Cocoa Nib and Pecan Shortbread

shortbread-done

Slice and bake cookies are some of my favorites for gift-giving or other occasions that require large quantities of portable desserts. You can plan ahead, make a bunch of dough, shape it into cylinders (or in this case, squared-off logs), and freeze them until you’re ready– then just slice and bake!

I actually made these for last year’s holiday season, but never got around to posting about them until now. Never fear, though– these really are delicious, and they only improve with age! I got the recipe from the incomparable Alice Medrich, and her book (a must-read for any real chocolate lover) Bittersweet. It’s one of my very favorite chocolate recipe books, particularly as it gives specific instructions as to how to modify a recipe for use with different-percentage dark chocolates.

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Chocolate Pear Cake, Take 1: Reasonably Good

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A friend of mine is currently forbidden to ingest dairy at all (which is a shame because she loves cheese), so I decided to bake her a cake. Ordinarily I would just go with my standard chocolate cake recipe (naturally dairy- and egg-free), but no dairy means no frosting, no ganache, no whipped cream, nothing! So the cake would have to have a little extra oomph to it to make up for the lack of topping.

I’d previously bookmarked a recipe for a chocolate cake with poached pears baked inside, which sounded delicious, but the cake part looked a lot moister and denser than my standard recipe, which usually requires butter to achieve. I decided, therefore, to try to enrich my usual recipe with the addition of two eggs. Also, instead of poaching my own pears (fussy, tedious, and ultimately the delicate flavors of the poached pears would be drowned in chocolate) I opted for canned pears.

Results? Not bad. Even with the eggs, though, the cake without frosting lacked richness, and the pears were too soft (and too sparse) to stand up well to the cake. I think next time I make a chocolate-pear cake I’ll use raw pears, probably whole and cored so they can stand up in the pan and aren’t confined to the bottom of the cake. And perhaps next time I’ll use a cake recipe that involves butter and just substitute margarine, so my friend can partake despite her dairy problems.

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Microwaved Chocolate Pastry Cream

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The other day, my husband (by way of gloating) mentioned an amazing treat he’d had at a lunch out that he had– so sad– failed to save any of for me. It was apparently a fresh croissant, split and filled with Nutella and chocolate pastry cream. He gleefully described how he’d tried to save half, but then couldn’t resist eating just one more bite, and then another, and then another… until it was gone. I think he enjoys torturing me like this.

Not one to admit defeat, I promptly decided that I would make my own– so there! Croissants, of course, are easy to come by, and our pantry always has Nutella in it, but pastry cream isn’t something I generally just whip up. It’s so fussy, what with using only egg yolks, whisking constantly, etc., that I rarely make it.

Then it occurred to me that I had already solved this problem with regard to lemon curd– and my whole-egg microwaved lemon curd recipe is one of my favorites. Why not try the same thing with pastry cream? I found a basic whole-egg recipe online and used the same technique I’d applied to the lemon curd (though going to a higher heat due to ingredients), stirring in melted semisweet chocolate at the end. And what do you know? It was reasonably good. The texture was just a bit grainy– I think I overcooked the eggs just a tiny bit– and it wasn’t quite as rich as I’d hoped. Next time I might add an extra yolk to the eggs, or use half-and-half instead of milk. Or I guess I could just cook it on the stovetop where I’d have more control over the heat distribution.

But in any case, it’s a perfectly serviceable chocolate pastry cream if you’re short on time and want to make a point about sharing desserts. đŸ˜‰

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Easy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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** Wow, I just realized that this is my 250th post! It’s hard to believe I’ve done so much in a relatively short period of time! Thanks to all my readers, and I’m looking forward to more projects in the future!**

So I’ll admit right now that I already have a favorite recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (with salted pecans!) and that this isn’t it. However, that recipe calls for creaming butter, and some days you just don’t feel like breaking out the stand mixer, you know? And this recipe only needs you to melt the butter, which makes for chewier cookies anyway, so I decided to give it a shot.

The finished cookies were tasty– not mind-blowing, but pretty darned good. They didn’t spread out in the oven much at all, which surprised me, and the dough remained oddly dry the entire time, which was a bit odd… but they were still chock-full of chocolate and pecans, and it’s hard to go wrong with that combination. I would still prefer a cookie recipe that didn’t require chilling for 2 hours before baking (what a pain)– it’s possible that if I’d baked the dough right away I’d have gotten more spreading. I may try it the next time I have a craving for sweets.

In the meantime, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

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Kitty House Cake

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For my daughter’s kitty-themed fifth birthday party, the first thing she asked for was “a cake shaped like a house, that’s also a cat.” What could I do but give it my best shot? After all, coming after last year’s castle cake, it should be a snap, right?

Wrong.

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Chocolate-Raspberry Birthday Cake

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When I asked my daughter what flavor of cake she wanted for her fifth birthday, she told me “chocolate with cookies and raspberries,” so what could I do but comply? Not a huge project, but it was impressive (and tasty) enough that I figured it was worth writing about.

The cake is my standard chocolate cake, divided into three 7″ round cake pans. I didn’t have sufficient time for my usual whipped frosting recipe, so I threw some frosting together out of what I had on hand– it was a bit denser than I prefer, but still tasted good. There wasn’t really enough of it to properly frost the cake, but that’s where the cookies came in!

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Chocolate Orange Crinkle Cookies

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For Christmas this year I promised my daughter that we would bake cookies for Santa Claus. Of course she wanted to get really hands-on about it, so I had to choose a recipe that was easy to make and easy to handle, even for kids. Enter the chocolate crinkle cookie. I’d never made them before, but I’d eaten plenty and they were delicious– and the “rolling in sugar” step looked like something kids would really enjoy!

However, recipes seemed to fall into two categories– those with butter and those with oil. How to choose? Ordinarily I would be butter all the way, because it just tastes better in a cookie. On the other hand, oil would make the dough a lot easier to make (no softening and creaming of butter), and the cookies would likely stay moist longer. I decided to go for an oil-based recipe.

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