Chocolate waffles

Happy Valentine's Day weekend!  We are facing a freezing cold one but I'm looking forward to the extended weekend with my family.  We're still celebrating Chinese New Year, and I'm eagerly anticipating copious amounts of chocolate consumption on Sunday (though we've had quite a head start on that all month).  
The only snag in my plans is my little guy is under the weather.  Knock on wood, he usually manages to bounce back quickly so I'm keeping an eye on him and hoping he's back to his usual rambunctious self very soon.

While the little guy is resting for the night, let's talk about Valentine's Day one more time.  I really take it as an excuse to make all kinds of chocolate treats.  And with my new waffle maker, I just had to make some chocolate waffles.  
You can call it breakfast or dessert - enjoy it as it is, top it with fresh whipped cream and berries, or with a scoop or two of ice cream (my husband and I managed to do all that already). I'm leaning towards dessert on this one but if ever there's a day for something chocolaty for breakfast, it must be Valentine's Day.
These chocolate waffles are made with whole wheat as well as all-purpose flour, dark Dutch-processed cocoa powder, and a touch of instant espresso powder.  To make them as chocolaty as possible, there are mini chocolate chips in the batter.  You can't go wrong with that, can you?  

These waffles are not very sweet and I'd say the taste is almost like a cakey brownie, with a crisp edge and a soft, dark cocoa-flavored interior.  I was very happy with how they turned out.
My little one wasn't well enough to enjoy one of these waffles with us yet but I've got his share stashed in the freezer for when he's all better.  Hopefully, we'll all be healthy and enjoying all the chocolaty goodness of Valentine's Day on Sunday.  Have a wonderful weekend!



Double chocolate cookies

I revel in February and Valentine's Day because it gives special meaning and purpose to all the chocolate baking and eating that I readily do.
I think that if there's one thing I've established, it's how much I love chocolate. Chocolate treats are commonplace here.  However, Valentine's Day puts a special light on it.  Yes, I'm a sucker for the frills, the ribbons, the heart-shaped boxes...how can I possibly not love a holiday that's synonymous with chocolate!
So I took the occasion to try out a cookie recipe I've had my eye on for a while. Of course, they're chocolate.  In fact, they are very chocolatymade for full-on chocolate lovers like myself.

This recipe comes from the Flour Bakery cookbook.  As I've mentioned before, this bakery based in Boston is special; they offer a lot of classic baked goods but there's some element or twist in what they do that makes the food just really good. In the case of these cookies, I think the special element, what makes them truly chocolaty, is the use of unsweetened chocolate.
There's really no shortage of chocolate in these cookies - both unsweetened as well as bittersweet chocolate.  The two get melted as part of the cookie base while more unsweetened chocolate is finely grated and folded in with chunks of bittersweet chocolate to make the final cookie dough.  
What you end up with is a cookie that my husband describes as a mix between brownie and flourless chocolate cake.  I think he's pretty spot on.  You've really got to take a big bite and get into the center of these cookies.  It's a bonus when you hit a chunk of bittersweet chocolate and overall, the moist center is brownie-like and full of a deep chocolate flavor that comes from the unsweetened chocolate as well as the bittersweet component.  

As a serious chocolate lover, I heartedly approve of this recipe.  It's good enough for Valentine's Day!  And I think sharing a couple of homemade cookies with your sweetie is a very good plan for a simple V-Day celebration.



Waffles...a taste test!

After years (and I do mean, years) of "waffling" on the question of buying a waffle maker, I finally got one over Christmas!  It's been the most exciting new "toy" and I've been having such fun taste-testing classic waffle recipes with my family.  I can tell you there sure are a lot of waffle recipes out there and I'm only talking about your basic waffles. I haven't even gotten into savory waffles or flavored waffles, or using the waffle maker to make other things like omelettes or pizza.
There's been a lot of "waffleing" at my house lately!
I've made and taste-tested six basic waffle recipes so far.  I thought it would be fun to lay them out here and share what we thought of them.  The weekend is just around the corner so let's settle in and chat about waffles, and if you have a favorite waffle recipe, please send it my way!

Before we get into specifics, I did come to a few overall conclusions: 
  • There were no "bad" waffles.  We ate all the versions I made thus far and enjoyed each variety. They each had something going for them and were tasty and enjoyable in their own way.  All waffles were happily eaten and nothing wasted in our taste experiment.
  • A lot of waffle recipes are quite similar.  With the exception of the yeast waffles, we're generally talking milk or buttermilk, butter vs. oil, whole eggs or folding in separately whipped egg whites.  Proportions are about the same but little nuances make small changes, and you just have to try them to see what you prefer...or discover that you like them all and just want to mix it up at different times.
  • Making waffles is fun!  I haven't flipped a pancake in a few weeks and it's been such a nice change.  While the waffles are cooking, you can do other things and prep the rest of breakfast.  Keep them warm on a rack-lined baking sheet in the oven while you cook the batches and freeze extras for a quick breakfast on the weekdays.  Waffles are definitely a good thing.
Now for the fun part!  Here are the 6 waffle recipes my family and I have been noshing on in the past month or so.  I'll give you an intro, our taste-testing takeaway, and what I might want to do differently next time.  I might even name a favorite!

1. Classic Belgian Waffles

The waffle maker I got for Christmas is a deep-pocket Belgian-style waffle maker so I suppose all the waffles I tried were technically "Belgian" waffles.  But for lack of a better title, I'll say this first recipe is what we think of as a "classic" Belgian waffle in terms of what we expect here in the States. 
Recipe: I used The Pioneer Woman's recipe.  The highlights or main ingredients are milk (vs. buttermilk), butter (vs. oil), a good amount of vanilla extract and sugar, and separately whipped egg whites that are folded into the batter to lighten and crisp the waffles.  

Taste-taste takeaway: These waffles earned the "taste award" at our house!  They had incredible flavor - sweet, with a strong undertone of vanilla.  They reminded my husband and me of Hong Kong egg waffles in their sweet custardy flavor.  On the slight downside, they didn't turn out as crisp as we wanted and were perhaps slightly too sweet for me personally.

What I'd like to do different/try next time: I'd love to make these again, with a little less sugar.

2. Overnight Yeasted Waffles

Long before I got the waffle maker, I'd been compiling a mental (then written) list of recipes I had to try.  I have to say this yeasted waffle recipe has been the one I was most eager to try after hearing so much about it and knowing the magic of yeast.  
Recipe: The classic overnight raised - or yeasted - waffle recipe comes from Marion Cunningham and I used the recipe I found via Smitten Kitchen.  The batter is actually not suitable for a deep pocket Belgian-style waffle maker like the one I have but I increased the baking soda to 1/2 teaspoon (from 1/4 teaspoon...a tip I picked up here) and it worked quite well.

The highlight of this recipe is the use of active dry yeast in the batter, which you let sit overnight.  You can set the batter in the fridge to rise but room temperature is recommended for a more flavorful waffle.

Taste-taste takeaway:  My oh my, these waffles were unusual and special!  If the Belgian waffles above took the "taste/flavor award", these yeasted waffles certainly earned the "texture award"!  The texture is something ethereal that's unlike anything we've had before.  The waffles are so crisp and light as a feather.  When you bite into it, you get that sharp crispness that practically shatters but it isn't harsh or rough...and the waffles just melt in your mouth.
My husband took the pic above to show the airiness and texture of these remarkable waffles.  

Taste-wise, I let my batter sit overnight and I can tell you we tasted the complex, somewhat fermented, yeast flavor.  I want to tell you we loved that but actually, we didn't.  It was interesting and we didn't exactly dislike it but it was just a bit too strong for us.  It left us wishing we could take this texture and combine it with the flavor from the first waffles we tested.

What I'd like to do different/try next time: These overnight waffles are pretty amazing.  Next time, I'd let the batter sit in the refrigerator overnight (instead of on the counter at room temperature) and see if it results in a slightly milder flavor that my family and I might actually prefer.


Flourless chocolate-chestnut cream cake

I started sitting down to write this post right after I just ate the last piece of this cake. I think the overriding thought I have is that a little dessert - a little something sweet - just makes the day a bit better.
So since it's February and Valentine's day is circled in red on the calendar, and more importantly, because chocolate is a beautiful part of my everyday life that I wouldn't want to live without, let's make and savor another chocolate cake and make life just a touch sweeter.
At this point, I think I've established the basis of my favorite things so this is going to sound familiar.  This small 6-inch cake is essentially a flourless chocolate cake (a cake we adore that I most recently made a couple of weeks ago after realizing I'd neglected it for too long), with the addition of chestnut cream.  

The chestnut cream lends extra moisture and adds a sweet nuttiness that I love.  It makes the cake a bit heftier or denser compared to a regular flourless chocolate cake, in a wonderful way by giving it a satisfying mouthfeel.  The texture is very smooth and velvety, with a creaminess that has substance to it. 
I know I like to find all sorts of ways to bake with chocolate and chestnut cream and, in fact, I made a very similar torte two Christmases ago using a recipe that started with chestnut puree (something I accidentally bought and wasn't at first sure what to do with) rather than chestnut cream.  This cake, using chestnut cream, is even easier to make!  And since I have plenty of chestnut cream on hand, this little cake will not be a stranger in my house.  In fact, I may not divide the recipe in half next time to make just a 6-inch version; it's definitely special enough for a dinner party.



Sweet potato biscuits

Chalk this up to a love of sweet potatoes.  It's only natural we want to find ways to use/cook/eat our favorite ingredients.  Because I love sweet potatoes (a whole lot), I've been wanting to make sweet potato biscuits since I saw them on a cooking show.
The orange hue of these biscuits doesn't come from cheddar; it's from sweet potatoes, mashed and stirred together with buttermilk as the wet ingredients that go into an otherwise rather classic buttermilk biscuit formula.  
I meant to make these around Thanksgiving but didn't get around to it but since I kept thinking about them, I just had to make it happen.  Biscuit making (as well as scone dough, pie dough-making, etc.) makes me a little nervous.  There's often that point when I turn the dough out and it's so crumbly, I wonder how I'll ever bring it together, be able to cut out rounds, and bake them in one piece!  I had that moment here but as it usually happens, things work out and I'm very happy these biscuits turned out well in the end.  
They've got the classic crunchy, buttery sides and edges that's just so hard to stop eating, and as for the sweet potato part - it brings a slight sweetness into the picture. I don't know if you'd be able to identify the taste of sweet potatoes specifically (I'd have to say, probably not...) but it adds that little sweetness.  I also like the color and hopefully, there's some goodness to be had from the nutrients from the sweet potato.
I baked half the batch and froze the rest for another night.  I see soup, with a side of sweet potato biscuits, for dinner in the near future.



Mini monkey bread

Holy snow!  Boy oh boy, did it snow!  We got walloped with more than 2 feet of snow this past weekend.  I hope this means we're done for the season (wishful thinking, most likely) but I'm just grateful that we didn't lose power and everyone is safe.  
We had plenty of notice about the blizzard so we were prepared.  And a big part of storm preparedness is obviously, food.  Everyone gets incredibly hungry on snow days, I've noticed.  

So I started Saturday morning with something decadent - monkey bread, a mini version.  It's Chinese New Year in a couple of weeks and it will be the year of the monkey.  That got me thinking about monkey bread.  It's a stretch, I know, so I'll just admit it was an excuse to try monkey bread, something I'd never had before.  
I wanted to make a mini version for my family and that's just what I did on Saturday. A snow day was the perfect setup for a decadent sweet breakfast, which can be rationalized by all the impending exercise from snow shoveling to come.  

I adapted this recipe from Dessert for Two but instead of making 4 muffins, I baked it in a single large (about 16 oz. capacity) ramekin.  I know monkey breads are usually made with either a biscuit or yeast dough; this one is made with a simple homemade biscuit dough.  While I'd probably prefer the yeast variety, the biscuit dough is easy to make and, I think, more suited for a small scale recipe.
My family and I didn't really know what to expect from this little monkey bread but everyone enjoyed the individual little balls of warm biscuits, coated in sweet cinnamon-caramel.  I think the little one was pleasantly surprised.  And do you see that white glare in the background of the photo above?  That's the snow pile at around 9am on Saturday morning.  It just kept on falling and falling, relentlessly, and by that evening, we had a good 2 feet of the fluffy stuff on the ground.    

And the correlation between hunger and a snow day is very real.  The fellas had no problems devouring their first monkey bread breakfast and they seemed hungry every hour or two.  Needless to say, we went through a good chunk of groceries over the weekend, and I'm off to replenish our stock!


Bananas foster

Snow is coming!  After enjoying an unusually mild winter so far, it sounds like we may get our first true snow storm of the season this weekend.  I've done my grocery shopping and I'm ready for a lot of home-cooking and eating in the next couple of days. It's cold winter weekends huddled at home that give me time to whip up different things, including desserts, that I've been wanting to make.  For instance, this bananas foster...
Is it odd that snow/cold weather makes me think of ice cream?  At least I tend to think of pairing it with something warm.  So this post is timely...for me, at least.

Actually, I wanted to make bananas foster for my husband when I caught an easy recipe for it (no flambeing involved).  He's a big fan of banana desserts, not only in baked goods form, but where it takes center stage on a plate.  I wasn't always a big fan of such a thing but I've been reformed in the last decade, for better or worse.   
So bananas foster.  It isn't something I see on a restaurant menu often but if you like bananas, you know the allure of warm, sweet, caramelized bananas, kissed with the flavors of rum and a little cinnamon.  Add on the contrast of ice-cold vanilla ice cream and it's easy to know why it's a special dish many people enjoy.  Aside from the flavor, I really adore the contrast of warm bananas and cold ice cream in each bite. When I made this last weekend, my main concern was to get it on the table and into our mouths while it was still warm and cold at the same time.  A few clicks of the camera and we cued to the important stuff: eating.



Chestnut cream tea cakes

What do you do when you see a madeleine recipe you really want to try but don't have a madeleine pan?  You improvise...
Naturally, I thought of using a mini muffin tin but then I had the idea that it might be nice to bake the batter in mini tart tins.  So that's what I did, turning what should have been madeleines into what I'll call, tea cakes.  
A couple of my tea cakes are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter while the others (4 larger ones in my small batch) were slightly bigger at about 3 1/2 inches wide.  I would've preferred them all in the smaller size but I discovered I only had two of the smaller tart tins so I was out of luck.  I filled the larger ones a little less so as not to end up with very thick tea cakes. I was aiming for dainty.
Now let me tell you why I wanted to make these so much...yes, it was the chestnut cream factor.  I do love myself some chestnuts and love finding recipes like this one that use chestnut cream.  And since I have a pretty substantial stash of chestnut cream in my pantry right now thanks to my sister, who stocked up for me on a recent trip to Paris, I'm really on the lookout for good recipes.

This chestnut cream madeleine (or "tea cake") recipe fit the bill and was all the more appealing given how easy the batter is to put together; we're talking bowls and some good old-fashion stirring.  I divvied up the batter into my tart tins and these small tea cakes emerged from the oven.  I was happy.  
These little cakes are just simple and lovely.  They're moist, with an unmistakable flavor of sweetened chestnuts from the chestnut cream that made me smile.  Also lightly flavored with a touch of vanilla extract and rum, these little bites were just what I was looking for in a mid-afternoon tea cake.  Whether with tea or coffee, they are a lovely little sweet treat for any chestnut lover.



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