Without further ado…

PROFITEROLES AU CHOCOLAT

2 ozs hazelnuts, roasted, raw and shelled

1 C cold water
1/4 lb unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/4 t sea salt
1 C all-purpose flour

4 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

1 C heavy whipping cream, chilled
1 t honey
Small pinch of ground cinnamon

1 qt vanilla bean ice cream

1 C bittersweet chocolate sauce, warm (see below)
Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast until almost dark, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly, then use a clean towel to rub off skins, discarding them. Crush nut meats coarsely with a mortar and pestle, rolling pin or meat mallet and set aside.

To make the puffs, put water, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture comes together and forms a sticky ball. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring, for a minute or more.

Transfer dough to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed to cool dough slightly, then increase speed and begin to add 4 eggs, one at a time. Make sure each egg is fully incorporated into dough before adding the next. When all eggs have been added, scrape down sides of bowl and beat again until dough is smooth and glossy.

Line a pair of baking sheets with parchment paper, and put dough in a pastry bag or cut gallon ziploc bag to form mounds that are spaced evenly, 2 1/2″ in diameter (around 12 mounds per sheet). Brush each mound with the beaten egg, smoothing the tops with fingers. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 F, then reduce heat to 375 F and continue baking until puffs are nicely browned and crisp, about 25 minutes more. When done, the puffs should be light and airy inside. Cool to room temperature, preferably on a rack.

Meanwhile put cream and sugar in a chilled metal mixing bowl and whip to a soft, light consistency.

To assemble profiteroles, cut puffs in half transversely. Divide softly whipped cream on the bottom half of each puff, then a scoop of ice cream and replace the tops. Transfer filled pastries to chilled dessert plates or bowls.

Drizzle with warm chocolate sauce and sprinkle with reserved crushed hazelnuts. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve promptly.

Chocolate Sauce

1/3 C brown sugar
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
4 ozs bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao or so), chopped
2 T unsalted butter

2 T Grand Marnier or Cointreau

Place double boiler over medium heat and bring water to a simmer. Put sugar, cream, chocolate and butter in top part of double boiler. Let simmer, without stirring, for about 15 minutes, until cream is hot, sugar is dissolved and chocolate has completely melted.

Add Grand Marnier and whisk until glossy and smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and keep warm.

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Las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso. (Ideas should be clear and chocolate thick.)
~Spanish proverb

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment and federally funded activities like education, became law on July 2, 1964. On this fiftieth birthday, the Act should be celebrated for purportedly halting our version of apartheidism and for overtly outlawing Jim Crow laws in some parts. A “child of the storm,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King once noted. It would not have been enacted without the support of strange bedfellows — House and Senate Republicans who were vying for black votes. Passage of the Act took centuries of oppression and racism, murderous lynchings and shootings, pernicious shackles and floggings, Birmingham bombings, vile Klansmen, the assassination of a youthful president, fierce legislative battles, egregiously bigoted medical policies and care, vicious attack dogs unleashed and batons wielded on citizens, and a bloodied, sometimes slain, army of protesters filling our streets. In remembrance, we must remain vigilant about erosion or even quiet eradication of the Civil Rights Act.

Take, for instance, the 1965 Voting Rights Act which the Roberts’ Supreme Court gutted last year when federal enforcement was invalidated in many states with histories of discrimination against minority voters. Nine states, mostly in the South, were allowed to change their election laws without advance federal approval. The Supreme Court, in a majority opinion (5-4) authored by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., naively ruled that “(o)ur country has changed…(w)hile any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” See Shelby County, Alabama vs. Holder, et al., 570 U.S. ____ (2013). This ruling effectively ended the use of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which required any changes to voting rules in covered jurisdictions be endorsed by the Justice Department in advance. So, voter identification laws that had been blocked would become effective promptly, redistricting (gerrymandering) maps would no longer require federal approval, and southern states will no longer have the burden of proof in showing that voting changes do not have a racially discriminatory effect.

Public apathy, misinformation, myopia, “legal” ploys, and a conservatively bent Supreme Court with justices ironically clad in black political robes have put our revered Civil Rights Act in jeopardy. How tacit empathy rules in that ivory tower acronymed SCOTUS.

Perhaps some vanilla ice cream cloaked in chocolate is apt, as some things have not changed.

VANILLA ICE CREAM

2 C heavy whipping cream
1 C whole milk
2/3 C granulated sugar
1 small pinch, fine sea salt
1-2 vanilla beans, sliced lengthwise or 1+ t vanilla extract

6 large egg yolks

In a small to medium heavy saucepan, simmer cream, milk, sugar, salt, scrapings and seeds from vanilla bean and add pod or add vanilla extract. Bring mixture just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, cover and let sit 30 minutes.

In a separate glass or metal bowl, whisk yolks until pale yellow. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk about a third of the hot cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pan with the cream. Return pan to medium low heat and gently cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2-3 minutes. Strain custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water and let cool, stirring occasionally, until it reaches room temperature.

Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve directly from the machine for soft serve, or store tightly sealed in freezer until wanted.

GANACHE

14 ozs fine, bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), broken into pieces
3 T espresso
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 C sugar (granulated + light brown)
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
1 pinch coarse sea salt

In a heavy saucepan, combine all ingredients and melt together over very low heat, stirring.

Just before all the chocolate is melted, remove from heat and stir until chocolate melts and mixture comes together. It may appear curdled, but keep whisking vigorously, as it will smooth. If too thick to pour, whisk in hot water a tablespoon at a time. Taste for salt and adjust the seasoning.

Liberally drizzle ganache over the ice cream. Swoon as you spoon.

America is my country and Paris is my hometown.
~Gertrude Stein

It may seem obvious from past ramblings that I am an unabashed francophile. So, given that yesterday was Bastille Day, allow me to regale some. Every year this month we should remember and embrace the many bonds between both the republics of America and France. (America should now be more accurately deemed an oligarchy.) Founded upon principles of liberty and equality and violent revolutions launched by a deep resentment and distrust of monarchies, these countries do have kindred origins. Unfortunately, in our age of microwave memory, bumper sticker rhetoric and historical ignorance, the shared admiration which should infuse our relationship is so often discarded. Rational discourse sometimes devolves into jingoist rant. Even given the many errors of both countries’ ways and the diplomatic tensions that have arisen, some mutual respect and affection should bathe both sides of the pond.

To some, France and America may seem improbable partners. But, before you go there consider:

French fur traders and explorers blazed territories on the continent never before seen by whites.

The Revolutionary War which granted sovereignty and independence to the colonies would have likely been lost if not for French financial support, military backing, and naval superiority at Yorktown.

Marquis de La Fayette, who served as major general in the Continental Army and negotiated an increase in French patronage, was considered the adoptive son of George Washington.

The first comprehensive sociological study of the American people was written by a French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville.

The French language, which was the tongue of the English court and the civilized world, has lent so many words and phrases to American English.

The states more than doubled in size with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France.

The Statue of Liberty, other statues and urban design plans were courtesy of French artists and designers.

Millions of Americans are of French descent and many still embrace the culture and language.

Flocks of exuberant American writers, musicians, artists have studied and performed freely in France.

During both world wars, innumerable American and French soldiers and civilians perished side by side on French soil.

Each nation has brazenly borrowed, shared and mimicked the other’s cultures, cuisines, wines, music, art, architecture, styles, and clothing.

Far from a comprehensive list.

This is not to say that meaningful criticism is out of order. Face it—neither country has been beyond reproach. Over history, both France and America have engaged in rampant colonialism, have committed heinous judicial sins, have pursued political imperialism, and have displayed condescending and arrogant behavior. Both have invaded, dominated and subordinated, even enslaved, other peoples. Both have cruelly and shamefully imprisoned, tortured, maimed and killed in the vainglorious name of the state. Both have engaged in improvident, tragic wars. Neither have clean hands. France and America have shared in some disgraceful histories, and ordinary citizens have a duty to remind partisan politicians and biased press alike.

These are imperfect societies governed by imperfect, sometimes maladjusted, peoples. They are ongoing political and anthropological experiments. Our cultural similarities should be cherished and the dissimilarities should not just be accomodated, but nutured. Mutual respect and a sane, humble historical perspective should ever underly our differences…with ever vigilant eyes toward not repeating dark history.

Chauvinism under the guise of patrotism has no place at this table. Pots de crème, chilled champagne and good company do.

POTS DE CREME

3 ozs superior bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), cut into small pieces

2 C heavy cream
1/2 C whole milk

5 egg yolks
1/4 C granulated sugar
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 325 F

Melt the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set over a heavy sauce pan with gently simmering water. When the chocolate is close to being melted, turn off the heat and let stand until completely melted.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, scald the cream and milk.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt until the sugar is completely dissolved. Very slowly whisk the hot cream mixture into the yolks so that the eggs do not cook.

Pour the hot cream mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the melted chocolate. Whisk until fully incorporated and smooth.

Divide chocolate custard among 6 small ramekins. Line the bottom of a baking pan with a folded kitchen towel and arrange filled ramekins on towel. Pour in hot water to the halfway level on the ramekins. Cover with foil and bake in the hot water bath (bain marie), until custards are set around edges but still slightly wobbly in the center, 30 to 35 minutes.

Carefully remove the ramekins from the bain marie, and allow to cool to room temperature. Then, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. Serve with a dollop of hazelnut whipped cream and a glass of bubbly.

Crème de Noisettes (Hazelnut Whipped Cream)

3 T hazelnuts
2 C heavy whipping cream
1 vanilla bean split, seeds scraped out
2 T sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F

Toast hazelnuts until brown, about 20 minutes. When the nuts are cool, rub them in your hands to release the papery skins. Chop them in a cook’s knife or pulse in the food processor fitted with the steel knife until finely ground.

In a small saucepan, bring cream just to the boil. Turn off the heat and add the nuts. Cover, and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and chill overnight.

The next day, pour the cream through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk. Using the back of a wooden spoon, press on the nuts to push out the cream. Whip with vanilla and sugar until soft peaks form.

Cupcakes — Serious Whimsy

February 20, 2011

For me, the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake.
~Alfred Hitchcock

May seem decidedly banal to some, but these winsome morsels have gained a new found presence in the food chain.

An invention of the early 19th century, cupcakes evolved as a kitchen convenience—a quicker, dainty cake. The earliest written reference to the term “cupcake” was in Eliza Leslie’s 1828 cookbook Receipts. Two theories have emerged behind the word. One was that they were cakes simply cooked in cups, and the other referred to a cake where the ingredients were measured by cups. Before then, cake baking ingredients had traditionally been weighed.

In recent years, cupcakes have become much the culinary pop icon with bakeries, shops, stands, mobile vendors, cookbooks, blogs, and magazines devoted solely to these sweet delicacies. Classic chocolate and vanilla have given way to more hip, theatrical versions such as strawberry champagne, tiramisu with marscapone, meringue buttercream and pinot noir chocolate.

A more traditional, but far from timid, cupcake follows.

YELLOW CUPCAKES WITH CHOCOLATE ICING

3 C all purpose flour
2 C granulated white sugar
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt

1 C unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
2 t pure vanilla extract

1 C whole plain yogurt

Line two muffin tins (24 muffin cups) with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350 F

In the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat to combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter, egg, egg yolks, vanilla extract, and yogurt. Beat the wet and dry ingredients together at medium speed until the batter is smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, assuring that he flour is fully incorporated.

Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake until pale gold, about 20-25 minutes, and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing.

Chocolate Icing

8 ozs high quality unsweetened chocolate (70% cocoa), coarsely chopped
1 1/3 C unsalted butter, room temperature
2 2/3 C confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted
1 t pure vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat until it is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the chocolate and beat on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until frosting is smooth and glossy, about 2 -3 minutes.

What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.
~Katherine Hepburn

While brownies may be considered undersexed in technique, when eaten they can be almost lewd.

Some sources trace the origin of the iconic brownie to the 1896 The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, written by the esteemed Fannie Farmer—but that was more of a cookie/confection that was flavored with molasses and made in fluted molds. Then in an 1897 Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog there was a recipe for a molasses candy dubbed “brownies” which were named after the legendary, magical elves that had become the rage in pop culture then. Brownies were those rarely seen, occasionally mischievous, creatures that lived in houses or barns and finished undone housework in return for food favors.

About a decade later, the first cake brownie recipe appeared in the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book which proved less rich and chocolate laden than today’s brownies. The following year, along came a recipe for “Bangor Brownies” in Lowney’s Cook Book, authored by Maria Howard which added extra eggs and chocolate, creating a more luscious chocolate brownie. Since the early decades of last century, brownies have held a prominent place in America’s kitchens with myriad versions on the same theme.

Intensely chocolate and chewy in texture, this edition demands a scoop or two of fine vanilla ice cream. As always, the key is exquisite chocolate.

BROWNIES

1 C all purpose flour
1/2 t salt

5 ozs gourmet dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), chopped
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 T fine cocoa powder
1 1/2 C granulated sugar
1 t pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/2 C walnuts, chopped (sort of, optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Butter an 8″ square baking pan.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour and salt and set aside.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large bowl placed over a heavy saucepan of simmering water, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow to cool some. Then stir in the cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Finally, stir in the flour mixture and walnuts.

Spread evenly in the prepared pan and bake until an inserted toothpick comes out almost clean, about 30-40 minutes. Do not overcook. If anything, undercook them lightly so they remain chewy. Allow to rest before slicing.

I feel the end approaching. Quick, bring me my dessert, coffee and liqueur.
~Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin’s
great aunt Pierette

No, this is not a delusion…just another ladleful of ignorance added to the broth.

As the nation’s second largest textbook market, Texas has enormous leverage over publishers, who often craft their standard textbooks based on buyers’ specs. So, when it comes to the very books which teach the basics to our children, what happens in Texas rarely stays in Texas…to the chagrin of genuine academia and our children’s children. Driven by a paranoid, chauvinistic mindset that has been advanced as gospel truth, in three short days of turbulent yet less than intellectually honest meetings, the Texas Board of Education simply removed Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum. Off the bench, they replaced him in the lineup with a couple of religious icons: a Siclian, St. Thomas Aquinas and a Frenchman, John Calvin. How quickly theological tenets can become widely peddled as ipse dixit school books.

Summarily guillotining the scrivener of the Declaration of Independence from the horizons of our history? According to these pious Texans, Jefferson’s heinous sin was that (along with other Founding Fathers) he was committed to a purely secular government. Even his onetime adversary, and later pen pal, John Adams is twisting in his grave at such wretched illiteracy. Hopefully, the board members comprehend this severe blow to students across the land—inevitably leading to a lack of a common notion of reality among youth. Shame to those zealots who added to the stoning of President Jefferson.

Something sweet is needed to assuage such bitterness.

Translated as “pick me up” or “pull me up,” tiramisù has recent culinary origins, i.e., during my children’s generation. This only makes sense as my daughter is openly smittten by this creamy-coffee-liqueur-chocolate-finger caked ambrosia. Heaven in a spoon — or in a darker calvinist vein, a sinful indulgence demanding redemption, salvation, absolution and all that brimstony blah-blah-blah.

Buon appetito, mia figlia

TIRAMISU

1/2 C strong espresso
1/4 C coffee liqueur
3.5 ozs bittersweet chocolate, grated
3 T cocoa powder
1/2 C light brown sugar

3 large egg whites

3 large egg yolks
1/4 C sugar
1 t high quality vanilla extract
3 C mascarpone

30 small savoiardi (Italian ladyfingers)

Bittersweet chocolate, shaved (for topping)

Mix the coffee, coffee liqueur, bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder and light brown sugar together and set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff and glossy peaks with a hand whisk or an electric mixer fitted with a whisk and set aside.

With a whisk or in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat egg yolks, sugar and vanilla until mixture is pale and thick and forms ribbons. Slowly fold the mascarpone into the egg yolk mixture. Then, with a spatula fold in the egg whites into the marscarpone mixture, and set aside.

In a long, shallow bowl, quickly dip the savoiardi in the espresso, coffee liqueur, bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder and brown sugar mixture. Do not drench the ladyfingers, or they will self destruct as you arrange them. Arrange them on the bottom in one layer in a 9″ x 9″ x 3″ rectangular or oval dish and sprinkle with grated chocolate. Stand the savoiardi standing on end around the dish. As necessary, shorten the ladyfingers to fill the spaces. Pour half the mascarpone mixture over and spread evenly. Repeat the layers of dipped ladyfingers, mascarpone mixture and grated chocolate.

Lightly smooth the top with mascarpone mixture and strew with shaved bittersweet chocolate.

Serve immediately at room temperature or refrigerate and serve chilled.

When we lose twenty pounds… we may be losing the twenty best pounds we have. We may be losing the pounds that contain our genius, our humanity, our love and honesty.
~Woody Allen

For those who may have embarked on a fad diet recently, here are two sweet and sound incentives why not to. But, if you do remain tried and true, if you do carry through…once you are ready to regain your senses, avoid buying processed, jarred butterscotch or chocolate sauces. The real deals only take a few minutes and are well worth the brief wait. Over ice cream, fruit, bread pudding, pound cake, together or apart. It’s all good.

BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE

4 T unsalted butter
1 C packed dark brown sugar

3/4 C heavy whipping cream

1 T vanilla extract
1 t sea salt

Have ingredients mis en place and already measured.

In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat. Just before butter is melted, add all dark brown sugar at once and stir well with wooden spoon until sugar is uniformly wet.

Stir infrequently until mixture transforms from sandy to smooth, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the cream, lower heat and whisk vigorously with a wire whisk. When mixture is uniform, turn heat back to medium and whisk every few minutes for about 10 minutes. Turn heat off and let rest for a minute or so and then before transferring into an ovenproof glass bowl. Cool to room temperature.

Whisk in half the salt and vanilla. Taste and, if necessary, add more salt and vanilla to taste.

CHOCOLATE SAUCE

3.5 oz fine quality bittersweet chocolate (70%-85% cocoa), chopped
1 T light brown sugar

3/4 C heavy cream

In a bain marie over simmering water, combine the chopped chocolate and the brown sugar, allow the mixture to melt and dissolve, whisking occasionally. Slowly add the cream, whisking more until a velvety texture is created.