Vanilla Chai Chocolate Truffles

On this episode of “Sydney Makes Easy Things That Impress Her Friends,” we’re talkin’ ’bout chocolate truffles. But not just any regular chocolate truffles, oh no, we’re throwing vanilla chai into the mix. Essentially, they’re chocolate balls, but doesn’t the word “truffle” just make it sound much fancier? Ya, I agree.

The bond that a woman of color has with her hairdresser is one that is sacred, and must be fostered and nurtured. I do this by surprising mine with edible treats at least once a month. And since the hot cross buns that I made a few weeks back were given to family and church members, I decided that my beloved beautician should get something specifically made JUST for her. And like many, many women that I know, she looooooooooves  chocolate. So, I thought, what better treat than just straight-up homemade truffles?

During the holiday season my television basically stays on Food Network and Cooking Channel, and I watched a special episode of Giada at Home in which she made chocolate truffles for some “guests” (more likely the production crew, but ya know, TV magic and all that) who were stopping by for a holiday party. She stepped it up by brewing a bunch of bags chai  in heavy cream, then taking it off the heat and pouring it over chocolate to melt it. Then she stirred it all together until it turned into chocolate ganache, refrigerated it for a few hours until it set, then scooped out the mixture by the tablespoon, rolled it into a ball, coated it in cocoa powder, and then wrapped a little gold leaf around each for a classy touch. They were so cute and elegant, so I logged the recipe away for an occasion when I would really, really want to make them. But when it came time to make these truffles, wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t have any gold leaf on hand (I’m not workin’ with a Food Network budget here), and instead of brewing with classic chai, I decided to switch it up with my favorite bundling of vanilla chai tea bags. Was it a success? Oh yeah. She loved them!

These truffles are perfect for anyone who has a semi-sweet tooth. They’ve got a bit of an edge to them, with just the hint of sweetness to balance everything out. Basically, you get this intensely rich, deep chocolatey flavor, mixed with the warmth of spices that you find in classic chai, and finished off with the subtle hint of vanilla. The vanilla may just be a gentle whisper, but it definitely won’t let you ever forget that it’s there.

Best of all, they can be made wayyyy in advance, which works perfectly for me because I can enjoy leftover truffles that didn’t fit in the gifted container for weeks to come.

Vanilla Chai Chocolate Truffles: Good for friendship, good for random chocolate cravings.

 

VANILLA CHAI CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES 

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 7 bags vanilla chai tea (I like Bigelow)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder

 

DIRECTIONS

Before you begin, tie all of your tea bag strings together in a knot. This makes it much easier to fish them out when you’ve finished with them.

Pour the heavy cream into a small saucepan, then add your tea bags. Place the pan over medium-low heat, warming the cream slowly; stir occasionally. You’ll know when your mixture is heated through when you see little bubbles start to form around the edges of the cream, about 5-7 minutes. Simmer for 3 minutes more, then remove from heat.

Remove the tea bags from the sauce pan. Place the finely chopped chocolate and salt in a medium bowl, then strain the cream mixture over it using a fine-mesh strainer. Let sit for 3 minutes so that the chocolate begins to melt on its own. Slowly whisk the melted chocolate into the cream starting in the center of the bowl, then slowly making your way outwards. Remember to do this slowly and carefully so that the chocolate doesn’t seize up! Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth and completely blended. Place a piece of plastic wrap DIRECTLY on top of the ganache, and press down gently to make sure the surface is completely covered.  Let set in the  refrigerator for AT LEAST 3 hours, but the best is overnight. The mixture should be firm by that time, but still easy to work it.

Measure your coca powder, then place in a small, shallow bowl. With a tablespoon cookie scoop (or just a tablespoon measuring spoon), scoop even rounds of ganache into your palm, then very quickly but gently roll into a ball.  Next. roll the ball in the coca powder to coat; gently shake off any excess.. Repeat this process until you’ve run out of ganache. Place your truffles in an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

Make Ahead: The truffles can be made several weeks ahead of time, kept refrigerated in an airtight container. On the day of serving, roll each in the cocoa powder.

 

 

SOURCE: Very, very slightly adapted from Giada De Laurentis 

 

 

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Dark Chocolate and Anise Biscotti

There are two sides to me. One side has this need to bake things all the time. The other side is aware that if I bake all the time, then I will feel obligated to eat everything I’ve made in the event that I don’t have anyone to share the wealth with. It’s very complicated. That’s why I love, love, love biscotti. They’re crunchy, they’re sturdy, and they last for WEEKS at a time.  I have the freedom to nibble (or not nibble) at my leisure without the looming pressure to not waste a single crumb. It’s beautiful.

Biscotti are tough cookies in the best way. The longevity of them is fantastic, but they’re also the perfect option for care packages. As much as I love the Midwest (especially now that I can walk outside without a parka), most of the people I care about live in completely different parts of the country. You know that I am a big fan of sending and receiving gifts in the mail. but the edible options for packages are limited. Biscotti are PERFECT for this task.

This week I whipped up a quick batch of Buttery-Cayenne Pecans, then made these Dark Chocolate Anise Biscotti, wrapped everything in half a roll of bubble wrap, threw in a couple of heartfelt cards, then sent them on their way. Two days later, I got a “thank you” text, and a very warm heart. Care packages are my jam. And one of these days, you and I are going to make one together, step-by-step.

As you’re well aware by now, I am a huge fan of deceptively easy recipes. Making biscotti? Wayyyy easier than you think. All you have to do is keep up with the time. The rest is a total breeze.

What I love most about this recipe is that it’s a lot like having a chocolate chip cookie, but with a hint of licorice. And if you aren’t a black licorice fan (I’m not,), have no fear, you’ll still love these The anise seeds bring a subtle flavor of licorice that does nothing but completely compliment the oodles of dark chocolate chunks throughout. And I will never turn down a crispy cookie that brings a little texture to the game. If a little softness is more of what you’re after, you totally have my permission to dunk a couple of these babies in a steaming cup of coffee.

Eat some biscotti.

Send some to your friends.

Do your thing.

 

 

DARK CHOCOLATE AND ANISE BISCOTTI 

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds, slightly crushed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 4 oz chocolate, roughly chopped

DIRECTIONS

Place oven racks in the center and upper third of the oven, then preheat to 325 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, slightly crushed anise seeds, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, then set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer, or with a wooden spoon), cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy; about 5 minutes.

Reduce mixer speed to low, then add one egg and the egg yolk, then beat until well combined; about 3 minutes.

Add the flour mixture all at once to the stand mixer, and beat on low until well combined. The dough may seem a bit crumbly. Next, add the chocolate chunks and make sure they are evenly distributed throughout.

Divide the dough in half, then place each half on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Gently knead the dough a few times, just to get it to come together a little more. Next, shape each dough into logs about 8 inches long, and 1 1/2 inches wide. Beat the remaining egg, then generously brush it over each log. Next, sprinkle sugar liberally over each log.

Bake the biscotti on both racks for 20 minutes, then swap racks and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the biscotti are golden brown and baked all the way through.

Take your cookie sheets out of the oven, and let the biscotti rest for a few minutes. Once the biscotti logs are cool enough to handle, cut into 1-inch slices using a serrated knife, cutting in a swift motion.

Place the cookies cut side up onto the baking sheets, then put back in the oven for another 15-25 minutes, depending on how crisp you’d like your biscotti to be. (I prefer mine on the crispier side, so I kept an eye on mine for 25 minutes.)

For an even crispiness, flip your biscotti over and bake for another 2-5 minutes.

Let cool, then store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. 

 

SOURCE: Adapted from Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes 

Classic Chocolate Pie

There’s something very special about being a Northerner with deep connections to the South: tradition. Whether you are up North or down South, there is nothing more sacred than tradition. I love that.

These days in the culinary world, it’s about finding the next big innovation. It’s about blowing peoples’ minds with the new and the shocking. It’s about re-inventing the already re-invented. Everything has to be bigger and better and larger than life. But, isn’t it nice to sometimes just take a quick step back to honor the classics? Isn’t it important to acknowledge the things that have lasted the test of time? I think so. I think that, along with apple pie, chocolate pie is about as classic as they come.

 

What I love about this chocolate pie is that it really is a classic in more than one sense of the word. It’s easy, which the best pies always are. And it’s just straight-up what it is: super. super chocolatey.

No fuss, no frills, just supreme fudginess and an utterly buttery, flaky pie crust. And don’t forget a generous slathering of homemade whipped cream on top; that’s a must-have.

 

CLASSIC CHOCOLATE PIE  

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 Flaky Pie Crust 
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • homemade whipped cream, for serving (optional)
  • 1 ounce dark chocolate, for shaving (optional)

 

Find the recipe on Food and Wine.

Heart-Shaped Jammy Sammy Cookies

I know February 14th is long-gone, but I subscribe to Valentine’s Day-cutesienss 365 days out of the year.

By the way, how was your Valentine’s Day? Mine was surprisingly fun this year, which has freed me from the cycle of weird/awkward/disastrous scenes of Valentine’s Day past. I volunteered at the an annual Sweetheart Dinner (last year I made this French Silk Pie), and had a BLAST. There were several courses involved, and no time to take a breath as we were each cooking over our respective dishes (I was on dessert duty but got roped into making seafood Alfredo once we got there). Lots of “behind”-s, and “this is ready to go out!”-s, and “We need more ginger ale for the punch!”-s were thrown out, and it reminded me of how much I love being in a busy kitchen. I live for that hustle and bustle sometimes. I mean, I’ve never dried so many dishes, or continuously scrubbed the same countertops so many times in my entire life, but MAN was it worth it. It was a really classy affair.

Would you like to know the best bit? These cookies were a BIG HIT!

“Jammy Sammie Cookies” is just the name that I wrote to be cute/slightly annoying. You’re probably more familiar with the name “Linzer,” because of the filling and shape cut out of the center. I generally see Linzer cookies the most during the Holiday Season, but if you ask me, the cookie cutout + filling pairing should be a yearlong affair. And what goes better with a heart shape on Valentine’s Day than fresh strawberry jam? Red is like the official unofficial color of V-Day, so the filling of these cookies were required to match accordingly.

Quick question: how do you feel about homemade jam? Me? I’m all about it. I feel like there’s nothing that makes me feel cozier than when I’m making jam from scratch. Sure, it takes way less time to just pick a jar off the shelf at your local grocery store, but when you make it yourself you: A) Know exactly what has gone into it, and B) MADE. IT. YOURSELF. Helloooooooo! It’s (relatively) fast, (totally) easy, (unbelievably) fresh, and you know it’s always made with love.

Now pair that sweet, sweet jam with some deliciously soft shortbread plus a liberal sprinkling of powdered sugar for good measure, and you’ve got the stuff of dreams, kids. What could be better?

Since you’ll definitely have jam left over after filling the cookies, might I make a few suggestions as to what to use it on?

  1. Biscuits
  2. Scones
  3. Toast
  4. Fingers dipped in
  5. By the spoonful
  6. etc. etc.

And let’s just quickly talk about the versatility of these cookies, shall we? Yes, they were made for February 14th, but they can go wayyy beyond that. We’re talkin’ tea parties, birthday parties, bridal showers, picnics, breakfasts, coffee breaks, dates, etc. etc. Cookie hearts filled with homemade jam never go out of season.

It’s a beautiful thing.

 

 

HEART-SHAPED JAMMY SAMMY COOKIES

What You’ll Need:

For the shortbread:

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Powdered sugar for sprinkling

For the jam:

32 oz (two 16 oz containers) strawberries

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon  brown sugar

Pinch of salt

Zest of 1 whole lemon + juice of half a lemon

 

DIRECTIONS:

First, let’s make the shortbread cookie dough:

 In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer, or a wooden spoon), add the butter, sugar, and salt and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the egg and egg yolk one at a time, making sure each addition is well combined. Next, add the vanilla extract. Add the flour in three batches, making sure each addition is well combined (but don’t over-mix), before adding more flour. When necessary, scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula.

Once your dough has just come together, lay your dough out on a plastic sheet, then divide it in half. Wrap each half tightly in plastic wrap, then shape to form discs. Refrigerate the discs for at least one hour, but best is overnight.

Ok, dough’s done, now let’s make the jam:

Rinse strawberries before using, and let drain completely before getting started.

Once your strawberries have been washed, hull each strawberry, then cut into quarters. Place all of your cut up strawberries in a medium sauce pan. Next, add your brown sugar, pinch of salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Using a potato masher (or the back of a wooden spoon), muddle all of your ingredients together, making sure that the berries’ juices are starting to release, and your sugar and salt have started to dissolve.

Cook your fruit compote, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until your jam has thickened, and it passes the line test (a line can be drawn down the center of the spoon without the juices running); On my stove, that takes about 30-35 minutes. Along the way, make sure to give your jam a few taste tests, and adjust the flavors to your liking. The mixture will bubble quite a bit and juice may jump out of the pan occasionally, so watch out for that!

When your jam has come together, take it off the heat and let it cool completely before transferring it to a mason jar or tupperware container.

This jam will last for several weeks refrigerated.

VERY IMPORTANT: DO NOT leave the stove whilst you’re making your jam. One minute it can still be too runny, then the next you’re cleaning burnt strawberry syrup out of the pan until your arms fall off. Trust me. Stay put. Keep stirring.

Ok, my dough has rested. Time to make some cookies!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Remove the first disc of dough and let sit on a counter for ten minutes; this allows it to come to room temperature, thus making it much easier to roll out.

Liberally flour a rolling pin and work surface.

Roll the cookie dough out to a 1/8 inch thickness, then, using a floured heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out shapes. Transfer the hearts to the cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, about 1-inch apart. Stamp a hole out of the center of half the cookies using the tip of a circle piping tip. Repeat the process with any remaining scraps, and with the second disc of dough.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 7-10 minutes (depending on your oven),  or until the cookies have started to lightly brown around the edges. Allow the cookies to cool for five minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.

Transfer the cookies with the holes cut out of the center to one of the cool baking sheets (keep the parchment paper on). Sprinkle a generous amount of powdered sugar over them using a sifter, mesh strainer, or powdered sugar shaker. (Aren’t you glad you have the parchment paper now to catch the excess sugar?) Flip the bottom cookies (no holes in them) over so that the underside is facing you, then apply about a teaspoon of jam right in the center of each. Place the tops on, then lightly press down so that you create a sandwich. The jam should spread evenly to the edges and through the center hole without overflowing. Enjoy!

To Store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

 

 

SOURCE: Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

Bite-Size Biscotti

I really, really like my beautician. Partially because she’s one of the only people in this world who I would trust to dye my hair just-so, and partially because I’ve known her for a big chunk of my life. She likes me, and I like her, and she likes my baking, so I like her even more. When true-blue baking season starts up, the kitchen is always filled with more treats than my family could ever possibly eat, and I always pick out the best of the best to bring to her. Lately she’s really been dropping hints that I’ve been slacking in the baked-good-delivery department, so I’m stepping up my game.

I love biscotti. It’s crunchy and delicious, and there are so many flavor combinations out there that I’ll never become bored with it. It’s the perfect companion to cold-weather beverages, and since my tea kettle has seen a lot more action lately, I thought I would give these a shot.

Traditional biscotti can be time consuming, and nerve-wracking. If you don’t get the first bake right, it can throw off the entire process. After all, you don’t eat soft biscotti, you’re looking for that satisfying crunch. If you still want the crunch, but don’t have all day, try the mini version. These are just as satisfying, but it’ll only take you a few hours, and most of that time is spent impatiently checking to see if the chocolate has set so you can dig in. Patience is your friend when baking, now and forever.

It should be noted that in this recipe, it calls for the zest of grapefruit, but  I think any citrus you’ve got laying around will do. It’s not so much about the grapefruit as it is the presence of citrus that makes these biscotti bites stand out. I zested that grapefruit until I could zest no more because it was $1.25 and I was going to get my money’s worth or die trying. (Dramatic, sorry.)

These bite-sized biscotti are for all fans of the salt-chocolate-cocunut-citrus-more chocolate flavor combination. May your teaspoons be heaping, your cookies crunchy,  your chocolate smoothly-tempered, and your tummies full of the quintessential coffeehouse treat. There are going to be some happy faces at the beauty shop tomorrow.

BITE-SIZED BISCOTTI

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups fine cornmeal (I used white cornmeal)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 stick (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons grapefuit zest (or two tablespoons of zest of your choice. Could be orange!)
  • 11 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • Sanding sugar (I used Demerara because that’s what I had in my pantry!), for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and coarse salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Next add the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined. Beat in the coconut, grapefruit zest, and about 5 ounces of the bittersweet chocolate. Mix until everything is evenly distributed.

Drop generous heaping teaspoonfuls of biscotti dough on parchment-lined baking sheets. Set each dough ball about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the tops of each with a generous sprinkling of sanding sugar. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. (Note: I don’t have an industrial-size refrigerator, so my fridge only holds so many baking sheets. My solution: scoop the remainder of your dough into a bowl and refrigerate. It’ll still be cold enough to form dough balls that keep their shape in the oven.)

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown. This should take about 18-20 minutes depending on your oven.

Let cool completely on wire racks.

Once your biscotti bites have completely cooled, temper the remaining amount of bittersweet chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Dip the bottoms of the cookies in the melted chocolate, scraping off any excess chocolate with a spoon, or using the edge of the bowl. Set each on clean parchment-lined baking sheets. Refrigerate until chocolate is set, about 30 minutes. (Note: I didn’t refrigerate again. Instead, I let them to set in a cool place in the house. It took a little longer, but I didn’t have to take all of my food out of the fridge again.)

To Store: These can be be stored in a single layer for up to one week.

SOURCE: Martha Stewart

Double Apple + Pear Pie

So, I’ve given this a lot of thought and, in ten years time, I want to be referred to as The Pie Queen.  I know it’s a lofty goal, but we all need dreams, right? I’ve had visions lately of winning state fairs, and a beyond giant wedding pie. Or a cake disguised as a pie. I’m still working out the details.

There’s just something about pie that puts me in the best mood. More than anything else I bake, pie really makes me feel like I’ve actually put tangible love into something to give to others. Do you ever feel like that? And apple pie is just so classic. If we try hard enough, maybe making one will speed up Fall a little bit, for what is Fall without apple pie? Just a season when everything dies, that’s what.

Now, let’s talk about adding a pear to your apple pie. Never in a million trillion years would I have thought of doing it, and now I can’t believe that it isn’t the norm. It’s genius. Not only does adding a pear bring more complexity to an already pretty complex pie (due to the use of two different kinds of apples), but in the words of Pie School’s author, Kate Lebo, “Your guests won’t be able to tell where the flavor is coming from.” You get to have a secret, and isn’t that always fun? (Unless it’s peanuts. Nut allergies aren’t so fun. Best to let the cat out of the bag when it comes to peanuts.)

My suggestion with this pie is that you make it a hundred times before Fall and Winter are over. And if that seems like too many times, I don’t know why we’re friends in the first place.

Double Apple-Pear pie is at its best when served warm, and preferably with your favorite hot drink.    Throw in a scoop of freshly-made vanilla bean ice cream for good measure. Mmmm. Be right back, gonna go make one.

 

DOUBLE APPLE + PEAR PIE

What You’ll Need:

  • Super Flaky Pie Crust
  • 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 1 Bartlett pear, peeled,cored, and thinly sliced
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon (1 to 2 tablespoons)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons AP flour
  • 2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • Egg white wash (1 egg white, beaten, mixed with one teaspoon water)
  • Demerara sugar for sprinkling

Directions

Make your pie crust. Chill overnight.

Roll out the bottom crust and place it in a 9 inch pie dish. Trim the edges, then refrigerate while you make the filling.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Put your apple and pear slices in a bowl, and squeeze the lemon juice evenly on top to prevent browning. Stir in the granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. This would be a good time to taste and adjust your flavors as needed. Once you’ve got your filling just right, add the flour and set the filling aside.

Take your bottom crust out of the refrigerator, and set aside. Roll out your top crust.

Using a slotted spoon, place the apple-pear filling in the bottom crust, gently pressing down to make sure there’s enough room for all the filling. It may not look like it will all fit, but trust me it will. Pour the liquid from the filling evenly over the apples, then dot the filling with the cut up pieces of unsalted butter.

Carefully drape the top crust over your bottom crust, then trim and crimp the edges. Make sure to cut generous slits over the top crust so that there is plenty of space for steam to escape. Brush the crust with the egg white wash, then sprinkle generously with Demerara sugar.

Bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is blond and blistered. Rotate the pie front to back, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake for an additional 35-45 minutes, until the crust is deeply golden brown and the juices are bubbling.

Cool on a wire rack for at least two hours. Serve warm.

To store: Keep the pie loosely wrapped on the counter for up to 3 days.

 

SOURCE: Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, and Butter