Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

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I have to admit that peanut butter cookies are generally not my first choice when it comes to desserts. However, my husband is a HUGE fan of peanut butter in anything, so when I saw an old Smitten Kitchen post about these cookies– supposedly the ultimate peanut butter treat– I had to try my hand at them.

Interestingly, while they’ve been billed as soft and creamy and almost peanut-butter-cup-like in texture, with a domed shape that lends itself to soft centers and crisp outsides, I didn’t get that result at all. Instead, mine were flat and chewy– still very tasty and still devoured quickly by both my husband and daughter, but not what I was expecting.

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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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Chez Panisse Almond Tart

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Out of the blue one day my husband emailed me a link to the apparently famous Chez Panisse Almond Tart. Since he rarely requests specific desserts I felt compelled to make it– also, we had a bunch of extra heavy cream left over from an earlier baking binge, so any recipe involving cream was welcome! I picked up some sliced almonds, and the rest of the ingredients were already in my pantry– always a plus.

The tart itself didn’t look too hard to make– fussy, sure, with repeated check-ins during the baking time to (weirdly) tap the surface of the tart with a spatula, but not difficult. Surprisingly for me, the crust baked up nicely with minimal shrinkage (I always have issues with that), and while I had my doubts about the filling consistency being too thin when I first poured it into the tart shell, it firmed up nicely in the oven.

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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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Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake

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Since my husband is a huge fan of peanut butter and chocolate, I always try to make him a peanut butter and chocolate cake for his birthday. So when I saw this one on Smitten Kitchen, especially once I realized it used my favorite chocolate cookie recipe as a base, I had to make it.

I really followed Deb’s recipe almost exactly (I increased the peanut butter cream recipe to use a whole pint of cream instead of 1 1/2 cups), so I’m not going to bother reproducing it here– just follow this link! But here are some photos of the process so you can see how it works!

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The finished cake is wonderful– light and creamy, yet still rich and decadent. And there’s something particularly indulgent about sliding your fork down through each distinct layer and feeling just the slightest resistance before the softened wafers give way, one by one. The peanut butter works nicely with the dark chocolate, though I still think this would be amazing using whipped cream spiked with Kahlua. I’ll have to give it a try sometime.

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