Chocolate-covered Christmas

Dec. 18, 2012 @ 03:09 PM

Like many women, I adore chocolate. So much that Petey keeps a giant Hershey bar in a glass box with a small hammer attached, in case he’s in the line of fire when I experience a chocolate emergency.
I also love Christmas. I love the jacket and scarf weather that the season brings to North Carolina. I love holiday music from Johnny Mathis and sappy TV specials from my childhood. I love the decorations and the happy secrets. I even own a hideous Christmas sweater (please don’t tell anybody).
Thusly, the Christmas/chocolate fusion thrills me.
In October, Jessica Pinter sent me an invitation to a chocolate tasting at One World Market (811 Ninth St., #100), a Bull City institution.
Uh, yeah.
Except for a 90 percent off shoe sale where there are plenty of size 10s, a chocolate tasting would be my favorite retail event.
On the big day, executive director Laura Wendell greeted me at the door. I got a rundown of their chocolate, as well as a lesson in the art of cacao.
One World is a nonprofit enterprise which offers handmade goods from around the globe. All the merchandise is procured from sources on a fair-trade basis. That means there’s no evil overlord sucking up most of the profits. The artisans are paid directly for their creations.
I left with some cocoa treats for a care package for The Kid, a bracelet, and my new favorite candy bar, Divine’s milk chocolate coffee. It tastes like getting hit upside the head with a chocolate covered coffee pot.
A couple weeks later I returned and knocked out a third of my Christmas list. I also picked up some Divines 70 percent cacao bars for a cake I was baking for Thanksgiving dessert.
It was Beatty’s chocolate cake, from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. It’s the chocolate cake of your dreams.
I’ve made it for years, and it’s always a hit.
The batter is kind of odd. When it comes together, it’s really watery; about the thickness of cream.
You’d think it wouldn’t bake up right, but it always does, and produces a moist rich cake with enough structural integrity to hold mounds of the buttery chocolate frosting.
I was given permission by Ms. Garten’s publicist to share the recipe.

Beatty’s Chocolate Cake
Copyright 2006, “Barefoot Contessa at Home”

Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Chocolate buttercream frosting, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Frosting
6 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

And yet more holiday/chocolate infatuation:
Recently, I was invited to the Washington Duke Inn for their “Blog Nog.” It was a gathering to debut the winning holiday drink submitted by Becca Gomez Farrell.
It’s a chocolate/orange/cardamom concoction that is dangerously delectable. When you bring the glass up to your face, you’re blanketed in a spiced chocolate cloud.
One of my favorite people, the inn’s sales and marketing director, Jim Bressler, sent me the recipe.

Frosty’s Chocolate Orange Martini
2 oz. orange juice
1 oz. Stoli Vanil
2/3 oz. light crème de cacao
1/3 oz. Grand Marnier
1 oz. cardamom simple syrup (see recipe)
Chocolate sugar (see recipe)
Rim a martini glass with chocolate sugar. Shake and strain the 5 liquid ingredients into the glass. Finish with a chocolate straw.

Cardamom Simple Syrup
4 cup sugar
4 cup water
30 cardamom seeds wrapped in cheese cloth and crushed
Combine ingredients and reduce by half over medium heat.

Chocolate Sugar
1 Terry’s white chocolate orange
1 cup sugar
Grate chocolate on microplane and mix well with sugar. Keep in air-tight plastic container.

A chocolate product review: I’m a true believer in brownie mixes. I just discovered a great one. It’s Duncan Hines milk chocolate. They’re crazy delicious and super fudgy.
For bakery quality results, stir in a bag of Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips (I think they’re the best), add 2-3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, and replace the water with cold coffee (instant’s OK). Always undercook box brownies by a few minutes for extra moistness.
So, take a break from the seasonal insanity. Put up your feet, and treat yourself. With baked goods, some chocolate from One World, and a few of those delicious cocktails.
And when you regain consciousness, have yourself a wonderful holiday.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is momsequitur@gmail.com.