Thursday, February 24, 2011

So Chocolaty Part 2: The Dark Side

So yes, we know I like milk chocolate. But I obviously can appreciate the dark side of chocolate too, especially because it’s such a common and irreplaceable ingredient in most chocolaty baked goods. There are many recipes that showcase milk chocolate, like my cookies earlier this week, and you can even make more complex things using it like pudding or soufflĂ©. But when it comes to layering chocolate to create a truly decadent swoon-worthy masterpiece, the darker the chocolate the better. All this coming from a professed vanilla-preferer. Imagine!

I recently made a gorgeous unbelievably rich triple chocolate pudding from The Kitchen Sink – lovely blogger Kristin adapted a recipe from Bon AppĂ©tit that has become my go-to for a simple, crowd-pleasing winter dessert.  Unsweetened cocoa powder, unsweetened chocolate (100% cacao, ahh!) and semisweet chocolate come together for a triple velvety punch – sweetened with sugar and given texture with eggs and cream. You know, like most puddings. But this one really does stand out. Whatever chocolate camp your allegiance lies with, it’s hard not to love this amazing confection.

Triple Chocolate Pudding                                                                                                               from The Kitchen Sink, with my notes

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 1/2 cups half and half (I've replaced some of this with regular milk at times and it does no harm)
4 large egg yolks
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk sugar, cocoa, and cornstarch in a heavy medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in 1 cup half and half. Whisk in remaining 2 1/2 cups half and half and yolks. Whisk over medium-high heat until mixture thickens and boils, whisking constantly, about 12 minutes (watch this, because it can happen much earlier and you don't want to overcook). Remove from heat. Add both chocolates and butter; whisk until melted and smooth. Mix in vanilla. Transfer pudding to a bowl - press plastic wrap directly onto surface of pudding and chill until it sets, about 6 hours. Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

Monday, February 21, 2011

So Chocolaty Part 1: Cacao to Cacao

I feel like chocolate has gotten so fancy and intimidating lately for home chefs…there is so much emphasis on cacao content and sustainability that it sort of gets lost that chocolate is supposed to be a fun treat. Not that we shouldn’t be socially and environmentally conscious or care about the raw ingredients that go into our food…but people, you don’t have to buy 62% cacao organic dark chocolate that was made by butterflies.

Hey guess what? I like milk chocolate. Better. As in better than its suave, popular older brother dark chocolate. I don’t care that it only has about an 11% cacao content and is loaded with sugar. I think we can all confess to picking the “Special Dark” Hershey’s Miniatures out of our trick-or-treat bags as kids and giving them to our parents, and I guess my taste just never grew up.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good dark chocolate – with a lovely after dinner cocktail and a piquant cheese absolutely. I just LOVE milk chocolate. To me it’s what chocolate should be, all kinds of melty and sweet and glorious. But I also vastly prefer caramel and vanilla to chocolate. So maybe this all makes sense.

Anyway, this week I’ll be featuring two chocolate-related posts…it’s a much-neglected ingredient in my kitchen but the winter is generally when it gets its day in the sun. This time around, milk chocolate shines in another great recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook – for her milk chocolate hazelnut cookies. They are rich with both ground and chopped hazelnuts and sweet with milk chocolate. These are some of my favorite cookies ever and I'm thrilled to be able to create them for myself when I’m in the mood for a chocolaty treat…even if the ones at her bakery are still somehow magically better.

Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies
by Joanne Chang, from Flour, with my notes

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (1 1/2 sticks plus 1 table spoon) unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups blanched whole hazelnuts, toasted
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (I used milk chocolate chips this time, but I think I would switch to the chopped chocolate next time)

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. (If using a hand mixer, it will take twice the time). Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat in eggs and vanilla on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl and paddle again to make sure the ingredients are incorporated.

In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts until ground into a fine powder. (Stop grinding once they are powdery; if you continue, they will become a paste.) Roughly chop the remaining 1 cup hazelnuts. In a medium bowl, stir together the ground and chopped hazelnuts, flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate. On low speed, or with a wooden spoon, slowly blend the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and then mix just until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed.

For the best results, scrape dough into an airtight container and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least 3-4 hours). When you are ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350˚.

Drop the dough in 1/4-cup balls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and pale and slightly soft in the center. (This happened in only 15 minutes for me, so watch them - you know your oven best.)

Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then transfer cookies to rack to cool completely. Will keep for 3 days at room temp in an airtight container. Uncooked dough will keep for a week in the fridge in an airtight container.

One Year Ago: Vanilla Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Oh Snap - my 50th Post!

Wow, this is my 50th post! It's hard to believe. I personally think that's toast worthy, so what could be more appropriate than a lovely wintry cocktail recipe?

I'm excited to share an amazing liquor that my dear friends from Philly bestowed upon my husband and I around the holidays - Snap. It's a ridiculously warm and pleasing concoction made with blackstrap molasses, ginger, and other "North American spices" like clove, cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as rooibos tea, vanilla and brown sugar. It was cooked up by DIY dynamos Art in the Age (of Mechanical Reproduction) and is a work of pure genius. It has defined our winter cocktails ever since it sauntered into our life, dressed up in a little cream and brown gingham bow, quietly insisting "Drink me, please."

After much experimenting, it was my husband that struck upon our favorite Snap-related cocktail - we've not really named it, but I think of it as the "Double Ginger" because it involves a hefty dose of Ginger Brew, from Maine Root out of Portland. The third very important ingredient is a smooth dreamy bourbon - our favorite is Bulleit, but we've also made this drink lately with Rowan's Creek small batch bourbon, which is absolutely lovely. I'm sure any good quality bourbon would do.

The Double Ginger
by Seth Marois

2 ounces good quality bourbon
1 ounce Snap liquor
3-5 ounces ginger brew (depending on how strong you want it!)

Pour bourbon and Snap into a rocks glass. Add ginger brew. Stir, then add ice. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Meringue is simple and tricky all at the same time. It’s just a bunch of fluffy egg whites, sugar, cornstarch and salt. But what’s a bit complicated is that you need to know exactly when you’ve got it right – when to keep beating it, when to stop, and what it should look like when it is truly done.

It dawned on me how daunting this is while having lunch with a friend the other day (Hi Risa!). She said she had only just recently realized after years of making it, what meringue was really supposed to look and feel like when it had reached perfection. I immediately wanted to go home and try it again, since I had only made meringue a few times. I was certain I had gotten it wrong most of those times – the glossy stiff peaks she described sounded familiar and correct, but I was almost sure I had never quite produced them.

I decided to hunt around for a good beginners recipe - there was no WAY I was risking an entire gorgeous pie or baked Alaska with my unconfirmed meringue skills. I ended up finding a simple “cookie” recipe for mocha chip meringues in an old issue of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food – lovely clouds of meringue flavored with cocoa and espresso powder, dotted with semisweet chocolate chips.

I’m happy to report that they came out great, but it was touch and go for a while. I think my egg whites were a smidge too cold, and that maybe the unprocessed sugar I used was too heavy – in the end these were two things I overcame by beating the egg and sugar mixture longer than called for. And speaking of beating, I don’t recommend you use a hand mixer. Mine wasn’t powerful enough to make a successful meringue, so I ended up getting out my electric stand mixer, which did the trick.

Anyway, make these! Meringue is a great learning experience in texture. When you achieve the glossy lovely peaks the recipe describes it’s really exciting. And the cookies are super dreamy too.

Mocha-Chip Meringues
from M-Stew's Everyday Food

3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300˚, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium speed until frothy. Beating constantly, add sugar mixture about a tablespoon at a time. Beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6-8 minutes total (scrape down the bowl halfway through). Add espresso powder and cocoa. Beat until well blended. With a rubber spatula, fold in chocolate chips.

Drop batter by tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets (if they're a little bigger it's okay too), about 1 inch apart. Bake until crisp, about 40 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Cool completely on sheets, about 20 minutes.