Posts Tagged ‘Chocolate’

Crowd Pleasing

Well now this is just embarrassing.  Another chocolate post?  Have I no shame?  I looked at my Recipes page and about one third of the dessert recipes up there involve chocolate.  This from a woman who doesn’t crave chocolate.

My excuse?  Chocolate is a crowd pleaser.  If you show up at a dinner party with a cheesecake or a blueberry pie, there’s a chance someone in the crowd doesn’t like cheesecake or has a “thing” about blueberries (for the record, these people mystify me).

But bring something chocolate, and people will swoon.  And, in my book, if you go through the effort of making dessert, you want people to swoon.  So, like a guy to his favorite t-shirt, I come back to chocolate again and again.

I baked these cookies over Memorial Day to accompany an ice cream sundae bar my mom put together.  They are the perfect sidekick: small enough that no one will feel guilty grabbing one to go with a sundae, yet so addictive that people will ending going back for more.

Technically, these are cookies, but they almost have the consistency of a brownie: slightly cakey, rich and bursting with chocolate flavor.  In other words, crowd pleasers par excellence.



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Peace Offering

Well, it’s official: I am the worst.  I make all these promises (“I’ll be better about blogging!” “I’m back!” “I won’t be a total lame-ass anymore!”), and then I break them pretty much immediately.  It’s no wonder my readership on this blog has plummeted.

To my five remaining readers: I am really, really sorry.

I was going to post a recipe for sweet pea crostini, or the multigrain muffins I made recently, but no.  I could not post a semi-healthy recipe as a peace offering.  Unacceptable.  Peace offerings should involve sugar.  And cream.  And chocolate.

So instead, I offer you this chocolate-hazelnut cake: a moist chocolate cake filled with a milk chocolate/hazelnut cream and coated in a bittersweet chocolate glaze.

Let the groveling commence.

I’m not going to make outlandish claims for this cake, but it will win you new friends, elicit marriage proposals and bring about world peace.  Just sayin’.

In fact, it was such a hit at my friend’s dinner party that several guests demoted their prevailing “all-time favorite” desserts and moved this cake into the top spot.  Whoa.

So, if you think you could forgive me and my slack blogging, I was hoping — maybe — we could kiss and make up.  What do you think?  Not sure?  Why don’t you give this cake a try, and maybe then you’ll give me a second chance.  (more…)

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I know what you’re thinking: Another chocolate recipe?  From a woman who claims she doesn’t love chocolate?  Just look at the number of chocolate desserts on this site.

Well.  I don’t know what to say, other than to insist that although I’m adding another chocolate dessert to the recipe catalog, I am not a chocoholic.  I swear.

As I’ve explained, it’s not that I dislike chocolate; it’s just that I don’t crave it all the time. However, there are some days that demand it, where nothing — nothing — but chocolate will do. Today it is cold and rainy, my husband is out of town (and potentially heading to India), and I have a nasty case of stomach cramps. Today is a day for chocolate.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pop Cat on a Hot Tin Roof into my DVD player and curl up on the couch with a blanket and some hot cocoa. In the meantime, make this recipe. You won’t be sorry.



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In With the Old…

The motto this time of year seems to be, “Out with the old, in with the new.” Fair enough, but there are some “old things” worth holding on to, if you ask me. I mean, I think we’re all pretty pleased that the leisure suit died in the 1970s, never to return. But other innovations are timeless, no matter when they first appeared.

Choc velvet

I feel that way about recipes. Sure, there are some recipes so trendy, so gimmicky, and so overdone that after a year or two, the public smacks a huge “Out” stamp on it and christens a new dish as being “In” (helloooo molten chocolate cake…). It’s not that those dishes aren’t good; it’s just that they somehow seem to identify so strongly with the zeitgeist of a certain era that people see them as “passé.”

But there are other recipes that, no matter when they first appeared, are just good. Tarte Tatin dates back to 1889, but I would still stab someone with my fork for that last, caramelized bite. And I don’t even know who made the first chocolate layer cake and when, but I do know that the best old-fashioned chocolate cake recipe I’ve ever made appeared in Gourmet in 1999.

Slice of mousse

In my family, we have lots of those recipes, from various decades and sources. This chocolate mousse charlotte is one of them. My mother first made it in 1981, when it appeared in the October issue of Bon Appetit. That’s right. October — 1981. And since then, she and I, our aunts, friends and neighbors have all made it countless times. Why? Because it’s good. Really good.

Admittedly, in an earlier era, I had a much easier time finding soft ladyfingers, which made this an easy go-to dessert. Were French ladyfingers a trend of the past? Maybe. These days, I’ve found that I need to make the ladyfingers myself, making this less “no-fuss,” but no less delicious.


So as we move into 2008, I will gladly watch the world dispose of certain things (can we please, please be finished with Paris Hilton?). But I’ll always hold this recipe dear, no matter what year it is.


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Do you like Nutella? Oh, good. You’re human.

I can honestly say that, with the exception of people with nut allergies, I have never met a person who dislikes Nutella. Sure, not everyone loses his or her mind over its chocolatey hazelnut goodness, but I can’t think of a single person who has tasted it and said, “Ew.”

Gianduia mousse cake 3

I, for one, do go crazy for the stuff, and my boyfriend loves Nutella even more than I do. In fact, when I need a jar of it for baking, I’ve considered hiding it from him. He’s a big boy, but even the mighty Odysseus had trouble resisting the Sirens… And as it turns out, the man responsible for this addictive spread that my boyfriend and I adore may be none other than Mr. Napoleon Bonaparte.

Chocolate hazelnut paste, historically called gianduia and today marketed as Nutella, dates back to the mid-1800s in Piedmont, when chocolate had become a rare commodity in Europe. Napoleon had imposed a continental block in 1806, which made it impossible to import chocolate from South America and made local chocolate extremely expensive. So a man named Michele Prochet came up with the idea to make chocolate go further by adding chopped hazelnuts, grinding the hazelnuts into the cocoa to form a paste. The confection was officially given a name in 1865 at a carnival in Turin, taking the name of Gianduia after a carnival character representing the archetypal Piedmontese.

Gianduia mousse cake 2

And, man, something about that combination of chocolate and hazelnuts is completely irresistible. Mr. Prochet, I lust after your creation.

Consequently, I’ve been on a quest to find a dessert that tastes like a big slice of Nutella. With an entire jar of Nutella and almost a cup of hazelnut butter, this Gianduia Mousse Cake nearly does it. The cake is d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. But I still want a more pronounced hazelnut flavor, so next time I will probably add some Frangelico to the cake and use hazelnut oil when making the hazelnut butter.

So merci, Monsieur Bonaparte. Without your obstructions, who knows when we would have perfected the chocolate hazelnut confection that makes this dessert possible.

Gianduia mousse cake


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I have a confession to make.  You may find it shocking, but here it is:

I don’t crave chocolate.

I know.  Unthinkable.  Some of you probably just closed this window, never to return.  At least allow me to explain the genetics that gave rise to this deficiency.

Growing up, my father was surrounded by chocolate fanatics: his siblings, his parents, every relative within a 50-mile radius.  When it came to dessert, my grandmother’s attitude was, “If it’s not chocolate, why bother?”  It could be chocolate-flavored dust and she wouldn’t care; it was chocolate.

And yet when presented with the choice of, say, chocolate or vanilla ice cream, my father would unfailingly choose vanilla.

My grandparents were baffled.  How could this be?  What kind of strange creature had they brought into the world?  Sure, he was a straight-A student and destined to become a doctor, but then there was…this.  My father, the vanilla sheep of the family.

And then one day he met my mother, who inexplicably also favored vanilla over chocolate.

“Imagine that,” my grandmother would tell her friends.  “He found someone out there just like him!”

So I’m working with a stacked deck here.  Don’t get me wrong: I love chocolaty things.  Nothing beats a thick, moist slice of chocolate cake or warm, gooey brownies.  And clearly I have a thing for chocolate pudding.

But sit me in a restaurant and throw a dessert menu in front of me, and nine times out of 10 I will make a non-chocolate choice.  I really, really like chocolate; I just don’t crave it.

Bete Noire

I do realize, however, that I’m in the minority on this one and that some people hold fast to my grandmother’s “if-it’s-not-chocolate-why-bother” mantra.  So when my boyfriend and I had friends over this Friday, I decided to succumb to popular demand and make a chocolate dessert — a notable concession, since I had just made chocolate pudding the week before, which would do me on the chocolate front for a while.

I decided to go with the Kate Zuckerman’s Chocolate Bête Noire, a flourless chocolate cake that is one of the most intense chocolate desserts out there (they don’t call it the “black beast” for nothing).  I guess I figure go big or go home.

This recipe is perfect for a dinner party because the batter can be made up to three days in advance and thrown into the oven just before your guests come.  The result is a slightly warm, dense and creamy explosion of chocolate flavor, made more complex by the addition of a vanilla bean (adding stock to my belief that the addition of a vanilla bean will make anything taste better).

The chocolate lovers groaned with delight.  I must admit, although I tend to find flourless chocolate cakes overwhelmingly rich, this one went down easy — maybe a little too easy, given the second slice I cut for myself and a few others…

My grandmother would unquestionably give this dessert her stamp of approval — and possibly a standing ovation.  But always my father’s daughter, I couldn’t help myself: I served it with a fat scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream.  Genetics be damned.

Bete noire with ice cream


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When you think of controversial words in the foodie lexicon, pudding probably isn’t one of them. Foie gras and trans fat? Sure. Pudding? Not so much.

But in my circle of friends, the term sparked a postprandial debate that – I think we all can agree –probably lasted too long. It all started one night when my South African friend Richard hosted a dinner party for a group of us, a mix of Americans, Brits, South Africans and continental Europeans.

As we finished our meal and began clearing the plates, Richard waved us back in our chairs. “Don’t get up, there’s pudding!”

Now, the visual image that immediately popped into my mind was a bowl of thick, creamy, custard-like deliciousness – the kind of thing that would put a big, fat grin on Bill Cosby’s face.

This was not to be.

Out came Richard with a pint of ice cream and a bowl of fruit. What was this? Was he hoping the ice cream would melt…and turn into pudding?

Almost in unison, all of the Americans at the table said, “I thought you said we were having pudding?”

The non-Americans looked confused. “We are. Here it is.” They went on to explain that in the countries where they were raised, pudding refers to any sweet concoction that follows a meal.

After much heated debate, we decided to put the issue to rest by agreeing to disagree: the Americans held strong to their custard-like notions of pudding, and the international contingent stood by their contention that pudding is merely a synonym for dessert.

Well, it turns out we were both right…and we were both wrong.

(Nerd alert: In a totally nerdy frenzy, I decided to look into the history of pudding… Scroll to the bottom if you want to skip the mini history lesson…)

After doing a little research on the subject, I found that the world’s first puddings were really more like sausages (the word pudding itself is derived from the Latin word for sausage) and were savory, not sweet. Even Medieval puddings were mostly meat-based.

Somewhere around the 17th century, sweet puddings entered the picture along side savory ones, consisting mostly of flour, nuts and sugar boiled in special “pudding bags.” By the late 18th century, cooks had phased out savory puddings, and by the 19th century puddings began to resemble cake, although they were still boiled.

So when did what we Americans call “pudding”begin to resemble custard, a separate European phenomenon with a similarly lengthy history?

I couldn’t find a very clear answer for this, but it looks like the two separate histories became sort of jumbled in the mid-19th century. At that time, an English chemist named Alfred Bird developed “custard powder,” a derivative of cornstarch, which allowed cooks to thicken foods – especially custards – with something other than eggs. Americans went crazy for it.

So at the turn of the century, food companies latched onto the custard powder/cornstarch phenomenon and started promoting custards and puddings as health foods, and it looks like that’s where pudding and custard converged. Jell-o and Royal started marketing “quick” custards and puddings for their health benefits (funny to think of chocolate pudding as health food, eh?), and the modern American pudding industry was born. By the 1930s you could get pudding mixes at almost any grocery store.

The British phenomenon of calling any dessert a “pudding” probably stems from the 18th or 19th century and at this point has just become a colloquialism.

Bottom line? The history of pudding is convoluted, and you can get away with calling a host of things by that name – some sticky, some figgy, others made with bread or rice. And as long as it tastes good, what’s in a name, anyway?

But all this pudding talk stirred up a craving for what I have called pudding all my life. And whether you’re American, British, South African, French or any other nationality, I think you’ll agree this recipe is delicious. (more…)

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