Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ina’s All Time Best Chocolate Recipes Plus Personifying Ingredients

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Wow! That’s a lot of chocolate recipes. How will Ina get all these done in one half hour episode? It turns out she has no problem, since quite a few are no more complicated than melting chocolate and adding things to it. (I’m not complaining. Just because something doesn’t take a long time to make doesn’t mean it’s not good.)

Ina starts with chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. I have to admit I’m not sure we NEED to see her making cupcakes, but let’s see if we learn anything. And they DO look REALLY good. Ina puts 1 1/2 sticks of butter in the mixer. Room temperature, of course.

Ina always says that she leaves her butter out overnight. I wish I had that kind of nerve. But maybe she has someone standing guard in her kitchen to make sure nothing gets into the butter. I’m not sure why I feel it’s a problem to have something out on the counter from, say, 1 am to 8 am, when I wouldn’t mind if it were 10 am to 4 pm, for example. It’s the leaving an ingredient out overnight, unsupervised, that gets to me. I always want to have a handle on what’s going into my cupcakes and who knows what mischief a stick of butter could get into.

Ina adds brown sugar (for its molasses flavor) and white sugar (to make it “lighter”). All brown sugar would make the batter “too dense”. Ina has two room temperature eggs already cracked into a bowl ready to go. That IS smart to pre-crack them, so no shell goes into the mixture. I have to admit I mostly don’t do that. Her eggs look particularly extra large today. Those yolks are HUGE. She beats in the eggs then adds vanilla. She uses 2 teaspoons, which is quite a generous amount.

Ina gets her wet ingredients ready – 1 cup of buttermilk (shaken first), ½ cup sour cream - to make a thicker batter - and 2 tablespoons of coffee (actual coffee, not powder). She sifts 1¾ cups of flour with 1 cup of cocoa powder (that’s A LOT) and baking soda and salt. Ina says, “Salt is surprisingly important when you’re baking”. Maybe one of these decades I’ll agree with her about that, but not anytime soon.

Now this next step is different. Ina adds ALL of the dry ingredients at once and then adds the wet ingredients. She uses a spatula to make sure everything is well mixed. She scoops the batter into paper-lined muffin tins. They get baked at 350°F. for 20 to 25 minutes. That’s an interesting looking pan that she’s using. It looks more like a popover pan with the individual cups sticking out at the bottom and attached only at the top with a thin frame. She sits the pan on a baking sheet, which I’ve never done for cupcakes.

After they’re baked, Ina immediately takes the cupcakes out of the pan and cools them (in their papers) on a baking rack.

For the icing, Ina uses her friend Kathleen King’s recipe from Tate’s in Southampton. Ina says, (as I’ve heard her say before, but I like it), that the cupcakes are really just a delivery system for the fabulous icing. 

Ina mixes 1 cup of icing sugar with 1 cup of peanut butter and 5 tablespoons unsalted butter. "Good" vanilla goes in with 1/3 cup of cream. She’s mixes it until it smooth, but not light and fluffy. She wants a thicker texture. That does sound really fantastic, but I’m surprised she doesn’t use a more natural peanut butter. I guess Skippy makes it smoother…

Ina tops each cupcake with some icing, leaving the edges unfrosted. It gives them a homemade look, which Ina always likes. They do look really good, but I’m not sure it was worth Ina’s precious time (or MINE, for that matter) to show us how she made them. She finishes them with a sprinkle of chopped peanuts. Pretty, but pretty basic…

Now this next recipe will surely be worth a view. It’s Jeffrey’s favorite Chocolate Gelato. (Why do I think most of Ina’s recipes are favorites of Jeffrey’s? He’s way too smart for that NOT to be the case…)

I don’t want to get into a whole gelato versus ice cream discussion here, but I’m thinking Ina’s recipe will probably NOT contain eggs. Gelato often doesn’t, except for the zabaglione-type flavors. (I know there are exceptions to every dessert rule.)

The other very obvious difference between the two is that American Ice Cream has a lot more air added to it than Italian Gelato, and often more fat than its Italian counterpart. Actually, Gelato has NO air added, but when I’m making ice cream at home, the only air I add is my heavy breathing over the machine, panting in anticipation of the fabulous stuff.)

Ina stirs together 2 1/4 cups of milk, 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of cream in a pot and brings it just to a simmer to dissolve the sugar. She whisks in 1 cup of cocoa powder and 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate. She stirs it until the warm milk melts the chocolate. She pours it into her measuring cup.

OH! Lookie here! Ina IS adding eggs! She adds 4 (again) HUGE egg yolks to a mixer bowl with ¼ cup sugar and beats it until light and fluffy. She adds the cooled chocolate mixture and beats that together. She cooks it over low heat and then sieves it to be sure it’s super smooth. So her gelato has a custard base. I still stick by my general rule of no eggs in gelato.

Ina adds 2 tablespoons of coffee liqueur and 2 teaspoons of “good” vanilla and a pinch of salt, which she says it brings out the brightness in the flavors. (Never heard that.) She covers the “gelato” directly with plastic wrap to prevent a skin, (that’s my favorite part) and places it in the fridge to chill.

Meanwhile Ina chops up 8 Baci candies. She pours the cooled chocolate mixture into an ice cream machine and lets it go until it’s really thick. Then Ina adds the chopped-up Baci at the end. (I can’t decide if that’s unnecessary or really good.) She pours it into a quart container and freezes it just until it hardens. She serves it in a chilled stemmed glass.

Ina says she “doesn’t know anybody who’s disappointed when a meal ends with chocolate”. She has 3 more ideas for us. First is Chocolate Orange Fondue, which would be great without the orange. (I have a thing about chocolate with orange. I don’t think they belong together.) The recipe is your standard, but what Ina likes is that it can be served family style for people to help themselves. Ina’s favorite things to dip are thick sticks of salty pretzels. She doesn’t warn against double dipping, but I will.

Her next idea is to serve Chocolate Bark after you’ve left the table and gone into the salon for after-dinner coffee. She actually calls it the living room, but you get the idea. I guess that’s okay if you don’t mind chocolate all over your furniture. OR unless you’re making White Chocolate Bark, which it turns out Ina is. (I think of Chocolate Bark more as a gift than an after-dinner treat.)

For the bark, Ina heats some of the white chocolate in a microwave in 30 second increments until it’s melted. (Ina has a REALLY tiny, WHITE microwave. It seems a bit out of step with the rest of her high class gear.) She chops up the rest of the chocolate and adds it to the melted chocolate to lower the temperature. After it’s nice and smooth, Ina pours it out onto a piece of parchment paper in the shape of a rectangle. She sprinkles over lots of stuff like pistachios, dried apricots and cranberries and lets it harden. She cuts it into pieces and voila, there’s your chocolate bark. Ina says you can also make chocolate lollipops by spooning the chocolate into a circle and placing a stick in before you start decorating. She also likes dark chocolate bark topped with cashews, cranberries and apricots. Dried cherries would also be awesome.

Ina’s penultimate suggestion is Chocolate Truffles. She heats ¼ cup of cream over simmering water with 7 ounces of chopped white chocolate. She whisks it until smooth and whisks in 2 tablespoons of Irish cream (use any you like) and ½ teaspoon vanilla. She chills it for an hour and then scoops out little balls. They get chilled again, then drizzled with extra melted chocolate.

Ina has one last dessert that requires no cooking. Ina says this is her favorite dessert because “it makes grown men weep”. (She’s probably talking about her bridge partners that we’ve gotten to know so well over the years.) She says it’s REALLY easy to make. I predict this is going to be those chocolate wafer cookies layered with lots of cream. Let’s see.

Aha! It’s CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES layered with MOCHA WHIPPED CREAM which sits in the fridge overnight. I was close!

Ina whips together 2 cups cream with 12 ounces of mascarpone, 1/2 cup sugar, ¼ cup of coffee liqueur, cocoa powder, espresso granules and vanilla. That does sound like a really good whipped cream. She says the only trick is to get the layers of cream even between the layers.

Again, Ina uses her friend Kathleen’s thin chocolate chip cookies. In an 8 inch springform pan, she layers cookies on the bottom, breaking some to fit in.. Then she spreads a fifth of the whipped cream over and continues the layering. She says she uses a pound to a pound and a quarter of cookies. (I have no idea how many that would be.) Ina finishes her creation with a final layer of mocha cream and covers it with plastic wrap. It gets refrigerated overnight.

Ina unmolds the cake and grates some chocolate over the top. She slices it and gives it a taste. I'm not saying it wouldn't taste good, but isn't it a little junkie? Poor Ina sounds like she has a cold, so how can she taste anything?

At the end of the show, Ina points to a counter full of chocolate desserts and says Jeffrey will be home soon and THIS will be his idea of a wonderful dinner - first course, entrée and dessert made up from her different chocolate recipes. I'm with Jeffrey! How good (or easy) is that?


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I'd be a little paranoid to leave butter out overnight too. I'm from the generation that is obsessed with bacteria and food spoilage. I do hate it when I forget to take the butter out before baking. Then I have to spend my time testing how long and low I can microwave it so it softens without melting.

I really should crack eggs separately. I am a spazz when it comes to cracking eggs and always get the shell in there. I once had teh great advice that you should crack them on a flat surface instead of on the edge of a bowl. That does help. One time though I just accidentally let go of the whole eggs as I dumped it in the bowl with the mixer running. Picking out those little shell bits was no fun!

Was she re-running old recipes, or was this just a re-run show. I have made that chocolate gelato before. It's good, and yes the Baci are necessary (well, they are my favorite candy...)When I was in school studying Italian, I was told gelato means ice cream. No teacher ever told me that it meant any specific type of ice cream. This was back in the 80s when non-Italian-studying Americans never uttered the word gelato in everyday life. Because of that, I don't argue whether anyone's recipe is gelato or ice cream. It's just like I learned that "panini" simply meant "sandwiches" and that the singular is "panino" and not "panini" and that the word panini's is just ridiculous.

Sue said...

So much to say...I'm also worried about keeping perishable things out for too long. I thought 2 hours was the official limit...

The whole egg? Oh my, that must have been difficult to remove. The only thing about cracking an egg on a flat surface is that if you're using the countertop, you now have raw egg on it. A little plate works well. And, yes, it is a good idea to crack the eggs separately...but you know what they say about good intentions...

This was not a rerun, but it was old recipes. And, I will definitely remember to add the Baci. How COULD that be bad? What was I thinking?!!

Gelato/ice cream; panino/ sandwich...However you say it, it's all good!

Anonymous said...

Lots of stuff in this post, Sue! I tried leaving the butter out overnight once and I didn't like the way it beat up with the sugar -- it was a little greasy, even though the temperature wasn't too warm. I think there's a texture change if you leave it at room temperature for too long. Up to four hours seems to be OK, at least in my experience.

One of my wine customers got a certification in gelato-making (his family owns a restaurant) and I asked him about gelato vs. ice cream. While there are some ice creams without eggs and there are gelatos with eggs, it's a function of the freezing temperature and the way it's mixed. We can't do gelato in our home machines, so eggs or not, Ina didn't make gelato, even if she wants to call it gelato.

Stefano (my gelato acquaintance) also gave me a couple of tips if you're in a gelato shop: beware of any that mounds the gelato above the level of the rim of the container in the case -- it will probably be firmer (so it doesn't melt) and may not be proper gelato. Also, look for a nice dull green/brownish/gray color on the pistachio -- that's a sign that they're making it with real pistachios.

Finally, I'm not crazy about Ina's compilation episodes. There could have been a lot more useful information instead of the scatter-shot of all these different recipes repeated from past shows. More intro, a list of tips, etc. This was just laziness. But she has been making shows a long time, so I can sympathize if she feels like she's running out of ideas (I feel that way about blogging these days too).

Sue said...

Hey Tom,
Interesting about the butter. That gives me more reason not to leave it out overnight.

I was sure your gelato fundi was going to say the difference is the amount of air beaten in - Gelato:0 versus Amurican Ice Cream: Lots.

I love those gelato tips, if only I had an upcoming trip to Italy to use them.

Yup, I know all about being a bad blogger. But I think Ina's season is short enough that all the shows should be original. I wouldn't have minded if the end of the episode had showed Jeffrey really eating all those desserts (before he went into a coma).

Anonymous said...

No need to go to Italy, these are things you can look for in gelato here. Although come to think of it, I saw some gelato no-nos in Italy too.

The quicker the ice cream sets up in the ice cream freezer, the more air gets incorporated as it stiffens. With gelato the freezing isn't as cold and goes on for longer, which means more mixing (smoother temperature), and less air since the mixing is also slower.

I agree about Ina. After all, she is getting paid for it and we're not...

Sue said...

That's interesting. I suppose adding alcohol would slow down the freezing. And 2ould that make a smoother texture, I wonder?

I need to test taste some gelato against ice cream right now!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. I posted a recipe for Verdejo Ice Cream and it is very gelato-like in texture, and melts more easily than ice cream (