Triple Layer S'mores Brownies | Tara O'Brady + Seven Spoons

I have no intention of relying on phone photography here, but I am a bit in love with this shot. It wasn't my plan on sharing this recipe either, as snapping the pic was a spontaneous thing, and the recipe was a bit thrown together, in the aim to perfect a birthday wish. But we'll get to that. First, to explain.

My freezer storage is divided into three distinct, but unequal zones. The largest is ingredient storage. It's where I keep nuts and grains, plus seeds and cacao nibs, and things like wheat germ and bran. Flours and shredded coconut. There's fruit from the summer stacked in flat packs, and bananas black-ripe and ready for bread. Ginger root I grate while still rock hard, chiles, and lime leaves. I am rarely without frozen spinach and sweet peas.

The smallest category is full of odds and ends; ice cubes, egg whites, and parmesan rinds. A package of homemade puff pastry, unbaked streusel from when I made too much, discs of pie dough, and bones for stock.

Between the two are the prepared leftovers. There is enough tomato sauce for one pizza, cooked rice, some savoury hand pies, Julia's turkey meatballs, and cakes. A lot of cake. It's not just that the pace of our consumption rarely keeps up with the celebrations around here. It's also one of those rarely-discussed byproducts of recipe testing. The spoils are regularly parcelled for giving away, but a small stash is always kept behind. Right now, my inventory includes the thinnest slice of walnut cake from Divali, a quarter of a vanilla bean cheesecake, bagged muffins, a coffeecake that's a work in progress, and s'mores brownies.

Those brownies though, they're celebratory through and through. Benjamin turned 11 in January. He's all knees and elbows now, and has strong opinions. He's had a thing for s'mores for years, and this birthday wasn't any different. He asked for a repeat of last year, brownies with chocolate ganache and a seven-minute frosting to billow on top. When I've made s'mores cupcakes in the past, the inclusion of graham crackers added essential contrast against all the dense-chocolate-marshmallowyness going on. I like them as rebar in the ganache rather than rubble in the brownie itself. Somehow they make more of an impact that way. Toasting the grahams in the oven crisps them up, the process and effect amped up with a sugar syrup glaze. 

I use my own brownie recipe, but as it was included as a preorder inclusive for my book, I made the squares this week with another favourite, from King Arthur Flour. As advertised, their brownies exist ideally between squidge and cake. You can use my recipe, if you have it, or theirs, or your preferred. One thing I'll say though, is resist the urge to use an intensely fudgey one. When combined with the ganache and the meringue frosting, it is a combination that can careen into headache-inducing real quick.

The brownies are over the top. They bring out the childlike and exuberant, and are the antithesis of refined. They are unbridled and unrestrained, and remind me of the happiest days. Don't let the fact that there were leftovers steer you into thinking they went unloved. Sometimes, you want to make the good things last. And, as brownies never fully freeze, a skinny slice on a Monday midmorning with coffee, falls into that category. 

For the record, that was exactly what I was planning when I took the photo.

Have a great week, pals. xo

 

TRIPLE LAYER S'MORES BROWNIES

The brownie recipe is this recipe from King Arthur Flour, halved.  The marshmallow frosting owes it loft and stability to Stella Park's revolutionary Easy Swiss Meringue

Makes an 8-inch pan

FOR THE BROWNIE BASE

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons | 55 g dutch process cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon medium grain kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 2  teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup | 115 g unsalted butter
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons | 225 g sugar
  • 3/4 cup | 95 g all-purpose flour

FOR THE GRAHAM CRUNCH AND GANACHE

  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 8 graham crackers
  • 8 ounces | 225 g bittersweet chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
  • 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
  • A good pinch medium grain kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup | 160 ml heavy cream

FOR THE MARSHMALLOW FROSTING

  • 4 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup | 150 g granulated sugar, preferably toasted
  • Generous 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • A good pinch medium grain kosher salt
  • Seeds scraped from a vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

METHOD

Make the brownies. Preheat an oven to 325°F | 165°C.

Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking tin, then line with a piece of parchment paper with a 1-inch overhang. Press the paper into the pan and then remove. Line the pan with another piece of parchment paper, then place the first piece, buttered side up, across. Set aside.

Crack the eggs into a bowl. Sift in the cocoa, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt. Add the vanilla. Beat for four minutes on medium speed (you can do this while melting the butter in the next step).

Place the remaining butter in a medium saucepan. Pour in the sugar. Heat over medium low, stirring, until the butter is melted. Continue to cook until the mixture is hot but not bubbling, maybe 1 minute more. It should go shinier as it heats. 

Stir the hot butter and sugar mixture into the beaten eggs until smooth. Sift the flour over top and mix it in. 

Spread the batter into the baking dish, nudging it to the edges as needed. Bake until the top begins to crack, 32 to 35 minutes or so. Cool on a wire rack.

While that bakes, make the graham crunch and ganache. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, dissolve the sugar into the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat then simmer for 5 minutes. Brush both sides of the graham crackers with the syrup then arrange on the prepared baking sheet (there will be syrup left over. Save it as a sweetener for coffee, oatmeal, or fruit). Bake the crackers until toasted, 8 to 10 minutes, flipping once. Set aside to cool then snap into pieces, some small, some large bite-sized.

Tumble the chopped chocolate, espresso powder, and salt in a large heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Once steaming, pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 5 minutes, undisturbed. After the time is up, stir until smooth, starting at the centre of the bowl and working outwards. Fold in the graham crunch. Pour the rubbled ganache over the brownies and spread to an even layer. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until set.

Finally, make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the bowl has some clearance. Heat, stirring attentively and scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically with a silicone spatula, until the mixture reaches 175°F | 80°C on a candy thermometer, about 8 minutes. Transfer the whites to the stand mixer with the wire whisk attached. Beat, starting slow and increasing the speed steadily, until the mixer is on full. Whip until the stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.

Retrieve the brownies from the fridge. Spoon the frosting onto the ganache layer. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to swoop and swirl it to your liking. Toast the frosting with a culinary torch or under a hot broiler—watching it all the while. Let cool and set, then use the cross of parchment to lift the brownies from the pan, then slice and serve. Extras can be refrigerated in their pan, loosely covered with cling film, for 2 days. Or, frozen until firm and then transferred to an airtight container for freezer storage up to a month. 

NOTE: 

It is difficult for me to draw a line between Ashley Rodriguez my friend, and her cookbook Date Night In. If looking for a straight up review of her work, my apologies, but there isn't one here.

That said, while I don't remember how or when we met, the Ashley I am lucky enough to have come to know over boozy drinks, shared sandwiches and seagulls, early morning walks for (not tomato soup-ish) coffee, phone calls, and a road trip covering a section of the west coast of this continent, that Ashley is the same Ashley her readers find on her site, and in her book.

So, if you'd like to know about her, and her grapefruit cake, then please read on.

Ashley is one to bring you a (homemade) doughnut before dinner. And who has a weekly doughnut tradition with her three spitfire kids. She studied art, takes photographs, and appreciates a well-baked egg. She's sassy and used to drive a convertible. She likes fried chicken, ginger beer, and ice cream. Ashley can pull of a wide-brimmed felt hat with aplomb and a tote that holds everything from notebooks to this really amazing chunky bracelet, from a package of her famous cookie mix to a tube of cherry red lipgloss. There's the magic of Mary Poppins in this girl, hidden under that blonde hair and behind her warm smile. 

She is fiercely committed to her family and her husband. She is an attentive mother to Baron, Roman, and Ivy, while still active and present in her partnership with Gabe. She also maintains time alone, or with her friends, and considers how those experiences help her in her life at home. It is not a balance that is easy, so it only made sense that Ashley would write about how exactly she does it all, including those intimate moments difficulties and those of reward. 

I think, as a culture, we are nervous to talk about the work that goes into our relationships — romantic or otherwise — it is seen as a shortcoming. Ashley disagrees. In her book, an extension of a wildly-popular series on her blog, she is as generously candid as she is in conversation. Her earnest, heartfelt intention is evident on every page. Date Night In isn't just about food; it is about the way she and Gabe come to the table to come together.

By the by, on that table, and in this book, you will find Braised Pork Chilaquiles with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa and Pickled Red Onion, German Pretzel Sandwiches, Chanterelle Pot Pie, and Nutella Semifreddo, among other things.

Ashley's Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate | Tara O'Brady

One of the other things is a Grapefruit and Olive Oil Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate. It's part of a menu called Somewhere in Italy, and offered alongside Pasta e Fagioli, Crostini with Ricotta, Proscuitto and Peas, and an Aperol Spritz. It is a straighforward quick bread, with a tight crumb and the qualities of both a muffin and a cake. The scent of the batter reminded me of those chocolate oranges from the holidays — the one you smack into segments — yet decidedly more refined, with the grapefruit's sharper note heightening that floral aspect of the olive oil and the darkness of the chocolate. It cuts just so. To continue the silver screen theme, it's Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina after she comes back from Paris wearing that Givenchy dress by the tennis court. In other words, like Ashley and the work she does, a fit that's practically perfect in every way. 

 

GRAPEFRUIT + OLIVE OIL CAKE WITH BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE

When baking with olive oil, I recommend one that is more grassy and floral than peppery.

— From Date Night In: More Than 120 Recipes to Nourish your Relationship by Ashley Rodriguez (Running Press, 2014) 

Makes a 9-inch loaf cake, serving 8 to 10

 

INGREDIENTS

  • Unsalted butter, for the pan
  • 3/4 cup / 180 ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated grapefruit zest, divided
  • 1/2 cup / 125 g whole-milk plain yogurt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup / 160 ml best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup / 150 g granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups /235 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 ounces / 110 g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  •  1 1/2 cups / 170 g confectioners sugar, see note below
  • Crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Add 1/2 cup / 120 ml grapefruit juice to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the juice by half. Cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest, yogurt, eggs, olive oil, and reduced grapefruit juice and whisk to mix well. 

In a large bowl, add the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until everything is well blended. Stir in the chocolate.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place in the hot oven. Bake until the cake is deeply brown and set and springs back gently when pressed, 50 to 55 minutes.

While the cake bakes, prepare the glaze. In a bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 tablespoon grapefruit zest with the remaining 1/4 cup  / 60 ml grapefruit juice. Gently, in order to prevent a confectioners sugar snowstorm, stir in the confectioners sugar and continue to stir until well mixed. 

Let the cake cook in the pan for 5 minutes before cooling on a wire rack.

When cooled to room temperature, place the cake on a serving platter and drizzle with half the glaze. Reserve the rest of the glare for serving along with the sliced cake. Serve with crème farce, if desired. The cake can be made 1 day in advance.

NOTES FROM TARA:

If, by any chance, you are new to olive oil in sweet baking, you may want to cut some of the oil with an equal amount of something more neutral — say grapeseed or canola.

I made my cakes in miniature, for ease of sharing. I divided the batter between three 5 1/2-by-3-inch loaf pans and baked them for about 30 minutes, or until deeply golden as per Ashley's instruction — the edges were coming away from the sides of the pans, and a cake tester inserted into the centre of each cake came away clean. 

The recipient of one of the cakes has a weakness for marmalade-ish glazes, and so that is reflected in the photos. To make, combine the 1/4 cup grapefruit juice that had been set aside for the glaze with 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon marmalade in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stirring, bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring now and again. Remove from the heat and cool to warm before using.

 

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Excuse the announcement but, as there were some kind requests for one, I've added an email subscription feature to this site. You can click "subscribe" up there on the top bar, or right here.

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I've got to begin with thanks.

That last post, about my grandmother, was, well, I don't know what to say. It was a big one for me. To write, and to share. But oh, you guys are amazing. I could not have dreamed of a more comforting, hopeful, or supportive response, nor could I ask to be part of a better community. I cannot get over the generosity of your kindness. I was honoured to read your thoughts and anecdotes and I am working my way through the thread, sending personal replies, rather than commenting here. Until you hear from me directly, please take this as a thank you. Dessert is my preferred way of expressing gratitude lately. I hope there's no objection.

On this end, school's started. Not for just one lad around here, but, for the first time, two are off each day. There are bookbags leaning by the door, and snacks to pack, and matching drink bottles to fill. I spent one afternoon with a sharpie in hand, dutifully labelling the insides of shoes, and coats, and hats; in nice, clear, printing I wrote the names of their respective owners, the names of my children, staking small claims of childhood property in the big, new world they're now a part of.

There's been a lot of firsts. For them, and for my husband and me. There's been a few tears, even. Summer left overnight. There's wasn't the gentle receeding, the diffusion of one season to the next. With Labor Day, a switch was flipped, the needs of the next day changed, and we were expected to fall in line. 

There's been some stumbles, but we're keeping up. And for the times when we don't, we've had chocolate sauce. With the first day of long pants and long sleeves, there was a call for hot chocolate, and I used this sauce as its base. One morning (don't judge!) where there was unexpected sun, so there were coconut-chocolate milkshakes for two. And earlier today there was a 4-year-old-sized ice cream cone, topped with a spoonful of chocolate, apropos of nothing more than the fact we'd made it through Monday. Sometimes the smallest of victories call for the most fanfare.

(There was also an adult-sized sundae of vanilla ice cream, aforementioned chocolate sauce, preserved cherries, and toasty, roasted walnuts, which amounted to frosty trudge through the Black Forest — a trip you really should take.) 

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Chocolate sauce is something seperate from hot fudge; it is thinner, sharper, and less sweet. Chocolate sauce doesn't have its dense chew either. It coats a spoon, but runs off quick enough. It can be used cold, or at room temperture, or gently warmed. It is what I like to use for this cake, or ripple into an ice cream like this one, and if it's usefulness wasn't enough, this chocolate sauce takes less than five minutes to make. Seriously. It's the kind of go-to sweet something to keep stowed in the fridge door for emergency situations. Or Mondays. 

SIMPLE, QUICK CHOCOLATE SAUCE 

This recipe began with one from David Lebovitz; I've halved the overall quantites, added some ingredients and fiddled some others, because I'm evidently a difficult pupil. I can't help it, I like the character coffee brings to chocolate, and so can't seem have one without the other — in this sauce especially. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup white corn syrup, agave nectar or glucose
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules, I use decaf
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 ounce bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup, cocoa powder, instant coffee granules and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. 

Once it's come to the simmer, remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until melted. Set aside at room temperature for a few hours, it will thicken as it cools. Store, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 10 days.

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I will start off with an apology to my friend Béa, as she wrote a sprightly, colour-filled, beautiful book, and I've gone and taken the brownest, simplest, comparatively-plainest photos to show you today. That is not, however, to say that I make any apologies for choosing this recipe for Cardamom-flavoured Chocolate Crème Caramel, as that choice is one of which I'm resolutely proud.

For a moment though, the custard can wait. First, let me tell you about Béatrice Peltre.

I came to know Béa through her site, La Tartine Gourmande (through that link, you can read a little more about her, her family and work). We both started writing the same year, and I don't really remember a time when I wasn't reading her words and admiring her photographs. What's more, she's got a great sense of food, and a unique background that offers up diverse influences on the plate. It was through her that I was introduced to savoury crumbles, and her Autumnal Butternut Squash Crumble is a must in our October/November rotation.

Now this is where I'll apologize to you, kind reader, as I can't pretend this conversation about her book isn't written with a distinct and specific bias born out of an affection for its author; nonetheless, even if you've never met Béa, you'll fall for her book just the same. It makes a fine introduction.

La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life is Béatrice through and through. There are glimpses of her life with her husband and adorable daughter Lulu (heart-meltingly-sweet, that one) along with her parents and stories of her French childhood. These personal anecdotes are effortlessly woven into recipes, written clearly in Béa's distinctive voice; it is dulcet, conversational writing, peppered with phrases charmingly en français.

For all her softness of tone, Béa's book is full of exuberant life. She has a way with colour, texture and layered patterns such that her images make you imagine that Boston must always be sunny, even in deep winter. This book is categorically cheerful.

It's also full of tasty things, like a watercress and orange salad that is bright and punchy, a classic hachis parmentier refreshed by lime and coriander, and a crab soufflé that while delicate, is dressed-to-the-bold-nines with saffron. There are, of course, tartines, and some picture-perfect verrines too. Her breakfasts and brunch suggestions are among my favourites - fresh museli or sweet-potato and carrot pancakes? I'm in.

Gluten-free, and encouraging the use of whole grains, Béa brings together recipes that bridge the everyday and the fancy, without ceremony or fuss. 

It's a thoroughly inspiring collection. 

IMG_86405

And now, finally, this custard. As said, it is a crème caramel; a quietly elegant dessert, a custard baked upon a layer of caramel, that's then turned out on its head. Here the custard is softly-set, which is my preference, with the perfect suggestion of wobble as it is spooned. Fragrant with cardamom, the bitterness of dark chocolate mollified but maintained by the caramel that puddles over when served. The dusting of cocoa is not only for show, as that downy, dark layer offers an ephemeral contrast to the softness beneath — it melts quickly though, so sieve it over at the last possible moment and dive in right away.

Not that any such encouragement is needed.

Félicitations, Béa!

Cardamom-flavoured chocolate crème caramel

From the book La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life. (Roost Books, 2012).

"This attractive desert is made for people like me and Philip who cannot resist anything described with words like 'dark chocolate' and 'custard'. Maybe you are one of these people too? It offers a rich silky aromatic chocolate flanlike cream balanced by a light caramel sauce that you'll want to dip your fingers into." - BP

Canola oil, for the ramekins

For the caramel

1/2 cup (100g: 3 1/2 oz) fine granulated white sugar

2 tablespoons cold water

1 tablespoons hot water

For the chocolate custard

2 1/4 cups (530 ml) whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out

5 green cardamom pods, crushed

3 oz (90g) dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons blond cane sugar

Unsweetened cocoa powder, to dust

You will need: six 6-ounce ramekins

Oil six 6-ounce ramekins; set aside.

To prepare the caramel: Heat the sugar and cold water in a small pot. Swirl the pot in a circular movement so that the sugar absorbs the water. Bring to a boil, then simmer at a medium heat - do not stir the sugar at this point, although you can swirl the pot occasionally - and watch the caramel develop. It will be ready when it's golden in colour, which takes about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the hot water, and stir quickly. Pour the caramel into the oiled ramekins, making sure to coat the bottom and sides; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).

To prepare the custard: In a pot, combine the milk with the vanilla bean and seeds and cardamom pods and bring to a boil,  making sure that it doesn't overflow. When it boils, remove from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking quickly so that the chocolate melts evenly. Cover and let infuse for 20 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean and cardamom, and using a fine sieve or chinois, strain the chocolate milk. 

In the meantime, using a stand mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar for 1 minutes. Pour the chocolate milk in and stir quickly. With a spoon, remove any foam that might have formed at the surface.

Divide the chocolate custard among the 6 caramel-filled ramekins and place them in a water bath. Place the custards in the oven and cook for about 50 minutes. To check if they are ready, jiggle the ramekins a little - the centre of the cream should be almost set but not fully (they'll finish setting once they cool down). Remove the ramekins from the oven and let cool completely. Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight, until the custard is completely set.

To unmold the crème caramel easily, dip the ramekins in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, taking care to not let the water spill in. Run the blade of a knife between the custard and the edge of the ramekins. Turn onto a plate and serve with dusted cocoa on top.

Serves 6.  

Note from Tara:

  • As you can see, I made our custard in one large dish (though I did also make the recipe as written, for research purposes of course ... surely not greed). In the case of the larger, it was a 9-inch pan used, and the baking time was about 65 minutes. If you go this way, keep checking after 50 minutes, baking until the centre lazily sways. 
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peppermints

There was a lady I used to know who always kept candies in a bowl on her coffee table. My oldest nephew, who’s now 12 years old and almost as tall as I am, sometimes visited her with me - he was maybe three at the time? He’d toddle over to her knee, ask politely for a candy, and then, manners dispatched, gleefully help himself.

I think he thought her lovely, and possibly magic, as he should have - because she was a lovely person, and really an ever-full candy dish does seem a little magic, doesn’t it?

The candies on offer would change with the season; Hershey’s Kisses on Valentine’s Day, chocolate eggs at Easter, hard butterscotch rounds come Thanksgiving. In winter, the candies were often flavoured with mint. There would be swirled peppermints, soft-centred mints enrobed in chocolate, and hard mints with truffled fillings.   

Of all the minted variations, my favourite were these chocolates flavoured with peppermint through and through. They were blocky things, made at a local shop that’s now gone, and they came wrapped in foils the colour of jewels left out in the frost. They were mild - the chocolate wasn’t too bitter, the mint wasn't too sharp. They were gentle and beguiling, with a right hit of pep, much like our host.

I adored those chocolates. I adored them enough that the other night, after hours of driving in rain and gloom, I sought out some peppermint chocolates in the dusty corner of a dodgy shop and, with full knowledge they were not the right kind and were probably going to be comparatively horrid and would never be considered coffee-table-eligible, I bought them anyway. Then promptly ate three, ignoring their inferiority and happy for their existence because they unexpectedly reminded of her, and that was nice.

I even brought a modest stash of those terrible chocolates home and ashamedly nibbled my way through the supply in the days since. So maybe it’s time to break out a double-boiler and do things up right.

* * *

While Layered Peppermint Crunch Bark isn’t exactly the candy from memory, it is a darn swell substitute and far better than my sorry replacement of recent history. This triple-layer affair has texture and a retro appeal which those clunky, cubist darlings didn't, but it is similarly ideal for ice-capped days.

They are a cinch to make, a melt-and-spread routine of white and dark chocolates, alternated with crushed peppermint snowfalls worthy of Willy Wonka himself. If you have a few hours planned around the house (the chilling takes some time),  knocking together a batch of bars isn't too much by way of supplementary effort. If there's a group of you together, bulk batches are easily accommodated, and boom! Instant candy factory.

It is an old-ish recipe I’m handing over. One, in fact, published only a year before that nephew of mine was born. This recipe is one that's been already introduced and is deservedly well-loved, but I’ll stop short of apology for the encore - familiarity and a hint of kitch needn’t diminish enthusiasm. Therein lies the magic of traditions I think; they bear repeating. We talk about them over and over again, fall into their movements year after year, like the well-worn memory of an old friend who always kept her candy dish topped up.

Merry times to you.

LAYERED PEPPERMINT CRUNCH BARK

Slightly tweaked from Epicurious. This bark is surprisingly restrained; it isn't exceptionally sweet, and there's enough mint to redeem the waxy blandness of the white chocolate. (I've been known to pour the peppermint extract generously, approaching a full teaspoon in total.)

For the dark chocolate, I aim for the middle of the road and use mostly semisweet and some bittersweet if I have both on hand. The combination seems to be the most universally appealing, which is an asset if you're making these for gifts or a party. Use whichever suits your fancy or your audience. Since semisweet chocolate is quite a bit softer than bittersweet, in that case I cut the cream down to 4 1/2-5 tablespoons.

I have discovered that the red swirly peppermints called for are named "Starlight Mints" - could that be more charming? Pounding the pretties to an uneven dust affords the texture we like best. The tiny shards snap and the larger chunks crunch, but no piece is so large as to give any real resistance. 

30 red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies, crushed fairly fine (about 6 ounces)

17 ounces good-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Baker's), finely chopped

A good pinch kosher salt

7 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

6 tablespoons whipping cream

3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Run the peppermints through a coarse sieve. Reserve the dust to one side, and keep the larger pieces in the sieve itself. 

Turn a large, sturdy baking sheet face side down. Cover securely with foil. Mark a 12x9-inch rectangle on the foil. Place the chopped white chocolate and kosher salt in a metal bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, never allowing the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth, and registers 110°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the bowl from the water. Pour 2/3 cup of the melted white chocolate within border of the marked rectangle on foil. Using an offset spatula, spread chocolate to fill the rectangle. Mix some of the larger peppermint pieces into the dust to make up 1/3 cup. Sprinkle this over the white chocolate and chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

Stir the dark chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat until smooth. Cool to barely lukewarm, around 5 minutes. Pour the bittersweet chocolate mixture over the white chocolate rectangle. Using a clean offset spatula, spread the bittersweet chocolate to form an even layer. Chill until very cold and firm, around 25 minutes.

Rewarm the remaining white chocolate in bowl set over barely simmering water, again to 110°F. Working quickly, pour the white chocolate over the firm bittersweet chocolate layer, spreading with a clean offset spatula to cover. Immediately sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints. Refrigerate until just firm, about 20 minutes.

Lift bark off the foil onto a large work surface, with a metal spatula as aid if needed. With a thin bladed knife, trim edges. Cut bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide lengths. Cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections and each section across into squares. 

Can be kept, in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks. Seperate layers with wax paper to keep candies from sticking. 

Serve straight from the fridge or allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so if a softer candy is preferred. For the record, if you stash some in the freezer and then bash it to smaller shards, it makes a fine topping to a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Makes 36 pieces.

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If you, like me, were the recent recipient of an armload of blue-ribbon-at-the-county-fair-worthy summer squash, then most certainly you are, like me, currently thinking yourself spectacularly spoiled.

But then, if you're one of those industrious types that grows their own squash, then maybe you're looking for a way to use up the proliferous buggers.

In either case, if need be, I may have the means to the end of your zucchini supply, specifically by way of chocolate olive oil zucchini bread.

I had some difficulty with this bread, not in its making but in its naming, as while the sum of the parts is what we're all here for, each of those parts has an indespensible role to play.

I put the chocolate first, because one glance at this quick bread and there's no mistaking the presence of cocoa. Chopped semisweet chocolate mollifies the tobacco-darkness of that cocoa powder; the irregular shards melt into the bread so that here and there within the crumb are damp pockets of sweetness. 

The olive oil is the surprise, tasting resiny and somehow green. The one I used makes me think of lemons and fields of newly-mown hay, which feels right for something you're baking at summer's height. 

The zucchini is, of course the main event, and so gets the glory of the final fanfare. There's a full four cups of it in the recipe, divided between two loaves. The pale shreds weave through the batter, so the resulting breads are gratifyingly bulging with bumps and crags, shot through and through with specks of green. It's a bread that does not pretend to be anything other than what it is, and that's an (albeit tasty) conveyance for terrific quantities of summer squash. 

All that said, I could have mentioned the walnuts. They're toasted, so that their fatty waxiness is made snappy and their aromatic bitterness is amplified. Along with the olive oil you've got a winner of a combination, so much so that the nuts were this close to headline status. 

The buttermilk too, it could have been up there in lights, because this bread would be so much less without the spring in the crumb - the crumb has weight without being weighed down, and the buttermilk's to thank for that. It steers the bread away from residence in the land of cake and clears the way for having some for breakfast. 

Exceptional with coffee, this bread's not so much suited to a fork, but instead the sort you use your fingers to break chunks off a slice, to be eaten in between paragraphs as you read the paper. 

There's what's left of a loaf on the counter and it's my plan for tomorrow morning. If you'd like, I'll set an extra place.

CHOCOLATE OLIVE OIL ZUCCHINI BREAD

The method for this bread is the standard muffin or quick bread style; wet ingredients stirred briefly into the dry. No mixer required, with two bowls and a spoon and you're set.

Ingredients

  • Softened butter, for pans
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups fine-grained turbinado sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups shredded zucchini, see note

Method

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans with softened butter. Use a length of parchment to line the bottom and long sides of the pan, forming a sling, and lightly butter the parchment as well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the chopped walnuts and chocolate. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil and buttermilk. Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in the zucchini.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until combined, taking care not over mix. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake, rotating once, until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out almost clean, which should be around 50 minutes. Cool loaves in their pans on a rack for 20 minutes, then grasp the edges of the parchment to ease the bread out.

If you can wait long enough to let them cool to room temperature before slicing, then well done. But if you can't wait, and cut the loaves into ragged pieces while still warm, then I can't say I blame you.

Makes 2 loaves.

Notes:

  • For the zucchini, I use the grating attachment on my food processor, taking care not to press down on the feed tube plunger while the machine is running - this gives a light, feathery shredding. Since we want a bread that is damp but not sodden, I sprinkle the emerald-tipped strands across a (lint-free) kitchen towel, then place another atop, patting it down gently. After a few minutes the towels will have absorbed some of the excess liquid and the zucchini is left crisp and ready to go.
  • If olive oil is not your thing, then it can be replaced by an equal amount of neutral oil or melted butter. With the latter, the bread will be denser and, as it lacks the mitigating edge of olive oil, it will taste sweeter as well.
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Go grab a calendar. Circle this coming Saturday with the most attention-grabbing ink you can find. If you start right after we're done here, you'll only be five days away from this chocolate ice cream, the chocolate ice cream, as far as we're concerned today.

It comes by way of one Fergus Henderson, famous of the restaurant St. John and Michelin stars, Nose to Tail, and of parsley salad and marrow bones. And in my book, chocolate ice cream, too.

Boy oh boy, does he ever know a thing or two about chocolate ice cream.

The recipe was in The Observerages ago, way back in March. In March I wasn't ready for ice cream. Not yet. We were in the beginning throes of the coldest, wettest spring of memory. Darn that rain. Then I saw it elsewhere, only last week, at the exact right time.

I didn't wait. I like you a lot, so I wanted you to know that you shouldn't either.

Let's have at it. The process is the usual for a custard-based ice cream with a couple of essential quirks to make this one marvelous. I'd expect nothing less with such a pedigree. 

It begins with eggs and milk whipped together to frothy, pale lightness; hot, cocoa-stained milk added to those, then melted chocolate. The mix is cooked over gentle heat until it begins to give some resistance to the spoon as you stir.

Many recipes, most recipes, for chocolate ice cream would end there with the instruction to chill and churn the base, and you're done. We, however, have one more step to go. Time for caramel.

Yessiree, caramel. It's easy enough; sugar and water in a pan, cooked to bubbling, deep amber, subdued with a swirl of cream. The combination will sputter and spit quite wildly for a moment, but then the sugar relaxes into the calm whiteness, and, there you are, with a cream caramel. It is stirred into the custard all gets tucked in the fridge.

We wait. The base needs to sit and settle. Two sleeps later the ice cream machine revs up for its workout and churns the custard to the frosty consistency of soft-serve. You could eat it right there. I was tempted to eat it right there. But, no, press on, time for the the freezer. And, bear with me, we wait again. Did I forget to mention that? Three days this time. You might want to push the container all the way back to the far reaches of the freezer as to avoid temptation upon each opening of the door. If you've got a pack of frozen peas in there, put the bag in front of the ice cream and save yourself the heartache.

Then, one day, the wait's over and there's sunshine and a deck waiting for some company. And it's time for ice cream.

pyramids

It is a grown up ice cream, which is not to say our boys didn't get chocolate mustaches (and beards, fingers, hands and shirts) from eating this out of sugar cones on said back deck, because they did, but moreover to give you a sense of this ice cream's elegant civility. Bright and perky it isn't.

It is densely aromatic, less of milk and more of cocoa bean. It has a musky darkness that rumbles low like a mumur in the back of your throat. The suggestion of bitter, balanced sweetness is mentioned first by chocolate, then the cocoa, then again with the burnt edge of caramel. It's the best kind of companionship amongst them, equal collaborators to the whole.

It is weighty, on the palate and upon the tongue; straight out of the freezer it is like cold fudge, as it melts, it's hard to describe - reminiscent of pudding, although more velvety than that.

This ice cream does not require embellishment or accompaniment. It was, as it was, everything it needed to be. Right there, out back, on that second step I like so much, our summer started. And in five days, yours can too.

soft

THE DEFINITIVE CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

Fergus Henderson’s recipe, rewritten from versions inThe Observer and Bon Appetit.

Ingredients

  • 200g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, chopped
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 500ml whole milk
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • For the caramel
  • 70g caster sugar
  • 75ml water
  • 50ml double cream

Method

Make the chocolate custard. Place the chocolate in a small bowl set over a pot of simmering water, making sure that the bowl does not touch the water. Stir until the chocolate is melted, then remove the bowl from the heat and set aside to cool. 

In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, whisk the milk and cocoa powder over medium heat together until the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Set aside.

Prepare an ice bath and set a bowl in it.

In another bowl with a whisk, electric beater or stand mixture, beat the eggs and sugar together until the colour has lightened and the mixture is thick, around 5 minutes. At this stage, the mixture should fall back upon itself in a ribbon when the beaters are lifted. Whisking constantly, pour the hot milk into the yolk mixture in a thin, steady stream. Return the mixture to the saucepan and whisk in the melted chocolate. 

Cook over a low heat, stirring often, until the mixture thickens. This should take around 8 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the caramel. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the sugar and water. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high and continue to boil, without stirring, until the sugar turns a deep amber caramel, around 5 minutes. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cream. Slowly and carefully whisk the caramel into the chocolate custard base. Once fully incorporated, strain the custard through a fine-meshed sieve into the bowl over the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the custard is cool, then cover and chill in the fridge for 2 days.

Freeze the custard base in an ice cream machine as per manufacturer's instruction. Once churned, transfer to a clean container, cover and freeze for 3 days to allow the flavours to develop.

Makes 1 litre.

Notes: 

  • British double cream has a butterfat content of about 48%. Lacking that, I used a 35% cream without difficulty or complaint. Caster sugar is also sold as superfine sugar.
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