Category Archives: chocolate

When you need chocolate

I’m not one to actually try recipes from other blogs most of the time.  I tend to quit reading the ingredient list halfway through, or start improvising madly upon discovering that I only have two out of the five ingredients I need for some particular concoction.  But this time, I had all the ingredients, I really didn’t improvise*, and I wasn’t disappointed.

So what are you waiting for?  Try this recipe.  Now.  You will thank me** later.

*I substituted vanilla sugar for the vanilla extract and sugar.  Vanilla sugar = sugar that has been sitting in a bowl with a vanilla bean or two for a week or longer, and if you’ve never made it, I suggest you go buy a vanilla bean and try it.  The vanilla bean can be reused for multiple batches of sugar, and the scent makes me deliriously happy every time I start baking something with it.  If you must, think of it as cheap therapy for the winter months.

** … err, Smitten Kitchen, actually.

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Holiday cookies

Mexican chocolate cookies

Mexican chocolate cookies

I’m taking a snow day today.  No one will miss me — in fact, with the storm warning, I think everyone else is doing the same thing.  Which is great, because I can look forward to curling up on the couch with Nuclear Structure from a Simple Perspective and getting my theory chapter FINISHED.  Well, mostly, anyway.

(What, you came here for the food? Nuclear structure is much more interesting. No — seriously. Stop laughing. I mean it.)

Lemony gingersnaps

Lemony gingersnaps (at night)

The thesis is looming. It’s due in two months — a little sooner than I expected, because it’s hard to get five professors in the same place at once. A few of them seem to be allergic to this town, but hey, I’m not complaining. I have a DATE. A scarily soon date, upon which the equivalent of a book is due.  So posts will be slim in the coming months, but I’ll come back after that with ideas and pictures and maybe even a blog makeover, or a move to a server of my own.  For now, I’m just glad the cookies I made for the holidays turned out, so I can leave you with a little something to celebrate with.

Gingersnap dough is kind of ugly (but addictive all the same).

Gingersnap dough is kind of ugly (but addictive all the same).

Both of these cookies are variations on recipes from Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking.  My brother gave us a copy for Christmas last year, and I’ve had good luck with the cookie recipes thus far.  These are no exception. The gingersnaps are soft, fragrant, and chewy, and are the best molasses-based cookie I have found so far. The Mexican chocolate cookies are cute and seductive, all in one go.  They have a rich chocolatey flavor with subtle hints of cinnamon and chile, and even the uncooked dough is addictive.  So what are you waiting for — a snow day?  Go make cookies, because frankly, it doesn’t feel like a holiday until you’re covered with powdered sugar and coming down from a serious sugar high.

I’m trying out a new recipe format. If you hate it, tell me!

Mexican Chocolate Cookies and Lemony Gingersnaps

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Filed under baking, chili, chocolate, cinnamon, cookies, ginger, holiday, lemon

Chocolate and physics

Mexican drinking chocolate in Poland

Mexican drinking chocolate in Poland

Poland began with a bumpy, five-hour bus ride that felt like it was designed to weaken our resistance at the start of what would prove to be a very long week. Not a bad week — just a long one. I was there for a conference, so the bus was full of physicists from all over the world, and once the castle filled, conversations on cocktail napkins and in dungeon “night clubs” were impossible to avoid.  Ryn, where the conference was held, was literally a few corner markets and bars at the edge of one of the Mazurian Lakes. The castle — built by Teutonic knights — was first mentioned in 1377, though the renovations for the hotel had just been completed in 2006.  What, you may ask, did Ryn have to offer? Well, not much … We ate a buffet in the hotel every day, three times a day, and walked out to the undeveloped shore on our breaks. Occasionally, we’d get a local bar to stay open late, and order piwa (beer) after piwa until we got chased out into the night. Physicists are serious drinkers, for the most part.  But what else do you do when the most exciting thing you see all week is a goat?
The famous goat

The famous goat

Yah. Well, the people I met on this trip happened to be great. My roommate was awesome, which I was pretty happy about, and the people I ended up hanging out with were a lot of fun.  So yes — a week in Ryn wasn’t so bad after all. But you’re probably wondering at this point why I’m going on and on about Ryn and this conference when I’ve placed a picture of a lovely looking hot chocolate up at the top. Well, I had an evening in Warsaw, after yet another bus ride. I’m getting to the chocolate in a bit.
Old Town Warsaw

Old Town Warsaw

Warsaw itself wasn’t the greatest thing I had ever seen. I can’t say I’d seek it out as a prime tourist spot. It feels like a Soviet construction, which it is.  It is Soviet style block architecture crumbling with age, mixed in with its grand Palace of Culture and a million fast food-filled underground passages, and the meticulously rebuilt Old Town section, which was beautiful but sterile, somehow. I sort of like the appearance of age on buildings — the way the dust and grime of hundreds of years settle into the cracks just so, and manage somehow to be charming despite its dirty origins. There was none of that here, as Warsaw was leveled in the war.  I’ve been told Krakow and Gdansk are better destinations. But Warsaw had one thing going for it: excellent drinking chocolate.
E. Wedel Chocolate Shop

E. Wedel Chocolate Shop

We visited the E. Wedel chocolate shop and cafe in Old Town, which reminded me of the coffee shops in Vienna with its luxurious decorations old-fashioned feel. Their specialty was a traditional drinking chocolate, which we (my roommate from the conference, one of her colleagues, and me) sampled. They were delicious — rich and thick and proper dessert, if you know what I mean.  It was a proper end to a long trip, I think, and when I got on the plane the next day, I was quite happy to be heading back home.
Chocolate shavings

Key ingredient.

I did bring a little something back for all of you, of course. Here’s my Mexican drinking chocolate recipe. It’s simple, actually, and really, really tasty. But of course, the better your chocolate, the better this tastes.
Mexican Drinking Chocolate

Mexican Drinking Chocolate

Mexican Drinking Chocolate

  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 1.5 oz. chocolate, chopped into slivers.
  • Chipotle or chili powder, to taste (start with a small amount and work up!)

Heat the milk slowly in a heavy saucepan over low heat until a decent amount of steam rises from the surface. Place the chocolate shavings in a bowl. Pour the hot milk over it, stirring the chocolate/milk mix, and continue stirring until all the milk has been added and the chocolate has melted. Add in the appropriate amount of chili. Drink immediately.

You can experiment with other spices and flavors. For mint drinking chocolate, steep a decent peppermint tea bag in the hot milk for a minute or two until mixing with the chocolate. Try a bit of cinnamon. Or try something a little more adult — ammaretto, schnaps, etc. Just make sure to add any alcohol or flavor syrups to the milk first.

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Chocolate, beer, and fireworks

Whats not to love about a country that opens a music festival with fireworks?

What's not to love about a country that opens a music festival with fireworks?

That last post was a little uninspired, to say the least. I’ll try to do a better job on this next city.  Brussels, Belgium — not Belgium, Brussels, as some Belgian students said some Americans say — is one of those cities where the weight of history greets you around every corner, with each carefully tended stone.

One of the buildings in Grand Place

One of the buildings in Grand Place

Here, ancient kingdoms meet modern bureaucracy with the occasional clash of ideals.

The European Union

The European Union

Botanic gardens are swallowed by exhaust-producing thoroughfares, and still, little corners of solitude manage to survive the modern age.

These used to be much bigger, but now theres a road running through half of the former garden space.

These used to be much bigger, but now there's a road running through half of the former garden space.

It’s an excellent place for the food-obsessed to visit, if only for the chocolate and beer. I mostly drank Leffe when I was there — it was a short trip — but it was delicious as always. And they had a dark version! After Cologne, a bit of color was refreshing. And chocolate. Oh, you have never seen such chocolate. Shops with individual candies laid out like precious jewels, decked in velvet and oh-so-posh you feel like you can’t touch anything. It’s all just for show.

Pierre Marcolini - My favorite

Pierre Marcolini - My favorite

Until you get over your shock and realize that these shops smell like heaven, and buy a piece or two. My favorite was Pierre Marcolini — we bought a “basic” bar (there are about 8 to choose from).  It was exotic — sweet and heady, with an almost floral aroma. And it was just chocolate! As for the cuisine in general, even the bars presented their meals beautifully, and you could sense the French influence in the details that went into each dish. And of course, I had the best waffle covered in chocolate sauce I have ever had there, in a ridiculously touristy region, from a place advertising “Australian ice cream”.  I bought it because it was funny, but ate it because it was worth every bite. That night, beer in hand, we watched fireworks and listened to Europop and Handel outside the main palace with the rest of the city, just outside the ticketholder gates.

Jubilee Park

Jubilee Park

Before we left, we went to the Museum of Art and Ancient History in Jubilee Park, out beyond the EU. We couldn’t read any of the descriptions, but spent hours trying to interpret the French based on inference and clever guessing games … The place was filled with ancient altar pieces depicting gruesome murders of saints, intricate tapestries with stories for the illiterate (like us), and ancient carriages for transporting the royals, where James chose to propose.  So (not to state the obvious or anything) it was a pretty good trip.

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Cookie monster

cookies

On a rainy spring day, there is nothing better than warm chocolate chip cookies. The molten chocolate nuggets encased in soft, buttery sweetness just makes the world seem a bit better somehow, and fill the house with that intoxicating scent of vanilla and warmth.

Wet ingredients

As I type this, it’s pouring outside, and doesn’t seem like it’ll let up for the rest of the weekend. But that’s ok — I love rainy weekends, when I have the luxury of staying inside and watching the rain streak my windowpanes and wash the world clean. I make a point of reveling indoors, with hot chocolate and data analysis and baking all going on at the same time somehow. Though perhaps this time I’ll just sit in my lovely citrus-colored armchair and pick out seeds for my soon-to-be-real garden, or read a book or two.

Prep2

Or perhaps I’ll make another batch of these cookies. These were one of the many projects I took on last week, and oh, they were good. We baked half the batter on the weekend, and froze the rest, but even that didn’t last long. We were making toaster oven cookies all week, and couldn’t help but sample bits here and there. The frozen dough tastes just like the little nuggets you might find in Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, except these have a slightly more exotic kick.

Dough

See, I like to play with spices, and this recipe is a case in point. We have a small container of ground wattleseed, which is an Australian spice with a coffee-like flavor and rich brown color that is often used in sweet recipes like this. I decided to tweak the Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe (thanks for the recommendation, Rachael!) with the spice, just to see what would happen. And, well, it’s pretty damn good. Is it worth going out and ordering wattleseed for this? No, probably not — espresso powder, as recommended in the original recipe, would probably have pretty much the same effect. But if you already have some in the house, or just want to experiment with a new ingredient, go for it. I certainly won’t stop you.

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Truffles everywhere

Truffles

This picture does not do them justice. They are melt-in-your-mouth, silky chocolate goodness in a tiny little package. I used the recipe I gave you earlier, with cream instead of coconut milk, Ghirardelli bittersweet cooking chocolate, and Gold & Black’s organic cocoa powder. I skipped the mint, too, in favor of rolling the ganache around squares of exorbitantly-priced but oh-so-worth-it Australian non-sulfured ginger. Oh, and via a rather stupid mistake (in which I absentmindedly poured the cream into the chopped chocolate instead of the saucepan), I realized you can mix the cream and chocolate as is, put the bowl over a pot of boiling water, and stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. It is so easy, even a space cadet like me can do it.

I think it’s time for dessert …

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Mandatory V-day fun

Everyone needs a good chocolate truffle. Especially on Valentine’s day — if only because every food blog, food section, and office break room discussion features a (hopefully) decadent dessert idea involving this particular ingredient. I tend to think it’s some sort of global conspiracy aimed at keeping us all from seriously contemplating a move to Hawaii in the otherwise grim month of February. But does it really matter? I’ll take any excuse to make something involving chocolate and cream.

I don’t have a picture today, if only because I plan on going home and making a batch tonight. I tested the recipe out back in December, when I needed to find something exciting and dairy-free for my parents, and I can assure you that it’s simple and delicious, as long as you don’t mind chopping up a block of chocolate. I guarantee it’ll make your day just a bit more pleasurable.

Oh, and while I’m at it: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Mint Chocolate Truffles

Makes about 24 truffles.

This recipe is based on Mark Bittman’s truffle recipe. I had to find a way to make it dairy free for my mother’s sake, so I used coconut milk in place of heavy cream. Even with the substitute, they tasted heavenly. The mint happens to be the variation I used, but these truffles are great because they let you play with pretty much any combination you think of. I might skip the mint and try using crushed hazelnuts in place of the cocoa powder, for example, or perhaps I’ll decide on raspberry ginger flavored tea for tonight…

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