breakfast and consider it my favorite meal, my breakfast habits are a bit peculiar. Monday through Friday breakfast is broken into two acts. I wake up early and have a protein shake. That holds me until about 10:00 AM when I have breakfast #2: Two slices of seven grain toast (dry), coffee (black), Rice Krispies (no milk, and I wish they’d take out the High Fructose Corn Syrup too. Kellogg’s are you listening?). There may be a prune or two(!), or a banana thrown in there every now and then. My menu appears a bit ascetic, but what I lack in inspiration I make up for in consistency. (The latter is thanks to the prunes, and yes, I know what you’re thinking: cereal without milk? Started as a kid. I always thought the milk was intrusive.)

I only mention my normal breakfast habits to give you some context; it’s not all pancakes and waffles every day for me either, bub. But when I make a fuss over breakfast, I really make a fuss. I should also explain that in spite of having what can best be described as a Roaring Sweet Tooth, my breakfast yearnings don’t generally lean towards the icky sweet. I’ll take a pass on the Sticky Danish in favor of something more restrained with a little cinnamon, maybe some walnuts, and a little brown sugar. Catch my drift?

My avoidance of icky sweet in the morning includes muffins which tend to be dense, and either too dry or too moist, and too big. But I think this preference is related to my love for pancakes and waffles. They tend to be not-so-sweet, and even when I find myself surrounded by diner Formica at dinner time I forgo the Souvlaki in favor of a short stack.

Muffins, of course, are big business now. Muffin baskets are the coin of the realm at the moment for Hollywood “thank-yous”. Last year I wrote about the Jordan Marsh Blueberry muffin—legendary in New England. They were known for their sugar-crusted top, but truth be told these jumbos weren’t all that sweet on the inside. I don’t think I am alone in the belief that muffins are too sweet, and the popularity of muffin tops—the edible kind, not the kind that happens because of tight denim—bears this out.

This made me wonder: Were muffins always the blobs they are now?

I went to my bible of mid-twentieth century cooking, The New York Times Cookbook by the late Craig Claiborne, published in 1961. Old but still relevant, this book remains one of my touchstones in the kitchen. As I scanned the index in search of muffins my eye fell on the words, “Upside Down Muffins” which triggered the immediate response from the voice in my head, “What’s that?”

Yes, they are exactly what their name implies. You put something in the bottom of the muffin cup, then fill the rest of the muffin cup with batter and bake. Whatever is put in the bottom of the cup caramelizes as the muffins bake.

The other great find was the book’s basic muffin recipe. More like a simple quick bread, it is presented plain with a list of suggested add-ins, and seemed like the answer to my not-icky-sweet breakfast prayers. I have exchanged canola oil for the butter called for in the original recipe, and increased the sugar a bit just for these muffins. I took even greater liberties with the mixture that would be placed in the bottom of each cup. The book says to add butter and brown sugar to each cup. I made a mixture of brown sugar, butter substitute, cinnamon, cocoa powder, quick cooking oats, and walnuts and placed that in each cup. While the book doesn’t mention it, I lined the muffin tin with paper muffin cups, imagining the frustration I’d have if my mixture cooked to the pan.

The result is exactly what I wanted. The basic batter puffed up into little brown Everests, and my magic mixture was crumbly and sweet without being icky. Folks who enjoy dunking in their coffee will be very happy. (I was right about the paper liners too, as the upside down mixture sticks a bit. You’d likely need a crow bar to pry them out of an unlined tin.)

Now I just have to sit back and wait for the leaves to change color.

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Click here for my Upside Down Muffins.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Don’t fill up on Tweets, dinner’s almost ready.

Fall Back: Springy Ahead

Citrus Chiffon Cake

Citrus Chiffon Cake

The couple of weeks that follow Labor Day are like a limbo. It still feels like summer, but you can sense Fall running up behind you to tap you on the shoulder. If you’re like me you slow your walking down a bit so Fall can catch up. That also means the Jewish High Holidays will soon be tapping the other shoulder, and like High Tea, it’s really all about the food. (Pardon my sacrilege.)

No matter how devout you are, chances are that at some point during the season you’ll end up with someone placing a napkin containing either a slice of Honey Cake or Sponge Cake in your hand. Honey Cake evokes both the apples and honey tradition of welcoming a sweet new year, and the European Pain d’Epice influence earned from thousands of years of the Diaspora.

On the other hand, Sponge Cake is the Jewish Wonder bread.

Ah well, I come here not to bury Sponge Cake but to make peace with it, kind of like striking up a conversation about politics with a cranky old uncle. (Good luck.)

Perhaps I am painting with too broad a brush. Perhaps it is not Sponge Cake that is the enemy, but poorly made Sponge Cake, baked way too far in advance, and wrapped tightly in plastic. (Mmmm. Sounds yummy, right?)

The Sponge Cake to which I am referring, a staple of High Holiday supermarket fare, is actually Chiffon Cake. Chiffon Cake was created by an American named Henry Baker. (Baker! I love it when peoples’ names work out like that: Tommy Tune is a musical theater performer and director. We had a relative (by marriage) named Ike Oven who was also a baker. A friend swears he knows a Dr. Doctor. By those rules my last name should be Thinksheisawriter.)

Chiffon Cake differs from Angel Food Cake or Jelly Roll sponge (biscuit) because of the addition of oil. While the oil does provide moistness, it also makes for a damp cake, and lacks the rich flavor of butter—a potential pitfall in a cake that lacks other flavorful ingredients.

Don’t blame baker Henry Baker; he didn’t intend for Chiffon Cake to be served plain. He piled it with fruit, custard, whipped cream—anything to dress it up. His Chiffon Cake was the canvas, the other stuff was the paint.

So there you go: we’re serving the canvas. No criticism from me though, because I understand why: convenience. Chiffon Cake is a “little something” traditionally served after observing a long worship in temple when the blood sugar of millions of Jews has crashed lower than yesterday’s Dow. When I was a kid you got cake and grape juice. Chiffon Cake was cheap, easily obtained, and ready for a crowd with just a few swipes of a knife. Also, kids wouldn’t get it all over their clothes.

There used to be something so essentially Jewish about cake. The comedian Jackie Mason has made it the subject of a whole routine: “It is easy to tell the difference between Jews and Gentiles. After the show, all the gentiles are saying ‘Have a drink? Want a drink? Let’s have a drink!’ While all the Jews are saying ‘Have you eaten yet? Want a piece of cake? Let’s have some cake!'”

When the comedian Rosie O’Donnell was trying to thank Barbra Streisand for being on her show she brought her cake. (Streisand was an aficionado of the late, lamented Ebbinger’s bakery chain. O’Donnell had one of the Ebbinger’s recipes recreated for the occasion.)

Mason’s riff on cake always made me think of a Sour Cream Coffee Cake my mother used to make. Even now it brings to mind cinnamon, brown sugar, and walnuts. Chiffon Cake? No.

None of this solves the issue of bad Chiffon Cake, but I would do well to mind the old adage, “One man’s feast is another man’s famine.” Translation: just because I don’t like Chiffon Cake doesn’t mean the world shares my opinion.

As a test I decided to make my own Chiffon Cake therefore putting to rest the debate about whether or not fresh, homemade Chiffon Cake makes a difference. For this little contest I held myself to one rule: it had to be baked in a loaf pan to match the format of the supermarket brands.

The supermarket brands have an indeterminate sweet, cakey flavor. I thought it might make my cake more interesting if it made a specific choice, as if it could say, “Hello, I am a Citrus Chiffon Cake.” My old trick ingredient, frozen concentrated orange juice, was nominated, as was fresh lemon zest and juice, plus a bit more vanilla extract than usually called for. No need for subtlety here as the hefty amount of eggs in the recipe tends to blunt the sharp edges of any added flavors.

The result is springy in texture, bright in flavor, but still unquestionably the High Holiday Sponge Cake I’ve come to know and be bored by. Still better than the fossilized supermarket loaf, but screaming for some ice cream and strawberry sauce.

I don’t need a holiday for that.

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Click here for my Citrus Chiffon Loaf.

Also good for the High Holidays: Pumpkin Apple Praline Cake and Challah.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Sweet tweet (complete)

Who?

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

No special occasion needed...

Some years ago I was invited to a party at the home of a close friend. When I arrived I made the usual and expected round of “Hellos” to all the people I knew at the party. My greetings included those to one who would best be described as a friend of a friend. She extended a disinterested hand and introduced herself as one would to someone you’d never met. Polite.

Unfortunately we’d played this little charade more times than I am comfortable mentioning. I had met this individual for the “first time” enough times that I don’t have enough fingers to keep count. I was seemingly purged from her memory after each meeting like the contents of your computer’s recycle bin. No recollection at all. Yet, I knew her name, both of her husbands’ names, how many kids she had, and a vague idea of their ages.

After another friend who witnessed this scene picked her jaw up from the floor we recovered nicely and had a nice party.

The next day I called the close friend who had proffered the invitation to thank him for his hospitality and in a moment of fed up candor let fly with the opinion that his friend was a dope. (Yes, I may have used a more explicit compound word.)

He offered some weak excuses for his friend that mainly revealed an acknowledgement and acceptance of her social shortcomings…her “problem” as he called it. He’s simply not a judgmental person. Rather than feeling slighted by this, I actually ended up wishing that I could be less judgmental.

Through the years the same scenario has happened to me a couple of other times with a couple of other people. I may be getting to the age that I just don’t care anymore. Wait. No. I’m not quite there yet. It still rankles and still doesn’t answer the question: if I remember you, why don’t you remember me?

Conversely, a few years ago I was at the theater seeing an awful play. I stepped outside to the street to use my phone. After I finished my conversation I turned to head back into the theater and was stopped by a smiling man who looked at me and yelled, “Bobby!” It took a moment to register that he was talking to me because my name is not Bobby. (Never has been.)

I shrugged, “Sorry, I think you have the wrong guy” and continued into the theater. But he persisted and followed me. In the brighter light of the lobby I could see he wasn’t some unhinged homeless man on a chemically induced field trip. He was nicely dressed, clean, and looked more than a little bit insulted.

“Are you sure you’re not Bobby Smith?”

Taking refuge amongst the theater’s front-of-house staff, I avowed, “Oh, yeah” but the man remained unconvinced—skeptical perhaps that a long lost friend was either playing a joke on him, or had entered the witness protection program.

It was at this point that one of us entered “The Twilight Zone” because he asked me to prove my identity by showing him my driver’s license. Luckily the gentleman was otherwise persuaded that I was, indeed, not Bobby, and departed.

(Actually, I think in part he was intimidated by one of the tougher looking ushers who was giving him the evil eye. I wouldn’t have wanted to mess with her either.)

Tall, bald, bespectacled, and what my grandmother used to call “hamish”: here in New York we are a rather interchangeable, dime-a-dozen crowd. Legions of us swarm the city taking each other’s Bar exams, drug tests, and marriage vows when the real guy is unavoidably detained or just off fishing. Will the real Bobby Smith please stand up?

And what of my insistent pursuer of mistaken identities? One could make a few guesses about him: unacknowledged poor eyesight…unobservant…perhaps he assembles the “no fly” lists for the TSA? Poor Bobby Smith (or is it Smythe?). With friends like that…

The ironic soundtrack to this little documentary is Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable.” (Use the version where they superimposed his daughter’s voice to create a duet. It’ll be easier to cross cut the film.)

It seems to me that the world may be divided into two groups: the first group looks at you, remembers you, and files you away in the appropriate area of their cortex to be recalled at will by the human brain’s amazing face recognition system. The other, much smaller, group lacks the ability to retain this information. It is to those poor, sad, souls that we must extend a hand to help them through the lunar landscape of social interaction.

Advertising copywriters have been addressing this problem for years in perfume ads. There’s even a perfume named “Unforgettable.” This is all based on the theory that the whiff of a perfume will implant itself in the cortex along with other memories of you. If the proximity is close enough, sometimes it really does work.

Some of us just aren’t the perfume type. That’s why they invented the chocolate cupcake. While we cannot wear cupcakes, we can bring them to work or to friends. There’s no need for a special occasion—we’ll create memories nonetheless. Someone will always remember you. Just play it very cool. “Oh, those? I had a few minutes so I threw them together.”

You won’t be lying. The recipe is part of my Bowl & Spoon program. No mixer is needed, even for the ganache frosting. They mix together quickly, and to frost them you only need to dip the tops in the ganache: no frosting technique is needed. If you can dunk, you’re in.

BTW: if you know Bobby Smith tell him that some guy who looks like the actor Kevin Pollack was looking for him.

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Click here for the recipe for Bowl & Spoon All-Occasion Chocolate Cupcakes.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Another Bowl and Spoon “thing”

Tiger-Stripe Brownies

Tiger-Stripe Brownies

I come from a long line of politically incorrect folk, on both sides. Maybe it’s my whole Massachusetts liberal “thing” that makes me, perhaps, a bit too acutely aware of these transgressions? But there’s no escaping it. I had an aunt whose cleaning woman was named “Brownie.” But “Brownie” was white, so go figure that one out. Auntie is long gone so I can’t ask her why her white cleaning woman was named “Brownie”, and I can’t ask my Mother; she just rolls her eyes at the mention of Auntie. (I think that has to do with a sister-in-law “thing”.)

(Oh, my. Another Aunt had one of those lawn jockey sculptures in front of her house. During the civil rights movement in the ‘60’s she painted his face white. That Aunt is long gone too, but for all I know the lawn jockey is still there holding his lamp up to his blushing pale face. )

(I could ask my Mother about that too, but I know her answer would be something along the lines of, “She did? My goodness, what a memory you have…”)

Seems to me that the Brownie—and by that I mean the fudgy, chocolate bar cookie— has been teetering on the edge of all sorts of moral decrepitude for ages now. Freud said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” but the foul whiff of bathroom humor has also hung over Brownies for me ever since I went to summer camp as a kid. You fill in the blanks on that one. I don’t write that kind of humor. (That would be caused by an uptight liberal “thing”.)

Yet, what are we going to call the Brownie instead? The Chocolate Bar cookie? I think not. It is neither a chocolate bar, nor a cookie.

We liberals have passed this way before. Seinfeld devoted an entire monologue to the racial harmony represented by the Black and White cookie.

I’ll have to go blindly with Freud on this one: sometimes a brownie is just there to satisfy chocolate cravings.

Now, to change the subject slightly (and at this point wouldn’t you?), I recently decided that I needed to unchain myself from what seemed to be an addiction to making things with my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. I think things had gotten out of hand.

How much marshmallow and whipped cream does one person need to make? I make this claim with only half an apology. Making whipped cream in a Kitchen-Aid mixer is a rush, man. Fast? Let’s just say don’t walk away from the mixer.

Pulling back from this technological addiction seemed a bit limiting at first, but as you can see from the previous paragraph, well advised. Then I reminded myself that my great grandmother came into the kitchen armed only with a bowl and a spoon. (I have skipped a generation. Neither grandmother was a baker. I swear one thought cookies grew in boxes.)

I’ve written about my great grandmother’s kitchen exploits before; she serves as an acute reminder that I can give my Kitchen-Aid a rest and still make some really great stuff. Blueberry Crunch Cake? Done.

In addition to being morally questionable, Brownies are one of the all time great comfort foods. Do you have a friend who just went through a big break up? Nothing fixes a broken heart better than a brownie. (Well, okay, a brownie and some ice cream.) Brownies also make a great birthday cake. To paraphrase a friend, if they don’t like brownies, they must be communist. (Wow. Liberals, communists, Freud, foul whiffs. Happy summer!)

The great unacknowledged truth about brownies is that they are a simple one bowl cookie. Yes, I also know that they say that the best brownies come from a mix, but with all due respect, I disagree on many levels. Shall we break this down?

Cost? The average mix costs about $2.50 per box. To that you must still add your own eggs and oil. Mine? See “quality of cocoa used” below. Cocoa powder is the biggest expense here.

Time? I dunno. Mine are pretty darn fast. And you still have some measuring to do with a mix.

Quality of cocoa used: I know where my cocoa comes from. Betty or Duncan’s? I’m sure it is excellent. (Yes, I’m being condescending.) The truth is, you just don’t know where Betty or Duncan’s cocoa comes from.

Okay, okay, I’ll cave on one area: if you are not much of a baker perhaps the mix is your best bet. I bake a lot, so I have flour and all the other ingredients already. If you don’t bake much you’ll have to buy all that stuff.

But perhaps if you invest in a bag of flour and a tin of excellent cocoa powder you will be encouraged to bake more often? I hear you: a debatable point.

There is one other little nagging item. The mixes contain partially hydrogenated oil, an unhealthy fat. In addition, you need to add your own oil and eggs. My recipe? No partially hydrogenated oil and you can control the quality of all the ingredients, even making the whole thing organic if you wish. No debate there.

What’s the score so far? (Oh, a draw. Darn.)

Okay then, I have one last trick up my (chocolately) sleeve. Tiger stripes. You can’t do these if you make brownies from a mix. These are not to be confused with peanut butter or sour cream which some people—me included—enjoy adding to brownies. The stripes in this recipe don’t introduce any other flavors or ingredients; they are purely for looks. I used to work with a very sweet woman who enjoyed wearing animal prints. These are a toast to her. Make these for someone and they are sure to remember.

You’ll notice that the recipe uses canola oil instead of butter. While there are some health benefits to this choice I must admit I had an ulterior motive. I like my brownies with just a touch of chill on them. I just think the chocolate tastes better that way. If you refrigerate brownies made with butter they aren’t as chewy straight out of the fridge.

The stripes are, of course, optional. If you prefer your brownies monochromatic simply skip that step in the recipe.

That’s a choice “thing.”

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Click here for the recipe for Tiger-Stripe Brownies.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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