December 11th, 2014

Rugelach! candied ginger-apricot-almond and garam masala-chocolate-cherry twirls

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I first encountered these engaging little confections in a now long-extinct bakery in Nashville called Bokay’s. Its owners were Hungarian, and they specialized in towering, elaborately decorated wedding cakes, the sort that made children stop at the display window and gape with longing.

It was a bakery of celebrations. In the springtime, I can remember finding braided egg bread challahs, and coffeecakes in a cunning Easter Bunny shape. In December, Black Forest cakes and stollen took the fore. And these twisted cream cheese pastries, Rugelach, filled variously with cinnamon sugar and walnuts, chocolate, apricot or raspberry jam.

Something betwixt a cookie and a pastry, they were delicious-bite sized treats.

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The origin of the word is interesting: It is Yiddish for “twists” and resembles (and likely influenced) the Polish word for “horn.” In either case, these little crescents are rich, yet light and flaky, its dough layered with equal parts of butter and cream cheese.

The dough is easy to make, and not dissimiliar from these crescents that I made a few Decembers ago. What is especially appealing about them—-outside of their delicate size and their flaky, not-too-sweet taste—-is that they lend themselves to a spectacular array of fillings.

That dough makes one terrific pastry canvas.

Rummaging through my pantry, I found candied ginger, dried apricots, a handful of dried cherries, some dark cocoa, a small bag of chocolate chips, almonds. Ideas began taking shape.

Ginger-apricot-almond came together readily. I plumped the ginger and fruit in a simple syrup bath, and ground the toasted almonds.

Chocolate and cherry make ideal partners too. I wanted to add a little something different to that canvas. Rather than use the more traditional cinnamon, I thought it would be fun—and flavorful—to sprinkle Garam Masala spice blend.

Enjoy them this holiday season with a cup of coffee or pot of hot tea, shared with friends or family.

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BASIC RUGELACH DOUGH
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound cream cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 pound chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
1 cup powdered sugar—for dusting and rolling pastry

Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Briefly pulse.
Then add the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and egg yolk.
Pulse and process until the ingredients are well incorporated and the dough comes together as a mass.
Remove the dough and form into 2 separate discs. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate until well-chilled—at least one hour, although overnight is better! The dough will keep refrigerated for 3 days, or may be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw any frozen dough in the refrigerator before using.

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CANDIED GINGER-APRICOT-ALMOND FILLING
1/4-1/3 cup candied ginger, cut into slivers
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup almonds

Place all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan set on low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium, cover and allow the mixture to soften, thicken and simmer.
Cool and process to spreading consistency (using either an immersion blender or a food processor.)

Meanwhile, spread the almonds onto a baking sheet. Place into a preheated 375 degree oven and toast for 10-12 minutes. Cool and finely chop (or pulse in the processor to fine)

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To assemble:
Sprinkle the work counter with powdered sugar. Remove one disc of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, and roll out to a 15 inch circle. If the dough gets sticky, sprinkle more powdered sugar.

Place 1/2 cup glob of ginger-apricot mixture in the center of the dough circle. Using a spatula, spread the mixture evenly across the surface to the edges of the circle. Add more fruit mixture as needed.

Sprinkle the top of the fruit mixture with the finely chopped almonds.
Cut the dough into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths, then thirty-seconds.
Roll each piece up from the exterior to the inner point and place onto a parchment-lined (or sil-pat lined baking sheet) Keep the pieces about an inch apart.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven, until the rugelaches are puffed and golden brown.

Allow to cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing.

Makes 32 pieces.

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GARAM-MASALA-CHOCOLATE-CHERRY FILLING
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1-2 teaspoons garam masala spice blend
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried dark sweet cherries
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Have all of these ingredients assembled separately for your mise-en-place.

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To Assemble
Sprinkle the work counter with powdered sugar.
Unwrap one disc of dough and roll it out on the dusted surface into a 15″ circle.
Cover the top with cocoa, followed by
Cut into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths, then thirty-seconds.
Roll each elongated triangle from the outside to the point and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven.

Makes 32 pieces

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Posted in Breakfast, Chocolate, Desserts, Fruit, Recipes | 10 Comments »




May 4th, 2014

Ebinger’s Legendary Blackout Cake

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My cousin Cathy emailed me a few weeks ago, with a link to a story on NPR that stirred vivid memories for both of us. It told of a special dark dark chocolate cake that was the signature dessert of a beloved and long-gone bakery, Ebinger’s.

If you grew up in one of the New York boroughs before 1972, no doubt you were familiar with the Ebinger name. The family bakery opened on Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue in 1898; over its three-quarters-of-a-century life span, that 1 grew into a chain of 50 dotting neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and Queens.

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Our grandparents were Ebinger devotees. Whenever Cathy and I went to visit them at their Jackson Heights apartment, we knew we’d be treated to something special that Nana had purchased from the extraordinary bakery: Crumbcake showered with powdered sugar. Butter-rich danish. Yeasted almond rings. Chocolate domed cupcakes. Mocha buttercream torte with its name elegantly scripted across the top.

We’d gather around the dining room table in the morning for warmed coffeecake and milk. In the evening, after dinner, we’d enjoy a slice of one of the Ebinger cakes, sometimes with a scoop of ice cream. In between, that dining room table served as a stage for our art projects. I have a dim memory of us crafting fancy paper hats; Cathy remembers me scrawling “Felix the Cat” (my fave cartoon character at age 7) allover the hat rim.

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When Ebinger’s shuttered in 1972, (overexpansion, then bankruptcy) it left a rift in Nana’s world. She had no choice but to buy from the competition, Entenmann’s, and it simply wasn’t as good. Our subsequent visits were always marked with Nana’s lament of Ebinger’s demise, as she served up pieces of the less wonderful confections.

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Ebinger’s most famous, and universally longed-for dessert is the Blackout Cake–so-called for its deep dark chocolate flavors, its name further harkening to the wartime blackouts of the ’40’s. The three-layer beauty is distinguished with a rich pudding filling, bittersweet chocolate frosting, and a fourth layer that is crumbled to coat its top and sides.

NPR included a link to the recipe, as published in the New York Times in 1991. It’s been deemed the original. (although I have since found other, slightly different ones, while perusing the ‘net.)

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Cathy and I decided to make it—in part, nostalgia, in part, curiosity–next time we got together. Lucky for us, that opportunity soon arrived.

While not difficult to make, you need to allow at least two hours for the project. (For some secrets to great cake baking, check out this link at Cooking Light: 10 tips to ensure the desired results.)

There are three parts to the recipe, with many more steps. Cathy’s husband John, I’m happy to say, documented the process while we cousins collaborated. Cathy whipped up the batter with her old school electric hand-held. I stirred the pudding until it burped and bubbled. We chopped and melted a mound of Belgian chocolate, whisking in as much butter for the silky icing. So much chocolate! So much butter!

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And, when the time arrived–cake layers, cooked filling and frosting all sufficiently cooled–we assembled.

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It occurred to us that the curious crumbled layer could have been the result of a split layer gone awry: cracking and falling apart. Perhaps the Ebinger baker could not bear the waste, and created the distinctive crumb coating instead. Ingenious!

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When at last we sliced and served the cake, (after a marvelous meal, celebrating both Cathy’s and Bill’s birthdays) Cathy glimpsed a snippet of the past, of eating the Blackout cake with Nana at that dining room table.

Post-dessert verdict: What an indulgence. We decided that the name applied to the food coma you enter after eating a piece. Yep, you could black out.

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NOTORIOUS LEGENDARY EBINGER’S BLACKOUT CAKE
Serves 12 to 16

Cake
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3-4 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Filling
1 tablespoon plus 1 3/4 teaspoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Frosting
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

THE CAKE

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter and lightly flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Place the cocoa in a small bowl and whisk in the boiling water to form a paste.

Combine the chopped chocolate and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until the chocolate melts — about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk a small amount of the hot chocolate milk into the cocoa paste to warm it. Whisk the cocoa mixture into the milk mixture. Return the pan to medium heat and stir for 1 minute. Remove and set aside to cool until tepid.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla. Slowly stir in the chocolate mixture. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, slowly add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture. Fold in until just mixed.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on racks for 15 minutes. Gently remove the cakes from the pans and continue to cool.

THE FILLING
Combine the cocoa and boiling water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the sugar and chocolate. Add the dissolved cornstarch paste and salt to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and butter. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cool.

THE FROSTING
Melt the chocolate in a heavy-bottomed saucepan set on medium heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time.

Whisk in the hot water all at once and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the corn syrup and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for up to 15 minutes before using.

ASSEMBLY
Use a sharp serrated knife to slice each cake layer horizontally in half to form four layers. Set one layer aside.
Place one layer on a cake round or plate. Generously swath the layer with one-third of the filling.
Add the second layer and repeat. Set the third layer on top. Quickly apply a layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, crumble the remaining cake layer. Apply the remaining frosting to the cake. Sprinkle it liberally with the cake crumbs. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 21 Comments »




December 31st, 2013

To a Sweet New Year

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There’s a huge pot simmering on my stovetop, (yet to be photographed!) filled with white wine, lemons, onions, celery, assorted peppercorns and bay leaf. I call it my spicy-winey lobster bath. Later this evening, my guests and I will be plunging our lobster tails into this heady bath, which will poach them into succulence.

I’ll also make drawn butter, spiked with lemon and cayenne, and place the bowls of that decadence within easy reach for dunking the rich meat. I think the term “gilding the lily” applies here. Oh, well–it is our farewell to 2013.

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This is our communal lobster pot gathering, a tradition born a few years ago when we could no longer face going out New Year’s Eve, and, serendipitously, lobster tails happened to be on sale at the market.

Here’s the basic plan: Everyone brings his/her own luxuries–crustacean, and champagne, if that’s your pleasure . In the beginning of this new tradition, I would do a seated dinner. In addition to the spicy-winey bath, I’d make the accompanying courses, which I served at a leisurely pace. In more recent years, we’ve become less formal. We share the making of different dishes and set everything out buffet style. Graze as you will.

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Tonight, Heather is bringing a big salad, and a plate of fruits and cheeses. Teresa is bringing some tasty hors d’oeuvres. She’s not sure what they’ll be yet, but our food styling friend always has some terrific ideas and ingredients on hand.

To insure the most good luck possible, I am making “Hoppin’ John” risotto with kale pesto.

But what I want to quickly share with you now is a dessert. I want to end this last day of 2013, which also is this humble blog’s 200th post AND 5th Year Anniversary, with something sweet. (I know! Time. Fleeting!)

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It’s a flourless chocolate torte, adapted from this Cooking Light recipe, which caught my eye for its lightness. It has a lower caloric count, yet imparts a depth of rich chocolate taste–especially if you use high quality cocoa and bittersweet chocolate, like this bar from local artisan Olive and SInclair.

Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone. I am serving it with my brandied cherries and a dollop of whipped cream. So, no, it isn’t Super Light, but it is gluten-free, and a sliver of this treat is all that you need to satisfy that one lingering need for a sweet bite, after a fine meal.

Here’s my wish to you for a very happy, healthy, creative, loving, peaceful, generous, and open-hearted new year. May it be filled with many delicious things, too.

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FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE WITH BRANDIED CHERRIES
adapted from Cooking Light
1 tablespoon butter
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa, divided
6 tablespoons ground toasted almonds
4 tablespoons brewed coffee
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9″ springform pan with parchment. Coat the sides and bottom with butter and dust with 1 teaspoon (or so) cocoa.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form, but not dry. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is light and lemon colored. Then, beat in the cocoa and ground almonds.
Place the coffee and chopped bittersweet chocolate into a small saucepan set on medium heat. Stir until the chocolate is just melted.
Beat this to the egg yolk-cocoa mixture.
Fold in the egg whites.
Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan.
Bake on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool on a baking rack for 15 minutes.
Serve the cake slightly warm, topped with brandied cherries and whipped cream.

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I originally made these for my friend Wendy, who loves the Manhattan cocktail. She’s got the bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, now she’s got the luscious brandied cherry to place into the drink. I kept a container to make into other things, like the sauce for this cake.

BRANDIED CHERRIES

2 pounds frozen, pitted cherries
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cup brandy
2 ribbons orange zest
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon salt

Fill 2 glass jars with frozen cherries, dividing them evenly.
Place sugar, cinnamon stick, brandy, orange zest, water & salt in a pan and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Let cool for 10 minutes and pour equal parts over the cherries. Let cool with the top off then cover and refrigerate.
Allow the cherries to cure for a couple of weeks–but know that they will last for several months.

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BRANDIED CHERRY SAUCE
1 cup brandied cherries, drained from brandy mixture
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup brandied cherry juice

Place drained brandied cherries into a small bowl.
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, stir the cornstarch and brandied cherry juice together until the cornstarch is dissolved. Continue to stir as the mixture comes to a simmer. It will thicken and become glazy. Remove from heat, and pour over the drained brandied cherries.

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Gluten Free, Recipes | 21 Comments »




August 7th, 2013

Kallari Chocolate Chess Pie

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Today’s post combines the exotic and the familiar: artisanal chocolate from Ecuador with a Southern staple, chess pie.

Do you know about chess pie? I was first introduced to it after I moved to Nashville many years ago. The tangy-sweet (sometimes teeth-achingly sweet!) egg custard pie is one of the defining desserts of the South that has somewhat of an undefined history.

It was reportedly brought from England to the colonies. It took hold in Virginia, and became a mainstay in kitchens below the Mason-Dixon line. The name “chess” is curious: some say it is called that because pies of this sort were kept in the pie chest–a specific piece of furniture for pie storage. Others assert that it has more to do with the content of the pie itself–a bake of eggs, sugar, butter, and vinegar—so that it’s a play on words, as in, it’s “just pie”, or, in the vernacular, “jest pie.”

In any case, the pie’s neutral palette has lent itself to numerous variations, such as buttermilk chess, lemon chess, and chocolate chess.

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When the kind people at Kallari asked me to sample their specialty chocolates (who could resist such a request?) I was more than happy to accept the offer. I was curious to taste the sustainably produced confection in varying strengths: 70%, 75%, and 85%. But I was really interested in using it in a recipe. Chocolate chess pie seemed like a good place to start.

I was also intrigued by the story behind this chocolate.

Over 900 families of the Kichwa, an indigenous people of Ecuadorian Amazon, belong to the Kallari collective. Using sustainable organic practices, they grow, tend, harvest, and ferment the heirloom cacao beans. They make the chocolate in a factory that is four hours away from their cooperative center. This proximity–and hands-on approach– further distinguishes Kallari, as most cacao growers do not fabricate the chocolate. Few have ever tasted really good chocolate. Most beans are shipped to factories in Europe and North America to be roasted, and processed into bars.

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Kallari has 2 meanings in the Kichwa language: “To Begin” and “The Early Times”. This is fitting, as the work of the Kallari collective has meant a new start for the growers, while harkening to the heritage of the crops. As a collective, the Kichwa completely own the company, and therefore reap greater earnings for their harvest than if they sold their beans to another company for fair trade pay. Three varieties of cacao beans that flourish on the Kichwa lands go into making the chocolate, each contributing to the complexity of the bars.

The result is astonishing, swoon-worthy. Eaten out of hand, the 70% chocolate has such creamy mouthfeel, very like milk chocolate, except that it is dark, with notes of caramel and berry. The 75% is richer still, yet silken, with nuances of tropical fruits, and a little peppery bite.

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The 85% has firm snap, earthy almost smoky richness with an undercurrent of fruit–a bit bitter and dry to eat out of hand, but an ideal chocolate to bake into my pie.

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Much loved for its taste, a chess pie is well-appreciated for its easy-as-pie method. Chocolate chess follows suit. Likely I spent more time making the pie crust than on the filling…

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…which gets a kickstart in the microwave, melting the chocolate, butter, and sugars together. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla, a splash of bourbon–you can do this all by hand in a blink.

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In no time, you could be pouring this lush filling into the pie shell. Thirty minutes later, you could be having a cup of coffee and a slice of chocolate chess pie. (add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, slices of ripe peach, fresh blackberry puree–ah, sublime!)

Make it with Kallari chocolate, and you are doing good, while feasting well. You can order it from them or check at Whole Foods–many of them carry it.)

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CHOCOLATE BOURBON CHESS PIE
2.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup raw sugar, such as Demerara or Turbinado
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

unbaked pie shell

Into a large microwaveable bowl, place chocolate, chopped or broken into pieces, along with butter, and both sugars. Microwave for about a minute to melt the butter and chocolate. Stir and microwave for another 30 seconds, to make sure that all the chocolate and butter is melted.

Whisk in the vanilla and bourbon, until the mixture is smooth. Beat in eggs (using the same whisk) one at a time–adding the second egg after the first is incorporated.

Beat in flour and salt.

Pour into a prepared, unbaked pie shell.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Remove and cool on a pie/cake rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 20 Comments »




June 18th, 2013

Some of Dad’s Favorites

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Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding with cocoa dusted whipped cream

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Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Steaks, roasted golden cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and sweet onions, scallion-jasmine rice

Always start with chocolate—then work backwards.

That’s my rule, when it comes to making my dad his special Father’s Day lunch. At a spry 87 years, he doesn’t want any thing, but a well-prepared meal capped by a deep dark decadent chocolate dessert insures a happy day for the man.

First I decide on his chocolatey treat, before formulating the rest of the menu. Sometimes I make mousse; sometimes, pots de cremes. Last year, I made chocolate sorbet.

This year, I chose something treasured from his past: chocolate pudding.

For many years, his mother, my Nana, would make chocolate pudding from scratch. She would make it in big batches–chilled in a pretty crystal bowl or served in individual ceramic crocks–at least once a week when he was growing up, a tradition she continued when she came to live with us.

My sisters and I knew we’d have to be patient—puddings take an eternity to make, by a child’s sense of time. But that patience would be rewarded with the pot and spoon–which we attacked, greedily running our fingers along the pot’s sides and bottom to lap up every delicious smidge. And licking that spoon ( the prize–who would get the spoon?) like it was a great chocolate lollipop.

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Chocolate pudding is uncomplicated: essentially milk, sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Vanilla, coffee, creme de cacao, raspberry coulis: any other enhancements are up to you. The beauty of the pudding is in its basic premise: a delivery of creamy smooth chocolate comfort, easy-peasy to make.

The rest is all about hovering over the saucepan, stirring with diligence to insure that smooth texture, waiting for the pudding to bubble and burp. And by an adult’s time sense, it doesn’t really take that long. Maybe 15 minutes.

While the pudding cools, you can whip up the rest of the meal–beginning with the maple-mustard glaze for the salmon steaks.

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Simple components: country-style Dijon mustard whisked with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice. It does wonders in a short time, imparting dark tangy sweetness to the fish. You can marinate the salmon for as little as 20 minutes, or several hours (more time is better).

I’ve had this recipe, courtesy of Cooking Light, bookmarked for quite some time, and earlier this year, my friend Faith over at An Edible Mosaic made a variation on the theme with chicken.

I’ve made it on three different occasions–a grilled fillet flaked onto toasts for cocktail party, whole roasted fillets for a large buffet dinner, and now these steaks for Dad.

The combination works really well-a bit of an update on those honey dijon tastes. Maple syrup comes across less sweet, with more complexity. You may use a smooth Dijon mustard, but I like the pop of the mustard seeds, especially when heated. This is a recipe whose elegant result belies its simplicity.

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To round out the plate:

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I found this pretty golden cauliflower at Smiley’s booth at our Nashville Farmers Market. With a cooler start to our spring, it’s been nice to have some of these cruciferous veggies available in June. My dad is not a big eater of vegetables, but he loves onions and (oddly) anything from the cabbage family is tops in his book.

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We’ve talked before about the ubiquitous roasting of vegetables–how it transforms the cauliflower into something crispy and sweet, the way the petals of Brussels sprouts become light caramel chips.

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MAPLE-MUSTARD GLAZED SALMON STEAKS (adapted from Cooking Light)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

olive or canola oil
4 5-6oz. salmon steaks

Place the maple syrup, coarse grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and orange juice into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper.

Place salmon steaks into a large zip lock bag. Pour in the marinade/glaze. Seal and refrigerate. Marinate for a couple of hours.

Prepare outdoor grill, broilerpan, or stovetop grill pan with a little oil. Heat.

Sear salmon steaks–about 6 minutes per side. Baste with reserved marinade. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, remove from heat.

Serves 4

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BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH COCOA-DUSTED WHIPPED CREAM
6 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch sea salt
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%) chopped

1/2 pint heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon cocoa–to dust over the whipped cream

Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.* Turn on heat to medium. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, followed by coffee and vanilla. Stir-stir-stir! Over 15 minutes time, the mixture will begin to thicken, coating the back of a wooden spoon. When the rich chocolate mixture begins to burp and bubble, remove from heat. Keep stirring.

Using a heat-proof spatula, spoon and scrape the pudding into individual ramekins. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours. ( If you don’t want “pudding skin,” press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface.

Before serving: whip cream and dollop onto puddings. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.

Makes 6 individual ramekins.

*Many recipes call for using a double boiler, which I applaud–this works beautifully. But I will make just as smooth a pudding using my heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan on medium low heat, and that diligent hover-and-stir.

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Who wants to lick the spoon?

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables | 24 Comments »




December 5th, 2012

Cookies and Patience

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Hello out there!
I realize that I’ve been away for awhile, but I have a few moments to check in, say hey, and share an update or two.
I am posting today from the Washington DC area, where I have been since Thanksgiving.

We are on Baby Vigil.

This baby, my first grandbaby, could be born at any time.
His or her “due date” was December 1st. (I know, it’s an approximation. Only 4% of the babies are born on the due date.)
But
The nursery is ready. The parents are ready. My daughter is really ready.

It’s just a matter of time. A lesson in patience. This miraculous thing will happen in its own rhythm.

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So, what to do while Waiting for Baby?
Time to exercise my grandmotherly skills.
Bake cookies.

It requires its own kind of timing and patience—although within a very tight framework.

I hadn’t made cookies for a while, and I was reminded of the art of the bake:
One minute can make the difference between a moist chewy cookie and one that shatters at the bite.
One minute–and a cookie could have a nice brown edge, or an overall brown burn.

Cookies are done when you think they aren’t quite done.
They continue to crispen on the sheetpan after they come out of the oven.

Timing and patience. Every oven is a little different. It requires the tricky but rewarding art of discernment.

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Today, I baked two kinds of drop cookies, contemporary takes on classic goodies. We’ll bring them to the hospital to share with the birth team, if we don’t eat them all. While waiting.

Number one is a double chocolate pistachio cookie, its dough rich with dark cocoa, butter, brown sugar, and a generous chop of bittersweet chocolate. Creme de cassis–just a splash– adds an intriguing hint of berry. I think you’ll like its topping of pistachios, toasted and flecked with salt.

The second takes the traditional oatmeal cookie as its base. Here I use organic brown sugar whipped into butter. Along with the rolled oats, I fold in dried blueberries and chopped bittersweet chocolate.

Blueberries and dark chocolate make an uncommon, but delicious pairing in the cookie. These are especially for the expectant father, my son-in-law. Blueberries and dark chocolate are his favorites.

While you’re in the midst of the holiday hustle, take a little time for yourself. Treat yourself with kindness and patience.
Have a cup of coffee or tea and a cookie or two.
Or three.
I’ll be back, soon I hope, with news about this baby. Or another cookie recipe.

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DOUBLE CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO COOKIES
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
2 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons creme de cassis (optional)
2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 cup chopped toasted pistachios

Cream softened butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs.
In a separate bowl, whisk cocoa, flour, baking soda, and salt together. Beat into egg mixture.
Fold in vanilla, creme de cassis, and chopped bittersweet chocolate.
Line baking sheets with parchment.
Gather the dough in tablespoon-sized lumps and drop onto the baking sheet, leaving about 1″ space between cookies.
Sprinkle the tops with pistachio pieces. Gently press pieces into the dough.
Bake cookies in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack before using a spatula to remove from baking sheet.

Makes 4 dozen cookies
Note: both cookie recipes can be cut in half with fine results, if you want to make smaller batches.

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BLUEBERRY-OATMEAL-CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups Demerara (or turbinado, or organic brown) sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups oats (not the “quick” kind)
2 cups dried blueberries
2 cups chopped semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate

Cream softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs.
In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt together.
Beat into egg mixture, a little at a time.
Beat in oats.
Fold in dried blueberries and chopped chocolate.

Drop by the tablespoon onto parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving 1″ space between cookies.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.
Remove and cool on a rack.

Makes 4-5 dozen cookies

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 24 Comments »




October 18th, 2012

Baby Shower Buffet

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Life has been full and moving apace; and I’ve been a bit remiss here on Good Food Matters. But, exciting things are in the works—including a cookbook! I’ll share more details on that project soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d give you a look at our beautiful spread, an hors d’oeuvres buffet from last weekend. We held a shower honoring my daughter, son-in-law, and (grand!) baby to come.

No funny games or balloons, just a gathering of family and friends in the late afternoon for appetizers and sweets. We had a colorful array of foods, with a meat dish, a fish dish, and a bounty to please vegetarians and omnivores alike.

Plus, The Pie Board! My daughter Madeleine wanted not just pie, but Pies. A table filled with these assorted treats, great and petite, fruit or nut filled, chocolate cream or baked vanilla custard is a fun alternative to, say, a single cake. Easy as pies…..

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While our party was a baby shower, it doesn’t matter: our menu would work for any kind of event, like a cocktail supper.
For your inspiration, with tips:

An Hors D’oeuvres Buffet
Marinated Grilled Beef Tenderloin, horseradish cream sauce, sundried tomato rolls
Orange-rubbed Smoked Alaskan Salmon Fillet
Blanched Chilled Asparagus with Greek Yogurt-Dill Dip
Roasted Butternut Squash-Yellow Bell Pepper-Honeycrisp Apple Quinoa
Black Eyed Pea “Cowboy Caviar”
Hot Baby Spoon Spinach-Artichoke Dip both served with blue and white corn chips

The Pie Board
Rustic Honeycrisp Apple Galette
Maple Pecan Pie
Plum Cheesecake Pie with gingersnap crust
Petite Chess Tarts
Double Chocolate Cream Pie

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An overnight marinade of olive oil, red wine, balsamic vinegar, fresh thyme, and lots of fresh garlic help insure a succulent and flavorful piece of meat. Liberally salt and pepper the beef before grilling.

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I rub the salmon fillet with orange zest and good olive oil before placing on my Big Green Egg to gently smoke. The fish stays moist, and is fragrant with citrus.

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Simply roast diced butternut squash that you’ve first brushed with olive oil and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Do the same with diced yellow bell pepper. Prepare the quinoa according to package directions. Fold in roasted vegetables and diced fresh apple once the quinoa is cooked. The heat of the quinoa lightly cooks the apple, while retaining its crunch. Served warm or cool, this makes a delicious fall-inspired side or salad.

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Blanched Chilled Asparagus with Greek Yogurt-Dill Sauce: Easy to make, easy to pick up and eat! It doesn’t take long to plunge the spears into boiling water, let them cook less than 2 minutes, and plunge them into an icy bath. Season plain Greek yogurt with plenty of fresh dill, scallions, fresh lemon juice and sea salt.

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Like the quinoa dish, this vegan “Cowboy Caviar” is healthy, full-flavored, and universally enjoyed. I was lucky to find fresh black eyed peas at the market, which I cooked with garlic, sea salt, bay leaf and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Once the peas became tender and cooled, I added diced avocados, tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro, olive oil, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

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This is an updated classic, made with fresh baby spoon spinach and artichoke hearts stirred into a green onion studded bechamel sauce. Always a favorite! Top the casserole with shredded pecorino romano cheese and bake until bubbly.

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THE PIES: Rustic Honeycrisp Apple Galette, Chess Tarts, Plum Cream Cheese Pie, Maple Pecan Pie, Double Chocolate Cream Pie

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Double Chocolate Cream Pie (the first to go!)
Filling:
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 cups lowfat milk
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoon creme de cassis (optional)
pinch of salt

Whisk cocoa, cornstarch, and brown sugar together in a bowl. Pour milk into a 2 qt. saucepan set on medium heat and stir in cocoa mixture. Continue stirring until dissolved. Then add chopped chocolate. Flavor with vanilla, creme de cassis, and a pinch of salt. Stir ( a wooden spoon is good for this.) steadily, as the mixture begins to simmer and thicken. It will become smooth and puddinglike. Remove from heat and pour into pre-baked pie shell. Cool before refrigerating.

Whip a cup of heavy cream with 2 (or so, depending on how sweet you want your whipped cream) tablespoons confectioners sugar and a teaspoon vanilla. Top chilled pie, and garnish with shaved chocolate.
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Individual Chess Tarts: these were made by good friend Wendy. A true Southern dessert: Eggs-Butter-Sugar-Buttermilk-Vinegar. Deceptively simple, and somewhat addictive, Chess Pie deserves a post all its own. I promise, I will deliver that soon!

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The Line-Up
Guests really have a great time making up pie sampler dessert plates for themselves!

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Blissful Parents to Be
Due Date is December First
!

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 30 Comments »




July 13th, 2012

Chocolate Sorbet

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The first time I tasted Chocolate Sorbet, it spun me into a state of denial. I could not believe that this creamy-dreamy, deepest-darkest chocolate confection had no cream, no milk, no eggs, nada.

“It’s basically chocolate and water, ” the waiter informed with a shrug.

“Impossible,” I muttered, and then dipped my spoon in for another bite. Firm yet silken, ice cold yet melty, the sorbet dissolved on my tongue, cloaking it in über-rich layers of flavor. Hints of cinnamon, butter, berry, coffee, and caramel emerged. And lingered. I looked over at my friend Wendy, who was having a St. Teresa of Avila moment. Ecstasy.

“This is the best dessert I’ve ever put in my mouth,” she finally spoke.

We were guests at a fundraising dinner held at a fine restaurant. The dessert course, two bourbon-pecan squares sidled by this sublime scoop, was the highlight of the evening. That was almost two years ago. I filed the experience away as one to revisit and, with luck, recreate.

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So you can imagine my excitement when I came across this Chocolate Sorbet recipe last month. Created by ice cream maven and Parisian food writer, David Lebovitz, it is the ne plus ultra of frozen chocolate treats. The concise list of ingredients aligned with the information from that waiter:

Water-Sugar-Cocoa Powder-Chocolate,
pinch of salt, drop of vanilla.

Yep,
This had to be it.

I had everything in my pantry.
Well, almost.
No ice cream maker.

I dashed out to buy one.

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I located a small (one quart) and cheap ($22.) machine. As soon as I got home, I put its inner canister into my freezer to get super-cold. The next day was Father’s Day, and I had planned a food gift for my dad. At 85, he doesn’t need or want any thing, but a special meal always pleases him. Especially when chocolate is involved. The sorbet would be the pinnacle for the chocoholic.

Manufacturer’s directions recommend a 24 hour freezing period. We didn’t have that full cycle; 16 hours would have to suffice.

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Like anything you cook, the quality of the ingredients is key to success. When faced with such a terse ingredient list, that axiom becomes all the more crucial. Your sorbet will only be wonderful as your bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder. I had two bars of 70% Scharfen Berger artisan chocolate and a container of Ghirardelli premium unsweetened cocoa.

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I’ve made the sorbet three times now. The first time, for my dad, yielded rich and creamy results—yet it was soupy. The canister needs the full 24 hour deep-freeze time prior to churning. My dad didn’t mind. He ate a bowl of sorbet soup and moaned. “This is too good. Maybe the best.” he said. “The chocolate just stays in your mouth.”

He was right. There is something so pure, so direct and immediate about the sorbet experience–an intense chocolate delivery system!

He let the rest harden overnight in his freezer, and blissfully devoured it within a couple of days.

The second time I was over-anxious, and forgot a critical step: the hand-held blender part, where the mix is initially whirred and frothed before cooling. It was still a delicious batch, but denser.

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Third time’s a charm: I followed all the steps, and modified the recipe slightly. I substituted Turbinado sugar for 1/2 of the sugar requirement, and increased the vanilla. Incredible, I tell you.

I also learned that regardless of freezer time, the sorbet has a high meltdown factor, once scooped.

No matter. You’ll not be able to let this pure chocolate delight languish in a bowl for any time, at all.

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CHOCOLATE SORBET, adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

2 1/4 c. Water, divided ( 1 1/2 c. and 3/4 cup)
3/4 c. Cocoa
1/2 c. Sugar
1/2 c. Turbinado Sugar
pinch of Salt
6 oz. high-quality bittersweet Chocolate, chopped
1 t. Vanilla

Whisk together 1 1/2 cups of water, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a 2 quart saucepan set on medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Let it boil for almost one minute, while you continue to whisk.

Remove from heat, and pour into mixing bowl. Add chopped chocolate, stirring until melted throughout.
Whisk in vanilla and remaining 3/4 cup water.
Pour into a blender, or use your hand-held blender, and mix for 30 seconds.
Place into the refrigerator and allow to cool completely. Mixture will be thick.
Place mixture into frozen canister and churn for at least 20 minutes.
Return canister to the freezer and let set.

Scoop and enjoy immediately.

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegan | 29 Comments »




December 29th, 2011

A Fine Beginning and Ending: Winter Salad and Trifle

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This is the composed salad that we serve every Christmas Eve. Tradition!

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This is the Chocolate Mousse Trifle that we served this Christmas Eve–destined to become a tradition.

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Hello Friends,

I hope that your holidays have been merry, and that good things loom on your horizon in the new year. As we make our exit from 2011, a bit of a roller coaster year in our household, I’ve been thinking about cycles: beginnings and endings. There’s a life to everything–relationships, jobs, homes—and when one cycle ends, it lays the foundation for a new, often better cycle. In the meantime, there’s that odd place “in between” where one cycle is ending and the other has yet to take hold. Uncertainty can be uncomfortable. It’s a great life lesson, likely to repeated again and again, recognizing endings, forging new beginnings, and surrendering to What Is, in the moment.

I don’t mean to wax all philosophical–this is, after all, a food blog. But we all experience changes–big and small—and life filters into the world of food! Bill recently had a health scare, potential cancer, and he lost his job of 23 years. That he learned both things side-by-side one recent afternoon (“You are cancer-free” from his doctor, post-biopsy, to “We need to discuss your departure date” in a voice message from his manager.) puts a stark perspective on what is really important, what is indeed a blessing.

With big change inevitable in 2012, I know that we’ll all land on our feet–just like our new cat, Sid. In the meantime, I’m sharing two recipes from our holiday dinner, a great beginning: Composed Winter Salad with Brown Sugar Vinaigrette and an amazing ending: Chocolate Mousse Trifle.

Come the new year, I’ll still be cooking, blogging, and staying connected. Always good things in the kitchen and the garden!

Best wishes to you all. As always, thank you for visiting Good Food Matters.

Nancy

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CHOCOLATE MOUSSE TRIFLE

12 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate
6 T. Strong Coffee
2 T. Vanilla
2 T. Creme de Cacao
2 T. Creme de Cassis
2 sticks Unsalted Butter, softened, cut into pieces
8 Eggs, separated
1/2 cup Sugar

1 package Savoiardi (firm Italian ladyfingers)
Heady Dipping Liquid: 1/2 c. Strong Coffee, 2 t. Vanilla, 4 T. Rum

Whipped Topping Garnishes:
2 cups Heavy Cream, divided
1/2 c. Confectioner’s Sugar, divided
1 T. Vanilla
2 T. Cocoa Powder

In a heavy 2 qt. saucepan under low heat, melt the chocolate and coffee together.
Whisk in the vanilla and liqueurs. Then, stir in the butter, one chunk at a time, until it becomes smooth and shiny. Remove from heat.
Using an electric mixer with a balloon whisk, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the yolks become really pale yellow and thickened, almost triple in volume. This will take several (at least 5) minutes. The yolks will cling to the whisk.
Check your chocolate mixture; it should be warm—but not hot.
Beat it into the thickened egg yolks; the mixture will seem like chocolate mayonnaise.
Pour this into another large mixing bowl.
Clean and dry your mixer bowl and whisk. Beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy. Fold about ¼ of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites.

Select a pretty glass bowl. One by one, dip the ladyfingers into the coffee-rum mixture and line the bottom of the bowl. Spoon in a layer of mousse. Repeat with another layer of dipped ladyfingers, then more mousse until bowl is filled.

Whip one cup of cream with vanilla and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar. Set aside. Whip remaining cup with 2 T. cocoa powder and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar.

Smooth the vanilla whipped cream over the top of the trifle. Pipe rosettes with the cocoa whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate shavings, chopped toffee, hazelnuts, or berries, if desired.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Serves a crowd! (12-16 servings)

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FESTIVE WINTER SALAD
Citrus Fruits: Clementines and Ruby Grapefruit
Strawberries
Avocado
Marcona Almonds
Maytag Blue Cheese
Assorted Lettuces

Brown Sugar Vinaigrette

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BROWN SUGAR VINAIGRETTE
(aka Southern Sweet-Sour Vinaigrette)
4 T. White Balsamic Vinegar
2 T. Grapefruit Juice
1 t. Celery Seed
1 t. Paprika
1/4 cup Demerara Sugar
1/4 piece of a medium Onion
2 t. Dijon Mustard
1 t. Salt
1/2 t. Black Pepper
1 cup Olive Oil

Place all of ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil into a food processor fitted with a swivel blade. Pulse until the onion is pureed into the mixture. While the processor is running, pour in the olive oil slowly. It will incorporate nicely into the vinaigrette. The dijon will keep the dressing emulsified.

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Sid is living the good life!

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes, Salads | 23 Comments »




February 7th, 2011

Hearts of Dark Chocolate

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Because my mom’s birthday is one week before Valentine’s Day, I always like to make her a dessert that captures both Birthday and Valentine Spirit.

For her–and for me—this means Dark Chocolate.

Each year, I seek to create that perfect chocolate delivery system-
a divine dessert that has both depth in nuanced flavors–
and lightness,
a dreamy melt on the tongue that reveals its complexities in layers.

One time, I made her fluffy mousse in martini glasses and for her 80th, it was that Amazonian multi-chocolate layered cupcake.

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This year, I decided to use these Le Creuset heart-shaped crocks, and make chocolate pots de cremes. I had some compelling contenders in my pantry—gifts from the holidays that included an 80% bittersweet bar from France, a lustrous Italian “Venchi” that makes a bright crack when you break off a piece, and some fine Ghiradelli Cocoa.

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Working with chocolate, I have learned about its receptivity. That different varieties combine well, and flavor profiles can be pushed by introducing fruits, extracts, liqueurs, coffee, caramel, cream, pepper, spice, salt. Its enjoyment is enhanced by these many layers of possibility.

But, it all begins with good quality chocolate–hard and glossy bars that, depending on the where their cacao beans were harvested, fermented, roasted, and blended, will impart pure pleasure.

We are fortunate that there are so many available in the marketplace!

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Pots de cremes are rich custards, oven-simmered in hot water baths.

Here’s what I know:
They are not difficult to make. The ingredient list is not long. Assembly time goes quickly. Baking time is under an hour. They improve as they cool, refrigerate, and therefore can be made up well in advance of serving.

For these pots de cremes, I laced the chocolate mixture with some strawberry preserves. Not a lot–just a couple of tablespoons to add a nice berry note. It seemed like the right red thing.

I also used brown sugar, sparingly, as a dark sweetener for the cocoa. Feel free to improvise here. Some espresso would be good. Or a glug of creme de cacao. Or some orange zest—citrus is sublime with chocolate.

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If you don’t have these (dare I say darling!) heart-shaped crocks, don’t worry. You can use white ceramic ramekins, or small souffle cups instead. I will tell you that I was very pleased with these LeCreuset baking pieces–not just for the sweet shape, but also for their convenient lids.

The pots de cremes must be covered while they bake. Instead of fitting pieces of aluminum foil over each ramekin, I could simply use the heart-shaped cover.

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When they emerge from the oven, you’ll notice a sheen, and a little surface cracking. They will be fairly firm–a little middle jiggle–but that will set up in cooling.

Before serving, whip up some heavy cream, scarcely sweetened with confectioners sugar, and garnish. Fresh strawberries would be pretty too–but since my dad hates fresh strawberries (they have “googies” but that’s another post–) I couldn’t use them here.

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And, if these weren’t for my mom, I’d scoop up a spoonful and show you the deep creaminess of the custard. In a perfect chocolate world, this could be your heart’s desire.

Oh, my.

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HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY FROM GOOD FOOD MATTERS

(and Happy Birthday, Mom!)

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CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY POTS DE CREME
2 Cups Half-and-Half
6 oz Bittersweet Chocolate (can be a mixture of chocolates, like 4 oz of 70% bittersweet and 2 oz semi-sweet)
1 T. Cocoa
2 T. Brown Sugar, divided
2-3 T. Strawberry Preserves
2 t. Vanilla
pinch Salt
4 Egg Yolks

In a saucepan on medium heat, warm the half-and-half. Stir in the chocolates, cocoa, 1 Tablespoon brown sugar. Continue stirring until the chocolate is melted throughout, and the cocoa powder is incorporated into the mixture. Remove from heat and stir in strawberry preserves, vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar. Slowly pour the cooled (as in tepid) chocolate mixture into the beaten yolks. Beat well. Pour this into your ramekins. This will fill 4 8 oz containers.

Cover the ramekins with foil and place into a bain marie (water bath)

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 50-55 minutes. The pots de cremes will be set up, with a little jiggle. Uncover and allow to completely cool before refrigerating.

Serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream.

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 21 Comments »