Thursday, December 29, 2011

Triple Chocolate Torte - Chocolate Week 12

As she observed my chocolate baking binge of the last several months, a friend suggested that I try to create/offer recipes that were a little healthier. Thanks to Sharon O'Dell, St. George Island, FL, my last chocolate recipe of the year - and in this series - fits the bill quite nicely.

Here are the nutrition stats provided by Sharon for her awesome dessert (which I found in a long-forgotten magazine, ripped out, and stashed in my recipe file): 171 calories (24 percent from fat), 4.7 grams of fat (2.5 grams saturated), 44 milligrams of cholesterol, 37 milligrams of sodium, 31.5 grams of carbohydrates, .1 grams of fiber,  and 2.9 grams of protein.

But what you'll remember most about this dessert is the incredibly moist, fudgy inside topped by a light-as-air-crispy 'crust' that satisfies your sweet tooth without overpowering it. Enjoy this as a New Year's Eve or New Year celebration dessert :)

Triple Chocolate Torte
Makes 10 servings
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup boiling water
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons chocolate liqueur
      (VOE: I have so few occasions to use chocolate liqueur that I decided to improvise. I added 1 tablespoon of brewed coffee and one tablespoon of Triple Sec, instead)
4 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar

sifted powdered sugar
Combine first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Add chocolate and boiling water, stirring until chocolate melts. (if you're wondering about the red cast to this mixture, it's a reflection from our Christmas nightlight that stays on, continuously - kind of pretty, huh?) Stir in egg yolks and liqueur.

Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form and sugar dissolves, about 2-4 minutes.
Stir one third of egg whites into chocolate mixture, and then fold in remaining egg whites. Pour into a lightly greased 8-inch springform pan.
Bake at 375 degrees for 28 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack, for about 10 minutes; remove side of pan, and cool completely (cake will be cracked on top). Sprinkle with powdered sugar.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Teddy Bear Cookies - Chocolate Week 11

This is a December 2008 recipe from my first blog, Visual Traveler, in honor of our family's Christmas traditions. I hope you enjoy wonderful reunions with friends and family, in this magical season.
I started making Teddy Bear Cookies for the holidays many years ago, when my daughters really loved cute things - especially if they were edible. For these now 20-something girls and their friends, it wouldn't be Christmas at our house without them.
I didn't create the recipe, and my original copy is on a tiny, yellowed piece of the Kansas City Star. The only change I've made is to use equal parts of chocolate and peanut butter chips, because one daughter isn't wild about p.b. These cookies are so darn cute, easy, and fun that they're well worth sharing.
Cheery Chocolate Teddy Bear Cookies
 Makes about 4 dozen (VOE - I'm lucky if I get 3 1/2 dozen)

1 2/3 cups peanut butter chips (I use 1 1/3)
 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (I use 1 1/3)
 (VOE - these are the best alternate proportions I've found; something about the peanut butter amount is important to the consistency)
 2 tablespoons butter
 1 package chocolate sandwich cookies
 1 box teddy bear-shaped graham snack crackers
Cover tray with wax paper. In medium microwave-safe bowl, place peanut butter chips, chocolate chips and butter. Microwave at high for 1 to 2 minutes or until chips are melted, mixture is smooth when stirred, and chocolate and peanut butter are thoroughly combined.
With a fork, dip each cookie into chip mixture and cover completely. Place coated cookies on prepared tray and top each with graham cracker. Refrigerate, uncovered, until set, or about 30 minutes. Store in refrigerator and bring individual cookies to room temperature before eating.
VOEs - You have to work fast before the mixture begins to harden, so pour the teddy cookies and the sandwich cookies in separate bowls for easy access. And don't answer the door or phone unless absolutely necessary.

-Make sure that each teddy bear cookie has both ears and all limbs :)
-Have a rubber spatula on hand so you can move mixture off sides to bottom of mixing bowl.
-After you dip each cookie, scrape the bottom side of the fork on the edge of the bowl to recapture excess mixture.
 -You may have to 'frost' the last half dozen of cookies, as the mixture is used up.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mexican Hot Chocolate - Week 10

(with apologies for the lack of photographs; my email program was not cooperating but I'll add them later on)

Falling temperatures, rainy streets reflecting Christmas lights and a completely darkened sky before 6 p.m. create the perfect evening for sweet and spicy Mexican hot chocolate. A roaring fire and smooth jazz are great complements. And, if you're lucky, you'll have leftovers :). 

Mexican Hot Chocolate
Makes 2 servings

The most readily available brand of Mexican chocolate is Ibarra, which comes in a hexagonal package. If you can't find it, substitute bittersweet chocolate with a hefty pinch of cinnamon. (this recipe utilizes bittersweet chocolate; if you use Ibarra, eliminate the cinnamon in the milk).

3 ounces Mexican chocolate
2 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons cinnamon 
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 teaspoons mild chile powder

Finely chop the chocolate into grainy flakes - a food processor works great for this. Set a saucepan over medium-high heat and add the milk, cinnamon, vanilla and chile powder. When the milk is warmed through and on the verge of boiling, pour the hot milk over the chocolate.

Place the lid on the food processor and then pulse the mixture, removing the top to release steam if needed. Continue blening until the chocolate is completely melted and the milk is frothy. Pour into mugs and garnish with whipped cream and another dash of cinnamon.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chocolate Mousse - Chocolate Week 9

How can such an easy dessert taste so utterly amazing? Granted, you'll dirty several bowls, beaters, a spoon, a spatula, measuring spoons, and a microplane or zester. But that's a small price to pay for such a rich and luscious treat.

Beating the egg whites is probably my favorite part of creating this mousse. I find their transformation from a lightly clouded, thick liquid to brilliant white, stiff and airy 'peaks' nothing short of amazing.

Whatever part of making this dessert appeals to you most, there's no doubt that you'll love the tasty results. ENJOY!

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse
Makes 8-10 servings

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
6 beaten egg yolks
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 tablespoons orange zest
6 beaten egg whites
Melt chocolate. 
Add a little at a time to egg yolks,
flavor, and blend well (notice the puddles of vanilla in the photo, above).
Beat whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into custard. Spoon into individual parfait glasses or ramequins. Chill overnight. Before serving, top with a generous dollop of whipped cream and dustings of cocoa powder and orange zest.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Santa's Favorite Cookie - Chocolate Week 8

Okay, so maybe Santa has a different favorite cookie but, somehow, chocolate chip cookies evoke all sorts of warm, cozy feelings, especially in the face of biting cold and oncoming winter weather.

Several years ago, this recipe began as Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Whole wheat pastry flour, substitution of vegetable oil for half of the original butter, and extra cinnamon to complement the chocolate chips have gradually crept in to this recipe. And I've recently changed from semi-sweet to bittersweet chips.

Enjoy them now and then freeze some to share with extended family when the holidays arrive.

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 5-6 dozen cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup olive or canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups rolled oats
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together butter, oil and sugars until creamy. Add eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and baking soda and combine well. 
Stir in flour and then add walnuts. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 12-14 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1-2 minutes and then remove from pan to wire rack or a countertop covered with foil and parchment paper.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Chile Pepper Truffles - Chocolate Week 7

I have long believed dark chocolate and chile create a flavor sensation that can't be beat. So, as I perused my recipe files in search of the next chocolate offering in the 12 Weeks of Chocolate, I found a previously un-tried truffle recipe. Unfortunately, the recipe source is unknown.

The recipe begins with heavy cream, ancho chile powder, cinnamon, cayenne and a pinch of salt - and ends with spicy decadence in a single bite.

If you love chocolate and want a tasty addition to your Thanksgiving dessert offerings, give these a try.

Chile Pepper Truffles
Makes around 40 truffles

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon ancho chile pepper
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound semi-sweet dark chocolate chips

1 cup unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoons ground ancho chile pepper

Combine the first five ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Cover and let stand to steep for 1 hour.
Reheat the mixture over medium heat until it just comes to a boil, stirring occasionally. Pour mixture over the chocolate chips in a bowl. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
Pour mixture into a shallow glass pie pan. Chill for 2 hours, until firm. With a 1-inch scoop or tablespoon, scoop out chocolate and roll in the palm of your hand to a rough ball. Shape and place on a sheet pan covered with wax paper. Chill for 5-10 minutes.

In a small bowl combine the coating ingredients. Roll balls in mixture until coated, place the truffles back on the sheet pan with wax paper. Chill until ready to serve. If chilled longer than 2 hours, let stand for 30 minutes, at room temperature, before serving. Place truffles in a tightly covered container for up to 2 weeks.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kim's Chocolate Zucchini Muffins - Chocolate Week 6

In a sleek, sun-drenched kitchen in Gulf Shores, AL, the cooking class for our small group began, and a breakfast feast ensued. This was one of many creative adventures available at Beach CITE Studios, a nonprofit organization that focused on educational and performance opportunities that ranged from sculpture and dance to private studio space and the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival (since my Dec. 2010 visit, this venue has closed).

Our teacher, Kim, created aromatic granola full of oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, flax, pepitas, and several kinds of nuts. She served it parfait style, with Greek yogurt.

Then Kim made light, airy dark chocolate muffins, with zucchini shreds that our tastebuds would never have distinguished on their own. A dusting of powdered sugar topped each muffin.

Today, I replicated Kim's recipe with two small adjustments. Because she used all-purpose flour and I always use whole wheat pastry flour - which is slightly denser - I reduced the flour in my recipe by 1/4 cup. I also substituted 1/4 cup olive oil for 1/4 cup butter. Enjoy!
Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
Makes approximately 3 dozen regular muffins

2 1/2 cups flour (2 1/4 whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teapoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup butter, room temperature (1/2 cup butter and 1/4 cup olive oil)
2 cups white sugar

3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons orange zest (VOE: I will add more zest next time)
2 tablespoons juice from orange
2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
1/2 cup milk

1 cup walnuts or pecans, optional
Sift dry ingredients together; set aside. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, stir in vanilla, orange zest and juice, and zucchini. Alternate adding the dry ingredients with the milk. Add chopped nuts, if desired.
Pour into lined muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees, for 25-30 minutes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reduced-Fat Dark Chocolate Cheesecake - Chocolate Week 5

Despite my love of creating new chocolate dishes, sometimes there's no substitute for an existing recipe. Such is the case with this dessert, which a now-forgotten magazine printed from The Healthy Oven Baking Book, by Sarah Phillips.

I think I'd add another word to the title - decadent. Deep, dark chocolate flavor and smooth, creamy texture rule, with minimal guilt. In fact, here are the nutritional stats: 240 calories per serving, 31 carbs, 10 fat grams and 6 grams of protein. ENJOY!

Reduced-Fat Dark Chocolate Cheesecake
Serves 12

Chocolate crust
1 1/4 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 ounce bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
4 large egg whites, room temperature
12 ounces Neufchatel cream cheese (do not use nonfat cream cheese), well-softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder or 2 teaspoons regular instant coffee powder
(VOE: I don't keep espresso/instant coffee powder on hand. So I made ultra-strong brewed coffee and added one teaspoon, instead)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For crust: In a medium bowl, stir the cracker crumbs, sugar and butter until well combined. Press the mixture evenly and firmly into the bottom of a 9-inch, springform pan, lightly coated with canola oil spray. Set crust aside.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.
In a grease-free medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy. Increase the speed and beat until stiff peaks begin to form. In another bowl, beat together the cream cheese and sugar. Beat in the cooled chocolate, cocoa, coffee powder and vanilla, until combined.
Add the egg whites and beat until combined - do not overmix. Turn mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until the edges of the cake are slightly puffed and very lightly browned, 25 minutes. Cool on a rack. Serve chilled.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nanaimo Bars - Chocolate Week 4

When I was young, Mom loved to create homemade confections during the holiday season. One of my favorites were Nanaimo Bars. Yes, I loved chocolate, but perhaps I loved them all the more because they were a special occasion dessert.

Many years later, while on a girls' getaway at Half Moon Bay, CA, my friend and I encountered these luscious bars in a small bakery and eagerly shared one. That's when I asked Mom for her recipe. I also learned it originated in the early 1950s, in Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, Canada near the town of Nanaimo. A housewive's award-winning recipe quickly became a dessert favorite that also spread to the States.

Today, Nanaimo Bars are a special occasion treat in my home too. I doubt there are many such elegant desserts that also require no baking.

Nanaimo Bars
Makes 36 one-inch bars

Bottom layer:
1/2 cup butter
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 egg, beaten
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup grated coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts

Middle layer:
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding
2 cups confectioners sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk

Top layer
4 ounces chocolate chips
1 tablespoon butter
Bottom layer: Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler. Add egg and stir in. Add remaining ingredients and fold together. Press mixture into buttered 9 x 9 pan. Let cool and harden in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes before adding middle layer.
Middle layer: Cream together butter, vanilla and pudding. Slowly add confectioners sugar until well blended. Add milk as needed to achieve thick, smooth consistency. Spread mixture on first layer. Allow to cool and harden in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Top layer: Melt chocolate chips and butter in double boiler. Spread on first two cooled layers. Add more chopped walnuts as garnish, if desired.

Let cool several hours before cutting small because they are very rich. They also freeze well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spicy Banana Chocolate Torte - Chocolate Week 3

The inspiration to create a new recipe can come from many different sources. I was inspired to make this unusual chocolate dessert in honor of an annual party that we held for many years. Called 'Winter Doldrums' because it occurred in the dead of February, it always had a tropical focus - including the menu. So I combined banana, chile powder, and dark chocolate, to create this sweet and savory:

Spicy Banana Chocolate Torte
Makes 12-16 servings

3/4 cup butter
4 squares unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 medium banana, pureed
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup chopped nuts (use food processor)
1 cup chopped dates (use food processor)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 1/4 teaspoons mild chile powder

mousse filling
Melt butter and chocolate in double boiler and allow to cool slightly. Add sugar and combine thoroughly. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
Add dates, banana, flour, nuts, vanilla, cinnamon and chile powder. Combine well.

Pour 1/2 of batter into each of two well-greased round cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.Cool completely, before removing from pan. Layer cake, mousse, cake and mousse. Cool at least 1/2 an hour before serving.
Mousse filling (make ahead)

3 ounces dark chocolate
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites

Melt chocolate. Beat egg yolks until thick and creamy, and then add chocolate. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold into custard mixture. Chill overnight.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gail Ambrosius - Fabulous Chocolates in Madison, WI

It's no small honor to be listed among 10 top sweet destinations across the nation, in the Food Network magazine. But that's exactly where chocolatier, Gail Ambrosius, found her stellar dark chocolate creations, when the publication named hers the 'Best Little Box of Chocolates.'

Beyond the big red awning that bears her name, Ambrosius and her staff create unusual flavor combinations that have also landed this popular shop on the Best of Madison list, for four consecutive years.
Not bad for a business that opened in 2004 and an owner who previously worked as a cartographer for the state of Wisconsin. But Ambrosius only made the leap into chocolate making after she studied the art in Paris, fulfilling a decades-old dream.
We sampled many of Ambrosius's dark and decadent signature truffles while sitting in her tiny kitchen. All of her chocolate comes from Central and South America, creating a smaller carbon footprint than if she purchased it from Europe. Ambrosius regaled us with stories about the warm relationships she has developed during her visits to cacao farms in Ecuador, and Colombia, and particularly with Costa Rican farmers.
Shiitake mushrooms amplified the chocolate flavor of 65 percent Peruvian cacao, in shiitake mushroom truffles. Ecuadoran chocolate from an heirloom cacao bean combined with cognac and ginger to create a smooth, seductive filling with just a bit of 'kick.' Sweet curry with saffron offered a different kind of heat in a Hawaiian chocolate truffle. And Cinnamon/Cayenne truffles added sweet/savory heat to dark, rich chocolate.

Madison residents are lucky to have Ambrosius chocolates nearby. The rest of us will just have to satisfy our cravings by mail order. It's well worth the effort.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bacon Fudge Brownies

Welcome to 12 Weeks of Chocolate, a countdown to the New Year with chocolate as the star. Try new recipes, visit cool 'chocolate destinations' and share your own chocolate inspirations.
With all of the recent great news about dark chocolate's health benefits + the upcoming holiday season, its definitely time to celebrate this luscious foodstuff!

Dark chocolate isn't the only food ingredient that's been a hot topic lately. Ever since I dipped a piece of leftover brunch bacon into my brownie batter and savored this popular sweet-salty combination, I've wanted to join the flavors in an original recipe. See what you think of:

Bacon Fudge Brownies
Makes 24
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 squares unsweetened chocolate
  (VOE: You can substitute 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder for unsweetened chocolate squares? However, this may change the texture some. I made a substitute for one square)
1 stick of butter
3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
3 eggs
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Bacon prep:
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon
3-4 tablespoons well-cooked bacon, broken into 1/8-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Measure granulated sugar and brown sugar and set aside. In a double boiler, melt unsweetened chocolate and stick of butter. Remove from heat and stir in granulated sugar and oil and then add brown sugar. Beat eggs and add to mixture. Transfer to larger bowl and stir in flour.
Melt butter in a small bowl. Add oil, brown sugar and cinnamon and combine thoroughly. Stir in bacon, until well coated. Fold bacon mixture into flour mixture. Pour into greased 9 x 13 pan.
Bake for 20 minutes until slightly springy to the touch. Do not overbake. Cool completely and then cover with foil. For added flavor, drizzle thin dark chocolate sauce on top.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Visit to Taste of Home Test Kitchen

Tucked away in quiet Greendale, WI, outside of Milwaukee, lies the Taste of Home test kitchen, affiliated with Reader's Digest. Each year, staff members sift through more than 50,000 recipes received from readers, and tests more than 3,000 for potential inclusion in the magazine. Most recipes arrive in response to 24 contests held throughout the year. Amazingly enough, in this Internet age, 95 percent of all entries arrive by mail.
                                        Marie Parker, Food Editor for Simple and Delicious magazine

Once a recipe is chosen, testing begins. What the Taste of Home crew must do is make the recipe and then consider possible tweaks, which they believe will make it more tasty and easier for readers to prepare.
Ingredients for use in a pie recipe

Getting dishes ready for their photo shoots is no small task either. Four photographers, eight food stylists and five set stylists spend hours creating the perfect image of each one. And food styling has come a long way in recent years, with an emphasis on making food look real. Food styling requires a combination of food + cooking knowledge + artistry, and control of the air and time so that food doesn't die before the photo shoot.
Many food styling tools can be found in most homes. Dental floss and small scissors aid in cutting, while cotton swabs and petroleum jelly are other useful items. Test kitchen stylists also may use clay modeling tools, wooden skewers, and fine mist sprayers. Hand-held heat guns can add color to a burger bun or decorate a meringue. Blue putty between the layers of a 'loaded' burger, keeps everything together without being visible. 'Shims' can help to make the top of the bun rest equally on all sides of the burger.
A big part of creating the perfect image is surrounding food with the perfect props. The Taste of Home prop collection fills an enormous room from top to bottom, with every imaginable color and shape of dishes, flatware, and table linens. After props are chosen and the dish is prepared, the photo studio is the next stop, where digital images immediately transfer to a nearby computer screen.

Low-tech and high-tech combine to create amazing images for each magazine in the Taste of Home family.