Categories
Recipes

Mint Basil Chip Popsicles

Infusing fresh herbs into cream is what makes these Mint Basil Chip Popsicles unforgettable

So much can change in a year. If I looked back on my life, I always knew where I was going or at least tried to play a good game. From high school to journalism school. From j-school to grad school. And then things completely went off the rails.

What looked like a future in India became a present in the Bay area that painted sweeping strokes of a new future. I stayed tuned into the possibility of rethinking where I was headed until one very decisive moment of the kind of vocational meltdown that can only happen in a public place. In a darkened movie theater, the heroine of the flick made a decision anyone else might think is career suicide. And, in the end, she re-envisioned a life for herself that was good and whole. What sprang unexpectedly into an emotional moment was the idea that somewhere I had lost my way. Could I get it back? I sat there, unexpectedly weeping during this scene of The Devil Wears Prada?!  My boss a few seats down. Hoping against hope that she wouldn’t see me with her laser intuition and grill me.  Instead, Anne Lamott saw me as I approached her hustling a few popcorn kernels into her mouth while in a lobby line for another movie. We didn’t say much. She didn’t need to. A beacon of light only has to shine.

And thus began a tiptoeing back to consider what my future might hold and how I might claim it. Perhaps it seems like a misstep to follow that drumbeat rhythm taking you deeper into your story, but mine led me to poetry school and gratefully, a husband, a house, two cats. Not at all the life I thought my wanderlust leanings would go.

One of the cats heard the siren song of the Mint Basil Chip Popsicles

And yet, we surprise ourselves all the time, don’t we. Finding an appetite for peas as an adult that we abhorred as children. Circling back to the classical music of childhood when contemporary music doesn’t quite cut it. Infusing fresh farmer’s market herbs into cream for something with a bit more oomph but that still hits all the right keys for my Mint Chip ice cream loving heart. Mint Basil Chip Popsicles are this year’s gold star pick on a wooden stick.

It’s popsicle week. Last year I narrowly missed it by a few days with my Pink Peppercorn Fudge Popsicles but followed along swooning over the wide range of flavors. Last year was the deluge of good work writing, shooting, and planning that continues on into this year. It’s not where I expected to be when dreaming of the future as a child, but I can’t envision any other future better than this one. We make our lives or they make us?

The secret to Mint Basil Chip Popsicles is fresh chervil. It lends an herbal note you can't quite put your finger on.

Mint Basil Chip Popsicles

The inspiration for the base of these popsicles came from a visit to Tartine Manufactory and a swirl of their fior di latte herbal soft serve. I prefer my chocolate chipped in chocolate chip ice cream and accomplished the right texture using either the small or large holes on a box grater.

Makes about 8 popsicles

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 cups fresh mint leaves (about 1 bunch)
1 cup fresh basil leaves (about 2 robust sprigs)
1/2 cup fresh chervil leaves (about 9 slender sprigs)
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, grated

Bring the cream, milk and sugar to boil. Whisk to prevent scorching. Once boiling, lower the heat to medium and cook for  2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Infuse the mint, basil, and chervil in the hot cream for 30 minutes. Strain out the leaves. Stir the chocolate shards into the infused liquid. Pour the liquid into the popsicle molds, filling them ¾ of the way. Leave no chocolate behind–spoon any remaining chocolate shards into the wells. Freeze for an hour. Insert the popsicle sticks. Freeze for 3 more hours.

Grating the chocolate for these Mint Basil Chip Popsicles gives you that classic chipped chocolate texture.

Categories
Recipes

Pink Peppercorn Fudge Popsicles

Pink Peppercorn Fudge Popsicles - anneliesz

Growing up, popsicles always seemed like the sad substitute for ice cream. The one exception to that rule were the creamy paletas we would pick up at the bodega when visiting our family in Mexico. Back home in Texas though, purple, red, and neon orange frozen confections resembled rockets that required licking and furtive patience as you had to work hard not to have them completely melt and drip on your hands during hot summer days. We pushed up on orange creamsicle push-up pops. We nibbled, licked, and slurped our way to the bottom of sundae ice cream cones hoping to find a well of hardened chocolate shell at the bottom like a secret prize. I scorned the Fudge Popsicle, regarding it as a low calorie impostor. I might have still been developing opinions and points of view about subjects in school or summer required reading, but for ice cream I always had an answer ready. I could tell you why one Texas creamery’s Homemade Vanilla tasted best without adornment (an accolade since I couldn’t fathom why people would ever want just plain vanilla). Chocolate always grabbed me in its clutches except when cloked as ice cream and especially figured into fudgesicles.Pink Peppercorn Fudge Popsicles - anneliesz It’s a funny thing—growing up. The world continues to evolve and so do your tastes. A few years ago, it looked dubious that this same Texas creamery would be able to rebound after a production crisis. Or two. It’s strange to see companies that seemed so secure and inevitable during your childhood, companies you would be sure would be around when you have kids and they’re of the age to eat ice cream as summer relief, falter and struggle. Last autumn, while I visited Austin on book tour, I paid a visit to a local grocery store for supplies and there they were, behind doors in the freezer aisle. Gone were the Peaches and Cream. Nowhere to be seen was the Banana Pudding with hunks of vanilla wafers in the frozen custard. Even the stalwart Cookies & Cream with big chunks of chocolate sandwich cookies had flown the coop. Buttercup yellow pints of vanilla cozied up to pink-tinged brown pints of Dutch chocolate. They peered out and looked vulnerable. What once had been several shelves full of the cheering cow logo quarts had been reduced to two types of pints. It struck me as a picture of how in an instant, things can change, even if the instant takes place slowly—what are a few years in the whole of a person’s life but a blip?

Not long ago, I watched as a friend navigated the murky waters of the foundering ship that was the food company where she worked. Even when you see on the inside the cogs beginning to give way, it can be so hard to abandon ship. You want to believe that the brand you’ve known and love will muster through and make it to the other side of whatever battle in which they are entrenched. It can be incredibly jarring to invite a product into your refrigerator (and really, into your life) only to be made aware of its disappearance on the shelf and the subsequent absence it creates. How do you fill that need for a particular taste and the void it creates in your lexicon of ingredients?

Pink Peppercorn Fudge Popsicles - anneliesz

Out of sentimental attachment last fall, I discovered in a hotel room in Austin that my preference for vanilla had changed. I had changed. It felt like a sort of betrayal to shift my vanilla ice cream loyalty elsewhere. Was I any less of a Texan? Working at a food company makes you privy to so much that goes on behind the scenes and all the people essential to making a product succeed, including, of course, the customers themselves. You want to cheer on companies whose foods align with your values, whose flavors make you rally support in dollars spent. I have no idea the statistic of food companies that fail. It’s a question far too depressing to consider, really. Instead, I focus energy on applauding the effort—the belief that something tasted good enough that it must be shared. That all the countless hours spent getting a product on the shelf (not to mention the tireless efforts to keep said product on the shelf) are worthwhile.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that I’ve circled back to Fudge Popsicles and reconsidered my position. Because I’m older, I can be specific as to why Fudge Pops never quite did it for me as a kid (icy, water-based or skim milk-based which might as well be water). I owe that discovery also to mouthfeel and that I relish chewy popsicles. Because I’m older, I’ve made batch after batch of ice cream and the small failures along the way have led to the big reveal: life is short. Anything worth doing should be worth it even if it doesn’t last forever. We all have expiration dates on us, even businesses and brands. While we are able, life is meant to be lived, and sometimes that requires Pink Peppercorn Fudge Popsicles.

Pink Peppercorn Fudge Popsicles - anneliesz

Pink Peppercorn Fudge Popsicles

These popsicles are inspired by a perfect square of Fauchon Pink Peppercorn Chocolate that brought me bliss from a recent souvenir care package. In my desire to recreate that sensation of dark chocolate melding with citrusy pink peppercorns, I decided these flavors would make a fudge pop for all other fudge pops to reckon with. I swear by Guittard 70% bittersweet chocolate, after recipe testing five different kinds of chocolate for the truffles recipe in Steeped. It’s my preferred chocolate and that coral red box claims to hold 6 ounces but my scale pronounces it 6 ¼. When developing this recipe, I tried to hold back on the sugar because I didn’t want the popsicles too sweet. I finally arrived at the amount below once I relaxed and remembered that sugar and salt amplify flavor—so you will find the popsicles are not cloyingly sweet, instead the chocolate and peppercorn flavors play up satisfyingly. I dedicate these popsicles to good friends who have a wicked sense of styling and find food photography a fun afternoon endeavor (Here’s looking at you, Steph) and friends who love you enough to tote special French chocolates back from the city of lights (bisous, mille fois, Olga).

Makes 10 popsicles

6 1/4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (1 red box from Guittard), coarsely chopped

2 cups heavy cream

½ cup water

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons whole pink peppercorns

 

Place the chopped chocolate into a medium stainless steel bowl with a wooden spoon nearby. Bring the cream and water to just under a boil, whisking in the cocoa powder, salt, and sugar once tiny bubbles prick the outer edge of the saucepan, until dissolved. Remove from the heat once the bubbles grow to the size of a pinhead, usually 30 seconds to 1 minute longer. Meanwhile, grind the peppercorns to a medium-coarse consistency in a mortar and pestle. Pour 1/2 cup of the hot cream into the chocolate while stirring until the chocolate has melted. Continue stirring, pouring in the remainder of the hot cream. Stir in the peppercorns. Pour the hot fudge cream into the open wells of a popsicle holder. Insert the popsicle sticks and freeze for 3 to 4 hours.

Pink Peppercorn Fudge Popsicles - anneliesz

Categories
Food Poetry Poetry

Chocolate Hazelnut Earl Grey Granola

chocolate hazelnut earl grey granola- anneliesz

This is where you write something pithy.
This is where you tell a funny joke.
Or where you share a photo to awaken
an urge inside for just one bite.
Life comes to us, a whole pie, lattice intact.
We share one slice. We take one for ourselves.
We feast in quiet corners on the crumbs or lick
the juice pooling by the fruit so none of it is waste.
This is where I try to make you like me.
This is where I pretend it doesn’t matter if you don’t.
This is where I tease you with something sturdy
like oats, wickedly bathed in oil and simple
syrup, hazelnuts knocking into chocolate chunks.
And I take out one bowl for you and I take out
one bowl for me that we might sit in the silence
of our thoughts, knowing all we can do is feed
the need to be known even if we appear
as composite photos of our actual selves online.

chocolate hazelnut earl grey granola- anneliesz

Chocolate Hazelnut Earl Grey Granola

You can find the Earl Grey syrup recipe and several other ways to use this simple sweetener in Steeped. The hazelnuts make this granola great, coated in Earl Grey syrup. I’m already a fan of hazelnuts and citrus, so this pairing continues the love affair. I detest the flavor of canola oil and do not find it neutral in flavor. If you don’t have safflower, try using grapeseed instead. I add the chocolate at the end so it doesn’t melt into the granola but instead keeps its girlish figure. I like to eat this with almond milk or cow’s milk. And let me just say if you like to slurp cereal milk, you will find the dregs of this granola subtly redolent of sweet Earl Grey.

Makes 4 to 6 servings
 

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup chopped hazelnuts

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons Earl Grey simple syrup

¼ cup safflower oil

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

 

Preheat the oven to 275F. Line a roasting sheet pan with parchment paper. Stir together the oats, hazelnuts, salt, sesame, syrup, and oil in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until coated. Dump and flatten the Earl Grey oat mixture into a thin layer on the prepared pan. Cook for 40 minutes, removing the pan in eight minute intervals, to stir the granola and flatten it back into a thin layer before putting it back in the oven. Cool the granola for 10 to 15 minutes before mixing in the chocolate. Store the granola in a sealed container in your pantry.

chocolate hazelnut earl grey granola- anneliesz

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf

Matcha Dusted Maple Chocolate Cupcakes

Matcha Chocolate Cake_anneliesz_5373

First of all, it feels so good to be back blogging again. For the first time in two months, my kitchen has come out of lockdown. I’m back in Oakland and planning some delicious things for coming weeks.

Cookbooks make good traveling companions, don’t you think? With a pencil in hand, hours of entertainment are yours for the simple asking price of three to five pounds of extra weight in your carry-on or backpack. I used to travel with other peoples’ books until I started traveling with a full suitcase of my own. The best part about returning home from a book tour is returning home to Oakland to catch up with friends, and scrounge around in the cupboard and cobble together dinner with Nathan. Part of playing catch-up involves making tea dates or penciling in time to walk with friends. But recently, I played catch-up in a completely different way: taking two cookbooks written by Bay area friends on a road trip to Santa Ana. While Nathan drove and listened to AM sports talk radio, I dove into one book and then the next, pencil in hand. Each book showed the imagination of the person penning it. Now being on this side of the cookbook process, my respect has amplified at least a thousand fold for anyone who sets out to write a cookbook. For those of you prone to the idea of book babies and birthing a book, imagine a year or more of labor without an epidural. It’s quite a feat. I will never forget meeting up for lunch shortly after I’d begun working on Steeped full-time with my friend, Shauna Sever. She shared her experiences with levity, for which I will always be grateful.

Real Sweet Cookbook_5412

When a cookbook is written well, you can hear the voice of the writer leap off the page. Shauna knows the craft of telling a good story and has a distinct personality on the screen of her blog and also on the pages of her books. Her last cookbook, Pure Vanilla taught me all about different kinds of vanilla–don’t get me started on her recipe for Malted White Hot Chocolate. My relationship with all things malted borders on obsessive. Shauna’s new book, Real Sweet takes on the topic of baking with natural sweeteners. With her snappy sense of humor, she shows her extensive knowledge in a way that is approachable and leaves the reader feeling smarter. By the end of the book, I definitely felt smarter, ready to break out the coconut sugar or demerara. Shauna’s described as the next door baker and it’s really true. She is just the person you would want to have living next door, sharing sugar (turbinado!) and plates of oatmeal cookies (Mrs. Braun’s!). I figured who better to demystify the flavor possibilities of natural sweeteners than Mrs. Next Door Baker herself.

Real Sweet Cookbook_5413

The book is arranged into seven sections that take on different kinds of baking situations and focus on a particular natural sweetener. All-day snacks and lunch box treats star the femme fatale, coconut sugar, while the picnics and potlucks section explores turbinado, the hero. My cupboard happens to possess almost all of the sweeteners mentioned in the book, so naturally, I began dog earing pages for later consumption–ahem, research. Rhubarb and Rose ice cream with agave nectar? Say no more. Chocolate Chip and Cherry Date Cake sounds great. Oatmeal and Turbinado Cream Cookie Sandwiches might make it on the menu before the month is out. I’m open to opportunities to whisk, spoon and be the Friday afternoon heroine, showing up at a certain Oakland office building with baked goodies. Could it be yours? Maybe.

On this occasion I had visions of cupcakes dancing in my head to celebrate the victory of our hometown Oakland Golden State Warriors win during game 3 of the NBA play-offs. And, I wanted to pillage my pantry rather than go to the grocery store. I flipped open Real Sweet and landed on the Maple Chocolate Cake. Cocoa powder? Check. Greek yogurt? Check. Maple syrup? Check. Yes. As I finished scanning the ingredient list, my cupcake delivery plan started coming together.

Matcha Chocolate Cake-anneliesz_5404

What I like about this cake is it’s not too sweet but it has great bounce. I poked a few dark chocolate chips into one of the cupcakes and wouldn’t you know, it tasted amazing. But here’s the thing with friendship: you bring who you are to the table and they bring who they are. So, I hope you won’t be disappointed to learn I had to find a way to sneak tea into these black beauties. And, let me just tell you. Dusting the maple chocolate cupcakes with matcha powdered sugar might have been my second best decision of the day. Because good decision number one is sharing with you a book from a person who is as real and sweet as her book title suggests.

PS- If you’re in the Bay area, Shauna is going to be talking about natural sweeteners and signing books on Saturday, June 11 at 3 over at Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

Matcha Chocolate Cake_anneliesz_5370

Matcha Dusted Maple Chocolate Cupcakes

Maple Chocolate Cake printed with permission from Real Sweet by Shauna Sever

 This cake is used in a wickedly good recipe in Real Sweet: the Black and White Pancake Cake (see above photo of the open pages of the cookbook. Just imagine thin layers of chocolate cake sandwiched by cream and drizzled with ganache—need I say more?) But if you want to whip up some Friday afternoon cupcakes with a slight kick of caffeine, matcha dusting is a must. The chocolate and maple goodness are the right foil for the grassiness of the matcha green tea sugar. You can go easy does it and sift a fine sprinkling of the matcha powdered sugar on top of the cupcakes or go for a full-on green blizzard. The choice is yours. Tip: If you have leftover matcha powdered sugar, store it in a sealed container in a cool spot. Sift it over homemade donuts or whisk up a hot cup of pre-sweetened matcha by sprinkling 1 teaspoon into 4 ounces of hot 170F water and whisking until combined. Add 8 ounces warmed milk or hot water and sip.

YIELD: Makes 1 ½ dozen cupcakes, two 9-inch cake layers, or one 9×13-inch sheet cake

 

MAPLE CHOCOLATE CAKE

1 ½ cups (192 grams) unbleached AP flour, spooned and leveled

¾ cup (72 grams) unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup (336 grams) pure maple syrup (dark or very dark preferred)

1 cup (242 grams) 2% Greek yogurt

2 large eggs

¼ cup (57 grams) grapeseed oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

 

MATCHA POWDERED SUGAR

1 teaspoon culinary grade matcha green tea

¼ cup powdered sugar


To make the maple chocolate cake:
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.

Lightly grease a 9×13-inch rectangular baking pan or two 9-inch round pans (and line them with parchment paper), or line 18 wells of two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, yogurt, eggs, oil, and vanilla extract.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Using a whisk, energetically blend the batter by hand until smooth and thick, about 1 minute. Spread the batter into the prepared pan or pans. (For cupcakes, fill the cups no more than two-thirds full—you should get 18 cupcakes).

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly touched, 20 minutes for cupcakes, or 30 to 35 minutes for sheet and layer cakes. Cool completely in the pan or pans on a wire rack before inverting and frosting.

 

To make the matcha powdered sugar: sift together the matcha and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Spoon a small amount of the matcha sugar into the sifter and dust the cupcakes as much as you like. Add more matcha sugar to the sifter as needed.

Categories
Recipes

Chocolate Mint Trifle

Chocolate Mint Trifle

If I could wish anything for you, it’s that you might know joy. In early 2014, back when I contemplated if I should make resolutions or whether I should balk at the idea of making the same resolutions for the umpteenth year, I began thinking differently about the promise of what a new year gives us. Instead of resolutions I could easily eschew, I wanted an anthem that could carry me through the unknown curves and dips of the year to come. At that early stage, I declared it would be a year of joy. What I didn’t know then is the kind of year that this one would shape up to become. What I did know is that joy sometimes is a choice and can traverse terrain where happiness might not easily go.

I’ve written here about joy before and perhaps it’s more a life anthem that I want to dance along with or wings I want to cinch onto my shoulders. On a blog, there is only so much that one writes about personally that is fit for public consumption. Though I write here regularly, about once a week these days, all the living gets done off the screen. This is the same for you too. Even in the midst of the social media tools to connect us, there are some times when we live unscripted and quietly. The stories that get pulled out of my personal vault get determined by a criteria of whether they can be used to build up another person–in whatever they are enduring, letting them see they are not alone. To live a full life is to experience the range of human emotion… and the experiences that can elicit them. Grief colored my days grey and blue for over a year and I wrote about it that it might bring comfort to someone who is just beginning the journey in that vast valley. Trepidation stained my mom’s cancer diagnosis to be swiftly followed by triumph. Jubilation flavored telling you about my tea book that is coming out in April. Nerves and elation will equally attend my book tour events in the spring. When you visit the food poet I hope you find a glass half full to drink from that will refresh your spirit.

This year, 2014, has been full of hard stops and end words that bleed into other lines and stanzas of poetry. I leave it so grateful for all of the incredible lessons it has taught me, arm-in-arm with a dizzying array of really smart people I’ve met in 2014.  In 2015, I will continue to write about food, poetry, and their intersections here on the food poet. And, I will let tea infuse the page in a few ways I’m currently brewing up. What 2015 will hold is also somewhat unknown.  But like this Chocolate Mint Trifle, all of the bits of our lives saturate the other ones, and, for you, I hope that those bits are mostly sweet. May it involve a serving of chocolate mint pudding soaking into chocolate cake and freshly whipped cream and a helping of joy so pervasive it will not disappoint. Happy New Year’s.

Click here for my Chocolate Mint Trifle recipe on the Weiser Kitchen.

Chocolate Mint Trifle

Categories
Recipes

Chocolate Mint Pudding

Chocolate Mint Pudding

You know how some people became enraptured with cupcakes and dolloped, smeared or piped their weight in cupcakes during the time that that particular trend peaked? Do you remember the blocks long line to obtain the famed cronut and the intense scrutiny of bakers to try and match that masterpiece of Dominique Ansel’s? If you live in the Bay area, do you remember the kouign amann hysteria that began curling its sugar buttered edges around many a local patisserie? Or, let’s mark the time when macarons made their debut as the potential new darling once cupcakes had ceded their spot? All roads lead to cupcakes and candied bacon.

It’s not really that I eschew trends, but what could a cupcake ever have that can trounce a cup of cold custard? My affection for puddings and custards has unabated over the years. Somehow it has snuck past being latched onto as the new dessert centerpiece of the century, which is fine by me. Years after the cake and ice cream phenomena of birthday celebrations had finally passed (Serve it with a spoon? Serve it with a fork? Why do we not have sporks?), I came to terms with the idea that I could forego cake and ice cream on my birthday. If I could serve exactly what my heart desired, a sweet to usher in a sweet new year of life, I would hands down pick the sumptuous swirl of creamy pudding. The horror. I can imagine birthday purists cowering in their carrot cake and vanilla ice cream hovels. Is there a sexier dessert? Possibly. It might not have all the whistles, sequins and flair that one can inflict upon a cake or cupcake, but a good pudding has heft along with the creamy consistency that makes it a dessert to savor slowly. Several years ago, I began carting home a small tub of Chocolate Pudding from Tartine and would take several days to eat my way through that dark decadence. This year, I made my own.

Inspired by the idea of peppermint hot chocolate, I decided to whisk up a batch of Chocolate Mint Pudding. There is a whisper of mint, a come hither hint that does not pop you in the face with pungency, but makes semisweet chocolate so much better. Wait until you see how I’ve finagled it into a dessert for New Year’s Eve next week. But this week, I give you the dessert that will always keep my peripheral vision in check–if you bring pudding to the table, chances are good that I will soon follow.

Chocolate Mint Pudding

Chocolate Mint Pudding

Makes 4 servings

 

5 egg yolks

4 tablespoons cornstarch

2 cups cream

2 cups whole milk

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, plus extra for garnish

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon peppermint extract

Freshly whipped cream, optional

Fresh peppermint leaves, optional

 

Whisk the yolks and cornstarch together in a large bowl into a bright yellow paste. Sift the cocoa powder over the chocolate, placed in a medium bowl. Warm the cream, milk, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat for six to seven minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the milk into the chocolate and whisk until it is integrated and resembles chocolate milk. Pour ¼ cup of the chocolate milk into the yolks and whisk until combined. Whisk in the rest of the chocolate milk and add the extract. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve into the saucepan, set over medium heat. Whisk until it thickens and leaves drag marks, about seven to eight minutes. Spoon the pudding into a small bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding and chill it for 3 hours.

 

 

 

Categories
Recipes

Creamy Coconut Joys

If you’re reading this you might have noshed on an elegant slice of flourless chocolate cake last week. Perhaps you whisked together a last minute dark chocolate pudding and dusted it with chopped pistachios. Maybe, you received two bars of chocolate in the guise of Blueberry Lavender or Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt that you will hoard away until the moment calls for a square or two to be notched off the ends. If February 14 had a movie moniker, it would be, “There Will Be Chocolate.”

What is it with chocolate and Valentine’s Day that makes them feel indispensible, one from the other?

In the other room, the synthesized music of Mew floats into this room, over to my desk as a knife chops applewood smoked bacon for a once a year gift of homemade Carbonara. It’s become our tradition of a simple decadent dish anticipated with the fervor of turkey and dressing or any dish you might assign to a holiday. Soon, a sizzle and the wooden spoon’s nudging against the stainless steel walls will join the happy sounds coming forth from our kitchen. Then too, more chopping will commence, but a harder sound, as if knuckles rap against the front door. Twirling my fork around the noodles, watching John Cusack become Edgar Allen Poe on screen and sidled up against my love, this, this is worth remembering. And we try to etch the small moments into the trunk of our memories.

What is it with our need to complicate the very best things in life? We chase happiness like it just might be joy but that goodness can’t last. Joy, on the other hand, never ceases to surprise me. How can something so good be found in the dregs of circumstance? And maybe that’s it. Circumstance proves happiness to be so very fickle, where it cannot touch joy. Other times, we have to scratch around the dry earth of our spirits for that joy, but that does not vanquish it from existing. I think of Corrie ten Boom, a personal hero of mine who somehow found bits of joy even as she was incarcerated in a concentration camp for hiding Jews in her house during World War II or Paul singing songs in prison.

When you come down to it, joy can be hard to understand. If history has shown me anything, we don’t often chase after what we don’t understand. Instead, we try to quell it. Happiness and joy- which one are you running toward or trying to cultivate?

And this is why, after a day dedicated to chocolate and the kind of love found in small gestures or the grandiose, we come back to joy. It’s no surprise that the classic combination of almonds, coconuts and chocolate culminate in nomenclature of joy. Just as I think you will agree these Creamy Coconut Joys can present a small luscious gift whenever the occasion calls for it.  Stumbling over the ridiculously luscious St. Benoit yogurt had me clamoring for resuming my post-dinner yogurt habit. Since I trust the folks in Sonoma to not steer me wrong with yogurt, we go full fat and I’ve been told by an RD friend that yogurt from grassfed cows can give more omega’s, which is a bonus to the creamy consistency of our other favorites, Straus Organic or our love of goat’s milk yogurt from Redwood Hill Farm. Keep in mind, light yogurt equals more processing and really, when you’re keeping it simple, quality ingredients are paramount. You might find these Creamy Coconut Joys live up to their name.

We all need a bit more joy in our lives, methinks.

Creamy Coconut Joys The Food Poet

 

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CREAMY COCONUT JOYS
This recipe comes together pretty easily. I enjoyed this regularly without the coconut milk, so you can opt for that or take it over the top and make your own coconut cow’s milk yogurt. It’s your choice really. Make the yogurt hours in advance of serving and let it sit in the fridge so the flavors can coalesce. You can also toast the coconut in advance too. I find this makes for a novel, portable dessert for intimate potlucks as all items get packed into jars and are easy to transport by bus or walking.

YIELD: 4 servings

1 quart high quality full-fat plain yogurt

1 can coconut milk

4 tablespoons thick shredded unsweetened coconut

4 tablespoons raw almonds, chopped

4 tablespoons high quality bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips

In a medium sized bowl, empty contents of one quart of yogurt. Spoon coconut milk into the yogurt and stir. Cover and refrigerate.

In a pan or electric oven, toast the coconut for around 2:30 to 3 minutes on low medium heat until it starts browning but before it burns. Set aside to cool.

In the same pan or electric oven, toast the chopped almonds until they start giving off their aroma and before they burn, around 2:30 to 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.

When you’re ready to assemble the Creamy Coconut Joys, pour about 1/2 cup of the coconut yogurt into a small bowl. Scatter a tablespoon of almonds on top. Then, sprinkle a tablespoon of the toasted coconut. Lastly, dot the surface of the Joys with a tablespoon of chocolate chips or chunks.

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Categories
Recipes

Peppermint Chocolate Rochers

DESSERT RECIPES- peppermint-chocolate-rochers

Looking for reasons to bake in December is not difficult. Do you find yourself any other time of year looking for reasons to break out the eggs, sugar, butter and flour with the gusto that the holidays inspires? I didn’t think so.

We hosted our second annual Cookie Swap this past weekend with local food blogger friends. Among those RSVP’d, I knew of two food allergies to keep in mind. Two friends I knew for certain are gluten free. One is in the process of eliminating ingredients and is avoiding eggs. I made Buddhettes for my egg-free friend and baked up a batch of these gluten free Peppermint Chocolate Rochers.

Yes, neither of these would “technically” constitute as cookies, but I tend to be a spirit of the law kind of gal. And Anita brought some cupcakes so clearly this could be construed a Baked Good Swap? Her alphabet Linzer cookies became our party entertainment. Mike, Anita’s husband suggested a rule early on that you could only eat a cookie if you could spell something with the other cookies.

What started as “happy holidays” became everything from “play shop” and “Als Pho” later to be followed by “Laos.”

happy holidays cookie tilesplay shopcookie tiles

Faith brought vegan Peppermint Candy Crisps. Susie baked up Drunken Almond Macaroons. Charissa and Patrick arrived with Coconut Peanut Butter Chocolate Gluten Free cookies.

peppermint candy cookiesDrunken almond macaroonsgluten free coconut peanut butter chocolate cookie

Steph brought Blackberry Rosemary Shortbread Bars. Sabrina made a batch of Lemon Rosemary Cookies with Black Pepper.

blackberry rosemary shortbread barslemon rosemary black pepper cookies

Irvin brought two batches of cookies: chocolate raspberry striped cookies and cinnamon bun swirl cookies.

chocolate raspberry cookiescinnamon bun cookies

It was a rollicking good time. Somehow baking up a baker’s dozen always allows everyone to try the different cookies and leave plenty for the hostess. I’ve got a plan for those extra cookies and cupcakes and it involves another favored reason for the holidays- gifts that keep on giving.

peppermint chocolate rochers

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PEPPERMINT CHOCOLATE ROCHERS
I’ve been a fan of the blog Orangette since 2006 when I originally started la vie en route. I can safely say this is my favorite recipe of hers. She nails dead on the rochers from local bakery Tartine. They make a version with toasted almonds and another one with cacao nibs.  I baked a batch of Rochers for Thanksgiving after finding myself the proud recipient of extra egg whites left over from making a Maple Custard Pie. I played around with the recipe for a Christmas-infused adaptation and it resulted in something special. The chocolate chips melt in your mouth and the peppermint is subtle- think of this as a sophisticated York peppermint pattie.

Adapted from this Cocoa Nib Pavlova recipe from Orangette

  • 4 egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Set oven to 275. Prep two pans with parchment paper or silpat.

Place egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in a heavy duty mixer and mix on low for a few minutes and then increase to medium speed until soft peaks begin to form.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and cornstarch.

Set the mixer on medium high and slowly pour in the sugar mixture. Continue mixing for about 5 minutes. Toward the end, add the peppermint oil. The mixture should be very thick.

Mix in the chocolate chips and cacao nibs. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto each pan with several inches in between. I like to swirl the spoon on the top to give it a swirled look. Once all the mixture has been doled out onto the pans, place them into the oven on the top rack and lower rack.

Drop the temperature down to 250. Bake for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway through baking period. Once done, the rochers will be firm to the touch. Let cool on a rack.

NOTE: If you notice your rochers are still gummy underneath when you lift them up with your spatula, place them back in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes and that should do the trick.

Makes about a dozen large rochers, best enjoyed up to a few days after baking. Store in a sealed container.

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Buddhettes- Buddha’s Hand Orangettes

buddhettes - buddha's hand orangettes

I spied the Buddha’s Hand sitting on my friend Andrew’s counter. Amid the happy cacophony of food bloggers sprawled out in his house and front patio, I caught the words, “take one.” He didn’t have to say it twice. Off I went to survey the boxes of buddha’s hands brought by Melissa’s. Eschewing those with fingers extended, I found a single gnarled citrus that would be travel-friendly. Irvin said it looked like the buddha’s hand was shooting me the bird.  I finagled it into my bag shortly before heading to the airport. There was no surprise that security pulled my bag aside to pilfer its depths as I said, “you’re looking for the buddha’s hand.”

That first buddha’s hand sucked me in and made me a fan with its intoxicating aroma similar to a lemongrass candle that burns in Mama’s kitchen. On to buddha’s hand two and three and our house has been smelling pretty great as of late. This citrus is primarily pith, that white fibrous material that clings to the peel. Unlike oranges, lemons and numerous other citrus, there is no fruit inside. You can zest it and substitute for lemon zest or you can make marmalade using Karen Solomon’s recipe or the one in the Blue Chair Jam book.

And you can candy it… which led me to think of my favorite Parisian treat that Olga introduced me to many years ago. Wrapped in a sophisticated hot pink and black lacquered box and under gold wrapping, matchsticks of candied orange rind enrobed in dark chocolate waited. Oh Fauchon, you fool with my affections! I’ve tried other orangettes and they just don’t taste quite right. I think part of it includes the stroll up la Rue des Capucines and basking in the history of La Madeleine. Ambience plus exclusivity result in such a delicacy.

DESSERT RECIPES- buddhettes

 

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BUDDHETTES – BUDDHA’S HAND ORANGETTES 

In my kitchen, I’m not usually a stickler for perfection. With making these buddhettes, you really do want to use matchstick shaped buddha’s hand peel. Don’t throw away the oddly shaped bits of buddha’s hand though. We are going to use them too. Set them aside until after you’ve finished dipping your buddhettes and then we can tackle them there in the note following the buddhette recipe. So hang with me and we’ll use as much of the fragrant citrus as we can. Waste not, want not, right?

  • 1 buddha’s hand
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup good quality bittersweet chocolate

Carefully with a knife, cut the fingers off of the buddha’s hand making it easier to cut off the peel from the white pith. It’s okay if you cut off some pith with the peel since you can trim it later. As you’re cutting off the peel from the buddha’s hand, try as much as possible to cut long strips. Once you’ve cut off all the peel from the buddha’s hand, cut the long strips into matchsticks.

Let strips rest in a bowl of water on your counter overnight.

The next day, add buddha’s hand to water and let boil for 10 minutes, making sure the water is covering the citrus sticks. Drain in a colander. Let dry.

In a heavy pot, heat 1 cup sugar and ½ cup water until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the buddha’s hand matchsticks and set to simmer for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove the matchsticks and let dry. Set out a sheet of wax paper onto a countertop. Set liquid aside for the simple syrup recipe below.

In a double boiler, add in chopped bittersweet chocolate and stir until completely melted. Take off the top of the double boiler and set the bowl of melted chocolate by your candied matchstick peels and wax paper.

Dip and swirl the buddha’s hand peels into the chocolate until completely coated and then place on wax paper. Repeat until all buddha’s hand matchsticks are enrobed in chocolate. Let cool.

Keep in a tightly sealed container and in a cool location. They should keep for a week if you don’t find yourself sneaking one or a few of them at a time.

NOTE: Don’t throw away the scraps of Buddha’s Hand or the syrup prepared above to candy the rind- make Gingered Buddha’s Hand Simple Syrup!

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Fig & Goat’s Milk Yogurt Parfait

When traveling internationally, your pick of companions is key: do you like the same activities? Are you both regimented in scheduling activities or flexible to let the wind take you where it may? Is your companion someone who prefers historical artifacts and art or shopping? Does your companion have a discriminating palate or not? There’s no right answer to these questions provided the answer for your companion complements your own, as I learned in France many moons ago with a companion who was bored at the Louvre after an hour’s visit. But that’s a story for another time.

santorini sea photo

A few years ago, when I entered a new decade, Olga and I set out on a Mediterranean adventure. Tight on cash but high on ideas, we began investigating ways to visit Greece that would let us stay there for the most days while being budget-friendly. After much scrimping, saving and sorting through airline miles, we flew to Italy and embarked on our Italian cruise of the Greek Isles and Dalmatian Coast.

She and I had traveled overseas before but on this particular trip, she began channeling her mom SallyD, planning out the minutiae and I began channeling my mom, who goes where the wind blows. SallyD in fact had been quite concerned with us going as there were reports of marauders in Cyprus. We cajoled and convinced her that our islands were nowhere nearby, at least not as close as a pebble’s throw, and off we went with the blessings of our parents.

Oia santorini church and sea

Neither of us had ever been on a cruise before and learned several important tips to share if considering cruising:

a.) A cruise is like a tasting menu with each port offering a snack bite of its environs.

b.) Pack accordingly.  And what I’m saying here pertains to books & reading material. You might be at sea several days or only while sleeping, but I’ve designated cruises as great opportunities for longer reads from greats like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

When we were out to sea, I would laze about on deck after going for a swim. My deck chair would point toward the guardrail, letting me look out into the dizzyingly beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean with Anna Karenina in hand. I never got sick of staring out into that sea of blue expanse and could understand the inspiration painters and artists experienced. Olga signed up for dance classes and attended social events. What worked so well for the cruise ship model of travel is that both of us had an enjoyable trip… that to a point was quite different from one another’s. Also, I decided then and there that the best way to sink into a massive tome from the likes of Leo Tolstoy required unbroken time staring out at the sea between pages.

At one port-of-call, we walked the wall of Dubrovnik with newfound friends Catherine and Marian, both of whom had traveled alone on the cruise. Marian possessed this quiet and peaceful spirit about her and became a regular part of our travels on land. I remember thinking meeting Marian made my Greek adventure so much more memorable. On the wall of Dubrovnik, she mentioned this cruise had come as an opportunity to explore the world after some sobering health news from her doctors. Together we conquered the streets of Oia in Santorini, ate a long leisurely lunch in Corfu, and shied away from the precocious giant pelicans in Mykonos along with our visit to the terracotta city of Dubrovnik flanked against a sparkling sea.

One thing Olga and I had been looking forward to included a growing desire to taste rich strained Greek yogurt in Greece dripping with local honey. After a trek from the train station to visit the Parthenon in Athens, we got our long-anticipated bowls of yogurt and paired them with Greek iced coffee- such a welcome chilled respite in the afternoon heat! And then there were the figs…

adriatic figs in dubrovnik

I’m a sucker for figs.

farmer's market dubrovnik

There are few foods that I would claim to be smitten about, but figs, friends,  are the fastest way to my heart. Pair them with chocolate or goat cheese and you’ve got me around your little finger.

dubrovnik farmers market scales measuring system image

Olga and I sought out freshly dried Kalimyrnas in Santorini and noshed on Adriatics in Dubrovnik, where they dried them with bay leaves to a splendid unexpected flavor! The tour guide in the bus winding up the steep mountain hills of Santorini to Oia pointed out wild fig bushes and we watched them whiz by. Suffice it to say, that visit to Greece and Dubrovnik left their indelible marks on both of us during that fall. Then there are the figs…

dried figs strung with bay leaves dubrovnik farmers market

I’m a sucker, indeed.

My affection for figs has garnered me new friends (hello Mark and Gary), a job offer and even a persona poem during a writing exercise in graduate school called “Ode to a Black Mission.”

A little known reason for our October wedding was to catch the tail end of the California Black Mission fig season. Our wedding reception caterer did a great job pairing them with California blue cheese, prosciutto and a port wine reduction sauce. You know how some brides and grooms talk about being so busy that they don’t get to eat the food? Beck and I heartily requested seconds on the figs the day of our nuptials, remembering them to be our favorite bite during the tasting.

Brown Turkey. Calimyrna. Black Mission. Kadota. The list goes on and so does the love affair. If you’ve never eaten a fresh fig, you’re in for a treat- one of nature’s sweet candies that’s chock full of fiber, flavor and texture. If you’re a wine aficionado, watch out, you may have met your wine and cheese match. Let yourself swoon at this dessert to end all dessert- if you love figs, that is.

Fresh figs. Goat’s milk yogurt. Chocolate and honey. Olga and me.

Good friends that just keep on getting better with time.

DESSERT RECIPES- Fig & Goat's Milk Yogurt Parfait

 

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Fig & Goat’s Milk Yogurt Parfait

To select ripe figs, you want to squeeze them lightly. If the flesh sighs a little under your touch, you’re set. For this recipe, I rinsed the ripened figs, pat them dry and then left them overnight in the refrigerator to great success. This dessert is healthy and breathes balmy Mediterranean sea air into my summer evenings. I like to use small mason jars as they show off the parfait well and help control the portion size. I would also encourage trying this with chipped dark chocolate instead or bittersweet chipped chocolate. May it bring you happiness of the mouth.

YIELD: Makes 1 (easily shareable) portion.

  • 3 fresh black mission figs
  • 1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup plain goat’s milk yogurt
  • 5 walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey

Step 1: Remove the figs from the refrigerator and chop them.

Step 2: At the bottom of your mason jar, add 1 T of chopped figs. Then add a layer of 2 tablespoons  goat’s milk yogurt on top.

goat's milk yogurt fig parfait

Step 3: Add 1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips as the third layer.

how to make a goat's milk yogurt fig parfait

Step 4: Add 2 tablespoons goat’s milk yogurt for the fourth layer of the parfait.

Step 5: Then add 1 tablespoon of chopped figs as the fifth layer.

Step 6: Add another 2 tablespoons goat’s milk yogurt for the sixth layer.

how to make goat's milk yogurt fig parfait

Step 7:  Add walnuts as the final layer and drizzle your raw honey over them.

how to make goat's milk yogurt fig parfait

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Homemade Almond Joys

DESSERT RECIPES- Homemade Almond Joys 

Mom likes to remind me that I was a bit of a precocious child.

Sewn into my fabric at a young age I possessed a flair for the dramatic. Just last week, we noticed a young girl with her mother outside of a brunch eatery. She carried a princess book that matched her outfit consisting of layers of pink. Her curly blonde hair was swept into a side ponytail and affixed with a wide pink ribbon and tiny pink Crocs on her feet. She caught our eye though from twirling- in the middle of a somewhat bustling sidewalk, this girl twirled and shimmied without a care about who might watch. At some point, she noticed us and smiled a wide toothy grin. She proceeded to tell us the following:

“Today is my birthday.”

(Her mother smiled and mouthed, “No it’s not; she tells people everyday it’s her birthday.”)

“You can come over to my house and play with me and my dog.”

We walked away from this child with presence beyond her years and Mom said, “that’s exactly how you were as a child” before proceeding into a story of me singing and entertaining the godparents over dinner one night. Ah, childhood. You feel unstoppable.

homemade almond joys recipe

It’s no real surprise given my demeanor at six years of age that a few years later into adolescence I would choose to bake and compete in the Church Bake Sale.

homemade almond joys recipe

homemade almond joys recipe

To set the record straight, this was no ordinary church bake sale. After all, we lived in Texas where purportedly (and accurately) everything is bigger. At this time, the church could be easily called a mega church before the term even existed. Droves of home bakers entered and at 12, I wanted to bake and I wanted to win one of the awards.

homemade almond joys recipe

We scoured through Mom’s recipe box with the painted flowers on it and pulled out the recipe below, which I have since slightly tweaked. Written in Mom’s round and voluptuous cursive script, the recipe for “Barbara Walter’s Chocolate Coconut Cookies” held our attention and made it into the grocery list.

homemade almond joys recipe

Mom participated in baking but mostly, she supportively watched me melt, stir and mix. The house smelled of chocolate and coconut- two ingredients that seem made for each other. We plated them, wrapped them and readied ourselves for competition.

homemade almond joys recipe

Sometimes things happen you can’t exactly explain. A man began announcing into the microphone winners for the different categories: best pie, best cake, best cookie, best candy and so on. Let me tell you- the place was chock full of delectable entries. As they continued working their way through the list and dissemination of ribbons, I listened intently. Best candy came and went without a stuttering of name-calling, thus making me hang my head. And then came the announcement for Grand Prize winner, shortly followed by an all too familiar pause and name butchering. I won! They presented me with a red, blue and gold wrapped ribbon that gleamed of satin and looked like a giant sunflower on three legs. Mom laughed and threw her arms around me, so proud, so happy, so surprised! I basked in the unbelievable, giddy and on cloud nine for days. That bake sale taught me to dream big and go for it. For many years that grand prize ribbon hung on a wall in a place of honor in my room until later it got moved and removed in lieu of Teen Bop posters.

As you get older, sometimes that bit of cheeky shoulder to the world gets thrown back and you lose your swagger. You need the help of a child to set you right. That way of looking at the world- that wonder and creativity- children help us adults remember what it looks like to twirl as if no one else is watching, to bake and enter an adult bake sale because why wouldn’t you, to sing loudly even if off-pitch. And sometimes to pull a faded and crumpled prize ribbon out of a box and remember you can because you have.

I’ve said it before and I’ll invite you again. The cause is that important. The reason is that good. 17 million children last year in the United States lived in food unstable homes. That ability to dream and create and experiment in the kitchen that was so much a part of my childhood food memory building is not at their disposal. Share our Strength is working to ensure “No Kid Hungry” in the United States. And I’m trying to do my part and inviting you to join me and many others.

homemade almond joys recipe

So this weekend if you are in San Francisco, head on over to 18 Reasons on Guerrero and 18th from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. or to Kiehl’s on Fillmore from noon – 6 p.m. and purchase home baked goods from your local San Francisco Food Bloggers Bake Sale. All baked goods are hand made with time, energy and thoughtfulness baked in. All proceeds of the sale go to Share our Strength. Organized by Gaby Dalkin, the Food Bloggers Bake Sale is taking place on Saturday around the United States, letting food bloggers like Aggie in Central Florida, Laura in Alaska, Maggy in NYC, and Keren in Seattle do what they do best: bake for other people & for a sweet cause. For more local San Francisco food bloggers participating in Saturday’s bake sale, click on the frosty pink cupcake button.

homemade almond joys recipe

 

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Homemade Almond Joys

Adapted from “Barbara Walter’s Chocolate Coconut Cookie” recipe in Global Cookbook

Here’s the thing. Trying these now, they have more of a candy like consistency than cookie. The flavor is reminiscent of a grown up adult version of the popular candy bar. Using dark chocolate makes them rich and cuts down on the sweetness. Also, I think the thicker cut coconut just looks sexier. The fine shred coconut makes the candy resemble more of a bird’s nest.

YIELD: 1 dozen

  • 1 cup sweetened condensed lowfat milk
  • 4 ounces unsweetened dark baking chocolate
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup almonds, minced
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In top of double broiler, combine lowfat milk, chocolate and salt. Cook over boiling water, stirring frequently, till chocolate melts and thickens.
  2. Remove from heat, stir in remaining ingredients. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 min.

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Chocolate Almond Cake with Cherry Cream Cheese Frosting

DESSERT RECIPES- Chocolate Almond Cake with Cherry Cream Cheese Frosting

The very thought of Valentine’s Day makes some of you want to gag.

I know the stores are bedecked with red and pink streamers and brightly colored foil wrapped chocolates faster than you can say John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. After Christmas, it’s fair game for a game that does not feel all that fair sometimes. But is this a fair reckoning for the emotion that sure throws people into harm’s way on behalf of another?

Love.

Written on pastel hued candy hearts, carved into trees and sand, words flanking the marquee at a baseball game: the small gesture meets the grand gesture. And how do we truly love one another?

Before there was a Nathan, I actually really liked Valentine’s Day. Here’s why: I have this theory that there are a whole lot of people out there who need to know they’re loved. I’m not sure if this comes from a place of the word losing its value when not in conjunction with action. Perhaps it’s that people don’t say it enough. This theory informs everything from my spiritual worldview to my desire one day to adopt a child. I’ve told Nathan that if I were to have a headstone on a grave, I would want my epitaph to say, “She loved well.” I think that might be the best reason for living really.

And so when it came time to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday in this fine month of February, I knew there would be cooking involved as it is one of my favorite ways to show love. Nathan and I conspired putting together a menu that would truly celebrate her. There needed to be a dynamite cake to cap off our merriment and festivities.

Earlier this month, I had the great honor to win a cookbook from a contest hosted by blogger friend Beth at OMG Yummy and the book I chose was “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.” I’ve never won a contest and was quite beside myself when I found out I’d won. I’d first seen “Baked” in my mother-in-law’s cookbook library and its enticing photos had me marveling as well as their methodology of variations at the end of their recipes. These are my kind of bakers!

Inspiration found me as innovation often happens: out of need and out of resourcefulness. Cherries and chocolate and almonds, oh my! It started forming in my head as the flavors danced in my thoughts. I knew I wanted to make the cake from the Sweet and Salty Cake recipe a la “Baked”, but eek- no cocoa powder and shoot- no vanilla extract! I poked through the cupboard and drummed up some spiced cocoa powder mix (intended for hot chocolate) but with the main ingredient of cocoa powder and spices. Check. Next, I found an unopened bottle of almond extract in the baking cupboard. Whoa. My cake got a lot more interesting from my lack of vanilla. (And I bet you could take it up a notch by substituting DiSaronno instead of the almond extract…)

Chocolate almond cake with cherry cream cheese frosting

Chocolate almond cake with cherry cream cheese frosting

Cherries were a no brainer. I’ve been craving amarena cherries and morello cherries since I saw mention of them a few weeks back at Molinari’s in North Beach. The craving was strong and the pairing stronger still. Is there anything better than the slightly sweet but mostly tart cherry pitted against the rich luscious chocolate and the nuttiness of almonds? I think not.

It occurred to me that nature has its own way of gussying up for the holidays. Starting in February and going a few weeks into March in San Francisco, the cherry blossom trees and plum blossoms trees’ ruddy branches burst with whitish pink flowers and small bunches of pink blossoms. They bring lightness to my step, a huge grin to my face and are my hallmark that spring has arrived.  I have been known to traipse down streets veering from my path just to catch a glimpse of them up close. Take for one Hillegasse Street in Berkeley- lined with cherry blossom trees and a good indicator that you really can have too much of a good thing. Really, they are best when planted in between other tree varietals. Their pop and spark are like a good garnish. They are here and gone so quickly.

cherry blossoms

I baked up a single Chocolate Almond layer cake for our birthday dinner with my mother-in-law and packed up half the cake with her. The rest of the batter baked up a dozen cupcakes for my grief support group meeting this week. Everyone needs a little love (even if it’s pink and brown- cherry and chocolate and almond). These cupcake darlings kind of make me want to swoon. And give them all away, otherwise their temptation is the call of the siren to this waylaid sailor…

This is my valentine to all of you- may it bring sweetness to the love you give and a shared moment in which to enjoy it- whether around Valentine’s Day or beyond.

chocolate almond cake with cherry cream cheese frosting

 

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Chocolate Almond Cake with Cherry Cream Cheese Frosting

Cake adapted from “Baked” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

(Note: From the cake batter, I made a single layer cake and a dozen cupcakes, but you can make a three layered cake if you choose to go that route.)

CHOCOLATE ALMOND CAKE
YIELD: Makes either a 3 layer cake or a single layer cake and 12 cupcakes

  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 ¼ cups hot water
  • 2/3 cup plain full fat yogurt
  • 2 2/3 cup AP flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • ½ cup chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter one 8-inch round cake pan, line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust with flour and knock out the excess flour.

In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, hot water, and plain yogurt and set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until ribbonlike, about 5 minutes. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the almond extract and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Add in the chocolate chunks and mix for an additional minute.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack, remove the pan and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

(To bake the dozen cupcakes with remaining batter: place a heaping Tablespoon of batter in each cupcake liner. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.)

Cherry Cream Cheese Frosting

CHERRY CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

(Since I made a layer cake and 12 cupcakes from the batter above, please note the frosting was made for the single layer cake only. You could double this if you’re planning to bake both the layer cake and cupcakes at the same time. I played around with this frosting recipe until I got the right consistency.)

YIELD: Makes enough frosting for a single layer cake or for a dozen cupcakes

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 ½ cups confectioner’s powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cherry juice (used from the morello cherry jar)
  • ½ teaspoon cherry juice
  • ¼ cup morello cherries plus ¼ cup for garnishing
  • bittersweet chocolate bar for garnishing

Place cream cheese and powdered sugar in an electric mixer and set on medium speed for 5 minutes until well combined and lustrous. Add the cherry juice and mix until fully integrated. Then add the morello cherries and beat until they’ve been broken down and fully integrated into the frosting, about 2 minutes.

Assemble

Frost your cake once cake has cooled. Retrieve extra ¼ cup morello cherries from your jar and drain them on a paper towel. Once most of the liquid is gone, place them on top of your cake either in a fun design or to determine slice size. (The cherries are slightly tart and will be a welcome nosh, so be liberal with them if you choose). Then shave some of a bittersweet chocolate bar over the top of your cake for extra texture and garnish.

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