Presidential Fudge

peanut butter fudge
In March, a congressman offered his mother’s homemade fudge on eBay.

Everyone and their grandmother has a recipe for fudge, but the best one comes from a congressman’s mother in York, Penn. Or so says President George W. Bush. In 2003, he was on Air Force One with U.S. Representative Todd Platts, who bragged that his mom made the best fudge in the world.

Bush took him up on the boast and tried the fudge on the eve of the State of the Union address. He liked it so much that he hand wrote a thank-you letter:

Dear Babs,
Thanks for the fudge, it was great. If you see me running mile after mile after television, please know you’re the cause.

Besides being an insider’s secret amongst politicians (like John McCain, the speaker of the house and a local mayor), “Babs” Platts presents her fudge to new neighbors and friends in nursing homes. This March, you could even buy it on eBay when Auction Inn, a local fund raising organization, sold it.

The fudge is coveted by many but obtained by a few. Luckily, I found the recipe in a regional magazine, Susquehanna Style. The secret is Jif peanut butter and marshmallow cream from Weis supermarket. Non-Pennsylvanians will have to make do without that brand of fluff, but I second the Jif recommendation. It’s my favorite commercial brand of peanut butter because of the deep, molasses flavor. I haven’t had a chance to try the recipe yet, so I’m taking all this by faith.

Regardless of how you feel about politics or the election tomorrow, you have to love the homey story behind this fudge. When I spoke to Platts for an AP story about weird foods appearing on eBay, it was clear that he’s a family man. Some people carry pictures of their kids in their wallet; Platts lets his 10-year-old son record his voicemail greeting on his cell phone. It goes something like, “Hi, this is Todd Platts’ son. He’s not here right now, so leave a message.” Even though it’s two years old, Platts won’t dare delete it because he thinks it’s perfect. How cute is that?

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Interview with the “First Lady of Chocolate”

La Maison du Chocolat truffles

Fancy chocolate and sweet-salty pairings owe a lot to pastry chef Alice Medrich. She spots trends years, and sometimes decades, ahead of time. She made these little things called truffles 30 years ago in her Berkeley shop, Cocolat. Then she went on to decadent yet light desserts in her cookbook, Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts. Her new book, Pure Dessert, takes another step forward by going back to the basics. Simple, artisan ingredients like whole grains, raw sugar and herbs are featured.

To celebrate Alice’s new book, I interviewed her for Chow.com. She talked about why her cakes have no frosting and the chef who unknowingly challenged her to make low-fat desserts. Don’t forget to try the whole wheat sablé (French shortbread) recipe.

In the next couple weeks Sometime, check back here for audio outtakes of the interview. I think the Chow.com piece left out some funny stuff. If all goes well, I’ll launch a “Sweet Talk” series with more podcasts.

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Raising the bar on candy

Tumbador chocolates

Pastry chefs differentiate between chocolate and chocolates — the first is a pure ingredient, while the second is a confection. Think of it this way: you savor chocolate like fine wine, but you hand out chocolates during Halloween.

To illustrate the difference, New York magazine had renowned pastry chef Francois Payard taste 14 chocolates a couple years ago. The results were entertaining but very telling.

Payard on Junior Mints: “I know these are meant to be refreshing. I wouldn’t say it tastes like toothpaste, but something like that.”

On Ferrero Rocher: “Ewgh, no, this is terrible.”

On Cadbury Dairy Milk: “No, this one is not good; it’s too dense, too thick with sweetness. This is like Belgian chocolate; it tastes very fatty. There’s no interesting character. You can’t even enjoy the cocoa liquor in it.”

If you’re like me and love Halloween candy but not its overwhelming sweetness, you can make your own PB Cups, Almond Jays, Twixts and Snickles, thanks to Chow.com! They even have diagrams, videos and printout candy wrappers.

If you don’t want to go through the trouble, here’s some store-bought options in New York.

La Maison du Chocolat's roche
Photo: Robyn Lee/The Girl Who Ate Everything

La Maison du Chocolat – This premiere shop sells giant roches and nougats, all with their proprietary blend of Valrhona chocolate.

Tumbador Chocolate s'more bar

Tumbador Chocolate – Jean-Francois Bonnet, formerly of Daniel restaurant, now has his own chocolate factory in Brooklyn. For a classically trained chef, he’s surprisingly playful with the s’more and PB&J candy bars. You should try these not just for their deliciousness, but because he’s a really nice guy. I only wish the base chocolate weren’t Callebaut, which has a weak flavor. Available at Fresh Direct.

Lion Bar – This candy bar is a mix between a Kit Kat and a 100 Grand: crispy, crunchy and caramely. Because it’s from the UK, it’s also less sweet than American candy. Available at Economy Candy and Fairway.

Of course, you can always get a free bag of generic candy at KMart. Coupon expires on Halloween.

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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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

    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.

Notes

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

http://www.sugoodsweets.com/blog/2007/10/caramel-surprise-chocolate-chip-cookies/

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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

Ingredients:
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.

Variations:
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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Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

chunky chocolate-apple coffee cake

I admit I’ve scooped several cartons of cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream, taking the Oreo chunks and leaving behind the vanilla ice cream. I’ve seen other people maim crumb cake, slowly picking at the top until it resembles a giant network of holes. It’s all for the love of chunky bits. Tell me, what’s the latest topping/mix-in that you’ve picked at?

For all of us chunk stealers, I wanted to make a coffee cake that would never run out of bits, no matter how many times you picked at it. I started with seasonal apples, added chocolate (because everything tastes better with chocolate), then walnuts and streusel. To keep the batter light, I first looked to a butterless, eggless recipe in the Joy of Cooking. While it could easily be veganized (substitute the buttermilk with soy milk and apple cider vinegar), it actually had more sugar and fat than the regular recipe.

Vegetable oil is a “good” fat, but if you use a lot and it doesn’t have any flavor, it’s not worth it. I’d rather use a small amount of the good stuff. So, eggs and butter were back in. Traditional cakes get their light texture by whipping air into butter and sugar. Then eggs are added, just until they are incorporated. Since this recipe doesn’t have a lot of butter, you instead beat the heck out of the eggs, until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.

All the mix-ins balance out the lean cake. If you’re looking for something lighter, you can omit the streusel topping (see the variation below) or chocolate chips. Don’t be scared by all the steps below; they’re only there because of all the goodies.

Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

This over-the-top cake gets its chunks from apples, walnuts and chocolate chips. The streusel sinks into the cake and resembles soft cinnamon bun filling.

(Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours, 30 minutes active)

Adapted from recipes and techniques from The Joy of Cooking, Coffee Cakes and Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts

For the cinnamon streusel:
1/3 cups Grape-Nuts cereal
1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp vanilla

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and diced into half-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1 cup plain yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
5 Tbsp (1/2 stick plus 1 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9″-round springform pan.
  2. To make the streusel:
    • In a small bowl, stir together the Grape-Nuts cereal, walnuts, sugar, flour and cinnamon.
    • In a separate bowl, beat together the egg white, butter and vanilla.
    • Stir the egg white mixture into the cereal mixture with a fork. Cover and refrigerate.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
  4. In another medium bowl, toss the apples and chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp of the flour mixture. This way, they won’t sink to the bottom of the cake.
  5. In a small bowl or cup, combine the yogurt (or what you have chosen) with the vanilla and set aside.
  6. In a large bowl (the last one, I promise), cream the butter with an electric mixer until soft, about 1 minute. Add the sugars gradually, beating for about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one by one, at medium-high speed until light colored and airy, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the liquids in two parts, beating on low speed or stirring until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Just before the batter comes together, gently stir in the apples and chocolate chips.
  8. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Evenly sprinkle the top with large dollops of streusel.
  9. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the edges are brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (except when touching the apples and chocolate chips). Cool the cake on a rack for 15 minutes, then unmold. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Serves 12.

Nutrition per serving (121 g): CALORIES 330 (32% from fat); FAT 12 g (sat 8g); PROTEIN 6 g; CHOLESTEROL 52 mg; CALCIUM 10%; SODIUM 193 mg; FIBER 3g; CARBOHYDRATE 53 g. (If made with 50% whole wheat flour and plain low-fat yogurt.)

Variations:

Whole wheat coffee cake: Substitute 1 cup whole-wheat flour for 1 cup of all-purpose flour.

Simplified: Omit the streusel and add 1 tsp cinnamon to the flour mixture. Sprinkle the top of the batter with 1/2 cup toasted, coarsely chopped walnuts.

Notes:
This is an experimental recipe. I used a couple tablespoons more buttermilk than called for, and the middle took a long time to cook while the edges got dry. That’s why I reduced the liquid to one cup. I also only baked half a cake for 45 minutes, so the cooking time above is an estimate. My oven loses heat quickly, so it should take you less time. I also only used half a stick of butter, and my edges were slightly rubbery (the result of gluten formation and over baking). The extra tablespoon of butter should do the trick.

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Sweet changes

chocolate tea cake
This picture has nothing to do with this post, but I made you look!

Over the past months, I’ve been adding some extra features, which I hope you like. If you’re reading this blog through a feed, come on over and see what’s new.

You can contact me through this nifty form! I no longer display my e-mail address to protect myself from spam. I thought the form would make people think they were writing to a black hole, but now I get more letters than ever. Keep them coming! I love your feedback.

If you ever wanted to know more about me than “Jessica Su is a writer in New York who loves to share desserts with her friends,” check out the About page. I list more about my culinary and journalistic background. There’s also guidelines if you want to submit products to be covered on this site.

You can easily print, e-mail and share individual posts. If you’ve ever wanted to save something to del.icio.us or StumbleUpon, you don’t even have to leave the site.

You can easily find this site’s most popular posts in the sidebar. There’s some algorithm that figures this out, but I bet the mock Nutella recipe will be there for a while. BTW, I made an amazing improvement that I’ll share with you guys soon.

This blog is now called Su Good Sweets instead of Su Good Eats. It makes sense, since I blog about dessert anyway. In the beginning, Su Good Sweets only referred to my “business” where I sold cookies, cakes and nut butter. To differentiate the blog, I called it Su Good Eats. I have decided to close down the baking business because it was a lot to handle. Before you express shock, know that my orders have gradually been decreasing anyway. The last time I made macaroons was months ago. There are a couple people who occasionally want homemade cashew, chocolate-hazelnut and peanut butter. I’m happy to still fulfill those orders, but gone are the days of catering three cakes and three dozen cookies for a party. I was only operating with one oven and one baker!

What do you think of these changes? What would you like to see more/less of?

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David Lebovitz’s Scooper-Duper Meetup at City Bakery

David Lebovitz and me

David Lebovitz, author of The Perfect Scoop, was at New York’s City Bakery last Sunday for a delicious meet-and-greet. For more than a year, I’ve been reading his blog for the chocolate posts, recipes (try the kouign amman, a caramelized croissant-like cake) and humor.

The last time I was at the City Bakery was when Adam, aka the Amateur Gourmet, celebrated his blog’s second birthday. That was my first time trying the bakery’s legendary chocolate chip cookies and tarts.

pretzel croissant
Photo: The Wandering Eater

This time, I passed another rite of passage: eating my first pretzel croissant. Oh. my. goodness. The outside had that magic shatter factor and a healthy dose of salt. I think Dunkin Hines cakes are too salty, so if I like salty dessert, it must be really good! The inside had a whisper of sweetness, hefty chew and lots of grease (in a good way). Some people complain that City Bakery croissants are too bready, but it worked here.

Also in attendance were Adam (now author of a book memoir), Julie (from A Finger in Every Pie) and Deb (from Smitten Kitchen). I previously met them at various food blogger events, so it was nice to see old faces again.

We (mostly Deb) tried to decode the pretzel croissant’s secret. After careful examination, we guessed that the dough was made with bread whole wheat flour and malt syrup (also found in New York bagels). To get the dark brown pretzel shell, it was probably boiled in lye solution for a couple seconds and sprinkled with salt before baking. According to David, The City Bakery’s recipe is a closely guarded secret, just like that of their hot chocolate.

Julie, several other bloggers and I recently split a 24-pound order of Valrhona chocolate. Her share is still in my apartment. Um Julie, can I just eat it? :-) It’s okay that you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet.

Adam was a sweetheart. Fame hasn’t changed him. Actually, he was even nicer now than when I met him two years ago. He remembered my food service trip to New Orleans and was proud of the work that CulinaryCorps was doing.

David Lebovit'z autograph

David was easy going and funny, just like on his blog. At one point, the group talked about being unphotogenic, and David’s motto was, “Does it really matter?” Nice.

I admit that I was a mooch that day. The catch about socializing in New York is that nothing’s free. If you meet somewhere, you’re supposed to support the business and buy something. I rushed into the bakery and went straight to the signing because I could only make it at the end of David’s appearance. In between chatting, I forgot about everything else. As I left, I meant to buy something, but they were packing everything away. Now I have to go back and buy my own pretzel croissant.

City Bakery
3 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011
(212) 366-1414

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Askinosie: The New American Chocolate Maker

Askinosie chocolate bar

Anyone who makes something as delicious as chocolate is bound to be the most popular person on the block. Not so with Shawn Askinosie. During his former life as a criminal defense attorney, he received death threats. When he had an epiphany to make high-quality chocolate (it was either that or cupcakes) in 2005, he alienated both the chocolate and law community. Robert Steinberg, co-founder of Scharffen Berger chocolate, was unimpressed with Shawn’s science background: a lone forestry class from the University of Missouri. His colleagues thought he was crazy, running back and forth from the courtroom to the factory. When Shawn was needed at “work,” he donned the emergency suit he kept in the factory and wiped the brown stains off his face.

Fortunately for chocolate lovers like us, Shawn opened his Springfield factory this January. This is a big deal because there are very few chocolate makers in the world. Most companies who sell chocolate don’t actually make it themselves. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Chocolate making is a 70-step process.

If you grew up on Hershey’s bars, you might think, “How good can American chocolate be?” When American chocolate is bad, it’s grainy, sour and artificial tasting. But when American chocolate is good, it’s among the best in the world. Some of my favorite brands, like Dagoba, Theo and Amano, are American. Askinosie is a worthy contender.

Pure chocolate is only pure cacao solids, added cocoa butter for smoothness, sugar, an emulsifier like soy lecithin (to keep everything together) and vanilla. A few chocolate makers exclude the soy lecithin or vanilla in the name of purity. I think the chocolate usually suffers as a result (for example, Michel Cluizel is crumbly without the emulsifier and Chocovic is flat without the vanilla), but it’s a commendable effort and a sign that the brand is serious about its chocolate.

Askinosie’s single-origin bars don’t have vanilla or soy lecithin, a double whammy. When I tasted the free sample that Shawn shipped me, I couldn’t tell that anything was missing. The bars were exceptionally smooth, glossy and had strong flavors.

Askinosie Chocolate nibs

For all you chocolate nerds, Askinosie is also unique because it makes single-origin cocoa butter and nibs. When other companies add cocoa butter to their chocolate, they use whatever’s available. The problem is that the two cocoa butters can result in waxy chocolate.

For all his meticulousness, it comes as no surprise that Shawn buys cacao directly from the farmers for more than market value (most cacao farmers live in poverty). Each bar also comes with a map detailing the region and the farmer. The bars also come with individual Choc-O-Lot numbers, so you can trace their journey.

Askinosie chocolate packaging

Askinosie is dedicated to sustainability: the tie on top of the bar comes from cocoa bean sacks, and the inner wrapping is compostable.

The 70% San Jose del Tambo bar from Ecuador has a unique tart red fruit and maple flavor. Ecuador is known for mild, nutty tasting beans, so these flavors were unexpected. The 75% Soncusco bar from Mexico is even better. It’s so unusual that I’m at a loss for words, but I guess it’s like grass, hay and dirt. Although Mexico is the home of spiced hot chocolate and mole, I don’t know of any other artisan bar from there. I guess something got lost in that 70-step process.

In short, Askinosie’s chocolate is impressive but not quite one of my favorites. Part of it is a bias on the flavor. While it’s strong, it’s not what I’m used to. Also, at $40 a pound, it’s expensive. As a point of reference, Valrhona, one of the gold standards, is $15 a pound. Is Askinosie worth that much, when it leaves a slightly scratchy feel in the back of my throat and could have a fuller range of flavors? I’m not sure, but it’s  worth a try.

Askinosie Chocolate
514 E. Commercial, Springfield, MO 65803
phone: 417-862-9900
fax: 862-9904

Chocolate is available at their factory (adult tours are $3!), their website and stores in Alaska, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon, New Mexico, Missouri, Philadelphia and Texas.

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Fall for this apple cake

fog on the apple farm

During fall in New York, the air gets refreshingly crisp, just like the season’s apples. You know the CRUNCH you hear in the Washington Apple commercials? It’s so loud that it sounds fake, but it’s exactly how good apples are over here.

King David apples

On this first day of fall, my friends and I went apple picking (we city folk are easily entertained). Here’s a recipe to put the season’s bounty to use. It’s the only 100% whole wheat cake worthy to be called dessert. Instead of being thrown in for the sake of being whole grain, the whole wheat lends an extra earthiness to the fruit. The flour’s bitterness is offset with boiled cider. (King Arthur’s Whole Grain Baking says that any acid, such as orange juice, masks whole wheat’s bitterness. You only need to add a little, and you won’t taste the oranges.) While this cake is high in fiber, it’s by no means low fat. The deep, caramel flavor is lovely, so you skip the frosting it if you like.

apple cake

Legacy Apple Cake (adapted from King Arthur Whole Grain Baking)

Makes 1 rectangular or 9-inch round cake

Cake:

Butter (for greasing the pan)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (traditional or white whole wheat), plus more for the pan
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, or 2 teaspoons apple pie spice
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup boiled cider or apple juice concentrate
3 apples, peeled, seeded, and chopped or 1 1/3 cup applesauce
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch square pan or a 9-inch round pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice or apple pie spice; set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer in a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the brown and granulated sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping between each addition to scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl. Beat in vanilla, cider (or apple juice) and the applesauce (if using).
  4. With the mixer set on low speed, beat in the flour mixture until evenly moistened.
  5. Toss the walnuts and apples (if using) with 1 teaspoon of the flour mixture. This step ensures that the chunks don’t sink to the bottom of the cake.
  6. With a rubber spatula, fold the apples (if using) and walnuts into the cake batter.
  7. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. The round cake pan will take closer to 60 minutes.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool.

Frosting:

Double this recipe if frosting a double layer cake

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. In a small pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in brown sugar and salt. Cook, stirring, until the sugar melts. Add the milk, bring to a boil, and pour into a mixing bowl. Cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Beat well; if the mixture seems too thin, add more confectioners’ sugar. Use the frosting while it is still warm.

To serve:

Frost the cake. If you are making a round layer cake, level the cake with a large serrated knife. Then cut the cake into two even layers. If only it were that easy, right? The norm is to saw the knife back and forth into the cake. I always get raggedy edges with lots of crumbs.

Baker Linda Dann taught me an easier way. If you are right handed, hold your cutting arm against your body. With knife in hand, bend your forearm so it’s parallel to the cake. Steadily place your free left hand on top of the cake and turn it counter-clockwise into the knife. Don’t move your cutting hand. Keep pushing/rotating the cake into the knife, and you’ll get a clean cut. If you are left handed, switch the hands and rotate the cake clockwise.

Notes:

Boiled cider is simply apple cider that’s been concentrated till it’s thick and syrupy. To make it, reduce 1 1/2 cups of regular cider in an uncovered pot till you have 1/4 cup. I think this took me half an hour.

For a reduced fat version, replace 1/2 stick of butter with 1/4 cup of applesauce. Add the applesauce with the cider.

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