Bake It: Angostura Bitters & Luxardo Cherry Brownies

Sometimes we do this thing at my house where we’ve decided we want to be healthier and get rid of all the ‘unhealthy’ snacks in the house. So suddenly there is no more processed goodies about. We’re left with a container of unsweetened cocoa powder and a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips shoved in the back of the fridge. All you bakers out there are rolling your eyes and saying ‘yeah, and?‘ right about now. What I’m left with is two main ingredients to make a whole bunch of desserts and unhealthy foods. The challenge though, is to actually make something from scratch.

I love to bake, but I don’t get to do it as much as I used to. Now I’m mainly focused on cocktails. Then I decided to marry the two.

When I realized there was nothing to snack on at the house I went in search for a quick and easy recipe I could throw together with not much effort but be satisfied with the end result. I remembered I’d seen on Shutterbean a pretty straightforward brownie recipe that would accomplish both goals. But I wanted to put my own spin on it. Also, I wanted something my husband would want to eat and that meant throwing some kind of fruit into it and getting the walnuts out (otherwise I’d be staring the pan down with no regrets). Lately he’d been on a cherry kick and as an afterthought, I figured I would stick a couple cherries on top. Then I spotted the bottle of Angostura bitters and I had an idea. My first batch had a 1/2 ounce, but I found I wanted the bitters to be stronger throughout the brownies. Then I threw in a whole ounce and it was magic.

(recipe adapted from Shutterbean.com)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1-¼ cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 oz. Angostura bitters
1 cup luxardo cherries (syrup drained off as much as possible)

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 8″ square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom and sides of the pan with parchment.

Mix flour, salt, cocoa powder & baking powder together in a bowl. Set aside.

Place butter and chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water; stir frequently, until almost melted. Remove from heat; stir until completely melted.

Whisk in sugar until smooth. Add bitters and stir to combine. Whisk in eggs. Fold in cherries. Gently whisk in flour mixture until smooth (do not overmix).

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached (they should form a ball when rolled between your fingers), 50 – 55 minutes. Cool completely in pan.

Use parchment paper to lift from pan; peel off and discard. Cut into squares (this is much easier to do with these brownies if you stick them in the freezer after they have cooled slightly for about 20 minutes).

I found that adding the bitters and the cherries made the batter a bit thicker and took more time to bake thoroughly. I would start checking on them at about the 50 minute mark and test every 5 minutes after. The end result is a fudgy brownie that has some super spicy notes from the bitters, and with the cherries, are reminiscent of chocolate covered cherry cordials. I decided to split the chocolate between semisweet and bittersweet to cut a bit back on the richness and try to highlight more of the spice. They really make a great holiday brownie too (I’ve now made this enough times over the past two weeks that I have the recipe memorized and could make them in my sleep).

Make It: Holiday Spice Syrups

The hard ciders and glogg are starting to roll out. It’s Fall- hell, it’s almost Thanksgiving already. For me that means starting to plan for Christmas. My personality is such that I painfully start planning things much too far in advance, forget about them, and freak out at the last minute trying to get these plans into action.

A good chunk of gift giving is pretty easy actually when it comes to my friends. They all like booze. But really, putting a bow on a bottle of Jameson a couple years in a row starts to become too easy and predictable. Yes, you can step it up and maybe shell out for a bottle of Booker’s. However that becomes expensive when you multiply that by just 4 people.

When I started making my own infused syrups at home it occurred to me the potential these had for gift giving. One can make up a batch, pair it with a small bottle of something, and write up a little card with a drink recipe on it. For me, it’s a way of sharing an interest with my friends and getting them tipsy in the process. Win! Even better when you can open it together.

This year I’m expanding my usual arsenal of syrups to include some Fall spices that I want to try out. Adapting the clove syrup recipe from the PDT Cocktail Book, I’ve scaled that down and also worked up a cinnamon syrup too. Bottle these up and give away, or keep for yourself.

For this recipe, I made a master batch of simple syrup and then divided it to steep the cloves and cinnamon separately.

Master Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Combine water and sugar in a sauce pan. Swirl to combine and place over high heat until warmed through and transparent. Do not let it come to a boil. Once sugar is dissolved, remove from heat if using immediately for below or keep over a very low flame- you will need the syrup to be warm to infuse.

Clove Syrup

1/2 cup simple syrup
1/4 oz of cloves (I used a kitchen scale to weigh this out. It’s about 3 tablespoons if I were to eyeball it.)

Combine a half cup of the warm simple syrup with the cloves in a heat-proof container. Let sit for 15 minutes. Strain into a bottle through cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Let the mixture cool and store in the refrigerator.

Cinnamon Syrup

1 cup simple syrup
5 sticks of cinnamon, 2″ to 2-1/2″ in length

Combine a half cup of the warm simple syrup with the cinnamon sticks in a heat-proof container. Let sit for 15 minutes. Strain into a bottle. Let the mixture cool and store in the refrigerator.

Syrups will keep approximately 1 month in the refrigerator (or at least they do in my house).

The White Russian: Happy Halloween from the Dude

This classic sprang about due to a Halloween party this past weekend. We knew about this party, a 90’s themed Halloween party, for at least a couple of weeks, but all the ideas for costumes seemed to be slipping by. Stuck for ideas my husband asked me to just read off the highlights from each year of VH1s I Love the 90s. Then I read off The Big Lebowski.

“Stop”, my husband said, “that’s it.”

Now, it took me a couple times to really get into this movie. Around the time I hit 10 years in L.A. I watched it again and finally had my ‘ah-ha’ moment. And actually liked the film. While I can’t rattle off quotes, I do know what drink the Dude prefers: White Russians.

This was a Friday night when the costume was decided, Saturday was the party. The following day it took a trip to Target, a Halloween store, and a stop at Ralph’s to complete the costume. This was done by 10:30 am.

Part of the costume was to be an empty Ralph’s container of milk, however they only had pints of half and half around. Instead of dumping out the milk when we got back, I can’t waste food, we poured it into some containers and I decided to put it to good use making some White Russians, for help getting “into character”.  

I had to consult The Joy of Mixology since this isn’t a drink I often consume. Or actually, have ever had. But we needed to be authentic for the costume. It’s only changed slightly in that I built it in the glass and stirred it, and subbed out 1/2 and 1/2 for the cream. I know, there’s dairy in there, it should be shaken. But the Dude doesn’t go for that fancy stuff.

2 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Kahlua
1 oz. 1/2 and 1/2

Build ingredients in a rocks glass. Give it a good stir to combine. Try not to get it all up in your mustache.

What’s it taste like? Sort of like sweet, spiked coffee. It’s rich, and I can’t fathom how one could continually throw these back. But to each his own.

Happy Halloween folks, from me and the Dude.