Browsing articles in "Chocolate"
Mar 8, 2011

Milky Way Tart

Cookies are nice. Brownies are perfectly lovely. Simple joys in your run-of-the-mill long week. But then there are Those Weeks. The kind that start innocently enough, full of work and house stuff and errands and lots of c’mon! I just washed this!–same old thing. And then, without fair warning, the universe throws you a curveball the size of Charlie Sheen’s list of issues. Before you know it, your normal cookie-and-brownie week has morphed into meetings and frantic phone calls and packing and airports (all for good–don’t panic) on top of mothering a tiny person who constantly seems to be one step away from setting the place on fire and–kicker–a frenetic family trip to see Disney on Ice. I-yi-yi. Do they even make Calgon anymore?

When your saving grace is a dear friend inviting your crazy family over for pizza and wine on a Friday night and you’ve said you’re bringing dessert, cookies and/or brownies aren’t going to cut it. You need a flippin’ Milky Way Tart in your life. This is one of Those Weeks, people. It’s the only thing you can do to survive.

Last week, this creamy, dreamy, caramelly specimen shone like a beacon through the madness. This tart is basically a stone cold fox. I mean, we all know a little salted caramel never hurt anyone, but this sexy beast of a dessert has it drizzled over a pillowy milk chocolate mousse and in a generous slick atop the crust. Oh, my. My, my, my.

Let’s (suggestively) touch on the subject of the milk chocolate mousse that fills this tart, shall we? In short, I could have happily disappeared into the recesses of my closet with the mixing bowl and a spoon. I would also like to develop a sort of moisturizer inspired by this mousse, so that I might completely enrobe myself with it. It’s nothing more than melted chocolate and cream, whipped together, but the result is otherworldly.

This is the first recipe I’ve tried from Joanne Chang’s totally perfect Flour cookbook, but I’ve gotta say, girlfriend is in serious contention for one of the seats at the loud, long lunch daydream that has become my happy place. I think I’d seat her between Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Shirley Corriher.
Lynne would have us all drooling with a very vivid LRK-esque description of Joanne’s legendary Sticky Buns and Shirley could enlighten us all with the science behind their perfection. The table would be set by Ina, entirely in whiteware and vintage silver. Christopher Kimball would raise an eyebrow at our girlish giggles from across the table. There would be lots of Prosecco. I might wear something from Anthropologie. I dunno, I’m just throwing it out there, just saying. It could happen.
Milky Way Tart
Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
Makes 1 9-inch tart
For the tart shell, use your favorite pie or tart dough recipe, baked off in a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. I totally recommended my foolproof Favorite Pie Crust, made with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Or heck, use a good store-bought one and make it taste better.

There are few things as dreamy as a homemade caramel sauce like the one in this recipe for the filling and drizzling the tart, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use a nice, thick, high-quality store-bought caramel sauce. You’ll need about 1 1/2 cups of it, and if it’s very sweet, add salt to taste until you can taste a nice hint of salt.

If you are anti-corn syrup, you can leave it out of the caramel altogether, just be extremely careful not to let any sugar crystals cling to the side of pan while the sugar is caramelizing by washing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. I like to throw in a dab of corn syrup for the anti-crystallization insurance.

There are a lot of instructions and notes here, but the process is actually really simple, and all the elements can be made several days ahead of assembly. Just read through the recipe a few times so you can time out the steps the way that will work best for you.
For the milk chocolate mousse:

5 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli chips and it was fine)
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the caramel filling:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water

1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional–see note)
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the tart assembly:

One baked and cooled 9-inch tart shell (like My Favorite Pie Crust)
3-to 4-inch slab milk chocolate, at warm room temperature, for decorating

Place the chopped chocolate (or chocolate chips) in a medium heatproof bowl.
Gently heat the cream with the espresso powder and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as you see bubbles beginning to form around the edges of the pan, remove it from the heat–don’t let the cream come to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl (I prefer a metal bowl for faster cooling, and poured it straight into the bowl of my standing mixer). Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until very cold, at least 8 hours and up to 3 days ahead. The mixture needs to be extremely cold in order for it to whip properly, so don’t skimp on the chilling time. If you are short on time or generally impatient like me, throw the metal bowl into the freezer and give it a good whisking every 5-10 minutes or so–you can complete the chilling this way in about an hour.
To make the caramel, place the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium saucepan and stir well to combine. Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the syrup becomes a deep amber color. Pull the pan from the heat when you see it reaching a deep golden color–it takes only a moment for caramel to go from golden to amber to straight up burnt, so pull it early if in doubt. Stirring constantly with a whisk or heatproof spoon, stir in the cream all at once. Be careful–it will bubble up violently, but keep stirring until the lumps of caramel smooth out once again. Stir in the butter, salt and vanilla. When the caramel is smooth and well-blended, pour it into a small heatproof container and set in the refrigerator to cool and thicken, at least 4 hours or up to 1 week. Again, using a metal container (I use a loaf pan) will cut this time down significantly.
When the cream mixture and caramel have both cooled sufficiently, assemble the tart. Place the tart shell on a serving platter. Spread about three-fourths of the caramel evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Fit the bowl with the cream mixture onto a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form (or beat with a handheld mixer). Mound the chocolate mousse on top of the caramel and smooth evenly.
Using a vegetable peeler, make chocolate curls from the bar of milk chocolate: warm the bar slightly in the palm of your hand before pulling the peeler across it to get curls instead of just grating the chocolate. Drizzle the tart with the remaining caramel and follow it with a generous sprinkling of chocolate curls. Refrigerate the tart for 30 minutes before serving (or airtight for up to 8 hours).
Mar 1, 2011

Chocolate Chip-Espresso Scones

Really, what’s better than putting a carb-y, breakfast-y baked good in your face first thing in the morning? I mean, never mind that you might feel like you’re walking in mud for the rest of the day if you start things out with jelly doughnut–I’m talking more about instant gratification here. Because a croissant and coffee for breakfast? Glorious. But one morning pastry I tend to pass over, never even pausing to consider it, is the humble scone. I’ve always sort of thought scones were just a big snore.

Truthfully, most coffee shop specimens do leave a lot to be desired–dry, pale, lifeless, crumbly. Bah. Why bother? Pass the cheese danish, sister.
But let me tell you about the recipe that recently changed my mind about scones. Chocolate Chip Espresso Scones. Look into it.

Oh, hey, you know what? Now that I’m sitting here, pontificating scones like a crazy person, I think I’ve thought of another reason for my heretofore disdain for them.

It must have been about 10 years ago, because I was still living in Chicago. Probably just a year out of college. Definitely wearing something from The Limited. I was meeting with my agent at the time at a coffee shop, drinking a latte and picking at one of those aforementioned substandard cafe scones. I don’t even know why I ordered it–maybe because I was barely in my 20s and could absentmindedly snack on things like horrible scones and not think about my pants size.

Anyway, the topic of my conversation with my agent was moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, and in short order she told me that I might want to “lose some pounds”. As I took in that advice, I continued to snack on the horrible scone. A few beats later the well-meaning agent said, “That’s a huge scone.” And that was the end of my relationship with scones.

Until now. Now I know what to look for in scones. Also, how to interpret advice. So there’s that.

So, hey, back to these really good scones. Scones that won’t leave your mouth dry with regret and overworked flour. Scones of empowerment! Yeah!

It’s no surprise that the recipe that has converted me to Scone Lover is from the amazing Karen DeMasco, she of pastry stardom and a little restaurant you may have heard of. All of the recipes in her book The Craft of Baking have this wonderful feel to them, something I can’t quite put my finger on. Terrifically refined, but with a homespun feel. Every recipe has a bit of an unexpected twist–a flavor boost, a surprising technique–that takes even the most typical of baked goods to the next level. Like a throwing chocolate and espresso into a scone, and making it moist and buttery to boot. Genius.

Like most scone recipes, the dough comes together in a flash. A healthy handful of chocolate chips and a hit of espresso lend a ton of personality here. The scone itself has fabulously crunchy edges that give way to a tender, cakey interior. I really can’t say enough about these scones. Or learning how to filter thinly veiled criticism. Psshh.
Chocolate Chip Espresso Scones
Adapted from Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking

You can cut the scones in whatever size and shape you like–I made mine into rustic squares and on the smaller side and got 16 out of a batch.

Once the scones are rolled and cut, you can wrap them unbaked tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days in the fridge or 2 weeks in the freezer. When baking frozen scones, don’t thaw them, just bake them frozen for about 5 minutes longer.
Makes 12-16, depending on size
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Coarse sugar, such as turbinado or sanding sugar, for sprinkling
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add the butter pieces to the bowl. Place the bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the espresso powder with 1 teaspoon hot water, whisking to dissolve the espresso. Whisk in 1 cup of the cream. Set aside.
Take the bowl out of the freezer. Put it back on the mixer on low speed until the butter is broken down into pebble-sized pieces. Stir in the chocolate chips. Pour in the espresso-cream mixture and mix on low speed just until the dough comes together.
Lightly dust a work surface and rolling pin with flour. Turn the dough out and gently knead it a few times just to bring it together. Roll the dough into a circle or rectangle (your preference), about 1-inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into equal wedges or squares (12 to 16 pieces, depending on how big you like your scones). Place the scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for 15 minutes, or chill for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
While the scones are chilling, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the chilled scones with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and sprinkle generously with coarse sugar. Bake the scones until they are golden brown on the edges and bottoms, and firm to the touch, 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Feb 3, 2011

Nutella Pop-Tarts

So is it just me, or is there way more pressure involved with Valentine’s Day when it falls on a weekend? Something about it being on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday creates high drama and expectations–wine, roses, fancy dinner reservations. Also, feeling compelled to take a lengthy shower, exfoliate and wear something spectacular. In other words, STRESS. Right?! Gah.

Thankfully, this year Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday, so we can all rest easy. I’m thinking something homemade, insanely delicious and crazy clever for breakfast along with a sweet card will fit the bill just fine. If you go with these Nutella Pop-Tarts, for instance, it will totally make up for couching it–wholly ungroomed and in stretchy black pants–by 7:30 p.m. on February 14th. Because hey, it’s a Monday. I’m sticking with that theory.

Nutella is clearly one of the best inventions ever, and it holds fine sense memories of all sorts for me. In fact, one of my top reasons to move to Europe is eating Nutella for breakfast without reservation. But with World Nutella Day fast approaching, people all over this wonderful Earth can bond over scarfing down bread and chocolate with abandon first thing in the morning. I can’t think of anything more world peace-encouraging than that, except for maybe joining forces of the most questionable breakfast foods of both Europe and America, and creating the Nutella Pop-Tart. And just in time for World Nutella Day? I’m feeling a Nobel Peace Prize nomination coming on here, people. Just saying.

Happily, promoting world peace and sugar high-inducing breakfasts couldn’t be easier. All it takes is a batch of flaky, foolproof pie dough and a jar of Nutella. Oh, and a glossy, coffee-spiked glaze to shine things up. Because coffee things definitely mean breakfast, right?

The resulting pastries are so positively divine, you’ll feel all kinds of love this Valentine’s Day. Including the priceless joy that comes from eating chocolate for breakfast and the knowledge that exfoliation is totally optional.

Nutella Pop-Tarts

If you use My Favorite Pie Crust recipe, make it with 2 tablespoons of sugar. If you use another pie crust recipe, just make sure it’s enough to make 1 double-crusted 9 or 10-inch pie.

Makes 12

For the tarts:

1 batch of My Favorite Pie Crust, well-chilled (see note)
1 (13-ounce) jar Nutella
1 egg

For the glaze:

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons strong brewed coffee
1 tablespoon dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Valrhona)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Divide the chilled pie dough in half. Working with one half at a time (refrigerate the half you’re not working with), roll the dough out to a rectangle, about 9 1/2 x 13 inches. To make for a more even rectangle, use a thin, sharp knife to trim the edges. Patch any shaggy edges together using the dough scraps. The more evenly shaped your rectangle, the easier it will be to form neat-looking tarts. Cut the dough rectangle into 12 equal squares on a grid, 4 down and 3 across. Place the squares on the baking sheets, 6 squares per sheet.

Using spoons or a small ice cream scoop, dollop 1 generous tablespoon of Nutella in the center of each dough square, spreading slightly as you go, leaving a 1/2 inch border of dough around the filling.

Repeat the dough rolling and cutting process with the second half of the dough.

In a small bowl, beat together the egg with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt, whisking until the egg wash is liquified and well-blended. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the exposed border of dough around each mound of filling (set the remaining egg wash aside to brush the assembled tarts if baking them the same day). Place a second dough square on top of each tart, using your fingers to gently press the seams together. Use a fork to crimp together the two layers of dough. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes (at this point, you can cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap and chill overnight).

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly brush the top and edges of each tart with the remaining egg wash. Bake until the tarts are golden brown on the top and bottom, about 35-40 minutes. Cool for 1 minute on the baking sheets, and then transfer the tarts to cooling racks.

To prepare the glaze, whisk together all the ingredients until smooth.

When the tarts are just slightly warm, spoon the glaze over them. Let the glaze dry for 15 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days.

Jan 25, 2011

Peanut Butter Crunch Truffles

Born of the Midwest, I have a penchant for kitschy recipes. Give me a casserole made with cream of mushroom soup and topped with potato chips, and I could pass out from the hilarious joy of it all. There’s just something so great about recipes that are simple and sinfully delicious and contain ingredients that can never be found in nature. Take Haystacks, for example. Melted butterscotch chips, peanut butter and chow mein noodles, for Pete’s sake. Wad the mixture up in little mounds, put it in your face, AMAZING.

Now say you take something already perfect like Haystacks, up the fabulous by adding butter and a nice hit of salt, and then dip it in bittersweet chocolate. Hubba, hubba. Not that you need any help (did I tell you that you look terrific today?), but I’d say we’re gonna get you a whole bunch of pining Valentines with this one.

When it comes to the ultimate in flavor and textural dreams, these little babies will just about blow your mind. I mean, you’ve got a chocolate shell, so, awesome already, obviously. But inside that chocolate casing, you’ve got a creamy, buttery, peanutty filling, studded with two kinds of crunch–a sturdy one from peanuts, and a more delicate, crispy crunch from those crazy chow mein noodles. I-yi-yi.

And the best part? These are so insanely easy, guys. You’ll have instant Valentine’s Day gifts that will make you an absolute hero. And plenty of leftovers so you can be your own Valentine and savor them slowly while watching trashy reality programming. Perfection!

Peanut Butter Crunch Truffles
Normally, you want commercial peanut butters for baking, but here, the texture and huge peanutty flavor of unsweetened natural peanut butter is the best choice.

Melt the butterscotch chips slowly and gently–they can have a tendency to burn and seize up. 50% power for 30 second increments, stirring well after each interval works well. You can also use a double boiler.

Chow mein noodles can be found in cans or cellophane bags in the Asian foods aisle of your supermarket.
Makes about 30

1 cup well-stirred crunchy natural peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ounces butterscotch chips, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or about 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
1 1/2 cups chow mein noodles (see note)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the peanut butter and butter. Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Beat in the melted butterscotch chips, sugar and salt. Reduce the speed to low and stir in the chow mein noodles, until the mixture is well-blended and the noodles have broken up a bit, about 30 seconds or so.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, waxed paper or a silicone baking mat. Using a small ice cream scoop or two spoons, scoop out portions of the mixture, about 2 teaspoonsful for each truffle. Roll each portion into a rough ball using your hands. Work quickly when you roll the balls–the mixture will melt a bit with the warmth of your hands and get a bit messy, but no worries, perfection isn’t the goal here. Place the truffle centers back on the baking sheet and freeze until very firm–at least 30 minutes.
When you’re ready to dip the truffles, place half the chopped chocolate in a double boiler (a glass or heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water). Melt the chocolate until it is smooth and fluid. Remove the bowl from the pan and add the second half of the chocolate, stirring again until smooth (this is a quick tempering method that helps to ensure you’ll get a nice, shiny chocolate coating). Place the bowl back on the pot of hot water to help keep it warm while you coat the truffles.
Dip each truffle quickly in the chocolate using a fork or a candy dipping tool. Place the dipped truffles back on the lined baking sheet. When all the truffles are dipped, chill in the refrigerator to set the chocolate. Finished truffles can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.
Nov 19, 2010

Gingerbread Beer Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

Oh, friends. I’ve missed you guys! Sorry to go MIA there for a while, but I have a good reason. And that reason would be that I just finished catering a dessert bar for 200 people. Which meant creating nearly 600 wee pieces of various desserts and confections from scratch, as well as styling the table in such a way that it would be inviting and festive, but still support my personal crusade against the crazymaking TABLESCAPE. It also meant neglecting my child and challenging my husband’s wedding vows. And I will tell you all about it soon because it was a major, Oprah-esque, Life! Chaaaang-iiiiing! experience. But for now I extend to you a peace offering for disappearing on you during high baking season. It involves beer, chocolate and cake. I’m trying real hard to make it up to you, see?

This cake is really something special. The original recipe comes from Sky High, a Bible of celebration cakes that I’ve had on my nightstand more often than not, for pre-bedtime reading. It constantly inspires me, and its recipe for Gingerbread Beer Cake popped out at me like an eager toddler suddenly appearing at mattress level at 6:30 in the morning.

Hi!” this cake said. “Bake me, bake me, bake meeeee! It’s November and I am just so totally perfect right this minute, see?! I’m telling you–I! Am! Awesome! Do you hear me?!” And really, who can argue with that sort of relentless insistence? This recipe was the squeaky wheel of my week, even when I was elbow-deep in filling for 200 teeny-tiny whoopie pies.

Reading the epic ingredient list for this cake–with its dark beer, mounds of chocolate and ground mustard in addition to what might amount to the entire contents of your spice rack–may seem a bit crazy and all too much at first. But believe me when I say that the balance of all the bold flavors here is one of the more magical combinations I’ve baked up all year. For real. And if you’ve got any non-pumpkin pie people coming to your holiday gatherings (towards whom I cast no judgement–ahem, Communists–what?), this cake would absolutely be the perfect counterpoint for the dessert table.

Gingerbread Beer Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

This cake is a very versatile little number. The original recipe makes a three layer, 8-inch round cake, but I halved the recipe and made a smaller sheet cake of sorts in an 8×8-inch square pan and it was terrific (the baking time was increased by about 15 minutes because a sheet cake will be thicker than the rounds–just keep checking it). I’m betting the original amounts would work as a sheet cake in a 9×13-inch pan, too, for a larger crowd–check out my favorite pan size conversion chart for help. For cupcakes, I’d recommend doing a half cake flour/half all-purpose flour mix to make the cake a little sturdier, because it is a rather light, tender cake.

I used Guinness for my cake and loved the flavor, even though the author said a stout would be too heavy (rebel!). The author recommends a porter. I also used barley malt syrup instead of molasses because it’s what I had on hand, and thought it was perfection–I would make it the same way again. For the spices, don’t be afraid to play with the amouns a tiny bit to suit your tastes, but don’t leave out the ground mustard–the extra bit of crazy really makes for a gentle heat that’s just spectacular.

Makes 1 3-layer, 8-inch round cake

For the cake:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground mustard
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dark beer or porter (see note)
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses (or barley malt syrup–see note)
6 tablespoons buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 eggs

For the frosting:

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Scharffen Berger 70%–go for at least 60% cacao)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 3 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Butter the parchment, too.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, mustard, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the beer, molasses (or malt syrup), buttermilk and vanilla.
Set the bowl of dry ingredients on the mixer. On low speed, stir in about two-thirds of the beer mixture and the softened butter. Once all the ingredients are incorporated, crank the speed up to medium and beat until the batter is lightened in color and aerated, about 3 minutes.

With the mixer running, beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the remaining beer mixture. Fold the batter by hand a few times to ensure everything is well-mixed.

Pour the batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake the cake layers for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the layers in their pans for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto a cooling rack and remove the parchment paper liners. Allow the cakes to cool completely, at least 1 hour.

To make the frosting, melt together the chocolate and cream (you can do this over a double boiler or in the microwave with 45-seconds bursts of high power). Whisk the chocolate and cream together until smooth. Let the chocolate cool considerably, until it thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is creamy. Scrape in the chocolate and beat again until the frosting is smooth and light, just about 3 minutes. Avoid overbeating, as the frosting may separate.

Place on cake layer flat side up on a serving platter, and tuck strips of parchment just under the edges of the cake to keep the plate clean. Dollop 2/3 cup of frosting on the first cake layer and spread evenly, right up to the edges. Repeat with the second layer. Place the third layer on top, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Let the cake sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving to allow the frosting to set up a bit. Keep leftovers in a cake keeper at cool room temperature or refrigerate them, letting the cake come to room temperature again before serving.

Oct 1, 2010

(Gluten-Free!) Rocky Road Rice Crispy Treats

As anyone who has ever been charged with feeding a small child can attest, some days it can feel a whole lot like you’re a spinning top with 20 hands, each one offering a different food, chirpily introducing each one in the hopes that you can get anything, anything at all into the body of said child. “Pasta? Tomatoes? Toast? String cheese? Chicken? Peanut Butter? Mac and Cheese? I don’t care if it’s partially hydrogenated, crumb-coated “chik’n”, for the love of God, child, eat something!”–sometimes up to three very trying times per day. I think even those blessed with the most adventurous of eaters can feel me here.

And yet, so often, even in the heat of my crazed-waitress moments, I can take a deep breath and remind myself that at least I have endless options to offer Little C. If I was one of those moms with a kid who has a serious food allergy, particularly something as ubiquitous as gluten or dairy, I don’t know how I’d deal–something like 90% of the very short list of foods that Little C will willingly eat as a last resort just wouldn’t be safe to feed her. I salute the Supermoms who rework their lives, grocery shopping and cooking everyday to make sure that the foods that are going into the little bodies of their allergic and/or ingredient-sensitive kids are safe. I’m not sure I could hack it. Especially in the baking and sweets department.

But recently I was sent a book that really opened my eyes to foods and recipes that are not only safe for gluten and dairy-sensitive people, but totally kid-friendly, even for the pickiest of little eaters. Every single recipe is one that I would gladly enter into my short-order cook rotation.

Cooking for Isaiah is written by magazine editor Silvana Nardone, inspired by her gluten and dairy-intolerant (and completely gorgeous!) son. Most interestingly for a baking fiend like me, she is an accomplished baker who worked for years with the pastry standards (and my personal cornerstones) of gluten-packed flours and the dairy bomb of butter. And even though it’s a gluten-free book, I love that it acknowledges the importance of an all-purpose flour in the kitchen by offering a brilliant gluten-free all-purpose flour blend within the first few pages. Knowing that the recipes in the book pass muster of a woman who would never have had to create them had her son not needed them is a sign that, regardless of your dietary needs, you’re in for some serious yum with this book.

Besides being packed with insanely delicious recipes, every page positively sings with love. This is a book with true purpose. I instantly fell in love with its story and creative, crave-worthy recipes, any of which I would happily cook and gobble down without feeling like a dish was lacking in flavor or integrity because of its gluten and dairy-free design. Take, for example, these come-hither Rocky Road Rice Crispy Treats. With a mouthful of chocolate and marshmallow, would you be thinking about flippin’ gluten? Yeah, me neither.

Rocky Road Rice Crispy Treats
Adapted from Silvana Nardone’s Cooking for Isaiah

The drizzles of semi-sweet chocolate and marshmallow sauce are absolutely a gilding of the lily here, but I thought the addition of them was decadent and sensational. If you don’t want to buy a jar of marshmallow fluff for only 1/4 cup of it, which I didn’t, then you can make your own marshmallow: melt 1 cup of mini marshmallows in a double boiler with 2 teaspoons of heavy cream (my choice), milk or water (if you’re keeping these dairy-free). If you start with a full 10.5 ounce bag of mini marshmallows, then you should have just enough left over after mixing the bars together to make the marshmallow drizzle.

Also, read the labels of crisp rice cereal carefully–not all of them are actually gluten-free.

Makes 16

4 cups mini marshmallows
1/2 cup well-stirred almond butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 cups crispy rice cereal
1/4 cup marshmallow creme, such as Fluff (or not–see note)
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted, for drizzling

Grease an 8×8-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with a 14-inch long strip of parchment paper for easy removal of the bars.

In a large saucepan, combine 2 cups marshmallows, the almond butter, cocoa powder, corn syrup and salt. Melt together over low heat, stirring often.

Place the cereal in a large bowl. Pour the warm chocolate mixture over the cereal and stir to coat. When the cereal is nearly coated, stir in the remaining 2 cups of marshmallows. Press into the prepared pan in an even layer and set aside.

For the marshmallow sauce, either stir together the 1/4 cup marshmallow fluff with 2 teaspoons of boiling water, or melt 1 cup of mini-marshmallows with 2 teaspoons heavy cream, milk or water in a double boiler and stir until smooth. Let cool slightly before drizzling over the bars, along with the melted semi-sweet chocolate.

Chill the bars for 10 minutes in the refrigerator before cutting into 16 bars.

Aug 15, 2010

My Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake

I know this confession is a risky one, but I think our relationship can withstand such brutal honesty: Despite the chocolate-on-chocolate celebration of my latest posts, I can sort of take or leave chocolate. True story. I mean, I like chocolate, really I do–love working with it and putting it in my face on occasion. Because really, when a chocolate craving hits at certain, ahem, personal times, nothing but chocolate will do (holler if you hear me, ladies). However, I’d never be called a “chocoholic” or be gifted a mug that says something like “Ack! Don’t talk to me before I’ve had my morning chocolate!”, or whatever.

But even so, this here chocolate cupcake was so smack-the-counter good that they’ve become a Real Problem. Which is to say that my typical day of three meals and one dessert has basically inverted for the lifespan of these cupcakes. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve shared the recipe for the chocolate cake with you before–it truly is my go-to recipe that I’ve tweaked and amped up a bit from Martha’s original recipe over the years. Love, love, love it. But the frosting is a new thing entirely, a result of my newfound love and fascination with flour frostings. I needed a chocolate version of this frosting, and I needed it to be a very specific frosting situation. For this part-time chocolate lover, it basically needed to blow my mind with chocolaty perfection, but not be cloyingly rich or overtly decadent like so many other chocolate frostings.

I wanted a cloud of chocolate atop the rich cake and some deranged combination between the flavor of melted chocolate ice cream, chocolate mousse and the center of a 3 Musketeers bar. It took a few attempts to get there. But judging by the ferocity and stealth with which I hid the leftovers of this frosting in the depths of my refrigerator, I’d say it was a total success. And the marriage of the cake and the frosting–mmm, mmm! I’d consider converting to Chocoholism for a cupcake like this.

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

I get about 18 cupcakes out of this recipe, but you can stretch it to a full 2 dozen if need be. It also makes two great 9-inch cake layers. Using brewed coffee instead of just water makes the chocolate taste more…chocolatey. You can dissolve 1 teaspoon instant espresso in 3/4 cup hot water instead. Mini chocolate chips melt into the cake to make it extra rich and decadent.

Makes 18-24 cupcakes

For the cake:

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I love Ghiradelli or Valhrona)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee (see note)
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips (or regular chips, chopped fine)

For the chocolate flour frosting:

3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons premium cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Spray the top of the muffin tin with cooking spray for extra non-stick insurance, as these cupcakes can have a serious rise and can puff over the edges of the tin’s wells.

Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well-mixed. Fold in the mini chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (an ice cream scoop works well here), filling each cup no more than 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, whisk together the flour, milk, cocoa powder and salt until the mixture comes together to form a thick paste. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl, and press a sheet of plastic wrap right on the surface of the mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Cool in the refrigerator it for about 15 minutes, or until it’s cool to the touch.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the chocolate mixture until the frosting begins to lighten in color and texture, almost mousse-like. Beat in the melted unsweetened chocolate until the frosting is fluffy, smooth and well-blended. Frost cupcakes, and store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

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