November 29, 2012

Cranberry Double-Chocolate Cookies

I hope that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We certainly did, although this year was rather different from what we’re usually accustomed to.  Generally, we are contributors; meaning that we contribute to the Thanksgiving feast with a couple of side dishes or dessert, and we spend the holiday with our American family.  So, I never had to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal from start to finish, from appetizers to desserts until this year…  Say what?  Yes, I cooked an entire holiday meal!  And I didn’t set the kitchen on fire, go figure.  

We fully embraced Thanksgiving and its three Fs: Family, Food and Football (mostly soccer, but that counts too, right?); and I would add a fourth – Friendship.  So, I cooked for three people – our friend Claude, Adrian and me; two Romanians and a Ghanaian.  Three internationals celebrating Thanksgiving.

We had the turkey, albeit not the whole bird but just a couple of turkey breasts, with the tastiest garlic based rub ever (of course, anything tastes better with garlic); my favorite cranberry sauce, maple sweet potatoes and maple-roasted Brussels sprouts (I felt like putting maple syrup in just about everything); I also couldn’t omit the Romanian style green peas, this fluffy basmati rice with a small bunch of golden raisins and toasted pine nuts tossed in there, some roasted nuts for appetizer, and the now iconic and a Thanksgiving must Chocolate Tart for dessert.  We had a Thanksgiving dinner with an international touch.  And it worked out beautifully; actually, it was mere perfection, and I’m not throwing these words around lightly.

But let’s leave Thanksgiving behind and look forward to more sweet concoctions since the holiday season has just begun.  I’ve already had an alarming amount of chocolate these past few weeks, so I obviously found it suited to continue my diet with… more chocolate!  That’s right; I’m getting into the holiday spirit and in the midst of cookie season with these glorious Cranberry Double-Chocolate Cookies.

These cookies are first and foremost loaded with chocolate and packed with flavor.  I didn’t think that I could survive that much chocolate, but for some peculiar reason I couldn’t stop munching them.  Second, these cookies are chunky, and chewy, and tart, and toasty, and everything you expect a cookie to be; oh, and did you know that chocolate and walnuts are best friends?  They are in these cookies, at least.  I’ll leave you now with this wonderful recipe while I go stuff my face with more cookies.  Enjoy!

Cranberry Double-Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Gourmet (August 2007) via

Makes: 30+ cookies


·         1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
·         ¾ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
·         ¾ teaspoon baking soda
·         ¼ teaspoon salt
·         1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
·         1 cup light brown sugar
·         ½ cup granulated sugar
·         2 large eggs, at room temperature
·         3 ½ oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, cut into ½-inch chunks
·         1 cup toasted and coarsely chopped walnuts
·         1 cup dried cranberries


Preheat oven to 375°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat together butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then add eggs 1 at a time, beating until combined well.  Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.  Add chocolate chunks, walnuts, and cranberries, and with a spatula mix them until just incorporated.  

Using a 1 ¼-inch ice cream scoop, spoon dough onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spacing about 2 inches apart.  With dampened fingers, flatten cookies slightly.  Bake, switching the position of the sheet halfway through baking, until puffed and set, about 12 to 14 minutes.  Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.  Repeat with the remaining dough.

Note:  Cookies keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 5 days.

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)     

November 16, 2012

Chocolate Tart: A Classic

Sometimes, it’s worth being different.  That's why this Thanksgiving I’m skipping the traditional Pumpkin Pie and putting my money on an elegant, luxurious and oh so chocolatey Chocolate Tart.  I’m going big and bold, that’s for sure, and hopefully it’ll pay off! 

I rarely brag about my favorite cookbooks, but this jewel is high up on my list and always good to have close at hand when your sweet cravings kick in.  So, here you have it – I’m head over heels in love with Dorie Greenspan’s superb book Paris Sweets.  I hope that you still recall those buttery sweet golden madeleines I posted a while back.  Yes, those recipes came from this particular book.  Paris Sweets has been living on my cookbook shelf for some time now, but I’ve kind of abandoned it, lately.  Shame on me… 

So, when time came to look for a brilliant chocolate tart recipe to make things interesting this Thanksgiving, I had to dig it up again.  Thumbing through it I not only stumbled upon the perfect recipe and my new Thanksgiving center piece candidate, but I also discovered some new information on – wait for it – chocolate.  You may already know some of it but knowing more about chocolate never hurts.  

Did you know that the liquor, or the so called cacao or cocoa, the ground nib of the cacao bean is what makes chocolate chocolate?  The unsweetened chocolate, or baking chocolate, contains 100 percent chocolate liquor.  All the other chocolates – bittersweet, semisweet, milk, and imported white – are a mix of sugar, often additional cocoa butter, and occasionally cocoa powder.  Therefore, the greater the percentage of cacao, the more chocolatey and less sweet the chocolate will be.  In the U.S., bittersweet and semisweet chocolates are one and the same and, according to the FDA, must contain a minimum of 35 percent cocoa liquor.  That aside, French pastry chefs usually opt for chocolates with a minimum of 60 percent cocoa and more often than not choose chocolates that have 70 percent cocoa liquor or even more.     

For this chocolate tart, I opted for my favorite (and always widely available) Swiss chocolate and my second favorite Swiss brand, Lindt.  In case you’re wondering… my number one Swiss brand is he – and he also happens to love Lindt.  How cute is that?  I used 7 ounces of 70 percent cocoa Lindt chocolate, and 5 ounces of 54 percent cocoa Baker’s chocolate.  I was afraid that my not-so-much-of-a-chocolate-lover side wouldn’t take that much bitterness especially since there’s no added sugar!  

The results are wondrous and whimsical and everything in between.  First of all, you’ll have to really resist the temptation to devour the butter and almond cream when you’re preparing the dough.  The butter scent will overwhelm you and so will the cookie dough that will come out of all the mixing.    

This tart is so simple, yet its flavors are so complex and elaborate.  The crust is crunchy but delicate, sweet and nutty with a faint toasty undertone.  It’s the perfect textural balance to the smooth ganache.  Oh, the chocolate ganache… it’s so glossy that you can almost see your reflection in it.  And it’s insanely rich and silky and every bit as seductive. 

I’ve made the chocolate ganache with and without orange zest.  If you prefer the sophisticated, unadorned classic, leave the orange zest out; if you feel adventurous and in the mood for a classic marriage, add the orange zest.  Trust me, you won’t regret it!  The orange zest adds a tad of freshness and citrusy perfume, boosts the flavors to a new level, and cuts through the smooth dark chocolate richness.  Plus, the chocolate shavings on top boost the tart’s already sensuous good looks.

Needless to say, the flavors and aromas are forever embroidered into my brain and taste buds; but most importantly, this tart reminds me time and time again that I don’t have to be in Paris to indulge in the city’s iconic sweets! 

Chocolate Tart
Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan

Serves:  About 10 servings
Special equipment:  A 10-inch tart pan

Note:  The recipe calls for a 6 ½ inch tart shell.  However, having only a 10-inch tart pan on hand I thought that it might work just fine if I tweaked the base recipe here and there; and, guess what, no surprises there – it worked out beautifully.  In fact, I would say that I wouldn’t have it any other way – the bigger, the fuller with chocolate, the better! 

You’ll see that there are a couple of steps to make this splendid chocolate tart; don’t let that discourage you.  What I recommend is that you prepare the dough the day before and let it rest in the fridge overnight. 

Ingredients for the Sweet Tart Dough:

·         2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
·         1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
·         ½ cup ground blanched almonds (¼ cup of these were toasted before I ground them)
·         ½ teaspoon salt
·         ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
·         2 large eggs, at room temperature
·         3 ½ cups all-purpose flour


Note:  This is a large recipe – enough for two 10-inch crusts.  With a dough like this, the texture is always better if you make a large batch, so it’s best not to cut the proportions; rather, make the full recipe and freeze the dough you don’t need at the moment: frozen tart dough is always a good thing to have on hand.  Frozen disks of dough take 45 to 60 minutes at average room temperature to reach a good rolling-out consistency.   

In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, beat the butter until creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the confectioners’ sugar and process to blend well.  Add the ground almonds, salt, and vanilla and continue to process until smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary.  Lightly stir the eggs together with a fork and, with the mixer running, add them to the bowl; process for a few seconds to blend.  Finally, add the flour and process until the mixture just starts to come together.  When the dough forms moist curds and clumps and then starts to form a ball, stop! – you don’t want to overwork it.  The dough will be very soft, and that’s just as it should be.

Gather the dough into a ball and divide it into 2 pieces.  Gently press each piece into a disk and wrap each disk in plastic.  Freeze one disk if you plan on making only one tart, and put the other one in the fridge.  Allow the dough to rest in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or for up to 2 days, before rolling and baking (The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to a month.) 

Butter the tart pan and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  What makes this dough so delicious – lots of butter – also makes it a little difficult to roll.  What I found to work best is to roll the dough out on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Just flatten a large piece of plastic wrap against the counter and roll the dough.  Flour the rolling pin often so that the dough doesn’t stick to it.  Turn the dough over often so that you can roll it out on both sides.    

Once rolled out, center the dough (exposed side down) over the tart pan.  Gently press the dough against the bottom of the pan and up the sides, remove the sheet of plastic wrap, and roll your rolling pin across the rim of the pan to cut off the excess.  If the dough cracks or splits while you’re working, don’t worry – you can patch the cracks with leftover dough (moisten the edges to “glue” them into place).  Just be careful not to stretch the dough in the pan (what you stretch now will shrink later).  Chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

When you are ready to bake the crust, preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line the crust with a circle of parchment paper or foil and fill with dried beans or rice. 

Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until very lightly colored.  Remove the parchment and beans and bake the crust for another 12-14 minutes, or until golden.  Transfer to a rack to cool. (Baked crusts can be kept uncovered at room temperature for about 8 hours).   

Ingredients for the Chocolate Ganache:

·         12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
·         1 cup heavy cream, plus 1 Tablespoon
·         2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
·         3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         Optional: orange zest from one large orange
·         Optional: bittersweet chocolate shavings to decorate the top of the tart


Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and keep it close at hand.  In a small bowl, beat 1 Tablespoon of the heavy cream with the egg yolks just until the eggs are liquid.  Check that the butter is soft but not oily.  If necessary, either beat it with a rubber spatula to soften it or smear it against the counter under the heel of your hand. 

Pour 1 cup of the heavy cream into a saucepan, add the vanilla extract, whisk together, and bring the mixture to a full boil over medium-low heat.  Then pour the hot cream over the chocolate.  Wait for about 30 seconds, then, working with a whisk, gently blend the cream into the chocolate.  Still whisking delicately, incorporate the yolks, followed by the butter (and orange zest if using).  Pour the ganache into the crust.  Jiggle the crust a bit to even out the ganache, and leave the tart on the counter until the filling sets, about 20 minutes, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.  (If your kitchen is really warm, pop the tart into the fridge for 20 minutes, just to set the ganache, then keep it at room temperature after it has set).

Note 1:  The recipe states that the tart is best served at room temperature the day it is made.  We couldn’t finish it all the day I made it so I refrigerated it overnight.  It was still perfect the second day and the following, too.  Just make sure to let the tart stand at room temperature for about 2 hours before serving. 

Note 2:  This tart is lovely straight up, on its own, but it’s just as lovely with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraȋche.

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)     

November 8, 2012

Apple pie to celebrate The Forks

Things have been quite frantic around here, lately.  Hence, my sporadic posting routine, for which I apologize.  And on top of everything, the chilly weather hasn’t helped either.  Fortunately, we’ve had some homey comfort food to keep us warm and cozy.  But there is something new on the horizon.  Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very talented people from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on a new and exciting project: The Forks – the newspaper’s new food and drinks blog.  The PG Plate food platform also contains a new recipe search and will eventually provide even more coverage and interaction with readers, bloggers, contributors, customers and many others.  So, do check it out, let us know your feedback and be part of it!     

Since the weather was so gloomy, I’ve spent a lot of time inside and baked plentifully.  The abundance of apples at the markets overwhelmed me and made me overdo it with the amount and variety of apples that I brought home.  But having apples lounging in every corner of the house gave me the perfect excuse to bake this apple pie … twice.  And here we are now celebrating the launch of the new Forks blog with a seasonal apple pie … Romanian-style!

This pie is another one of my grandmother’s recipes that I grew up with, and frankly I didn’t know that apple pie could exist in any other shape or form except from the one I was accustomed to.  We call this an apple pie although you may find it more suitable to call it an apple cake.  It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that the flavors and textures are spectacular.

On the outside, you have a flaky crust with a gentle crisp on the outer edges and emanating a hint of sweetness; while on the inside, the cinnamon and sugar marriage slightly tames the tartness of the apples and gives them a dark amber tint.  By the way, apples and cinnamon are made for each other!  This pie is wonderful eaten warm on its own with the juicy apple filling still slightly releasing a hot cinnamon infused steam; and is stupendously good the next morning with a cup of tea or coffee!  

Apple Pie

Serves: 24+ squares


·         400 grams (2 ¾ cups) all-purpose flour
·         125 grams (1 cup) confectioners’ sugar
·         250 grams (2 sticks and 2 Tablespoons) butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease the pan
·         ½ teaspoon baking powder
·         1 egg, at room temperature; separate the egg yolk and egg whites and keep close at hand
·         1/8 teaspoon salt
·         1-3 Tablespoons whole milk
·         1.5 kilograms (3.5 pounds) tart apples such as Granny Smith, washed, peeled and grated
·         3-4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
·         2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
·         3 Tablespoons grits or bread crumbs


Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C).  Coat the bottom and sides of a 14 by 10-inch baking pan with butter.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.  Add the butter and, using clean hands, mix well until the butter absorbs the flour.  In the middle of the mixture, add the egg yolk, salt, and confectioners’ sugar and mix well to combine.  Add milk, one Tablespoon at a time (1-3 Tablespoons) and mix until the dough has a good consistency and can be gathered into a ball.  Gather the dough into a ball, divide it in two pieces and allow the dough to rest in the fridge for 30-45 minutes.

In the meantime, wash, peel and grate the apples in a large bowl.  Add the cinnamon and granulated sugar to taste.  If you feel that the apples are still too sour, add more sugar.  Mix well.  Set aside.

Take one piece of the dough out of the fridge.  Flour the working surface and knead the dough for a few minutes with some flour until the dough warms up a bit and becomes manageable.  Roll out the dough and place it in the greased pan making sure it covers the entire surface of the pan. 

Sprinkle the grits or bread crumbs over the dough.  Gently squeeze the excess water from the apples and spread the apples in the pan.

Take the second piece of dough out of the fridge, knead it for a few minutes with some additional flour, and roll it out.  Place the dough atop the apples in the pan. 

Beat the egg whites.  Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the dough.  Poke the dough here and there with a fork and bake the cake for 55-60 minutes, or until golden brown. 

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)