bittersweet chocolate and pear cake

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Earlier this summer, one of my coworkers brought in peaches from his tree, so I took some and made peach cupcakes to share at work. Then a couple weeks ago, another coworker was giving away apples, so I took some and made apple pie-cake for everyone. After that, the apple grower was excited to find someone to offload her apples to, so she brought me another bag, and I made apple cake and then apple muffins. Also, my mom gave me pears, so I made pear chocolate cake into the center.

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It sounds weird, right, pears and chocolate together? That’s what most of my coworkers said, but then they said that it definitely worked. It’s a fun recipe, with the eggs beaten until foamy and the batter spread in the pan with the fruit and chocolate on top. As the cake bakes, it rises up due to all the air beaten into the eggs, incorporating the fruit and chocolate.

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Just like in a chocolate chip cookie, the chocolate here provides a bitter richness to compliment the sweet butteriness of a fruit-based cake. Sugar and butter being, of course, the perfect compliments to almost any fruit. Basically, if you have too much fruit, give it to me and I will make cake out of it.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake (rewritten but not significantly adapted from Al Di La Trattoria via Smitten Kitchen)

My homegrown pears were small, so I used five of them.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
3 pears, peeled, cored, and diced into ¼-inch cubes
¾ cup (4.5 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chunks

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick baking spray (or oil and flour the pan). In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, start swirling the butter around the pan. When the milk solids sink and turn brown and the butter smells nutty, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a small bowl or measuring cup so it stops cooking.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), beat the eggs until light yellow and thick, about 5 minutes on a stand mixer and 9 minutes with a handheld mixer. When the whisk is removed from the bowl, the egg should flow off of it in a thick ribbon. Gradually add the sugar to the eggs, beating for 1 minute after it’s all added. Reduce the mixer speed to its lowest setting and add one-third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, another third of the flour, the rest of the butter, and the rest of the flour, beating just until combined.

3. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Evenly distribute the pears and chocolate over the top of the batter. Transfer to the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 45-60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If desired, dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

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noir bars

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When I made this, I had eight types of chocolate in my pantry, plus cocoa nibs, plus two types of cocoa. I’m a chocolate hoarder.

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A chocolate cookie topped with chocolate cheesecake filling and finished with chocolate ganache will make a dent in that. The cookie base only has a couple ounces of melted chocolate in it, and I considered replacing some of the flour with cocoa, because, if you’re making a chocolate dessert, it should be as chocolatey as possible, right? No. The other pound of chocolate in the pan is quite enough.

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The middle layer may call itself a cheesecake filling, but it’s made from cream cheese, melted chocolate, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract – so it’s really chocolate cream cheese frosting. Okay, so these were rich. But they were also delicious. And after making chocolate frosting the next day, I’m down to six types of chocolate. Time to start stocking up again.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Noir Bars (slightly adapted from Sugarcrafter)

The only significant change I’ve made to the original recipe is to increase the cream in the ganache topping. I used the original, lower amount, but when the dessert was chilled, it was too solid – each bite squished out the filling instead of cutting through the topping.

I used a mix of 60% cacao chocolate and 80% cacao chocolate in the topping. Unless you like your chocolate really bitter, I recommend sticking to something closer to 60%.

My favorite way to melt chocolate is in a fake double boiler: Put about 1 inch of water in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and place a small heatproof bowl (preferably stainless steel, but glass will work; it just takes longer in glass) over the saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add the chocolate and stir occasionally with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is completely melted, about 5 minutes.

Chocolate cookie base:
1¾ cup (8.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (⅓ cup), melted

Chocolate cheesecake filling:
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
pinch salt
6 ounces (1½ cups) powdered sugar
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (⅔ cup), melted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Ganache:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (2 cups), melted
1 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick spray. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour and baking soda.

2. For the cookie base: Place the 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 the butter on medium-low speed until it’s smooth, then add the sugar and salt. Continue beating on medium speed 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 and melted chocolate. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined.

3. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pan. Bake until set, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature.

4. For the cheesecake filling: Place the cream cheese, butter, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the powdered sugar. When the sugar is incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high (high on a hand-held mixer) and beat until smooth and lighter, 2-3 minutes. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla. Spread the mixture over the crust. Chill until set, about 2 hours.

5. For the ganache: Stir together the chocolate and cream. Spread over the filling. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

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chocolate stout cake

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We celebrated my friend’s 40th birthday by eating meat and drinking beer. He’s a hunter with friends who are hunters, so we had two types of venison, Barbary sheep, rabbit, quail, partridge, and dove. We also compared ten different stouts. It was a nice manly birthday party.

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Obviously chocolate stout cake is the perfect birthday cake for Game and Stout Night. (And just wait until I tell you about the perfect ice cream for Game and Stout Night.) For one thing, a glazed bundt cake is simple to put together compared to a layered, filled, iced, and decorated cake, which was good because I also contributed baguettes, ravioli filled with homemade venison sausage, and ice cream.

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Small slices of bundt cake are also easier to handle than a triple-layer wedge of cake when you’ve been eating meat and drinking heavy beer all night. But there’s a lot of flavor packed into a small serving, with lots of rich chocolate and a hint of bitterness from the stout and the espresso powder in the glaze. I left the leftovers with the hosts, and I was so annoyed the next morning when I didn’t have any cake to eat with my coffee, but at least it was the perfect cake for Game and Stout Night.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Chocolate Stout Cake (via Bon Appetit via Smitten Kitchen)

Cake:
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 large eggs, room temperature
⅔ cup sour cream

Glaze:
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons heavy cream
¾ teaspoon espresso powder

1. For the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a bundt pan with baking spray, or spray with cooking spray and then dust with flour. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the stout and butter together until the mixture comes to a simmer; add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth; set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sour cream until smooth. Slowly whisk in the stout mixture. Add the flour mixture; using a rubber spatula, fold the flour into the batter until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the cake on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto the rack to cool completely.

5. For the glaze: In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan containing 1 inch of simmering water, melt the chocolate, cream, and espresso powder until smooth and glossy. Drizzle over cooled cake.

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triple chocolate cupcake comparison

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left – annie; right – josie

Annie and Josie, two peas in a pod as usual, published chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache and chocolate frosting within a week of each other. They differed, however, on the recipes they used. Josie chose the recently published Cook’s Illustrated recipe, while Annie went a different direction with a combination of Martha Stewart’s cake recipe filled with Dorie Greenspan’s ganache recipe and frosted with Martha Stewart’s recipe.

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annie

Clearly, as I said four years ago, a comparison was in order. There were two main differences between the recipes – the cake recipe itself, including the ingredients and the mixing method, and the way the ganache is added to the cake. I did not compare the frosting recipes associated with each cupcake recipe, because I did that in a past comparison it was late and I was tired and I ran out of chocolate.

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annie

Annie – This cupcake starts out in an usual way, in that the butter is melted with the sugar, and then that mixture is beaten together. The rest goes like most cake batters do – an egg is added, then a mixture of cocoa and hot water, and finally the dry ingredients alternating with the wet ingredient, in this case sour cream. The only source of chocolate is cocoa. A hole is carved out of the baked cupcakes and is filled with ganache.

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annie

Josie – The wet ingredients and chocolatey ingredients (cocoa and bittersweet chocolate, plus coffee) are whisked together, then the dry ingredients are added. The batter is divided between the muffin cups, and then, before baking, the ganache is placed on top of the cupcakes (see photo of ganache looking either like poop or intestines; I’m sorry).

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josie

This was the first time I’ve brought a comparison to work and had my coworkers vote, but I loved it – and I suspect they didn’t mind either. The overwhelming favorite was the recipe from Annie’s blog. There were a couple complaints of bitterness in the recipe from Josie’s blog (Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe), which could be due to the coffee.

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left – josie; right – annie; no filling in either

The real key though was adding ganache to the center of the cupcake after it was baked; people loved that chunk of chocolate in the middle of the chocolate cupcake. When the ganache was added before baking, it seemed to meld into the cupcake itself. You can see that there’s no distinct ganache in the finished cupcake, but I assure you that it was added.

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left – annie; right – josie; both with fillings

I’m so glad to have a clear winner in a comparison post for once, although, let’s face it, with this much chocolate in the kitchen, my coworkers were the real winners. As with almost all comparisons I do, both recipes were stars, which is why having the side-by-side is so helpful.  The real lesson seems to be to add ganache to a baked cupcake for the ultimate chocolatey experience.  Josie and Annie, thanks for two great very chocolately recipes.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Triple Chocolate Cupcakes (rewritten from Annie’s Eats, cake adapted from Martha Stewart, ganache adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

12 to 14 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water
1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7.85 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream, at room temperature

For the ganache filling:
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

1. For the cake: Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the cocoa and water. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, then stir in the sugar. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl with a handheld mixer) and beat on medium-low speed until cooled to room temperature, 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the dry ingredients, followed by half of the sour cream. Repeat with another third of the dry ingredients, the remaining sour cream, and the remaining dry ingredients, beating just until combined.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; after five minutes, remove the cupcakes from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack before filling and frosting.

4. For the ganache: In small saucepan, heat the cream until it just simmers; pour it over the chocolate. Let set about one minute, the whisk to combine. Whisk in the butter. Chill, uncovered, until solid but not hard, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

5. Use a paring knife to remove a 1½ inch-diameter cone from the center of each cupcake. Cut off the bottom of each cone and discard. Fill the well will ganache, then cover with the top of each cone. Frost as desired.

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josie

Printer Friendly Recipe
Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes (from Cook’s Illustrated via Pink Parsley)

12 cupcakes

Ganache Filling
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

Chocolate Cupcakes
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
⅓ cup (1 ounce) Dutch-processed cocoa
¾ cup hot coffee
¾ cup (4⅛ ounces) bread flour
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For ganache filling: Place chocolate, cream, and confectioners’ sugar in medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave on high power until mixture is warm to touch, 20 to 30 seconds. Whisk until smooth; transfer bowl to refrigerator and let stand until just chilled, no longer than 30 minutes.

2. For cupcakes: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-size muffin pan (cups have ½-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners. Place chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl. Pour hot coffee over mixture and whisk until smooth. Set in refrigerator to cool completely, about 20 minutes. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

3. Whisk oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla into cooled chocolate-cocoa mixture until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

4. Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Place one slightly rounded teaspoon ganache filling on top of each cupcake. Bake until cupcakes are set and just firm to touch, 17 to 19 minutes. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before frosting, about 1 hour.

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pumpkin chocolate chip bars

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I try to bring something for my coworkers to snack on once a week. Sometimes I feel guilty for ruining people’s diets, but mostly people seem to appreciate it, and, honestly, I don’t do it for them. I do it so I get to do some baking without doing lots of eating.

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Although squeezing baking into a weeknight isn’t always so easy. By the time we get home, work out, make and eat dinner, and maybe fold some laundry, there isn’t a lot of leftover time. I usually end up staying up later those nights, not to mention making us late for work the next morning while I garnish or cut into squares or whatever each particular dessert requires.

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Recipes like this one make it easy.  It’s mixed like a basic cookie dough, butter then sugar then eggs, half a can of pumpkin, stir in a bag of chocolate chips. There are no individual cookies to scoop, no fillings or toppings, just spread the batter in a pan and bake. And, most importantly, the bars that come out of the oven are soft and tender, pumpkiny and chocolately, and perfectly sized for someone to grab a quick square with their morning coffee.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars (adapted from Martha Stewart via Sparks from the Kitchen)

2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, spices, and baking soda.

2. Place the 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 the butter on medium-low speed until it’s 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. Beat in the pumpkin until blended. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out dry, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

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chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes

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I might have mentioned, once or twice, that I am a fan of cookie dough. Any cookie is good, but chocolate chip is the best. And not any of those new recipes that are based on melted butter, those make greasy dough. I want the classic light and fluffy, pale, grainy dough. For me, the chocolate chips are mostly a distraction, but I figure they’re part of the package.

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But it’s my birthday, and I guess chocolate chip cookie dough is not an appropriate celebratory dessert to share. I figured these were the next best thing. A yellow cake adapted with extra brown sugar and chocolate chips, an eggless cookie dough filling, frosting with brown sugar and even raw flour, all topped off with the most adorable chocolate chip cookies you’ve ever seen. Do you know how many opportunities this was to eat something resembling chocolate chip cookie dough? A lot.

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I have to admit that my favorite part was the filling – pure dough, with none of this cake distraction. The frosting was impressive too, the raw flour and brown sugar really made it resemble cookie dough. It was pretty much the perfect birthday cake for me, especially because there’s extra filling in the fridge for the rest of the weekend.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes
(adapted from Annie’s Eats and Martha Stewart’s Yellow Cake recipe)

Makes 30 cupcakes

I baked the cookies a week early and froze them. I made the filling two days early. I made the cupcakes the night before, then filled, frosted, and garnished them the morning before I served them.

For the cake:
1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ cups (6 ounces) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) brown sugar
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¼ cups buttermilk, room temperature
1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate chips

For the filling:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (3.5 ounces) brown sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5.6 ounces) cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate chips

For the frosting:
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (3.5 ounces) light brown sugar, packed
2 cups (8 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
⅔ cup (3.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the garnish:
mini chocolate chip cookies (optional)
chocolate chips (optional)

1. For the cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin wells with paper cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and baking soda.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), beat the butter, sugars, and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then mix in the oil and vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat each addition just until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Remove the cupcakes from the pan after 5 minutes. Cool completely before filling and frosting.

4. For the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a stand mixer), beat the butter, salt, and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the milk, beating until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.

5. For the frosting: In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add the brown sugar and salt; beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and flour; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape the bowl, add the vanilla, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl once or twice.

6. To assemble: Use a paring knife to carve a cone out of the center of each cupcake, leaving at least ¼-inch of cake on the bottom of the cupcakes. Fill each divot with filling. Frost the cupcakes, completely covering the filling. Garnish with cookies and additional chocolate chips, if desired.

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all-grown-up s’mores bars

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I’m going to say something here, and it might shock you: These were too rich, and they were too chocolately. I know, you’re thinking that that isn’t possible because you love rich food. Or you’re thinking that the easy solution is to serve small pieces. But the problem goes beyond that – it’s an issue of balance, of mimicking everything that’s good about a s’more, but in an elegant way that doesn’t require a campfire.

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S’mores are mostly marshmallow, a generous amount of graham cracker, and just a small wedge of chocolate. Any more chocolate and the heat of the marshmallows won’t be able to melt it. It’s a ratio that’s pleased people for generations; we don’t need to change it now.

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These bars, on the other hand, were reversed: almost all chocolate and a smidgen of marshmallow. Both layers on their own were everything you could hope for, the chocolate mousse airy and smooth with enough bitterness to balance the fluffy toasted marshmallow topping. This wasn’t an issue of quality, just of relative quantities.

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So, for the recipe below, I’ve mixed around the ratios. No, I haven’t tried it myself, but each portion is basically the same recipe as the original, just scaled up (in the case of the marshmallow) or down (the chocolate). With these new proportions, you’ll have a treat to please everyone, with plenty of marshmallow and graham cracker and still more chocolate than you get in a real s’more, but not so much that it’s the only thing you notice. All that with no sticky fingers afterward.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
All-Grown-Up S’mores Bars (adapted from Jill O’Connor’s Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey)

For the graham cracker crust:
3 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs (from about 26 full crackers)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the chocolate filling:
6 large egg yolks
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
2 tablespoons Kahlua
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1½ tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

For the Marshmallow Fluff meringue:
5 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½ cup Marshmallow Fluff

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with oil.

2. To make the crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and granulated sugar until well combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared ban. Bake the crust until it starts to brown and become crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

3. To make the filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and confectioners’ sugar together in a large bowl until they are thick and the color of butter. Beat in the cognac, Kahlua, vanilla, and salt.

4. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly, then gradually beat into the egg mixture.

5. Fold the softly beaten heavy cream into the chocolate mixture just until combined. Spoon the chocolate cream over the graham cracker crust, smoothing it evenly with a spatula. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very firm, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

6. When ready to serve, make the meringue: Using an electric mixer set at low speed, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the salt and cream of tartar and beat at medium speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the vanilla. Add the Marshmallow Fluff to the egg whites a little at a time, beating constantly until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue on the chocolate layer, using the back of a spoon to create peaks. Toast the meringue using a kitchen torch or the broiler. Cut into squares and serve immediately.

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whole wheat biscotti with pistachios, apricots, chocolate, and lavender

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Sometimes you want the comfortable and familiar. You want brownies. You want vanilla or strawberry ice cream. And who am I to begrudge you a good ol’ chocolate chip cookie craving?

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Sometimes, though, maybe you want something more interesting, maybe even a bit challenging. You want something more adult. But you should keep the chocolate. This is dessert we’re talking about here, a treat, not a chore.

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For those times, you can add fruit. Nuts, maybe. Use whole grains and unrefined sugar. Add…flowers?  Why not?

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I made a half batch of these for a gathering of myself, Dave, and two of our guy friends. They were all gone (except one, which was perfect with coffee the next morning) by the end of the evening, and I swear I didn’t eat them all myself! Grown-up food isn’t so bad.

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One year ago: Ginger Fried Rice
Two years ago: Green Pea Ravioli with Lemon Broth
Three years ago: Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Balsamic, and Arugula
Four years ago: Pan-Roasted Asparagus
Five years ago: Sichuan Green Beans

Printer Friendly Recipe
Whole Wheat Biscotti with Pistachios, Apricots, Chocolate, and Lavender
(adapted from 5 Second Rule)

Makes 72 1-inch bites

You can probably choose one type of sugar and one type of flour. I was hedging my bets on the healthier additions.

I used 6 ounces of chocolate, and it was delicious but too much for the dough to hold onto, so I’ve reduced it slightly.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) turbinado sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces (¾ cup) semisweet chocolate chips, chopped
½ cup finely diced dried apricots
½ cup pistachios, rough-chopped
1 teaspoon dried lavender

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flours, sugars, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until well combined, then add the olive oil and vanilla extract. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and use a rubber spatula to stir the ingredients until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Stir in the chocolate, apricots, pistachios, and lavender.

3. On a dry work surface, knead the dough until it’s no longer sticky. Transfer it to the prepared baking sheet and press into a ½-inch thick rectangle measuring about 10 by 6 inches. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until the top no longer looks raw. Transfer the baking sheet with the dough to a cooling rack. Let dough cool for at least 5 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough to a cutting board. Cut each block into 6 long strips, then cut each strip at 1-inch intervals to form squares. Transfer the pieces back to the baking sheet. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until the squares just begin to brown at the edges. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

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hot chocolate mix

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I’m not usually much of a Christmas baker, but I got this grand idea last month that I should send my in-laws packages of cookies for Christmas. I sort of had a bad feeling about it, like it was probably going to end up stressing me out, but once I get a hold of an idea that sounds fun, I have a hard time letting go. And so it was that a week and a half before Thanksgiving, I was mixing, forming, and freezing dough for Christmas cookies.

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I didn’t have much of a plan from the beginning. I love this bourbon pound cake recipe and thought it would ship well. I knew I wanted something fruity and something chocolately. Hazelnut dried cherry biscotti covered the fruit requirement, but the decorated sugar cookies I couldn’t resist adding wouldn’t help with the chocolate. And then I remembered this hot chocolate mix recipe, which I first made several years ago.

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It’s the perfect thing to ship off to northeastern Ohio in December, sure to be appreciated through the upcoming snowy months. There’s no worry about breaking in transit, a relief after individually wrapping 28 treat bags containing sugar cookies in bubble wrap. And it’s easy, a relief after spending the greater part of a weekend decorating elaborate sugar cookies (that had better not break in transit). I think it’s safe to say that my cookie packages were a great success – assuming those 28 bubble-wrapped sugar cookies arrive safely, at least.

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One year ago: Mushroom Farro Soup
Two years ago: Gingerbread Cake
Three years ago: Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream
Four years ago: Candied Orange Peel

Printer Friendly Recipe
Hot Chocolate Mix

Makes about 36 servings

To make vanilla sugar, mix a vanilla bean into the sugar and let it set for a few days.

I used 2 cups of sugar, but the mix was two sweet for me, so I’ve reduced it in the recipe.  It might depend on how sweet your chocolate is too; mine was 72% cocao.

The amount of espresso powder you add might depend on who you plan to serve the hot chocolate to: more adds complexity and cuts the sweetness, but less is more appropriate for kids.

20 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) vanilla sugar
2¼ cups unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1-3 teaspoons instant espresso powder

Grind chocolate in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the remaining ingredients and process until mixed. Transfer to an airtight container. To serve, mix 3-4 tablespoons into 8 ounces of hot milk.

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raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes

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I did a lot of things I’m proud of this weekend. I didn’t have to work Friday, so I kicked off the three-day weekend with the second-longest run I’ve ever done, and the longest run that wasn’t part of a big race. Then I made Dave give me hourly high-fives for the rest of the day.

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The next day, I had my first-ever paid baking order. A coworker hired me to make a dozen each of two different types of cupcakes for her daughter’s wedding. Two dozen isn’t a lot of cupcakes, but I wanted to get them just right, with great taste and beautiful garnishes.

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Less than an hour after I dropped those off, we had a bunch of people over to watch football – the first time Dave and I have entertained more than a couple friends at a time since we’ve been married. By keeping things casual (or at least, my version of casual), enlisting a lot of help from Dave, and being creative with what I already had around, I managed to entertain the way I like to – with a lot of food, of course – but without a lot of stress.

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One of the ways I made the most of what I had available was to make extras of these cupcakes. The wedding’s colors were black, ivory, and red, so the bride chose these raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes drizzled with chocolate and topped with raspberry truffles, as well as chocolate cupcakes with champagne frosting topped with chocolate-covered strawberries. While I was at it, I went ahead and made extra chocolate-covered strawberries and raspberry truffles for my friends too.

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Both sets of cupcakes turned out every bit as good as I’d hoped, and that never happens! The swirls on the cheesecake were pretty and not sloppy, the drizzle didn’t cover up as much as the swirls as I was worried about, the fresh raspberries fit nicely onto the tops. The chocolate cupcakes rose into a perfect mound, and the swirls of frosting didn’t look too amateurish. My first time making chocolate-covered strawberries went just fine, even the stressful part that involved melting white chocolate. I dropped the cupcakes off and then entertained guests all evening, only spitting half-chewed chips on someone once! This is about as successful as my life gets.

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One year ago: Croissants (Tartine Bread)
Two years ago: Coffee Break Muffins
Three years ago: Green Chile Huevos Rancheros
Four years ago: Pan-Seared Steak with Red Wine Pan Sauce

Printer Friendly Recipe
Raspberry-Swirled Cheesecake Cupcakes (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 32 cupcakes

The truffles and drizzle make for a nice presentation, but the swirled cupcakes are plenty tasty and pretty on their own.
For the crust:
1½ cups (about 8 full crackers) graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar

For the raspberry swirl:
6 ounces (¾ cup) frozen or fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the filling:
4 (8-ounce) cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line 32 muffin wells with paper liners.

2. For the crust: In a food processor, process the graham crackers and sugar until evenly ground. Add the butter and pulse to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Press 1 tablespoon of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of each liner. Bake until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, maintaining the oven temperature.

3. For the raspberry swirl: Combine the raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth, then pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. (Or press the raspberries through a food mill, stirring the cornstarch and sugar into the puree.)

4. For the filling: Beat the cream cheese on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and salt, then the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

5. To assemble, spoon 3 tablespoons of the cheesecake batter over the crust in each cupcake liner. Dot ½ teaspoon of the raspberry puree in a few dots over the cheesecake filling. Use a toothpick or a wooden skewer to lightly swirl the puree.

6. Bake until the filling is set, about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Raspberry Truffles (seen on Annie’s Eats, but I didn’t use the same recipe)

6 ounces fresh raspberries
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2½ tablespoons heavy cream

1. Gently wash and dry the raspberries.

2. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

3. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until it’s thick enough to hold a shape, about 45 minutes, then, using a pastry bag with a small opening, pipe into the stemmed opening on the raspberries.

Chocolate Drizzle (adapted from Tartine’s Chocolate Friands)

I didn’t make this separately, I just stirred in more cream to the ganache leftover from the raspberry truffles. I’m offering it here separately as a good chocolate drizzle recipe.

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup heavy cream

In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

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For the chocolate cupcakes, I used this recipe for the cupcake portion; this champagne buttercream for the frosting; and this method for the chocolate-covered strawberries.