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Chocolate-Filled Paris Brest

Have you eaten a Paris Brest? It’s a delectable cream puff pastry commemorating a bicycle race that took place in 1891 between Paris and Brest, a city in Northwest France (hence the circular shape.) I ate individual ones recently at a great bakery not in Paris, but in Prague, Czech Republic. (shout out to Pekárna Nostress Bakery on Vezenská 8, Prague – a place that became a daily obsession.) One was made with a vanilla pastry cream and berries, the other with the traditional praline filling. Both were sensational.

I knew I had to make this dessert for my book group, who met this week for a French dinner and discussion of “Babette’s Feast” (actually a short story) by Isak Dineson. I wanted to make it filled with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, but since I seem to have missed strawberry season in New Jersey, I decided on this chocolate and whipped cream version by well-known French chef Jacques Pepin. Like all his recipes, this one did not disappoint, although it is a bit tricky to make if you’re a novice in the kitchen. I’ll take you through the various steps.

First you have to make the pate a choux – or cream puff pastry. You cook the milk, flour and butter until it starts to pull away from the pan. It’s kind of hard to keep stirring because it really gets dry and lumpy. But that’s ok. It will smooth out later in the food processor.

Let it cool for 1/2 hour, then break it into bits and put it in the food processor and add the eggs one at a time. The recipe says to whir it for about 20 to 30 seconds, but that wasn’t long enough to attain a smooth dough. I’m sure I processed it for at least a couple of minutes.

Here’s what it looked like after the eggs were incorporated. It’s a very smooth, sticky dough.

Next you’ll want to pipe it, using a piping bag. I always fill the bag after placing it into a tall glass. It’s much easier than trying to hold it in one hand, while filling with the other.

I didn’t even use a piping tip. You don’t need one. Just cut a hole at the bottom of the bag that’s about 3/4 inch wide in circumference.

Pipe a circle onto the silicone mat about 8 inches in diameter, as shown below. You can use parchment paper if you don’t have a silicone mat. Then pipe another circle inside the first one, and a third circle on the top of the first two (sorry I forgot to take a photo of all three circles).

Before you pipe the second circle and the third circle, press the filling in the bag toward the tip so it doesn’t squirt out the top. The recipe makes EXACTLY the right amount of dough with no extra, so if you lose some out the top, you’ll come up short when piping the circles.

Brush the circles with beaten egg, then sprinkle slivered almonds over everything. Brush off the excess almonds.

While the dough is baking, make the chocolate filling. No need to buy expensive chocolate. Hershey’s Special Dark works great, and came out number one in a blind taste-testing on America’s Test Kitchen several years ago. It’s what I always use in baking. Whip the cream and keep it in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Here’s what the ring looks like right out of the oven. It rose a bit, but isn’t as huge as you’d expect. But that’s ok because the filling increases the height at least double!

Slice it in half and separate the two halves.

Here’s a great tip from Jacques Pepin to avoid a mess when you serve it. Take the top part and slice it into 8 to 10 pieces. Keep them in order for when you assemble, and they will give you a good guide when slicing through with a knife, without crushing your beautiful concoction.

Spread the chocolate filling evenly over the ring.

Then pipe the whipped cream over the chocolate (or just spread it with a spoon but the piping does give it a more polished look).

Place the sliced top pieces over the whipped cream and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

All that’s left to do is to serve it and eat it. Best served within two or three hours of making it, but be prepared for no leftovers.

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Paris Brest
 
Author:
Serves: 8-10 people
Ingredients
  • DOUGH
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
  • CHOCOLATE CREAM
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into 1-inch pieces
  • GARNISH
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. FOR THE DOUGH: Combine the milk, butter, salt, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  3. Remove from the heat, add the flour in one stroke, and mix well with a wooden spoon.
  4. Then place back over the heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 15 to 20 seconds, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan.
  5. Transfer the dough to a food processor and let cool for 10 minutes.
  6. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and mix them well with a fork.
  7. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg for use as a glaze.
  8. Pour the remaining eggs into the processor bowl and process for 20 to 30 seconds, until the eggs are well incorporated and the dough is smooth.
  9. Line a cookie sheet with a nonstick baking mat, or use a nonstick cookie sheet.
  10. Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a ¾-inch plain tip.
  11. Pipe a ring with an outside circumference of 8 to 8½ inches on the cookie sheet.
  12. Pipe another circle of dough inside and another on top of the rings until you have used all the dough and have a circle that is 1½ to 1¾ inches high with a hole in the center that measures about 5 inches across.
  13. Do not start and end the dough circles in the same spot, since this can cause the pastry to open at the seam during baking.
  14. Brush the dough with the reserved tablespoon of egg.
  15. Using a fork, mark the surface and sides of the dough, running the tines of the fork gently around the circle to create a crosshatch effect.
  16. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds. Bake for 20 minutes.
  17. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 35 minutes, or until browned. (If the pastry begins to brown excessively, cover it loosely with a piece of aluminum foil.)
  18. Turn the oven off and let the pastry remain in the oven for 30 minutes with the door partially open to evaporate some of the moisture.
  19. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before removing from the cookie
  20. sheet.
  21. FOR THE CHOCOLATE CREAM: Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan.
  22. Meanwhile, combine the yolks and sugar in a bowl, mixing them with a whisk for about 30 seconds. Add the 1½ tablespoons flour and mix it in with the whisk.
  23. Pour the boiling milk in on top of the egg yolk mixture and mix it in well with a whisk.
  24. Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil, mixing constantly with the whisk.
  25. Boil for about 10 seconds, then remove from the heat and add the chocolate.
  26. Stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted and is incorporated into the pastry cream.
  27. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and let cool, then refrigerate until chilled.
  28. FOR THE GARNISH: Whip the cream, rum, and sugar in a bowl until stiff. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  29. TO FINISH THE CAKE: Use a sharp knife to remove a ½-inch-thick horizontal slice, or “lid,” from the top; set it aside.
  30. Using a spoon, spread the chocolate cream in the bottom of the pastry round, pushing it gently into the cavities of the pastry.
  31. Transfer the whipped cream to a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch star tip, and pipe the cream on top of the chocolate cream. It should come at least 1 inch above the rim of the cake.
  32. Cut the pastry lid into 8 to 10 equal pieces, and reassemble them in order on top of the pastry to make it easy to cut into portions.
  33. Sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar.
  34. (The pastry can be assembled a few hours ahead and refrigerated.)
  35. At serving time, using the separations on the lid as guides, cut through the bottom half of the pastry, and arrange on individual dessert plates.
 

Ricotta and Nutella Tart

If you’re a chocolate and hazelnut fan, this recipe is for you. It’s got a bottom layer of Nutella, covered with a ricotta mixture and drizzled with more Nutella on top. The first time I made the recipe, I used a ready made crust and it crisped up nicely, browning perfectly on the bottom. I loved the flavor combination but thought it could benefit from a doubling of the ricotta layer.

So the next time I made it, I doubled the recipe for the ricotta layer.

The filling tasted great, but the problem was that the crust was undercooked on the bottom, even though I left it in the oven a little longer than the recipe called for. It could be because in addition to doubling the amount of ricotta, I also baked two tarts in the oven at the same time, which may have caused the pastry to bake unevenly. Or was it because I forgot to prick the pastry before smearing on the Nutella? In any event, it’s worth making this tart, but be warned – bake only one tart in the oven at a time for best results.

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Ricotta and Nutella Tart
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup 2% milk
  • ½ tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ cup plus ¼ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread, divided
  • your favorite tart or pie crust dough, chilled
Instructions
  1. In a blender, combine the ricotta cheese, milk and sugar, and blend until completely combined.
  2. Pour the mixture into a glass bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then lightly grease and flour a 9-inch tart or pie tin.
  4. Remove the dough from the fridge.
  5. On a floured work surface, roll the dough into a ⅛ inch thick circle.
  6. Place it in the prepared tin, trim any overhanging dough with a sharp knife and crimp the edges.
  7. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork.
  8. Spread the bottom of the crust with 7 ounces of the chocolate-hazelnut spread.
  9. If the spread is too thick, soften it in the microwave or place it in a heatproof bowl on top of a pot of boiling water.
  10. Remove the ricotta filling from the fridge and pour it over the chocolate-hazelnut spread.
  11. Bake the pie for 25 to 30 minutes or until the crust is golden.
  12. Let the pie cool completely then drizzle with the remaining ¼ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread.
  13. Refrigerate the pie for 2 hours before serving.
 

 

Chocolate Coconut Tart

Whenever I’m in Italy and the mood for gelato strikes (ok, let’s get real – when doesn’t the mood for gelato strike?), I’m likely to get a flavor that’s called “Bounty” –  coconut ice cream punctuated with small chocolate bits. It’s named for the eponymous candy bar available there, but here in the states, there is a similar candy bar called “Mounds.”

A few years ago I ate a slice of cake in Bellagio that had the same flavor profile, and I was determined to duplicate it at home.

I finally got around to it recently, and while I’m not sure it’s exactly the same, it’s really, really good, especially if you’re a dark chocolate and coconut lover, as I am.

I made two of the cakes, one half the size of the original one, since I was serving the larger one to my Italian chit-chat group and wanted a second, small one to serve guests after dinner the following night. A bit of gold leaf on top makes a nice decoration, but so would a simple dollop of whipped cream.

If you’re making just one tart according to the recipe below, the coconut layer will be thicker than in the photos above, since I made 1 1/2 times the amount of the chocolate cake part, but I spread the coconut quantity over the two cakes (the larger and the smaller version.) I hope that makes sense to you. If you’re still confused, send me an email and I’ll try to explain it better.

Just a word of caution – the chocolate ganache will not stay this glossy if you refrigerate the cake. So if you want to serve it with that sheen but want to make the cake ahead of time — just make the cake without the ganache and place it in the refrigerator (still in the springform pan), then a few hours before you want to serve it, remove from the refrigerator and top it with the ganache while in the springform pan. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes for the ganache to solidify, then release the side of the springform pan. Don’t refrigerate it again or you’ll lose the sheen.

Enjoy! It’s almost like eating a chocolate covered, coconut-cream Easter egg.

Chocolate Coconut Tart (Bounty Torta)
 
A rich, brownie-like cake, with a coconut layer and a topping of chocolate ganache.
Author:
Recipe type: dessert
Ingredients
  • FOR THE CHOCOLATE CAKE LAYER:
  • ½ cup unsalted butter melted.
  • ¾ cup white sugar.
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten.
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons espresso coffee
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder.
  • ½ cup flour.
  • ¼ teaspoon salt.
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder.
  • FOR THE COCONUT LAYER:
  • 12 oz sweetened condensed milk (I think the can was closer to 14 ounces)
  • 2½ cups unsweetened coconut flakes
  • FOR THE CHOCOLATE GANACHE:
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate
Instructions
  1. FOR THE CHOCOLATE CAKE LAYER:
  2. Mix sugar and melted butter, with a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Pour into a greased 9 inch springform pan and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.
  3. FOR THE COCONUT LAYER:
  4. Put the coconut in a food processor and shred into small bits.
  5. Add the condensed milk and combine.
  6. When cake is cooled, spread coconut layer on top.
  7. It will be very dense.
  8. FOR THE CHOCOLATE GANACHE:
  9. Heat cream and remove from heat.
  10. Add chocolate.
  11. Let sit for a few minutes then stir to blend.
  12. Pour chocolate over coconut layer a couple of hours before you serve it and leave it out at room temperature in order to keep the chocolate glossy.
  13. You can refrigerate it if you want, but it will lose some of its gloss.
  14. Remove the ring from the springform pan, and serve.
 

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Chocolate Salami

Looking for an easy treat for Valentine’s Day? You’ve got plenty of time to make this chocolate “salami” that requires no cooking, and comes together lickety-split, using ingredients you may already have in the house. I used amaretti cookies to simulate the bits of fat running through a real salami, but you could use graham crackers, digestive biscuits or even chocolate chip cookies.

Crumple them up and mix them in a bowl with nuts and dried fruit of your choice. I used pistachios, hazelnuts and dried cherries and it was a winning combination. But if you like almonds or walnuts instead, or dried cranberries or dried apricots, those would be delicious too.

Melt some chocolate. You could use milk chocolate, but I prefer dark chocolate and used Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate. If you want to spring for a more expensive chocolate, go for it, but Hershey’s Special Dark won a blind taste test on America’s Test Kitchen years ago and I’ve been using it since then for nearly all my recipes requiring dark chocolate. It costs a lot less than the specialty brands, so that’s a nice plus too. Mix the melted chocolate with all the above ingredients and add some liqueur. It’s not strictly necessary, but it does add another layer of flavor.

Some recipes for chocolate salami ask you to add raw eggs, but I thought I’d try it without, since so many people have health concerns about using raw eggs in recipes. The risk is miniscule, but still, why take any risk, I thought.

Next, dish out the chocolate into a log shape. It will be too soft to shape at this point, so put it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, or until it firms.

Once firm, roll it into a log shape to make it more “solid.”

Then roll into confectioner’s sugar to simulate the white “bloom” that appears on aged salami.

If you have some butcher’s string, tie it across the chocolate salami to mimic a real salami.

Slice it and watch the surprise when people realize it’s not really cured meat, but a delightful chocolate treat. Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Chocolate Salami
 
Ingredients
  • 12 oz. chocolate, melted (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 1 stick (8 ounces) butter
  • ½ cup crumpled amaretti cookies (or graham crackers or "digestive" biscuits)
  • ½ cup pistachios
  • ½ cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped (or other nuts you prefer
  • ¼ cup dried cherries
  • 1 T. Cherry Marnier (or any liqueur you like)
  • powdered sugar for exterior
  • twine (optional)
Instructions
  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.
  2. When it is nearly melted, add the butter in pieces and melt it.
  3. Chop the amaretti cookies and nuts (I left the pistachios whole) and put in a bowl with the cherries.
  4. Pour the melted chocolate over the nuts and cookies and add the liqueur.
  5. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 15-20 minutes until it firms up, but keep checking because you don't want it so firm that it's too hard to roll.
  6. Dish out the chocolate onto a piece of plastic or waxed paper.
  7. Roll into a log and place it back in the refrigerator until very firm, maybe an hour or so.
  8. When it's firm, sprinkle powdered sugar all over.
  9. Tie up with butcher's string if desired, and slice to serve.
 

Chocolate Orange Marble Loaf Cake And A Giveaway

Chocolate Orange Marble Loaf Cake and a Giveaway

I’ve been trying to stay away from baking all summer (that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my share of ice cream however).
But when a new cookbook arrived and I started flipping through it, my resolve quickly dissolved.
The next day I baked this cake — one of the most delicious cakes I’ve had in a long time, with rich chocolate and subtle orange flavor, a tender crumb and a luscious chocolate ganache topping.
Fortunately, later in the day I was meeting some board members from an Italian cultural institution I’m part of, who offered to lend with our annual mailing.
I lure them each year by bringing food, and they happily stuffed envelopes and slapped on stamps, sustained by this cake from Jamie Schler’s new cookbook, “Orange Appeal.”  Several of them took slices home too, leaving me with just enough cake to give my dad the next day.
It’s definitely a cake that will make appearance after appearance in my kitchen.
The photos are beautiful too, by Ilva Beretta, who also collaborated for two years with Jamie on the blog, Plated Stories.
Jamie now lives in Chinon, France, from which she writes the blog “Life’s A Feast,” and where she also runs a hotel (Hotel Diderot) — a place I’m longing to visit at some point.
With her busy life, I don’t know how she found time to write a cookbook, but it contains a plethora of recipes that include oranges in some form or other — not unexpected for someone who grew up in Florida.
I’ve made my share of candied oranges, but never tried orange powder, orange sugar, or orange salt. But with Jamie’s instructions from the book, they’ll be on my to-do list as soon as citrus season rolls in here in the Northeast U.S.
The book contains many savory recipes as well as sweet ones, and I’m really looking forward to trying the sweet-and-sour marmalade-glazed oven baked chicken next.
I’ve also got my eyes fixed on the glazed blood orange yogurt loaf cake and many others too, but they’ll have to wait until I make this chocolate orange marble loaf cake again, this time for my husband to try.
After you mix the batter, it gets divided in two parts. One is for the chocolate mixture, and into the other go the orange peel and orange juice. The raw batter was so delicious I had to restrain myself from licking too much off the spatula.
I swirled the chocolate batter into the white batter using a knife.
The kitchen smells divine while it’s baking. Let it rest for a few minutes before removing it form the pan.
The recipe says the chocolate glaze is optional, but for me it was an absolute necessity (especially if you’re using a Lindt chocolate bar that contains orange bits).
It’s a good thing I had a meeting to take this to, or I’d have eaten half the cake myself.

 

I did have to eat one slice before taking it to the meeting (you know, quality control and all that stuff).
Now I’d like to offer one of you a free copy of “Orange Appeal” so you can try this and all the other recipes in the book.
Just leave a comment at the bottom of the blog post (not in email), and a way for me to contact you if your name is chosen.
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You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter.
Chocolate Orange Marble Loaf Cake
From “Orange Appeal” by Jamie Schler
1 3/4 cups (8 ounces/230 g) all-purpose flour
2 Tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
12 tablespoons (6 ounces/175 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/8 cups (225 g) granulated white sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large orange, zested
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 packed tablespoons (18 g) unsweetened cocoa powderPreheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).   Butter a standard 9 x 5 x 2 1/2 inch (23 x 13 x 6 1/2 cm) or 8 cup 2 l) loaf pan; fit a piece of parchment paper in the bottom.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl, beating until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, and then beat in the oil. Beat in the flour mixture until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Divide the batter evenly between 2 bowls. Beat the zest and juice into 1 portion of the batter, and the milk, vanilla and cocoa into the other portion of batter until well-blended.

Spoon large dollops of each mixture, alternating the batters, into the prepared loaf pan. Drag a skewer or a long, sharp knife blade back and forth through the batter in swirls to create a marble pattern. Smooth the surface if necessary.

Bake for 55-60 minutes, until the cake is set in the center and just barely beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cover the top of the cake loosely with a sheet of foil for the last 5-10 minutes of baking time to over over browning, if necessary.

Allow to cool in pan for about 10 minutes before sliding a knife around the edges to loosen the cake and turning it out onto a cooling rack. Remove parchment paper from the bottom, allowing the cake to cool, top side up, on the rack.

Drizzle chocolate orange ganache over the top. (recipe below)

Chocolate Orange Ganache 
3/4 cup (3 1/2 ounces/100 g) coarsely chopped orange-infused 70 percent dark chocolate, such as Lindt Excellence Orange intense
1/2 cup (125 ml) heavy creamPlace the chocolate into a medium heatproof mixing bowl. Slowly heat the cream in a small saucepan until it comes just to the boiling point. Pour the cream immediately over the chocolate and stir until it is smooth and creamy. Allow the ganache to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, until thickened to a drizzling consistency before spooning over the sponge cake.

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

I must be channeling a lot of other bloggers unconsciously since I made this cake the same week that Tuesdays With Dorie bakers chose chocolate amaretti cake as their project. Even though we use the same ingredients, the proportions for mine are different, with more chocolate, more amaretti and more almonds. This is one case where more is more.
I also serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, rather than a chocolate frosting. Just mention the word cream and I’m in. Plus I like the contrast of vanilla and chocolate.

You don’t have to use those expensive, individually wrapped amaretti that come in a red tin. Just buy the kind you find in bags in the cookie aisle at the supermarket.

You’ll understand why this cake is worth blogging about once you try it. It’s rich with chocolate flavor, it’s elegant, and it’s ridiculously easy to make. I’ve been baking this for years for my Italian chit-chat group and by now many of them have adopted this recipe too.

This cake reminds me of the time we were living in a fully furnished apartment in Rome and I offered to contribute this cake to a dinner at a friend’s home. Trouble was we had no mixer. The kitchen was large but the batterie of pots, pans and other kitchen equipment was rather deficient to put it kindly. I asked the landlord if he could get us a mixer, a toaster and a corkscrew, and he did come through with the toaster and the corkscrew. But instead of a mixer, he brought over a stick blender – the kind you use to make pureed soups.
Something definitely got lost in the translation.
Oh well, you make the best with what you’re given and I managed to turn out a pretty terrific chocolate amaretti cake using the stick blender. Hopefully you have a real mixer in your kitchen.
Chocolate Amaretti Cake

6 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate
1 cup almonds
1 cup amaretti cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9 inch round cake pan all around and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour.
Melt the chocolate, either in a double boiler or in the microwave.
Put the almonds and amaretti cookies in a food processor and grind until it resembles sand.
Put the butter and sugar in a mixer and mix until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl occasionally.
To the mixing bowl, add the nut and amaretti mixture and the melted chocolate.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes.
Let it cool and flip onto a serving platter. Remove the parchment paper and decorate with powdered sugar, using a paper doily as a pattern. I have also baked this in a pretty ceramic dish and served it without flipping it. Just be aware that the top may be a little crunchy and cracked if you serve it this way. You can still decorate with powdered sugar, which hides a lot of defects.

Serve with plain whipped cream, or whipped cream flavored with a little bit of coffee liqueur or instant coffee dissolved in a little liqueur, or with ice cream.

Hurry up. Get going. I know you’ll want to chomp down on this:

Like A Kid In A Candy Store

Like a kid in a candy store

It wasn’t the typical weekly meeting for my chit-chat group of Italian friends called “Le Matte.”
This week we met at a chocolate factory. And it was bliss.

The above photo is of some marshmallow “peeps” after a dip in milk chocolate.

Here is a photo of the dipping machines – white, dark and milk chocolate.


This magical place is the David Bradley Chocolatier factory, in Windsor, New Jersey. We were lucky enough to be given a tour by Christine O’Brien, daughter of the owners Robert and Marcy Hicks, who founded the company in 1978 under the name “Sophisticated Chocolates.”

First, she let us choose some fruit and dip it into those chocolate tanks. Some of us chose big luscious strawberries. Some of us chose big fat orange segments. Some of us chose big luscious strawberries and then went back for big fat orange segments. Dipped in dark chocolate.
Yum. Excuse me while I savor the moment.

But that’s not all. We kept touring the place and tasting as we went along. Solid chocolate, potato chips dipped in chocolate, oreos dipped in chocolate, you name it. You like milk or white chocolate rather than dark? Chris was very accommodating and gave us samples of whatever flavor we liked. Of course, we all shopped and shopped later on in the outlet store next to the factory.


In addition to their three retail outlets, in Windsor, N.J., Cherry Hill, N.J. and Manalapan, N.J., the company sells to lots of stores across the country, including upscale places like Barneys in New York. Many of their products are also sold under private labels. Their busiest time is Christmas, when lots of corporate clients place orders. But they’re pretty busy right now too, with bunnies and eggs and other Easter items taking priority. Chris said that they go through about 2500 pounds of chocolate a week.
Everything is made to order and made fresh daily. “We are working a little harder, but it’s going to taste better,” Chris said. Their stuff doesn’t go to the big box stores where you don’t know how long ago it was made. If you’re buying candy for Easter from their shelves, you know it was made within a day or two.

Here’s one of the workers filling the molds by hand.

And here are some of the bunnies that are ready for packaging:

dark
or milk:

They also make novelty items like chocolate lollipops in the shapes of stars. They’ll also make specially-designed items for events like baby showers, weddings or other occasions. You can check them out on their website: http://www.dbchocolate.com


And here’s a photo of some of “le matte” getting ready to checkout –
Milena, Eleanor, Paola, Shirley, Dede, Rena and Linda

Candied Orange Peel

Candied Orange Peel

Even if you thought you didn’t like candied orange peel, wait till you try this one.
This is not your grandmother’s candied fruit.

Last year I bought some candied orange peel to use in a Pastiera, an Italian Easter dessert that I’ll be posting in the next couple of days. This year I came across a terrific post on “Use Real Butter,” that outlined how to make the confection, so I thought I’d give it a try. It wasn’t really that difficult and it is so superior to anything you can buy. I’ll never go back to store bought candied orange peel again and I’ll bet you won’t either.

Dip these strips into chocolate and you’ve got a first-class gift that will really impress your friends.

Here’s what you’ll need:

peels of 3 – 4 large oranges (leave the white pith attached)
3 cups sugar
1 cup water

Cut the oranges in half and squeeze out all the juice. Scrape out all the pulp, but leave the white pith. I use a grapefruit spoon and it works great. Every recipe that calls for orange rind always says to remove the pith because it’s bitter – and it is. But for this recipe, if you don’t leave the pith, you’ll end up with a puny peel after all the sugaring. In order to counter the bitter taste, you need to boil the peels first. I boiled mine four times as you’ll see below.

Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the orange halves into strips.


Place the strips in a large pot and cover with cold water. Let the water come to a boil and cook for five minutes. Drain. Repeat three more times.


Cook sugar and water and cook at high heat until temperature reaches 230 degrees. Add peels and lower temperature to a simmer. Cook until peels are translucent. It may take as little as 1/2 hour or as long as an hour and a half, depending on your altitude. Remove peels and drain on metal cake racks. They will be sticky so work quickly. If not dipping in chocolate, you may want to roll in sugar to make them even more crystalline-like, however I omitted this step. Even without the extra sugar, they tasted plenty sweet and looked great.


Let the orange strips dry. It took at least two days for mine to dry thoroughly enough since it’s been rainy and humid here the last couple of days. Depending on the weather when you make these, it could take less or more time.

Dip into tempered chocolate and place on waxed paper or parchment paper until dry.

To temper chocolate, start with a good quality chocolate. There’s no point in going to all this trouble and using a mediocre product. Chop up the chocolate into small pieces. Over a double boiler, place 2/3rds of the chocolate in a pan, being careful not to let any water or steam enter the pan containing the chocolate. Heat the chocolate until it reaches 115 degrees for dark chocolate or 110 degrees for milk or white chocolate. I use an instant read thermometer, the kind you’d use for a roast. But there are also special thermometers especially for chocolate if you want to spring for that. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the rest of the chocolate, which will lower the temperature of the chocolate to about 84 degrees or so after a couple of minutes. Next, place the pan briefly over the double boiler and let the temperature increase to about 87 degrees for milk and white chocolate or 89-89 degrees for dark chocolate. This should only take five to 10 seconds. Don’t let the temperature rise above 91 degrees. The chocolate is now tempered and ready to use. Try to keep it over warm (but not simmering) water so it stays the right consistency while you are dipping, or place the pan on an electric heating pad set to “low.”

Chocolate Bark

Chocolate Bark

This is so good and astonishingly easy to make, it’s a wonder I don’t make this more often.

(Just a second while I loosen the buttons on my waistband.)

Oh yea, that’s why I don’t make it more often.

It does make a quick and beautiful gift for any occasion though.

Use a good quality chocolate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be expensive. I recently discovered a delicious bittersweet chocolate at Trader Joe’s that’s a real bargain. It’s called “Pound Plus,” because it weights 17.6 ounces, and it costs only $3.99. You can use milk chocolate if you prefer, or even white chocolate if you’re so inclined. I sprinkled chopped-up apricots, dried cranberries and almonds on top, but the choice is limited only by your imagination. I added a bit of orange oil to the chocolate to give it a more complex flavor, but that’s completely optional.

The recipe is this easy:

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Melt chocolate on top of a double boiler and add a quarter teaspoon of orange oil (NOT orange extract). Spread with a spatula over the parchment. Gently press chopped almonds, apricots and dried cranberries on the surface. Place in a cool room or in the refrigerator until chocolate has hardened. Cut into chunks with a heavy knife.

Nutella Chocolate Rice Pudding

Nutella Chocolate Rice Pudding

I was inspired by Marie of “Proud Italian Cook” to make this dessert, after she posted her recipe for a decadent Nutella Hot Chocolate earlier this week.

I got to thinking … hmm, I have a jar of artisanal chocolate and hazelnut spread that was given to us last October by a young couple we met at a chestnut festival in Soriano, Italy. It’s made with dark chocolate – my favorite – but after microwaving it in the jar several times to pour over poached pears and ice cream, it had hardened beyond hope. Maybe I could salvage it by melting it in some heated cream to flavor a rice pudding — one of my husband’s favorite desserts.
I had just enough for about three servings.
That was last night.
Now who gets to eat the one serving that’s left in the fridge?
This is not going to be pretty.

Nutella Chocolate Rice Pudding

If you don’t have Nutella, or an artisanal chocolate-hazelnut spread as I did, you can substitute about 3 tablespoons of cocoa.

1 1/2 cups skim milk
1 1/2 cups cream
or
3 cups half and half

1/4 cup Nutella, or a similar spread
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup arborio riceCheck Spelling
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. Cointreau, rum or any liqueur

In a medium saucepan, gently heat the milk and cream or half and half. Add the remaining ingredients, except vanilla and liqueur. Stir constantly over low to medium heat for about 20 minutes, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and add vanilla and liqueur. Pour into serving bowls and cover with a piece of plastic wrap in order to avoid “skin” from forming. Serve as is or with whipped cream.