Monday, August 27, 2012

Salted Caramel Espresso Brownies

Over the weekend, I posted a blog on one of New York City's most unique dining experiences, Dîner en Blanc. While I would love to put up every recipe that I made for the evening, I am forced to just choose 1 recipe from the evening that I thought was really special and decadent. Of course, if there was anything from the menu that evening that looked particularly appealing to you, feel free to send me a message and I will be happy to share!

Now, onto dessert...always a very dear and special subject for me! I am one of those people who no matter how full I am will always save a bit of room for dessert, even if I can only eat no more than a bite. A full meal to me always comprises of appetizer, main entrée and dessert. I can skip on soup/salad, but dessert is a given even if not eaten at the same restaurant.

For Dîner en Blanc, I wanted to create an easy but over-the-top dessert that would transport easily and keep in case it did turn out to be a hot summer day. I played around with a bunch of ideas before finally deciding on this salted caramel espresso brownie.

I found a recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Brown Eyed Baker's, for salted caramel brownies.  I always head over there when I'm in the need for some good baked goods porn. And Michelle never disappoints!  I had to make a good amount of adjustments to the recipe due to pure laziness of going to the supermarket to pick up the key ingredients I was missing like white sugar, milk and eggs.  I know. This happens A LOT!  I was a bit nervous especially about my caramel sauce, but ended up loving that dark, caramel flavor from the coconut milk.

If you remember, a few months back I made a batch of brownies with coconut milk because I ran out of milk and heavy cream.  It ended up being such a great addition that I knew it would work well here as well.  The coconut milk gave the brownies a super moist, fudgy texture; the espresso a smoky flavor that brought out the dark chocolate, as well as giving us a small jolt of caffeine to finish the meal.  Topping it with the espresso-salt mixture I had picked up on one of my travels this summer was the perfect foil for the brownie. If you don't have it on-hand, you can make your own mixture using equal ratio espresso granules to coarse kosher salt.  Or you can also just top it with any flaky sea salt you have in your kitchen: fleur de sel, Maldon, Himalayan pink or Hawaiian black sea salt.  If you're a salt whore like me, you'll have as much fun experimenting with salt in your food as I do.

I hope you enjoy these brownies as much as we did! Have it with a glass of virgin milk and all the flavors will really explode.

Makes 16 bars

*Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

7 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate chips
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons instant espresso granules
1 tbsp local honey
2 large eggs
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup light coconut milk
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe follows)
Espresso-salt or flaky sea salt

For Salted Caramel Sauce:
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup light coconut milk

1. For sauce: In a small saucepan, heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking as the sugar begins to melt. Some of the sugar will harden into clumps, but that’s okay – it will melt eventually – just keep whisking. Add in the salt, and then add the butter all at once and whisk until it is completely incorporated into the sugar. To keep from burning, remove the pan from the heat and pour in the coconut milk immediately (if it bubbles, you are doing it correctly). Continue to whisk until it forms a smooth sauce. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before using in the brownies.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch baking pan lightly with butter to avoid sticking.

3. In a medium heatproof bowl, melt chocolate and butter in the microwave on 50% power for 30-second increments, stirring after each, until melted and smooth. This should take 3 30-second intervals. Whisk in the espresso and honey until smooth. Set aside to cool.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugars, vanilla, coconut milk and salt until combined. Whisk the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture; make sure the chocolate is not hot otherwise it can curdle the egg mixture. Stir in the flour until just combined, do not overmix.

5. Pour half of the brownie mixture into the prepared pan and spread into the corners. Spoon 9 dollops of Salted Caramel Sauce on top of the brownie batter. Top with the remaining brownie mixture, spread into the corners and level the surface with a spatula. Again, spoon 9 dollops of the Salted Caramel Sauce on top of the brownie batter. With a toothpick, gently run it through the batter to swirl the batter just a bit (don’t do it too much or it will all mix together). Sprinkle a bit of espresso-salt on top evenly.

6. Bake until slightly puffed, 35 to 40 minutes. Use a toothpick and insert in center; if it is not coated in batter, if it is ready to take out. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 1-2 hours; this will make it easier to cut smoothly. Cut into squares or triangles like I did. Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or refrigerated and brought up to room temperature when ready to serve. Use the leftover salted caramel sauce to drizzle over the brownies if you like.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dîner en Blanc New York: Take Two!

Last year, New York was introduced to the cult Parisian pop-up dinner: Dîner en Blanc.  This is year two for me and will hopefully be a long standing annual tradition. Logistics for the first year was, to say the least, rife with logistical problems.  1,300 available spots and over 30,000 people who logged onto the website to around the same time to register for a coveted spot; which obviously caused the system to crash and angry, confused registrees who were unsure if their spot had been confirmed.  This year's registration process went much smoother with last year's attendees getting first dibs followed by those refunded last year and lastly, new attendees.  To accommodate the demand, the coordinators increased the number of seats to 3,400 participants!

Those who registered for a table for themselves and a fellow diner were given the option of selecting a group leader from various points in the city. Then, you are given the strict list of requirements for the event which was the same as last year. 

Each guest must wear WHITE and only white, no cream or ivory (though plenty of that did abound).  Each table is also required to bring:
  • 1 portable table
  • 2 white chairs
  • White tablecloth & linens
  • Glassware (real glass, no plastic)
  • Dinnerware (real plates, no plastic)
  • Silverware
  • White picnic basket
  • Electric candle
  • Flowers (optional and only color allowed)
Alcohol must be purchased from the provided caterer due to New York State requirements. Some reckless (and smart!) New Yorkers smuggled some of their own alcohol in.  I smelled my neighbors whiskey with a little jealousy. A catered dinner is also available to purchase though you are encouraged to bring your own.  Of course, yours truly provided the bounty for the evening! 

Fully stocked and somewhat more prepared as to what to expect this year, I headed out of the office all dressed in white feeling fresh and summery.  The weather was cooperating with us in New York and it was a glorious 80 degrees Fahrenheit this past Monday. By the time I had argued with my taxi driver for going the wrong way and then missing the turn to the street I had asked to dropped off at (not an uncommon occurrence in New York I must warn you), I was grumpy and slightly sweaty from getting off a block from where I had asked with my rolling cart, portable table, chairs, picnic basket and cooler.  I shrugged it off to adventure and packed everything up to carry the last block and meet my fellow diner, Susan.

After checking in with our group leader and waiting around for the entire group to arrive, we were informed that we would definitely be heading into the subway.  I was still hopeful at this point that it wouldn't happen and we would just walk a longer distance since that was what had happened last year.  Unfortunately, we found hundreds of us descending into the New York subway during afternoon rush hour in Herald Square. Nightmare!  It seemed that various groups had converged in the subway.  So in the melee there was a brief panic as we lost sight of our intrepid group leader in the sea of white and annoyed commuters. 

We all managed to squeeze on to the uptown 1 train and vaguely heard the instruction that we were getting off at 59th St-Columbus Circle. My heart skipped a beat. Yay! We must be heading to Central Park!!  My favorite place in the world. And MUCH closer to home than last year's dinner location at Battery Park City.  After the last struggle of lifting all of our stuff up the stairs and back onto level ground, our group headed off and entered the park.

 We winded our way through the parks on the path...leading right out of the park at 66th St. At this point, we figured the only place that could accommodate our party was Lincoln Center. And this time, we were correct!

With its white concrete walls and modern clean lines, Lincoln Center was the perfect splashy back drop for this magical night.  Last year, we had the New Jersey skylines and sunset over the Hudson River. And it was really beautiful and romantic.  But Lincoln Center had its own charm and quintessential New York.  Larger than life, modern and dramatic. After setting up in our designated areas, diners started pulling food out of their baskets, setting tables and finally wine corks popped (after an hour waiting to pick up in line). 


Then, the real fun began when strangers dining next to you became your buddies and every one started sharing food with each other.  It is when this happens that all of the hassle of lugging your own dining area and food becomes irrelevant.  In a city this big, it is so amazing to find these random connections through one of the city's most unique events.


I admit I had some table envy with what came out of some of these baskets and next year plan on upping the ante a bit despite the annoyance of carrying it.  Below is the my menu for the evening:

Watermelon Gazpacho Shooters with Pickled Shrimp


Chicken liver mousse with fresh bread

Herbed Tomato Tart
Roasted Salmon Stuffed with Preserved Lemon Relish on Bed of Pea Shoots

Assorted cheeses
Fresh Strawberries
Salted Caramel Espresso Brownies (check back on Monday for the recipe!)


As the evening rolled on, the haunting vocals of the French singer changed to an amazing electric violinist and then the DJ came onto the scene, energizing the evening with body thumping music and getting everyone dancing on their chairs and waving their napkins in the air. 

The perfect quote from the night: "It's like we're at a really amazing wedding!"  At one point, a huge conga line even started winding it's way around Lincoln Plaza.  Why is it always a conga line?

All in all it was an amazing night with guests dressed in their finest white attire, some men in dapper white tuxedos and women in white feathered headresses abounded. As diners finished eating, more guests found their way to the sparkling fountain in the middle of the plaza and lounged the rest of the evening, sipping champagne and wine (as we found ourselves). 

Another magical evening in New York.  Good night and until next year!!