Chocolate Gooey Butter Tarts

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Last week I showcased traditionally flavored gooey butter tarts. This week I give you my chocolate twist on the recipe. I admit that I am almost a purist when it comes to gooey butter cake. I make an exception for chocolate. How can chocolate ever be bad?

Generally I want my gooey butter tarts or cake to taste like what my mom made when I was a kid: sweet, very sweet, with the flavors of cream cheese and butter only. No other flavors to complicate things, not even vanilla. Once, Rich, the vanilla king, asked me to put vanilla in it. He loved it. It was just wrong to me.

Chocolate gooey butter isn’t the same as traditional gooey butter. It has its own rich, over-the-top sweet, slightly dark with chocolate goodness that makes it something worth trying.

Make them both and then tell me which you prefer – traditional or chocolate.

Download or print recipe here.

Chocolate Gooey Butter Tarts
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 24 tarts

Crust:
1¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 egg

Filling:
1 8-oz. block cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
2½ cups plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) cocoa

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 24 muffin cups – do not use cupcake papers.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix in melted butter and egg. Press slightly less than 2 tablespoons of crust mixture into each muffin cup and set aside.

In same bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in eggs until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk powdered sugar and cocoa together to break up any lumps. Add cocoa mixture to cream cheese mixture and mix well. Divide filling evenly among muffin cups, using a little more than 2 tablespoons per cup.

Bake 13-15 minutes, or until filling is mostly set and slightly puffed. The tops of the tarts will flatten as they cool. Let tarts cool in pans on a wire rack for about 15 minutes so they can firm up. Run a knife around the edge of each tart before removing it to the rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for a few days, in a single layer or with parchment or waxed paper between layers, as they tend to stick to each other. Freeze for longer storage. Thaw at room temperature for a couple of hours.

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Vanilla Custard

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Custard is one of those desserts that I forget about. It is sublime in its simplicity – milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla. We didn’t have custard that often when I was growing up, but I always loved it. My mom and grandma made custard pretty much the same way – not too sweet, not too rich and always topped with ground nutmeg before they baked it. That is what custard is to me – plain, simple and delicious.

I decided to try making custard last week during our Colorado vacation. It was a rainy afternoon and we had all the ingredients on hand. I didn’t have my recipe with me, so I trolled the internet until I looked at enough recipes to decide on a ratio of eggs to milk to sugar. In my in-laws’ less-than-stocked kitchen I had to improvise for both custard cups and a water bath. Coffee cups stood in for ramekins, with the overflow going into a serving bowl that was oven safe. The custards baked up just fine, despite the high altitude and the less-than ideal baking vessels.

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Rich’s parents and I were happy, though they didn’t have any nutmeg, so I had to make do with cinnamon. Rich has never liked custard that much – he prefers his desserts to have more substance, and more chocolate. Calvin wasn’t impressed either. They are both requesting chocolate almond custard. I expect you will be seeing a recipe for that sometime soon.

I made another batch of custard once we got home to make sure I could replicate the results. I can’t say that it was really much better than the improvised custard we had on vacation. But I got to use ground nutmeg on top. It brought back a true taste of childhood. Rich and Calvin still aren’t fans, but that leaves more for me.

Download or print recipe here.

Vanilla Custard
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 4-6 servings

Use any kind of milk you have on hand – the richer the milk, the richer the custard. This is not a sweet dessert. You can increase the sugar to ½ cup if you like, with no other changes to the recipe. Or sprinkle sugar on top when serving for added sweetness and crunch.

2 cups milk
4 eggs
⅓ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
dash salt
nutmeg or cinnamon
sugar, for serving (optional)

Equipment:
Custard cups or ramekins
9 by 13 inch baking pan, or equivalent
boiling water for a water bath

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot or teakettle of water to a boil and keep hot. Lightly grease 4-6 custard cups or small ramekins. I used 6 ounce custard cups and needed five of them. Set ramekins in a 9 by 13 inch baking pan or other pan large enough to hold them without crowding. Set aside, preferably near the oven.

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Heat milk in a 2-3 quart saucepan over medium heat until very hot. Milk will be steaming and there will be bubbles all around the edges when it is hot enough. Don’t let it boil. Stir occasionally at the beginning and more often as it gets hotter. It should take 5-7 minutes to get hot enough, depending on your stove and the size of your pan. The larger the pan, the faster the milk will heat (and the closer you need to watch it).

While milk heats, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt together in a large bowl until sugar is no longer gritty.

When milk is hot, beat it gradually into the egg mixture. Start very slowly so you don’t scramble the eggs. When all the milk is mixed in, pour the custard into the prepared ramekins, filling them almost full. Sprinkle tops with nutmeg or cinnamon.

Set ramekins, in the larger baking pan, as near to the oven as possible. Pour boiling water into the larger pan, trying to get the water to the same level as the custard in the cups. Carefully transfer the filled pan to the oven.

Bake custard 25-30 minutes, or until the centers barely jiggle when you move the pan. Remove the pan from the oven. Remove ramekins from the hot water and place on a rack to cool. When cool, cover and refrigerate. Let custards come to room temperature for a few minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the fridge for two or three days, covered.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Ice Cream

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Our home ice cream production is ramping up with the spring – or sort of. We make ice cream when it is warm and then end up eating the rest of the batch when it is cold again. This has been even more of a roller coaster spring than usual here in St. Louis. But never let it be said that we backed off from eating ice cream just because the weather was a little nippy.

I made this ice cream when we were having my parents over for dinner. We had made mint chocolate chip ice cream the day before, but I wanted to have another kind of ice cream to give everyone a choice (especially me, since mint ice cream isn’t my favorite). We also had a batch of homemade caramel sauce in the fridge that had been calling me, and I wanted an appropriate ice cream to go under it – mint chocolate chip certainly wasn’t it.

I posted a recipe for cinnamon ice cream last year, but it used white sugar instead of brown. The brown sugar adds a caramel flavor that complements the cinnamon nicely. It is amazing what a difference it makes to use brown sugar instead of white. If I were serving the ice cream with apple pie I would probably stick with white sugar, but then again, maybe not. I like brown sugar an awful lot and will almost always use it instead of white sugar, when I have a choice.

Without further ado (or any further rambling) I will give you the recipe, since brown sugar cinnamon ice cream really needs no introduction, especially with caramel sauce on top.

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Download or print the recipe here.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Ice Cream
From The Cook’s Life
Makes about 1½ quarts

The optional vodka helps the keep the ice cream from freezing quite so hard, especially after a day or two in the freezer.

⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Dash salt
2 cups half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon vodka (optional)

Stir brown sugar, cinnamon and salt together in a medium bowl with a whish until the cinnamon is mixed in and there are no lumps in the brown sugar. Add half and half and vanilla and stir until the brown sugar is dissolved. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions – ours takes about 25 minutes. Add vodka, if using, during last 5 minutes of freezing. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and freeze for several hours before serving.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

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The other day I was looking for a recipe to make a slightly healthier snack for Calvin (and me, to be truthful). I remembered that my mom had made a recipe from Cooking Light Magazine for cookie bars baked in a pie plate and sliced into wedges. I found the recipe and then promptly made a bunch of changes.

I used sliced almonds instead of the chopped pecans called for, since I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to chop my pecan halves. I also used a whole egg instead of an egg white. I used white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour to up the nutrition and fiber a bit. I also doubled the original amount of chocolate chips, because, why not?

To top it off, when I made a second batch, I reduced the sugar because I thought the first ones were too sweet. You can use either amount of sugar listed, with no other changes to the recipe. I also reduced the canola oil to one tablespoon in the second batch. It made the bars a little more cake-like and less cookie-like. The difference was slight, so I’ll let you decide how you want them. The wedge in the picture is more cookie-like and the square bars in the background are more cake-like.

You can bake these in a pie plate and cut them into wedges, as in the original recipe, or use a square pan and cut squares. The wedges are a little fragile and tend to lose their points. The square bars are better for packing into lunches, or eating with your fingers while you stand over the pan. Just in case you know anyone who would do that.

The original recipe was called Granola Cookie Wedges, which I thought was slightly misleading. They have no granola in them. I think they are supposed to resemble commercial chocolate chip granola bars, but I’m not sure. There was no explanation in the original recipe. I ditched “granola” in the name in favor of “oatmeal.”

These truly go together in just minutes, and they only require a bowl and a spoon to make – no mixer. I mixed them up before the oven had time to preheat, if that gives you any indication.

While not exactly health food, these are healthier than a chocolate chip granola bar from a box. And they taste a lot better too. Take a few minutes to whip up a batch and see what you think.

Download or print the recipe.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
Adapted by The Cook’s Life from Cooking Light
Makes 12 wedges or bars

Use the smaller amount of brown sugar to make these slightly less sweet, if you prefer. Use the smaller amount of canola oil for more cake-like bars, the larger amount for more cookie-like bars.

¼-⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
½ cup oats (I used old-fashioned)
¼ cup sliced almonds (or chopped nuts of your choice)
¼ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch pie plate or 8-inch square pan. Set aside.

Mix brown sugar, oil, melted butter, vanilla and egg together. Add salt, baking soda, flour, oats, almonds and chocolate chips and mix well.

Spread batter in prepared pan, making sure top is level.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the center is set. Cool in pan on rack for at least 5 minutes before slicing into 12 wedges or bars.

Chocolate Amaretto Ice Cream

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I was trolling though past posts yesterday, trying to think of some new things to write about. After looking at a few ice cream pictures I was in the mood to make some. The chocolate ice cream pictures were calling to me, but I wanted a new flavor. I remembered that Rich had requested a chocolate amaretto ice cream a while back. It is his favorite flavor to get when we go out for ice cream, but it is hard to find. After my experiments we may be going out for ice cream a little less often this summer. Who am I kidding? We go out for ice cream year round. And I have been known to eat ice cream in the dead of winter, wrapped up in a blanket to keep warm. At home. I don’t tote my blankie to ice cream shops. At least not yet.

This is a deep, dark chocolate ice cream, with undertones of almond. The amaretto gives it a little bite, but isn’t overpowering. I usually use about a tablespoon of vodka in our ice cream, especially in chocolate, to keep it a little softer in the freezer. The large amount of cocoa tends to make it hard to scoop and a little icy after a day or two in the freezer. The alcohol lowers the freezing point of the ice cream just a bit, so it stays creamier and more scoopable.

I figured I would swap in amaretto for the vodka this time. I upped the amount a bit because amaretto is lower in alcohol than vodka. I wouldn’t worry about serving this to kids, since there is less than two tablespoons of alcohol in the whole batch. It works out to less than ½ teaspoon per scoop, depending on how many scoops you get from a batch. The chocolate is pretty dark, though. There won’t be many kids who will enjoy it, though mine does. Vegetables aren’t always a go, but dark chocolate is always on the favorite list.

Rich gave this one an enthusiastic thumbs up. We are already planning a Black Forest amaretto ice cream cake for his birthday, which isn’t until late September. You never can start planning too early for these things, you know.

Do you eat ice cream all year, or only during warm weather?

Download or print just the recipe here.

Chocolate Amaretto Ice Cream
From The Cook’s Life
Makes about 1½ quarts

This is a deep, dark chocolate ice cream that might appeal more to adults than to kids.

⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup cocoa
dash salt
2 cups half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1½  tablespoons amaretto liqueur

Stir sugar, cocoa and salt together in a medium bowl. Gradually add half and half, making a paste at first to get all the cocoa mixed in thoroughly. Add vanilla and almond extracts and stir until sugar is dissolved. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions – ours takes about 25 minutes. Add amaretto during last 5 minutes of freezing. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and freeze for several hours before serving.

Black Devil’s Food Cupcakes

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I have posted on black devil’s food cake before, but not on the cupcakes. I love this cake, in whatever form I can get it. I have doubled the recipe, made a half recipe, iced it with its original fudge icing, used cream cheese icing, served it with chocolate sauce or next to ice cream. When I thought chocolate was giving me migraines, I made it with carob powder instead of cocoa. The long and short of it is – this is a great all-purpose chocolate cake. It goes together with no more than a bowl and a spoon and it bakes up in a flash.

I am giving you the half recipe today, which makes 12 cupcakes. I did not cut the icing recipe in half though. In my opinion, you can never have too much of this icing. I often double the amount when I am making the full-size cake, as it makes a nice thick coating that way. You will probably have icing left over after you ice your cupcakes. Leftover icing is never something to complain about.

I sometimes use vanilla in the batter, and sometimes not. The original recipe didn’t call for it, and made that way it is a taste of childhood. Rich, vanilla lover that he is, prefers to use the vanilla. Make the recipe the way you prefer. And if you have to make the cupcakes twice and do a side-by-side taste test, who am I to stand in the way of science?

One note – don’t use paper cupcake liners when making these. Too much of the cake sticks to them and they don’t come off cleanly. Just lightly grease the wells of the pan and the cupcakes will come out just fine.

What recipe do you make over and over again, changing it to suit your mood?

Download or print just the recipe here.

Black Devil’s Food Cupcakes
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 cupcakes

If you have time, make these the day before you need them. They only get better with age – the icing softens a bit and starts to soak into the cake and the chocolate flavor intensifies. They are also perfectly fine the day you make them.

Cupcakes:
1 cup flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
⅓ cup vegetable or canola oil
½ cup buttermilk*
1 teaspoon vanilla, optional
½ cup strongly brewed coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan. Set aside.

Stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking soda in a large bowl. Add oil, buttermilk and vanilla, if using, and stir well. Carefully stir in coffee. Batter will be very thin.

Using about ⅓ cup of batter per cupcake, fill pan. Wipe off any drips before baking. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until tops spring back when touched lightly.

Cool cupcakes in pans about 5 minutes before removing to a rack to cool to room temperature. Wait until cupcakes are cool to ice them.

* Commercial buttermilk works best. But if you don’t have any, you can substitute slightly less than ¼ cup plain yogurt and slightly more than ¼ cup regular milk, mixed together. Or measure 1½ teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice into a measuring cup and fill to the ½ cup mark with regular milk. Let stand for a few minutes before using. The cupcakes won’t rise quite as high with either substitution.

Fudge Icing:
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup sugar
dash salt
¼ cup milk
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all but vanilla in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat slightly and boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir until very thick (it will look like a thick milkshake). When you draw a spatula or spoon across the bottom of the pan, the icing will only slowly start to fill in the gap.

You need to work quickly at this point. Dip the top of each cupcake in the icing, spinning the cupcake to get a thick coat of icing. Place each cupcake back on the cooking rack for the icing to set up. Icing will run down the sides of the cupcakes, which will make them look absolutely fabulous. If icing gets too thick to dip the last few cupcakes, use a knife to spread icing on those.

There will be icing left over. It is perfect on graham crackers, pretzels or fingers.

Store cupcakes in an airtight container for several days, if they last that long. You can freezer for longer storage.

Butterscotch Brownies

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Rich and I are usually on the same page when it comes to desserts. These brownies are one of the few exceptions. I think they are the epitome of a non-chocolate dessert – soft, with a slight crust on top, redolent of brown sugar and vanilla. Rich thinks they are kind of bland. I am a lover of all things brown sugar, which could influence my feelings just a bit. And the recipe is my mom’s, so they are a taste of childhood for me.

I am not the only one who likes these, though. I always come home with an empty pan when I take them to any party. I made them for a church function once and I didn’t think I was going to get out the door without giving out the recipe to a friend. She made me promise I would send her the recipe as soon as I got home – no waiting until the next day. They are that good.

I have no idea where my mother got the recipe. It is another one of those that was always in the recipe box, ready for us to whip up a batch. I like them with pecans occasionally, but usually I like to keep them plain. You can make them a little lower in fat by substituting yogurt for half of the oil, if you like. They will be a little cakier, though still just as tasty. You can also substitute ½ cup of white whole wheat flour for the same amount of all-purpose flour to add a subtle nuttiness. Sometimes I do both variations, sometimes one or the other, and sometimes neither. They are always irresistible, at least to me. I am going to try them with butter sometime, to see if that would make me like them more. I am almost afraid to, since I always eat way too many when I make them as they are.

They are easy to mix up – requiring no more than a bowl and a spoon; and they use ingredients you probably already have on hand. You can have them baked and ready to eat in less than an hour. Mix some up soon and let me know if you are in my camp, or Rich’s.

Download or print recipe here.

Butterscotch Brownies
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 24 brownies

2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil (or ¼ cup oil and ¼ cup fat free, plain yogurt)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose flour and ½ cup white whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 by 13 pan.

Stir brown sugar and oil together until combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, salt and pecans (if using). Mix thoroughly, batter will be very thick.

Spread in pan, making as smooth as possible.

Bake 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs.

Place pan on cooling rack. Let cool about 10 minutes and then cut into squares. Let cool in pan until room temperature.

These freeze well. Easy to double.