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Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

Looking for a dessert for Easter Sunday? Since today’s theme is being helpful, I thought I would throw this Fruit and Nut Trifle out there. You will want to eat the whole bowl. The. Whole. Bowl. Do it.

Fruit and Nut Trifle

Trifle
What You Need:
1 c of almonds chopped
2 t water
4 t sugar
2 t cinnamon
1 c dried apricots and cranberries chopped
2 t butter
2 pears cored and diced
mandarian orange segments – small can
1 Tbsp rum
4 cups of heavy cream
1/2 cup confection sugar
1 cup orange juice
raspberries for decoration
sponge cake – see below for recipe

What To Do:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl toss the nuts with cinamon then water and sugar and then spread on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes and toast for about 7 minutes.

Chop dried fruit and cover with hot water and a little rum and let set for 10 minutes.  Drain the fruit and add to the nuts. Toss.

In a saute pan heat the butter and add a little sugar. Add the diced pears and saute and then add the fruits and nuts.

In a bowl mix the heavy cream with the confectioners sugar vanilla and rum.  Mix until cream is whipped to soft peaks.

Brush the cake with the orange juice to make it a little moist.

In a trifle bowl first add some whipped cream and then place the sponge cake on top to cover the cream.  Layer with the fruit/nut mixture and then add a little cream.  Follow with the cake and continue to build the trifle.  Finish with the whipped cream.  For a festive look top with fresh raspberries. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Sponge Cake

What You Need:
8 eggs
1 cup flour
1 1/4 cup cugar
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
orange juice for brushing (optional)

What To Do:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large square pan (13″x18″) and line with parchment paper.

Put the eggs into a mixer (Kitchenaid or handheld). Slowly add the sugar to the eggs, beating until they are twice the volume from when they started and a pale lemon color.

Slowly add the flour to the above ingredients and also the lemon zest.

Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for 15 minutes.

After it’s done, you can brush the cake with some orange juice, using a pastry brush. This makes it nice and juicy, and adds a complementing flavor for the fruit and nuts in the trifle.

Try not to eat it all. Or eat it all. Whichever.

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I had a special request – a commission, if you will, for some edible artwork. The project outlines were the following:

1. Create an espresso granita like the one a friend had sampled in Tuscany.

2. Whipped cream too, please.

Keep in mind that I had not been in Tuscany with my friend at the time she sampled this delicacy. So I had to ask for lots of details because I was flying taste-bud blind.

Was the espresso flavor strong? Yes.

What was the consistency of the ice? Like little chips, all in different sizes so you could crunch them.

What about the whipped cream? Not too sweet. Just a tiny bit to give a little contrast to the espresso ice.

I began with some research. It’s pretty easy to make granita (really). You really just need to freeze stuff, and break it up with a fork during the freezing process every now and again so you don’t get one giant ice cube. One giant ice cube does not a granita make.

Following this research, I purchased some espresso from Eataly.

This stuff looked pretty good. And I really liked trying to say “Heuhuetenango” too.

Then I brewed some up using my French Press. I like the way coffee tastes brewed in a French Press. It’s STRONGER! I used 5 heaping tablespoons.

Meanwhile, I boiled some water (3 cups) with about 1/8 cup of sugar in a pot. Once it was all heated up, I poured it into my French Press, waiting the appropriate amount of time (3-5 minutes), and then PRESSED.

Then, I poured this lovely concoction into a pan and popped it into the freezer. I tried to give it a stir and break up the ice with a fork every half hour or so. Eventually, I had to use something stronger than a fork (I bent the fork), so I opted for some tongs (please picture a ridiculous scene of me smashing coffee flavored ice with metal tongs). I did this periodic smash until the stuff started to look like this:

And then I made some whipped cream. Initially, I made the whipped cream without sugar. But just a tiny bit of confectioners sugar adds a whole lotta goodness.

Gather 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and 1 1/2 tablespoons of confectioners sugar. Put them in a mixing bowl and with a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the cream and sugar until it’s whipped and soft peaks form.

Scoop some granita into a bowl or fancy glass (I used retro snow cone holders) and top with whipped cream.

Now for the ridiculous part of the story….you knew there was one, right?

I was meeting my friend after work for her to try this granita and give me the final word. But how to transport it? It’s ice, it melts. So, I:

Brewed the coffee at home.

Poured it into one of my insulated Camelback water bottles.

Transported it to work.

Transferred it to a baking pan and put it in the office freezer.

Then from time to time I would get up from my desk to go smash ice chunks. It was actually a very therapeutic workplace activity.

Before I left work, I whipped up the cream and transferred the granita BACK into the Camelback (I was hoping this would prevent it from melting). Then I walked to a bar, commandeered us some fancy glasses and served it up.

Final determination: success. The espresso granita is crunchy, strong and slightly bitter which pairs nicely with the smooth, creamy and ever-so slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Note: The first time I made the cream, I made it without confectioners sugar, but all the tasters agreed that a lil’ bit o’ sugar greatly improves it.

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So, I’m sure you’re all planning on making our Heart Shaped Nutella French Toast OR the Heart Shaped Toasts with Honey Butter for  your sweetheart (or for yourself – why not?) this Valentine’s Day.

But what to do with all those left-over pieces of Brioche after you’ve cut out the heart shapes? Don’t be hasty and throw them away! Remember what haste makes. That’s right: waste. And who would waste perfectly good Brioche? Not this girl. I did something with mine. I made French Toast Bread Pudding. Who wouldn’t? Here’s how:

What You Need:
Your leftover Brioche, torn to pieces and thrown into a 9″ pie dish
3/4 cup of cranberries (you can use raisins if you like)
2 large whole eggs
1/2  cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk (I use milk from Ronnybrook Farm, because it’s local, fresh and awesome).
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting and decoration

What To Do:
Place your Brioche pieces in a 9″ round pie dish. You can use a rectangular dish if you like as well. Add in your cranberries (or raisins) and toss to combine.

In a separate bowl, mix together with a whisk the milk, eggs and all the other ingredients. Pour this mixture over the bread and berries in the pie dish. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour, but overnight works too if you’d like to prepare it ahead of time and forget about it for a while.

When you’re ready to bake, heat your oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the dish and pop it in the oven for about 45 minutes. It should turn golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Eat it warm, cold, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert….or late night. Leave no Brioche behind!

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Hello, everyone! We have a special feature today over at Brooklyn Exposed. John and I run rampant through Brooklyn sampling chocolate from Mast Brothers and Nunu Chocolates. You can read about it here. Also included is a recipe for Spicy Hot Chocolate featuring a Mast Brothers chocolate bar.

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Because you made me cookies! That’s why I talk to you. You did make me cookies, right? No? Oh. Well, you might want to get going on that. These are one of my favorite types of cookie (right along with the pizzelle and the Russian Tea Cakes), but I only make them once a year for Valentine’s Day.

This chocolate butter cookie recipe is one of Marmo’s, so I can’t take credit. She’s been making them since John and I were weeeeee lil’ ones. One of the reasons I like these cookies is that they have a nice soft “give” to them when you bite in. Not too hard, not too soft, juuuuuust right. Using a good quality unsweetened cocoa powder will give them a rich and not too sweet chocolate flavor. And, as an added bonus, even though they are fantastic plain, you can convert them into a bunch of different cookies: like  linzer cookies with some strawberry jam filling, or ice cream sandwich cookies. Here’s how you do it:

Basic Recipe for Chocolate Valentine Hearts:

What You Need:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder

What To Do:
In a large bowl, beat the sugar and 1 cup (2 sticks) butter until light and fluffy. The color will turn pale yellow. Add the milk, vanilla and egg and blend well. I used my food processor for this, and it worked quite nicely, but you can also use a hand-held mixer.

Lightly spoon the flour into a measuring cup and level it off at the top. Gradually mix in your measured flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and powder. Mix until combined.

Chill the dough for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. On a floured surface, roll out the chilled dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with heart shaped (or any-shaped) cookie cutters and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes, remove and let cool.

Linzer Cookie Variation:

What You Need (in addition to the above):
A jar of your favorite flavor of jam (I used Stonewall Kitchen Strawberry Preserves)
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

What To Do:

If you can find them, use nesting cookie cutters, so that you can cut out a smaller heart from the inside of one of the larger hearts. This allows you to see the jam inside.

Bake the cookies as instructed above.

Once your cookies have cooled, spread some jam on one side of a heart cookie, and top with the cut-out version. Line them all up and sprinkle on some Confectioner’s sugar to make them fancy!

Ice Cream Sandwich Variation:

What You Need (in addition to the basic recipe):
A pint of your favorite ice cream (I used Talenti Black Cherry Gelato. A note on this: the consistency of Talenti is on the soft side. It makes for melty sandwiches. Which isn’t a bad thing, I’m just warning you).

What To Do:
Bake the cookies as instructed.

Once they have cooled, spread some ice cream on one cookie, then top with another to make a sandwich. You can even pop them in the freezer after they are assembled so they can keep for a while. This has the added bonus of re-freezing the ice cream so it’s not running all over the place.

Another idea:
You can also get alphabet cookie cutters and spell out messages, like I did in the first photo. I now have an entire cookie alphabet that hangs out in my fridge. Designers like this kind of hands-on typography. It gives us a thrill.

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Due to the past success of Dinner with the Megs: Cheese and Wine night, the Megs and I decided to have another go at it, this time with cupcakes and wine. Pairing drinks with desserts is not a new concept (digestif, anyone?), but it has become a trend in recent years.

We didn’t want to jump on any bandwagons, but we did want to eat cupcakes. And drink wine. At the same time. So, the Megs and I embarked on Pairing Dinner Volume II: Cupcakes and Wine.

The Rules: This time the cupcakes would dictate the wine we chose. We needed:
1 type of Savory cupcake (this was my responsibility)
1 type of Sweet cupcake that was NOT chocolate (Meg L)
1 type of Sweet cupcake that WAS chocolate (Meg H)

You also needed to bring a wine that paired with your chosen cupcake. As an added rule, we decided that the cupcakes could either be homemade or store bought (sometimes it’s hard to work cupcake baking into daily life, try as we might).

For the savory cupcake, I made Butternut Squash, Kale and Sage cupcakes, and topped them with a dollop of cream cheese (as a stand-in for frosting). You can find the recipe here. These cupcakes are a great savory choice, as the butternut squash adds an element of sweetness which contrasts the with saltier ingredients, such as the Parmesan cheese.

The wine that the helpful staff at Bottlerocket on 19th street chose to pair with this cupcake was Zaccagni il Castello (2008), a smooth Italian white that has a hint of bitterness that goes well with the sage in the cupcakes. I should note that this wine was VERY well received by everyone – many thanks to Bottlerocket for the recommendation.

For our Sweet but not Chocolate cupcake, Meg L procured some pastel-frosted Vanilla Buttermilk confections from Magnolia Bakery. The icing on these cakes was something to behold – as well as taste. Swirling mounds of lavender, mint green and pale cream frosting topped off light yellow cake.

For wine, Meg L chose a Blueberry wine from Alba Vineyards in New Jersey, which really did taste like blueberries. Almost purple in color, it presented a strong flavor contrast to its lighter, vanilla counterparts.

Finally…chocolate! Meg H traveled to the Cupcake Stop’s Limelight Marketplace outpost to bring us these chocolate cake/icing beauties. The dark chocolate cake was topped with two dollops of a lighter, creamy frosting, drizzled with a bit of white chocolate.

I think Meg H was unaware, but Brachetto D’Aqui is one of my favorite sweet wines. It takes all my restraint not to just throw a straw in the bottle and sip away. When Meg H unveiled her Pineto Brachetto d’Aqui, I squealed with delight (and started searching my cabinets for straws).
The Brachetto has a nice effervescence that, while still a red, gives it a lighter quality. It doesn’t overwhelm the chocolate cupcakes.

Finally, because we thought this meal might be a touch on the sugary side, we threw in a kale salad. And throw it together we did with the following ingredients and in the following manner:

What You Need:
1 bunch kale, rinsed, stems removed and chopped
2 cups roasted butternut squash (left over from the savory cupcakes)
Handful of sun dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
1 yellow zucchini, washed, cut into rounds
½ cup pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic Vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for dressing

What To Do:
Get out a big salad bowl and throw in your washed and chopped kale. Go on, literally THROW it in there. You won’t hurt the kale.
Add in your butternut squash chunks (more gently), the sun dried tomatoes, zucchini (resist the urge to throw these around your kitchen like mini-frisbees), and everything else.

Drizzle with as much balsamic and olive oil as you like and give it a toss to coat evenly.

Then promptly ignore this salad in favor of cupcakes.

No, it’s actually a very good salad. And since kale is essentially spinach with ruffles, it’s just fancy enough for a cupcake and wine party.

Cheers!

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It’s 3am and I’ve just returned home. I’m hungry. Not just hungry, I’ve worked up the kind of appetite that only results from a night out. I know, I know – how juvenile. Zip it.

The apartment is dark, illuminated only by the refrigerator light. I hear tiny little paw steps – Toby is checking in on me and throws me a reproachful glance as I peer into the depths of the fridge looking for….what is it that I want?

I want cake. More specifically, I want chocolate, pecan, sour cream bundt cake It’s Marmo’s recipe made with 2 sticks of butter, almost 3 cups of sugar and chunky strata in the middle and along the bottom of bittersweet chocolate chips and chopped pecans.

This is an anytime cake. And by anytime, I mean anytime of day and anytime of year. However, I’ve eaten it most often in the summertime (I’m fantasizing about warmer weather), down at the Jersey Shore, wandering home at the end of an evening out.

The cake will be sitting on the counter top, loosely tucked in for the night with a piece of tin foil, just allowing me to glimpse a few stray chips and nuts that have freed themselves from the mother cake and are resting helplessly on the platter…waiting…

Occasionally I can be civilized, cut myself a generous slice, locate a fork and sit down at the table to discuss the evening’s adventures with a group of friends, neighbors, or who’s ever rolled in off the street attracted by the smell of baking butter and chocolate. Sometimes, I’ve just grabbed chunks off of it with my bare hands, all dignified-like.

It’s insanely satisfying: dense (like the hamburger of cakes) with a nice crunch supplied by the pecans and a shot of richness from the chocolate. It’s the perfect cake for, well…for drunk eating. There I said it.

It being January, many of us are coming off a long holiday season of liquid indulgences. And those kinds of indulgences frequently lead to me searching in vain for this cake.

What follows is the recipe for Marmo’s Chocolate Pecan Sour Cream Bundt Cake. A warning: don’t make it too often unless you have either an NFL team or a pack of famished raccoons to feed because you’ll eat the whole thing by yourself, with or without impaired judgment.

This cake also freezes well so you can make some for now and save some for 3am…I mean, later.

What You Need:
3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups sugar (Note: I actually cut it down to 2 1/2 and it worked for me)
1 cup sour cream (the full-fat stuff)
2 cups chopped pecans
Bittersweet chocolate chips (you can use semi-sweet, milk, or white chocolate if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Either a large (3 quart) bundt cake pan or a set of mini ones.

What To Do:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease (with butter) and flour a 3 quart bundt pan.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.

In another bowl with an electric mixer (or you can use a food processor), beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sour cream and vanilla and mix well. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add in the flour mixture until just combined.

Pour about half of the batter into the prepared bundt pan and sprinkle with half of the chocolate chips and half of the pecans. Pour the remaining amount of batter on top of this and sprinkle with the remaining chips and nuts.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour 20 minutes (smaller bundt pans will require less time), until a tester (like a toothpick) inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for an hour, and then invert onto a platter. Dust with confectioner’s sugar if you like (optional).

* Note: I used mini-bundt cake pans that have a fun pattern etched into them. Makes these little guys look quite dignified (one of us should). Small cakes can also be given away as gifts so you don’t eat them all on your own.

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What else did we eat at my recent holiday party? A lot more than I posted about on Monday. Actually, it’s impressive that people didn’t start rummaging through my fridge, but not because I didn’t have enough food. Here are a few more hors d’ oeuvres that made an appearance (and then subsequent disappearance) on Saturday night:

Roasted Pork Loin Crostini with Cranberry Relish
This recipe is really flavorful. The pork loin roasts up quite juicy and savory (with the herbs and salt). Topping it with cranberry relish gives it a nice sweet contrast. The added punch from the horseradish (in the cranberry sauce) brings the flavor over the top.

What You Need:

A pork tenderloin
1 semolina baguette, cut into thin slices
Sea salt with dried, chopped herbs (you can use rosemary, basil, thyme, sage…)
Olive oil – a drizzle
Stonewall Kitchen’s Cranberry Horseradish Sauce

What To Do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Place the pork tenderloin in a roasting pan and sprinkle with herbs and salt. Drizzle with olive oil.
Roast until done – about 45 minutes depending on the thickness of the tenderloin.

Remove from oven and let set for about 30 minutes.

Cut in thin slices and place on sliced bread. Top with Stonewall Kitchen’s cranberry horseradish sauce and serve!

On an adjacent platter were arranged the teeny-tiniest quiches. These can be made and frozen weeks in advance, which is quite handy for party planning. When I first made them for last year’s party, there was a wonderful cheesy/pastry smell coming from the oven mixing with the pine needle smell from the Christmas tree, and it all made me very happy. Bu that’s neither here nor there! When I asked my mom for the recipe to make them, I received the following via email:

Recipes seem to be collected quite randomly in Marmo’s kitchen.

Moving on! We also had the famous Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Pizza (recipe here), which disappeared in a snap. I got a little adventurous and concocted a Raisin Mostarda, which I have been obsessed with ever since I started frequenting Anfora Wine Bar and eating all their Ricotta cheese (which is served with a raisin mostarda).

Here is the recipe that I cobbled together for the Raisin Mostarda:

What You Need:
1 cup chopped onion
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup orange marmalade
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
olive oil

What To Do:
Heat a little olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, ginger, and garlic and sauté until soft – about 5 minutes. Stir in the OJ and all the ingredients up to the cumin. Bring the whole concoction to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove it from the heat, let it chill for about 10 minutes. Then stir in the marmalade, mustard and salt. Give it a taste and see if it needs anything else. Then let it hang out in the fridge to chill until you need it (covered, of course).

It’s pretty good, though it’s not like Anfora’s. Honestly, next time I think I will leave out the curry. I liked the flavor, but I think it might be better without it. I served it with Ricotta crostini drizzled with honey.

Onto dessert! What kind of sweets do you offer a bunch of festive maniacs that have had A LOT of wine? And beer. Did I mention that John just HAD to buy PBR lights? Cuz he did. An entire case of them, in fact. Still not sure why. Anyway, I got cupcakes from Sweet in Hoboken. They have some amazing flavors, and I told them to give me a mix of their mini cupcakes.

* Picture from Sweet’s website.

The cake part of these cupcakes is really moist (impressive for the mini cupcakes) and their cream cheese frosting is award-worthy. Especially on the Red Velvet cupcake. My favorite is the Marshmallow, which is a chilled ganache cupcake topped with marshmallow meringue. Out of sight.

I supplemented the cupcakes with my Russian Tea Cakes (a Iaciofano Family Christmas special – recipe here).

Finally, it seems that my holiday parties always end up with a dance party in the kitchen. People love the kitchen. I can’t get ’em out of there. So what kind of music was on the playlist? I’ll give you the top 5:

1. Katy Perry’s Firework – John would NOT STOP playing this song.

2. Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You – I couldn’t help it.

3. Bell Biv Devoe’s Poison – You should see people get down to this song. Yeah, even me.

4. Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls – Gotta love that one.

5. B.O.B’s Magic – So John and I could relive our pizza glory days.

It was all worth it, as a good time was had by all. Even if this was what greeted me in the morning:

* I wasn’t kidding about the PBR Light!

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On my recent trip to Italy back in October, Marmo and I had the opportunity to take a cooking class with Velia at her cooking school in Orvieto (for the full report, see my previous post here). Velia has a partner at this school Maurizio di Mario who is a pastry chef and very knowledgeable in all things CHOCOLATE. I wanted to share a few pictures of his cooking and also give you two holiday dessert recipes straight from Italy (from Velia and Maurizio): Chocolate Soufflé and Apple Clafoutis.

But first, let’s talk dessert! Maurizio has a “pasticceria” (bakery) called Pasticceria Adriano that he owns in Orvieto. The wonderful thing about the pasticceria (aside from all the fabulous baked goods, of course) is that it is located on top of medieval underground caves. And you can even take a tour. For a bakery, you have to admit, that is pretty badass.

Aside from supplying Orvieto with copious amounts of “i dolci,” Maurizio and Velia collaborate at Compagnia dei Buongustai – a school where professionals and amateurs alike can learn cooking techniques alongside Italian chefs – and at Velia’s cooking school, where in addition to giving classes, they also do instructional TV shows. You can check out the classroom and Maurizio working his magic below:

Here are some other magical photos of Maurizio’s chocolate to drool over…
And check out these authentic cannoli! Velia, can you please Fedex me one of these? Per piacere (pretty please)?
If you’d like to make some Italian desserts of your own for the holidays, Velia and Maurizio have generously provided us with two recipes. First:
Chocolate Soufflè
What You Need:
2 egg – separated
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup of chocolate (melted in a double boiler)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp of baking powder

What To Do:
Melt  chocolate and butter in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely  simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove bowl from  heat. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar, gradually adding the melted chocolate and butter and then the flour and baking powder.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add 1/3 cup sugar, a little at a time, continuing to beat at medium speed, then beat at high speed until whites just hold stiff peaks. Fold about 1 cup whites into chocolate mixture to lighten, then add mixture to remaining whites, folding gently but thoroughly. Pour into a soufflé dish and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes.
Apple Clafoutis
A clafoutis is a French batter cake, traditionally made with cherries, but other fruits often work quite well, especially when cherries are not in season. Apples makes this a perfect fall/winter dessert.
What You Need:
For the apples:
4-6 Apples
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
dash of  cinnamon
For the batter:
8 Tbsp butter
1 cup milk
3 whole eggs
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

What To Do:
Peel the apples and cut them very finely.

Combine all the ingredients (except the apples) and mix very well.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the 4 Tbsp butter and add the apples and sugar. Cook until just warm – about 5 minutes.

Grease a baking dish with butter and dust it with flour. Add 1/2 the clafoutis batter. Then arrange the apples over the batter. Pour the remaining batter over the apples. Dust with cinnamon and a little sugar.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 350° F

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Baby, it’s COLD outside. Dammit. I was really hoping that the slightly warm-ish weather was gonna stick around. Until May, when it would really warm up. But it’s not to be.

Instead, it’s time to hunker down with pots of hot chocolate spiked with peppermint schnapps, catch up on our DVR and Netflix queues and reflect on the good ol’ times when our skin wasn’t so pasty.

However, in spite of pastiness, I am feeling very festive this year. So festive, in fact, that I have arranged for another giveaway! Yet something else I brought back from Italy (don’t worry, it was vacuum sealed, so it’s in A-OK condition): Hot Chocolate or as the bag tells me in Italian: Cacao Amaro in Polvere. Fancy, right? This particular chocolate powder is sugar free, which I think is the way to go because you can add your own amount of sugar to taste.

Basically, you heat up some milk (or water – it seems that you can use either according to the directions and my limited knowledge of Italian), mix in some chocolate powder, some sugar (I actually like to use confectioners sugar) and PRESTO! you have hot chocolate. Really good hot chocolate too.

Now, there are a few things we need to discuss:

1. How do you win this hot chocolate powder?

2. How do you make hot chocolate BETTER, even if you don’t win the prize?

I will answer both questions, in order.

1. To win the hot chocolate, you must leave a comment on this blog. From NOW until next Friday at midnight. That’s all.

2. To make the hot chocolate BETTER, even if you don’t win the prize, I have provided the following recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate Made with Italian Chocolate Powder and Spiked with Dr. McGillicuddy’s Peppermint Schnapps. I have just combined a lot of nationalities for this recipe.

What You Need:
3 ounces (tablet or cone) Mexican chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, OR the Prize Chocolate. And honestly, I say put in as much as you like, you’re drinking it after all.
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar – really go slowly on this.
Pinch of salt
Pinch of chile pepper – for KICK!
6 cinnamon sticks (preferably Mexican canela), for serving

What To Do:
If using the block chocolate, get a sharp knife and break up the chocolate into smaller pieces. In a saucepan, combine the chopped chocolate, milk, sugar, salt and chile pepper over medium-low flame. Heat and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and milk is very hot, but not boiling, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and froth the chocolate milk with a mini whisk or molinillo. Divide the hot chocolate among big mugs (those ones with giant snowmen on them are fun) and serve with the cinnamon sticks.

Optional: Throw a shot (more or less) of Peppermint Schnapps into each mug. Now hunker down with those X-Files DVDs and have yourself a winter!

But first drop a comment on this blog so you can win yourself some chocolately swag!

• Recipe thanks in part to Tyler Florence. I modified it a tiny bit.

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