Yesterday's events at the Capitol left us feeling enraged, sickened, and frankly, exhausted. While everyone processes in their own way, we wanted to offer a bit of levity and a kitchen distraction if that's the way you've been coping or taking care of your mental heath during an already heavy start to 2021.
Of all the design choices Justin and I made in our home, a cookbook wall (pictured in this highlight!) in the kitchen ranks as one of our favorites. We love to display the reliable, the new, and the immaculately designed, especially since it encourages us to use the cookbooks more frequently than we would if they lived buried in a cabinet.
It also became one of the most asked-about features of our space on Instagram, so in early December, I decided to cook my way through each one on stories, starting with Dessert Person, Claire Saffitz's love letter to all things sweet, doughy, and delicious. I hadn't expected to fall so hard for a cookbook, but after the first few recipes, I found it tough to stop.
And so in December I began to bake...a lot.
I tried a flourless chocolate cake, pistachio pinwheel cookies, minty lime bars, coffee coffee cake, brown butter and sage sables, malted chocolate brownies, a Meyer lemon tart, almond poppy seed cake, kouign-amann, a classic chocolate chip cookie, a St. Louis gooey butter cake, and chewy molasses spice cookies (are you salivating yet?). At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, a significant portion of these recipes led to some of the best baked goods I've ever had (and you can see them all in this highlight), but a few in particular stood out. Without further ado, here are three of the best recipes I've made from Dessert Person (so far):
Makes 16 Brownies
Active Time: 35 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour, plus time to cool and 1 hour for chilling
You will need:
8 × 8-inch pan (preferably metal)*
Butter for the pan
¼ cup Dutch process cocoa powder (0.7 oz / 20g)
5 ounces (142g) semisweet chocolate (preferably 64 to 68% cacao), coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3 oz / 85g), cut into pieces
¼ cup neutral oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed (2 oz / 56g)
½ cup granulated sugar (3.5 oz / 100g)
½ cup packed dark brown sugar (3.5 oz / 100g)
1 large egg (1.8 oz / 50g)
2 large egg yolks (1.1 oz / 32g)
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup all-purpose flour (3.5 oz / 100g)
2 tablespoons malted milk powder (0.63 oz / 18g) (optional)
1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (0.11 oz / 3g)
6 ounces (170g) milk chocolate, coarsely chopped (1 cup)
How to make it:
1. Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8 × 8-inch pan with 2 sheets of foil, crossing one over the other and pressing the foil into the corners and up the sides. Lightly butter the foil and set aside.
2. Bloom the cocoa: In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the cocoa powder and ¼ cup boiling water (4 oz / 113g) until smooth (this will bring out the flavor of the cocoa).
3. Melt the chocolate, butter, and oil: Add the semisweet chocolate, butter, and oil to the bowl with the cocoa mixture and set it over a medium saucepan filled with about 1 inch of simmering (not boiling) water (make sure the bottom of the bowl isn’t touching the water). Warm the mixture gently, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and let cool until lukewarm.
4. Add the sugars and egg: Whisk the granulated and brown sugars into the chocolate mixture. It will look grainy and you might see some of the fat start to separate from the rest of the mixture, which is normal. Add the whole egg, egg yolks, and vanilla and whisk vigorously until the mixture comes back together and looks very thick, smooth, and glossy.
5. Add the dry ingredients: Add the flour, malted milk powder (if using), and salt and whisk slowly until everything is combined, then whisk more vigorously until the batter is very thick, a full 45 seconds.
6. Fold in the chocolate and bake: Add the milk chocolate to the batter and fold with a flexible spatula to distribute. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading in an even layer all the way to the corners.
7. Bake the brownies until the surface is shiny and puffed and the center is dry to the touch but still soft when pressed, 25 to 30 minutes.
8. Cool, chill, and cut: Allow the brownies to cool in the pan until they are no longer hot, about 1 hour, then refrigerate until the bottom of the pan feels cold, about 1 hour longer (this results in a chewier texture). Use the ends of the foil to lift the brownies out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Slice the brownies into 16 squares.
Makes about 42 Cookies
Season: All | Active Time: 45 minutes | Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes (includes 1 hour for chilling) | Difficulty: 2 (Easy)
You will need:
Stand or hand mixer
3¾ cups all-purpose flour (17 oz / 488g)
1 tablespoon baking soda (0.63 oz / 18g)
2½ teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1½ sticks unsalted butter (6 oz / 170g), melted and cooled to room temperature
1½ cups packed dark brown sugar (10.6 oz / 300g)
2 large eggs (3.5 oz / 100g), at room temperature
½ cup unsulfured molasses (5.6 oz / 160g)
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (0.33 oz / 9g)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup demerara sugar, for rolling
How to make it:
1. Mix the dry ingredients: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, ginger, pepper, allspice, salt, and cloves. Set aside.
2. Make the dough: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until slightly pale, about 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the molasses, vinegar, and vanilla and beat until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until the last trace of flour disappears. The dough will be very soft and sticky.
3. Chill the dough: Divide the dough in half, wrap each half in plastic, and press into a 6 × 6-inch square. Refrigerate the dough until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
4. Preheat the oven and prepare the pans: Arrange two oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
5. Roll the dough into balls: Place the demerara sugar in a small bowl. Remove one square of dough from the refrigerator, portion into 1-ounce (28g) pieces, and roll each into a ball (they should be about 1¼ inches in diameter). Toss the balls in the demerara sugar to coat all over, then place on the prepared baking sheets, spaced about 3 inches apart (the cookies will spread during baking). Refrigerate any balls that don’t fit on the baking sheets.
6. Bake: Bake on the upper and lower racks until the edges are firm to the touch but the centers are still very soft and slightly shiny, 12 to 14 minutes, switching racks and rotating the sheets front to back halfway through. *
7. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes on the baking sheets before using a thin spatula to transfer them to a wire rack. Repeat the rolling and baking process with the remaining dough and demerara sugar.
DO AHEAD: The cookies, stored airtight at room temperature, will keep up to 5 days. The dough can be refrigerated up to 3 days. You can also roll the dough into balls and toss in sugar, then arrange them in tight rows on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and freeze solid. Transfer the balls to a resealable plastic freezer bag and keep frozen up to 2 months. No need to thaw before baking, but extend the bake time by a couple of minutes.
*The cookies will look nearly raw in the center when you pull them out of the oven, but they will continue to set as they cool. The key to the soft and chewy texture of these cookies is, simply, underbaking them. If you like a crispier spice cookie, bake them 2 minutes longer.
Season: All | Active Time: 35 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus time to cool | Difficulty: 3 (Moderate) Gluten-Free | Dairy-Free
You will need:
9-inch springform pan, stand or hand mixer
Neutral oil and sugar for the pan
10 ounces (283g) semisweet chocolate(preferably 66 to 68% cacao), coarsely chopped (1²⁄³ cups)
½ cup neutral oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed (4 oz / 112g)
3 tablespoons amaretto or dark rum (1.5 oz / 43g)
6 large eggs (10.6 oz / 300g), separated
½ cup almond flour (2.1 oz / 60g), sifted if needed to break up lumps
1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt(0.11 oz / 3g)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar(4.4 oz / 125g)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
How to make it:
1. Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the bottom and sides of the springform pan with oil, making sure to coat it all the way to the rim. Dust the inside of the pan with sugar, rotating the pan to coat the entire surface, then tap out the excess. Set the pan aside.
2. Melt the chocolate mixture: In a large heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate, oil, amaretto, and ¼ cup of water (2 oz / 57g). Fill a medium saucepan with about 1 inch of water and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and set the bowl over the pan (the bottom of the bowl shouldn’t touch the water). Stir often with a heatproof spatula just until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is completely smooth. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
3. Whisk in the yolks and almond flour: Thoroughly whisk the yolks into the cooled chocolate mixture. It might look separated, which is normal. Whisk in the almond flour until the mixture comes back together and looks smooth and glossy. Set the bowl aside.
4. Whip the egg whites: In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the egg whites and salt on low speed to just to break up the whites. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the whites form soft peaks. Gradually add ½ cup of the sugar (3.5 oz / 100g) in a slow, steady stream, beating constantly. Once all the sugar is added, increase the mixer to high and continue to beat just until the meringue is very dense and glossy and forms a stiff peak off the end of the whisk.* Beat in the vanilla.
5. Fold the meringue into the chocolate mixture: Transfer about one-quarter of the meringue to the bowl with the chocolate mixture and whisk until a few streaks remain. Add the remaining meringue in 2 additions, gently folding it into the chocolate mixture each time with a large flexible spatula in order to maintain the airiness of the meringue. Don’t worry if a few streaks remain in the batter; it’s preferable to mix it less rather than more.
6. Fill the pan and bake: Gently pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the surface with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until the top is crisp, the cake has dramatically risen, and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool completely on a wire rack. It will gradually fall and slump in places, making wavy lines all the way around.
7. Serve: The cake should pull away from the pan, but cut around the sides with a paring knife or small offset spatula just to make sure. Remove the outer ring of the pan and serve.
DO AHEAD: The cake, well wrapped and stored at room temperature, will keep up to 3 days but is best served on the first or second day.
*Try not to overbeat the meringue, since this will make it difficult to incorporate it into the chocolate mixture. Watch it closely for any sign of the surface changing from glossy to matte—you want it very stiff but still glossy and smooth.
Recipes reprinted from Dessert Person. Copyright © 2020 by Claire Saffitz. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Alex Lau. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House