Saturday, March 22, 2014

Brazilian Chocolate Poke Cake ("Bolo Nega Maluca")

 One Saturday afternoon this past August, I was standing over the counter with my grandmother in her kitchen in Brazil. We had a chocolate cake, still steaming from the oven, in front of us; she instructed me to poke the cake all over with a fork, and then pour on a warm, sticky glaze. With a touch of chocolate sprinkles, our "afternoon snack" was ready. We set it down on the dining room table, and with the whole family constantly coming in and out of the house, it didn't live to see the next day.
My takeaway from this little experience was that infusing an incredibly light, fluffy chocolate cake with syrupy fudge is always a good idea. A "poke cake" is (perhaps quite obviously) one that has been, wait for it, no way, poked and then had some kind of sauce poured over it; this becomes like a glaze that also makes the inside of the cake wonderfully moist and indulgent, without being overly complicated.
This is the type of cake you always want to keep around for munching on or serving up with cups of coffee. Chocolatey, rich (yet somehow an acceptable snack), and easy to whip up in a matter of minutes? I'm in.
 Brazilian Chocolate Poke Cake ("Bolo Nega Maluca")
(recipe from my grandmother)

for the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8" square cake pan.
 Sift together dry ingredients. Combine all ingredients in a blender; blend until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. While the cake is baking, make the glaze.

for the glaze:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup milk
chocolate sprinkles, for decorating

Combine all ingredients except sprinkles in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stirring constantly, simmer until thickened into a sauce.
While the cake is still warm, poke all over with a fork or a wooden skewer. Pour the warm glaze over the cake and decorate with chocolate sprinkles.
Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

*Note: The recipe's title, in Portuguese, is actually kind of racist and not that nice. That said, it's how everybody refers to the cake, so pick your battles, I guess...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mint Chocolate Chip Muffins

 When it comes to holidays, I'm a giant food nerd. Valentine's day? Chocolate is a must. Christmas cookies? Count me in. The only thing that kept me from baking a pie on Friday (3.14, Pi Day, get it?) was that I didn't get home until eleven, and even I'm not a big enough pie fan to put myself through a midnight baking session without a particularly pressing reason.
  So with St. Patrick's Day around the corner, I felt something festive was necessary. While you're much more likely to find my friends and I sitting in math class tomorrow than bar-hopping, we can celebrate anyway, can't we?
 When I tried to think of a list of green foods, the first thing that came to mind was mint chocolate chip ice cream. This worries me slightly, because (1) I feel that the appropriate reaction would have been to think of spinach or kale or even broccoli, and (2) mint chocolate chip ice cream isn't even naturally green to begin with, as it gets its vibrant color from copious amounts of food dye.
 Nevertheless, mint chocolate chip ice cream it was. The issue was that I really didn't have time to be cooking custard or waiting for ice cream to churn, and I wanted something I could throw in a plastic bag and share with friends at school. So I took my favorite muffin recipe and threw in some ice cream flair. And the result was a batch of Shamrock-green, minty little cakes that are great any day of the year.
Mint Chocolate Chip Muffins
(adapted from this base recipe)

 3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
                                                    1 teaspoon salt                                                    
 2 eggs, room temperature preferred
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons mint extract (you may have to adjust this based on the strength of your extract)
1/2 teaspoon green food coloring (again, adjust based on strength and desired color)
1 cup bittersweet or dark chocolate chips
coarse or pearl sugar for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat oven to 425F degrees. Spray 15 muffin cups with non-stick spray or line with muffin liners. Set aside.
In a large bowl, gently toss together flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until all dry ingredients are combined. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until combined. Mix in milk, oil, vanilla, mint extract, and food coloring. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix everything together by hand with a wooden spoon. Avoid over-mixing. Gently mix until all the flour is off the bottom of the bowl and no big pockets of flour remain. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Pour batter into prepared muffin tins, filling all the way to the top. Top with a sprinkle of coarse or pearl sugar, if preferred. Bake at 425F degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and continue to bake for 18 minutes until tops are lightly golden and centers appear set.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes in pan before moving to cooling rack.
     -Makes 15 muffins

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ultimate Nutella Mousse

 If you hadn't already realized it, I have a bit of a thing for Nutella. It basically takes the greatest food ever (chocolate) and mixes it with hazelnuts to make the creamiest, sweetest, most indulgent topping for just about anything. 
After a while, slathering the chocolatey goodness on various forms of carbohydrates gets a little old. I love finding ways to incorporate my favorite foods into desserts, and this mousse does just that. 
It has (theoretically) two ingredients. Two ingredients! Mousse!! Okay, so it may be a bit of a faux mousse, but it plays the part pretty amazingly. It's fluffy and creamy and kind of makes you want to eat the whole bowl. Top it with homemade dark-chocolate-covered strawberries, and this 5-minute dessert just got classy. 

Ultimate Nutella Mousse
(adapted from Bakers Royale)

9 oz. Nutella
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
about 6 strawberries
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips 
1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Place Nutella and espresso powder in microwave safe bowl. Heat on low for 10 second intervals until mixture is thinned a bit. Stir to incorporate the espresso powder. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
Whip 1 1/2 cups cream until soft peaks form (be careful not to let it reach stiff peaks). Gently fold whipped cream into Nutella mixture. The mousse will be soft. Fill a bowl (roughly 1-quart capacity) and cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Once the mousse is chilled, whip the remaining 1/2 cup cream with the sugar until soft peaks form. Spread over the mousse, and top with chopped hazelnuts.
In the microwave or over a double boiler, heat the two chocolates separately. Dip the strawberries in the dark chocolate and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet; drizzle with white chocolate (I used a piping bag). 
Refrigerate strawberries for 1 hour, or until set; use as topping for mousse. 

*Note: This is really more of a concept than a rigid recipe; feel free to adapt it as you like!