Sunday, March 30, 2014

To My Second Family.

I have, inevitably, been changed again. I'm sitting here at my desk, back at school, trying to figure out how to put into words what has happened to me this week. It's difficult to explain...words fail a little bit. Oh, I went on a service trip and made some new friends? That's nice. But that devalues the experience. I have learned. I have learned that I have a spirit that needs to serve, in my own unique way. I have realized how I have been waiting for a community of like minded individuals to share my life with. 

People are strong, so much stronger than even they might know. I saw it manifested in the resilience of the homeowners we served, so thankful for their lives even though their houses had been ripped apart, possessions scattered to the winds. I saw it in my beautiful new family, so willing to open up and tell their deepest stories to people they met days ago. They make me laugh and cry. They break my heart with the painful experiences they have gone through, then put it back together with their kindness towards a world that has sometimes been unfair to them. Everyone is so much more complex than I could ever imagine. Even the people I thought I had all figured out. 

I struggle to express my love for my new family. Nothing seems to have enough power. To those of you reading this, know that I care so deeply for each of you, so much deeper than I can express. Life is magnificent and tragic and more than I ever could have hoped for. I'm a little scared for the future, but right now, I'm settling into a feeling of peace. I can face the future. We can face the future. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Crotins au Chocolate

Happy Spring! And happy spring break to me. The weather keeps being will snow in the morning and all melt by the afternoon. Rain in the morning and sunshine at dinner. I don't mind–I'm ready for a change. 

I'm not going anywhere warm for break. I don't usually go for that sort of thing. Even when I was in Europe for break last year I hung out in Scotland and Hungary instead of Spain and Portugal. I'm going on a service trip again, my last one. We're heading to Washington, IL, where the terrible tornadoes hit in November. There's still so much work to be done, since the disaster struck just as winter was coming in. I can't wait to do some fulfilling work with my friends. Everyone wins ^__^

I have this weird pocket of free time before I leave, so naturally, I did some baking. These may look like a typical chocolate muffin, but they are actually leavened with yeast! I'm not sure what exactly to compare them to. A fluffy cake? But they get denser as they cool, and have slightly crunchy edges. Flourless chocolate cake? Not nearly that rich. Hm. I guess I'll have to be content with not being able to categorize them. 

Have a great week, everyone! I'll be back in a bit. 

Crotins au Chocolate 
from Joe Pastry

For the Sponge
3.6 ounces (3/4 cup) pastry or all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
5 ounces (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) lukewarm water

Alternately, for more flavor, you can use 9 ounces of active and bubbly sourdough starter.
For the Batter
7 ounces (1 cup) sugar
3.6 ounces (3/4 cup) pastry or all-purpose flour
1.8 ounces (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
4 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
6 ounces (about 1 cup) coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate

First make the sponge. Whisk the flour, yeast and sugar together in a medium bowl. Stir in the water, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise until bubbly. About half an hour. Meanwhile melt the butter in the microwave or in a small saucepan and let it cool.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place a rack in the middle of your oven. Lightly butter a muffin tin.
In a large bowl sift the sugar, flour and cocoa powder together. Make a well in the center and add the butter, eggs and yeast mixture. Whisk the wet ingredients together, gradually drawing in the dry ingredients until they’re all incorporated. Lastly stir in the chocolate.
Spoon or pipe the batter into the tin, filling the forms to the rim. Bake them for 15 to 18 minutes until almost firm to the touch. While they’re still warm sift on a dusting of cocoa powder.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Chocolate Bailey's Cookies

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! Last year during this festive time I was actually in Ireland, celebrating basically for the first time ever. I'm not Irish, so it was never a big deal growing up. My mom sometimes made corned beef (which I hated), green mashed potatoes, green milk (off putting). We also set up elaborate traps to catch leprechauns. But actual, non stereotypical celebration? Not so much. 

I wore gray today, not green. There was corned beef in the dining hall at lunch, which I avoided. I went to class, went to work, then came back to my room. Not very exciting. It doesn't really seem right to celebrate anything. Not Irish, not in Ireland anymore, not about to go get completely plowed on a Monday night (or ever, preferably). 

I did make some cookies for the occasion though, as I do for most occasions. A soft chocolate cookie studded with white chocolate chips and a hint of Bailey's Irish Cream (one of my favorites, though I doubt many Irish people actually drink it). They smell wonderful, and everyone I shared them with swooned over them and puzzled over the secret ingredient that made them so special. 

On a side note, I just learned about people pinching those who don't wear green on St. Patrick's Day. What is up with that nonsense? Oh well. Éirinn go brách!

Chocolate Bailey's Cookies
from Gimme Some Oven

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. Irish Cream (I prefer Bailey's)
1 cup white chocolate chips 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt until combined.
Using an electric mixer, use the paddle attachment to cream together butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Add in the Irish cream one tablespoon at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed to be sure that everything is well combined.. Add the dry ingredient mixture, and continue mixing until combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours.
Roll or scoop into balls and set on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Remove and carefully transfer cookies to a cooling rack to cool. Keep remaining dough refrigerated until use.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

(Sort of) Chocolate Pavé

Sometimes something that seems like it could potentially turn out to be a disaster ends up okay. Or better than okay. I'm not sure I'd call myself cynical, but I try to be realistic about the world around me. I've probably talked about this, but I distance myself from others when I first meet them due in part to general introversion but also because I just want to...observe so I can figure out what to do. When I first met some of the people who are now my closest friend, they thought I was uppity and didn't like them and I thought they were weird or didn't like me. So what I originally imagined would be a series of uncomfortable encounters turned out to be some of my most important memories. 

Jack Daniel's awkward cousin, Zackariah Harris. He doesn't get out much. 

So I was making my (gluten free) sister a cake for her birthday. I had been eyeing up BraveTart's Chocolate Pavé for a while, and had just purchased some actually high quality chocolate (for once), so I gave it a go. Something went weird in the middle of baking...the from the center bubbled a clear, odorless liquid while the rest was completely baked. In a panic, I tweeted (yeah, I have a twitter, it's pretty inane, but feel free to follow me) to Stella to ask for advice. Cups or scales? She asked me. Aw, crap. That would do it. Volume is way (weigh, harharhar) different from weight. I almost cried at the thought of all my chocolate going to waste, so I soldiered on, living with my mistake.

And you know what? It tasted great! I still have no idea what Chocolate Pavé is supposed to taste like, but what I ended up with was kind of like a giant, nuanced chocolate truffle. And my sister loved it. So I can live with that.

Rebecca's Chocolate Pavé
unintentionally adapted from BraveTart

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup bourbon
1/2 cup honey

1 cup corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp kosher salt
10 ounces dark chocolate
1/2 cup cocoa
6 eggs

1 cup cream
1 cup dark chocolate 

In a medium pot, melt the butter together with the bourbon, honey, corn syrup and vanilla. When the butter has melted, turn the heat up so the mixture simmers very gently. Let it simmer for 10 minutes. Shut off the heat and steep for at least 30 minutes, or as long as you like, honestly.

Meanwhile, prepare a 9” x 13” metal baking pan by lining it with two sheets of tin foil, and greasing it lightly with pan spray or melted butter.

Preheat the oven to 300°

When you’re ready to proceed with the recipe, return the mixture to a simmer. Whisk in the chocolate and cocoa powder. Once you’ve whisked in the cocoa and chocolate, shut off the heat. Let this mixture cool slightly, about five minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a small bowl. Set a strainer over the chocolate mixture and pour the eggs in, whisking until they pass through. Discard any eggy bits that remain. Gently stir the eggs into the chocolate, just until homogeneous.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and rap it against the counter once or twice to release any air bubbles. Bake for about 30ish minutes, or just until the cake becomes slightly firm to the touch. Remove and cool, in the pan, for about an hour.

When you’re ready to glaze the torte, bring the cream  to a simmer and whisk in the chocolate
Pour the warm ganache over the torte, use an offset spatula to make sure the ganache spreads to all of the corners. Refrigerate until the ganache firms.
To remove the torte from the pan, run a knife around the sides to loosen it and gently tug at the foil. When the torte moves freely away from the sides, use the foil to gently lift it out and onto a cutting board.
Tip the torte over so it stands up on its side, then peel off and discard the foil. Cut the torte into even portions using a clean, sharp knife. I like to dip the knife into a pitcher of very hot water and dry the blade briefly on a towel before slicing. The warm knife slices the torte into beautiful, clean portions.