Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars




I wasn’t kidding when I said that pumpkin was my go-to ingredient in the Fall -- in the past week I’ve made three more recipes with pumpkin as the main ingredient, and still have a list of pumpkin recipes that gets longer every day: pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin scones, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pasta, pumpkin soup…I’ll be sure to post about a few of these in November, when it is still pumpkin season.

Today’s recipe is for pumpkin chocolate chip bars, an extremely quick and easy one bowl dessert that you can whip up in record time to get a quick pumpkin fix. If you’re looking for a fluffy piece of pumpkin cake, this is not your recipe (but this is). These are almost like pumpkin blondies, dense and chewy and full of pumpkin flavor, not to mention packed with chocolate. I’d seen the pumpkin/chocolate combination in quite a few recipes on different food blogs, but hadn’t been sold on it until I tried these – the semi-sweet chocolate complements the cinnamon and ginger nicely and adds another layer of flavor to this dessert. Enjoy everyone!

Vanilla layer cake with mascarpone raspberry filling and Nutella frosting


Remember those “everyday” cakes I talked about a little while ago? You know, cakes like this coffee Nutella cake and summer berry cake and pumpkin gingerbread cake? The ones that are great for breakfast or a quick dessert and just require one bowl and a little mixing?

Well, this is not one of those cakes. This, my friends, is not an every day cake, but rather a fancy, special occasion kind of cake that requires some extra time and effort but is sooo worth it.

I came up with the idea for this cake for my friend Sergey’s birthday. I knew I wanted to make something really special, but had not been given much guidance from Sergey, who just specified he wanted a “fat” (translation: over the top/decadent) cake. I originally had decided on a yellow butter layer cake with Nutella frosting, but this, while definitely on the rich side, was not quite as decadent as Sergey was expecting.


While looking through our blog I got the idea for a mascarpone filling, thanks to one of Gloria’s posts a few months back. Mascarpone filling plus a Nutella frosting, I reasoned, would take this cake to the next level – and adding a few raspberries to that mascarpone filling wouldn’t be a bad idea either. When all three components are put together, the results are magical – fluffy vanilla cake, a sweet creamy tart filling, and an intensely chocolate icing, that in addition to being absolutely delicious is also a gorgeous dessert. The cake went over very well and I was so pleased with the results that I knew I had to share it with our readers here.

I was just thinking -- I bet these would be really delicious in cupcake form as well. Enjoy everyone!!!

VANILLA LAYER CAKE WITH MASCARPONE RASPBERRY FILLING AND NUTELLA FROSTING

For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans
1½ cups cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1¾ cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1¼ cups whole milk

For the filling:
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup fresh raspberries

For the frosting:

1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups (240g) confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup (222g) Nutella
3-4 Tablespoons (45-60ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
salt to taste

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Butter and flour two 9 inch cake pans, tapping out the excess flour. In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk together to blend well and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or in a large bowl using electric beaters, combine the butter and sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk. Beat each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pans to help remove the cakes. Invert the cakes onto the wire rack while you prepare your filling.

To make the filling, beat the mascarpone, heavy cream, and sugar in a large bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Gently fold in the raspberries.

Place one layer of the yellow cake on your serving plate. If the top of the cake is uneven, feel free to level it using a sharp knife (and eat the scraps of cake removed). Carefully spread the filling over the top of the cake -- you may not use all the filling; it depends on how much you want. Gently place the second cake layer (leveled as well, if it’s uneven) over the filling to make your layer cake. Refrigerate for at least two hours to let the mascarpone filling set.

To make the frosting, beat the softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for 2-3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and continue to beat on medium speed. The mixture will be fairly thick. Add the Nutella and continue to beat on medium speed. Add 3 Tablespoons of heavy cream and the vanilla extract. If the frosting is too thick, add more heavy cream (1 Tablespoon measurements at a time). If the frosting is too thin, add more powdered sugar (1/4 cup measurements at a time). Taste the frosting and add salt to cut the sweetness if you want.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and frost the sides and top of the cake with Nutella frosting. Note that you will most likely have frosting left over.* Decorate the top of the cake as you wish; as you can see I decorated mine with mini chocolate chips and raspberries. Refrigerate the cake for at least another half an hour before serving to let the whole cake set.

*Note that the frosting stays covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.





Cake recipe from www.annies-eats.com.

Frosting from www.sallysbakingaddiction.com.




Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting


As I have mentioned in a previous post, Fall is not exactly my favorite time of year; I much prefer summer, where I am free to put my large sundress collection to good use, cook with basil and tomatoes, and enjoy the occasional gelato or two. There is, thankfully, one thing that helps me ease in to the transition between Summer and Fall, that in some way lets the transition between August and September not quite so bad: Pumpkin season! In the U.S in particular pumpkin is particularly celebrated in the Fall -- sure, you can find pumpkin ravioli or tortelloni in some parts of Italy*, but the pumpkin tradition in the U.S has its own style. Come October, pumpkins are carved in to jack o lanterns in anticipation of Halloween or used as inspiration for seasonal Pumpkin spice Yankee candles. There is pumpkin spice coffee at at Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, and bakeries begin to sell pumpkin muffins, cakes, pies, or my personal favorite, iced pumpkin donuts (yummm). Yes, we Americans love pumpkin in the Fall and use it whenever possible. I am no exception – I love cooking with pumpkin, whether it be in a savory dish (pumpkin risotto! pumpkin gnocchi! pumpkin chili!) or in sweet dishes, like this pumpkin gingerbread.

T's Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve talked about classic American desserts like brownies and blondies on this blog, but it’s about time we had a post about chocolate chip cookies – after all, Pancakes & Biscotti has been around for nearly five months now, far too long of a time to not have shared the recipe for such a quintessential American cookie (especially one that is often requested by my non-American friends). So my apologies! Here is the recipe for The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.

These cookies come from my Aunt Laura, or as we have always called her, “T.” When I was younger “Auntie” was too difficult to pronounce, and so Auntie was shortened to “T” and the name has stuck ever since. It’s not surprising that the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten come from T, who has a bit of a history when it comes to sweets. When I was growing up, she made a “chocolate pizza” for my birthday every year, or rather a dessert “pizza” comprised of a round brownie “crust,” with chocolate icing as “sauce,” drizzles of white chocolate as “cheese” and M&Ms for pepperoni. She also made amazing congo bars* , and on more than one occasion when I was little blew all of our minds by suggesting that we skip dinner and go straight to Ben and Jerry’s for ice cream sundaes covered in hot fudge sauce and whipped cream.

Desserts aside, my Aunt is also amazing in a lot of other ways –she is an expert gardener and is always happy to help us with our own garden (her green thumb has not proved to be hereditary). She has done a fantastic job raising my cousin Dylan as a single mom, and in addition to being a great mother, is the best Aunt any could ever ask for – T has always been there for me whenever I need her, and even though I now live in Rome and she is in Rhode Island, we still manage to keep in touch via email and messenger.

These cookies are some of the best I’ve ever come across – they are everything a chocolate chip cookie should be: buttery and brown sugary, soft and thick and chewy, and heavy on the chocolate chips. My aunt has been making these cookies for as long as I can remember – she started making them for my cousin Dylan and his friends when they were little, and in recent years have been known to make the journey in the mail from Rhode Island to Dylan’s new home of New Orleans (he can’t go long without a chocolate chip cookie fix). Most recently, T was asked to make 185 of these cookies as favors for the wedding of a neighbor who had grown up eating them – not an easy feat, but all went off without a hitch and the guests left the wedding very happy.

Notes: If you want to have chocolate chip cookies ready at a moment’s notice, T suggests that you place the individual cookie-dough mounds on a cookie sheet and freeze them.  Then, they can be put into a freezer bag and frozen; when you need a cookies (or two or three), you can simply take them out of the freezer and pop them in the oven to bake. You can also use a mix of semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips, if you'd like. If you're in Italy and you only have access to the typical small chocolate chips, I would chop up bars of chocolate instead -- it's more work, but it tastes much better.

T's CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Ingredients:
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 heaping cups (11 ¾ ounces) flour
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. With an electric mixer, beat the butter in a large bowl until fluffy, and then add the sugars, one at a time. Mix everything together well. Beat in the vanilla extract.

With the mixer running, beat in the egg yolk until fully incorporated, and then add the whole egg. Add the baking soda and salt and beat until everything is fully incorporated. Slowly beat in the flour, mixing until just combined (if you over mix the cookies will become tough, so be careful to mix only as much as you need to!) Fold in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon.

Using an ice cream scoop (or a large spoon, if you don’t have an ice cream scoop) scoop the cookie dough in to balls and place onto the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until the cookies are golden around the edges but still soft in the middle, about 15 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheets halfway through baking to ensure even coloring. Makes about 20 cookies.