Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chocolate Walnut Banana Swirl Brownies: Say THAT Five Times Fast

Have you read enough about banana swirl brownies yet? I sure hope not. I had way too much fun with this concept, and may have gone a little overboard when I pulled out the chunks of El Rey Caoba 41% cocoa milk chocolate.

I considered trying a repeat of the banana swirl brownies with just chocolate chunks, but as I was assembling them using the same approach as before, I got to the second layer of banana cupcake batter and wondered what these would be like with chocolate chunks AND chopped walnuts.

Yes. I did it. If you want to do it yourself, you’ll want a half batch of supernatural brownie batter, a half batch of banana cupcake batter, six ounces of walnuts, and 10 ounces of coarsely chopped milk chocolate chunks. After you follow the previously-described assembly method, put the 9”x13” pan, which you have dutifully lined with parchment paper and buttered before assembling the brownies, into the oven at 325° F for 45-50 minutes.

After tasting these, I decided that the right approach is chocolate chunks only. The extra chocolate is needed. You know it is. I know it is. Let’s agree on that and make more tasty brownies later.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Walnut Banana Swirl Brownies: Building on an Experiment

Unsurprisingly, I spend a lot of time thinking about chocolate. And things I can make with chocolate. It seems that baking begets more baking ideas. Example: making the banana swirl brownies made me wonder what would happen if I incorporated walnuts.

Alright then. Back to the kitchen. Starting with an oven pre-heated to 325° F, a 9”x13” pan lined with parchment paper and buttered, and half a batch each of supernatural brownie batter and banana cupcake batter, I worked on getting the walnuts involved. The easiest way seemed to be to take the same approach I took with the first set of banana swirl brownies, stopping sprinkle six ounces of chopped walnuts on the first layer of banana cupcake batter.

After toping that with another layer of brownie batter and one more of banana cupcake batter, I swirled away.

After the pan sat in the oven for 50 minutes, the nutty-banana brownies were ready.

Just as with the first take on banana swirl, they were a little cakey and a little heavy on the banana. To be honest, I’m not sure these are better with walnuts; I think the plain ones are nice and soft and the nuts distract from the continuity.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banana Swirl Brownies: Merging Recently-Made Recipes

Making the banana cupcakes and the supernatural brownies in the same week made me contemplate what would happen if I put them together. In one delicious chocolate creation. I whipped up some extra brownie batter, minus the chocolate chunks, and used some leftover banana cupcake batter to investigate.

Then I got to work in a loaf pan prepared with buttered parchment paper.

One thin layer of brownie batter.

One thin layer of banana cupcake batter.

More brownie batter? Yes ma’am.

And to keep things fair, top it off with more banana cupcake batter.

Swirl around with a knife to mix together the batters.

Pop into an oven pre-heated to 325° F. If making a full batch in a 9”x13” pan, you will want to start with half a batch of supernatural brownie batter and half a batch of banana cupcake batter, and leave it in the oven for 45-50 minutes.

They turned out a little cakey and a little heavy on the banana for my tastes, but I have not yet had trouble getting anybody to eat them. I may attempt a similar recipe with a more refined ratio of brownie batter and cake batter.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banana Cupcakes: Time to Admit that You’re 30

Another birthday.

Another batch of mini-cupcakes.

This time the honoree is a coworker who is now 30 years old, just like me. His request was banana cupcakes with vanilla frosting. I prodded him about doing half of the cupcakes with vanilla frosting, and another half with chocolate. To give everybody a choice. And to give me an excuse to make, and eat, more dark chocolate buttercream frosting. My coworker concurred, so I went to work on the cupcakes this weekend.

The recipe is available from several internet recipe sites, though none of them credit the original source. If anybody happens to know what the original source is, I’ll be more than happy to credit it.


1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas

2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup softened butter

2 1/8 cups sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons banilla

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

The above ingredient list is for one batch, however, I made two batches of batter for reasons that will be revealed at a future date. Thus, my ingredient snapshots look a little outrageous. But I’m OK with that.

Since this recipe calls for very ripe bananas, I bought them six days before I planned to make the cupcakes, and at T-1 day, they still weren’t turning brown. I resorted to this tactic.

They’re sharing the bag with an apple.

This helps. It really does. It helps because the apple emits ethylene gas, which ripens the bananas faster when in a paper bag with said gas.

Once you make sure that your bananas are ripened, it’s time to get cooking (for real). Preheat your oven to 275° F and line the mini cupcake pan with liners. Now you can pull out your butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs.

Whip the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add one egg at a time to make the mixture even fluffier, and finally incorporate the vanilla.

While you are doing that, you can mix together your dry ingredients and set them aside.

After the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla are nice and fluffy, pull out the mixed dry ingredients as well as the buttermilk.

Alternate incorporating the dry ingredient mixture and the buttermilk mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.

But wait? Where are the bananas? Shouldn’t they be mixed up with the lemon juice to bring out the banana flavor?

Yes, they should. Mash them up and mix them with the lemon juice. I personally engaged in “gratuitous use of food processor” to accomplish this.

It was worth it. Once they were mashed, I mixed them in with the rest of the batter.

I may or may not have gone over the capacity of the mixing bowl. You decide.

Fill the mini cupcake liners about 2/3 full, and then bake for 18-20 minutes.

While they cool, make up a batch of classic chocolate buttercream frosting, and frost them up.

Banana and chocolate. Brought together by butter and sugar, in the name of turning 30. I like this.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Valor 70% Cocoa Dark Chocolate

So that chocolate bar that the friend gave me before my trip to Dana Point – how was it? I don’t recall ever eating Valor chocolate before, so this was going to be a new experience.

It was labeled as 70% cocoa, and is purportedly all natural. The temper wasn’t really anything special, but tough business trips require chocolate for survival, so I dug in.

The taste is complex, with a strong coffee taste and an earthy undertone that leaves a lingering flavor in the mouth. Unfortunately, the cocoa butter is evidently not the best quality, because this chocolate is quite dry, even for a dark chocolate. The flavor is quite nice, but the texture makes it difficult to enjoy that flavor. It was a wonderful treat to have around for my flight back, and a very thoughtful gift that came at the perfect time, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to pick up more.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Favorite Brownie Recipe: Super-Supernatural Brownies

Earlier this week, Jenna Huntsberger over at Modern Domestic posted a tweet about favorite brownie recipes. Mine, of course, is based on one from Nick Malgieri, the king of all things baked. While I used his Supernatural Brownie recipe for the base, I re-worked it to include three, yes three, kinds of chocolate. Despite the abundance of chocolate on the ingredients list, and despite it being my favorite brownie recipe, Jenna’s tweet reminded me that I had yet to post this recipe. These things are so delicious that I barely need a nudge to make them, and this reminder was enough of a nudge to pull out this brown-sugar brownie recipe.


8 ounces butter

4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (El Rey Grand Saman 70% Cocoa)

2 eggs

½ cup white sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup flour

4 ounces white chocolate, chopped into large chunks (Callebaut)

4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped into large chunks (El Rey Caoba 41% Cocoa)

Pre-heat the oven to 350° F and line an 11”x7” pan with parchment paper and liberally apply butter to parchment paper. Then get out the bittersweet chocolate and butter.

Melt them together over low heat, and then cool while you start working with the eggs, sugars, vanilla, and salt.

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy, then slowly whisk the sugars in, and once really light and fluffy, whisk in the vanilla and salt.

By now, the chocolate mixture should be cool enough to whisk in. So go ahead and do it.

As delicious as this batter looks, we need some flour, no?

Carefully fold it in, stopping just before it is all incorporated.

Why stop? Because you don’t want to overstir, and you still have to mix in your white and milk chocolate chunks.

Once you stir those in, the flour should be just incorporated, and it’s time to pour the batter in the prepared pan.

You may be wondering if the butter parchment paper is necessary. It is. Just believe me. And once you accept that, you can put this in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Once you do that, you’ll have a big plate of these fudgy triple-chocolate brownies.

Don’t they look delicious? Make them for yourself – they aren’t that hard – and you’ll probably have a new favorite brownie recipe.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chip's Chocolate Factory Fudge: Kansas City Special

Fudges that aren’t chocolate-based perplex me. I associate words like “fudgy” exclusively with chocolate-based treats, and though I realize that the fudge-making process doesn’t require any chocolate, I’m still not sure what I think about non-chocolate fudge.

That doesn’t stop me from eating non-chocolate fudge, though. Non-chocolate fudge like the vanilla fudge that forms the base of this Kansas City Special fudge from Chip’s Chocolate Factory.

While the base is vanilla, there’s some chocolate fudge mixed in, and there are also pecans mixed in. Upon first bite, my first thought was “maple syrup.” After a few more bites and contemplation, I was sure that I tasted maple more than I tasted vanilla, though both were in play here. Also in play were soft pecans, that seem to have absorbed butter and sugar from the surrounding fudge. This made the treat easier to enjoy in a continuous, rather than crumbly, bite. There were also small bites of chocolate fudge that offered contrast to the vanilla (or maple) base, though I could personally go for a higher chocolate : vanilla ratio.

The texture of the base fudge is smooth, without any graininess, but is just a little drier than the creamy chocolate, which I shall hold as the standard for creaminess of all fudge from this day forward. The Kansas City Special is a neat blend of flavors, and in fact, after eating it, I started contemplating recipes I could make with chocolate and maple syrup. Even while contemplating the flavor mixture, I kept looking back at the remaining creamy chocolate fudge. Being a fudge flavor at Chip’s Chocolate Factory and knowing that the creamy chocolate is there must be like growing up with a high-achieving older sibling who does no wrong – it’s just impossible to be as good.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chip's Chocolate Factory Fudge: Chocolate Peanut Butter

There’s something about the mixture of chocolate and peanut butter that’s hard to resist, even if neither are very high quality. Witness: the number of Reece’s Peanut Butter Eggs I eat every spring. If I have a hard time holding off on those, imagine what it was like to have this chunk of chocolate peanut butter fudge from Chip’s Chocolate Factory around, especially since I knew from trying the creamy chocolate that I could expect something with a superb texture.

The texture, while still smooth and buttery, was just a bit drier than that of the creamy chocolate; perhaps this is why the creamy chocolate is named as such. The peanut butter taste comes through a bit more strongly than the chocolate taste, even though visually, this fudge screams “chocolate.” The peanut butter itself is high-quality, and offers a nice salty contrast to the sweet fudge. I like this fudge, though if I had to pick this or the creamy chocolate from yesterday’s post, I’d go with the creamy chocolate because it was just a little smoother and the chocolate flavor was better featured.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chip's Chocolate Factory Fudge: Creamy Chocolate

The hardest part about starting the review of the Chip’s Chocolate Factory fudge was choosing the first flavor. I could have just eating large chunks of all three, but it would be hard to give them a fair review that way. So I settled on starting with the creamy chocolate, which sounded like it would be the closest thing to plain old classic fudge.

When eating fudge, it’s important to appreciate it for what it is: basically, candy. It’s not pure chocolate, and won’t have the deep flavor and subtle extra notes that a fine dark chocolate bar does, and will always have a lot of sugar. Some chocolate purists turn up their noses at fudge as being too sweet and lacking flavor complexity.

OK then. More for me.

The Chip’s Chocolate Factory creamy chocolate fudge was everything a fudge should be. The texture was perfectly smooth, without a hint of graininess or waxy bite. The creaminess is quite evident, as there is a distinct milky flavor, and there isn’t a speck of this fudge that is at all dry. While the chocolate taste isn’t that strong, the cream and sugar compliment it well. The creation is a wonderful treat, with the texture being the most notable highlight, and is much better than what I’ve been getting at the beach the past few summers.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Salvation in the Mail: Chip's Chocolate Factory Delivery

If you travel for work on a fairly regular basis, you know that it can be draining and discouraging. I try to make the best of them by scoping our chocolate consumption opportunities, but on my two back-to-back non-leisure trips last week, the chocolate situation was a bust. I had the less-than-stellar experience with The Chocolate Soldier in Dana Point, and when I was in Dallas, there were no chocolate shops nearby for me to check out. I even walked about a mile over to the Neiman Marcus, and they only had Godiva in stock. Disappointing.

But then I returned home, and my luck returned as well. I knew this because this package from Chip’s Chocolate Factory was waiting for me.

There’s something so beautiful about a package that you know is filled with fudge. Three kinds of fudge.

Creamy chocolate? I’m from Wisconsin, give me that cream. Chocolate Peanut Butter? One of the best flavor pairings around. Kansas City Special? Gee, I’ll have to eat it to see what I think.

Reviews on these salivation-inducing chunks of fudge will be posted this week. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Chocolate Soldier: Another Fist-Sized Truffle

Even though I wasn’t too happy with the first two truffles out of my box from The Chocolate Soldier, I’m not one to waste chocolate unless it is truly terrible, so I gave the pecan praline truffle a chance.

The milk chocolate shell is pretty thick on this truffle, and is creamy with a hint of nuttiness. It reminds me quite a bit of the El Rey 41% cocoa milk chocolate that I like to use in recipes.

The ganache center is smooth and sufficiently dense to hold up to the thick shell, which is a welcome change from the two substandard truffles I tried first. However, I taste nothing but milk chocolate and cream. While I love a good plain milk chocolate truffle, it’s disappointing that I didn’t detect any of the pecan praline flavor that is supposed to be in this truffle. It’s a decent truffle, but it isn’t worth $3, and I’m generally disappointed by the truffles from The Chocolate Soldier.

This left me with the dark chocolate salted caramel. It had to be better than the truffles, right?

This caramel is even topped with salt for an added sweet-salty contrast opportunity.

The dark chocolate exterior is very smooth and creamy for a dark chocolate, with an earthy taste and a slight coffee undertone. The caramel inside is also well-balanced, with a little sugar, a little salt, and a definite hint of butter. Unfortunately, it misses the mark on texture, as it is a bit clumpy, though it is at least not runny or chewy like many other subpar caramels. Even with the less-than-perfect texture, it is at least substantial enough to pair well with the thick dark chocolate coating. The overall effect is quite nice, though perhaps not quite worth $1.50.

Though I enjoyed the E. Guittard bar I picked up there, I wasn’t too impressed with The Chocolate Solider. If you have a trip planned in that area, I’d suggest driving up to the Newport Beach Teuscher store instead.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

E. Guittard: Venezuelan Dark Chocoale

While I wasn’t a big fan of the first couple of truffles I tried from The Chocolate Soldier, they did offer a selection of E. Guittard chocolate bars. E. Guittard is noted for their single-origin chocolate offerings, and I picked up the Sur del Lago Bittersweet bar, which has 65% cocoa solids that come entirely from Venezuelan beans.

Since several top-notch brands, such as Valrhona and El Rey, exclusively use Venezuelan beans, I was excited to experience the flavor that $4 bought me.

The texture is quite smooth, especially for a darker chocolate, but verges a bit on waxy. Taste-wise, there are milk and vanilla undertones, and a bit of a coffee aftertaste. The chocolate is fairly mild overall, which meant that there was no need to over-sweeten the chocolate to cut through the bitterness, so the chocolate flavors came through quite well. I’d say it’s not quite as good as the Valrhona dark chocolates, especially in light of the waxy texture, and is a tad pricier, but is still a fairly high-quality bar.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Chocolate Soldier: Fruit-Based Truffles

While I’m able to hold onto bar chocolate for a while, I have a difficult time holding onto truffles, pralines and giandujas. This is easy to justify, as these have shorter shelf lives than bar chocolates. With that in mind, I opened up the box of truffle I’d picked up from The Chocolate Soldier during my trip to Southern California, and picked out the orange to try first.

The super-size truffle has a thick milk chocolate shell and a milk chocolate ganache inside.

The milk chocolate shell has a fairly balanced flavor, with a reasonable amount of sugar such that it doesn’t distract from the flavor of the ganache filling. Unfortunately, the ganache filling itself leaves a lot to be desired. The orange flavor has a distinct artificial bite, and the ganache tastes somewhat like an orange creamsicle. The tang-like aftertaste is bad enough, and the ganache is somewhat grainy to boot. Even though this truffle must weigh in at 2-3 ounces, it’s not worth $3 given the quality.

Having tried part of a white chocolate mango truffle at the vendor booth while I was still in Dana Point, I was optimistic that I might enjoy the dark chocolate mango truffle a bit more.

The dark chocolate shell surrounds a fluffy mango filling that seems to be part mousse and part buttercream. Encouragingly, there appear to be chunks of what might be real mango in the filling, which indicated a welcome change from the less-than-real taste from the orange truffle.

The mango filling itself is, in fact, a nice combination of sweet and tart, just like a real mango. The mango flavor doesn’t have any kind of artificial aftertaste, and the mousse-and-buttercream-blend is pleasingly fluffy and smooth. Unfortunately, the dark chocolate shell is far too thick and hard to blend well with the light filling, and it is impossible to eat this truffle without having the entire thing collapse. The chocolate is also unfortunately a bit dry and bitter, to the extent that even the creamy, sweet filling doesn’t sufficiently cut the bitterness. While the mango filling is well-textured and well-flavored, the execution of the entire truffle is just not right. The contrast between the flavors and textures is too great, and the truffle should be constructed such that it can be eaten without crumbling into a dozen pieces. I don’t think this truffle was worth $3 either, though I might have a different opinion of the coating were a bit softer to make the consumption process less messy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kim's Cupcakes: Cinnamon Cupcakes with Ganache Centers

Guess what?

I made more mini-cupcakes.

Another friend had a birthday.

Don’t you want to be my friend?

This friend will be celebrating another wonderful year of life during the annual meeting for the youth sports organization I work with. Since that meeting is taking place in Dallas this weekend, and we’re both here for it, I decided I should make her some mini-cupcakes. There were two challenges here:

1. This friend doesn’t like chocolate cake, but does like chocolate.

2. Traditional frosting likely wouldn’t make it through airport security screening.

The solution to these challenges: Cinnamon mini-cupcakes with ganache centers. I added cinnamon to my basic cake recipe, which is based on too many sources to name here, and figured out how to incorporate a little chocolate surprise.


1/2 c cream

8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (Callebaut 54.5% cocoa), chopped

2 ¼ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

¾ cup butter, softened

1 ¼ cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 ¼ cups milk

Before you even start on the cupcake part of this recipe, you need to make your ganache centers. Take out your cream and (high, high quality) chocolate.

Heat the cream to a simmer over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until mixture is smooth. Chill in the refrigerator, stirring every 10 minutes to keep smooth, until mixture is nearly solid. Once the ganache is solid, roll into 1/4-1/3 inch diameter balls and freeze.

While those go in the freezer, which is an important step that prevents the centers from bleeding into the cupcake, pre-heat the oven to 350° F and prepare the mini-cupcake pan with liners. Pull out the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

Beat the butter until fluffy, then slowly add the sugar until fluffier, beat in the eggs one at a time until fluffiest. Fluff in the vanilla at the end. The result is a lot of fluff.

Now get the flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon out.

Since the cinnamon is featured here, I recommend going for something top-end, such as the Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzey’s. Mix that super-tasty cinnamon with the other dry ingredients, and pull out your buttermilk.

Add the dry ingredients in three additions and the buttermilk in two, alternating between the two, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.

Fill each of the prepared liners about 1/3 full of batter.

Take your ganache balls out of the freezer, and place one in the middle of each liner.

No need to press down, because the next step is to finish filling the liners with batter until they are about 2/3 full, being careful to completely cover the ganache center.

Put the pan in the oven for 14-16 minutes, and the result is an innocent looking cupcake with two surprises.

A cinnamon kick and a ganche center. Happy birthday, Kim!