A bittersweet love affair
By KAREN K. WILL
This time of year ushers in snowfall and mittens, leafless trees and blazing woodstoves, and, of course, mountains of recipes for comfort food. Everything from mac and cheese to pizza, pot pies, and beef stew is heralded as comfort food. And they are. But really, when you think about it, isn’t chocolate the ultimate comfort food? When you were a child and skinned your knee on the playground, did your mom offer you a bowl of beef stew to make the boo-boo better? No, she offered a foil-wrapped chocolate or a brownie to right that terrible wrong. Further, let’s not forget that chocolate – not pizza or chicken pot pie – is viewed as the universal symbol of love on occasions like Valentine’s Day. Nothing says eternal love quite like a big, garish, heart-shaped box of chocolates; or if it’s for a man in your life, even a hearty piece of chocolate-covered bacon.
Chocolate comforts us and makes life’s little inconveniences better, but chocolate alone cannot sustain us; even though the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits derived from flavonols in dark chocolate are proven. Pairing chocolate with other comforting foods – like bacon, whole grains, or even coffee – only gives us more reasons to indulge. With an element of surprise or a secret ingredient, chocolate goes from comforting to downright special.
These qualify as sweet and savory, and for anyone who scoffs at the notion of a bacon-chocolate pairing, my advice: Try it before you knock it. The salty, smokiness of bacon marries with the sweetness of chocolate, and a perfect union is formed.
Yields 12 muffins
6 slices bacon
1 3/4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup walnut oil or melted butter
1 tablespoon strong coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate mini chips, divided
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 12 muffin cup liners in muffin tin; set aside.
Fry bacon until done but not yet crispy. Transfer to paper-towel-lined plate and cool. Once cool, chop into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.
In large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together.
In separate bowl, combine water, oil, coffee, vanilla, and egg; stir together. Stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips and half the bacon.
Add this mixture to flour mixture and stir just until moist.
Divide batter evenly among 12 cups. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips and remaining bacon evenly over batter.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in refrigerator.
Based on the chewy “Ghirardelli Award-Winning Brownies” recipe, these brownies reveal some interesting texture from the crunch and salt of pretzels. Serve them, and ask eaters to guess your secret ingredient.
Yields 9 to 12 brownies.
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
3/4 cup sweet ground chocolate (Ghirardelli brand, found near the hot chocolate)
2/3 cup flour (unsifted)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup crushed pretzels (lightly crushed in food processor or pounded in bag)
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 8-inch or 9-inch baking pan with nonstick baking spray; set aside.
In large bowl, stir together eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Add butter and mix well.
In separate bowl, sift together chocolate, flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir chocolate mixture into egg mixture, along with pretzels and chocolate chips.
Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.
Fudgey mini bundt cakes
The coffee in these extremely moist and fudgey cakes, both in the batter and the glaze, intensifies the chocolate flavor and will make you utter “yummm.” Yields 5 mini bundt cakes.
1 ounce semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup strong coffee
1 cup sugar
1 scant cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup butter, melted, or walnut oil
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 heaping tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
2-3 tablespoons strong coffee
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
Heat oven to 300 degrees. Coat 5 mini bundt cake tins with nonstick baking spray; set aside.
Place chocolate chips and coffee in bowl and heat in microwave for 30 seconds on 50 percent power; stir until smooth. Heat at 15-second intervals until chocolate is completely melted.
In medium bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In large bowl, beat egg on medium speed until pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add oil slowly, beating well with each addition. Add yogurt and vanilla, beating well.
Gradually pour in melted chocolate mixture and beat to thoroughly combine. Add dry ingredients all at once, and beat on low speed until batter is just combined. Stir by hand to get everything mixed well.
Divide batter evenly between Bundt tins. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 20 minutes before removing from tin, and cool completely before glazing.
For glaze: Combine butter, cocoa, and coffee in large bowl. Whisk in confectioner’s sugar until smooth, adding more coffee if needed to reach drizzling consistency. Drizzle over Bundt cakes and leave to set for at least 1 hour before disturbing.
Adding cornmeal to any baked goods lends a delightful texture and nuttiness. I like to use stone-ground or home-ground cornmeal because it’s less-refined, rich in vitamins, and full of flavor. These cakelike brownies almost qualify as “good for you” because of the whole grains. Let’s just say they’re “better for you” than some.
Yields 12 brownies.
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped peanuts, plus extra for sprinkling, optional
1/2 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8-by-12-inch brownie pan (or 8-by-8-inch square pan); set aside.
Melt chocolate and butter in microwave. Set aside to cool.
In medium bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and cinnamon.
In large bowl, beat eggs until foamy; beat in vanilla and sugar.
By hand, slowly stir in chocolate mixture. Fold in dry ingredients, nuts and chocolate chips.
Pour into prepared pan and, if desired, crush some nuts and sprinkle on top of the batter.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool completely before slicing.
Dark chocolate and smoked paprika ice cream
The darker the chocolate, the more heart-protecting flavonoids it contains. The complex flavor of this bittersweet ice cream with a touch of heat from paprika will register on your taste buds just after you swallow the first mouthful.
Yields 2 pints.
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or extract
Place chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl and melt using 50 percent power, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool.
In small saucepan over medium heat, heat milk and sugar to simmering (do not boil).
In small bowl, whisk together eggs, paprika, and salt. Gradually stir in cooled chocolate.
Fill large bowl with ice and a little water. Set aside.
Using a ladle, add 1 ladleful of hot milk mixture to egg mixture and whisk until well-combined. Continue adding hot milk by ladleful and whisking until it’s all combined. Return all to saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened and coats back of spoon. (Drag your finger across back of spoon; if it leaves a solid line, it’s done.) Remove from heat and place saucepan in bowl of ice water to cool.
Stir in cream and vanilla; leave to cool for 30 minutes.
Pour custard into electric ice cream maker and churn for 25 minutes. Transfer to freezer container and allow to freeze for several hours. Before serving, set out at room temperature for 10 minutes to soften.
For a savory dish to round out all the sweets, chili with chocolate is a unique but incredibly comforting meal. Dark chocolate pairs perfectly with spicy chili, accenting its heat with a touch of earthy sweetness. Serve with a skillet of whole-grain cornbread.
Yields 6 to 8 servings.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound beef stew meat or ground beef (preferably grassfed)
1 poblano pepper, chopped
1 bell pepper (use red, yellow or orange for interest), chopped
1 large red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
1 1/2 cups water
1 pouch (1 1/4 ounces) chili seasonings (Chili Man)
1 can organic black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) fire roasted diced tomatoes (Muir Glen)
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) fire roasted crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen)
1 to 2 peppers extracted from can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced (use two if you like extra spicy chili)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons bittersweet (60-percent cacao) chocolate chips, divided
Juice from 1 lime
In 6-quart Dutch oven, heat olive oil. In batches, sear meat on all sides. Transfer to plate. Add a little more olive oil to pot, and saute peppers and onion for a few minutes. Add garlic, and cook for 1 minute.
Add water and chili seasoning, and cook for 1 minute, stirring well to mix. Add beans, tomatoes, chipotle peppers, and 1/4 cup chocolate pieces. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, stirring often.
Remove from heat and stir in remaining chocolate and lime juice. Serve garnished with sour cream, cilantro, and lime wedges.
Sea-salted peanut butter truffles
Chocolate truffles are a treat, usually reserved for gift-giving occasions. Making them yourself is remarkably easy, and when you put a little care into the process, they will look and taste every bit as good as the chocolatier version. These truffles qualify as dangerous, so be careful when sampling. The pinch of sea salt pushes these truffles over the top.
Yields 2 to 3 dozen truffles.
12 ounces crunchy peanut butter
2 sticks butter, softened
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
Flaked sea salt
In large bowl, mix together peanut butter, butter, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla. (This is most efficiently done using your hands, the world’s best utensils.) Roll into 1-ounce balls (use kitchen scale to approximate size) and place on cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Place sheets in freezer for 1 hour.
Melt chocolate in double boiler or microwave. Using spoon, dunk truffle into chocolate and roll around to coat all sides. Using same spoon, lift it from chocolate, allow excess to drip off, and roll it onto clean spoon and then onto baking sheet lined with wax paper. Have a helper immediately sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on top. You’ll have to work quickly and carefully for the best results. Cool truffles for several hours before disturbing.
Excerpted from Grit, Celebrating Rural America Since 1882. To read more articles from Grit, please visit www.grit.com, or call 866-803-7096. Copyright 2019 by Ogden Publications Inc.
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