Tag Archives: chocolate

Around the Campfire.

Last week, as I was walking to my office, the air felt crisp. My office itself was colder than usual. I had to put my sweater around my legs to keep warm.

There’s no mistaking it, Fall is upon us, and my long ago Summer Picnic feels long ago. The last hurrah of Summer.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t sorry to see it go.

I was ready to move forward, and into some much needed rest. And, yet, as the end of summer drew nearer I was suddenly and unexpectedly nostalgic.

Labor Day weekend, I found myself reading a book that I probably should have read for the first time twenty years ago, Judy Blume’s Forever.

And, well, this quote:

“It’s funny, the way you get to know summer friends so well in a short period of time, especially at camp, when you are thrown together morning, noon, and night.”

That was all it took. And suddenly, I was remembering the summers of my childhood at camp. Or, more specifically of those end of the summer nights when the upstate air was cold as we sat around the lake, clinging to each other for warmth, getting ready to say goodbye. This was before we were all online at all times, when the head counselors would read sports scores from last night’s major league baseball games at flag pole. When saying goodbye meant staying in touch with letters or simply with the tacit understanding that we would see each other at the same place next year.

I’ve tried to explain the experience and, somehow, always fall short.

How can I not?

The details sound unimpressive—or even strange without the right context. I could tell you about how the entire camp dressed in white on Fridays for the Sabbath or how on the last night of the season, we floated candles on Sylvan Lake, making wishes and plans for the following year. Or, I could tell you about being younger, and looking forward to the night where my division would have a campfire and we’d gather sticks to roast marshmallows for our very own s’mores.

I think I’ll stop there—at least that last one seems to be more universal. And, ultimately, I wasn’t nostalgic for the place so much as the feeling—of being on the cusp of things. Over the summers of my childhood it was the promise of fall and new books and fresh starts in the school year. Now? The days are getting busier and shorter and colder. And, I find myself wanting to hold on the lazy luxury of the summers of my youth in whatever ways I can.

I don’t have access to a camp fire—and, given that I live in an apartment in Manhattan, that’s a good thing. So, this is the indoor version of the summer standby. The good news is that, when the weather gets cold, and I’m feeling wistful and nostalgic, s’mores are no longer so hard to come by—stick not included.

S'mores Bars

S’mores Bars
Recipe courtesy from Seriouseats.com

Making everything from scratch is not a requirement (and, some may say you’re crazy to do so). However, I’ve included links to the recipes for graham crackers and marshmallows, should you be so inclined. It’s worth the effort.

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (made from 10 rectangular crackers)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups Marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut two 16-inch pieces of foil and line an 8-inch square baking pan, allowing excess to hang over sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Break graham crackers into small pieces and pulse in food processor until they become fine crumbs. Melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add melted butter, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to crumbs and pulse to combine. Press into bottom of prepared pan.

Melt chocolate and remaining 8 tablespoons butter in medium bowl in microwave, 1 to 2 minutes, stopping every 20 seconds to stir with rubber spatula. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
With a wooden spoon, mix in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, espresso powder, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with moist crumbs attached. Do not over-bake.

Transfer to cooling rack and top with marshmallows.

Adjust oven rack to upper third position and heat broiler. Broil until marshmallows are golden brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Cool in pan 1 hour. Using foil sling, transfer directly to wire rack and let cool completely, at least 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.

Makes 16 2-by-2-inch bars

Photos courtesy of Michael Landry



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And, just like that.

I’m back!

mex choc cake

Please forgive my absence. To put it in perspective, it took me two days to finish this article. It’s short, I know. I have no excuse, other than that I got too busy. I’m fully aware of the irony of that statement.

For what it’s worth, it once took me over a month to finish an article from The New Yorker on procrastination.

This will seem all the more appropriate when I tell you that I began to write this post back in February, when I was recapping one of the many dinners that I had hosted.

It was months ago, and, had I gotten around to writing this when I originally planned, I would have regaled you with stories of wandering around midtown Manhattan with some colleagues trying to find a place to buy lottery tickets. It was one of the largest jackpots in New York history, or at least that’s what the news was saying.

Did we think we would win? Probably not, although it should be noted that there’s something to be said to surrendering one’s self to any sort of possibility, however far fetched. Even I got caught up in the frenzy. A first for me—when I was younger, I was always the killjoy at the bodega, opting out of lottery tickets in favor of violets.

I know, I sound like a bit of a killjoy here, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve won plenty. The short list includes:

  • Camper of the year (Twice. I’m still flummoxed by that one)

  • several bottles of wine

  • $100 from FreshDirect

  • Another $100 from the Boston Chamber of Commerce

  • a book about women’s lives.

There was an award associated with the last one, although I’m fairly certain that, as with the rest of the cases mentioned above, luck played a great part. Well, luck and having some not so busy moments at various jobs when I could fill out surveys.

Still, winning seems to be missing the point. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that not everything can be a victory. Not every cake can be a celebratory one, with craters of butter cream and fondant (although once it cools down again, I may have a new dinner party project). When it came to the lottery, I didn’t stand a chance.

And, when it comes to cake, lately I prefer this one. It’s a workhorse of a cake, by which I mean that there’s really no occasion for which it’s not suited. It’s versatile enough that you can eat it for breakfast. But, with the right company, and a scoop of just the rice kind of ice cream, it makes any dinner special. Just the thing as my days become more manic. Turns out, I’m not busy so much as overly ambitious. Here’s to hoping I’ll be able to focus some of that ambition to this corner of the internet.

Mexican Spiced Chocolate Cake
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (6 7/8 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and lightly flour an 8″ round cake pan.

Cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Then, add the buttermilk and vanilla. Sift in the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, chipotle, baking soda, and salt into your creamed sugar mixture. Stir until everything is well incorporated.

Pour batter into your pan, and bake it for approximately 50 minutes. When your cake is fully cooked a tester placed in the center will come out clean. Cook the cake for 10-15 minutes before removing it from the pan.

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On being an adult

When I was younger, a good friend of mine once told me that she had heard it said that the best part of adulthood was the ability to buy one’s own groceries. I tended to agree.

Of course, I was much younger.

I still remembered going to the grocery store with my mother and begging her for sugared cereals. Her response was always the same. It’ll be a hot day in December before I buy you that. It should be noted here that I am a child of the eighties, and, as such, grew up well before the phrase global warming entered the national lexicon (I’m fairly certain that synergy hadn’t caught on either, but that’s another matter altogether). It should also be noted that my parents always sent me and my sister off to camp with pallets of pop tarts, so I suspect that sugar wasn’t the problem; our resulting hyperactivity was.

At some point, as I got older, buying my own groceries was no longer so exciting. In fact, it could be downright stressful—a game of Supermarket Sweep in reverse where I’d be doing mental math down the aisles, trying to determine if I really needed that soda (if it was Diet Coke, the answer was yes) or those cleaning supplies (I’ll let you guess here).

Being underpaid and in your twenties in New York has its own rites of passage. There are the big ones that hopefully you learn from—your first promotion or professional reprimand, first huge break-up, first time hunting for an apartment on your own—they’re universal.

Then there are the small ones—in my first office, most of the assistants brought in a loaf of bread during the second week of our pay cycle, using the peanut butter that the company supplied to subsidize our lunches. If you asked any of us, we could have rattled off all of the happy hour specials within a ten block radius in minutes, taking care to mention all of the bars that provided snacks or whole full meals (I’m looking at you Crocodile Lounge). We were, quite literally, living paycheck to paycheck in the hopes that one day things would improve and we’d make it.

And, we did.

Getting our very own offices with doors any everything. Putting some money aside for a fancy vacation. Or, a home we owned ourselves. Or, in some cases, to start a college fund for our children. I realized around Halloween last year that my Facebook feed was clogged with photos of the children of my friends dressed up for the holiday rather than of my friends engaged in stupid activities. It had finally happened—I was a grown-up. I was buying orange juice not for screwdrivers but to ward off a head cold.

Something needed to be done. And, so, because I’m an adult and can buy my own groceries and make my own dinner, the answer was clear—a dinner date with my friend James, consisting of hot fudge spiked with red wine and salted caramel ice cream. Thankfully no one was there to tell us to eat our vegetables first.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
6 TBS unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp fleur de sel (Diamond Crystal would work in a pinch, too)

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed dutch oven. Stir in the sugar and cook until the mixture turns golden brown and starts to smoke slightly.

Remove from the heat and mix in 1/2 cup heavy cream, whisking completely to help the caramel soften. Be careful as the mixture is hot and will splatter. Once the first 1/2 cup of heavy cream has been fully incorporated, add in the rest, whisking continuously. Then add in the salt and vanilla extract and mix well.

Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes, then add the rest of the milk, whisking well. This is your ice cream base. Once it is cool, process it with your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve with hot fudge sauce (recipe follows).

Hot Fudge Sauce

12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Combine the chocolate, sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, and cinnamon in the top bowl of a double boiler and place on medium heat. Heat until the chocolate has nearly melted, then whisk in the red wine, until it has been completely incorporated. Serve immediately.

Lasts one week, refrigerated. Heat over a double boiler prior to serving.

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So we beat on, boats against the current

There’s new scaffolding up by the New York Life building. This time it’s far more imposing and permanent.  Walking home late the other night, I noticed it and that it half obstructs the old “Interboro Subway Line” sign. A relic of the past, certainly, but a personal anchor, nonetheless.

At the very least, I liked seeing it.

Thankfully the neon glasses on 27th street are still there, bright as ever, reminding me at of Dr.T. J. Eckleburg.

Even so, there’s no doubt about it—the neighborhood is changing, again. If you can even call it a neighborhood, which I don’t suppose you can, since it’s mostly hotels and office buildings, but it suits me. And, it’s home.

You can’t stop progress.

I’ve been meaning to tell you about this cake and the story behind it for more than a month now.

Time gets away from me.

And, so, to go back to December 2011—each year, I cook my mother an elaborate birthday dinner. I’ve talked about it here before. It’s an all day affair. Think: cosmopolitans with freshly squeezed key lime juice, risotto, any manner of dessert, well, you get the idea. This year, however, owing to a new job with a different vacation policy, I only had a few days off around the end of the year which, among other things, meant less time visiting my family and by extension, less time to cook.

I suppose, then, my mother can be forgiven for suggesting that I make her birthday cake from boxed mix. Yes, boxed mix. I was incredulous—definitely not a good way to start a birthday meal. I couldn’t help it, for a birthday it seemed to defeat the whole purpose.

For me, cooking, opening up my table, is an act of respect and affection. The whole point is taking the time out, of telling someone that they’re worth the extra time and steps it takes to make something from scratch. So, a boxed mix simply wouldn’t do. Not for the occasion and certainly for my mother. After all, she was the woman who taught that baking was a meditation of sorts. To this day, when things get stressful, she takes out her measuring cups.

It’s getting cold here and the work shows no signs of abating. I’ve taken to leaving my own measuring cups on the counter, rather than putting them away.

Make of that what you will.

Chocolate Fudge Cake
Adapted from here

For the Cake
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
3 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract, divided
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/3 cup boiling water

For the ganache
18 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp butter, cut up
1 tsp vanilla

To Make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans. Dust with flour, tap out excess.

In a large bowl, beat together 3/4 cup butter and sugar with electric mixer or medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla and beat until well blended. Add melted chocolate and beat 1-2 minutes; set aside.

Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to chocolate mixture in two additions alternately with buttermilk. Beat until well blended. With mixer on low speed, add boiling water and beat until smooth (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, then unmold onto racks and let cool completely.

To Make the Chocolate Ganache:
In a 2 quart glass measure, combine chocolate chips and heavy cream. Heat in a microwave oven on HIGH 3 minutes or until melted and smooth when stirred. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour, or until ganache holds its shape and is thick enough to spread on cake.

To Assemble the Cake:
Cover a cake layer with a little more than 1/3 of chocolate ganache. Set second layer on top. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining ganache. Refrigerate cake 3-4 hours, or until ganache is firm, before serving.

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Limiting the Absurd

Let’s get this out of the way. This is not a seven layer cake.

Sure, I could argue that between all of the layers of cake and the jam, there are far more than seven layers. And, it’s true. But that’s not why I made it this way. The truth is, when it comes to the bottom layer of chocolate on a traditional seven layer cookie (or rainbow cookie as I call them), I can’t be bothered. Between flipping the cake and tempering the chocolate and waiting, the whole process seems like a nuisance.

More precisely put, it is simply too much work.

Wait. Wait.

Go back, read that last sentence again—I’ll wait.

Are you laughing yet at the absurdity?

It’s been well established that, when it comes to cooking, I’m fairly willing to do the insane, cooking things that can easily be purchased and at a lower cost (hello, bagels?), but even I have my limits. And, while my friend Arielle would argue that the bottom layer is what makes the cookie, I’ll leave that one to the professionals. So now you know.

Instead, here’s a riff on the traditional seven layer cookie—Ganche! More layers!

And, if I’m being completely honest more effort!

But, it makes for one impressive presentation, if I do say so myself. And, you can slice it up like a cake which means—more cake for everyone!

See, we all win.

Rainbow Cookie Cake
Adapted from Gourmet

To Make The Cake:
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste or marzipan (do not use the tubes)
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 more TBS for buttering your pans
1 TSP almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Red food coloring
Green food coloring
Yellow food coloring
1 and 1/2 jars raspberry preserves (16 oz total)
Chocolate Ganache (Recipe Follows)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter three 13-by 9-inch baking pan and line bottom with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.

Beat whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.

Switch to paddle attachment, then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined.

Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one, green food coloring into another, and yellow into the third. You’ll need about 30 drop sof each food coloring to get the desired intensity. Pour each color batter onto your prepared pans and spread using an offset spatula. You want the layers to be about 1/4 inch thick.

Bake each layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. The layers will be slightly undercooked. This is what you want. Once baked, transfer the layers to a rack to cool.

When all layers are cool, invert green onto a wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert yellow on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax paper. Once that is complete, cut the cake in half. Cover the red half, still in the pan with raspberry jam and place the green layer on top.

Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.

To Make the Chocolate Ganache:
Chocolate Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Place your chocolate chips into a heat resistant bowl and set aside. In a doubleboiler, heat the heavy cream to a simmer, but do not let it boil. Once the cream is warm, pour it over the chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate has melted and becomes glossy. Allow to cool for at least a half hour before using.

To Assemble the Cake:
Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature.

Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Spread the cake with ganache and allow to set at room temperature at least 30 minutes.

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Baking Fail (Macarons, Take #4)

And so the Year of the French Macaron slowly trudges along.

Trudges, yes.

I’m sorry to report this latest batch was a resounding failure. Ironic, given that, at least according to the Huffington Post, chocolate macarons should have been easier to make.

It’s hard to say what went wrong here. I suspect that, with the addition of so much cocoa powder, the batter was too thick. Less lava, more brownie. So, back to the drawing board on this one.

But, lest you lose hope, all isn’t lost. These cookies are excellent in their own right. The coffee and cinnamon enhance the chocolate flavor, making it taste deeper and richer, and the chipotle finishes it with a nice kick.

Try it and report back. If your cookies end up with feet, let me know what you did to achieve them.

And, last but, not least: a quick housekeeping note: there are some big changes afoot here. All good, I assure you, but they’ll be keeping me busy. So if there’s a little radio silence from me, stay turned. I’ll be back and cooking again very soon.

Spiced Chocolate Cookies
Or, the Macarons that weren’t

3 egg whites
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 TBS coffee, cooled
3 TBS unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp chipotle powder

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using a food processor, blend the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar together, about 2 minutes, until the mixture is well blended and well combined. Sift it, adding in the cinnamon, chipotle powder, and cocoa and set aside.

Heat your egg whites in a microwave for 15 seconds. Then, using a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until they’re foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar, still whisking, until the whites reach medium soft peaks.

Sprinkle half of the almond/cocoa/confectioners’ sugar mixture over the beaten egg whites and fold until just incorporated. Then add the rest, folding until everything is combined. Fold in the coffee. Tap the bottom of your mixing bowl against the counter to eliminate any air bubbles.

Transfer the batter to a pastry bag and pipe the mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Each cookie should be 1.5″ in diameter and at least 1/2″ apart.

Allow the cookies to rest for at least 30 minutes, until they are no longer tacky when touched.

Bake, rotating halfway through, until the cookies are slightly firm to the touch and can be lifted from the parchment, 20-25 minutes. Remove from the baking sheets and allow to cool completely.

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To be completely honest, when I first saw a recipe for chocolate chip cookies made with whole wheat flour, I scoffed. I mean, why take something perfectly good and rework it with, well, healthy ingredients?

These cookies still seemed like an affront to after school snackers everywhere. (I take my cookies very seriously, it seems.)

I certainly understood the idea behind the addition of whole wheat—the theory is that allowing the inherent qualities of the ingredients to shine through would produce a sum greater than its parts. It’s why pasta made with semolina flour in more flavorful than that made with all purpose flour and why I always favor the mellowness of shallots over onions in my vinaigrette.

So, the more I thought about it, the more my initial reaction seemed premature. One thing was clear, I was going to have to try the recipe myself.

Ultimately, what it came down to was that I was worried that adding whole wheat flour would make the chocolate chip cookies into something else. And, in my mind, there’s no point of having a chocolate chip cookies unless you get that iconic taste.

So, I proceeded with caution, which is to say that I couldn’t bring myself to cut out the white flour completely. Then, I added some cinnamon for good measure in the hopes that it would make the chocolate warmer and more pronounced.

It turns out that a strange sort of alchemy happens with the whole wheat flour. The cookies take one a warm, nutty characteristic. They taste wholesome, yes, but they don’t taste like they’re trying too hard to be something healthy.

In fact, they taste just like chocolate chip cookies should, only better. Meet your grown-up after school snack.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe adapted from Orangette

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat over to 350°F.

Line baking sheets with a silpat mat or parchment paper.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl, and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the butter, brown sugar and white sugar. Cream the butter and sugar, until well blended. Then, add the eggs one at a time, until they are well incorporated. Add in the vanilla.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the flour mixture, in three parts. Blend on a low speed until the flour has been incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.

Add the chocolate chips and mix on a low speed until they are evenly combined into the cookie dough.

Scoop mounds of dough about 1 tablespoons in size onto the baking sheets, spacing them evenly apart.

Bake the for 9-11 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the cookies are evenly browned.

Makes five dozen cookies.

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