How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Brownies

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By Alaina Sullivan

Despite its simple seven-ingredient roster, this recipe is rich, complex and sinfully delicious. I bolstered the classic version with some nutty additions: ground almonds were substituted for part of the flour, chopped almonds were folded into the batter, and I even sprinkled more on top before it went into the oven, just for good measure.

When it comes to baking, brownies live outside the “toothpick test” rule that signals the doneness of other baked goods (like cakes and quickbreads). Once a brownie releases a clean toothpick, it’s gone too far. The trick is to time the baking so that the top firms up just enough to seal the molten middle. A good brownie is fudgy and moist; a bad brownie is cakey and dry. When my batch emerged, still slightly gooey and studded with nuts, it was hard not to indulge straight from the pan. But if you have the patience to plate, you can’t go wrong with a slice a la mode. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Irish Soda Bread

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By Meghan Gourley

Like corned beef and cabbage, soda bread is worthy of more than its annual day on the plate. There are plenty of recipes, but my favorite is from James Beard who spent several weeks in Ireland and recreated the famous bread as he experienced it there. Unlike most recipes, his calls for whole wheat flour and baking powder, but no eggs.

The trick to a good Irish soda bread is the right amount of moisture in the dough—too much buttermilk and the top will burn before the inside cooks; not enough and the bread will turn out dry. Control the texture of the dough by adding the buttermilk one splash at a time—you want it to come together in one very sticky ball.

You should wind up with bread that is smooth, slightly dense, and perfectly salty. It’s great with a slab of butter or slice of cheddar. You can use it as sandwich bread, like James Beard, or cut it thinly and toast it.  I like it griddled—the way I had it in Ireland.

Ireland’s Famous Bread from Beard on Food

Time: About 45 minutes
Makes: One round loaf

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 “very level” teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk
Butter for greasing
Optional: 1/2 cup raisins or currants and 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

  1. Heat the oven to 375 dgF.
  2. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Stir in the buttermilk, one half cup at a time, until the dough is soft but sticky. (I used the entire 2 cups.)
  4. Lightly flour a work surface and knead the dough for a minute or two.
  5. Shape the dough into a round ball and place it on a buttered baking sheet; cut a large cross in the top with a sharp knife.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the outside is brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. Serve immediately or store for up to a few days.

 

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One Dough, Endless Cookies

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Cookie recipes are just about infinite, because almost anything can be shaped into a circle and baked: hence gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free “cookies.” But the basic cookie contains three key ingredients: butter, flour and sugar. That combination has not been bettered, and it can be varied in so many ways that, really, it’s the only recipe you need.

Flavor this dough (it can be doubled, tripled, etc., and refrigerated up to two days in advance or frozen for longer), then spoon it out and fill it for thumbprints, chill and roll it and frost it, turn it into “sandwiches” or press and spread it into bars. Master those options, and you can create pretty much any cookie you can dream of. Unless you’re not open to those with butter, sugar and flour.

The Basic Dough

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

1/4 cup milk, plus more if needed.

1. Heat the oven to 375. Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugar; add the vanilla and egg and beat until well blended.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add half the dry ingredients to the dough, beat for a moment, then add the milk. Beat for about 10 seconds, then add the remaining dry ingredients and a little more milk, if necessary, to make a soft dough.

3. Bake using one of the four variations: Frosted Cookies, Thumbprints, Sandwich Cookies and Cookie Bars.

Yield: 2 to 3 dozen.

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Brown Sugar Carrot Bread with Almonds

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By Alaina Sullivan

Impatient bakers love a good quick bread – the no-yeast, no-hassle loaf that teeters between bread and dessert. Typically a touch sweet, with a crumb more cakelike than its yeast-risen breads, quick bread is an easy solution for bakers who don’t feel like waiting.

This version is a variation on the master recipe for Fruit (or Vegetable)-and-Nut Bread from How to Cook Everything. Of the endless possibilities (think Banana-Walnut, Cranberry-Pecan, Zucchini-Sunflower, Pumpkin Ginger with Hazelnuts…) the one that struck me was a Brown Sugar Carrot Bread with Almonds. The shredded carrots ensure moisture, while the slivered almonds lend a consistent crunch. A combination of grains (all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour and wheat bran) yields a denser, heartier loaf, and brown sugar brings the right touch of molasses sweetness, while orange zest brightens the whole thing.

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Pumpkin Crème Brûlee

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By Alaina Sullivan

All it really takes is some mascarpone and a quick whisk to transform pumpkin puree into a rich crème brûlee. Brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and allspice are folded into the smooth mixture, giving it a flavor somewhere in between grandma’s brown sugar sweet potatoes and crustless pumpkin pie.

Dividing the mixture into small ramekins is recommended (this stuff is rich!); then sprinkle each with a thick layer of brown sugar. After a few minutes under the broiler the tops emerge bubbling, with that delicious scent of burnt sugar. If you wait a few minutes, the surface will harden slightly, allowing for the best part of crème brûlee: cracking the crust. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlee

Turn on the broiler and put the rack about four inches from the heat. With an electrix mixer or whisk, beat together a small can of pumpkin, eight ounces mascarpone, and a quarter cup of brown sugar; add a half teaspoon each of cinnamon and ginger and a pinch each of allspice and salt. Spread evenly into an ovenproof baking dish or ramekins and sprinkle the top with a thick layer of brown sugar. Broil for a few minutes, until the sugar melts, forming a crust. Serve immediately.

 

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The Minimalist: Apple “Pizza” (or Tart)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not wild about apple pie. If that makes me a bad American, so be it.

Of all the ways you can combine cooked apples, butter, flour and so on, pie is not nearly the best. I prefer either a nice crispy crumble topping made with oats, or this free-form apple tart. It is essentially an apple pizza, but uses a short dough, meaning it contains plenty of butter. It comes together very easily in the food processor.

Once you roll the dough out — into a thin circle or whatever other shape you choose (or your rolling pin chooses for you) — you have to address this question: how precious do you want this thing to be? If you have much more patience than I do you might start an elegant spiral of apple slices in the middle of the crust and loop it gracefully around until it reaches the edges. If you’re like me, you’ll randomly scatter the apples until you don’t see dough anymore. Call it rustic — I actually think it ends up looking just as nice, but maybe that’s equally un-American.

The last straw? Cut it with a pizza wheel.

Get the recipe here.

Posted in American, Baking

Roasted Nuts (So Easy, So Good)

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Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Time: 15 minutes

These are a revelation, so far from canned mixed nuts that you may have trouble believing it; and they’re almost no work at all. I suggest relying heavily on pecans or walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and cashews, with a sprinkling of anything else handy.  Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

2 cups (about 1 pound) mixed unsalted shelled nuts

2 tablespoons peanut oil or melted butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 450°F. Toss the nuts in a bowl with the oil or butter and some salt and pepper. Put on a baking sheet and roast, shaking occasionally, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool before serving; they will crisp as they cool.

Spiced Buttered Nuts. Real bar food: Add 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of any spice mixture, like chili or curry powder, to the mix. If roasting, toss the nuts with the spice at the beginning. If sautéing, add it to the butter or oil as it heats.

 

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Blueberry Cobbler

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Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Time: About 1 hour

My friend John Willoughby found this recipe in a southern boardinghouse nearly 20 years ago. It’s become my go-to cobbler recipe, because it’s essentially perfect. I love this with blueberries, but you can make it with any fruit you like.

Cobbler dough is somewhere between a biscuit and a cookie: fluffy, a bit flaky, buttery, and at least slightly sweet. The key is not overmixing the dough; get it so that it’s just combined, barely holding together, then drop it onto the filling in mounds, leaving space for steam to escape from the cooking fruit. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

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Blueberry Pudding Cake

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Makes: At least 6 servings

Time: About 1 1/4 hours, plus time to cool

This is just how it sounds: soft and gooey, with a cakey crust. It’s homey and comforting, especially with whipped cream. Try making it with other fruit, too. Recipe from How to Cook Everything. Continue reading

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Fast French Bread or Rolls

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Makes: 3 or 4 baguettes, 1 boule, or 12 to 16 rolls

Time: About 2 hours, largely unattended

This bread can be made by hand or with an electric mixer, but the food processor is the tool of choice and will save you tons of time. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

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