Nutella-Swirl Banana Bread

Nutella-swirl Banana bread

Today is the 8th annual World Nutella Day. As if I needed an excuse to eat Nutella. But if you insist, I made banana bread with a tunnel of love. The trouble with baking Nutella though, is its smoothness and flavor degenerate with heat (as evidenced in my Nutella babka). It’s also candy sweet. So I added a bit of cream for smoothness and chopped chocolate for complexity.

World Nutella Day

Mission accomplished: my cake had lava-like craters of chocolate. I ate three pieces in one sitting, and someone else ate four. It was brown and caramelly because of coconut sugar.

Coconut sugar (my favorite new baking ingredient) is a whole, unrefined sweetener from coconut nectar. It has 412 times the potassium of cane sugar and also contains magnesium, zinc, iron, and B vitamins. It has a low glycemic index too: 35 compared to agave (42) and cane sugar (68). Most importantly, it tastes good, like a tropical toasted marshmallow. You can generally substitute it 1:1 for white sugar. Just know that coconut sugar has some moisture (add more cream of tartar to meringues), and while it resembles brown sugar, the latter has more acidity (adjust leavening accordingly, or only use in place of white sugar). I dig Big Tree Farms because it’s fair trade and not diluted with other sweeteners. Find it at Whole Foods, Amazon, or Vitacost (use the link for $10 off an order of $30 or more).

Thanks to Ms Adventures in Italy and Bleeding Espresso for hosting World Nutella Day. For 700 more recipes, check out the website. Remember, keep calm and eat Nutella.

keep calm and carry a spoon


Related Links:
Homemade Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread
Pierre Herme’s Nutella Tart
Nigella Lawson’s Nutella Torte
Full Nutella Coverage

Comments      Email Email      Print Print

Black Sesame Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gow)

Black Sesame Chinese New Year Cake

What’s worse than getting poppy seeds stuck in your teeth? How about black sesame? That stuff can stain, but it’s worth it. Besides being one of my favorite flavors, it’s high in anthocyanins (the stuff of blueberries), calcium (more so than white sesame), magnesium, and other minerals. It’s even used in Chinese herbal medicine. Black sesame lends an almost smoky flavor to brittle, soup, and sticky rice desserts. Curiously, it’s not in nian gow, but I set out to change that.

Nian gow literally means “sticky cake,” but since it also sounds like “higher year,” folk wisdom says it’s good luck to eat on Chinese New Year. Sweet versions have sticky rice flour, water, sugar, and sometimes red beans or dates. They’re steamed, and leftovers are pan fried till crispy. Since I don’t have a large steamer, I prefer to bake mine and skip straight to the golden brown deliciousness. If you like brownie edges, you’ll like baked nian gow. Some years ago, Chow posted a baked version, and people cried fowl over the nontraditional recipe. So what? I’m Chinese and I approve. So does my family. In fact, they’ve eaten it 24 times in a year.


Comments      Email Email      Print Print

Double Chocolate Raw, Gluten-Free Brownies

gluten-free raw brownies

I call these psychotic brownies. They’re for those days where if you don’t have chocolate, you’ll hurt someone. Or when you can’t think of anything else till you get a hit of chocolate. They’re one of the few things that can satisfy the chocolate monster within.

These brownies also happen to be raw and gluten free. They’re nutrient dense because they’re full of cocoa (fiber, iron, flavonoids), nuts, fruit, and don’t have refined sugar. Of course they’re calorically dense too, but if you’re going to eat something delicious, it might as well be functional. Taste wise, I prefer them over most brownies (the exception being one recipe with 12 ounces of chocolate and three sticks of butter, but come on). The coconut-oil ganache is my new substitute for Nutella, and if you use hazelnuts, you’ll have that flavor profile.

This recipe is a lose blueprint. The minimal amount of maple syrup (1/3 cup each in the brownie and ganache) was sweet enough for me. I used toasted nuts because I like the flavor better, but if you’re on a raw diet, simply use raw nuts and cocoa (unless labeled, cocoa is not raw). You also have a couple choices for the dates. Medjools are the king of dates because of their jumbo size and moistness, or you can use the cheaper, more common Deglet Noor. These brownies are difficult to mess up. Can you hit a button on a food processor? Good!

gluten-free raw brownies


Related links:
Breakfast Cookies
Raw Maple-Pecan “Ice Cream”
Homemade Larabars

Comments      Email Email      Print Print

Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Here are a few of my favorite things that I’ll be gifting this holiday season. I wouldn’t mind receiving them either! They’re twists on old classics and will surprise you.

Catskill Provisions Chocolate Honey Truffles
Photo: Catskill Provisions

Catskill Provisions Honey Truffles
This is by far my favorite chocolate find of the year. Chocolate and honey are assertive and tend to overpower each other. These truffles, however, have the richness and complexities of both flavors. Co-founder Claire Marin took a full year to perfect the truffles. She started with her raw fall honey, with rich notes of maple and buckwheat. After trying a variety of chocolates, she was satisfied with Callebaut 72% (whose neutrality works in the honey’s favor) and brought everything together with a touch of organic NY state butter. They’re pricey but worth it. From $15 for 4 plus shipping;

Richart Holiday Truffles
Photo: Richart

Richart Holidays in Périgord Truffles
At this time of year, there are chocolates that are doused with peppermint oil, and then there’s Richart. Their collection has unique flavors, though they tend to be light. My favorite is the spiced black truffle, which fortunately doesn’t taste like mushrooms but pumpkin pie instead. Chestnut desserts are difficult to find in the states, so I appreciate Richart’s creamy rendition. The walnut ganache is also silky. The walnut is subtle, but it’s a classic, intense chocolate. Sadly, the apple and strawberry aren’t my style because they taste like liqueur (they actually don’t have any), and I’m alcohol adverse. From $25 for 9; free shipping with the code “magic” on $50+ orders until Dec 18th, 2013; Also available in New York at Gastronomie 491, 491 Columbus Ave. (by W. 84th St.)

Jem Raw Cinnamon Red Maca Almond Butter

Jem Raw Cinnamon Red Maca Almond Butter
Natural foodists claim that raw or sprouted foods are more nutritious and easier to digest. I’m not sure whether it’s folk wisdom because by the time most sprouted food reaches you, who can say it’s still “alive?” I have yet to see definitive scientific studies, and UC Davis says the nutritional difference between sprouted and unsprouted grains is negligible. So while Jem has a following among health nuts, my primary concern is taste.

They exceeded my expectations. Jem’s almond butter is silky smooth (ground to less than 20 microns, where your tongue can’t distinguish individual particles) and packed with superfoods: butterscotch-y maca (a root vegetable that Incas ate for energy), warming cinnamon, and low-glycemic coconut sugar from Big Tree Farms. It tastes like Biscoff cookie spread but without that greasy, heavy feeling.

Jem also makes other varieties such as chocolate hazelnut, but the latter has a wild, astringent taste. It’s pretty good for something healthy, but the cinnamon almond is good, period. $12.99 for 6 oz., Also available at various retail stores.

Fat Toad Farm Cinnamon Caramel

Fat Toad Farm Goat’s Milk Caramel
I had grand plans to add this caramel to banoffee pie, Greek yogurt cheesecake, coconut cream pie, and Belgian waffles, but I couldn’t resist eating it straight from the jar. Made with goat’s milk, this caramel has a gentle tang and buttery smoothness. You could make it at home, but to do it like Fat Toad, you’d have to pasture goats and cook the sauce by hand for six hours. Get yourself at least two jars: one for impulse dipping and the other for actual recipes. $13 for 8 oz.,

Holiday Gifts You Can Make:
Pumpkin Spice Granola
Chocolate-Caramel Cookies
Simple Chocolate Truffles
Savory Cheese Biscotti
Full List

Comments      Email Email      Print Print

No-Bake Rhubarb Cheesecake

no-bake cheesecake

How hot is it in New York in the summer? So hot I used a man just for his shadow. So hot you be frying bacon on the sidewalk. At least that’ what  some say. For me, it’s so hot that merely going into the kitchen is reason to shower.

So when I craved cheesecake, I whined, “I don’t wanna turn on the oven, don’t wanna!” Enter sweetened condensed milk: malty, smooth, and the antidote for baked custard. This cheesecake is sweeter than most, so the crust doesn’t need additional sugar, and it balances rhubarb (or any tart fruit). Yes, that pinkish celery thing that actually doesn’t need strawberries. It’s floral and fruity on its own, kind of like pink lemonade. How’s that for a vegetable (and a no-bake dessert)?

More No-Bake Desserts:
Plain Frozen Yogurt
Banana Pudding
Chocolate Sorbet
Grape Sorbet


Comments      Email Email      Print Print

Favorite (Vegan) Chocolate Cake

Vegan Chocolate Cake

Picking a favorite chocolate cake is like asking a teacher to choose a favorite student, or a parent a child. Narrowing down the categories is hard enough: molten, Nutella torte, layered… But if I could only go with one, it’d be the classic layers. Specifically, this vegan chocolate cake.

Vegan or not, this cake is all about the balance. The first thing you taste is the chocolate—not the sugar (nor any off flavors). The frosting (previously paired with chocolate-potato cake) is like a whipped truffle. Although the cake was developed by the perfectionists at Cook’s Illustrated, I replaced the vegan butter substitute with virgin coconut oil, which has a mellow sweetness and texture akin to real butter.

Although coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it’s not the same kind that’s found in animal products. In fact, the medium-chain fats/lauric acid improve cholesterol ratio levels and may speed up metabolism. I’m not saying you should eat gobs of it, but it’s not as unhealthy as previously thought. Don’t worry, the cake won’t taste like Hawaiian Tropics.

You may be wondering: why can’t I make that easy “dump” cake from Joy of Cooking? Will this recipe really turn out? I used the Joy of Cooking recipe for years, but it’s a snack cake. Something you might eat while watching an action flick. This recipe is something you eat at a fireplace with classical music in the background.


Comments (1)      Email Email      Print Print

Better Breakfast Cookies

breakfast cookies

Vegan. Gluten free. No added fat. No added sugar. Sounds like a recipe for disaster…or the holy grail. I’ve tried many variations of nutritious cookies, and they’re either gummy door stops or no healthier than regular cookies. For a while, I thought these cookies were the best I could do. Then I found a much better recipe on Watching What I Eat, which I prefer over many traditional cookies. The ingredients don’t sound special, but give these a try, okay?

You may find that they replace your muffins, protein bars, and granola bars. These cookies have been lifesavers when I rush out the door in the morning. I time my commute by the minute; if I’m not at the train station by 9:06, there’s a good chance I’ll be late to work. So thank you, Cookies, for being my meal in my hand!

Feel free to make these cookies your own. I love coconut oil (it’s not as unhealthy as previously thought and may even be a superfood), and it gives a toasty texture and flavor. Keep in mind that they’re faintly sweet, so do adjust your tastebuds. While traditional cookies should come out of the oven just when the edges set, I bake these to the upper limit so the edges are crisp and insides aren’t gummy. Be sure to try them fresh from the oven!


Comments (2)      Email Email      Print Print

Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America 2012

Sometimes I’m a glutton for punishment. Last night, Dessert Professional presented the 19th annual Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America awards. This ain’t no Oscars, where you sit back and clap; you get to eat all the creations. Since they’re overachievers, some chefs presented more than half a dozen desserts. It was enough to make the biggest sweet tooth go rabid.

Indeed, that happened. Guests crowded around a server carrying savory food, toppling h’ordeuvres over the poor guy. This was my version of a wild night. And I’m thankful some familiar faces joined in the debauchery: Robyn and Max from Serious Eats (two sweet people), fellow dessert nerd Niko from Dessert Buzz, Kempie from Gourmet Live, Melissa from The Spatula Queen, and Kirsten from the Food Network.

Here’s tasting below (several desserts were so complicated they were only known by their components). Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Marc Aumont, The Modern, NYC

Pistachio cake with milk chocolate, Marc Aumont, The Modern

The pistachio cake with milk chocolate layers was an architectural wonder, each layer giving way to contrasting textures.


The citrus(?) “boats” with cream and crispy shells offered a tart contrast to other rich desserts. The space-age caramel verrines in the back faded in my memory. Too “ordinary.” Ha!

Pistachio cake with milk chocolate, Marc Aumont, The Modern
Pistachio cake with milk chocolate, Marc Aumont, The Modern

Aumont’s assistant has a death-grip handshake.

Sally Camacho, WP24, Los Angeles

Verrine with sorbet, cookie crumbs, and chocolate cream, Sally Camacho, WP24

A complicated contraption of sorbet, cookie crumbs, chocolate cream, and mango-passionfruit jelly, and lychee-passionfruit sorbet

Craig Harzewski, Naha, Chicago, IL

Milk chocolate complexite, milk chocolate beignets, pinot noir, and cocoa, Craig Harzewski, Naha

Milk chocolate complexite, molten milk chocolate beignets, pinot noir, and cocoa.

Nathaniel Reid, Norman Love Confections, Naples, FL

Petit pastries, Nathaniel Reid, Norman Love Confections

Petit pastries

Sandro Micheli, Daniel, NYC

Almond dacquoise, milk chocolate parfait, salted caramel tuile, Sandro Micheli, Daniel

Deceptively simply looking, this almond dacquoise, milk chocolate parfait, salted caramel tuile was my favorite. It struck the right balance of textures and flavors.

Chris Hanmer, The School of Pastry Design, Las Vegas

Tapioca, pineapple confit, lime, passion and mango cremeux and limi coconut creme, Chris Hanmer, The School of Pastry Design

Refreshing tapioca, pineapple confit, lime, passion and mango cremeux, and lime coconut creme. Complete with a syringe.

Angela Pinkerton, Eleven Madison Park, NYC

Lavendar meringue with cocoa sorbet and orange, Angela Pinkerton, Eleven Madison Park

Lavendar meringue with cocoa sorbet and orange

Damien Herrgott, Bosie Tea Parlor, NYC

Mini pastries infused with tea and macarons, Damien Herrgott, Bosie Tea Parlor

Mini pastries infused with tea and macarons

Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar, NYC

Pretzel cake and chocolate chip cake truffles, Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar

Tosi’s desserts are satisfying the way bar food is: fiendish and salty. The pretzel and chocolate chip cake truffles overpowered me last night, but they’re suited for a late-night snack.

The 10th chef, whom I sadly have no pictures of, is Jean-Marie Auboine of Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier, Las Vegas.

Comments (2)      Email Email      Print Print

Flourless Poppy Seed Cake

flourless poppy seed cake

Someone explain to me the appeal of poppy seeds. You shouldn’t like them. They get stuck in your teeth. If you eat too many, you’ll test positive for opium (thanks for the lesson, Seinfeld!). Yet poppy seed muffin recipes are as prolific as chain letters, and a bagel wouldn’t be a bagel without those crunchy little pareils. Drug tests and teeth be darned; I like eating gobs of poppy seeds, not just treating them like garnish. This cake recipe is for people like me. If you’re celebrating Passover or are celiac, this recipe is definitely for you too.

I adapted this cake from Chocolate & Zucchini, who riffed on it from Lilo. Clotilde at C&Z calls for almond butter and almond flour. I’m a minimalist and say you can make your own with whole almonds; it’ll taste fresher that way too.

flourless poppy seed cake


Comments (2)      Email Email      Print Print

Lake Champlain/Fairway Chocolate Review

Lake Champlain Chocolates hazelnut bar

A rite of passage for any New Yorker is experiencing the wonder of Fairway. Its shelves are stocked with esoteric products: imported $12 bottles of fruit soda, “The World’s Best Brownie” (it doesn’t live up to its name, but what would New York be without its hyperboles?), and matzoh crunch ice cream. It even has the old New York staple: rude customers. If you’re lucky, you’ll scrape by as people run you over with their carts and don’t even acknowledge your presence, much less apologize.

Or things can get more personal. I once saw a customer at the olive oil sampling area, dousing his prepackaged salad with a bottle. “I think you’re supposed to pay for that,” I said.

“You’re stupid!” he said and glared.

Fortunately, you can now experience Fairway without the ‘tude. In December, it launched an online store, stocking spices, sauces, pasta, and olive oil that hasn’t been touched by miserly men.

Lucky for me, they sent samples of chocolate bars, which have been repackaged from Lake Champlain Chocolates. Better than Hershey’s but not quite gourmet, they’re like grown-up candies.

The short, stubby bars are the highlight, with well balanced, not too sweet flavors. My favorite by far was the chocolate-hazelnut bar (pictured), which is like a hunk of sophisticated Nutella with hazelnut pieces and crushed Pirouline-like cookies. The tartness of the dark chocolate, raisin, cherry, and pecan bar is also enjoyable. I only wish the fillings were smoother and resembled truffles.

Lake Champlain chocolate-raspberry truffle bar

As of now, I only see the candy bars as part of small and large gift boxes (you can always go to Fairway and get whatever combo you want though). The larger bars are like filler. The chocolate itself is one dimensional and too thick on the truffle bars (pictured). Although Lake Champlain and Fairway don’t specifically advertise it, the couverture (base chocolate) is from Callebaut, the only “Belgian” chocolate maker who would manufacture on such as scale. I’m not a huge fan of their flavor profile.

For the casual chocolate lover though, these bars are a value (the little ones are $2.69 versus Lake Champlain’s $3.75) and would make a fun gift.

Comments (2)      Email Email      Print Print

Page 1 of 2212345...1020...Last »