Chocolate

Chocolate. Cake.

Once upon a “second time around,” (and I really do mean the second time around, since I completely destroyed the first cake batter), in a mythical land between “rich” and “too dense to handle,” a mere mortal pulled a chocolate cake from the oven. It was perfect. I felt like Hozier playing lead guitar for Annie Lennox at the 2015 Grammys.

Entering my equivalent of hell….baking. Say what you will of the stigma associated with designer boxes of cake mix, they work the same way every single time. Yesterday afternoon, I got to thinking about cravings and desserts – cookies, ice cream, cake, frozen yogurt….are they really mutually exclusive when what we want is anything made with chocolate? We seem to feel a desperate need to pick a favorite chocolate dessert to explain the random hopelessness that is staring into a full pastry display case. Usually, we choose for the sake of variety. Eating too much of the same thing weighs on the palate and nerves. After what seems like an eternal internal monologue of “I’m not really a brownie person,” we suddenly realize we’re nervous about committing to the slice of chocolate cake. Will the dessert gods smile and relieve us of guilt? Or will we sigh and grab a bottle of water and a Be Kind bar? (Not to hate on the Be Kind brand, because those things are definitely responsible for 15% of my existence.)

I put little stock in the idea of “the perfect chocolate dessert,” but I have a very strong belief in searching for the perfect chocolate cake.

Never mind that when the first cake was in the oven, I realized I’d forgotten 2 of the 3 liquid elements and vanilla extract. It was the sort of scenario I have nightmares about: the equivalent of Jack Dawson freezing to death and sinking off that piece of the Titanic into the ocean, while I’m in my seat yelling at Rose that “Myth Busters” proved there was plenty of room for both of them.

Speaking of mythology, in every myth, there comes a point where the tragic hero is given a test. Unfortunately, the way this hero responds does not determine their ultimate fate, because the tragic hero is doomed to be benefited and limited by their super-ability for all eternity.

I didn’t want my cake to become urban myth content, so I started over. Everyone in my apartment must have heard me swearing and banging just-washed mixing bowls around.

It was worth it.

Chocolate Blackout Cake

For an 8-inch cake pan (I experimented with both round and square, so you’re covered boo.)

  • 1 and 1/2 sticks Unsalted Butter, diced
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 3 large Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Mayonnaise (Don’t question it. Just use it. Your cake will stay moist and be spoon-tender.)
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 cup Cocoa Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • A large pinch of Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 cup Low-Fat Buttermilk (It’s in the dairy section, I promise.)

Pre-heat the oven to 350-degrees and grease whatever pan you’re planning on using.

(If you have a stand/hand-mixer or immersion blender whisk attachment, this next step will work much more efficiently. A whisk works just as well, but it will take more elbow grease.) Combine the butter and sugar together until a thick paste forms and no butter lumps remain – it will look like frosting-in-a-can. Don’t fret, you’re not reading the wrong recipe. Cake is coming.

Add the eggs one-at-a-time, whisking thoroughly after adding each egg. Remember to scrape the side of the bowl! Add the mayonnaise and vanilla, and whisk again.

In a separate bowl: Combine the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Sprinkle a large pinch of Kosher Salt over the top – you can’t have sweet without some salt. Gradually add this flour mixture to the egg mixture (Add, Whisk, Add, Whisk, Add, Whisk. This process should have three-ish parts to it.) Pour in the buttermilk and whisk together.
Pour batter into greased cake pan and bake for 27-30 minutes-ish, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.Cool for 10 minutes before removing the cake from the pan. To complete the blackout cake process, pour Easiest Chocolate Ganache Ever over the top, recipe below.

Easiest Chocolate Ganache Ever

Heat 1 small container (the itty-bitty-one that only looks like, 1 cup) heavy whipping cream in a saucepan over Medium Heat until simmering. Pour 8 ounces (the standard Nestle bags are usually 10 ounces) dark chocolate chips into a heat-proof bowl (that means glass, y’all). Put out 1 tablespoon unsalted butter to warm to room temperature.Once the milk is simmering, pour over the chocolate chips and let stand (seriously, don’t do anything, or I’ll cut you) for five-ish minutes or until the chips are melted. Stir in the room-temperature butter until the ganache looks like something out of a sexual fantasy. Pour over cake, ice cream, brownies, etc.

chocolate blackout cake

Do I need to caption this? Come on.

 

A Pitcher is a Single Serving, Right? P.S. This Cocktail Tastes Like Iced Coffee

Trivia: Two Mondays ago, it was National Coffee Day.

In preparation for this momentous occasion, I figured I would combine the taste of two favorites: coffee and alcohol.

Trivia: 57% of coffee drinkers add some sort of sweetener to their drink.
I am not one of those people. I like my coffee beverages the way I like my soul, my men, my women and my humor. Don’t analyze that sentence with the stereotypical ending, either. Now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, suffice to say I understand the desire of most female coffee (and alcohol) drinkers for something sweet.

Make that, I had bangs until age 20.

Trivia: Between 20% and 30% of coffee sales are comprised of flavored coffees (i.e. chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, caramel, and cinnamon).

This is based on a recipe torn from inside “Cosmopolitan.” I shifted things around a bit, with feedback from one of my girlfriends, who came over this weekend for a day of cocktail experimenting, pizza-dough making, and film-noir watching. (By the way, films from 1948 have amazing “Is it Good or Is It Bad?” pick-up lines, despite their lack of cultural variety.) Don’t worry, the pizza dough recipe is coming later this week.

The original magazine tear-out called for half-and-half. While shopping for ingredients, I pulled a small carton of fat-free half-and-half, because I wanted to be mindful of the figure-conscious ladies who read this blog. (Thanks for sticking around through the numerous bacon mentions, by the way. You girls rock.) My verdict? It tastes disgusting, and coated my tongue more thoroughly than heavy cream. While searching for ingredient alternatives and cross-referencing other “coffee-tasting dessert cocktails,” I noticed how many after-dinner drinks are dairy-based. Not so much fun for people like my Mother, Aunts, or the 65% of the population who identify as Lactose-Intolerant. Raise your hand if you order your Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Peets, or anything in-between/indie with almond milk, since soy milk has the major-estrogen-it’s-actually-bad-for-you-if-you-drink-it-every-day thing going on. That’s what I thought.

Using almond milk turned out to be a phenomenal solution. Counter-intuitively, it mellows out the sweetness from the Kahlua. Add one of those hyper-feminine flavored rims, and your adult quasi-iced coffee/quasi-chocolate milk is served.

Iced Coffee Cocktail (for one, double the proportions for two if you’ve already had one on an empty stomach)

  • 1 shot Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey Whiskey
  • 1 shot Kahlua
  • 2 shots Unsweetened Almond Milk
  • Honey (optional)
  • Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (optional)
  • Graham Cracker Crumbs (optional)
  • Ice

If you’re going for presentation (and flavor) points and making the graham cracker/chocolate rim, use the tip of your finger to spread honey around the rim of whatever glasses you’ll be serving this drink in. Once the rim is suitably sticky (and you’ve made several inappropriate jokes about this), pour equal parts cocoa powder and graham cracker crumbs onto a paper plate, turn the serving glass upside down, and rub the glass around and about on the plate to coat the rim with deliciousness. (Make more sexual jokes during and after this part.)

Place ice in both the cocktail shaker. (If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, improvise with some sort of mason jar type deal. If you’ve gotten as far as buying the ingredients, there’s no going back now.)

Shake the whiskey, Kahlua, and almond milk over ice, and strain into the serving glass.

coffee drink

 

 

 

Patience is a Virtue I Apparently Don’t Have: Truffles (The Chocolate Kind)

It’s finally happened – a valuable experience and great recipe system that tasted fantastic….that I’m never going to use again. Ever.

Everyone deserves chocolate. The people skilled enough to work with it on a regular basis have always received volumes of respect from me. Primarily because, per usual, I’m petrified of messing up an expensive ingredient.

There’s a chocolate shop by the wonderful Jonathan Graham within walking distance of our apartment that we frequent much more often than we should. We try to go whenever a newly developed flavor gets advertised on Twitter or Instagram because we’re stereotypical twenty-something with an extreme reliance on social media.

On one of these excursions, I fell into conversation with Chef Graham himself. We chatted about the usual Wonka things: how his pine-nut truffle surprised my palate, why Scharffen Berger chocolate’s 70% cacao dark is delicious even though it almost burns the tongue because it’s so bitter….and my fear of working with various weighed forms of sugar, butter, cream, and other sweet mix-ins. I’m no world-renowned chocolatier, as I was soon to discover, but I agreed to try making truffles.

Per always when I’m intimidated with dessert-related things, I took to Twitter to contact Johnny Iuzzini. Holy cow, this man’s social media accounts are a security-blanket gold mine for people having sweet-toothed troubles. Soccer moms with upcoming bake sales, sexy singles hoping to catch his eye with provocative comments, culinary students wanting to follow in his footsteps, and now my dog-and-pony show all constantly seek his words of wisdom. As always, I was hugely grateful for a prompt response.

My second attempt at making the ganache was extremely successful, thanks to his advice. The final truffles had a great texture and decadent, luxurious flavor.

A Sydney-Proof Guide to Truffle-Making:

Chop 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate.

Per the successful instructions of Johnny Iuzzini: Bring 1 cup of heavy cream to a simmer over medium heat. Add the chocolate to the cream in three parts, stirring from the center with a rubber spatula. Once the chocolate and cream are completely mixed, melted, and emulsified, finish with 1 tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt.

Flavor the ganache by whisking in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract OR 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract with 1/2 teaspoon almond, orange, mint, raspberry, or cherry extract.

Mix peanuts, almonds, Nutella, or shredded coconut into the ganache, if desired. I chose Nutella, because it tastes like spoonfuls of lust in between love-making sessions.

(Note: For any sort of flavor resulting from liquid….i.e. espresso, tea, brandy, bourbon, rum, Grand Marnier….this will need to be mixed/infused into the cream to taste, brought to a simmer, then strained before re-simmering and starting the first step of mixing cream with chocolate. No one said this was a quick process, people.)

Stir the ganache until smooth and shiny. Refrigerate for three hours to overnight until firm.

Once the ganache is firm, use a tablespoon to roll into balls. Roll these proto-truffles in: cocoa powder, crushed nut brittle, crushed toffee bars, crushed cookies, shredded coconut, or chopped toasted nuts.

Once the truffles are coated, refrigerate or freeze until firm.

So why am I ending my fling with truffles? Well…..I’m not always one for instant gratification. Slow, steady, and sensual is a phenomenal way to go. I just didn’t have the patience to sit around and wait for these damn things to solidify. The multiple steps….stress over the ganache texture….I’m not sure if it was one or multiple things that turned me off.

Life must go easy on us, and our food. If you’re blessed with patience or an extreme love of chocolate, this won’t seem like too much of a commitment. Please ride with your truffles into the sunset. I will happily support your union…..from the Godiva counter.

It’s Not Just For Soup Anymore: Miso Ganache

Before I started driving myself to high school, I looked forward to foggy or rainy days.

But not because I was about to meet Ted Mosby and have his children.

Foggy and rainy days meant Mom “surprising” me with a thermos of miso soup to eat in the car on the way to school. We never talked much, since I insisted on listening to the local radio station’s morning show. I should have asked her for the recipe. I still can’t make miso soup as well as my mother. The thought of making another type of signature miso dish never occurred to me until I came across the phrase “miso ganache” in a “Food and Wine” magazine article.

Fascinating.

I had a movie-worthy moment of Spock logic. I have no idea why it sounded so appealing. As I’ve said numerous times, desserts intimidate me. I realize there are humans I could speed-dial or Tweet with recipe anxiety….but this only had three ingredients.

For those of you who think they’ve heard the word “ganache” before, but aren’t quite certain you’re thinking about the right thing: ganache is a sauce made from chocolate and cream. It’s usually used as a base for truffles, cake filling, or icing. In this case, it’s the sauce itself as an extremely delicious topping for ice cream.

Don’t think the combination of miso and chocolate sounds strange, either. Miso is salty. Chocolate is sweet.

I won’t clarify more, because you’ll think I’m over-justifying. Just try it.

Miso Ganache

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup HOT heavy cream – bring to temperature in a small saucepan
  • 3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate – chopped
  • 1 tablespoon awase miso – “Mixed” miso, for those of you who don’t regularly frequent Japanese markets
  • Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

This is incredibly simple. If you blink, you’ll miss the instructions.

Pour the hot heavy cream over the chocolate and LET STAND for 1 minute. Don’t touch it. Don’t mix it. Don’t stir it.

Whisk in the miso until the consistency of the ganache is smooth.

Serve over ice cream.

I told you it was quick.

Fast. Messy (because you’ll smear it all over your face in provocative, delicious manner. Divine.

“Bark” Desserts Aren’t Only for Cold Weather

I grew up in Northern California, and consequently have huge appreciation for Ghiradelli and Scharffen Berger chocolate. I’ve toured the factories, looked up the histories of their processes, and always buy their respective peppermint barks when bagged versions hit stores in Los Angeles for the winter holiday season.

I’m not entirely certain who I was trying to fool with that above sentence, but the truth is, I eat peppermint and mint ice cream/frozen yogurt as often as I can get it all year. So why not peppermint bark? Why not orange bark? It’s delicious, and ridiculously easy to make.

Remember, this is coming from someone who believes she is genetically conditioned against making dessert. Below is an accurate visual reference of what usually occurs when I consider baking.

This week, peppermint bark has turned my heart into a melted puddle of unicorn rainbow joy.

My Dad is a big on dark chocolate/orange things. Mr. Right (or rather, his entire family) enjoys the peppermint bark that mixes white and semi-sweet chocolate. So this one goes out to all the badass men in my life who make it seem like the holiday season year-round.

FYI: Writing this post was also a great excuse to create a Pandora Holiday station.

Peppermint Bark

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate – if you buy a baking bar, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Peppermint Extract
  • 1 pound white chocolate – once again, cut into 1/2-inch pieces if you buy a baking bar
  • Candy Canes or Peppermint Candies (Crushed) OR your grocery store may sell peppermint pieces by the jar…but this takes away from the therapeutic nature of smashing this ingredient yourself

Line a baking sheet with foil – shiny side up.

Time to make the classic chocolate-melting double-boiler: Heat one inch of water in a saucepan until steaming and make sure whatever bowl you’re going to melt the chocolate in is nonreactive (i.e. glass) and can wedge in the top of the saucepan without the bottom of the bowl touching the water. – DON’T let any water get into the chocolate. I’m serious. This will kill the flavor of the chocolate, and that’s a buzz-kill party foul.

I now provide you with a guide to tempering chocolate that’s so easy to accomplish that my fears of working with chocolate have become permanently alleviated.

Sydney, what the f**k does tempering chocolate mean?

I’m so glad you asked.

Tempered chocolate is what non-pastry-chef earthlings like me inadvertently associate with professional chocolate products and desserts. Chocolate that has gone through the tempering process has a smooth texture and look, with a shiny finish. When you break it into pieces, it snaps crisply and cleanly. In other words – you eat with your eyes first, and tempered chocolate provides that.

Back to your recipe – it’s time to melt (and temper) the chocolate you’re working with.

Separate about 3/4 cup of the semisweet chocolate. Place the rest into the nonreactive/heatproof bowl you’ll be melting the chocolate in. Set the bowl over the saucepan of steaming water and stir until about one-third of the chocolate in the bowl melts.

Now, remove the bowl from the heat. The bowl has already heated enough to melt all of the chocolate. Stir in the reserved chocolate until melty goodness is achieved. If you need to, return the bowl to above the saucepan of steaming water for more heat power (but I doubt you’ll need to.)

Your chocolate is melted and tempered! Does it look shiny and pretty? Good. If not, you’ll get it next time.

Stir 3/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract into the chocolate and pour onto the foil-lined baking sheet. Spread it out evenly with a spatula or back of a spoon. Tap the sheet on your countertop a few times to get rid of any bubbles. Let sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes (i.e. while you’re preparing the white chocolate.)

Put aside about 1 cup of the white chocolate, then dump the rest into a new nonreactive bowl (or be lazy about dishes like me and wash/dry the bowl you just used to melt the semisweet chocolate.) Repeat same melting process used above. Stir in 3/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract once fully melted, tempered, and pretty.

Pour the melted white chocolate over the semisweet chocolate and spread around evenly. (Some mixing of colors will probably occur here – don’t stress. It looks marbled and lovely.) Sprinkle with crushed peppermint.

Refrigerate for 1 hour or freeze for 30 minutes. When ready to serve, lift out of the foil and break into pieces.

Tidings of comfort and joy. No, really. I was actually unable to be sarcastic for a full hour after consuming this.

I realize I also promised you Orange Bark. I wanted to let you know that most dark chocolate is vegan….i.e. the Awesome Former Roommate and all your other vegan friends can consume this one with glee. Plus, dark chocolate is an antioxidant. So eat it and get happy, damn it.

To make orange bark:

Melt 1 and 1/2 pounds of dark chocolate using the double-boiler method described above. Set aside about 1 and 1/4 cups of the chocolate to stir in as described. Stir in 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of orange extract. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with foil shiny side up, spread evenly, and tap to get rid of any bubbles. Zest 1 orange over the top and sprinkle with sea salt. Refrigerate for 1 hour or freeze for 30 minutes. Break into pieces when ready to serve.

It’s enough to make me emotional.