Valentine's Day interlude

Happy Valentine's Day!
It's been a long week here at our house and Valentine's Day is a bright pink light I'm focusing on and hanging dearly to!  So I'm having a little Valentine's Day interlude here and savoring the excuse to celebrate love (of all kinds) and eat lots of chocolate today!

We'll be starting the day with some heart-shape buttermilk pancakes (recipe here).  I formed the rough heart-shapes by placing the pancake batter into a piping bag and piping out the shapes onto the griddle.  In all likelihood, these will hit the table with a heart-shaped dollop of chocolate hazelnut spread in the middle.
I plan to make pasta with lobster and shrimp for dinner at home with my fellas tonight.  For dessert, I made chocolate covered ice cream hearts (recipe and idea inspired by the Food Network).  A small word of warning...as with most ice cream projects, it's never quite as easy as it sounds or looks.  It's a reminder that ice cream melts, and melts very quickly.  In other words, it gets messy fast.

Chocolate snack cake

Sometimes, all you need is chocolate.  At least, all you want is chocolate!  Once again, it's time to celebrate chocolate - one of my greatest loves - in this month of February and ahead of Valentine's day in a few days.  
So for no more necessary reason beyond my love of chocolate and for making, eating, and sharing chocolate cake, I'd like to present this simple chocolate snack cake that's good for any occasion or for just any ordinary day.
I have certainly baked many a chocolate cake and generally enjoy them all.  For an excuse to keep making chocolate cake throughout the year(s), I'm always happy to try a new twist.  In this case, I was captivated (and immediately motivated) by Now, Forager's chocolate sprinkle snack cake; her photographer is stunning and one look at her gorgeous cake had me itching to make one of my own!  It's simple, classic and just a happy cake to bake - and eat - any time of year. 
This cake is familiar in its lineup of ingredients - cocoa powder and coffee for chocolate flavor, sour cream and oil for moisture.  An interesting note on the frosting - this dark chocolate frosting has a relatively small amount of powdered sugar in it relative to most buttercream frosting recipes.  I actually worried it might be a bit too little but it works, which opened my eyes to new possibilities.  The smaller amount of powdered sugar makes for a creamier, silkier frosting where you can really taste the chocolate.  That is definitely a good thing. 
Sprinkles are optional, or maybe not.  I know that colorful sprinkles always makes me smile - the hard part is deciding which sprinkles to use!  My family and I are also partial to chocolate sprinkles on our chocolate cake.  But whether you like it plain or bespeckled with sprinkle confetti, you won't regret this chocolate interlude!



Brioche Veneziana

For those of us who like to cook and bake, trying new dishes and recipes keep it fun and interesting even if we rely on family favorites most of the time. Recently, I tried my hand at making Brioche Venezianaan Italian brioche that's usually filled with custard cream and covered with coarse sugar grains.  These buns are usually enjoyed at breakfast with coffee, like you would do with croissant (or a cornetto if we're staying on the Italian pastry theme).
Brioche Veneziana filled with chestnut cream (left) and Nutella (right)
My fascination with these buns, or brioche Veneziana, started a few months ago on a breakfast outing with my husband.  The mall near our home opened up an Italian food hall not long ago.  I like the coffee there and we stopped by for coffee and a pastry before starting our day one morning.  Somehow the puffy round brioche bun coated in coarse sugar (shown below) - which I'd come to find out are known as brioche Veneziana -  captivated me.
Not only did they look good, they tasted good...sweet and buttery but not overly so, with a tasty vanilla custard middle.  They were light and airy - perfect with a cappuccino in the morning.  
The buns kept swirling in my mind and I found myself looking up information on them online.  I found a seemingly simple recipe in English that I just had to try.  Since it wasn't particularly demanding (mainly wait/proof time), I didn't think I had a lot to lose.
Brioche Veneziana filled with Nutella after baking
Based on family preference and also since I was not confident how they would turn out, I took another shortcut by filling the baked brioche with chestnut cream (which I have left over from holiday baking) and Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread, rather than custard.  I think they're both Italian pastry-appropriate fillings and delicious alternatives to custard
Filled with Chestnut Cream
The homemade brioche I've made thus far were not nearly as light and airy as the ones we can pick up at the Italian market.  I've attempted these buns twice.  After they turned out on the dense side during the first go, I did a little more research and thought maybe a longer knead time would help.  My family and I all agree that the second batch did turn out better (a bit lighter) but, in fairness, still not as puffed and lofty as the model I had in mind.  

Despite not being "perfect", both batches of these brioches were quickly polished off.  They freeze quite well.  I froze leftovers (unfilled) and when I was ready to serve them again, I left them out on the counter overnight, then warmed them up in the oven.  I cut a small hole in the middle of these buns and fill them with their filling right before serving.  While they're certainly not the best brioche Veneziana you can get, I like them so much that I just might keep on trying to get them better and better...wish me luck!



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