Tag Archives: chocolate

Chocolate almond cookies

7 Dec

I’m not going to lie to you. I screwed up with these cookies. Just ask my friend Joe, he’ll tell you. For days he’d helped me to unravel the mystery of, well, let me just show you.

This solid brass die fits onto an extruder known as a torchietto, one of several fine pasta-making tools gifted to me on a recent trip to Italy. As it turns out, this particular die, which I purchased separately and without first investigating, is not designed for making pasta at all. 

I discovered this the hard way, of course—after preparing a batch of my tried and true fresh pasta dough and then running it through the torchietto. I mean, just look at those giant things, would you! Pasta this ain’t.

Turns out the die is for making this Piedmontese biscotti (photo not mine) known as Quaquare di Genola. Neither Joe nor I were familiar with the exact term; we just knew that we liked the cookies. And so the next day I brought out both the torchietto and the die again and set out to make a chocolate-and-almond version of the Quaquare di Genola.

Which brings us back to me being such a screwup—one who probably ought to stick to pasta-making, not baking. The cookie dough came out of the torchietto looking a little like the Piedmontese biscotti but in no way would the forms hold together well enough to get onto a baking sheet.

Which is too bad. Because once I ditched the torchietto the cookies turned out to be really excellent—totally worth giving a try, I think.

Though considering my now well-documented deficiencies as a baker I wouldn’t blame you for looking the other way.

Chocolate almond cookies
Makes 70 cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup high-quality Dutch cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cups sugar
Zest of 2 oranges
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
1/2 cup almonds, run through a food processor until fine but not powdery
Mix the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda in a bowl.
In an electric mixer blend together the butter, sugar and orange zest until fluffy. 
Add the egg, egg yolk, orange liqueur and almonds and mix thoroughly.
Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.
On a floured work surface divide the dough in four and roll out each piece into a log around 1 1/2-inch around. One at a time slice each roll into pieces that are around 1/4-inch thick, then lay the pieces out on baking sheets covered in parchment paper.
Bake for around 9 or 10 minutes in a 350 degree F oven.

Flourless walnut chocolate cookies

20 Mar

Tonight there’s gonna be a pretty swell homecoming dinner at my house and all I got to cook was a batch of these lousy cookies.

Seriously. There’s several courses planned. Not even a pasta course am I asked to contribute!


Anyhow, what I’m lacking in quantity I’ll make up for in class. These cookies are really delicious, and on the elegant side (just like my friend Scott, the one who’s returning home after several months away). I got the idea for them after seeing this dolci di noci recipe from Calabria, but decided to mess with the recipe and also add the chocolate and the orange.

I should mention that the kitchen has been in constant use all day (by the real cook in the house). To pull off this important “cookie course” of mine I had to get in and out of the kitchen quickly. In other words, they’re some of the easiest cookies you will ever lay eyes on.

There’s no flour in this recipe. This is 1 pound of walnuts and 1 cup of sugar that’s been ground in a food processor. It’s ground very finely but not to a powder.

Add 1/2 cup of cocoa powder and the zest of two large oranges.

Then add two large eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Mix everything together with a spatula until it starts to clump up.

But I find it best to use my hands to finish up the mixing.

Here’s the finished mixture; it only takes a couple minutes to pull together.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and form balls with the dough (around 1 inch high by 1 1/2 inches wide). Place in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F for anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes.

This batch baked for just shy of 20 minutes. It amounted to 25 cookies.

Allow the cookies to cool, then top with confectioners sugar and have at it.

If they let me cook an actual appetizer or entree next time people come over I’ll be sure to let you know.

Chocolate hazelnut biscotti

10 Mar

You don’t have to be a great baker to make respectable biscotti. I’m living proof of that. Besides, it rained all day today. I needed something to do.

In a large mixing bowl add the following: 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (a full teaspoon is fine), and a pinch of sea salt.

In a separate mixing bowl add 4 large eggs, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon brandy. Mix until the eggs are somewhat thickened.

Gradually add the egg mixture into the dry mix and incorporate.

Add 1 cup of lightly crushed toasted hazelnuts and 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and mix until fully incorporated. (If the mix seems too dry add a little milk; I used a couple tablespoons.)

Divide the mix in half. On a floured surface take each half of the batch and form a log around a foot or more long and three or so inches wide.

Place both logs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush with egg wash. Place in the oven preheated to 350 degrees F for around 25 minutes, rotating the sheet at the halfway mark.

Remove the logs and let them cool for 15 minutes.

With a serrated blade cut the logs into 1- to 1 1/2-inch slices.

Place the slices on a baking sheet and bake for around 10-15 minutes, then turn the slices over and bake for another 10-15 minutes. (Ten minutes each side should be fine for 1-inch pieces; thicker slices like these will take longer.)

When the pieces are nice and firm to the touch they’re done. Remove from the oven and allow to cool thoroughly, then place in an airtight container. The biscotti will last a couple weeks.

It’s always best to wait a couple days before eating the biscotti. No matter how many different kinds I’ve made over the years, the flavors always are enhanced over time. I usually wait at least 48 hours before serving. This batch is for Saturday night, after the osso buco I’ve got planned (today’s Thursday, by the way).

See, you’ve got plenty of time.

The (not so) great cocoa caper

2 Jun

I’ve done a lot of things that I’m not proud of. Some were meanspirited, others unkind, several idiotic, many blatantly unlawful and dangerous.

But how do you explain robbing from the church, in the dead of night, just to get a fix? Worse, being pinched in the act by a nun with good vision, a strong moral compass and a very bad case of insomnia.

What kind of word is there for a thing like that?

The addiction I struggle with is not to drugs or alcohol, but to cocoa. Leave a fine chocolate, particularly a very dark fine chocolate, unattended and don’t come crying to me when it vanishes. Well, you could come crying to me, I suppose. Just don’t expect me to give a good goddamn.

If it’s chocolate, I don’t care if you brought it, paid for it, or made it beneath your ancient Tuscan villa using the finest Criollo beans: If I’m anywhere in the vicinity then the chocolate is mine, not yours. So get over it.

Such was also my harsh position on that cold, dark night during my sixteenth year when I and several pals broke into a Catholic elementary school and cleaned it out of thousands of dollars’ worth of World’s Finest chocolate bars.

Yes, those World’s Finest chocolate bars. The ones that schools and churches and community groups and daycare centers and other earnest institutions have long relied upon to raise much needed funds for many worthy causes.

I said I wasn’t proud, remember?

It may be worth mentioning that we had not set out to steal anything from anybody, least of all the parish where we ourselves were reared. What’s more, there wasn’t an awfully bad seed among our group. We were teenagers hanging out in the schoolyard, that’s all. But it was cold enough outside that when I accidentally discovered an unlocked door at the school’s side entrance we all agreed that warming ourselves inside the furnace room was preferable to making a night of it and going home.

And that’s all we had in mind, I swear.

Of course, it wasn’t very long before things took another turn. Soon we were inside the storage area where the crates of chocolate were being stored, busy designing an efficient way to extricate them from the premises. Inside an hour my five associates and I had relocated all the chocolates to a new storage facility around a hundred yards away and in the basement of the apartment building of one of our crewmembers, confident that the night’s score was very big and the coast, as they say, very clear. To celebrate we cracked open one of the cases, went out onto the sidewalk and started to devour our treasure and calculate the total street value of our haul.

But then, out from the blackness of the fenced-in schoolyard, appeared the all too familiar figure of a woman whose appearance could only mean one thing: We got caught.

Her name was Sister Miriam. She had been the second-grade teacher to many neighborhood people over the years, including me and others in our nighttime crew. A big woman, Miriam was not known to be at all unkind, and in that way she differed from at least a few of her fellow sisters. But 1 a.m. is not the time you want to see the imposing frame of even the most benevolent nun — attired in full habit no less — staring down at you. Certainly not when your mouth is filled with purloined chocolate from the very parish that she herself so devotedly serves.

“Louis,” she called out, addressing one of the members of our crew. “Would you come over here, please?”

These were the only words the rest of us heard the nun utter about the evening’s events. And I doubt she discussed it with Lou for more than a minute, because no sooner had he walked over to her that she disappeared back into the darkness and he was back telling us what was what.

Turns out that the sister, unable to sleep, had witnessed the entire caper from her convent window. She saw the white cardboard cases being carried out the side entrance, run across the schoolyard, tossed up onto a garage roof in order to exit the fenced-in yard, tossed back down from the roof and into a side alley, and then (this she could not see due to her field of vision, I am sure) shuttled across a couple of backyards and then down into the chosen basement for final storage.

“Why the hell didn’t she come out sooner?” I snarled, polishing off what turned out to be my last World’s Finest chocolate bar for some time. “She could’ve saved us all a lot of trouble.”

Which, as it turned out, was the sister’s point. The deal she struck with my friend Lou was this: We put the chocolate bars back where they belong and nobody ever hears about the matter again. The boxes had to be brought back immediately, though, which made for an awfully long night for us all.

Recently I received a note from my old friend Lou.

“I just visited the actual site this past Memorial Day, and pointed out to my mother and daughter the exact spot where Sr. Miriam stood,” Lou wrote. There was no need to clarify which “site” he meant; I knew.

“This was a pivotal moment in my life because I quickly realized a life of crime was not for me,” he went on. “And it was the first time I was able to tell my mom about it.”

Then Lou reminded me of something that made me about as ashamed of my cocoa addiction as ever I have been.

“Remember, she paid for the chocolate bars that went ‘missing.’ And never told a soul about it. As far as I know.”

Ground pork & chocolate ragu

6 May

What’s an Italoamericano do in order to mark the best-known Mexican heritage celebration observed in these United States, Cinco de Mayo?

Not a thing, usually. Not this Italoamericano anyway.

And so it was quite the coincidence that I was moved to make this pretty-damn-close-to-Mexican mole sauce this weekend.

It is a Sicilian recipe, one that I had run across in a cookbook gifted to me just last week, Arthur Schwartz’s “The Southern Italian Table.” The Spaniards, Schwartz explains, introduced chocolate and cinnamon to Sicily, via Mexico, centuries ago. And as soon as I laid eyes on his recipe for “Enna’s Ground Pork Ragu with Chocolate” I made a beeline for the kitchen so’s I could check on my ingredients.

How was I supposed to know that it was Cinco de Mayo? All this particular May 5th meant to me was that a big dinner needed to be prepared for the evening, and that my brother Joe would be texting at some point to see if I had made my Derby pick.

Anyhow, here’s the sauce. It’s a snap to prepare, and it’s good too.

¡Buen provecho!

Enna’s Ground Pork Ragu with Chocolate
Adapted from “The Southern Italian Table”
by Arthur Schwartz

Makes 7 cups

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. ground pork
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 12-oz. can tomato paste
1 quart water
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 tsp. sugar
Grated cheese for serving

In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan saute the onion in olive oil until wilted.
Add the pork and break up over medium heat until raw color disappears.
Add the wine and simmer for a couple minutes over slightly higher heat.
Add tomato paste and water; stir and bring to a simmer.
Add salt, pepper, cinnamon, chocolate and sugar. Stir until chocolate melts, reduce heat and simmer for around 30 minutes.
Serve over pasta with grated cheese of your choosing.

How to make chocolate salami

29 Jan
This is not something I dreamed up, okay.
Salame di cioccolato, or chocolate salami, is a traditional sweet in Tuscany. Whatever possessed me to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon producing such a thing, I do not know.
Nor would I encourage any of you to guess.
You can make this with any combination of ingredients. The traditional Tuscan way is to simply use plain dry cookies as a filling, but I went in another direction: In addition to the chocolate, milk and cookies I added rum, almonds, dried figs and my homemade candied orange peel.
Melt the chocolate and the milk in a double boiler.
Add everything else at the same time.
Mix it all together.
Divide in quarters and roll each salami in parchment paper.
Then toss all four into the fridge to set.
To get the full salami visual effect simply apply a light layer of confectioners sugar to the outside before serving.
Simplest dessert I have ever made.
Chocolate salami
24 oz. dark chocolate
14 oz. can of non-fat sweetened condensed milk
4 oz. dried figs, chopped
4 oz. almonds, chopped
4 oz. plain cookies, broken
2 oz. candied orange peel, chopped
Good splash of rum
Confectioners sugar for coating salami.
In a double boiler melt the chocolate and condensed milk.
Add in all the other ingredients (except the sugar), mix thoroughly and allow to cool for several minutes.
Divide into quarters and transfer each batch to its own piece of parchment paper.
Shape into 10- to 12-inch logs, roll, then refrigerate until hardened.
Remove from the fridge, apply a light coating of confectioners sugar, slice and serve.

Homemade Nutella

3 Feb
Some things are best left to the cold and faceless experts. Such is the case with Nutella, my favorite before-bedtime spoonful of sweetness.
Ferrero, Nutella’s multinational manufacturer, is a far more reliable source for the creamy chocolate-hazelnut spread than I will ever be.
Not that I haven’t tried. In the past several weeks I have made two different batches of homemade Nutella, thank you very much. One was a disaster, the other an acceptable imitation but not in the slightest way memorable.
Coincidentally, and as fabulously idiotic luck would have it, I learned just last week that Saturday, February 5, will mark the fifth annual celebration of World Nutella Day. The event, concocted by a couple of Americans living in Italy, appears, as best I can tell, to call upon cooks around the globe to, well, cook something, anything using Nutella. If you are in Texas this weekend, do not be surprised if you are offered a Nutella enchilada, or perhaps a barbecued Nutella cheeseburger. If you are in Krakow, rest assured there is some person nearby who has just slaved over a batch of Nutella-filled pierogi. Traveling the South East Asian Peninsula, are you? Maybe you can score a few bites of banana-Nutella tempura.
I had never heard of World Nutella Day before either, but it seems that a lot of other people have. I checked over on Facebook where, as you might expect, the “event” has its own page; nearly 17,000 people “like” it. Over on Twitter, WND has more than 2,000 followers. (I am positively green with envy on both these points, I’ll have you know. As of this writing, a mere 54 Facebook users “like” Mister Meatball and there are even fewer Twitter “followers” than that.)
So, what was the point of attempting a homemade version of the Italian condiment? I could say that the holidays, when the first batch was attempted, might have had something to do with my enthusiasm. But do you want to know the truth? It beats the absolute hell out of me what the point of all this was.
I like the stuff. I saw a recipe. It happens.
You start with lightly roasted and skinned hazelnuts.
Work them in the food processor until they liquify. (This will take some time, so be patient. I was not at all patient the first time and it proved my undoing.)
Vanilla, confectioner’s sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder and hazelnut oil are next up.
Mix them together and add to the liquified hazelnut mix.
Process about a minute more.
And there you go, homemade Nutella.
Well, sort of. The real Nutella is on the left, mine’s on the right.
Not bad. In fact, pretty tasty, if coarser in texture than the real stuff, and not as sweet.
On the other hand, I still know how to get my hands on the real Nutella, the one that’s made in Italy (it’s produced all over the world, you know), and so I’m not sure what the point would be of going through all this again.
Maybe I’ll just stick with meatballs.

Homemade Nutella
Recipe adapted from the Los Angeles Times
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
2 cups raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons hazelnut oil, more as needed (I had hazelnut oil in the house, but if you don’t, and don’t want to buy it, I’d think canola oil might do.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread the hazelnuts evenly over a cookie sheet and roast until they darken and become aromatic, about 10 minutes. Transfer the hazelnuts to a damp towel and rub to remove the skins. (I went with already-skinned hazelnuts on my second try, and roasted them a little less time.)
In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts to a smooth butter, scraping the sides as needed so they process evenly, about 5 minutes.
Add the cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, salt and oil to the food processor and continue to process until well blended, about 1 minute. The finished spread should have the consistency of creamy peanut butter; if it is too dry, process in a little extra hazelnut oil until the desired consistency is achieved. Remove to a container, cover and refrigerate until needed. Allow the spread to come to room temperature before using, as it thickens considerably when refrigerated. It will keep for at least a week.