Peppermint bark time!

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I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, but over the last few years I fallen in love with peppermint bark as a holiday treat.  The simplicity of the ingredients let’s me focus on using really good quality chocolate which is great for flavor and keeps the sweetness factor in check.  However, I’ve found that the real magic is adding rice krispies to the white chocolate layer.  It creates a subtle crunch that gives this holiday treat a special something, and everyone who tries them always remarks about how much they love the crunch.  We have multiple family holiday gatherings next week and I’m planning to make a few batches to share.

Here is a link to the original recipe over at Shutterbean and here is the more in depth write-up I did about peppermint bark last year.

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Peppermint bark with a crunch

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I’d never heard of peppermint bark until the first Christmas I spent with the Mister’s family, and it has since become a holiday favorite.  This year I wanted to try making my own, and I scoured the internet looking for the perfect recipe.  I’m a big fan of Shutterbean and when Tracy posted a recipe for crunchy peppermint bark a few days ago, I knew I’d found the one.

These have been a hit both at home and with my colleagues;  I think the Mister ate about half the plate by dinnertime.  Fortunately they are super easy to make, so I think I may whip up another batch before Christmas.

Candy canes, white chocolate, rice crispies, dark chocolate

Candy canes, white chocolate, rice crispies, dark chocolate

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A few tips:

Tracy recommends buying “good” white chocolate.  I’ve never bought white chocolate before so I wasn’t sure whether this was for flavor or ease of use.  I get my good dark chocolate (for baking) at the local organic store, so I just bought the only white chocolate they had and it tastes good and melted well.

I took her advice and refrigerated the crispy white chocolate layer, then added a dark chocolate layer and the crushed peppermint.  This was a fantastic idea and I like the way the white and red of the crushed peppermint stands out against that dark chocolate layer.  I do think next time I’ll look for a slightly more bitter dark chocolate since the white layer is already so sweet.

I smoothed my white chocolate and rice crispy layer between two pieces of parchment paper.  This meant that the upper surface was nice and smooth by the time it had set, and much easier for me to spread a thin layer of dark chocolate over.

When crushing the candy canes, I recommend doubling up on the plastic bags.  The sharp edges of the candy tend to bust right through the baggies, and the peppermint dust will go flying.  I went through three plastic baggies altogether for this batch.

Tracy breaks her bark into jagged pieces, but I found it pretty easy to cut into neat little rectangles with a knife.

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Chocolate Chaud

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I haven’t been feeling great lately and with the gloomy weather, I was in need of a little pick me up.  What could be more comforting than a little mug of hot chocolate?

Rather than a packet of cocoa and hot water, I was in the mood for something more indulgent.  I like the French approach to hot chocolate: very rich and thick with chocolate.  In general, I prefer desserts that are subtly sweet, so for this drink I used bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened coconut milk, which made for a rich and comforting mug of hot chocolate that wasn’t too sugary.  This recipe made enough for two small mugs–perfect serving sizes for such a decadent drink.  As with many desserts, a tiny pinch of sea salt is a little trick to making the chocolate really flavorful.

Chocolate Chaud

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup unsweetened condensed coconut milk
  • 3 oz dark chocolate
  • pinch sea salt
  • marshmallows

In a small saucepan, heat the regular milk and coconut milk over medium-low heat until steaming but not boiling.

I had used a double boiler earlier to melt my chocolate for a different cooking project–but you can melt it in the microwave or chop it up and add it straight into the hot milk.  Whisk constantly to incorporate.  This will take 1-2 minutes if you previously melted your chocolate, and 3-5 if you did not.  When chocolate is fully melted into the milk and no more lumps remain, remove from heat and whisk in the pinch of sea salt.  Pour into two mugs, add as many marshmellows as you desire.

Dark chocolate, milk, marshmellows, coconut milk, sea salt

Dark chocolate, milk, marshmellows, coconut milk, sea salt

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As cookie season draws near

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This year we aren’t straying too far from home for the holidays.  We’ll probably make a quick trip to see family for Thanksgiving and will be in town for Christmas and New Years.  Last year was the first time we had Christmas at home and the Mister’s parents came down to spend it with us.  It was fun to have a first go at creating our own traditions and decide how we wanted to decorate, eat, and celebrate.

When baking, I usually gravitate towards everyday cakes, but this year I’d like to work on my cookie-making skills, both in baking and decorating.  To get in the swing of things, I baked up a batch of Deb’s delicious toasted coconut shortbread cookies and used them to practice tempering chocolate.

I got these adorable little maple leaf and acorn cookie cutters and gave them a try.  Admittedly, they weren’t the best for this kind of cookie, but I’m not quite ready for sugar cookies and royal icing yet.  The tempering seemed to work pretty well, but I think I can do better and neither the Mister, nor my work colleagues seem to mind eating all my test batches.  Hope you have a great weekend!

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Halloween pudding with lavender, sea salt and chocolate cobwebs

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As berries and stone fruits disappear for the season, I find myself switching back and forth from cravings for apple and pear desserts, to anything with dark, dark chocolate.  I’ve been having fun trying out recipes from the new Kinfolk Table cookbook and over the weekend, I experimented with their recipe for chocolate pudding with sea salt and lavender.

The Kinfolk recipe is simple and easy, similar to many that can be found online using olive oil, vanilla, heavy cream and sea salt (here’s a Martha Stewart favorite), but with a twist.  In this case, you brew 1/4 cup of water with a mixture of lavender flowers and Earl Grey tea.  Steep for five minutes then mix it with the chopped chocolate and vanilla, before adding the boiling cream.  Check out the new Kinfolk Table for the full recipe, or try adding a little lavender tea and sea salt to your favorite pudding recipe.

Lavender, Earl Grey tea leaves, heavy cream, bittersweet dark chocolate, sea salt, vanilla

Lavender flowers, Earl Grey tea leaves, heavy cream, bittersweet dark chocolate, sea salt, vanilla

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A few tips:

A tiny bit of salt really makes chocolate pop.  I thought the Kinfolk recipe had just a bit too much, so in the future, I may cut the salt in half.  I used the best grey sea salt we have in the house.

Take a few minutes to give your chocolate a good chopping, even if you have morsels.  The smaller the pieces, the more surface area and the faster they will melt.

Since its nearly Halloween, I thought it would be fun to dress up the pudding with a little whipped cream and chocolate cobwebs.  Last week, Food52 featured a cute little tutorial for making them with melted chocolate and I had fun giving it a try.

These are very rich, and the Mister and I have been splitting a cup after dinner for the last few days.  If I serve them to guests in the future, I may layer them with berries, chopped nuts, or preserves.

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Dark chocolate cake

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My mother has been visiting and we decided to have half a dozen friends over for a little dinner party.  It had been raining for days, and the damp and chill gave us the perfect excuse to make the first squash soup of the season.  After so much summer traveling, it felt good to gather our dear ones around the table and warm our bones with baked brie, bowls of hot soup and far too much wine.

To round out the meal, I made my favorite dark chocolate cake.  Its a simple thing that improves with time, the perfect dessert to make-ahead when you are busy putting together dinner for a group.  Easy on the sugar and heavy on the chocolate, the cake is very dense.  It cuts well into small servings for a large group, and is just perfect its own, or can be dressed up with a little powdered sugar and served with fresh fruit as shown here.

Eggs, sugar, flour, sea salt, raspberries, dark chocolate, butter

Eggs, sugar, flour, sea salt, raspberries, dark chocolate, butter

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Gateau Therese in The Sweet Life in Paris.

  • 9 oz bittersweet chocolate (roughly 2.5 bars) broken into squares
  • 8 tbsp butter (1 stick)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temp, separate whites and yolks into separate bowls
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter the sides of a 9′ inch spring-form pan. Trace bottom onto a piece of parchment paper and cut out circle. Place circle on bottom of spring-form pan; use a little dab of butter to hold down the corners, if needed.

Use a double boiler to completely melt the chocolate and butter.  I improvise a double boiler by filling a sauce pan with an inch of water, setting a stainless steel steamer basket in the pan.  Bring the water to a light boil.  Put the chocolate and butter in a glass dish and set the dish in the steamer basket.

Remove the chocolate and butter mixture from the heat.  First stir in half the sugar, then the egg yolks, then the flour.

Use a mixer to whip the egg whites with the salt until they form soft, droopy peaks.  Add the other half of the sugar and whisk until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks.

Add 1/3 of the egg white mixture to the melted chocolate/butter mixture and use a spatula to lightly fold them together.  Then add the remaining egg whites and fold gently until there are no more white streaks.  Be careful not to overmix.

Transfer batter into the spring-form pan, using the spatula to even out the batter and smooth the top.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Improvised double-boiler

Improvised double-boiler

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A few tips:

I love this cake because it is very chocolatey without being too sweet.  The chocolate content is high in proportion to the rest of the ingredients, so the better quality chocolate you use, the better the cake.

Before firing up the double boiler, break the chocolate into small squares and cut the stick of butter into half tablespoon chunks.  This will create more surface area and allow them to melt a little more quickly.

The original recipe calls for baking in a loaf pan.  I’ve made that recipe a number of times and it works well.  The only difference is to extend the baking time to 35 minutes.

If you possibly can, cover the cake and leave out overnight.  Its even better on day two.

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