February 19, 2007

Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate

I have been searching for an excellent way to justify spending $6 on the Vosges bars and then Valentine's Day rolled in. I bought two: the Creole bar and the Barcelona. The Creole was slightly disappointing. Super dark chocolate with coffee and chicory mixed in. It was super high quality chocolate, of course, but not that exciting otherwise. The Barcelona bar, however, was (is,I still have a little square left) mind boggling. The salt in the bar is brilliant, making it taste like fanciest Hershey's bar with almonds, but not with the sticky-sweet feeling milk chocolate often leaves in my mouth and a much better quality chocolate. I'm afraid that I have begun an expensive habit.

The one bar that I really wanted to try, and have been trying to get my greedy little hands on for years, is the Black Pearl bar. I can't seem to find it anywhere though, besides the Vosges site, which I cannot recommend enough for a jaw-dropping visit. Not to fear, after some extensive research, I discovered a recipe from Katrina Markoff, the founder/CEO, for a cake version of her Japanese-influenced bar. I, being the tinkerer that I am, decided to morph it into a cupcake recipe. With the helpful cupcake tips of Garrett and Cheryl, I think I did a pretty good job.

Black Pearl Cupcakes, adapted from Bon Apetite

Yes, this seems like an insane amount of work, but you can make the ganache, syrup and cakes the day before and leave the constructing to the day of. And all of your hard work will pay off tenfold. I swear, it's all very straightforward and easier then it appears, just take it step by step.

6 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped or use chips
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp wasabi powder
2 TB black sesame seeds
1 TB corn syrup
2 TB butter, room temp
a pinch of good salt

Ginger syrup
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons matchstick-size strips peeled fresh ginger
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 1/2 TB vanilla bean paste

1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup, 3 TB all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup, 2 TB sugar
1/2 cup (1 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup whipping cream
black sesame seeds

Place chocolate in medium bowl. Combine cream, ginger, and wasabi in a small pot. Bring to a boil. Pour hot cream over chocolate; cover with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes. Mix sesame seeds and corn syrup in small bowl to coat. Whisk cream and chocolate until smooth. Add sesame seeds and salt. Let cool to lukewarm. Stir in butter. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.

Place 1 cup water, sugar, and ginger in small saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into pan; add bean, or add paste. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer 5 minutes; remove from heat. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour for flavors to blend.

Strain syrup into small bowl. Reserve and chop ginger. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover both and refrigerate.)

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter your cupcake pan well.

Whisk boiling water, cocoa powder, and reserved chopped ginger in a bowl. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Beat sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with cocoa mixture in 3 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Divide batter among prepared cupcake pans; fill about 3/4 of the way full.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely. (Cakes can be prepared 1 day ahead. Store in an airtight container.)

Cut a cone out of the top of each cupcake and bush the inside with the reserved sugar syrup. Fill each with a spoonful of ganache and replace lids. Brush the top of the cupcake with more syrup. Let stand until syrup is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whip cream with remaining syrup, to taste. Place on cupcakes and sprinkle with black sesame seeds.

Makes 12 big cupcakes

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February 13, 2007

By Request: Halloween in February

This is a very belated request from the fantastic and forgiving(I hope?) Miss N.

Ever since M. Pants and I have been sharing accomodations, we have thrown pumpkin carving parties around the time of All Hallows' Eve. The first one was a fluke, but we've continued to carry out the now-tradition ever since. While I have since tweaked the menu a bit, one thing has never changed, the pumpkin black bean soup. Not only are the colors fitting for the holiday and it's ridiculously easy to make, but it's also nice have a little something to warm you up during a late fall afternoon. We made this recently again after looking in our cupboards and finding them a tad bare. It's good to know that the soup is delicious in the winter time too.

Pumpkin-Black Bean Soup

You can vary this however you like. I like to think of it as having a Carribbean flavor, but what I know about Carribbean food couldn't fill an ant's tea cup. You can add more cumin, cinnamon and corriander for a more Mexican flavor or you can add more curry, ginger and some garam masala for a more Indian flair. It's also possible to omit the dry spices all together for some Thai curry paste... For our party, we like to serve the soup with corn bread.

1 16 oz. can pure pumpkin
1 16 oz can light coconut milk
16 oz vegetable stock
curry powder, to taste
ground cumin, to taste
ground ginger, to taste
ground corriander to taste
ground cinnamon to taste
garam masala to taste
2 16 oz cans of black beans, rinsed and drained

chopped cilantro
green onion, sliced thinly
wedges of lime
avocado, diced
sour cream or non-fat plain yogurt (my preference)

Combine all ingredients except beans in a large pot and stir well. Taste for spices, salt and pepper. Add black beans and heat through. Serve and let people garnish their own.

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