Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chocolate Valentino with Blackberry Coulis: Celebrating The Blog's Birthday with the Daring Bakers

Guess what? This blog was born 3 years ago today!

Where did the time go?

How many calories were consumed?

Why has my photography only marginally improved?

In any event, I can't think of a better way to celebrate than with the Daring Bakers; today's our posting date!

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. "We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

A Chocolate Valentino is a flourless chocolate cake (mmmmmm) . Fortunately for me , we didn't *have* to make ice cream, just a topping to go along with the the cake. (We are still in the throws of winter in Upstate NY, and I just didn't have it in me to get creative with a cold dessert.)

So to accompany my cake, I made a simple blackberry coulis (adapted from this recipe).

I was faithful to the Chocolate Valentino recipe with two exceptions:
1) I melted the chocolate and butter in the microwave at 1 minute intervals on 40-percent power, stirring in between each go-round
2) I used a 9-inch, round springform pan.

And the result? A-MAZ-ING. It's like eating a fantastic chocolate truffle -- velvety, rich, decadent, fudgy -- and the coulis paired beautifully.

So thank you Wendy & Dharm for a fantastic challenge! This may be my favorite DB challenge thus far!

Chocolate Valentino

16 ounces of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.

While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.

Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.

Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).

With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.

Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.

Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.

Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C.

Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C. (Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.)

Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

- Use your favorite chocolatethe finished cake will taste exactly like the chocolate you use. Be creative with your chocolate, if you like a sweeter cake use milk chocolate or a combination of the semisweet and milk chocolate. If you like bittersweet chocolate use that and add sweetness by mixing the semi sweet with bittersweet. If you are daring, try white chocolate.
A higher cocoa percentage increases the bitterness of the chocolate.

-Equipment - it is optional to use a heart shaped pan. For a real Valentino, bake it in a heart shaped pan or cut it out into a heart shape. You may use any shape pan that gives you an area of 50” - 6x8 or 7x7. An 8” spring form pan works with great results as do smaller pans or ramekins.

-An instant read thermometer highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Heart Shaped Samoas

Do you follow Nic's Baking Bites ? It's filled with lots of tempting sweets and a week doesn't go by without a post that makes me drool.

Nic is especially good at recreating beloved recipes, especially Girl Scout cookies. She's got Thin Mints, Homemade Do-Si-Dos , Homemade Tagalongs and, Shane's favorite, Samoas.

So for Valentine's Day, I decided to follow Nic's Samoa recipe, but make the traditionally round cookies into hearts.

The verdict? YUM! With chewy caramel, toasted coconut, a buttery shortbread base, all kissed by dark chocolate, how could you go wrong? I'd say it was a spot-on recreation but this is so much better than the original. Those Girl Scouts better watch their backs...

The trickiest part of the recipe was spreading the coconut caramel topping onto the shortbread cookie base. The topping is awfully sticky and wanted to cling to almost everything it touched -- except the cookie. Eventually, I just used a spoon to spread the topping onto the cookie and, as the caramel & coconut cooled, I pressed it more firmly onto the cookie and shaped it into hearts.

Nic recommended Werther's Chewy Caramels but I was unable to find them at the store (what's up with that, Wegmans?!?) so I picked up Brach's Milk Maids instead. The end result was very tasty, but the caramel & coconut was a bit chewier than I would have liked; a softer caramel (but NOT a flowing one) would have been better.

I left the half the heart-shaped shortbread cut outs free of the coconut caramel, leaving some simply plain (for Kian's valentine gift), and others drizzeled in chocolate (for Sadie).

The unused caramel coconut topping didn't go to waste, however; it was pressed into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick, allowed to cool, and then cut into bite sized pieces. Voila! Tasty caramel coconut chews.

Homemade Samoas from Nic's Baking Bites (slightly adapted)

1 cup butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
up to 2 Tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt at a low speed, followed by the vanilla and milk, adding in the milk as needed to make the dough come together without being sticky (it’s possible you might not need to add milk at all). The dough should come together into a soft, not-too-sticky ball. Add in a bit of extra flour if your dough is very sticky.

Working in two or three batches, roll out the dough between pieces of wax or parchement paper to about 1/4-inch thickness (or slightly less) and cut out shapes using a 1 to 1 1/2 -inch cookie cutter.

Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. If you'd like to make your rounds look just like samoas, use the end of a wide straw to cut a smaller center hole.

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until bottoms are lightly browned and cookies are set.

Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Coconut Caramel Topping
3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz good-quality chewy caramels
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
8 oz. semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are ok)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (preferably one with sides) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Meanwhile unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with salt, milk, and vanilla. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.

Using a small spoon or small offset spatula, spread topping on cooled cookies, using about 2-3 tsp per cookie. Reheat caramel for a few seconds in the microwave if it gets too firm to work with.

While topping sets up, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Heat on high in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring thoroughly to prevent scorching. Dip the base of each cookie into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle finished cookies with chocolate.

Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.

Yields 3 1/2 to 4 dozen cookies.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Cinnamon Raisin Twists

When I lived on the Upper East Side, each morning I'd stop by the old Lexington Ave. location of Amy's Bread on the way to work. A tiny shop, it was filled with all sorts of goodies. Breads of course -- baguettes, whole wheat, sourdoughs, semolinas -- but what really lured me were the sweeter breakfast treats. The offerings changed daily, so a Monday might offer a French Blueberry muffin; Wednesday, perhaps a Zucchini Carrot Apple muffin; and Fridays always -- always!-- Cinnamon Challah knots.

So I would pop in and a few minutes later, I'd have my breakfast treat wrapped up happily in my hand. Already, the workday seemed brighter.

So when I realized that The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread had been released, I had to get my hands on it. And when I got my hands on it, I baked the Cinnamon Raisin Twists.

So delicious and irresistable! Chewy, buttery, warm and sweet (but not too sweet)! I polished off most of this batch -- in fact, I hid the last twist from everyone else in the house so I could have it to myself.

Interested? Browse The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread and even take a sneak peek at the Cinnamon Raisin Twist recipe.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Pork Chops with Orange & Fennel Salad

Where have I been? Not dead, just busy.

So it's especially nice to find a recipe that comes together easy and is delicious. The pork here is juicy, tender, and flavorful; with it's sprinkling of fennel seeds, it's reminiscent of a good pork sausage. It's made even better with the sweetness of oranges and the crunch of fennel.

All in all, a meal simple enough to make on a weeknight, but elegant enough to serve to guests.

Pork Chops with Orange & Fennel Salad (source)

3 navel oranges
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt, divided
4, 4-ounce boneless pork chops, ½ inch thick, trimmed
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, roughly chopped or coarsely ground in a spice grinder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
1 shallot, chopped
3 cups watercress or arugula, tough stems removed

Remove the skin and white pith from oranges with a sharp knife. Working over a bowl, cut the segments from their surrounding membranes. Squeeze juice in the bowl before discarding membranes. Transfer the segments with a slotted spoon to another bowl. Whisk lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt into the bowl with the orange juice. Set aside.

Season pork chops on both sides with fennel seeds, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the chops and cook until browned and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Add sliced fennel and shallot to the pan and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add watercress (or arugula) and cook, stirring, until it begins to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes more. Stir in the reserved orange segments, then transfer the contents of the pan to a platter.

Add the reserved orange juice mixture and any accumulated juices from the pork chops to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Serve the pork chops on the fennel salad, drizzled with the pan sauce.