Tags: baking, Cake, Chocolate, First Love, vanilla, Zebra Cake
Dear Readers ,
First off, the above is a transitional header and name (desserts and line drives was too long). I still haven’t decided where I’m going to go with this, but I got sick of looking at that ugly, old header.
Secondly, please excuse these old photos, but love this cake. Not only is it cool to look at – but it’s moist, delectable and easy to make.
Love ‘n stuff,
Back in January of 2011, my computer crashed. The hard drive was annihilated. I lost all of my photos. Some of those photos were of several amazing and somewhat laborious, treats, two of the treats that I especially mourn to this day. One was a beautiful Tourte Milanese – layers of colorful, roasted vegetables, serrano ham and softly scrambled, herbed eggs encased in golden puff pastry. The other was a Gateau Basque, best described as a mix of a cake, cookie and pie, from the Basque region of France, filled with luscious almond pastry cream and homemade cherry jam. They were both so lovely, aesthetically, and exquisite in flavor, that I did everything I could with the dead hard drive, bringing it from place to place, to see what they could retrieve from it.
Wouldn’t you know it, they were able to get most everything off of it EXCEPT the laborious treats and the Tourte Milanese and Gateua Basque. Why? Why? Why?
I still hold on to that drive with the hope that, miraculously, someone will be able to find and extract even one photo of each. The truth is, the two that slay me, were also a little labor intensive, and I haven’t had the time or motivation to really dig into recreating either. Plus, I don’t often get good photos, but by some stroke of luck, the photos of these two extravagant goodies, including the prep photos, were some of the best I’ve ever taken. Again..
Why? Why? WHY?
Here’s the kicker, a group of photos of a zebra cake I made in 2007, were all there, well, most of them..(some of the prep photos didn’t make it)..in perfect condition. These photos were from a time before a food blog was even a twinkle in my eye. Back then, I took quick shots with a point and shoot, under kitchen lighting, and sometimes I used *gasp* a flash.
They were also able to pull these 2009 peanut butter cup brownies off the drive. One problem, though..just the one photo you see above the zebra batter, when there were originally 10 full size photos. This one had been cropped already.
Barring the photo quality, it’s a pretty cool looking cake..so I decided to post it. As I mentioned in my last post..I haven’t had the time to cook or bake anything really blog worthy, unless you consider boiled, boxed pasta with a simple tomato sauce and sloppy tuna sandwiches on wheat toast, blog worthy. In other words, I haven’t felt like spending hours sifting through 100 photos of sloppy tuna salad, and then hours of post-processing the best of the bland.
At least the ugly overnight oatmeal had a little pizzazz with the use of an almost empty peanut butter jar and the near endless possibilities of add-ins.
So, here’s my zebra cake, in all it’s ancient point and shoot glory. I love the way the stripes came out, and it was quite moist and tasty, therefore – blog worthy. However, for some reason I cannot recollect nor fathom why I placed the cake slices on top of a cheap cake turntable. It looks weird. Please look at the cool, zebra stripes and blur out the weird-looking cake turntable. I’m uhh, kinda embarrassed!
I want you all to make this cake and impress everyone you serve it to It’ll look better on your plate and table than it does in these antiquated photos. Oh, and make the peanut butter cup brownies too! Had to add that.
- 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped..or chocolate chips
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
- 3 large eggs
- 1¼ cups granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ⅓ cup creamy peanut butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 10 regular size Reese’s peanut butter cups, coarsely chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. I line the pan with foil or parchment paper, making sure there is overhang to use as handles to lift out the brownies, Spray/grease foil or parchment if you use this method.
- Microwave chopped chocolate and butter for about 45 seconds. If not mostly melted, microwave for 20 more seconds. Stir until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder and espresso powder. Set aside. OR, melt in a double boiler.
- Whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, peanut butter and salt until combined. Whisk the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Stir in the flour until just combined. Fold chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups into batter. Pour mixture into pan, spread evenly and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula.
- Bake approximately 35-40 minutes. Brownies will be slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out mostly clean. Cool to room temperature for about 2 hours. Cut into 1″ squares. Store in a tightly sealed container; preferably in the refrigerator.
- Chocolate and Vanilla Zebra Cake
- 2¼ cups cake flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup vegetable oil or coconut oil.. or butter*
- 1½ cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
- 1 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream (milk is fine too)
- Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- * If using butter, cream it together with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, until each one is fully incorporated. Add vanilla extract. If using oil, beat together the eggs, oil, and sugar until light and fluffy, then add vanilla extract.
- Alternate adding the flour mixture with the yogurt or sour cream or milk, starting and ending with the flour. Do not over mix.
- Now - This is where it all begins with the batter to make the zebra pattern.
- Here's a video that shows you the zebra method, and another one using a spoon, which is how I do it, AND one more for good measure, since my step-by-step photos weren't recovered. I didn't use pastry bags, (good idea, though), just tablespoons and less batter of each color per drop than what you see in the video, to produce stripes that are closer together. The below instructions explain how I did it.
- Divide the batter in half, into two separate bowls, and add about 3-5 T of dark cocoa (I use Dutch Processed) to one half of the batter. If the white batter is too runny, add 3-5 tablespoons of flour to it. You want the white and chocolate batter to be close in viscosity.
- To start..you'll be 'layering' 1 to 3 tablespoons of each batter, right on top of one another into a lightly greased 8 or 9-inch cake pan.(I add a parchment circle, and lightly grease that too). I used an 8-inch round cake pan.
- Starting with the white batter drop 1-3 tablespoons on the bottom of the pan, then drop 1-3 tablespoons of the chocolate batter right on top of the white batter, in the middle, then 1-3 tablespoons of white on top of the chocolate, then repeat with the white batter in the middle of chocolate batter. Keep alternating batters in the center of each until you've used up both batters. It will look lopsided at several points..spreading more to one side of the pan, but by the time you're close to finished, it'll start to even out. It should look like a bullseye of white and dark batter, as you can see in the photo right below this recipe
- The less tablespoons of batter you use, the closer together the stripes will be. I used 2 tablespoons batter of each per drop..but use up to 4 for thicker stripes.
- Bake in a preheated 350F oven for anywhere from 35 to 45 minutes. A toothpick or skewer inserted in the center of the cake, should come out clean when it's done.
- Try this with other flavors/colors, like matcha with the chocolate, pistachio paste, or raspberry syrup or ground, dehydrated raspberries. You can make this cake a kaleidoscope of stripe. Let your imagination run wild!
butter* - I've heard that all butter prevents you from getting a tight zebra pattern like mine. It will still 'zebra', but not like what you see here.
Tags: Brownies, Chocolate, cream cheese, Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies
The ‘ummm’ in the title refers to the fact that I don’t believe there is a ‘best’ of anything, especially when it comes to food, but it’s a term that’s used quite often in many situations to spark people’s curiosity enough to take a look at and maybe try it. My original title was going to be ‘Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies’. How original and witty!!
My quest for the perfect peanut butter cheesecake swirl brownie came about when I wanted to create something for someone I used to know who loved peanut butter, cheesecake and dark chocolate. Well, that someone is no longer a someone in my life, so, if you want to look at it in a spiritual sense, that batch of brownies not turning out the way I had hoped was for a reason.
Brownie kismet, perhaps?
Now it was time to literally start over and give this brownie another few shots. Another few shots is actually an understatement, since it took 4 more tries before I was satisfied with the results.
This was my first attempt back in April. WHERE’S THE CHEESECAKE? They tasted good and were super tender and moist – but it wasn’t even close to what I was striving for.
The first attempt was back in late March-early April, the last 4 attempts were in a span of one week. I usually keep a clean work space (well, try to) when cooking and baking, but by the 4th attempt, as you can see below, I said “Fluck it!” and basked in a heavenly mess of chocolate, peanut butter, empty cartons, egg shells.. ad whaddamessitum! I was getting peanut butter in my chocolate amd chocolate in my peanut butter.
Yes, it can happen in baking, but it’s a little far-fetched when some dude is walking down the street eating peanut butter from a jar and a gorgeous woman comes flying out of nowhere and slams into him, spiking her chocolate bar into his jar of peanut butter. They fall in love, invent the peanut butter cup, and become multimillionaires – until he leaves her for the hot, young blonde in his office who turns him on to Mentos.
I even stepped on a few empty, cracked egg shells that hit the floor and ignored the smushed little white bits of *calcium, some of which stuck to my shoes – occasionally leaving a trail of little white specks for my cats to swat. I was in a zone! The world could have ended, and I would have still been melting, mixing, beating, swirling, as I disintegrated into ash.
What I wanted was an obvious cheesecake bite and texture in my brownie – heavy on the peanut butter flavor in the cheesecake batter. In a lot of cheesecake swirl brownies, the cheesecake batter kind of melts into the brownie batter, a swirl or bit here and there, along with a slightly tangy, moist bite, which isn’t a bad thing at all – BUT, I wanted a big bites of cheesecake. Think of a cheesecake with a brownie crust, but divide and swirl both together. In other words, creamy chunks of cheesecake easily distinguishable visually, texturally, and palatably throughout the moist, dense fudgy brownie.
I searched online, and was surprised to see that there weren’t many PEANUT BUTTER cheesecake swirl brownie recipes. In fact, I found just three along the lines of what I envisioned, one from Bon Appetit, which was just a layer of brownie topped with a peanut butter cheesecake-chocolate swirl…so, no. The second was from Anna at Cookie Madness, which look great, but no chunks, and the last one at Baking Blonde’s Weblog, which are topped with Reese’s peanut butter cups – BUT, as mentioned above, I wanted those cheescake chunks and more peanut butter.
From there, I decided to just look for plain cheesecake brownies ( 1 TRILLION hits), and ended up at David Lebovitz’s Cheesecake Brownies, which was exactly what I was looking for – a good amount of thick, creamy cheesecake distributed throughout the brownie. Now the conundrum – how was I going to incorporate the peanut butter seamlessly, and what adjustments do I need to make to get that same bite and effect, with a distinct peanut butter flavor, in the cream cheese batter? This is where my journey to the last four attempts began.
I tried several different amounts of peanut butter and cream cheese, and whole eggs versus egg yolks, until I finally came to what I think is pretty close to the ultimate ‘loaded’ peanut butter cheesecake brownie. One trick to get those lovely swirl/chunks of cheesecake, is to pour half the brownie batter into the bottom of the pan, then spoon several dollops of the peanut butter cheesecake batter on top. DO NOT swirl/marble them together.
Yep, you read that right, no swirling allowed in step one!
Step two..gently pour/scrape the remaining brownie batter on top of those dollops of peanut butter cheesecake goo, spreading it delicately, and top the remaining brownie batter with more dollops of the remaining cheesecake batter. NOW you can swirl away. Just the top though, although it’s ok if the first layer gets swirled a bit, just not too much, as you want those cheesecake chunks (well, I know I do.).
I brought some of my attempts, and the final brownies, to my gym. Veering wayyyy off topic for a moment, I’m now doing my PT in this awesome, state of the art gym. Heat treatment and deep knee massages prior to getting my booty whipped, vibrating electrode ice treatments after getting my booty whipped. Top of the line work-out machines, all with digital cable TV’s and Ipods, (although the music they blast in the gym is awesome, a lot of classic rock) loads of great classes (just signed up for Pilates and Kickboxing), a driving range out back, along with one of my favorite ‘sports’ to play..ever, miniature golf.
Is that considered a sport?
That said, knee massages sound great, right? Well, it’s painful while it’s happening, but in a good way. It’s what you feel the next day that isn’t good. The first three sessions, the post massage mornings were hell. They’re manipulating my knee in ways it’s never been manipulated, not to mention my quad, which needs to be built up again to support my knee, since it was pretty much atrophied for quite a while. However, the pain doesn’t last too long, and is starting to ease up, depending on which Physical Therapist massages it, so no complaints here since……
I can WALK again!
We’re talking without a brace, walker or cane! So what if I walk like Herman Munster for now, and it isn’t easy yet? I can finally freakin’ walk!! I’ll touch on that more in my next entry, along with a funny story regarding two women, one of them moi, and most men’s obsession with two women.
Back to the brownies. Everyone who tasted them, especially the final brownie, said I should sell them, so I’ll take that as a good sign that maybe they could be the ‘best EVER’? Nahhh, they’re just really good – if you love a sinfully rich brownie loaded with peanut butter cheesecake.
If you refrigerate these brownies prior to eating them, the peanut butter cheesecake really pops. I prefer these made with milk chocolate, but as I’ve mentioned in previous entries, I usually bake with dark chocolate since it seems to be a favorite of many. I mostly bake for others, not myself – except when I crave peanut butter and chocolate in the wee morning hours.
Yes, Peanut Butter Freak, I Am.
* One of my favorite Julia Child ‘gems’ used to come after she or a guest chef cracked an egg and a piece of shell fell into whatever she or they were preparing – “Oh, just leave it in there, extra calcium.”
Peanut Butter Cheesecake Chunk Brownies
Recipe from David Lebovitz, with my two tiny revisions
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces milk chocolate, or bittersweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Peanut Butter Cheesecake Swirl
8-ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
**1 whole, large egg OR 1 egg yolk.. if you want a really dense cheesecake batter
DIRECTIONS FOR THE BROWNIE LAYER:
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil or parchment paper, making sure it goes up all four sides. Use two sheets if necessary. Mist with non-stick spray or grease lightly.
2. Stir chocolate and butter in medium saucepan over low heat until smooth; cool 10 minutes. Using electric mixer on low speed, or stir in with a wooden spoon – sugar, eggs, and vanilla into cooled chocolate mixture, until uniform. Stir/beat in flour and salt. Spread half the batter in pan.
DIRECTIONS FOR THE PEANUT BUTTER CHEESECAKE SWIRL:
1. In a separate bowl, beat together the cream cheese, peanut butter,whole egg or egg yolk, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. DO NOT OVER BEAT!
ASSEMBLE AND BAKE:
1. Drop large spoonfuls of the peanut butter cheesecake batter across the top of the first layer of brownie batter. Don’t swirl them together. Cover the peanut butter dollops with the remaining brownie batter and the remaining peanut butter cheesecake batter in dollops, then take a knife, spatula, spoon handle, or whatever you have on hand that can ‘swirl’ well, and swirl the TOP layer of peanut butter cheesecake batter with the brownie mixture. Lift up some of the brownie batter to insure the brownie mixture swirls in as much as possible, since it can be little heavier than the peanut butter cheesecake batter, depending on whether you use a whole egg or just the yolk. As mentioned above, it’s ok if some of the first layer of both batters swirl together, just not too much.
2. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the batter in the center of the pan feels just set, or a skewer contains a few moist brownie crumbs sticking to it (you would stick the skewer in a chocolate area).
3. Let cool, then lift the brownies up and out using the foil or parchment paper and peel it away/off. Cut the brownies into equal squares.
Makes about 16 brownies, depending on how large or small you cut them.
*Although I didn’t use it, I think Natural and/or Organic peanut butter would give you a better texture and pure peanut butter flavor, minus all those additives in your basic (rhymes with Blippy, Bif or Beter Ban) supermarket PB.
**The first photo of the cheesecake dollops and last photo are the brownies in which I used 1 egg yolk in the peanut butter – cream cheese batter. All other brownie photos (including the unbaked swirl photo) were made using one whole egg in the peanut butter – cream cheese batter. The whole egg produces a smoother, creamier peanut butter cheesecake texture, whereas using just the yolk produces a more dense peanut butter cheesecake texture, like NY cheesecake..as you can clearly see in the photos.