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.