Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chocolate Marble Chunk and Honey-Roasted Peanut Cookies

Though I love the challenge of making overly-complicated, fussy, restaurant-style desserts, there are times when I crave the simple comforts of a home-baked cookie and a big old glass of ice-cold 

whole milk. Classic chocolate chip cookies are probably my favorites, but they are a bit over-exposed, so occasionally I put my own spin on them, as in my Chocolate Marble Chunk Cookies. 

They’re made from a half-chocolate, half -traditional chocolate chip cookie dough that’s full of chocolate chunks and pecans, and combined in scoop to make a pretty-cool-looking marbleized

 cookie. There’s lots of chocolate action in these delicious cookies. Another one of my favorites is a classic peanut butter cookie, which I learned to make years ago working at the test kitchens of Skippy 

Peanut Butter (a dangerous job, especially if you were determined not to gain 10-20 pounds). I’ve adapted the recipe quite a bit since then, and now add honey-roasted peanuts to the dough, which

 catapults these cookies into superstar status. The heady scent of these cookies in the oven may even remind you of taking a plane trip back in the good old days, before peanut allergies became so prevalent, and honey-roasted peanuts were the snack du jour.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Two-Tone Milk Chocolate Mousse with Sweet-and-Salty Almonds

I first learned to make chocolate mousse in France, where the recipe was always the same: melt dark chocolate, whisk in egg yolks, fold in meringue, fold in whipped cream. Voila, chocolate mousse! That’s how I made it for a long time; if it was good

enough for the French, it was good enough for me. Years later a top pastry chef explained to me that you really only need two ingredients for a good chocolate mousse—chocolate and cream. Other ingredients, like eggs, just mask the flavor of the chocolate,  

but restaurants like to add them because they are cheaper than chocolate. One thing I will say about eggs in chocolate mousse is that the yolks do give it a silky quality. To mimic this silky texture, you can actually add a tablespoon of neutral vegetable oil to your

mousse, distasteful as that seems. Just whisk it into the melted chocolate and cream before folding in the whipped cream. I omitted this step, but it does work well, particularly if you are making your mousse several hours before serving. I chose to make 

a milk chocolate mousse with a relatively dark milk chocolate, Sharffen Berger 41 percent, so it’s not overly sweet. I served the mousse over a gooey, half-milk, half-bittersweet chocolate ganache, and topped it off with crunchy, salty-sweet toasted almonds. An American spin on a French classic, and très bon!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Trio of Tartlets

Palm-sized and portable, sweet tartlets are also an elegant and versatile dessert. You can fill them with anything from pastry cream, citrus curd, ganache or mousse, and top them off with fresh berries, fruit, cream or swirls of meringue—whatever suits your 

fancy. Make an assortment and your guests can choose their favorite. I like to make them with fillings that can be prepared several days ahead of time, so I only need to make the topping and assemble them a few hours before serving. The tartlet shells take 

some time, but they can also be made well in advance. Here I chose to make one with a lime curd filling topped with meringue (my favorite); orange-scented custard with fresh raspberries; and chocolate ganache with whipped cream. The lime curd and custard 

can be made several days ahead, and the ganache comes together in minutes, so they’re not as much work as you’d think. And they are adorable, non?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Special Birthday Cake

My mother always made a big fuss whenever a birthday came around. Lots of presents, lots of attention, lots of love. A special dinner. A little reminiscing about how things unfolded at the hospital on the day you were born. And, of course, a special 

birthday cake, which was always a devil’s food cake frosted with whipped cream. She tinted the whipped cream in pastel colors—pink, yellow and green--a different one for each layer. I loved those cakes because they were so simple and pretty, and so delicious. 

Today, on a whim, I decided to make my own birthday cake for the first time in my life. The cake was inspired by my mother’s special birthday cake, but I frosted it with vanilla buttercream instead of whipped cream. I tinted the filling for each layer a different shade 

of pink, and topped the cake with pink sanding sugar and tall pink candles. The result is a birthday cake fit for a princess. Though I am far from that, I do like to eat special cake on my birthday, especially one that brings back a flood of good memories for my very happy childhood.