January 31, 2013

Polenta Chocolate Cake

Robin, 9 January 2013, “Varieties of Short”

8 oz dark chocolate, preferably G&B’s own either 70% or—recommended—the blow-your-socks-off 85% cocoa solids dark chocolate, which is intense.  I find it a little too intense for plain eating but the sock-blowing thing happens when you bake with it.

125g (4 ½ oz) good quality slightly salted butter

5 large eggs, separated

150g (5 oz) granulated sugar.  The original recipe calls for caster, which is finer-grained.  I like granulated, which seems to me to leave a faint residue of grittiness even after baking, although I may be hallucinating this.

100g (3 ½ oz) polenta.  Again, the original recipe stipulates fine.  In my experience this cake doesn’t really rise anyway, it falls.  It’s going to be gooey and sticky whatever you do.  I like the slight grittiness of not-quite-fine polenta.  All those eggs will stop it from being heavy, so if you like gritty, go for not-quite-fine.  I also prefer yellow to white.  This may also be hallucination but I think the yellow has a stronger flavour.

The original recipe also calls for rum.  Feh.  I like rum, in its place, but this isn’t its place.  I use about two tsps of good vanilla—and I haven’t posted a recipe in a while, but you all remember my doodah about GOOD vanilla, right?  None of this vanilla flavouring scam.  Get the real thing.

The original recipe tells you to butter and flour a 10” deep-sided springform cake tin.  I don’t.  This is going to be STICKY so I want it shallow so I can get it out better.  Springform is fine but I don’t think they make shallow springform?  Dunno.  But you could have chocolate-polenta goo all over your counter if you took the sides off too soon.  I use an ordinary big flat cake tin, butter and flour it AND THEN line with parchment paper and butter and flour again.

Melt the chocolate and butter in your bain-marie, let cool, vigorously beat in egg yolks one at a time, and then beat in about half the sugar.  It should be so gorgeously thick and creamy you have trouble not saying ‘bag the polenta’ and eating it as is.

Beat the egg whites with the rest of the sugar.  You want it as airy as possible but as I say, this cake is going to fall so don’t kill yourself over this.

Stir the polenta and vanilla into the chocolate mixture.

Finally ‘fold in’ the egg whites as the cookbooks always say, like this is going to work. You do want to preserve as much of the air and structure as possible, but it is going to collapse, so don’t let this disturb you.  Stir gently, till it’s shiny and homogenous.

Pour, still gently, into the cake pan, smooth the top, and bake at 350F/180C.  The original recipe says 40 minutes, but it’s supposing a deep-sided pan.  Because I am a twit, I have not written down how long I expect it to take.  I’d guess about half an hour.  It will change colour and look like it’s trying to turn into a cake . . . but as I say, think sticky.  Then take it out of the oven and let sit FOR A VERY LONG TIME.  Unless you want chocolate-cornmeal soup.  Not that this is a bad thing.  It WILL SINK as it cools.  Not to worry.

Dust it with icing sugar.  Then cut it up kindly and patiently into squarish globs.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Robin, 20 Sept 2011, ‘Announcement’

¼ c soft butter. I did once make these with all peanut butter and mysteriously it wasn’t as successful. The straight butter brings out the peanut flavour somehow—as well as producing a better crumb—or again it may have been that particular jar/batch of peanut butter. Peanut butter isn’t as variable as honey, but it’s surprisingly variable nonetheless, especially, I suspect, if you decant it from giant vats at your health food shop, which I used to do, when I had a health food shop with giant peanut-butter vats. The original recipe called for equal amounts of butter and peanut butter, however, which I don’t approve of either. This is about the peanut butter. Well, and the chocolate.**

½ c chunky peanut butter. This may need adjusting depending on how squidgy your peanut butter is. But stand by to add more flour if the dough is very soft and goopy.***

1 c well tamped down dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract (NOT FLAVOURING. That hellgoddess obsession: use REAL VANILLA.)

2 c flour. I recommend half standard white and half spelt. They make white spelt now, if you can get hold of it. When I was still making these you could only get wholemeal spelt, and you could push up the percentage to about ¾ spelt, but you need a little plain white to lighten the texture. I’d try it with wholemeal and white spelt. The spelt flavour goes really well with the peanut butter.

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

1 c chopped dark chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips

I’ve been known to add ½c chopped hazelnuts. No, not peanuts. Hazelnuts are more interesting, and to my taste they go with peanut butter better than most of the other standard nuts—almonds, walnuts, cashews. I bet Macadamias would be good too.

Cream butter and peanut butter together thoroughly, then brown sugar. Then beat in egg, finally vanilla. Beat AND BEAT till fluffy. Mix the baking powder and soda into the flour(s), stir till all the same colour, then add to the creamed stuff. Beat till blended but no more. Stir in chocolate chips last.

Drop on greased or parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets. 350°F, probably about 12 minutes, till they’re just going brown around the edges. They’ll be fragile when they come out, so leave them alone till they’re at least half cool. This is why I use parchment paper: you can just pull it, cookies still in place, off the sheets. Of course then you run out of counter space†, but hey.

Less (Almost) Instant Chocolate Gratification, But Still Pretty Fast

Robin, 21 Jan 2012, ‘Death-deflecting Chocolate’

10 oz dark chocolate

6 T butter

1 egg

½ tsp vanilla

1 c granulated sugar

1 ¼ c plain flour

½ tsp baking powder

Reserve about 2T of the sugar.

Melt chocolate and butter together and cool. Beat the egg, then beat in the sugar till light and pale. Add the chocolate mixture when it’s cool enough not to cook the egg** and the vanilla. Then add the flour. If it gets too stiff to stir easily, knead the rest in.

Break off bits of the dough and roll cookies into big round pebbles the size of walnuts. (I do this between my palms. Some people prefer a table.) Roll in the reserved sugar. Then space out on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. I squish them very lightly with a finger so they don’t roll around. They will not be pretty if they turn themselves from free electrons into molecule clumps. Ahem. You can get the lot on a single baking sheet, but use all the space, they do spread.

400° for 8-10 minutes. They crack all over.

They don’t take nearly as long to cool as the refrigerator bars do to set.

Red Velvet Cake

Robin, 9 Oct 2011, ‘Geography and Chocolate’

½ c soft butter

1 ½ c golden sugar:  the raw, low-refined kind that isn’t the pure white of standard granulated.  It doesn’t have as much flavour as brown, but more than white, and it’s mellower than dark brown (and more interesting than light brown.  Say I).

2 large eggs

1 tsp REAL vanilla

2 c flour, or maybe a little more

¼ c unsweetened non-Dutch-process ‘natural’ cocoa powder

pinch salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 c buttermilk, or 1 c milk minus 1T, plus 1T vinegar to sour it.  I’ve been told many times this is cheating, but it’s a lot easier than finding buttermilk and then figuring out something to do with the rest of it.  Theoretically, I think, if you’re using vinegar, it should be skim or low-fat milk—‘butter’ milk is a misnomer—but I always used to use whole/full fat because that’s what I drank, and it worked fine.  Most of that soured-milk stuff works semi-interchangeably in baking—I always thought—you get a slightly different taste and texture if it’s sour cream or yogurt, say, but if your ingredients, especially your chocolate, are good quality it’ll all be silky—or velvety—and damnably excellent.

Standard cake deal:  cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs.  Sift dry and add alternately with sour milk.  Beat hard, but don’t hang about either:  as soon as the vinegar hits the baking soda your batter starts expanding.  Turn into 2 8” or 9” round pans with removable bottoms which have first been buttered and floured with great enthusiasm and thoroughness.  (A greased and floured cut-out of parchment paper works just as well if you don’t have push-out-bottom pans.)  350°F about half an hour:  the layers should rise in the middle, and the edges start to pull away from the pan walls.  Let cool at least ten or fifteen minutes before you try and get them out of the pans.  I tend to think soured-milk cakes are more fragile than others, but that may just be my karma.

Frost when cool.  I recommend vanilla buttercream, myself, but as you like.

Sooty Cake

21 Aug 2010, Robin ‘Vote, vote, vote, vote, vote!!!!’.

125g butter

2 c plain flour

250 ml stout or porter: you want the darkest, richest beer you can find. The kind that has echoes on your tongue long after you’ve finished swallowing a mouthful. I live near the Best Pub in Hampshire and it makes a porter to die for. Except they don’t make it all the time. Sometimes you have to settle for draught Guinness.

2c dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/4c + cocoa: I use about 5T. You could try 6. I probably will the next time I make it.

1 tsp baking soda

Grease and flour an 8” cake pan with collapsible/detachable sides, although if you line it with parchment paper I’m sure you’d be fine with the solid kind. Heat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugar thoroughly. Add eggs one at a time, and beat furiously. It’s going to curdle the minute you add the beer, so you want it as homogenous as possible at this stage.

Blend cocoa with a little of the beer in a separate bowl to make a kind of runny paste, then beat the rest of the beer into the butter/egg mixture. Beat in about half the flour, then sprinkle the baking soda over with about half the remaining flour and beat all that in. Then beat in the beer-cocoa, and last the final one-quarter of the flour. Beer is variable, like so much else in life and baking, and if your batter seems excessively liquid, add some more flour. First time I made this it didn’t rise properly—or rather it rose and then fell in the middle—but it cooked through and tasted great and even the texture was fine. Once I cut it up (supposing you are a master at the craft of cutting up fallen cakes to not show their fallenness, which I am) no one would guess. Next time I made it I allowed myself to paranoiacally add about another ¼ c of flour, and it behaved itself, but beer varies, especially, I think, home-made beer from the Best Pub in Hampshire. You’ll get a finer crumb, the less flour you think you can get away with, but this isn’t necessarily a cake that needs to be very fine.

Pour into cake tin and bake for 60-70 minutes, till it’s risen but (you hope) fairly firm in the middle and pulling gently away from the sides of the pan. Let cool a good half hour before you even try to get it out of the pan.

It’s very good with Earl Grey tea (if you like Earl Grey. Good Earl Grey, not perfumed floor sweepings). Just by the way.

Iced Chocolate Cookies

30 Oct 2010, Robin ‘PEGASUS and Cake, continued’.

3 c sifted plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

pinch salt‡

½ c cocoa powder

½ c butter

1 c granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

½ c buttermilk or soured milk

Sift the dry and set aside, mush‡‡ the butter and sugar together, beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. Add half the sifted dry, beat, then the buttermilk, beat, then the rest of the dry. Beat hard. Drop on parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets: 350°F about 12 minutes. They’ll still be softish, but the bottoms will be firm. (They may also subside a little as they cool. Don’t worry.)

Before they cool completely, ladle some frosting on them. Quantities and texture are up to you. If you want them to be really decorative, make your icing thin enough to pour, put the cookies on a rack that will be easy to wash later, and pour over. Finish the job with grated chocolate (after they’ve finished cooling). I tend to prefer the less artistic but more graphic approach, which is to say lots of frosting. I usually use about 3T butter, 3c icing sugar, 4 T milk and 1 ½ tsp vanilla.

‡ I have mixed feelings about salt. It does heighten the chocolateyness of chocolate, but . . . salt is everywhere. Like sugar. And here we’re concentrating on the sugar. The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon salt. Good grief.

‡‡ The more you mush, which is to say cream, the smoother the eventual result. I find that beautifully thorough, cooking-school creaming is a bit wasted on cookies. It’s even more wasted on cookies that are about to be curdled by soured milk anyway. Cream enough to produce something relatively homogenous, and don’t sweat it.

Leftover-Christmas-Chocolate Bars

11 Feb 2011, Robin ‘Teeth, chocolate and bells’.

I realise that the concept of leftover chocolate is foreign to many of us, and once upon a time it would have been foreign to me too and at least mildly implausible to Peter. But that was Then. This is Now. Peter has mouth trouble and I have Post Menopausal Zero Metabolism. Meanwhile, however, we are notorious for loving chocolate, so people tend to give it to us. I do not wish to discourage this excellent habit. And furthermore now that I’ve invented Leftover-Christmas-Chocolate Bars I may have to arrange for leftover chocolate henceforth.†

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 13 x 9” pan

¾ c butter

1 ¾ c sugar

2 large eggs, room temp

1 ½ tsp REAL vanilla††

1 ½ c all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder††

½ c unsweetened cocoa powder

1 c chopped-up Leftover Chocolate. The point here is that it should be lots of different kinds. I had four or five different sorts plus some ginger fudge. Don’t chop too small or it’ll disappear in the baking.

Cream butter and sugar. I scrape with the spoon in my right hand and knead with my left. Better results sooner. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Then the dry stuff. Be sure everything is THOROUGHLY mixed. Then finally stir in the chopped-up chocolate.

Bake about half an hour. I started checking after about twenty minutes because there’s kind of a lot of chocolate involved and I wanted to make sure nothing untoward happened. It’ll still be slightly squidgy when you take it out, and I assume it’ll fall a little—mine did, but I was expecting it to. This is a sign of excellent chewy-squidginess-with-crunch-around-the-edges to come. I also wasn’t sure what the ginger fudge would do if it was baked so I sprinkled it over the top and put the pan back in the oven for five minutes, just to melt it enough to stick.

From a health and safety standpoint I have to admit these are not a great deal better than pure chocolate, but they are fearfully good. And they give you something to pass around during your handbell tea break.

Coconut Curry Fudge

SusieBirds in the Recipe Thread, October 9, 2010

Coconut Curry Fudge
(This was inspired partly by a post about fudge on the Passionate Homemaking blog, and partly by Theo Chocolate’s coconut curry chocolate bar.)

Suggested Cooking Instruments: Cuisinart or blender, muffin tin & papers or silicone muffin cups, double boiler set-up, whisk, measuring utensils, rubber spatula.


* 12T (1.5 sticks) butter at room temp
* 3/4C unsweetened cocoa powder
* 3/4C honey
* 1/2tsp vanilla
* 1/2tsp each curry powder, allspice, nutmeg
* 3/4C shredded coconut

1. Set up a double boiler (a pot with boiling water, on med and a bowl that fits on top of it) and melt 1 stick of butter in the top bowl. When the butter has melted, add in the cocoa, spices and vanilla, and whisk until completely combined and fluid

2. In the bowl of your food processor or blender, put the remaining butter (in cubes) and the honey, then add the melted chocolate mixture. Blend until fully combined, then add the shredded coconut. Process for a few moments until fully mixed and the coconut has been chopped into little bits.

3. Spoon the mixture into the baking cups, filling each about half full, and top them with a few shreds of coconut. I used silicone muffin cups, which are great since you can keep reusing them.

4. Place them in the freezer until they are solid enough to be removed from the cups (2-3 hours). The texture will be stretchy and flexible, not crumbly like many fudges. If you’re using paper liners, just peel them away. The silicone cups you can gently flip inside-out until the fudge pops out. The fudge rounds need to be kept slightly cooler than room temp (I kept them in the fridge until about 10 mins before serving), or they’ll get softer than ideal.

These are large (and rich) enough to be cut into smaller bits to serve more people. I think they’d be excellent rolled into balls and dipped into chocolate to make truffles or something, but that will have to wait for next time.

Oatmeal Fudge Bars

Sunshine Contest – Round 2, 14 Aug 10

Every time I make these, someone asks for the recipe. They’re a must have for any recipe “library.”

Oatmeal Dough
1 cup butter *
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
a pinch salt
3 cups of oatmeal

Chocolate Filling
12 oz semi-sweet or dark chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
14 oz can of sweetened-condensed milk**

Cream together wet ingredients (butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla.) In another bowl, mix together dry ingredients (cinnamon, flour, soda, salt, and oatmeal.) Slowly, add the dry to wet. Do not over mix. Spread 2/3rds of dough into the bottom of a 9 inch by 12 inch glass baking dish. In a double broiler, melt the chocolate and butter together. Then add sweetened-condensed milk to chocolate and stir until incorporated. Pour over dough in baking dish. Sprinkle remaining dough over chocolate layer and bake at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Makes two dozen.

*You may substitute half a cup of butter for half a cup of applesauce or mashed bananas.

**If you wish to make your own sweetened-condensed milk, heat 1 cup of evaporated milk with 1 and ¼ cups sugar in a saucepan. Stir until dissolved completely. You may also make your own evaporated milk by simmering milk in a saucepan until reduced to 60%.

Supermocha Black Holes – or Julie’s Chocolate-Espresso-Hazelnut Truffles

Sunshine Contest – Round 2, 14 Aug 10

This is most assuredly NOT something Sunshine would make at Charlie’s — they’re much too fiddly, and the kitchen is probably too hot to make tempering chocolate a reasonable proposition. But I learned these techniques during my year as a professional baker at a coffeeshop, and I’ve perfected the recipe over the past few years, so I bring it to you anyway, even though Sunshine might not approve.

1/2 cup of coarsely ground espresso-roast beans
1 cup heavy cream, plus about 1/2 cup more
8 oz. semisweet chocolate (in chips or in bar form)
8 oz. bittersweet (dark) chocolate
8 more oz. bittersweet chocolate (optional but recommended)
2 cups hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped (optional but also recommended)

For the truffle ganache:

In a small saucepan, stir together the half-cup of coarsely-ground espresso and the cup of heavy cream. Heat on the stovetop until the cream is just beginning to boil, then turn off the heat and let it steep for 30 minutes. Strain carefully through a sieve into a measuring cup, pressing the grounds with a spatula to get as much of the cream out as possible, then add more cream as needed to bring the level back up to one full cup.

In a glass bowl, combine 8 oz. semisweet chocolate and 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped. Heat the cream back up to a simmer, pour it over the chocolate, stir with a whisk until it’s all smooth, then pour into a wide, shallow vessel to cool and harden. I usually make these at Christmastime, when my kitchen is cold enough for the ganache to harden in a few hours if it’s sitting out on the countertop. If you want to speed up the process, you can put it in the fridge, though you should not let it get too hard or it’s difficult to work with.

When it’s hardened but still reasonably pliable, scoop out the ganache and roll it between your palms into bite-sized balls, as big or as small as you want — though you should remember that they’re quite dense and rich, so they don’t need to be too big. The faster you work, the less messy this step will be. Put the shaped truffles onto cookie sheets lined with parchment or wax paper, and chill them in the fridge to let them harden completely.

At this point you can just roll the truffles in cocoa powder and call them done, though you’ll have to store them in the fridge or they’re liable to get too soft. To make them stable at room-temperature, you have to…

Dip the truffles in tempered chocolate!

(dun dun dun)

This sounds scary, but it’s really not. All you need is a double boiler set-up, one of those metal-spike-style meat thermometers (not a candy thermometer), and some patience.

Here’s the low-down on tempering chocolate. If you just melt chocolate and dip things in it, it’s tasty, but the chocolate never hardens quite the same way — it’s softer, and often feels grainy. In order to get a professional-looking sheen and that distinctive snap when you bite into it, you have to carefully control the temperature at which the chocolate melts and re-cools. Ideally you want to melt the chocolate to no more than 110 degrees, cool it back down to about 85, then heat it back up to about 90. Here’s how you do it.

(By the way, if you’re using hazelnuts, get them ready before you start the business with the chocolate — you won’t have time otherwise. Toast them and chop them finely, and have them ready heaped on a plate or in a shallow bowl. In fact, find a friend or significant other who will be ready to jump in for the final step, because it’s much easier with two people.)

Set up a double boiler (i.e., a small saucepan, and a glass or metal bowl that can rest over the top of the pan, but keep the bowl off for now.) Put about an inch of water in the pan and bring it up to a simmer. Finely chop 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate and put about three-quarters of it in the bowl, reserving the last quarter for later. When the water is simmering, turn off the heat, and put the bowl on top. Keep an eye on the chocolate, and when it starts to melt, stir it around with a spatula. When it looks like it’s mostly melted, check the temperature with the thermometer, and when it gets between 105 and 110, take it off the heat.

Now, add the last few ounces of chopped chocolate, which will bring the temperature of the melted chocolate down. Stir until the chocolate is all melted, then take its temperature again. If it’s down to 85 or so, you’re ready to move on. If not, spend a few minutes stirring it to cool it down. Once you have it around 85, put it briefly back on the double-boiler (which will really only be slightly warm at this point) and bring the temperature up to around 90 degrees, which is the perfect temperature for working with chocolate.

Now you’re ready to dip the truffle centers. I like these with a thin chocolate shell, so rather than dipping the truffle straight into the bowl of chocolate, I first dip a big metal serving spoon into the bowl, let most of the chocolate drain off the spoon, then roll the truffle around in the spoon to coat it lightly with chocolate. If you’re coating these with hazelnuts, dump them immediately into the nuts, and have your (long-suffering) friend or significant other roll them around until they’re coated, preventing you from making a mess of the nuts with your chocolatey fingers. Put them back on the parchment or wax paper to harden, which they will do within minutes. Continue until all the truffles are dipped, and if the chocolate gets too cool and thick and sticky, warm it back up on the double boiler (just a few degrees, or else you’ll have to re-temper the whole thing) until it’s workable again. If you have chocolate left over when you’re done, find other things to dip in it, because tempered chocolate is a beautiful thing and shouldn’t be allowed to go to waste.

Once they harden, the truffles will be able to sit out at room temperature, just like commercially-made candy. Store them in an airtight container, and if you like you can put each one in a fancy little mini-size muffin paper. Depending on what you consider bite-size, this yields 60-70 truffles, which make excellent gifts.

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