chocolate hazelnut tarte soleil

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After the last two years, I feel like I have a certain standard to uphold for my contribution to the office holiday potluck. However, there was simply no time this year for a time-consuming project. I needed to find a recipe that looked like a showstopper but didn’t require the work of one.

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Two ingredients? This recipe fit the bill. Although, since, where I live, I can’t buy puff pastry made with real butter, I did make my own. (I used this recipe; while I think this one puffs more and isn’t much, if any, more effort, I didn’t have the mental fortitude for the multiple steps, even if each step takes just a minute or two.) In another life (like one before this), I would have made my own chocolate hazelnut spread too, but for once, I managed to be reasonable and bought this instead. As I’d hoped, It was more chocolately and less sweet than Nutella, although it still wasn’t particularly nutty.

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Okay, so this wasn’t as visually impressive as a foot-tall cake. But it’s pretty, and it tasted just as good as those past projects. It was flaky and buttery, chocolately without being too sweet. At this point in my life, it was perfect.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Chocolate Hazelnut Tarte Soleil (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

2 (1-pound sheets) thawed puff pastry dough
½ cup Nutella or other chocolate hazelnut spread
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. On a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone mat, roll one sheet of puff pastry dough into an approximate 12-inch circle. Use a 12-inch round plate or bowl as a guide to cut a 12-inch circle into the dough.

2. Spread the filling in an even layer over the round of puff pastry dough, leaving the outer 1-inch of the circle bare.

3. Repeat the rolling and cutting of the second portion of puff pastry dough to form another 12-inch round. Transfer this portion of dough to the top of the Nutella-covered puff pastry round, aligning it with the bottom ricle.

4. Place a small round cup or dish in the center of the circle, pressing it lightly to form a visual indentation without pressing through the dough. Remove the cup. Use a pizza roller to cut slits into the dough from the edge to the center circle. Each slit should be about an inch apart on the outer edge of the dough round, for a total of about 32 slits. Once all the slits are cut, pick up the outer edge of each segment while pressing gently on the center edge of the segment. Twist a couple times; repeat with all segments.

5. Transfer the pastry, still on the parchment paper or silicone mat, to a baking sheet. Brush with the egg wash. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until browned. Transfer the tart, still on the pan, to a cooling rack and allow to cool for ten minutes. Slide the tart onto a serving plate. Serve immediately or within about twelve hours.

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white chocolate macadamia nut cookies

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I’m behind on Christmas. I’ve been behind on everything since Thanksgiving. Every one of the baby’s naptimes through the weekend are currently booked with baking plans, and once that’s done, I’ll start preparing for our trip to visit family over the holidays. And at some point, I should probably buy some presents.

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These aren’t on my Christmas baking list, but maybe I should rethink that. I’d always considered white chocolate macadamia cookies bland before these – white chocolate mostly just tasting sweet, and macadamia nuts mostly just seeming rich and fatty without offering much flavor. But the addition of cream cheese adds some tanginess to counter the sweetness. The milk powder keeps the cookies soft and tender.

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They’re straightforward to make; browning the butter adds an extra step, but it isn’t a difficult one. With a long shelf-life, they can hold up to being shipped to your friends and family across the country. Most importantly, they’re one of the best cookies I made last year.

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White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
(rewritten but not adapted from Joy the Baker)

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups (14.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup instant milk powder
1½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup (7 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
2 cups coarsely chopped white chocolate

1. In a medium not-nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt 8 tablespoons of the butter. Continue to cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, until the milk solids brown and sink and the butter smells nutty. Immediately remove it from the heat and pour the butter into a heatproof bowl. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, milk powder, baking soda, and baking powder. Break the eggs into a small measuring cup, whisk them lightly, and mix in the vanilla.

2. Place the cream cheese and the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat on medium-low speed until the butter and cream cheese are smooth, then add the salt and both sugars. Continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the browned butter and beat until evenly combined. With the mixer running, gradually add the egg mixture. Once the eggs have been added, scrape the sides of the bowl once, then continue mixing on medium speed for about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing it’s mostly combined. Add the nuts and chocolate and mix until the flour is completely incorporated and the nuts and chocolate are evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are browned around the edges and do not look wet on top, 8 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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bittersweet chocolate pumpkin tart

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This is the perfect pumpkin dessert for people who don’t like pumpkin desserts. There’s so much more chocolate than pumpkin, and chocolate has a stronger flavor than pumpkin, that this is a rich, silky chocolate tart that you can get away with serving for Thanksgiving because there’s a token scoop of pumpkin in the filling.

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It’s not hard to make, with a press-in crumb crust and a simple whisked filling. I made it on the spur of the moment when the baby’s nap went long. It also works out well for Thanksgiving because it can be made a couple days in advance.

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A friend told me that although she doesn’t like pumpkin desserts, she loved this one. Well sure, that’s because the pumpkin is buried under half a pound of chocolate. This is a pumpkin tart in name only, but that’s all you need for it to fit into your Thanksgiving menu.

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Bittersweet Chocolate Pumpkin Tart (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

I chopped the chocolate in the food processor, then transferred it to a bowl, before making the crust in the food processor. I toasted the pecans by spreading them in a single layer on a plate and microwaving for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. I’m sure this can be made in a pie pan instead of a tart pan.

For the crust:
8 ounces vanilla wafer cookies
½ cup pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
¾ cup heavy cream
¼ cup whole milk
8 ounces bittersweet (60-70%) chocolate, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅔ cup pumpkin purée
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon bourbon (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
cocoa (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place a 9-inch round or equivalently-sized tart pan with a removable bottom on a baking sheet.

2. In a food processor, process the cookies and pecans until finely ground. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and salt; pulse to combine. Add the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the mixture to the tart pan; press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, or until fragrant. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool slightly. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

3. In a small saucepan over medium-high, heat the cream and milk until just simmering. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and gently whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until broken up. Add the spices, pumpkin, sugar, and salt. Whisk in the chocolate mixture, then the bourbon or vanilla.

5. Spread the filling evenly in the baked tart shell. Transfer the tart pan on the baking sheet to the oven. Bake until the filling barely jiggles, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. The tart can be covered and chilled for several days. Serve at room temperature. If desired, dust with cocoa just before serving.

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raspberry cream cheese brownies

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My mom has a new favorite dessert, and I am not surprised. The two of us have been big fans of the chocolate/cheesecake/raspberry combination since I was in high school and she was a teacher, and we took a day of our spring break to check out the new mall across town. My clearest memory from that day is sharing a slice of chocolate raspberry cheesecake. A few weeks later, I drove back out to that mall to pick up another slice to give her for Mother’s Day. When my mom developed her own chocolate raspberry cheesecake recipe, it became one of my most-requested birthday cakes.

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So when I made these brownies, I was sure to save her a piece. It did not occur to me to also save my dad a piece, and since my mom was nice enough to share, she really only got a nibble. Fortunately, that nibble was enough to convince her to make them herself just a few days later.

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The raspberry jam is both mixed into the chocolate portion and swirled into the cheesecake batter, so it isn’t just a pretty red swirl; the flavor stands out in every bite, vying for attention with the rich chocolate and tangy cheesecake. This is a well-deserved favorite.

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Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies (from Cook’s Illustrated’s Summer Entertaining via Pink Parsley)

Filling:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1 egg yolk
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

Brownies:
⅔ cup (3.35 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup raspberry jam
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil. leaving the excess hanging over the edges. Grease foil. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla. Set aside.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Microwave the chocolate and butter in a large bowl, stirring after every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth. Whisk in ¼ cup jam and allow the mixture to cool slightly. Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla to the chocolate mixture, and stir until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until just incorporated.

3. Microwave the remaining ¼ cup jam until warm, about 30 seconds, and stir until smooth. Scrape half the brownie batter into the prepared baking dish. Dollop the cream cheese by the spoonful over the batter, and spread into an even layer. Drop spoonfuls of warm jam over the cream cheese, and use the tip of a knife to swirl jam through the filling. Spread the remaining batter evenly over the filling.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few dry crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Using the foil overhang, lift the brownies from the pan and cut into squares.

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belgian brownie bites

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I know I titled these tiny brownies ‘bites’, but that doesn’t mean I think they should actually be eaten in one bite. Something this rich and chocolately should be savored, at least to my mind. Dave, however, popped them whole into his mouth.

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These are so rich that tiny mini-muffin cup servings really are appropriate. With just a smidgen of flour for almost half a pound each of chocolate, butter, and sugar, they’re almost mousse-like.

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For me, that means I enjoy them slowly, relishing each decadent nibble. I guess for others, one bite is the way to go. Either way, they’re so good that it’ll be hard to resist another.

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Belgian Brownies Bites (rewritten but not really adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

24 mini muffin-sized bites or 12 regular muffin-sized brownies

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon flour

1. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter; stir occasionally until the chocolate is smooth, then remove from the heat. (The chocolate and butter can also be melted on 50% power in the microwave, stopping to stir every thirty seconds or so.) Whisk in the sugar and salt until smooth, then add the eggs one at a time, whisking until incorporated before adding the next. Gently whisk in the flour. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray a mini muffin pan (or regular muffin pan) with oil.

3. Divide the batter between 24 mini muffin cups (or 12 regular muffin cups). Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a brownies comes out dry or with a few moist crumbs attached, about 16 minutes (26 minutes for regular muffin cups). Transfer to a cooling rack for approximately 5 minutes, then remove brownies from the pan to cool completely on a rack.

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salted chocolate caramels

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It might be silly, but one of the things I was the most upset about when my house got flooded was that I wouldn’t be able to do all of the Christmas baking I’d planned. I didn’t enjoy sharing a hotel room with two cats who take out their anxiety by playing in the litter box in the middle of the night, I don’t like the concrete floors in my house, and I wish my favorite black boots hadn’t been among the many casualties, but it was the baking that I kept coming back to. I started planning my holiday baking in October; I remember trying to order packaging and not being able to find anything but Halloween themes. (I did order packaging in early November, but it unfortunately was another casualty and had to be reordered.)

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But a little flood damage can’t hold me back. The weekend we were stuck in a hotel while contractors tore out our carpet and cut the bottom two feet from all the walls, a friend of ours was going out of town and was generous enough to give us the keys to his house. His kitchen didn’t give me much to work with – I was able to carve out just a few square feet of workspace – but when there’s a will, there’s a way. In that tiny kitchen, I baked cranberry-orange bread, mocha biscotti, and lemon spritz wreaths, which actually put me ahead of the schedule I’d originally planned for the month.

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We’ve now spent two weeks at home in our torn up house before construction starts, and I was able to make almost everything else I’d planned, including a tiered Christmas tree cake for the office holiday party, which I got the idea for all the way back in the summer. (Fortunately, the cakes were already baked and in the freezer, but decorating it was not trivial.) These caramels were the last treat I needed to make, and I had the recipe picked before I read the very mixed reviews – about half of the reviewers raved, but the other half had massive failures. I had neither the time nor the mental fortitude for a failure.

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Fortunately, the recipe came together perfectly. I wasn’t expecting it to take quite so long for the chocolate-caramel mixture to reach the right temperature, but I knew how important that was, since most of the problems people had were with the consistency of the final caramels, which is based on that temperature. Another problem I read about was butter separating from the caramel mixture after it had hardened. I remembered all of the pan sauce recipes that specifically call for cold butter because it emulsifies better and was sure to keep my butter, cut into tiny cubes, in the fridge until I was ready for it. I don’t know if it was that, or if the universe is just cutting me a break after a rough month, but I’m grateful for a recipe that came together easily and flawlessly, so I was able to finish my holiday baking and enjoy the part of the season I was looking forward to the most.

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Chocolate Salted Caramels (adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

64-96 candies, depending on how you cut them

Here’s what I’ve changed: reducing the final temperature to 246 degrees, based on many reviews that said their candies were too hard at 255 degrees; keeping the butter cold before adding it; and putting more salt into the mixture and less salt on top.

2 cups heavy cream
10½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) granulated sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon flaky salt, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch diced, cold

1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-by-8-inch square pan with two sheets of crisscrossed parchment paper.

2. In a 1- or 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Let set for 1 minute, then stir the cream and chocolate together until evenly mixed.

3. In a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat the medium. Simmer, occasionally swirling the pan or stirring with a metal spoon, until the mixture is reddish-amber in color. Immediately add the chocolate mixture; the caramel with bubble vigorously. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring very frequently, until the mixture reads 146-148 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter.

4. Immediately pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Let set for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with flaky salt. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before cutting and serving. Wrapped tightly, the caramels with keep for about 2 weeks.

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mocha biscotti

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My brother isn’t a coffee drinker, but when he travels with me and Dave, he indulges our desire for fancy coffee every morning. In Oregon last fall, he tried a variety of drinks, from the oversugared coffee slushy to a fancy shakerato. He was just going along with the crowd though; none of the drinks seemed to impress him.

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In Iceland this summer, however, he settled on one drink, getting a swiss mocha every day with our morning pastries. I hadn’t tried a mocha since high school, but these were good – the bitter espresso balances the sweet hot cocoa. My favorite has always been a good cappuccino, but I even ordered my own mocha one afternoon.

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Coffee is often added to chocolate desserts to enhance the chocolate flavor, but it was the coffee that I wanted to stand out here. With plenty of espresso powder and a shot of Kahlua, I think I succeeded. Even a non-coffee drinker would like these – although my brother can no longer count himself in that crowd, because now he makes mochas a regular treat even when he’s not on vacation.

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Mocha Biscotti

Makes about 40 biscotti

3¼ cups (15.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Kahlua or coffee liqueur
4 teaspoons espresso powder
6 ounces (about 1 cup) bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
3 ounces (about ⅔ cup) slivered almonds

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Break the eggs into a small bowl or measuring cup, but do not whisk them together.

2. In a large pot over medium-low heat, heat the butter until it’s just melted. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, then the salt, vanilla, Kahlua, and espresso powder. Stir in the egg yolks, then the egg whites, reserving about 1 tablespoon of egg white to use for an egg wash. Stir in the flour mixture until almost combined, then add the chocolate and almonds, folding until evenly combined and there are no pockets of dry flour.

3. Divide the dough into two portions and shape each into a log that is 2-inches wide and as long as your baking sheet. The dough is very sticky; it’s easiest to use a spatula and butter knife to push the dough into position instead of trying to use your hands.

4. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until just golden, 30-35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the loaves cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then use two spatulas to transfer the loaves from the pan to the cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

5. Place an oven-proof cooling rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut the loaves into ½-inch slices, on the diagonal if desired. Transfer half of the biscotti to the cooling rack in the pan, spaced about ¼-inch apart. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the edges just start to brown. (This baking step is to crisp the biscotti, but they’ll still feel somewhat soft when they’re hot.) Repeat with the remaining biscotti. (You can bake all of the biscotti at once if two pans fit on one level in your oven or if you have cooling racks that stack.) Let the biscotti cool completely on the rack before serving.

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berry jam and chocolate mousse tart

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It doesn’t always rain here, but when it does, it’s on the day of the backyard party you’ve been planning for six months. Fortunately, it wasn’t my party, but by the time the host decided she had to cancel, I had already spent several hours preparing several thousand calories worth of tarts to contribute. Of course we’d had nothing but warm, sunny days for weeks beforehand.

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With our plans suddenly cancelled, we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves – or what to eat for dinner. We ended up inviting a few people who were also invited to the party over to our house, hoping we could cobble together a meal from everyone’s party contributions. Unfortunately, that left us with a random assortment of mushrooms, two seafood dips, two tarts, and four cocktails.

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I stashed the tart with the longer shelf life in the fridge to bring to work on Monday, defrosted shrimp for the dips, and sautéed the mushrooms and put them on toast with melty cheese. We ordered in chicken wings to round out the meal (and to satisfy Dave’s craving) and passed around cocktails. It wasn’t the night I’d planned, but it was fun nonetheless.

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I didn’t let anyone leave until they’d eaten a slice of tart, and then I foisted (most of) the leftovers on them too. After eating my way through baking, having a slice with guests, and knowing I’d be having a slice of tart #2 on Monday, I figured I should limit myself to just a sliver for Sunday. But don’t think I didn’t have regrets after I’d indulged in my tiny sliver.

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Yes, this is a rich dessert and should be shared with a crowd, but it’s also so good it’s hard to give it away. The berries brighten up all that chocolate, and the airy mousse layer disguises the heavy cream that makes it so fluffy. As it was, I enjoyed this much more than I would have after stuffing myself with seafood boil, so maybe it’s good that the original party was cancelled.

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Berry Jam and Chocolate Mousse Tart
(adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

The original recipe calls for a homemade jam made from tart cherries, but it’s been years since I’ve seen frozen tart cherries for sale, and I’ve never seen them fresh. I went to amazon to order my own tart cherry jam, but then fell down the jam rabbit hole and ended up with marionberry instead. Any good berry or cherry jam would do here.

I don’t know if baking the tart crust is necessary. It’s not called for in the original recipe, but I was worried it would be crumbly without baking. I baked it at a very low temperature to avoid burning the chocolate. I also reduced the filling because I had too much (which I happily ate with a spoon).

Crust:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1½ cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (from about 7 ounces cookies)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt

Filling:
5½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream, divided
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (8 ounces) berry jam

1. For the crust: In a small saucepan over medium-low heat or a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave, melt the butter. Remove from the eat and add the chocolate; stir until the chocolate is melted.

2. In a food processor, process the cookies until finely ground. (Alternatively, place the cookies in a large ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush them, then transfer to a bowl.) Add the sugar and salt; pulse to mix. Add the melted butter and chocolate and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch round or equivalent tart pan with a removable bottom and press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until firm.

3. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Transfer the crust in the tart pan to a baking sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

4. For the filling: Transfer the chocolate to a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat ⅔ cup of the heavy cream until it simmers but is not boiling. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate; gently stir until the chocolate and cream are evenly mixed. Add the butter in ½-tablespoon increments, stirring until each one is melted before adding another. Stir in the vanilla extract.

5. In a separate bowl, whisk (or use a hand mixer) the remaining ⅓ cup heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold one-third of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, then add the remaining cream, folding until no white streaks remain.

6. To assemble, spread the jam in an even layer over the bottom of the cooled crust. Pour the chocolate mixture over the jam and spread into an even layer. Refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours or overnight.

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cappuccino fudge cheesecake

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Cheesecake, the more I think about it, is an almost perfect choice for bringing to dinner parties. It’s universally loved. It’s rarely complicated to make. It can be made several days in advance (or farther in advance and frozen). It transports well. The only tiny potential issue is that a full slice of cheesecake after a big meal can be tough to tackle.

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I get together with a group of friends every month; usually it’s some version of a potluck – perhaps the host will provide salad greens and dressings while everyone else contributes toppings (and wine). Or perhaps the host will provide corn tortillas and barbacoa and everyone else contributes toppings and sides. Last month, the host provided crostini, zuppa toscana, and salad. I was thrilled she didn’t have a dessert planned, providing me with an opening. Cappuccino fudge cheesecake seemed to fit the theme.

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Still, I was worried that 2 pounds of cream cheese, 1¼ pounds of chocolate, 1½ cups of heavy cream, and 1½ cups of sour cream would be overkill after bread and soup and lasagna, so I pared down the recipe to something more reasonable. Considering how much my friends raved, I’m not sure I needed to make a smaller version. Yes, there were leftovers, but there was no shortage of people to take them home. I might start bringing cheesecake to all the parties; I can’t imagine anyone will complain.

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Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

16 servings

Crust:
5 ounces chocolate cookies
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted

Ganache:
1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

Filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons dark rum
1½ tablespoons instant espresso powder
1½ tablespoons ground whole espresso coffee beans (medium-coarse grind)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons light molasses
3 large eggs

Topping:
1 cup sour cream
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
chocolate-covered espresso beans

1. For the crust: Spray the bottom of a springform pan with nonstick spray. Either grind the cookies with a food processor or place them in a ziptop bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add the sugar and butter to the crumbs and stir until evenly mixed. Press the crumbs into an even layer covering the bottom of the prepared pan and up the sides an inch or so. Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

2. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan; pour over the chocolate and stir in the kahlua. Gently whisk until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth. Pour 1½ cups of the ganache over the bottom of the crust. Freeze until the ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve the remaining ganache; cover and let stand at room temperature to use later for decorations.

3. For the filling: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Beat the cream cheese on low speed until smooth; add the sugar and beat until blended. Mix in the flour. Combine the rum, espresso powder, ground coffee, vanilla, and molasses in a small bowl until the instant coffee dissolves; beat into the cream cheese mixture. Beat in eggs one at a time, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.

4. Pour the filling over the cold ganache in the crust. Place the cheesecake on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the top is brown, puffed and cracked at the edges, the center two inches moves only slightly when pan is gently shaken, and the cheesecake reads 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Transfer the cheesecake to a rack. Cool 15 minutes while preparing the topping (the top of the cheesecake will fall slightly). Maintain the oven temperature.

5. For the topping: Whisk the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl to blend. Spread the topping over the hot cheesecake, spreading to cover the cheesecake filling completely. Bake until the topping is set, about 10 minutes. Transfer the cheesecake to a rack. Refrigerate the hot cheesecake on a rack until cool, about 3 hours.

6. Run a small sharp knife between the crust and pan sides to loosen the cake; release the pan sides. Transfer the cheesecake to a platter. Spoon the reserved ganache into a pastry bag fitted with small star tip. Pipe lines one inch apart atop the cheesecake. Repeat in the opposite direction, making a lattice. Pipe ganache around the top edge of the cake. Garnish with chocolate-covered espresso beans, if desired. Chill until the lattice is firm, at least 6 hours. (Cheesecake can be made 4 days ahead. Wrap loosely in foil, forming a dome over the lattice; keep chilled.)

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devil’s food cookie butter cookie sandwiches

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I thought these were going to be all about the cookie butter, that delicious mashup of ground cookies and stabilizers and fat, but the devil’s food cookie itself was remarkably good. It was meltingly tender, but somehow the very edge had just a big of crackle to it. It turns out that I hadn’t added enough cookie butter to the middle of the sandwiches, but I didn’t even care because the cookies themselves were perfect.

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Another reason I wish I’d spread more cookie butter on the cookies is that now I have an open jar of cookie butter in the pantry, constantly tempting me to eat it by the spoonful. This is the first time I’d baked with it, and I’m glad I chose a recipe that put the spotlight on the cookie butter, because I love the graham cracker flavor. That delicious spread, combined with a perfectly cakey chocolate cookie? I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I ate the last one.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Devil’s Food Cookie Butter Cookie Sandwiches
(slightly adapted from Le Pain Quotidien)

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (4.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
⅓ cup (1 ounce) cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons cookie butter
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon (5.65 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
additional cookie butter for assembly

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking soda.

2. Place the butter, cream cheese, and 2 tablespoons cookie butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat on medium-low speed until the mixture is smooth, then add the salt and sugar. Continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running, add the egg, then the vanilla, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined. Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

4. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they no longer look wet on top, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

5. Spread the bottom of half of the cookies with additional cookie butter. Top with the remaining cookies.

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