Sunday, August 31, 2014

Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Squares (gluten-free)

The world of food chemistry is so fascinating, and more relate-able than one might think.

Like human chemistry, foods often go well with each other when they have something in common. There's the whole "opposites attract" thing that works once in a while, but it doesn't always last. Like those food trends that only stay around for a few months or so. Whoopie pies... really. 

I'll be the first to try the new black garlic and elderflower ice cream out of curiosity and to just plain switch it up a bit, but there will be a tub of classic Bourbon vanilla sitting in my freezer at all times. Forever and for always.

Vanilla and dairy just works. It's always good no matter my mood.

Flavour combinations work when the flavour compounds themselves share similar chemistry. They literally share the same chemical nomenclature like how people can share the same DNA.

Examples include chocolate and almond, ginger and garlic, tomato and basil, vanilla and chocolate, roasted cashew and caramel, lemon and honey, lemon and lime...

Introducing a contrasting flavour to a couple of complimentary flavours can add interest. That's how we make food fun.

These Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Squares feature plenty of complimentary food pairings like the famous chocolate and hazelnut, coconut and then some apricot for excitement. 

The slight tartness of apricot contrasts the bitterness of dark chocolate.

This recipe comes together in a flash. Just a few great ingredients and the option of being flourless and gluten-free. I used hazelnut meal to make these, but you could use 1/4 cup of flour instead.

It is meringue at its core, baked like a brownie and packed full of things you'd find in a great granola bar.  

We whip the egg whites to soft peaks and then slowly add the sugar until stiff glossy peaks form. You might think you're making a pie, but we're making delicate little snacking squares - trust me.

Goodies get folded in and then the baking follows the same rules as meringue - low and slow. We need to bake at 300 degrees F for 45 minutes to let it cook through evenly and stay nice and chewy. A high temperature would make it puff up and dry out.

You can have your way with different types of dried fruit, chocolate and nuts that you prefer, but I'd be careful about messing around with the coconut - it contributes to the texture. If you really don't like coconut you might be able to replace it with an equal amount of ground nuts.

Be sure to refrigerate for at least and hour before slicing. These squares are delicate and need the chill time to set and firm up. Right now I need chill time to eat these up. Happy Sunday!

Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Squares
Makes 16 squares

3 large egg whites
1/8 tsp salt
½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
100 g (3.5 oz) dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup (35 g) ground hazelnuts (or ¼ cup all-purpose flour)
1 ¼ cups (80 g) unsweetened desiccated coconut
3/4 cup (150 g) dried apricots, chopped into small pieces

Preheat oven to 300°F and line an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper, letting it hang 2 inches over the sides.

Beat egg whites with salt in a small bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time while beating until stiff peaks form.

Fold in chopped chocolate, hazelnut meal, coconut and dried apricots. Spread mixture evenly into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until evenly golden. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely and then refrigerate for 1 hour before slicing with a sharp knife.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Best Double Dark Chocolate Pudding

This is for those times when I realize I have no ice cream in the house.

Big mistake. A close second to realizing there's no toilet paper in your stall when you're already squatting. Yeaaahhh....

This is my brain sequence in withdrawal mode:

                        All the shops are closed.
                                                       I have milk!
                But no more cream...
                                   Plenty of chocolate.
                                                           Eggs - of course.

Pudding will do the trick. It's cold, creamy, smooth and thick.

Pudding is custard at its core. The stuff that comes in plastic cups at the supermarket is thickened solely with corn starch, which is also what you pay for in those instant pudding packets.

Try making your own - it's gold. It's also easy and here's how to get 'er done.
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cool Confetti Faux-Fudge

There's a lot of sadness plastered all over the TV screen these days.

Seems like all news is bad news.

It's easy to lose sight of happiness in these times and I find myself wanting to stay informed but exhausted from feeling so ruined by it.

Scientifically Sweet is mainly about butter & chocolate, a little life talk and plenty of FUN. Today, I'll dig a bit deeper.

I've been reading things that are not recipes lately. My down-time reading normally doesn't extend past cookbooks and food magazines. Right now I'm onto three Jamie Oliver books (trying to catch-up), a couple of Donna Hay issues and Caramel.

In my reading, what I've learned (aside from how to make a paella in 20 minutes) is that YOU can actually control how happy YOU are?

Happiness and well-being is mostly driven by our own thoughts and behaviours. In these not-so-joyous times it is important to find joyful and positive points and focus on them. I don't mean to just think everything is always hunky dory - that's just ignorant, and people might want to punch you. But, recognize the unfortunate and then focus on the positive. It's important to constantly recover and move forward or the only direction you will go is back.
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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Peanut Butter Cobbler Brownies

There are only two thoughts going through my head right now...

1) I bet 4 sticks of celery balance out 4 pieces of brownie.

2) Hand-washing is the devil.

How can those two things occupy the same brain space?

I guess it's no surprise that thoughts of chocolate run through my head nine times out of ten.

But, you probably never guessed that thoughts of hand-washing regularly creep up in between to torment me. I hate hand-washing! But I have too many silky, lacy, beaded clothes that require a delicate touch. They end up piling up into Everest until I can no longer see the surface of my desk... they just sort of hang everywhere. Every night I say, "I'll do the hand-washing"... but I eat brownies instead.
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Chocolate Olive Oil Granola Bars

One of the things I immediately stopped buying long ago after figuring out how awesomely easy and wonderfully delicious they are to make at home are granola bars.

I'm about to give store-bought bars a run for their money...

I'm giving you olive oil and dark chocolate today - a wildly unexpected combination that works outrageously well. It's the slight tang and fruitiness of olive oil that makes it marry so well with chocolate - DARK chocolate that is. Milk chocolate doesn't hold a candle here.

Chocolate is so distracting and a total attention hog, but let's not disregard the almonds and seeds. Sesame seeds in particular provide a nice savoury note.
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

3-Minute Hot Fudge Sauce (the real deal!)

It's all those little things...

...those little things that can really affect people.

I have a story to share with you that really means a lot to me. A reader of this overly chocolatey blog e-mailed me a while back asking for some guidance and advice around the study of Food Science and the best Universities with such programmes. I love when this happens because it means I've connected. It means that all of the foodie love I have spilled out from my heart and my brain (and my stomach) to the internet space of webpages, blurbs and far too many photos of Justin Bieber has actually found its way into someone else's heart, brain and stomach.

I love when I hear from any of you, period.

But, this was a special case. She told me how it was through reading my blog that she actually learned that the study of Food Science even existed, and the idea of becoming a Food Scientist really excited her. She contacted me in search of advice on where to apply. I told her my opinion and of course encouraged her to pursue the open world of food and science!

A few months later I receive another lovely email from her letting me know that she followed my advice and has ended up accepted into the Food Science programme at Cornell University starting this Fall. Knowing this makes all my 6 years of blogging worth it - aside from the fact that it gives me a very regular excuse to eat cake.
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chocolate Mousse Buttercake

Where is the "off" button for our brains?

Has anyone ever found that?

I need one.

I made this "OFF-switch" cake. A Homer-sized slice of this helps to slow things down. All I can think about is how creamy, velvety and delicious it is. But it's a bit of work that involves a reasonable dose of whisking, creaming, baking and waiting.

A button would be faster and more convenient. For now, this Chocolate Mousse Buttercake will more than suffice.

What we've got on the bottom is a soft biscuit-y base - somewhere between a biscuit and a butter cake. It is a thin layer that won't take long to bake, so keep an eye on it. Over-baked = dry = no thank you.

Gently perched on top is a smooth, thick & creamy yet airy shmear of classic chocolate mousse. Chocolate mousse is so wonderfully easy to make and a sure-fire winner with friends every time.
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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Honey Quinoa Clusters of Oats

Someone once told me one day I will turn into a muesli. I'm still trying to figure out what that looks like...

I eat a lot of the stuff. It's something about oats that's so satisfying and comforting.

There was this one "Swiss-style" muesli that I was addicted to when I lived in Dublin. I bought it from my local Tesco shop. There was milk powder blended right in so I didn't even need to add milk! I would eat it with a spoon dry from a bowl and the milk powder would dissolve in my mouth. It was like making instant milk - really, really concentrated milk. That's weird... I shouldn't tell you these things.

I haven't been able to find it anywhere since then. If you know where to get this stuff, shout!

I also love granola, and in Australia they call granola "toasted muesli". Granola bars are also "muesli bars".

They're perfectly correct because granola is a mixture of oats, nuts and seeds (basically muesli) that is baked until crisp. It's full of long-lasting energy and super easy to make at home. The best part is that you can control how much oil and sugar is added.
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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Remember that episode on Friends where Ross calls Monica "uncooked batter eater!". I can entirely relate to that.

This cake rightfully should be taller since I ate about one-sixth of the batter. It tastes like ice cream and I have no self control....

This cake comes at the request of my mamacita (aka. mom) and her friend who are looking for a good recipe for pound cake. Apparently Martha Stewart's recipe is no good.

Pound cake was named after the fact that the original recipe used 1 pound each of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. This makes one heck of a lot of batter! So if you can ignore the literalness, it really refers to a recipe with an equal weight (or 1:1:1:1 ratio) of all four ingredients. The texture is firm, dense and not as moist as your typical buttercake despite all that butter because there is little liquid. As the batter bakes, starch in the flour absorbs what liquid there is from the eggs leaving the finished baked cake with not much free moisture. This is how it was intended.
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Monday, June 30, 2014

Baked Fruit & Nut Toffee Chews

I'm sitting here and all I can think about is how much I want the weekend to last a little bit longer.

Two days is not enough and so NOT proportional to 5 days of work.

A 3-day weekend to a 4-day work week would be so much smarter and make me way more productive. Come on guys, let's figure out how to make this happen!

Who do I have to call? Who should I write a letter to? Who do I need to send (persuasive) cookies to?
Just don't let the Lindt factory workers know because I still need my chocolate fix 7 days a week.

There's this thing that happens to me on Sunday evenings that completely cuts my weekend down by half a day. Suddenly it hits and all of the things I need to do and want to get done just tumble through my head. Let's be real guys, I develop dessert mix recipes for a living and love it. But, there's lots of important stuff that comes with it to make sure that the food I make arrives to your supermarket shelf safely and at the finest quality. At the end of the day... it's work!
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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Chocolate & Cream Butter Bars

If I were a food, I'd be butter.

I'd be butter more than I'd want to be chocolate.

Butter simply makes life taste better, and would probably never have issues fitting into leather pants if it wanted to. Fans of Friends would know that 'paste pants' are not a good scene.

In little bits or large pads, it's just good. A couple teaspoons mixed in with your olive oil to start the sofrito base of bolognese sauce or any risotto will take it to that next level. Or, how about a bowl full of beurre blanc with that seafood dinner?

A little goes a long way and a lot goes even longer...

A tablespoon or two stirred into fresh lemon curd adds body, sheen and richness. Then a generous cup marks the beginning of irresistible shortbread.

That's where we are heading today - straight into shortbread city with a few dark alleyways and a cheeky detour.
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Sunday, June 15, 2014

After Eight Cookies

It took a while for the combination of mint and chocolate to win me over.

When all the kids were swooning over mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, I was happy with my double chocolate choice or probably went for a hot fudge sundae - I prided myself as a purist.

Mint chocolate chip was definitely a favourite flavour among kids when I worked at Baskin Robbins. 

Over time I learned to like it - especially with fresh mint. I make a brownie with fresh chopped mint in it and it is mind-blowing. I'll have to share it with you some day.

The key to this flavour combination working for me is using very dark bittersweet chocolate (not surprising here on this blog...). It has to contain at least 70% cocoa solids and the overall recipe shouldn't be too sweet. Since mint is already a rather "sweet" herb, it becomes over-whelming and nearly sickly when paired with too much sugar.
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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Italian Raspberry Crostata (Crostata Marmellata)

There's a cafe across the road from where I live.

I can see it from my living room window.

Every weekend morning the place is busy beyond the bees. Tables are full and the cue for coffee is pretty consistent. I'm close enough that I can actually read the menu on the board and avocado toast with eggs tops the list. Great, right? I love avocado and avocado on toast with a runny egg is probably as close to breakfast perfection as you can get. That is, when I'm not eating brownies or chocolate chip cookies.
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Sunday, June 1, 2014

4-Ingredient Chocolate Mousse Cake (gluten-free)

I had a major kitchen fail this week.

I made butterscotch pudding, (well, I sort of made butterscotch pudding) and then I introduced butterscotch pudding to the garbage.

I learned something really enlightening from this kitchen fail - there IS such thing as too much cream.

Every single bone in my body wishes I didn't have to admit that.

To sum it up, too much cream and butter in butterscotch pudding equals really tasty, really separated pudding.
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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Strawberry Coconut Macaroon Squares

Tea time took on a whole new meaning when I moved to Australia.

Tea time is not just time for tea, or even a biscuit.

Tea time is divided into several different occasions. There's morning tea, afternoon tea and high tea....

That's tea three times a day!!

What I learned is that tea is really just an excuse to eat dessert every day. I really like this custom. It's not far from my regular life (it is exactly my regular life).

These little Strawberry Coconut Macaroon squares are something that would probably be served during morning tea since it is a bit lighter and fruity. Something rich and decadent (CHOCOLATE) would be served in the afternoon, right before dinner. It's like everything your mom told you NOT to do.
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