Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Orange Dark Chocolate Brownies with Orange Blossom Cream / Prokofiev's "Love of Three Oranges"

Our favorite little Italian restaurant in Hollywood serves what might be the most exquisite dessert on earth. (Vivoli's "Mattonellina di Cioccolatto" is essentially a silky, dense dark chocolate terrine covered with a light orange syrup and candied orange peel.) Several days ago, I found myself craving the dark chocolatey, fudgey, orangey goodness of Vivoli's Mattonellina. Brownies proved to be the perfect guinea pig for my first chocolate + orange experiment.

Double Orange Dark Chocolate Brownies with Orange Blossom Whipped Cream
Recipe loosely adapted from Earthbound Farm Organic Farmstand

20 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 tbsp instant espresso powder
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp orange extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
3 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp orange peel

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
Line a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with foil. Generously butter or spray the foil. 

Melt the chocolate and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Add the espresso powder, vanilla, and orange extract and stir to blend. Cool the mixture for 15 minutes. (You'll be adding eggs later, and don't want to accidentally cook them!)

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the nuts and orange peel; toss to coat evenly. 

Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until just blended. Add in the cooled chocolate mixture and stir until just blended. Add in the flour mixture and, again, stir until just blended. (Overbeating will result in deflated brownies.) Pour the mixture into the foil-lined pan.

Bake the brownies for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool the brownies completely in the pan and stick them in the refrigerator for 6 hours. (Eating them sooner is definitely ok; just know that the texture is so fudgey that they won't hold together in your hand, and need to be refrigerated for 6 hours to properly congeal). Keep chilled. 

To make the orange blossom whipped cream: in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat 1/2 cup of cream with a few tablespoons of powdered sugar (to your taste) and one tablespoon of orange blossom water. 

{Why no, doctor; nothing is wrong with this picture}
{Adding in the espresso powder and extracts created beautiful swirls}
{Fresh out of the oven. Should you fail to resist the urge to chill these before testing, I won't blame you}
{Somebody call animal cruelty!}
For a musical pairing, enjoy Sergei Prokofiev's "Love of Three Oranges." The opera is based on an Italian fairytale, in which an evil witch curses a prince with an obsession for three oranges. He finds two oranges and opens them; beautiful fairy princesses emerge, but quickly die of thirst. He opens the third orange and falls in love with the fairy princess inside. It's strange, absurd, surreal, and beautiful in the way that most fairytales are. Musically speaking, it's written neo-classically - meaning taking classic ideas and giving them a modern, sophisticated, playful twist. (Sort of like the addition of three oranges to a classic brownie recipe.) Enjoy!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies / Ravel's "Petit Poucet"

The charming simplicity of thumbprint cookies has always appealed to me. But after tasting one, I would inevitably find myself disappointed by a crumbly, dry, and flavorless cookie.

This recipe, however, yielded moist, buttery cookies coated in prettily sparkling raw sugar -- with just the right dose of silky, rich, melts-in-your-mouth dark chocolate.

{this recipe calls for raw sugar, also known as "demerara" or "turbinado" sugar}
{we had a lot of fun molding the dough into balls and making the indentations}
{the thumbprint can be as deep or as wide as you like depending on how much chocolate you'd like to fill it with}
{ganache over the double boiler}
Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
Adapted from Sunset Magazine

For the cookie dough:
1 cup (1/2 pound) butter, at room temperature
1/2  cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 heaping teaspoon salt
About 1/3 scant cup raw (such as turbinado or demerara) sugar

For the ganache:
6 ounces bitersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons whipping cream
1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon butter

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on high speed until smooth. Add in the egg yolks and vanilla and beat until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. 

In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt by hand until blended. Reduce the speed of the electric mixer to low and gradually incorporate the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until the dough is firm but still pliable, about 30 minutes. While waiting, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Place about 1/3 cup of the raw sugar on a plate. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and roll them in the sugar until evenly coated. Place the cookies one inch apart on a buttered or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Make the indentations by pressing your thumb into the center of each cookie. The indentations should be about 1/2 an inch deep. 

Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes. If you're baking more than one pan, rotate them halfway through baking. If the indentations you made have puffed back up, you can reshape them while they are still warm on the cookie sheet. (Do not do this on your cooling rack as you will effectively be pushing the still-pliable dough through the grating of your cooling rack, resulting in unevenly shaped bottoms.) Transfer to a rack to cool. 

Meanwhile, prepare the ganache. In a double boiler, combine all the ganache ingredients over barely simmering water until blended. Remove from the stove and let cool about 15 minutes, until thick but not hardened. 

Fill each indentation with about 1 teaspoon of the ganache. Let the filled cookies stand until the ganache is firm, about 1 hour.

{these keep well with no dry-out for several days in an airtight container}
For a musical pairing, enjoy Ravel's musical retelling of the "Tom Thumb" fairytale. The French version of the pint-sized boy is far less macabre than the English-language version -- in which Tom gets eaten and regurgitated by various creatures before meeting his untimely death via spider bite.  In the French version, entitled "Le Petit Poucet" (and painted so sweetly and innocently by Ravel in this piece), Tom steals a pair of magical boots, and presumably lives happily ever after. 

Wishing you an equally magical year ahead!