Revelation Dried Fruit-Carob Rounds

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Another year has passed, and we are again about to enter Holy Week. Although many of us have our minds and spirits focused on spiritual enlightenment and reflection, I’m sure there are more than a few among us with Lenten palates anticipating the resurrection of chocolate in our culinary repertoires.

Yes, I will be providing plenty of chocolate bunnies and cream-filled Easter eggs, among a multitude of other pretty little confections, in my children’s Easter baskets. And in the interest of full disclosure, I will most likely be nipping at those bags of store-bought treats myself.

Even during this celebratory time of year though, we don’t have to completely abandon our commitment to healthy eating. Here is a delicious revelation befitting the season–a satisfying “chocolaty” goodie that is not only nourishing enough to enjoy throughout the year, but also pretty and sweet enough to share this Easter.

A chewy combination of walnuts, dried fruit, carob powder, almond butter, coconut, and cinnamon, these mahogany-colored rounds are nutrient dense and not too sweet—the perfect little grab and go treat to quell hunger throughout the day or even to enjoy as dessert.

These rounds are delicious just as they are, but to make them even spiffier, coat them in melted dark chocolate or carob and then roll in shredded unsweetened coconut.

¼ cup toasted or raw walnuts

1/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup pitted dates

1/3 cup dried apricots

¼ cup dried cranberries, cherries, or golden raisins

¾ cup almond butter

¼ cup shredded unsweetened coconut

¼ cup carob powder

¼ cup brown rice crisp cereal, coarsely crushed

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 heaping tablespoon raw sesame seeds

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of sea salt

Melted chocolate or carob for coating (optional)

Shredded unsweetened coconut for coating (optional)

Put the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment and pulse until chopped to a texture resembling very coarse breadcrumbs. Set aside in a medium bowl.

Return the food processor bowl to the machine, fit with the metal blade attachment, and add the raisins, dates, apricots, and cranberries, pulsing until coarsely chopped. You don’t want the mixture to become a paste; chopped bits are best. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of walnuts.

To the nuts and fruit, add the almond butter, coconut, carob powder, cereal, syrup, sesame seeds, cinnamon, and salt. Using a rubber spatula or your hands, fold the ingredients together until well combined. The mixture will be quite thick.

Using a tablespoon or a good quality, sturdy metal scoop (I like one that holds about 2 teaspoons), shape the mixture into about 32 rounds and then roll into balls. The rounds can be served immediately or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

If you wish to coat the rounds with melted chocolate (or carob) and coconut, chill the rounds until firm. Drop into melted chocolate and then roll in coconut. Set aside at room temperature or in the refrigerator until set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Dark Chocolate Beet Cake with Chocolate Ganache and Candied Beets

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Photos courtesy of Carolyn Helt

There are a surprising number of beet cake recipes out there. From Martha Stewart to David Lebovitz to many home cooks and food bloggers, the recipes are really quite intriguing–and vary greatly. Some call for cake flour. Some specify separating the eggs as with a sponge cake. Some use all cocoa powder, some just dark chocolate, and others a combination of the two. All, of course, rely on fresh beet puree. To obtain this, simply steam, boil, or roast peeled, chopped or sliced beets. Once they are tender, they will puree nicely in a food processor. I wasn’t able to achieve a smooth puree; mine was a bit coarse. But that’s okay. it worked just fine.

If you didn’t know this cake was prepared with beets, you probably wouldn’t notice. The combination of Dutch-process cocoa and semisweet chocolate lends to it’s intensely dark color, and the addition of vegetable oil and beet puree result in its moist texture and satisfying sweetness.

Serve it gussied up with Chocolate Ganache and Candied Beets or simply dusted with confectioners’ sugar.  

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Makes one 9-inch cake

Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups sugar

1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 large eggs

½ cup hot brewed strong coffee or espresso

¼ cup hot water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups pureed beets

Chocolate Ganache (recipe follows) for coating

Candied Beets (recipe follows) for deorating

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray or brush a 9-inch nonstick springform pan with vegetable spray or oil and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Combine the vegetable oil and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Heat gently at about 20-second intervals in the microwave until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool a bit.

When the chocolate has cooled, whisk in the eggs, coffee, hot water, and vanilla extract. Add the beet puree and stir until combined.

Gradually incorporate the dry ingredients into the beet mixture, about ¼ at a time. Mix until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is well risen, fragrant, and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before carefully removing it from the pan and setting on the rack to cool completely.

To finish the cake, cut off the top of the cake (about ¼ inch thick) to even the top. Remove the round of parchment from the bottom of the cake and set it on the cut top. Invert the cake onto a wire rack set on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. The top now should be nice and flat.

Pour the warm Chocolate Ganache onto the center of the cake and, using a small offset spatula or butter knife, gradually spread the ganache evenly over the top of the cake, allowing it to run down the sides. If you are game, gently “bang” the rack on the baking sheet to encourage the ganache to evenly distribute on and around the cake. Set aside at room temperature to cool and become firmer. (The ganache won’t harden completely.)

Carefully transfer the cake to a serving plate and decorate with Candied Beets and a drizzle of beet syrup (reserved in the Candied Beets recipe below), if desired.

Ganache

½ cup heavy cream

4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon light corn syrup

Pinch of salt

Heat the cream in the microwave or in a small saucepan just below the boil.

Combine the chocolate, vanilla, and corn syrup in a medium bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and set aside for about 2 minutes, allowing the chocolate to begin to melt. Gently stir the ganache until it is smooth and glossy. If some of the chocolate still hasn’t melted, heat the ganache in the microwave at 10-seond intervals, stirring each time, until the mixture is completely smooth.

Set aside to cool slightly before using (it should be warm but not hot). Alternatively, cool the ganache completely, cover, store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, and re-warm before using.

Candied Beets

1 ½ cups water

1 ½ cups sugar

1 medium beet, peeled and cut into 1/16-inch-thick slices

Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to low, add the beet slices, and simmer gently until tender and nearly translucent, 25 to 35 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.

Drain the beets, reserving the syrup, and arrange at least ½-inch apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake until dry and crisp, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Set aside to cool on the pans. Use them immediately or store in an airtight container.

 

 

 

Salted Chocolate Toffee

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I never had success making toffee until a friend shared her recipe with me. It’s not a difficult process, but I somehow managed to throw enough unsuccessful batches in the trash over the years that I thought maybe I was missing the toffee-making gene.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I finally happened upon a recipe that worked perfectly the first time without a fuss. As I am usually want to do, I have altered it a bit over the years, adding brown sugar and vanilla, and sprinkling the top chocolate layer with coarse sea salt to add texture and a pleasant saltiness that so well complements the sweet, rich caramel essence of the toffee. This confection is firm, but also so luxuriously tender that it will melt in your mouth.

The key is in cooking it patiently to the proper temperature. Watch the caramel carefully as it cooks. Once you place the candy thermometer in the saucepan, stand at or near the stove as the toffee cooks. Don’t do dishes or answer the phone, as the mercury zooms to the final temperature during the last few minutes of cooking.

This toffee is as pretty as it is tempting. The chocolate layer and sprinkling of sea salt add complexity of flavor and texture, as well as an understated, minimalist panache. Arrange the pieces in an attractive dish for parties, place them in cellophane bags tied with ribbon for tasty gifts, or keep some stashed in your pantry whenever the mood for an extravagant sweet hits.

Makes 1 1/2 pounds

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put the butter in the pan and heat over medium heat until melted. Stir in the sugars, corn syrup, and water and bring to a boil. Place a candy thermometer in the pan and cook the toffee to 290ºF (soft-crack stage), about 10 minutes, watching carefully as it approaches this temperature. Remove the toffee from the heat and quickly but carefully stir in the vanilla extract. (Be careful as the toffee might spit a bit when the cool extract hits the hot mixture.) Pour the toffee evenly onto the prepared baking sheet and set aside for about 5 minutes until it begins to harden.

Sprinkle the chopped chocolate evenly overtop and let it sit and begin to melt, about 30 seconds. Spread the chocolate over the toffee until it is completely melted and smooth and set aside for a few minutes, just until it starts to set. Sprinkle with salt and set aside on a wire rack in a cool area until firm, about 1 hour.

To serve, break the toffee into pieces. (Store in an airtight container in a cool area for up to 3 weeks.)

Double Chocolate Meringues

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Double Chocolate Meringues

I have been making meringues for years. They are sweet and satisfying, but also so light and delicate that one almost never has to fear feeling overindulgent when consuming a handful.

Take your time when whipping the egg whites and sugar. Using superfine sugar isn’t absolutely necessary, but I do think it dissolves more quickly and makes the finished meringue smoother. After the sugar is completely incorporated, continue whipping the meringue until it is very thick and glossy. It is tempting to rush the process, but the final minutes really do make a difference and increase the stiffness of the batter. The more dense and stable the meringue, the easier it will be to pipe onto baking sheets, and the higher and lighter it will be once baked.

When possible, prepare these crisp morsels when the weather is dry and cool. I have prepared them when the humidity is high, but it is risky. Any moisture in the air will likely result in tacky meringues, and they will stale rather quickly. The good thing is, however, that no matter when you whip up a batch, they are sure to be consumed in no time.

Makes about 48

4 large egg whites

1 cup superfine sugar

Pinch of salt

3 tablespoons natural cocoa powder

1/4 cup finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and begin beating on high speed. When the whites are frothy, sprinkle in about 1/4 cup of the sugar. Continue adding the sugar gradually, every minute or so, until it is all incorporated. Whip the meringue until it is thick and glossy and holds medium-stiff to stiff peaks, about 10 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer, sift the cocoa into the meringue, add the chopped chocolate, and fold until combined.

Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch-diameter round tip and pipe rounds, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and about 2 inches apart, onto the prepared baking sheets. (Alternatively, you can spoon similar-size mounds onto the baking sheets.)

Bake until the meringues are puffed, fragrant, and possibly cracked, about 1 hour. Turn off the oven, open the door a little, and allow the meringues to cool on the baking sheets. Remove the meringues from the baking sheets and store in airtight containers or re-sealable bags.

Erica’s Christmas Biscotti

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(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Corbett)

My sister has been making many varieties of biscotti for years, so when I was looking for a Christmasy version, I knew she’d be my best resource. This is one of her favorite biscotti recipes, and now one of mine, too. Incorporating roasted pistachios, chewy dried cranberries, and sweet white chocolate morsels, they are not only pretty, but also delicious enough for dessert or a snack served with coffee or tea. In addition, unlike many biscotti, these are surprisingly tender and delicate. They still satisfy with their crunch, but their firmness quickly gives way to a more cookie-like consistency.

Makes about 36 biscotti

1 cup dried cranberries or cherries

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

3/4 cup shelled roasted pistachios (salted or unsalted)

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 325ºF. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put the cranberries in a small bowl and pour enough boiling water over them just to cover. Set aside to soak for 10 minutes.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until smooth and light, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the vanilla, drop in the eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Reduce the mixing speed to medium low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just nearly incorporated. Drain the cranberries and add them, along with the pistachios and chocolate chips, to the batter, mixing until just incorporated. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and pat into a disc. Divide the dough in half, transfer both halves to one of the prepared baking sheets, and shape both pieces into 13-by-9-inch logs.

Bake until fragrant and light golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool slightly on the pan, about 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut each log on the bias into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheets and bake until golden brown and firm, 20 to 25 minutes, switching the pans on the racks about halfway through baking. The biscotti might require more or less time in the oven to crisp properly, but watch that they don’t brown too much on the undersides. Set the biscotti on wire racks to cool completely on the baking sheets. Store in airtight containers for up to 2 weeks.