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Monday, December 19, 2011

Baked Explorations: A Cookbook Review and Grasshopper Bars


Who doesn't love baked goods?!  My family can get quite addicted to them, and I think my husband did a little dance of joy when I started this blog and started taking baking seriously.  I was just telling him the other day that when I started blogging three years ago (!), I wasn't very confident in my baking abilities, but now I feel like I could conquer the baking world with the right equipment.  (I think that Santa might be bringing me a candy thermometer.)  :-)  So, when I saw the cover of Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy.  I mean, just look at that cover! (And it's full of equally enticing photos of equally scrumptious desserts!)


Lewis and Poliafito run the well-known bakeries, Baked, in both Brooklyn and Charleston, but don't assume that the home cook knows everything there is to know about baking.  The cookbook starts with sections on necessary tools for baking (but keep it simple for those of us with small kitchens) and baking terms/brand recommendations/techniques.  The book is built around dessert chapters: Breakfast, Tarts and Pies, Cookies and Bars, Cakes, and Confections and Pastry.  And it helpfully ends with conversion charts for those who prefer to use the metric system.  Each recipe begins with notes from the bakers--all tongue in cheek, but helpful nonetheless.

When I received my copy, I flipped through it first with my daughter.  I told her that we would need to pick one or two recipes to try, so she decided to help me...by bookmarking every page!  I restrained myself from doing so as well, but I felt the same giddiness.  The book is chock-full of recipes for baked goods that Americans would recognize from growing up...just a little more refined.  (I'd highly recommend this book if you are lucky enough to score some gift certificates for Christmas and like to bake!)  We finally settled on making Grasshopper Bars for some guests coming over, but with the caveat that I would make Nutella Scones for Christmas breakfast and the Caramel Apple Cake for Christmas dinner. I'll let you know how that goes after Christmas, but given how good these Grasshopper Bars were, I'm sure that the scones and cake will be delicious.  These bars are rich with chocolate, but the mint provides a refreshing after-dinner quality to the smooth bars.

Grasshopper Bars
Ever-so-slightly adapted from Baked Explorations


For the brownie base:
3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (The original called for 1 tablespoon dark unsweetened cocoa powder, but I couldn't find any at our local shops.)
5 ounces good quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used 60%, but you can go up to 72%.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the buttercream:
3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, but still cool, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons creme de menthe
1 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the chocolate glaze:
6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used 60%, but you can go up to 72%.)
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or metal 9x13-inch pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter that too.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cocoa powder together and set aside.

Put about an inch or two of water in a medium saucepan and place a medium bowl or double boiler pan over the water (making sure the water does not touch the bowl) and place over medium heat.  Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl and stir occasionally until they are completely melted and combined.  Turn off the heat, but keeping the bowl over the hot water bath, add both sugars.  Whisk the sugars until completely combined.  Remove the bowl from the pan.  The mixture should be at about room temperature.

Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.  Add the vanilla and mix until combined.  Do not overbeat the batter.

Pour the chocolate mixture into a larger mixing bowl.  Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate.  Using a spatula (do not use a whisk), fold the dry ingredients into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour mix visible.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake for about 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.  The brownies should be just a little underdone.  A toothpick inserted into the brownies at an angle should contain a few loose crumbs.  Remove the brownies from the oven and let cool completely while you make the buttercream filling.

Making the buttercream:
In a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together.  Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally until the mixture some to a boil and has thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on high speed until the mixture cools.  Reduce the speed to low and add the butter.  Mix until thoroughly incorporated.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the filling is light and fluffy.

Add the creme de menthe and peppermint extract and mix until combined.  If the filling is too soft, chill slightly in the refrigerator and then mix again until it is the proper consistency.  If the filling is too firm, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and remix until it is the consistency of buttercream frosting.  Spread the filling evenly across the top of the brownie layer (once the brownie layer has COMPLETELY cooled) and place the pan in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes.

Making the chocolate glaze:
In a large, non-reactive metal bowl, combine the chocolate, corn syrup and butter.  Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth.  Remove the bowl from the pan and stir vigorously for 1 minute to release excess heat.

Pour the mixture over the chilled buttercream layer and either use a spatula to spread the chocolate or tilt the pan back and forth until the butter cream layer is completely covered and the the chocolate is smooth.  Place the pan back in the refrigerator for at least one hour or until the glaze hardens.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator 15 minutes before serving.  Cut the bars with a warm knife.  Cut into squares and serve immediately.  The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.


Disclosure: A review copy of this cookbook was sent to me free of charge. I was not required to post about it and received no compensation for doing so. 

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98 comments:

Candy December 20, 2011 at 3:47 PM  

Hi Mindy! These bars are incredible and I know you guys are going to enjoy the Caramel Apple Cake too! Let me know if you are interested in joining the Baked Sunday Mornings group that is currently baking our way through this incredible book!

Angie's Recipes December 21, 2011 at 12:25 AM  

Those brownie bars look fantastic! I have to get some creme de menthe soon.

Mindy December 21, 2011 at 12:17 PM  

Thanks, Candy, for the offer. If my spring is freed up a little, I may take you up on your offer!

Angie, it's always worth having creme de menthe around. :-)

Heidi @ Food Doodles December 21, 2011 at 4:41 PM  

Mmm, these look fantastic! And I can't get enough of mint and chocolate right now :D

Mindy December 27, 2011 at 12:38 PM  

@Heidi, One of my favorite flavor combos is mint and chocolate! Mmmmm...

Amy Camenisch December 27, 2011 at 5:06 PM  

These look absolutely beautiful! Love the photography! Hope those nutella scones worked out because I would love to hear about them sometime! :)

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