Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge

This year's theme: hazelnuts Last Sunday, instead of celebrating our first anniversary by going out to a fancy restaurant (the plan I’ve been scheming for, well, let’s be honest, 12 months), Peter and I went to a beach BBQ to celebrate the birthday of our good friend David.  It wasn’t a tough call.  You see, David has a rather absurdly adorable baby who isn’t even 2 months old and is often in need of cuddling.  In the end, it was a perfect day to be at the beach, with a brisk ocean breeze to keep us from wilting in the sun.  It wasn’t until we received a “Happy Anniversary” card from my parents that I realized we had done absolutely nothing to celebrate (more proof that we are chronic under-celebrators).  I realize there are rules one can follow about anniversary themes, but it’s disappointing how few of them are edible.  So this year’s theme is hazelnuts.  (I thought briefly about making it chocolate, but if the point is to choose a different theme each year I couldn’t bring myself to rule out chocolate so early on.)

Mixing the fudge

The following recipe for chocolate hazelnut fudge is originally from Elana’s Pantry.  It is exceedingly simple and basically consists of roasting some nuts (after which your kitchen will smell like nutella) and making a chocolate ganache.  Unfortunately my ganache didn’t set up completely, which is probably due to the fact that the nuts weren’t roasted in time and I kept mixing the ganache to keep it from solidifying in the pot.  Despite a lack of structural integrity, the fudge has been quite popular, and is the most intensely chocolatey dessert I’ve eaten in a while.  If you prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate, simply sub in milk chocolate chips.  I’m also thinking that the ganache would be amazing layered with a sweet peanut butter mixture (like lazy peanut butter cups)… maybe next year!

De-skinning hazelnuts

Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge (adapted from the recipe here)
1 3/4 (8 ounces) dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup coconut milk (unsweetened, the kind from a can)
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, skins removed and roughly chopped

1) Line a bread pan or other similarly-sized dish with parchment paper to make a fudge receptacle.

2) Roast the hazelnuts for 10 minutes on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees F.  The skins will probably get pretty black, and you may be worried that you burned them, but don’t panic because you will be taking the skins off anyways.  De-skin the roasted hazelnuts by putting them in a clean dish towel and rubbing them together.  Most of the skins should come off very easily.  Chop the hazelnuts roughly and set aside.

3) Combine the chocolate chips and coconut milk in a small pot and stir constantly over low heat to melt the chocolate and form a smooth uniform consistency.  This really won’t take long!  Add in the honey and vanilla extract and stir to combine.  Finally, add the chopped hazelnuts and stir them into the ganache.

4) Pour the ganache plus hazelnuts into the parchment paper lined dish and let sit in the fridge for an hour or more until firm.  Cut into pieces and serve!  If your fudge insists on melting in your fingers, just eat it with a spoon; it will still taste amazing!

The finished fudge

Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate truffles

Um, yeah… I’m not sure if I need an introduction to this one.  I really just recommend skipping ahead to the recipe and starting to make this ASAP because it takes a little while to chill between making the ganache and rolling the truffles.  Let’s just say there was only about an hour between me reading the recipe in Edible Santa Barbara and starting to melt some chocolate (I was covered in dirt from the garden and had to shower… otherwise the time lag would have been zero).  I recently gave up any semblance of self-control when it comes to chocolate confections.  Two weeks ago it was chocolate peanut butter cups and last week it was chocolate truffles.  Please feel free to send me more suggestions so I’m not forced to make these truffles over and over and over and over and over… again.

Chocolate Ganache Truffles (from Edible Santa Barbara with a few minor tweaks)
Makes 10-15
5 ounces dark chocolate (recipe suggests 50-60% cacao, I used 80%)
3/4 ounce butter
1/3 cup milk (recipe prefers cream… probably helps the structural integrity a bit)
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cocoa powder to coat the truffles… maybe 1/2 cup?

1) Chop up the chocolate into chocolate chip-sized pieces to help them melt faster.  It will be about a cup of chocolate.  Cut the butter up and add it to the chocolate.

2) Mix the honey, vanilla extract, and milk or cream in a small sauce pan.

Now do only 3a OR 3b:

3a) Original instructions: heat milk/honey/vanilla to a boil and pour over chocolate/butter pieces in a heat-proof bowl.  Let sit until chocolate has melted (1-3 minutes?).  Then stir it all to combine.  It may look grainy, but keep stirring until the chocolate and milk mixture is perfectly smooth.  Blenderize if all else fails.  You just made chocolate ganache the traditional way!

3b) The way I did it: heat the chocolate/butter in a heat-proof bowl in an inch of water in a large pot (a double-boiler would be better, but I don’t have one of those) with heat on low.  Keep stirring the chocolate until it is mostly melted, at which point you can move the bowl to the counter ON A FABRIC THING (like a pot holder or dish rag) and continue mixing until the chocolate is all melted.  Bring the milk/honey/vanilla mixture to a simmer and pour over the chocolate.  Then stir it all to combine.  It may look grainy, but keep stirring until the chocolate and milk mixture is perfectly smooth.  Blenderize if all else fails.  You just made chocolate ganache a weird way!

4) Let the ganache cool in the bowl for either 24 hours at room temperature, which worries me because of the dairy, or 1-2 hours in the fridge.  To speed the cool-down time further, float the bowl of ganache in a larger bowl of ice water before putting it in the fridge.

5) When the ganache is pretty darn firm, form balls of it one by one and roll in the cocoa powder to coat.  You will have to work fast so the ganache doesn’t melt.

6) Eat immediately.  Or, cool down in the fridge again and re-roll in cocoa powder before serving, as the humidity in the fridge will “melt” the cocoa.  The original instructions suggest keeping the truffles in the fridge in a covered container to minimize humidity only as a last resort.  I think this is code for: invite your friends over and enable them into a chocolate-induced coma!  And believe me, I did my share, giving chocolate truffles to no less than 3 friends (in addition to Peter).

More chocolate truffles

A Strawberry Bejeweled Birthday Cake

It seems like ages since my sister Ingrid and I were last able to celebrate a birthday together.  This year though, she came to visit Peter and me only a few days after her birthday, which is close enough to require serious celebration in the form of a triple-layered chocolate cake.  Since the recipe is nothing new, I decided to illustrate the cake construction process in a series of doodles.

To make this strawberry bejeweled chocolate layer cake you will need:
1 Guinness chocolate cake (with Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout instead of Guinness)
1 batch chocolate ganache (recipe below)
1 batch whipped cream (recipe below)
2 small baskets strawberries, washed, ends cut off, and cut in half length-wise

Chocolate Ganache
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2/3 cups heavy whipping cream (the rest to be used in the whipped cream)
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Do not make this before you are ready to use it!  The ganache will thicken over time, making it harder to spread evenly on the cake layers!  To make the chocolate ganache, put the chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl.  Bring the heavy cream just to a simmer and pour over the chocolate chips.  Let the chocolate chips and heavy cream sit for a minute so that the chocolate starts to melt.  Then stir the chocolate chips and heavy cream until completely mixed together (it will be a dark chocolate color and be completely smooth).  Add the butter and vanilla extract and stir until the butter is completely melted.  The ganache is immediately ready for spreading on the cake layers.

Whipped Cream
The rest of a 16 ounce bottle of heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sugar

Do not make this before you are ready to use it!  The whipped cream will become runny if left at room temperature too long and will harden if put in the fridge, making it difficult to spread evenly on the exterior of the cake!  Add everything to a large mixing bowl with high sides and beat with electric beaters until softly whipped.  To make the whipped cream easiest to spread on the cake, you don’t want to whip the whipped cream too much.  Otherwise you may have to treat the whipped cream like icing and use a plastic bag with a corner cut off to pipe the whipped cream onto the cake.

And now, for the detailed cake construction directions:

After the cake construction is complete, store the cake in the fridge until serving time.  The chocolate ganache and the whipped cream will both stiffen in the process.

Beau-Catcher Brownies

The one cookbook that I know my dad brought to my parents’ marriage is a 1950s-style cookbook with a recipe for beau-catcher brownies.  While I find the old-fashioned assumption that I need to bake sweets to make a boy like me rather quaint, I can’t say I don’t use my baking-power with astonishing frequency. Not only do I bribe women in physics to have lunch with me every Wednesday, but there’s practically nothing Peter or I won’t clean, cook, move, pick up from the store, or buy on the internet for a fresh batch of cookies. Or brownies. I’m a little embarrassed that there are no brownie recipes posted here yet, because what is better for bribery than chocolate?  There are a couple people in my office that agree, and for the occasional chocolate abstainer, I’ve included a bonus recipe for butterscotch brownies at the end.

Just to get the necessary brownie stances out there:  I like my brownies gooey (not cakey!), and I will fight you for the middle pieces (I laugh at the absurdity of edge-only pieces brownie cake pans).  While the following recipe calls for 25-30 minutes of baking time, I always set the timer for 25 minutes and pull the brownies out of the oven as soon as the middle is lightly set.  Do not forget that they will cool and harden in the pan, leaving you with overcooked uck if you’re not careful.  While the following recipe manages to combine my favorite brownie characteristics, I have been known to alter the recipe slightly to instead put in 1/2 cup flour, 3/4 cups cocoa, and only 1 egg, creating a brownie so gooey that it’s practically dangerous.  And, don’t forget, a big spoonful of nutella is a fine addition to any brownie batter, as a good friend’s boyfriend taught us all in college.

Beau-Catcher Brownies
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder in a bowl.  In another bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Combine the two bowls and stir in the chopped nuts and chocolate chips.  Pour the batter into a greased 8 1/2 by 8 1/2 inch pan and bake for 25-30 minutes until just set in the center.

If chocolate isn’t your thing (or even if it is), there are always butterscotch brownies.  I made these for my WiP ladies this week and while they were not the prettiest baked good, they were certainly delicious!  Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures, but I have dreams of making them again, perhaps with some shredded coconut and chocolate chips scattered on top.

Butterscotch Brownies
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Mix the flour and baking powder and set aside.  Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat and then add the brown sugar and bring the very thick mixture to a boil.  Take the butter-sugar mixture off the heat and allow it to cool.  Add the eggs and mix them in thoroughly.  Add the vanilla and flour mixture and finally the chopped nuts.  Pour the batter into a 9 by 9 greased baking dish and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the center is set.  Cool the brownies in the pan and then cut into squares.

Homemade Ricotta

Our local Co-op is so tiny that occasionally they don’t sell out their dairy and meat products before the expiration date.  This is a lovely thing, because a few days before the expiration date the products are put on sale for half-off.  Want to try that expensive cheese?  How about the organic bacon?  Or milk!  Wait, what?  Normally buying older milk would be down there on my crazy list with luring bunnies into my garden, but then it occurred to me that a $6 gallon of organic milk half-off is about the price of ricotta cheese.

Suffice it to say that experiment #1 was a failure: 1% milk was purchased instead of whole milk, and I neglected to account for the inherent increase in acidity in older milk when deciding how much vinegar to add.  The result?  A tasteless mass of “cheese product” that was even squeakier than cheese curds and was so densely packed together as to be most easily cut with a knife instead of scooped with a spoon.  Like all good scientists however, instead of giving up, I hypothesized the above-mentioned problem areas and went about trying to make ricotta again.  This time it was whole milk and I added only 3 tablespoons of white vinegar to the gallon of salted milk, which is how much it took for the curdling to commence.  The whole process was, I hesitate to say “fun”, um, satisfying? But I will most likely be buying my ricotta pre-made from now on (until I learn how to make mozzarella and can actually make ricotta as the cheese by-product it’s supposed to be).

What does one do with 3 cups of ricotta?  Chocolate ricotta puddings and lasagna of course!

Homemade Ricotta
(about 3 cups)
1 gallon of milk (16 cups)
1 teaspoon salt (or less if you plan to use the ricotta for sweet things)
3 tablespoons of white vinegar or more if milk is fresh

Put the milk and salt into a large pot and slowly bring the milk to a simmer on medium heat.  This will take a while.  Also, be warned: when the milk first starts to simmer it will sort of explode out of the pot if you don’t stir it immediately and turn the heat down a little, so babysit the milk once it actually reaches a temperature where it’s started to steam.  Once the milk has reached the simmer point add the vinegar 1 tablespoon at a time, giving the milk a stir after each one.  Once the milk starts to form little dense curdles of cheese you can stop adding vinegar and just wait for the curdling to finish.  Use a finely slotted spoon to fish out the curdled cheese and put it in a fine-mesh strainer or strainer lined with cheese cloth.  Let the cheese sit for 10 minutes or so in the strainer before moving it to a bowl or storage container.  The internets tell me that homemade ricotta lasts about 3 days in the fridge, but I made mine into pudding and lasagna almost immediately (after eating some with a spoon first).

Potato, Carrot, and Leek Soup + Baked Apricots

June has slipped by more quickly than I could have imagined.  This Friday I leave for Europe and Peter leaves for a wedding.  Most of the travel arrangements are finally made, but I can’t help feeling like I’ve forgotten something.  Once Peter joins me in Europe, we will try to post photos from Copenhagen, Florence, and Paris.  I am determined not to forget the camera.   Do you have any suggestions for things to see or eat in these three cities?  There’s still a lot to do before we leave, so I made a big pot of potato, carrot and leek soup and some simple baked fruit for dessert.

I have made this potato, carrot, and leek soup many times using a wide range of ratios between the different vegetables.  I have used only water and butter, so as to make it vegetarian, and, this time, made it with homemade chicken fat and chicken stock.  Since my chicken stock was flavored with rosemary, I added a little more rosemary to the soup.  A bay leaf might also be a nice addition, as would fresh tarragon in place of rosemary.

Potato, Carrot, and Leek Soup
2-3 large potatoes, chopped
4-6 medium carrots, chopped
2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced
Chicken broth or water
Butter or chicken fat
Salt and pepper
Begin by preparing the vegetables.   Both the white and light green parts of the leeks can be used, as long as all the dirt is carefully washed from between the leek skin layers.  In a soup pot, cook the leeks in the butter until soft, 5 minutes, keeping the pot covered to trap steam and keep the leeks from browning.  Add the potatoes, carrots, and chicken broth, plus enough water to cover the vegetables.  Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 20-40 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.  If desired, puree the soup with a food processor (hard and messy) or immersion blender (easy).

These baked apricots are just softened through and have released lots of delicious juice.  The point isn’t a thick syrupy pie filling, but rather a hot, simple fruit dish that depends almost completely on the fruit for flavor.  Luckily, unripe or just not very flavorful fruit can be improved in this process.

Baked Apricots with Almonds
(per person)
2-4 apricots, pitted and sliced
1-2 tablespoons coarsely sliced raw almonds
Drizzle of honey
Pat of butter plus enough for buttering the baking dish
Dash of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  If making more than one serving, bake each serving in its own dish so that everyone gets their fair share of the fruit juices.   Line the glass or ceramic baking dish with butter, and add the apricots and salt.  Top with the sliced almonds, a drizzle of honey, and a pat of butter.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the white sides of the sliced almonds are beginning to look golden.  Serve warm for dessert or save in the fridge for breakfast.

Dark Chocolate Pudding

Does anyone else have brilliant moments of food inspiration while they’re falling asleep?  This is the second time this week that I’ve thought of something sweet while nodding off.  The first time resulted in a hilarious molasses meringue.  As Peter put it, molasses is the anti-meringue: sticky and thick.  It ended in a puddle; never again.  After learning my lesson, I decided to (almost) follow an actual recipe for my second brilliant food thought, chocolate pudding.  The Commonsense Kitchen has a dreamy chocolate pudding recipe involving both cocoa and 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate.  I ate it for dinner.

Dark Chocolate Pudding
(4 medium bowls of pudding)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups whole milk
3 egg yolks
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
Mix the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cocoa powder in a medium sauce pan with a whisk to get out the clumps.  Separate the egg yolks and mix them with a fork in a small heat-proof bowl.  Pour about half of the milk into the sauce pan and mix it with the powders until all the clumps are gone.  Add the rest of the milk and turn the heat on low.  Mixing every minute or so, heat the pudding just until it starts to steam and gets slightly thick.  Then take the sauce pan off the heat and spoon a bit of pudding slowly into the egg yolks to acclimate them to high temperatures, mixing the egg yolks constantly.  Pour the heated egg yolks and pudding back into the sauce pan and mix everything well.  Put the sauce pan back on the low heat, stirring fairly often or even continuously until the pudding begins to simmer.  Once you see bubbles, stir the pudding on the heat for 1 minute and then take the pudding off the heat for good.  Add the ounce of unsweetened chocolate and mix until the chocolate has melted and been evenly incorporated.  Let the pudding sit for 10 minutes while you get out pretty bowls to put it in.  Pour the pudding into bowls, let cool, and enjoy.  Or, eat it warm with a big smile and lots of chocolate on your face, like me.