The French love affair with chocolate is impossible to miss.
From chocolate shops on nearly every block in Paris to grocery cereal aisles filled with boxes of cornflakes with chocolate pieces to the small, wrapped square of chocolate that comes on the side with your espresso even in the most modest of cafes, the importance of chocolate is indisputable. It is part of everyday life.
Children eat pains au chocolat (croissant dough wrapped around slim fingers of bittersweet chocolate) for afterschool snacks, or what’s left from the baguette from the day before with a chocolate bar stuffed inside. Inside of kitchen cabinets next to the tin of Carte Noire coffee you’ll likely find a stack of several 200-gram bars of dark chocolate, because after all, why wouldn’t you have them together at home, too?
Chocolate reminds us to stop doing whatever we’re doing and savor its bitter/sweet/fruity/caramelly flavors. Then we can go on.
We give ourselves chocolate to be kind to ourselves. We make things out of chocolate and give them to others to show them that we love them.
Growing up in Denton, one of the first things I learned to make in the afternoon when I got home from school was a recipe for fudge from The New York Times cookbook, an easy concoction of sugar, blocks of unsweetened chocolate, butter, and vanilla. I was probably 10. I’d watch until the mixture reached its determined temperature, pour it into a square metal pan, and wait for it to harden. Luckily, it didn’t take long. I’d slice it into bite-size pieces and deliver them to my mom on a white dessert plate. Today, decades later, she still talks about my fudge.
Like that simple fudge recipe, these new ones are not fancy. Some are French-inspired. Others are recipes I thought of because I imagined who would love them most. Which is what chocolate is all about.
Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press). Read her blog (www.cowgirlchef.com), and follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram (cowgirlchef)
Makes about 6 cups
I always make double batches of granola to share with my friend Melanie.
1/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup cocoa nibs
1/4 cup chopped chocolate (I used 70 percent)
1/4 cup toasted and chopped hazelnuts
1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Put the first 6 ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until the coconut oil melts. Remove from heat.
2. Pour the chocolate mixture over the oats in a bowl and mix until combined. Spread out on large a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through and dry, stirring and turning every 10 minutes.
3. Let cool completely before mixing in the cocoa nibs, chopped chocolate and hazelnuts. Store in an airtight container.
Fast French chocolate sauce
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
My friend Toni in Belgium made a chocolate sauce for dessert one night at his house outside of Brussels by melting a chocolate bar, which inspired this recipe.
1 (7 ounce/200 gram) bittersweet chocolate bar (I used Lindt 70 percent)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup cream
3 tablespoons butter
Pinch sea salt
Put all of the ingredients in a double-boiler over medium-low heat (the water shouldn’t be boiling, but gently simmering), and stir until everything is melted and combined. Serve warm immediately over ice cream, or let cool and refrigerate for later. To reheat, warm the sauce over low heat in a double-boiler.
Gluten-free chocolate-pecan cookies
Makes 2 dozen
These cookies remind me of the ones my mom loves to eat at Central Market while we walk around and shop.
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup cocoa powder
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup chopped pecans
1. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper that is generously greased — the cookies will stick to the paper if you don’t.
2. Sift together the powdered sugar, salt and cocoa. Set aside.
3. In a mixer bowl, whisk together the egg whites and vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients and fold in pecans. Let the batter sit for 30 minutes so it’ll thicken up.
4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
5. Drop the batter onto the baking sheets with a spoon, leaving 2 inches between cookies (they’ll spread). Bake for 10 minutes or until the cookies are set and you can see cracks on the top. Let cool completely on the pans before removing them. Keep in an airtight container.
Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe
Cheesecake brownie bites
If I had to have only one dessert, it would probably be brownies. I love them plain, with nuts, with swirls of peanut butter, and these, with cream cheese — far better than any cheesecake.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg yolk
5 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Generously grease a small cupcake tin with butter.
3. Melt the butter and 4 ounces of chocolate in a double-boiler. Take this off the heat, add the sugar and eggs.
4. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and add this to the chocolate mixture. Stir in the vanilla and chocolate chips and spoon into the pan, leaving room for the cream cheese topping.
5. Beat the cream cheese, egg yolk, 5 tablespoons sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add spoonfuls of this to the top of each brownie. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until just set — underbake rather than overbake for a fudgier brownie. Let cool completely before eating.
Adapted from a David Lebovitz recipe