chocolate

The Pastry School Diaries: Confessions of a Chocoholic

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

After the past few lessons about making chocolate confections, I will never look at a chocolate bar, truffle or bonbon the same way.

The art of making chocolate is one that requires patience, expertise and creativity. Once melted over a double boiler (to prevent burning), you need to constantly watch over chocolate like it is your most prized possession—it can’t get too thick, too thin, too hot or too cold. Just a few degrees off and your chocolate becomes dull or does not set.

We started off easy with mendiants, which are rounds of melted chocolate that are piped onto a baking sheet and topped with a variety of dried fruits, nuts, spices and other flavorings.

 

We then moved on to rolling truffles. We made a wide assortment, from maple-bourbon, to green tea, to caramel to strawberry.

 

 

Finally, we learned how to make and fill bonbons, which was the most time consuming and temperamental process out of them all. The results were gorgeous, though.

 

 

I’ve enjoyed learning about chocolates because of all the different flavor possibilities: you can add so many different sweet, savory, spicy and tangy ingredients to your product—chocolate really is like an blank canvas.

 

I want to know: What’s your dream chocolate combination?

 

Check back next week for more sweet tales!

The Pastry School Diaries: Get in Shape!

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

 

Our final unit (eeek!) of classes is all about the finer side to pastry arts: sugar molding, chocolate work and cake decorating. While I definitely consider my baking style to be on the rustic (read: imperfect) side, I’ve very much enjoyed learning about these techniques so far.

 

We started out learning how to make sugar showpieces. You know, those things you see on cooking competitions, that when the chefs move them from their table to the judging station your heart pounds in anxiety that they’re going to drop the whole thing.

 

 

Despite their name, these “sugar” showpieces are actually made out of isomalt, an almost-as-sweet sugar substitute that is resistant to humidity and crystallization, two very important factors when it comes to making one of these. We simply melted the isomalt on the stove, added edible paint and poured it into large silicone molds. Once the shapes were hard enough to pop out of the molds, you can use a small amount of melted isomalt to fasten the pieces together, or a blow torch works, as well. We had creative liberty in how we colored and assembled our pieces, and as stressful as the process seems, it was really quite fun.

 

Next, we learned the process behind making chocolates from bean to bar. Creative Director Michael Laisksonis has become our school’s master chocolatier, importing beans from all over the world and scratch-making his very own chocolate. The process is a long one and a labor of love, but the final product is completely worth it.

 

A brief, visual representation of the bean-to-bar process

Now that I’ve gained an appreciation for the art of chocolate making, find out what happens when I try my hand at rolling and filling truffles next week!

7 Romantic Recipes to Cook with Your Sweetie

While going out for a romantic dinner can be delightful, there’s something about cooking dinner with your honey at home that feels a lot more intimate. Try something different this Valentine’s Day and spend the day cozying up in the kitchen. It is a long weekend, after all!

 

Start the day off with heart-shaped Spiced Pastry Bites

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The Pastry School Diaries: Bake It ‘Til You Make It

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Baking & Pastry Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences!

 

As if recovering from Labor Day weekend wasn’t a feat of its own, I was promptly greeted Tuesday night by my first of four pastry school final exams. Luckily, I spent the long weekend practicing my creme anglaise and souffle skills, prepared to (hopefully) nail the recipes when put to the test.
 
This is the first time I’ve had to study for a test since college, and although that was only two and a half years ago, I knew my study skills were a little rusty. I’ll spare you the details of the written exam itself and skip right to the final result: an A! I am not usually one who performs well under pressure, and admittedly, I didn’t perform my best– the creme anglaise was slightly undercooked and my souffles looked less than perfect. But being put to the test for the first time by myself (we always work in teams of 2 during class) showed me the importance of having confidence in the kitchen. I kept doubting myself, and it was apparent in my work. Luckily, my souffles were perfectly cooked and still tasted delicious, so I was only penalized for presentation. For anyone interested in trying their hand at souffle at home, here are my personal tips to making it successfully:
 
1. Find a recipe that calls for as little liquid as possible. The more liquid, the harder it is to keep the souffle light and fluffy.

2. Gently fold in your egg whites just until they are incorporated. Over mixing the batter is a surefire way result in a cracked souffle.

3. Fill your ramekins alllllll the way to the tippy top. This way, your souffle can begin to rise above the ramekin, and you won’t have to worry about the vessel interfering with the batter.

4. Try not to open the oven to check on your souffles. Doing so interrupts the heat distribution and lets cold air in.

5. When all else fails, it’ll still taste good. Like my exam proved, even though they didn’t look the prettiest, I still received a good grade for the taste and degree of doneness.

 

Before I mentally prepare for Module 2, which includes breads and pastry doughs, I’ll share some of my favorite lessons and recipes from Module 1:

 

One of the first things we ever made, blueberry muffins

 

The most delicious apple crumbles

 

Dacquoise, layers of almond cookies and meringue frosting

 

And a class field trip to Odd Fellows Ice Cream Co., which included a sampling of every flavor on the menu and this cornbread sundae. Yum-O!

 
 
Check back next week for another dessert adventure!

How to Make the Very Best Chocolate Pudding

We love a good chocolate pudding and we know you do too: it’s one of our most popular chocolate desserts ever! In honor of National Chocolate Pudding Day (that’s today!) we’re sharing an updated version of the classic dessert. It’s warm and luscious and just sweet enough. You’re going to want to make extras!

 

 

Warm Chocolate Pudding

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup plus 2 tsp. sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Pinch salt

3 cups milk

2 egg yolks

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Whipped cream, for serving

 

Directions
In saucepan, whisk 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in milk and yolks over medium heat. Stir in chocolate. Simmer, whisking, until melted. Divide pudding among ramekins; let cool slightly. Top with cream.

 

If you’re looking for something more out-of-the-box, try our slow-cooker version or our Amaretto-spiked version.

The Most Delicious Chocolate Spa Treatments

Whatever your thoughts on Valentine’s Day, and whatever your relationship status, there’s one way to commemorate the occasion that pretty much everyone can get behind: chocolate-drizzled spa services. Want a sensual celebration for two? Indulgent consolation for one? Silent protest against the romance industrial complex? These five treatments serve admirably as any of the above.

 

Photo courtesy of Westward Look

 
The Sonoran Spa’s Chocolate Stone Massage at the Westward Look, a Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa in Tucson, AZ

Get it while it’s hot! This is a limited-engagement treatment involving warm basalt stones that have been bathed in ridiculously delicious-smelling, skin-soothing chocolate oil. You’ll be plied with them for 80 otherworldly minutes, then—if you can manage to sit up straight (or even remember your own name)—you’ll be treated to a champagne chaser in the relaxation area (from $150 for 80 minutes; westwardlook.com/offers/tucson-spa-specials).

 

The Joya Spa’s Chocolate Mousse Body Wrap at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia

Elsewhere in Arizona (which happens to be my home state, so I’m exercising authorial privilege and listing two places there), you can get slathered in chocolate sugar mousse, wrapped in mylar, then treated to scalp massage or reflexology while you “set” for 20 minutes. During that time, any dead skin cells that that survived the manual sloughing will be eaten away by the enzymes in the antioxidant-rich mousse. Next comes a shower—and a final rubdown with a blend of avocado oil, hyaluronic acid, vanilla extract and, of course, essential oil of cocoa (from $159 for 50 minutes; omnihotels.com/hotels/scottsdale-montelucia/spa/seasonal-specials).

 

The Well Spa & Salon’s Berry, Wine and Chocolate Delight Transformational Facial at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, WI

Encompassing multiple important food groups in one (wine, chocolate, creamy things), this treatment gets going with a cranberry-scented cleansing milk and shea butter sugar polish. Next comes a mask of decadent, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate—followed by even more antioxidants: a cocktail of wine grapes and peptides. By the end, your skin is so de-stressed and plumped up, you’d be carded if you decided to pop over the winery that supplied the grapes. (from $120 for 50 minutes; grandgeneva.com/well-spa-lake-geneva).

 

Photo courtesy of Jade Mountain

 
 
The Kai en Ciel Spa’s Chocolate Delight at Jade Mountain in Saint Lucia

If you want a side of tropical gorgeousness with your spa treatment, head to one of the lushest, most mountainous islands in the Caribbean—Saint Lucia—and check into Jade Mountain. The property has its own organic cocoa plantation (1000 trees and counting), and when you’re not making your own edible treats at the resort’s Chocolate Lab, you can basically become a human tartufo at the spa. When you sign up for the Chocolate Delight, you’ll be coated in alternating layers of hot and cold chocolate, then left to drift into another stratosphere while your skin binges on all the antioxidants and moisture ($150 for 60 minutes, jademountain.com/wellness/spa).
 

Photo courtesy of Paresa Resort

 
The Spa by Paresa’s Chocolate Menu at the Paresa Resort in Phuket, Thailand

If you can’t get enough chocolate in your system—and miles in your frequent flier account—this motherlode’s for you: On Thailand’s dreamy, turquoise coast, you’ll find an entire cocoa-loco spa lineup. There’s the Dark Chocolate Champagne Body Wrap, the White Chocolate Latte Footsie (a hot milk and cocoa butter-based pedi), the Chocolate Honey Facial and—for anyone who wants to swim in the stuff—the Organic Chocolate & Coconut Bubble Bath. Go ahead. No judgment (from $52 for 60 minutes, paresaresorts.com).

The Best, Coolest and Whackiest Things to Dip in Chocolate

What’s the best way to get crazy cooking ideas? Conduct a Facebook poll! We asked what you love to dip in chocolate, and the results run the gamut from classic to kooky. Here are some of our faves, perfect for Valentine’s Day (or any day!):

 

 Salty Snacks

From chips to pretzels to buttermilk biscuits, you can’t get enough of the salty-sweet combination.

Fruity Things

Traditionalists love bananas and berries, while modernists like figs and candied ginger.

Other Desserts!

Cinnamon rolls, cake and fortune cookies, oh my! Make your desserts even dessert-ier with a nice chocolate dip.

Candy

Give chewy Swedish fish or crunchy candy canes a nice chocolatey alter ego.

Related Links

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How to Make Chocolate-Dipped Almond Biscotti

 

The One Thing You Need to Make this Weekend

As the last weekend of National Ice Cream Month approaches (we know, we’re tearing up a little bit over here, too) there’s no better way to send off the sweetest time of year than by whipping up some homemade ice cream! Brrrrr-illiant, no? So whether you like chocolate, vanilla or something fruity, it’s time to schedule a date this weekend with the coolest kitchen accessory: your ice cream maker!

 

Triple Chocolate Crunch Ice Cream

 

 
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Celebrate National Candy Month with Seattle Chocolates’ Truffle Bars!

We know every month feels like National Candy Month, but June is the real deal—get ready to celebrate! For an extra-sweet treat, check out Seattle Chocolates’ Truffle Bar Collection. Their bars are known for their creativity, their eco-friendly ingredients and—most importantly—their deliciousness.

We’re loving their summer flavors right now: Campers’ S’mores, a milk chocolate bar filled with marshmallow nougat and graham cracker pieces, and Lemon Ice, a white chocolate bar full of lemon oil and sour lemon candy pieces. Check out all 28 flavors here—trust us, your sweet tooth will thank you.

 

Photo courtesy of Seattle Chocolates

 

 

Related Links

Make the Most of Your Halloween Candy

S’mores We Love

Lollipop, Lollipop

 

Bake Your Heart Out: Blondies

We love brownies, and we’re  also sweet on blondies, their caramel-flavored cousin. Start with our simple recipe, then fun it up with the same mix-ins and toppings for our Mind-Blowing Brownies (ours are studded with dried cherries).

 

 

Basic Blondies

1 1/2 sticks butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups flour

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Coat the foil with cooking spray.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Off heat, whisk in both sugars, vanilla and salt. Whisk until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well between additions. Add the flour; stir until just blended. Pour into the pan.

3. Bake  the blondies until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 40 minutes. cool in the pan set on a wire rack. Using the foil overhang, lift the blondies out of the pan. Cut into squares.

 

 

Related Links

12 Days of Cookies

An Extract for Every Occasion

Homemade Cookie 101