March 30, 2016

Extra-Slutty Brownies

It's about that time in my study abroad experience that I'm craving food from home. Good burgers, Chinese food, cookie dough, and Waffle House are basically all I'm thinking about between cities. Don't get me wrong--Europe has amazing food. I just had duck twice in one day and some chimney cakes from the Central European Easter markets. Italy is full of addicting pizza and pasta and gnocchi, too. I just want food from home, and baked goods are at the top of the list. This recipe combines basically everything I miss, so I'll be making a quadruple batch as soon as my plane lands in the US in a few weeks.

If you've never heard of slutty brownies, you're missing out. Slutty brownies are quick and easy, hence the name. They consist of a layer each of chocolate chip cookies, oreos, and brownies. To make true slutty brownies, you're supposed to use a tube or tub of cookie dough, real oreos, and a box of brownie mix. You can make them homemade, but that ruins the simplicity.

Since I use mostly storebought ingredients (*gasp* I know but it's delicious), there's not much for me to explain here. You take a bunch of cookie dough and press it into the bottom of a big glass pan. I use this as an opportunity to get my anger out and punch the dough and also eat approximately half of the dough raw. It may be worth investing in another tube or two of it.

Next come the oreos. You want to press these firmly into the dough so that they don't float up through the brownie batter but also not hard enough that they end up at the bottom of the cookie dough layer. It's really not that hard; just lay them on top of the cookie dough, give them a little push, and move on.

The brownie batter is last. This is probably the easiest component to make homemade. I have an easy and delicious recipe that I make pretty frequently, so the link is posted below. Any boxed mix will work, too.

I do make the effort to add one extra step, however, to make these "extra slutty." I whip up a chocolate ganache to drizzle on top since it only takes a few minutes and makes the brownies look a little classier. Perhaps I should name these classy slutty brownies instead, but that's a problem for another day. These brownies are so addictive that one of my clubs in high school had a bake sale that exclusively sold slutty brownies. Despite being forced to name them "promiscuous brownies" to avoid any pushback from the school administration, we made more money that day than probably the rest of the year combined. If you can bear to part with these, I promise they make wonderful gifts or bake sale money-makers. You may just want to rename them depending on the scenario.

1 Recipe Cookie Dough OR
1 Tube Cookie Dough
22 Oreos
1 Recipe Brownie Batter OR
1 Box Brownie Mix, Prepared But Not Baked
1/2 Cup Cream
2/3 Cup Chocolate Chips

Heat oven to 350F and grease a 7x11" baking dish.

Press the cookie dough into the prepared pan. Press on the oreos in a single layer, then pour the brownie batter on top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, bring the cream to a simmer in a small pot. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate chips. Whisk until smooth, then pour over the cooled and sliced brownies.

Makes 20

March 23, 2016

Raspberry Coconut Cake

Easter is a huge deal in Europe, or at least the places I've traveled to. I went to a grocery store in Switzerland and passed walls of chocolate bunnies easily 10 feet tall and 20 feet long. Every chocolate store I visited in Belgium and Switzerland exclusively sold chocolate bars, truffles, and Easter-themed items like eggs, chickens, and bunnies. Even better are the giant 18" chocolate eggs filled with chocolate ganache or toys. However, I recognize that most people don't celebrate Easter solely by gorging on massive amounts of chocolate. This dessert is a wonderful springtime recipe that is fancy enough for your Easter luncheon or dinner party. The flavors are simple enough that they won't steal the show but you can decorate the cake so that it makes a beautiful centerpiece that everyone will want to dig into.

For a one layer cake, this does require a fair amount of effort. The base is a coconut cake studded with fresh raspberries. That gets topped with some white chocolate and a raspberry glaze and is sprinkled with toasted coconut, more fresh raspberries, and a drizzle of white chocolate. It would be delicious with dark chocolate as well, but you won't get the same color contrast.

The cake recipe is very similar to that for a basic vanilla cake but with coconut. It starts by beating butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. You'll want to use very soft butter for this, especially if you're doing it without a stand mixer. The eggs and vanilla are added gradually to make sure they are fully incorporated. As with most cakes, the dry ingredients are alternated with a liquid in 3 and 2 additions, respectfully. Here, I use flour, baking powder, and salt as my dry ingredients and a blend of buttermilk and coconut milk as the liquid. The coconut is used for flavor and the buttermilk is used to cut the richness. Once the batter is fully combined but not over-mixed, I fold in toasted sweetened shredded coconut and a handful of fresh raspberries. If you don't want your raspberries to burst during this process, freezing them for about an hour helps keep them solid.

While the cake is baking, there's plenty of time to whip up the raspberry glaze. It's just raspberry jam heated with a bit of water to improve the consistency, and I heat it and strain it to remove the seeds. Once the cake is cool, I spread some melted white chocolate on the top in a thin, even layer and pipe a ring of chocolate around the top edge of the cake. This prevents the glaze from soaking into the cake and spilling over the sides. The glaze is spread on top of the hardened chocolate shell, and the cake is refrigerated until set. I like to finish things off with an extra drizzle of white chocolate, some fresh raspberries, and a sprinkle of toasted coconut. It just takes a little bit of time to make a showstopping cake that is totally better than a giant chocolate easter egg.

In other news, I officially have an Instagram account for The Nerdy Chef, so follow me at @thenerdychef1. I also have a twitter account (@thenerdychef). On the science side of things, a picture from my research on lactose crystals in key lime pies (shown below) was a winner in the University of Wisconsin's 2016 Cool Science Image contest, so I'll be featured in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumni Magazine this summer and in various other events and publications.

1 Cup Sweetened Shredded Coconut, Toasted
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Softened
1 Cup Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
3 Eggs
2 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk
1 Cup Raspberries (plus more for garnish)
1/2 Cup Raspberry Jam
6oz White Chocolate, Melted

Heat oven to 350F. Line a 10" springform pan with parchment and grease.

Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs one at a time. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add to the butter mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk and coconut milk in two additions. Fold in 2/3 cup coconut and the raspberries.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until cooked through.

Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove the sides.

Meanwhile, heat the jam with 2T water over medium heat in a small pot. Strain and refrigerate until cold but not set, about 15 minutes.

Pipe a ring of melted chocolate around the edge of the cake to create a barrier for the jam. Pour the jam onto the cake to form an even layer that doesn't spill over the edge of the white chocolate. Chill until set, about 20 minutes. Drizzle the remaining white chocolate on top and sprinkle the remaining coconut and raspberries around the edges if desired.

Makes 1 10" Cake
Recipe Adapted from Martha Stewart and The Kitchen Alchemist

March 14, 2016

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

It's one of my favorite days of the year: Pi Day! On March 14, the date is 3.14, which are the first three digits of pi, so I use it as an excuse to eat as much pie as possible. My high school used to bring in dozens of pies so every student could have a slice, but for now I'll have to settle for making them myself. Unfortunately, I won't be making this particular pie for a few months given how expensive peanut butter is in Europe (anywhere from 5-10 euro for a small jar!), but it's definitely a crowd pleaser. It's a chocolate pie crust (you can use an Oreo crust instead but Oreos are also insanely expensive here) filled with a decadent peanut butter mousse swirled with homemade chocolate sauce and topped with chocolate chips and crunchy, salty peanuts. It's basically all the flavors of a peanut butter cup packed into a pie.

If you decide to pass on the Oreo crust, I generally go with a chocolate pie crust. It's the same recipe I use for my regular sweet crust (so it's sure to be flaky) but with cocoa powder substituted for some of the flour. Just pulse some flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a food processor with some butter and an egg yolk. The secret to flaky crusts is using cold ingredients, so make sure your butter is chilled so it releases steam when baked to create those layers. Since the filling isn't baked later, I cook the crust fully by blind-baking it to avoid a puffy crust and then finishing it without the foil and weights so it cooks all the way through.

The peanut butter mousse is pretty simple. It starts with some homemade whipped cream, which is literally just cream that you whip with a bit of powdered sugar and vanilla. If that's still too much (trust me it's worth the effort!), you can use a tub of CoolWhip or some other prepared whipped cream product. It's hard to beat that fresh whipped cream, though. The next step is whipping the peanut butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. You don't want pockets of peanut butter or lumps of cream cheese in the mousse so make sure it's fully combined. It should be light and airy, but it still won't be light enough to pass as mousse, which is why I add it to the whipped cream. Make sure you fold the two together gently to avoid deflating either component.

The chocolate sauce is just as easy to make. All you have to do is whisk more cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, cocoa powder, salt, and vanilla together, bring it to a simmer, and stir in some chocolate. It creates a thick, shiny sauce packed with chocolate flavor that you'll want to eat on everything.

To assemble the pie, pour the mousse into the cooled crust, swirl in some chocolate sauce, and top with roasted peanuts and mini chocolate chips. If I'm really craving chocolate, sometimes I'll pour some of the sauce into the crust before the mousse so there's a nice fudgy layer hidden beneath. For aesthetic purposes, I'll also drizzle more sauce on top, so it may be worth making a double batch of the sauce. In fact, go ahead and make a double batch of everything because this pie will go fast!

1 1/6 Cups Heavy Cream
2 T Light Brown Sugar
2 T Corn Syrup
1 T Cocoa Powder
Pinch Salt
2 tsp Vanilla
2 oz Chocolate Chips
1/3 Cup Mini Chocolate Chips
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
3/4 Cup + 2 T Powdered Sugar
3/4 Cup Peanut Butter
1/3 Cup Chopped Roasted Salted Peanuts
1 Recipe Chocolate Pie Crust, Baked in a 9" Pie Pan (See Below)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip 1 cup of heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Stir in 2 T powdered sugar and 1 tsp vanilla.

In a clean bowl with clean beaters, beat the cream cheese, ¾ cup powdered sugar, and peanut butter. Fold into the whipped cream and pour into the crust.

Whisk the remaining cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, cocoa, salt, and remaining vanilla together in a small pot. Bring to a simmer, then stir in chocolate chips. Turn off heat and let sit until cool. Pour half onto the pie and swirl in.

Chill until set, then sprinkle on the mini chocolate chips and peanuts. Drizzle with remaining sauce.

For the Crust:
1 Cup Flour
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Cocoa
1/4 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Chilled
1 Egg Yolk

Pulse the flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add the butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the egg yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

Heat oven to 375F. Grease a sheet of foil, then press onto the tart pan. Fill with pie weights and bake until firm, 25 minutes. Remove the foil and weights, then bake until golden, about 5 minutes. Cool.

Makes 1 9" Pie
Recipe Adapted from The Neelys and Bon Appetit