Sunday, May 19, 2013

Debra’s Ponzek’s Chocolate Espresso Bars

One of my favorite restaurants in New York in the 1990’s was Montrachet, a three-star restaurant in Tribeca known for its innovative, Provence-inspired cuisine. Not only were the food and ambience amazing, but it had the distinction of having a woman chef at its helm, unusual for a French restaurant. Debra Ponzek was a pioneer, and happily, her cooking gained the praise of customers as well as 

critics. Her food was intensely flavored and simply presented – no gimmicks, just well perfectly prepared Meditterranean dishes such as her coq au Riesling (a twist on coq au vin). 
            I was the editor of Chocolatier magazine back then, and we named her pastry chef, David Blom, one of the Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America, so I got to 

meet Debra and see her in action in that small, hot Montrachet kitchen. She was unruffled. Eventually she moved on – got married, moved to Connecticut and opened Aux Delices, gourmet food shops in three locations in Connecticut. Here Debra offers delicious food including main courses (Pork Scallopini with apple raisin chutney), salads (Bloody Mary Tomato Salad), sandwiches and tea 

sandwiches and, of course, dessert. They also offer cooking classes and catering. If you live anywhere near Greenwich, you know all about Aux Delices – Debra’s food is simple and inspiring.
            And now she’s just released a cookbook, written with Mary Goodbody, The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook: Delicious, Inspiring Meals for Busy Families (Running Press, 2013; $22). The recipes are for the same kind of food you’ll find

at Aux Delices, things like Charred Pepper, Tomato and Sourdough Bread Salad, Roasted Cod with Bacon and Leeks, Chicken Paillard with Nectarine Chutney and Baked Wild Mushroom Risotto (I’m getting hungry here). There aren’t a lot of dessert recipes in the book (the busy family doesn’t always have time for sweets), but she does have a few favorites, like Apple Bars, Chocolate Marshmallow Pudding, Coconut and Lime Cream Pie and Chocolate Espresso Bars, which are really espresso-flavored brownies. I chose these because I was craving a good brownie, and I’m always curious to try new brownie recipes. Debra’s version is indulgent and rich with a strong hit of espresso flavor to round out the intensity of the chocolate. I cut them into squares, wrapped them individually and frozen them so that I could enjoy them whenever I got the urge.  Looking forward to trying lots more recipes – sweet and savory – in this book by one of my favorite chefs.

Chocolate Espresso Bars

From The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook by Debra Ponzek with Mary Goodbody

Makes 16 bars

8 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder or granules
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with vegetable oil spray.
2. In the top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, melt together the chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth.
3. Meanwhile, dissolve the espresso in 3 tablespoons of boiling water. When the butter and chocolate melt, mix in the espresso and remove from the heat.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and on medium-high speed, beat together the eggs and sugar for about 8 minutes until pale and creamy and the mixture forms a ribbon when the paddle is lifted. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
5. Whisk together the flour and cocoa and add to the batter. Whisk until incorporated. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Transfer to the baking pan, smooth the surface, and bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until the edges just begin to set. The bars will seem underdone but don’t let them overbake.
6. Let the bars cool in the pan, set on a wire rack, and when cool, cut into squares and serve. 

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