Monday, July 28, 2008

Crepe Love

The Paris Creperie is an adorable, snug hole-in-the-wall on Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner. When I lived in Brookline, I frequented this place quite regularly, always bringing any out-of-town guests there for a treat.

The walls are lined with pillow-covered benches, and there is a hefty supply of magazines for all tastes. One of my favorite features was the tiny bathroom, tucked away in the back of the prep area. To use it, one has to navigate through the maze of employees and supplies, but the behind-the-scenes view is worth the awkward trek.

Ham, egg, and cheese crepe.

I usually have the "Quirky Albuquerque," which consists of mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and Gruyere cheese.

They have an amazingly inexpensive menu of smoothies, ranging from the fruity to achingly sweet (the Nutella frozen hot chocolate is my favorite!) Also essential are the dessert crepes -- a friend exclaimed of the brown sugar crepe, " it's what pancakes are supposed to taste like but never do!"

Although their website provides directions to a location on Cambridge Street in Boston, I think that particular venue is closed. The one I review here is at:

278 Harvard St
Brookline, MA 02446
Phone: (617) 232-1770

Friday, July 25, 2008

Christmas in July

These muffins are an old favorite, made in the throes of an all-nighter I pulled during my senior year. I was attempting to draw connections between Freud and Shaffer's Amadeus, and the baked goods that emerged from this frenzy were far superior to the other product: a half-assed paper. Oh well.

On the upside, this recipe won a contest! Here is the proof:

They are also a nice change during the hot summer months, reminiscent of the holiday season while still being light and easy to mix up.

Chocolate Mint ("Candy-Cane") Muffins

This makes 12 little muffins or ten big.
TIP: If you leave some muffin cups empty, put a little water in them. This protects the pan from burning or warping.

3/4 c. milk
1 egg
1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup cocoa
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp instant espresso powder (optional but highly preferred--particularly when you need to stay up until 5 AM!)
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup mint chocolate chips. (I used two different kinds of Andes pieces, white & red and green & chocolate.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Mix the dry ingredients with a fork or whisk.
3. Melt the butter and mix in the egg and milk, adding the wet to the dry and mixing just until everything is damp. This is sort of my life motto: muffins are meant to be lumpy! That is the muffin method.
4. Spray the muffin pan with Pam, or grease with Crisco.
5. Bake for around 20 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.

Yes, I ultimately graduated, and I received in the way of prizes some Hotel Chocolat Pink Champagne Truffles (although I'm not a fan of alcohol in chocolates) and a beautiful cookbook with measurements entirely metric, by weight! I have to procure a kitchen scale.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nutty and Natural

I tend to prefer more "natural" ingredients, although if I need to bake, I will use whatever's on hand. I most often have Earth Balance (a vegan butter substitute) in my fridge for other uses, so that goes into a lot of the baked goods that I make. Likewise, I love to use turbinado or other natural or organic sugars, because they have an interesting crunch and a deeper flavor. These cookies have extra sugar sprinkled on top.

Natural Oatmeal Pecan Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

1 c. Earth Balance (or just butter, margarine, or crisco)
1 c. turbinado sugar (these would work with brown sugar, as well)
1/2 c. white sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, 1 egg yolk

1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. whole oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt

2 semi-sweet chocolate bars, chopped. (I used Scharffen Berger because there was a sign at Trader Joe's that said "chop up for chocolate chunk cookies!" which sounded good to me. It is my favorite brand of chocolate to bake with but fairly expensive.)
1/2 cup pecans

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Cream butter ("buttery spread") and sugar, add eggs and vanilla.
3. Mix dry ingredients separately, then incorporate.
4. Stir in chopped chocolate and pecans.
5. Scoop dough onto cookie sheet. TIP: I use two regular spoons, sprayed with Pam if the dough is extra sticky, to scoop. This keeps my hands clean (because you know I will eat anything left on my fingers).
6. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over each cookie.
7. Bake @ 375 for 13 minutes.

Makes 2-3 dozen cookies.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Healthier Challah

Being the absent-minded and neglectful Earth Muffin that I am, I originally baked this Challah Bread, a traditional Jewish food, during Passover, or Pesach, when real Jewish people (not me) aren't permitted to eat leavened bread. But, I'm not too keen on baking Matzah, and this is a bread I remember eating frequently during my childhood. When my mom stayed home with us (she and my father took turns over the years), she would often bake bread, and this was always my favorite.

I wanted to change recipe a little bit, to make it whole wheat and have a little bit more nutritional value. I think I succeeded brilliantly, if I may say so, for two reasons. The taste did not suffer whatsoever from my additions, and, surprise--the boyfriend ate it! And I don't think it's just because I forced him, either: he went back for seconds to dip in our homemade pasta sauce. The egg in challah makes it rich and chewy, but it also means you should keep this in the fridge after you've made it.

Whole Grain Challah Bread

This recipe is written for those who need in-depth instructions. If you've baked yeasted bread and know what you're doing, you can probably skip some of the details!

1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
2 packages yeast, dissolved in 1/3 cup warm water.
4 eggs, beaten
5 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup multigrain hot cereal (or multigrain flour; I use Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 cup soy protein powder (NOT the flavored kind!)
1/2 cup flaxseed meal

1. Make sure the yeast is dissolved in warm water. Test the water on your wrist: too hot will kill the yeast, and too cold won't let it bloom.
2. Mix the salt, honey, and oil.
3. Add to this both the hot and cold water.
4. Add the yeast mixture after it has cooled slightly.
5. Add the beaten eggs, reserving about 1 Tbsp. for later.
6. Gradually add the dry ingredients. Start with the multigrain cereal, protein powder, and flaxseed. You may not need all of the flour. Stir after each cup of flour, until the mixture is too stiff to stir and can be kneaded.
7. Spread the remaining flour on a countertop. Knead the bread into the flour (use more if necessary) for about 7 minutes, or until it has become less sticky and is slightly elastic.
8. Place the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a warm towel.
9. Let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. TIP: I like to use the inside of the microwave or an oven that has been warmed for a couple of minutes, then turned off. Not too hot! Just warm.
10. Remove dough onto floured surface. Separate into 10 balls of equal size. Roll each of the balls into a snake shape. Now, braid five snakes into one loaf, and five into the other. Pinch the ends together.
11. Let rise, covered with a towel, for 45 minutes.Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees, for approximately 25 to 30 minutes.

12. Enjoy your challah warm with butter (or earth balance) & jam!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Monopoly

I found a recipe a while ago for Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies, but was inspired by the idea of Nanaimo bars, a Canadian treat, and decided to turn these into something similar. Normally these are made with a brownie or cookie base, a custard layer, and soft chocolate on top. I guess what I made could not be called Nanaimo bars for several reasons, one of which is that the center layer was not custard, but the baked peanut butter component of the original recipe.

To further complicate matters, I adapted the recipe for a muffin tin.

As you can see from the photo, the peanut butter layer was not as fully articulated as I would have hoped. However, I can assure you that the most important facet of any baked good (the TASTE) was, in this instance, on point.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies

Brownie layer

1/3 cup butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

PB layer

1/3 cup peanut butter
2 Tbsp. butter, softened.
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
1 egg, beaten

Chocolate layer

4 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 Tbsp. butter

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
2. Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate in a saucepan or the microwave. Let cool.
3. Beat the eggs and sugar together and add vanilla.
4. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, powder, salt) and incorporate. Lastly, add the melted chocolate mixture.
5. Combine all the elements of the peanut butter layer.
6. Spoon brownie batter into muffin tin. Then, spoon peanut butter batter onto the brownies, spreading with a spoon to create a layer in each muffin cup.
7. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes. Remove and let cool (I put them in the freezer for a couple of minutes).
8. Melt the chocolate and butter for the final layer, and spread over the cooled brownies. Place in fridge until firm. If, unlike me, you can wait that long.

Play monopoly (the General Mills version which purportedly is a collector's edition) and annoy everyone by getting chocolate on the board.


PS: The Pillsbury doughboy, while he did happen to mingle at times with the finished product, had no part whatsoever in the preparation of these brownies.