A Bakery Worth the Drive

The last few years I have spent a lot of time on the road. I’m not a “road trip” fan, but have made a conscious decision to embrace them. As much as possible, I try to do a bit of pre-drive research and seek out a few interesting places along the way – or not too far out of the way.

One of my recent trips through the Berkshires gave me the chance to discover Berkshire Mountain Bakery in Housatonic, MA, just beside Great Barrington. What a delightful discovery!  Run by Richard Bourdon – born in Quebec, trained in Europe, THIS PLACE GETS IT RIGHT. The fresh milled flour is right – the technique is right – and the “art” of bread…is right!

Their croissants are the best I have tasted in a very long time, on BOTH sides of the Atlantic. They are a perfect combo of flaky and elastic such that the layers pull apart beautifully!  The bakery is really well known for their “bread and chocolate” a sourdough full of dark chocolate chunks. Saveur Magazine recently wrote a glowing review.Click the link to have a read.

This photo is courtesy of the Saveur article - my bread was devoured in the car and never lasted long enough to be photographed!

This photo is courtesy of the Saveur article – my bread was devoured in the car and never lasted long enough to be photographed!

Of course I had to try replicating Bread and Chocolate as soon as I got home….how could I resist? My reading told me I would have to increase hydration of my sourdough. A lot. So I did. I used 100% hydration, meaning that for 1000g of flour that I added to my levain, I added 1000g of water, rather than my usual 700 g. My dough was a goopy mess! I was sure it was going to be a disaster. When it finally flopped into the pan,  I imagined myself throwing it into the garbage 40 minutes later.  But wait, it was a little less “high” coming out of the oven than my regular loaves, but…it was amazing. The dough inside was glossy and stretchy. I don’t really understand why the chocolate dictates a higher hydration level, but hey, as long as it works, I’m ok with it!

Hmm. I wonder if I could get there by the time the next batch is out of the oven. Think I will fill up the car. I want a croissant. And a pizza. And….


Don’t pass over Passover desserts..and hey, they are all dairy free!

Move over disgusting jelly rolls and dusty cookies!  Here are 3 fantastic recipes.  CMC, you know which one is yours!

try to eat just one

try to eat just one

Secret Weapon Merengue Cookies

1 cup  melted chocolate chips or any other semi-sweet chocolate

2 egg whites

½ cup sugar

½ tsp. vanilla

½ tsp. white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Melt chocolate chips.

Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until foamy. Add sugar slowly while beating and beat until peaks form (I don’t always succeed in getting peaks, and it doesn’t matter).  Add vanilla and vinegar. Fold in chocolate.

Drop onto ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake 10 minutes. Cool on rack. Devour.

“Oatmeal” Cookies

These are so good you may decide to make them all year long.

2 cups matzoh meal

2 cups matzoh farfel

1 – ½ cups sugar

2/3 cups oil ( you can reduce a bit and replace with orange juice if you want to cut fat)

4 eggs

2 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

½ cup raisins and/or chocolate chips

combine everything, drop onto parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 30 – 35 minutes.

If you want to make these “biscotti”, add some orange rind, bake in logs, cut after 15 minutes and dust with cinnamon and sugar.

Finally,…I usually don’t like Nigella, but this recipe is a winner:

this photo is crying for drizzled chocolate!

this photo is crying for drizzled chocolate!

Nigella’s Cinnamon Almond Cake

Don’t worry – the cake comes out of the oven very high but eventually falls to about a 1” thick with a wonderful moist texture and almond paste taste.

8 egg whites

3/4 cup fruit sugar*

a few drops almond extract 9optional)

grated zest of 1/2 orange

1/2 cup mild olive oil

1 1/2 cups almond flour

1 tsp baking powder (yes it is fine for Passover or omit)

3/4 cup sliced almonds

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp Passover-friendly icing sugar (approx)

* You can buy fruit sugar – sometimes called instant blending – or make it by processing granulated sugar about a minute in the food processor.

1. In a clean, grease-free bowl, whisk egg whites until opaque and start to hold their shape. Slowly add sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny. Beat in almond extract (if using) and zest.

2. Combine almond flour and baking powder. Add oil and almond flour alternately in three additions each whisk after each addition.

3. Pour mixture into a greased 9″ springform pan that has been lined with parchment paper on the bottom. Combine almonds with cinnamon and sprinkle over the top.

4. Bake in a preheated 350F oven 35 to 40 minutes (start checking at 30) until top has risen and is set, almonds are golden and a cake tester comes out clean.

5. Cool cake on a rack. When cool, open the sides and cool completely before removing cake.

6. Push or shake icing sugar through a small strainer over the cake, or do it my way, and drizzle melted chocolate over the top!

Makes 10 to 12 slices

SO WRONG. But so good…..

I have done it. I have fallen of the cliff of reason.  Folks, I have discovered something that may change the way you look at me……Mars Bar Rice Krispie Squares. I found a few recipes online, tweaked them, and… goes…. Enjoy. They take about 12 seconds to make. and 1.3 seconds to disappear.

mars bar rice kirispie squares

mars bar rice kirispie squares

4 regular-size Mars bars
1/8 cup butter
2-3 cups Rice Krispies
1 cup  chocolate chips or chopped chocolate for topping if you like.

Melt butter and Mars bars over med-low heat in a large saucepan until smooth.

Remove from heat; stir in 2 cups Rice Krispies cereal. Add more if you want to – you will be able to tell by the texture.

Press into a greased 8×8 pan – if you use an aluminum foil pan they will just pop out.

If  topping them, cover with chocolate chips, and place under broiler for 30 seconds Remove from oven and spread chocolate evenly over squares.

Store in fridge.

Cut into squares, and serve.

Promise you don’t think less of me.

The devil is in…the Brownies.

I can deal with an “ok” cookie, as long as it isn’t stale.  I love cookies and can’t resist them. But brownies and I have a special relationship.  They are my heroin. They DO make bad days better, and good days excellent. That is just the way it is. But there is no room in my life for “ok” brownies.  I have noticed that there is a divide – not quite an Obama/Romney divide (don’t get me started), but a gap nonetheless between those who like brownies cakey (gasp), fudgy (my usual) or chewy (sometimes those work too).

Essentially the difference is mostly about the egg to chocolate ratio.  I combined a few good recipes, and came up with the following:

1 stick butter (1/2 cup) – use the foil to grease the pan

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup sugar

¼ tsp salt

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

A handful of chocolate chips ( ah, how big is that handful? At least a blue glass worth )

and the magic ingredient….1 tbsp espresso coffee powder

Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square pan, line the pan bottom with parchment, and then butter the sides.

In a double boiler over simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate (not the chips). Remove the pan from the heat; cool slightly. Stir in the sugar and then the vanilla and salt. The mixture will be somewhat grainy; this is okay. Whisk in the eggs stirring each time until blended. Add the flour and espresso powder, stirring just until thickened and smooth, 30 to 60 seconds. Stir in the extra chocolate chips.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with moist crumbs (not wet batter) clinging to it, 30 to 35 minutes. I LIKE UNDERBAKING THEM A BIT!

Set the pan on a rack until cool. Run a dull knife around the inside edge of the pan and then invert the pan onto a flat surface and peel off the parchment. Flip the baked brownie back onto the rack to cool completely. Cover and place a weight on top. (really – I’m not crazy – this “densifies” them).
Refrigerate a few hours or overnight. (These freeze really well.)Cut into squares with a sharp knife.

You can double this and bake in a 9 x 13 pan.

The verdict: Life is good!  A fudgy/chewy kinda great in fact!

That ugly looking fleck is a yummy chocolate chip. Mmmm.

For those of you who need an ultimate “cheat” recipe, and a non-dairy version, here is the 5 minute version:

1 package brownie mix
1 Tbsp. espresso coffee powder
1 bittersweet chocolate bar, chopped
1/2 bag semisweet chips

Follow the directions for chewy brownies ( using 1 egg )
Underbake by 5+ minutes (depends on your oven)
Cool completely, cover and place a weight on top.Refrigerate a few hours or overnight.