Optical illusions

August 19, 2009


Although we had the coolest, wettest July on record this summer, I’ve still managed to over-tan. Truthfully, I blame the economy for my sun-damaged forehead. Most summers I’m so busy whipping up bright ideas in the test kitchen for magazines and food companies that I find very little time to spend outdoors. But, this year has been different. Business has been down, so I’ve had time to play tennis regularly and to ride my bike to work. It seems that just these little changes in routine have helped me to get a very nice tan.

Despite the ugly age spots on my forehead, the rest of me is thankful for the pigment change. As you may know, dark things look smaller and, even though I’ve been exercising, I’ve been eating enough that I’m bursting out of my fat clothes. I can only hope the tan is creating an optical illusion that hides that fact.

The hope that dark objects look smaller is a blessing when it comes to my body but not so great when applied to brownies. If a brownie looks small, why not eat two? (Hence the problem with the fat clothes.)

After that segue you likely will think twice about making brownies but I hope you decide to go ahead. I’ve been making this recipe for years. It’s super easy and so chocolaty and satisfying that you really only need to eat one small square to get your chocolate fix:

Dana’s Saucepan Brownies

4 oz (125 g) chopped unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) granulated sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
3 eggs
1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour

Place chocolate and butter in a saucepan set over low heat. Heat, stirring often, until chocolate is almost melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Cool slightly. Preheat oven to 350oF (180oC).

Stir sugar, vanilla and salt into chocolate mixture. Stir in eggs, adding one at a time. Blend in flour until well combined. Scrape mixture into a greased 9-inch (23 cm) square pan or 7 x 11-inch (1.5 L) baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes for fudgy brownies (my fav) or for 35 minutes for cakey brownies. Cool in the pan on a rack. Slice into bars. Makes 24 bars.

Andrew MacIssac’s Flourless Chocolate Torte

March 7, 2009

Here’s the recipe I talked about last Saturday in my Daring Baker’s post. It was a signature dessert at Pronto Ristorante in Toronto in the late 80’s and early nineties. Although it’s presented here with a mocha whipped cream, Andrew used to frost the top with whipped white chocolate ganache on occasion and that was heavenly, too. Hope you love it as much as I do!

(Sorry I don’t have a picture for you today. I was away for several days this week and didn’t have time to make a cake and take a snap.)

Flourless Chocolate Torte
With Mocha Whipped Cream

Ingredients: for 1 eight inch torte

1 pound of bitter-sweet chocolate
8 whole eggs
1/4 pound sweet butter
1/3 cup sugar


1. Butter a deep 8 inch cake pan and then line the bottom with silicon paper.
2. Over a bain-marie, in a large stainless steel bowl, melt the chocolate with the butter stirring with a spatula every minute. When all the chocolate is nearly melted, remove from heat and set aside.
3. Whip the eggs and sugar together until it triples in volume.
4. When the chocolate is still warm, add half the whipped eggs and incorporate smoothly. Add the remaining whipped eggs into the chocolate mixture and mix gently along the sides until homogenous. Pour the mixture into the cake pan starting from front to back. Be careful not to shock the mixture or you will loose the volume that is so desirable.
5. With a spatula, gently smooth out the top. Bake in a 125°C convection oven starting from a cold oven for 60 minutes. Be careful when closing the door to the oven!
6. Test the torte by examining the surface for resiliency when tapped and felt. The torte should appear firm when done. Remove from oven and run a knife around the edge of the pan. When cool to the touch, heat the bottom of the pan briefly and turn-out onto flat round surface dusted with cocoa. Repeat and flip the torte over a second time.
7. With a knife heated under hot running water, divide the torte into 10 even pieces.

Mocha whipped cream


1 double expresso
1/2 liter 35% cream
1/3 cup sugar

Combine all the ingredients and whip until set.

A heart of darkness

February 28, 2009

When I saw the February Daring Baker’s challenge was to make a Chocolate Valentino cake using a recipe by Chef Wan, I was stoked since my mother’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day! What perfect luck to have a heart shaped cake as our challenge when I needed to bake something special on that day anyhow!

I used Amadei’s Tuscano 66% cocoa chocolate to make my cake and I paired it with a simple but super rich caramel sauce (see recipe below). Since one of the reasons this recipe was chosen as a DB challenge was that it used just three simple ingredients, I thought making a sauce using just three ingredients (water, sugar and cream) was the perfect accompaniment. And besides, chocolate and caramel are a match made in heaven, right?

Now, I don’t like to be a naysayer (actually, that’s not true, I do sort of like to whine and complain, just not right this second), but I have to say that I didn’t like this recipe and I won’t make it again. I made flourless chocolate cake literally hundreds of times as an apprentice to the now late (and much missed) pastry chef Andrew MacIssac. His recipe calls for 8 eggs and some sugar that is used to make a sabayon with egg yolks before they are added to the melted chocolate. The result is a cake that is simultaneously fudgier and lighter than the cake recipe we used for this month’s challenge. (If you’d like Andrew’s recipe, drop me a line and I’ll dig it out of my back up drive and send it to you).

That said, although I didn’t fall in love with this Valentine’s Day cake, I do want to thank the hosts for doing a great job! The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.

Dana’s Easy Caramel Sauce

11/2 cups (375 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) water
3/4 cup (175 mL) 35% whipping cream

Combine the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan set over high heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Boil sugar, brushing down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped into water to dissolve any crystals that start to form, until the mixture is the colour of amber. Remove from heat.

Shield your hands with oven mitts or clean dish towels and whisk in the cream until the mixture quits boiling. Makes about 11/2 cups (375 mL) caramel sauce.

Tip: Add a gourmet touch by sprinkling large flake sea salt over the sauce once it has been poured over the cake.

Valentine’s Day musings

February 13, 2009


With Valentine’s Day just hours away, there are likely people reading this post who are wondering how to commemorate this marketer-made occasion. While I personally would love to get flowers (although not roses – maybe a tightly bound bouquet like the stunning arrangements at Joel Robouchon – you can see a picture of them in my facebook group photo album) from my honey, there are a lot of people who would rather have chocolates.

In fact, according to a poll conducted by Nestlé (makers of much-loved sweets such as Kit Kat candy bars and Haagen-Dazs ice cream), 59 per cent of Canadians agree that chocolate is the ultimate food indulgence. Their study also showed that while more Canadian women would prefer a gift of chocolate from their partner, men by far prefer a bottle of wine as a romantic token.

Personally, I’d rather not choose. In fact, why not snack on some chocolates and then wet your whistle with a few glasses of vino while you admire your flowers?

What about you? Will you give a Valentine’s gift to anyone? And, almost more importantly, do you expect to receive one?

Chocolate and tea

August 21, 2008

Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere in the desert where it’s too hot to want to drink tea or to store chocolate in its solid form, it won’t be news to you that chocolate and tea are hot trends. In the last two years literally hundreds of new products in both categories have been launched.

In fact, as I was compiling items for my editor at Canadian House and Home to consider for the November and December 2008 food news pages assigned to me, I was almost playing eenie-meenie-minie-mo to choose between all the tea and chocolate options.

So, when I got a packet containing samples of Chocolatea, a product line that combines 100% organic leaf teas with good quality Belgian (but oddly not organic) chocolate, I wasn’t terribly excited. I admired the pretty packaging and colourful press materials and set the sample bars aside.

Truthfully, I was skeptical about how a delicate flavour like white tea could stand up to a dominant force like bittersweet chocolate. I’d been down this road before with Dolfin’s massala chai and chocolate bar and hadn’t really loved the texture or found that the tea made the chocolate more delicious than it would have been on its own.

So, when I got a note from my blogger pal Cheryl Sternman Rule who writes 5 Second Rule saying that she had just eaten all of her samples in one sitting, I took notice and cracked open the very dark chocolate and white tea bar. Even as I was pulling back the foil, I was still skeptical. But as the chocolate melted smoothly on my tongue, I was wonderfully surprised to taste both tea and chocolate in balance. Since then I’ve tried several other flavours. The wild raspberry tea and dark chocolate is particularly lovely with a nice fruity finish.

What do you think of chocolate and tea? Are they the next cookies and milk or just a fad? I urge you to tell me your thoughts below and to read Cheryl’s post about Chocolatea so that you can experience her impressions first hand.