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Posts tagged ‘chocolate recipes’

summer, sand and sandwiches

30 September 2012


as i sit down to write this post, my mind rushes back to those first, early fall days of school. sitting at my desk, hands folded and donning a new dress (what a little lady) expertly chosen by my mother, i’d hang on every word uttered by my adored teachers. then, at their direction—and this was my favorite part—i’d choose a shiny new, razor-sharp #2 pencil and begin to craft my annual essay about  how i spent my summer vacation.

had i been assigned the same teacher two years in a row, she likely would have been lulled into a coma by the redundancy of my essays: 50 percent dedicated to the blast i had at girl scout camp and the remaining 50 percent to the wicked-good times i had with my family at the beach. i was never bored by either.

an older me, sis at the Cape

my parents, younger sister and i spent several summers down the Cape (translation: at Cape Cod, Massachusetts): wonderful, lazy weeks of swimming, combing the beach for sea shells and soaking up sunshine—without the oppression of inland humidity. but some of favorite beach days were spent at Crane’s Beach, on Massachusett’s north shore.

we’d jump out of bed early on a weekend morning and throw on our swimsuits. my dad would back the Impala out of the garage and pack the cooler with ice. then, mom would yell, what kind of sandwiches do you want, peanut butter and jelly? GAG. i think Cheryl wants peanut butter. can i please have bologna? in my mind, i said a bologna prayer. anything to avoid peanut butter.

with sandwiches, chips, sodas and Oreos snuggled inside the cooler, we headed to Crane’s. upon arrival, mom and dad scouted out an ideal location, spread out beach towels and hunkered down with books. my sister took her pail and shovel and began the dig to China. i’d walk down to the shore and up through the garnet sand to the dunes; we’d all take dips in the frigid water to cool down.

in a few hours, mom inevitably declared time for lunch! as inevitably, Cheryl’s peanut butter sandwich attracted sand, and she’d cry. i’d happily sit on my towel, munching on my bologna. in the middle of the afternoon, we’d haul ourselves back to the Impala and make the drive back to suburbia. satisfied with yet another beautiful New England day at the beach.

this summer’s essay: i spent a lot of time at the farmers’ markets, enjoying the amazing weather and cooking up dishes with fresh produce. i made a few pies and grilled a fair amount of pizzas. but didn’t begin baking in earnest until this month. ever on a quest to find a replacement for the dreaded peanut butter, i stumbled upon Artisana nut butters. their team was kind enough to send me some samples, and i decided to test out the pecan butter with a dense, dark chocolate sandwich cookie recipe, reminiscent of our best days at the north shore.

little sis, this one’s for you. infinitely better than what was on your white bread. and now i’ll have some nut butter to put on mine!

Homemade Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
a recipe from the flour cookbook with a slight variation
makes 16 – 18 good-size cookies
plan in advance, as the dough sits in two stages for a total time of at least 3 hours before baking.


for dough
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly (recipe calls for chips; i used 4 2-ounce Schaffenberger semi-sweet squares)
1 egg
1 1/2 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

for nut-butter filling
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup smooth nut butter (my pecan butter wasn’t completely smooth, but worked well and received kudos from those who snarfed them down and wanted more)
pinch of kosher salt


  1. in a medium-size bowl, whisk together the butter and granulated sugar until well combined.
  2. whisk in the vanilla and melted chocolate, then add the egg, and whisk until completely incorporated.
  3. in another medium-size bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda.
  4. using a spoon, stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture to form a dough.
  5. let sit at room temperature for an hour.
  6. transfer the dough to a 15-inch square of parchment paper.
  7. shape the dough into a rough log, about 10 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide.
  8. roll the parchment paper around the log.
  9. with the log fully encased in parchment, roll until smooth, maintaining the 2 1/2-inch diameter.
  10. put in the frig for at least 2 hours or until firm; reroll every 15 minutes or so to maintain the round shape.
  11. preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  12. cover baking sheets with parchment paper.
  13. cut the dough log into 1/4-inch slices, and place them at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.
  14. bake for around 16 – 20 minutes, or until the cookies are firm to the touch. they’re dark, so you won’t be able to see if they’re done by just looking.
  15. let the cookies cool to room temperature on the baking sheets.
  16. to make the filling, using a hand mixer, cream the butter on low speed for around 30 seconds, or until soft and smooth.
  17. add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until the mixture is completely smooth.
  18. add the nut butter and salt, and beat until smooth.
  19. scoop one rounded tablespoon of the filling onto the bottom of one cookie.
  20. top with a second cookie, bottom-side down, then press the cookies together to spread the filling toward the edges.

i sent some of these babies with Tootie to her monthly staff meeting. rumored to be a huge hit (hope you enjoy the recipe, gals!). much like Oreos, a perfect accompaniment to a tall glass of whole organic milk. i bet they’re even better eaten at the beach.


alternatively, you can make a vanilla cream filling with the following:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
pinch of kosher salt

babka grandma would be proud of

15 November 2009



my grandparents arrived in the United States in 1903. Russian immigrants—he from a big city and she from the country—they settled in a section of Boston to begin exciting new lives as Americans. my grandfather opened a wholesale millinery, and my grandmother continued her career as a seamstress. i didn’t come along until more than half a century later, just a few months after my grandfather had passed away. but memories of my grandmother remain vivid and dear.

beginning at the age of four and for the next few years, my mom would drop me off at Nantasket Beach on the Hull Penninsula, where i would gleefully spend a week every summer with my grandmother. just the two of us. she’d rent a room in a giant boarding house, complete with veranda and rocking chairs, right across the street from the beach. she and her friends would dote on me, taking my hands as we crossed the street to spend the morning sunning and swimming on the South Shore. already in her sixties by that time, grandma was still a very strong swimmer, diving headlong into the surf and briskly doing laps along the beach. as she emerged triumphant from the salty water, she’d wave enthusiastically at me, as if she took great pride in the accomplishment. and, indeed, she should have.

grandma and mom circa 1930

grandma and mom, circa 1930

as we both got older, we’d play baseball in my parent’s yard; grandma would pitch the ball to me, i’d hit it with my trusty bat, then i’d run and get the ball, so we could do it all again. our dog would run alongside, thinking this was a very clever game. on Sundays, my parents would drive us to grandma’s apartment in the city for a visit. sometimes she’d make chicken soup, and we’d all sit around her kitchen table slurping down the golden liquid. sometimes we’d bring babka from our local Jewish bakery, so she could have a special treat. what’s babka? a sweet, moist and buttery yeast-based bread, much like brioche, filled with a blend of rich chocolate, sugar and cinnamon, finished off with a streusel topping. as grandma might say in still-broken English, “so, what’s not to like?”

with my grandmother top of mind, i wanted to re-create the babka of my youth. first i tried a recipe from Gourmet, but something about it wasn’t quite right. what was it? hmmm. no cinnamon. no streusel. the dough didn’t seem elastic enough as i worked with it or delicate enough after it had been baked. so, i went in search of an alternative. i turned to the chocolate babka recipe found in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. and that was it: exactly as i remembered it, exactly as grandma loved it.

rather than making loaves, i cut the recipe by 2/3 and made six individual servings in a popover pan, an idea i borrowed from the Bread Farm in Edison, Washington. this perfect babka kept beautifully for several days, maintaining its rich flavor and texture.

Chocolate Babka
a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
makes three loaves


for dough
1 1/2 cups warm milk (110F)
2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
2 whole, large eggs, plus 2 large eggs yolks, at room temperature
6 cups organic unbleached flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, at room temperature, plus more for bowl and pans

for filling
2 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped (i used Scharffen Berger)
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, at room temperature

for topping
1 egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 1/3 cups organic unbleached flour
1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature


  1. in a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and a pinch of sugar over the warm milk; stir until dissolved. let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. in a medium bowl, whisk together the 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs and yolks.
  3. add to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.
  4. in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine flour and salt, then add the egg mixture; beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated.
  5. add the 2 sticks of butter, and beat until completely incorporated, and a smooth soft dough forms, about 10 minutes. (the dough should still be slightly sticky when squeezed.)
  6. turn out the dough on a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth.
  7. place the dough in a well-buttered bowl, and turn to coat with butter.
  8. cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  9. to make the filling, stir together the chocolate, sugar and cinnamon.
  10. using a pastry blender, cut in 1 1/2 sticks butter until combined; set aside.
  11. to make the streusel topping, in a large bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar and flour.
  12. using a pastry blender, cut in the butter, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; leave in some larger pieces (see top photo), then set aside.
  13. in a small bowl, beat the egg with the cream to create a wash; set aside.
  14. generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans (check out the online version of the recipe for instructions about the parchment paper; i used a non-stick popover pan, and the babka came lifted out beautifully.)
  15. punch the dough down, transfer to a well-floured work surface, and let rest for 5 minutes.
  16. cut the dough into three equal pieces.
  17. roll out one piece of the dough into a 16-inch square, about 1/8-inch thick.
  18. brush edges of dough with the egg wash.
  19. crumble 1/3 of the filling evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border on the long sides.
  20. roll up the dough lengthwise into a tight log (as if you were making cinnamon rolls), pinching ends together to seal. (ok, this is where i went my own way, cutting the roll into 6 individual pieces and placing in the popover pan.)
  21. twist dough evenly down the length of the log, a full five or six times.
  22. brush the top of the log (or tops of your babka popovers) with egg wash.
  23. crumble two tablespoons of the chocolate filling down the center of the log, being careful not to let the mixture fall off (i didn’t have the dexterity for this feat).
  24. fold the log in half, into a horseshoe shape.
  25. cross the right half over the left.
  26. pinch the ends together to seal, and form a figure eight.
  27. twist two more times, and fit into prepared pan.
  28. repeat with remaining dough and filling.
  29. brush the top of each loaf with egg wash.
  30. sprinkle 1/3 of the streusel topping on each loaf.
  31. loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until dough has expanded and feels pillowy, about 40 minutes.rising babka
  32. preheat oven to 350F.
  33. bake loaves, rotating halfway through until golden, about 55 minute (20 minutes for babka popovers).
  34. reduce oven temperature to 325F; bake until loaves are deep golden 20 to 30 minutes more. cover loaves with foil, if they begin to brown too quickly (10 minutes for babka popovers).
  35. transfer pans to wire rack to cool completely.