Chocolate Kissed by a Rose

Posted on

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

Cake and Crema

Posted on

You’ve probably seen those jars in the dairy aisle, next to the sour cream or cream cheese. Something called crema — from Mexico, or Salvador, or Guatemala, or even L.A.  And you’ve likely wondered what it was, or how exactly it was different from the nearby cream and/or sour cream. Well, stop wondering and pick up a jar. Crema is a wonderful addition to the repertoire, easily swapped for that sour cream, crème fraiche, cream or yogurt in dishes both savory and sweet. It has the texture of a thick cream, or a thinned sour cream; the tang of sour cream, but with a lighter acidity; the lightness of crème fraiche, but with a bit more salt to land it on the savory side.

The Three Points cooks first tried it out some time back when gathering ingredients for a scalloped potatoes dish. Finding ourselves at a grocery in a largely Hispanic neighborhood, and looking at the array of crema brands in the cooler, we decided to give it a try. Used in place of milk, crema produced a wonderfully creamy, rich, and slightly tangy version of scalloped potatoes. The guests loved it.

Last weekend we once again found ourselves face-to-face with an array of crema, this time at the local supermarket (proof that Latin products are becoming increasingly easy to find at mainstream stores). We’d stopped in to get some cream for a chocolate ganache, but we again looked at the dairy case, exchanged glances, and said, “Why not?” The resulting ganache for our four-layer Black and White Chocolate Butter Cake was so good — reminiscent of a sour cream chocolate frosting — that we opted to frost the sides of the cake with it instead of just using it for filling (a beautiful brown sugar buttercream went on top).

Then, taking a cue from the traditional use of crema as a topping for fish tacos, enchiladas and other Mexican/Latin American dishes, we drizzled some into the fresh Red Okra Soup, where it proved a perfect match to the soups smoky heat.

It’s just the beginning.

Remember. Crema.

The One-Two Punch

Posted on

I’m traveling a lot lately, which is probably how I got to reminiscing about all the globe-trotting adventures I used to have when I was younger and less gainfully employed.

Greyhound carted me between cities scattered across the Northeast one memorable summer, and I took advantage of frequent layovers to spend time with friends who didn’t mind sharing their couches and their kitchens. I still have a little Post-It note that was attached to a sack lunch I was packed off with once. I didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, but it was suggested that on a multi-state bus ride, cookies could turn out to be a valuable commodity. Even though I was heading off down the road again, I didn’t need to go it alone (one way or the other).

Desserts are not normally my thing, it’s true, but the sweet and savory one-two punch of these Salted Peanut Butter Cookies called out to me when I spotted them just a few days ago on Orangette. So much so that this recipe shot to the top of my “To Make ASAP” list.

I made a half-batch the first time out, even though I strongly suspected in advance that I was going to love their sweet and salty contrast. The recipe scaled down for me very easily (especially if you are weighing all your ingredients). I still ended up with 16 good-sized cookies (3″-4″ across), and I suspect that travel buddies old and newly met will help me make them disappear quickly enough. Unless I accidentally end up eating them all myself.

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from Autumn Martin and Hot Cakes Confections (via Orangette)

Read the rest of this entry »

Chocolate Tour NYC

Posted on Updated on

Today’s birthday girl, Lisa, had to return home to North Carolina for her actual celebration date, but not before getting a serious chocolate fix during a few days in NYC. Lisa’s first request, a return to Brooklyn’s The Chocolate Room for flourless chocolate cake in a pool of raspberry sauce—“sex on a plate” in her words—set off our plan for a chocolate tour of the city. Not so difficult, since the location of various chocolate purveyors made for convenient pit stops on our shopping adventures with fellow summer b-day girl, Jeanine. Got to keep your strength up!

A stop by small chocolate shops wherever you visit can be a wonderful way to taste products by local food artisans, and it’s easy to sample a piece of two without spending a lot. (In my hometown of Kansas City, I always head for Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates and the more traditional comforts of Annedore’s.) Stops on our NY tour included:

  • Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven. Mr. Chocolate has a few locations around the city, but nothing beats a trip to the source in Soho, where the chocolates are made. Really, who can resist a place called Chocolate Haven? Where you can sit at the marble counter and have a signature Wicked hot chocolate (frozen for summer)? Bonus: Jacques is very hands-on with the factory’s operations and was even spotted on our Saturday visit, before donning his motorcycle helmet and scooting out the door.
  • Kee’s Chocolates. A low-key shop in Soho with a small, but innovative selection of truffles (and French-style macaroons) made on site. Lisa could be heard muttering ‘’mmmmm’’ every few seconds as she slowly consumed her coconut truffle while walking down the street.
  • MarieBelle Sweets. Time for another Soho shopping break, where the European-style café in back serves chocolates and teas. MarieBelle’s ganache-filled chocolates are like miniature silk-screened works of art; my caramel square looked much like a blue and white Delft tile.  The real surprise here was a saffron ganache that pairs amazingly well with chocolate.
  • Hands off! It's my birthday. I don't have to share.

    Nunu Chocolates. A stop at the Atlantic Avenue storefront, where this small producer is headquartered, for sea salt caramels and a Prosecco-filled bonbon, plus some chocolate-covered cacao nibs. As Nunu’s info tells us, they contain high levels of flavonoids and antioxidants, “making them an incredibly tasty and healthy treat.” Can’t argue with that.

  • Roni-Sue Chocolates. Time didn’t permit a trip to the Lower East Side for this Essex Street Market chocolate maker, known for her selection of truffles with cocktail combos like the Dark and Stormy and the Manhattan, plus a fantastic buttercrunch. But have to give a shoutout to Roni-Sue, having had the pleasure of meeting her on a previous visit, where she packed up a gift box, and even added her signature to boot.

Oh well, there’s always next year. In the meantime, think I’ll slip out for a slice of The Chocolate Room’s triple-layer chocolate cake in honor of the birthday girl.

Three Cubed: Move Over, Cream Puff

Posted on Updated on

The Book: Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague (2002)

Three Cubed Project

I have long had the dream of opening a dark, smoky, Eastern European coffee shop, where the grouchy (but stealthily kindhearted) waitresses would serve handmade pastries with perfect espressos. They would bark orders, frighten tourists and hustle out the lingerers— morose poets and spies, of course there would be spies— to make room for the next trench-coat-wearing patron in need of my version of soul food.

Until that day, I am left to baking my way through the list of contenders for positions in my future bakery case.

The Indianerkrapfen (Indianer “Cup Cakes”), on Page 127 of Rick Rodgers’ meticulously researched dessert book, have always seemed a candidate for top-shelf position, though I had never made them. Rodgers is quite specific on the proper shape of these little ganache-topped, jam- and whipped-cream-filled sponge cakes: Nothing short of globes will do. While denizens of Vienna have easy access to the Indianerkrapfen molds required to produce cake orbs, we do not.  The closest thing we have is the Danish apple dumpling pan, or ebelskiver, special equipment that I had yet to accumulate. And I wasn’t about to go for second-best (baking them in muffin tins). Then came Three Cubed, and here I am, proud owner of a cast-iron dumpling pan.

Indianers definitely fall into the “little balls of happiness” category of food (like Julia Child’s wine-braised pearl onions or, in general, gougères). They taste divine, especially with sour cherry jam instead of the apricot in the original recipe. However, these are a pain make. The ebelskiver produces seven cakes at a time, after which you must let the pan cool, then rinse and dry it before you can move on to the next round. The cakes also are cooled, then cut so they have a small base and larger cap (interior removed so it is just a shell), spread with jam on the inside, filled with whipped cream and topped with bittersweet chocolate. They have little to no shelf life, especially in summer heat.

Indianers do serve up the wow factor, reminiscent of an éclair—with a nice, spongy twist. A pinch of gelatin or dollop of sour cream might help the whipped cream hold up for a little while, though I cannot imagine how they keep if fully assembled. So if you plan to make these—and I suggest you do or, better, convince someone to bake them for you —finish them á la minute.

A recipe similar to that in the book can be found here, though I recommend buying Kaffeehaus and giving Rick a little love. He certainly put it into this book.