Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Evolution of the Dark Chocolate Zucchini Brownie

I've been in search of a good dark chocolate brownie recipe and at the same time, I've been searching for more ways to use up all the summer squash that comes this time of year. So, when I found a well reviewed zucchini brownie recipe, I thought I'd had it made. But I didn't care for the original recipe so I experimented a bit. My favorite version is at the bottom of this post.

The recipe I started out with can be found here.

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup margarine
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla until well blended. Combine the flour, 1/2 cup cocoa, baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Fold in the zucchini and walnuts. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.
3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until brownies spring back when gently touched. To make the frosting, melt together the 6 tablespoons of cocoa and margarine; set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, blend together the confectioners' sugar, milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in the cocoa mixture. Spread over cooled brownies before cutting into squares.

I made this recipe the first time without any changes except skipping the icing. Also, I used the Special Dark cocoa powder. I found the brownies to be very good but quite cakey so I set about modifying the recipe for a more fudgey brownie. I researched what makes brownies more cakey versus more fudgey and found that reducing egg, flour and baking soda should do it. So, I went about it the scientific way and changed one thing at a time. First I reduced the baking soda to 1/2 teaspoon. This definitely made the brownies less cakey, but they were still pretty cakey IMO. Next, I reduced the flour to 1 1/2 cups. They helped a LOT towards making the brownies more fudgey. Still not as fudgey as some I've had in the past. Next, I reduced the baking soda to just a scant 1/4 teaspoon. Next, I added more cocoa powder, bringing the amount up to 3/4 cup. Now these brownies are pretty fudgey! So, the ingredients for my current recipe is:
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Finally, I jazzed them up a bit by adding a cream cheese swirl. Wow! These are currently my favorite brownies! For the cream cheese swirl:
Cream Cheese Layer:
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
Beat all the ingredients for the brownies together, minus the ingredients for the cream cheese swirl. After putting the brownie batter in the pan, beat the ingredients for the cream cheese swirl together until smooth and spoon the cream cheese mixture on top of the brownie mixture. Draw a knife through it repeatedly to swirl it. Then bake as usual.

Ice Plant is Blooming and the Bees are Out

Today is a lovely day. The sun is shining and the temperature is in the upper sixties. Just two weeks ago the temperature was minus 10, so I was surprised to see anything growing, never mind blooming. But there are at least three varieties of ice plant blooming and the bees have found them.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Extracting Honey

Honey Extraction
This past Sunday, August 10, 2014, we took our frames of honey from our backyard beehives to be extracted down at Dakota Bees in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. We'd removed the frames from the supers the day before and stored them in the back of car so the bees couldn't get to them and take the honey back to their hives.
Taking the supers and honey frames off the hives was pretty exciting in itself as the bees don't really like their hard earned winter food supply being taken from them. We smoked the bees a little to calm them down and used Bee Quick to chase them down out of the supers and into the lower deep boxes. It worked sort of well, but would've worked better if the weather had been warmer and sunnier. As it was, we got 3 supers and 25 frames full of honey off of the hives. Most of this came off the two older hives. We didn't get much of anything off the 3 hives that are new this year, but we didn't expect to.
Frame Before Uncapping
Frame After Uncapping
We headed over to Dakota Bees in the morning with our frames. Greg showed us how to use a heat gun to uncap the honey cells on the frames. This worked very well for most of the frames, the heat quickly popping the tops of the caps off of the honey. The heat gun doesn't heat up the honey, but heats the air gap under the cell cap, popping it off. For the few cells it didn't work on, we used a honey pick to open up the cells.
12 Frame Extractor
Extractor and Honey Bucket
Next, we loaded up the large extractor with the frames and spun the honey out of the cells. The extractor is basically a large centrifuge, pulling the honey out of the cells with centrifugal force and then letting it drip down the walls of the extractor and out the spigot at the bottom, where it then goes into our honey bucket.
Bucket of Honey!
Chris took a video of this process. After we got all our honey extracted, we headed home to put the honey into jars for permanent storage. We washed a bunch of brand new pint jars and some half pints (they mail easier than full pints) and filled them up from the brand new 5 gallon pail with a honey gate on it. Filling the jars by ladelling it out would have been much messier. Now we have enough honey to last us a very long time.
Bucket with Honey Gate