Archive for the ‘Chocolate’ Category

Have You Ever Had to Make Up Your Mind?

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Auction Desserts 2010

Auction Desserts 2010

The text in the photo is hard to read, but it says “Not Your Mama’s Cupcakes… no offense to your mama!”. The cupcake flavors are “Jamaican Me Hungry” (chocolate cupcake, mocha mousse filling, chocolate frosting); “Color Me Caramel” (caramel cupcake / caramel mousse filling / vanilla buttercream); and “Lemony Entertain You” (lemon cupcake / cream cheese mousse / strawberry buttercream).

It was auction time again last weekend, and I agreed to donate a dessert. Pictures of the donated desserts are put out for silent auction, bidders bid for their table’s dessert that evening, and everyone wins. I couldn’t decide what to donate and I didn’t feel like I had a lot of time for the project. So, I decided on three kinds of cupcakes with three different fillings and three different frostings – apparently that’s what you do when you can’t make up your mind and don’t have too much time…

I actually came up with dessert concept and the “naming” of everything in a flash – my husband asks me where this stuff comes from and I just look at him, shrug, and say “It just pops out of my head.” I liked the concept (and the titles for everything) a lot more than I liked the idea of doing the work to make it happen – but happen it did. I was told that the three dozen cupcakes went for $250, which made me very happy and I decided it was worth it in the end!

As interesting as the cupcake project was, it’s not the only thing I wanted to write about today under the subject of having to make up my mind. I’ve made a few big decisions, and I wanted to share the latest. I’ve accepted an opportunity to work in marketing communications with a food-related company, and I’m really excited about it. It’s a full time position, which means I’ll be closing the doors of Just Specialties Fine Food and saying goodbye to our beautiful, easy, elegant chocolate kits and baking kits – five years after loving them into existence and shepherding them through the wily world of specialty foods. I’m really proud of what we built and how we operated – we were always quality driven and customer-oriented. I learned so much. We accomplished so much.

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, to everything there is a season – food lovers can certainly relate to that. It was a very good season – thank you for being a part of it.

I will still be blogging here at Bake~Eat~Love – so please keep reading!

Have you ever had to make up your mind?

Best,

Cathy

Oh, Sugar, Sugar…

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Finished English Toffee

English Toffee - Yum!


Oh, honey, honey… do you remember that song from decades ago by The Archies? Well, today I’m your candy girl and I’m serving up buttery English toffee with toasted almonds and chocolate. Making toffee is another recipe that is pretty easy with spectacular rewards for the effort – fresh, buttery toffee from your own kitchen and yet another way to impress your friends (how many of them are making toffee from scratch?!)

First, a cautionary note about toffee making: hot sugar can be very dangerous and must be handled carefully at all times, so this is not a recipe to make with little kids or even with little kids underfoot. They can eat it later though!

Making the toffee itself takes about 15 minutes then, once it’s cooled, about another 10 minutes to slather it with chocolate and more nuts. The basic steps are 1) melt butter and sugar together, add almonds or whatever nut you like; 2) cook to “hard crack” stage; 3) pour into a pan and cool; and 4) cover with chocolate and nuts. Without further delay… let’s make some toffee.

Steps for making English Toffee

Butter and Sugar in Saucepan; Stirring the Butter and Sugar Together as the Butter Melts; Puffy, Cream-colored, Cohesive mix


Steps for making English Toffee

Adding the Nuts; Cooking to Hard Crack Stage; Cooling in the Pan

1.) Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13 heat proof pan (I actually use Pam) and set aside.  Put 2 sticks of salted butter (that’s ½ pound) and 2 cups of sugar into a large saucepan. Cook on the stove-top on medium heat, stirring to blend the sugar and butter together, making sure to moisten all of the sugar with the butter. Continue to stir, also scraping the sides of the pan to remove sugar crystals there. The mixture will change from a loose blend of sugar and melted butter into a somewhat puffy, cream-colored cohesive mix. Keep stirring, and when the sides start to turn a little brown, add 1 cup of nuts. Keep stirring.

2.) Cook to “hard crack” stage – this is somewhat fussy to describe, but it’s really critical to the outcome. Continue to stir the toffee. Although there’s no need to constantly stir, don’t walk away – keep watching what’s happening in the pan. Hard crack stage is technically about 300 – 305 degrees and there a few ways to tell when the toffee is there. Two of the best ways are 1) use a candy thermometer; or 2) carefully watch the mixture for the magic few seconds when it changes from a somewhat grainy, puffy looking “coffee with cream” color to a smooth, glossy, medium brown toffee color. If the toffee continues to cook much beyond 305 degrees, it won’t look too different at first but it will start to take on a burned flavor – so, the toffee will look great, but it might taste slightly burned. If it really cooks beyond this stage, it will start to smoke and turn black – and this can happen in about 1 minute.

But, it’s also really important to not cook it less than 300 – 305 degrees. If it’s not cooked to hard crack stage, the toffee will be grainy and soft – very un-toffee-like! Like I said, it’s fussy to describe “hard crack”, but the concept is pretty easy!

So, once the toffee is at 300 – 305 degrees or has just arrived at the smooth-glossy-medium-brown-toffee-colored stage, immediately remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour the toffee into the prepared 9×13 pan. Cool on the counter or in the refrigerator. If it’s going in the refrigerator to cool, don’t put it in there right away – the toffee and the pan are very hot at this stage, so let it cool down a little on the counter at first. Once it goes in the refrigerator, it takes about 30 minutes to completely cool down.

3.) While the toffee is cooling, put about ½ – ¾ cups of nuts on a sheet pan and put them in the oven to toast. The nuts are done when they just start to become fragrant – this will take 10 minutes or less, depending on the oven. When the nuts have cooled, chop them and set aside for sprinkling on the toffee later.

4.) When it’s time to finish the toffee, melt your favorite chocolate chips in the microwave – milk or dark chocolate, whatever you like. For the best way to melt chocolate in the microwave, check out our instructions for chocolate ganache.

Spread a layer of chocolate on one side of the toffee and sprinkle with the chopped nuts. Return the toffee to the refrigerator for a few minutes to set the chocolate, then invert the toffee onto a sheet of wax paper or parchment and coat the other side with chocolate and more nuts. The toffee may start to break at this point, but it’s going to be broken into pieces anyway.

Break into pieces – I use the handle end of a heavy knife – and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Some nuts and chocolate bits will fall off when the toffee is broken into pieces – save those for ice cream topping or eat them just as they are.

Bowl of Finished English Toffee

Buttery, Crunchy, Chocolatey, Toasted Nutty

The toffee will be crunchy, but it shouldn’t be breaking any teeth – another benefit of cooking it to proper hard crack stage. It will definitely be buttery and sweet. And chocolatey. And toasted nutty.

Maybe next, we’ll do caramel sauce…

Enjoy!

Cathy

Summertime BBQ

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

SFPFS BBQ 2009 at the Sunnyvale Heritage Museum

SFPFS BBQ 2009 at the Sunnyvale Heritage Museum


I’m a member of the San Francisco Professional Food Society . Actually, I’m a board member – Incoming President – which means next year I’ll be president of the San Francisco Professional Food Society! That’s sure to be source material for lots of blogging which may or may not ever see the light of day (on my blog anyway!), but for this year it means I get to enjoy the incredible people and events that make up the wonderful Food Society without huge responsibility for any of it – a free ride!

The most recent treat was our annual BBQ last Saturday at the Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum, a unique new facility and setting in Sunnyvale, CA. The museum is a replica of the original Martin Murphy family home and showcases displays about the Martin family and their significant involvement in the early history of California. In the very large courtyard in front of the museum, we sold new and used cookbooks and raffle tickets to raise money for important food-related organizations in the Bay Area (like Urban Tilth, Food Runners, CHEFS, and a scholarship for a Bay Area culinary student), listened to groovin’ music from The Blue Riders (“Rock & Blues & Classic Tunes”), tasted artisan foods from many special Savor California companies, ate BBQ, drank wine and enjoyed each others’ company.

The Blue Riders - Rock, Blues and Classic Tunes

The Blue Riders - Rock, Blues and Classic Tunes

There were so many incredible products to taste from the Savor California companies that I can’t cover them all here. I’ve highlighted just a few below, but check out Savor California for a more complete picture of the people and their creative products that are available online.

Sartain's Sauce and Marinade - Bright and Zesty

Sartain's Sauce and Marinade - Bright and Zesty

Sartain’s Sauce and Marinade: if you’ve shopped the supermarket shelves recently looking for a truly flavorful, well made sauce or marinade, then you know that many of the products have corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient – in fact, sometimes the very first ingredient! I’m not on a crusade against corn syrup – it has its place in the pantry – but not necessarily in my sauces. The Sartain’s sauce and marinade I tasted were wonderful. Full of bright flavor, with a nice balance between heat and tang – and no corn syrup!

Terra Sonoma SABA - Sweet Winegrape Syrup

Terra Sonoma SABA - Sweet Winegrape Syrup

Terra Sonoma Verjus and SABA: Verjus is similar to vinegar, but not quite as sharp. It can be used in place of vinegar or lemon juice for salad dressings or marinades – wherever you might use an “acid”. It was mellow and tangy, all at the same time. It’s created from wine grapes that are thinned from the vine during the growing season. SABA is a sweet winegrape syrup that can be used to flavor all kinds of foods – drinks, ice cream, breads, yogurt. I’m interested in trying it as Terra Sonoma suggests – in my spaghetti sauce in place of sugar to add a little sweetness.

Graziano Family of Wines - Bellisimo

Graziano Family of Wines - Bellisimo

Graziano Family of Wines: We tasted about five wines from the winemaker Gregory Graziano of Mendocino County. I enjoyed every one, but the Graziano Chenin Blanc was especially refreshing for a sunny summer afternoon; and the Graziano Zinfandel was especially good, too.

Fentimans Adult Sodas - Very Refreshing!

Fentimans Adult Sodas - Very Refreshing!

Fentiman’s Botanically Brewed All Natural Sodas: So many interesting flavors that actually taste like the real thing – because they are! Fentimans calls their beverages “adult” soft drinks, I suppose because they have a very slight amount of alcohol (less than 0.5%), but maybe also because the flavors are pretty sophisticated and more suited to an adult palate. They also make a Tonic Water mixer which I’m curious to try (in a mixed drink, I mean!).

Sweet Centerpiece with Cherries from C.J. Olson Cherries!

Sweet Centerpiece with Cherries from C.J. Olson Cherries!

As with any big event, the people behind the scenes did yeoman’s work so the rest of us could enjoy a fantastic day. In the San Francisco Professional Food Society, we are graced with many talented catering professionals, chefs, growers, marketers, producers and educators. For this year’s BBQ, Fred and Jennifer Martin of Fred Martin Events in Marin County, Deb Olson from C.J. Olson Cherries (they grow the plumpest, sweetest cherries you’ve ever seen or tasted right in Sunnyvale – their chocolate covered cherries are out of sight), and Rodger Helwig of Rodger Helwig Communications in San Francisco were the band leaders, and we were delighted to dance to their tune.

As summer winds down, I hope you’re able to gather in your favorite spot with a little food and drink to savor life’s simple pleasures – like time with family and friends on a warm afternoon.

Cheers,
Cathy

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake and Lemon Meringue Pie – Oh My!

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie - good enough to eat!

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie - good enough to eat!

Every year, our parish school at Christ the King (www.ctkph.org) has an auction and festival to raise funds to offset the cost of school tuition. The auction is a major event, with dinner, dancing and silent and live bidding. One of the bid items is dessert for your table that night; a donator makes a dessert, writes a description and provides a photo to be displayed on the bid table – then, at dessert time, the winning bid takes the cake (or pie, or tart . . . ) for their table.

This year I donated a dessert for auction – actually three kinds of dessert, but all for one table. I applied my menu planning skills learned at pastry school and on the job, and covered all my bases. Knowing that some of us are “chocolate people”, some are “lemon/fruit people” and some are “custard” people, I did a little something for everyone. I figured if you can entice everyone at the table with something for each of them, then the WHOLE table REALLY wants your dessert and will bid accordingly. Plus, if you have a little bit of all of those “types” in you (like me), you’re especially happy because you get a little of everything! I made a lemon meringue pie, cheesecake with graham cracker crust (what other kind is there for cheesecake?) and a chocolate caramel tart.

For the lemon meringue pie, I used the Flaky Vegetable Shortening Pie Crust (the half butter, half shortening variation) from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book, The Pie and Pastry Bible; the lemon pie filling from the Kingsford’s Cornstarch box – the one my mother and probably grandmother used, and I see no reason to change – the texture is great and it’s lemony perfect; and an Italian meringue recipe, also from The Pie and Pastry Bible, but I use 5 egg whites instead of 4 because the Kingsford’s lemon filling calls for 5 yolks!

There are 3 styles of meringue – Swiss meringue, Italian meringue and French meringue. I use Italian meringue because it’s very stable – sugar syrup is cooked to 236F degrees and then slowly poured onto whipping egg whites. This also heats the egg whites enough to pasteurize them, so I don’t worry about serving or eating raw eggs.

The filling for the chocolate caramel tart is a recipe from Good Housekeeping, with the modification of almonds instead of walnuts – plus, I’m careful to not make the caramel too dark. The crust for this recipe is another from – you guessed it – The Pie and Pastry Bible! This time, the Sweet Cookie Tart Crust, because I like my tart crusts to have a little sweetness to them.

And finally – the cheesecake. Both the crust and filling are from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax, which I’ve written about before. Okay, so I admit to a few little modifications on the cheesecake recipe: I use 1 teaspoon each of lemon juice and vanilla extract, and no zest – I don’t like the texture that the lemon zest adds to the otherwise super smooth cheesecake filling.

When I’m planning a party and dreaming about the dessert menu, I go through the same process of considering different desserts in the lemon/fruit, custard and chocolate categories. If I pick from each category, I’m sure to have a little something that every guest will enjoy.

So . . . back to the dessert auction . . . this is the way I described the selection:

Gourmet Dessert Trio – something for everyone, all made from scratch using the best of everything . . .
- Lemon Meringue Pie: flaky, buttery pie crust filled with perfectly tart lemon curd and topped with toasted sweet meringue
- Chocolate Caramel Almond Tart: sweet tart crust filled with a chocolate caramel ganache and roasted almonds
- Classic New York Style Cheesecake: graham cracker crust filled with creamy cheesecake made with a little sour cream

There were competing bids with some last minute back and forth, and the winners walked away happy. The losers? Well, let’s just say they walked away. There’s always next year!

What dessert “type” are you??

Sweet dreams,
Cathy