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    Entries in chocolaty goodness (29)

    Friday
    Feb032012

    Can't Buy Me Luuu~huv.

    The Beatles were right.  Ok, those words can’t have been uttered often, but it’s true.  Money can’t buy you love.  Part of me despises Valentine’s Day, and that’s exactly why.  I hate that love has become so equated with commercialism.  Don’t go out and buy overpriced chocolates for your sweetie.  Instead, make your own.  I promise they’ll cost less, they’ll taste better, and they’ll mean a heck of a lot more.  If you want it to be really special, why not make the candy together so you have an experience, a memory, and some fun time together?  Besides, who knows what chocolate dipping could lead to.  *wink, wink*

    So here’s what you’ll need:

    2 cups sugar
    ½ cup half & half
    1 cup strawberries
    4 Tablespoons butter
    2 Tablespoons syrup
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon vanilla

    The first thing you need to do is butter a 9x13 glass pan and set it atop pot holders.

    Now, throw your strawberries into the blender. 

    I’ve heard a lot of people ask if a Vita Mix is really worth the money.  I have to say, if you regularly use a blender, and if it’s within your budget, it’s worth every penny.  So, puree your strawberries until they’re mostly smooth, but I like there to still be seeds.  Measure out ½ cup of the puree.  ¾ - 1 cup of whole strawberries should get you pretty close to that. 

    Throw everything into a 2 ½ quart or larger saucepan. 

    Heat over medium low heat and stir everything together.  At this point, I decided a little squeeze of lemon juice would be a good addition.

    And squirted the camera lens.

    My poor camera.   It’s had all manner of food on it, not to mention steam, water, and it’s been dropped on the kitchen floor a few times.  Ok, so keep stirring until your sugar is completely dissolved.  You want this to happen before the mixture reaches a boil.  If it’s getting too hot and it’s still grainy, turn the heat down.  Once it’s all dissolved, you can increase the temperature to medium or so, but continue to stir constantly until it reaches a boil.  Once it’s boiling, pop the lid on and set a timer for 3 minutes.  This is a good time to get a little dish of ice cold water.  You also need to wash all the crystals off of your spoon or get a clean one out.  After 3 minutes, remove the lid.  It should look something like this:

    Time to start testing for temperature.  Get a little bit on your clean spoon, and drop it into the cold water. 

    When it reaches the right temperature, you’ll just barely be able to gather it into a ball and pick it up.  It won’t hold its shape. 

    While you’ve got it, rub it between your fingers to make sure it’s completely smooth.  If it’s not, you need to add ½ cup of water to your mixture and start the cooking process over again.  Pour the very hot mixture into your waiting pan. 

    This is why it needs to be on hot pads, or a folded towel.  It’s extremely hot.  There will be lots of little bits on the bottom of your pan, but resist the urge to scrape it. 

    Now just walk away.  It needs some time to cool.  You could wash up or put in some laundry.  Me?  I went to hang out with my little buddy.  But I had to annoy him first by taking his picture.  How could I resist?  Look at him all cozy in his new bed with his blanket and his dog. 

    Ok, so it’s possible I could be slightly biased.  Anyway, after 15 or 20 minutes, you’ll want to start checking the temperature.  You want the bottom of the pan to still be warm, but not so hot that you can’t hold your hand there comfortably.  Now, prepare for an arm workout.  With a sturdy spatula, start pushing it into the middle of the pan. 

    It will be really sticky and stretchy at this point. 

    Just keep moving it around.  Stir, scrape, drizzle… whatever you feel like.  Just keep it moving.  It will slowly start to turn a little opaque.  There will be big bubbles appearing as you stir… don’t worry about it. 

    Still very stretchy, and it just kind of runs and doesn’t hold any kind of shape.  Keep stirring.  In this picture, you can see it’s becoming even more opaque, but it’s still stretching and running.  Not there yet. 

    This is what we’re looking for.  Still soft and pliable, but no longer runs or stretches.  See how it’s holding its shape on the spatula?

    It could take a long time to get to this point.  Don’t get discouraged.  When my feet and back got tired, I went and sat down with it and just kept moving it around.  It doesn’t have to be quick stirring.  Just scrape it around slowly and lift it up and allow it to run back onto itself.  It will get there eventually.  It probably took 30 – 45 minutes for mine to finally fudgify.  Yes, fudgify.  That’s basically what we have here, after all.  Strawberry fudge.  Now, spread it into a parchment lined pan.

    At this point, it needs at least a few hours to finish the reaction that’s happening inside.  Just cover it, and after 2 or 3 hours pop it into the fridge.  You can leave it over night, or start dipping, once it’s nice and cold.  When you’re ready to dip, pull the whole thing out of the pan, and place it onto a cutting board.  I like to use a pizza cutter for this, but you can use a big knife if you prefer. 

    Cut it into small squares.  They should be small, maybe 1 inch squares.  They’re going to get bigger when you coat them in chocolate, and you want each chocolate to be about two bites. 

    Place one piece into the palm of your hand. 

    Roll it into a ball and place it on another piece of parchment.  You want to do it quickly because the longer it’s in your warm hands, the stickier it will become.  (That’s what she said!)  (Sorry about that.  I know it was crude, and this isn't one of Seeley's posts, but I just couldn’t resist) 

    Ok, onto the chocolate.  I like to chop up good chocolate bars.  (Thank you Trader Joes for your fabulous pound plus bars)  Chocolate chips will work fine, though.  Just microwave whichever you choose in a small glass bowl for 30 seconds at a time, stirring well between each.  It should only get just barely warm enough to melt.  Throw in one strawberry ball at a time.  Roll it around and allow the excess to drain.  A fork works well for this. 

    Carefully drop it onto another piece of parchment. 

    Oops.  I obviously didn’t let that one drain long enough.  See the little puddle around the bottom?  Now, to make them pretty, I decided to place a little piece of freeze dried strawberry on each one. 

    See how cute they are?

    I decided to do some milk chocolate and some dark.  One more advantage to making your own, you can do it however suits your mood.  You could even dip some of them in white chocolate. 

    I used imported, high quality chocolate, organic strawberries, organic sugar, and organic brown rice syrup, and this whole pan of chocolates still only cost me about $5 to make.  You won’t find quality ingredients like that in even the priciest candy shop, and for $5, you’d be hard pressed to even get a half dozen pieces.  So don't buy love this year.  Make it!

    What are you going to do with your valentine this year?

     

    Friday
    Jan132012

    Must. Have. Chocolate!

    Chocolate.  There really is no other food like it.  I mean, when was the last time you were sitting in front of your computer and thought, “Man I could really go for a piece of broccoli right now!”?  Now replace the word broccoli with the word chocolate.  I bet you’ve thought that at least once in the last week, and probably within the last 48 hours.  If not, you will after looking at the pictures in this post.  As it happens, my chocolate cravings are usually very specific.  Sometimes I want the snap and melt of a bar, sometimes the chew of a brownie, and occasionally, just a nice cold glass of chocolate milk.  This time I wanted a piece of moist, rich chocolate cake with lots of fudgy ganache.  That’s not really something you can get from the nearest grocery store.  At least, not where I live, so that meant making my own.  Fortunately, I had everything needed in my pantry, except the chocolate and cream for the ganache, which I had Hubby pick up on his way home from work. 

    Here’s what you need:

    1 ¼ cups flour
    1 cup sugar
    ½ cup cocoa powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    ½ teaspoon baking powder
    ½ teaspoon salt
    ½ cup buttermilk
    ½ cup hot water
    ⅓ cup oil
    1 egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    Cream and chocolate for ganache

    The first you thing you need to do is prepare your pan.  I used an 8 inch round pan that’s probably a good 2 inches deep.  If, like my old pans, yours are not that deep, either use a larger pan, or make two thin cakes.  In my world, you can’t make a cake without using parchment.  Not if it needs to come out of the pan in one piece, anyway.  Since I don’t have parchment rounds, I just trace around the bottom of my pan.

    Then you can just cut it slightly smaller than what you drew, and it’ll fit perfectly.  I like to use the If You Care brand of parchment products.  Not only are they free of chemicals and whatever, but they work marvelously.  Since this is a cake, which I’ll just pour in and it doesn’t have to really be spread around, I didn’t bother putting any butter down to keep the parchment in place.  I just dropped it into the pan. 

    Once that’s done, go ahead and preheat your oven to 350°.  (I remembered!)  Put your sugar into a mixing bowl, sift in your dry ingredients, and then whisk them together.

    In a separate bowl combine your egg, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla.  A 4 cup measuring cup works great for this because you can measure, mix, and pour from one vessel. 

    As you probably noticed in the ingredients picture, I had a bottle of kefir.  That’s just because the store I went to didn’t have buttermilk.  To be honest, I’m not even sure what the difference is between cultured buttermilk and kefir.  Kefir smells more like yogurt, but they’ve got to be very similar chemically, so you can always substitute one for the other.  Whisk together your wet ingredients and pour them over the dry. 

    Mix until everything is incorporated, and then scrape everything down really well, including the bottom of the bowl.  Mix the whole thing on medium speed for a good minute or so, and pour it into your waiting pan. 

    Into the preheated oven for 36-42 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  A few crumbs on it are fine, just no batter.  If yours cracks a little, like mine did, don’t worry.  The cake will settle, and then we’ll be covering it with a nice thick layer of ganache. 

    While the cake is hot, run a butter knife around the edge.  Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes in the pan, then remove it and allow it to finish cooling on a rack.  Just leave the parchment in place for now.  Once the cake has cooled completely, put it back into its pan and into the fridge.  Getting it nice and cold will make it much easier to cut into layers.  Since I had to wait for Hubby to get home with my ganache ingredients, I actually just covered the cake and refrigerated it overnight. 

    Speaking of ganache, let’s make some now.  For ganache I’ll be using on a cake, I prefer to use milk chocolate, but you can use whichever variety you like.  Since Hubby had to stop at the store, I had him go to Trader Joe’s and get me one of their awesome pound plus chocolate bars, but you can definitely use chocolate chips for this if you want.  You’ll need about 3 cups, or just over a pound of finely chopped chocolate or chocolate chips in a glass bowl with plenty of extra room. 

    Heat 1 pint of heavy cream over medium heat until it just barely reaches a simmer.  You’ll see little bubbles forming around the edges.

    Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and leave it for 2 minutes. 

    After two minutes, grab a whisk and slowly start stirring.  At first it’ll just look like a mess. 

    But it will eventually come together and become perfectly smooth and creamy.  It might seem a bit thin while it’s hot, but it’ll firm up as it cools. 

    Pull your cold cake out of the fridge and peel the parchment off the bottom. 

    What did bakers ever do before parchment?  Place your cake on a flat surface that’s elevated.  I just flipped the cake pan over.   Using a large knife, cut your cake in half.  I know it’s easier said than done, but just try to keep your knife as level as you can and keep turning the cake.  If you cut it a bit higher than I did, it’ll look more uniform when it’s finished. 

    When your ganache is fudgy, but still spreadable, plop about a third of it onto the bottom half of your cake.  Spread it around, leaving about a half inch border.  It’ll spread a bit more when you put the top on, and whatever space is left, will be filled when you cover the sides. 

    Place the top layer on the ganache and press it down slightly. 

    Glop the rest of your ganache in a pile on top.

    Spread it around until it starts to hang over the sides. 

    Then just start to work that around the sides.  An offset spatula makes this job a lot easier.  I’m no cake decorator, so I basically just keep spreading the ganache around until everything is covered fairly evenly.  You might have noticed that I placed my cake on strips of parchment… this is why.

    You can pull them out, leaving a clean surface around the base of your cake.  Ganache tends to stick to the parchment a bit, so just sort of poke your spatula along the edge to help loosen it from the parchment, then pull the strip out slowly.  Personally, I’m of the opinion that chocolate cake should have as few adornments as possible.  I opted for just sprinkling the edge with a little shaved chocolate, which I made by just running a vegetable peeler over a bar of chocolate.  Never will you see me use sprinkles.  They are evil, wretched, horrible things that taste much more like plastic than food.  But do as you like.    

    Really you don’t need more than just a plate and a fork, but I added a dollop of fresh whipped cream to my plate.  You can’t really go wrong with whipped cream, can you? 

    This cake is extremely rich.  You’ll probably want to cut smaller slices than I did.  I ran out of steam before I could finish it. 

    What’s your favorite chocolate indulgence?