February 3, 2015 § 3 Comments
Been feeling guilty about that daily chocolate fix? Shaming yourself for that afternoon craving? Stop it, I say! February is National Chocolate Month, a time to come out loud and proud and treat yourself to luscious, creamy, chocolatey goodness — every day, if you must.
Where to start? Well, if you let the folks who create the those fun food holidays guide you, this past weekend saw two back-to-back chocolate holidays: National Hot Chocolate Day on January 31 and National Dark Chocolate Day on February 1. And that got me thinking: I’m not a coffee drinker, but a mid-afternoon pick-me-up of rich, dark, drinking chocolate with steamed milk could be my new sumpin’-sumpin’. Hot chocolate on a sunny California day? Why not!
Growing up in The Snow Belt, I associated hot chocolate with freezing temperatures, snow suits, and making snow angels. Hot chocolate wasn’t an everyday thing at my house during the winter. There had to be real snow on the ground — not some “dusting” or a couple of inches. Nope, it had to be the kind of snow that closed schools, created drifts, and had dads cursing while digging the car out.
The hot chocolate of my childhood was powdery, packaged, mostly-sugar “cocoa” with mini marshmallows brought to life with hot water. (Thanks, mom!) We used the terms “hot chocolate” and “hot cocoa” interchangeably, but I’m not sure that much actual chocolate or cocoa powder was involved. It didn’t matter though, the packaged mixes were easy for moms to make and gave cold, wet kids who’d been playing in the snow for hours enough sugar to keep going until dinner time.
During the past decade or so, the rise of premium and super-premium chocolate brands here in the US, coupled with café culture, has brought richer, tastier, and more interesting options for hot-chocolate beverages. Most cafés that offer an assortment of coffee drinks can customize your hot chocolate with steamed milk (dairy, nut, soy), flavored syrups, and whipped cream. How about this: Fair-trade, organic chocolate with steamed almond milk, a shot of vanilla bean syrup, and a dollop of whipped cream. Definitely not your mom’s hot chocolate!
So, where in the 650 can you find luscious, chocolatey indulgence-in-a-cup made your way? Good question! While the chain coffee shops would be a place to start, I’m a fan of supporting local businesses. I set out to find neighborhood-based coffee shops or cafés that are using good-quality ingredients to make a creamy, satisfying chocolate beverage. Taking a cue from Goldilocks, I was looking for something that was just right: not too watery, not too milky, not too sweet, and not too hot. (What’s up with serving ridiculously hot drinks that come with a warning?) And of course, it had to have a rich chocolate flavor — preferably from dark, natural cocoa powder or high-percentage chocolate.
Below is my list of small, neighborhood spots in the 650 that make a tasty hot chocolate beverage. To keep the comparisons equal, I ordered a “classic” hot chocolate — just chocolate and steamed milk (either whole or almond) without any extras.
Back Yard Coffee Company (Redwood City, CA)
This funky spot between the train tracks and El Camino is popular with locals and commuters alike. Seating is random (mismatched couches and chairs), wi-fi is free, and the baristas are friendly. The vibe is comfortable, but the place stays busy. Coffee is obviously the focus here, but Back Yard has a chocolate drinks menu that includes Sipping Chocolate, Hot Chocolate in two sizes, and a Kid’s Hot Chocolate.
They make their hot chocolate with a healthy dose of Ghiradelli dark chocolate syrup and steamed milk of your choice (dairy, soy, or almond). You can also add syrups or whipped cream for an additional charge. If you’re looking for a sweeter, old-school style hot chocolate, Back Yard has what you need. The barista did a nice job of steaming the milk and delivering the drink at the perfect temperature.
Price: $3.50 (small), $3.75 (large), $2.75 (kid’s)
Non-Dairy Milks: Almond and Soy, $0.50 extra
Get Fancy: Syrups, Whipped Cream, $0.50 extra each
Bliss Coffee (Redwood City, CA)
Open a little more than four months, Bliss is the new kid in town among Redwood City coffee shops. Light and bright, with a modern decor, Bliss focuses on putting out great coffee. They also happen to make a fine cup of hot chocolate.
Committed to using local ingredients, Bliss has chosen Berkeley-based TCHO chocolate as the base for their hot chocolate. The flavor is slightly roasted and chocolatey, with just a hint of sweetness — what we used to call “bittersweet.” Get your hot chocolate with steamed dairy, almond, or soy milk. I went with almond milk for this one because Bliss uses Califia, which is California-made and just plain delicious. The foam was beautiful and luxurious, and the temperature of the drink was just right.
Non-Dairy Milks: Almond and Soy, $0.50 extra
Get Fancy: Vanilla Bean or Lavender Syrup, $0.50 extra each
Kingston Cafe (San Mateo, CA)
Tucked away at the end of a strip mall, across from Shoreview Elementary School, Kingston is a full-service café that offers an assortment of house-made sandwiches in addition to their extensive drinks menu. The space is open and light with free wi-fi, cushy couches for relaxing or reading, and long tables for working. If I lived in this neighborhood, I’d definitely spend time here; it’s got a friendly, comfortable vibe.
Like Bliss Coffee in Redwood City, Kingston’s owners have focused on creating delicious drinks made with high-quality coffee. And, like Bliss, they use TCHO chocolate (actual disks of melted chocolate) combined with steamed milk. Milk offerings vary depending on availability, but they typically have the standard assortment of dairy milks, soy, and almond — and oat milk when they can get it. Owner Carrie whipped up a generous, flavorful drink with a pretty foam top. Wanna get fancy? Add whipped cream or a flavored syrup — how about peppermint?
Price: $3.00 (small), $3.50 (medium), $4.00
Non-Dairy Milks: Almond, Soy, Oat (call ahead for availability)
Get Fancy: Syrups, Whipped Cream, $0.50 extra each
Timothy Adams Chocolates (Palo Alto, CA)
If you LOVE chocolate or want lots of choices when it comes to your hot chocolate, then get yourself to Timothy Adams Chocolates in Palo Alto. Their Sipping Chocolate menu lets you choose among six types of Guittard chocolate for a customized chocolate beverage that will have you doing the chocolate happy dance. With choices from sweet (31% cacao white chocolate) to the unsweetened (99% dark chocolate), Timothy Adams has a drinking chocolate for just about every taste. Not sure what to get? Co-owner Timothy Woods is usually on-site and can tell you about the different flavor profiles.
Milk options includes three kinds of dairy milk (non-fat, 2%, or whole) and two kinds of nut milk (almond, hazelnut). You can also choose whether you want your chocolate served hot or cold. If you choose hot, you can opt for the addition of a chunky marshmallow. I have to confess that the day I visited Timothy Adams to try their hot chocolate turned out to be unseasonably warm, and a cold, frothy chocolate drink sounded too good to pass up. I’m sure my 65% Machu Pichu Peruvian single-origin with almond milk is just as delicious hot as it was cold.
Non-Dairy: Almond, Hazelnut
Get Fancy: Add a marshmallow to hot drinks
Tootsie’s (Palo Alto, CA)
This tiny café on the Welch Road side of Stanford Barn serves breakfast, lunch, and a full drinks menu. With plenty of outdoor seating, it’s a lovely spot to while away a sunny winter afternoon with an indulgent warm drink. Tootsie’s doesn’t get fancy with their hot chocolate; they serve one version. According to the staff, it’s made with chocolate chips and steamed milk; you can choose soy or dairy milk. It is, hands down, the most decadent drinking chocolate I’ve experienced on the peninsula.
Reminiscent of hot chocolate I had in France many years ago, Tootsie’s version is thick, dark, and oh-so-rich; it’s dessert in a cup. I loved the flavor and the richness (although you can order “half the chocolate” if you find it too rich for your taste). My only disappointment with Tootsie’s hot chocolate is that it was delivered to my table with a warning — “extremely hot,” according to my server. He was right — the drink was too hot approach right away and had barely cooled 15 minutes later. I drank what I could with a teaspoon, but would have enjoyed the drink more if it weren’t scalding hot. Next time I’ll ask for a cooler drink or a side of ice.
Non-Dairy Milks: Soy
So what’s you chocolate beverage indulgence? Share in the comments below on our Facebook page.
January 27, 2015 § 4 Comments
This is a story of how best-laid plans and good intentions kinda went off the rails. ICYMI, January 26 was Australia Day. Kind of a big deal — national holiday and all that — Australia Day is the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson, aka Sydney Harbor. Lacking a better analogy, it’s like 4th of July for Australians.
Over the years, I’ve found little ways to my celebrate Australia’s national holiday here in the US — cracking open a bottle of Hunter Valley semillon, digging into my stash of Cherry Ripes or Monte Carlos, or attempting some savory recipe from my childhood (fish cakes? spaghetti on toast?). This year, in honor of said holiday, I was all set to mix up a batch of lamingtons and post some lovely food porn for you all — with recipe, of course, so you can DIY.
A lamington, if you’re not familiar with this staple of Australian bakeries and home cooks, is a square or rectangular slice of yellow sponge cake, dipped in chocolate icing and then rolled in shredded coconut. (Hello?! Yum!) There are fancy variations as well — cream-filled, jam-filled, cream and jam-filled, and custard-filled – but the classic lamington is the most common and probably best-loved. They’re the stuff of school lunches and childhood birthday parties.
It’s been a year or so since I’ve made lamingtons, but my last batch was pretty damn good. The recipe, which I adapted from The Australian Women’s Weekly Easy Entertaining Cookbook, worked perfectly. Putting my CIA training into practice, I made the cake a day in advance, then cut, iced, and finished the lamingtons the next morning. Voila!
This time around, I decided to make and assemble everything in one day. I baked the sponge cake in the morning and made the chocolate icing in the afternoon. All that was left was coating that tender cake in rich chocolate icing. What could possibly go wrong? (That’s what we call foreshadowing, folks.) The sponge cake was buttery and light, the chocolate icing gooey and oh-so-chocolatey.
I figured I’d assemble the whole shebang in 15 or 20 minutes and relax for the rest of the day. I dipped the first cake into the icing, then rolled it in coconut. Perfect. The second one? Not bad, but things were already getting a bit sticky and crumby in the icing bowl. By the time I got to the fourth and fifth cakes, the icing was cooling a bit and sticking to me, the bowl, and the counter, but not to the cakes. Nope, in fact, I was losing half the cakes in the icing bowl; they were breaking as I lifted them out! WTF?!
After reviewing the recipe, reheating the icing multiple times, and finally remaking the icing, it dawned on me: I hadn’t let the cake rest long enough. <groan> It was way too delicate to ice so soon after baking and needed to “stale up” a bit, either by sitting on the counter uncovered overnight, or in the refrigerator for about six hours. Ugh.
And this is why you want to make notes on your recipes. Those little things that you add or change — or that didn’t work. Yeah, you want to remember those when you go back to a recipe months or even years later. So, note to self: next time make the cake a day in advance and let it dry out a bit! In the end, I muddled through and finished the batch, but not without some casualties and a lot of frustration. Don’t make the same mistake. Always read recipes before you start cooking and make notes when you’ve finished. You’ll thank yourself later.
Yield: 24 cakes, approximately 2″ square
Adapted from The Australian Women’s Weekly Easy Entertaining Cookbook
The lamington sponge cake is light and buttery, with a texture that falls somewhere between a chiffon cake and a classic American butter cake. Be sure to let it rest and dry out a bit overnight before cutting, icing, and finishing in coconut. Freshly made sponge is too delicate for the sticky chocolate icing and will crumble as you dip the pieces.
Part I: Sponge Cake
Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before making the cake. I typically bring eggs to room temperature by setting them in a bowl of warm water for 15-20 minutes, although you might find eggs are easier to separate when they’re cold.
Tip: Place plastic wrap directly on the yolks after separating eggs, to prevent the from drying out or getting a “skin.”
207 grams sugar
108 ml water
168 grams butter, softened
1¼ tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, separated
247 grams all-purpose flour, plus 17 grams baking powder, sifted together
What You Need:
Stand mixer with paddle attachment
Extra mixer bowl and whisk attachment or separate bowl and hand mixer (for egg whites)
9″ x 12″ x 2″ baking pan
Offset spatula, preferably with 6″ blade
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Butter a 9” x 12” x 2” baking pan, line pan bottom with parchment paper, and butter parchment paper.
- Combine sugar and water in pan, stir over heat until sugar is dissolved.
Bring to a boil, turn off heat, and remove pan. Cover pan and let syrup cool to room temperature before continuing.
- Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter until pale.
I start my mixer on a low setting to get things going (and so that bits of butter don’t fly out of the bowl), then work my way up to medium setting of 6 or 7 for about three minutes.
- Scrape down the sides, then with the mixer running, add egg yolks one at a time, beating until incorporated.
Add each yolk on a low speed, then incorporate fully at medium speed. Scrape sides in between additions as necessary.
- With the mixer running on medium-low, stream in the vanilla, again beating until fully incorporated.
- Again, with the mixer running, gradually add the sugar syrup in a thin stream until fully incorporated.
- Scrape down the bowl, reduce the mixer’s speed to low or “stir” mode, and add the flour in two batches — just until incorporated.
You want to mix just enough so that the dry ingredients are no longer visible. Overmixing will activate the gluten and result in a tough cake.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with electric mixer until soft peaks form.
Imagine a wave that crests, then gently folds back on itself — that’s a soft peak. If you end up with medium peaks (soft crest, but doesn’t fold back on itself) as I did, don’t fret; your cake will still turn out soft and delicious.
- Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites (by hand) into the cake batter in two batches.
- Turn the batter into the prepared baking pan, using an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly to the edges of the pan.
- Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until the top of the cake is lightly golden and the cake is starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.
- Turn onto a wire rack covered with a piece of parchment paper to cool.
- Leave the cake on a cutting board overnight, covered loosely with a kitchen towel or piece of foil.
Part II: Chocolate Icing and Assembly
Make sure you prepare the cake and set up your “assembly line” before making the chocolate icing so that you can start dipping cakes right way. The icing sets up quickly, particularly in cool weather, so work efficiently. If the icing gets to firm or sticky, reheat in the microwave as necessary.
664 grams powdered sugar
70 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
120 ml whole milk, plus a little extra
225 grams shredded, unsweetened coconut
What You Need:
Large microwave-safe bowl for chocolate icing
Medium bowl for coconut
Two dinner forks
Sheet pan or cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper
- Cut cake into 24 pieces using a long, serrated or thin-bladed knife.
You can either eyeball things or use a ruler to mark and cut the slices.
- Set up your “finishing station” on a table or section of countertop. Working left to right, you’ll place the cut cake pieces, bowl of chocolate icing (which you’ll make next), bowl of shredded coconut, and sheet pan with wire rack in it.
My counter sections are short, so I placed the sheet pan with wire rack behind the icing and coconut bowls.
- Sift the cocoa powder and powdered sugar together into the large, microwave-safe bowl.
- Add milk, stirring with rubber spatula until all ingredients are combined. The glaze will have a paste-like texture.
- Warm the icing in the microwave in 25-second increments, stirring in between until warm and texture is liquid and spreadable.
If the icing still seems too thick and unworkable after 2 heatings, mix in a teaspoon of milk .When icing is ready, place the bowl in your assembly line.
- Working with one cake at a time, use the forks as extensions of your hands to dip and coat the cake in icing, (scraping excess on the edge of the icing bowl).
- Immediately place the iced cake in the bowl of shredded coconut and coat completely.
- Place coated cake on wire rack.
As the icing sets up a bit, you can use your fingertips to “square up” the sides, evening out any bumpy sections of icing.
- Repeat with remaining cakes.
If the glaze starts to cool and set up in the bowl, return to the microwave and heat for 20-second intervals until it is fluid again.
- Let icing set up completely for 2-3 hours at room temperature or place finished cakes in the refrigerator for an hour.
- Serve finished lamingtons at room temperature or store in a cake tin or ziplock bags for several days.
June 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
I hope you rested up after National Doughnut Day yesterday, because today is National Chocolate Ice Cream Day! Come to think of it, you better pace yourself because June is packed full of sweet food holidays. Oh, and in case you missed it, National Rocky Road Ice Cream Day was on June 2, but don’t worry, with the recipe below, you can still indulge.
After my adventures with orange sorbet last week, I was inspired to come up with a delicious, non-dairy treat for National Chocolate Ice Cream Day. Now, this is the kind of problem solving that I enjoy: What could I make that is dairy-free, but still creamy and indulgent with a rich chocolate flavor — and is as easy and fast to make as sorbet? The answer: Dark Chocolate Sherbet made with almond milk! Even better? Dress it up with chocolate chunks, marshmallows, or even pieces of Easter Rocky Road. Don’t get me wrong — ice cream is a delicious warm-weather treat (and I am a big fan of a certain Mission-based ice cream maker, but I digress…) But what if your diet excludes dairy? You shouldn’t have to miss out on all the fun!
So, what is sherbet exactly? In the world of frozen desserts, sherbet falls between sorbet and ice cream. It’s typically made with milk and sugar (and sometimes egg), and the milk in sherbet can be dairy or plant-based. If you read last week’s post on orange sorbet, then you know that sorbet is a frozen dessert that is a combination of fruit juice or purée and sugar syrup. It’s dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan (if you don’t use honey), and low-fat. Ice cream is a frozen dessert that has a sweetened cream or custard base. It isn’t dairy-free, vegan, or low-fat — and as for gluten-free, well that depends on the brand. (Of course, if you make your own, you can decide what goes in your ice cream!) However, flavor-wise it’s more versatile than sorbet in that you can create a wider variety of flavor profiles.
Sherbet gives you the best of both worlds. The addition of milk in sherbet, whether of the dairy or plant variety, adds fat, which gives sherbet a creamier mouthfeel than sorbet, but doesn’t have the all-out richness of ice cream. (Yes, you can choose a nonfat milk for sherbet, but I recommend using a milk with some fat in it for flavor and mouthfeel.) You can also get a little more creative with your sherbet flavors, and you can add “mix ins” — pieces of chocolate, fruit, or marshmallows. In terms of process, making sherbet takes about as much time as sorbet, and you don’t have to test the sugar density of the mixture, so no egg test or refractometer is required.
A couple of notes on ingredients for the recipe below:
I use a dark, rich cocoa powder for this recipe (Cacao Barry or Valrhona), but feel free to use what you have on hand. Also, I used lightly sweetened almond milk (about 5 grams of sugars per 8 ounce serving). If your almond milk is significantly sweeter, you might want to reduce the sugar a bit.
Recipe: Dark Chocolate Sherbet
Yield: About 1 quart of sherbet
What you need:
1-quart container, preferably at least 6″ tall
Large bowl or 4-quart container for ice bath
Ice cream maker
Container for freezing sorbet, 1 quart or larger
Note that I’ve given the weight and volume measurements below, except for chocolate, which I always recommend weighing for your recipes.
18 ounces (2¼ cups) almond milk
5 ounces (½ cup + 2 tablespoons) sugar
1½ ounces glucose or light corn syrup
2 ounces (½ cup) cocoa powder
5 ounces dark chocolate, 61-70% cacao, chopped finely
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: Want to dress up your sherbet?
Cut 4 pieces of Easter Rocky Road (2″ x 2″) into small pieces, approximately ¼ – ½ inch. Total: about 1 cup of small pieces.
- Combine almond milk, sugar, and glucose or corn syrup in a 2-quart saucepan. Heat until glucose (or corn syrup) and sugar melt, stirring occasionally.
- When the almond milk is just coming to a simmer (tiny bubbles appearing around the edge of the pot), whisk in the cocoa powder.
- Bring to a low boil for one minute, then remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
If you have an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature of the hot cocoa mixture. You want it to cool to 150–165°F.
- Meanwhile, place chopped chocolate in a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave on 50% power for 30-second increments, stirring each time, until chocolate has melted.
You want the chocolate to be completely melted, but not too hot. If you have an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature. Ideally it should be about 110°F.
- Slowly and continuously pour the hot cocoa mixture from the saucepan into the center of the melted chocolate while stirring the chocolate continuously. Make sure that you’re stirring in the center of the bowl, not around the edges. You can put a wet towel or rubber jar opener under the bowl to keep it from moving.
You’re slowly adjusting the temperature and viscosity of the melted chocolate so that it’s easier to incorporate the hot cocoa mixture. And yes, you’re essentially making a very thin ganache here.
- Whisk in the vanilla extract.
- Strain the sherbet mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a 1-quart container.
Straining makes sure that there are no unincorporated lumps of cocoa powder or solids from the almond milk.
- Prepare an ice bath for cooling the sherbet mixture by adding ice and water to a container large enough to hold the sherbet container.
- Place the sherbet mixture container into the ice bath and then chill the sherbet mixture (in the ice bath) in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.
The mixture will thicken as it cools. Your sherbet will churn and freeze more quickly if the mix has been chilled.
- After chilling the sherbet mix, prepare your ice cream maker. Pour the chocolate sherbet mixture into your ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Mine takes 25-30 minutes to churn. Your mileage may vary.
- While the sherbet is churning in the ice cream maker, place a 1-quart container for the sherbet in the freezer.
You want to transfer your churned sherbet (which is partially frozen) into a chilled container to reduce melting on contact.
- Optional: During the last 5 minutes of processing, add Easter Rocky Road pieces to the churning chocolate sherbet.
You might need to mix them in a bit more when you transfer the sherbet to the chilled container.
- Transfer the sherbet to the chilled container and freeze for 4 hours before serving.
- To serve, let the sherbet sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before scooping.
The sherbet is best when it’s a bit soft and gooey. Enjoy!
April 20, 2014 § 3 Comments
I was feeling a bit nostalgic for Easter treats this week and decided to pull something from the Gâteau et Ganache archives: passion fruit daisy marshmallows. For years I made a spring trio of fruit marshmallows — strawberry, passion fruit, and lemon — cut into daisy shapes and finished with a button of dark chocolate in the center. They’re super-cute, easy to make, and one of my favorite treats for Easter. (Plus, they make nice gifts!)
Unfortunately, cutting those fun shapes leaves a lot of marshmallow “waste.” What to do with the leftover marshmallow bits — the pieces in between the daisy cutouts — not to mention the extra pound of chocolate I’d tempered? Oh sure, you could eat them, but I wanted a creative food-waste solution. And then it came to me: Rocky Road! I’ve always thought of Rocky Road as a classic American confection, but according to Wikipedia, it was created in Australia. Who knew?! (Hey, necessity is the mother of invention.) I know, Rocky Road isn’t exactly a typical Easter confection, but it does have the key elements: Chocolate and Marshmallows.
While not much in the baking and confection world can be done on the fly (one of the things I love about the sweet kitchen: precision matters, generally), Rocky Road is one treat that doesn’t really need a hard-and-fast recipe. If you’ve got tempered chocolate, marshmallows, and roasted nuts on hand, you’re good to go. By the way, tempering chocolate at home is absolutely do-able, and there are plenty of instructions out there on the internet. Need a place to start? Try food writer Aleta Watson’s Skillet Chronicles blog, in which she adapts my tempering instructions from a chocolate class I taught. (Thanks Aleta! 🙂 )
Ta-dah! My Easter Rocky Road made with 61% dark chocolate, passion fruit marshmallows, dried sour cherries, and roasted, salted almonds. The result is a treat that combines textures and flavors: soft, sweet, fruity, tart, salty, crunchy, nutty, and of course, chocolatey. Yep — all that in just a couple of bites (not to mention a solution for those marshmallow leftovers)!
That’s what I’m enjoying for Easter this year. What are your Easter indulgences or nostalgic Easter treats?