Bittersweet Baking Judge: Sarah Phillips of Baking 911

Baking 911 is a web resource we find ourselves turning to over and over again. It's a website with community boards, extensive tips, and comprehensive answers to any baking question you can think of. Sarah Phillips is the founder and baking genius behind the site, and she has graciously agreed to be one of the three judges in our Bittersweet Baking contest.

Read on for more about Sarah, as well as Sarah's current favorite baking tool, and a recipe for her favorite bittersweet treat: Peanut Butter Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars.

Sarah Phillips, founder and CEO of baking911.com, is a nationally known baking expert,
cookbook author, recipe developer, and professional baker. She says:

Growing up, my mother did not believe in letting us have the chemicals in foods or canned foods that first appeared in the supermarkets in the1950's. So, as a result we made everything ourselves: we had our own vegetable gardens -- organic, of course (and put edible flowers in our salad's starting in the 1960's, when we moved to LA), canned our own foods, ground our own flour (the grinder attachment for our KitchenAid never stopped), baked bread on a weekly basis, and baked and cooked to our heart's content.

We also traveled to ethnic neighborhoods to learn about the food and to find recipes around Los Angeles, starting in the 1960s -- we made sushi from the Japanese neighborhoods, Indian food from the Indian ones, we made blue cornmeal tortillas from our travels to the Southwest (I lived with the Hopi Indians in Arizona for one summer, to apprentice with a well-known Hopi silversmith, Laurence Saufkie. We baked daily in the beehive ovens), and made mole sauce from our visits to Mexico (I went to art school for a summer in San Miguel de Allende, where I lived with a Mexican family--and, of course I cooked and baked with them to prepare the daily meals). I remember vividly, digging a pit in the backyard to roast a pig for a party, fashioned from our visits to Hawaii !!

As I look back, my food experiences with my family were an incredible experience. I continue the tradition with my family, as well as my love for food, I feel as though I am well prepared for my profession today. The eating part of the tradition also continues, and as a result, I have also had to add daily exercise to my routine -- YUK!!

We also asked Sarah about her favorite baking tool. She said:

My favorite baking tool: heat proof rubber spatulas in large, medium and small sizes. I have broad and narrow blade sizes, as well. One can do so much with them - Scrape the mixing bowl or get the last bit of ingredients from the bottom of the measuring cups or jars; gently fold or stir together hot or cold ingredients; push ingredients into the mixing blades when using a hand-held mixer; etc. I use mine all the time and cannot be without!

Here's a recipe for Sarah's favorite bittersweet treat:

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PEANUT BUTTER BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BARS
by Sarah Phillips © Sarah Phillips, baking911.com 2007

Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan - about 30 small 1-1/2 x 2-1/2-inch bars

These are not for the faint-hearted because the recipe delivers an incredible mix of flavors and textures - chewy and rich peanut butter bars laced with gooey bittersweet chocolate. You'll need plenty of napkins when you eat them! The dough is stiff, so it needs to be pressed into a greased baking pan. After baking and cooling, cut them into bars in advance, if desired, and place in an airtight container, or just cover the entire pan with plastic wrap or foil. They freeze nicely.

INGREDIENTS:
2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; spoon into measuring cup and level to rim
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 cup chunky peanut butter; measure with a dry measuring cup and level to rim

3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups (one 11.5 or 12-ounce bag) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips; you can substitute with white chocolate chips

SARAH SAYS: I use Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips (formerly Double Chocolate). If you can’t find them, chop a bittersweet baking chocolate bar, found in the grocery store, into 1/4-inch evenly sized pieces. Measure 1 1/2 cups for the recipe when using baking chocolate.

NOTES: Do not use a hand held mixer with this recipe; the dough is really thick and may burn out its motor.

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper or spray the pan with nonstick spray.

SARAH SAYS: Don't forget to lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees F if you use a dark nonstick, heavy ceramic or ovenproof glass pan.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. Fit a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, and in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the sugars and with the mixer on low, drizzle in the melted butter. Add the peanut butter and mix until incorporated.

4. Add the eggs and vanilla and incorporate with the mixer on low. Take care not to beat air into the dough; just mix until the ingredients are incorporated. The dough will be really sticky and thick. Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and side of the bowl often.

5. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in a fast stream at the side of the bowl until incorporated. Do not overmix. The dough will be really stiff. At the end, add in the chocolate chips. The chips will not incorporate well, but it's ok.

6. PRESS the dough evenly in the baking pan. Gather any stray chocolate chips at the bottom of the mixing bowl and sprinkle on top of the dough and then lightly press in. The dough will fill the pan about 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick.

7. Bake for about 30 minutes until lightly browned around the edges and lightly browned on top. The recipe will seem underdone in the middle but will harden when cool. Do not overbake. The bars will be about 1-inch thick.

SARAH SAYS: What you want to do by baking is to just set the dough. The center of the dough will seem undone and there will be spots of seemingly underdone dough throughout the bars; it's ok.

Cool in the pan on a wire cake rack before cutting into bars. The recipe will take about 2 hours to cool thoroughly.

SARAH SAYS: The bars are delicious when eaten slightly warm!

STORAGE: Store well-covered at room temperature for 3 to 5 days. Freezes well for up to 3 months in an airtight container.

(Photo: By sugarpie (c) Sarah Phillips, baking911.com)

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