Category Archives: chocolate

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Buttercream, St. Patrick’s Day, and Racism

A most astonishing thing
Seventy years have I lived;

(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring
For Spring is here again.)
                                  -WB Yeats

Apparently I only make cupcakes with booze in them.

A Missed Opportunity…

car bomb ingredients; kaluha has been dropped from most people's version. image from Sgt Mac's BarA friend sent me this recipe and actually offered to pay me to make it (as if that would be necessary). Even though I didn’t take him up on the cash, the offer somehow short-circuited my typical urge to tweak. I felt like I was “on assignment,” so it wasn’t until I was dusting the tops with cocoa powder and watching the caramel sauce cool that I realized I’d missed an opportunity to make another cocktail in cupcake form. If only I’d thought of it sooner, I could have come up with some kind of Irish Cream element, and these could have been Car Bomb Cupcakes.

An Irish Cream fudge or custard filling? Or maybe I could have added Bailey’s to the frosting along with the whisky, so the topping would mimic the shot traditionally dropped into the Guinness. Of course I would not have been the first person to come up with this idea.

…to Offend Someone?

Maybe it’s better that I didn’t go that route, though. Apparently some people find the “car bomb” name offensive because it seems to celebrate the violent tactics used by the IRA. The Connecticut bartender who claims to have invented the drink initially called his Bailey’s, Kaluha, and Jameson shot the “Grandfather” in honor of the “many grandfathers in Irish history.” It became known as the “IRA” because of the way Bailey’s bubbles up when you add whisky to it.* From there, it was a short conceptual leap to “car bomb” when he dropped it in a glass of Guinness on St. Patrick’s day in 1979.

No longer available, unclear if that's due to complaints or not. I’m sure Charles B. Oat meant no disrespect, he was just celebrating the holiday commemorating the death of the sainted Catholic Bishop who supposedly converted many Irish pagans by using shamrocks to illustrate the holy trinity the way most Americans do: with copious amounts of alcohol. Of course, that upsets some people, too, as seen in the recent controversy over American Apparel’s St. Patrick’s Day-themed merchandise, including shirts reading: “Kiss Me, I’m Drunk. Or Irish. Or Whatever.”   

The lack of malice doesn’t automatically exonerate American Apparel or the many people who will spend this Saturday drinking too many car bombs or green Budweiser. But I think the people who claim that American St. Patrick’s day celebrations perpetuate a hurtful “Drunken Paddy” stereotype or otherwise show disrespect for Irish people might be mistaken about how “Irish” anyone really thinks green beer and “car bombs” are. Sure, contemporary St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are inevitably mired in the complex history of racial politics and European imperialism. The fact that lots of Americans are really over-eager to identify with the one (now-) white ethnic group they know of that experienced overt racism and colonization is kind of bizarre and yet totally understandable. But the idea that it’s racist seems to imply that the widespread practice of wearing green while participating in an otherwise-unextraordinary early Spring bacchanalia actually bears some relationship to how people really think about or act towards Irish people.

The American Apparel shirt doesn’t mock Irish people so much as it mocks people who pretend to be Irish once a year while drinking until they do something stupid. It’s only offensive if you think there really is something characteristically Irish about drinking to excess. Similarly, the name “car bomb” is only offensive if you think there really is something uniquely Irish about vehicle-borne explosives or dropping Baileys in Guinness and chugging it before it curdles. I think the “Irishness” being performed and celebrated on March 17 bears about as much relation to Irishness as eating at Olive Garden has to Italianness. The American enthusiasm for consuming vast quantities of beer and breadsticks in the name of celebrating an ethnic heritage—whether their own or someone else’s—seems pretty innocent to me.**

Disclaimer: the lepruchan on the bottle is not meant to represent all Irish people or all people named Steve who have nieces and/or nephews, nor to imply that all Irish people or Uncles Steve wear green suits habitually or drink or even *like* Stout beer brewed in the style associated with Ireland, although it's not exclusive to Ireland, nor should it imply that they like any other kind of beer or alcholic beverages much, or at least not any more than anyone else does. Back to the subject of cupcakes after the jump…

*Does this actually happen? Why would whisky added to a liqueur that’s basically just a blend of cream and whisky with a few other flavorings bubble?

**On the other hand, I also tend to think that if someone tells you something you’re doing offends them, you should probably consider stopping it. I’m looking at you, University of Illinois fans who won’t let go of the Chief. On the other other hand, if there’s a clear and obvious distinction between offensive practices that perpetuate racial or ethnic stereotypes and hurt people’s feelings and inoffensive ones that benignly reference or perhaps even positively celebrate invented identities and traditions, I don’t know what it is.

Boo, Crystallized CaramelThey were reasonably pretty before the drizzle. Alas.

Instead of something Irish Cream-related, the third element in the original recipe I followed was a brown sugar caramel. Unfortunately, it crystallized and got clumpy before it was cool enough to drizzle. I followed the recipe exactly, even though I had misgivings, knowing how finicky caramel can be. But the recipe didn’t mention washing the sides of the pot with water or making sure you stop stirring at some point, and the brown sugar made it hard to go by visual cues. So, if you want a smooth, pretty amber drizzle instead of something vaguely excremental, I’d try another recipe—perhaps this one if you wanted to keep it vegan. The agave nectar probably works like the corn syrup that helps prevent crystallization in many normal recipes. Or you could amp up the Irish Whisky flavor by subbing that for the bourbon in a recipe like this.

Verdict

Honestly, these basically tasted like chocolate cupcakes with super-sweet vanilla buttercream. The flavor of the stout in the cake part came through a little, but the whiskey barely at all. So although they certainly sound like they’re in the spirit of the coming holiday, their “Irishness” might require some explanation, a bit like a bad Halloween costume. If I make them again, I’ll frost them with a meringe-based buttercream flavored with Irish Cream and drizzle them with a different caramel recipe, probably spiked with Irish whiskey. And maybe I’ll call them “Grandfather bomb cupcakes.” 

Recipe: Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Buttercream (from Chef Chloe)

Ingredients:

with no extended butter-creaming or egg-beating, this is one of the easiest cupcake recipes I've ever madeCupcakes
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup stout beer (I used Short’s Uncle Steve’s Irish Stout)
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
ButtercreamJameson or Powers or whatever your favorite Irish whisky is would also work fine here
  • 1 cup shortening or margarine, at room temperature (vegan if desired)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 to 5 tablespoons milk (vegan if desired)
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons Irish whiskey
Caramel
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup margarine (vegan if desired, like Earth Balance)
  • 4 teaspoons milk (vegan if desired)

Method:

For the cupcakes:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and line regular cupcake pans with 14-16 liners (I used 14 as called for, but they overflowed the cups a bit and then sank, so I would do 16 next time.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the stout, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Batter may be lumpy—that’s okay. Don’t over-mix or you’ll get too much gluten development and they’ll be tough and/or they’ll be flat because you deflated some of the leavening that begins as soon as the baking soda mixes with the liquid and acid.

3. Fill the lined cupcake tins between half and two-thirds full. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.

slightly fallen. probably means the cups were filled too full.

For the buttercream:

1. Beat the shortening or margarine (or other solid fat at room temperature) until smooth. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and mix until combined. Add the milk 1 Tablespoon at at time until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Add the whiskey, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you achieve the desired taste. Beat on high for 2 more minutes until very light and fluffy.

2. If your cupcakes also fell, you can level the top with frosting if desired. To decorate with a soft-serve style swirl, transfer the frosting to a piping bag or zip-top bag with a corner snipped off, and pipe in a spiral, starting on the outside edge and working towards the center.

3. Dust the top with cocoa powder if desired—I put about a teaspoon of cocoa in a fine mesh sieve and then hold the sieve over the frosted cupcakes and tap the side of the basket with the spoon.

It's possible that I undercooked or overcooked the caramel? Based on this recipe,it's impossible to tell. Really, just don't use this part of this recipe, please.For the (gritty, crystallized) caramel:

1. Combine the brown sugar, margarine, and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until it  comes together.

2. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 1-2 more minutes, until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat.

3. Let cool slightly and transfer to a ziptop bag and drizzle over the cupcakes.

Vegan White Chocolate Truffles: Defense Catering, Part I

the matcha powder made the green tea ganache more solid than the almond-orange ganache 
Green Tea and Almond-Orange White Chocolate Truffles

I catered a luncheon before my defense because it gave me something to pour my nervous energy into. Also, I like feeding people. Also also, doing the cooking myself enabled me to make sure there were options for people who prefer vegan or gluten-free food.*

First up: dessert.

I kind of like how you can see the green a little bit where the white chocolate coating is thinner I used the cheap plastic molds and was afraid they'd be harder to deal with than the flexible silicone ones, but the truffles popped right out when the molds were inverted.

Challenge #1: Vegan White Chocolate

Vegan white chocolate is hard to come by. You can get vegan white baking chips, but they’re usually made with hydrogenated oil rather than cocoa butter, just like the white candy coating that was often labeled “white chocolate” before 2004. Since then, only products consisting of at least 20% cocoa butter can be sold as “white chocolate” in the U.S. and the only other fat can come from milk—none of that hydrogenated oil nonsense. Many premium brands have 40%+ cocoa butter, so they’re basically just like premium milk chocolate without the chocolate liquor.

I’m not a fan of white candy coating, and I suspect that white chocolate’s lousy reputation owes primarily to a residual association with the flavorless, waxy, oil-based, pre-2004 “white chocolate.” The difference between oil-based white candy coating and cocoa butter-based white chocolate is as stark as the difference between chocolate-flavored hydrogenated palm and soybean oil (like the coating on candy bars like Whatchamacalit) and real chocolate made with cocoa butter (like Ghirardelli squares).

Green tea just does not go with milk or dark chocolate for meIf I had to pick one kind of chocolate to eat for the rest of my life, gun to my head, it would be dark and bitter—something like 70% cacao, barely sweet. But especially when I’m making homemade candies, I’m deeply grateful for the unique properties of white chocolate. It’s softer, creamier, and has a much more delicate chocolate flavor. It really lets the vanilla in chocolate shine, which I love. It also pairs beautifully with flavors that tend to get overwhelmed by chocolatlier chocolates, like green tea, blueberry, jasmine, and any citrus other than orange.

I’ve only found one company with national distribution making vegan white chocolate: Organic Nectars in Hudson Valley, New York. They use cashew and coconut milk in place of the dairy. However, one of the Amazon reviews said it was excessively sweet, possibly because there’s more sugar than cocoa butter in the final product. Also, it’s expensive: 1.4 oz bars are normally 3 for $17 (though currently discounted to $10.27). Cocoa butter itself is far less expensive (you can get a pound for just under $10 and organic for $16)** and the other ingredients—sugar and milk powder—are even cheaper.  Bittersweet blog implied that making your own at home was pretty easy—just melt some cocoa butter and whisk in powdered sugar and milk. So I decided to try it.

Failure: White Chocolate with Raw Sugar

I decided I should use raw sugar, whizzed in a food processor until very fine, to avoid any non-vegan sugar bleaching agents in regular powdered sugar. I knew that would make it less white, but “golden chocolate” didn’t sound like such a bad thing. I was so wrong. Even though I processed it as fine as I could, the sugar wouldn’t dissolve, no matter how much I stirred it. I put the mixture back on the heat, hoping to melt the sugar, and ended up scorching the chocolate. Even before that, the mixture seemed to be breaking, like melted butter, so I doubt it would have set up smooth and hard like chocolate is supposed to (commercial manufacturers often add lecithin as an emulsifier for exactly that reason).

hard to tell in this shot maybe, but that is definitely not emulsified chocolate and this is what scorched chocolate looks like.

I wasn’t sure if the problem was the fineness of the sugar, the lack of cornstarch (added to powdered sugar to prevent clumping), or something else entirely, so I decided to do a few, small experimental batches:

Numbered in chronological order--the stove is to the right, so it went from closest to farthestThe left and center are the color you would get using unbleached sugar Test #3, Test #2, and Test #1

Test #1: 1 oz cocoa butter melted and mixed with .33 oz soy milk powder, .88 oz powdered sugar, and 1/3 vanilla bean (the original Bittersweet blog recipe).

Result: Looked similar to tempered white chocolate, but the texture was a little grainy. Seems like the milk powder doesn’t dissolve fully in the cocoa butter.

Test #2: .88 oz raw sugar cooked with 1 oz water and .33 oz soy milk powder until melted and removed from the heat, 1 oz cocoa butter added and allowed to melt, and a pinch of powdered soy lecithin granules and vanilla bean whisked in (based on a recipe from Vegsource)

Result: Texture was smooth, but it never set up. Apparently 1:1 cocoa butter: water is too much. Good flavor, though.

Test #3: .88 oz raw sugar cooked with 1/2 oz water until dissolved and just beginning to caramelize, removed from the heat, 1 oz cocoa butter added and allowed to melt, .33 oz dry milk powder and a pinch of soy lecithin whisked in at the end.

Result: Good flavor, but grainy and a little greasy to the touch. Graininess seems to be from sugar re-crystallizing, not from milk powder.

None of them were great, honestly. I thought about abandoning the project at this point and finding some other small, portable, vegan sweet to make. But I’d sunk too much time and cocoa butter into this project to abandon it. So I decided to use a variation on the Test #2 method for the ganache, which wouldn’t need to set up firmly anyway. And I used the Test #1 method for the coating chocolate. But if you really want a smooth, hard vegan white chocolate, I suggest ordering it from Organic Nectars.

Challenge #2: Vegan Ganache

Ganache is usually made by heating cream just until it simmers and then melting chocolate in it, with liquor or flavoring optional. I decided to sub cashew cream for the dairy cream—made by soaking cashews overnight, blending them with some water, and straining them through a fine mesh sieve. I whisked the vegan milk powder, powdered sugar, and vanilla bean seeds into the cream over medium heat until they dissolved. Then, I removed the mixture from the heat and added the plain cocoa butter, stirring until it was melted. That worked beautifully: totally smooth, creamy, vegan white chocolate ganache.

pre-soaking post-soakinga smooth, thick, white cream--just gritty before straining, but I'll drink this as is. straining out the solids it's not quite as smoth as dairy cream, but pretty close. can be thickened by heating. makes great sauces and ice cream, too.

I added LOTS of matcha, going for as intense a green tea flavor as I could get.

Putting It All Together:

I flavored half of the ganache with 1 teaspoon of almond extract and 1 teaspoon orange extract and the other half with 1 1/2 tablespoons of matcha (green tea powder).

I made another batch of white chocolate using the Test #1 method and rather than letting it set, I used it to fill candy molds 1/3 full, and then used a small candy brush to paint the sides of the molds. This took a little trial and error: immediately after filling the mold, the chocolate was too runny to coat the sides, but if I waited too long it would harden at the bottom and be difficult to spread. What worked best for me was to fill 4-5 molds with the liquid chocolate, and then go back and paint the sides of each one in the order filled. I put them in the refrigerator for about 5 minutes to harden fully. Then, using a pastry bag, I filled each shell 2/3 of the way with ganache. I let that chill for 15-30 minutes, and then piped more white chocolate on top, using the brush to push it to the edges to seal the filling.painting the moldsthe disposable pastry bags are genius for candy making. no more trying to get solidified chocolate out of the more expensive bags!

I repeated that with dark chocolate, which I melted in a double boiler. Rather than worrying about tempering it perfectly, I added a tablespoon of vegan shortening, which really doesn’t affect the taste or texture much but does ensure a smooth, dark coating with a good snap to it. Again with the painting, chilling, filling, sealing, and more chilling. When they were done, I inverted the molds onto a towel—some of them took a little twisting and shaking to come free.

All in all, I think using the molds was easier than hand-shaping and dipping each one, which I’ve done in the past. I’m actually not sure the white ganache would have set up enough to roll by hand—the matcha helped firm up the green tea ganache, but the extracts made the other one quite soft. If you want to make these and plan on shaping them by hand, it might be a good idea to cook the cashew cream down a little before adding the chocolate and avoid liquid flavorings.

the dark chocolate was much smoother for painting; possibly because of the soy lecithin in it topping the filled truffles

*I decided not to try to accommodate low-carb/paleo dieters because no one I know here is on that particular bandwagon, and trying to do vegan + low-carb makes my head hurt.

**For the failed batch and the test batches, I used the kind you can buy in 1-oz tubes at most pharmacies. For the truffles, I used a pricier “fair trade organic” brand from Whole Foods. Both said “for external use only,” but also claimed to be “100% cocoa butter with no additives,” which is a 100% edible substance. I have eaten at least two truffles-worth on multiple consecutive days with no ill effects. Ochef thinks the “food grade” business re: cocoa butter is just marketing, as it invariably costs more and they’ve also had fine results with the typical pharmacy brands. If you’re worried, buy the “food grade” stuff.

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Truffles
(makes approximately six dozen truffles. consider halving recipe.)

  • 1 cup whole raw cashews
  • 1 cup water, plus more for soaking
  • 16 oz. vegan chocolate for filling (see recipe below for white chocolate)
  • 10-12 oz. vegan chocolate for coating (any kind you like)
  • 1/4 cup cognac, brandy, or liqueur (optional; recommended for dark but not white/milk chocolate especially if shaping by hand as it will make the ganache very soft)
  • flavoring (optional): 2 teaspoons flavor extract, 1/2 teaspoon food-grade essential oil, 2 Tablespoons herbs, dried flowers, tea, or citrus zest (infused in the cream), 1 1/2 Tablespoons flavored powder like matcha

1. Cover the cashews in cold water and let soak overnight. Roasted cashews will have a stronger flavor—if you want the truffles to taste like cashew, use them instead. Raw cashews will make a rich, neutral cream.

2. Drain the cashews and place in a blender or food processor. Add just enough fresh water to cover. Blend until very smooth.

3. Strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth.

4. Heat the cashew cream in a medium saucepan.

Optional step: If you want to flavor the truffles with any herbs, flowers, or teas, add them to the cream. Bring to a simmer, remove from the heat and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs/flowers/tea/zest if using, and bring to a simmer again.

5. Remove the cream from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until melted and very smooth.

6. Add the liquor or liqueur and any other liquid or powdered flavorings, if using. Taste and adjust if necessary.

6. Shape

For hand-shaped truffles: Chill the ganache in the fridge for 30 minutes or until firm enough to scoop. Using a mellon-baller or two teaspoons, make balls approximately 1” in diameter and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Chill those for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the coating chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. Either follow careful tempering temperature guidelines and reserve some of the chocolate to use as “seed” crystals or add a tablespoon of shortening. Let cool slightly. Remove the ganache balls from the fridge and roll gently between your hands to make them smooth (using gloves if desired). Using two spoons or a dipping fork, quickly roll each one in the cooled, melted chocolate and transfer them to parchment or waxed paper to set.

For molded truffles: Melt the coating chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. Either follow careful tempering temperature guidelines or add a tablespoon of shortening. Fill molds 1/3 of the way with melted chocolate. Paint the sides. Chill for 5 minutes, or until hard. Fill the hardene shells 1/3 of the way with ganache and chill for 30 minutes. Either paint or pipe more melted chocolate on top to seal the filling.

Recipe: Vegan White Chocolate
(45% cocoa butter)

1 oz sticks are usually about $1 each at most pharmaciesFor 16 oz: 

  • 7.2 oz cocoa butter
  • 2.4 oz vegan milk powder (like Better than Milk)
  • 6.4 oz vegan powdered sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean

For ~36 oz:

  • 16 oz cocoa butter
  • 5.3 oz vegan milk powder
  • 14.2 oz vegan powdered sugar
  • 2 vanilla beans

13 sticks, unmolded into a pot1. Gently melt the cocoa butter in a microwave in 10 second bursts or in a double boiler. Cocoa butter will melt at 90F and burns at a much lower temperature than completed chocolate, so watch it carefully and stir frequently. Once about half the butter is melted, you can remove it from the heat and just wait for the rest of it to melt.

3. Add the powdered sugar, milk powder, and vanilla bean seeds and stir until smooth and combined.

4. Pour into a mold or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let sit until hardened (approximately two hours at room temperature, or 15-30 minutes in the fridge).

Tis the Season for DIY Gifts: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams

If you want perfectly smooth chocolate coating, you have to use a plastic mold. Otherwise, unless you're a chocolate-dipping ninja, they will look "homemade." But that's sort of the point, right?

Making Candy Worth the Effort

A friend and fellow Michigan food blogger just celebrated her 10th Wedding Anniversary. The internet  informed me that the 10 years is the “tin” anniversary and her weddingAnd yet I made peppermint patties anyway because they're a classic I knew people would enjoy even if they weren't excited about the other flavors. (not-)colors were black & white, so I thought a tin full of black & white candies would be an appropriate gift. The first thing that came to mind were peppermint patties. Bittersweet chocolate may not be quite black, but contrasted with the white, creamy center, it has the right effect.

However, it seemed a little silly to make peppermint patties by hand when those are so easy to find ready-made. Sure, if you use expensive chocolate and real butter, a homemade peppermint patty might taste a little different than a York. But probably not enough to justify going to all the trouble of clearing out space in the fridge for multiple rounds of chilling and dealing with the mess of dipping things in molten chocolate.

Instead, I decided to make an assortment of flavors that aren’t as easy to buy. The black & white theme restricted the flavor options a little, mostly because I thought it would be a little strange to eat something with a white filling that tasted like something with a firmly-established color signifier, like raspberry or orange or maple. Additionally, I have this silly desire to use the “real" thing when possible or something based on it—i.e., if not fresh or frozen raspberries, then raspberry preserves or Chambord, etc. So I had to come up with flavors that 1) aren’t readily available in commercial chocolates but do go well with chocolate and 2) make both culinary and aesthetic sense in white (or nearly-white) buttercream.the hibiscus tinted the buttercream a very pale pink (left) and lavender tinted it a barely-discernable lilac which almost looked greyish (right)You could also use milk or white chocolate

The answer seemed to be other herbs, like peppermint, or something similar: flowers, spices, tea, etc. Basically anything that would make the buttercream gritty if you tried to add it in its usual edible form. So texture was the culinary justification. The aesthetic justification is that there’s not as strong of a color association with things like jasmine or cardamom. Even things like lavender, both a color and a flavor/scent, doesn’t seem like it has to be purple in the same way that raspberry has to be red. The problem with things like lavender and jasmine is they run the risk of seeming more like bath salts than candy, so I decided on a few combinations and decided to make different shapes so people could distinguish between them visually:

Peppermint (patties)
Cinnamon-orange (squares)
Lavender-almond (balls)
Hibiscus-rose (striped balls)

peppermint  cinnamon-orangelavender-almond 

For a slightly more elegant presentation, you could put them in individual fluted foil or paper cups in a flat gift box.

Choose Your Own Flavor Adventure

You can use any edible extract, oil, or concentrate or infuse a flavor into the liquid in the buttercream. Some options:

Extracts and essential oils: Most grocery stores carry peppermint, lemon, orange, almond, and raspberry extracts. Some also have rum, maple, hazelnut, chocolate, strawberry, and cinnamon. Natural or specialty foods stores sometimes have essential oils designed for therapeutic use, but many of those are not safe for internal use. You can order edible essential oils online in a wide range of flavors including all the classics and more unusual things like bergamot, clove, oregano, and key lime. Essential oils are much stronger than extracts, so you only need 1/4 and 1/2 t. Start with the smaller amount and add more if necessary. Any of them can be combined—I’m especially fond of almond + orange.

Fruit: You can flavor any kind of buttercream with 2-4 T. fruit preserves—any kind of jam, marmalade, or curd will work. If you can’t find preserves in the flavor you want or don’t want to use something pre-made, you can make them yourself by cooking the fruit down into a concentrated paste, adding sugar if desired. You may want to add a flavor extract to the buttecream, too—raspberry preserves + raspberry extract will have more “pop” than either one alone.

Here's the lavender being strained out of the milk. The floral flavors were very strong in the buttercream, but were somewhat masked by the bittersweet chocolate. But the lavender-chocolate combination was especially nice, even though it was subtle.Infusions: Herbs, spices, tea, or anything masquerading as tea can be incorporated as follows: heat the evaporated milk or cream to a simmer (20-30 seconds in a microwave on high) and add 2 T. fresh or dried leaves or flowers, and/or 1-2 t. whole spices crushed slightly. Let it steep for 10 minutes and then press through a fine mesh strainer. This is where you can really play with things that don’t show up in commercial candies—basil, rosemary, tarragon, sage, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom pods, earl grey, oolong, rooibos, chai, tea scented with jasmine or fruit. The only thing you have to avoid are spices too finely ground to strain out of the liquid, although even those could be used if you have a very fine mesh bag—one of those disposable bags some coffee shops use for loose teas would probably work.

2 1/2 lbs of Callebaut bittersweet ($15) was more than enough to cover 120 chocolates Some flavors I considered and might make in the future, especially if color isn’t an issue, are cardamom-plum, strawberry-basil, and orange-bergamot. Of the four I made this time, cinnamon-orange is my favorite, but I’m pretty pleased with how they all turned out.

They may not be quite as sophisticated as truffles—buttercream is a cheap, pedestrian filling compared to ganache, and this recipe doesn’t even call for a real, cooked buttercream, it’s the powdered sugar version. Additionally, the chocolate coating has a little shortening added to it, which is a cheat that ensures the coating will be hard and shiny without the fuss of tempering, even if you store them in the refrigerator. So these are easier, less expensive, and more of a blank canvas for other flavors. I think that’s what makes them an ideal DIY gift—what makes them special isn’t pricey ingredients, but how you customize them for your recipients. 

Recipe: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams (adapted from The Joy of Baking and Chocolate Candy Mall #3)

all the flavorings involved--lavender and hibiscus flowers infusing in hot milk, rose water, and peppermint, vanilla, orange, cinnamon, and almond extractsIngredients:

  • 3 cups (240 g) powdered sugar
  • 4 T. (20 g) butter
  • 1/4 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 t. of another flavor extract and/or 1-2 T dried herbs, loosed tea, or flowers, 1-2 t. whole spices, or 1 tea bag*
  • 3 T. (30 ml) evaporated milk or cream
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T. shortening

*The Classics:
For peppermint patties, use 2 t. peppermint extract or 1/2 t. peppermint oil, which is much stronger
For maple creams, use 2 t. maple extract 
For vanilla buttecreams use an additional 2 t. vanilla extract
For all other options, see the notes above.

1. Let the butter come to room temperature. If using dried flowers, herbs, spices, and/or tea, heat the evaporated milk to a simmer (about 20 seconds in a microwave on high), and steep the flavor element in the milk for 10-15 minutes. Press through a fine mesh strainer.

2. Combine the first five ingredients, using a spatula or a stand mixer—hand mixer not recommended  because the powdered sugar will just get everywhere. If using a stand mixer, start on a low speed. Once everything is combined, increase the speed and beat until the mixture is very smooth and creamy (2-3 minutes with a stand mixer, 5-10 minutes by hand).

powdered sugar, softened butter, hibiscus-infused milk, vanilla, and rosewaterin a different bowl, this one peppermint

3. Cover with plastic wrap or transfer to a small container with a lid and chill for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Prepare a few cookie sheets by covering them with foil and dusting them lightly with powdered sugar. Shape as desired—For balls, quickly roll small amounts of the batter between your hands to form 1” balls. For patties, flatten balls with your hand or the bottom of a drinking glass to a thickness of about 1 cm. For squares or rectangles, place the buttercream in a quart-sized zip-top bag and roll flat with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. Cut away the bag, and cut into desired shapes.

this is way faster than shaping them all by hand, but the squares are a little harder to dip whatever shape I made, 1 batch = approximately 30 candies

4. Return shaped buttercreams to the refrigerator for another 30-60 minutes.

5. Melt the chocolate and shortening in the top part of a double-boiler, a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave just until smooth. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, and then begin dipping the buttercreams one at a time, making sure they get completely coated. Remove with two forks, letting excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Set back on the foil or on waxed paper. Return to the refrigerator for 30 minutes if desired to set faster—the shortening will prevent the chocolate from “blooming.”

if you're not making a quadruple-batch, feel free to use a smaller bowl the little pooling bits can be snapped off after they're cooled

Buckeyes, Schmuckeyes, or if you prefer, Peanut Butter Bon-bons

When I first set out to make these chocolate-covered peanut-butter balls, I intended not to refer to them by their traditional Midwestern moniker. Surely, I thought, neither the State of Ohio nor its flagship public university can claim any special relationship to sweetened peanut butter in a chocolate shell. There’s no reason I have to invoke tOSU’s mascot in the middle of football season in Michigan. But then I found some pictures of actual buckeyes nuts, and I’ll be damned if they don’t look uncannily like their namesake.

shown here popping out of the big spiny, smelly balls that grow on the treesand here, looking almost unmistakable from the chocolate variety

 

really, the only difference is that the candy version has a flat edge

and yes, I posed these specifically to mimic the above picture

I'll eat YOUR eyes! Whitetail buck from flickr user key lime pie yumyum

Real buckeyes are the seeds of trees in the genus Aesculus, which includes between 13 and 19 species (depending on how you count) that grow all across the Northern Hemisphere. The name “buckeye” is generally attributed to an American Indian word for the seeds and the nutritious mash they made from them after roasting—“hetuck,” which means “eye of a buck.” One species in particular, Aesculus glabra, became commonly known as the “Ohio buckeye,” even though it grows throughout the American Midwest and Great Plains regions, ranging from southern Ontario to northern Texas, apparently because the botanist who gave the tree its English name first encountered it on the banks of the Ohio River.

However, there’s also a California buckeye and a Texas buckeye and even a Japanese buckeye. And the seeds of all the trees in the genus—including Aesculus glabra—are also commonly known as horse chestnuts, after the larger family they belong to (Hippocastanaceae). So there doesn’t seem to be any simple botanical or taxonomical reason why the “buckeye” became so firmly associated with the state of Ohio.

How the Buckeye Became Ohioan and Ohioans Became Buckeyes

According to one story, it all goes back the spectacularly-named Ebenezer Sproat (or Sprout), who was a Colonel of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. After an unsuccessful post-war stint as a merchant, he became a surveyor for the state of Rhode Island and bought stock in the Ohio Company of Associates, which sent him west with the group led by Rufus Putnam that founded Marietta, Ohio, the first permanent American settlement in the Northwest Territory. There, Sproat became the first sheriff in the NW Territory. And aside from being a relatively prominent citizen, he also happened to be quite tall and, “of perfect proportions,” according to Wikipedia, whatever that’s supposed to mean. The Indians in Ohio were impressed with his height and/or his importance, and thus came to refer to him as “Hetuck” or “Big Buckeye.” A similar account suggests that it was mostly his height—claiming he was 6’4” (which would have been tall indeed in the 18th C.) and that he earned the sobriquet on September 2, 1788 when he was leading a procession of judges to the Marietta courthouse. Indians watching the giant of a man walk by began calling out “Hetuck, hetuck.” 

E. G. Booz's Log Cabin whiskey bottle, c. 1860-1890 from Cornell University LibraryBut it’s not entirely clear why that nickname would have ever been generalized to the shorter residents of the region. The more commonly-accepted theory is that the association between buckeyes and Ohio(ans) has something to do with William Henry Harrison.

Harrison was a resident of Ohio in 1840 when he made his first, successful presidential run. According to the Wikipedia article about him, he had already acquired the nickname “Buckeye,” as a “term of affection” when he served in the U.S. Congress, first as a representative of the Northwest Territory and then as one of Ohio’s Senators—presumably because of the prevalence of the tree in the regions he represented. However, the general consensus elsewhere is that Harrison and his presidential campaign advisors carefully cultivated the buckeye mascot and nickname to bolster Harrison’s image as a “man of the people.” Particularly in Ohio, log cabins were frequently made from the wood of buckeye trees and people in rural areas used to string up the nuts that would accumulate wherever the trees grew, so the buckeye was a useful symbol of the kind of rustic frontier populism that Harrison was trying to project.

Meanwhile, they portrayed the Democratic incumbent, Martin Van Buren, as an elitist, or even as a royalist intent on the restoration of the British crown, largely by publicizing the fact that he had hired a French chef for the White House and purportedly enjoyed French wine.Van Buren was actually the son of small upstate New York farmers and educated in rural schoolhouses, whereas Harrison was the son of wealthy Virginia slaveholders and educated in elite New England academies—he even studied medicine with the renowned Dr. Benjamin Rush before deciding he didn’t want to be a doctor. But Harrison successfully managed to convince people he was one of them with the help of bottles of whiskey shaped like log cabins and campaign propaganda like this pull card:

From The Granger Collection Marvin Van Buren smiles when drinking “A Beautiful Goblet of White House Champagne”
pull the string, and he frowns with “An Ugly Mug of Log-Cabin Hard Cider”

Shortly after that, popular songs and texts start to show up that refer to “Buckeye it's not even really "anthropomorphic" because that would be a nut with arms and legs...this one has a separate torsoboys” and “Buckeye girls” and to Ohio as “the Buckeye State.” In the 1850s, Samuel Sullivan Cox wrote a series of letters based on his travels to Europe and the Ottoman Empire, which he published under the title “A Buckeye Abroad.” It obviously continued to the point that now, there are probably almost as many drycleaners, diners, and car repair shops named Buckeye Blank in Ohio as there are Empire Blanks in New York City.

Brutus the Buckeye, the bizarre nut-headed mascot that dances on the sidelines at football and basketball games wasn’t invented until 1965. But students, alumnus, and athletes from the Ohio State University [awkward definite article sic] were always called “Buckeyes.” The name is older than the University itself, which was founded in 1870, and was seemingly applied to sports teams from the very beginning. The short-lived AA professional baseball team that existed in Columbus from 1883-4 was also named the Buckeyes. And Jessie Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, while he was a student at OSU, was  sometimes called “the Buckeye Bullet.”

But What a Stupid Reason That Would Be Not to Make Them

So even though it probably originated with a dishonest political campaign (is there any other kind?), I still feel like I have to cede the name “buckeye” to Ohio—after all, it’s older than the UM v. tOSU rivalry itself. And it just seems foolish to deny the resemblance. But it would be a real shame to let the apparent legitimacy of a name that happens to be associated with any state or school bias you against the salt-studded awesomeness of homemade chocolate-covered, sweetened balls of nut butter. Sure, they’re basically just Reese’s peanut butter cups, but you shouldn’t underestimate the difference that good chocolate, flaky salt, and having personal control over the level of sweetness can make.

the toothpicks make for easier dipping, and it's easy enough to smooth away the holesI probably wouldn’t normally bother with something so…I don’t know, cliché? Pedestrian? It’s not that I don’t like simple foods or classic flavor combinations, but somehow anything consisting primarily of peanut butter and chocolate just seems like cheating. Just like it seems like cheating whenever the contestants on Chopped use bacon if it’s not one of the secret ingredients, and like a petty perversion of justice that the bacon-cheater almost always wins. 

However, this recipe popped up on Serious Eats just as I was musing about how maybe I should throw together some sort of sweet nibble in case we happened to have people over this weekend—something I could make in advance and that would keep relatively well in case we didn’t have people over. These seemed to fit the bill because like most cookies, you can make them well in advance of serving, but like most candies, they won’t get stale. But what really sold me was the description of the crunchy flakes of salt in the peanut butter mixture—“like little mouth-fireworks,” the author said.

If they seem too boring as is, you could mix up the nut butter/chocolate coating combination or add a third or fourth flavor element. You could make Thai coconut version with a little chili pepper, powdered ginger, and dried coconut. Or mix in bits of toffee, puffed rice, or crumbled cookies for a different flavor or texture. You could use cashew butter or almond butter instead of peanut butter, powdered honey for some of the powdered sugar, and white or milk chocolate if any of those is more to your liking. You could even freeze little drops of fruit preserves or caramel and roll the nut butter around them so at room temperature, they’d melt into a sweet, gooey center. Now I’m dreaming of white chocolate-covered sunflower butter balls with vanilla caramel centers. You could even make a whole buffet of different buckeyes…and if you really can’t get past the name, just call them bon-bons or shmuckeyes instead. If you cede them to tOSU, I think that’s just another victory for “tWorst State Ever.”

Recipe: Peanut Butter Bon-Bons (from Serious Eats)
halved from the original, to make approximately 3 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 12 T. salted butter (or coconut oil)
  • 1 1/2 c. unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter (or any other nut or seed butter)
  • 3 c. confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or more to taste)
  • 1 bag chocolate chips (or ~2 cups chopped bar chocolate, I used a 70% cacao)

1. Leave the butters at room temperature to soften.

2. Beat them together with a spatula or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until completely smooth and well-combined.

the butters alone will be pretty liquidy first addition of powdered sugar but by the last addition it will be fairly stiff and should be able to be handled

3. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing until it forms a thick, malleable dough.

4. Stir in the kosher salt just until evenly distributed—you want to add the salt at the end so it doesn’t dissolve into the butter. Put the bowl in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

5. Roll heaping tablespoons of the peanut butter mixture into balls about the size of walnuts (or buckeyes) and place on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment paper. Place a toothpick in each ball and return to the freezer for 30 minutes.

september 066

6. Meanwhile, reserve a few pieces of chocolate and melt the rest in 15-second bursts in a microwave or a double-boiler just until it’s about 75% molten. You don’t want the chocolate to get too warm or it will burn.

7. Remove from the heat and stir occasionally until it’s entirely melted and slightly cooled, and then stir in the reserved pieces.  Wrap the pot in a kitchen towel—you want to keep the chocolate around 88F—I didn’t bother pulling out a candy thermometer, because that’s right around body temperature, so it should feel just barely warm to the touch. Otherwise, it won’t temper correctly, and will set slightly soft and greasy to the touch and may develop a white “bloom” on the surface. The reserved chips  “seed” the melted chocolate with the right crystalline structure to make it harden.

8. Dip each ball in the chocolate to coat and place on waxed paper or parchment paper until firm. Remove the toothpicks and gently smooth over the hole. Store in an air-tight container in a cool place or refrigerate until ready to serve.

NYE 2010 Part II: Admiral’s Punch and Festive Sweets

cocktail in a bowl!

At past New Year’s Eve parties, we’ve mixed cocktails to order, and we never draw such a crowd that that’s a problem. However, I did find the Bon Appetit Foodist article about punch that would be less fizzy –spiked-pineapple-juice and more cocktail-in-a-bowl pretty compelling, both for ease of serving and because it enables you to make a drink that benefits from muddling and sitting and melding and chilling, all of which are either annoying or impossible to do on demand and to order. Also, I thought the recipe that called for little more than cognac, lemon juice, sugar, and sherry with a little nutmeg grated in sounded pretty delicious.

And it was. If I’d mixed three batches, it might…might have lasted until midnight. Of course, then we might all have been in too bad of shape to have any champagne.

As for sweets, I could have just relied on the candies I’d made for Christmas. Candies are useful for catering because they’re, by nature, practically non-perishable, sugar being a preservative and all. Additionally, they’re generally best served at room temperature, can be made weeks in advance, and rarely require flatware or cutlery. But candy just never seems totally satisfying as a dessert to me.

So the challenge was to find sweet fingerfoods that were elegant—most cookies don’t quite say “cocktail party” to me—but wouldn’t degrade too much sitting out for hours. I decided on a flourless chocolate-orange cake, cut into two-bite squares, and shortbread fingers filled with three different flavors of preserves. As a bonus for party-planning, both are best eaten the day after they’re made, so you can make them in advance, albeit not as far in advance as candy.

Flourless Chocolate-Orange Cake

instructions for candied orange zest curls also below

 Shortbread Fingers

these are strawberry-raspberry, blueberry on the plate behind, and out of sight my favorite: apricot-peach

Recipes and more pictures below.

Recipe: Admiral Russell’s Christmas Punch a lot of the nutmeg stuck to the ice, but that was fine because it perfumed the drinks without having a lot of grit in the glasses(from the BA Foodist)

  • 5 lemons
  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • 1 750-ml bottle Cognac, VSOP-grade
  • 1 cup amontillado Sherry (apparently “lightly sweet oloroso” also works)
  • Nutmeg, freshly grated

1. Fill a 4-cup metal bowl with water and freeze overnight. That will keep the punch cold without diluting it too much.

2. Peel 4 of the lemons with a vegetable peeler and muddle with the sugar. Let sit 30 minutes and then muddle again.

3. Microwave the peeled lemons, individually, for about 45 seconds each. Juice them—you need about 1 cup.

4. Bring 1 cup water to a boil, pour it over the lemon peels and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Strain into a pitcher and discard the peels. Mix in the sugar, cognac, sherry, and 4 cups cold water.

5. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 6 hours before serving. To serve, run the ice mold under hot water to release and place in a punch bowl. Pour the punch over and grate nutmeg over the surface. Slice the last lemon into thin slices to float in the punch

Recipe: Flourless Chocolate-Orange Cake (from Epicurious)

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, plus extra to grease the pan
  • flour for dusting the pan (~2 T.)
  • 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup plus 2 T. sugar
  • zest of one large orange
  • 4 eggs plus 2 yolks
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • powdered sugar, for dusting (~4 T.)
  • candied orange zest, for serving (recipe below)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter a 10” round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and butter and flour the pan—including the parchment.

2. Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Stir the butter into the chocolate until it melts, and stir until smooth.

3. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar and orange zest. Add the eggs and egg yolks and stir well.

4. Sift the cocoa powder over the batter to remove any lumps, and whisk batter until totally smooth. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until the top has developed a smooth, cracked crust.

5. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Then, invert the cake onto a serving plate. Wrap and refrigerate overnight. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Candied Orange Zest 

  • 2 oranges
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus more for dredging strips
  • 1/3 cup water, plus more for poaching

1. Wash the oranges and peel the into long, wide strips with a vegetable peeler, and scrape any white pith away with a knife. Cut the strips into long, thin pieces.

2. Put the orange zest in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer and simmer at least five minutes, then drain.

3. Return the strips to the saucepan and add the 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook 10-15 min or until the strips are translucent and the sugar and water have become a thick syrup.

4. Remove the strips to a sheet of wax paper and spread them out. When slightly cooled, roll in sugar to coat and shape, if desired.

If you’re really crafty and patient, you can cut shapes in the zest with a knife or special hole punch. They’re still pretty if you just let them dry how they will, but if you want to curl them, you have to shape them while they’re still warm and pliable.

I started off by wrapping them around chopsticks, but those tended to unravel too much before they could cool and stiffen. Also, I don’t have nearly enough chopsticks to shape a whole batch before they’re cool. So toothpicks are the way to go.

you might be dextrous enough to get multiple curls on a single chopstick without having them all fall off. I am not.

Recipe: Austrian Shortbread (from Smitten Kitchen)

The peculiar thing about this recipe is that you make the shortbread dough, and then grate it like cheese, and layer the gratings over and under preserves. I’m not sure precisely what difference the grating makes—perhaps it’s less dense? The only other shortbread I’ve made has been quite thin, so I’m not sure how a traditional recipe compares to this—which produces bars almost as tall as my 9×13 pan will hold.

In fact, this recipe makes so much (obviously, right? 1 lb butter, 4 cups flour, 2 cups sugar) that if you’re not trying to feed a crowd, you should probably halve the recipe. You could either use a 9×13 pan and just make thinner bars or use an 8×8 pan.

One benefit to using a 9×13 pan is that you can make several varieties in the same pan, using different kinds of preserves, like so:

front to back: blueberry, apricot-peach, and strawberry-raspberry

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. butter, softened (4 sticks)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 t. vanilla or 1 t. lemon zest (I opted for the latter, as I’m fond of the perkiness citrus adds to fruit desserts)
  • 1 cup preserves—raspberry is the classic, but I’m crazy about Harry & David’s Oregold Peach preserves and just about anything would be great here
  • 1/4 cup. powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Cream the butter in a stand mixer until soft and slightly aerated (should be smooth, and is often described in recipes at this point as “fluffy” though I’ve never quite gotten that). Add the egg yolks and mix until fully combined.

2. Whisk the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together and then add to the butter-egg mixture and mix just until incorporated. You don’t want gluten to develop—treat this like a biscuit or pie crust. You want the dough to just begin to come together.

3. Spread two large pieces of plastic wrap on a table or counter and dump the contents of the mixing bowl out onto it. Separate the crumbs into two roughly equal piles. Press them into two balls or disks, using the plastic wrap to help gather and compress the dough. Freeze at least 2 hrs, or up to a month.

4. Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove one ball of dough and grate it with a medium cheese grater (a food processor makes this so much easier, but if you’re grating by hand you can grate directly into the pan). Spread the shreds of dough evenly in a 9×13 pan.

5. Put the preserves in a piping back or a zip-top bag with the corner snipped off, and squeeze it over the surface in thin strips. Spread gently to cover the surface evenly, leaving a 1/2” border around the edges.

6. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer, grate, and sprinkle evenly over the top.

7. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until the center no longer wiggles and the surface is turning a pale golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar as soon as it comes out of the oven.

8. Cool on a wire rack and cut in the pan. If you chill it before cutting, the cuts will be cleaner. Dust again with powdered sugar before serving.