Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cappuccino Squares...

I left Jeff in charge this weekend to scour through recipes and pick out one for me to make for the Weekly Wednesday Treat Day that we do for his co-workers. He thumbed through a couple of my cookbooks, peeked into my stash of sweet recipes (and quickly decided that was a bit overwhelming), searched a bit of his own on-line and the finally returned to a different book I set out for him. It took him no less than 2 minutes to zero in on these Cappuccino Squares and deemed it "the one" to make.

The original recipe was supposed to be heavier on the essence of cinnamon than one of espresso, but Jeff wanted me to go with a suggested alternative and heighten the coffee note. To accomplish this, we added a scoop of instant espresso powder to the milk used in the recipe and heated the two together to bloom the espresso - just be sure to do this first so the milk has plenty of time to cool back down. If you want a more subtle espresso taste that mildly lingers in the background, skip this step entirely.

Once the golden batter for the cake was ready, we spooned half of it into the baking pan, deluged the top with finely chopped bittersweet chocolate, dusted that with a mixture of cinnamon, sugar and espresso powder, then poured the remaining batter over the top. Once baked and cooled, we took this cake to another level by smearing on copious amounst of frosting made simply by heating bittersweet chocolate with a few pats of butter.

I thought the frosting was a bit heavy going on at first, but decided to throw caution to the wind and keep it all on. When you do frost the cake, give it some character and pizazz my making swoops, dips and swirls - while a smooth look is fine, this cake deserve some spunk!

With the ribbon of chocolate, cinnamon and espresso running through the center of this extremely moist cake, Jeff was quite pleased with how much espresso really came through. However, don't count out the cinnamon as its fragrant nature was still up front. The cake alone I thought was a little on the sweet side, but using the bittersweet chocolate was a brilliant way to tame the sweetness, along with adding a little flare and temptation. A perfect mid-morning pick-me-up for sure!

While we were anxiously waiting to sample those squares, I kept myself occupied by making these Toasted Barley Breakfast Bowls for tonight's dinner.

To amplify the nuttiness already found in the pearl barley used in this dish, we first toasted the grains in a dry saucepan. While this certainly isn't a requirement for a successful result, those minimal extra minutes used is worth the added layer of depth. To infuse the most amount of flavor, we then poured in chicken broth for the barley to simmer in. If you're using a canned broth that only has a scant two cups in it, you don't have to open another can to meet the liquids needed - just replace the remaining amount called for with water.

When the barley had almost finished drinking those flavors in, we started browning a few links worth of hot Italian turkey sausage with a chopped onion along side. When crumbled and cooked, the barley is stirred into the mix along with a smattering of parsley for a kiss of freshness. While everything is already cooked at this point, we have one more ingredient to add for that breakfast-y feeling... an egg! We spooned the barley mixture into ramekins, cracked an egg onto the top of each one and slide them into the oven to cook that final addition. If you would rather serve this family style, I imagine you could leave everything in the skillet you browned the sausage in, make little divots in four corners and nestle the eggs in each area to finish them off in the oven.

I actually thought they looked a little skimpy in the amount for each serving at first ,but boy did these filled ramekins end up being quite hearty and filling! The chewy, yet tender, texture of cooked barley gave my mouth a pleasurable workout, while the lean Italian turkey sausage imparted enough seasoning to hold our attention. The smart inclusion of the eggs on top rounded this dish out with a gratifying punch and lent a visual attracting against the ordinary appearance of the barley hash underneath.


  1. I love this cake Joe!! The chocolate ribbon in the middle is genius!!

  2. I would love this. We're having a full house of teenagers tonight so one of your dish is on the menu, the lasagna soup. I'm sure it will be a winner with the boys.

  3. Bunny - Thanks!

    Helene - Good choice... I love that soup!

  4. I love your very clear explanations of why you choose to make your dishes as you do. Following a recipe too strictly is restrictive, so yay you for tweaking!

    Lovely photos, too:)