Archive for Mad Scientist

Caramel surprise chocolate chip cookies

garlic brittle chococlate chip cookies

Before you think I’ve gone nuts for pairing chocolate with garlic again, I have an excuse. These cookies were a birthday present for my roommate, who loves garlic. She stores several cups of garlic in the fridge and even pre-minces it so it’s ready when the moment strikes.

Since my idea of a gift always involves sugar, I made garlic brittle chocolate chip cookies, inspired by the Gilded Fork. The garlic is pre-cooked and added to caramelized sugar, so it has a sweet, nutty flavor. If you’ve ever had roasted garlic, you know that garlic loses its bite after a long period of cooking.

Because I’m a sucker for new recipes, I made the cookie dough from a review copy of Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts. The first chapter is devoted to chocolate chip cookies. (The premise sounds better than it is. I hoped for a chocolate chip cookie primer, giving variations on chewy, cakey and crisp cookies, like Alton Brown did so well in Good Eats. Elizabeth’s chapter is a compilation of really different cookies, like traditional chocolate chip and chocolate-chocolate chip, without a thorough explanation.)

These cookies didn’t turn out, and it had nothing to do with the garlic (they didn’t taste nasty, but I don’t think the garlic was necessary). They were as thin as credit cards and extremely floppy. The dough didn’t seem to cook.

Lessons learned:

  • When adding hard candy to cookie dough batter, reduce the sugar in the dough accordingly. Elizabeth’s dough had 3/4 cup more sugar than the Gilded Fork recipe. Too much sugar prevents the dough from setting up. You’ll burn the sugar before the dough’s done.
  • Corn syrup creates a pliant, chewy cookie. I found this out because the brittle had a little corn syrup. Finally, the secret to chewy cookies is revealed!
  • For the deepest flavored brittle, cook the sugar just before it burns. My caramel never registered hot enough to reach the “hard crack” stage, so I kept cooking it. I only pulled it off the heat right when I smelled a little of it burning. Luckily, I got a smoky, molasses-flavored brittle.
  • Grey sea salt rocks. I used salt from Guérande in Brittany, France, which has a deep, almost smoky flavor. The large, irregular crystals melt on your tongue slowly, so the flavor pops. From now on, I’ll add it to all my cookie doughs. At $8 a pound it’s seems frou frou, but if you use it strategically, the canister lasts you a while.

garlic brittle

The idea of brittle in cookies is promising, but this recipe needs some work. Next time, I’ll use cacao nibs instead. No more garlic and chocolate for me. If you’re feeling adventurous, maybe diced fried bacon would go well in the brittle, too.

Garlic Brittle Chocolate Chip Cookies

Garlic Brittle Chocolate Chip Cookies


For Garlic Brittle:
8-10 garlic cloves, depending on size
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon fancy coarse salt, such as grey salt
For Cookies:
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1 batch garlic brittle


    Make Garlic Brittle:
  1. Blanch the garlic in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain, peel, and mince the garlic. Cool completely. (This step mellows the taste of raw garlic.)
  2. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat, parchment, or wax paper. In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 300° F (hard crack stage) on a candy thermometer and is dark golden brown.
  3. Immediately remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla, stirring until the butter melts and is completely blended. Add the garlic, and stir to coat completely.
  4. Carefully pour the hot mixture onto the prepared baking sheets and spread evenly with a heatproof, rubber spatula. Sprinkle with salt. Cool completely, about 1 hour, and break into small chunks.
  5. Make Cookies:
  6. With an electric mixer, beat the butter with the granulated and brown sugars until just combined and sandy (do not whip). Mix in the egg until just combined, about 3 seconds. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix until just incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips and garlic brittle.
  7. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 min., preferably overnight.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat (do not attempt with greased foil, which makes the cookies spread, or wax paper unless you like the taste of crayons). Drop one-inch balls of dough a few inches apart. Bake until just golden around the edges, about 13-17 min. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back after 7 min. Transfer the cookie sheet to a rack to cool completely.


Brittle adapted from Gilded Fork; cookie dough adapted from Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts

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Yes, of course you can pair garlic with chocolate!

chocolate with garlic and chile powder

I say this as a half jest. Today I made garlic-flavored chocolate (no really, I made it from cocoa beans, sugar and vanilla), and incidentally Danielle at Habeas Brulee is hosting a one-time food blogging event, “Yes, of course you can pair garlic with that!” Danielle thinks garlic goes well with hazelnuts and wants to explore other combinations.

Why not chocolate and garlic, then? “…garlic tends to do very well, super well, with things that are oily (olive oil), fat (cream, pine nuts) or acidic (lemon),” writes a commenter on her blog. Chocolate is oily and fatty (and sometimes acidic), so this could work. Plus, Marianne’s in Santa Cruz, Calif., makes chocolate-garlic ice cream.

me making chocolate liquor

Today when I attended a chocolate-making seminar through the NY Metro Discover Chocolate Meetup, a brave soul put raw garlic in the finished candies. I didn’t dare try a piece — its pungency lingered in the room even after it was eaten — but why don’t you try some and let me know how it goes?

If you would like to make chocolate from the beans themselves, here’s the approximate recipe we used today.

Chocolate-Covered Garlic

3 pounds whole cacao beans, in their shells
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 cup dried whole milk powder
1/2 cup cocoa butter
A couple cloves minced garlic
A couple pinches chile powder

Special equipment:
Roasting pan
Crankandstein cocoa mill
Blow dryer
Broom and dustpan
Champion juicer
Food processor
Wet grinder
Chocolate molds

  1. Roast beans in a preheated 425F oven for 30-35 minutes, or until they become fragrant and reach an internal temperature of 260F.
  2. Crack the shells by running the beans through a Crankandstein. (If you don’t have this machinery, crack the beans by hand and discard the shells. Skip the next step.)
  3. Transfer the beans and the shells to a large roasting pan. Take the pan outside or in your bath tub. Hold a blow dryer a couple feet away and aim directly down, blowing away the shells. You will still have small pieces of shells left; that’s okay. Don’t forget to sweep the leftover shells on the floor.
  4. Liquefy the beans by running them through a juicer. You now have cocoa liquor.
  5. Combine the sugar and vanilla bean in a food processor and grind for a couple minutes, or until the sugar turn into a powder.
  6. Turn on the wet grinder and add the cocoa liquor. Add the sugar mixture, milk powder and crumbled cocoa butter. Let the machine run for 24 hours. This step is called conching, which will refine the texture and flavor of the chocolate.
  7. Temper the chocolate and fill the molds halfway full. Sprinkle garlic and chile powder over the melted chocolate and fill the remainder of the mold with the chocolate. Vigorously tap the molds on your counter to even out the surface and get rid of air bubbles.
  8. Refrigerate the chocolate for 10 min., or until set. To release the chocolate, flip the mold upside down and tap the surface with your fingers.

Shortcut version: Sprinkle minced garlic on top of dark chocolate and eat.

View a photo tutorial on making chocolate at home.

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Creamed Cheese Ice Cream

Cottage cheese ice cream swirled with raspberry preserves

Poor cottage cheese is the butt of all jokes (no pun intended). It’s seen as tasteless diet food, yet no one wants to be called “cottage cheese thighs.” Maida Heatter’s Book of Great American Desserts should have changed all that. She discovered that puréed cottage cheese becomes as smooth and elegant as sour cream.

In Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, Alice Medrich makes sublime tiramisù and cheesecake with “Maida’s Cream.” I don’t even bother with the full-fat versions anymore. Since puréed cottage cheese can stand in for mascarpone cheese, cream cheese and sour cream, I wondered if its richness could translate to ice cream.

Since simple is often best, I substituted the puréed cheese for the strained yogurt in David Lebovitz’s plain frozen yogurt recipe. I added some oil (since cottage cheese is lean) and a splash of vodka to keep it scoopable. The end result was pure tasting and luscious. It’s less tart than plain frozen yogurt, so it’s more amenable to add-ins, like chocolate.

It’s best eaten two hours after it’s made, or else it gets rock hard. There’s a couple ways to remedy this issue: use more sugar, prepare a custard base (try substituting 2 cups of puréed cottage cheese for the cream) or let the cold ice cream sit on your counter for 15 minutes.


freshly churned cottage cheese ice cream

Cottage Cheese Ice Cream

Recipe based on techniques from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great American Desserts, The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz and The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

3 cups (681 g) 1% low-fat, no salt added cottage cheese
3/4 to 1 cup (150 to 200g) sugar, depending on your sweet tooth
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1 1/2 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 Tbsp vodka

  1. In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and blend for 3-5 minutes, being sure to scrape down the sides with a spatula a couple times. It’s important not to cheat on the processing time, or else the cheese won’t get perfectly smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Harden it in the freezer for a couple hours, and then eat it all!

Variation: To make fruit-swirled ice cream, have ready 1/4 cup of your favorite preserves. After the ice cream is done churning, drop a tablespoon of preserves to the bottom of the storage container. Drop spoonfuls of preserves between layers of ice cream. Don’t stir too much, or you’ll lose the swirls.

Note: Try to get cottage cheese without additives, like gums or starches. I like the no-salt added variety, or else it’s too salty for dessert (do you really need 15% of your daily sodium in one serving?). The shorter the ingredient list, the better. Friendship makes great tasting, all-natural cottage cheese, although the curds are too firm to get perfectly smooth.

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Don’t try this at home: Desserts on ice

cilantro granita topped with blueberry sorbet

Don’t you hate it when cookbooks, magazines and blogs have lovely pictures of food that you can’t make at home? I assure you, not everything I make is pretty or delicious. I only reserve the best recipes for this blog, but now I’ll take you into my mishaps through this new column: Don’t try this at home. I won’t post the recipes in the recipe index because they’re so bad, but sometimes you can learn as much from your mistakes as your successes.

A while back, I received a free sample of True Blue blueberry juice. The name implied that it’s 100% pure blueberry juice. It was a great concept and tasted like real berries, but it was made from blueberry and grape juice concentrates, plus added sugar. It might as well been called “reconstituted blueberry-blended cocktail.” The selling point was also the antioxidants, but you have to drink two cups of juice (220 calories) to get the same amount of antioxidants as 1/2 cup of blueberries. No thanks. I’d rather eat a pint of blueberries for the same amount of calories and get the extra fiber. And if I’m thirsty, I’ll just drink water.

Hoping to rid myself of 32 pounds of juice (aren’t you proud that I carried it all to my door?), I boiled down several cups into a concentrated syrup. I wanted to see if it was possible to make sorbet only out of fruit juice. Since sorbets are 25-30% sugar by weight*, and the juice only had 12% sugar, I reduced it over several hours. Then I added a little lime juice to brighten up the flavors. After I froze everything, an unappetizing syrup leached out from the sorbet. It was a tell-tale sign that it had too much sugar. Either my calculations were wrong, or the liquid kept evaporating as it cooled. Also, the sorbet didn’t taste like blueberries anymore. It was astringent and drying, like grape juice. So no, you can’t make sorbet only out of fruit juice, for reasons that I’ll get into later.

While the sorbet sat in my freezer (who wants to eat sticky, fast-melting sorbet?), I made another frozen dessert from Florence Fabricant’s shiso granita recipe in the New York Times. I substituted one bunch of leftover cilantro, since it’s a close cousin of shiso. After I froze it, it looked as appetizing as wheatgrass juice. It tasted like Mexican salsa gone bad. Plus, it wasn’t sweet enough.

Here I had two desserts: one with too much sugar and one with too little. Voila, I combined them and made them semi-edible. I wouldn’t recommend that you do the same though.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t put cilantro in dessert. Ever.
  • Don’t boil fruit juice for long periods of time. The delicate flavors will disappear, while the less desirable ones will get stronger.
  • If you want to make sorbet out of fruit juice, you need to add sugar rather than boil it to death.
  • Liquids evaporate as they cool. If you measure one cup of hot liquid and think, “Perfect! That’s the right amount!” you’ll have considerably less when you actually use it.

*Source: San Francisco Chronicle

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Mason of Chocolate

Pushing Chocolate Forward sign

Butter, sugar, flour and eggs are the building blocks of dessert. These four simple ingredients can create cakes, cookies and meringues. Now, thanks to restaurants such as New York’s wd-50, locust bean gum and carrageenan are the new staples.wd-50 is a play on words alluding to its owner, location, and the chemical compound, WD-40. Unlike the cleaning product though, everything at wd-50 is edible, all the way down to the fried mayonnaise and chocolate consomme (broth).On Oct. 7, wd-50’s former pastry chef, Sam Mason, made chocolate desserts at the French Culinary Institute’s Pushing Chocolate Forward event. Mason, who will open his own yet unnamed dessert bar at 525 Broome St. in SoHo in November, made his “classic” gelled desserts. Gelatin is typically used to set desserts, but there’s a myriad of other agents.

Agar (most commonly used in Chinese and Japanese custards/jellies), for example, sets at room temperature. However, it can also get crumbly and brittle, as I witnessed when I made vegan cashew cheddar “cheese.” Locust bean gum (derived from carob treas) and carrageenan (from red algae) are creamier. These ingredients sound scary, but they’re no more unnatural than gelatin. (You already eat locust bean gum and carrageenan if you eat commercial ice cream.) The only difference is that gelatin is widely available to home cooks.

It takes an experimental chef like Mason to figure out their applications. He takes into account flavor release, rigidity and tolerance to temperature. He even developed an eggless lemon curd with gellan so the eggs don’t get in the way of flavor.
Now that Mason has conquered gels, the next frontier is starches. Just like with gels, the Asians have already made good use of starches, specifically potato, tapioca, wheat and corn. They’re usually not used in Western desserts though. Mason is also excited about the new vacuum dryers, which allow cooks to fry food at 100 F. This device makes it possible to fry chocolate, which burns at 120F. Also, fried skittles turn into puffs.

Hopefully we’ll see these experiments at Mason’s new dessert bar, which will feature eight savory and eight dessert plates, a la carte. There will also be three or four five-course tasting menus.

During the Pushing Chocolate Forward event, Mason made soft chocolate gel with chocolate soil and bitter chocolate consomme with butternut squash gel. The chocolate was provided by E. Guittard, the artisan division of a family-owned San Francisco chocolate company.

E. Guittard is not to be confused with Guittard. The latter is the mass-market line available as chocolate chips and bulk bars (with cheap butterfat added). See’s Candy in California uses Guittard for their couverture (chocolate covering). It’s a workhorse chocolate but not artisan. E. Guittard, on the other hand, makes single-origin chocolates. My favorite is the Ambanja 65% from Madagascar, which tastes like sour cherries. Suprisingly, I didn’t like the 65% Sur del Lago from Venezuela as much. So much for my chocolate tasting map. E. Guittard makes tasty chocolate (Christopher Norman in New York uses their couverture), but I find the flavor to be one-noted and short, a common problem amongst lower end single-origin chocolates.

Below are the recipes from the demo. They are in grams and mililiters, since they’re more exact than cups. I’ll work on converting the measurements. Check out Foodite’s primer on molecular gastronomy (the innovative method that Mason uses) for more info on the space age-sounding ingredients.

Soft Chocolate Gel with Chocolate Soil

chocolate gel

by Sam Mason

The gel is magically creamy and solid at the same time. A topping that resembles crushed Oreo cookies provides a textural contrast. If you really want to walk on the wild side, sprinkle the top with salted pumpkin seeds. I’m not a fan of salty chocolate, but Mason believes that dessert should border on savory.

For the gel:

530 g cream
500 g 64% chocolate, chopped into small pieces
120 g sugar
600 ml water
1.6 g locust bean gum
1.6 g kappa carrageenan

Scald the cream and pour it over the chocolate and sugar. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

In another bowl, add the water, locust bean gum and carrageenan. Use a hand blender to combine thoroughly. Boil the mixture.

Whisk the hot gel and chocolate mixture together. Pour it into an 8″x8″ pan lined with plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours to set.

For the soil:

250 g sugar
250 g almond flour (very finely ground blanched almonds)
150 g all-purpose flour
102 g cocoa (can substitute coffee or freeze-dried corn powder)
5 g salt
125 g butter, melted

Whisk the dry ingredients together. Then stir in the melted butter and till the mixture looks mealy. Bake in a greased or parchment-lined 12″x8″ pan (also known as a half-sheet size pan) in a preheated 300 F oven for 15 min.

For the chocolate oil:

100 g dark chocolate
100 ml oil
15 g cocoa powder

Melt the chocolate and oil over low heat. Stir in the cocoa.

For the garnish:

Deep-fried or toasted pumpkin seeds
Salt to taste

To assemble:

Slice a piece of gel that’s 2 1/2″ x 1″ large and about 1/3″ thick. Sprinkle the top with chocolate soil, pumpkin seeds and a couple grains of salt. Garnish the edges with chocolate oil.

Bitter Chocolate Consomme with Butternut Squash Gel

chocolate consomme with butternut squash jelly

by Sam Mason

Chocolate consomme is chocolate-flavored water that has had its solids removed, resulting in a clear drink. Whisked egg whites draw up the “impurities.” After long simmering, the eggs whites are scooped away and the end product can be sipped like tea or used as a base for translucent sorbet.

clear chocolate consomme

For the consomme:

6 L water
1 kg chocolate
60 g cocoa
650 g egg whites
65 g cacao nibs

In a large pot (allow for at least 2″ of head space, or the mixture will boil over), whisk the water, chocolate and cocoa over low heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and cacao nibs till frothy. Temper the whites by pouring a little of the hot chocolate mixture over the egg whites and whisk vigorously. Add the egg white mixture into the pot and heat it so it’s just hot enough to hold your finger in there, and it barely bubbles around the edges.

Sam Mason about to boil over the consomme

simmering chocolate consomme

The egg whites will set and bring impurities to the surface. Continue cooking for 2 hours. Strain through a cheese cloth or coffee filter. Then ladle off any remaining fat.

For the butternut squash gel:

600 g water
200 g rum
3.8 g low acyl gellan
5.7 g high acyl gellan
1620 g squash puree (Roast a squash in the oven and sweeten with maple syrup and cinnamon to taste)

Add all the ingredients except the puree in a pot. Use a handblender to mix thoroughly and boil. It will get really thick and then become more liquidy again. Then add the squash puree. Pour the mixture into an 8″x8″ pan lined with plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours to set.

For the garnish:

Toasted hazelnuts
Fresh taragon

To assemble:

Invert the squash gel onto a cutting board and cut into 3/4″-cubes.

Sam Mason slicing the jelly

Place in a small bowl and ladle in 1/4 cup of the consomme. Garnish with a hazelnut and sprig of taragon.

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Bean in there brownies

bean brownies

How fine fat is! The same ingredient that makes dessert delicious goes straight to my wannabe six-pack. I want to make my cake and eat it too, so I experiment with ways to make dessert healthier.

The oldest trick in low-fat baking is to replace half of the fat with applesauce. Besides being moist, applesauce contains sugar, which tenderizes dough. It works beautifully in quick breads and spice cakes but not so well in pound cakes and pie crusts, where butter is crucial for the flavor and flakiness. Applesauce also doesn’t fare as well in cookies. It contains too much moisture, so cookies get cakey and lose their crisp edges.

There are a couple ways to get around the applesauce conundrum. For cookies, you can omit up to half the butter because they’re so rich already. I usually leave out 1/3 or 1/4 just to be safe. Or, you can use a different fat substitute.

Other cultures have long valued puréed beans for their smooth texture. Good Israeli hummus, for example, is as rich as butter. (I’d take The Hummus Place‘s signature dish over foie gras any day.)  The Chinese and Japanese add sugar to puréed beans and put it inside pastries.

As seen in black-eyed susan cake, puréed beans are actually a good fat substitute. If you don’t believe me, scientific experiments have shown that puréed white beans can replace up to half the fat (by weight) in cookies and brownies. To take advantage of the beans’ smooth texture, I used them in a fudgy brownie recipe.

I generally prefer chewy brownies, especially Alice Medrich’s divine, low-fat ones in Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts and Cookies and Brownies.  While chewy brownies have great flavor, they lack that melt-in-your-mouth texture. For the richest brownies, you need lots of chocolate, butter, and just enough flour to hold it together. Don’t even think about adding baking powder or soda.

My favorite fudgy recipe has a whopping 12 ounces of chocolate, three sticks of butter, three cups of sugar, six eggs and just over a cup of flour. If there was ever a poster child to use bean purée, this was it. The tinkered brownies were moist, smooth and delicate. They were so delicate, in fact, that you could probably get away with using all-purpose flour. They didn’t taste beany or like they were reduced fat. I noticed less butteriness, but only because I had eaten the regular brownies before. Anyone else won’t detect the secret ingredient.

The Richest Fudgy Brownies, Lightened

Inspired by The Farm of Beverly Hills recipe, as printed in Gourmet

Makes 36 small but very intense brownies

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
12 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
3/4 cup (six ounces) white bean purée
6 large eggs
1 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350° F with a rack in the middle. Grease and flour a 13- by 9- by 2-inch metal baking pan.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (aka a double boiler). When smooth, take the chocolate mixture off the heat. Whisk in the white bean purée and the eggs.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt in a separate bowl and stir thoroughly. Combine with the chocolate mixture.

Pour batter into pan and bake until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted into center comes out with crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours, before cutting.

How to Make White Bean Purée:

If starting from scratch, soak dry cannellini, great northern, or white kidney beans with water by at least two inches. Cover and let stand for up to 24 hours; refrigerate if the kitchen is very warm. Soaking is optional, but it can save anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour of cooking time. To cook the beans, drain them and cover with water to cover by two inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off the foam that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until they are very soft. Unsoaked cannellinis take about 30 minutes; great northerns and white kidney beans take one to 1 1/2 hours. The beans will swell to about three times their original size.

Measure out six ounces, or about 1 1/3 cup of cooked beans. If using canned beans, rinse them thoroughly to get rid of excess salt. Purée in a blender or food processor until smooth. You should have 3/4 cup of purée.


  • The salt is very important to give off that buttery flavor.
  • Whisk the eggs in just to combine. Don’t beat them, as the extra air will make the brownies cakey (which is fine if you like cakey brownies, but there are lower calorie recipes for that!).
  • To make one cup of cake flour, subtract 2 Tbsp from one cup of all-purpose flour. Then add 2 Tbsp of cornstarch. Some say that cornstarch makes baked goods taste chalky, but I can’t detect it in small quanities. If you despise cornstarch, just subtract the 2 Tbsp of all-purpose flour and don’t add anything else. In this recipe, you can get away with not doing any substitutions, if you like.
  • These brownies will only be as good as the chocolate you use. Save your chocolate chips for cookies, and do not under any circumstances use Hershey’s. You don’t have to go all out with Valrhona, but I used a mid-range chocolate from Jacques Torres.
  • Silicone pans are stick resistant but not non-stick. You’ll need to grease them.

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Chocolate brain freeze

chocolate sorbet

Joe is driving East at 60 miles per hour. Andy is driving in the same direction at 70 miles per hour. If Andy started one hour after Joe, how long will it take for them to meet?

The only test that I failed in school was for word problems. Maybe it’s because I think too much and make them more complicated than they are. Or maybe it’s because I don’t see their practical application and don’t care about the question. Unless the question were, “How do I re-create my favorite chocolate sorbet?” then I could get serious.

Ciao Bella chocolate sorbet

As noted in my gelato post, Ciao Bella Gelato makes unbelievably rich chocolate sorbet. It is creamy and rich like ice cream, but there is no dairy, so it’s virtually fat-free.

In my quest to make this sorbet at home, I looked at the ingredient list/nutrition information and deduced a recipe.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 1/2 cup (112g)
Servings Per Container: 4
Calories 157
Calories from Fat 5
Amount/Serving %DV*
Total Fat <1g 2%
Saturated Fat <1g 3%
Trans Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 25mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 43g 14%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sugars 31g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 2%
Iron 7%
*Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your needs.


Water, Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Powder (Processed with Alkalai), Corn Syrup, Vanilla Extract, Rum Extract.

Not only does the ingredient list tell you what to use, but it also tells you how much. Everything is listed in descending order by weight. For example, there is more water than rum extract.

Since it’s such a short list, the 31 grams of sugar listed is essentially granulated sugar. 31 grams x 4 servings = 124 grams for one batch. The dietary fiber gives a clue as to how much cocoa/chocolate is involved: one tablespoon of cocoa has 2 grams of fiber, according to Nutrition Data. There’s also corn syrup, vanilla, rum extract, but they’re listed at the bottom of the ingredients, so their presence is minute. I guessed how much there was based on other sorbet recipes I’ve seen. The chocolate liquor (unsweetened chocolate) gave me some trouble, because there’s no way the sorbet could be low-fat if there were more chocolate than cocoa powder. I made an estimated guess, then subtracted the weight of the ingredients from the total weight to yield the amount of water. I came up with this preliminary recipe:

Ingredient Grams Volume
Sugars (total) 124
Granulated sugar 115 ½ cup
Corn syrup 33 3 T
Dutch-process cocoa powder 42 ½ cup
Unsweetened chocolate 10
Vanilla 4 1 tsp
Vodka/rum 1¾ tsp
Water 258 1 to 1¼ cup
Total 448

Boy, was this CHOCOLATE sorbet. The flavor was very intense, and it didn’t freeze solid. It melted as quickly as Frosty the Snowman in the Mojave dessert. I used too much sugar and liquor, which keeps frozen desserts soft. Part of the problem is that the supermarket’s “light corn syrup” actually contains high-fructose corn syrup, which is sweeter.

Rather than tweak my recipe (guessing the amount of cocoa liquor gave me a headache!), I tried an Ultimate Ice Cream Book recipe for my second attempt. Here is the recipe, courtesy of Recipe Link. It had a better flavor but was still a little icy. (I don’t have an ice cream maker, so I froze the mixture in ice cube trays and broke it up in a food processor.)

For my third attempt, I just bought a pint at Whole Foods. It was the best $4 I spent.


The Ultimate Ice Cream Book: Over 500 Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, Drinks, And More

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Fancy Food Show 2006: Best in Show, Continued

Since the Fancy Food Show was a treasure trove of good products, here is the remaining Best in Show.


Molino Real Chocolate CreamMolino Real
Best healthy Nutella: Chocolate Cream

This chocolate spread tastes so good it must be bad, but it’s just cocoa powder, milk, cinnamon and agave nectar. The sweetener is a natural derivation from the blue agave plant, the same plant that gives us tequila. It’s great for diabetics, vegans or people who want to venture beyond white sugar. Agave is similar to honey, except it is runnier and has a more neutral taste.
Photo: Molino Real

Barefoot Contessa lemon curd

Barefoot Contessa
Best lemon curd

I usually do not buy dessert sauces because they are so easy and cheap to make (if you can dissolve sugar in hot liquid, you can make a sweet sauce), but the lemon curd from celebrity chef Ina Garten tastes like the real deal. It contains just sugar, eggs, butter, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt. Other brands were slimy (due to artificial gelling agents) or bitter (due to too much rind).
Photo: Straub’s Fine Grocers

Dalmatia fig spread

Best fig spread

If you could bottle up the freshest figs, this would be it. The Adriatic figs are hand picked on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia and then sun dried. The spread is not too sweet, not too sticky and not too fermented. The orange version took first place at the Fancy Food Show in 2004, but I like the plain one best.
Photo: FoodMatch Inc.

Elsa's Story Mandarin & Orange Preserved

Elsa’s Story
Best orange preserves

Orange marmalade is often plagued with sour and bitter notes, but Elsa’s Story is delicious. Good preserves like this one taste like fruit, not corn syrup. Elsa’s Story also makes fine cookies.
Photo: Elsa’s Story

School House Kitchen mustard

School House Kitchen
Best mustard

This mustard has remarkable smoothness and body, unlike French’s neon yellow variety. If you like the sweetness of honey mustard and the richness of Grey Poupon, School House Kitchen manages to put them together. They also donate 100% of their profits towards education.
Photo: School House Kitchen

Tasmanian spiced cherries

34 Degrees
Best preserved fruit products

This Australian company has unusual, great tasting fruits. The dried muscats (floral flavored grapes) come still attached to their branches. They also have a selection of fruit pastes to spread on cheese, toast or ice cream. The most unique items are the Tasmanian spiced cherries. They are sweet, slightly acidic from the vinegar marinade, and peppery. Think of them as sweet versions of cured olives.
Photo: 34 Degrees


Luxe green tea

Best tea: Traditional Japanese genmaicha

Green tea leaves are combined with toasted brown rice in this strong yet refreshing tea. It was so bold and rounded that I could not believe it came from a bag. The silken bags are completely biodegradable: no glue, no staples.
Photo: Luxe

Skotidakis Greek yogurt

Skotidakis Goat Farm
Best yogurt

Their Greek yogurt tastes just like sour cream, but it is healthier because it is only made from milk. Once you try the plain yogurt with a dollop of honey, you may never go back to the watery, grainy commercial brands. They may have distribution problems because they are a small farm from Canada, but do beg your supermarket to carry them.
Photo: Skotidakis Goat Farm

Kind Fruit + Nut bar

KIND Fruit + Nut
Best energy bar that tastes like candy: Sesame & peanuts with chocolate

KIND Fruit + Nut bars satisfy my sweet tooth, but they are healthier and more natural than most other energy bars. Other bars are laboratory engineered (mmm, textured vegetable protein and partially hydrogenated fat!) and taste like it. KIND is a mixture of toasted nuts, fruit and honey. My favorite is the sesame-chocolate bar, which tastes like halvah, but the macadamia-apricot is very good too. KIND lives up to its name, donating 5% of its proceeds to charity.

Keep in mind that these bars are nutrient and calorie dense. Sure there’s plenty of wholesome ingredients, but nuts are high in fat. Still, if you’re going to splurge, it’s much healthier and tastier (in my opinion) than a candy bar. Also, these bars are not meant to be meal replacements; they are low in complex carbohydrates.
Photo: KIND

chocolate Maya bar

Best chocolate energy bar: Mayabar

These gooey chocolatey bars are even less processed than the KIND bars. They consist of dates, cocoa powder and chunks of nuts. There is no added sugar! Like the KIND bars, these are high in “good” calories. They are satisfying but will not keep you full for long: they have no grains (complex carbs).
Photo: Larabar

Bubbie's mochi ice cream

Best ice cream novelty: Mochi ice cream

Asians are the pioneers of chewy desserts. The Taiwanese brought bubble tea, a sweet drink accompanied by extra-large tapioca pearls. The Japanese and Chinese brought mochi, a sticky rice cake filled with sweetened beans, peanuts or sesame. In 2001, a genius in California replaced the traditional fillings with ice cream. My goodness! A drink that you eat? An ice cream that you chew? What is the world coming to?

Bubbies is an upscale (read: pricier) competitor to Mikawaya, the company that created this frozen treat. Although Mikawaya is ubiquitous in Chinatown and American supermarkets, Bubbies tastes more natural. You can’t beat their selection of unusual flavors: strawberry chocolate chip, lychee, passion fruit, guava and peanut butter.
Photo: Bubbies

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Fancy Food Show 2006

Fancy Food Show logo

Before food makes it to the supermarket, it’s displayed at the Fancy Food Show, an annual convention with endless tables of specialty foods. From July 9-11, the Jacob Javits Center in New York showcased 160,000 products from 2,200 exhibitors. An estimated 24,000 attendees, including retail store decision makers, distributors, caterers, chefs and media (yours truly) sought out the best gourmet products.

From the moment I saw the floorplan, I knew that this foodie’s paradise and dieter’s nightmare would be overwhelming. Booths are not grouped by category, so you can eat a chocolate truffle before you get a bowl of pasta and bump into a mascot handing out hot sauce. (For all of you who make meals out of Costco samples, you can can do the same here, but you’ll hear from your stomach later.) If you’re lucky, booths were organized by country and state, but most were randomly strewn throughout 300,000 square feet.

I don’t mean to stereotype, but Italy focused on olive oil, cured meat and cheese; Germany had sausage and bulky grain products; England had shortbread and greasy food; Texas had lots of beef and spices; China had dehydrated vegetables to make your own cup-o-Noodles; and middle Eastern countries had dates.

As for general food trends, there were lots of fruit pastes (like sliceable jam) with nuts, gourmet bake-at-home mixes for molten chocolate cake and creme brulee (It’s ironic that anyone who makes creme brulee needs a blow torch or a broiler. Anyone that serious about food probably wouldn’t bake with mixes.), alternative natural sweeteners (Mostly in the form of agave nectar and honey. I was disappointed that molasses, date sugar, evaporated cane juice, stevia, and fruit juice concentrate, etc. didn’t make a mark.)

In chocolate trends, cacao nibs were popular. Nibs are plain cacao beans; once sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and lecithin are blended in, it becomes chocolate. In the words of chocolate expert David Lebovitz, “The term ‘cacao’ refers to the beans used to make chocolate, and ‘cocoa’ usually refers to the powder made from the beans after they’re roasted and pulverized.” Also, prominently labeled single-origin chocolate was abundant. It’s not enough to know about cocoa percentage anymore; the country of the beans can indicate their taste. To see how Venezuelan v. Santo Domingo beans taste different, check out my Michel Cluizel chocolate review.

There was a dismal attempt at whole-grain products. Most were rock hard and tasted like medicine that your doctor would prescribe. Others, like Milton’s multi-grain cracker squares, were tasty but relied on enriched wheat flour (a euphemism for bleached white flour—you don’t need to enrich something if its nutrients are intact) and had the same nutrition as Cheez-its. As a whole, the grains didn’t fall far from the tree. Familiar grains like whole-wheat flour, oats, corn, rice, sesame and flax were staples, but kamut, spelt, millet and quinoa were virtually non-existent from the show.


After sampling hundreds of products to the point where everything tasted the same and I could no longer talk in straight sentences, the best products became apparent. If you ever go, pace yourself and be selective before tasting the overabundant olive oils, olives, sauces, cheese, and preserves. It helps if you bring a friend or randomly bump into one, such as Gerald from Foodite.

Following 101 Cookbooks’ lead, here’s my personal Best in Show. Look for these products in specialty food stores like Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca, Zabar’s and Fairway.


I’m breaking products down by category, so why not start with my favorite food?

valrhona chocolate
Photo: Foodite

Best chocolate

Every time I try a different brand of chocolate, I always come back to Valrhona. The flavor is unparalleled: complex, rich but never bitter. Out of all the flavors at the show, I liked the Manjari the best, which Valrhona describes as “A highly aromatic bouquet, 64% cocoa. Made from Criollos and Trinitarios beans from Madagascar. A distinctive chocolate flavour with an intense bouquet of red berries.” The 72% Araguani and 85% Abinao were perfectly palatable, but I prefer a little more sugar in my chocolate.

Dolfin chocolate

Best chocolate runner-up

Dolfin comes at a close second behind Valrhona. I usually associate Belgian chocolate with mildness. Pure Belgian chocolate, like Callebaut, has a weak aroma and bland taste. Begian-style truffles from Neuhaus and Leonida’s are heavy on the dairy. Dolfin, however, is wonderfully nuanced. I love their dark chocolate bars with crunchy cacao nibs.

Margaux chocolate twigs
Photo: Mademoiselle de Margaux

Mademoiselle de Margaux
Best shaped chocolate: Sarments du medoc

Elegant packaging and presentation aside, Mademoiselle de Margaux makes tasty chocolate twigs that are perfect for nibbling. They come in natural tasting dark chocolate, orange, lemon, mint, raspberry, coffee, toffee and hazelnut flavors.

Monbana cocoa

Best cocoa

When I visited France two years ago, I smuggled their hot cocoa mix so I could savor it back home. From the looks of it, the Chocolate Powder mix contains natural cocoa and raw sugar. Even if mixed with water instead of milk, it tastes as rich as hot chocolate. They had distribution problems in the U.S. before, but they plan to get off the ground soon.

Photo: Monbana

Chocolats Olivier
Most potential

The oldest chocolatier in France (open since in 1780 during King Louis XVI’s rein), Chocolats Olivier recently acquired new ownership. They feature single-origin chocolate and truffles. The chocolate in their chocolate-covered raspberry jelly was forgettable, but the jelly tasted fresh and was full of seeds. When they sort things out, I think they’ll be really promising.

Chocolat modern

Chocolat Moderne
Best truffles

Chocolat Moderne is a nouveau chocolatier that gets its flavors right. Even under the melting heat of the display, the chocolate-covered grapefruit caramels and lychee truffle with crunchy pralines tasted bright. These chocolates were just as delicious as they looked. They were much better than their more famous competitor, Vosges Haut Chocolate, whose chocolate didn’t taste anything like its advertised flavors of curry or pandan. However, it is with great reservation that I recommend Chocolat Moderne, since the gentleman at the booth snubbed me. He tried to convince me that he had no samples available, although I saw the people before and after me grab from the prominent tray of truffles. Later on, I discovered samples at the Focused Tasting area.

Photo: Chocolat Moderne

Dagoba nibsDagoba
Outstanding organic chocolate

If you’re into conscientious eating, check out Dagoba’s certified organic chocolate. Other organic brands, like Divine Chocolate, are crumbly, and Endangered Species has a lingering malty sweetness. Dagoba chocolate doesn’t suffer from these pitfalls, and it comes in unique flavors such as xocolatl (with chilies, spices and cacao nibs). Having things labeled organic and fair trade is a plus, but I think they can be redundant if you already seek out artisan chocolate. Good cacao beans come from small farmers who care about the crop and already take care of their land. Some chocolate makers, such as El Rey and Jacques Torres, deliberately avoid becoming certified because they think the system is flawed. Big corporations can afford certification, which defeats the purpose of supporting the small artisans.

Dagoba also makes one of my favorite chocolate-covered cacao nibs. They resemble rice krispies in size and texture, and each one tastes slightly different, keeping your tastebuds guessing. There is actually one brand that makes better nibs, but I had such a bad personal experience with the owner that I want to boycott their products.

Photo: Dagoba

Blanxart chocolate

Best rustic chocolate

This Barcelona chocolatier leaves the cacao beans chunky and uses coarse sugar. The chocolate-covered hazelnut nougat is also very good.

Photo: Blanxart

Coming up in parts two and three: the remaining Best in Show and behind the scenes at the Fancy Food Show.

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IMBB 27: The Joy of Soy

Is My Blog Burning - Soy

I know of no other food that is as versatile as soy. In its natural state above, it resembles green peas. It can also stand in for milk (as soy milk), custard (as silken tofu), cheese (as firm tofu), meat (as tofu or tempeh), flour (as okara), nuts (as roasted soy nuts) and salt (as soy sauce or miso). High in protein, fiber and antioxidants but relatively low in fat, soy is a staple in my kitchen.

dried soybeans
Dried soybeans

For the monthly themed cooking events, Is My Blog Burning and Sugar-High Friday, Reid at ‘Ono Kine Grindz has asked bloggers to make soy cuisine.

After making soy-sauce candied walnuts, I decided to experiment more with soy sauce in desserts. Soy sauce essentially tastes like caramel-flavored salt, so the idea isn’t too far-fetched.

For my first creation, I made chocolate caramels with soy milk and soy sauce. Out of my two experiments, this one seemed like the safest bet. As the Kikkoman website says, “Kikkoman Soy Sauce…..In Chocolate? Absolutely! Naturally brewed soy sauce can enhance more than just savory flavors — its salty brewed flavor depresses the extra sweetness typical of chocolate syrups and enhances the richness of the cocoa powder. It also helps to blend dairy notes and highlights the fruit top notes of the cocoa. The result: a deep, nutty, roasted chocolate flavor with a rich color.”

These low-fat caramels were tasty for what they were, but they were slightly grainy. I don’t know whether it’s because I used homemade soy milk, which naturally has pulp. Or perhaps the granulated sugar crystallized, in which case more honey was needed. Also, soy milk curdles at the slightest introduction of acid, which was in the natural cocoa powder. You may fare better with commercially prepared soy milk, which is smoother and has thickeners.

My candy also did not set up, even in the freezer. I’ve clarified the instructions, so cook the candy until it reaches the softball stage–248 degrees F. I think these would have tasted better with plain old salt, but if you’re adventurous, add the soy sauce in the end, so you don’t cook out its delicate flavor.

chocolate soy caramels

Chocolate Caramels

Adapted from The Soy Dessert and Baking Book

This is a great way to sneak nutrients into candy.

½ c sugar
1 c vanilla soy milk
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp honey
2 Tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
1 tsp soy sauce or 1/4 tsp salt

Line a loaf pan with greased foil.

Over medium heat, melt sugar in a sauce pan, stirring until it has completely dissolved and is light golden in color. Gradually stir in soy milk and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10-15 min., uncovered. Add butter, honey and cocoa and salt (if you’re not using soy sauce) and continue boiling and stirring for another 10-15 min., or until mixture thickens (about 248F) and shrinks away from the bottom and sides of the pan. Stir in soy sauce (if using). Pour into the greased pan and cool 10 min. While still warm, cut caramels into approximately 18 pieces. Wrap in individual candy wrappers. The leftovers freeze well.

Now, what could possibly be weirder than chocolate and soy sauce? How about a dessert where the soy sauce doesn’t have “milk” or chocolate to hide behind? A dessert with just three ingredients? (Two if you don’t count the orange zest, which I didn’t use. Or one if you don’t count the sugar, which is mandatory in dessert.) It’s soy sauce sorbet, which Kikkoman features on its website, along with soy sauce chocolate sauce and soy fruit charlotte.

At first bite, the sorbet has an off-putting fermented flavor, but it gets better as you eat it. It’s the easiest way to make a refreshing “caramel” sorbet without having to caramelize the sugar. Serving it with chocolate sauce does double duty. The chocolate sauce offsets the sorbet’s saltiness, while soy sauce brings out the chocolate flavor.
The sorbet is slightly icy, like a granita. You can add more sugar if you want it smoother.

Now that my experiments are done, I declare soy sauce too weird to put in desserts. At least I tried. If you like Sam Mason-style desserts (ancho caramel or miso ice cream, anyone?) from WD-50, these might be up your alley.

soy sauce ice cream

Soy Sauce Sorbet

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Michael Bloise, Wish at The Hotel at South Beach (Miami Beach, FL)

Yield: 6 cups

4 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce (or substitute 1/3 cup regular soy sauce plus 1/3 cup water)
4 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 Tbsp vodka (optional but recommended to keep the sorbet from freezing hard)

Stir together all ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. Serving suggestion: Chef Bloise serves a small scoop of Soy Sauce Sorbet with ginger carrot cake.

and round-up.

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