The Foodie Files

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sugar High Friday - Earl Grey Truffles

Two years ago I passed a bake sale in my school hallway and I stopped dead in my tracks. Truffles?

In a school where re-selling Krispy Kremes and stale bagels at higher prices constitutes a bake sale, someone had made...chocolate espresso truffles?

They were nestled in between a chocolate chip pumpkin loaf cake and Mexican wedding cookies. Had I entered an alternate universe? No, not quite, for I soon discovered the reason behind this gourmet extravaganza.

In order to raise money for a school trip, participants had baked goodies from "Baking from the Heart" and were selling the cookbook alongside them. I bought some of the cakes and truffles, gobbled them in shock, and promptly bought the cookbook which contained the delicious recipes. I then hoarded this cookbook for two years on my shelf, and neglected to actually use it.

Yet no more, thanks to SHF! This month, The Passionate Cook hosts SHF 25 with a theme of Chocolate Truffles. This was a great idea, because at this time of year I am always in need of little, edible "thank you"s to send off to friends, teachers, and relatives.

As it turns out, the espresso truffles from the bake sale were a variation on a recipe for Earl Grey truffles, which sounded a bit more intriguing than the espresso. I had always suspected that making truffles was simple, and the easy instructions confirmed this suspicion. I broke open four Tazo tea bags for the tea leaves, which I simmered for 15 minutes in a mixture of 2/3 cup heavy cream, 1 stick of unsalted butter, and a pinch of salt. Then I strained the mixture over four ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate, and poured it into a 9 inch loaf pan lined with foil. After four hours of refrigeration, I formed spheres and rolled them in Dutch-process cocoa powder. The truffles should be set on a foil-lined baking sheet and chilled for 1 hour, then stored in the fridge between sheets of wax paper in an air tight container (but that's not what I did...I tasted them immediately after forming.) They should be served at room temperature.

The end result? I liked them. You can tell I am an amateur candy maker because a few came out a tad lumpy, but mostly they were creamy and delicious. Earl Grey just seems to pair naturally well with chocolate, and since a lot of fancy chocolates are made with Earl Grey, these have a bit of a high-end flair.

The best part? A secret, surprise perk. As I rolled the chocolates they somewhat melted on my hands, and over time my palms became completely covered in chocolate and cocoa. There was something amazingly fun about this...allowing the chocolate to get all over everything without restraining it. It was relaxing, and my hands smelled of chocolate for several hours, putting me in a terrific mood. The truffles were tasty, but the truth is that I would make them again just for an excuse to get covered in chocolate.

Though I would also love to bring them to a bake sale someday and try to turn a few heads of my own...

Thank you The Passionate Cook and SHF! I can't wait for next month!

The Foodie Files Thanksgiving

My mother, Aunt, and I have never had much luck making Thanksgiving dinner. The peas have been too garlicky, the mashed potatoes too lumpy, and the turkey has never, ever, been moist. So this year, I was going to take the reins. Armed with a bushel of Martha Stewart recipes and a fierce determination, I was going to break the mold and make this Thanksgiving great with elegant squash mashes and homemade pumpkin pie.

Alas, I am not above the curse. So where did I go wrong?

Since I am a cornbread lover, I wanted to make a cornbread stuffing instead of our usual bread one. I made two rounds of a M.S. recipe for stuffing, but found it to be too salty and not sweet enough. So I made a sweeter cornbread, which I combined with a slightly sweet breakfast sausage and the result was...a little off.

We had never made brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving before, but these carmelized brussels sprouts with chestnuts seemed very tempting. They certainly came out as beautiful as the magazine picture:

I liked cooking with the jarred chestnuts, which had a great flavor and were surprisingly manageable. This dish was actually pretty good by itself, but its sweetness clashed a bit with the flavor of the stuffing.

But as in past disastrous years, the evening was not a total failure. Our turkey was perhaps the best we had ever made (and it was certainly the most moist), and for the first time, I got to experience the fun of Thanksgiving food shopping. I went on a Tuesday afternoon, so the Whole Foods was busy, but not in an elbow-your-neighbor-for-the-cranberries kind of way. Everyone was so happy and energetic that just thinking about it makes me excited for my next turkey day.

Because next year is another chance to break that curse.

Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing

Caramelized Chestnuts and Brussels Sprouts

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Carrot Cake that Wasn't

As a first generation baker, I suffer from what I like to call "heirloom recipe envy." I salivate over neighbors' tried and true favorites and passed down newspaper clippings, and I gravitate towards cookbook recipes that have "grandma's best" in their descriptions. Fortunately, I did inherit one recipe, which is for the most delicious carrot cake I have ever tasted. Since it is my only one, I must guard that recipe with my life, and I therefore cannot share it you. However, in honor of secret recipes around the world, I bring you this carrot cake, which tastes surprisingly similiar to the one I love so much.

Let me describe these cupcakes by telling you what they are not:
1. Dry - these cupcakes maintained their moisture and taste for a full week after they were made...beyond that, I can't say :)

2. Flavorless - has anyone ever made the carrot cake from Baking Illustrated? The one that looks amazing, but has a taste that just doesn't register? Well, this cake does not have that problem. You can taste the carrots, you can taste the spicing, and it tastes good.

3. Overly Sweet - no excess sugar here!

4. My grandmother's carrot cake. But hey, they're the closest I've come with another recipe.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

THE Chocolate Cake

No, my fingers didn't slip. This is THE Chocolate Cake, capital
T-H-E. Here's Why:

1. This cake is so famous, you could probably play six degrees of separation with it: if you don't know about it, you probably know someone who does within six people. It is one of the most frequently reviewed and highly-rated recipes on, the official website for Gourmet and Bon Apetit magazines. Click on the link at the bottom to see the staggering number of positive reviews it has.

2. This was one of the first cakes my Aunt made when she and I began baking a few years ago. However, my Aunt forgot the flour, and the cake came out as mush. We joked about her "flourless" chocolate cake and quietly put away the recipe for a few years, waiting for the day when THE Chocolate Cake would make it's triumphant return to our kitchen.

Chocolate Layer Cakes are, by definition, crowd pleasers. This one is very moist with a pleasent, and surprisingly not overwhelming, chocolate/coffee taste. The beautiful shiny glaze hardened at room temperature, but regained its shine after a stint in the microwave. Even though my layers came out too thick to combine, I could tell why the Gourmet editors were so enchanted with it. This cake is goodwill on a platter.

Was it the best chocolate cake I had ever had? Not quite. It wasn't specific enough for that. This is the one size fits all of cakes -- it will please everyone, but it won't neccessarily be everyone's favorite. That's the trade off I guess. Yet I will keep this recipe on hand, and you probably should keep it in mind. If you ever need a cake that will please 800 people, why not choose a recipe that already has?

Double Chocolate Layer Cake