I once baked heart-shaped chocolate shortbreads for my sweetie at the time. The cookies were a recipe of my own invention - crisp, crumbly, seasoned with sea salt and near-black cocoa powder, and utterly delicious. Or so I thought. But when I watched him bite down, his face drooped ever so slightly. Disappointment was as evident as the brown crumbs on his white T-shirt.
"These are great," he said weakly, "I was just thinking they were going to be softer."
The cookies were crunchy. They were sophisticated. But they were not luscious. And sometimes when it comes to chocolate, nothing but luscious will do. I've learned my lesson since then. These days, when I'm making chocolate confections, I let luscious be the beacon, choosing rich, creamy, dense and buttery over anything delicate and refined.
Then I try to cram as much chocolate into my recipe as possible.
There are ways to increase the chocolate content of any recipe without having to redo the whole thing. The easiest is to use extra bittersweet chocolate (64 to 74 percent cocoa solids), rather than semisweet or milk chocolate, or the usual bittersweet. The result is a dessert with a deeper chocolate flavor that's slightly less sweet.
Another way to raise the chocolate ante is to increase the cocoa powder in a recipe. Do this in small increments, since adding cocoa powder also affects the sweetness and the acidity levels, which can wreak havoc on the leavening. Start by adding an extra tablespoon or two. Or you can skip the guesswork and try one of these three confections, all of which are perfectly bittersweet.
The first, a humble chocolate pudding, crosses the wobbly appeal of a cornstarch-based American custard with a satiny French pot de creme, which is thickened with egg yolks and baked in the oven. Serve it with whipped heavy cream or creme fraiche. I prefer the creme fraiche because it lends tang.
Poundcake usually falls on the daintier side of the dessert spectrum, even the chocolate versions. Not so with this one, which, thanks to a generous infusion of Dutch-process cocoa powder, bakes up moist and velvety and profoundly chocolaty. Look for a good brand of cocoa powder, something with a deep character and very dark, reddish-brown color.
To vary the texture, I added a chocolate-chip-laden streusel to the cake on both the top and bottom. On top, you get crumbles, nubs and, when still very slightly warm, melty bits of chocolate. On the bottom, you get a layer of crunch that works nicely against the soft and tender cake.
Finally, there is a wonderfully rich icebox cake, in which thin cocoa wafers are layered with maple butterscotch whipped cream. If you want, you can build the cake in the shape of a heart and drizzle it, Jackson Pollock-style, with melted chocolate.
No chocolate-loving friend or flame could possibly be disappointed with that, and neither will the chocolate-loving cook.
Dark Chocolate Pudding
Time: 20 minutes, plus at least 4 hours' chilling
Yield: 8 servings
1 large egg, plus 2 yolks
6 ounces/170 grams bittersweet chocolate
preferably 66 percent to 74 percent cacao, chopped
2 tablespoons/30 grams unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon/5 milliliters vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups/360 milliliters whole milk
1/2 cup/120 milliliters heavy cream
1/3 cup/67 grams light or dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons/15 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons/20 grams cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon/2 grams fine sea salt
Whipped cream or creme fraiche, for serving
Chocolate shavings, for garnish (optional)
Flaky sea salt, for garnish (optional)
1. In a small heatproof bowl, whisk together egg and yolks. Set aside.
2. Place chocolate, butter and vanilla extract in a food processor or blender but don't turn on.
3. In a medium pot, whisk together milk, cream, brown sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt until smooth. Bring to a full boil, whisking, and let bubble for 1 to 2 minutes to activate cornstarch. At that point, it will start to thicken, and when it does, immediately pull the pot off the heat. (You don't want to overboil the cornstarch, which can cause it to thin out again.)
4. Pour a little of the hot cornstarch mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly to prevent them from curdling, then pour eggs back into the pan with the remaining cornstarch mixture. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until mixture just returns to a bare simmer (1 bubble is plenty). Immediately pour into the food processor or blender. Run the machine until the pudding is very smooth. (The hot milk mixture will melt the chocolate.)
5. Pour into individual bowls or teacups or 1 large decorative bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm and cold, at least 4 hours for individual servings and as many as 8 hours for 1 large bowl. Pudding can be made 3 days ahead.
Serve with whipped cream or whipped creme fraiche, decorated with chocolate shavings and a pinch of sea salt, if you like.
Chocolate Streusel Poundcake
Time: 2 hours, plus cooling
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
FOR THE STREUSEL:
1/2 cup/60 grams all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons/45 grams granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons/11 grams cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon/4 grams kosher salt
4 1/2 tablespoons/64 grams cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup/60 grams semisweet chocolate chips
FOR THE POUNDCAKE:
3 ounces/85 grams extra-bittersweet chocolate (70 percent), chopped
1 1/3 cups/185 grams all-purpose flour
3/4 cup/89 grams Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon/2 grams baking powder
1/4 teaspoon/2 grams baking soda
1/2 cup/113 grams unsalted butter, melted
1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
1/2 cup/100 grams dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon/4 grams kosher salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 teaspoons/10 milliliters vanilla extract
1/2 cup/120 milliliters plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup/120 milliliters whole milk
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, then line with parchment paper, leaving enough to hang over the edges of the pan. Grease the parchment on the bottom of the loaf pan.
2. In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave, melt the chocolate for the cake, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool while you prepare the streusel.
3. Prepare the streusel: In a bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Using fingers or a fork, cut in the butter until it is evenly distributed and forms large, moist crumbs. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Scatter half the streusel evenly into the bottom of the loaf pan. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until baked through.
5. Prepare the cake: In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda.
6. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat melted butter, both sugars and salt together until combined. Beat in egg, vanilla extract, yogurt, milk and melted chocolate. Fold in dry ingredients until just combined.
7. Scrape batter into prepared pan and top with remaining streusel. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake emerges clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool completely before turning out and slicing.
Chocolate-Butterscotch Icebox Cake
Time: 3 hours, plus overnight chilling
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
FOR THE CHOCOLATE WAFERS:
1 1/2 sticks/170 grams unsalted butter, softened
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons/230 grams granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons/30 milliliters milk
1 teaspoon/5 milliliters vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon/3 grams baking powder
3/4 teaspoon/5 grams kosher salt
1 1/2 cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
3/4 cup/88 grams unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch process
FOR THE MAPLE-BUTTERSCOTCH CREAM:
1/2 cup/100 grams firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons/30 milliliters maple syrup
2 tablespoons/28 grams unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Pinch kosher salt
3 1/2 cups/840 milliliters cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon/15 milliliters bourbon
1 ounce/28 grams semisweet chocolate, for serving
1 teaspoon/5 milliliters coconut oil, for serving
1. Make the chocolate wafers: In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add egg yolk, milk and vanilla extract; mix until smooth. Whisk together baking powder, salt, flour and cocoa, then add to mixer bowl and mix until combined. Roll into a 10-inch-long log, wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice dough into 1/8-inch rounds and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. You should have about 48 cookies. Bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. Remove from oven and let cool.
3. Meanwhile, make the maple-butterscotch cream: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, maple syrup, butter and salt. Stir continuously until mixture is combined and sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking without stirring until mixture bubbles, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup cream, then stir in bourbon. Let butterscotch cool completely.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine remaining 3 cups cold cream and the butterscotch. Whisk until stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Assemble the cake: Divide wafers into 6 batches, about 8 cookies per batch. On a serving platter, arrange one batch of cookies into a heart shape, breaking into pieces to fill in gaps if necessary. Top wafers with about 1 1/4 cups butterscotch cream, smoothing into a heart shape with an offset spatula. Repeat layers until cookies and cream are finished, ending with a layer of cream. (There may be extra cookies and cream; build the cake higher if you like.) Cover with plastic wrap and chill cake in the refrigerator until cold, at least 1 hour, before decorating the top.
6. Decorate the cake: Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir in coconut oil. Let chocolate cool until lukewarm but still fluid. Drizzle over cold cake. Return cake to the refrigerator and let sit overnight or up to 2 days before serving.
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