FAIRYTALE COOKIES OF NEW YORK

Christmas time always makes me think of New York.......and whatever else might be said adoringly or disparagingly about it, the city knows how to put on a hell of a charming holiday season. Festive twinkling lights reflected in damp streets, rosy-cheeked faces smiling in puffy coats, giant garlands and enormous high-rise Christmas trees, carols wafting around in the air from street performers on trumpet and sax...it's a giant rock & roll neon-lit Nutcracker in a snowglobe, and it's perhaps the only season I truly miss in NYC. Thinking of the city is what led me to these chocolate-dipped meringue cookies, as well. A riff on that classic deli staple, the Black & White Cookie, they're a lighter-than air version that I like to say is what a Black & White would be like if those cookies were actually tasty (in reality, they're usually pretty spongy and disappointing).

A crisp, sugary vanilla meringue cloud dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with a little extra holiday pixie dust in the form of crushed candy canes, these Black & Whites never disappoint. They couldn't be easier to throw together, but they're no last-minute cookie, so make sure you leave plenty of time for that long, slow bake in a warm oven. There are two things you can't hurry, after all: love...and meringues. But these, I swear to you, are worth the wait, and they'll make any holiday gathering merry & bright!

Black & White Meringue Cookies

Makes about two dozen cookies

3 egg whites

3/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch of salt

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3.5 oz. dark chocolate (I use a bar of my favorite 70% dark)

1 candy cane

Preheat oven to 200 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Begin beating egg whites until foamy, either by hand or in an electric mixer, add sugar and continue beating. Add salt, cream of tartar and vanilla, continue beating for about five minutes or until meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks.

Place generous spoonfuls of meringue onto parchment (about two tablespoons per cookie), swirl into roughly cookie-shaped objects, but remember that slight imperfections in meringue can make everything a little more beautiful. Bake for 2 hours at 200 degrees; meringues are done when the outside is dry to the touch and they can be easily lifted from the parchment. Remove and let cool thoroughly.

Unwrap candy cane, place in plastic bag and gently crush into pieces with the bottom of a coffee cup. Break or chop chocolate into small pieces. In a small microwave-proof bowl, place 2/3 of chocolate and microwave 20 seconds at a time until fully melted. Stir in remaining chocolate pieces, keep stirring until mixture is fully melted. Dip each meringue halfway into chocolate, then place on parchment to set. While chocolate is still shiny, sprinkle candy cane pieces over each one. Repeat until done, let set fully, then enjoy!

CHOCOLATE BLACKBERRY BREAD

Some foods are just indisputably meant to be together, like peanut butter and jelly, like biscuits and gravy, like sweet corn and basil. But chocolate and blackberry? I never knew it before, but they're one of those classic combinations. Chocolate and blackberry are

married

, y'all.

There something magical about the combination of the deeply flavored, sweet berries playing against the tart, floral notes in intensely dark chocolate. I've made a thousand chocolate cakes before this one, and yet somehow there I was, combining these flavors for the first time. Swirling fresh blackberries into chocolate cake batter allows the two to combine and become something

more

than either flavor once baked, for lack of a better descriptive word. Just

more

. More like the ripe taste of late summer on your tongue. More chocolatey, somehow. More grownup, maybe, although it's one of those 'sophisticated' tastes that I suspect everyone will actually love. Tossing some whole berries into the batter as well allows for surprising little pockets of fruit that pop up in each bite, silky and jamlike and addictive. The whole thing is a wonder, really. I was lucky enough to make it just before blackberry season ended for the summer, and while I'm sure fresh is best, I have a suspicion that you could make this with frozen berries all winter long and bliss out on chocolate blackberry perfection just fine.

There's been a lot of extra love floating around in my world the last few months, a record-setting number of engagements and milestones and generally wonderful things. So why not chocolate and blackberries, after all? In a few hours from now, I'll be jumping on a plane to the opposite coast to watch two dear friends marry each other, and I couldn't be more excited--or more convinced that this cake is the perfect metaphor for all things matrimonial. Two main ingredients that compliment one another, each sharpening the flavor of the other as they join to become something greater in the pan than they were in the bowl? Sounds about right to me. Here's to love! Here's to perfect matches! And here's to chocolate's perfect match, the blackberry. Now, let's have some cake*.

[ *Yes, I know, I keep referring to this as a

cake

when it's clearly titled Chocolate Blackberry Bread in the recipe. But come on. We all know this is a 'bread' in the same way that zucchini bread is a bread....which is to say that it isn't at all. Mazel tov, have a slice of cake already! ]

Chocolate Blackberry Bread

Makes one 9" x 4" loaf

small amount of butter or coconut oil for pan

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup coconut oil

3/4 cup Greek yogurt

1/2 cup milk

6 oz fresh blackberries

4 ounces dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350, and lightly butter or apply oil to the sides of a 9" x 4" loaf pan. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine coconut oil, yogurt and milk. Take half of the blackberries and puree in a food processor (you can also just smush them up a bit with a fork, if you prefer a more rustic texture or if you don't happen to have a food processor), add pureed blackberries to liquid mixture. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour liquid into it, mixing as you go until it combines into a thick batter.

Separate the chocolate into two piles and chop half of it into small pieces (about the size of chocolate chips). Fold remaining whole blackberries and chopped chocolate into batter, then pour into pan and place in oven. Bake for at least 65 minutes, testing with a knife or skewer after an hour (you may need a little longer depending on your oven; mine needed about 75 minutes). Bread is done when a knife can be inserted and removed cleanly. Take out of oven and let cool.

Melt remaining chocolate in a small, microwave-safe bowl, stirring until smooth. Drizzle over room temperature Chocolate Blackberry Bread, then serve.

IN WHICH I HAVE A DATE (WITH DESTINY)


I'll be the first to admit, I don't always get it right. 

Case in point, there's a forlorn bulb of kohlrabi languishing in my fridge right now, due in large part both to the fact that we recently joined a CSA and also that I have absolutely no idea what to do with kohlrabi*. Life via social media can look tantalizingly crisp and glossy, but it's important to remember that the reality might look more like sweaty pajama bottoms for the third day running, or a nonstop crying jag because I'm almost thirty-four and I'm never gonna figure any of this adulting out or because I just broke that handmade plate** or because taaaaaaaxes, man. Sometimes the onions burn. Sometimes I have to admit my powerlessness over caramelization. Sometimes the best laid plans go awry, sometimes the path the night is taking can only lead away from a homecooked meal and straight to the door of a Szechuan takeout place. Sometimes vegetables wilt unnoticed in the crisper and get furtively thrown away before their time, to be replaced by a fresh infusion of guilt and a new weekly box of produce.

[ *Shortly after writing this, I peeled, cubed and roasted the sucker with some onions and a drizzle of maple butter, snuggled up in the pan next to a whole chicken. Highly recommended. ]

[ **Almost immediately after taking the photographs above, while gingerly hand-washing and whispering to myself don't don't don't break it please, I broke the beautiful handmade blue plate seen here into three brutal pieces. Boom. Done. C'est la vie, c'est la guerre, c'est la frickin' pomme de terre. ]


Just please know that there are times when I'm standing in the kitchen, hair in disarray and a desperately clutched saucepan in hand, thinking I can't, there's no way, I have absolutely no idea what to feed my family. And also know that at this point, that family only consists of two adults and two small dogs (who eat identical bowls of kibble at nearly every meal).


But then. Oh, then. There are those sublime times when I figure out how to make delicious truffles out of juicy dates, tender coconut, rich dark chocolate and flakes of smoky sea salt. These are the times when I feel like I get it very, very right.


I can feed these to my gluten-sensitive friends. I can offer them to my paleo-observant warrior mom. I can & will pop one of these delightful date truffles into my mouth, crackling dark chocolate shell giving way to sticky, chewy date filling made more intriguing by a hint of coconut and light sweetness. And then maybe one more--straight out of the fridge at midnight--to celebrate the fact that I am a mostly-functional adult person who does have a few things figured out, after all.

Chocolate helps. The magical combination of sweet dates, dark chocolate and delicate flakes of smoked sea salt helps even more.


Date Truffles with Coconut and Smoked Sea Salt

Makes about thirty small truffles

1 1/2 cups pitted Medjool dates
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, plus more for rolling
3 tablespoons almond meal
2 tablespoons honey (or maple syrup/agave nectar/sweetener of choice, if you'd like to make these vegan)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 oz. dark chocolate

Optional, but recommended: smoked sea salt, for sprinkling over the truffles. Mine is super-fancy, super-flakey Halen Môn smoked sea salt from Wales, but it's also available from a number of other places.

Place dates & coconut oil in bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine until a rough paste begins to form (it should not be perfectly smooth but instead should have bits of fruit still visible, try to keep the blending to a minimum). Add almond meal, honey and salt, pulse a few more times to combine.

Roll mixture into balls about the size of a quarter (mixture will be sticky; it may help to throw the entire bowl of date filling into the fridge for about thirty minutes prior to rolling), set aside on a sheet of parchment.


In a double boiler over medium heat or in a microwave-proof bowl, gently heat the dark chocolate until just melted, stirring vigorously until smooth. Remove from heat. Drizzle over each ball of date filling, sprinkle with smoked sea salt (if using), and allow to harden until set.

If you're chocolate-averse, these are also amazing simply rolled in shredded coconut, as also shown here. Either way, good for the soul.





EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU......WITH CAKE.

[Originally posted on 2/14/15]

As symbols of romance go, some are unmistakable.

A single chocolate smudge clinging languorously to china. The whisper of a kiss etched in lipstick on the edge of a tipped over glass. An abandoned napkin, hastily swept from a lap, cast aside to lie in a mass of wrinkled linen as the main action switches from the dining room to another room entirely. A wisp of sinuous, bluish-grey smoke trailing from the wick of a just blown out candle.

But a single, chocolate-covered cherry may just be one of the most unmistakable edible symbols of all. In super-sized cake form? It might just turn out to be irresistible.


Romance is a difficult subject for some people, especially in this era of instant dating apps and Fifty Shades of Grey nonsense. I'm always all for romance, though, no matter what form it takes in your world. A meaningful gesture (beyond just clicking 'like' and adding a heart emoticon, please) is the very heart and soul of true romance. Stumped for ideas? There are just so many ways to show love. Give a handwritten note, a handful of picked flowers, or just an extra smattering of 'just because' kisses, just above the neckline. Give a freshly baked cake steaming from the oven, a naughty glance, an arched eyebrow. Give a hand-lettered note, give a smudgy and intense pencil sketch, give a heartsick glance, give a low whistle. Go corny, or be original. Just give your sweetheart something, choose to mark this all-too-often-fumbled-and-abused occasion with something more than digital ephemera.

In other words, you can't text your way out of this one, kids.




Go with a time-honored symbol of St. Valentine's Day, if you want to keep it classic. Give the waxy but heartfelt mixed chocolates in the red satin box, the dusty-sweet astringent 'conversation hearts'....or perhaps, the rich perfection of one syrupy cherry encased in deep dark chocolate. Love them or hate them, the chocolate-covered cherry is here to stay, and can be found absolutely everywhere--from velvet-draped tables in high end food markets to dusty, forgotten gas station shelves full of last minute gifts--in the days surrounding Valentine's Day. Sometimes they're amazing and sometimes they're truly terrible, especially if high fructose corn syrup doesn't fit with your vision of 'romance'.......but this year, why not re-invent the whole concept?


After all, the rich perfection of one syrupy cherry encased in deep dark chocolate is pretty hard to beat. I decided to expand the idea into one large dream of a cake, made of two shapely bundt layers of rich, sweet cherry-laced cake, draped in dark chocolate ganache. One slice of this will erase the memory of every unworthy chocolate-covered cherry you've ever been given in the past, and make you consider starting a new tradition with your sweetheart......romantic baking? ;)



Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake



Makes ever so many more than two servings, so you can just go ahead and keep celebrating Valentine's Day over and over and over again.,...

Although February is a wonderful time for romance, it's not always the best time of year for fresh, juicy summer fruits like cherries and raspberries. I used frozen fruit this time because it's often the best out-of-season option, but if you miraculously happen to find some lovely fresh berries in your local market, I say go for it! Just substitute an equal amount of fresh fruit (be sure to pit the cherries, of course.....pits aren't romantic!).


For the cake:

5 cups flour, plus two extra tablespoons for flouring the pans
6 tsp (1/8 cup) baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
8 egg whites
3 1/2 sticks room temperature, unsalted butter, plus one extra tablespoon for buttering the pans
4 cups sugar
2 cups pureed raspberries (thawed completely if using frozen)
1 1/2 cups pureed dark sweet cherries (thawed)
3/4 cup milk
2 cups dark sweet cherries, halved


For the ganache:

8 oz dark chocolate, chopped (I used Lindt Dark 70%, this is two bars plus a little extra)
1 cup heavy cream
pinch of salt (1/8 teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 350. Melt one tablespoon of butter and, using a pastry brush, cover the inside of one 12-cup bundt pan and one 6-cup bundt pan. Sprinkle the inside of each pan with a tablespoon of flour, tap and rotate pan until inside is evenly, lightly floured. Combine remaining flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl, set aside.

Place egg whites in bowl of a stand mixer (or in mixing bowl to beat by hand), beat on high until they reach the stiff peak stage. Transfer beaten egg whites to another bowl and wipe out bowl of stand mixer. Cream butter and sugar together in stand mixer (or by hand) on medium until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Reduce speed to low and add fruit purees slowly to avoid splattering. Add milk, mix until smooth. With mixer on low, slowly add flour mixture just until thoroughly combined (do not over-beat). Fold in egg white mixture just until combined.

Divide batter between the two pans. Sprinkle halved cherries over the batter, poking them gently down into the cake and smoothing the top of the batter afterward. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 60 minutes for the small pan, 75 minutes for the large pan, or until a knife inserted at the center of each cake can be removed cleanly. Let the cakes cool for 15 minutes, then carefully invert onto plates and remove from pans.


Prepare ganache by breaking up chocolate and placing in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the cream just to a boil, then pour over chocolate and let sit for five minutes, undisturbed. Sprinkle salt over ganache, whisk to emulsify all ingredients. The ganache will at first look streaky, then more homogenous, and will eventually thicken into a creamy chocolate glaze that can be poured or spread over a cake. Be sure to taste some off a spoon first. You know, for science.

Once cakes have cooled completely, stack the small one on top of the larger one. Drizzle ganache slowly over cake. Decorating with candied, edible flowers (Gardenista has a great tutorial for sugared violas exactly like the ones I used) or fresh fruit is optional, but looks gorgeous. Pairs well with flickering candles, pearls, half-full crystal glasses of wine, and moodily draped floral arrangements, of course. Here's to romance! <3