Chocolate Kissed by a Rose

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Morning scents.8.7.14

The signboard outside a neighborhood sweets shop offered the enticing promise of rose-flavored hot chocolate. A promise that, as is so often is the case with rose-flavored/scented foods, did not quite stand up in the bargain. The Valrhona hot chocolate was indeed luscious and lovingly prepared, but a bit heavy-handed in the addition of rose flavoring. It’s a problem encountered a lot in recipes that attempt to incorporate a lovely hint of rose, but instead leave a lingering sense of having ingested perfume, or soap.

It transported me back to the first recipe I ever encountered that called for rose water. Many moons ago, when the Three Points Cooks first got together in the kitchen,  Bon Appetit magazine published an over-the-top recipe for brownies that called for both semi-sweet and milk chocolate, coconut, whipped egg whites, rum, Amaretto, and rose water. And that made it irresistible. Who knows where we even located a bottle of rose water in those days before gourmet markets became a fixture on every corner, but whipping up a batch of those lovelies forever changed my perception of how food and fragrance could combine to elevate commonplace ingredients. Just a touch of rose water takes chocolate to a whole other place.  It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly — maybe some magical mix of serotonin-releasing elements and sense memories – but rose water enhances the very chocolaty-ness of chocolate, with an injection of ethereal freshness.

That discovery sent me off in search of other chocolate and rose dessert combinations, which remain relatively uncommon even now, years down the road, when all our taste buds have become more accustomed to the addition of herbs to sweets and floral notes to savories. Perhaps it’s because so many of them fall into the trap of a soapy overdose of rose. The idea is for the rose essence to be barely noticeable, a subtle whisper, an alluring perfume. That’s always been the beauty of this particular recipe to me. Tasters who are pretty sure they know what they’re getting with a brownie will raise an eyebrow in surprise and ask about the secret ingredient. Is it brandy? Marzipan? A particular kind of chocolate? They pick up on something, but can’t quite place it.

Rose water can be tricky, to be sure. Different brands seem to have different levels of strength, and it’s easy to overdo. Think of it as an extract, starting with a portion of the amount called for in any recipe, and taste for balance.

Try the recipe here: Chocolate-Coconut Brownies

Second Life

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What’s a girl to do with a bowl of leftover buttercream, namely of the brown sugar variety? Admittedly, my first thought was to grab a spoon and draw the shades, with no one the wiser. But even I don’t have the fortitude for that. So I whipped up a frosting delivery device — in the form of fudgy brownies swirled wth fleur de sel caramel (a small jar was floating in the back of my fridge) — to take care of the excess. A perfect compliment.

Three Cubed: Summer Blonde

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The Book: Baked–New Frontiers in Baking (2008}

Three Cubed Project

The weather says too hot to bake, but that has never stopped me. I need my sugar fix, especially after a meat-packed barbeque. (I am nothing if not about the balance.)

For our soccer tailgate on Saturday, I went with Baked’s Brewer’s Blondies (page 129–there was a photo on Page 127). Not your usual blondie–which usually is a brownie without the essential ingredient, chocolate–these rich bar cookies have powdered chocolate malt balls in them, adding an unexpected and delicious twist (not to mention chocolate).

Underbake them slighty and you will end up with blondies that tend toward a caramel center. Delicious with beer, they’d probably be better with milk. Or ice cream.   


Not Too Fancy, Always Delicious

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Once upon a time, my office mates and I mused about how wonderful it would be to have someone come around in the afternoon to bring us treats—cookies and brownies, just like in grade school. Then, voila! One day a couple of years ago, the Treats Truck started turning up around town, among the first of the new-wave food trucks trend. Our prayers were answered. And we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect, friendly Treats Lady than owner Kim Ima, who dispenses comforting goodies from her truck Sugar, (which responsibly runs on compressed natural gas). Her motto: Not Too Fancy, Always Delicous.

"Treats are Good," says Sugar (photo/

So was very happy to see Kim get some love in a new national ad campaign for Blackberry, talking about how she sends mobile alerts to fans. (Good placement in the baseball playoffs, where it aired over and over.) And even happier to have the opportunity to introduce her to brother Larry, in town for a visit, when we spotted Sugar near the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket.  She charmed him with samples, but even more with her customary question in response to a brownie order: “Would you like a corner, an edge or a middle?”

Just like mom would have done…if she’d made cinnamon-stoked Mexican Chocolate brownies. Good thing I’d just bought some milk at the market.

Meanwhile, another favorite not-too-fancy-always-delicous Brooklyn baker Eric Wolitzky of Baked is hanging on in Top Chef Just Desserts, outlasting a slew of show-offy pastry chefs because the judges always love how much flavor his recipes have. Lots of desserts may be pretty, but taste triumphs!