Friday, October 30, 2009

NYC Chocolate Show 2009, Day One

Today I went to the Chocolate Show in NYC, where Dessert Professional magazine presented the Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America. These outstanding chocolatiers handed out samples at the Dessert Professional booth throughout the day (and will continue to do so for all three days of the show), allowing show-goers to get a taste of their craftsmanship and learn more about each company. The list included one of my favorite chocolatiers, Markus Candinas (his Elderflower bonbon is pictured above) from Verona, WI. His philosophy about chocolate is simple: “ We use the best ingredients, make our chocolates fresh, and use methodology that others have either not yet discovered or simply neglect to employ.”

The result is a small assortment of chocolates that are perfectly balanced in flavor and texture. I told Markus today that I suspected he was a perfectionist, and he reluctantly nodded. “Sometimes that can be a problem,” he said. Not for us, though! To learn more about Markus and his chocolates, visit The remainder of the list of Top Ten Chocolatiers includes: Jacques Torres (Jacques Torres Chocolates), Drew Shotts (Garrison Confections), Thomas Haas (Thomas Haas Chocolates), Jeff Sherpherd (Lille Belle Farms Hand Made Chocolates), Julian Rose (Moonstruck Chocolates), Norman Love (Norman Love Confections), Michael Recchiuti (Recchiuti Confections), Jin Caldwell (Ethel's Chocolate) and Pat Coston (2 Chicks with Chocolate).

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Craft of Baking

Karen DeMasco is my kind of pastry chef. Ever since I sampled a tasting of her desserts at Craft several years ago, I was sold (she's now the pastry chef of Robert De Niro's restaurant Locanda Verde in NYC). Her desserts are simple, and simply delicious. They are perfectly balanced, with an emphasis on flavor and elegance. Almost as exciting as her desserts is the fact that Karen has just released her first cookbook, The Craft of Baking (Clarkson Potter, 2009).After perusing the book, I immediately wanted to make everything in it. It was hard to pick one dessert, but I ultimately settled on a gorgeous chocolate tart, which is a perfect example of Karen's combination of style and elegance. You'll also find a multitude of uses for the tender chocolate sable dough, which is delectable. Cheers to you, Karen, for a wonderful book that I will undoubtedly use over and over.

Chocolate Custard Tart

From The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco

Chocolate Sable Dough:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons egg that has been well blended

Chocolate Custard Filling:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70%), roughly chopped
4 ounces semisweet chocolate (62%), roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Make the dough:
1. In a bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on low speed until there are no visible pieces of butter, about 3 minutes. Add the measured amount of egg and mix just until incorporated. Add the flour mixture in three additions, mixing each in completely before adding the next.
3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Shape into a flattened disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Bake the crust:
4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to an 11-inch round. Roll the dough onto a rolling pin, center it over a 9 1/2-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, and fit it into the pan, pressing the dough into the edges. With a paring knife, trim the excess dough right to the top edge of the pan. Prick the bottom all over with a fork, and freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the chilled tart shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang, and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Set the tart pan on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights, rotate the pan, and continue baking until the crust is fragrant and feels dry to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes more. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and let the crust cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees F.

Make the filling:
6. Combine the bittersweet and semisweet chocolates in a mixing bowl. Pour the cream, milk and sugar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour about one-third of the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and very gently whisk together until the chocolate is melted. Add the remaining cream mixture and gently whisk to combine.
7. Whisk the eggs in a bowl until well combined. Pour about one-third of the chocolate mixture over the eggs and gently whisk just to combine. Return the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture, add the salt, and very gently whisk until smooth.

Bake the tart:
8. Filled the cooled crust with the chocolate custard. Carefully transfer the tart, on the baking sheet, to the oven and bake, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the edges of the custard are set and the center is slightly loose, about 30 minutes. Transfer the tart to a wire rack and let it cool completely. Remove the outer ring of the tart pan, and serve at room temperature. The tart is best eaten the day it is baked, but can be kept at room temperature, loosely covered in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pot Luck

Chicken Pot Pie could be the most soul-satisfying comfort food ever created. It's certainly right up there with Macaroni and Cheese, no doubt. I loved Swanson's rendition as a child (it was a treat my sisters and I relished when Mom and Dad went out for the evening), and I still like to make a down-home, double-crusted version when I have the luxury of time. When I don't, I make an abbreviated pie using frozen puff pastry. The filling's the same (and still takes some time to prepare, that's for sure), but the dramatic puff topping elevates the pie to a more upscale entree. The filling can also be made up to a day ahead, and actually benefits from some time in the refrigerator. And the frozen puff is always ready to go, tucked in the back of the freezer. So satisfy your soul as well as your palate with a pot luck dinner.

Chicken Pot Pie

Makes 5 servings

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 large potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 medium red onion, chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
5 ounces mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Milk or chicken broth, as needed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon lemon juice
A few splashes Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
¾ cup frozen baby peas
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg yolk, whisked with 1 teaspoon water

1. Place the chicken breasts in a Dutch oven or deep skillet and pour chicken broth on top. Add enough water so that the chicken is just covered. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat so that it is just below a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from broth and set aside to cool.
2. Add potato cubes to broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes and place them in a bowl, reserving broth in another container.
3. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the Dutch oven. Add the onions and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the diced carrots and cook for 2 more minutes. Add some of the reserved broth (about ½ cup) and continue to cook until carrots are tender, adding more broth if necessary. Add carrots and onions to bowl with potatoes.
4. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter in Dutch oven and sauté mushroom slices. Add to bowl with other veggies.
5. Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
6. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven. Whisk in flour and cook, while whisking for 1 minute. Measure out reserved broth and add enough milk or chicken broth to make 3 cups. Gradually whisk this into flour mixture. Add thyme sprigs and bring to a boil and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened. Add lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper until it tastes balanced (and good).
7. Add frozen peas and cook for a minute until they are heated. Add shredded chicken and veggies. Remove thyme sprigs (if you can find them). Spoon mixture into 5 oven-proof 8-ounce ramekins or casseroles.
8. Place sheet of thawed puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out just a little to flatten folds. Cut sheet into 4 squares. Brush edge of casserole with egg yolk and top with puff square. Press edges against casserole and brush top with egg wash. Repeat with remaining puff and casseroles. Place pot pies on baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nuts To You!

I went with a group of my friends last night to see a great off-broadway show, Lizzie Borden. It was an off-beat musical that recounted the tale of the alleged nineteenth-century New England murderess, and it was a fabulous production, full of energy, spice, great music and singing. Before the show, we all met at the beautiful apartment of my friend Megan Kent (the branding guru) for wine and appetizers. To lessen the burden on our busy host, we all brought along an appetizer or two. I contributed some white bean dip and crostini and Spicy Caramelized Almonds, one of those unassuming little nibbles which are downright addicting. They're sweet, spicy and crunchy with notes of ginger, cumin and sesame. They can be made several days ahead of time, and keep for at least a week, so they're a good choice for a party, when you have lots of last-minute preparations. And it did cross my mind that they were an appropriate choice for pre-Lizzie Borden fare--sweet, yet with a spicy, dark side.

Spicy Caramelized Almonds

Makes 1 ½ cups

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 ½ cups whole almonds, blanched*

*Note: If you can’t find blanched almonds, buy natural ones with the skin on. Plunge them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then drain. The nuts should easily slip out of their skins. Once they are blanched, toast them in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes to dry them out.

1. In a medium bowl, combine the salt, ginger, cumin, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar; set aside. Have a nonstick baking sheet ready.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the nuts and cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant, but not colored. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup sugar over the nuts. Cook, without stirring, shaking the pan frequently to prevent burning. When the sugar starts to caramelize, stir the nuts so they are evenly browned and caramelized.
3. Immediately add the nuts to the bowl with the spice mixture and toss to coat them evenly. Spread the nuts out onto the nonstick baking sheet. Using a fork, separate the nuts as much as possible. Once cool, transfer to an airtight container. They will keep (if you can prevent yourself from eating them) for at least a week.

Monday, October 12, 2009


When I'm looking for a dessert that's quick to prepare and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, cheesecake's at the top of my list. It's creamy, rich, and the ideal medium for a host of flavors. One of my favorite cheesecakes is a simple, lemon-scented one topped with strawberries. No gooey cornstarchy gel topping, just sliced strawberries macerated in a little sugar. I also like to make this cheesecake in individual portions, in muffin cups. No slicing, no sharing. Bliss in a cup.

Strawberry-Topped Cheesecake Cups

Makes 12 servings
Storage: refrigerated, in a covered container, for up to 3 days.

Graham Cracker Crusts:
1 cup (4.2 oz/120 g) graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon (.4 oz/12 g) granulated sugar
4 tablespoons (2 oz/57 g) unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake filling:
12 ounces (340 g) cream cheese, softened
3/4 (5.3 oz/150 g) cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup (120 ml) sour cream

Strawberry Topping:
1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and cut lengthwise into quarters
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Make the crusts:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and sugar until blended. Stir in the melted butter. Divide the mixture among the muffin cups and using your fingers, pat it into an even layer on the bottom of each cup. Bake the crusts until they are very lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool the crusts on a wire rack while you make the filling. Make the filling:
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese at low speed until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat for another minute, until well blended. Blend in the vanilla extract, lemon zest, and salt. Add the eggs and yolk, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and mixing until well blended. Add the sour cream and mix until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and stir the filling a few times by hand to make sure it is smooth and well blended. Ladle the filling into the muffin cups, filling it to the top.
4. Bake the cheesecake cups for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops begin to crack and the centers are set. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool completely (the cheesecake cups will sink slightly in the center as they cool).

Make the topping:
5. In a bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
6. Arrange about 4 strawberry pieces, cut side down, on top of each cheesecake cup and spoon some of the remaining liquid on top. Serve the cups immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tish Boyle, (Former) Celebrity-For-A-Day

Yesterday I was thrilled to announce that I was the official "Author of the Day" on If you had clicked on then, you would've been able to share in my glory. If you visit the site today, you'll see the smiling face of the new celebrity du jour. Like Cinderella, I have now returned to the obscurity to which I'm so unfairly relegated (and to which I've grown so accustomed). But back to Cookstr. In a unique partnership with many of the best cookbook publishers, is a new online destination for a broad collection of recipes from some of the best chefs and authors, including James Beard, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Mario Batali, and dozens more. The site was founded by a team of seasoned culinary professionals whose philosophy is that good food starts with good ingredients, and that eating responsibly and deliciously is within everyone’s grasp.’s extensive database of recipes includes a wide variety of recipes for all skill levels, making it an appropriate source for professionals as well as amateurs. The site also includes biographies of each featured chef or author and superior proprietary search tools. So get cookin’ and visit soon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Heavenly Hostess

I am proud to say that as a child I had impeccable taste in desserts. Of the pre-packaged, ready-to-eat variety, my #1 favorite was the classic Devil Dog. #2 on the list, however, was that pinnacle of elegance, the chocolate Hostess cupcake, with its characteristic squiggle of white icing across the top. Without the squiggle, it would've been just a chocolate cupcake. But that wave of icing indicated it was a Hostess cupcake, with a cloud of cream filling hidden inside. Superb. Have you tried a Hostess cupcake lately? I hate to say it, but you might be just a little bit disappointed. The iconic snacks of our childhood just don't hold up to our fussy adult standards. Which is why I decided to do my own take on this memorable snack. My version features a chocolate fudge cupcake filled with a basic American-style buttercream. It's topped with an ultra-shiny chocolate glaze, and a signature squiggle of royal icing. The result is much prettier than the machine-made version and, dare I say, tastes a lot better. You can easily double this recipe (you won't have to double the glaze or the Royal Icing). The second time you make them, I guarantee you will. Serve these at your next dinner gathering and you are certain to be the Hostess with the Mostest.

Better Than Hostess Cupcakes

Makes 12

Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup alkalized cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream

Cream Filling:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Glaze:
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Royal Icing Squiggle:
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons liquid pasteurized egg whites
1 tablespoon warm water

Make the cupcakes:
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cupcake pan with paper cupcake cups.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to blend and set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed until light, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the egg, mixing well and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the vanilla extract. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating them with the sour cream in two additions and mixing just until blended. Divide the batter among the cupcake cups and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pans set on wire racks for 15 minutes. Remove cupcakes to racks and cool completely.

Make the filling:
4. In an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and beat at high speed until, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and beat for another minute. Scrape the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain or star tip.

Fill the cupcakes:
5. Use a paring knife to cut a small X in the center of the bottom of each cupcake. Hold a cupcake upside-down, letting your fingers rest on the top of the cupcake (which is now the bottom). Poke the pastry tip three-quarters of the way into the cupcake and squeeze in some filling, stopping when you feel a slight pressure on the top of the cupcake. Repeat with the remaining cupcakes. Set the filled cupcakes aside while you make the chocolate glaze.

Make the glaze:
6. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Combine the cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the glaze is shiny. Dip the top of each cupcake in the glaze, tapping to remove the excess. Place the cupcakes on a wire rack and let the glaze set for 30 minutes. (You will have some glaze left over. Store it covered, in the refrigerator, for up to a week. The reason you make more than you need is that it’s easier to dip the cupcake in a larger amount.)

Make the Royal Icing Squiggle:
7. Combine all the Royal Icing ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high for 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Scrape some Royal Icing it into a small parchment cone or a pastry bag fitting with a writing tip. Pipe a row of curlicues horizontally across the center of each cupcake. Serve the cupcakes at room temperature or slightly chilled. They can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Demel: A Touch of Vienna in the Heart of NYC

The other day my good friend Nick Malgieri and I went to Demel, the New York branch of the iconic Viennese pastry shop. The new shop is located among the retail stores at the Plaza Hotel, set alongside a soothing carp pond on the lower level. It is such an elegant setting, with luxurious banquettes, marble-topped cafe tables and glass display cases filled with beautifully decorated cakes and pastries. We sipped cappunccinos (or is it 'cappuccini'?), sampled many of the delicious classic Viennese cakes, and chatted with Jemal Edwards, the Executive Pastry Chef and one Dessert Professional magazine's Top Ten Pastry Chefs of 2009. Nick is writing an article on Demel for Dessert Professional, wanted to take some photos of the cake and shop, and I went along for the ride. Among the cakes we sampled was the famous Dobostorte, thin layers of vanilla biscuit sandwiched with chocolate buttercream and topped with triangles of caramel-coated shortbread. We also tasted the Fachertorte, layers of poppy seed paste, walnuts, apples and plums, all encased in short dough. The Viennese love their poppy seeds, and this cake is an example of an old-world classic. The Fragilite is a lovely pastry made with ultra-thin almond meringue which has been lightly soaked with rum and filled with a mixture of praline paste, chocolate and butter.

This is a dangerous little pastry--it's incredibly rich, yet seems so light. While Nick was snapping a photo, in fact, I ate the whole thing. (He muttered something about me being "greedy, greedy, greedy," but I just couldn't help myself. It's a dog-eat-dog world, after all.) My favorite cake, though, was undoubtedly the Dorrytorte, a flourless chocolate cake with a sunken center. The sunken part is filled with a light chocolate mousse, slightly mounded. So simple, yet so delicious. I might have to try this one at home. Demel also has an extensive selection of chocolates and confections, all exquisitely packaged by hand in Vienna. If you have a chance, stop by Demel for a piece of cake and a coffee. It's not inexpensive, but it's much cheaper than a flight to Austria. For more info, visit