Defining my sweet tooth

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Caramel sauce, riz au lait, caramel apples

Warning: Possible rambling post!

Many people get the wrong impression that because I love to bake, I have a big sweet tooth. Sure there are times when I have no choice but to survive on cupcakes for a day but that doesn’t mean I did not want something else, like deep fried pork belly for example.
{Confession: I have a continued addiction to the Coke soda which I am trying control because too much high-fructose corn syrup couldn’t be too good for you and any iterations of it from diet to coke-zero are simply not acceptable. I’m able to curb my craving to some degree with sparkling water so it must also be partly the fizz that I like.}
The truth is I’m very picky with the desserts I put into my mouth. I do not have the metabolism of a bird but I am not afraid of sugar either, my motto is to make every bite count so I want to be satisfied with just a few bites {although for some desserts that really have my number, I’m doomed to overeating}.
If you shove a cupcake laden with American buttercream in front of me, I could feel my throat constricting and my teeth hurting. Giant cookies have no appeal to me and when I see them bunched together in some plastic containers at our finer supermarkets, I find myself wondering if people really eat those. Why not just eat a spoonful of sugar since there really is no other taste that can be gleaned from them.

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Apple Cake

So do I have a sweet tooth?

Let’s see:
I love chocolate. {who doesn’t, but I know some who don’t} My favorite form of chocolate desserts are: brownies, pots de creme, chocolate lava cake, chocolate torte (not cake), pastry cream and let’s not forget hot chocolate which I did a comparative study of when I was in Paris {yes, I’m one lady who takes her hot chocolate very seriously.}

I think I love chocolate in rich concentrated form so just a little of it goes a long, long way.

I love cream. Whipped cream, creme fraiche, mascarpone cream, vanilla pastry cream – specially when they are mixed with fruit.

I love yolk-based desserts – creme caramel, ice cream {certain flavors only but vanilla made with real vanilla beans is always a favorite) and pastry cream.

I guess by now you are all saying: “We get it, you like pastry cream.” This is probably why I don’t sell any desserts made with it, the temptation is too strong I’d probably eat the whole bowl even before it gets into the dessert.

I cannot stand doughnuts but I love beignets. Go figure. I peel the glaze off the doughnut before I eat it if I’m desperately hungry enough in the morning {not much left of the donut when you remove the glaze} but I’d eat two huge beignets from Lousiana Flair in a heartbeat.

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Rice pudding

I love rice pudding. There’s this Filipino snack called champorado which would probably be the equivalent of chocolate rice pudding – and I could eat it with “gusto” any time of the day. Rice pudding is a dessert staple in Parisian restaurants and one way to test the right consistency of a good rice pudding is if you could stand a wooden spoon in it. Also the rice shouldn’t be overcooked and should still have some “bite” to it so risotto rice, like arborio, is typically the best one to use.

Of course, I’m saving the best for last.

I love tarts and apple pie, specifically my mom’s apple pie. My heart quivers when I see apple anything on the “sweets” menu. “Comfort me with apples” is definitely true when it comes to my dessert choices. Which is why I couldn’t wait to make these “apple-y” creations from Dorie Greenspan’s new book, “ Around My French Table”.

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The recipe for Marie-Helene’s Apple cake can be found here. I didn’t have the right size pan which was probably why there wasn’t enough cake batter to cover the cake, but I did like the abundance of apples in this recipe.

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Lotsa apples!

However, it was a simple rice pudding that had me in a tizzy for dessert for two days in a row. I’ve also  realized another aspect of dessert that tickles my fancy: hot and cold desserts in one.

Some of my favorite “hot-cold” indulgences:
Vanilla ice cream and hot fudge.
Volcano cake and vanilla ice cream
Warm apple pie and vanilla ice cream
Cold rice pudding, warm caramel sauce and caramel apples
Warm chocolate pudding with a streak of cold milk

Oh, and a pet peeve: cold apple pie.

Continue reading

The French Housewife’s Chocolate Mousse

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French dinner-party chocolate mousse

According to Dorie Greenspan, this is one dessert that each Parisian dinner-party giver does really well but none were willing to share the secret recipe. Eventually, one of her friends revealed the recipe and it was the one that was on the back of a Nestle chocolate bar.

Surprising? Not really. Years ago, when I asked my sister-in-law about a chocolate cake recipe I liked, she told me to look at the back of a Hershey cocoa box…

*This recipe uses raw eggs.

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I love using different jars to put the mousse in!

Top-secret Chocolate Mousse

From: Dorie Greenspan’s around my french table

3.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
pinch of salt
1.5 teaspoons sugar

Whipped cream or creme fraiche, for serving (optional)

Gently melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water or in a microwave oven over medium power.
If necessary, transfer the chocolate to a bowl that can hold all of the ingredients. Using a whisk, stir the egg yolks into the chocolate one at a time.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl wit a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt until they start to form peaks. Beating all the while, gradually add the sugar. Continue to beat until the whites are shiny and hold medium-firm peaks.
Spoon about 1-quarter of the whites over the melted chocolate and stir with the whisk until the mixture is almost smooth. (Stirring in a bit of the whites lightens the chocoalte and makes the next step easier.) Spoon the rest of the whites over the chocolate and using the whisk or a large rubber spatula, very carefully fold them in. Be as thorough as you can without overworking the mixture – it’s better to have a few white streaks than to beat the bubbles out of the mousse by overmixing.
Spoon the mousse into a serving bowl or individual bowls and serve it now or cover it and keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready for dessert. Serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche if you like.

Notes:

When the recipe says stir in the egg yolks, stir it in, do not whisk. I made that mistake the first time and my chocolate seized and stuck to my whisk in an ugly glob. My egg whites also broke the first time when I used salt. I think with just 1.5 teaspoons of sugar the tendency of the egg whites to break is greater. The second time around, I skipped the salt and used cream of tartar. I watched my egg whites like a hawk and once medium stiff peaks were reached, I stopped the mixer.
With so little ingredients, the flavor of your mousse depends on your chocolate, so use the best you can afford. The texture of mousse is best within a few hours of refrigeration. If it is refrigerated too long it becomes really dense.

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These little clothespins come in handy holding the little spoons in place

 

Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes x 2

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Think quick, what is that one childhood sweet treat that you hold dear to your heart up to this day? Mine is a chocolate cupcake topped with a thick layer of dark chocolate icing. That cupcake was my one of two (the other being a brownie) favorite sweets to take to school. Sometimes classes would run too long that I would scuttle hastily to eat my cupcake! One day, because of my rush to eat it, I dropped it smack on its crown! Picture a five year old holding an empty cupcake wrapper staring down forlornly at the dusty school grounds where her day’s sugary indulgence had just landed. Though I can smile now at that memory, at that time it was pretty gut-wrenching (pun intended) to lose my precious cupcake!

After finding much success with Brownies, it seems befitting to do the same with cupcakes… rediscover that piece of childhood nostalgia that evokes a feeling of utter chocolate contentment.

           So what sparked this trip down memory lane? Why, the popular event, Sugar High Friday, of course! This time it’s "SHF #27" , hosted by David Lebovitz  with the theme: Chocolate by Brand.

I am very particular when it comes to chocolate desserts; the chocolate has to take center stage. I have had much success with the Valrhona and Scharffen Berger brands… I use the former’s block chocolate and the latter’s cocoa powder and nibs a lot in my baking and experimental adventures.

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I have recently acquired a packet of Valrhona cocoa powder and wanted to try it out. The color was such a deep chocolate it really peaked my curiosity, will it keep its dark color when mixed in with flour and baked? Then came the recipe selection. I thought it was déjà vu when I saw two recipes called Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes. One was from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours, and the other by Stephanie Hersch from the book The Essence of Chocolate. This gave me the idea of baking not one but two different recipes of this well-loved baked sweet. As I scrutinized the recipe, I observed that both used cocoa powder, however the similarity ends there. Aside from the obvious egg, flour and butter ingredients, one recipe uses buttermilk and additional melted chocolate while the other uses plain milk. Truly interesting (as I scratch my chin in anticipation)! To achieve a true test, I should, in fact, use the same cocoa powder for both recipes but I decided that that would be just too boring. I wanted this round of cupcake baking spree to be enjoyable/pleasurable so I threw out all the Test Kitchen rules about not changing too many variables at the same time. After all who would want their two cupcake recipes to potentially taste the same. It was not hard to decide which brand to use for which recipe. The obvious reason that since Stephanie Hersch’s concoction was from the Scharffen Berger book, I used the cocoa powder with the same name. I used Valrhona for Dorie’s recipe that she labeled as a cupcake for grown ups which kind of went with my impression of Valrhona as a grown up chocolate largely due to its black packaging.

Chocolate Chocolate Cupcake #1

           Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking From My Home To Yours”

For the cupcake

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Valrhona unsweetened)

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

1 stick (8 tbs) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

½ tsp pure vanilla extract

½ cup buttermilk

2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

For the glaze

3 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (Valrhona bittersweet 70%)

1 tbs confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Fit the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan with paper muffin cups, or butter them with flour and tap out the excess.

To make the cupcakes:

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

            Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until it is blended into the butter. Add the egg, then the yolk, beating 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the vanilla, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add half the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear. Scrape down the bowl and add the buttermilk, mixing until incorporated, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients. Scrape down the bowl, add the melted chocolate and mix it in with the rubber spatula.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin molds.

            Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until the tops of the cakes are dry and springy to the touch and a knife inserted into their centers comes out clean. Transfer the muffin pan to a rack and let the cakes cool for 5 minutes before unmolding. Cool to room temperature on the rack before glazing.

To make the Glaze

            Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of shimmering water. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let stand for  5 minutes.

            Using a small whisk or rubber spatula, stir the confectioners’ sugar into the chocolate, followed by the pieces of cold butter. The glaze may be very thin at this point or may be perfectly spreadable. If it is too thin to spread or use as a dip (I often dip the tops of the cakes into the ganache, then give the cakes a little twirl as I pull them out, so they have a squiggle of glaze in the center), stir it over ice water for a few seconds – really less than a minute. With a small metal icing spatula, give each cupcake a crown of shiny ganache, and let the glaze set at room temperature (or in the fridge if you are in a hurry). If the ganache loses its gloss and you miss it, give the tops of the cakes a puff of hot air from a hairdryer right before serving. 

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Chocolate Chocolate Cupcake #2

       Adapted from “The Essence of Chocolate” recipe by Stephanie Hersh.

For the Frosting

            1 cup heavy cream

            8 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

            

For the Cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Scharffen Berger unsweetened)

10 tbs (5 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

1 large egg

¾ cup whole milk

To make the cupcakes

            Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line 12 muffin cups (3/4-cup capacity) with paper liners.

            Stir together the flour and cocoa powder in a small bowl, and set aside.

            In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until pale, light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.

            Add the egg and beat until incorporated. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately in two batches each, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Continue mixing until the batter is a uniform color.

            Fill the muffin cups about two-thirds full. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cupcake spring back slightly when pressed in the center.

            Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a cooling rack, then remove and allow to cool completely on the rack.

            Once the frosting has thickened, dip the top of each cupcake in it and then twist as you lift out, or spread a small amount of frosting on top of each cupcake. If the frosting become to firm to spread, warm it slightly in a microwave or over a double boiler, stirring gently.

To make the frosting

In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium-low heat, until it just begins to simmer. Add the chocolate and whisk until the chocolate has melted completely and the mixture is smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and let it cool for about 2 hours, or until the ganache has thickened enough to frost the cupcakes. If you’d like to thicken it faster, place the ganache in the refrigerator. The ganache will thicken around the edges first, so be sure to stir it every 5 minutes once it has begun to set. Remove it as soon as it has thickened or warm to room temperature and stir.

Cooking Notes:

           I did not have the chance to make two types of frosting/glaze/icing (whatever you call it) but I included the recipe so you can try it. The reason for this is that some cupcakes disappeared (read “eaten”) before they had a chance to cool down so there was no sense making all this icing. I used Dorie’s recipe for the topping with just butter, powdered sugar and melted chocolate. In my opinion this seemed like it had more shelf life and stability (which did not matter anyway since all the cupcakes were gone by the next day) than the one made with whipping cream. I followed both recipes’ suggestion of just dipping the cakes in the icing, swirling it and using a small spatula to shape it further – this really is the easiest way.

So which cupcake tasted better? Let me see…Dorie’s cupcake was very good in that it definitely supplied that sophisticated flavor; the “hungry” hubby, who maintains he doesn’t like sweets and has been blaming me for proving him a liar, likes this one better. As for me, taking a bite out of the Stephanie Hersch cupcake version brought back that beloved flavor from decades ago. It had the finest, tender crumb which gave one a very good mouth-feel. I think Dorie’s version was denser because of the addition of the melted chocolate and less butter or it could be just from the way I beat it. Also the Valrhona cocoa powder I used in Dorie’s recipe definitely turned out deeply dark chocolate cakes.

I’m still finding a way to effectively fill in the cupcake cups. I’ve tried the teaspoon method  which proved to be time consuming. Using a pastry bag seemed to work very well but was a waste of the pastry bag. Then it suddenly occurred to me that I could use a measuring cup with a spout that could make it  easier and less messy. I’ve also seen batter dispensers but I want to work with what I already have. What do you all think?