Does the cold, gray post holiday weather have you down? Are you dreaming of warmer and sunnier days? I know I am but in the meantime I’m keeping myself warm with this rich and spicy hot chocolate adapted from my all time favorite food podcast, The Splendid Table.
The combination of cinnamon, vanilla and orange zest bring a warming comfort to this drink and the chocolate makes it simply rich and divine. I like to use a combination of Belgian chocolates in my drink. And to make this drink that much more decadent, I’d added a splash of heavy cream to this otherwise dairy free drink. You don’t have to but go ahead and do it. It is sure to cheer you up during this post holiday slump!
BOLOGNESE HOT CHOCOLATE
4 4-inch cinnamon sticks, crushed
2 to 4 8-inch long vanilla beans, split
zest of one small orange
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
2 quarts (8 cups) water
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1-1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream
- Combine all ingredients except chocolate, vanilla extract and heavy cream in a 4-quart pot.
- Bring the mixture to a simmer, cover, and cook 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, leave the spot covered, and let steep 15 to 20 minutes.
- Strain the mixture into an 8-quart pot.
- Return the pot to the stove setting it over medium heat.
- Add the chocolate to the mixture and stir until the chocolate has completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
- Whisk until just below the boil then stir in the vanilla and the cream.
- Serve immediately.
The story goes that pound cake got its name because each ingredient was added by the pound: butter, sugar, flour and eggs. Now a days measurements are a bit simpler making the scale unnecessary yet the basics of a pound cake remain the same. A true pound cake is dense, rich and buttery and this cake adapted from Epicurious, fits the bill. It is so simple yet rich, buttery and delicious. The cake is flecked with vanilla seeds and hints of zesty lemon. Don’t skip on the vanilla bean; while extract imparts a bit of vanilla flavor the inclusion of the beans is what makes this cake so delicious.
The cake is elegantly decadent as it is but you could dust it with a bit of confectioners sugar or do as I do and drench it in a rich Nutella ganache. The addition of creamy chocolate and hazelnuts makes takes this cake to a whole new level.
VANILLA BEAN POUND CAKE w/ NUTELLA GANACHE
For the cake:
2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 1/3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
For the ganache:
3/4 cup Nutella
1/2 cup heavy
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 10-inch diameter bundt cake pan.
- Place the butter and the lemon peel in large bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean and beat until smooth.
- Gradually beat in 2 1/3 cups sugar.
- Whisk eggs and yolks in medium bowl until just blended.
- Beat the egg mixture into the butter mixture in 4 additions.
- Beat in vanilla extract and salt. Sift flour over in 3 additions, mixing until just blended after each addition.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake the cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.
- Cool the cake in pan on rack 15 minutes.
- Remove the cake from the pan, turn right side up on rack and cool completely.
- While the cake is cooling, make the ganache: place the nutella into a medium sized bowl.
- Heat the cream in a small sauce pan set over medium heat. Bring just to a boil and pour over then nutella.
- Whisk the mixture until smooth. Stir in the sea salt and vanilla extract.
- Let the ganache to cool slightly before pouring over the top of the cake.
It is Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing you want to do to cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat. The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes. Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.
This creamy corn soup from Pati’s Mexican Table makes for a smooth and satisfying dinner. And as is the case with all of my favorite soups, they are fast and easy to make. Corn has a natural sweetness that is a nice foil for the chile and the surprising addition of vanilla. To complete the corn experience, serve the soup with double corn & thyme cornbread.
CREAMY CORN SOUP
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup coarsely chopped white onion
2/3 cup thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts only)
4 cups fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
5 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 canned chipolte chile in adobo sauce
1/2 vanilla bean, sliced open
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat until the butter melts and starts to foam. Add the onion and leek and cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the corn and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally until it softens and deepens in color.
- Add the broth and chipolte chile and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Using a stick blender, puree the soup until smooth. You may have small pieces of corn remaining. If you prefer a smoother texture, pour the soup through a sieve then return it to the pot.
- Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them to the pot along with the bean. Gently heat the soup over low until hot then add in the milk.
- Season with the sea salt and pepper and allow the soup to steep gently over low heat for an additional 8-10 minutes.
- Remove the vanilla bean and serve hot.
Recently I jumped on the “make it from scratch” bandwagon and started making my own ricotta cheese. When I first set out to try making my first batch of homemade cheese I conjured up images of my own mother stirring vats of hot milk during her own cheese making phase. I wasn’t sure I was up for the task but quickly found that by using a DIY kit from Williams Sonoma, the entire process was so simple it now feels foolish to buy the cheese in the store. Since it is the main ingredient, it is important to use a good quality milk. If you don’t like the taste of the milk when you drink it, you won’t like the way the your end product tastes. Here in Albania I like the whole organic milk from Natyral Farms but any non-ultra pasteurized milk will work.
Of course, once you have your own cheese you need to find ways to use it. I’ve substituted ricotta in my traditional cheesecake, made ricotta pancakes, and even eaten it plain. When I was looking for a more interesting use for the cheese, and a fancier presentation for an appetizer, I found inspiration in The Cheese Course by Janet Fletcher. This book is filled with interesting and innovative recipes using all types of cheese and brings together flavor combinations I would not have otherwise considered. (It also makes me a bit sad since so many of the wonderful cheeses mentioned in the book simply aren’t available here). This combination of ricotta, honey, and walnuts makes for an attractive presentation whose flavor combinations take guests by surprise. I served my cheese as a single dish on a buffet table but the cheese could easily be divided onto individual plates and served as a first course.
FRESH RICOTTA CHEESE (courtesy of Williams Sonoma)
1/2 cup cool, distilled water
1 teaspoon citric acid
1 gallon whole milk
1 teaspoon cheese salt, or to taste
Pour the water into a small bowl and stir in the citric acid.
Pour the milk into a large pot, add the citric acid solution and cheese salt and stir well.
FRESH RICOTTA WITH VANILLA INFUSED HONEY & WALNUTS
1/2 cup honey
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup whole toasted walnuts
2 cups fresh ricotta
- Place the honey in a small saucepan.
- Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the honey. Stir to combine.
- Heat the honey mixture of over medium-low heat until the mixture is syrupy.
- Meanwhile, shape the ricotta onto a serving platter, or four individual plates, and shape into a small mound.
- Immediately before serving add the walnuts to the honey mixture and gently stir to combine making sure the nuts are well coated.
- Pour the honey nut mixture over the ricotta and serve immediately.