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The other day, I had an out of body experience. I found myself roaming around the kitchen- I’m not even exactly sure how I got there in the first place. One minute I was furtively catching up on Oprah’s latest soul series book, and the next I was rifling through cupboards and and standing in front of the open fridge trying to find something- anything- to fill the chocolate-shaped hole in my heart.

The only problem was that the usual suspects just weren’t going to cut it. All winter I had craved oozing, rich, wet, dark chocolate dishes. But now that spring was here and I had actually started working out, I couldn’t stomach that kind of guilt. I needed something wholesome which could at least reasonably pass as healthy…and which would still satisfy my choco craving.

But the perfect recipe just wasn’t appearing. So with hesitant hands (but an even shakier hankering for chocolate), I jotted down an original recipe. Holla:

8 oz. semisweet chocolate

12 T. flaxseed

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

2 t. baking powder

3 eggs

1 t. vanilla

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and let cool slightly. In a separate medium mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix in the melted chocolate. Finally, stir in the rolled oats and chocolate chunks. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheet. Bake for 11-12 minutes.

Mmm, mmm. Mmm. MmmmmmmMM. …And they’re healthy, right? :)

Choco-Lit 101

A few weeks ago, Sera from Candy Addict recommended a book by Chloe Doutre-Roussel called The Chocolate Connoisseur. I took Sera’s advice, picked it up, and devoured it in a couple sittings- it’s a great read for anyone interested in chocolate tasting, sourcing, and the professional possibilities chocolate offers.

Chocolate Connoisseur

As I read about Doutre-Roussel’s career as the chocolate buyer for Fortnum & Mason, her story began to sound familiar. Sure enough, I had heard it before. It turns out one of my other favorite chocolate history books, Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light by Mort Rosenblum, spends chapters profiling Doutre-Roussel and her expertise. Here’s the passage in which we first meet her. I love the new French vocab word, and I am going to start using it regularly in everyday conversation:

“Chloe is a chocolate lunatic. The French would call her une chocodépendante, which means, roughly, a chocoholic with class. This is no literary exaggeration. She wears dresses with discreet kangaroo pouches in front so she can sneak bites of chocolate during long business meetings. At ninety-nine pounds, she is an open-and-shut argument against killjoys who insist that chocolate makes you fat.” :)

I LOVE that image of chocolate hidden in pockets during the workday.  Chloe, you are kinda my hero.

In The Chocolate Connoisseur, Doutre-Roussel gives excellent pointers on how to conduct meaningful chocolate tastings to begin to take apart the different flavors and aromas present in different chocolates. The book is also a virtual encyclopedia of quality chocolatiers whose bars should be sampled. Although the overall message is to be open-minded and explore what tastes good to you personally, it’s nice to find a list of manufacturers whose chocolate, when tasted in comparison to each other, have varying dimensions that can help develop your palate.

My only question is whether anyone knows a good source for buying fine chocolate for delivery in the US. I’ve been through chocolatesource.com, but there are still some brands not featured there. I was specifically looking for the Pralus brand, and eventually I came upon World Wide Chocolate. I’d highly recommend this site as a resource for buying European chocolate bars from the US. But does anyone have any other favorite retailers??

On a recent baking spree, I experimented with all sorts of new recipes for cakes and cupcakes. Soon to be posted are the results of my experimentation. There are some great red velvet cupcakes with a gooey chocolate ganache surprise inside, which would be ideal to serve that special someone for Valentine’s Day. There is also a good old fashioned carrot cake, which I adapted from my famous carrot cake cupcakes. And I also took inspiration from Cupcake Bake Shop and attempted a Japanese chocolate cupcake with sweet red bean filling and green tea icing.

BUT after baking my little heart out, I got to thinking of ways to make cupcakes a little more unique. While the possibilities in flavor and texture combinations is always enough to keep me interested in cupcake baking, sometimes it’s fun to shake things up a bit. I got to thinking of how I would go about making a pyramid cake.

Now, I have to admit my fascination with the idea came from a couple other expert sources. First, Philadelphia’s Naked Chocolate Cafe serves a specialty dessert called the Nudo which is essentially a pyramid-shaped brownie, crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. Oh. My. Gosh. Having spent many evenings during my college days in Philly at Naked Chocolate sampling their menu, I still get a little breathless thinking of the visual, textural, rich feast that is the Nudo:

nudo

I am also waiting for the right moment to attempt Fran Bigelow’s pyramid cake. Made from cutting up and re-assembling a sheet layer cake, this dessert is visually striking, and I cannot wait to report on my experience with it. You should take a look at her excellent cookbook, Pure Chocolate:

pure chocolate

But how to make a triangular/pyramid cupcake? While there are special molds available on the marketplace, I recently found a more resourceful solution in Gale Gand’s book Just a Bite. Gand explains that she uses the conical paper cups used with water cooler tanks- we’ve all seen them. Isn’t that too clever to resist??!!

Using any cake batter recipe, fill the paper cups up to ½ inch from the top rim. Before filling, the inside of the cups must be well buttered, all the way down to the bottom point. To bake the cups standing upright on their points, you must assemble holders from tin foil. Crumple the foil up and around the point of the cone, and place it inside a muffin tin for support. If the batter rises up beyond the top rim during baking, trim it flat using a serrated knife after it cools.

I cannot begin to imagine all the decorating options here. Gand recommends drizzling with dark and white chocolate. And they’d be perfect witches’ hats for Halloween! Or Christmas trees:

trees

The other day while grocery shopping, I turned a corner and found myself face-to-face with a huge, looming wall of red. Hearts, cupids, packaged candies of all kinds filled the entire shelf. Although it got my attention and reminded me of the upcoming holiday, I found myself kinda turned off by the timed commercialism of it all…

Then, this morning I read a Confectioner magazine’s article on Mars’ marketing strategy this V-Day. Not that it alleviates my disillusionment, but hey, it’s a cute (and smart) idea.

Apparently M&M has declared green the new color of Valentine’s Day.

green bowl

Why green? I’m sure most people have at some time or another seen the animated M&Ms character commercials. The yellow peanut M&M is the kind-hearted, slightly slow guy, and the little red one is his sarcastic sidekick…

But then there’s Ms. Green. (You can tell she’s sexy and flirtatious by her shapely legs, white go-go boots, and well-groomed eyebrows. Oh yeah, and she’s the only spokes-candy with eyelashes).

Ms. Green

And in honor of Ms. Green’s newly announced starring role in the supermarket this February, Mars has prepared a CUTE mock press release.

Apparently, Ms. Green was chosen to represent the love holiday not only because she is the only female character, but also because of a long-running legend associated with the color. Since the 1970s, there have been widespread unofficial claims that the green M&Ms are aphrodisiacs.

Not only is the decision to make green the color of Valentine’s Day original and as provocative as is possible for a company mass distributing mid-grade chocolate candies to a market with plenty of children…but it’s smart.

It’s smart because of the retailing principle it takes advantage of. (…”of which it takes advantage.” Sorry, I’m compulsive).

Can you imagine doing your grocery shopping, being confronted by that giant wall of red? Where will your eye be drawn? Straight to the block of green right in the middle of it all!

Plus, America has developed this love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day in general. There is a whole counter-culture of Anti-Valentine’s Day participants who boycott its mushiness and sentimentality. Maybe this marketing move will appeal to those consumers disgusted by the spectacle of it all (but secretly wanting to get a little of that chocolate!)

Having recently moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, I am loving the slower pace and smaller scale than my previous home- Philadelphia. In fact, just last week on my morning drive to work, I was struck by how pretty the scenery and architecture really is. And then that evening, I just drooled over the burning sunset behind black silhouettes of the mountains and wintery tree branches.

It touched me so much, I resolved to snap some shots of the city the next morning before work… nice sentiment, but either my alarm clock didn’t go off or (more likely) I was unconscious when I switched it off and stumbled back to bed. So instead of getting an early, relaxing start to the day I ended up risking my life by taking some “action” shots behind the wheel of my car ten minutes before I had to be at work. :/

Probably not a behavior I would condone, but I reeeally wanted to get started putting together some photos to show my family and old college friends. So here are the beginnings of my collection (all edited using Flickr’s new tool, which is awesome!)

Here’s how my drive starts, down W Main St:

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Then on my left:

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I turn at the statue. (Notice it’s now snowing- that’s just me trying out a new editing effect, hehe):

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Now here’s my favorite shot – doesn’t it look straight out of 1922?

oldie.jpg

Here’s the C&O:

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And here’s the same picture, but I played with the contrast and color saturation to make it look like Miami (although I’ve never actually been to Miami…) Which one do you like better?

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And after work, I still hadn’t gotten it out of my system. Alas, it is much more difficult to multi-task while driving at night, so this is the only one I got. Ya know, looking at it now kinda makes me scared of getting run over.

zinc.jpg

I can’t wait to do some deeper exploring in the next few weeks! Anyone from the area have any favorite places to eat, visit, hike?

My Darkest Secret

First of all – I love a good, dark chocolate.

choc

Don’t get me wrong- creamy milk chocolate can be absolutely delightful at the right time.  But there’s something more interesting about the tanginess and bite of a chocolate in the 65-80% cacoa range. 

Although…in this age of gourmet elitism, when darker is always better, I find myself wondering if there is such a thing as too dark…

Ok, here’s an illustration.  Has this ever happened to anyone else?  I know I can’t be the only one with this particular childhood memory: 

It’s 1980-something, and I get to help Mom make brownies!  I pull up a chair and climb up on the counter.  I lick my lips in anticipation as the wrapper comes off the chocolate bar.  “Can I have a taste?” I ask innocently, flashing my irresistable puppy dog face.

“You won’t like it,” my mom warns sweetly.

Uhh, hellooo.  It’s chocolate, right?  …Crazy lady.

So with mouth open wide, I plop in a piece of the black, glossy temptation – only to very quickly realize something is amuck.  And so I learn the difficult lesson of a tricky little character named UNSWEETENED baking chocolate who masquerades as the good stuff to unsuspecting children who can’t yet read.  :(

 My mom laughs as I gag dramatically (that crazy lady…).  I am not so amused.

face

Fast forward to 2007.  My little brother, who is very sweet and who knows my interests well, gives me a few nice chocolate bars.  Among them is this gem:

bar

This big guy features “99% Cacoa” in bright, shiny, gold letters written across the front.  Wow, that’s probably pretty intense…

Open up the package and you’ll see this really scary label on the wrapper:

label

Yep, these are indeed instructions on how to taste the chocolate safely.  Instructions on how to partake of its complexity without having to rush to the sink, one’s mouth dripping from the sides with black goo like a zombie from 28 Weeks Later. (What’s that? No, of course this didn’t happen to moi!)  ;) 

According to this label, the best way to relieve the potential trauma to unsophisticated taste buds is to quickly wash the chocolate down with a big gulp of soothing black coffee

Needless to say, my palate is apparently not “developed” enough to withstand the Lindt 99.  Or at least not enough to honestly say I enjoyed it. 

I want to have a discerning palate, though.  I want to be a proper chocolateuse. 

But at the end of the day, I’m afraid that bitter, burning sensation on the tongue will probably always transform me into a five year old who has accidentally picked up the wrong baking bar. (Geez, that crazy lady…)

Does anyone else think enough is enough…or am I just a wimp?  (You can say it).  Any suggestions on developing my palate?

Origin of the Name

So when I named this blog, the first words out of my guy’s mouth were, “I don’t get it.” 

Of course, he has seen me use my double boiler many, many times.  He just never put a name to the face.  And of course, the two or three of you reading this blog are most likely fans of chocolate and probably already know all about the double boiler.

But for any newcomers- and because I love talking about cookware – let me introduce you to my own beloved double boiler.  He was given to me by my guy.  (Yes, the same guy who didn’t know what a double boiler actually was.  But he learned.  What a sweetie…)

 db steel

Ta Da!  This is where the chocolate magic starts.

Oh, and here is my double boiler’s great-grandmother.  She was a wedding gift to my parents, and I first began my chocolate experimentation with her years ago:

db copper

So here’s how a double boiler works.  You simmer 1-2 inches of water in the lower saucepan and place chopped-up chocolate in the upper saucepan.  The steam from the lower pot gently heats the bottom of the upper pot.  This way, the chocolate melts much more gradually than if it were melted directly on top of a burner.

You see, chocolate burns verrrry easily.  I don’t know if you’ve ever put some chocolate in a saucepan, turned on the heat, left the room for a minute to answer the phone, and then come back to discover a bunch of grainy lumps floating in it.  Quite depressing.  And there’s really nothing you can do about burned chocolate, either.  Once it’s bumpy, it’s goin’ in the trash.

With a double boiler, it’s almost impossible to burn your chocolate, which is nice.  But you don’t need to go out and buy one if you don’t want.  You can improvise a double boiler by setting a stainless steel mixing bowl atop a saucepan.  Just make sure the bottom of the mixing bowl does not actually come in contact with the simmering water below. 

And also be careful about keeping any drops of water/condensation out of the chocolate.  (As we all know, oil and water do not mix.  And the cocoa butter in chocolate does not like water, either.)

Another way to make the chocolate melting process more gradual is to remove the upper saucepan from the heat before all the pieces of chocolate are melted.  Just continue stirring (a rubber spatual or scraper works best), and the heat from the liquid chocolate will melt the remaining solids. 

There are few things in this blessed world more beautiful than silky, glossy, hot, dripping melted chocolate.  Mmmm…

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