Tag Archives: #chocolatemonth

A tour of Belgium’s chocolatiers

Does Belgian chocolate live up to its hype?

My answer: Absolument or absoluut (“Absolutely” in French and Dutch)!

I’ve had the privilege of scouring Brussels and Bruges (Brugge) for chocolate. I’ve tried hot chocolate (see my post about my search for the best), chocolate glace (ice cream), truffles, bar chocolate, ubiquitious chocolatiers that cater to tourists, boutique chocolatiers with designer, haute chocolate. I conclude that Belgium is a destination for amazing chocolate.

Now, I’d be remiss in not pointing out the irony that what we call Belgian chocolate is sourced from outside Belgium. It’s akin to calling a wine a Napa Cabernet when its grapes actually were grown in Brazil and shipped to a winery in California. Belgian chocolate products originate as cacao beans from a wealth of other geographies – throughout the criollo and forestero (the two varieties of cacao) cacao producing regions of Africa and South America. But those countries themselves do not have the breadth and depth of expertise in roasting, refining, purifying the cacao, nor the artistry, of Belgium and western Europe. As someone who has traveled throughout cacao-producing countries in South America, I can say that I have tasted quite good, locally manufactured chocolate products, particularly in Peru; yet I haven’t seen quite the smoothness and richness that the Belgians, French, or Swiss extract in their retail and boutique chocolate products.

What do I mean by that? In general, even the darkest chocolate noir from Belgium will have a smooth bite and creamy mouth feel, while chocolate produced elsewhere with a high cacao content (above 70%) tends to be chalky, grainy, and not smooth. In Belgium, I have yet to be disappointed.

So allow me to take you on a brief tour of the chocolates of Belgium. Should you choose Belgium as a destination for business or pleasure, I have a few recommendations:

The flagship  boutique for Mary, the royal chocolatier

The flagship boutique for Mary, the royal chocolatier

Mary: Mary purports to be the royal chocolatier of Belgium. Walk into its signature store inside the Galerie Hubert, a high-end shopping hall in the heart of Brussels that is home to several of the best Belgian brands, and you’ll feel that you have stepped into a dainty gallery of perfect chocolate on display. Though it has an impressive and oh so delicately flavored truffle case, its primary retail products are its Langues du Chat (Cat’s Tongues) of solid chocolate and solid chocolate bars and squares, each individually wrapped and presented in a variety of elegant and simple packaging that is perfect for gifts. They offer variations of dark chocolates, as well as flavored squares, such as orange toffee and milk chocolate with cinnamon. It truly is chocolate at its purest and finest.

Neuhaus: With retail outlets in over 50 countries, Neuhaus has become an internationally recognized Belgian brand. I actually avoided Neuhaus during most of my visits to Belgium because of this fact. Perhaps it was a bit snobby and premature to assume that just because they went corporate – not so much as Godiva, but close enough for me – their chocolate wasn’t a must-try. A recent gift of a large Neuhaus ballotin at the holidays changed my mind (see the featured image, above). Every single chocolate – whether a traditional praline (not necessarily hazelnut or almond as we tend to assume), nougatine, solid chocolate, truffle, or a more distinctive creation, such as their signature Tentation (chocolate exterior, with a layer of “nougatine biscuit” and cream or ganache filling) – was smooth and delicious.

Pierre Marcolini: Another recognizable Belgian brand from a celebrated modern chocolatier with a bit shorter history than the other two, it features slick, modern, dark brown packaging. It’s like the Armani of chocolate. Their flavors lean a bit more towards the exotic.  They are quite expensive and have a narrower range of products, but they are intense and yet artisanal. I would call them the perfect corporate gift, as their brand and chocolates exude masculinity and an almost architectural, eye-catching precision. I realize that description doesn’t make them inviting; they are delicious – I once received them myself as a gift in the U.S. and savored every last bite! I just think of them as more showy and less distinctive and inviting, as say, Mary (above).

The rest: Chocolate shops are everywhere in Belgium, particularly in tourist-friendly areas such as the Grand Place in Brussels or the old city in Bruges. The quality and uniqueness of their chocolates isn’t up to par with those I described above, and typically, chocolates are not made in-house, but rather purchased from a mass distributor by shop owners and then resold, as I learned from a local businessman in Bruges. Still, I would not turn those chocolates away! Often, the beauty of these stores is that many of them, like Le Gourmand Belgique, sell self-service chocolates by weight, so you can enjoy filling your bag with as many bulk, mix-and-match treats as you wish. It’s a great way to spend those last few Euros you didn’t really want to come home with or exchange for other currency. Truffles, chocolate-covered toffees, pralines, bark, and even bricks of marzipan (my favorite non-chocolate candy) are on display. And yes, even some of these shops have their own moulded chocolate creations, ranging from the kid-friendly (lollipops, cars, animals) to the not-so-family-friendly, as are some of the interesting items in the display from a Bruges window front shown below.

One of dozens of chocolate shops in Bruges  with, ah, creatively moulded chocolates.

One of dozens of chocolate shops in Bruges with, ah, creatively moulded chocolates.

Yes, those are breasts, if you thought your eyes were deceiving you. I did a double take when I saw them in person as well. Apparently you can make anything out of chocolate…If you’ve ever visited Bruges, you’ll not be surprised by this display.  Bruges is a lovely, though quite quirky and, at times, macabre, city.  Keep Bruges weird!

Bruges (Brugge), a lovely - if not weird - city!!

Bruges (Brugge), a lovely – if not weird – city!!

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Healthy Diplomat: Chocolate superfood cookies – paleo, vegan, and packed with chocolate

Clearly, I wouldn’t have started a food blog if I did not enjoy food.  I love to experience good food.  As you have seen from my posts thus far, and in particular, during Chocolate Month, I enjoy chocolate, and I don’t shy far away from good, rich, indulgent chocolate recipes.

But that’s not how and what I eat on a regular basis. I typically enjoy at least a bit of unadulterated dark chocolate on most days, but I’ve also found healthier ways to satisfy my chocolate cravings.

While I am known to eat chocolate regularly for breakfast – a not so indulgent protein or energy bar, at night I like something a bit more sophisticated. As I discussed in my last post, a twist on my signature chocolate chip cookie recipe, I have been baking for nearly my entire life. Last year, while trying to maintain a healthy balance with a group through the Whole Life Challenge, I challenged myself to devise a recipe for cookies that tasted delicious but packed a nutritious punch and complied with the constraints of the challenge (no wheat or refined flours, no sugar, no artificial sweeteners, and no dairy (though butter was allowed).  I found it very difficult to find tasty, compliant, and nutritious packaged versions at the grocery store.

After several attempts, I finally arrived at a recipe that will satisfy the most health-conscious sweet tooth and chocolate lovers. This recipe is vegan and has a low glycemic index and can be made paleo-friendly without oats. On the positive side, these cookies are packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, and other vitamins and minerals. Cocoa powder and optional bittersweet chocolate add that beloved richness; if you have no restrictions on sugar, it adds a minimal amount.  Applesauce and banana add both sweetness and moisture, and peanut butter supplies needed healthy fat to bind the dough, add richness, needed protein and great flavor.

Treat yo self right! (Parks and Recreation, anyone?)

Chocolate superfood cookies

  • Servings: 20
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 3 oz. unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 c. natural peanut butter – smooth or chunky
  • 1/4 c. dried fruit, finely chopped (dates, apricots, or unsweetened cherries)
  • 1-2 tsp. stevia extract – sugar equivalent (1-2 packets)
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 c. chia seeds
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened coconut or defatted coconut
  • 3/4 c. whole oats* (see below for instructions if omitting)
  • 1 oz. finely chopped or shaved bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao or higher), optional**

Preheat oven to 335 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small to medium mixing bowl, mash the banana with a fork. Using either the fork, a whisk, or electric mixer, beat in the applesauce and peanut butter until smooth. Add stevia to taste. Add the cocoa powder and mix thoroughly. Using a wooden spoon, gently mix in the dried fruit, chia seeds, coconut, and oats. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

Roll cookies by hand into 1″ spheres. Arrange and bake on a cookies sheet for about 15-20 minutes or until slightly firm and crisp on the exterior, yet soft inside. The cookies should be easy to remove and cool.

*If you wish to omit the oats for a paleo-friendly and lower carbohydrate version, double the amount of chia seeds and coconut. Bake for approximately 20 minutes; it is ideal to refrigerate cookies made without the oats to store and serve.

**I would recommend not using unsweetened chocolate, as the bitterness is a bit much for the fruit and stevia.  Lindt makes 90 and 99% bars with great mouth feel and texture, with minimal sugar.

The CD’s oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies with vodka-spiked mandarins

I got my start in adapting recipes and baking at the age of eight, when I realized I loved cookie dough, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the alternating result of either spongy, cake-like biscuits or flat and crispy baked cookies my mother turned out. So I took it upon myself to read, learn, and adapt a recipe from The Joy of Cooking to suit my own tastes – both to create the best tasting dough for bingeing and a baked product that was flavorful and the right moist, chewy texture. Over the years, I used the resulting chocolate chip cookie recipe as a base for other variations – oat-free, egg-free (with bananas – horrible product that I attempted in college and baked in a toaster oven; I never made it again), chocolate with dark or white chocolate chips, chocolate cookie pizza, oatmeal cranberry white chocolate, oatmeal with both butterscotch and milk chocolate chips….the list was endless.

I learned a few lessons along the way that I’d like to pass on.  First of all, I avoid baking powder.  My mother always used it, but I found that its metallic flavor harshly detracts from the buttery vanilla notes in the cookie dough and tends to produce a more cake-like texture.  Additionally, baking temperature matters.  I bake at a higher heat than 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Why am I forsaking the Holy Grail of baking temperatures? The lower the heat on the typical chocolate chip cookie, the more they spread and the flatter they tend to bake (longer and lower), while counterintuitively, baking the cookies closer to 375 for a shorter duration is more likely to produce a chewy, fluffy cookie. I finally settled on 365 degrees as a compromise, particularly since 375 sometimes produces cookies that puff up nicely and quickly but collapse as they cool.

Last summer, I decided to try something different – a little bit of an adult kick, if you will. I spotted packaged, dried mandarin oranges at Trader Joe’s; they were too sweet for me to enjoy snacking on them, but I got it in my head that they might work well in a cookie. To extract the orange flavor and sweetness a bit more, I chopped the oranges and soaked them in a few tablespoons of vodka. The resulting orange-vodka flavor was subtle but pleasant. If you would like to substitute another dried fruit for the mandarins, go ahead; the possibilities are endless – pineapple soaked in rum with white chocolate or butterscotch chips instead of the dark chocolate or blueberries in vanilla vodka, for starters. Whichever variation you prefer, I believe you’ll find this to be the best chocolate chip cookie dough you’ve tasted – it may be hard to save enough for baking, but if you do, the baked cookies are just as good!

Oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies with vodka-spiked mandarins

  • Servings: 3 dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) salted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda (sodium carbonate)
  • 1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. chopped, dried mandarin oranges
  • 2 tbsp. vodka
  • 1 1/2 c. whole rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1 c. dark chocolate chunks or chips

In a small dish, steep dried mandarin oranges in the vodka, covered, for about two hours.

Preheat oven to 365 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter until fluffy. Beat in both sugars by hand. Add egg and continue to beat briskly by hand – no electric mixer needed. Mix in the vanilla, almond extract, salt, baking soda, and flour. Add in the oranges and up to 1 tbsp of vodka remaining after evaporation. Fold in the oats and chocolate chunks. Chill for about 20 minutes or until pliable. Roll into 1 1/2 inch spheres and arrange on a baking sheet with ample spacing. Bake for 8-10 minutes on 365 degrees.

Extreme chocolates in the Baltic States

Didn’t the Baltic series end a few weeks ago? you may be wondering if you saw the title. If you haven’t checked out my series on the cuisine of the Baltic States, please do so. Tabling a discussion on Baltic chocolates felt appropriate to include in Chocolate Month.

The Baltic States certainly are not world-renowned for chocolate. I’m not going to make the claim that Baltic chocolate is the next Belgian or Swiss chocolate either, but I want to share my finds in hopes that anyone who happens to make the Baltics a vacation or business destination knows exactly where to go and what to try to satisfy those chocolate cravings! Overall, as throughout Europe, chocolate shops – from in-house chocolatiers to manufactured retail – are a fixture on the streets of the three capitals. Supermarkets, too, prominently feature a wide variety of local and imported chocolate products from elsewhere in Europe (and yes, European-made American classics like M&Ms are easy to spot). I found the quality and variety of local products to be pretty great, and unique flavor combinations typically were well executed.

Chocolate bars: The local brands Kalev (Estonian) and Laima (Latvian) are ubiquitous in their own countries, but you can find Kalev chocolate in Finland and Laima in Lithuania fairly easily as well. Grocery stores are a good place to get their chocolates – whether for your own cravings or for a gift for a chocolate loving friend back home! Marzipan covered in chocolate also falls within this category; what I found unique was the range of flavors infused in the marzipan, including actual liqueur. Kalev’s Vana Tallinn and Irish Whiskey flavored marzipan were both addictive (yes, you could taste the liqueur clearly), but Laima’s cranberry marzipan tasted like bitter cough syrup loaded with alcohol. Skip that one!

Estonian brand Kalev offers a variety of bar chocolate, some with decorative packaging (a reasonably priced gift!). My first try was a dark chocolate with cherry. Scarred by a recent experience of terrible, medicinal “raspberry” fruit flavor in Bolivian chocolate, I was pleasantly surprised to find a real concentration of what appeared to be natural cherry flavor. Though Kalev substitutes dried apples with cherry flavor for actual cherries, it weaves true cherry flavor throughout. Yum. Their dark chocolate with apricot also was pleasant. It wasn’t the richest quality chocolate, but its price point did not intend it to be so. A white chocolate bar studded with blueberries is great for those who prefer sweet white chocolate.

Latvia’s Laima sells its products throughout supermarkets in Latvia and Lithuania, but its retail stores offer more variety and higher-quality chocolates. My favorite was a seasonal (autumn) very large dark chocolate bar with dried cranberries and crumbled gingerbread pieces. It was an absolutely outstanding holiday treat, especially nibbled with a cup of hot tea or coffee. Another seasonal offering was a gingerbread-flavored wafer kuka (cake), along with a variant that more resembled a square gingerbread Kit Kat – crispier, individual portioned squares covered in dark chocolate. I would take that over a Kit-Kat any day. I was slightly disappointed with a chalky dark chocolate bar with pomegranate and hazelnut; it was 70% cacao but did not have the creamy, soft mouth feel of a better quality chocolate with the same cacao content. Laima’s mass-marketed Serenade chocolates are very good with an unexpected hint of apricot.

AJ’s Sokoladas is a chain of chocolate shops that more resembles a Belgian chocolatier or confisserie, as its focus is more on its selection of individual chocolates and truffles and less on pre-packaged goods (though one of the items in the featured photo, above, is a packaged chocolate-cherry biscuit/cookie from AJ’s). I dearly miss florentine cookies topped with a dollop of chocolate mousse and enrobed in dark chocolate with spicy chilies. It was sweet, spicy, nutty, and rich simultaneously. Their tangy bleu cheese-filled chocolate cups, topped with a single walnut, were a unique marriage of sweet and savory.

When in Estonia, trying a hot chocolate or coffee with local Vana Tallinn licquer is a must! It complements the chocolate quite well, surprisingly.

But THE best hot chocolate I’ve had outside of Brussels is also a wonderful destination for anything chocolate. Chocolats de Pierre claims to have been in business since 1937 here in Tallinn. It is the perfect bohemian hideaway, tucked back in the Master’s Courtyard off of Vene Street in Old Town Tallinn. Its chocolate offerings are much wider and more delicious than the well-advertised Bonaparte, also located in Old Town Tallinn. I sampled a Dusseldorf torte on my second visit – rich, ganache-like torte with a thin layer of almond-accented cherry and walnut with a thin, somewhat forgettable chocolate cake base. Never mind the base, the rich ganache had me at the first bite! An Irish Coffee torte had the consistency but not bite of cream cheese, deadly dark chocolate, and just hint of Irish whiskey. Their white chocolate cheesecake is light and really does melt in one’s mouth. Their homemade chocolates and an array of cheesecakes, quiches, and deadly-sinful chocolate concoctions were as good as anything in Belgium or France. But the creme de la creme was the kuum sokolaad (hot chocolate). No matter how one orders it, it is fantastic. Made with homemade chocolate sauce, cocoa, and steamed milk, describing it as drinking a melted chocolate bar doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Just fabulous!

And don’t even think about those calories. In my opinion, calories in the Magical Kingdom (Republic of Estonia) don’t count!

You, too, can make French macarons – trois façons

In honor of Chocolate Month and Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing a recipe for an exotic flavor trio of the romantic French macaron – a rich, sensual chocolate with rum ganache filling; a tropical basil-lime; and a buttery dulce de leche peanut. All three variations – the trois façons – are certain to impress.

I have been baking since the age of eight.  I love mixing, tweaking great batter, and I have a love-hate relationship with the element of unpredictability of baking.  How can I use the same proportions of ingredients but always yield a slightly different end product? Most of the time, the variation doesn’t really matter.  I’ve always been intimidated by dishes that require precision, especially when it involves the somewhat unforgiving egg white.  French macarons fall into that category.
So I was quite impressed when my friend Kristine told me about her 3 am baking adventures making French macarons from an Otto Lenghi cookbook.  She assured me that if she could do it, I could as well.  I was very thankful when she was willing to walk me through the process.
All in all, it wasn’t as difficult as I had feared. Time consuming?  Absolutely!  Did I make some very ugly meringues during my first attempt?  Yes – they looked more like snails than macarons, and I was doing it the hard way (as I’m prone to do).  Kristine’s meringues were much more legitimate than mine, so those you see photographed are assembled from her meringues.  Kristine’s guidance was very helpful, and hopefully I shared a helpful tidbit or two with her about the beating stages of egg whites/merengue.  It was a true team effort!  #fromMBAtoMRS
Freshly baked basil-lime meringue cookie base for the macarons

Freshly baked basil-lime meringue cookie base for the macarons

I’m sharing all three varieties we tried, as the recipe for the meringue base is designed to be split three ways; but divide the recipe into thirds if you would like to make just one variety.  My personal opinion is that the dulce de leche peanut (salted caramel peanut) is a bit too sweet for my tastes, but it is the easiest to make – perfect for a first attempt.  The other two varieties I will share were a surprisingly amazing lime-basil and a chocolate with rum ganache filling.  The two flavors couldn’t be more in opposition, which in a way, makes them the perfect duo to share with your guests:  one light and exotic; the other dark and subtle.
Whipping the egg whites and superfine sugar is made much easier with a stand mixer.

Whipping the egg whites and superfine sugar is made much easier with a stand mixer, but it is possible with whatever kitchen tools you have on hand.

A note about handling the egg whites:  typically, egg whites can be very unforgiving (deja vu, perhaps?), requiring purity and a deft touch with the mixer – not to be under beat or over beat!  In this case, the merengues were more resilient than I expected.  I contaminated some of my whites with a bit of yolk during the separation process, and while it took a bit longer to whip to a soft peak consistency, they turned out fine.  Kristine realized she had under  beat her egg whites herself on her first attempt, but the end product turned out perfectly fine.  So if you aren’t the greatest at separating eggs and are intimidated to handle egg whites, not to worry.

French Macarons trois façons

Macaron meringue base:
  • 3 scant cups (minus 4 tbsp.) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp.  ground almonds (pre-packaged almond meal is best – Trader Joe’s or Bob’s Red Mill are readily available in the U.S.)
  • 6 egg whites
  • 11 tbsp. (3/4 c. minus 1 tbsp) superfine sugar – granulated is fine
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line baking sheets with Parchment paper.

Sift confectioners’ sugar and almond meal together in a large mixing bowl.  Meanwhile, using an electric hand or stand mixer with medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed, gradually adding the superfine/granulated sugar once the mixer is switched on.  Beat until the meringue reaches a soft peak stage – it thickens and the mixture holds its shape fairly well; Otto Lenghi describes it as a “thick, aerated meringue, firm but not too try.”  Fold approximately 1/3 of the meringue mixture into the almond-confectioners’ sugar; much of the mix will remain dry and somewhat firm.  Gradually fold another third of the meringue into the dry mix.  Add in the vanilla and salt.  Finally, fold in the last third of the meringue until just incorporated.  Do not over-mix.  The resulting mixture should be fairly glossy, moist, and thick.  It need not be smooth.

Follow the below instructions to adjust this meringue base as directed for each flavor variation. To pipe and bake the meringue cookie base, use a pastry bag fitted with a round tip OR #developingkitchen: fill a gallon-size zip-sealed plastic bag; cut a fine slit in one bottom corner of the bag.  Pipe the meringue batter through this slit to form roughly U.S. quarter-sized (1 to 1 1/2 inch) discs; this step works best when you leave the tip stationery until the mixture spreads outward into discs on its own.  Let the rounds rest for 15 minutes uncovered before baking.  Bake at 325 degrees for 12 minutes – or until the cookies can be removed from the Parchment paper easily with an icing spatula.  Remove the cookies from the baking sheet (can lift the entire Parchment sheet of cookies) and set aside to cool.

To assemble the macarons, pipe or spread a pea-sized dollop of filling onto the center of the flat side of one meringue.  Place a second meringue, flat side down, atop the filling and press together slightly.  Allow the sandwiches to set for a few hours before serving; store in airtight containers.

Dulce de Leche Peanut Macarons:

  • 4 tbsp. dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped
  • 5 tbsp. prepared dulce de leche
  • Pinch of sea salt

Separate out one-third of the basic meringue mixture and place in  a gallon-size plastic bag or pastry bag as directed above (no further modification of this cookie base is needed).  Pipe and bake the meringues as directed above – simply sprinkle 1 tbsp. chopped peanuts atop the meringues before baking.

To make the filling, mix 3 tbsp. chopped peanuts and the salt into the prepared dulce de leche. When meringues have cooled, assemble macarons with this filling as instructed above.

Basil-Lime Macarons:

  • 10 large basil leaves, finely chopped and resulting portion divided in half
  • Zest of 2 limes, finely grated (keep each lime’s zest separated)
  • 6  1/2 tbsp. butter (unsalted or salted), room temperature
  • 6 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
  • Juice of one lime (approx 2 tbsp.)

Separate another third of the basic meringue base into a small mixing bowl. Fold half of the chopped basil and lime zest into this mixture; then fill a pastry bag or plastic bag, pipe and bake meringues as directed above.

To make the buttercream filling, beat together butter and confectioners’ sugar with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon..  Add the other half of the lime zest and basil, as well as the lime juice and mix until fluffy and incorporated.  Cover and store outside of the refrigerator (away from heat) until ready to assemble.  Assemble macarons as instructed above.

Chocolate Macarons:

  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 oz. (65 g.) dark chocolate (60-70% cacao, preferably), chopped
  • 1 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3 1/2 tbsp. (50 mL) heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. dark rum

In the original mixing bowl, fold the 2 tbsp. cocoa powder to the remaining third of the meringue base mixture.  Pipe and bake according to instructions above.

To make the ganache filling (can be done ahead of time, such as before making the other macaron varieties), heat the cream in a small saucepan  and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat. Place the chocolate and butter into a heat-proof bowl (or Pyrex liquid measuring cup).  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and butter.  Stir gently with a rubber spatula until smooth and glossy.  Stir in the rum until fully incorporated.  Cover and allow the ganache to cool to room temperature (do not refrigerate).  Assemble the macarons as instructed above.

Bon Appetit!

“Old-Fashioned” Truffle Brownies with whiskey cherries

Who can resist this dark, rich brownie with a hint of a classic cocktail: The Old Fashioned. Really?

Just in time for Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite chocolate recipes to share with your Valentine; they will appreciate the homemade decadence much more than a box of chocolate covered cherries, believe me! Whiskey-accented cherry preserves swirl throughout an almost flourless brownie that more resembles a truffle than its distant Betty Crocker cousin. The base for this brownie, which I’ve adapted over the years from its origins in Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ The Silver Palate Cookbook, has been one of my signature desserts for over a decade. While it doesn’t yield the most attractive brownies – they are so rich that they rarely cut cleanly into perfect squares, I guarantee that you will be hard-pressed to recall a homemade brownie that was as delicious and decadent. I suggest you cut them into small squares, so you can savor each indulgent bite.

Don’t be intimidated by the whiskey cherry preserves; simply heat, add liquor (whiskey or bourbon), and reduce down to its original consistency. Despite that the mixture will be more dense than the brownie batter, it works surprisingly well when swirled together with a toothpick.

Maker's Mark cherry preserves with a touch of added liquor.

Maker’s Mark cherry preserves with a touch of added liquor.

Whether you make the brownie alone or try it with the cherry preserves, I think you’ll agree that this recipe is a winner – sure to woo the heart and stomach of your Valentine this season!

Old-Fashioned truffle brownies with whiskey cherry preserves

  • Servings: 40 squares
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

Ingredients:

Cherry preserves

  • 1 cup cherry preserves (preferably an all-fruit spread)
  • 1/4 cup whiskey or bourbon
  • 1 tsp. orange zest (optional)

Brownie batter

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (8 oz., 227 grams) salted butter, room temperature
  • 4 oz. (112 g.) unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chunks

 

Equipment:

  • Electric mixer
  • Whisk
  • Spatula
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Two (2) 8″ x 8″ x 2″ metal baking pans

 

Directions:

Cherry preserves: Heat the cherry preserves over MEDIUM-LOW heat until it begins to thin Stir occasionally. Add the whiskey or bourbon and whisk to incorporate. Mix in the orange zest. Allow the mixture to simmer until the liquid reduces nearly to its original consistency (added whiskey evaporates and the mixture thickens). Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the metal baking pans with butter or line with parchment paper for easy removal.

Cut butter into large chunks. Place about 1/4 of the butter in a large, microwave safe bowl or liquid measuring cup. Chop the unsweetened baking chocolate as finely as possible; add about half of the chocolate to the butter. Microwave on a LOW heat setting for 30 seconds. Stir to melt the chocolate and butter; add another 1/4 of the butter and stir until melted. Add the remainder of the chocolate and another 1/4 butter. Microwave again for 30 seconds on LOW; remove and stir until melted. Add the remaining butter and stir until melted. Set aside and cool to room temperature. Alternative method: If you prefer not to use the microwave, set up a double boiler and melt the chocolate with 1/2 of the butter; remove from heat and add the remaining butter. Stir until melted; set aside and cool to room temperature.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs in the large mixing bowl on HIGH speed for about a minute. Gradually add the sugar while continuing to beat for another 1-2 minutes, or until the mixture is frothy and takes on a pale lemon color. Reduce the mixing speed to low and gradually pour the melted chocolate/butter mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Mix with the electric mixer until uniform. Add the salt and vanilla and mix. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, fold in the flour until barely incorporated; next, fold in the chocolate chunks.

Pour the batter into the greased baking pans. If adding the cherries, spoon the preserves (still slightly warm) in evenly spaced lines across the pan; swirl the preserves into the batter using a toothpick. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each pan comes out cleanly upon removal. If baking without the cherries, bake for about 25 minutes. A slight crust may have formed but will not buckle as in a traditional recipe with more flour. Cool for at least two hours before cutting into squares. I prefer to eat them chilled in the refrigerator, but I advise against chilling them before cutting them, as the chocolate chunks will be difficult to cut.

Healthy Diplomat: Vegan, no sugar added hot cocoa that actually tastes good!

If you were either intrigued or not scared off by the title of this post, thank you for taking a peek!

In my last post, I offered a simple recipe for indulgent spiked hot chocolate.  While one could easily make it vegan by substituting a non-dairy milk – such as almond, soy, or coconut – I’d like to offer now a version for those watching their sugar intake and avoiding dairy.

If you have read any of my previous posts, you probably noticed that I have no real sensitivities to dairy (much less anything against it) and have not avoided sugar.  However, I have on several occasions participated in the Whole Life Challenge, which “bans” sugar and most dairy products (along with wheat and most processed foods).  I was inspired to create a cocoa that was compliant with this diet, and this version complies and totals only about 50 Calories per 8 oz. (220 mL) serving.  So instead of reaching for an artificially sweetened diet hot cocoa box mix, try this one.  Feel free to substitute your favorite non-dairy milk, though I find that coconut milk really doesn’t work well in this recipe.  The almond, in my opinion, is the perfect pairing.

Healthy Diplomat's vegan hot cocoa

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. (220 mL) unsweetened almond milk (preferably vanilla flavored)
  • 2 heaping teaspoons (about 3/4 tbsp.) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tsp. stevia or naturally derived fruit sugar substitute/sweetener (recommended:   Truvia brand) to taste

Heat the almond milk until it begins to steam and approaches the boiling point; whisk in the vanilla, stevia, and cocoa powder.  If desired, add 1 tsp. chopped or ground unsweetened chocolate.  When all ingredients are incorporated, serve with an optional dash of ground nutmeg.