Tuesday, December 20, 2011

English Toffee with Chocolate and Almonds

Growing up in the Pacific NW, Christmas was all about Frangos (always referred to as Frango mints in my house, no matter the flavor) and Almond Roca. Frangos are a melt-in-the-mouth chocolate candy with some special addictive quality (is it salt? or something else). Almond Roca is crunchy toffee coated in chocolate and almonds. Only at Christmas did we have the gold foil-wrapped Roca, as opposed to the cheaper (and more enviro-friendly) unwrapped seconds.

When I was living abroad, I missed Almond Roca and was excited to find a recipe in my trusty Fanny Farmer cookbook for "English" toffee with a variation that included the chocolate and almonds that made Roca so great. Not sure what makes the toffee English, but it certainly is delicious. Even better, it's really not tough to make, even without a candy thermometer. I'm not opposed to thermometers and other measuring devices, it's just that they never seem to work well for me. Though I try to follow a kind of "measure twice, cut once" methodology, the end result is often still skewed. But when I follow my instincts, at least in cooking, I do much better.
I turned out a perfect batch of toffee in Scotland, so imagine my surprise upon returning to the States and having failure after failure. Every time the butter seemed to separate into an oil slick on top of the toffee. I admit, there were tears of frustration. Then I got smart as decided to be scientific about it. I reviewed my ingredients compared to what I used in Scotland.

The first thing to go was the "hippie" sugar, aka evaporated cane juice. I feared that there was more moisture in this sugar and it was throwing things off. Still, I failed.

I then looked closely at my butter. I was using Trader Joe's organic unsalted butter. Seemed straightforward enough, but if the sugar wasn't the culprit, the butter had to be. Looking closely at the TJ package, I noticed it had added milk solids and said something about this making it richer. I wondered if these added solids were messing with the melting and candying. Sure enough, when I swapped in plain grocery store butter, my toffee again was perfect.

The moral of this story is, just use the white sugar and the nice-but-not-gourmet butter! And check the label on the butter to make sure there is nothing extra. I've produced batch after batch of wonderful homemade Roca and haven't cried (about candy) in years.

A note about nuts: most recipes are phrased something like "1 c. chopped almonds". I am far too lazy to chop my nuts and then measure them out. How wasteful to end up with too many and how annoying to end up with too few. Instead, I always use "1 c. almonds, chopped". I can't imagine that the end result of any of my efforts has been significantly affected by this approach, but I thought I'd mention it all the same.

1 lb. unsalted or sweet butter
2 c. (13.5 oz. or 400 grams) granulated white (or caster) sugar
4 oz. good-quality chocolate (I use Theo but any 70% cocoa chocolate would be nice)
1 1/4 c. (3.5 to 4 oz.), chopped raw almonds

  1. Grease a jelly roll pan or any large metal baking tray with a lip on it. Set out a clean pastry brush, two spoons (preferably wooden) and a small cup of cold water. If you think you'll want to test your toffee while it's cooking, set out one or two more small cups of cold water and some more clean spoons. This is all to avoid "sugaring". You never want to put a dirty spoon back into your toffee pot
  2. Break up the chocolate into smallish pieces, put in a bowl and set aside--you can melt it while the toffee cools
  3. Combine the butter and sugar in a medium sized, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the butter and sugar are dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil. Stir in the almonds, keeping back about 1/4 to 1/3 cup for topping
  5. Use the cold water and pastry brush and wash down the sides of the pot. The goal is to get any granules of sugar to dissolve and go back into the mix. Otherwise you could end up with gritty toffee. You can also put the lid on the pot for a few moments to let the steam help dissolve the sugar
  6. Now comes the stirring! Switch to a clean wooden spoon (might not be necessary, but I like to be extra careful). Boil the toffee slowly, still over medium heat. Stir slowly and constantly in one direction. Only touch the sides of the pot if the toffee seems like it's going to scorch
  7. Cook until it reaches the "hard crack" stage, about 290 degrees F. As mentioned above, I don't use a candy thermometer. Instead, I wait (as patiently as I can) until the toffee is a nice deep golden brown. It takes longer than I think it should every time. The toffee also always looks to me like it will "sugar". It's opaque and kind of clumpy looking. Just keep stirring and have faith
  8. Once the toffee has reached "hard crack" (I always wait until I think it'll burn if I leave it a moment longer), pour as evenly as you can over your baking tray. You can shake the tray a bit to even out the toffee, but don't try to spread it. It never fills my tray
  9. Let the toffee cool a few minutes before scoring (though I can't say that scoring has ever yielded uniform pieces once the chocolate goes on, but it's worth a try)
  10. While the toffee cools, melt the chocolate. I use the microwave, but you can also melt in a double boiler--this might take longer)
  11. Score the toffee, then spread the melted chocolate evenly over it. Sprinkle on the remaining almonds
  12. Let cool fully, then break into pieces (theoretically the scoring helps with this)
  13. Try not to eat it all at one sitting and store in an airtight container. Keeps quite well at room temperature as long as it's well sealed

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Late Summer Soupy Beans

My refrigerator and freezer are starting to verge on survivalist territory; I am terrible at resisting gorgeous things at the farmers' market. I was determined to use up some of the delicious things lurking in my fridge and freezer for tonight's dinner. In particular, I wanted to showcase the dry pint of fresh, shelled cranberry beans I had picked up from Alm Hill. What I came up with was a riff on Tuscan bean stew that I will be doing my best to reproduce another day.

With fresh beans, I knew that I wouldn't have to cook them in the often to achieve the creamy texture we love so much. I wanted to maximize the flavor of the beans, so I brought out some roasted chicken stock. While I often make just plain chicken stock from raw bones, necks and other parts, I am also trying to have some broth made from roasted bones and wings on hand for those times when the broth really comes through. A recent dinner using whole wheat alphabet pasta in the turkey broth made from our Thanksgiving carcass was a revelation. That simple soup was unbelievably good. So, I cooked up the beans in 2 cups of the roasted chicken broth and just a bit of water to round it out and then went rooting around in the fridge for things to add to it. I'm sure that a good vegetable broth, ideally from roasted vegetables, would also work well for a vegetarian version.

Earlier in the week, I had cooked up a pint of cherry tomatoes according to Heidi Swanson's technique in Super Natural Every Day. (I'll include that in this post for those who are interested). I was sure those needed to be in my dish. Wanting to give Elspeth a bit of variety in her lunches, I had whipped up a batch of olive spread I had made using some of those roasted tomatoes. It occurred to me that the flavors might blend well with the beans, so I threw that in, too. Finally, nearly every savory dish I make has greens in it, so this was no exception. I took a handful of lacinato kale, ground it up in my mini chopper and pre-steamed it.

The end result of this somewhat unusual combination was fantastic. The flavor was very deep and it was hard to believe that there wasn't any bacon in the dish. I am pretty sure that the olive spread made the difference--bigger olive pieces wouldn't have worked as well. I love the idea of using olives to make a satisfying meatless dish. There was just enough broth left in the cooked beans to have us all slurping happily. Now I just have to hope that I can replicate it, maybe even with dried beans. (If using dried beans, I would definitely use the brining and oven-cooking technique from the Tuscan bean stew recipe and just add the tomato, olive, greens mixture once it came out of the oven).

1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/4 c. olive oil (I would reduce this by quite a lot when making again)
1 TBSP evaporated cane juice
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk the olive oil, salt and sugar together. Halve the cherry tomatoes and coat them with the olive oil mixture. Put the tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet. Roast in the upper third of the oven for 45-60 minutes or until the tomatoes are nicely caramelized and slightly shriveled. Store in the fridge and put any olive oil left on the baking tray into the jar or container along with the tomatoes.

1 dry pint fresh, shelled cranberry beans
2 c. roasted chicken or vegetable stock (unsalted)
1 tsp salt (omit if broth is salted)
1/4 c. water (approx--there needs to be enough liquid to cover beans by 1 inch)
1 recipe olive and tomato spread
1 recipe roasted cherry tomatoes (see above)
1/3 bunch dinosaur kale or other green, stems removed, ground or chopped finely, and pre-steamed and shocked in cold water
Dash smoked paprika
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

  1. Rinse and pick through cranberry beans
  2. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with broth, adding water to cover by 1 inch if needed. Add the salt if broth is unsalted
  3. Bring beans to a boil over medium-high heat then lower to a simmer. Cook beans for 30-40 minutes, or until tender
  4. Meanwhile, combine roasted cherry tomatoes, olive spread, and pre-steamed kale in a small to medium saute pan. Warm over medium heat, adding paprika and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  5. When beans are soft and creamy, remove from heat and stir in the tomato, olive, kale mixture
  6. Serve with crusty bread or drop biscuits to sop up every last drop

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fruit Gelato

If Ice Cream Four Ways is my go-to recipe for non-fruity frozen treats, the following gelato recipe is one I turn to for anything involving fruit. The original recipe is for strawberry gelato and I found it on The Bitten Word, who got it from Bon Appétit. It was so delicious and smooth that I've since made it with blueberries and peaches. I'm sure it would be great with other fruits, too, such as raspberries or huckleberries.

Like the ice cream base in Ice Cream Four Ways, this recipe is low on eggs. In fact, the original recipe doesn't even call for eggs, but I felt it needed a little something so I add one yolk. The major differences between the gelato recipe and the ice cream recipe is that the gelato recipe calls for a small amount of cornstarch and does not use the whipped cream technique. I love this recipe because the fruit is really the star--there is more fruit than dairy. While this can lead to some iciness (especially in super-juicy fruits like the peaches), it is well worth if for the intense fruit flavor.

I had some beautiful farmers' market strawberries in my freezer in February when I made this the first time for family dinner. I used frozen farmers' market blueberries the next time and just this past month used fresh RAMA peaches for a peach gelato to top peach upside-down cake.

3/4 c. evaporated cane juice
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 c. whole milk
3/4 c. heavy cream
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla or 1 tsp lemon juice (optional)
2 1/4 c. sliced hulled strawberries or blueberries or chopped peaches or other fruit

  1. Combine cane juice and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan
  2. Whisk in milk and cream and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble, about 5 min
  3. Turn off heat and move pan to another burner. Let mixture sit 5 minutes or so
  4. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with a fork. Whisk in some of the hot gelato base and then add that mixture back into the saucepan
  5. Return to a low heat and cook for a minute or two until the base thickens a bit more. According to Cook's Illustrated, I'm sure my egg yolk should have curdled because the custard was too hot, but after several times making it, I've never had an issue. The cornstarch needs to get hotter than the egg yolk, so that's why I do it this way
  6. Cool the custard over an ice bath, add vanilla extract or lemon juice if using, then put in the fridge
  7. If using strawberries or raspberries, simply puree them and strain them to get the seeds out, if desired (what a lot of work that is!)
  8. If using blueberries, huckleberries, peaches or other stone fruit, bring the fruit to a low boil over medium heat to help concentrate the flavors. In the case of peaches, you might even want to separate the fruit from the juice and reduce the juice to a thick syrup before pureeing to reduce the chance of iciness. Another good idea would be to take 1/4 c. of the sugar and macerate the chopped fruit in it for at least an hour to soften and draw out the juices--this would make it easy to get the juice for making a syrup. You would still want to cook the peach pieces for a few minutes, as well, to make them soft. Puree the cooked fruit and let it cool
  9. Combine the cooled gelato base and fruit mixture. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and then churn in an ice cream maker according to instructions

Ice Cream Four Ways

While I love homemade ice cream, I can never force myself to make a recipe that calls for 6 egg yolks, as so many of them do. It just seems extreme to me. We often have homemade ice cream at family celebrations and it is nearly always accompanying something else, so it doesn't make sense to have the ice cream alone be extra rich.

What follows is my go-to ice cream recipe for non-fruity applications. I found it on Chowhound years ago and someone said that it was the Quilted Giraffe cinnamon ice cream recipe. That means nothing to me, but it might ring a bell for someone else.

It's been so long since I copied the recipe from CH that I don't know if I messed with the cinnamon version much or not. I'm suspecting I did because the "heat the half and half to 175 degrees" has Cook's Illustrated written all over it.

I use the basic concept (custard, simple syrup, whipped cream) as the foundation for several different flavors: vanilla/toffee vanilla, coconut, coffee and, of course, cinnamon. While there is only one egg yolk in the recipe, I still find it luxurious in the mouth and not too icy. We rarely have leftovers, so the texture is at its peak when we eat it. But even a leftovers are amazingly silky. Two or three days after churning, I detect miniscule ice crystals, and yet I am still totally satisfied with the smoothness of this ice cream. I think this must be because of whipping the cream before churning. This strikes me as genius--you start out churning ahead of the game. I wonder if you might end up with chunks of butter in your ice cream if you over-whip the cream, so be sure not to do more than soft peaks.

I am considering some streamlining of the recipe (for example, why is the simple syrup necessary? Wouldn't the sugar dissolve in the half and half?), but am presenting it here in the form that I know works.

My innovation this time is that I decided to see what would happen if I used coconut sugar (also called palm sugar) instead of my usual evaporated cane juice. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar and we've got a family member who is being careful about such things right now. "Blonde" coconut sugar looks much like light brown sugar and I thought that the combination with vanilla bean would be nice, as the plan is to use the ice cream alongside nectarine cobbler. I used the same amount of coconut sugar as I would evaporated cane juice. This turned out to be exactly right. The custard looks and tastes like toffee, as did the finished ice cream. Two days later it had even taken on some coffee notes, though I don't know why. The vanilla flavor is very subtle so you might wish to add some vanilla extract, as well.

INGREDIENTS (for any version)
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1 egg yolk
2 c. half and half (or try whole milk mixed with some cream or by itself)
1 1/2 c. heavy cream

Cinnamon-- 1 cinnamon stick or 1 tsp ground cinnamon; 3/4 tsp vanilla
Coffee--3/4 c. whole coffee beans
Coconut-- 1 to 1 1/2 c. shredded unsweetened coconut (ideally the big flakes), 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice (optional)
Vanilla/Toffee vanilla--1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise and seeds scraped out and added; for toffee vanilla, use coconut sugar or half white sugar (evap cane juice) half light brown sugar instead of all evaporated cane juice, 3/4 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

  1. Put the half and half in the top of a double boiler. Heat half and half to 175 degrees F. For some reason today this took FOREVER, so I finished with a few bursts in the microwave. The only reason you do this part in the double boiler is that it saves you washing a pan because you'll need it for the egg part
  2. Adjust heat to keep the mixture warm. Add the cinnamon stick, coffee beans, coconut flakes or vanilla bean to the warm half and half and let steep, covered, for at least 20 min
  3. Strain the half and half and discard the solid bits. If necessary, top up the dairy to be 2 1/4 c. (the coconut flakes, in particular, absorb a lot of liquid)
  4. Return the half and half to the double boiler and turn up heat to get it back near 175 (something about milk protein behavior is why the 175 degrees is significant but I haven't tested it myself)
  5. Beat the egg yolk well in a small bowl. Beat in some of the hot half and half mixture, then add that to the rest of the half and half in the double boiler. Cook until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, 4-5 minutes
  6. While custard is cooking, combine water and sugar (and ground cinnamon, if using) in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved
  7. Remove custard from heat and stir in sugar syrup.
  8. Cool mixture by setting the bowl in an ice bath then stir in vanilla extract or lime juice, if using
  9. While mixture is cooling, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Fold into cooled custard
  10. Chill mixture well (overnight is okay) and then freeze in an ice cream maker according to the instructions

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Another Corn Salad

I forgot that I'd already posted a corn salad recipe here on EATS! so last week I made up a new one instead of using the one I had.

I really do love corn salad, even if it is somewhat of a pain to get the corn kernels off the cob. I am very tempted to get one of those OXO corn strippers that looks like a computer mouse (but do I really need another kitchen gadget?). At any rate, last week, we served this salad with halibut and roasted green beans. Tonight we had a veritable vegetable feast (to quote Wallace & Gromit): baked Maris Piper potatoes, cucumber salad, steamed broccoli, red pepper strips and home-grown carrots along with this new corn salad. Everything came from the farmers' market or our home. The broccoli we've been getting from Five Acre Farm this summer has been exceptional--the sweetest I've ever had. We all tucked in gladly to the variety. Tomorrow we'll serve the rest of the salad, again with halibut, which we are just starting to get fresh at the farmers' market. Probably will make a pluot crumble for dessert, as well.

The major difference between this recipe and last summer's is that I saute the onion in butter instead of olive oil and add a bit of thyme. I omit the red pepper I used last year, but I'm sure the dish would be tasty with that addition, as well. I do roast my corn, but use corn cooked any way you prefer.

INGREDIENTS (double this for a crowd)
3 ears of corn
1/4 of a large, sweet onion, diced
1 TBSP unsalted butter
1-2 sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. To roast corn, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Once heated, throw in the corn (still in its husks) right on the rack. Cook 20- 25 minutes. (Deborah Madison says 15-20 but even after 20 minutes my corn has been slightly underdone). Remove corn from oven. When cool, remove husks and silk. Strip corn from cobs and "milk" cobs by scraping cobs with the back side of a chef's knife. Set aside
  2. Heat the butter in a medium to large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until the onion is very soft but not brown. Strip the thyme from the branches and add to the butter and onion
  3. Once the onion is soft, add the corn. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Taste--if the corn seems underdone, add a touch of water and put a lid on the pan to steam for 5 minutes
  4. Adjust the seasoning by adding salt and pepper to taste
  5. The salad can be served hot, warm or cold and is a great late-summer side dish

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Raspberry Tartlets

I posted a couple of years ago a recipe for a gluten-free raspberry tart. This is still a great recipe, but I found that I wanted to make individual tartlets instead of one big tart because gluten-free tart crust is so crumbly.

I kind of winged it in terms of amounts of things, but thought it would help to be a little more precise about how much tart dough and filling are required when converting the recipe into tartlets.

I discovered that 2-2.5 oz of tart dough per 4-inch tartlet pan is just the right amount to cover the pan nicely without too much stress over pressing it super-thin. A double batch of the GF tart crust recipe I used before is ideal. You'll end up with about a dozen tartlets. I only needed 8 for family dinner, but none of us complained about the extras. You could always freeze extra pre-baked shells.

A double batch of filling for a dozen tartlets is also the right way to go. You might end up with a little more filling in each tart, but I think that's a good thing. I upped the sweetening a little in the filling, as I find the GF tart crust to be ever-so-slightly bitter.

Don't skimp on the raspberries, either. I would increase the expected amount from 4 cups to 6 cups just to be really decadent about it.

Makes 12 tartlets


RICE FLOUR MIX: 2 c. brown rice flour, 2/3 c. potato starch, 1/3 c. tapioca

1 1/2 c. rice flour mix
1 1/2 c. ground almonds (almond meal)
2/3 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp salt
scant 1 tsp xanthan gum
8 oz. (1/2 lb, 2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 eggs, lightly beaten

  1. Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor briefly
  2. Add the cold, cubed butter to the food processor and pulse until the mixture is coarse with lumps the size of peas
  3. While the processor is running, add the beaten egg. Mix just until the dough comes together
  4. Pat the dough into your tartlet pans and prick it all over with a fork
  5. Freeze for half an hour
  6. While the dough is cooling, preheat the oven to 350F
  7. Place the tart pans on a baking tray (for convenience) and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes (start checking at 15 minutes)
  8. Remove tart crusts from oven and cool. Proceed with raspberry tart recipe

4-6 c. raspberries, halved (it's okay for 2-3 c. of the raspberries to have been frozen, but do thaw them first. You really need fresh raspberries for the topping, though)
1 c. crème fraîche (well-strained whole milk yogurt works very well, too)
2 eggs
1 1/4 c. sugar
2 c. ground almonds (almond meal)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Cover the bottom of your par-baked tartlet crusts with 2-3 cups of raspberries (fresh or previously-frozen)
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients
  4. Pour over the raspberries in the tart crust
  5. Bake until the custard is set (puffed and golden), about 15-20 minutes (can't remember exactly how long it took them to cook, so start checking at 15 and don't panic if it takes longer than 20 minutes. Full-size tart is supposed to take 35 minutes)
  6. Remove from the oven and cool completely (I like this tart best cold)
  7. Just before serving, heap the remaining 2-3 cups fresh raspberries on top of the tartlets

Safe-for-School Granola Bars

Elspeth's preschool, like so many these days, is nut-free. Since nuts are my favorite go-to source of nutrition in nearly any situation, it can be a bit of a challenge to make sure that Elspeth gets enough of a balance in her lunches. Enter these granola bars. I tried many different baked and unbaked variations before I finally hit on these. This recipe from PCC (Puget Consumers Co-Op) "Taste" newsletter had the most potential. Before we wanted to pack them for school, I had made them with Trader Joe's Tempting Trail Mix, my very favorite trail mix ever. Even then, I liked the bars but didn't love them.

Much to my surprise, the use of sunflower butter and chocolate-covered, candy-coated sunflower seeds in place of the peanut butter and trail mix resulted in a superior bar. These bars are dangerously more-ish. They're hardly health food, but as a snack/dessert goes, I think they're a great one to have in the repertoire.

Though it uses more sweetener than I'd prefer, Trader Joe's fat free Blueberry Muesli is perfect for this recipe. (You'd think I was being paid by TJ, but alas, no, I just like many of their products). To cut the sweetness, I still use plain quick-cooking oats.

1 c. quick-cooking oats
2 c. Trader Joe's blueberry muesli or other muesli
1 1/2 c. dried tart cherries
1/2 c. candy-coated chocolate-covered sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp salt
Other mix-ins as desired such as grated coconut or mini chocolate chips
1/3 c. brown rice syrup
1/4 c. honey
2 TBSP oil
1 c. sunflower butter

  1. Lightly grease an 8 inch square pan with oil or non-stick cooking spray
  2. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl--kids are great helpers with this as long as they don't eat all the goodies
  3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the brown rice syrup and honey to a low boil for 2-3 minutes
  4. Add the oil and sunflower butter and mix thoroughly until it is as smooth as you can make it
  5. Pour the warm mixture over the dry ingredients and stir well. You might want to get your hands in there to help mix
  6. Press the mixture into your pan and let cool
  7. While PCC Taste recommends flipping the bars out to cut them, I find them too crumbly for this. Instead, I cut them into 1 inch squares (or thereabouts) and serve them from the pan
  8. Keep the leftovers covered. If it's very warm in your house, I recommend keeping the bars in the fridge as the sunflower butter can get pretty melty and sticky otherwise

Chocolate Ganache

It's Elspeth's birthday coming up and she has requested a chocolate cake. I can't remember now what I made for her third birthday (terrible mother that I am), but I know I made chocolate zucchini bread in a Bundt pan for her 2nd birthday. For her 4th birthday, I'm going to do it in a 9x13 pan and add some chocolate frosting, at her request.

My friend Valerie inspired another family favorite dessert, a type of parfait that layers chocolate cake with tart cherries, whipped cream, and chocolate ganache and accented with slivered almonds. I thought the ganache would be a great, easy frosting for my buttercream-hating daughter and should also work well for the rocket ship stencil I plan to attempt. (The rocket will be done in rainbow sprinkles). The zucchini cake already uses chocolate chips, so I can just use the rest of the package in the ganache.

Valerie really likes the Joy of Cooking (I'm more of a Fannie Farmer girl myself), so I use their recipe in her honor. It's also a good one. Valerie is the one that tipped me off that I could use chocolate chips for this. I like Trader Joe's semisweet ones.

3/4 c heavy cream
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 TBSP liqueur (optional--might be good for texture, but I never use it)

  1. Bring the cream to a boil in a saucepan big enough to add the chocolate
  2. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the chocolate chips, stirring until the chocolate is nearly all melted
  3. Cover mixture and let sit for 10 minutes
  4. Stir the mixture until very smooth
  5. Stir in liqueur if using
  6. If using for frosting, let sit until spreadable, then use as desired. This can also be used as a pouring glaze. If doing that, don't let it sit so long before using
Keeps in the fridge for up to a week or can be frozen. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Not-Quite-Instant Chocolate Pudding

Here's another Cook's Illustrated recipe, this time for chocolate pudding. As a kid, it never occurred to me that pudding could be made from anything but a box. I always kind of liked the stuff, but it was never a favorite. This past Valentine's Day, I was looking for something a bit special to serve the family, just for fun. I have some coeur a la creme (pardon the lack of accents, etc), that were gifted to me and I thought it would be fun to serve chocolate pudding in them. Elspeth was enthralled and kept on saying, "I love this", so I took that as a good sign.

Cook's published a recipe in 1999 for double chocolate pudding and this is my go-to recipe. Interestingly, they just published another chocolate pudding recipe in the Sep/Oct 2011 issue in which they made no mention of their prior effort. I find this silly, as long-time readers are quite likely to remember that they've covered the topic before. I have no quarrel with re-visiting recipes, but instead of pretending it's not an update, I wish they'd give me some analysis of what qualities that Recipe A has that Recipe B doesn't, and vice versa. To insist that there is only one definitive recipe for any dish leaves no room for different tastes. I don't know if I'll try the 2011 version. It has 2 oz. less bittersweet chocolate and 1 TBSP more cocoa powder. I thought the original 1999 recipe was plenty creamy so I'll likely stick with that. Or, I might do a side-by-side tasting and complete my own analysis of the pros and cons of each version.

This pudding is particularly nice accompanied by raspberries.


bittersweet chocolate (we use Theo)
TBSP cocoa powder (Cook's specifies Dutch-process, but I use whatever I've got)

2/3 c evaporated cane juice sugar 
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 c cream
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 c 2%  milk (or whatever you've got, the end result will just be creamier or less creamy) 
1 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
tsp vanilla extract

  1. I like using the microwave to melt the chocolate, but you can use a double boiler if you prefer. To use the microwave, break the chocolate into evenly-sized pieces and put in a glass bowl. Microwave on 50% power for 3 1/2 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes. If after the full time the chocolate is still not fully melted, microwave on 50% power up to another 30 seconds. Set aside melted chocolate to cool slightly
  2. Sift the cocoa powder, sugar, cornstarch and salt together into the bottom of a heavy medium-sized saucepan. I like our 3 qt. pan.
  3. With the heat off, slowly whisk in the cream, eggs yolks and, lastly, the milk. Then stir in the chocolate. Expect clumps.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly and making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot. The chocolate clumps will even out with heat.
  5. When the pudding darkens and thickens, reduce heat to medium and stir until the pudding very thickly coats a spoon (about 200 degrees F). This should take only a minute or two.
  6. Put the pudding through a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Stir the butter and vanilla into the pudding in the bowl (discard any residue in the strainer)
  7. Gently apply some parchment paper to the top of the pudding to help avoid it forming a skin
  8. Cool 30 minutes and then refrigerate until serving