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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte

Hold onto your hats, friends. This recipe is one for the bookmarks. Everyone loves a creamy, velvety chocolate truffle, amiright? Take a bite and that luscious ganache filling just melts in your mouth. You can't have just one.

So I turned that thick, decadent truffle flavor into a cake. Each bite has the same luxurious texture. Cut with a drizzle of tart raspberry glaze, this cake is sure to be a go-to recipe for elegant parties, or nights when that sweet tooth simply can't be satisfied with anything less. Also, because it is flour free, it's a perfect recipe for Passover and those with gluten intolerances or wheat or nut allergies. Win!

We're going to start with a very simple recipe.
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Oh! Just a heads up--this is not a whip-together-at-last-minute sorta deal. This is a low-and-slow kinda cake, loverfaces. You'll want to give it enough time to bake and chill overnight before serving, so plan ahead.

1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup white sugar
18 ounces bittersweet chocolate (you can use chips or baking squares)
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted sweet cream butter (the higher quality, the better)
6 large eggs

In a small saucepan (I used a teakettle for convenience's sake) combine the water, salt, and sugar and bring to a simmer. You want the sugar and salt to completely dissolve. If it doesn't dissolve completely, your cake will be gritty, so this is an important step. Don't let the water evaporate, so keep a lid on it.

Now, for the chocolate! Lots and lots of chocolate. More than a pound of the good stuff! There's no such thing as too much when it comes to a decadent cake. Really. For best results, use high quality chocolate. When you have a dessert like this with so few ingredients, the quality of those ingredients is important. I used bittersweet baking chocolate, and Ghiradelli chips. Mm, all that chocolate. Smells a little like evil in the kitchen.

Empty your chocolate into a microwave safe bowl. Zap it at full power for 30 second intervals, stirring well between each interval. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl and get all that chocolate worked into itself. We want smooth, creamy chocolate with no lumps.

Chop the butter into pieces and add it into the chocolate, along with the hot sugar/salt water. Stir well until the butter has melted and the chocolate is smooth. Sorta like this. :) Ohhhh yeah.

Once the chocolate has cooled a bit, we're going to add the eggs. Don't add them while the chocolate is hot, or you'll end up with scrambled eggs, and that's not the texture we want, no ma'am. Plop them in one at a time for best results.

Using a hand mixer (unless you really just want to work on your bikini arms), whip the chocolate and eggs together until fully incorporated. You shouldn't be able to tell there's any egg in there--it should be perfectly even and blended.

To bake this cake and retain an evenly-baked texture with no dry or cracked patches, we're going to bake it in a water bath. Using a water bath keeps the oven's interior humid, bakes the cake gently, and spreads the heat evenly around the pan to prevent overbaking.

Taking a 9" springform pan, line the bottom insert in parchment. This will help keep the edges of the pan sealed and keep the cake from sticking. You can trim any excess parchment sticking out. With the inherent creaminess of this cake, you'll want a satin-smooth finish to make it perfect. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, grease the parchment and sides of the pan with vegetable shortening. You can use nonstick spray if you don't have shortening.
Wrap aluminum foil around the bottom of the pan, bringing it up the sides. This is simply to ensure that no water leaks into your pan while baking, 'cause that can make a gooey mess.

Now pour in your batter and place the springform pan into a large, shallow roasting pan. I used a 9"x13" cake pan. Fill it with hot water, halfway up the side of the springform. Stick that bad boy in your oven, set a timer for 45 minutes, and go have a cocktail. And for the love of chocolate, don't open your oven door to peek. You'll let all that lovely steam out. Your cake is taking a spa day, you should too. So go relax.

When your timer dings, you can take the cake out to cool. It will still look wet and wobbly in the middle--totally normal! Don't bake it anymore. Remove the springform from its bath and put it on the counter on a cooling rack. I's gonna hang out there for an hour or so. And then transfer the cake (IN the pan) to the fridge and let it chill at least 10 hours (preferably overnight).

When you're ready to serve, run a hot butter knife (I dip mine under steaming water and wipe with a towel) around the outer edge of the cake, between the cake and the pan, to loosen it. You'll see by now that the cake is fully set and cooled and firm. Remove the springform's ring. Invert your cake onto your serving platter and peel off the parchment. You can garnish with powdered sugar, a dusting of cocoa, fresh fruit, whipped cream, whatever.

Because I'm a glutton, I topped mine with--what else? Homemade dark chocolate ganache. What compliments an intense chocolate cake better than a generous serving of MORE intense chocolate?? Nothing, I say. Nothing.

Ganache is so easy, it's silly, really.

In a microwave safe bowl, nuke a cup of heavy cream for 90 seconds. It should be hot, but not scalded. Add in a 12oz package of dark (or milk, if you like that better) chocolate chips. Stir to blend. See? How easy is that? Really. Let it cool and thicken for a bit, about half an hour, and then drizzle over your cake. I drizzled a bit of mine, then let the rest firm up, covered, in the fridge for a couple of hours until it was thick enough to pipe. I drizzled. I piped. And then I piled on some fresh raspberries for color.

And there you have it. An entire cake made of chocolate truffle. This is a PMS-thwarting, man-catching, sweet tooth defying showstopper of a cake. You'll love it.

Happy eating!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A refreshing change of pace

Hey all! I wanted to thank those who've been commenting on my blogs--it's always nice to see feedback. And also, the validity that I'm not sitting here talking entirely to myself is nice as well. I'm sorry I haven't responded. The email address linked to this blog (the one that bleeps up exciting messages when someone comments) is an address I no longer use, so when people comment, I don't see it unless I go and check. I should fix that.

Also, I have been working on some terribly cute projects lately. I'll post about those next week. With Passover approaching, this week is crazy busy! But today I wanted to rave about something I recently discovered that threw me for a bit of a loop.

I'm a water purist. People talk about putting slices of fruit into their water for that "subtle touch of flavor" and I've tried that. It's awful. I don't want a subtle touch of flavor. I want full balls-to-the-wall flavor (can I say that on a family blog?) or nothing at all.

....or so I thought.

My tastes have been changing recently as I've been transitioning into a much healthier lifestyle (read: less interwebs surfing and more Zumba. But the evil that is Zumba is another post for another time)

I've been craving fruit instead of sweets (gasp!) and have noticed a definite change in my palate. But even though I've definitely been leaning towards more organic choices, when my girlfriend Morgan introduced me to MetroMint, I was skeptical.
The way she described it--subtly flavored water infused with mint essential oils--well, it sounded a little delicate for my taste.

However, never one to turn down new experiences, I gave them a try. I had a full selection of flavors to sample--Orange Mint, Lemon Mint, Spearmint, Peppermint, and--get this--chocolate mint. All unsweetened, uncarbonated, and with no artificial flavors or additives. So I cracked the chocolate mint first and gave it a sip.

It was odd at first. It's hard to describe something that tastes like candy, but isn't sweet in any way. And come on, I create and describe flavor for a living. I should be good at this.

The chocolate and the mint are both there. Very clear. It tastes like an Andes Mint, but without the toothache-inducing sweetness. The flavors ARE very subtle and super clean. They don't leave any cloying aftertaste the way Crystal Lite can sometimes. The water still tastes like water, but at the end of the sip, you get this really distinct sense of the flavor, along with the cool refreshing mint. They're delicious. And the best part? The bottles are all fancy! So I feel very fancy drinking it. Like instead of doggy-paddling in the deep end, I should be in some SuperSpa Elite gym with Javier, my cute Argentinian personal trainer spotting my perfectly-formed squats under flattering light.

Ahh. A girl can dream.

One thing I noticed is that the waters taste different at room temperature. The mint essence is more pronounced, and the background flavor less prominent. I prefer them refrigerated and icy cold, but they certainly taste fine if they're not.

Of all the flavors I sampled, it's really difficult to choose a favorite. Chocolate Mint is up there, along with the Peppermint. They also have a cherry mint flavor that I didn't try, but OMG, sounds so good. If you wanna try some too, and tell me what your favorite flavor is, check the store locator to find where they are sold. Whole Foods, Kroger, Ralphs, Safeway...they all carry MetroMint. :) You can even get them on Amazon!

After reading up on the company, I found there's a lot of sciencey stuff about digestion benefits from the natural mint oils. From pregnant women with morning sickness to chemo patients working through nausea, this stuff is like gold. People rave about this stuff, truly. The reviews I was reading blew me away. MetroMint has some very loyal fans. And I'm pretty sure that they can add me to the list.

Morgan, thanks for introducing me to these, and for changing my mind about delicate flavors. These really are pretty amazing. <3

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Food For Fuel

I have a confession to make, friends. Please try not to judge.

Okay...I know this may be hard to hear, but it's time I come clean.

I don't feed my children cake and chocolate on a regular basis.

I know!! I know, it's crushing news. You thought you knew me! What is this world coming to when the Happy Baker doesn't even follow her own credo of "There's never enough chocolate"?? It's a scandal.

Here's the truth, though. I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I rarely crave chocolate, and *gasp* I don't even care for cake that much. But boy, do I love making it. The creative process of conjuring up rich, decadent flavors and turning them into beautiful little treats--it's like therapy. It makes me calm and happy.

Our household is fairly health conscious. I may not always follow my own rules, and my plumpishness definitely rats me out on that. But when it comes to my children, I've got an ironclad drive to teach them proper nutrition. I want them to have better skills than I did, and not end up with my tendencies to lean on junk when I'm tired and lazy.

One of our favorite places to go when the weather is yucky is Monkey Joe's. If you're not familiar, Monkey Joe's is a play center filled with various giant bouncy castles, slides, and obstacle courses. It's a pretty great place to let kids run amok and burn themselves out.

So I gathered up my children one afternoon and we headed out to the Joe.

After an hour of red-faced, damp-shirted play, I went to the concession stand to buy them some juice. I paid, and the lady plopped down on the counter two bottles of neon-colored sugar water in plastic squeeze bottles. "I'm sorry," I said, "I wanted apple juice. In the juice boxes." I felt an episode of charades coming on.

She stared blankly. "We don't carry those anymore."

What?? I know it had been a while since we visited, but they seem to have changed a bit. I peered past the cashier into their cooler, looking for the fruit cups that were present last time we went. Gone. I felt the self-righteous Mommy-frustration bubbling up and shoved it back down. Unfortunately, a little snark managed to escape and fall out, plop! Right there on the counter.

"So.... you guys have completely stripped the place of anything remotely resembling real food, then? Isn't this just sugar water?"

She stared blankly, waiting for me to sign the receipt.

I gazed at the menu. Salted, buttered popcorn. Soft pretzels with nacho cheese (bright yellow processed cheese product). A candy buffet as long as the eye can see. Ice cream bars. Pizza so greasy you have to sop the oil up with a handful of napkins. And best of all? Customers are not allowed to bring in any outside food or beverages, and are not allowed to leave and return.

I'm bringing my children to a place where they can exercise, socialize, burn calories, expend energy, play, and a slew of other healthy activities. And then when they get hungry and thirsty, I'm forced to refuel them with sugary, fat-laden garbage. No. I refuse. I'm going to be the parent who marches in with my mini cooler, packed with bottles of water and juice, carrot sticks, and chopped fruit. And if they raise a stink, they can kick me out and lose me as a customer.

I am no food nazi by any means. My children have snacks, eat fast food, and enjoy cake and candy. But they do so in planned settings and special occasions. It is not something I allow just because it's there.

My bigger concern is WHY Monkey Joe's isn't working harder to provide healthier alternatives to our next generation? It wouldn't cost much to provide shelf-stable snacks that are lighter on the waistline. Horizon makes organic milk tetrapacks that don't even require refrigeration. 100% juice boxes and water are entirely shelf stable.
A bowl of carrot sticks and peanut butter can easily last an entire week and costs pennies on a bulk scale. Whole wheat PB&J sandwiches can be made to order, with the bread kept in the freezer. Even Uncrustables, which aren't my favorite but are better than greasy pizza, come in whole wheat and can be frozen indefinitely. There are a lot of options, and I bet a lot of parents would be far more comfortable spending more time at their favorite play center if they knew they could count on a healthy dinner being available when the kids come back clutching their tummies.

So parents, women, healthy advocates - if you were revamping the Monkey Joe's menu, what would you add? Would you be more likely to take your children there if there were better food options? Toss in your opinion, I'd love to hear it!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hello again, world!

We just moved into a little suburban ranch-style house in December. I'm still getting used to all the bumps and squeaks in the night, and one thing I haven't attempted to master yet is the garage. It's a small, one-car garage with a door opener. Wee! However, having to cart around two kids and a dog, I drive a Dodge Journey, which is not a small car. I did many a half-assed measurement, holding my hands apart and trying to size up the width of the garage versus the width of my vehicle, and it just didn't look like a promising endeavor. So I said "Eh, to heck with it" and settled on remaining parked in the driveway. More room for my boxes of pots and miscellaneous kitchen equipment that way.

Enter: Midwest Winter.

After weeks and weeks of crazy December days in the 60's where we're stringing up lights in our tshirts, the ice finally rolls in. "Winter mix" they call it. Way to be festive, Weather Channel!

Nothing sounds more fun than standing in the 12 degree morning air, scraping ice off my windshield while my toddler stands at the front door and wails at me, I admit. But because I usually don't have time in the mornings to participate in such fun activities, I decided to try the impossible, bending the laws of physics to make my car fit into this teensy tiny garage.

I played a little "Garage Tetris", moved some stuff around, and stacked things artfully in teetery towers. I folded in my rearview mirrors and handed my son my emergency call list in case peril should occur.

I skated carefully to the car in my pink bathroom slippers, trying not to fall on the ice and concuss myself, and as I climbed into the driver's seat and opened the garage door, there stood my 6 year old son at the far end of the garage, in the doorway leading to the kitchen, clad in his Thomas pajamas, watching intently. Fantastic. If I rip my car and/or the house apart, he'll be my star witness. At least I know I can buy his silence with a lollipop if I have to.

I started the engine and peeked out the window, trying to align my car with the weensy little opening. It was like threading a needle. Or putting on Spanx. I called out, "Am I going to hit?" and my son waved and called, "No, you're doing great, Mom!" And then I realized I'm relying on the perspective skills of a child who still draws his self portraits with stick arms and giant balloon heads. Whatever. So I slo-o-o-wly pulled in while my son waves me on like a tiny tarmac attendant.

And I didn't hit.

Victory is mine.

We won't talk about me getting stuck between the car door and the wall and my son having to pry me out with a crowbar and a jar of crisco.

It's good to be back, friends. I'm having a cake truffle giveaway on Facebook, so be sure to go check it out!

* You get one entry into the drawing for each of the following tasks:

- Post on the Happy Baker's wall, telling me about a dish or dessert that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling or triggers a special romantic memory.
- Post a photo of that dish/dessert along with your post.
- Add my Etsy shop to your favorites *
- Tag my shop in a Twitter post

* If you've already favorited my Etsy shop, send me an Etsy convo and let me know.
The drawing will be done by, and the winner will be announced on Facebook and Twitter on February 1st. Good luck!