Friday, February 20, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Scones

 One of the pluses of auditioning for conservatories is the traveling. I've gotten to know a few new cities, and little weekend trips to schools feel almost like a mini vacation (once you forget the stress of the audition itself).
 On a recent trip, we spent the night at a DoubleTree hotel. This hotel gained my endless admiration, because not only does it serve guests warm chocolate chip cookies, but its shuttle from the airport has a giant picture of a cookie on its side. I believe the 3-year-old sitting next to me was almost as exited as I was.
 This week, I had a couple of days off between trips, and all I wanted was to get back in my kitchen. So, inspired by those fabulous chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chip cinnamon scones were born. I've never been a huge fan of scones, because they're often dry and pretty tasteless, but these are something special.
Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Scones

2 cups all purpose flour
⅓ cup sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, cold and cut into small pieces
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cups chocolate chips
Cinnamon Glaze
1 cup powered sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the four, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Whisk together.
Add cold butter. Using a pastry cutter or two forks (or your fingers), cut butter into flour mixture, until butter is broken up into small pieces the size of large peas. The mixture should look sandy.
In a small bowl combine vanilla extract and milk. Pour mixture into dry ingredients.
Mix until the dough starts to come together and pull away from sides of bowl. Add in chocolate chips, stir until combined.
Pat dough into a large disc about ¾ inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut disc into 8 wedges. Place wedges on prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 15-17 minutes, until the scones are lightly browned. Transfer scones to a wire rack to cool.
Cinnamon Glaze:
In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon milk. Mix until glaze becomes a smooth, pourable consistency. Add additional milk a teaspoon at a time to thin glaze as needed.
Drizzle glaze over cooled scones. Allow glaze to set before serving.
Note: If your dough becomes too dry, add in a few extra teaspoons of milk. If your dough is too wet, add in an extra tablespoon of flour.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Whipped Cream

 As an opera singer, I receive endless feedback from other musicians. As my coach said to me recently, "Being a singer is like constantly wearing a sign that says, 'Criticize Me!'" It's very easy to get wrapped up in desperate thoughts: They don't like my voice! But my voice is a part of me - that means they don't like who I am! I should just give up and go to medical school instead!
While it's important to simply ignore all this every now and then, it's also essential to recognize that everybody listens for different traits in a voice. One musician may be looking for a high, light soprano, while another may want a dark, dramatic mezzo; and this doesn't make either person wrong. 
 I'm quickly learning that no matter how intently I listen to recordings or how often I practice, there's simply no way to make everyone happy.
 With dessert, however, it's another story. Chocolate mousse is about as crowd-pleasing as you can get; it's rich, creamy, and chocolatey enough to satisfy that craving you've been having all week. Whipped cream is the perfect partner in crime; add in a swirl of puréed raspberries, and you've got a Valentine's Day dessert anyone will fall in love with.
 Chocolate Mousse
6 ounces (170g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 ounces (170g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60ml) dark-brewed coffee
4 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup (170g), plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons (30ml) dark rum
1 tablespoon (15ml) water
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat.
Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the yolks of the eggs with the 2/3 cup of sugar, rum, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise. (You can also use a handheld electric mixer.) This took me closer to 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and place the bowl of whipped egg yolks within the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick. Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff, then the vanilla.
Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume.
Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.

 Raspberry Whipped Cream

1/2 pint (about 1 cup) fresh raspberries, plus more for garnish 
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar, plus more to sweeten  
1 cup heavy cream 
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place raspberries in the bowl of a food processor; process until smooth. Pass through a fine strainer; discard seeds. Sweeten with sugar, if desired.
Combine cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl; whisk together until soft peaks form. Gently fold in raspberry puree to form swirls.

Top servings of mousse with dollops of whipped cream; garnish as desired.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Chewy Chocolate Meringues

     Young chefs are all about pushing culinary boundaries and breaking the rules. I think it's wonderfully fun when food's external experience leads the taster to expect something far from what's actually within; from a colorful 4th of July flag cake to shockingly tasty Earl Grey eclairs, playing around with expectations versus reality is what keeps things interesting!
     Upon first glance, these cookies appear to be traditional chocolate meringues, light and airy and crunchy. As soon as you take a bite, however, you realize that the inside is chewy and rich and incredibly tasty. I took these to a New Year's party, and they were the perfect culinary start to 2015.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, crazy, delicious year!
Chewy Chocolate Meringues
(slightly adapted from Bakerella)

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a clean, dry heatproof bowl, whisk together egg whites and sugar. Set over, but not touching, simmering water in a saucepan.
Whisk constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and remove from heat.
Beat the eggs on high using a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat until stiff and glossy.
Sift cocoa over the meringue. Sprinkle chopped chocolate on top.
Fold together gently with a spatula until combined.
Use a scoop to drop even amounts of batter onto prepared baking sheets about two inches apart. (I used a 1.5" scoop and got about 2 dozen cookies.)
Bake for about 8-9 minutes. Rotate the pans and bake for another 8-9 minutes, until the cookies are puffed and have a few cracks.
Transfer the cookies, leaving them on the parchment paper, to wire racks to cool.