Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanks for Helping Me Change a Flat Last Month: Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

Sometimes, my life has days. Real days. Days that make me yearn for chocolate chunk banana bread in sizeable quantities.

Days such as the day six weeks ago, when I had agreed to drive a coworker in DC to and from a surgical procedure, even though I also had a meeting in Rockville all day. My coworker assured me that he could stick around the recovery room and wait for my meeting to finish up, so it appeared this would work. The meeting even wrapped up a few minutes early, and I was on my way to retrieve him from the recovery room after he’d already sat there for a few hours.

And then I found that my car had a flat tire.

Interestingly, I was wearing a skirt suit that cost more than I care to admit, and high-heeled slingbacks. For reference, this is not exactly “tire-changing” apparel. Despite this, I pulled out the jack, tire iron, and spare tire, and got to work.

Then, one fellow from my meeting, who was there all the way from Birmingham, saw me. He stopped, worked with me to get the spare on just so, and we were finished up in less than five minutes. Quite the team we made.

He ran back to Birmingham that night, so I wasn’t able to properly thank him with baked goods. Fortunately, we’ll be at the same meeting in Atlanta this week, so I’ll be able to stash this little thank-you gift in my luggage.

To make this chocolate chunk banana bread, I adapted a recipe from Nick Malgieri’s Bake!, as his was for a 9”x5” loaf pan, and my loaf pans are both 8”x4”. I also incorporated some cinnamon to add a bit of a kick, and replaced the walnuts in his recipe with chocolate chunks because…because…oh seriously, do you need to ask?

Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread Ingredients (as adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Bake!)

1 ¾ cup flour

½ cup sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/3 tsp salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 eggs and 2 egg yolks

1 1/3 cup mashed banana

6 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

10 ounces chopped semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (Callebaut semi-sweet 54.5% cocoa)

Start out by combining the flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl; set this aside. Whisk the eggs, then the bananas, then the butter, and finally the vanilla, waiting until the previous addition is fully incorporated before adding the next.

Now before combining the wet and dry ingredients, you simply must treat your chocolate well.

To ensure that the chunks remain uniformly distributed throughout the final product, use a trick that I learned at the seminar with Nick Malgieri: take approximately two tablespoons of the dry ingredient mixture, and toss with the chocolate chunks.

This assists the chocolate in rising along with the batter as it bakes.

Now, yes now, you may pour the liquid mixture on top of the dry mixture.

Fold with a spatula until they are mostly incorporated.

Then mix in the prepared chocolate chunks, folding until just mixed. Pour the batter into an 8”x4” loaf pan, butter and bottom-lined with parchment paper.

Bake the loaf at 350° F for 50 minutes, and take note of just how well-distributed those chocolate chunks are near the top of the loaf.

Let it cool, and then wrap it and pack it in your carry-on for Atlanta. To express your gratitude for the speedy tire change.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Teuscher Boston: Walnut Gianduja

Everything has to come to an end. Even good things. Even really good things, like a box of chocolates from Teuscher. I won’t be able to write about their truffles, giandujas, or pralines for a while, because this walnut gianduja was the last piece from the box I picked up on my trip to Boston.

As I wrote yesterday, I’m not the world’s biggest walnut fan, and prefer other nuts, like hazelnuts and almonds. Since this gianduja is topped with a gigantic walnut half, the walnut flavor permeates the entire creation, including the smooth, milk chocolate coating.

Inside, the gianduja is sweet, but not too sweet, and carries a definite walnut flavor thanks to the finely-ground bits of walnut blended into the gianduja. While I don’t particularly enjoy walnuts, the incorporation of the walnut offsets the sweet gianduja and milk chocolate coating nicely, so the end result is a gianduja that is sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.

Although I wouldn’t pick this gianduja for my next box because of my own personal preference, those who like walnuts and milk chocolate would likely find this quite pleasing. Now I must figure out when I will get my hands on that next box.

While I don't have a new box in my possession, I do have other great news to report: after all the discussion about using lavender in baked goods, Lauren from Once Upon a Brewhouse has some great ideas, including lavender-scented marshmallows in hot chocolate - you must read about it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Teuscher Boston: Walnut Truffle

Normally, I’m not a big fan of walnuts. Other nuts, like hazelnuts and almonds, appeal to me a lot more, especially in combination with chocolate. This would explain why I’d never sampled the Teuscher walnut truffle before. But folks, I need to provide a review of the full line of Teuscher truffles. You know, for completeness. So I sacrificed. For you, my readers.

I ate chocolate. For you.

What I ate featured a strong, smooth dark chocolate coating with a lingering aftertaste that was fruity and woody in nature.

It also featured a ganache that was robust enough to stand up to the crisp dark chocolate coating, which meant I could bite into the truffle without creating a crumbly mess. Nicely done. From a flavor perspective, the walnut is noticeable but not overpowering, and a little added sugar compliments the walnut, cream, and dark chocolate quite well. Even though I don’t like walnuts very much, I enjoyed the strong texture of the ganache and was pleased that the walnut flavor wasn’t overpowering. I’d consider topping off a box with this truffle in the future, even though it wouldn’t be one of my first selections because of personal preference. Walnut lovers, on the other hand, must try this truffle. Must.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Daring Bakers November: Vanilla-Lavender Scented White Chocolate Custard Crostata

As I’ve started getting into food blogs of all sorts over the past year or so, I’ve been amazed by all the community blog activities that go on, both in-person, such as local get-togethers and long-distance meet ups, and virtually, via chats over Twitter and blog groups. Some of these are ad hoc, like the group that Evan, Julie, and Heather threw together for the Macaron Monday challenge. Others, like Tuesdays with Dorie, are regular occurrences. One such group that posts on a regular schedule is The Daring Bakers, which is sponsored by The Daring Kitchen. I was accepted into the super-secret society for November, which means that on November 1, I was able to access the details of the challenge, and had until today to contemplate my approach, craft my creation, and draft my post before the reveal date, which is: today. See my completed product, a slice of vanilla-lavender scented white chocolate crostata.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. If you are interested, she has made a .pdf file with the details of the challenge and the crostata recipe available here.

Pasta Frolla Ingredients

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Grated zest of half a lemon

1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

When I read “cold,” my brain translated that into “frozen,” so I began by cutting the butter into small pieces and freezing it.

I got out one of my favorite things, my food processor, and briefly pulsed together the sugar, flour, and salt before adding the cold butter one chunk at a time, and watched this fine meal form in the bowl.

I then removed the meal from the food processor, placed it in a pile on my counter, and made a well in the middle for the egg and egg yolk mixture.

It was then time to mix this together with a fork. I wondered why Simone didn’t have us simply mix the egg in through the food processor, and I have ascertained that the reason was so that we would make our kitchen counters look like a dough murder scene.

I gathered up the dough, shaped it into a flat disc, wrapped it, and refrigerated it for two hours.

When it was time to put the chilled dough in the 9 1/2” tart pan, I used the technique that I learned from my seminar with Nick Malgieri last month. I broke off 1/3 of the dough and set it aside, and pressed the remaining 2/3 into the bottom of the floured tart pan. I then divided the dough that I had set aside into three equally-sized strips.

It was then time to finish prepping the dough in the tart pan by pressing these along the edges of the tart pan such that the edges were fully covered.

I decided to blind-bake the tart, so I poked the bottom with a fork a few times.

Then I put some parchment paper on top of the dough, and weighted it down with dried garbanzo beans before baking it at 375° F for 10 minutes, and then baking it for another 10 minutes with the beans and parchment paper removed.

I found myself with a crust substantial enough to support something nice and creamy.

This was fortunate, because I was planning on using the vanilla-lavender scented white chocolate custard that I posted about earlier this month.

I used about 2/3 of the prepared custard (2 cups of liquid) in the crostata, and then baked the filled tart for 35 more minutes.

Now that looks nice, but I wasn’t quite done. For the stand-alone custard post, I used purple-tinted powdered sugar for decoration, but for the crostata, I did something a little more elaborate. I started with some plain paper, and then cut out a little freehand design that I thought looked nifty.

I used this as a guide for both purple and uncolored powdered sugar to complete the crostata.
I took this to a meet where I was coaching, and my fellow coaches had no difficulties finishing it off. Thanks, Simone!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Chocolat Moderne: Hazelnut Hysterie Bistro Bar

In addition to the very seasonal Pumpkin Pique-Nique Bistro Bar that Chocolat Moderne sent me last weekend, I was also fortunate enough to receive yet another Bistro Bar – the Hazelnut Hysterie.

Packaged similarly to the Pumpkin Pique-Nique, it also featured the same bar-style blocks with smooth, intense dark chocolate base. The chocolate itself has a subtle coffee taste, and perhaps a hint of a vanilla undertone.

The praline inside is sweet and creamy, features bits of well-roasted, flavorful hazelnuts. There are also some bits of candied hazelnuts scattered throughout, and while they balance well with the dark chocolate bar, they are just a little too big for my liking, though not so much so that I couldn’t appreciate the praline.

The praline was soft, which is how I prefer my pralines, though this resulted in a bit of the thick chocolate bar breaking away from the praline during bites. As with the Pumpkin Pique-Nique, I would also prefer a higher ratio of praline to bar coating, though I’m not sure that’s structurally possible in this bar format. It appears that Chocolat Moderne offers traditional molded chocolates; perhaps those would present the ratio I’m looking for. I’ll have to procure some and try them out.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chocolat Moderne: Pumpkin Pique-Nique Bistro Bar

Ah, Thanksgiving. We all sit around and talk about what we are thankful for. I’d rather be different. First, here’s an entirely out-of-place picture of the view from my balcony.

The main reason for posting this picture here is to make you jealous of the fact that I see this all fall. Without even having to get dressed.

So back to chocolate. Seems like a good day to go on about something involving pumpkin. Yet I already posted my recipe for vegan pumpkin truffles.

Luckily, Chocolat Moderne sent me a very seasonal bistro bar in that package last weekend: The Pumpkin Pique-Nique.

The bar itself is made of an intense dark chocolate with hints of coffee and a bit of an earthy undertone, and just a bit of added sugar to blend the flavors. This particular chocolate is smooth and melts away very, very slowly, and the chocolate flavor lingers for an appreciable amount of time.

This dark chocolate certainly makes up the majority of the bar, and I could go for a higher filling to coating ratio, but that’s difficult in bar form.

The filling itself has thin bits of roasted pumpkin seeds, which are mostly noticeable via the crunch that they add to the texture. There is a clear sugar and pumpkin spice flavor, composed of what tastes like some nutmeg and cinnamon, though the spice flavor is relatively subtle. There are also little bits of candy mixed in, which are small enough to not overwhelm the praline while adding a bit of sugar. Texture-wise, the praline is just a bit dry, but is substantial enough to stand up to the crisp dark chocolate coating such that biting into the bar is very easy.

This would be a perfect after-Thanksgiving pumpkin-themed treat. But I already made a cake. And already finished most of this bar. Oh well.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday Recipe Exchange: Inside-Out Buckeyes for the Butter Theme

Sometimes, inspiration works in funny ways. Sometimes, inspiration causes you to completely turn a recipe inside out. Like I did with these Inside-Out Buckeyes.

But wait. How did I get here? Did this just pop into my head out of nowhere? Sadly, I’m not that creative. You see, this week’s Holiday Recipe Swap theme is butter.

Sweet, wonderful butter, that can really be used in any recipe. I had butter ganache on the brain anyway, after enjoying a Teuscher Buttercrunch truffle, and reasoned that I could use butter ganache as a base for my recipe.

And then I kept seeing recipes for Buckeyes, those chocolate-covered peanut butter confections that are constructed to resemble the nuts of a buckeye tree. Suddenly I realized what I had to do.

I had to make buckeyes with chocolate centers and peanut butter coating. I had to. And I had to call them Inside-Out Buckeyes, because that’s what they are.

If you think this sounds as wonderful as I do...vote for them! Come join the fun at the My Baking Addition and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap Sponsored by Kerrygold.

Alternatively, you could take a stab at making them on your own. Here’s how it goes.

Inside-Out Buckeye Ingredients

16 oz semi-sweet chocolate (El Rey 61% Cocoa Mijao), melted and cooled

8 tbsp butter

4 c powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

½ tsp salt

2 10-ounce bags of Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips

Obviously, chocolate is a key ingredient. As it is in all recipes here.

Once the chocolate was melted and subsequently cooled, I whipped it together with the butter, slowly mixed in the powdered sugar, and then added in the vanilla and salt.

It was delicious. Trust me. I took the portion that I didn’t eat, and rolled it into balls ¾” in diameter.

Since these were to be inside-out buckeyes, meaning chocolate inside and peanut butter outside, I needed something special for dipping.

Reese’s chips! I’d debated trying to make my own coating out of coconut butter and peanut flour, but grabbing some of these chips and melting them is much easier.

In preparation for dipping the chocolate balls in the melted peanut butter chips, I chilled them and poked toothpicks in them to make dipping easier.

Then, one by one, I rolled them around in the melted peanut butter chips.

I shook off the excess coating, and set them on parchment paper to solidify.

After about an hour, they were nicely set, and ready to eat.

I had to hide these from myself. In the back of the refrigerator. Peanut butter and chocolate are usually a delicious combination, but these things are unreal.

So unreal that you should vote for them as this week’s best butter-themed recipe. Seriously. It’s just not possible to do better than this.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Teuscher Boston: Jasmine Truffle

One truffle that caught my eye when I was selecting treats for my box at the Teuscher shop in Boston was the Jasmine truffle. Perhaps Teuscher had been carrying it for ages, but I’d certainly never tried it before. I was intrigued, and asked the chocolate consultant to pack one in the box for me.

If nothing else, a quick look reveals that this truffle features a coating of Teuscher dark chocolate with high quality cocoa butter.

The ganache inside is a little creamier and sweeter than the dark chocolate on the outside, but there is very little jasmine flavor noticeable. The ganache is perfectly smooth and delightful, but doesn’t seem to have any specific jasmine flavor. I enjoyed the truffle, but it seemed to not be much more than a dark chocolate ganache covered in dark chocolate. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I would rather just select a plain dark chocolate truffle if that is what I’m going to get. Next time, I’ll probably just pick out a plain dark chocolate truffle to enjoy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Teuscher Boston: Hazelnut Gianduja

IMPORTANT: Before you get distracted by this combination of chocolate and hazelnuts, don't forget that you can go vote for my vanilla-lavender scented white chocoalte custard in the Holiday Recipe Exchange.

Now it's time to talk hazelnuts...gianduja, to be exact

Even without the novelty of the layered effect of the Teuscher zebra gianduja, it’s truly a delicious creation. Teuscher seems to do a great job with simple, plain giandujas, so I was eager to check out the hazelnut gianduja, which prominently featured a whole hazelnut on the top of the creation.

The milk chocolate covering the gianduja and hazelnut was exceptionally soft and creamy, which made it easy to seamlessly bite into this creation.

The gianduja itself carries a strong hazelnut flavor, which goes nicely with the crunchy hazelnut on top. There’s a slight graininess to the gianduja that prevents it from being super-smooth, and the dominant flavors are hazelnut with a powdered sugar undertone; chocolate is not that strongly featured in this gianduja. It borders on just a little too sweet, but doesn’t quite cross the line. I enjoyed it, but I favor the almond gianduja instead.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weekend Chocolate Delivery: Chocolat Moderne

For most folks, Saturdays are a nice day to relax after the work week. However, since one of my life passions, in addition to chocolate and baking, is coaching a youth sports program, a good portion of my Saturdays are usually devoted to coaching and managing the administrative side of the team.

And then baking. With chocolate. Obviously.

This Saturday, however, was 100% dedicated to the team I coach. We had a clinic with a coach who honed her athletes' skills so well that they won an Olympic gold medal in 1996, so the day involved a round-trip drive to Williamsburg, an 8-hour clinic, and almost two hours of private lessons with our athletes. It was an inspiring, but long, day. When I finally got home at nearly 10 pm, I found that the front desk had a package for me.

The folks at Chocolat Moderne apparently knew in advance that I’d need a little something extra after a long day. But what was inside?

EPIC BUBBLE WRAP PACKAGE. Alright, that will be fun to pop away at like a six-year-old, but surely there was some chocolate in here.

And was there ever. Two Chocolat Moderne bistro bars. One Hazelnut Hysterie, which is filled with crunchy hazelnut praline, and one Pumpkin Pique-Nique, which is filled with pumpkin-pie spiced praline and pumpkin seeds.

Just in time for Thanksgiving week. Awesome. Reviews of these two bars forthcoming shortly.