CHOCOLATE CHIP WALNUT BISCOTTI

It’s a cold, snowy Sunday in January.  What do you do?  Curl up on the sofa and read a book?  Maybe!  But, first how about baking a batch of delicious biscotti.   After which, curling up on the sofa with a piping hot mug of tea, yummy biscotti and a good book sounds like a perfect afternoon!

I didn’t post all the photos for the preparation and assembly for this recipe, primarily because they are the same as the photo instructions for my other biscotti recipe – White Chocolate Cranberry Biscotti.  Biscotti are really quite easy to make.  And, in most homes, not mine, properly stored, they can stay fresh for weeks.  Biscotti were actually created in Italy as a convenience food for travelers and the Roman army, rather than a sweet treat to go with coffee, tea and, of course, wine.  The “twice-baked” finger-shaped confections are “dried out” during the second baking in order to make them more durable.

Biscotti were originally flavored with almond, but now you can find biscotti made with dozens of flavors and combinations of flavors.   My previous recipe was White Chocolate and Dried Cranberry, but today I’m feeling like chocolate.  And to make these even more chocolaty, I’m adding mini chocolate chips to the chocolate batter.  Let’s go!

CHOCOLATE CHIP WALNUT BISCOTTI
Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease or line with parchment paper, two baking sheets.  Makes about two dozen.

1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
1 ounce softened butter (not melted)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs, room temperature*
1 cup chopped walnuts (or any chopped nuts)
6 oz. pkg. mini chocolate chips

In one bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.  I always sift twice, just to ensure the dry ingredients are incorporated completely.  Who wants to get a mouthful of baking powder??

In another bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla til well combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  If the batter appears curdled at this point, don’t worry.  It will come together.

Stir in the dry ingredients, and then add the chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.  Cover the batter and then refrigerate for an hour.  It will be easier to handle when nice and cold.

Take the batter from the frig and dump it onto a lightly floured board.  Knead for a few seconds til it forms a ball.  Cut the ball in half.  Form each half into a narrow log – about 3/4″ high and about 6″ or 7″ long.  When baked, you will slice this log diagonally, so be sure it’s not too wide.

Place each log onto a baking tray and bake in the center of the oven for about 20 to 30 minutes.  Check for doneness with a cake tester inserted into the middle.  When cooked through, remove from the oven and cool on racks.

Only when completely cooled should you slice the logs.  If you are too impatient and slice them when they are still warm, they will crumble.  Using a serrated knife, cut each log on the diagonal, into about 1/2″ slices.  Place the slices on the baking trays, in a single layer.  Return them to the preheated oven and continue baking for about 15 to 20 minutes.  I flip them over halfway through the baking, but not everyone does.  It’s up to you.  When done, cool completely on racks.

These super chocolaty, crunchy biscotti are rich and sweet and delicious!  My suggestion … put a few away as a treat for yourself because these are going to disappear quickly.  Now you’re ready to curl up on the sofa with a good book and steaming, hot cuppa!!

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* People always ask me why should eggs be at room temperature for baking.  I’m sure with cold eggs, your bakes will be fine, but probably more dense than you might have wanted. With room temperature eggs, the whites and yolks combine easier, which means they will disperse into the batter more evenly, making for more even baking and lighter texture.  If you’ve forgotten to take the eggs out of the frig before hand, not to worry.  Place the eggs in hot (not boiling water) for 10 to 15 minutes and they’ll be perfect.

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Chocolate – The Elixir of Love

Every February we are inundated with tv, internet, magazine and newspaper ads all selling the “passion” of chocolate. Roses have been pushed aside.  Valentine cards are a thing of the past.  Now chocolate has become the one true symbol of love and romance.  I need to find out not only how our obsession with chocolate began, but  where our love for chocolate started.

If you’ve read my blog “The John Company” then you know how “tea came to Great Britain.  It was Queen Elizabeth I who gave the East India Company a charter to go out in search of spices, competing with the Spanish and the Dutch.  Not only were spices necessary for preserving foods, spices made spoiled foods taste better. Spices were also used for embalming the dead, in religious practices, and as medicine.   Nutmeg was the most cherished of all spices because it was believed to be a miracle cure for the plague, which killed more than 35,000 people in London in 1603.

Over the 60 years during which they had a monopoly, The East India Company did bring back spices … pepper, cinnamon, clove, saffron, ginger and nutmeg … and they also brought back tea, coffee and cacao beans.  But it was actually the Spanish who are credited with introducing “Chocolate” to Europe.

Coffee House – 17th century

By the mid-17th century coffee houses were well established in London. These male-dominated “penny universities” were the social and political centers of London.  No woman would dare enter.  Although alcohol was not served, these places were not always ‘high brow’ destinations. In fact, King Charles II made an attempt to ban them altogether by 1675, but the public was so outraged, it was withdrawn.

Coffee was served, tea was just being introduced and alongside coffee and tea a new “hearty drink called “Chacolate” was starting to peak London’s curiosity.  In 1659 Thomas Rugg wrote in his Diurnal … “And theire ware also att this time a Turkish drink to bee sould, almost evry street, called coffee, and another kind of drink called tee, and also a drink called Chacolate, which was a very harty drink.”

Historians have been able to trace the origins of “Chocolate”, which is the result of roasting the ground beans of the cacao plant, back to as early as 1900 B.C. in Mexico, Central America and South America.  The Mayans and Aztecs used the pulverized seeds of the cacao plant, together with water and chili pepper, to brew ceremonial drinks.  They actually believed the cacao bean had divine and magical properties, which made it suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death.   The word “Chocolate” comes from the Maya word “xocoatl” which means “bitter water”.

Cacao beans were also used in trade as currency.  In 1545 a list of Aztec prices illustrates the value of this precious bean:  1 good turkey hen for 100 cacao beans, 1 turkey egg for 3 cacao beans, 1 fully ripe avocado for 1 cacao bean, 1 large tomato for 1 cacao bean.   Unfortunately, according to a report at that time from Hernando de Oviedo y Valdez, cacao beans also bought:  a slave for 100 cacao beans. services of a prostitute for 10 cacao beans, and a rabbit dinner for 4 cacao beans.

It’s hard to know who to credit in the mid-16th century with introducing Spain to the cacao bean and the “hot beverage” that was made from it.  Was it the explorer Christopher Columbus, the conqueror Hernán Cortés, or was it the returning missionary Dominican friars?  Whoever it was certainly made an impression on the Spanish court.  This hot, bitter beverage made from the pressed blocks of dried cacao beans and hot water became a hit with Spanish aristocracy, but only after they began adding honey or sugar to it.  They found it most enjoyable when mixed with milk and flavorings such as vanilla, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice and chilies.

“Chocolate” then migrated from Spain to France because of the marriage of Spanish King Philip IV’s daughter, Marie Thérèse, who, when she married French King Louis XIV, introduced these hot and hearty drinks to her French entourage.  King Louis XIV became so very fond of chocolate, he actually granted a monopoly for manufacturing this beverage to David Chaillou, a French importer.

Back in England, it was an entrepreneurial Frenchman now familiar with this wonderful elixir who, wanting to elevate the chocolate experience in London, removed it from the bawdy coffee house atmosphere and in 1657 opened the first “chocolate house”.  As always, the wealthy elite were the only ones who could afford this luxurious experience.  Tea was very dear, selling at approximately £26 per pound … which, when you consider the average income was less than £10 per year, was outrageous … and chocolate was just as expensive!

But where did the allure of chocolate as an aphrodisiac come from? The Spanish were quite observant in noticing that the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, drank copious amounts of this cacao bean beverage before he visited his harem.  Montezuma, is said to have drunk cold, thick chocolate from golden goblets daily, which were thrown away after only one use.  And when returning to Spain with the new elixir these Spanish explorers were quite eager to tout the aphrodisiac properties to the Spanish court.  The explorers also described this native “food of the gods” as a drug, able to treat a variety of ailments.

It is said that the French aristocrat, Marquis de Sade, became quite proficient in using chocolate to disguise potions.  The following is taken from a guest’s diary at an elaborate ball given in 1772 by the Marquis:

“Into the dessert he slipped chocolate pastilles so good that a number of people devoured them. There were lots of them, and no one failed to eat some, but he had mixed in some Spanish fly. The virtue of the medication is well known. It proved to be so potent that those who ate the pastilles began to burn with unchaste ardor and to carry on as if in the grip of the most amorous frenzy. The ball degenerated into one of those licentious orgies for which the Romans were renowned…”

Needless to say, the European’s love for chocolate grew, especially when they believed it to have nutritious, medicinal and properties able to increase their libido.  But, like tea, it remained a privilege of the rich.  In the 1700’s, the British obsession for chocolate (and sugar) grew to such proportions they established colonial plantations in tropical regions around the world just to grow cacao and sugar.  Sadly, we all know what happened when European diseases were transmitted into these countries which, to the then privileged Europeans, didn’t stop them from going in search of cheap labor.

Chocolate was always a hot (or iced) drink until 1828 when Dutch chemist, Coenraad Johannes van Houten, invented a specialized hydraulic press  to squeeze the fatty cocoa butter from the roasted cacao beans, leaving behind a dry cake which could then be pulverized into a fine powder.  (We still see “Dutch process” as a way of branding cocoa today.)  This fine powder could be mixed with liquids, poured into molds and solidified into edible, easily digestible chocolate which paved the way for the solid chocolate we all know and love.  This also resulted in making chocolate affordable to everyone. And in 1830, J. S. Fry and Sons, a British chocolate maker, is credited with making the first solid, edible chocolate candy bar.

50 years later, J. S. Fry and Sons merged with another company you may have heard of … Cadbury.  In 1824 John Cadbury opened a grocery store in Birmingham, England.  In addition to groceries, he sold drinking chocolate, which he prepared himself using a pestle and mortar.  Van Houten’s 1828 invention allowed for a much more affordable and versatile product, enabling Cadbury to sell 16 flavors of drinking chocolate.  And when Daniel Peter from Switzerland puts the first milk chocolate on the market, the appeal for chocolate skyrocketed. In 1913 another enterprising Swiss, Jules Sechaud, introduced the process for filling chocolates.  We haven’t looked back since!

So how did we get from there to being the one true symbol of love and romance?  English philosopher, James Wadsworth, translated the Spanish works Treatise (1640), which poetically combined the descriptions of this new hot chocolate beverage with the promise that if you drank enough chocolate anyone would become “faire and amiable.”  Both England and France used this statement as a powerful marketing tool.

Cadbury’s Valentine’s Day Box

St. Valentine’s Day, as a romantic holiday, was well established by the 1840’s.  It first appeared in the writings of Chaucer during the medieval period in 1382 with knights giving roses to their maidens and serenading them with songs.  By the 1840s, the Victorian era of excess was well underway and they were indulging in chocolate, tea, Cupid and romance.  Richard Cadbury recognized this as a great marketing opportunity and designed an elaborately decorated box in which he would put their Cadbury chocolates.  From that moment on, Cupids and roses were put on heart-shaped boxes everywhere.

In 1907, the American chocolate company, Hershey, launched production of its revolutionary tear-dropped shaped “kisses,” (named because of the smooching noise made by the machines as the chocolate was manufactured). Let’s not forget from the earliest days of movies, chocolate has been an important cast member.  Jean Harlow’s seductive performance in the 1933 film Dinner at Eight linked chocolate and sexuality forever, as she suggestively nibbles her way through a giant box of chocolates.  And who will ever forget the classic episode of “I Love Lucy” when Lucy and Ethel worked on a chocolate factory assembly line?

Chocolate lovers are passionate about chocolate, but does chocolate really create passion? Scientists have isolated phenylethylamine (PEA) which is a stimulant found in chocolate (as well as many other foods), and also in the brain.  A minuscule amount of this stimulate is released at moments of emotional euphoria, which raises blood pressure and heart rate.  Although we have learned about the many antioxidant benefits of high-percentage cacao in chocolate, there really is no scientific proof that chocolate is an aphrodisiac.

Does any of this matter?  Not really … because who doesn’t love the luscious, pleasurable sensation of chocolate as it melts in your mouth? And, for me, a velvet-covered, heart-shaped box full of divine chocolates is the quintessential Valentine’s gift.

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References:  Wikipedia, Message to Eagle, Chocolate of the Month, Cornell University, History, Cadbury, Public Domain Review, Smithsonian,
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Whoopie Pies?

Yes, I know … they have nothing to do with Great Britain.  Whoopie Pies are uniquely American, actually a New England creation.  And, being from New England, I just had a craving for a Whoopie Pie (not sure why).  What do you do when you want something and you just know that whatever you buy at the grocery store is not going to be as good as the ones you grew up with? Well, you get out the ingredients and make it yourself!  Couldn’t be easier.

This recipe is ‘borrowed’ from Martha Stewart.  Thank you, Martha.  It is rich, chocolaty, cakey and delicious.  I did not make a traditional marshmallow-fluff-type filling, but rather crunchy peanut butter.  Just felt the need to do something different.  Give this a try and let me know what you think.

WHOOPIE PIES with PEANUT BUTTER FILLING
Preheat the oven to 375°.
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

4 tblsps. softened butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla

I always gather all the ingredients and tools before cooking anything (with a cuppa, of course).  It just ensures that I have everything I need before starting.  Preheat the oven to 375° and grease two large baking sheets (or mold sheets).


In a mixing bowl beat together butter, shortening and sugars until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  While this is beating, in another bowl add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Whisk well to mix and lighten.


To the butter and sugar mixture, add the egg, beat until light and fluffy.  Add half the flour mixture to this, blending well.  Then add the milk and vanilla.  Beat well.  Add the remaining flour.  Beat together, scraping down the sides of the bowl.


Using a rounded spoon or, as I like to use, an ice cream scoop, drop 24 equal rounds of dough onto a greased baking sheet.  If you have a whoopie pie mold, that works beautifully.


Bake the cookies in the center of the oven for 12 to 14 minutes (turning the pans halfway through the cooking time).  Do not overbake or they will be dry.  Less is more!

When baked, let cookies cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a baking rack.  While cooling, make the Peanut Butter Filling (or whatever filling you might like).

 

 

 


PEANUT BUTTER FILLING

3/4 cup natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1 stick softened butter
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
pinch salt (to taste)

Using an electric mixer beat the butter and peanut butter together til smooth.  Add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

 

Assemble the cookies by spreading (or piping) one tablespoon filling on the bottom of one cookie, then press the bottom of the same size cookie to it.  You can certainly be fancy and pipe the filling onto the cookie bottoms (although I was too anxious to pipe this time, I’ve piped the filling ever since.  It’s much neater and more professional looking).

Presto, you’ve made Whoopie Pies! Now all you need is a big glass of milk ….. or a big pot of tea!!

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References:  Martha Stewart

The Best Chocolate “Courgette” Bread

Until yesterday I didn’t know what a ”courgette” was either!  Now I do!  It’s a ZUCCHINI.  In Great Britain, a zucchini is called a “courgette“.  Also there are “golden courgettes“, which we call summer squash.

It seems this squash we call “zucchini” was originally from America, but somehow it found its way to Italy and then became introduced back to the States.  So confusing!  ‘Zucca’ is the Italian word for squash and ‘zucchino’ means ‘small squash’, which in the plural is ‘zucchini’.  “Courgette” is French for squash, which is the name used for this vegetable in many parts of Europe.

Well, my garden has been bursting with ‘courgettes‘ and I’ve made them every way I can think of … from sautes to stir fries to soups and stews, even pickling.  (Yes, they are delicious pickled.)  I’ve skewered them, roasted them, stuffed them, grated them and breaded them.  But, the best ‘courgette‘ recipe is this decadent, rich, chocolatey tea bread.  Oh my, you will love it!

CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI (AKA ‘COURGETTE’) BREAD
The only time consuming part of this recipe is grating the zucchini.  It couldn’t be easier.

Oven 350° – Bake time: 1 hour (more or less)

2 squares unsweetened chocolate (melted)
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated zucchini (courgette)
1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate bits (optional)
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.  Lightly grease and flour two loaf pans (or 24 muffin cups – or 1 bundt pan).

In a large bowl beat together the wet ingredients and then fold in grated zucchini.  When combined thoroughly, stir in dry ingredients.  Mix well.  Add chocolate bits and/or walnuts if desired (first coat with a little flour to keep from sinking into batter).

For bread, bake for at least one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Less time for muffins.  A bit more for bundt.

Let cool completely before removing from pans.  Then put on the kettle and enjoy a hearty cuppa with a large slice!

chocolate zucchini bread

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References:  Wikipedia