Chocolate Cloud Cookies

Well the workload has definitely begun to swamp me again. I sat in front of my office computer for no fewer than 19 hours this weekend and am beginning this week feeling both exhausted and stir crazy. It’s an unpleasant combination that I’m sure any student or cubical rat is familiar with. I’m determined to get to the gym this evening, even if it means falling a bit more behind. I’m also trying to convince my man to make one of these for me, haha, but I’m not holding my breath.

The silver lining to this weekend was that I was able to get in some show tune sing-a-longs. See I love musicals, theater, and Disney songs of all sorts. The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack makes a regular rotation on my iPhone, along with the soundtracks from Chicago, Once Upon a Mattress, Hello Dolly, and – of course – Wicked. Being in a large office space alone at 1 in the morning means you can belt out Defying Gravity to your silly heart’s content – which I did… many times. Who says Science and The Arts can’t go together? 😉

Speaking of going well together, I recently discovered that chocolate and meringue compliment each other more so than I would have thought. Brad and I were both craving chocolate cookies the other day, but I had run out of both chocolate chips and butter. Searching for a cocoa-based dairy-free cookie recipe I was lucky enough to discover these. Now, I have to warn you that my cookies, while very good, didn’t turn out the way Heidi described: where she got gooey chocolate puddles I got crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, satisfyingly thick mounds. She does warn that baking time can be finicky and that leaving the dough out to dry can influence results. I’m guessing that the combination of those plus my mini-oven were the cause of “chocolate puddles” turning into – what I’ve decided to call – “chocolate clouds”. I’m not disappointed. My cookies married the best of chocolate and meringue-lovers’ worlds. Still, I’d be curious to see how this recipe replicates for others. Let me know if you try them please!

Chocolate Cloud Cookies (minimally adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

Ingredients:

3   C   whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

4   C   confectioner’s sugar

½  C plus 3 T   unsweetened cocoa powder

pinch of salt

4   large egg whites, room temp (preferably free-range)

1   T   pure vanilla extract

Procedure:

1) Preheat the oven to 300°F and line at least 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. The source recipe warns of these babies spreading out like puddles, but mine never did. Still, just in case, you might want to give them extra elbow-room.

2) Sift together sugar, cocoa, and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the almonds, then add egg whites and vanilla. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until well combined.

3) Spoon mounds of about 2 Tablespoons of dough each onto prepared baking sheets leaving some extra space between the cookies just in case. Bake until cookies puff up, and the outsides have become glossy and have cracked – 15 to 20 minutes. Once baked fully, slide the parchment paper with cookies still attached carefully onto wire cooling racks. Trying to remove the cookies from the parchment before they have fully cooled will cause the bottoms to rip off and you’ll be left with a shell of a cookie.

4) Serve cookies with a tall glass of milk and a Valentine’s Day card to your loved ones!

Beezer’s Notes:

These cookies blend the light chewiness of meringue with satisfying rich cocoa flavor and crunchy nuts. They are even better dunked in milk and – dangerously – can be eaten by the pile. Another bonus is their incredibly short ingredients list. Plus, if you choose to sub in dried fruit or chocolate chips for the nuts you can have a gluten-free*, dairy-free, and nut-free cookie! I’m actually thinking of trying these with dried cranberries and walnuts for tomorrow – giving these babies little speckles of red for Valentine’s Day.

*If you’re going for the gluten-free variety, make sure to buy pure cocoa powder. Cocoa powder itself is gluten-free, but many brands include additives that contain gluten.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥

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Double-Layer Ice Cream Pie

I like ice cream. I like pie. I like ice cream with my pie….but somehow, I had never before encountered – nor even considered – an ice cream pie. I suppose it’s not all that different from an ice cream cake, that easy fall-back for countless birthdays across the America, and yet the idea of a crunchy shell supporting two yummy flavors topped with a generous drizzle of caramel sauce was too good to pass up. Especially when the caramel sauce mentioned was advertised as “easy” and I had never before made caramel sauce in my life (sadly, melting caramel candies with cream doesn’t count). Plus, how can you go wrong with Ree’s wonderful step-by-step photo instructions?? I tweaked it a bit for my own tastes (and laziness) but barley enough to mention; see Beezer’s Notes below if you’re really that curious. I promise I won’t be offended if you skip directly to Ree’s site and work from her pictures – that woman could publish a photo-book of recipes that would still be perfectly functional without a single  typed word.

Double-Layer Ice Cream Pie (adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks)

Ingredients:

For the Crust…

3     egg whites

¼   t     salt

½   C    sugar

1     C    almonds, finely chopped

For the Filling…

2    Pints of ice cream, one each of different flavors

For the Caramel Sauce…

4     T     butter

1      C     brown sugar, packed

½    C    heavy cream

1      T    vanilla

pinch of salt

For Chocolate Ganache…

1     C     dark or semisweet chocolate chips

1     C     heavy cream

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Add sugar and salt and beat again until stiff and glossy. Gently fold in nuts and spread mixture over the bottom and up the sides of a non-glass pie pan – make sure the sides are adequately coated. Bake for about 15 minutes or until a light golden brown. Allow crust to cool completely.
  2. About ten minutes or so before crust is completely cool, remove the first of the ice cream pints from the freezer and allow to soften while waiting on the crust.
  3. Once crust is completely cool and ice cream has softened, spread the first pint across the bottom of the crust and smooth the top. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 10 minutes or so to harden a bit. At the same time, remove your second ice cream pint and allow to soften on the counter while the first layer hardens.
  4. Remove pie from the freezer and spread the second pint of ice cream on top of the first. Smooth the top and return the completed pie to the freezer to solidify one last time. While waiting, prepare the sauces.
  5. Mix all caramel sauce ingredients except the vanilla in a small sauce pan over med-low heat. Cook while whisking gently for 5 minutes or so until thicker. Add the vanilla and cook a minute more to thicken further. Remove from heat and transfer sauce to a jar. If not serving the same day, refrigerate the sauce til needed.
  6. To make the chocolate ganache, mix chocolate and cream in another small sauce pan over med-low heat until smooth. Remove from heat and transfer to another jar. Again, if not serving the same day (or if you prefer your sauce cold) store in the fridge.
  7. When ready to serve, slice pie (meringue crust will stick a bit to the pan, that’s normal) and drizzle sauce(s) of choice over the top. Yum! 🙂

Beezer’s Notes:

Mmmm, this pie was everything I expected it to be. The crunch of the almond-filled meringue was a great base for the ice cream and the sauces added an extra layer of flavor on top. Plus, if you’re like me and pour the sauces on warm, you’ll end up with a slowly melting mound of deliciousness you can scoop up around chewy meringue blobs. Desserts taste even better when they soften into fun textures – don’t deny it!

I didn’t intend to tweak much in this recipe, I just didn’t want to measure out egg whites. I decided to use three eggs’ worth instead and bumped the sugar in the meringue up to ½ Cup to compensate. I also used almonds instead of pecans since I had them on hand. The addition of a chocolate sauce was simply because one of my ice cream pints was flavored caramel (it was on sale!) and I thought that a caramel ice cream with caramel sauce might be a bit too much for some folks. Lastly, I divided up the procedure a bit in how I layered my ice cream.

To be completely honest, it wasn’t some grand plan of clean layers or impressive presentation I had in mind when I changed the filling process. I ended up freezing my first layer because I was convinced the second pint of ice cream wouldn’t fit on top! It wasn’t until the first layer had frozen solid that I decided, what the hell, and gave it a shot. Lo and behold: two whole pints fit perfectly! Of course. Why do I always doubt?? Anyway, the two-part freeze did result in lovely divided layers, though, so I decided to keep the procedure. I’m sure your pie will be delicious any way you choose to fill it. Especially with all that sauce. 😉

Overall Enjoyment: ♥    ♥    ♥    ♥

Three-Layer Bliss

Let me start off by saying I named this dessert Three-Layer Bliss after the absolutely magical mixture of crumbly shortbread, puckering rhubarb, sweet strawberries, and fluffy meringue. Perfecting this recipe to be just what I wanted it to be, however, was anything but blissful.

I initially made this dessert in early June when the first beautiful red and green stalks of rhubarb appeared at my Co-Op. While the source recipe describes “the perfect springtime dessert”, the pilot attempt fell flat. I was convinced I knew what the problem was and that the solution would be a quick fix… but then this pattern continued through the second dish… and the third.

You, though, do not have to worry because I’ve figured it out! Minor issues aside, the fact that I was even able to eat this dessert three times in the span of a month goes to show how scrumptious it is! The recipe below is the final version so you can just go from there with no worries. If you’re curious how I came to this variation, look under Beezer’s Notes

Three-Layer Bliss

(adapted from Daphne West’s Rhubarb Cream Delight in the VT Make-A-Wish Cookbook)

Ingredients:

For the Crust…

1 ½   C     all-purpose flour

¾      C    butter (1 ½ sticks), chilled

3        T    sugar

For the Filling…

1         C     sugar*

4   egg yolks, beaten

2/3    C     evaporated milk

3        T     all-purpose flour

½      t       freshly grated nutmeg

2       C      chopped rhubarb

2       C      hulled and sliced strawberries

*Note: use more or less sugar depending on how sweet your berries are and according to your personal preference. I prefer a more tart filling (the source recipe calls for 2 Cups!) and my berries were fairly sweet. If using only strawberries and no rhubarb, I would suggest 2/3 C.

For the Meringue…

1       C     sugar

8    egg whites

Procedure:

  1. First prepare the crust (a basic shortbread). Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a food processor or pastry cutter combine the flour, chilled butter, and sugar until the mix resembles coarse meal. Press the dough into the bottom of a greased and floured 9 x 13″ baking dish and bake until lightly golden or about 20 minutes. Allow the crust to finish baking and set aside to cool before continuing.
  2. For the filling, combine sugar, flour, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. In another, combine egg yolks and evaporated milk. Add the wet mix to the dry and whisk until incorporated. Add the rhubarb – NOT strawberries – and toss gently until well coated. Pour the rhubarb/custard mix into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium-low heat stirring constantly (it can scald quickly!). Continue to cook until custard thickens and rhubarb is soft, but not mushy – about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the strawberries to the saucepan and cook for another 3-5 minutes to gently soften.
  4. Once the crust has returned to room temperature (or is at least warm and not hot), pour the filling on top of it and smooth with a spatula. Set aside.
  5. Beat egg whites on high until soft peaks form.………. Mix in sugar until glossy.
  6. ………………..……………………Pour meringue on as the final layer and smooth with a spatula. If desired, take a clean dry spoon and press the back of it gently into the meringue in neat rows, pulling up swiftly to form tiny peaks.
  7. Back the dish 5 – 10 minutes or until the meringue has lightly browned.

Beezer’s Notes:

Well, again, the fact that I could eat this large dessert three times in a single month should tell you it’s worth trying. The fact that I also ate the second and third attempts at perfecting this dish by myself should also convince you that Three-Layer Bliss is a darn good dessert, haha. I’ll confess I’ve always had a weakness for rhubarb and meringue. That said, even folks who don’t particularly like rhubarb tried it (remember those 4 helpings I mentioned in the beginning?) and were converted.

All those interested in the nitty-gritty: read on. All others, thanks for sticking with me this far – now go try this dessert! 🙂

The Adaptations: I. I reduced the sugar immediately (as per my usual with sweet recipes) and doubled the egg whites for the meringue (I really like meringue), but stayed true to the recipe for everything else the first time around. Unfortunately, the custard didn’t cook long enough and I also forgot to double the amount of sugar added to the meringue to make up for the extra egg whites. Oops. Thus, the first attempt had wonderful fruit, but a very runny center and egg-smelling top.


II. I continued to keep the sugar reduced and the meringue doubled (remembering to also double the meringue sugar this time!). I also cooked the filling three times as long (5 minutes to 15) which resulted in a wonderfully thickened custard (yay!). My mistake here was to keep the fruit in the custard for the longer cooking time – the finished dessert had a decent consistency, perfect meringue, but mushy and flavorless strawberries…


III. Sugar reduced: check. Meringue sugar doubled: check. Fruit added to the custard at the end: check. This time? Perfect crust. Perfect meringue. Perfect custard. Flavorful and juicy strawberries… and rock-hard rhubarb that made your mouth pucker. *sigh* I decided against snapping a third shot since the finished products all look the same anyway, and by this point I was fairly discouraged.

IV. But stubbornness prevails! Cook the rhubarb with the custard and add the strawberries at the end, of course! Finally, since I make mine rather tart I also like adding a small drizzle of honey over the top before serving. Mmmm, success sure is sweet…


Overall Enjoyment: ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥



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