Sunday, June 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Danish Braid

This was my and many Daring Bakers' first foray into laminated yeast dough. What is laminated dough, you ask?

Let me explain it this way... laminated dough is to white sandwich dough what a Porsche Carrera is to my Mazda 3. My Mazda is a good car, it's reliable, comfortable, it gets me from point A to point B, and didn't break the bank. It's there when I need it just like that warm, buttered toast is there when my kids suddenly decide they're hungry minutes before bedtime.

But a Porsche Carrera does all of those things too... just... better.

And that's what laminated yeast dough is... just... better. Lots better. Like "WOW" better.

Kelly of Sass & Veracity, and Ben of What’s Cookin’? must have known that when they picked the Danish Braid from Sherry Yard’s "The Secrets of Baking" for this month's Daring Bakers Challenge. And I'm so glad they did, because now I know too. Thanks guys! (I owe ya!)

With this particular laminated dough, you make a sweet yeast dough flavored with vanilla bean, orange zest, and cardomom. Roll it out, spread on a layer of butter enriched with flour and fold it in three like a business letter. Let it sit in the fridge for a bit, roll it out, fold it in three again and back in the fridge. Repeat the rolling, folding, and chilling twice more and then it rests overnight in the fridge. (I'd love to show you that part but my camera wasn't cooperating right then.)

The next day, roll it out and cut like so...

Spread on your filling and the alternately "braid" the sides.

I used Solo almond filling which I absolutely adore. (D'oh! just remembered we were supposed to make the filling from scratch. Oopsy!)

All braided and ready for an egg wash and some time to rise

Can you see the layers of butter in the cut edge of the dough?

Fluffy and ready for the oven

Mmmm, isn't it beautiful? Notice how flaky the braid is?

We were supposed to halve the dough and make two braids. Yeah, um... I missed that part and ended up with a gigantic braid. Fine with me, though. It was sooooo good.

Mmmm... a healthy topping of cream cheese icing and ...

stick a fork in me, I'm done!

Thanks for joining me. I can't wait to see what is chosen for next month's challenge!


Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough


For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugarZest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour


Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well.
Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky.
Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.


1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

APPLE FILLING (I didn't use this)

Makes enough for two braids

4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 - 8 minutes. Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes.
If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape.

Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.


Makes enough for 2 large braids

1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (see below)

For the egg wash:
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.
2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.Egg WashWhisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.Proofing and Baking1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
4. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

TWD: Traditional Madeleines Rewind

Whew! Tuesday’s with Dorie snuck up on me this week. I have a long list of excuses why the Mixed Berry Tart that was chosen by Beth of “Our Sweet Life” didn’t work out for me, but I’ll spare you. (Sorry, Beth! it does look delish.)

Instead, I made use of my new mini-madeleine pan and whipped up a previous recipe, Traditional Madeleines, chosen by Tara of “Smells Like Home”.

It seems there is quite an art to perfect madeleine making. An art I don't profess to know or understand. But I gave it the old college try anyway.

Are my pans too full? I wasn't sure.

From what I understand, the measure of a perfect madeleine is the characteristic "bump" on the back side. I decided in advance that I wouldn’t get upset if I didn’t get the bump. Good thing, because madeleine and her friends were indeed bumpless. (Maybe they need to start working out with Fergie.)

The verdict? Eh, I wasn’t in love with them. But, it might have been a case of bad baking and not the recipe… because look what I found at the bottom of the bowl once I got done spooning the batter. The butter! D'oh!

Apparently I didn’t fold the butter in well enough and it all sunk to the bottom of the pan. And there it stayed, hardening during its overnight stay in the refrigerator.

Ah well, you can't win 'em all.

I'll probably try them again. Everyone else at TWD seemed to love them, so I'll have another go at it one day. When I do, I think I'll try Pim's recipe.

One bit of good news… I think I came up with a good way of greasing the pan to prevent sticking! I tried three methods:

- greasing with butter then dusting with flour (recommended)
- greasing with home-made “pan prep” (recipe follows)
- greasing with home-made “pan prep” and then dusting with flour

The home-made pan prep and flour was best, there was no sticking at all. Next best was pan prep by itself, followed by butter and flour.

Home-made Pan Prep
1 part flour
1 part shortening
1 part vegetable oil

Mix together well until lumps are mostly gone.

I also use this exclusively for cakes. It keeps well and is a cinch to make. You can also buy the commercial product from CK Products and it works perfectly too. In fact, this is where I first learned about it.

OK, gotta run. See 'ya next week...

P.S. the madeleine recipe can be found on Tara’s site HERE.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lemon (-Lime) Meringue Tart

My mom is one of those “more is better” types. This was totally evident the one and only time I remember her making lemon meringue pie. It was soooo lemony and tart. Mom laughs when she tells the story of walking into my bedroom just in time to see me scooping my piece of pie into the trash (and I’m not normally one to toss out sweets).

Fortunately, my grandma made excellent lemon meringue pie.

My first attempt at lemon meringue pie turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. There are a few things I might tweak, but I’ve got a good starting point.

I combined, fiddled with, and scaled down two different recipes to make enough for two 5” mini-tarts. My sources of inspiration were the Texas Big Hairs Lemon-Lime Meringue Tarts from the “The Pastry Queen” by Rebecca Rather (that’s her lemon-lime meringue tart on the front cover there) and The Ultimate Lemon Meringue Pie from “The Perfect Recipe” by Pam Anderson.

I used my one remaining tart shell from the “La Palette Strawberry Tart” post. Dorie's sweet tart dough is definitely going to be my go-to pie and tart dough in the future. It’s made me realize I really don’t like standard pie crust. Dorie’s cookie-like crust is much more appealing to me.

The verdict? Mmm, mmm, good! I really like the addition of lime, I think it adds a depth of flavor without being too tart.

Here is the recipe, which is perfect for two 5-inch mini-tarts. If you're looking for a bigger lemon flavor (like my mom) you might want to use lemon in place of the lime. At some later date, I plan to make a full size tart and I’ll publish the revised measurements then. (I realize most of you don't have two mini-tart shells just hanging around... sorry about that. I'd like to test it out at full size before posting the scaled up version.)

2 egg yolks
1/3 C. sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
½ C. water
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
pinch of salt
1 to 2 tsp. lemon zest (to taste)
1 tsp. butter

(makes slightly more than you need for two tart shells)
2 egg whites
½ C. sugar
1/8 tsp. cream of tarter
1 ½ tsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. plus 1 ½ tsp. water
¼ tsp. vanilla

Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan. Add egg yolks, then immediately but gradually whisk in water. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking the whole time. Whisk until mixture begins to thicken. Whisk in zest, then lemon juice and finally butter. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly for 1 minute. Remove from heat, placing plastic wrap directly on surface of filling.

Mix egg whites, sugar, and cream of tarter in a double boiler placed over a pan with water simmering in bottom. Be sure water doesn't touch bottom of double boiler. Stir continuously until sugar dissolves in egg whites. You can rub a little of the mixture between to fingers to ensure there are no more sugar crystals. Place mixture in bowl of stand mixer and whisk at low speed for about 5 minutes, then at high speed until meringue holds it's shape, about 5 minutes.

Place warm filling in tart shell, then top with meringue. Use the back of a spoon or your fingers to form decorative peaks. Place tart under broiler until peaks are browned. Alternatively, use a hand held kitchen torch to brown the meringue.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

TWD: Peppermint Cream Puff Ring

The thing about blogging is… sometimes I feel an immediate connection to someone. Maybe through a comment they’ve left, or a story they’ve told, a picture they’ve taken. Complete strangers, affecting me. I don’t know where on this big planet they reside, who their friends are, what they sound like, or what they do for a living. I wouldn’t know them if I passed them on the street. But yet, there’s this bit of emotion that goes out to them.

Someone who touched me (months ago) was Marion from "Il en faut peu pour etre heurex". Her picture of her cheesecake pops from the April Daring Bakers challenge just blew me away! Chocolate covered pops, with green chunks of pistachio against a purple background. I don’t know why, but the colors and composition seemed a thing of beauty and perfection to me.

I must have subconsciously stowed that picture away just beneath the surface because when it came time for this week’s Tuesday’s with Dorie recipe, I was inspired by it. (Thank you, Marion.) The recipe, chosen by Caroline of A Consuming Passion, was Peppermint Cream Puff Ring.

I knew peppermint wouldn’t fly with my husband. As I was tossing around in my head… what to do, what to do, Marion's picture came to mind and I knew...

pistachio flavored cream, chopped pistachios on top, purple background.

The verdict? Weeell, I think the recipe was probably best as written, lol. But I got some nice pictures, by darn!

Without the peppermint to balance it, the sour cream in the filling was overwhelming and made for a too-sour filling and somewhat bland confection overall. In fact, after taking pictures I scraped off the filling, stirred some peppermint oil into the leftover cream and scooped that onto the ring. Much better!

I read that some TWD-ers had fallen rings, so I heeded the advice of others and baked for the recommended time , plus I stirred and heated the milk-flour mixture for the full two minutes, plus paddled the flour-milk mixture in my Kitchenaid for maybe 30 seconds before adding the first egg. Thank you fellow bakers! I had no problems with the pastry (well, except that my piping job wasn't too pretty).

In addition to the ring, I got 18 bite-size cream puffs from the batter. (I hope they freeze well because that’s where they are at the moment.)

Dorie has graciously provided the recipe on HERE.

See you for next week's recipe: Mixed Berry Cobbler.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Carrie's Cookies (Chocolate Chip, that is)

I really wish I could make a living trying new chocolate chip cookie recipes. *sigh*

I recently made Carrie's (Chocolate Chip) cookies, as in Carrie of Carrie's Kitchen Creations. They were soft... mmmm, my favorite! Also, on the first day at least, they had the slightest bit of crispiness on the outside.

I give them... two thumbs up!

Since I had a grab-bag of chips in my pantry, I used 1/2 milk chocolate chips, 1/2 semi-sweet chips, and a couple of handfuls of Heath toffee bits. (I think I'll add toffee bits to EVERY chocolate chip cookie I make from now on.)

You can find the recipe HERE. Thank you, Carrie!

And in the garden, the daisies are blooming!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

TWD: La Palette's Strawberry Tart

I have to admit, I wasn’t too pumped up about this week’s Tuesday’s with Dorie recipe, “La Palette’s Strawberry Tart”. No disrespect to Marie of “A Year in Oak Cottage”, who’s pick it was this week, it’s just not the type of dessert I usually go for. I mean, where’s the chocolate, or caramel, or chunks and gobs of something gooey, creamy, or decadently sweet? I’m guessing some folks were looking forward to a light spring dessert. But me? Naaaah. I’ll take a triple chocolate brownie with dulce de leche ice cream topped with whipped cream, toffee bits, and strawberries please (hiccup).

I decided to be a good sport and give the dessert a chance, though. Who knows…? I might fall in love with it and swear off chocolate forever. But I wanted to play around a little too. So, after a pit-stop at the local cake-decorating store, I had four mini-tart pans in hand and I set to work in the kitchen.
The first tart was a tweaked version of the La Palette Strawberry Tart… I added a layer of pastry cream and a few blueberries . Next was a peach with pastry cream tart. Veering off in another direction, I turned my third tart into a baby pecan pie. The fourth tart shell is in the freezer patiently awaiting its fate. (I’ll blog about the latter two tarts another day.)

The verdict? I love, love, LOVED them! Wow, I am forever indebted to Marie and Dorie for opening my eyes and tastebuds to this luscious treat. Seriously, it was SO good.

According to Dorie, the tart shell is closer to cookie dough than a pie dough. I liked it a lot, better than typical pie dough. We were to press the dough into the tart pan, but I thought it was easier rolling it between two pieces of wax paper. Here it is before trimming.

Here's the peach tart being readied for it's fruit topping, first with a layer of pastry cream, then a layer of jam...

Clearbrook Farms peach fruit butter is to die for, by the way!

The photo shoot came to an end when my son and his little friend came nosing around...

Little thief!

If you have a hankering to try this recipe, you can check out Dorie's post on the blog, Serious Eats.

All right, see you next week with Peppermint Cream Puff Ring. Between now and then, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Dorie's book "Baking, From My Home to Yours". You will thank me, I promise!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

I've been tagged!

Wow! I've been tagged (first time) by Allison at The Neon Celery Kitchen. Thank you, Allison. Apparently, I'm to answer several questions about myself and then pass it on. So here goes...

The rules: Each participant answers questions about him or herself. At the end of the post the participant tags 5 people. Their names are posted letting them know they've been tagged. They then have to read the participant's blog. The tagged lets the tagger know when she's posted her answers.

What was I doing ten years ago? Ten years ago I was working and pregnant with my first child. I guess I was "nesting" ten years ago (and worrying a lot, reading every book I could get my hands on about babies and *shudder* childbirth).

What are five (non-work) things on my to-do list for today: I wish I could say I had a to-do list. As a stay-at-home-mom, to-do lists are optional, especially in summer. Hmmm, let's see... entertain the kids, clean the kitchen, tackle some of the items in my paperwork-to-be-attended-to pile, go to the library. Tomorrow I might have a better to-do list, lol.

Snacks I enjoy: chocolate, buttery popcorn, bananas with cashews, chips and salsa

Things I would do if I were a billionaire: whew! so many... buy houses for all of my and hubby's family members, send underprivileged kids to college, have a first-class kitchen (rest of the house... optional, lol), probably travel a lot.

Places I have lived: Cheyenne, WY, Golden, CO, Berkeley, CA, Port Arthur, TX, Cleveland, OH

Jobs I have had: salad girl in a restaurant, selling clothes at the jeans store in the mall, ground water tester, refinery process engineer, controls engineer.

And finally, the bloggers that I have tagged...

Becke at Columbus Foodie
Carmella and Carlo at The Food Duo
Katrina at She Bake
Winnie at Just Like Stella Used to Make
Lauren at Upper East Side Chronicle

Friday, June 6, 2008

Fresh Apple Cookies

This is one of the first recipes I ever requested, some 30-odd years ago. I may not have known much about life back then, but I sure knew an exceptional cookie when I tasted it. These are still one of my all-time favorites.

What strikes me is how much less complicated this recipe is. Look at it, there are three lines of directions. Compare that to the pages of directions often seen in today's recipes. Of course, recipes today often are more complicated. And I must say I appreciate the additional information. It has helped bring my home baking to a higher level, and for that I am thankful. But it kind of mirrors life, don't you think? Life was less complicated... recipes were less complicated...

I tend to go with the larger amount of apples (although I didn't this time). The batter will almost seem like it can't hold them all, but I just love the cookies this way. They are spicy and abundant with apples, like apple pie in cookie form. Pair them with cream cheese icing and they move up to "To Die For" status.

Fresh Apple Cookies

cream cheese icing (recipe follows)
2 C. + 3 T. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 C. milk
1 egg
1/2 C. shortening
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/3 C. brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 medium apples, cored and cut into 1" pieces, peeled or unpeeled (* I always peel them and cut them first into quarters, then cut each quarter into 4 or 5 slices, then maybe 1/2-inch pieces, then run a knife through the pile a few times. Or cut them like you like them. I use Granny Smith apples.)
1 C. chopped nuts (* I use 1/2 C. because I'm not a huge nut fan)

Add all ingredients except apples and nuts and mix well. Add apples and nuts.

Bake on a greased pan for 12 minutes at 350-375 deg. F. (* I baked at about 365 deg. F for closer to 14 minutes. I bake them until they're just set and they don't give much when touched gently. I like them soft. If you underbake them, they tend to fall apart.)

Frost with cream cheese icing or icing of your choice.

Cream Cheese Icing
This recipe comes from Kathy F., a talented and giving cake decorator who was nice enough to share her recipe. (Check out her site at Kathy's Kakes to view her fantastic cakes.) I like it for these cookies because it crusts (dries to the touch) so the cookies can be stacked. This recipe works well for decorated cakes also.

1 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
16 oz. cream cheese
3 lbs powdered sugar
1 T vanilla
1/2 tsp salt

Combine butter, shortening, and cream cheese and mix on low speed until well mixed. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt and mix on low speed until well mixed.

Kathy says... "This makes a fairly stiff icing if you use 3-1/2 pounds powdered sugar. For a softer one you can use 3 lbs. of powdered sugar. "(* I usually use 3 pounds.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

TWD: French Chocolate Brownies

Oh, please, please, don’t force me to bake another batch of brownies. The horror…

Um, yeah right, that might be me in a parallel universe. But here in this universe, I’m happy to try another brownie recipe. If I had to pick one dessert to take with me to the proverbial deserted island, it would be brownies.

This weeks Tuesday's With Dorie recipe is French Chocolate Brownies chosen by Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook. Thanks Di!

But what makes them French, you ask? In the blog, Serious Eats, Dorie says she was aiming for a different dessert (a fondant) while baking for a get-together in France. When the French folks saw the dessert they assumed it was brownies so she just went with it… Voila! French Brownies!

I changed up a few things. For my version, I left out the cinnamon since I was afraid my kids would turn up their nose and I didn’t want to be left alone in the house with an entire pan of brownies. In addition, I used dried cherries rather than raisins, and subbed semi-sweet for most of the bittersweet chocolate.

The verdict? they were… quite good. Better than the Quintuple Chocolate Brownies, if you ask me (but not quite as good as my favorite box mix combo. But hey, they're brownies so they were still scrumptious.). You don’t notice the cherries until you bite into one, and then it’s a little burst of cherry flavor, distinct and yummy. (I wasn't able to detect the rum.) I might have underbaked them... silly me, I forgot to set the timer and wasn't paying attention to the time (what else is new?).

My kids... they didn't like them because of the cherries (uh-oh! stuck in the house with a panful of brownies anyway). My mother-in-law, however, thought they were delicious.

Here’s a helpful hint for cutting brownies. You know how when you cut your brownies, the brownies get stuck to the knife and then your cuts are jaggedy and rough? I would have never guessed until some baking friends clued me in... the best implement for avoiding this is the humble plastic knife. Cuts like a dream and doesn’t get all globbed up with brownie.

Up next week: La Palette’s Strawberry Tart


1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (optional) *I left this out
1/3 cup raisins, dark or golden *I used dried cherries
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped *I used mostly semi-sweet
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 12 pieces
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil, place the pan on a baking sheet, and set aside.

1. Whisk together the flour, salt and cinnamon, if you're using it.
2. Put the raisins in a small saucepan with the water, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the water almost evaporates. Add the rum, let it warm for about 30 seconds, turn off the heat, stand back and ignite the rum. Allow the flames to die down, and set the raisins aside until needed.
3. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Slowly and gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the butter, stirring so that it melts. It's important that the chocolate and butter not get very hot. However, if the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl back over the still-hot water for a minute. If you've got a couple of little bits of unmelted butter, leave them—it's better to have a few bits than to overheat the whole. Set the chocolate aside for the moment.
4. Working with a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they are thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Lower the mixer speed and pour in the chocolate-butter, mixing only until it is incorporated—you'll have a thick, creamy batter. Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 30 seconds—the dry ingredients won't be completely incorporated and that's fine. Finish folding in the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula, then fold in the raisins along with any liquid remaining in the pan.
5. Scrape the batter into the pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is dry and crackled and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the brownies to cool to warm or room temperature.
6. Carefully lift the brownies out of the pan, using the foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. With a long-bladed knife, cut the brownies into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side, taking care not to cut through the foil.
Serving: The brownies are good just warm or at room temperature; they're even fine cold. I like these with a little something on top or alongside—good go-alongs are whipped crème fraiche or whipped cream, ice cream or chocolate sauce or even all three!

Storing: Wrapped well, these can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.