Today is Franny and Jordan's 14th birthday. We started the morning off with candy-in-their-shoes. Franny requested Fran's Chocolates salted caramels, dark chocolate truffles from Chocolatier Blue, See's Candies scotchmallows, Smarties, and I threw in a small bar of Almonds & Sea Salt in Dark Choolate from Chocolove, and See's Candies peppermint twists. Jordan requested lemon drops (the good kind, i.e. not from the drugstore. I made a special trip to Sweet Dreams on College avenue in the Elmwood district of Berkeley, and while I was there, I picked up a bag of my fave, swedish fish! Jordan's right; the quality of bulk candy from a real candy store is so much tastier). Other requests were See's Candies dark almond clusters, scotchmallows, loads of Smarties, and I added Chocolove's Raspberries in Dark Chocolate, a flavor combo that Jordan really enjoys.
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Franny looks divine in this retro style dress. My bad photo doesn't capture the color well.
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Jordan looks splendid in this colorful harlequin pattern, but the dress is just too big on the top. Back it goes.
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That's one happy girl wearing a wrapping paper hat and wielding an axe—an item from her wish list!
Franny asked me to make the Rich Chocolate Tart from the recent issue of Cook's Illustrated for their birthday cake. It's proving to be completely challenging! I'm writing as I go because the recipe calls for many breaks where you refrigerate the dough before it's rolled, after it's rolled, and on and on. I think it's highly unlikely that this thing is going to come out anything like it looks in the the photo. Even after watching the free video on the Cook's Illustrated website, my dough did not come together like expected. Although the recipe did not specify, I think ice cold butter is needed. One can see that if I were writing a professional cooking blog, I'd make a recipe dozens of time before trying to document with photos and tips! Alas, it's my small kitchen, below par instruments and my inexperience bringing this recipe to you. But that's also the point of my blog, to help me remember details of a recipe, to test if it's too complicated and not worth the effort to make again, and just fun for me to do. So here goes. It's a good way to spend my Saturday since Franny and Jordan are at school in rehearsal all day anyway!
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The dough didn't come together as a ball after adding the egg mixture to the dry ingredients. My guess is the butter got too warm.
ARGH! I hate recipes that require so many special pieces of equipment. Not having a tart pan with a removable bottom is proving to be a real problem. What I have is a pastry ring (a metal ring w/ no bottom) so the ring and dough are sitting directly on a sheet pan sprayed with non-stick spray (another ARGH! I realized that I accidentally bought Pam Baking which includes flour in the spray. I was wondering why the spray function was so damn hard to press and then sprayed with such force). The recipe calls to freeze the tart shell for 25 minutes right before baking. I threw the whole sheet pan in the freezer since the sheet pan is functioning as the bottom of my crust, but then afterwards realized that the sheet pan is now ice cold and the temperature in my pre-heated oven will drop considerably. I basically said, "screw it!" and it's baking now and I have no idea how much more time may be required for it to cook, nor if I will lose the nice golden brown color due to my pan mishaps. I suppose I should have used aluminum foil as a liner for the pastry ring...doh! So I'm scrapping the photos, the details, the equipment list, etc. The recipe should be up on the Cook's Illustrated site for a few months before they make it inaccessible for non-subscribers. Send me a comment or an email if you really want the recipe and I'll see what I can do. Here's the link: Rich Chocolate Tart, from Cooks Illustrated, November & December 2013 issue

Another ARGH! butter is oozing out beneath the pastry ring while it's baking in the oven, and I don't have it on a rimmed sheet pan so hopefully it's not going to gush all over the oven! This is actually getting to be pretty hilarious. Now I'm off to make the filling...
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Given all the hardships that proceeded this step, this looks pretty good. Now to cool, three hours to set in the refrigerator, and then glaze.
Making the filling proved to be simple—thank goodness—but I had so much leftover. The recipe calls for an 11" tart pan, and I was forced to use a 9" pastry ring, but unexpectedly, I didn't have any left-over dough. Obviously I did not roll the dough thin enough. I saved the filling and if it's delicious, I'll try the tart shell recipe again tomorrow (if I dare!) or maybe will make a pie crust using Dave's recipe.
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Franny with the final product.
We're too full to try the tart now, but I'm not waiting to post. Happy birthday to my babies! 
 
 
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It's a gray Sunday afternoon and Franny and Jordan are playing Scategories at the dining room table with their friend, Charlotte, so it must be time for me to bake cookies! 

I'm making my favorite chocolate, chocolate chip cookies which are the same as Barefoot Contessa's Chocolate White Chocolate Chunk Cookies except I substitute chocolate chips for the white chocolate chunks. I do this because I always have chocolate chips in the pantry (unless Dave has eaten them all), and second, because I find white chocolate too sweet.

The contrast of the white on dark brown cookie does make for a more enticing-looking cookie, but I prefer the semi-sweet taste of the chocolate chips.

Ina Garten always scoops her cookies with a spring-loaded ice cream scooper or melon baller to get a uniform size. I don't think that's necessary because they don't have to be perfect. 

She then presses them gently with her finger (finger dipped in water so the dough won't stick) to get an even spread of the cookies as it cooks while still retaining the nooks and valleys that give this cookie a terrific texture. 

These have already been flattened. As you can see, it's a very slight depression.
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On the first batch, I forgot to make the depression with my finger, and this is how they came out. Definitely more jaggedy, but still delicious. The kids voted accordingly: Charlotte liked the first batch better, Jordan and me the second, and Franny didn't care.
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We all agree that the finger-depressed cookies look better so we plan to stick with that!
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Cookies with friends. What could be better?
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies, from Barefoot Contessa's Chocolate White Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Yield:  about 3 dozen cookies

1/2 lb. room temperature butter
1 C sugar
1 C brown sugar
2 Large (or XL) eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2/3 C cocoa powder, unsweetened

Dry ingredients
2C flour, unbleached
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

2C semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter in a standing mixer. Add both sugars, eggs, and vanilla. After mixing well, add cocoa powder. Careful, it will float up and dust everything! Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer if you want to catch the dust. Mix the cocoa powder in well. 

Gradually add the dry ingredients and be careful not to overbeat. Hand stir in the chocolate chips, scraping the bottom and the sides to mix in any dry ingredients.

Using your wooden spoon or a soup spoon, spoon the batter on to a parchment-lined sheet pan. Don't overcrowd. I usually only put 9 to a half-sheet pan. Wet fingertips and flatten slightly.

Cook for 11 minutes if making 3 dozen cookies. Ina's recipe makes larger cookies and so she cooks hers for 15 minutes. Be sure to not overcook. These are best when they are chewy in the middle but crusty on the edges.

Addendum from May 5, 2013: 
Having just written about salt, I think Ina Garten always uses kosher salt, even when she bakes. I use table salt when I bake, and you really can taste the salt in the above cookies. Personally I like this because it creates a complex umami flavor like eating caramels with sea salt. Next time I bake these cookies, maybe I'll try them with Diamond Crystal kosher salt and see if we can taste the difference. 
 
 
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Look at these lovely gift boxes of French Macarons from Tout Sweet located on the 3rd floor in Macy's Union Square.
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Decadent hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows.
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My salted caramel French macaron was light, chewy, sweet and savory!
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Forget shopping! Let's eat more pastries!