tahini chocolate chip cookies

choc tahini cookie 2

I recently met a lovely girl from sydney, australia, named holly. we ran into each other while skiing and I spent the next three days winded, quads burning, trying (and failing) to keep up with her. the best part of those hours was our time on the lift because 1. I got to rest(!); 2. holly, like all australians I’ve ever met, was extremely well-traveled and had a whole arsenal of interesting stories; and 3. I just liked listening to her aussie drawl.

I’ve always been intrigued by accents – it’s so strange how the minute someone begins talking, you know whether or not they have an accent, and if you’re especially worldly, you know exactly where their accent is from. and yet, when you talk, your cadences, your pronunciation, your slang all sound completely normal.

people have told me I sound like an american tv show. like I over-pronounce all my vowels and consonants. they tell me that american english sounds like people trying too hard to speak english. to me, new zealand english is clipped, fast, full of dropped sounds. some london accents sound posh and elegant, like how I wish I spoke english, others sound like the “t” and the “r” sounds just don’t exist. actually, in a lot of accents, it seems like the “r” sound disappears. it almost makes me feel like us americans are doing english wrong.

while riding on the lift, holly and I shared a chocolate chip cliff bar with our fellow lift mate, a marathoner from london. while we chatted, I began to think that food and accents actually are quite similar. there are so many variations on the same dish – take chocolate chip cookies, for example. christina tosi of momofuku milk bar throws pretzels and potato chips into hers; jacques torres lets his sit for at least 24 hours before baking. they’re all recognizable as a chocolate chip cookie, yet all clearly distinct.

then, by serendipity, one of my favorite dessert bloggers posted a lovely new spin on a chocolate chip cookie that I just had to try. I’ve had a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe for a while now, but this recipe really might be my new favorite. in fact, it is so good, tahini may replace peanut butter as my new favorite condiment. and I ate peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every school day in high school. what can I say, I eat like an american tv show too.

choc tahini cookie 1

makes 12 cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup tahini
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (>60% cocoa; I use ghirardelli 70% cocoa chips)
flaky salt

molly yeh. salted tahini chocolate chip cookies. my name is yeh. 6 jan 2016. accessed 16 jan 2015.

1 in a bowl, cream the butter*, tahini, and sugar until light and fluffy, ~5 minutes. add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, then continue mixing for another 5 minutes. (I mixed by hand with a spatula, but you can also use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.)
2 sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. using a spatula, fold flour mixture to butter mixture until just combined. fold in chocolate chips.
3 line a baking sheet with parchment paper. using a 2-oz ice cream scoop, scoop 12 dough balls (I just used the standard-size one I have at home and it worked fine.) wrap baking sheet with plastic wrap and place in freezer for at least 12 hours (do not skip!). (if you don’t have enough room in your freezer, you can put them in the fridge until hard enough to move them to a plastic gallon bag without getting squished.) cookie dough can be frozen for up to 6 months.
4 preheat oven to 325ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or save the parchment paper from before and reuse). space the cookie balls at least 3-in apart to allow for spreading. bake for 13-16 minutes, until just golden brown around the edges. they will still look fairly unbaked in the middle. sprinkle with flaky salt immediately after they come out of the oven. allow to cool for ~20 minutes on the baking sheet (the center will set and finish baking).

*if your butter is not room temperature, melt a bit of it at a time and mix with the butter until it becomes a creamy consistency.

banana cream pie

banana cream pie 3

thanksgiving has always been one of my family’s favorite holidays.

I was born in the united states to foreign-born parents and raised speaking only english. but as soon as they saw my almond eyes and stubbornly straight black hair, everyone from my teachers to my classmates to the well-meaning grocery cashier would ask, “where are you from? but where are you really from?” though I had never identified as any nationality other than american, the people around me were all-too-ready to remind me that I did not look like them, that I was not one of them.

however, thanksgiving was a chance for us asian-americans to feel just as american as everyone else. we too could partake in the tradition – have our relatives over, eat buttery mashed potatoes and golden turkey. thanksgiving, after all, began as a celebration of the day when native americans welcomed starved, disoriented immigrants onto their soil, and the holiday became for us a sort of safe space, where we could speak in an amalgamation of chinese and english and still be perfectly understood.

some years, our thanksgiving table has had a chinese-style turkey as its centerpiece and chinatown cakes as dessert. other years, we’ve gone full-on traditional, serving up pumpkin and pecan pies, cornbread, and brined roast turkey. for the past few iterations, a new favorite dessert has crept into the mix: a banana cream pie. an all-american dessert atypical for thanksgiving, but perfect for our family gatherings. it’s a refreshing combination of airy whipped frosting, the natural sweetness of bananas, decadent french pastry cream, and a tender flaky crust – a western dessert with asian sensibility. 

looking back on the first thanksgiving, the pilgrims too took unfamiliar new world ingredients and crafted a western meal, roasting a never-before-seen bird and preparing novel vegetables alongside their native american neighbors. I imagine the native americans and the european settlers that would later become americans, two different languages, two different cultures, yet able to create a meal together. and despite all that has changed in the intervening centuries, I think – I hope – that the damage is not irrevocable and the melange of ethnicities in america lessens fear of the unknown, that almond eyes or skin tone or religion do not preclude full claim to the identification of “american”.

banana cream pie 1
makes one 10-inch pie

flaky tart dough
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup (156g) water, very cold
3 cups, 2 tbsp (455g) all-purpose flour
1 cup, 5 tbsp (300g) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1-inch pieces
3oz (85g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
pastry cream
2 cups (454g) whole milk
beans scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup, 1 tbsp (115g) sugar
2 large eggs
2-3 tbsp (55g) unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla paste
final touches
2 cup (227g) heavy cream, very cold
2 tbsp sugar
4 ripe bananas sliced horizontally into 1/4-inch rounds
3oz (85g) bittersweet chocolate bar (for curls)

elisabeth m. prueitt and chad robertson. tartine. san francisco: chronicle books, 2006.

flaky tart dough|1 in a small bowl, add salt to water and stir to dissolve. keep very cold until ready to use.
2 place flour in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. mix on low speed until mixture forms large crumbs and pea-sized chunks of butter are visible. add saltwater mixture and at low speed until dough begins to come together but is not completely smooth.
3 on lightly floured work surface, divide dough into 2 equal balls and shape each ball into 1-inch thick disk. wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours minimum.
4 on lightly floured surface, roll out disk of dough 1/8-inch thick, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions. lift and rotate dough every few rolls, and work quickly before dough becomes warm and sticky. carefully transfer to pie dish/tart pan, pressing gently into the bottom and sides. trim the dough so there is 1/2-inch overhang and fold under.
5 chill shell for 30 minutes to 1 hour (or freeze for up to 2 weeks).
6 preheat oven to 375ºF.
7 line pastry shells with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. bake ~25 minutes until shell is light brown, remove weights and paper, and bake ~5 minutes, until golden brown.
8 let cool completely on wire rack before filling.
9 in a small saucepan, bring water to a simmer. in a heatproof bowl, melt chocolate until smooth. remove from heat.
10 spread chocolate evenly over bottom of pie shell. refrigerate for 10 minutes to set chocolate.
pastry cream|1 set up all ingredients beforehand and have a bowl ready for cooling pastry cream with a fine-mesh sieve resting on the rim.
2 pour milk into heavy saucepan. add salt and sugar. on medium-high heat, bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure milk solids don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
3 in a mixing bowl, beat together eggs and cornstarch until smooth.
4 slowly ladle ~1/3 hot milk into egg mixture, whisking constantly. pour egg-milk mixture back into hot milk in saucepan and continue whisking over medium heat for ~2 minutes, until custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream. stir in vanilla extract. remove from heat and immediately pour through sieve into bowl. let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5 cut butter into 1-tbsp pieces. whisk butter into pastry cream 1 tbsp at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next one.
6 cover cream with plastic wrap, pressing wrap directly on top of cream. refrigerate until cooled. (pastry cream can be stored, well-covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days.)
final touches|1 pour heavy cream into bowl of mixer fitted with whisk attachment. whip until thickened, add sugar, and continue to whip until cream holds medium-firm peaks.
2 fold ~1/2 cup whipped cream into cold pastry cream. gently fold banana slices into the pastry cream, then transfer pastry cream to pie shell.
3 using a spatula, spread whipped cream on top. to make chocolate flakes, use a chef’s knife to shave chocolate bar at a diagonal. scatter curls over the top of the pie.
4 chill pie until pastry cream is set, ~3 hours. serve pie cool. (pie will keep in fridge for 4 days.)

pumpkin cheesecake brownies

pumpkin cheesecake brownie 2

before I moved out of the dorms my junior year, I fancied myself to be a fairly good baker. time has since taught me that I gratuitously overestimated my abilities. case in point: twice I experimented with pumpkin desserts, and twice I failed.

senior year of high school, I was gifted a terrible compilation of “essential baking recipes”. with characteristic stubbornness, I kept trying failed recipe after failed recipe until, after the worst banana bread ever created (seriously, how did the book author mess up banana bread?!), I threw the book away. but alas, before I did so, I tried a cinnamon sweet potato muffin recipe, and gifted the muffins to teachers who I hoped would write my college recommendations.

sometimes people ask me if I wish I’d done anything differently in high school. pretty high on my list: don’t give tasteless, mildly mushy baked goods to people who could decide your future.

my second attempt was a brownie swirled with pumpkin purée – basically a sadder, blander version of these amazing pumpkin cheesecake brownies from baked occasions. my friend had invited me to hang out with his beautiful actor-dancer friends. these kids were a few weeks out from winter showcases and what did I bring them? some calorie-loaded gifts. suffice to say they were not a hit. as one girl muttered under her breath, “I’m not wasting my calories on this.” (rude, but accurate.)

since then, I’ve learned quite a bit: first, pumpkin purée can be quite bland, and as the starbucks pumpkin spice latte has taught me, much of the so-called “pumpkin” flavor comes instead from the spices. second, when pumpkin is involved, you can never have too much cinnamon. third, not everything has to be a success – learning to cook and bake has at times been incredibly humbling.

after all the wonderfully awkward social situations I’ve caused with fire alarms and hours-late birthday cakes and bad baked goods, I have learned much from my failures and have come to appreciate the successes that much more. fudgey and moist with creamy swirls of spiced pumpkin cheesecake throughout, these pumpkin cheesecake brownies are a real deal.

pumpkin cheesecake brownie 1
makes one 9•13in pan

pumpkin cheesecake
1 package (8oz/226g) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp (75g) sugar
3/4 cup (178g) pumpkin purée
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ginger
brownie
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp (105g) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
8 oz (225g) dark chocolate (60-72% cacao), chopped
1 1/2 sticks (170g) unsalted butter, cubed
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp (85g) light brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

matt lewis, renato poliafito. baked occasions.new york: stewart, tabori, and chang, 2014.

cheesecake|1 using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix cream cheese and sugar until smooth and creamy. add pumpkin, egg yolk, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger, and mix again until well-blended. cover and refrigerate while you make the brownie layer.
brownie|1 butter sides and bottom of 9x13in pan. if pan is light-colored/glass, preheat oven to 350ºF (I used a dark-colored pan at 330ºF.) line the pan with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.
2 in a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt.
3 place chocolate (I used dark chocolate chips) and butter in a large, heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water (double-boiler method), stirring occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted smooth, and combined. turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add both sugars. whisk until completely combined, then remove bowl from pan. add two eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. add the remaining egg and vanilla extract and whisk until just combined.
4 sprinkle flour mixture over chocolate mixture. using a spatula, fold them gently together until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.
5 pour 2/3 brownie batter into the prepared pan and smooth on top. pour the pumpkin cheesecake mixture over the brownies and smooth into an even layer. drop the remaining 1/3 brownie batter in heaping tablespoons on top of pumpkin layer. use a knife to gently pull through batters to create a swirl.
6 bake, rotating the pan halfway through baking time, for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs. let cool completely in the pan.
7 brownies can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
 

chocolate chip cookies

chocolate chip cookie 1

over the years, I have tried many cookie recipes involving somewhat exotic steps: brown the butter, or melt the butter then steep the tea bags in the butter, or even use bread flour and cake flour and refrigerate the dough for over 24 hours, etc. some have resulted in failure made more painful by hours/days of effort; others have turned out surprisingly well.

but sometimes its not worth it to spin the roulette of fastidiously fancy baking. sometimes, you want a back-to-the-basics, surefire recipe.

last week, after somewhat foolishly agreeing to both bake enough sweets for 40 people and work overtime, I found myself in dire need of a fast and easy classic cookie recipe. as the clock ticked towards midnight, I whipped these together in record time and was asleep by 1am.

I am a notorious over-planner – I spend weeks on researching everything from vacation plans to every article I could possibly need for my papers. I stressed over the fact that I had not tested out the cookie recipe beforehand – they could be terrible! (or worse, decent, but disappointing.)

the cookies came through. they were chocolately and soft and chewy with a little kick of salt, my ideal kind of chocolate chip cookie. one greedy coworker even took five for his “friends”. (I am certain he ate all five – one for each of his thieving sausage fingers – gleefully on the bus ride home.)

but whatever, I’m not too mad. (though I’m not above publicly shaming him: shame on you! learn how to share!) I learned a wonderfully easy new cookie recipe that I am happy to share with you (in a way my coworker prevented me from sharing with others).

…okay. maybe I’m still a little salty.

chocolate chip cookies 2
makes 18-20 cookies

1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tbsp (25g) sugar
2 tbsp (25g) turbinado sugar
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp (165g) packed light/dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 + 1/8 tsp fine salt
1 3/4 cup (220g) all-purpose flour
1/2 lb (225g) bittersweet chocolate (I used ghiradelli 70% chocolate disks)
flaky sea salt

ashley rodriguez. chocolate chip cookies revisited. not without salt. 27 june 2010. accessed 23 may 2015.

1 heat oven to 360ºF. line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2 in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (~5 minutes). scrape down sides, then add egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated.
3 scrape down sides, beat in fine salt and baking soda until combined, then add flour at low speed until just mixed. the dough will look a little crumbly. using a spatula, fold/stir in chocolate chunks.
4 scoop cookies into 1 1/2 tbsp mounds, spacing at least 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheet(s). sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt. bake for 11/12 minutes, until golden on the outside but still very gooey and soft on the inside. remove from oven and let rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.

brownies

brownie 1

there are certain recipes that really can only be enjoyed in season; a pumpkin pie in april would just feel wrong. an apple pie tastes best when made with freshly-picked apples on a brisk fall day. but the brownie transcends seasons. when I’m living with the terrifying uncertainty of whether my car is driving or sledding, brownies are the perfect de-stressing recipe. when the outside temperature hits 61ºF and everyone jumps to wear t-shirts (when 61º really isn’t that warm) brownies are there to stick to spring-chilled bones.

the first time I made these brownies, the mid-atlantic had just been hit with an aggressive daytime snowstorm. for days afterwards, the backroads were reduced to paths of packed snow, more fit for horse-drawn sleighs than for cars.

the second time I made these brownies, less than a week later, the snow had melted to reveal destroyed roads littered with deep potholes that force realignment of your car frame (and your spine) every time you hit one.

with quintessential british understatment, nigel slater describes his brownies as “very good.” these are beyond “very good;” they are dense and fudgy without being mushy, structured without being cakey, and somehow achieve the elusive crisp crackly top. they are so good, I made them twice in two weeks, partially because my coworkers incessantly demanded it, but also because they really are just that good.

brownie 3

makes one 8×8 pan

1 1/2 cup (300g) sugar
(250g) butter
8.8 oz (250g) chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup (60g) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (60g) cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of kosher salt

nigel slater. the kitchen diaries. london: fourth estate, 2005.

1 preheat oven to 350ºF. line 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper.
2 in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat sugar and butter until white and fluffy.
3 break chocolate into pieces, set 50g aside and melt the remaining 200g in a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water. as soon as the chocolate has completely melted, remove from heat. chop remaining 50g into gravel-sized pieces.
4 break eggs into small bowl and beat lightly. sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. with the stand mixer on low, add the eggs slowly. remove bowl from mixer and using a spatula, mix in melted and chopped chocolate. gently fold in flour cocoa mixture without knocking any air out.
5 scrape mixture into prepared cake tin, smooth top, and lightly scatter a little large-flaked kosher salt on top. bake for 30-33 minutes, until the top has risen slightly and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out sticky but without raw mixture attached to it. leave to cool for at least an hour before cutting into squares.

chocolate marshmallow cupcakes

chocolate marshmallow cupcake

I recently found out that that one of my old college haunts, kickass cupcakes in somerville, ma, closed quite suddenly, leaving behind a quickly vacated storefront littered with empty boxes and shreds of paper.

though I loved kickass, I have to say, their cupcakes were quite hit-or-miss. one time I bought some kind of margarita cupcake from them, and they literally injected it with tequila. it was soggy and tasted of cheap tequila and not much else. and it cost me $4. though their experiments could be disastrous, I always found them endearing because they reflected a staff unafraid to take risks.

but then they went bankrupt.

when I heard they had closed, I chalked it up as another victory for the risk-averse – to try and build a business on a food fad almost always results in failure. but then I remembered their monthly cupcake testing “happy hour”, when they served samples of new flavors for free. for an hour, kickass cupcakes became a neighborhood hangout, bringing together college students, young moms, professors, and the elderly folk of somerville. kickass truly loved cupcakes and remained committed to pushing the boundaries, and that in itself is a victory.

as my love for baking grew, cupcakes fell to the wayside. when it comes to dessert, I much prefer making large statement cakes or pies adorned by billowing swirls of cream. in comparison, cupcakes seemed plain, limited in potential, and frankly, boring. but this cupcake recipe kind of nails it. it’s a little controversial (some people didn’t love the sticky-sweet meringue coupled with the bittersweet chocolate cupcake) and it’s no kickass cupcake – I’m not that crazy, or imaginative – but it reminded me that cupcakes can be more than pretty icing atop a sweet bite of cake.

chocolate marshmallow cupcake 3

makes 18-20 cupcakes

CHOCOLATE CUPCAKE
1 3/4 cup (250g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup (300g) sugar
3/4 cup (60g) cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup (240mL) strong black coffee (or 1 heaping tbsp instant coffee powder dissolved in (slightly less than) 1 cup warm water)
1 cup (240mL) buttermilk
1/2 cup (120mL) vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
CHOCOLATE GANACHE
4 oz (113g) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 tbsp (56g) butter
1 tsp light corn syrup
MARSHMALLOW MERINGUE
4 egg whites
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar

kristin rosenau. s’mores cupcakes. pastry affair. 9 april 2012. accessed 25 feb 2015.

CUPCAKE|1 preheat oven to 350ºF (conventional NOT convection setting). line cupcake pan with baking cups.
2 using a stand mixer with whisk attachment, mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. with mixer on low, add eggs, coffee, buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract, then beat on medium speed to mix. batter will be thin and watery.
3 ladle batter into baking cups, filling them 2/3 of the way for flatter cupcakes or 3/4 of the way for domed cupcakes. bake for 18-20 minutes, until toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean with a few crumbs. cool cupcakes to room temperature (~1 hour) before decorating.
GANACHE|1 while cake layers bake, combine chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium heat. remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature (~30 minutes) until it reaches a spreadable consistency, stirring occasionally.
MERINGUE|1 boil water in a large pot. in the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together eggs and sugar, then place over large pot of water. continue whisking until sugar is completely dissolved and egg whites are warm to touch, about 3-4 minutes.
2 remove mixture from heat. using a stand mixer, beat egg whites on medium speed until they form stiff, shiny peaks, 5-8 minutes.
ASSEMBLY|1 using a knife or offset spatula, spread thick layer of ganache on top of cupcake, extending chocolate to the edge of the cupcake. let set for a few minutes.
2 fill pastry bag with marshmallow meringue and pipe meringue on top of cupcake. turn oven on broil and place cupcakes on cookie sheet so the tops of the cupcakes are ~1 inch away from the broiler. broil for 30 seconds-1 minute, until a lightly toasted brown.