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PRETZEL BROWNIE PIE

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Happy Birthday, George! Except, not really. George’s birthday was a few weeks ago. He’s an early April baby, an Aries, who shares a birthday with Hugh Hefner, Dennis Quaid, and Blair Waldorf herself Leighton Meester. And this Aries loooves his brownies. He’s probably one of the few guys out there who will choose to make brownies from scratch on a Saturday night just because he’s craving them something fierce. I always bake him something for his birthday and, as usual, this year I asked him if he wants anything specific. He didn’t really have an answer for me so I jumped in with “…because I saw this recipe and kind of wanted to try it.” It was a brownie. It was a pie. And it was from the previously mentioned cookbook Favorite Brand Name Baking that had the super delicious Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie. After the success of that pie, I was itching to try this “Decadent Brownie Pie” recipe. I was particularly intrigued because instead of flour it called for biscuit mix. Interesting, no? I don’t know why that sounded so interesting to me, but I was just dying to see how that would affect the flavor and texture.

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Luckily George was game, so the Saturday before his actual birthday (he would be traveling for work on the real day) I got to work in the kitchen. And of course, I changed a few things. The pie recipe calls for a typical pie crust, just like the Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie did. And we both said “Yeah, no, that sounds lame,” just like we did for the Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie. This time, I made a crust out of pretzels and store-bought shortbread cookies. It seemed more fitting, and the salt from the pretzel crust would be perfect with the chocolate. I wanted to mix it with shortbread cookies because a) the buttery flavor would add a subtle richness and b) the cookies would pulverize to a smaller crumb that the pretzel wouldn’t be able to fully achieve.

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And that gooey stuff? Yeah, that’s chocolate ganache. Say it with me now: guh-NOSH. I make a mean chocolate ganache that would even make cardboard delicious (okay, maybe that’s a little drastic). Ganache, if you’re not familiar, is a mixture of heavy cream and melted chocolate to create a liquidy chocolate sauce. You can make it a thick or thin as you like, depending on the ratio of cream to chocolate. While ice cream is always welcome, the real topping you want for this pie is the ganache. Just trust me on this. The brownie has a lighter, milkier chocolate flavor (yes, even if you use bittersweet chocolate. I used 62% from Ghirardelli). The ganache’s darker chocolate flavor and warm, gooey texture marries so well with the pie and really makes it sing. Plus, ganache could not be easier to make. For today’s purposes, I’ll lead you to a link online for ganache because I want to cover my ganache recipe in another lesson another day. (Yes, it will be worth the wait!)

The pie is actually better the second day, if that makes any sort of sense. Normally that’s the kind of thing you say about chili, not baked goods, right? But that’s what happened. If you store it in an airtight container, the flavors and moistness of the pie get to mingle a little longer and get absorbed into the entire pie. I would NOT store it with ganache, since it has dairy. Keep the ganache in a separate container, store it in the refrigerator and heat it in the microwave for a few seconds as needed. If you drizzle it over the entire pie and don’t end up consuming the whole thing like you thought you might, then just keep the whole pie in the fridge (airtight container still applies!).

Alright, that’s enough of that. Let’s get to the good stuff.

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::: PRETZEL BROWNIE PIE :::

CRUST:
• 2 cups pretzel sticks
• 10 shortbread cookies
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
• 2 TBSP sugar

PIE:
• 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (approx 6 oz by weight)
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
• 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
• 1/2 cup biscuit baking mix (I used Pioneer brand)
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 cup chopped nuts (OPTIONAL! I did not use these. While I like nuts, I don’t like them getting in the way of my homogenous brownie texture, but to each his own!)

1. Preheat oven to 325°.

2. Make the crust. Spray your desired pan (pie pan or springform) with non-stick cooking spray. Measure out your pretzels and cookies, then pulse in a food processor until you have a fine crumb.

3. Melt the butter. Mix melted butter and sugar with pretzel and cookie crumbs. If you need more melted butter to get it to stick together, then knock yourself out.

4. Press mixture to bottom and sides of pan.

5. Next, melt chocolate chips with butter over low heat (or slowly in microwave, in increments of 30 seconds. Stir in between.).

6. In bowl of electric mixer, beat chocolate mixture with sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla, and biscuit mix. Mix until smooth. Pour into pie crust.

7. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

8. While the pie is baking it’s time to make the ganache! I trust Ina Garten’s recipe, but reduce the ingredients by half. You won’t need the entire amount for this pie.

9. Serve the pie warm or at room temperature. Top with warm ganache and ice cream. Dig in. Enjoy the chocolatey coma.

What do you guys normally do for birthdays? Do you demand the traditional cake, or do you like to venture outside the box?

EASY-PEASY RASPBERRY CREAM CHEESE CRESCENT DANISH

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That was George’s response after he took his first bite. I’d say that’s a pretty solid endorsement, wouldn’t you?

I decided to make this pastry one recent Saturday morning. I wasn’t expecting miracles, or even applause, but I’m pretty sure I could’ve convinced George to buy me a Louis Vuitton bag after he took his first bite (ok, maybe not a Louis but I could’ve finagled some Tory Burch sunglasses out of it at least). I’m calling this an Easy-Peasy Raspberry Cream Cheese Crescent Danish, but it could also be called “How to impress your guests without really trying.” I’m telling you, this is reeeaaally easy. And ridiculously tasty. I generally keep a roll or two of Pillsbury Crescent dough in the refrigerator because you never know when it might come in handy. We don’t eat it very often (due to calories, or the “Lord only knows where this processed deliciousness came from” factor) but sometimes you just have to do it. This was one of those times.

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It’s the perfect thing to make for overnight guests because it requires just a few ingredients that you can assemble pretty quickly. The scent of it baking is intoxicating and they’ll be dying to dive in. And if they’re anything like my husband, they just might come a little too close to actually burying their face in it. With Easter just around the corner, it’s the perfect thing for breakfast that morning for your family (or just you, so you don’t have to share).

I’m not the first to think of this recipe, as there are bunches of very similar variations floating around the interweb. I did, however, up the fancy factor by adding a layer of fruity goodness. I prefer fruit danishes myself, and I had some jam and raspberries hanging out in my fridge. Why not make it a party?

When you’re buying the ingredients, look for the full sheet of Crescent dough as opposed to the kind that’s already cut into the classic 8 triangles. Not that you couldn’t use the 8 triangles in a pinch, but it will just be a bit easier with a solid sheet.

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::: EASY-PEASY RASPBERRY CREAM CHEESE CRESCENT DANISH:::

• 2 cans Pillsbury Crescent Roll, full sheet dough
• 1/2 c raspberry jam
• 1/2 c raspberries
• 1 tsp sugar
• 2 (8oz) packages cream cheese (softened)
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/3 cup butter (melted)
• Cinnamon & sugar
• Honey (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Heat the fresh berries in a small saucepan over medium heat with 1 tsp of sugar (white, demerrara, coconut palm, your preference). You don’t want to cook them down to jam, but you want to loosen them up, mash them, incorporate the sugar and get their oozy juices flowing. This will only take about 5 minutes.
3. Combine cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
4. Unroll and spread 1 can crescent dough on bottom of lightly sprayed 9 x 13 pan.
5. Spread with 1/2 c jam of your preference. I’m generally a blackberry or raspberry girl. If using fresh berries, top the jam with the berries.
6. Spread cream cheese mixture over top of jam layer.
7. Unroll and spread remaining crescent rolls over mixture. Spread melted butter over the top and sprinkle with plenty of cinnamon and sugar.
8. Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes. Let pan cool on wire cooling rack. WARNING! Don’t cut into them until they’re at room temperature (or you know, as close to room temperature as you can manage before letting temptation get the best of you ;-)). If you cut them while they’re too hot, the inner layers of jam and cream cheese will ooze out into a big ol’ mess and we don’t want that.
10. Cut them diagonally, cut them into squares, whatever your preference. Diagonals look fancy, but it creates weird shaped tiny pieces that are leftover. Annoying, or awesome pieces the cook gets to sneak behind the scenes? You decide.
11. I didn’t do it because it didn’t dawn on me at the time, but you could drizzle a little honey over them before serving. Hello, decadence. (Also: looks fancy, not hard. High five.)

If you don’t want to use raspberries, you could replace with strawberries, blackberries, maybe even blueberries (though those suckers I’d want to puree and cook down). You could even cook down some apples and brown sugar as your fruit layer. Bananas, too! See the possibilities? Endless!

KOUIGN AMANN: TRADER JOE’S PRODUCT REVIEW

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Trader Joe’s is my happy place. One of them, anyway. (C.Wonder, Pinterest, Stars Hollow, and beachy places also qualify. And I’m pretty sure I would love the Hamptons.) There’s just something about TJ’s that makes me cheerful, calm, and peaceful, even when it’s a busy Saturday and surely the occupancy level is over the legal limit. The employees are always so friendly, the prices are so reasonable, and everything just seems good somehow, you know? I can’t get enough, I just wish there were more locations in Columbus!

I was there two weeks ago. While passing the frozen desserts (ogling chocolate ice cream, who am I kidding) when my eyes spotted a much more intriguing temptress: Kouign Amann. Frozen. Ready to bake after a few hours of “proofing.” A box of 4 for $3.99. YOINK. In my cart that box went.

So before I go any further, surely some of you are like “Kou-what????” Kouign amann is pronounced like “queen yah-mahn.” The Trader Joe’s box told me that, but you can also find that information online. I think the first time I saw this pastry was on the Cooking Channel or Food Network. I don’t really remember much, only that it was buttery, full of flaky layers, involved caramelized sugar, and what else do I really need to know?? As David Lebovitz says, “Is there anything more fabulous than something created through the wonder and miracle of caramelization?” Kouign amann is a French thing, hailing from the region of Brittany which is why you might see this referred to as a “Breton” cake. While variations differ (is it a cake with a dense crumb or layered and flakey like a croissant?), the general consensus seems to be bananas over the flaky version. It all starts with a bread dough, and then it’s folded a bunch of times, rolled together, folded, rinse-and-repeat, with butter lovingly schmeared between each laminated layer, just like croissants. In terms of delicious factor on a scale of 1-10, it sounds like a solid 12. But it sounds tiring, doesn’t it? Oy vey.

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That’s why I love Trader Joe’s for bringing us a boxed version. All I have to do is remember to leave it out before I go to bed so the dough can “proof,” i.e. rise. One of these days I may be crazy enough to make my own attempt, but right now, who has time for that? Especially at $4 for a box of four! #gimmegimme

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We ate these like literally 5 minutes ago. They were good. Like so good that maybe we should’ve made all four just for the two of us and then just devoured them out of food-happiness. But not really because that’s a terrible idea. That thing about being a 12 on a scale of 1-10? Totally holds up. I even brought out some ganache I had in the refrigerator from a cupcake project two days prior, and you know what? We didn’t need it. It actually distracted from the delicious pastries. So keep them plain. I might try a smidge of jam with them next time, but I’ll bet you $5 (that’s more than they cost!) I’m going to say the same thing again.

To answer anyone’s suspicions, no, we are in no way affiliated with Trader Joe’s. I WISH! Hear that, TJ’s? Call me! No, this is purely out of good ol’ brand loyalty product lovin’ curiosity. So tell us—what are some of your favorite Trader Joe’s products? We could go on and on, but we’d love to know what you love!

MADELEINES: LAVENDER EARL GREY & COFFEE CHOCOLATE CHIP

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The interesting part of having a food blog is figuring out your stream of content. Not that we’re new to the blogging game, but this is probably the most commitment we’ve put into a personal blog project. And w/ a food blog, you can’t just find pretty things on the internet and repost some great idea from a new perspective. I mean, you can, but you still have to walk the walk. You gotta make the stuff! And I know, y’all are probably like “Duh, no $*!#, Sherlock” but I’m serious. What do you make when you’re not feeling inspired? Or you’re like “No, I don’t want to use that idea yet,”? So while madeleines have been on my “make for the blog” list, and more importantly “make for real life because they’re delicious” list, it took me a little while to decide what I wanted to do about them. And now that I’ve been dealing with these things for a few days, I’m chock full of ideas all around madeleines! So I really hope you like them, because they’ll be coming at you a few more times in the future (but don’t worry, it won’t be like, next week or anything.). Madeleine series? I think so!

I was hoping to have this post up sooner, but we had a fun surprise Saturday morning. As we were making breakfast, I turned on the faucet to wash my hands and oh, hey! There’s no water coming out! Isn’t that fun? That put a damper in the plans, because I was all ready to bake these puppies and photograph them. So instead we got ourselves out of the house, ran errands, and enjoyed using restrooms and running water wherever else we could. It came back on later in the day, so it wasn’t tragic. Just a classic case of #firstworldproblems inconvenience. Though I have to say, I would much rather lack running water than have the power be out. It’s the little things, you know?

Now that we’re back to normal, our water is running, the stars are aligned and Mercury is no longer in retrograde (I don’t know, I just threw that part in there), voulez-vous une madeleine?

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Have you ever had a madeleine? They’re delicious little things, all buttery, spongey and elegant with their shell-like shape. A madeleine is a petite French cake made from a bunch of eggs and sugar whipped together until the batter has tripled (approximately) in volume, then butter, flour and the other necessities are folded in until the batter is uniform. The wonderful part is that they’re not hard to make. They just require a little tender, loving care and a fancy pants pan (this pan is what I have, which I purchased from Amazon for about $12). They look fancier than they actually are thanks to the specialty pan. The other great part of madeleines is that while the basic form is delicious, it’s also just as easy to add in spices, zests, and the other usual “mix-in” suspects, just like a cookie.

For some reason, I tend to be indecisive when baking these kinds of things, so I will sometimes split a batch in half and make two different versions. In this case, I made lavender earl grey madeleines and coffee chocolate chip madeleines. I will give you the recipes for each as if you made the entire recipe as a single flavor.

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One more thing, because I’m going to lay some knowledge down. When I bake with herbs that are kind of bulky in form that will affect the texture (for instance: full rosemary needles or lavender buds as opposed to things like dried basil), I like to grind them. I have a typical home coffee grinder appliance (this guy, actually) that I use specifically for grinding spices and herbs. Lavender is just one of those things where it really comes in handy. Lavender is lovely in looks, has a heady aroma and is all romantic to include, but does anyone really want to pick the buds out of their teeth while eating baked goods? No. No, they don’t. Use it to decorate, but don’t douse your food with it in full form unless you like picking flowers from your molars (sorry dude, just bein’ real).

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: : : Vanilla Madeleines : : :

Base recipe via Martha Stewart
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Coarse salt
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted, plus more, softened, for pans
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon honey
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

— PLUS —

Lavender Earl Grey
5 tsp lavender, ground
2 earl grey tea bags
1 1/2 TBSP confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
1 TBSP confectioner’s sugar, for icing
1/2-3/4 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lavender buds for decorating

— OR —

Coffee Chocolate Chip
1 1/2 tsp ground coffee (yup, the real stuff in it’s ground form)
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks, chopped fine (mini chocolate chips will also work)
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate for dipping
3/4 – 1 tsp paraffin wax shavings

1. Whisk the dry ingredients (flour, baking power, and salt) in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. In bowl of stand mixer or in a large bowl with a handheld electric mixer, whisk together eggs, granulated and brown sugars with a mixer on high speed until pale and fluffy, about 10 minutes. The mixture will approximately triple in volume. Sift flour mixture over top in 2 additions, folding in after each addition. Fold in melted butter in 2 additions, then honey and vanilla.

3. Add in the mix-ins! For lavender earl grey madeleines, fold in the ground lavender and contents of two earl grey tea bags (dry, obviously) after adding the vanilla. For coffee chocolate chip, fold in the coffee grounds and chopped chocolate. Blend evenly. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours or up to two days I like to make the batter in the evening, let it sit in the refrigerator overnight and bake them the next day. It’s easy to fit them into your schedule that way.

3. When you’re ready to bake the madeleines, preheat oven to 350°. Let batter stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Generously butter the madeleine pan(s) using a pastry brush. (I put pans in parentheses because I only have one pan and I don’t want to make you feel like you need to invest in multiple!)

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4. Fill piping bag (or strong plastic bag with the corner cut for a 1/2″ opening) with batter. Pipe batter into molds, filling about 3/4 full. Bake on middle rack in oven, until a pale gold, approximately 8-15 minutes. The original recipe says 8-11 minutes, but my madeleines took about 14 minutes to finish so I’m giving you a broader range. Just watch them closely! If you’re baking mini madeleines as opposed to larger ones (as seen in pics), then of course the bake time will be shorter.

5. Remove tray from oven, remove madeleines from pan and let cool. Wash pan(s) and repeat process until batter is gone.

Time to garnish!

6a. Lavender Earl Grey: Sift 1 1/2 TBSP of confectioner’s sugar over madeleines. Combine remaining 1 TBSP confectioner’s sugar with lemon juice in very small bowl. Mix well and transfer to a sandwich baggie, at the bottom in a corner. Cut off the tip for a very small opening. Pip a medium-sized bead of frosting in center of madeleine and top with one or two lavender buds.

6b. Coffee Chocolate Chip: Line a plate/baking sheet with wax paper or parchment. Melt remaining 1/3 chocolate in small bowl with paraffin wax. You can do this in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between. When melted, dip a top “corner” of each madeleine in the chocolate for an asymmetrical look. Let rest carefully on lined plate/baking sheet until dry. To speed the dry time, place in the refrigerator. Just remember to remove the madeleines carefully once dry!

7. Eat the bejeezus out of these babies. YOLO.

FOOD CRUSH: BO NUAGE

Hi. My name is Mary Lynn and I’m an obsession addict. (But what does that even mean??? she whispers in a Jim Gaffigan-style voice.) It’s kind of a really intense love-at-first-sight syndrome. I get infatuated hardcore. I mean full-on heart fluttering blood racing kind of breathless mind-overtaken-by-ideas psychosis. And not with people. With things. Trends. Ideas. Food. A song (Drake’s “Tuscan Leather” at specifically 1:57—I listened to it constantly for days). Clothes. Sparkly glittery things. And then just like that, the obsession’s done. Dead and gone. It could be a day later, or three days later. My attention span is apparently very fickle. So while I’m hot on this glorious find, let’s get to it.

Image via some guy named chris a. on yelp.com

Image via some guy named chris a. on yelp.com

BO NUAGE!!!

Image via purewow.com

Image via purewow.com

It’s a schmancy bakery in Los Angeles on Melrose run by a husband and wife team from Paris. “Nuage” is the French word for cloud. The nuage treats at Bo Nuage are little cloud cakes, i.e. layers of meringue, filled with flavored whipped cream, then covered in more whipped cream and topped with shaved white chocolate.

Cross section. Image via purewow.com

Cross section. Image via purewow.com

The bakery is chic beyond belief. LOOK AT THIS PLACE. In the words of Rachel Zoe, “I. Die.” (Quick nugget about yours truly: I’m a graphic designer by trade who designs retail stores in my every day life. Hence the reason I geek out over not just food, but interior spaces as well).

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Image via purewow.com

But what really drew me in is the idea of those meringues. Aren’t they just gorgeous? And the mini sizes are so itty bitty and cute!! I’ve made pretty colored meringues before. I’ve bespeckled them in rainbow sprinkles, colored them lovely stripy colors, but I haven’t taken it to this level. WHY HAVEN’T I TAKEN THEM TO THIS LEVEL? I love finding these kinds of things. Even if my infatuation only lasts a few days, it gives me inspiration for my next baking project. While I have a few things in the hopper that I want to make, I’m trying to figure out when to fit these little beauties into my schedule.  

Image via la.eater.com

 

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Image via purewow.com

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Image via purewow.com

Funny tidbit: the founders of Bo Nuage are actually the founders of my favorite macaron place in LA, ‘lette macarons in Beverly Hills. Go figure. Did somebody say something about a small world?

Are you in the LA area? Do me a fav (ML slang for “favor”) and check this out for me, please? And report back in full detail? And send some pics? Thanks a mill. 🙂

And while we’re at it, what are you super obsessed with lately?

DOUBLE CHEDDAR BISCUITS & THE FEAR OF “MEH”

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BiscuitsYall

Simple, slightly tangy, so-smooth-and-buttery-they’re-creamy biscuits. Every year for George’s family holiday celebration I’m on bread duty. It started a few years ago when I volunteered to make rolls for a Thanksgiving dinner. They turned out…okay. Everyone seemed to like them but I was feeling pretty “meh.” They were stiff and dense without much flavor. I was hoping for something lighter, fluffier, and just all around better. So I tried a different roll recipe the next year. Now I know people’s opinion on this vary—some people never test a recipe on a group. Some people think it’s a good idea because it’s a way to gather a bunch of opinions at once. I do it simply because I generally just don’t have time otherwise. So anyway. Back to the second recipe I tested. It was also lackluster. Stiff. Dense. Not much flavor. Overall, pretty “meh.”

This year I decided to try biscuits. In an old America’s Test Kitchen email blast was a recipe for sweet potato biscuits that I’ve been saving for a rainy day. Don’t those sound delightful and interesting? That’s exactly what I said to myself. “BOY, that sounds delightful and interesting!” (Okay, maybe not exactly.) I was stoked because I thought I found my next bread for holiday dinners. And this time, THIS TIME, I was actually going to test the recipe first. Amazing, right? Long story short, I made them and was disappointed. Wah, wah (sad trombones!). Like the other bread recipes, they were also lackluster. Am I missing something? Am I just not cut out to make bready things? I’m not okay with that. Read More →

CHOCOLATE COFFEE PISTACHIO LOAF CAKE

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I was fooled into making this recipe. Here’s the story. I subscribe to PureWow e-newsletters and a recent recipe was for Chocolate Bread. Chocolate. Bread. Chocolate and bread. When I opened the email, I was thinking “These are my two greatest weaknesses,” but that’s not completely true. I would probably only say one is a serious weakness, the other is a sporadic temptation. Can you guess which one is the weakness? It’s the bread. I love bread. Which is funny b/c I don’t eat it very often but good bread? With butter or olive oil? AND SALT?? OH MAN that’s tough to turn down. Chocolate on the other hand? That depends on what it is. Something warm and gooey from the oven? Yes. Whatever it is, a chocolate warm gooey something sounds AMAZING. But random chocolatey candy? Meh. Whatevs.

Anyway, according to this recipe, chocolate and bread make a delicious baby and I couldn’t have been more excited. However, after doing some recipe comparisons and reading the comments, the PureWow version seemed like a bad idea. For one, there’s no sugar in the recipe. Does that seem strange to anyone else? Perhaps if it was truly bread-like, but there is no yeast! It’s a quick bread! Maybe even verging on cake-like. But no sugar? Seemed too dicey. Read More →