Friday, December 31, 2010

Obligatory 2010 Wrap-Up: A (Partial) Year in Chocolate

The bloggin' thing to do at the end of the year is to summarize all the bloggish stuff you did. Despite having only started this blog in late July, I suppose I've been up to a lot of chocolate business. So here goes a recap of 2010.

I went to Milwaukee. To eat frozen custard and to bake for family members.

Then I
went to Chicago. Mostly for a business meeting, but also to check out a Vosges boutique and subsequently fall in love with their entire concept, though not every bar they produce.

Back home in DC, I was delighted to find that Cacao had opened shop about half a mile from where I live. A lucky event. A not-so-lucky-event: my experiment with meringue buttercream in August heat and humidity. A truly brilliant event that followed: covering the frosting with chocolate.

Reasonable adults consider balls of frosting covered in chocolate to be appropriate food. I promise. They also
make nearly 200 mini cupcakes to share with colleagues and swimming buddies to celebrate their birthdays and believe that cake is a great vehicle for vegetable consumption.
All things that reasonable adults do.

In the midst of all my "reasonable adult" behavior, I had another business trip. This time to
Dana Point, CA. It was there that I found a shop that sold gigantic truffles that tasted like stale Tang. Luckily, my faith in the availability of good food returned when I came home to a box of fudge from Chip's Chocolate Factory, which was pretty awesome.

When I got back, I also
made way too many banana mini cupcakes for a coworkers birthday. Oops.

As the DC heat and humidity left for good in October, I tackled a crazy project for my brother's rehearsal dinner. And then I met Nick Malgieri, which has to be just about the coolest thing ever.

Seriously, he is really, really cool. He even commented on one of my posts, which involved two of his recipes.

In November, I was excited to go to the Chocolate Show in NYC, but was waylaid by my kidney (it happens). Instead, I stayed home, went to a
sample day at Biagio, and made a cherpumple. From scratch.

Before December rolled around, I joined Daring Bakers. And had Leigh visit from Germany. I gave her macarons, because it was the right thing to do.
Much of my time in December was devoted to making cookies. Thumbprint cookies. Cinnamon Roll Cookies. Really unusual but tasty Swiss Cookies. Again, it was the right thing to do.

For Christmas, I went back to Milwaukee. And fed my family an outrageous cake.

And I have a bold prediction for 2011. Want to make bets on whether or not it will happen?

Here it is: I will eat chocolate.

Do you have any predictions for 2011?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Vosges Bars: Bapchi's Caramel Toffee

When I spied the Vosges Gingerbread Toffee Bars on sale at the Whole Foods in Tenleytown earlier this month, naturally, I inspected the shelf for other bars that were on sale, and quickly scooped up several, including a Bapchi's Caramel Toffee Bar.

As noted on the packaging, Vosges founder and CEO Katrina Markoff named this bar after her grandmother “Bapchi,” who taught her how to cook.

Inside the packaging is a bar based on a 45% cacao deep milk chocolate, which is created by mixing a touch of dark chocolate in with Vosges signature milk chocolate. Taste-wise, this chocolate is blended nearly 50-50 with the other contents of the bar.

Those other contents include sweet butter toffee, walnuts, and pecans, which are finely chopped and evenly sprinkled throughout the bar.

In addition to being well-chopped and evenly distributed to result in a more uniform and pleasing tasting experience, the added ingredients have an outstanding texture, both individually and in contrast to the smooth milk chocolate. The nuts are well toasted and not remotely soggy, and the toffee is crunchy but not tough or brittle. The toffee bits also feature a distinct salt taste and a subtle butter taste, which stand up well to the deep milk chocolate. In this bar, Vosges has done an outstanding job of mixing the salty toffee with a not-too-sweet milk chocolate. I enjoyed this bar quite a bit, and managed to catch a few extra from the shelves of the Tenleytown Whole Foods before the holiday supplies began to dwindle.

Do you like toffee? With or without chocolate?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vosges Bars: Amalfi

When I got the Vosges Marzipan Bar at the most recent Biagio sample day, I also picked up another Vosges holiday season bar I’d been eyeing over the internet: The Amalfi bar, which features a 36% cocoa white chocolate, pink peppercorns, and lemon zest.

The bar, which greets me by telling me that I’ve never been lovelier, has a strong lemon aroma; the pink peppercorns are also evident immediately upon visual inspection.

The chocolate itself is quite smooth with a bit of grit that can probably be attributed to the lemon zest and peppercorn. Each bite features a definite lemon note, which covers up the traditional vanilla taste of white chocolate and contrasts well with the sugary white chocolate. The pepper taste, however, seems to only be evident when the flecks of pepper are in a given bite, and it seems that the pepper is there more for visual enhancement than taste. As an unapologetic white chocolate lover, I enjoyed this bar both for the soft white chocolate and the flavor contrast offered by the lemon zest, though I’d be curious about how I might have enjoyed this differently had the pepper taste been more pronounced.

Do you like bars with a white chocolate base?

Eit! I've Been Tagged: Four Things

Looks like Julie tagged me for "Four Things." Check to see if YOU have been tagged. Tagged or not, play along on your own blog, or in the comments section.

And yes, this is a post about chocolate.

Four TV shows that I watch:
Morning news
Evening news
Baking with Julia
Desperate Housewives (OK, please just read 1-3)

Four things I’m passionate about:
Healthy cooking
Synchronized Swimming
Nuclear energy

Four words/phrases I use a lot:
Good grief
LADIES (when you coach synchronized swimming, this is necessary)

Four things I’ve learned from the past:
Life is unfair. And nothing you can do will change that.
It's OK to like girly things.
Eating chocolate won't make your problems go away. Your apartment still needs to be cleaned. Really.
Eating chocolate can still make you happy.

Four places I would like to go:

Four things I did yesterday:
Met a friend from middle school for lunch
Contemplated the Scharffen Berger adventure contest
Bought a new car battery

Four things I am looking forward to:
2011 Configuration Risk Management Forum
Judging at my first international synchronized swimming meet in July. In Hawaii. Yep.
Learning how to make and work with decorative chocolate

Four things I love about winter:
Wearing my sweaters
All the work-related meetings I attend in January/February - they help me be even more effective in my job, which I love
Following college swim meets
Taking (too many) hot baths

Tag four people to play along:

Go ahead - comment! You know you want to.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Vosges Bars: Marzipan

Marzipan seems to be a divisive force – folks either eat it by the truckload, or think that it is a sickly-sweet concoction good for little besides being shaped into three-dimensional sugary objects unfit for adult human consumption. I fall a little bit closer to the first camp than the second, so when I saw that Vosges was offering a Marzipan Exotic Candy Bar for the holiday season, I knew I had to procure one, and did so at the Biagio sample day.

The bar features a 62% cocoa dark chocolate, which has a hint of a coffee undertone and surrounds a marzipan blended with “a touch of Amaretto” (per the Vosges description).

Sadly, as one who shies away from strongly alcohol-infused chocolate creations, this bar seemed to have more than just a bit of Amaretto mixed in with the marzipan, which resulted in a thin, wet, runny interior that broke away from the chocolate instantly.

The result was an alcohol-heavy mess that I had a difficult time biting into and enjoying, which is unfortunate given how much I was looking forward to this bar. That being said, Vosges did do a great job of selecting a slightly bitter dark chocolate to offset the sweet taste of the marzipan and Amaretto, so the bar is well-balanced in terms of sweetness, but the Amaretto completely dominates the flavor. A true Amaretto lover would likely love this bar – assuming that they could look beyond the mess factor, which I can do myself for chocolate that I enjoy.

Do you like marzipan? Plain or alcohol-infused?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Chocolate Adventures on the Road: Milwaukee in December

Since the snowstorm that hit the Eastern Seaboard left the DC area relatively unscathed, I’ve luckily made my way back here from the awesome land known as “Milwaukee,” where I hung out with family and forced them to eat insane desserts.

While I was there, my Uncle Dave fed us well, which involved a trip to V. Richards.

At this little shop, I discovered not only a supply of Vosges bars, but a local chocolate bar outlet: Indulgence Chocolatiers, a Milwaukee-based business that handcrafts chocolate bars. Reviews, as always, are forthcoming.

My Uncle Dave also took us past Brennan’s, which boasts the Best. Cheese. Selection. Ever.

They also happened to have some E. Guittard in stock.

In addition to the milk chocolate that I purchased to make some lime-coconut thumbprint cookies, I picked up two new E. Guittard bars to review.

Well, and to eat. Let’s not pretend that this is anything but an awesome task.

Since Wisconsin is playing in the Rose Bowl later this week, everybody is all about the Badgers this week, and my family celebrated by making some Wisconsin-themed Brunsli.

I had some help from my grandmother, who has actually studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu and at The Ritz Hotel Paris. I mean, wow. Am I seriously lucky or what?

Since she and I share a love of baking, she got me a copy of Warren Brown’s latest book, United Cakes of America, for Christmas.

My Uncle Dave and Aunt Maggie, who are also well-aware of my kitchen exploits, got me a convection toaster oven (!).

And my parents pitched in by getting me new baking sheets and a kitchen scale, both of which will be very helpful in my quest to make more and more macarons.

And, as no trip to Milwaukee would be complete without frozen custard, my Uncle Dave got us Turtle Sundae custard from Kopp's Frozen Custard.

The Turtle Sundae flavor features a base of Kopp's signature creamy vanilla custard, and also includes a bittersweet chocolate sauce that had just a bit of grit to it, crunchy roasted pecans, and a buttery caramel sauce.

Neat little break for Christmas, huh? I sure thought so. Plenty of chocolate, that's for sure.

Did you travel at all for Christmas? Where did you go? And most importantly, was there good chocolate?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Daring Bakers' December 2010: Cranberry-Orange White Chocolate Stollen

One neat thing about the food blogging community is the inspiration we all draw from each other, and the challenges we undertake as a result. In particular, I’ve been impressed with what goes on with The Daring Bakers, as every month, we are challenged to undertake a recipe selected by a member.

Last month was my first challenge, and I adored the pasta frolla and enjoyed the flexibility we all had with the filling.

This month, I read the challenge, and was truly terrified. The recipe called for something that has taunted the baker in me for years.

Isn’t that scary? Dude, it’s YEAST. It’s really easy to accidentally kill your yeast, or under-knead, or just plain screw it up and make a loaf of brick, er, bread, that’s inedible. But I don’t shy away from a challenge, so off I went on the December 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge, which was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration. You can see her more detailed instructions here should you wish to attempt this challenge yourself from the original recipe

I adapted the recipe to suit my own tastes, and included orange, cranberries, and white chocolate as the featured flavors.

Here’s how my stollen-making experience went.

Orange-Cranberry White Chocolate Stollen Ingredients

¼ cup lukewarm water

4 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast

1 cup milk

10 tablespoons unsalted butter

5½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons orange oil

¾ cup candied orange peel

1 cup dried cranberries

12 ounces chopped white chocolate

1 cup flaked almonds

To make the dough, sprinkle the yeast on the water and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely, then pray that this won’t be another yeast-based baking failure (the last step is mandatory).

In a small saucepan, combine milk butter over medium heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add the vanilla extract and orange oil. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.

Then mix in the yeast/water mixture, egg mixture, and milk water mixture with a paddle attachment on low speed until the dough comes together.

Cover the bowl with a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes. While the dough is resting, pull out your featured ingredients, which should include some chocolate. Here, white chocolate.

And some homemade candied orange peel, which I had from my previous chocolate-covered candied orange peel exploits.

Once the dough has rested 10 minutes, mix in the candied orange peel, dried cranberries, white chocolate and almonds on low speed. Once the additions are incorporated, attach the dough hook to the mixture and knead for approximately six minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly-oiled bowl, roll dough to cover in oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Now for the shaping and baking, where I had a lot of fun, as evidenced by the photo at the top of this post. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let rest for two hours. Punch down the dough and divide it into four equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 8”x12” rectangle.

Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder. Shape like a candy cane.

Repeat with the other three portions of dough, and then transfer the shaped dough to a pan lined with parchment paper and bake at 350° F for 30 minutes, turning the pan halfway through baking.

Once out of the oven, break open one of the delicious-smelling loaves to see what this tastes like.

While I may be the champion, I still had some plain-looking stollen that vaguely resembled candy canes. How on earth to make it more obvious? Whip out two divided cups of powdered sugar, add just a tad of milk, and color one batch of this simple icing red while leaving the other white.

Using a spoon, I painted stripes of alternating colors with this icing.

Once finished, it really, really looked like a candy cane. And still tasted incredible.

Nobody I shared this with believed that this was essentially fruitcake, but since they were so busy devouring it by the mouthful, they didn’t really have much to say.

Thanks for the challenge, Penny – so happy to have conquered yeast-based baking.

Do you like baking with yeast? What’s your favorite yeast-based recipe?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Outrageous Christmas Dessert: Mint White Chocolate Mousse Filled Chocolate Cake

Most families that celebrate Christmas have several traditions that everybody loves. Mine is no exception. But you see, we’re just a little different. For the past 7-8 years, we have translated “Christmas” to mean “Opportunity to Undertake Culinary Feats of Strength.”

One year, we made a turducken. From scratch – bird deboning and all. And there was the famous “Yule Log” year, which was just a complete delight. So what to do this year?

Yup. A cake with a Christmas-tree-shaped tunnel of white chocolate mint mousse.

But what the heck? How do you do this? One important ingredient is an obsessive engineer who likes to sketch out concepts.

And then draft patterns.

Of course, you need to make a cake. I made about 3 batches of a chocolate butter cake in 9” diameter pans of various heights, similar to a recipe that I used before.

And before we get too involved with the construction, you have to make mousse - filling this cake will take about two batches of the following recipe.

Mint White Chocolate Mousse (adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Chocolate)

1 cup heavy cream

16 ounces white chocolate, chopped (Callebaut)

1/3 cup crème de menthe

4 egg whites

¼ cup sugar

Bring the cream to a boil, pour over chocolate. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, then whisk smooth. Add in the crème de menthe, stir until well mixed. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature, but not until solid.

When mixture has cooled, whisk the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a mixture over a pan of simmering water until hot. Move to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip until cooled and inflated in volume. Fold mixtures together until just combined, refrigerate until stiff.

As the mousse chilled, I started working on assembling the cake layers. First, a half-inch layer that formed the trunk of the Christmas tree.

I know it looks like a target, but think of this in vertical slices instead – and you’ll see where I’m going. Then I worked on the layer for the top of the tree. On the bottom of this layer, I traced concentric circles.

On the top of the layer, I traced one circle that was halfway between.

Then I carved out a triangle-shaped tunnel based on those traced guides.

Neat, huh? Those drafting patterns were key.

I needed to work on assembling all the layers, including the unpictured middle of the tree, but my dad and uncle needed the kitchen to work on the ribs we were eating for Christmas Eve dinner.

Since I knew how good the ribs would be, I relocated myself to the basement, where I had a nearly empty deep freeze and the top of a clothes dryer available to me.

It works. OK? So I did it. And I also got to eat ribs for dinner. So there.

I started out putting the trunk layer on top of the very bottom layer, which was uncut.

Then I spread mousse into the gap, which would be the Christmas tree trunk. This is the bottom half of the cake.

Then I got to work with the top and middle layer, with the uncut top later on the bottom, the top of the tree on top of that, and then the middle on top of that – together, they all made the top half of the cake.

Again, turn this upside-down, think vertical slices, and you’ll see the triangle-ish shape that will make the tree. I filled the whole thing with mousse, and froze both the bottom and top halves

After these froze, I carefully put the top half on top of the bottom half, and dutifully filled gaps with moistened cake crumbs left from cutting out the mousse tunnel.

After this froze overnight, I whipped up some ganache with 1 ½ cups of heavy cream and 10 ounces of Scharffen Berger, and covered the frozen cake.

All that was left to do was cut into the cake, and hope that the mousse tunnel shape turned out.

Not perfect, but OK for a first attempt.

The fact that I said this means that I’m already thinking about attempt #2. Perhaps in a different shape.

What’s the most outrageous culinary feat you've ever attempted? How did it go?