Happy Valentine’s Day – Smokey Whiskey Truffles

Whiskey Truffles
So.  Valentine’s Day. Pink hearts and flowers and chocolate.  I do enjoy the cheerfulness of it all – the happy colors and the excuse to make everything heart-shaped.  I think next year it will be even more fun for celebrating with my little red-head as she’ll be close to three years old and will actually know what’s going on.  However, this holiday seems to be only geared toward women, full of expectations and children, full of sugar rage.  Not much love for the guys.  Guys seem to have all the pressure to pick out a gift that’s not TOO cliche, but also not too far off the expected path, because then we’d feel sad we didn’t get flowers.  I’m sorry, men.  I really am.

I love that chocolate is associated with Valentine’s, because there’s not much Matt likes more than chocolate, except maybe coffee and smokey things like bacon and…whiskey.  I skipped the bacon and went for the whiskey for his Valentine’s treat this year.  Dark chocolate ganache infused with Laphroaig whiskey and coated in a super thin shell of even darker chocolate.  For those who may not know, Laphroaig tastes like a campfire smells.  It could seriously make someone suspect of smoking because it’s THAT smokey.  For some strange reason, Matt loves it, and even though he might not initially approve of me putting his whiskey into anything except a glass, I think the results were good.  He took one bite and said, “They’re SO SMOKEY!” and that was a good thing 🙂

I was proud of the shell, too.  It’s quite hard to temper chocolate correctly so that it has a nice shine instead of dull streaks, and so that it’s perfectly, glassy thin, instead of thick and clumpy.  I’ve erred more on the side of thick and clumpy in the past than I’d like to admit.  I realized my success with these had a lot to do with the chocolate I used.  If you want to make a perfectly tempered chocolate shell, you can NOT use chocolate chips.  They’ve been coated in paraffin to make them not stick to each other in the bag and are already dull and streaky.  (chips are fine for the centers, though!) Pick a chocolate bar that is already shiny and has a good snap – that lets you know that it has been tempered properly already, so it will set you up for a better chance of success.  And if you don’t want to mess with the shell at all (and I wouldn’t blame you a bit) then simply roll the centers in cocoa powder or powdered sugar and call it a day!
Dark Chocolate Whiskey Truffles

Dark Chocolate Whiskey Truffles
makes about 2 dozen small truffles

For the centers:
10 oz dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 65%)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temp
2 tablespoons whiskey (you can also use any liquor here – brandy or Kahlua would be great)

For the shell:
10 oz good quality dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%), chopped fine

Place your chocolate chips in a medium bowl.  In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil, then immediately take it off the heat and pour it over the chocolate.  Let this sit for about a minute and then, in the center of the bowl with a small spatula, begin stirring in tight circles until the chocolate melts and combines with the cream.  It takes longer than you think, but I promise – it will happen.  Keep stirring and don’t stop believin’.  Once the chocolate is completely melted, let it cool down a bit and then stir in the butter until completely incorporated.  Going one tablespoon at a time (depending on taste) stir in the whiskey.  Completely incorporate one tablespoon and then taste to see how you like it.  The whiskey really changes the viscosity of the chocolate, but don’t worry.  It just needs to be stirred a LOT.  Once you’ve got the level of flavor you want in the mixture, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set – at least an hour.  When the chocolate has firmed up, using a teaspoon sized scoop, scoop out your centers and form into balls and place on a plate or cookie sheet and cover until ready to use.  I keep mine in the fridge until I’m ready to dip, but I let the centers set on the counter for about an hour before dipping so they wouldn’t bring down the temp of my tempered chocolate too fast.
Dark Chocolate Smokey Truffles

For tempering the chocolate:
In a double boiler, or a glass bowl set over a medium saucepan (this is my preferred way.  I feel the glass protects the chocolate from scorching better than a metal double boiler pan) slowly melt 2/3rds of your chocolate.  Stir constantly and bring the temp up to 115-118F.  Use an instant read thermometer to get the best reading.  Once the chocolate reaches 115, take it off the heat and add in the remaining 1/3 chopped chocolate, small amounts at a time and stir to melt.  Some pieces might not melt completely, but they will by the time you’re ready to dip.  And if they don’t, like mine didn’t, oh well.  Dip on!

As you are incorporating the remaining chopped chocolate, you’re wanting your chocolate to get down to 82F.  Once it gets down to 82, place the bowl back on your saucepan and bring the temp back up to 88-90F.  Once it reaches this range, you are ready to start dipping!  Your chocolate should be very liquidy and fall easily off the spatula in ribbons.  Dip the centers quickly and place on parchment to cool.  Don’t worry about being perfect – just dip!  Keep an eye on the temp of your chocolate.  If it drops below 88, your chocolate will start to get thicker.  No worries – just return the bowl to your saucepan and heat for about a minute.  Then keep dipping till you’re done!  I sprinkled cocoa nibs on top of the truffles before they dried and I love the extra bit of crunch it gives!

Dark Chocolate Truffles with Whiskey

Tempering chocolate requires a LOT of patience, most of the time I do not have.  But if you find yourself in a pretty zen-like state and you want to try it, I’d encourage you to.  It’s a nice process that yields really pretty results!  And if you have leftover tempered chocolate, do what I did and submerge gingersnaps in it 🙂

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Banana Chocolate Bread

Banana Bread with Dark Chocolate
We are experts at wasting bananas.  I blame it on the Redhead.  She always says she wants one, takes one or two bites, and then plays with the peel and leaves the rest.  She sometimes takes a bite out of the SIDE of the entire banana, then is done.  I usually cut up the bananas beforehand, but I feel like I’m always a bit of a chump when she asks me for “a big one!” and I give her a whole banana and the situation mentioned above happens every single time.  So, I very often turn left-over bananas into smoothies with a bit of plain yogurt, but by the time I’ve been played twice, I give up offering her bananas, and at least three turn brown before the week is over.

Enter banana bread.  This recipe called for exactly three, old, brown bananas!  I wanted to use up our produce and stuff in the fridge before we left town for Christmas travels because I hate wasting food, and banana bread helped use up those old bananas, my yogurt that was about to go bad, a couple eggs and some milk.  We enjoyed this bread going down the road to Tulsa for snacks and breakfast and it was one of the best banana bread recipes I’ve used.  Obviously, as it came from Cooks Illustrated’s awesome cookbook, The New Best Recipe.  I always feel safe using their recipes.  They had a variation for adding chocolate to their banana bread, and as you may have seen on this blog, I won’t pass up an opportunity to use chocolate in a baked good.

Banana Chocolate Bread

Banana Chocolate Bread
makes one 9″ loaf

2 cups (10 ounces) AP flour, plus more for dusting the pan
10 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped very fine
3 very ripe, large bananas, mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5″ loaf pan; dust with flour, tapping out excess.

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and chocolate together in a large bowl; set aside.

Mix the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with a whisk in a medium bowl.  Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky.  Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about an hour.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.  Bread can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temp for up to 3 days.

Chocolate Banana Bread

Chocolate Covered Espresso Brownies

Chocolate Covered Espresso Brownies

I was paid $25 to make this recipe.  Well, technically,  I was paid about $12.50, because Matt was paid the other half to make a loaf of his awesome bread.  Why?  Because an old co worker from his previous job had a Christmas party to go to and a twenty-five dollar limit to spend on a gift.  So he contacted us and said, “Make a couple things.”  The fun thing about these office party gift-exchanges is that the person whose gift got the most steals, or trades in the game, wins $100.

Gary won.  🙂 So I guess you could say these are $75 brownies.  Or $37.50.   Or probably less, because as I well know, it was most certainly Matt’s bread that won the contest.  Hey, Matt – guess what?  You won 1st place for your bread.  Only this time, instead of a $6 check like at the fair, some other guy got $100.  That’s better, right? 😉

The brownies were indeed, great.  I followed a recipe from Fat Witch Brownies (a most awesome brownie book) for an espresso brownie, and then I thought, “What could make this more show-worthy for a gift exchange?”  Covering it in a rich chocolate ganache!  Then, with some sprinkles of cocoa nibs, these brownies become a huge version of a chocolate-covered espresso bean, which in my opinion, is the ultimate adult candy.  They’re like one big “congratulations” for getting older.

And so are these brownies!  Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Covered Espresso Brownies

Chocolate Covered Espresso Brownies*
worth $37.50

7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon hot water
1 cup AP flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 recipe dark chocolate ganache (see below)
cocoa nibs or crushed up coffee beans for sprinkling

Grease a 9×9″ baking dish with butter.  Dust with flour.  Or use that awesome flour spray.  Preheat oven to 350F.

Melt butter and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl at 30 second increments, stirring with a rubber spatula after each time, until smooth and melted.

Cream the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth, then add the cooled chocolate mixture and continue beating until incorporated.

In a small dish, mix the espresso powder with the hot water until dissolved.  Add it to the chocolate mixture and continue to beat until well combined.

Measure the flour and salt and then sift together directly into the batter.  Mix the batter gently until well combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 1 hour.  Make your ganache while the brownies cool.  After they cool, cut them into 16 squares and gently remove and place on a drying rack, or on sheets of waxed or parchment paper.

Dark Chocolate Ganache*
makes 1 cup of goodness from the heavens

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream

Over medium heat, place the heavy cream in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove the saucepan from the heat immediately after it has just started to boil.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips and let them sit for a minute.  Then, with a rubber spatula, gently begin mixing the chocolate in tiny circles in the center of the bowl.  You will think it will never incorporate.  Keep mixing.  You will think your cream wasn’t hot enough.  Keep mixing.  Chocolate demands patience.  Then, just like magic, the chocolate will deepen its color instantly and you will only have a few more stirs, incorporating the sides and scooping down to the bottom of the bowl, to end up with one, big, glossy, gorgeous bowl of thick, dark chocolate ganache.  Take this and spread over the tops and sides of your cut brownies and sprinkle the tops of your brownies with the nibs or crushed beans and let it cool till the ganache firms up.

*both recipes adapted only very slightly from Fat Witch Brownies.  Go buy this book for someone for Christmas.

EAT! ENJOY!

Flourless Double Chocolate Cookies

Double Chocolate Flourless Cookies
I’m going to post about chocolate, again on Saturday, most likely.  Because a friend from Matt’s old job just paid us $25 to bake him something for their company Christmas party.  We thought it would be last Friday, so I made these flourless chocolate cookies.  You can win any gift exchange or White Elephant situation with chocolate.  Unfortunately (but fortunately) the party was cancelled due to ice and so I had to make a different chocolate indulgence today.  It was hard, but I got through it.

These cold days beckon rich, dark, warm chocolate.  One of my favorite things in the cooking world is the moment when you’re stirring hot cream into chocolate chips and you think it’s never going to melt the chocolate, but then suddenly, a rich pool of blackness forms in the center of the bowl and in about ten more seconds, the whole bowl is transformed into ganache.  This happened, today, as I was making the ganache to go on top of my little brownie creation (to be posted this weekend!) and I found myself grinning like an idiot.  Transforming something good into something even better is one of the perks of working with chocolate.  It never fails to please.

Like these little cookie gems!  Flourless, fudgy, dense, chewy and melty bits of chocolate throughout.  My one and only friend with celiac disease will be so happy 🙂 You’re welcome, Heather.  I can’t imagine a world without flour, but if I had to, these cookies would be repeat visitors to my kitchen, for sure.

Flourless Chocolate Cookies

Flourless Double Chocolate Cookies*

makes about 2 dozen
2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional but good
1 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
3 large egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets. Stir together all of the ingredients till smooth. This is hard.  The batter gets so gluey, you will be certain you have made a mistake.  You haven’t.  Just keep stirring.  If I could do it over, again, I’d use a stand mixer. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and stir again till smooth.
Drop the batter-like dough onto the prepared baking sheets by heaping tablespoons.
Bake the cookies for 8 minutes; they should spread, although mine didn’t much, become somewhat shiny, and develop faintly crackly tops.

Remove the cookies from the oven, and allow them to cool on the pan.

*recipe from King Arthur Flour

Overnight Steel-Cut Oatmeal


Back when I was still a fairly new mom and my night’s sleep was a fun game of Russian Roulette, I started putting my breakfast on the stove the night before so that I wouldn’t have to use my brain in the morning. I bought these fancy steel cut oats and the side of the can said that they would take 40-60 minutes to cook, but THEN, at the very end of the directions, it said, “For quick-cooking method, let the oats soak in water overnight and then boil for 10 minutes.”  This was the answer to needing breakfast after a who-knows-how-much-sleep kinda night!  I would literally add everything to the pot the night before – the butter, the pinch of salt and even stuck my stirring spatula in there so that I would not have to use even one iota of brain cells to make breakfast.

I’ve been doing this a few times a week ever since!  On days that I run out of steel cut, I just use plain rolled oats, except I don’t soak them overnight.  I just like the steel cut – they are chewy and interesting and they don’t turn to glue and mush after they go cold, so they are perfect for making a big batch on Monday and then warming them up with a splash of milk the next day – it’s always a great texture!  Most commonly, I make chocolate oatmeal.  It’s Olive’s favorite and I love hearing her request it the first second she sees me in her room in the morning “Chock-ate oatMEEEEL?!”  I’ll add that recipe to the end of this one for those who saw it in my Week in the Life post!

For today I recreated my favorite dessert bread at our grocery store – Apricot White Chocolate!  I had a little of everything and so I went for it, and it was amazing!  What’s fun about oatmeal is the various toppings you can add – so if you have guests for the weekend, make a huge pot and set out an array of dried fruits, nuts, fresh fruits or syrups and let them add what they want!  Great for kids, for people watching their diet and for picky eaters!
apricot and white chocolate oatmeal

Overnight Oatmeal with
White Chocolate, Apricot and Toasted Walnuts

2 cups water
1/2 cup steel cut oats (or one cup of rolled oats and skip the night before step)
pinch of salt
1 tsp of vanilla extract
tablespoon of fat – I use butter, but it’s GREAT with coconut oil and it’s probably just fine without it)
splash of milk or cream
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, pecans, almonds – whatever you have on hand

Right after Top Chef is over, before you check Facebook for the 75th time, put a large saucepan on the stove and add the steel cut oats, water, butter, vanilla and salt.  Place a rubber spatula in the pot, too, so you won’t have to think at all in the morning.  Go to bed.
First thing in the morning, or 10 minutes after your toddler starts talking in her crib, turn on the burner to medium-high heat and bring oats to a boil.  Lower the heat to medium and continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the liquid is absorbed.  Add a splash of milk or cream if it gets too thick and taste for texture.  If it’s to your liking, remove from heat, place a small portion in a bowl and stick it in the fridge to cool a bit for the toddler while you assemble yours.  Stir in the white chocolate chips till they melt and then top with the dried apricots and walnuts.  Take the kid’s portion out of the fridge, stir again, and then add a few chips so she can stir them around or pick them out herself and discard the rest.  That’s at least how it happened to me.

Chocolate OatMEEEEEEL version:

same as above, except add:

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tsp cinnamon
sliced banana or dried cranberries

I love banana and chocolate.  Near the end of the cooking time, I add the cinnamon to the pot and stir to incorporate.  I take the pot off the heat and stir in the chocolate chips until an adequate darkness is achieved.  This may call for more chocolate.  Because I use 70%, I have no guilt and no shame.  Top with sliced bananas and eat! Sometimes I shake it up and stir in dried cranberries.  The cranberry/chocolate or banana/chocolate combo is always a winner.  Do what you feel with the toppings, but more often than not, we just do plain chocolate oatmeal!  Olive is never disappointed.

Cooking on the Road

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They made up their minds, and they started packing.
They left before the sun came up that day.
An exit to eternal summer slacking,
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?

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I think we might be crazy.  But we’ve made up our minds to drive from here to Seattle in an RV with some really good friends, good music, and good food.  We’re bringing the coffee maker, some good quality beans and our guitars, so I think we may survive. 🙂  We have  friends who live in Seattle, and so we decided to make the trip part of the vacation.  In preparation for a few days on the road, I decided to get to baking.  No one likes to decide what to have for breakfast, so I took it upon myself to make it a no-brainer.  I consulted Annie’s Eats, of course, because that woman knows how to prepare for anything.  She has a wonderful selection of baked goods on her blog, and when I grow up, I want to be just like her.  (I may be older but that’s not the issue, here.)

I chose from her blog, the peanut butter banana oatmeal muffins,(they looked so great but I refrained from taste-testing) the chocolate cherry muffins and the bacon and cheddar scones.  We were forced to taste-test the chocolate muffins because they looked too chocolately for their own good and so what else were we going to do?  Leave it to chance?!  They can hardly be called muffins, in my opinion.  They are nearly flourless chocolate cakes, but just enough flour to make them decadent brownies.  In fact, next time I want to make brownies, I’m using this recipe.  So they might be more for snack time instead of breakfast.

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Chocolate Cherry Muffins*
(I doubled the recipe and it turned out great)

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup dried cherries, chopped if desired

Directions:
Preheat an oven to 350º F. Line a muffin pan with muffin cups or grease wells.

In a small heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Set the bowl over but not touching simmering water in a small saucepan and melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until smooth and blended. Let cool slightly.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, sugar and vanilla until light in color and doubled in volume. Whisk in the chocolate mixture and then the flour mixture just until combined. Stir in the dried cherries. Divide the batter evenly among the wells of the prepared pan and smooth the tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 25-30 minutes.

Makes 7-8 muffins.

*didn’t adapt this at all from Annie’s Eats, except for doubling it and using half dark chocolate, half milk because that’s what I had on hand!

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The scones I prepared up until baking and just froze them raw.  Then, I will put them in that tiny RV oven and add a few minutes on to baking time and we will have an amazing breakfast heading down the road!  I can’t wait for our adventure and I can’t wait for all the amazing food we will try and the sites we’ll see and the memories we will make.  And with any luck, we’ll all still like each other when we get home.  🙂  I’ll be sure and take lots of REAL, non-iPhone pictures and have a few posts about our gastronomical adventures when I return.

Bacon Cheddar Scones*
makes 8-10

For the scones:
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. ground black pepper (depending on your preference)
8 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1½ cups grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
10 slices bacon, cooked and chopped or crumbled into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk (plus up to ½ cup extra, if needed)

For the egg wash:
1 large egg
2 tbsp. water

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and black pepper; mix briefly to combine.  Add the cubes of butter and mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter pieces are about the size of small peas.  (Alternatively, this can be done in a regular mixing bowl, using a pastry blender or two knives to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.)  Add in the grated cheese and mix just until incorporated.

Mix in the green onions, bacon, and 1 cup of the buttermilk into the flour-butter mixture.  Stir by hand just until all the ingredients are incorporated.  If the dough is too dry to come together, mix in the remaining buttermilk a tablespoon or two at a time until the dough can be formed into a ball.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and pat the dough into an 8-inch disk.  Cut with a 3″ biscuit cutter into 12 circles, place on a greased cookie sheet, wrap in plastic and freeze till ready to eat.  Before baking, remove from freezer, brush with egg wash and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

*slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats

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Cappuccino Chocolate Cake

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Some things get better with time: wine, cheese, beards…this cake.  I made it on Sunday afternoon and we had a piece and it was extremely good, but we wrapped it up and let it sit in the fridge for a few days and THEN it was something to behold.  The layers meld into one another after a couple days in the fridge.  The whipped cream softens the layers of chocolate cake and it transforms into a Swiss Cake Roll/Tirimisu kinda thing and it’s amazing.  Good news: it’s a really great cake if you eat it instantly.  Greater news: it only gets better from there.

The recipe comes from Fran Bigelow’s wonderful book, Pure Chocolate.  I learned how to make truffles from this book with much sweat, tears and good results.  Fran is the expert when it comes to chocolate and none of her recipes have steered me wrong.  Her truffles and chocolate tempering require huge amounts of patience.  They simply can’t be rushed.  And when I have about 2 days, I want to try her recipe for dark chocolate brandied apricot torte.  But I didn’t have that much time and saw that this cake took only a couple hours. It delivered rich chocolate and creamy coffee flavors and honestly, what is better than that combination?  This is the perfect party cake or good to have in your fridge (since it lasts all week) to whip out with a cup of coffee when a friend stops by.  Given that friends still stop by in your neck of the woods.  Oh, to live in Mayberry…

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Cappuccino Chocolate Cake
serves 10-12

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% is preferable), finely chopped
6 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 1 tbs sugar
3 tablespoons brewed cooled espresso
Cappuccino Whipped Cream (recipe below)
dark cocoa powder for dusting

With a rack positioned in the middle of the oven, preheat to 325F.

Lightly butter a 9×13″ or quarter sheet pan and line with parchment paper.  Lightly butter the parchment paper.

In a glass bowl set over a sauce pan of barely simmering water (I prefer this to a double boiler, as my DB always heats too quickly and scorches the chocolate = sad Alisa) and melt the chocolate.  Remove when nearly melted and continue stirring until smooth.  Set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or using a hand mixer, combine the egg yolks and half the sugar and whip on medium high speed.  Once combined, scrape the sides of the bowl and increase the speed to high.  Continue whipping until the mixture becomes thick, pale yellow in color, and the sugar has dissolved, 5 to 6 minutes.

Clean the whisk and in another clean bowl, begin whipping the egg whites on medium high speed, increasing the speed until frothy.  Slowly add the remaining sugar and continue whipping until the peaks are stiff but not dry.

Pour the cooled coffee into the melted chocolate all at once and quickly stir together to prevent seizing.  If it does thicken and start to separate, don’t worry.  Constant stirring will make it smooth and creamy.

Lighten the chocolate mixture by folding in one-third of the yolks.  Then add the lightened chocolate mixture to the remaining yolks and gently fold.  The mixture will become light and airy with large air bubbles where some traces of yolk remain.  That’s okay and kind of pretty, anyway.

Lighten the yolk mixture by quickly folding in one-quarter of the whites, then gently fold in the remaining whites in 3 parts, trying not to over mix and lose the volume.

Pour the glossy dark chocolate batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.  The pan will be more than three-quarters full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is slightly domed in the center and dry to the touch.  A tester inserted will come out dry and clean with a few crumbs.  Let cool in the pan at room temp.  The layer will pull away from the sides of the pan as it cools.

Have ready the Cappuccino Whipped Cream filling in the fridge.  Remove the cooled cake by running a thin bladed knife around the edges of the pan.  Place the bottom of the baking sheet lined with parchment over the cake and invert.  Peel the parchment paper off.

Using a ruler and the tip of a paring knife, mark the cake into 3 equal sections across the width.  Cut the cake with a serrated blade to make 3 layers about 4 inches wide each.

Place one chilled cake layer on a serving plate.  With a metal spatula, spread one third of the filling over the layer, generously overlapping the edges.  Repeat with second layer and a layer of filling. (The layers should be equal in height to each other.)  Top with the last chilled cake layer.  Be careful not to overwork the cream and frost the top and sides.  Refrigerate at least 4 to 6 hours to set the cake an meld the flavors.  Before serving, dust with cocoa powder.  Can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days (or a week, if you’re us)

Variation: to make this child-friendly(er): just omit the espresso from the whipped cream.

Cappuccino Whipped Cream
makes 3 1/2 cups

1/4 cup plus 2 tbs sugar
3 tbs brewed espresso
2 cups heavy cream, chilled

In a stand mixer fit with the whisk attachment, whisk together the sugar and coffee until frothy.  The sugar will begin to dissolve.  Add the cream and whisk until thoroughly combined and soft peaks form.  Take care not to over whip the cream as it may begin to lose its creamy texture.  Store in the fridge till ready to use.

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A First Birthday Cake

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Exactly one year ago, this pic was taken.  Olive was just 6 days old and we were home, out on our porch, having a glass of wine and marveling at this red headed little girl in our arms.  Matt made a birth DAY cake that we had when we got home from the hospital with friends and family to celebrate her actual birth and the only thing that changed this year was the cake and the size of the red head.

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We’ve had such a wonderful year with Olive.  It’s been amazing to watch her discover things, develop likes and dislikes (kitties, peas – respectively) and one of the most enjoyable activities in my life this year has been showing her food.  It’s crazy to realize that these little creatures don’t know what ANYTHING is.  They don’t know a peach from a mango from a pear from a plate of spaghetti.  They don’t know how garlic smells while roasting or the magic that is mire poix sizzling away in butter.  It’s our JOY to get to show them!  For

“…no matter what they think, we know: We are the ones who have tasted and seen how gracious it all is.” 

In this spirit of education, Matt and I contemplated what we wanted Olive to try for her first birthday.  She’d had many fruits so I considered a lemon layer cake, strawberry shortcake, something with banana cream.  Matt really wanted her to have chocolate for the first time and REALLY GOOD chocolate, at that.  So we combined forces and created a Neapolitan-esque cake with a flourless chocolate cake as the base, a white chocolate mousse in the middle and topped with a thick, strawberry whipped cream.  The chocolate cake is by far the best chocolate “cake” I’ve ever had.  Taken from the brilliant Dave Lebovitz, it’s nearly like a truffle center, or the best fudge of your life.  The white chocolate mousse was taken from Annie’s Eats, which I’d used on a cake for Matt for Valentine’s day this year, which he was crazy about.  And then the strawberry whipped cream was just a last minute sort of creation by me for Olive.  Because she loves strawberries and I figured if she didn’t like the rest, she’d at least like a third of her cake and we wouldn’t look like complete fools when it came show time.

Olive's Birthday Cake

For the bottom layer, Matt baked it in a 9″ round cake pan.  We had a hard time getting the cake out (panic moment) and so I crumbled it all up and pressed it tightly into a spring form pan.  Then I lined the pan with a couple layers of acetate strips, stacked on top of each other and taped on the outside, to get that tall form for piping in the other two layers.  All you do is pipe in the white chocolate mousse on top of the chocolate cake, let it sit in the fridge while you make the whipped cream, and then pipe in the whipped cream and wrap plastic wrap across the top of the tube so it doesn’t dry out and let it sit in the fridge over night, or for an hour in the freezer.  This makes it much easier to cut.

Chocolate Cake (Orbit Cake)

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes, plus more for the pan
10 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (our FAVORITE dark chocolate, which we exclusively used for this cake, is Lindt’s 70% dark chocolate bars.  Heaven.)
5 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar

Position rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. Lightly butter a 9×2″ round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper (if you do this easy step, you won’t have to mush it all into a spring-form pan like I did.)
Place the butter and chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave at 30 second increments, stirring after each, until the chocolate is completely  melted, glassy, and incorporated with the butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar.  Gradually whisk in the melted chocolate mixture and continue whisking until thoroughly combined.
Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Place the pan in a larger roasting pan, and cover the top of the cake pan with foil.  Add enough hot water to the baking pan to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes until the cake has set.  To test, touch the center of the cake lightly with your finger: the surface will be slightly tacky, but your fingers should come away clean.
Carefully remove the cake pan from the water bath and place on a cooling rack to cool completely.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours – up to 3 days.
To assemble with the mousse, run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen the sides.  Invert onto a serving plate, wrap in the acetate strips (or wax paper – tape doesn’t stick to parchment) and get on with making the next step.

White Chocolate Mousse

1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
2 tbs water
12 oz white chocolate chips (don’t use almond bark – it won’t taste right)
3 cups heavy cream

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand at least 5 minutes to soften.  Place the white chocolate in a medium bowl.  Bring 1 cup of the cream to a boil in a small saucepan.  Remove the pan from the heat, add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.  Pour the hot cream mixture over the white chocolate and let stand about 1 minute.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth.  Cool to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the remaining 2 cups of cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken.  Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the white chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Spoon the white chocolate mousse into the pan over the chocolate cake.  Smooth the top with an offset spatula.

Strawberry Whipped Cream

1 jar of strawberry jam – the fancier the better
3 cups heavy cream

Scrap the jar of jam into a small saucepan over low heat and add about 1/4 cup of water.  Heat it just enough so that it incorporates with the water and you break up any lumps with a whisk and the jam is smooth.  Transfer it to a bowl and let it cool about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to help it cool.
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, stir the cream on medium for a while until it starts to thicken.  Then whip on medium high while you gently let the jam stream into the edge of the bowl, careful to not hit the whisk in the middle, until completely incorporated.  Whip until a little firmer than soft peaks.  At this point, I added a little red food coloring (just a few drops) to make it more pink and folded it in with a spatula until fully incorporated. Do what you will with that.  I just wanted it to be pink to truly look Neapolitan. Transfer cream to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe, pipe, pipe until you can’t pipe any more.  Have fun with it.  Make zigzags and peaks and star flowers – whatever you want.  Just fill in all the gaps and sprinkle the top with extra crunchy sugar for effect.

serves at least 20