Archive for Chocolate

Win a Year’s Supply of Chocolate from Amano

mystery cacao beans Calling all cacao nerds! My favorite American chocolate maker, Amano, is making a new bar with these beans. If you can guess where they’re from, you can win a year’s worth of chocolate!

These beans are unusually dark, so this could be a major clue. Also, Amano says, “They have a beautiful rich chocolate flavor with some very nice fruity notes. We have made a number of test batches and the chocolate made from these cacao beans is wonderfully complex. The finished chocolate is unlike any of our current chocolates.”

Go to the Guess the Origin Contest to enter. When the bar is released, a drawing will be held for everyone who guessed correctly.

Full disclosure: I’ve loved this chocolate from the beginning and followed their introduction of “dark” milk chocolate. By promoting this contest, I’ve received an extra chance at winning the raffle.

Photo: Amano Chocolate

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Banana Upside-Down Brownies

banana brownies

I have a confession. I really like bananas (they’re a healthy, portable snack and I go crazy over banana-chocolate cake), but I feel guilty about the environmental and social impacts.

Bananas are grown with some of the highest pesticide levels of any tropical crop. Normally we don’t worry about it because we don’t eat the contaminated peel, but the pesticides leach into soil and kill surrounding wildlife. Also, bananas are grown in Latin America (imagine the fuel costs and how unripe they have to be to ship properly), where workers are denied fair wages and health care. Before you throw your hands up in frustration, please buy organic and fair-trade bananas (sparingly). Yes they’re more expensive, but that’s how much they’re supposed to cost. And then go ahead and make these banana brownies.

I first got this idea when I went to a demo and ate brownies with grilled bananas. So gooey and good. I decided to make it a one-pan affair by baking the bananas and brownies together. The brownies are an old standby. They’re like the box-mix kind, with their chewy bite and crackly, paper-thin crust, but better. They also happen to be low-fat. The only brownie I like more has three sticks of butter and 3/4 pound of chocolate, so you can’t really compare. The topping has a couple tablespoons of butter or optionally none at all, making the whole thing healthier than expected.

Personally I think these need nuts to break up the gooey texture, but a lot of people who like fudgy brownies liked these as is. If you’re not a fudgy fan, I suggest adding a handful of toasted walnuts or cocoa nibs (toss with a teaspoon of flour, so they don’t sink to the bottom) during the last stage of mixing.

Banana Upside-Down Brownies

Topping recipe adapted from David Lebovitz; brownies adapted from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich
16 servings

For the topping:
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (100 g) packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons water or butter; cubed, at room temperature
3-4 ripe medium bananas (organic and fair-trade please)
A few drops of lemon juice

For the brownies:
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (112 g)
1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened dutch process cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder, dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts or 1/4 cup cocoa nibs, tossed with a teaspoon or two of flour

  1. Make the Topping: place the brown sugar and water or butter in an 8×8″ metal cake pan. Place the pan directly on the stove and warm over low heat, stirring until the sugar is the texture of wet sand. If using water, simmer for about 45 seconds. If using butter, stir just until the sugar is moist and bubbling, then remove from heat. (It won’t be completely smooth, and there may be a few bare spots.) Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Peel and slice the bananas in 1/4-inch (1 cm) slices. Arrange them, slightly overlapping, over the melted brown sugar. Sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice.
  3. Make the Brownies: place the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  5. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Turn off the heat and stir in the sugar until combined (texture will remain gritty). Add the eggs, vanilla, and dissolved espresso powder. Beat with a wooden spoon about 40 strokes, scraping the sides of the pan as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and the walnuts/nibs (if using) and beat for another 40 strokes, or just until completely combined.
  6. Scrape the mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out a little gooey. Note: the brownie recipe calls for 20-25 minutes, but mine were nowhere near done then. I have a temperamental oven, so check the brownies at 20 minutes and every 5 minutes after that, and be prepared to bake for up to 40.
  7. Cool for about 20 minutes, then run a knife along the edges of the brownies to help it release from the pan. Invert the brownies onto a serving platter. When completely cool, cut into 16 pieces. If keeping for more than one day, store in the fridge.

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Coconut, Chocolate, and Caramel Tart (aka the “Samoa”)

coconut-chocolate-caramel tart

I was just trying to purge my pantry and for the life of me, couldn’t get anyone to eat my Chez Paniesse tart (a famous dessert that looks deceptively plain). I was met with skepticism: “You used old cream to make a tart? And it has a stick of butter too? Gee, thanks.” Some people didn’t bother trying it. Others eyed it suspiciously and insisted on only taking a nubbin. But once they tasted it, they couldn’t stop raving:

“Man, so delish. Not sure what I was thinking about taking a smaller piece. I inhaled it.”

“It’s divine.”

“Jess, you can clean out your cubboard any time you want.”

Imagine extra-rich dulce de leche, crunchy almonds, and a crumbly crust. You might be a chocolate person. You might be a nut-free person. Doesn’t matter. You’ll still like this dessert.

The recipe’s solid, so I decided to turn it into a homemade Samoa (my favorite Girl Scout cookie). All I had to do was add coconut, chocolate, and cacao nibs for crunch. It’s much easier than rolling out individual cookies, cutting the dough, dipping the baked cookie, and drizzling it with chocolate (although Chow’s version looks promising).

This tart has a lot of steps, but the dough is very forgiving. As I was shaping it, I worried that the heat from my hands would turn it into mush. And it came out fine! For tips, I recommend David Lebovitz’s photo tutorial (it’s for the original tart, but my recipe’s close enough). And do yourself a favor: spread it out over two days (one for making the dough, another for baking).

coconut-chocolate-caramel tart

Coconut, Chocolate, and Caramel Tart

Inspired by Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere
16 servings

Special equipment:
9- or 10-inch tart pan
parchment paper
heatproof spatula

For the dough:
1 cup (140 g) flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (4 oz, 115 g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
1 tablespoon ice water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl.
  2. Add the butter and mix with your fingers, a fork, or pastry blender until the butter’s in very small pieces, the size of rice.
  3. Add the water and vnailla and mix until the dough is smooth and comes together.
  4. Press into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and chill thoroughly.
  5. When ready to put the pastry in the pan, grease the bottom of the pan and line it with a circle of parchment paper. Let the dough come to room temperature and press the dough into a tart shell using the bottom of your hand. Try to get the dough flat on the bottom, and push it evenly up the sides with your thumbs. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but you want to make sure the sides don’t collapse. If that happens, you can take it out midway during baking, and push the dough back up the sides.
  6. Put the tart crust in the freezer and chill thoroughly.
  7. When ready to bake the crust, preheat the oven to 375° F.
  8. Bake the crust for 20-30 minutes, until it is set and light golden-brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and patch any holes with leftover dough (or use a water-flour paste).

For the tart filling:
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, preferably lightly toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. To bake, place the tart pan on top of a baking sheet (in case the filling leaks).
  2. Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a big, wide heavy pot (use one that’s at least 4 qts) until it begins to boil.
  3. Continue to cook and when it starts to foam up, remove it from the heat and stir in the coconut and vanilla.
  4. Scrape the filling into the crust. If there’s too much filling, save it; if the tart leaks, you can re-fill the crust.
  5. Make sure everything’s evenly distributed and there’s no clumps of coconut. Put the tart into the oven.
  6. After ten minutes, check the tart.
  7. Take a heatproof silicone spatula, hold it diagonally, and tap the entire surface of the tart to break up the top layer. Do not break the pastry underneath; you just want to break up surface crust that’s forming. This step is very important to cook the filling evenly and prevent it from looking wrinkled.
  8. Continue to cook, checking the tart every 5-8 minutes, and break up any dry crust that may be forming, easing off as the filling sets up. As it begins to caramelize, stop tapping it and let the tart finish cooking on its own.
  9. Remove the tart from the oven when the filling is light brown (like the color of caramel sauce) and there are no large, gooey pockets of white filling, about 30 minutes.

For topping:
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1/2 cup finely chopped dark chocolate

  1. Immediately cover the tart with cacao nibs (you want it to stick to the still-hot caramel).
  2. Let the tart cool a few minutes on a cooling rack and sprinkle chocolate on top. The entire surface should be covered. Don’t be shy. Add more chocolate if you have to. (There should be at least twice as much chocolate/nibs than pictured above.)
  3. Check and see if the tart has fastened itself to the tart ring. Slide a knife (or a curved vegetable peeler, which will slide nicely in between the ridges) between the tart and the pan to loosen it so the sides don’t come off when you remove the ring.
  4. When completely cool, remove the ring by resting the tart on top of a solid object and gently coax the ring off. Slip a large spatula underneath it the tart to remove the bottom of the pan. Cut into slivers (best done with a serrated knife).

Make-ahead: The dough can be made in advance, and chilled (up to 4 days) or frozen longer. The dough can be frozen once it’s pressed in the tart pan. Wrap in plastic if you don’t plan to bake it within 48 hours. Once baked, store the tart at room temperature. Wrap in plastic wrap if keeping for more than one day. It’s best eaten on the first day but will keep for up to 4 days.

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Menu for Hope VI: Win Amano Chocolate

Menu for Hope VI

It’s my favorite time of year, when we remember our blessings and indulge in gifts! For me, the Menu for Hope charity campaign represents the spirit of the holidays. The idea is simple: for each $10 you donate, you’ll get one virtual raffle ticket toward the food-related prize of your choice. This year, bloggers are again raising money for the the UN World Food Programme, the world’s largest food aid agency.

Amano chocolate

For the campaign, I’m offering some of my favorite chocolates in the world. Amano is a small-batch chocolate maker in Orem, Utah, yet it holds its own against the heavy hitters (such as Valrhona). The cacao beans are carefully sourced and processed, resulting in incredibly complex chocolate. You can taste notes of lapsang souchong, lavender, and cinnamon. No kidding! Amano has donated four bars each of

the 70% limited edition Montanya, 70% Dos Rios, and 70% Guayas
OR
the 70% Montanya, 30% Ocumare, and 30% Jembrana.

Winner’s choice! All together that’s 12 bars. If you’re having difficulty choosing, the first set is for traditionalists; the second is for those who like the creaminess of milk chocolate and the complexity of dark. Personally, I wish I could win the all-dark set. Please remember, this is prize # UE18.

Here’s how to win:

  • Browse the tempting list of prizes at Chez Pim.
  • Donate to the campaign at First Giving.
  • Each $10 you donate will count towards one raffle ticket for a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code. For example, a donation of $50 can be five tickets for UE18. Please write, “5xUE18.”
  • If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
  • Please allow us to see your e-mail address so that we can contact you if you win. Your e-mail address will not be shared with anyone.
  • Check back on Chez Pim on Monday, January 18 for the results of the raffle. Good luck!

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Amano Chocolate Giveaway

Amano Ocumare 30% milk chocolate
Photo: Amano Chocolate

If you only associate American chocolate with gritty Hershey’s bars, you’re in for a big surprise. One of my favorite chocolates in the WORLD is made on a mountain top in Orem, Utah. When Amano debuted two years ago, they only made 70% chocolate, but the bars differed radically because of where the cacao was grown.

Now Amano is making “dark” milk chocolate. This is not your mother’s candy bar. In the U.S., milk chocolate only needs a minimum of 10% cacao solids; Amano’s is 30%. As a result, you have the creaminess of milk chocolate and the complexity of dark.

Amano’s PR people are offering three of their newest bars for free. You can win the limited edition 70% Montanya (notes of grass, apricot kernels and toasted marshmallows), 30% Ocumare (notes of coffee and peaches), and 30% Jembrana. All together, they’re worth $22.

To enter the giveaway, please pay it forward: promise to do a good deed (we’re working with the honor system here) and tell me what kind of chocolate you crave most (milk, dark, or white) in the comments below. Contest ends Fri., Oct. 30 at 9:00 PM EST, just in time for Halloween!

Related links:
How to judge chocolate based on its origin
First impressions of Amano
Amano website

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Red Velvet Cake with Beets

red velvet cake with beets

Sorry to invoke wrath of Southerners, but red velvet is not a cake flavor. It’s a fancy name for a neon novelty. According to legend, the color comes from the chemical reaction of cocoa powder and acid (nowadays, we enhance it with food coloring). That doesn’t sound right, because most recipes only have two tablespoons of cocoa, which isn’t enough to cause a huge change in hue, much less chocolatiness.

Even though the FDA says that food coloring is nontoxic, I have second thoughts when I have to dump a whole bottle of red #40, ground beetles, or whatever into a cake. I’d rather use non-lab produced ingredients, like beets. And seriously, why so stingy with the cocoa? The cake has to taste like chocolate.

I found a recipe that satisfies both criteria: it’s from the American Cancer Society’s Taste More Birthdays Cake Contest. As the name suggests, it’s semi healthy with less sugar and fat but plenty of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. The ingredients sound strange, but the earthiness of the beets goes well with the chocolate, and the fruits add tartness. Just tell your friends that you made chocolate-raspberry cake, and they won’t have to know your secret. It’s so moist and rich that I don’t think it needs frosting. My only complaint is that it loses its bright red color after it comes out of the oven.

I adapted the recipe so the prep time’s cut in half (using canned beets saves more than two hours). I also changed the dried fruits so it’s less expensive.

New Red Velvet Cake

Adapted from Alexandra Mudry
(Makes one 9”x14” cake, two 8” round cakes or 24 cupcakes)

Cake:
1 1/2 15-oz. cans unseasoned beets (to make 2 c. purée)
1/2 c. dried dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. prunes, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. expeller-pressed canola oil
3 large cage-free eggs
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 tsp. instant espresso powder or instant coffee
1/2 c. unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
1 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Place beets in a blender or food processor with 2-3 tbsp. water. Purée beets until smooth. Blend in the dates and prunes. Set aside. (Can be made several days ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Preheat oven to 375° F. Spray baking pan(s) with oil and dust with flour. Discard the excess flour (if making cupcakes, just line the tins with paper wrappers).

Combine the oil, eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric beater on medium speed until smooth and light colored.

Add the espresso powder to the melted chocolate and stir until combined.

Turning the speed down to low, slowly drizzle the melted chocolate into the mixture. Once the chocolate has been added, turn off the machine and scrape the sides of the bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine the cocoa powder, applesauce and beet purée. Add this mixture to the egg mixture. Beat on medium speed to incorporate.

Sift the remaining dry ingredients together and then gently fold into the mixture (don’t overmix or the cake will become tough).

Pour batter into the pan(s) and bake for 40-45 minutes (or 20-25 for cupcakes), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool and remove from pan(s). If not using immediately, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Cake can be made a day in advance. (The cake is delicate and crumbly so it’s much easier to work with once chilled. )

Cream Cheese Frosting (optional):
24 oz. (3 pkgs) reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Lightly beat the cream cheese and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth, about 1-2 minutes.

Scrape down sides of bowl then add confectioners’ sugar. Cream together until smooth. Don’t overmix or the frosting will become too soft and difficult to spread.

Assembly:
If using a 9” x 14” pan, cut the cake lengthwise down the middle so you have two layers.

Cover with cream cheese frosting.

Serves 10-12 generously.

Vegetables in Dessert:
Heirloom Tomato Cake, Chocolate-Potato Cake, Bean Brownies, Classic Carrot Cake, Potato-Chip Cookies, and more

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The 2009 Fancy Food Show, Part 2

One month ago, I promised to share more of my favorites from the Fancy Food Show. I don’t have an excuse for the delay, unless you count the many distractions I’ve had: a box of Parisian chocolate and three Amano bars (more on that later). Here are the last items that caught my eye.

Best Brownies

peanut butter brownies

New York City’s Peanut Butter and Co. is best known for its natural peanut butters. Here they branch out with a boxed mix. I normally bake from scratch, but these are just as good, and you can’t beat the rich peanut butter taste. Recommended for all baking phobes.

Best Confections

Amella caramelsPhoto: Amella

Amella cocoa butter caramels have unique flavors (carrot cake, black forest and passion fruit), and the packaging is beautiful. The true test, though, is the flavor: the black forest tastes like fresh cherries, and the texture is smooth and lingering.

Best Energy Bars


Element Bars - energy bars

Element Bars lets you customize your energy bars with a variety of fruits, nuts and grains, and it doesn’t taste like medicine. I suspect it’s because the default mix contains whole soybeans rather than soy protein isolate. Nutritionally, it’s like comparing white sugar to a piece of fruit. Soy protein isolate is processed at high temperatures (which renders most of the protein ineffective) in an alkaline solution, then an acid wash, and lastly neutralized in an alkaline solution. Appetizing, huh?

Best Coffee Cake

Jennifer’s Kitchen, a startup from Indiana, makes super moist coffee cakes, but the best part is all the crunchy streusel. 10% of each purchase goes toward a non-profit organization. Sorry, no pictures, although their site has lovely ones.

Related links:
Dispatches from the previous years’ Fancy Food Shows
Make your own energy bars: Chocolate-date “Larabars”

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Fancy That, It’s the 2009 Fancy Food Show

At the Fancy Food Show, virtually everything you’ve ever seen on the grocery store shelf is yours for the taking, plus unreleased products and the rarest foods: jamón Ibérico (the porcine equivalent of Kobe beef), fresh mangosteens, black garlic (I don’t know what the big deal is: it tastes like salted prunes) and crudo from David Burke Townhouse.

When I was young (relatively speaking; I’m 27), I tried hundreds of samples and had the clarity of mind to describe almost everything I ate. Clearly I’ve abused my tastebuds; this year, I got palate fatigue at sample #2. But this is what I do to in the name of research.

The Chocolate (this is what we’re here for, after all)

Amano, Domori, Valrhona and Pralus were at the top of my list in years past, and I don’t see anyone replacing them any time soon. But here’s some more standouts.

Better Than Nutella

Pralus chocolate-hazelnut spread

Chocolate-hazelnut spread is my favorite condiment, and I sought out ones that were better than Nutella and my homemade version. A half dozen of them were too sweet, resembled a ball of shortening or were just underwhelming.

The winner by far was Pralus. The deep, toasted hazelnut flavor could only be matched by their exquisite chocolate. They also debuted two single-estate Venezuelan chocolates (Sorry I can’t remember the names. Blame it on the fatigue.). One tasted like raisins, and the other had soil notes that morphed into coffee. Amazing what a couple degrees in latitude can do to chocolate. The chocolate-hazelnut spread is available at Zingerman’s and Murray’s Cheese (Greenwich Village only). They run out quickly, but I think it’s worth checking back everyday. While you’re there, also pick up the Infernal Bar, a brick of chocolate-covered chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Sunland organic chocolate peanut butter

Coming in a close second is Marco Vacchieri from Italy. The poor man’s version is Sunland’s chocolate peanut butter (a paltry $5 for top quality stuff). Because it’s made with Valencia peanuts, which are naturally sweet, there’s very little added sugar.

Top Chocolate Bars

Pacari chocolate

I actually tried Pacari last year but didn’t include them in my roundup. I’m usually not fond of Ecuadorian chocolate because it tends to be neutral. Pacari, however, is strong and fruity. They also don’t use vanilla (only the bravest chocolate makers attempt this).

Claudio Corallo chocolate

It’s one thing for a chocolate maker to personally source his beans, but Claudio Corallo is the only one I know who actually grows them. When they’re harvested, they’re fermented for nine to 17 days (instead of the usual two to seven) and not conched. Conching makes chocolate smooth, but Corallo insists that it sacrifices flavor. As a result, his chocolate is among the most complex I’ve had.

chocolate ice cream

I’m going to break the rules and promote something that’s inaccessible to 99% of the population. For the best ice cream OF YOUR LIFE, you need to get a $4,000 Pacojet, 80% Claudio Corallo chocolate and a killer recipe or pastry chef. The Pacojet makes ice cream in reverse: instead of churning a liquid base, you start with a rock-hard frozen mass, and the blades shave it till it’s literally smoother than silk. It’s eons ahead of gelato and frozen custard. The machine’s been around for 20 years. Where have I been all this time?

Some practical applications: if you know of a restaurant with a Pacojet, run there as fast as you can. And only use the best ingredients in your ice cream recipes.

Askinosie white chocolate

White chocolate doesn’t hold the same value as the dark stuff (it’s not legally chocolate anyway), but I think it’s because most people haven’t tasted good white chocolate.

Most white chocolate is made from deodorized cocoa butter, which gives the bar its characteristic paleness. Deodorizing masks inferior cacao, but you also lose subtle flavors. Even if you find white chocolate without any vegetable fat (avoid “white coating” and palm kernel oil), most likely you’re only tasting the milk and vanilla.

El Rey Icoa is made from non-deodorized cocoa butter, and it shows in the flavor. Coming in second place is Askinosie (read my review of their 70% chocolate). It’s the least sweet white chocolate I’ve had, and the goat’s milk adds a mellow note. The San Jose del Tambo with cocoa nibs is a winning combination: sweet and bitter.

Honorable Mentions

Madecasse Malagasy chocolate

Madécasse’s (aka Malagasy) entire chocolate-making process, from growing to packaging, is done in Madagascar to benefit the locals. The chocolate has a long finish and is favored by pastry chef Pichet Ong.

Ezcazu chocolate

Escazú, of Raleigh, N.C., debuted two years ago and shows promise as another small-batch chocolate maker. I’m fond of the 60% dark chocolate with goat’s milk. It has a sharp flavor, and the goat’s milk doesn’t taste like hay (in lesser brands it does, though).

Coming up in part two: everything else.

Related links:
Dispatches from the previous years’ Fancy Food Shows
How to judge cacao by its origin, and why it matters
Chocolate Show coverage

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The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies in New York

chocolate chip cookies

These are not from City Bakery (too crispy and marzipan-y). Nor Jacques Torres (too sweet). Not Bouchon (too buttery) either. After making Levain Bakery copycats, eating the real deal and amassing 310+ comments, those are close but no cigar.

My favorite chocolate chip cookies are not from a bakery per se. I’ve been telling people about them for years, but it hasn’t caught on. So now I’ll shout it out for everyone to hear.

First, some criteria. Chocolate chip cookies should not be the size of your face. Bouchon, you sophisticated French bakery, what were you thinking? Maybe you can take a page from French Women Don’t Get Fat about portion control. Second, CC cookies should not be crispy. Then they’re just like crackers and what’s the point? Lastly, CC cookies cannot have nuts. It totally disrupts the texture. Okay, I’ll let the nut people put nuts in their cookies, but not mine.

Times Square Hot Bagel

The magical place I speak of is Times Square Hot Bagels on W. 44 St. and 7 Ave. (Update: they closed in Nov. 2012. RIP!) They’re one of the few places in New York that makes traditional bagels, but never mind that, we’re talking cookies here. They’re pliable, toffee-esque (probably from brown sugar) and chock full of chocolate CHUNKS. One will set you back about 80 cents (they’re $12.50/pound). You can eat one or two and be satisfied without feeling gross afterwards. Since they’re at the crossroads of the world, you don’t have an excuse not to try them.

I first heard about these through church. After service, there was a huge table of humble-looking cookies. I was wowed and only had these clues: a checkerboard logo and some name with “Times Square.” Eventually, I tracked down the store.

A little caveat: sometimes the cookies from the shop are a bit hard. They can easily be fixed with a sprinkle of water and 10 seconds in the microwave. The only guarantee of getting a fresh cookie is to attend the evening service at Redeemer church. Try it: you might like the cookies. And the service. Senior pastor Tim Keller is like a modern day C.S. Lewis. He randomly speaks throughout the day, but he’s always at the 6:00 service at the Hunter College auditorium (69 St. between Park and Lex). Well actually he’s on vacation (no doubt reading more philosophical material) till Aug. 16, but you get the idea.

Times Square Hot Bagels
200 W. 44 St. (by 7 Ave.)
New York, NY 10036
212-997-7300

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Save Your Saltines for Chocolate-Caramel Cookies

chocolate-caramel cracker cookies

The last time I hoarded leftovers, everyone must have laughed their faces off.Some people bring home entrées; others take home french fries. I do both and then some, like the time I doggie bagged bread cubes that were meant for the fondue pot. I had the last laugh when I turned them into Nutella bread pudding and made everyone jealous.

It gets even better: the other day I used leftover saltine crackers (from Hill Country barbecue) for chocolate-caramel bars. I’m not one to relish in packaged foods and refined flour, but the saltines are key. I tried a similar recipe with homemade graham crackers, but you really do need a flimsy base to soak up the toffee. A fancy “crust” will only break your jaw. I haven’t gone crackers: these are even surpass the chocolate matzoh crunch that’s become popular of late.

chocolate-caramel cracker cookies

Bittersweet Chocolate-Caramel Cracker Cookies

Adapted from Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, divided
35 saltine crackers
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
10 ounces premium dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)

For topping:
1 cup toasted unsalted nuts, chopped medium coarse or
1/2 cup cacao nibs or
5 teaspoons fine salt (such as fleur de sel or gray sea salt), turbindado sugar, finely ground espresso, pepper, spice blends/rubs

Special equipment: a 10-by-15-inch pan

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). To make the cookies easy to remove, line a 10-by-15-inch pan with a sheet of foil, shiny side up, leaving a few inches hanging over the longer edges. Drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter onto the foil-lined pan, and brush to cover the bottom of the pan. Line the pan with the crackers (don’t worry if there are small gaps).

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining 1 cup butter and the brown sugar and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, until the mixture forms a thick syrup (248°F/120°C on a candy thermometer). Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the condensed milk until blended. Pour the mixture over the crackers, making sure all the crackers are covered.

3. Bake until the syrup layer bubbles, for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven, scatter the chocolate over the topping, and allow them to melt for 5 minutes. Using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, spread the chocolate over the surface and sprinkle with the nuts, cacao nibs, salt, spices, etc. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the nuts into the chocolate. Freeze until the chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.

4. Remove from the freezer and invert the pan onto a clean surface (don’t worry if you lose some nuts from the surface; they’ll be great for topping an ice cream sundae or for adding to cookie dough). Carefully peel back the foil to reveal the soda-cracker underside of the cookies. Using a sharp knife, cut the cookies along the cracker outlines. This is easier to do when the cookies have begun to thaw slightly. Invert and cut the squares into quarters for bite-size pieces or thirds for finger-size pieces.

Buy Deep Dark Chocolate
Buy Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry

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