Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Monster Cookie

As the editor of Dessert Professional magazine, I taste my good share of high-end, fru-fru, $14 restaurant desserts. And they are generally excellent. But sometimes I crave a simple down-home treat, like a good chocolaty brownie or, my personal favorite, a chocolate chunk cookie studded with macadamia nuts (cousin of the chocolate chip cookie). This recipe is a little different from the standard Toll House cookie recipe—it’s got a little less flour and an extra egg, which causes the cookies to bake up flat and slightly crispy around the edges. This way you can focus on the good stuff, like the big chunks of bittersweet chocolate and salted macadamia nuts. And while my cookies are over-sized, but you can certainly downsize yours by cutting amount of dough you use for each cookie in half.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Bit of Fluff

If your experience with marshmallows has been limited to Campfire, Jet Puff or Marshmallow Fluff brands, you need to take a walk on the wild side and try making your own. Why bother? It’s all about texture, first, then taste. Industrial marshmallows are made to hold their shape while being tossed about in transit to our supermarket, so they’re firm and gummy, and somewhat tough. Homespun marshmallows, in contrast, are pillow-soft and airy and sort of melt in your mouth. They are also versatile. While I made a simple Honey Vanilla flavor, you can add some fruit puree (about ¼ cup for this recipe) or extract at the end and a few drops of food coloring to transform the basic recipe into something exotic. You can also spread them onto a half-sheetpan to make thinner marshmallows, and use a cookie cutter to cut them into cute shapes. In fact, I might even make some heart-shaped pink raspberry or passion fruit marshmallows for that big holiday coming up in February. Who knows?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sweet Bliss

While working for many years as Ralph Lauren’s private chef, my friend Ilene Shane discovered her flare for making confections. In fact, Ralph and his family loved her Almond Buttercrunch so much that they asked her to make it as holiday gifts and encouraged her to market it. And market it she did. Ilene and her friend Iris Libby launched SweetBliss in 2002, selling their first product line at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City. Not a bad beginning. Since then, Ilene has continued to conjure up new combinations of tastes and textures, making SweetBliss a forerunner in the new generation of artisanal chocolatiers. One of her newest collections is the Pop Art line, which combines the “childish appeal of a popsicle with sophisticated abstract art designs.” Each pop is handmade and enrobed in dark Belgian chocolate. They are sold in Lucite boxes, five pops to a box. Flavors include Caramelized Pecan Gianduja (my favorite), Hazelnut Nougat, Chocolate Orange Almond Nougat, Neopolitan (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry), and Rocky Road Fudge. They are adorable and delicious, and the box of pops makes a wonderful gift. To order, visit

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chuckles, New and Improved

I don’t know if any of you remember Chuckles, but they are one of my husband Dicky’s favorite sweets. Chuckles are the industrial American version of the classic French confection, pâte de fruit. Pâte de fruit can be made with either fruit puree or juice, and the flavor variations are limitless. Conversely, the Chuckles selection is limited to orange, cherry, lime, lemon and licorice. (In Puerto Rico, however, they don’t include the licorice, but they give you an extra orange piece. I guess Puerto Ricans don’t like licorice.) Pâte de fruit with fruit juice is very easy to make, but it does require liquid pectin, which can be tricky to find, at least in New York. I’m sure it’s easier to find in the suburbs, where canning is more likely to occur. If you have a juicer, you can make your own exotic fruit juice combinations, or you can buy prepared juice. There are some interesting prepared flavors on the market—I chose a pomegranate-nectarine for one, and a fresh tangerine juice for my second flavor. Whatever you choose, it's bound to be a massive improvement on Chuckles.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Truffle Beyond Compare

Today something wonderful happened. A messenger showed up at my door bearing an elegant box of my favorite truffles from my generous friends at La Maison du Chocolat. I immediately popped one in my mouth, and marveled at its perfection. Robert Linxe’s La Maison du Chocolat has long been known for their ultra-creamy ganache, made with farm-fresh cream and a bittersweet Valrhona chocolate that is made exclusively for them. 

The smooth ganache center of the truffle is enrobed with an ultra-thin dark chocolate shell, then dusted in Dutch-processed Valrhona cocoa powder. It is the combination of those three textures—creamy ganache, crunchy shell, powdery coating—and the simplicity of the intense chocolate flavor that makes these truffles so special. They are manna from heaven, and I feel special whenever I’m lucky enough to enjoy them. You will, too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Really, Really Rich Flourless Chocolate Cake

When I was working on The Cake Book, I decided to devote an entire chapter to flourless chocolate cakes, mostly because I love them so much. And also because there are so many different varieties within the category. Some are light and airy, others dense and fudgy, others with a nutty texture. Of all of them, this is probably my personal favorite (though to be sure I should probably run through them all again at least once--I'll have to get back to you on this). More than anything, though, this cake is rich, with a truffle-like texture and ultra chocolaty flavor that is heightened by  the addition of brewed coffee (use water if you're not a coffee fan). Yes, the cake does contain three sticks of butter--this is not a typo. But butter is good for you--it's an all-natural product free of chemicals, hydrogenated coconut oil, MSG, trans fats and corn syrup. Straight from the farm. Make sure to use a good quality chocolate here--I love Valrhona, of course, Guittard, Sharffen Berger, and, my new favorite, TCHO. And finally, it is imperative that you serve this cake with a generous dollop of sweetened whipped cream. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Crazy for Caramel

While the art of candy-making requires attention and precision, its rewards are great. First, you get to eat all the candy you've made. Big plus. Second, you can pat yourself on the back for having tuned out the world (including cell phones, kids, pets and husbands) long enough to have focused entirely on a process which requires the patience of Job and  is, at the very least, unforgiving. Third, your friends and relatives will marvel at your culinary prowess for having mastered something that they love to eat so much. Little do they know-- it's really not that hard at all. Yes, you need a candy thermometer, but that's not such a big deal, is it? 

As you can see from many of my posts, I love anything with caramel in it, so I thought I'd go to the root of my obsession and make a batch of caramels. This recipe is adapted from my friend Carole Bloom's Brown Sugar Caramels in her excellent book, Truffles, Candies & Confections (Ten Speed Press, 2007). The book is full of wonderful confections, and the only difficulty you'll have is deciding what to make first. Though it may sound like guilding the lily, you can dip these caramels in tempered chocolate and, if you like, sprinkle them with a touch of fleur de sel. 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Just Rich Enough

Occasionally I have an immediate need for something rich and indulgent. When this craving strikes during brisk winter months, I like to whip up some hot chocolate—not Swiss Miss cocoa, but the real deal.  Hot chocolate is a luxurious beverage that has long been enjoyed by Europeans. It’s made with real chopped chocolate, and should not be confused with hot cocoa, which is made with cocoa powder and either water or milk. Hot chocolate is much richer, made with water, milk and/or cream, and therefore it should be served in relatively small portions. It packs a real punch, but it is a true pleasure, particularly on a bitterly cold day. Americans have begun to embrace real hot chocolate and it’s showing up on menus at cafes and coffee houses across the country. The following recipe is rich, but not overly so. Just rich enough. Since chocolate is the star here, use the best chocolate available. I like to use a 65% Valrhona or Guittard variety. And, whatever you do, don’t forget the schlag (whipped cream).