chocolate

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

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Although I named my blog after one of my favorite things, I realized I don’t devote much time to writing about it. That’s really a shame, because I adore wine. Especially red wine. This oversight is something I plan to correct, starting today. Two stories, and a recipe.

Story #1. A couple months ago, I adopted an orange tabby kitten and named him Gatsby. He’s about six months old. He loves toes, laser pointers, toilet paper, catnip, the bathtub (really, bathrooms in general)…

…and apparently wine.

A couple weeks ago, I picked up a couple bottles of wine while grocery shopping and put them in the wine rack. I went into the kitchen to unload the rest of my groceries, and turned around to find Gatsby practically in the wine rack, investigating my new bottle of Tempranillo.

A few days later, I pulled that very same bottle out of the wine rack for dinner. When I opened it, I kid you not, Gatsby came running across the room. He smelled the bottle and my glass with every bit as much enthusiasm as he does with milk, the only difference being that this time he didn’t get a taste.

It’s a good thing this guy doesn’t have thumbs.

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Go home, Gatsby. You’re drunk.

(And no, he isn’t drunk here… he’s just tuckered out from his 6-month birthday. The picture is blurry for effect. See how I did that?)

Story #2. Cooking with both red and white wine is common, but you don’t see wine in baking as much as you might think. A couple years ago, a friend asked me for red wine cupcakes for his birthday. I dug around and found several recipes, but they all involved cherries, which he can’t stand. I finally found a non-offensive recipe, and the resulting cupcakes were good… but tasted nothing like wine.

Thanks to Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, my friend is now entitled to a do-over. Now, let’s see if he’s reading my blog so he knows to ask. :)

I made this cake for my colleague’s birthday, and it was an instant hint, with several requests for the recipe. It’s rich without being overpowering, and I love the depth the cinnamon provides. The original recipe calls for marscapone cheese in the frosting, which I’m sure is fantastic, but I wanted to work with ingredients already in my kitchen and adapted with the always-classic cream cheese frosting. The original is also 3 layers, but I don’t have 3 cake pans the same size.

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You can use any red wine you want; the best advice, of course, is to pick something you like to drink. One of my favorites for pairing with chocolate is a local Virginia wine, Potomac Point Cabernet Franc (also a favorite for beef stew).

Two final tips. One, don’t let the look or texture of the batter pre-flour/cocoa freak you out. It’s not appetizing, but trust me: it will work itself out. Second, don’t drink the rest of the wine in the bottle until you’re sure you have enough powdered sugar to make the frosting, or you’ll find yourself on the couch waiting to sober up so you can drive to the store.

Not that I speak from experience…

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Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
2 3/4 cups (345 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
2 cups (380 g) firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup (135 g) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups red wine of your choice (I like Cabernet Franc)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups (115 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon table salt

For frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment, and either butter and lightly flour the parchment and exposed sides of the pans or spray with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, at medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well. (At this stage, the batter texture will likely remind you of the base of a cookie dough. Keep going.) If your mixer has a splash guard, put it on now. Carefully add the red wine and vanilla. (Don’t freak out that the batter looks like a disaster. It will all work out.)

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. Mix until three-quarters combined, then fold the rest with a rubber spatula. Divide batter between pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top bounces back when lightly touched and cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cook on racks until cool.

In a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt. Beat in powdered sugar. With a large serrated knife, trim the domes of the tops of each cake. Place the first layer on a cake stand or plate, cut side up. Spread with a thick layer of frosting. Place the second layer cut-side down on top of the frosted base. Frost the top and, if desired, the sides. Chill cake in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Fudge Pops

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Does anybody else remember Jell-O Pops?

The 1980s were a good time to be a kid in small-town Nebraska — or at least, that’s how I remember them. I have so many food associations with the summers of my childhood: ordering 6 gummy worms for 25 cents — just the red and white ones, please! — after a t-ball game, entire meals comprised of sweet corn, sneaking candy into the city pool, baking for the county fair, grilling burgers. And of course, all the frozen treats: ice cream pops, popsicles, push-pops, drumsticks, ice cream sandwiches…

In summary, I ate a lot of sugar as a kid.

I don’t know why Jell-O pops stick out among so many brands and varieties of treats. In my family, we ate both the pudding pops (although I only remember chocolate, not vanilla or swirl that apparently existed) and fruit pops — strawberry, raspberry and orange. The chocolate ones always disappeared like gangbusters. Maybe that’s why my mom seemed to buy the fruit ones more often. Or maybe they just survived longer in our freezer.

When it came to Jell-O fruit pops my mom only liked strawberry (actually, that applies to her feelings about most fruit), and I liked both strawberry and raspberry, so she would get strawberry, I would get raspberry, and my brother would get orange. I have no idea whether my brother’s favorite was orange, or whether he even liked orange at all, or if anyone ever bothered to ask him. If he reads this post, I am sure he will add it to his litany of complaints about the injustices of being the youngest child. Life is hard.

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Anyway, a couple years ago some friends gave me an instant ice pop maker and “cookbook” (is it a cookbook if there’s no cooking?) for my birthday.  I don’t use the maker often enough, but one of my favorite recipes is for classic fudge pops, not the least of which is because I associate them with summer. And I don’t know about you, but I needed a little reminder of what late summer is actually supposed to look and feel like.

They’re really rich, yet I had no interest in sharing. I’m like that with chocolate. Welcome back to the 80s, and have a happy Labor Day.

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Classic Fudge Pops

From Ice Pops, by Shelly Kaldunski

Makes 6-9 popsicles

1 3/4 cups Half & Half
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder*
1 tablespoon light corn syrup*
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
Pinch of salt
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped (or use semisweet chocolate chips)

Special equipment: ice pop molds or an instant ice pop maker

*RHRW note: Malted milk powder is usually found in the grocery store near hot cocoa and powdered milk mixes and coffee add-ins. You might also find it with ice cream toppings. If using an instant ice pop maker, do not substitute an artificial sweetener (the pops will stick). I have not tried it, but honey or sugar should work as a substitute if desired.

In a saucepan, combine the Half & Half, cocoa powder, malted milk, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, and cook until the cocoa and milk powder have completely dissolved. Remove the mixture from the heat and add chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has completed melted. Chill in the refrigerator until room temperature. (RHRW note: if using an instant ice pop maker, I recommend chilling the mix much cooler than room temperature for best results. For the smoothest popsicle texture, strain your liquid through a fine mesh sieve to remove any unmelted specks of chocolate.)

If using conventional ice pop molds, divide mixture among molds. Cover and freeze until solid, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days. If using sticks, insert when the pops are partially frozen, after about 1 hour.

If using an instant ice pop maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you aren’t serving the pops right away, layer on parchment paper in the freezer.

Ultimate Fudgy Brownies

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One of my dear friends is convinced she is a lost cause in the kitchen. “I burn water!” she insists, and she is only half kidding.

A few days ago, she asked if I could help her make brownies with M&Ms for her brother’s Independence Day party.

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Brownies are actually pretty foolproof as long as you remember the golden rule: don’t overbake.

We threw in some M&Ms, but other add-ins might include nuts, chocolate chips, maybe even caramel.

Happy Independence Day!

Ultimate Fudgy Brownies

From Fine Cooking

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, cut into 9 pieces; more softened for the pan
1 1/4 cups (3 3/4 oz.) unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. table salt
5 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups (7 3/4 oz.) all-purpose flour

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°. Line the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch straight-sided metal baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, leaving about a 2-inch overhang on the short sides. Lightly butter the foil.

Put the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat and stir occasionally until melted, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth, 1 minute. Add the sugar and salt, and whisk until well blended. Use your fingertip to check the temperature of the batter—it should be warm, not hot. If it’s hot, set the pan aside for a minute or two before continuing.

Whisk in the eggs, two and then three at a time, until just blended. Whisk in the vanilla until the batter is well blended. Sprinkle the flour over the batter and stir with a rubber spatula until just blended.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with small bits of brownie sticking to it, 35 to 45 minutes. For fudgy brownies, do not overbake. Cool the brownies completely in the pan on a rack, about 3 hours.

When the brownies are cool, use the foil overhang to lift them from the pan. Invert onto a cutting board and carefully peel away the foil. Flip again and cut into 24 squares. (RHRW tip: use a plastic knife) Serve immediately or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 3 days. They can also be frozen in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 1 month.