In the past few months I’ve made 4 or 5 birthday cakes and probably a dozen batches of cookies. I absolutely love it (even though a few times, I put the cake off until the last minute…and got really stressed…and drove Jarom crazy).
Seriously, baked goods make people happy. A really good cookie or slice of cake exists in its own moment – even if I am miserably unhappy, orange chocolate chip cookies bring some actual measure of joy to my life. It’s small, and it doesn’t cancel out the anguish of, say, having one of my kids die, but still. Have you eaten one of those cookies?
I think delicious baked goods are also akin to reading a fantastically good book. The kind where you’re only a page in and already telling yourself, This book is going to be so. So. Good. (My best examples of such books are Mistborn – specifically the first of the trilogy – and The Name of the Wind. Oh, and Elantris. Read them all!) There’s a feeling of giddiness: I’m experiencing something incredible. It happened to me when I went to the Harry Potter theme park with Jarom last month, and it happens to me every single time I use a tried-and-true cake or cookie recipe.
And I can’t ignore the aspect of “I made that cake, and now someone else is having that wonderful giddy feeling. I did that for them!”
So if I offer to make a birthday cake (or anytime cake) for you, or bring you a fresh batch of cookies, I mean it. I love baking.
This is one of my all-time favorite cookies. It’s so good that I even wrote down the day I first made them on my one-line calendar. I have yet to make these for someone without them asking for the recipe. So, because I’m feeling nice today, here it is:
Orange chocolate chip cookies
1 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp orange extract
1 Tbsp orange zest (about 2 oranges’ worth)
3¼ c flour
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 c chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla, orange extract, and orange zest. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Gradually add to dough. Mx in chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded spoonful onto cookie sheet. Bake 9-11 minutes, until bottom edges are barely browned.
Of course, you can cook them more if you prefer crunchier cookies. I use a cookie scoop (I’m not sure of the size) and end up with about 4 dozen delicious cookies.
Yesterday was our first attempt at trying a recipe at random from our chocolate cookbook. It took a spectacularly long time to make, possibly because I was still limping around a bit and possibly because it’s hard, for me at least, to combine attentive parenting and attentive food prep.
The resulting cheesecake wasn’t nearly as spectacular as I had hoped, given the effort I put in. Also, I’d skimmed through the recipe beforehand but not thoroughly enough to realize I should have made it on Sunday in order to eat it yesterday – or gotten up much earlier than I did. Oh well. Unless I have a fancy dinner party coming up and someone to entertain Evan and June while I get the cheesecake ready, I won’t be making this again anytime soon. That’s not to say it wasn’t good; it was rich, fluffy and creamy. If I did make it again, I would serve it with berries and possibly some lightly whipped, lightly sweetened cream. Also note that I omitted the topping because it didn’t sound great.
Black Velvet Cheesecake
from The International Chocolate Cookbook by Nancy Baggett
8 oz chocolate wafers, coarsely broken
2 oz chopped walnuts
2½ Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
pinch of cinnamon
16 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 c + 2 Tbsp sugar, divided
¼ c cocoa powder
2 lbs cream cheese, softened
5 large eggs + 1 egg white
½ c sour cream
2½ tsp vanilla extract
1½ c sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp sugar
1½ tsp cocoa powder, for garnish
To prepare the crust:
Position a rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Very generously grease a 10- by 3-inch springform pan. Combine wafers, walnuts, butter, and cinnamon in a food processor and process for about 1 minute or until nuts are ground and mixture begins to hold together. Pat crust evenly and firmly into the bottom of springform pan and about 1¼ inches up sides. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, or until tinged with brown and slightly firm when touched. Cool on a wire rack. Do not turn off oven.
To prepare the filling:
Melt chocolate in top of a double boiler over about 1 inch hot but not simmering water, stirring occasionally. Set aside with double boiler top still over bottom to keep chocolate arm. Combine ½ c + 2 Tbsp sugar, cocoa powder, and cream cheese in a large mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed until very well blended. Separate eggs, keeping whites absolutely free of any yolk. Set whites aside. One at a times add yolks to cream cheese mixture, beating on high speed until yolks are well blended and batter is very light and fluffy. Beat in sour cream, then melted chocolate and vanilla, until very well blended and smooth. In a completely grease-free mixer bowl, beat egg whites on mum speed until frothy. Raise speed to high and beat just until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining ½ c sugar and continue beating until firm but not dry peaks form. Fold egg whites into cream cheese mixture until evenly distributed throughout but not over mixed.
Turn out mixture into prepared crust, spreading evenly to edges. Jiggle pan to level the surface. Bake cheesecake for 15 minutes. Reset oven temperature to 250°F and continue baking for 50 to 60 minutes or until cheesecake is barely set in the center when lightly tapped.
To prepare the topping:
Stir together sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until well blended.
Remove cheesecake from oven and spread topping evenly over surface. Return to oven and bake for 4 to 5 minutes or until topping is smooth and melted. Transfer to wired rack and let cheesecake stand until completely cooled. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or until very cold. Carefully run a thin-bladed knife around cheesecake to loosen it from pan sides. Gently remove pan sides. Decorate entire top with a light, even sifting of cocoa powder. If desired, arrange some chocolate curls or leaves in cheesecake center and dust them lightly with powdered sugar.