Day Two: Ketchup Macarons

With my slight obsession with macarons, you didn’t think I would pass on an opportunity to make some crazy macarons, did you? Of course not. 

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I first saw the recipe for these ketchup macarons on David Lebovitz’s blog a couple years ago, and I was intrigued. He said that it was Pierre Herme’s recipe, and Pierre Herme is basically my hero. No joke. Pierre Herme has never failed me thus far, and I decided to put utmost faith in his capabilities by going ahead and making this. Because honestly – it sounded disgusting. And David Lebovitz didn’t even sound like he really enjoyed them, either. 

I have nothing against ketchup. In fact, I quite enjoy my ketchup on a hot dog, or dipping my fries in them. Replacing a buttercream or ganache filling with the same amount of ketchup was seriously pushing my boundaries however. My biggest fear was the possibility of hating ketchup afterwards. A couple months ago, my friend and I decided to do the Chubby Bunny challenge (a game where you try to stuff as many marshmallows in your mouth as you can, whilst saying “chubby bunny” after each one) on the last day of english class. Let’s just say, I haven’t had a marshmallow since. If you couldn’t tell, I hold food grudges. And this fact makes me nervous, because since I already dislike mustard, what else am I going to put on my hot dogs if I can no longer handle the taste of ketchup? What a travesty…

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But I soon got over myself and I made them. On the outside, they looked harmless. You could mistake them for maybe strawberry macarons, with a jam filling. Looks are deceiving though. I took a little bite, and I swear, I started feeling dizzy. My dad had the same reaction, but strangely, my mom was not so adverse to it. She thought it was better than she expected (which were probably at barely edible level). It’s not that it was incredibly gross, it was just really not good. The pickles also really didn’t help the situation. I refused to take another bite, but the friend who ate all the truffles almost ate three whole ones. She didn’t particularly like them either, though. 

Ranking: 3/10 (I feel like a Dancing with the Stars judge) 

Ketchup Macarons (Adapted from Pierre Herme’s Macarons)

Follow the recipe on Foolproof Macarons: The How-to Guide for the shells. When beating the meringue, add 7-8 drops of red food coloring. 

Ketchup filling:

40 g Heinz Ketchup

1 teaspoon finely diced pickles

2 tablespoons water

3 g powdered gelatin

1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Microwave it for 10-15 seconds to dissolve the gelatin in the water. Stir to remove any lumps.

2. Spoon some of the ketchup into the gelatin, and mix well. Don’t add the gelatin into the ketchup, as it might lump up. 

3. Add the pickles. Let the gelatin set a little in the refrigerator first for about 15 minutes or so. Pipe onto the shells, and immediately return to the fridge to let it finish setting up. Do not let it sit out at room temperature before it has harden because the ketchup mixture is quite wet. 

 

Day One: Avocado Truffles

So I thought I would start off with an easier one. Ease myself into it, you know? I had come across this recipe whilst searching for a recipe on good ol’ chocolate truffles. When I first read the title, I was dubious. Avocado truffles? Err… Keep in mind, however, that I’m a little wary of these kinds of foods.

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However, since I’ve decided to do the Weird Food Challenge (which I actually made up…), I’m going for it.

Despite the fact that they’re called truffles, they are definitely different from the chocolate truffles that we know and love. You basically make guacamole… then start adding cocoa powder to it. The moment when the cocoa powder first hit my previously untouched guacamole, I had a mini crisis. What am I doing with my life? WHY AM I KILLING THIS POOR GUACAMOLE? As I continued to add the cocoa, the avocado started to disappear and it ended up a fudge-y consistency. I threw it into the freezer, rolled it into small balls, and dusted it with a layer of cocoa powder.

First of all – I made a mistake. I didn’t add enough butter, so the “ganache” (can you call it a ganache?) didn’t actually solidify and it would melt at room temperature (and half melted avocado truffles is not pretty, trust me). The one big thing that surprised me was that the avocado taste was not prominent at all. Despite the fact that avocado is the main ingredient, it only gave the truffles a slightly nutty taste that if I were to give someone a truffle without telling them it as made of avocados, they might not even figure it out. However, the fact that I knew these were made of avocados made the avocado taste stand out more. Most people were too afraid to try it, but one of my friends absolutely loved them and probably ate seven.

Ranking: 7/10 (not bad)

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Avocado Truffles Adapted from whatscookingamerica.net

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 avocado, peeled and pit removed

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup powdered sugar

Cocoa powder, for dusting

1. In a large saucepan, on low heat, melt the butter

2. In a blender, blend the avocados until smooth and no lumps. You may need to add a little bit of the melted butter over to loosen the mixture.

3. Add the avocados and the rest of the ingredients into the sauce pan, and mix well.

4. Let the mixture harden in the refrigerator. Roll into balls, and dust with cocoa powder. Firm it up in the fridge again. Serve.

The Weird Food Challenge

So, after an incredibly stressful college application process, it’s finally over and spring break is here! And not a moment sooner either. But I thought… what better way to spend my spring break other than challenging myself to make (and eat) weird foods for a week.

You might ask… why in the world would you do that?

Well, why not? I’ve come across so many recipes that I’ve shied away from because it just sounded so disgusting, that I would need serious motivation to commit myself to making it. 

Consider this the serious motivation. The kick in the butt. It’s starting, and honestly, I’m terrified. As Cathy, my British friend, so eloquently warned… “This could be highly damaging to your psyche, Emily.” Hopefully, my psyche will be prepared for whatever beating it will endure for the length of this week. 

There are only two rules. 

1. I have to incorporate an ingredient in an unique way that I’ve never previously done so.

2. I have to taste it. And so do my parents (force will be used if necessary). 

If anybody has any recommendations, let me know! I’m still in dire need of some awesome (but could be totally gross) recipes. 

 

Please note: If I don’t make it through this process – I died for a worthy cause. 

Opera Cake

It was my mom’s birthday this past week and what cake did she request? The one and only Opera Cake of course. I knew that this was a long and laborious cake to make, and I expected to spend around half a day on it. Just bake the Joconde cake, some ganache, buttercream, and ta-da! Except it was not.

It definitely took me a whole day. It was also daylight savings on top of that, so I felt like I was losing an hour every single hour. A large chunk of that time was spent calculating, and figuring out how I would go about things, so hopefully you won’t have to slave away for a whole day since I’m telling you how things are going down.

The first issue I ran into was the size. Most of the recipes I looked at called for 6 whole eggs and 6 egg whites. I wasn’t quite looking forward to using a dozen eggs on one cake so those recipes were out. Turns out, the cake that you make using a dozen eggs is gigantic. It wasn’t practical for a birthday cake, and I found that 3 eggs and 3 egg whites was the perfect amount/size. I have an 11×18 inch baking sheet, so I wanted to make a 11×6 sized cake, after cutting up the cake slab into three pieces (the cake will be a little smaller after the edges are cut off for a neater presentation).

I also realized that regular grounded espresso WON’T dissolve. It’ll stay grainy. Forever. So if a recipe says instant… use instant espresso. I have the nespresso capsules at home, so I broke one open to make the coffee syrup. As a syrup, I just decided to use it (since the nespresso ones are actually incredibly fine), but for the buttercream, I had to strain out the grinds and use the leftover liquid. (which worked surprisingly well)

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So what exactly is an Opera Cake? 

If you love chocolate and coffee, this cake is for you.

Here’s the breakdown, going from bottom to top: chocolate, joconde sponge cake, coffee buttercream, joconde sponge cake, ganache, joconde sponge cake, coffee buttercream and finally a mirror glaze. 8 layers of goodness. But even after slaving away at it for a whole day (don’t even get me started on how I didn’t even get to eat lunch…), I thought it was totally worth it. Keep in mind, though – like most things, the cake tastes better after spending some time in the fridge. The flavors develop better, and yes, I know it’s so hard to wait after watching into come into fruition from nothingness, but do it. Do. It.

Compared to the other recipes, I also reduced the amount of sugar, and the cake still tasted really sweet, so I would recommend doing so as well. I found that it was just easier to make all the component separately, and then just compile all of it together at the end.

Joconde Sponge Cake 

115 g almond meal (alternatively, you can just use 115 g of blanched almonds and grind it up)

80 g powdered sugar

25 g cake flour

3 whole eggs

3 egg whites, room temperature

15 g white sugar

50 g melted dark chocolate, preferably Valrhona

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the 3 whole eggs together well. Really go for it. Sift in the powdered sugar and the almond meal, and continue mixing until mixture is smooth and light. Finally, sift in the cake flour, and stir that into the egg mixture until it is just mixed well. Set aside.

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2. In a mixer with the whisk attachment, add the egg whites. Make sure the bowl is impeccably clean and dry. Start beating the egg whites on high. When the egg whites start foaming, slowly pour in the white sugar. Continue beating (you may want to turn the mixer to a medium once soft-medium peaks are formed) until medium-stiff peaks are formed.

3. Using a spatula, transfer one third of your meringue into your egg-almond mixture. Mix this well, but don’t go too crazy. Now pour your entire egg mixture back into the bowl containing the meringue. At this point, be gentle. You don’t want to deflate the egg whites so much that they won’t rise, since the air is the only leavening agent in the cake. Do, however, mix it well, as you don’t want any chunks of only meringue or chunks without it. When you pour your mixture into the baking pan, you can check as you pour for any missed chunks.

4. Line a 11×18 inch baking sheet with parchment, or just place a silpat on the bottom(as I did). Pour your batter into the baking sheet, and smooth it out. You don’t want to mess with the batter so much that all the air leaves, but you want a smooth cake. I used one of those wooden crepe spreaders, and it worked wonderfully.

5. Tap the baking pan on the counter a few times, and then put it in to the preheated oven.

6. Bake for around 15 minutes, or until the top is a light golden brown color. The edges will brown quicker, but that’s not an issue since you’ll be cutting those pieces off.

7. Let the cake sit for around 10 minutes, or until it somewhat cool, before messing around with it, since it’s more fragile when it’s warm.

8. Once you’ve removed the cake from the parchment, cut the cake up into 3 equal pieces (around 6×11 each).

9. On one of the slices, pour the melted chocolate (you can pour it hot) on only one side of the cake. It should fit perfectly. Smooth out the chocolate, and then throw that slice into the freezer for 5 minutes, to harden the chocolate. This is the chocolate layer that goes on the very bottom of the cake. Cover the rest of the cakes in parchment, to prevent drying.

10. Remove the slice of cake with the hardened chocolate from the freezer, and cover.

Coffee Syrup adapted from The Splendid Table

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

5 grams instant espresso

1. Mix all the ingredients in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. No need to thicken it, because it will thicken as it cool. Let the syrup cool.

Coffee Buttercream

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) room temperature butter

5 tablespoons sugar

20 g water

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons instant espresso

2 tablespoons boiling water

1. In a separate bowl, beat the butter using a spatula until smooth, and all the chunks are gone. Set aside.

2. Mix the the espresso and boiling water together until espresso dissolves. Set aside and cool.

3. Add the egg yolks into the mixer with a whisk attachment, and start beating at a medium speed. Do this until the yolks are light and creamy.

4. In a small saucepan, add the sugar and remaining water. Cook it until the mixture reaches 115 F. This should be done around the same time the egg yolks are beating.

5. Once the sugar has reached the right temperature, slowly pour it into the egg yolks (with the whisk going at medium) at the edge where the yolk meets the bowl. Once all of it has been poured in, continue beating on medium-high until the yolk has cooled down to room temperature.

6. Once the yolk cools, start beating in the butter a little at a time. Add each new addition after the previously added butter has already been fully incorporated. You should see the mixture thicken and become stiff after a few additions of the butter. Add in the coffee a little at a time, tasting as you go (my favorite part) to determine how strong of coffee you want your buttercream to taste.

7. If your buttercream is not stiff enough, throw it in the fridge for 10 minutes, but if it is already at a good spreadable consistency, just leave it out.

Dark Chocolate Ganache

5 ounces chopped dark chocolate, preferably Valrhona

125 g heavy cream

1. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream until the cream is bubbling.

2. Remove the pan off the heat, and add the chocolate. Let it sit for 30 seconds, and then slowly stir until ganache is smooth.

3. Pour ganache into a bowl, and let it cool until a spreadable consistency.

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Mirror Glaze

20 g cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona

30 ml water

25 g heavy cream

30 g sugar

1. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Let the glaze cook until it thickens slightly, but keep in mind that the glaze will thicken as it cools.

Assembling the Cake 

For the first slice of cake, place it chocolate side down. Generously brush on the coffee syrup until the entire surface is covered. Add on half of the amount of buttercream and spread it evenly. The thickness of the buttercream should be the same as the cake (around 5 mm). If you look at at it from the side before cutting the sides off, it’ll look thinner than it actually is, but just try and spread it as evenly as possible. Add the second layer of cake, and brush with syrup again. This time, spread the ganache (same thickness as the buttercream/cake) evenly. Add the final slice of cake, and repeat brushing the syrup. Add the rest of the buttercream and once it’s completely flattened, cover and stick it into the freezer for 20 minutes. You need to cool the cake because the glaze will be warm when you pour it on, and you don’t want to melt the buttercream.

Pour the glaze onto the cooled cake, and use a spatula to smooth out the top if need be. Return the cake to the freezer to allow the glaze to settle.

To cut the cake, use a hot serrated knife to cut through the cake. Serve at room temperature. And now, go take a nap.

Pierre Herme’s Ispahan Macarons

I’ve always read about how amazing Pierre Herme’s ispahan macarons are, but unfortunately, I never got to try any when I visited one of his boutiques in Paris. The ispahan macaron is a mix of rose cream, lychee, and fresh raspberries sandwiched between two macaron shells. I can’t comment on how close these macarons taste compared to the real deal, but I thought the tartness from the raspberries balanced very nicely with the sweetness of the cream and macaron shells.

Besides what they taste like, the macarons look fabulous. Even though the macarons look impressive, they are actually quite easy to make, which is a win-win situation for everybody!

It took me a while to figure out the recipe I wanted to use. I’ve seen multiple versions all over the place, and the differences are mostly in the rose cream. I found this one published by Le Figaro, and there was a video accompanying the recipe showing someone from Pierre Herme making it. That one consisted of a Italian meringue buttercream mixed with creme d’anglais. Another version consisted of a whipped white chocolate ganache. I made a batch of both, and found that I preferred the latter since it tasted lighter and I prefer the taste of whipped cream over butter. The first option would probably last longer, but I only made a small batch, so that wasn’t a concern for me. The whipped cream was also much easier to make, and used up a lot less time.

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Ispahan Macarons

makes 7 macarons

100 g almond powder

100 g powdered sugar

80 g room temperature egg whites (~2 egg whites)

80 g white sugar

3 drops red food coloring

Follow the instructions here for how to make the macaron shells. The ingredients listed above are the double the amount in the instructions, since these macaron shells are much larger (7 cm in diameter to be exact). Add the food coloring when beating the egg whites. Also, disregard the template given as you want to pipe 7 cm diameter circles instead. I also found that I had to bake the shells for a few minutes longer (I baked them for 18 minutes). The batter may not fit into one baking pan, depending on how strategic you are with your piping.

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Rose Cream

3-4 canned lychees, sliced, drained and patted dry

~12 ounces fresh raspberries

50 g white chocolate, preferably Valrhona

100 g heavy cream (separated into 50g/50g)

1 teaspoon rose syrup

1. Chop the white chocolate into fine pieces and place into a medium bowl.

2. In a saucepan, heat up 50 g of the heavy cream until it’s almost boiling.

3. Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate. Lit it sit for 30 seconds, before stirring from the inside out. Continue until a smooth ganache is formed. Add the rose syrup, mix well, and let it cool to room temperature.

consistency of the rose chocolate ganache

consistency of the rose chocolate ganache

4. In a separate bowl, start beating the other 50 g of heavy cream. Once the heavy cream reaches the same consistency as the ganache, slowly start pouring in the ganache while beating the heavy cream. Once all the ganache has been added, continue beating until the cream starts to thicken. Be careful not to over beat. The mixture should not hold a shape yet, but don’t worry, because the white chocolate will help it solidify in the refrigerator.

5. Cover the cream, and let it refrigerate for 1-2 hours (or if you can stick it in the freezer for 15-20 hours for a faster option).

6. If you’ve washed your raspberries first, make sure the raspberries are completely dry, as even a little bit of moisture can make your macaron shells too soggy.

7. Pipe some of the cream onto the middle of a macaron. Place a ring of raspberries around it. Add some lychee pieces on the cream, and pipe some more cream on top so that it reaches the same height as the raspberries. Place second shell on top, and if you would like, serve with a raspberry and/or rose petal on top.

8. Refrigerate at least overnight before serving.

Ricotta Cheesecake, with homemade ricotta

I know many people who aren’t the biggest cheesecake fans, and personally, I never really fell in love with it either. They (generally New York cheesecakes) were always a little too rich, too dense for my taste. That all changed when in Italy, a waiter highly recommended their cheesecake to us. I originally wanted to go for the tiramisu (it seemed a lot more Italian to me than cheesecake), but thank god I listened to the waiter. The cheesecake was light, with a fluffy but smooth texture, unlike anything I’d had before. I immediately demanded kindly asked our waiter what the cheesecake was made of, and he told me “ricotta”.

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So that was the secret. Ricotta cheese. Here I was, thinking cream cheese was the only way to make cheesecake.

That was two years ago. Up until know, I’d never successfully made a cheesecake (nor had one) like the one in Italy. I had tried making a cheesecake with store-bought ricotta in place of cream cheese – it turned out dense, wet, and grainy. I tried beating the egg whites. Nothing worked and I was still here without my cheesecake. On a trip to New York, I made sure to pay a visit to Veniero’s, whom I heard made a killer ricotta cheesecake. On the day of, I was so excited I got cheesecake for breakfast. Yes, for breakfast. And it was a horrible let down. Like the cheesecakes I made, it was wet and grainy, and had none of the light fluffiness the Italian cheesecake had.

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At this point, I thought my only option was to fly back over to Italy and demand the waiter give me the recipe. Per favore. But before such drastic action was taken, I thought back to the store-bought ricotta. The ricotta itself was grainy. Instead of using store-bought ricotta, I tried the cheesecake again using homemade ricotta (which is incredibly easy) and voila, out of the oven came this large, fluffy, cheesecake. Sure, it shrank a little coming out, and the surface was covered with cracks, but it was glorious in my eyes. And it tasted even fluffier than it looked (if you haven’t noticed, fluffy is the keyword here). Finally, after two long years, I was reunited. And that darn store-bought ricotta has been at fault all along – Veniero’s, take note.

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Ricotta Cheese, adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

Makes 1 cup of ricotta

3 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons lemon juice or white vinegar

1. In a saucepan, mix the milk, heavy cream, and salt. While continually stirring, bring the milk up to 185 F. The milk should be almost simmering.

2. Remove the pan off the heat, and add in the lemon juice/vinegar. Stir to mix, then let the mixture sit for a couple minutes. You should be able to see the cheese curds and whey separate (and if this is your first time making cheese – I know, I felt like I belonged in the Swiss Alps, yodeling and herding cows up the mountains, too).

3. Line a colander or bowl with cheesecloth, and pour in the mixture. Strain out the whey by either letting it sit in the colander for about an hour or so (if you’re using a colander), or hang up the cheese curds by the ends of the cheesecloth and let gravity do it’s work. I made a contraption out of a fishing pole and two chairs, with a bowl underneath the cheese to catch the whey. It should be the right consistency in about 1-1.5 hours. Now, you can either eat this ricotta (I wouldn’t blame you if you did), or you can go ahead and make the cheesecake, which I highly recommend. If not using the ricotta immediately, store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.

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Ricotta Cheesecake

Makes 1 8-inch cheesecake

1 package cream cheese (8 ounces), room temperature

8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature

4 eggs, separated and at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. In a mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the ricotta and cream cheese until smooth. Add in the egg yolks, one at a time. After mixing thoroughly, add the yogurt, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Mix well.

2. In another clean bowl, beat the egg whites and vinegar until large bubbles form. Slowly add in 1/2 cup sugar, and continue beating until soft peaks form.

3. Fold in 1/3 of the meringue with the cheese mixture until fully incorporated. Add in the rest of the egg whites, folding gently without deflating the meringue but thoroughly. Pour the batter into an 8-inch springform pan. Wrap the bottom completely aluminum.

4. Place a larger baking pan (one that the 8-inch pan can fit into comfortably) that is filled halfway with water into the oven first. Then, place the 8-inch pan into the waterbath, making sure no water can get into the cheesecake. The waterbath helps minimize the cracks on the surface of the cheesecake.

5. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the cheesecake is browning too fast, turn the heat down to 300 F. As another measure to minimize cracking, let the cheesecake cool in the oven, with the door slightly ajar.

6. If everything fails, and the surface of your is covered in rifts and cracks, you may choose to serve your cheesecake, battle scars and all, with a fruit sauce on the side, or you can cover it up with some artfully placed fruit. I went with the former, and decided upon a raspberry coulis. (Which was secretly just raspberry preserves piped onto the plate. Shh)

Classic Italian Pizza, homemade

Gusta Pizza, Florence.

Home to the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.

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We happened upon this place while utterly lost in Florence, after having attempted to visit the Pitti Palace, which was closed unfortunately. Gusta Pizza is located in an alleyway two blocks behind the palace and the guys at Gusta Pizza unfortunately spoke absolutely no English. I had my handy dandy Italian phrasebook with me, but it was absolutely useless. I tried my hand at a couple sentences, but they only shook their heads in confusion. We resorted to pointing and gesturing wildly at the menu, which worked out wonderfully. They were extremely patient with us, and my dad was so happy he bought one of the chefs a beer. Now this pizza was a little different from the pizzas you get around here. It was cooked in less than a minute in a stone oven, and it was topped with leafy greens and parmesan before serving. It was beautiful and utterly delicious. And I was determined to make it at home.

The first thing I did when I got back was get a pizza/baking stone. Best investment ever, if you ask me. While it’s no brick oven, the temperature gets much higher than with a regular baking pan and the crust tastes much better as a result.

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For the pizza itself, I decided to just make a simple pizza margherita, and top with arugula, parmesan, cherry tomatoes, and parmesan, like they did.

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For the dough, I actually doubled the amount given below to make two large pizzas. The size depends on how thin you roll it out, and I prefer it to be on the thin side. First, shape the dough into a round ball (by pushing the edges into the middle of the bottom) so that it is smooth on the surface. Then, on a lightly floured surface, use your fingers to push the dough down into a flat disk. At this point, you can use whatever fancy pizza dough stretching technique you may possess, but I broke out the rolling pin. I lightly rolled out the dough, alternating between stretching it with my hands and rolling it out. No need to squish the thing to death, but go ahead and pop the large air bubbles if there are any. If the dough keeps on going back to its original shape and the darn thing just won’t stay stretched out, let the dough rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten and try again. Patiently.

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I don’t have a pizza peel, so I used the back of baking sheet with some parchment. The pizza goes onto the baking stone with the parchment, and is removed around 5 minutes into baking.

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I often find that the tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes actually doesn’t turn out that great. Instead, I like to use the canned San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. It can be found at Trader Joe’s for 3.99.

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At first, I used this kosher shredded mozzarella from Costco (called Natural & Kosher) and it did not turn out at all. Somehow, the cheese just separated into a gooey mess under the high temperatures. I now stick with the ball mozzarella, which has more moisture and fares much better in the high temperature.

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Classic Italian Pizza

makes one pizza

pizza dough 

1 1/2 cups bread flour (240 grams)

2/3 cup warm water (157 grams)

1 teaspoon instant dry yeast

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar into the water. Set aside.

2. In a larger bowl, or in a mixer, add the flour and salt. Stir in the water and oil a little at a time, and knead until smooth and elastic.

3. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise at room temperature for 2-3 hours.

4. Roll out the dough to its proper size and now it’s ready for toppings.

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the rest of the pizza

1 can of tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

pinch of salt and pepper

half a ball of low moisture mozzarella

olive oil to drizzle

tossed arugula

sliced prosciutto

5-6 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size

parmesan, shaved or chunks

1.Preheat your oven with the baking stone inside to as high as it will go. Mine went to 550 F.

2.Blend the canned tomatoes until smooth. Squeeze the extra liquid out first, to prevent the sauce from becoming too wet. Add in the salt and pepper to taste. There is no need to make this too salty, since the prosciutto and parmesan to be added later are really salty.

3. Spread the sauce onto the dough evenly. Top with mozzarella. For one pizza, I only used up half a ball.

4. Get the pizza onto the baking stone (I used parchment paper). Bake until the bottom is at least golden brown or even slightly charred, and the cheese is bubbling. At 550 F, it takes me 7-8 minutes.

5. Top pizza with the arugula, tomatoes, prosciutto, and parmesan. Serve immediately. This pizza should be eaten fresh due to the toppings. Take it from me – it’s not very good the next day…

Austrian Potato Salad (Kartoffelsalat)

I think one of the most memorable foods I tried in Austria was the potato salad. It was everywhere, and often came as part of the “mixed salad”. Instead of being creamy like American potato salad, it tasted sweet and tangy, the perfect accompaniment to heavy meats or greasier foods.

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However, I could not find the recipe for this anywhere. At least not in English. Finally, I decided to put Google Translate to work and attempted the search in German. I got a basic idea for what ingredients were required, but no ratios were provided. After much tinkering around, I finally got something similar and below is my closest interpretation. Keep in mind that you can change all these ratios according to your tastes, amount of potatoes, type of vinegar etc.

mustard vinegar mixture

Austrian Potato Salad 

3-4 medium sized potatoes

1 tablespoon German mustard

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons vinegar (I used plain rice vinegar)

10 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons sugar

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons finely diced onion

cilantro to garnish

potato salad

1. In a saucepan, boil the potatoes in salted water until very soft.

2. Skin the potato in cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Place in a medium sized bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the mustard, oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper together. Add the water.

4. Pour the dressing over the chopped potatoes and mix well. This mixture should look too wet at first (with quite a bit of water still at the bottom), and the potatoes will eventually soak up the extra liquid, which is what we want. The texture should be quite wet, and the potatoes should be partially broken down.

5. Add in the onion and cilantro, serve.

La Maison du Chocolat’s Chocolate Truffles

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I think there’s something about the month of December that makes chocolate even better than it normally is, which is indeed a very difficult feat. Maybe it’s the chocolate advent calendars? I have yet to get one but I need one so badly it’s not even funny. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to eat a truffle a day to make do… I’m definitely not complaining.

It’s easier to make this in larger amounts, but that often isn’t practical. Using high quality chocolate and cocoa powder is also incredibly important. There aren’t many ingredients so use the best if possible. I used both Valrhona chocolate and cocoa powder and I think it turned out great. Obviously, it didn’t compare to the real deal, but it was definitely much better than your average truffle.

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Also, using surgical gloves makes this messy process a lot easier. It’s easier to shape and dip the truffles without covering yourself in chocolate. Chocolate is for eating – not for covering yourself with.

Plain Truffles (Adapted from La Maison du Chocolat by Robert Linxe)

1 pound bittersweet chocolate (I used 61% Valrhona)

1 cup heavy cream

1 vanilla bean (optional)

For the coating

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valrhona 100%)

1. Place the chocolate on a chopping block and chop finely with a knife. Put in a heatproof mixing bowl. Set aside.

2. Pour heavy cream into a saucepan and set aside. With a small knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and scrape out the little black seeds. Place the vanilla seeds and bean in the cream, then bring to a boil. As soon as the cream boils, remove from heat, wait 20 seconds, stir, then pour through a strainer into the chopped chocolate. Remove vanilla bean.

3. Let stand for a few seconds. Whisk to combine in a circular motion, starting from the middle and working out. Whisk gently and stop as soon as the mixture is blended.

4. Set aside to cool (do not refrigerate). As soon as the truffle mixture is firm, use an ice cream scoop to scoop out walnut sized balls. Using the gloves, roll them out to a round ball. Refrigerate the truffles again.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the coating. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt over a double boiler. Even though the book did not state to temper the chocolate, I did so and thought the results were great. I followed the instructions here.

6. Remove the chocolate balls from the fridge. Using a fork, drop a ball into the melted chocolate. Coat it (try to keep this as thin as possible) then drop it into a bowl of cocoa. Instead of using another fork to roll the truffle around, try spinning the truffle around in the bowl by shaking the bowl itself. For me, the surface turned out much better when I did it this way.

7. Set aside to harden and repeat. Shake off the excess cocoa powder.

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La Maison du Chocolat’s Glace au Chocolat (Chocolate Ice Cream)

When I first visited one of the La Maison du Chocolat locations in Paris, I naturally went straight for their chocolate, as the name suggests. I almost skipped past their ice cream selection at the front of the store, but thank goodness I didn’t because that would have been devastating. Served in a terrific waffle cone, the chocolate ice cream was as good as, if not better than, the chocolate. Maybe I thought so because it was burning hot that day and I was dying for something cold, but I almost went back and got another just so I could have one in both hands at the same time. Yes, it was that good.

As I flipped through the La Maison du Chocolat cookbook, I saw a  recipe for chocolate ice cream, so obviously that was where I started. Obviously. Sadly, I don’t have an ice cream maker at home and was a little hesitant to butcher the recipe, knowing how horribly homemade ice creams made without a machine can turn out – rock hard and icy. However, this was not the case whatsoever. It’s consistency straight out of the freezer resembled that of Haagen-Dazs and the chocolate flavor was phenomenal. One bite  took me straight back to Paris. It was awesome.

Glace au Chocolat (Chocolate Ice Cream) by Robert Linxe/La Maison du Chocolat

Makes 2 quarts

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Valrhona 61%)

4 cups whole milk

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 cup granulated sugar

7 egg yolks

1 whole egg

3/4 cup heavy cream

1. Finely chop the chocolate and set aside.

2. In a saucepan, combine the milk, cocoa powder, and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Stir to blend, then warm over low heat.

3. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, whole egg, and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat until frothy and lemon-colored.

4. Pour a little bit of hot chocolate milk onto the egg mixture and stir well. Transfer the milk-egg mixture back to the saucepan of milk and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon; do not boil.

5. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until completely melted. Stir in the heavy cream.

6. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. If, like me, you do not own an ice cream machine, place bowl into the freezer, and vigorously stir every 30 minutes. Repeat this 4-5 times. You want to break up the frozen parts near the edges of the bowl each time to prevent ice from forming. Don’t hesitate to put some muscle behind it, because you’re going to want to. After you’ve mixed it evenly the fifth time, the ice cream should have reached the consistency of soft serve. At this point, just leave it in the freezer.

To serve at just the right consistency, move the ice cream to the refrigerator 1/2 hour before serving.