Currently viewing the tag: "bittersweet chocolate"

bittersweet chocolate shortbread tarts | the vanilla bean blog
I have a thing for this bittersweet chocolate filling; I used it for years when I baked professionally, and find myself turning to it often when I need an upgraded dessert. I have a similar recipe for it here (which I had forgotten about until after I made and photographed these, of course), and I’m not sure which version I prefer. The shortbread crust is rich and pairs nicely with the smooth chocolate, and the brown sugar whipped cream makes each bite a dreamy affair.
bittersweet chocolate shortbread tarts | the vanilla bean blogbittersweet chocolate shortbread tarts | the vanilla bean blog

 

bittersweet chocolate shortbread tarts | the vanilla bean blog
My brother and (almost) sister-in-law came over this weekend; I took some ‘save the date’ photos for them. Now that Cassie is part of the family, she finds herself roped into helping me with photos here as well (my sister and brother-in-law finally get a break). Martha Stewart Living sent me some pieces of from the Stockholm Indigo Collection (from the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s) to highlight, and Cassie willingly put on an apron and held some tarts for me. She’s a keeper.

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blood orange + chocolate shakes | the vanilla bean blog

 

blood oranges | the vanilla bean blog

 

blood orange + chocolate shakes | the vanilla bean blog
‘I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.’
-Gary Soto, ‘Oranges’

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toasted sesame oil cookies | the vanilla bean blog
I don’t want to be demure or respectable.
I was that way, asleep, for years.
That way, you forget too many important things.
How the little stones, even if you can’t hear them, are singing.
How the river can’t wait to get to the ocean and the sky, it’s been there before.
What traveling is that!
It is a joy to imagine such distances.
I could skip sleep for the next hundred years.
There is a fire in the lashes of my eyes.
It doesn’t matter where I am, it could be a small room.
The glimmer of gold Böhme saw on the kitchen pot
was missed by everyone else in the house.

Maybe the fire in my lashes is a reflection of that.
Why do I have so many thoughts, they are driving me crazy.
Why am I always going anywhere, instead of somewhere?
Listen to me or not, it hardly matters.
I’m not trying to be wise, that would be foolish.
I’m just chattering.

-Mary Oliver
toasted sesame oil cookies with bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog

toasted sesame oil cookies with bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog

toasted sesame oil cookies with bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
Toasted sesame oil may seem like an unusual addition to a cookie, but it’s actually quite delicious. The nutty oil is sweetened by the sugar in the cookie, and paired with chocolate it’s a perfect treat. A little green tea ice cream doesn’t hurt, either (I got some from Snoqualmie, but you could also make your own).

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chocolate orange cheesecake | the vanilla bean blog
“The definition of a fairy-story – what it is, or what it should be – does not, then, depend on any definition of historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faerie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. I will not attempt to define that, nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done. Faerie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible. It has many ingredients, but analysis will not necessarily discover the secret of the whole.

For the moment I will say only this: a ‘fairy-story’ is one which touches on or uses Faerie, whatever its own main purpose may be: satire, adventure, morality, fantasy. Faerie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic – but it is a magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician. There is one proviso: if there is any satire present in the tale, one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in the story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away.” – J.R.R Tolken, On Fairy-Stories
chocolate orange cheesecake | the vanilla bean blog

chocolate orange cheesecake | the vanilla bean blog
I’ve spent a lot of time lately rereading fairy tales and stories, and books about authors who wrote fairy tales and stories, contemplating why they resonate with me so much, and determining their purpose in my life. I’m at the place where I’m ‘feeling all the feelings’ but don’t quite have sentences to articulate my thoughts. I find this happens a lot; the emotion comes far before the words, and I spend days and months trying to put the puzzle pieces together. Fairy-stories were so important to me as a child, and when I’m stressed or overwhelmed they are the books I immediately climb back into. The easy answer here is that they are just places to escape. I’m curious, however, about Tolkien’s reflections on Magic, and must admit I believe in it on some level. But, that’s all I’ve got so far. I’ll keep reading and thinking during these long, cold, winter nights.

Of course this has nothing to do with Aimée Wimbush-bourque‘s beautiful new book, or the cheesecake recipe found on its pages, unless of course you believe food has some kind of magic of its own. Are there, in fact, writers who jot measurements and short stories on paper, passing instructions from hand to hand, weaving tales throughout each generation? Does food have a history, contain ancient elements that have been preserved? Is joy, curiosity, enchantment, and even escape at times invoked? Maybe the act of cooking and eating is just primal instinct, nothing more than necessity. I’m not convinced.

“And actually fairy-stories deal largely, or (the better ones) mainly, with simple or fundamental things, untouched by Fantasy, but these simplicities are made all the more luminous by their setting. For the story-maker who allows himself to be ‘free with’ Nature can be her lover not her slave. It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.”

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chocolate pots de crème with lavender and sea salt | the vanilla bean blog
Back when I worked at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, I spent a lot of time making banana bread. It was one of my daily tasks, and after weeks and weeks of mixing and mashing I could have made the bread in my sleep. However one Friday afternoon, after making it had become more routine than pleasure, I had four loaves that sunk in the middle and tasted terrible. I had no idea how it happened, as this recipe was etched in my soul for all eternity. Larry (the coffeehouse owner) walked over to my prep table to take a peek at the wasted loaves, and I’ll never forget his words. “The kitchen gods are always watching,” he said. “You may think you have a recipe down, and that you can never make it wrong, but the minute you feel you own a recipe, or have pride approaching your workspace that lacks any form of humbleness for your ingredients and movement, the gods will remind you, and teach you respect again.” He said it in all sincerity, and in such a strong, kind voice, that those sentences have never left me in my own kitchen.

Which brings me to chocolate pots de crème. It was Thursday. I was just going to ‘whip these up, easy,’ while also interacting with two little ones who were officially on summer vacation and were already bored, working on three other things in the kitchen for blog posts and our own evening meal, and trying to clean my house for dinner guests. I rushed around, unfocused on what I was doing: the chocolate looked completely melted, it must be. I didn’t bring the eggs to room temperature, but they will be fine. But what came out of my oven, 30 minutes later, was not creamy chocolate pudding. The top was bubbly and the darkest brown, and the bottom almost gray with tiny flecks scattered throughout it. I didn’t stop to really notice this, however, and threw them in the fridge to cool. “They’re fine! How bad can pudding taste?” Actually very bad, as my dinner guests and I found out later that evening. Grainy, gray pudding is not what one wants to serve new friends who just finished asking you questions about your food blog. Larry’s words came to mind as our guests graciously finished their cups and said kind things. I had forgotten to take that moment to breathe, feel my ingredients, linger in the whisking and melting and pouring. I had served myself humble pie (or, pots de crème, I guess), aware of the gods above.

Later that week I made the dessert again, taking my time to get things right. I’m happy to report it is delicious: creamy and dreamy, as I knew it would be. I offered up thanks to the heavens, grateful for hard lessons that eventually bring beauty.
chocolate pots de crème with lavender and sea salt | the vanilla bean blog
chocolate pots de crème with lavender and sea salt | the vanilla bean blog
Vibrant Food Cookbook
chocolate pots de crème with lavender and sea salt | the vanilla bean blog
Months ago, Kimberley Hasselbrink from A Year In Food asked on Facebook if anyone would be up for testing recipes for the book she was working on. I immediately emailed her; I had been a fan of her site for such a long time. A few weeks later she sent me some to test: Cornmeal Pancakes with Kumquat Syrup, Autumn Breakfast Bowl, and Summer Berry and Peach Crisp. I knew right away this cookbook was going to be on heavy rotation in my home.

One thing I love about The Year In Food is Kimberley’s unique, yet unpretentious recipes. I always leave her space wanting to make something; I may have to pick up an ingredient or two, but the recipes are beautifully simple and never boring. So here’s another cookbook to add to your wish list: Vibrant Food.

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chocolate pudding cakes with no-churn basil ice cream | the vanilla bean blog
“I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.” -Anne Lamott
chocolate pudding cakes with no-churn basil ice cream | the vanilla bean blog
pudding cakes with no-churn basil ice cream | the vanilla bean blog
chocolate pudding cakes with no-churn ice cream | the vanilla bean blog
Three years ago to(almost)day I started The Vanilla Bean Blog. I don’t have a grandiose paragraph to write about this space, but I have to say that I never imagined all the wonderful opportunities that have come my way would happen. When I began blogging, I was a stay-at-home mom with two small children looking for a little outlet to help keep my whirling, never-quiet mind slightly sane. Now, I am a working-from-home mom with so many good things filling my plate.

It’s been a lovely adventure.

And I have to thank YOU (yes, you!). So many beautiful people have come into my life because of this small space, and I am blown away by your kindness and encouragement. So here’s a little giveaway to give you my thanks. There will be 4 winners for these four items: a copy of Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book, a year subscription to Pure Green Magazine, a bottle of Lavender Extract from Hatchery, and a copy of The New Artisan Bread in Five. I’ll pick the winners in one week, just leave a comment on this post with your email address. (And much thanks to Cooks Illustrated, Pure Green Magazine, Bread in Five, and Hatchery for donating such lovely gifts!) (Also, because the items are being shipped from the companies listed, the giveaway is only open to US residents.)
vanilla bean blog giveaway
And, of course, there’s chocolate pudding cakes with basil ice cream. This recipe is actually one of my very first posts, but I decided to re-do it. I’ve changed the recipe a bit here and there, and since it is one of my most favorite desserts, I thought it deserved another chance to shine (not buried away deep in the archives).

And! Minneapolis peeps! Recently I asked for your help in voting for me in the Saveur Food Blog Awards, and a good friend commented that if I won, “I bet she’ll make us chocolate cake!” I agreed, and now want to follow through on my promise. If you are a Minnesota local (or will be around here this Thursday) would you like to join me for chocolate cake and some sweet door prizes at Forage Modern Workshop? We’ll also be celebrating the Vanilla Bean Blog turning three. RSVP only, so if you’re interested in coming, please email me at thevanillabeanblog@gmail.com and I’ll give you all the details. I’d love to meet you and say thanks!

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chocolate bread | the vanilla bean blog
‘In a way, baking stands both as a useful metaphor for the familial warmth of the kitchen we fondly imagine used to exist, and as a way of reclaiming our lost Eden. This is hardly a culinary matter, of course; but cooking, we know, has a way of cutting through things, and to things, which have nothing to do with the kitchen. This is why it matters. The trouble with much modern cooking is not that the food it produces isn’t good, but that the mood it induces in the cook is one of skin-of-the-teeth efficiency, all briskness and little pleasure. Sometimes that’s the best we can manage, but at other times we don’t want to feel like a postmodern, post-feminist, overstretched woman but, rather, a domestic goddess, trailing nutmeggy fumes of baking pie in our languorous wake.’ – Nigella Lawson

I don’t actually own Nigella’s How To Become A Domestic Goddess, but I’ve checked it out of the library a crazy amount of times, and have baked so many things from it’s pages. I’ve always loved the above quote by her; I’ve connected so much with her words: cooking cutting through things, and to things, which have nothing to do with the kitchen. There have been many moments stirring, or kneading, or dicing, that have brought me to my knees. My kitchen floor may be coated in flour, but some days I’m okay finding myself there.

Also this chocolate bread. I’ve baked this hundreds (and hundreds) of times at a little coffeehouse I worked at, but it has been years since I made it at home, just because. I was feeling rather celebratory today, and it seemed to fit the occasion perfectly. I wish I could share some with you; to say thanks, and cheers (see below).
the vanilla bean blog
And in other news: I don’t know how it happened, but somehow all you nice readers and friends nominated me for the Saveur Blog Awards, and I actually am a finalist in the Best Baking Blog category. I’m still a bit in shock, feeling stunned and terribly excited at the same time. So first of all, thank you so much. Thank you for coming to this space, and being so kind. I appreciate you all. That of course leads into secondly, which is in order to win the category, I need your votes. So if you wouldn’t mind, you can just click on this huge picture above, and it will take you to Saveur’s webpage, where you can vote. You do have to register to vote, but it just takes a login name and password to complete. Thank you so much!
chocolate bread | the vanilla bean blog

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peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
It snows in here.
It snows forever, but there’s no Christmas underneath this weather.
When it blows here and gets real cold,
I wanna trip myself and fall upon your fabulous sword
and move
here by the stained-glass window.
Forget about the inside ghetto.
Down here on the hardwood floor,
the lines on the ceiling start to swim once more
like a cheap Renoir,
a fake Van Gogh,
a pop Monet,
a blue Degas.
I breathe you.
I need you.
-Over The Rhine, Jack’s Valentine

I’ve had those lyrics running through my head since January; always winter, never Christmas* has sort of become my theme song this year. I apologize if I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but when your days consist of shivering, coughing, and cleaning up after sick peeps, you start to view the world through crazy eyes. And wake up every morning craving coffee. And chocolate cake. Although, I’ve discovered, eating cake for breakfast doesn’t really make my day any better, in fact, all that butter and sugar first thing can make it rather worse. So that’s when I came up with this breakfast bowl: peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and chocolate. Just a tiny bit of bittersweet grated over the top makes for a delicious bite, and is just enough chocolate to soothe my frazzled nerves.
peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet granola | the vanilla bean blog
peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
‘[B]efore them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and the smell of the sea and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking for ever and ever on the beach. And oh, the cry of the seagulls! Have you ever heard it? Can you remember?’*
*Both from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by CS Lewis.

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french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears | the vanilla bean blog
‘I am not a chef and have never been. I am a home cook who writes about food. Not even a passionate cook (whatever one of those is), just a quietly enthusiastic and slightly greedy one. But, I like to think, a thoughtful one. Someone who cares about what they feed themselves and others, where the ingredients come from, when and why they are at their best, and how to use them to give everyone, including the cook, the most pleasure…

The art of crafting something by hand – a sandwich even- for others to enjoy is something I can always find time for. Making a dish over and over again till it is how you want it, whether a loaf of bread or a pasta supper for friends, gives me a great deal of pleasure…[i]f we follow a recipe word for word we don’t really learn anything, we just end up with a finished dish. Fine, if that’s all you want. Does it really matter how you get somewhere? I don’t think it does. Short cuts are fine, rule breaking is fine. What matters is that the food we end up with is lick-the-plate delicious.

Let us never forget that we are only making something to eat. And yet, it can be so much more than that, too. So very much more.’
(Nigel Slater, Notes From The Larder)
french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears | the vanilla bean blog
french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears | the vanilla bean blog
french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears | the vanilla bean blog

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I’ve had several baking failures the past few weeks, but these little pretties came out perfect. I had used the bittersweet chocolate filling many times at a coffeehouse I baked at so I knew it couldn’t miss, only then it was in a large tart form with a shortbread crust. But I had been intrigued by Kim Boyce’s spelt pie dough, and decided to try it out here. It was perfect: flaky and flavorful, adding great balance to the silky smooth chocolate filling. A little hit of crème fraîche on top, and my afternoon was perfect.

There is lots of room for experimenting here: infusing cardamom in the heavy cream or adding a vanilla bean, a tablespoon or two of bourbon in the whipped topping would also be lovely. I find I’m also dreaming of this spelt crust filled with grapefruit or blood orange curd, topped with some sweet rosemary cream. Maybe next week.

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