Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bittersweet Chocolate Flats

I styled this photo over two years ago. Imagine my surprise when it showed up in today's Boston Globe! (photo shot by Wendy Maeda)

Bittersweet chocolate flats
December 2, 2009

Makes 2 1/2 to 3 dozen

Bliss is when a generous bar of bittersweet chocolate is chopped and mixed into a buttery dough with just enough flour, salt, and eggs to form a mixture that bakes into golden, crunchy flats. The secret ingredient, one that makes an ordinary cookie into a great one, is a small amount of apple cider vinegar. You won’t notice it. The vinegar accentuates gentle caramel overtones in the brown sugar. The dough is loaded with shards of bittersweet chocolate, which will leave messy, deep brown prints on your fingers. This is part of their freshly baked, ooze-with-chocolate charm.

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt, preferably fine sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 1/4 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate (between 60 and 65 percent cocoa)

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt just to blend them.

3. In an electric mixer, cream the butter on medium-low speed for 3 minutes. Add the light brown sugar in 2 additions, beating well after each one. Add the granulated sugar in 2 additions, beating well after each one. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated. Blend in the vanilla and vinegar.

3. With the mixer set on low speed, mix in the flour mixture in 2 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. Stir in the chocolate.

4. With a large spoon, make rounded 2 tablespoon mounds of batter and set them on the baking sheets, arranging them 3 inches apart (6 to 8 per sheet; the cookies spread).

5. Bake the cookies for 13 minutes or until set and golden. Let them stand on the sheets for 1 minute, then transfer to racks to cool. Store in an airtight tin. Lisa Yockelson

**For more holiday baking ideas, check out my cookie recipes in Carlie Irwin's post next week at

Brandied Raisin-Nut Cake

In today's Boston Globe is a cherished recipe that I learned from my mom. I can sense your skepticism, but trust me, it's amazing and totally worth the effort.

Brandied raisin-nut cake
December 2, 2009

Makes one 10-inch cake

At the holidays when I was a child, a large tin in the dining room held a fruit-laden cake that fascinated me. I really wanted to try some right after my family made it at the beginning of December, but the cake was soaking in brandy. This isn’t one of those red-and-green-studded cakes everyone has strong (mostly negative) opinions about. Our family’s is made with select dried fruits (I prefer figs, dates, apricots, currants, and raisins), soaked overnight with walnuts in brandy. (Tip: When you chop the fruits, coat your knife with pan spray to prevent them from sticking.) Make the batter in an electric mixer or in an oversize bowl with a hand-held mixer. Wrap the outside and inside of a 10-inch tube pan with foil so the batter does not leak. After baking, wrap the cake in brandy-soaked cheesecloth and several layers of foil. Aging for at least two weeks mellows the flavors and softens the fruit, but keep the cheesecloth moist to prevent the cake from drying out. On Christmas morning, I always ripped open Santa’s packages and made a beeline to the kitchen to devour a piece of fruit cake. Brandy and all. Maybe that’s why I have such fond memories.

8 cups chopped dried fruit (such as figs, dates, apricots, currants, apples, peaches)
1 cup raisins
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups brandy
Butter (for the pan)
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
Extra brandy (for soaking)

1. In a large bowl, mix the dried fruits, raisins, walnuts, and brandy. Cover with plastic wrap; soak overnight.

2. Set the oven at 275 degrees. Butter a 10-inch tube pan. Wrap the outside in heavy duty foil. Line the inside walls with a large strip of foil. Butter the foil.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom to blend them.

4. In an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Beat in the brown sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a large metal spoon, fold in the flour mixture. Then stir in the soaked fruits, nuts, and brandy. Spoon the batter into the pan, and smooth the top with the spatula. Cover the pan with foil, crimping the edges to seal them.

6. Bake the cake for 4 hours, rotating the pan from front to back after 2 hours. Raise the oven temperature to 325 degrees, remove the foil, and continue baking for 30 minutes. (Total baking time is 4 1/2 hours.) The cake will be very dark.

7. Cool the cake in the pan. Turn it out onto a large deep plate. Peel off the foil. Soak several layers of cheesecloth large enough to cover the top of the cake in brandy. Place the cheesecloth on top of the cake. Re-wrap the entire cake in foil. Set in an airtight tin or cover with plastic wrap. Set on a large plate.

8. Store in a cool, dry place for at least 2 weeks, resoaking the cheesecloth after 1 week.