Tag Archives: chocolate

Not Too Sweet

Hilary and Missy knitting

The women in my knitting group have something in common besides knitting. They all follow a gluten free diet. Which makes me the odd duck of the group, wheat eater that I am. So once a month I try to come up with a yummy GF recipe. Not that our endless cups of tea, comradery, and gentle clicking of needles needs much sweetening, but it’s an excuse to explore new recipes. Besides my friends are a willing group of guinea pigs taste testers.

If you’ve read this blog before you know the idea behind it are the stories of how I came across/found/or was given each recipe. A large part of the fun is about the route I took to get the recipe. A map as it were, between biting into something delicious and where I was before I even knew I wanted to bite into that morsel of food in the first place. This tracing of a recipe back to its source is intriguing for me – especially when it comes to the interweb and folks I’ve never met.

Occaionally Eggs gluten free chocolate cookies

Vanilla and Bean chocolate cookies

Here’s the “map” for these cookies. I first saw them on Alexandra’s Occasionally Eggs Instagram feed (top chocolate heart photo). They looked so good I wanted to reach through my phone screen and grab a few cookies to munch on right then and there. Alexandra mentioned she’d found the recipe on Traci’s blog/Instagram feed Vanilla and Bean (bottom chocolate heart photo). Alexandra had adapted the recipe using gluten free “flour” and coconut sugar in place of brown sugar and all-purpose flour. I was already loving the synergy of these chocolate cookie hearts across Instagram, and since I had some of the ingredients in my pantry, when knitting night was approaching earlier this month I made a batch. And let me tell you they were a hit.Snowy chairGluten free chocolate cookies with powdered sugar

Snowy deck

Snowy powdered sugar on vegan gluten free chocolate cookies

A few days after my first batch, March did what it so often does in New England – it snowed. A lot. Seeing the patterns the snow made on our deck, and also on my favorite wooden chair, made me re-think the shape of the cookies, at least for now. These days I cut strips, then when they’ve cooled I dust them with powdered sugar. They remind me of the snowy slats of my deck. And guess what –tomorrow we’re supposed to get another 5 – 11″ of snow!

Chocolate cookie dough - a bit different from the usual cookie dough

Before you head off to the kitchen I need to be straight up with you – this is an unique recipe. The first thing it tells you to do is to hydrate the sugar. I’d run across recipes where you let the flour rest, batters which needed to be chilled, but never in the 40+ years of baking I’ve done have I run across a recipe for hydrating sugar. Of course now that I’ve said that I’ll get comments telling me about dozens of recipes that call for sugar hydration, because after all what do I know? The dough (GF or regular) has an odd consistency when you initially make it, especially when compared to other cookie doughs. The all-purpose flour version has the consistency of brownie batter (right photo), while the gluten free version (left photo) feels more like chocolate play-do when you first mix everything together. You’ve been forewarned and so won’t be tempted to “add a little bit more flour.” Follow the recipe and you’ll be fine.

GF vegan chocolate cookies

Another note – due to the moistness of the dough you’ll be tempted to sprinkle a lot of additional flour, which ever kind you use, onto your rolling pin and counter. Don’t. See photo above where I used a bit of GF flour to keep the dough from sticking – it made it too dry. Instead put the dough between two sheet of plastic wrap and roll out, flipping every so often and peeling the plastic wrap off the surface of the dough. Once you’ve rolled it thin and cut out your cookies you’ll want to refridgerate it some more to firm back up prior to baking.

One of the knitters thought these cookies seemed to be a yummy gluten-free, vegan version of those chocolatey Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers used for Zebra Cake or Peppermint Zebra Cake. A variation to try the next time I buy heavy cream.

Intensely Chocolate Wafer Cookies

1/2 cup coconut or light brown sugar

3 Tablespoons + 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut oil, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup cocoa (I like Valrhona)

3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I used cup4cup) or all-purpose flour

1/2 Tablespoon corn starch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Powdered sugar for decorating (optional)

In a medium sized bowl mix the coconut or brown sugar with the melted coconut oil, vanilla and water. Sift the GF or all-purpose flour , cocoa, corn starch and salt over the sugar mixture and stir until incorporated. As I mentioned above the mixture will be rather soft/loose. Do not add additional flour. Wrap in plastic wrap and refridgerate 2 hours or more.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Move the racks in your oven so they’re spaced in thirds.

Place the dough between two large pieces of plastic wrap and gently roll into 1/4″ thickness. Cut into desired shapes and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. If the dough is very soft pop the cookie sheet into the fridge for 14-20 minutes to firm up again. Continue re-rolling the remaining dough unless it’s too soft, in which case wrap and refriderate it again.

Bake cookies 20-22 minutes, switching the cookie sheet from top to bottom at the mid way point as well as rotating it 180º. It is hard to determine when these cookies are done since they are so dark you can’t see when they brown on the edges. I like them crispy so I tend to bake them a wee bit longer. If you don’t want them crunchy you can bake slightly less. The size and shape you cut the dough into may also affect baking times.

Cool on a cookie rack and store in air tight containers. To serve sprinkle with powdered sugar.

After showering cookies with powdered sugar

Photos:

Chocolate heart cookies courtesy of OccasionallyEggs
Chocolate heart cookies and rolled dough courtesy of Vanilla and Bean
All others photos Cynthia Allen

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Signed Raspberries with Chocolate Ganache

If I were to sign my name with food instead of letters, what food would I use? It could be almost any recipe from this blog, though lately I think my culinary John Hancock would most  likely be Raspberries filled with Chocolate Ganache.

Raspberries filled with Chocolate Ganache

It’s a great dessert recipe with only three ingredients, but best of all it makes you look like a rock star* in the kitchen. Most people I’ve met think stuffing a raspberry is kookoo, that is until they eat one. Close your eyes and imagine a tart, juicy raspberry filled with a tiny dollop of smooth creamy chocolate ganache. Are you drooling? I know I am because these are so good you want to pop them into your mouth like candy, but the flavors are such a sublime pairing you want to savor each one. I have yet to take these anywhere without hearing at lease one person moan out loud when they eat their first one. I love foods that evokes such an earthy response!

Ingredients for raspberries with chocolate ganache

I first found the idea for this recipe on pinterest. There was no recipe linked to the image, but it seemed fairly straight forward. I modified a basic ganache recipe from Rose Levy Bernenbaum, which I then stuffed into a pastry bag with a plain tip, and started to fill the raspberries.

At first it didn’t work because the ganache refused to come out. It was malleable within the pastry bag, but no matter how hard I squeezed it would not squirt into the raspberry hole. I nicknamed this problem pastry bag constipation. Apparently the metal pastry tip changed the temperature of the ganache enough to solidify it within that small metal portion. Take away the pastry tip and things started to flow.  So now I use a disposable plastic pastry bag without a tip, and cut the tiniest of holes at the pointy end. If you have any ganache leftover you can freeze it (that is if you don’t squirt it into your mouth or all over a bowl of ice cream. Or use it to sign your name…

Filling raspberries with chocolate ganache

 

Raspberries Filled with Chocolate Ganache

If you are making these for a crowd wait until raspberries are on sale or you can get them in season. This much ganache will fill approximately 2  1/2 pounds (roughly 4 pints) of raspberries.

4–12 ounce boxes of raspberries

6 ounces good dark chocolate

6 ounces heavy cream (about 3/4 cup)

Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until simmering. As it is heating up finely chop the chocolate. When the cream is bubbling along the edges pour over the chocolate and gently stir to mix all together. Let the ganache cool a bit and then pour into a disposable pastry bag which you have set into a tall glass. Secure end with a rubber band and when the ganache cools to room temperature (you don’t want to cook the raspberries) snip the end off the pastry bag and pipe the ganache into the raspberries. If you find that you have started piping while the ganache is still semi liquid then make sure the raspberries are upright in a container so they don’t drool. Keep cool until ready to serve. Since raspberries are so delicate you do need to make these fairly close to the time you plan to serve them.

Liquid ganache filling

When people tell you how great they are  just smile and say, “It was nothing.”

Chopped chocolate

 

*I felt like this dessert achieved full Rock Star status when my son’s 11th grade class requested I bring it to their school’s semi formal. There were any number of things I could have made for them, but his one was the one recipe they all voted on.

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Be Brave Brownies

There are times when I forget how much bravery and faith it takes to step into the kitchen some days.

No one is born knowing how to cook. Everyone knows how to eat from day one, but producing the meals which get consumed over a lifetime is a learned skill. Some people master those skills early on and for them cooking becomes like a second language. Others acquired their culinary skills as needed – when they get their first apartment or in my Mom’s case, when she married and had a family to feed. I’ve noticed that for some of those late kitchen bloomers the joys of cooking are abundant while others simply tolerate their time in the kitchen because there is a need both to eat and feed people. For me being around food and cooking is akin to breathing. I do it unconsciously. There is a comfort level I’ve attained both from my love of food as well as from the hours and hours I’ve stood in front of a stove.

folding in chocolate to oatmeal batter

I don’t want to sound cocky because it wasn’t always this intuitive. I enjoyed learning to cook, but I also had to work at it. There were such spectacular failures along the way its amazing I ever took up a spatula again. For some people completely losing their eyebrows in a gas oven lighting fiasco might have turned them away from food, or at least from cooking on gas appliances, but not me (and it turns out eyebrows do grow back and you really shouldn’t wait three minutes to strike the match once the gas is on). There was a memorable visit to my parent’s kitchen from the Manlius Fire Department after I had accidentally set the stove top on fire using my new wok. The disasters have given me pause, but not frightened me out of the kitchen. There have also been some foods I’m not entirely comfortable around. Ok, I’ll say it – there are a few foods which have scared me because they were strange (offals) or dangerous (spun sugar) or had a reputation for being complicated and temperamental (chocolate). Yup, I said chocolate.

Chocolate and I go way back. I adore chocolate so much I think it should have its own line on the food pyramid. I consume some nearly every day. When we were first dating my husband noticed this obsession and asked what would happen if chocolate were illegal. I replied that he would be visiting me in jail with a file baked into a vanilla cake. Really, did he think if chocolate were illegal I would abstain from it??? Silly man. Life without chocolate? Unthinkable. I love chocolate. The thing is chocolate in some forms can be temperamental. It can seize if you add liquid at the wrong moment or turn grainy if not heated properly. There are so many ways it can misbehave. More to the point I just hadn’t tried to make many chocolate desserts beyond the classic Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip cookie. Even my Mom who doesn’t love being in the kitchen is able to whip up a chocolate mousse which is so velvety smooth and deliciously chocolatey you ask for seconds and then thirds. I was a chocolate wuss.

ghirardelli unsweetened chocolate

This hesitancy towards chocolate was quickly noted by my two bosses at the Leaf ‘n Bean Café after they hired me as their baker. Alan and John explained they expected me to have at least one chocolate item on the dessert menu every single day. “Sure, no problem,” I told them as I inwardly said to myself, “Shit, shit, shit what am I going to make?” One of the waitresses took pity on me and gave me the recipe for the best chocolate cake ever. A regular customer at the café heard about my conundrum and slipped me the recipe for her no fail brownies. What I quickly learned was you didn’t need to be afraid of chocolate – you just need a good recipe and a little faith.

It turns out that most chocolate desserts aren’t hard or scary. I’ll grant you making fancy chocolate that needs to be tempered is tricky, but there are so many chocolate dessert recipes which are “Easy Peasy” as Jamie Oliver says. If you are craving gourmet chocolate bonbons there are plenty of fabulous chocolatiers out there who can make them for you. I am particularly fond of L.A. Burdick. Beyond the fancy stuff I suggest you take a deep breath, find a good recipe, and head into the kitchen.

chocolate chip brownies

For everyday chocolate consumption it doesn’t get much simpler than brownies. Practically fail proof*, quick to make, as well as delicious, home-made brownies are as easy to whip up as their boxed Betty Crocker cousins. Brownies are the all American chocolate equivalent of apple pie, and like apple pie you can notch them up by serving them à la mode.

Here’s a tip from Maida Heatter on how to line your brownie pan with foil. Spread a sheet of foil over the outside of the pan and press the foil to follow the shape of the pan. Then slide the foil off and flip the baking pan over. Gently nudge the pre-formed foil into the inside of the pan and secure the ends by wrapping them over the edge of the pan.

forming the foil insert

Brave Brownies

I wish I remembered the customer’s name who gave me this recipe all those years ago. I’d like to thank her all over again for the kindness she showed to me when I was learning to navigate my way into a daily routine of chocolate desserts. Perhaps these should be called Thank You Brownies.

1 stick of unsalted butter (1/2 cup)

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2  – 2/3 cup flour (moist to cakey)

1/4 cup cocoa (optional)¹

pinch of salt

a handful or two of extra bits like chocolate chips, chopped walnuts or dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Flip over a 8″ x 8″ baking pan and smooth a sheet of foil over the outside – I have gotten very fond of non-stick foil recently. Gently lift the foil which is now shaped like your pan place it into the inside of the baking pan. Since the foil has the overall shape of the pan it should be easy to snug it in. The foil will make removal of your finished brownies, and clean up, a snap.

In a small saucepan heat the butter and unsweetened chocolate until melted over a low heat. Give it a stir every so often as they’re melting, then set aside to cool when both the chocolate and butter are melted.

In  medium bowl beat together the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Add the melted butter and chocolate. Finally stir in the flour, cocoa (if using) and salt. I beat it 50 times which is the number from the back of a box of brownie mix. Silly, but one of my quirks. You can simply beat until combined and then pour into the pan. If you want to add any “extra bits” you can either fold them in or sprinkle them on top.

Bake 22-27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with just a few crumbs on it. Cool for at least 20-30 minutes before trying to cut because warm brownies will cling to the knife.

oatmeal flour

Gluten Free Brownies 

Many years ago I worked with a food stylist who was starting to transition from food styling to writing cookbooks. I remember three things about Carol Gelles – her generosity to her assistants; her telling me about the deal she had with God when it came to dirty dishes – she washed and he dried; and lastly her recipe for oatmeal brownies. Back then I didn’t think of them as gluten-free, but they are made with oat flour so this is a perfect alternative for any of your friends who have an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten. If someone has a severe allergy make sure you get oats that say they are gluten free. This version is pretty much the same brownie recipe if you look at them side by side.

1 stick of unsalted butter (1/2 cup)

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup oat flour (made from 1 cup oatmeal)

1/4 cup cocoa (optional) ²

pinch of salt

a handful or two of extra bits like chocolate chips, chopped walnuts or dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Flip over a 8″ x 8″ baking pan and smooth a sheet of foil over it. Gently lift the foil off then gentle the foil into the inside of the pan to make getting them out of the pan easy.

In a small saucepan heat the butter and unsweetened chocolate until melted. Give it a stir every so often until both are melted, then set aside to cool while you put together the other ingredients.

In medium bowl beat together the eggs, sugar and vanilla for three minutes. To make the oat flour process the oatmeal in a food processor until you have flour 3-6 minutes depending on your machine. Add the oat flour and salt to the melted butter and chocolate. Stir that mixture into the beaten eggs and sugar. If you want to add any “extra bits” mix in a few handfuls into the batter or sprinkle them on top.

Bake 33-38 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with just a few crumbs on it. Cool for at least 20-30 minutes before trying to cut because warm brownies will cling to the knife.

oatmeal gluten free brownies

* I will give someone out there the benefit of the doubt that they could somehow screw these up, if only to be perverse or because they tried to mess up.

¹ Having made these brownies for every school event since writing this post I have decided I really like a small amount of cocoa added in. Since cocoa is similar in texture to flour you may want to consider reducing your total amount of flour used so the brownies don’t get too cake-y. Also my preferred brand is Ghiradelli, which while more expensive than regular cocoa is well worth the extra cost when it comes to taste.

² I have been adding a small amount of cocoa to the oatmeal variation too since it is gluten free and similar in texture to flour. As I mentioned in the previous recipe my preferred a high end brand such as Ghiradelli. 

PS – These brownies have been so easy to make I’ve been making them (and tweaking them) twice a week for the last two months. One of my favorites was when I had some left over cocoa powder and chocolate truffle filling. I chilled the chocolate truffle filling then chopped it into little chunks and mixed that along with the Valrhona cocoa powder into the batter. Because I didn’t think to take some of the flour out to compensate for the cocoa I added these brownies were more on the cake-y side, but the chocolate flavor was amazing. Here is one of my variations –

M&M chocolate brownies ready to bake

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Hurricane Irene Baking

Saturday morning I strapped down my bee hives. We cleared the deck of all chairs, tables, and plants. The kids helped take down the screen tent and put the kayaks under the playhouse. Fifty-five gallons of water are stored in every conceivable container are scattered around the house. The emergency candle box has been found and brought up from the basement. I bought a pyramid of canned soup from the store, as well as essentials like tonic (wouldn’t want to run out of G & Ts during the storm). Then we picked up twenty-seven hours worth of videos from our local library. We were as prepared as we could get for Hurricane Irene.

"Beehives strapped down"

Beehives strapped down for the hurricane

"Pyramid of soup cans"

Pyramid of soup

"water for irene"

Vessels of water

"water jugs downstairs"

Water jugs downstairs

Then, for some reason before the storm hit I felt compelled to bake. We still had power, and the fridge did need emptying for the upcoming storm since we so often lose electricity during bad weather. I quickly whipped up a batch of chocolate cupcakes from the best chocolate cake recipe. It was the perfect base to test my cream cheese frosting recipe on. Isabelle’s friend Charline who is visiting from France had tasted it on the miniature chocolate cupcakes I’d made for her birthday the week before and wanted the recipe (along with some of you). Since I don’t usually work from a recipe when I make cream cheese frosting (I taste as I go) I’d promised to whip up a batch and measure everything so Charline could make it when she returned to France.

"Charline's birthday"

Strawberries, madeleines, chocolate cupcakes, and the birthday hat

"Charline's 16th birthday"

The birthday girl and friends

"chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and raspberries"

Charline's birthday cupcakes

As the rain poured down pre-Irene we watched videos, ate soup, and Charline deftly wielded a pastry bag. We didn’t have any raspberries that night so sprinkles showered over the cupcakes much as the rain was pounding down outside.

"charline with a pastry bag"

Frosting seven dozen cupcakes

"cupcakes being frosted"

"sprinkles raining down on cupcakes"

Raining sprinkles

Here is the frosting recipe in english and french. Merci Charline for helping with the translation and letting me play with your camera!

Cream Cheese Frosting

I pull the butter and cream cheese out to soften before I start to bake. In the time it takes to mix and cook the batter the butter and cream cheese are usually the perfect temperature. If they are still too cool to cream together because it’s really cold in your house or you forgot to pull them out in advance simply cut them into little pieces and place them in a bowl near a warm spot in your kitchen. You don’t want them to melt, just be soft enough to incorporate with one another.

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, 6 ounces

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

1  1/2 pounds powdered sugar

3-5 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a large bowl cream together butter and cream cheese. Add about half the powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add three teaspoons of vanilla and beat in most of remaining powdered sugar. Add rest of vanilla if desired. The consistency should be spreadable – not too loose and not too stiff. The amounts will shift slightly depending on the weather outside, which is why I don’t have you adding all the powdered sugar at once.

For cupcakes I put the frosting in a pastry bag with a star tip. You could also use a plastic bag and cut off a small bit of one corner. Or you could use a small knife. Freeze any leftover frosting. I find this amount of frosting good for one double layer cake with some decorative work. You won’t need it all for cupcakes unless you like a mound of frosting as big as the cupcakes themselves.

Note: I originally posted this recipe for cream cheese frosting with a 2:1 butter to cream cheese ratio. A friend made it and thought it wasn’t “cream-cheesey enough”. I’ve changed it to a 1:1 ratio, though you could invert it so it is a 1:2 butter to cream cheese ratio too. The more cream cheese you add, the softer the frosting becomes. You can compensate for the softness by adding more powdered sugar, but that makes it sweeter. 

Glaçage à la crème de fromage

Je tire le beurre et le fromage à la crème pour les adoucir avant de commencer à cuire. Pendant le temps qu’il faut pour mélanger et faire cuire la pâte le beurre et le fromage à la crème sont généralement a la température parfaite. Si ils sont encore trop frais pour mixer, car il fait vraiment froid dans votre maison ou vous avez oublié de les sortir à l’avance tout simplement les couper en petits morceaux et les placer dans un bol près d’un endroit au chaud dans votre cuisine. Vous ne voulez pas qu’ils fondent, juste être suffisamment souple pour intégrer les uns avec les autres.

170 gr. de beurre non salé, ramolli

170 gr. de fromage à la crème, ramolli

700 gr. de sucre en poudre

3-5 cuillères à café d’extrait de vanille

Dans un grand bol je mixe le beurre et le fromage à la crème. Ajouter environ la moitié du sucre en poudre et battre jusqu’à consistance lisse. Ajoutez trois cuillères à café de vanille et battre la plupart du sucre en poudre. Ajouter le reste de la vanille, si désiré. La consistance doit être tartinable – pas trop lâche et pas trop raide. Les volumes se déplaceront légèrement en fonction du temps qu’il fait dehors, c’est pourquoi je ne vous ai pas fait ajouter le sucre en poudre tout à la fois.

Pour les cupcakes j’ai mis le glaçage dans une poche à douille avec un embout étoile. Vous pouvez également utiliser un sac en plastique et couper un petit morceau de l’un des coins. Ou vous pourriez utiliser un petit couteau. Congelez les restes toute glaçage. Je trouve cette quantité de glaçage bonne pour un gâteau à double couche avec quelques travaux de décoration. Vous n’aurez pas besoin de tout pour les cupcakes sauf si vous aimez un monticule de glaçage aussi gros que les petits gâteaux eux-mêmes.

"westbrook river raging"

The Westbrook River raging after Irene passed through

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April Showers bring May Flowers

We were just starting to assemble an ark out of scrap wood from the back of the barn when the rain eased up. Then it truly became a case of “April showers bring May flowers” – both inside and out.

"daffodils"

Daffodils

Math teacher extraordinaire Stephanie P. had purchased my donation to the Academy’s fundraising auction last fall, a signed copy of a cake book I was a contributing editor to plus (of course) a cake. She decided to cash in on the cake part of the package to celebrate the publication of Morning Song, a book her sister Carol Purington and friend Susan Todd co-edited.

"morning song poems book" Continue reading

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The Best Chocolate Cake Ever

After graduating from college one of my first  jobs was as the baker at Leaf n’ Bean Cafe in Brooklyn Heights. I brought with me a rather slim batch of recipes. Prior cooking jobs had always handed me house recipes to use. No muss, no fuss just bake and serve. This was the first time I had been asked to supply my own recipes. The cafe was open for breakfast and lunch plus weekend brunches so the baked goods were pretty straight forward–muffins, cakes, pies, the occasional mousse, and bar cookies fit the bill. The glitch came around chocolate. The owners John and Allan wanted something chocolate on the menu every day, which makes sense since chocolate sells. The problem was that while I ate a lot of chocolate I didn’t have many chocolate recipes in my repertoire back then (my, how things have changed). My rescue came in the form of  Continue reading

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