These muffins–and muffins they be– are not an excuse to eat cake for breakfast. Not too sweet and with a pebbly-crunchy mouthfeel, they still hold a holiday-ishly decadent pizzaz with the very best bittersweet chocolate baked right into the bottom of the muffin. You can also add it at the top if a frosting effect is more to your liking (see Cook’s Notes), but I do very much like the little secret chocolate that’s perfectly hidden until you take your first bite. If you’ve been roaring on about trying not to eat all those goodies this month (waa, waa, waa), take heart; read on…
I’ve worked on Christmas Eve for many years, so our Christmas Eve dinner was always something like a soup I left in the crock-pot while I directed the choir at church. Or it might have been a made-ahead casserole like cassoulet that finished up in the oven while “Silent Night” was sung. One year I made a fish stew base early in the morning, heated it around 9pm, and threw in the seafood and fish for a few minutes until it had just cooked through. On a rare occasion we’d go out for dinner before the first service or in between services if I had to direct an 11 o’clock. (at left: PPUMC Choir, Minneapolis)
The first Friday of every month, I blog INA FRIDAYS (all Ina Garten recipes) with a great group of cooks. Scroll down nearly to the bottom to check out the list of blogs participating, then read up and cook some Ina this weekend! ♥♥♥
This post is dedicated to my friend Chaya and all those she loves.
Chocolate pudding. The words bring smiles to faces. Raised eyebrows. We picture kids with big chocolate smiles or toddlers with their fingers in the bowl, going straight from the high chair to the bathtub when the last of the pudding is gone. In the U.S. and maybe in quite a few other places, those words also bring to mind a box that looks something like this:
And I have no beef with that box, having opened it a time or two myself when my kids were little. In fact, it took a few years of cooking for me to realize that our simple box pudding was basically a bit quicker and not-so-rich version of pastry cream--in the vanilla flavor, I mean. Scratch, or homemade, pudding — pastry cream’s luscious, but spoonable poor relation — is worth the extra few minutes it takes to make; there’s no doubt. The chocolate version is, if possible, even better. (Click here for a bona fide Emeril chocolate pastry cream recipe. Scroll down for link to Ina’s pudding recipe.) Instead of having the sugar, cornstarch, and flavoring (vanilla extract or real chocolate) dried up in the box how many eons ago, you add them yourself, fresh, in two shakes of a stick.
To say that I’m well-fed is a nice way of putting things and is somewhat of an embarrassment. Dave insists I’m simply…well…maybe we needn’t go into it. Suffice it to say he doesn’t complain. (I love that man.)
Chocolate Begins Here….
|Chocolate, chocolate everywhere and lots of drops to drink.|
Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate. Christmas is chocolate. Sounds like a good song. And it’s just the fourth day of Christmas. Four calling birds. And so on. Until Epiphany…which can also go on.
The chocolate bark from our goodie tray this year is a bark that Dave had made for me for Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago. Truth to be told, his bark is better than mine. Candy maker, I’m not, though my toffee was to die for this year. (pat pat)
|This bark is at the top and center of the goodie tray. Gotta have chocolate on a holiday cookie platter.|
If you’re bringing a little goodie to the New Year’s Eve party, maybe you might want to try this sweet bark, which is tres lovely with a nice red. Of course, I favor Pinot Noir, but you might like a big Cabernet Sauvignon, a Zin or even an Italian red. No special dessert wine needed. Just have a little plate of this chocolate ready for dessert. If you have a neighbor drop by for coffee, this is just the thing to pull out. Make someone happy. This recipe came from the Food Network (courtesy Dave Lieberman), as do so many scrumptious things these days. There is hardly an easier dessert to make except perhaps to clean strawberries and arrange them in a bowl come summer. And that’s not really making dessert.
Dave’s Cranberry Almond Chocolate Bars with Tangerine Zest
1/2 c slivered almonds
3 cups chocolate morsels (I like 1/2 milk chocolate and 1/2 bittersweet)
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 tangerine, zested
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Line a 13×9″ baking pan with aluminum foil.
Lay out almond slivers on baking sheet. Bake in oven until light brown, shaking the baking pan occasionally to mix them around, about 10-15 minutes.
Melt the chocolate morsels in a double boiler over low heat. Mix in the cranberries, almond slivers and tangerine zest.
Pour into prepared pan. Smooth the chocolate mixture out into an even layer. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until hard, at least 1 hour. Use a knife to break up chocolate into jagged, varied sized bars.
Oh, I almost forgot this…Jen gets Emi’s Hair all beautiful for Christmas!
If you haven’t been here before, I occasionally teach cooking classes at home. Each class teaches a whole menu and each menu is focused upon a culture, country or culinary form. This is the second session of Cooking with Music-French and there were two students–mom and four-year-old daughter.
While August isn’t, perhaps, the very best time to learn how to bake quiche, it IS the very best time to learn how to make a great salad. And is anytime a bad time to learn how to make a pie crust? And, hey, the quiche tastes wonderfully for lunch. Chocolate mousse? Whenever. Here’s today’s bunch:
I added a few grains of sea salt to some of the cookies … Wow.
Our Book Club (no-name) meets the first Wednesday of every month. You pick your month by figuring out when you have time to clean your house and bake a couple of cookies or buy a bottle of wine. We’re kinda new at this; we just met for the third time. We seem to be growing by small increments, adding one new person each time. So far, we’re all women. Until now, we all lived in the same small up-on-the-mesa neighborhood. Last night we had a good friend of mine join; she lives in the north end of town. We agreed: when it’s time for her to host book club, she’ll rent my house. We don’t want to drive. The wine may have something to do with liking to walk. Perhaps this is a bit exclusive. I don’t think we care. Boy.
So last night was my night. The book was MY ANTONIA by Willa Cather. What a book. It sparked lots of conversation about life on the plains, immigrants, and our own nationalities and backgrounds. Maybe more than about the book itself. Two of us discovered that each has an American Indian grandparent. We all found out that one of us went to a one-room school house; her father went to the same school. Another still has a few words of German, even though her family came from Germany in the 1850’s. We now know who feels at home in Colorado Springs and who would rather be elsewhere.
We work it this way (so far): if you host, you choose the book for the next meeting. The library has an extensive collection of book club books and we’ve been able to find one each time and get free copies for everyone. Cool… and it’s accessible in lots of ways with a six-week check-out period.
Well, this is a food blog…so how about a little about the food? I served wine: a nice California zin (Cigarzin) and an Alsatian Pinot Gris (Helfrich) to accompany a little cheese spread that’s great for spring. Note: I heard “Giada” talk about this spread and remembered it–not original–except for the addition of black pepper.
Mix equal amounts goat’s cheese and ricotta. Add grated lemon rind and minced fresh basil to taste. Optional: a little fresh ground pepper on top. Serve with skinny, crispy crackers.
(I saw this made on the Food Network–Giada, I think. I don’t know if there’s a real recipe.)
I also served coffee and some sweet little cookies. These are a riff on a cookie from Ina Garten’s BAREFOOT CONTESSA PARTIES, and Ina got the recipe from Eli Zabar. Hmph. Cookbooks bring people together; never doubt it. Here’s how I did it:
BOOKCLUB COOKIES (Tiny shortbreads dripped, no–dipped! in chocolate)
3/4 # butter, unsalted (3 sticks) at room temp
1 c white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 t salt
3.5-4.5 oz dark chocolate (I like Valrhona Guanaja; you can try orange Lindt as well)
1/4 c sea salt, optional
Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar for 2 minutes until light and fluffly. Add vanilla; beat 30 seconds. Mix salt (yes, it’s really only 1/4 t) into the flour and beat together with the butter-sugar mixer until the dough holds together well. Dump dough onto counter and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill 30 min.
*Preheat oven to 350F. Remove dough from refrigerator.
*Roll the dough out 1/4-1/2″ thick (your choice). Cut out with 2″ fluted cookie cutters and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake about 15-20 min, depending on thickness. Cookies should remain fairly pale, but are done when they just begin to brown around the edges. Cool on racks.
*Melt chocolate by placing in a deep, microwave proof small bowl, covered with a plate. Microwave on low for about 2 minutes. Stir; heat a little more if required. Note: some people would rather melt chocolate in a double boiler. If you’d like to do that, bring a small pan of water to simmer and place a pan with the chocolate on top of the pan with water. Make sure the chocolate bowl doesn’t touch the water. Let chocolate melt slowly, stirring often until completely melted.
*Set out large cookie sheets or platters (2-3) and line with waxed paper. Take a totally cooled cookie and dip its edge into the melted chocolate. Let drip (you can wave it a little) a second or two and carefully place it on the waxed papered tray to cool and harden. Add a couple of grains of sea salt if desired. Repeat (this is time consuming) until all of the cookies are done. Let sit just like that 2-3 hours until chocolate is solid. Store covered with wax paper between layers.
*You can also choose to leave the cookies plain, in which case they will keep longer–for weeks.
Sing a new song; bake a new cookie; read a new book; get to know your friends better….
TWO-DOG KITCHEN –up again. Sorry if you missed it!
Sue knew she was coming for several weeks and said, “The only thing I want is a big chocolate cake; I’ve just seen that new Meryl Streep movie, ‘It’s Complicated.” Well, Sue doesn’t really eat much chocolate. Ever. I didn’t know what to do with the request and I hadn’t seen the movie. I make killer chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and, once when I sent some for her birthday, she took them to the office and told me, “You know I don’t hardly eat chocolate.” And now she wants a chocolate cake? Too weird.
Anyway, I absolutely LOVE chocolate cake. Seldom make it because my husband is not a chocolate eater. Though he, too, seems to be coming around. Hmm. Once, when I was staying at Sue’s, we stopped at a sweet cafe for dessert and I happily waded through a huge piece of multi-layer dark madness because I just never get any at home and, truly, most restaurants don’t have good dessert. (So sad……….)
So what kind of a chocolate cake was I going to make? I had made a Chocolate-Hazelnut torte for Thanksgiving. One of those deep, murky, thick and seemingly heavy, but sweetly light, melting things made in the springform pan. Almost no flour. Great for gluten-free. Basically ground hazelnuts (which made the “flour”) and melted oh-so-fine Callebaut bittersweet chocolate. I thought I’d see a rerun of that cake. Ooooo. Did I really have a reason to recreate it? I was in heaven.
This particular confection is not French, but Italian, and is called…………….
Torta Gianduja ( as I tell my students, “Anything in Italian sounds good to eat!”)
and the recipe had come from COOKS ILLUSTRATED ITALIAN FAVORITES. Since I’m now testing recipes from COOKS, I was even happier to try it all again and see how it went. Their recipes are amongst the very well-tried and true resources for serious cooks. If you ever use them, you’ll see the difference.
I had no memory of the time involved to make this cake. I had made it a few days before Thanksgiving because the recipe indicated “can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for several days.” Who wouldn’t do that at holiday time? Besides, I wasn’t even cooking Thanksgiving dinner last year; I was just filling in the holes for a dinner my friend, and phenomenal cook, Tony was making. I could take my time and make the few dishes I was responsible for…at my leisure. Oh joy. NO timetable really. But, as I began to put things together this time, I realized this was time-consuming. Not terribly, but somewhat. So, I warn you. This involves slowly melting chocolate; don’t try the microwave for this one, though I otherwise recommend it for chocolate. It takes 15 minutes to roast the hazelnuts the first time around and then you have to towel, towel, towel them to get the skins off. You must then roast them a second time. This is if you have bought SHELLED hazelnuts and I usually buy nuts in the shell for something like this–just to insure freshness. Nothing worse than stale nuts. If you shell the nuts, that’s another half-hour or more if your hands aren’t in great shape. You’re beginning to get the picture. So, leave an hour and a half for making this cake. It took me two hours because three people called in the middle of the prep and the puppy had to go out oh, twice. Big breath. Definitely worth the effort. Not something you make every week, is it? So, here’s the cake I made…huge thanks to COOKS’
CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT CAKE
SERVES 8 EASILY
8 T unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for the pan
6 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
At fifteen minutes beforehand, I may decide on another dish to serve and begin it. “Oh, I have lemons, limes and oranges (and leftover wine), I can make sangria!” There are two small pieces of cheese left and a big hunk of goat’s cheese, let’s make a cheese spread.” And so on. Or, “Vacuum!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” If you have dogs like retrievers or Great Pyrenees (see Rocket below), you can’t clean the sofas or vacuum until five minutes before anyone comes. You’d like them to taste the food, not the fur. Putht, Putht (sound of your guests trying to get hair out of their mouths.)
You try and remember to say “Beige or jeans only,” but you forget after awhile and, truly, people like to choose their own party attire.
He also has views like this —
Photos courtesy R. Saunders.
While we enjoyed all of the food (brisket is another blog), the highlight seemed to be the brownies. Now, Mary Pat, despite my urging, refused to choose her birthday dessert. When that happens, I don’t know what to do! Chocolate is my answer, but I did end of up making three bars (see leftovers below) so folks had a choice. Not everyone likes chocolate (hard to believe, but true).
They do not keep well; store them tightly wrapped in the frig for a day or so and, still, they will just be incredibly better on the day you made them. Do not make ahead; do not freeze. Give away instead. Did I say that? These are VERY fast to make; they are all you ever wanted of chocolate, loved ones. A one-bowl wonder.
Make the time.
Brownie Pie a la Mary Pat
12 smallish servings, 8 for real big chocolate fans
frosting: see separate recipe below
Spray with PAM a 9-10 quiche/tart/pie pan (I like the 9.5×2” Corningware quiche dish) and set aside.
In small skillet ( remember this is optional), toast nuts, over medium heat, stirring often, for about 4 minutes, taking care not to burn them. Set aside.
In large covered * glass bowl or measuring cup, melt in microwave (take out and stir halfway through/repeat for extra 10 seconds as needed) for 1-2 minutes. I do this on HIGH, but sometimes use my cool microwave setting for melting chocolate, which takes longer.
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
10 2/3T unsalted butter
Set aside to cool for a couple of minutes, stirring to make sure chocolate is well-melted and incorporated into butter. To this mixture, add and stir well:
2 c granulated sugar
4 beaten eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1 ¼ c unbleached white flour
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 c chopped, toasted (if desired) walnuts or pecans
Spread a decent layer—half-way up the sides- in the brownie pie pan. You’ll have some batter left that you can bake in another small, sprayed dish. I use a baby loaf pan. (Your secret stash.) Wash the glass container you mixed this in; you’ll need it for the frosting.
Bake them about 25 minutes. They are done not when a toothpick comes out clean—forget that—but when they are almost solid in the middle and the brownies are drawing away from the sides of the pan. Underdone is better than overdone. Who wants burned chocolate. I know, I know, you like crusty brownies, don’t you. Well, then go ahead and ruin your little batch. Leave the rest barely done.
Cool the pans on a rack. When cool, make the frosting. Now, this is a bit of a stuff to do, but, trust me, it’s worth every minute.
Brownie Pie Frosting(take off of “Glossy Chocolate Frosting” from B. C.)
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 c powdered sugar
¼ t salt
1/3 c milk
1 t vanilla
In large glass measuring cup or bowl, melt chocolate with butter in microwave. You do not need a double boiler. God has been very good here. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Ok, taste it. Place this bowl over a larger pan 1/3 full of water with lots of ice. Beat the frosting with a whisk until it’s thickened. Spread thickened mixture on the brownie pie and your little stash pan, too. Lick bowl well. (Do this when no one else is home so you needn’t share. After all, they get to eat the brownies later.) Let pie sit with frosting for at least 15 minutes (if you can wait). Cut into 8-12 servings depending on number of guests and hunger.
Here’s lookin‘ at you, kid—-
My cookies: I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t make these cookies, but it has, perhaps, been only 25 years. I don’t know where the recipe came from, but it may have been from an oatmeal box. I keep looking at new oatmeal boxes, though, and, as things like that go, it’s not there… so I’m not sure. Over the years, of course, the recipe has developed; it can be modified to fit your favorite ingredients, as well.