chocolate deliciousness

It's been a summer full of birthdays. August is especially big in my family - my uncle, some cousins, my sister, my boyfriend, lots of friends... and ME! Call it tacky but I decided to bring my own cake to the party. I love this cake and I'm not big on cake. And since I'll be giving up a lot of good foods for 90 days (I'll tell you all about that soon) I decided I needed to have this cake.

It all started in 2006. I got the mail, and to my delight, the new Bon Appetit had come in. And on the cover was the most beautiful looking flourless chocolate cake. I immediately ran in the house and told my mom that I had to make this cake. She said ok, sure, we can definitely make it some time. To which I replied "I don't think you understand, I need to have this cake, NOW!". I hopped in my car and bought the 26oz, yes 26 OUNCES, of chocolate needed to make itLa Bett. I had all the other ingredients on hand.

For a non-baker this cake is incredibly easy to make - it's only 6 ingredients! It is the most decadent, rich, blow your socks off chocolate goodness you will get your hands on. This is why I skip "La Bete Noir" all together and just call it Chocolate Deliciousness! 

Hopefully some of you see these pictures and feel the same way I did about it... that you have to have it, NOW! 
chocolate deliciousness
adapted from bon appetit
yields 16 servings

for the cake:
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
9 T. butter (1 stick + 1 tablespoon)
18 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
6 eggs

for the ganache:
8 oz semi sweet chocolate
1 c. heavy cream

whipped cream for topping

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter a 10 inch springform pan and place parchment paper along the bottom (be sure to cut off the excess). Next wrap 3 layers of aluminum foil around the outside. You want to create a fortress around the pan... this baby is getting cooked in a water bath and you don't want to risk it getting water inside, this is chocolate we're talking about! Set aside and begin to assemble your batter.

In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar and let simmer for 5 minutes - until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. In another saucepan, melt your butter. Then add in your 18 oz of chocolate. Stir constantly until the mixture becomes nice and smooth. Whisk in your sugar syrup and let cool slightly. Slowly add in your egg mixture - being careful not to scramble your eggs! Whisk until the mixture is combined. Pour your batter into your pan.

Place pan in a large roasting pan and fill half-way with boiling water. Pop that bad boy in the oven for about 45 minutes until the center no longer jiggles when gently shaken. Remove the cake pan from the water bath and place on a rack to cool completely.  Once your cake is cool, you can top it with the ganache.

In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream over medium heat until it just starts to simmer. Pull it off the heat and add in your 8 oz of chocolate and stir until it becomes thick and creamy. Pour over cake and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours... I recommend overnight (ugh, I know... you just want to get into it!).

Garnish with lightly sweetened whipping cream or whatever you like. ENJOY CHOCOLATE HEAVEN!

improv style:
i used bittersweet 70% dark valhrona chocolate. it was my birthday, i splurged! if you don't want to spend $20 on chocolate, your favorite bittersweet OR semi-sweet chocolate will do just fine! you can use  bitter or semi but i would stay away from milk or unsweetened chocolate for this cake as they have too much/not enough sweetness.  you can, however, make the ganache with milk chocolate if you're not big into dark chocolate. now, on to the bigger improvisations... my cousin's husband said this would be perfect with peanut butter and i agree, if you're into that sort of a thing. try spreading a little over the cooled cake before topping with the ganache. OR you could melt a little into the ganache (probably about ¼ c.). Similarly, you could add 1 teaspoon of your favorite liquor or extract to the ganache for a boost of flavor (think rum, kahlua, orange, raspberry, mint, caramel...). also, you could try putting in a few tablespoons of instant espresso powder to your sugar water mixture to add depth of flavor to your cake. there's lots of things you can add to make this your perfect chocolate deliciousness!


c is for cookie...

This past weekend was my boyfriends birthday. When I asked him if he wanted any particular type of birthday cake he looked at me and said "cookies?!". I should have known... Matt is a COOKIE MONSTER! Most days when I ask him what he wants for dinner I get "cookies" as a response. Greaaaaaaat, thanks for the suggestion!

Torn between the fact that cookies don't exactly scream birthday celebration I came up with the perfect idea for his birthday treat. I've seen people make chocolate chip cookie dough stuffed cupcakes and I've seen people make cookie monster out of cupcakes so I figured why not combine the two for the ultimate birthday treat?! Most people would look at this cupcake and think it's perfect for a toddler's birthday but I made it for my 29 year old boyfriend who never wants to grow up. Honestly, I hope he never does! 

These cupcakes were really dense and had perfectly doughy cookie batter in the center. For me it was an overload of sweetness but the birthday boy claimed they were "the best cupcakes he's ever had". I'm not going to lie... they were a lot of work to pull off but I have some great improv suggestions below to make them a lot less time consuming and completely approachable for the non-baker! 

cookie dough stuffed cookie monster cupcakes
adapted from kevin & amanda
yields 24 cupcakes
For the cookie dough:
2 sticks butter (softened)
¾ c. sugar
¾ c. brown sugar
4 T. milk
2 t. vanilla extract
2 ½ c. flour
¼ t. salt
1 c. mini chocolate chips

For the cupcakes:
3 sticks butter (softened)
1 ½ c. brown sugar
4 eggs
2 ⅔ c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
1 cup milk
2 t. vanilla extract

For the frosting:
3 sticks butter (softened)
¾ c. brown sugar
3 ½ c. powdered sugar
½ t. salt
3 T. milk
1 t. vanilla extract
blue food dye 

For the decorations:
white fondant
black food gel
piping bag with multi-opening tip

For the cookie dough: 
cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. add milk, vanilla extract and mix until incorporated. Add flour and salt and combine until dough forms. Then add in mini chocolate chips! Roll into small balls (about 2 T. in size). Place in freezer for at least 2 hours. This can be done a day or two before. 

improv style:
if you don't want to make your own cookie dough, you can buy your favorite tube at the grocery store and roll that into balls. This will save you tons of time and it will turn out just fine! just make sure you use a cookie dough that doesn't have eggs! you wouldn't want to risk getting sick. 

For the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350º. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, 1 at a time. In a smaller bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add in the dry mixture, alternating with the milk. You want everything to be nice and smooth. Adding in a little milk, then a little of your dry mixture will make that happen! Finally, add in your vanilla. 

Line a cupcake pan with 24 liners. Fill each one about ⅔ full with the batter. Place a frozen cookie dough ball in the center of each one. Bake about 15 - 18 minutes depending on your oven.

Let rest in the pan for about 20 minutes. I was impatient and it didn't work in my favor... learn from my mistakes!

improv style:
you can use your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe here. if you wanted, you could even use a box mix to save lots of time. just follow the directions. also, you could play with the cupcake flavor here... chocolate, funfetti, red velvet. whatever your favorite with cookie dough would be!

For the frosting:
cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Slowly add in powdered sugar. Finally, add in milk, vanilla, and salt. Combine until smooth and creamy! Finally add in enough blue dye to get the desired color you want. I used a gel color that I got at Sur la table but you can use whatever you have on hand.

improv style:
use your favorite frosting recipe here OR you can even use a store bought frosting. i prefer homemade to store bought but that's just me. if making everything from scratch is intimidating, take a few cheats... no one will know! you could also try dying shredded coconut flakes blue and using that if you don't have a decorating tip.

to decorate:
Once cupcakes are cooled, take a little of the frosting and spread around the tops. You don't want to use too much, just enough to get a little base started. 

Fill a piping bag (or ziploc bag) with remaining frosting. I used a multi-opening tip like this one. If you don't have that, you can punch a few holes in the tip of your ziploc bag or just frost it like you usually do. Frost each cupcake... the more imperfections, the better! After all, this is cookie monster!

To make the eyeballs, roll out some fondant (I bought mine but you can make yours if you're feeling really ambitious. Cut into small circles. I didn't have a small circle cookie cutter so I used a decorating tip to make them. If you don't have fondant, you can make the eyes with marshmallows, sugar cookies - get creative! Then I took a q-tip and dipped it into a black food dye gel. If you don't have this you could use chocolate chips or melted chocolate. 

Finally, you're ready to assemble! Take your mini chocolate chip cookie* (home made, store bought, whatever you prefer!) and stuff it near the end of the cupcake edge. Place 2 eyeballs at the top (be sure to have the eyes looking different directions). That's it! A lot of steps, I know. But totally worth it! 

improv style:
you don't even have to make these cupcakes look like cookie monster! you could leave out the food dye, pipe the frosting on top and garnish with a mini chocolate chip cookie or chocolate chips. you could make this ultra sophisticated or keep it playful. even decorating can be improvised!

* I improvised my fully loaded cookie recipe by halving it, and substituting the nuts and chocolate chips for 1 cup of mini chocolate chips. You can make mini versions of your favorite cookie recipe or use a store bought one. You could even buy a pre-made dough and roll them into smaller cookies. Find whatever works best for you.


lemons + italy

I miss Italy. I miss the crowded streets of Rome, the little trattorias with simple, homy meals that warm the soul, the out of line Italian men chanting "Bella bella" as I walk by, the gelateria I lived above with the most amazing and tart grapefruit gelato, I miss my morning cappuccino and corneto stuffed with Nutella - I miss Italy! 

A lot of the trattorias in Italia are small, family owned restaurants. Where the waiters tell you what you're going to eat and how much you're going to love it. They also usually bring out bites of food that you have to try, and trust them, YOU HAVE TO TRY! I love that they treat you like family when you're in their restaurant. No one leaves hungry or thirsty, its just the Italian way. 

We quickly learned that when a restaurant owner brings you a champagne flute filled to the brim with his homemade limoncello, you must drink it. I love lemon so this was never too much of a problem for me. In Italy, lemons are used a lot. Especially in Sorrento where they're famous for their Limoncello and of course, their lemons. When I was there I picked up a bottle for me and a bottle for my mom, so excited to bring a bit of Italy back with me to the states! Awhile later I find that I have this big ole bottle of Limoncello and I've never even opened it! What a crime! 

I decided to put that bottle to work in a summer version of my tiraMOsu! Being one of my favorite desserts, it's only natural to have a fresh seasonal version! It's creamy and rich but bursting with the lightness of tart lemon and luscious raspberries. Unlike my tiraMOsu, this version is best served in 1-2 days instead of 4-6 days. The fresh berries put a shorter timeline on it.

raspberry + limoncello tiraMOsu 
yields 10 - 12 generous servings 

¼ c. limoncello
¼ c. simple syrup
2 lemons (juice + zest)

2 - 8 oz containers of mascarpone @ room temperature
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. heavy whipping cream
8 egg yolks*
½ c. granulated sugar
1 T. limoncello

2 pints raspberries
2 boxes (~60) dry biscuit lady fingers*

In a shallow dish, combine limoncello, simple syrup**, and juice from 2 lemons. Set aside.

Meanwhile, beat egg yolks with sugar on high until it becomes light and forms ribbons. Add 1 T. limoncello, zest of 2 lemons, softened mascarpone and vanilla extract. Mix until well combined. In a separate bowl beat whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to turn it to butter though! Gently fold half of the whipped cream mixture into the mascarpone mixture. Then add remaining whipping cream mixture, stir just until incorporated.

You're all set to assemble! For this recipe I made it in a round souffle pan but you can use whatever dish you prefer. Individual glasses are really pretty too! Start by quickly dipping 1 ladyfinger in the limoncello mixture. This is the key to the perfect tiramisu... make sure you don't dip the cookies for too long, they'll get soggy. Literally drop the cookie in, flip it real quick and pull it out. Place them in a single layer in the baking dish. Place layer of cream mixture*** on top and evenly spread. Sprinkle some raspberries on top. Add another layer of dipped ladyfingers and then another layer of cream and then raspberries. For my dish I did 4 layers. Just make sure you save enough raspberries for the top of your dish! I garnished with raspberries and a slice of lemon!

* make sure you get the hard cookies, not the soft ladyfingers found in the freezer or refrigerator sections. They should have the sugar crust on one side and snap when broken in half.

** simple syrup is really easy to make. Just use equal parts granulated sugar to water and boil until the water is dissolved. It's great in iced coffee and tea! 
*** note i don't cook my zabaione (the cream, egg, marscapone mixture). you should use the freshest eggs possible to avoid getting sick.

improv style:
this dish is a prime example of an improv recipe... i took a traditional chocolate/espresso tiramisu and made it into a summer dessert by replacing espresso with limoncello and chocolate with raspberries. you could use a different flavored liquor, like chamboard (raspberry flavor) or orange liquor. You can definitely change the berries up, too! strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, marionberries (you get the idea)... even a combo of any of them would be fantastic! You could even do each berry on a different layer - it would be so pretty in a glass dish to see the different colors layered! Also, if you want to make this dish outside of berry season, you can definitely use frozen berries. Just make sure you thaw them out before! Peaches, nectarines, or apricots would be great in this dish as well.