I'm Jess, a grad student and food photographer obsessed with chocolate. I love things made of sugar, lasers strapped to helicopters, and silly hats.
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Monthly Archives: August 2013
So you’ve heard of Portal? Of course you have.
But did you know that the Portal reward cake exists? It’s black forest, and from the source of today’s Cake Day, Regent Bakery.
I grew up near the original Regent, hidden in a strip mall right on the border zone for Redmond and Bellevue. This is pure tech nerd territory, home to Microsoft, Valve, and a slew of startups.
When Regent opened, I’d never seen anything like it. This was before the giant Seattle Uwajimaya moved to its current location, and well before I started branching out in desserts. That display case filled with individually wrapped slices of cakes and pastries was more tantalizing than any jewelry store could ever compete with. And there were so many, from cheesecakes, to glossy mousse cakes, to bouncy, vanilla-scented sponge cakes that would make excellent distractions on future car rides. Continue reading
In terms of traditional food calendars we’re technically nearing the end of ice cream season.
I never understood the concept of ice cream having a season. Fruit, sure, but ice cream? Maybe I’m not eating as many hot fudge sundaes in December than I would now. By then I’ll be pouring hot cocoa over a scoop of vanilla ice cream just to make a variation on the affogato that I’ll actually drink. Or the flavors change: I know I want lighter options, even sorbets, in summer; rocky road takes over in somewhere in October.
But it’s not October yet. It’s August, and I want my mint chocolate chip.
I felt like making an ice cream cake for one, something I could consume in a few bites without really thinking about it. I had already pulled out the brioche loaf, probably to make a grilled PB&J, but decided it could be more awesome for a quick cake base. It’s not a true cake, but I know enough eggs were sacrificed to make that brioche that it’s not really an ice cream sandwich. I decided on mint chocolate chip because that sounded more awesome than being demure and using red bean.
Making this was ridiculously easy: I warmed up the ice cream, filled a tiny rectangular cake mold with the semi-soft custard on some parchment paper, then plunked that in the freezer to resolidify for an hour. While that was firming up I cut out the brioche and read articles online about farm sustainability. When the ice cream was ready I smooshed it gently between two pieces of brioche, put it on a cooling rack, then slathered on some warmed chocolate.
Melted chocolate: it’s how we do Magic Shell.
It worked better than I would have expected. Sure, it didn’t cut all that well, but it’s ice cream and brioche. By the time I cared about the composition of the brioche crumb, it was already gone.
To say my household is addicted to chocolate is putting things mildly.
We used to buy it in reasonable quantities – a few bars here, a box of Guittard there. Then we discovered the Valrhona feves at Whole Foods, which were heartier and far more tasty with yogurt. Once that got too pricey, I went online and found Chocosphere’s bulk section. At that point we were doomed.
Nowadays I threaten every few months to get a wholesale license just to cover our chocolate addiction. I never thought I’d become an adult who pouted when we got down to only two kilos in the house, but I have, and that’s fine by me.
And the biggest addiction in the house is the Valrhona’s 36% Caramelia. It’s made with caramel powder, so it’s like what you dream bland American milk chocolate would taste like. (I usually describe it as Hershey’s, hold the suck.) It’s probably the real reason I need to go running more often.
This chocolate should come with warning signs. It’s that addictive.
So when I was working on a review for Bakeless Sweets over at Crave Local, I decided to try making the milk chocolate panna cotta using the house favorite, just to see what would happen.
I admit I didn’t trust the recipe, which asked me to melt the chocolate directly in a pan, so I made a double boiler setup instead. If I was going to sacrifice 200 grams of chocolate to a cause, I wasn’t going to scorch it.
And it was beautiful, even after it nearly seized and I stupidly almost burned my arm for the second time this month on the vapor. It’s little more than chocolate, cream, milk, and gelatin, so it tastes like soft, smooth milk chocolate.
My roommate declared it one of the best things I’ve made in the kitchen. He says that about most of the things I’ve made, but given how quickly they disappeared, I suspect he was being honest.
I had some leftover dark chocolate ganache from the toast shoot, so that got shoved on top of one with some lightly sweetened whipped cream. For me, this was the best way to eat the panna cotta, since the bitter notes kept back the full sugar intensity of the pudding. If I ever make it again – which I highly suspect I will – I’ll make it into parfaits with ganache at the bottom. They’ll be the best pudding packs ever.
I’m gearing up for PAX, so I wanted something relatively easy to talk about. And I love chocolate on toasted bread, so I thought going one step further and making whipped ganache on toast sounded slightly more awesome.
And this is the base for ganache, which is where the magic happens:
Cream and chocolate are totally more amazing together.
Since it was my plan, it had to have grander intentions. I thought of a proper systematic evaluation, maybe even a ganache:bread matrix. Yes, brioche is lovely, but what about challah? Could rye bread have depths I hadn’t considered for dark chocolate? Is it tastier with 70% or 75% cacao ganache?
These are questions I was totally on board with losing an afternoon to answering. There were just two teeny problems with this plan:
First, I’m actually low on chocolate in the house right now, at least by our standards. We’re totally out of the usual 70% and the milk chocolate has less than a kilo left. Even the white chocolate mysteriously vanished into someone’s dessert.
I considered using the chocolate bar stash, which seems to grow more than I predicted each time I open the cabinet, but most of them have additives. It’s hard to whip ganache from a bar that’s studded with dried cherries.
Second, and more importantly, the milk chocolate whipped ganache I made had plans of its own and became chocolate butter. Yes, it was still tasty, but the texture is quite different.
At that point my laziness won over – that and the cream’s expiration as a ticking time bomb. One ganache it was!
What I made is nothing fancy: chocolate and cream in a 1:1 ratio, warmed in a microwave, then cooled until it stirred like thick pudding. I gave up on whipping the ganache because after the chocolate butter I really didn’t feel like fighting my stand mixer again.
I had bought some rather lovely brioche, so I buttered and toasted some of it, then plunked in a spoonful of ganache and topped with more brioche and local salt. And it was wonderful.
As much as I like the usual combination of melted chocolate and warm bread, this is much tastier. The ganache oozes from the start, so it’s messy and sweet and buttery and bitter, with the cream amplifying the chocolate into something far more than the sum of its parts. It’s a grown up sandwich, but it’s also one where you’d want to eat it with napkins nearby – and a plate to catch the chocolate that doesn’t land on your fingers.
It would probably be improved by making a proper truffle filling , with honey and a vanilla bean to improve flavor, but I would only make that if I had leftovers. Or was bored. Or hungry. These things happen.
I wrote the Fuji Bakery and Mon Hei Bakery posts on the same day, which meant the house was Baked Goods Central.
This also meant that things weren’t eaten while we were all stuffing ourselves on carbs. One of those was the mini panettone loaf. Given how tasty that brioche loaf usually is, and that it had only dried out a tad, I couldn’t let it get thrown in the compost bin.
It was time for panettone bread pudding.
Given the sheer popularity of bread pudding, I found a simple recipe for two servings pretty quickly. As I can never find the 7 ounce ramekins, I decided to turn it into bread pudding for one hungry writer.
While I modified this like crazy, the goal is the same. I omitted the dried fruit because this bread was full of it. Which was awesome, because each bite had a pop of chewy raisins to round out what would otherwise be just sweet and cinnamon-scented soft bread stuff.
The bread also came pre-loaded with orange peel, lemon zest, and orange zest, so removing the nutmeg didn’t make it any less flavorful. I suspect adding a handful of fresh peaches, though, could make it slightly more epic. Slightly.
As a note, I used hazelnut milk because that’s what was in the fridge, and I couldn’t taste any hazelnut in the final pudding. I suspect using almond or regular milk would have about the same effect, so go to town with modifications.
It’s definitely a warm, comforting dish, and I’m just glad a loaf of bread didn’t have to go to waste.
Panettone Bread Pudding (Inspired by The Spiffy Cookie)
Serves 1-2, depending on your stomach
1 cup panettone bread, cubed – for this panettone it was about two thirds of a mini-loaf
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup hazelnut milk, room temperature if you can wait that long
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill one giant oven safe soup bowl or two 7-oz. ramekins and with the bread. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet; that way they’ll be easier to remove from the oven later.
In a bowl (I used a liquid measuring cup), combine the rest of the ingredients.
Pour into the ramekin(s) and let set for fifteen minutes or until the bread has moistened through.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a knife or cake tester comes out clean. Serve warm, top with ice cream if you feel like it, and don’t share.