Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bartons Chocolate commercial

Imagine the Photoshopping I could have done with this image.

This commercial drives me nuts. I've seen about a billion times over the past week and a half, and each time, it irks me even more.

Are they selling chocolate, or are they selling a sexual fantasy involving the women in the commerical (which may or may not include the chocolate)? Because, I've eaten plenty of chocolate in my time, but I've never mouthed it the way these ladies do.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tender Potato Bread: DB Round Three, For Me

It's that time again, folks: posting day for the Daring Bakers! This month, our host, Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups, challenged us to make Tender Potato Bread from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World . Tanna gave us a lot of leeway in our finished product: it could be a loaf, rolls, focaccia. It could be plain; it could be stuffed. It could be braided, twisted, whatever.

The only real rules were that our bread had to be savory (we all needed a break from our sugar highs anyway), the recipe had to be followed as written until the shaping stage and -- here was the kicker for me -- "you must knead by hand."

To remember the process, I journalled the experience while baking on Monday, November 12. My notes appear below.

7:30am: I have Mondays off this semester; it's also Veterans Day today, so the kids have off, which makes this day of seem way more exciting than normal. (Think back to being a kid and having a day off from school. That's the feeling.)

Plus, the holidays are fast approaching. The weather has suddenly turned colder, Thanksgiving is a week and a half away and Christmas will be in a little over a month. We went to a Christkindl Market this weekend and basked in lighted evergreens, delicately painted ornaments, holiday treats, and seasonal music.

I mention all this because, for me, day off + cooler weather + holiday season = hard core desire to bake. I whipped up a gingerbread yesterday just because I couldn't stand NOT to.

So today strikes me as the perfect day to take on this month's DB Challenge. Now here's the thing: I have a definite comfort zone when it comes to baking. Yeast breads are outside of my comfort zone. Sure I've done them before, but when I have to need to bake, yeast bread recipes don't leap to the fore.

I realized, however, that it's not the yeast part of yeast breads that freak me out. It's the KNEADING. With September’s DB challenge, I was able to use the KitchenAid to do all the heavy work.

Not This Time.

No, Tanna is shoving me out of my comfy little baking rut by requiring all the DBers to knead the potato bread by hand. By HAND! WHAT? But my KitchenAid is ... right... there.... and it has a dough hook attachment.

To which I imagine Tanna might say, "Well, you have your own dough hook attachment. It's called 'your hands.'"

Dear God, there is going to be dough everywhere. And it’s going to be sticky, as this dough is, as Tanna writes, “very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before.”


“But don’t worry,” Tanna continued, “leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easy to handle.”

OK, Tanna, I’m putting my trust in your advice. Let’s roll the dice (er, dough?) and see what happens.

I love that these are "all purpose cooking potatoes."

9:20 am: So far, so good, though I’ve only tackled the simple parts of this recipe so far. I’ve peeled, boiled, and mashed the potatoes, added in the reserved cooking water, and am now waiting for things to cool down before adding the yeast.

The original recipe allows you to use the dough in a number of ways (pretty much anything savory) but I think I’m going to go with the focaccia. Mmmm, focaccia. The thought of you will get me through the kneading. I hope.



Mixing the yeast in with the potato/water mixture.

11:55am: Well, I’ve been reminded as to why I hate kneading. The dough gets EVERYWHERE. Stuck to the counter and my hands of course, but also in my clothes, my hair, nearby cabinetry, the bread box (ironically) and even the dog, who stuck close by to catch any scraps that would fall like manna from heaven. Of course, I’m not sure if you can call what I did kneading – more like “Wrestling with the Sticky Yeast Monster.”

Did I mention I hate getting my hands dirty? I do. I’m so lame.

The dough did get easier to handle as I added the flour (at this point, 7 cups) though it is, as the recipe says, “very soft.” The goal with this dough (before the first rise) is for it to be “soft and smooth and not too sticky.” I think I achieved that but the real test for success will be in tasting the final product.

With a little bit of flour.

A little more flour.

Ready for kneading.

So, so sticky. My hands got MUCH dirtier.

After kneading and adding a few more cups of flour.

Jesus God, my kitchen is a mess.

1:20pm: After rising for two hours, the dough is easier to handle, but still very sticky. I used 2/3 of the dough to shape (and I use the term very loosely) a focaccia and topped it with some herbed oil, salt, and sautéed red onions.

It looks amazing, you guys. I hope it bakes up well!

I’m off to the DB blog to get ideas for the dough 1/3 I have left.

Sautéing the onions for the focaccia.

After letting the dough rise.

Kneading the dough again.

The dough starts to become focaccia.

Drizzled with olive oil, herbs, and the onions.

Extra dough ready to become rolls.

5:07pm: Challenge complete! The focaccia baked up beautifully – despite my dropping it face down on the open door of my oven. (Oh well – could’ve been worse!) Fortunately, it held up very well and it was a very looong ten minute wait before I could cut into it.

Mmmm, delicious. The crumb is moist and tender yet chewy and the bread itself is packed with flavor! Visually, it’s very pretty to look at, too.

With the leftover dough, I formed 9 rolls, brushed them with butter, and parbaked them per Mary’s instructions for freezing yeast bread. They look great, and I’m looking forward to baking –and then eating – them.

Post note: the rolls baked up beautifully, though I should have baked them for only 10 minutes, instead of 15, after thawing. They were very simple, and a pat of butter took to them very well.

BIG thanks to Tanna for pushing me past my comfort zone with this recipe. I never would have tried it without you – and the other 200+ Daring Bakers, of course!

The final product! (You can hardly tell I dropped it.)

Sliced (lovingly) into strips. I couldn't believe it, but the kids went crazy for the focaccia.

Baked potato rolls.

Tender Potato Bread

From Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf and something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender focaccia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf.

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold. (For the beginner I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. )

4 cups water (See Note)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

1 cup whole wheat flour

Conversion Chart for yeast:
Fresh yeast 1 oz/ 1 tablespoon = active dry yeast 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon
reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart

For Loaves and Rolls: melted butter (optional)

For Focaccia: olive oil, coarse salt, and rosemary leaves (optional; also see variation)

Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well. I have a food mill I will run my potatoes through to mash them.

Measure out 3 cups of the reserved potato water (add extra water if needed to make 3 cups). Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread in – directions will be for by hand. Let cool to lukewarm – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Allowed to add yeast one of two ways:

Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes.

Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes.


Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.

At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft.

As a beginner, you may be tempted to add more flour than needed. Most/many bread recipes give a range of flour needed. This is going to be a soft dough. At this point, add flour to the counter slowly, say a ¼ cup at a time. Do not feel you must use all of the suggested flour. When the dough is soft and smooth and not too sticky, it’s probably ready.

Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

It is at this point you are requested to Unleash the Daring Baker within. The following is as the recipe is written. You are now free to follow as written or push it to a new level.

Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape the large loaf:

Butter a 9X5 inch loaf/bread pan.

Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:

Butter an 8 x 4 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.

To make rolls:

Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

To make focaccia:

Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.

Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a baking/sheet (no edge – you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C. Bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.

If making foccacia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.

Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes.

Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Let breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

Anchovy-Onion Focaccia

Instead of oil, salt and rosemary, the focaccia can be topped with onions slow-cooked in olive oil or bacon fat, a scattering of chopped anchovy fillets, and flat-leafed parsley leaves.

Alternate fillings, seasons, shapes are up to you.

You must follow the recipe as written until you get to shaping the bread.

If you are new to bread and already your whisks are shaking (or is that your boots), you may bake the bread (or one of it’s variations) just as written.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cinnabons™: Not Just at the Mall Anymore!

Mmm, Cinnabon™.

A few weeks ago, I got an invite from Lis -- did I want to join her and several other food bloggers in a live baking project?

Um, yes!

Lis purchased a "Top Secret" recipe for Cinnabon's™ cinnamon rolls to compare with the results of our recent DB cinnamon roll/sticky roll challenge. After negotiating a convenient day and time for us to start, Lis, Marce, Helene, Sara, Kelly, Chris, Mary , and I got to baking.

The recipe came together quite easily, the only issue being that my dough didn't double in size in an hour. (It's November and my kitchen is cold.) The dough did get a bit bigger, but I probably should have waited for it to grow before proceeding. If I had, I think my final product would have been closer in appearance to the originals! (Well, that and I improvised on the icing as I'd run out of cream cheese. Sigh. )

Still, everyone preferred these cinnamon rolls to the ones from the DB challenge; the texture is much closer to that gooey ideal for a cinnamon bun. So, the next time I need to make cinnamon rolls, I'll go with this recipe, but if I want a sticky bun -- and they were fabulous -- I'd turn to our DB recipe.

Cinnabon™ Knock-off Cinnamon Rolls

NOTE: The very savvy Breadchick points out that yeast rise time varies based upon temperature & humidity. She writes, "Here are the rise times I use in the kitchen when I’m working with [Active] yeast: two to two and a half hours for dough to double. Add 1/2 an hour for every 5 degrees below 75F that the temperature is in the place where your dough is rising [...] Add 1/2 an hour to an hour to the expected rise time for humidity over 60%." Please read the rest of her extremely informative post here.


1 pkg. active dry yeast (1/4 oz. size)
1 c. warm milk (105- to 110-degrees F.)
½ c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. butter, melted
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
4 c. all-purpose flour


1 c. packed brown sugar
2 ½ TBS. cinnamon
1/3 c. butter, softened


¼ c. (1/2 stick) butter, softened
¼ c. (2 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 ½ c. powdered sugar
1 TBS. whole milk
¼ tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. lemon extract

For the rolls, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, butter, salt & eggs. Add flour and mix well.

Knead the dough into a large ball, using your hands lightly dusted with flour. Put in a bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. (See note about temperature and humidity affecting yeast, above.)

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough flat until it is approximately 21 inches long and 16 inches wide. It should be about ¼ inch thick.

For the filling, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Spread the softened butter evenly over the surface of the dough, and then sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the surface.

Working carefully from the top (a 21 inch side), roll the dough down to the bottom edge. Cut the rolled dough into 1 ¾ inch slices and place 6 at a time,evenly spaced, in a lightly greased baking pan. Let the rolls rise again until doubled in size, about 30 min. Preheat oven to 400-degrees F.

Once the oven is ready, bake rolls for 10 minutes, or until golden on top. While the rolls bake, make the icing by mixing the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, then add the milk and flavorings. Mix on high speed again until the icing is smooth and fluffy.

When the rolls come out of the oven, let them cool for about 10 minutes, then coat generously with the icing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Holiday Baking Ideas

Jam & Butter Thumbprints fresh from the oven.

Below, you'll find some of my favorite recipes for the holiday season. I hope you not only find them delicious, but that in making them, you can take time to relax and enjoy the season with those to whom you are near and dear.

Christmas (and every other special day) Cookies

Sugar Cookies & Royal Icing -- Lots of sugar cookie recipes are made to look pretty but taste pretty flavorless. You won't have that problem with this recipe - you can decorate to your heart's content and know that these cookies will both look and taste fantastic.

Chocolate Cookie Cut-outs & Royal Icing -- In a twist on traditional sugar cookies, this recipe lets you decorate pretty little chocolate cut-outs. Decorated cookies are especially dramatic - the icing is a lovely contrast to the darkness of the cookie. I especially love the addition of cinnamon in this recipe (chocolate and cinnamon is not a typical baking combination, and it's a shame) but if you don't care for cinnamon in your chocolate, just leave it out.

Lace Cookies -- It's not Christmas in our house if I don't make these cookies. They're similar in flavor and texture to the Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip cookies, but they are much more elegant. You can leave them as is or, as I do, use them to sandwich melted dark chocolate.

Outrageous Triple Chocolate Cookies -- Words do not do justice to this cookie. It is unbelievably good. If you don't believe me, just ask Lis!

Italian Lemon Cookies -- These are cakey, lemony, and bright. Shake on a few sprinkles to get them into the holiday spirit.

Double Chocolate Cookies -- Flat, chewy chocolate cookies are visually perked up by the addition of M&Ms. Tasty little buggers!

Polvorones de Canele -- these are a twist on Mexican Wedding cookies; they're buttery, just like the originals, but they have a spicy cinnamon hit.

Butter & Jam Thumbprints -- I love these. Such comfort food, and they bake up like glittering jewels.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies -- Crunchy, chewy, chocolaty, pepperminty: terrific!

Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies -- Easy to pull together, and perfect for the cookie traditionalist.

Flat-n-Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies -- Everyone needs an all-purpose chocolate chip cookie recipe, and this is mine. I baked these just before a realtor showed our old house to his client and left a plate on the table for them to enjoy. That same day, we had an offer on our house. Coincidence? I think not.

Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies -- My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. These are very thin (crisp at first, and then they become chewy) and their flavor is phenomenal. Between the butter and the brown sugar, they cookies take on a deep caramel or toffee flavor. So delicious they could stand on their own without the chocolate chips, but why would you want to do that?

Bar Cookies

Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars -- If you like pecan pie, think how wonderful it would be to add a little chocolate.

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies -- 10,000 times better than a peanut butter cup.

Grand Marnier Brownies -- Brownies aren't usually thought of as elegant, but this recipe challenges that notion. Chocolate and orange flavors can be found both in the brownie and its frosting. For an extra touch, drizzle melted chocolate on top of the frosting.

Special Occasion Breakfasts

Cinnamon rolls or Sticky Buns -- Imagine waking up on Christmas morning to the warm scent of cinnamon (or cinnamon and caramel) wafting in the air. Mmmm! Eating these, you could get coal in your stocking and not care. (For a savory breakfast, try this Vegetable and Cheese Strata.)

Baked French Toast with Praline Topping -- Perfect for a holiday brunch, this tantalizing french toast (which is baked in the oven) is loved by all ages.

Faye's Monkey Bread -- Oooey, gooey, sweet and delicious. Yummy in the morning, at afternoon tea, or for a midnight snack.

Raspberry Cream Cheese "Buns" -- From the Magnolia Bakery (which insists on calling these muffins buns...) comes a tender and moist muffin enlivened with raspberry jam. They're fantastic.

Cinnamon Sugar Donut Muffins -- Kids especially love these muffins -- which are dipped in melted butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar -- but, c'mon; who wouldn't love that combination?

Yummy Cakes

November Molasses Cake with Fresh Lemon Glaze -- Though the name says "November," the rich, musky notes of the cake -- brightened by the tang of lemon -- are perfect for any cold month.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Cream Frosting -- If you stop thinking about pumpkin after Thanksgiving, this cake will make you change your mind. Its crumb is moist and delicate, and its flavor speaks of cinnamon, ginger and clove (plus pumpkin, of course). If you like frosting (and this one is pretty fabulous) you might want to double the frosting recipe .

Tea & Sympathy's Spicy Ginger Cake -- Created to accompany a cup of tea, its spicy, sweet, and sticky. It's perfect.

Treats -- One Difficult, Two Easy

Fudge -- A classic, and this recipe yields a fudge that is everything a good fudge should be.

Untitled Pretzel, Marshmallow, M&M Project -- Obviously, I still don't have a name for these guys. But use red and green M&M to tie into the Christmas season.

Brown Sugar Chex Mix -- OK, so you're not really baking anything here, but this is too easy -- and too tasty -- to leave out! It's a great little recipe for making in a flash, it's inexpensive, and-- again - very tasty!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's to a lovely Thanksgiving and the start of another holiday season! I hope you have plenty of your favorite foods to enjoy, and even more friends and family to share them with.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Butternut Squash Risotto

This butternut squash risotto an ideal dish for a cold, fall night. Like all good risottos, it's rich and creamy, with brimming with flavor from the chicken stock, white wine, and onion. The squash's flavor takes a backseat in this dish, but clearly, its sunny, bright color is at center stage.

All this needs is a glass of white wine, a good hunk of bread, and a crackling fire in the hearth.

Note: though the original recipe says this serves 4, we got at least 6 servings out of this.

Butternut Squash Risotto (adapted)

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups dry white wine, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground sage
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and grated (about 4 cups)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan

Warm the broth and 1 cup of wine in a small saucepan over low heat.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, salt, and pepper and cook for 4 minutes. Add the sage, squash and garlic and cook until the squash begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add the reserved cup of wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes.

Add the broth/wine mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring occasionally and waiting until it is absorbed before adding more. It should take about 30 minutes for all the broth to be absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan. Spoon into individual bowls.

Tip: To grate a butternut squash, rub it against the large holes of a box grater, or roughly chop it, then pulse it in a food processor.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On Mashed Potatoes

Click here for this recipe.

The NYT's Dining Section has a great article on perfecting mashed potatoes. It advises cooks to relax: perfect mashed potatoes are easy to make.

Here are the article's pearls of wisdom:

  • Buy potatoes from either local farmers and/or buy “A” grade potatoes, the largest ones available.
  • Peel & cut your potatoes before boiling; this results in potatoes that are more evenly cooked and less waterlogged.
  • Use lots of cooking water and salt it liberally -- but it doesn't seem to matter if you cook the potatoes when the water is cold or when the water is at a rolling boil.
  • Boil the taters until they're very soft. The tip of a pointy knife should go right through the the center, but drain the potatoes before the "get shaggy around the edges, a sign that they are dissolving in the pot." Start getting your butter, or butter and milk, hot and ready.
  • Drain the potatoes well, then steam them right away -- toss them around in the hot pan or over very low heat for a minute.
  • Toss in your hot butter (butter/milk) and get mashing. Use a hand masher "with a flat face, a grid pattern and crisp edges where the potato meets the masher" or pop them into a stand mixer. A "light" mashing will yield fluffy potatoes, while a more thorough one will yield a "creamier, denser dish." Be careful not to go to far, though, or you'll enter into wallpaper paste territory.
  • Taste, season with additional salt and butter if needed, and serve!
Here's a link to the recipe that accompanies the article but if you're looking for mashed potatoes that are OVER-THE-TOP DELICIOUS, give these Company's Coming Mashed Potatoes a try!

Vosges Exotic Chocolate Bars

The very delicious Gianduja bar by Vosges.

A few weeks ago, I picked up Mo's Bacon Bar by Vosges and posted a review. A few days later, I got an email from Paige, who works for the chocolatier, asking if I'd like some samples.

Um, yes please!

Shortly thereafter, a lovely package arrived (repleate with a handwritten note from Paige) filled with an assortment of Vosges' chocolate bars. The box offered samples of the Barcelona, Creole, Gianduja, Naga, Oaxaca, Red Fire, and Woolloomooloo bars.

Both Paige and Tara of But It's a Dry Heat! recommended the Barcelona Bar to me after I'd said I liked the flavor of Mo's Bacon Bar, not the chewy bits of bacon. The Barcelona is a milk chocolate bar studded with sea salt and roasted almonds. It's very tasty, but I was hoping for more of a smoked almond flavor so I was a little let down. (Still, if you like almonds plus sweet and salty notes, this is a great chocolate bar).

The Creole is a dark chocolate bar (70-percent cacao) featuring cacao nibs and "New Orleans style chicory coffee." The deep flavor of the chocolate complements the pungent scent of the chicory; it's not a combination I expected to like, but the components work very well together. It's not a sweet confection but one with a bitter edge; not overly so, but it is definitely there. The chocolate has a sharp snap to it as well.

I knew I'd love the Gianduja bar -- hazelnuts and chocolate? How can it not be loved? The texture of this bar is much softer than the others. I'm guessing this is because the chocolate is blended with hazelnut paste but I can't seem to find a confirmation of this on the Vosges' website. For a bit of added crunch, small almond pieces are thrown in. I can't say I'd be able to tell they were almonds if not for the packaging, but I liked it all the same. Out of all the bars, this was my favorite.

The Naga bar, which I'd had before, features sweet curry and coconut paired with milk chocolate. It's a delicate flavor -- the curry and coconut aren't overpowering, but provide an interesting depth the the chocolate.
I was a little worried to try the Oaxaca and Red Fire bars as both include hot pepper. You can feel the heat in the Oaxaca bar (from its guajillo and pasilla chillies) almost before the chocolate reaches your mouth. And yet, it's not overly spicy but it does tingle the tongue and throat. Like the Creole, it's got a bitter edge.

The Red Fire matches dark chocolate (55-percent cacao) with cinnamon and ancho and chipotle chilies. This bar was not as spicy as the Oaxaca; in fact, while I could taste the chocolate and cinnamon, I didn't even detect the chilies' heat until I swallowed -- then, I felt a warm sensation at the back of my throat. While I like the bar, I'd love to see another one pairing milk chocolate solely with cinnamon -- I'm crazy about that combination (probably born from a childhood love of bear shaped cinnamon butter cookies dipped in chocolate) yet I can't find it in chocolate very often.

Last but not least, the Woolloomooloo bar mixes milk chocolate with crushed and salted macadamia nuts, coconut and hemp seeds. I'm not a big fan of macadamias but I couldn't really detect them beyond their crunch -- at least, I don't think I could. The bar has a raw nut flavor, but I'm not sure if that's from the macadamias or the hemp seeds (I couldn't really single them out, either). The coconut is a presence, too, though it doesn't overwhelm things.
These chocolates are pricey --$7 for a full size or $2.50 for a mini bar -- but they're delicious. The full size would be a great holiday gift for friends or co-workers, and the minis would be at home in anyone's stocking.

Monday, November 12, 2007

November Molasses Cake with Fresh Lemon Glaze

I just had another piece of this lovely cake and here's the thing: it's delicious, but it's supposed to be gingerbread, and it doesn't taste like gingerbread to me.

This is Nigella Lawson's "Fresh Gingerbread with Lemon Icing" recipe and I have to ask, where's the spicy hit? I even doubled the amount of ginger and cinnamon, but those flavors don't jump out at me.

Thinking of this cake as gingerbread disappoints me. But thinking of it as molasses cake makes me happy. So I'm redubbing this recipe (see title above) and enjoying its superb moistness, gentle sweetness, musky molasses flavor, and piquant jabs of brightness from its lemon glaze. It pairs very nicely with a strong cup of hot tea.

Just don't call it gingerbread.

November Molasses Cake with Fresh (adapted from Nigella Lawsons' Fresh Gingerbread with Lemon Icing )

For the cake:
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsps. unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsps. brown sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsps. light corn syrup
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsps. molasses
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tsps. ground cinnamon
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 2 Tbsps. warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour

For the icing:
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1-2 Tbsp. warm water, if needed
lemon zest, optional

Preheat the oven to 325-degrees F and grease and flour a 13x9 pan.

In a saucepan, melt the butter along with the sugar, syrup, molasses, ginger, and cinnamon. Off the heat, add the milk, eggs, and baking soda in its water.

Measure the flour out into a bowl and pour in the liquid ingredients, beating until very well mixed (it will be a very liquid batter). Pour batter into the pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes until risen and firm. Be careful not to overbake, as you want your cake nice and moist.

For the icing, whisk the lemon juice into the confectioners' sugar first, then gradually add the water, if needed. You want a nice, spreadable icing, but one that's not too thin, so go cautiously and be prepared not to add all the water. Add in the lemon zest, if using. Working quickly, spread over the cooled gingerbread with an off-set spatula, and leave to set before cutting.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Brother Boniface's Pumpkin Bread

When it comes to pumpkin desserts, they have to be well spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and/or clove for me to be over-the-moon for them. (I fell in love with masala chai at first sip because it reminded me of pumpkin pie.)

So when pumpkin desserts fit this bill, there are few foods that will make me happier (see Gingerbread Pumpkin Bars, Pescatore's Pie, Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Cream Frosting). And when they're not, it's a tiny disappointment.

This pumpkin bread, though moist, flavorful, and lightly sweet, just isn't spicy enough for me. Tasty but not swoon-worthy. But for those who like a more mellow and fall-inspired quick bread (and they're out there), this recipe should fit the bill nicely.

Brother Boniface's Pumpkin Bread (from Southern Living via My Recipes)

4 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
2/3 cup water
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Beat together all the ingredients-- except the pecans -- at medium speed with an electric mixer just combined. Fold in pecans. Spoon evenly into 2 greased and floured 9- x 5-inch loafpans OR 1 bundt pan.

Bake at 350-degrees F for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean (if baking in a bundt, this may take longer). Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Gingerbread Pumpkin Bars

Before our Halloween/Dessert party, I asked the Daring Bakers for ideas. Peabody suggested I make Gingerbread Pumpkin Bars; she'd just made them with great success.

So, I happily followed her suggestion, and she is so right: these are delicious! Spicy and sweet with added depth from the molasses, they are wonderful. The base is rich and butter, the filling moist and flavorful, while the drizzle adds just a hint of sweetness and vanilla. These are a crisp fall day packed into a tiny dessert.

Peabody thought they could use an extra candied ginger kick, but I like them just as they are. I can't wait to make them again (and again, and again...)

Gingerbread Pumpkin Bars (via Culinary Concoctions by Peabody)

For the bars
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup rolled quick oats

For the filling
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 cups mashed pumpkin
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs

For the glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 2 tablespoons milk

To make the bars, start by preheating the oven to 350-degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar and molasses until creamy. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Reserve 3/4 cup of this mixture and place in a small bowl. Scoop the remaining mixture into a 10″ x 15″ baking pan lightly coated with nonstick spray and press down to form a crust.

Add the oats to the reserved mixture and mix until combined - set aside.

To make the filling, beat cream cheese in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Add pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves and mix until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing just until combined. Scoop the mixture over the uncooked base and use an off-set spatula to evenly spread the mixture over the top. Crumble reserved oat mixture over filling.

Bake until the topping is a golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the drizzle, in a small bowl mix together confectioners’ sugar, butter and vanilla. Mix in just enough milk until the mixture will easily flow from a spoon - drizzle over cooled bars.

Friday, November 02, 2007

RRC #9 Round-Up, Up; RRC #10 Announced!

Looking for Sammy "The Candy Man" Davis' influence on Retro Recipe Challenge #9? Check out Dolores' Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity for the sugar-soaked round-up!

Want to participate in the next challenge? Visit Naomi's blog, Straight Into Bed Cakefree and Dried, for all the details on Retro Recipe Challenge #10: Story Book Food!

BIG thank yous to Dolores & Naomi for hosting these challenges! If you would like to host a future RRC, drop me a line at retrorecipechallengeATgmailDOTcom .