coconut avocado brownies

So at the beginning of this semester, I spent several weeks writing a proposal for my food science class on avocado as a fat-replacer to make healthier brownies, only to have it deemed not worthy of being tested out for real in the lab! (Only 6% of recipes were chosen, but still. Bitter.) So I figured since I’d put all that work into the idea, I might as well test it out at home. But if you’re going to get experimental with brownies, why not get really experimental?

Those of you who know me know that I hate wasting anything. I had a bag of shredded coconut in the fridge left over from cookies I made in February, and it had gotten all dry. I didn’t know if there was anything I could do with dried-out coconut, so I decided to throw it into the spice grinder and see if I could make coconut “flour.” Well, I wouldn’t call the consistency of what came out “flour” exactly, but for this it seemed to serve its purpose. I also used agave nectar instead of refined sugar and tried egg whites instead of eggs. Also, many of these amounts were sort of eyeballed, so I apologize if you have to adjust. Precision isn’t exactly my thing. (Hmm, why didn’t my recipe didn’t get picked in food science class?). So here’s what I did: In a big bowl, mix the following with a hand blender (or you could puree in a food processor): 1 small/medium avocado, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 cup coconut “flour,” 1/3 cup light agave nectar (you could use honey instead), 3/4 tsp baking powder, tiny pinch of salt, 1/3 cup egg whites (if you’re vegan, as I’m sure you know, you can make flax eggs) and 1 tsp vanilla. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.
Warning: these will be fudgy. Almost non-brownie-like, and they don’t rise very much at all! The flavor was good but this batch came out a bit salty, so in this recipe above I already adjusted for that, which hopefully fixes the problem. Try it! And feel free to change things and give me feedback. You pretty much have nothing to lose when playing with chocolate.

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sweet sassy molassey whoopie pies

I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. From the moment Christmas ends till the moment Valentine’s Day is over, you can’t walk into a Duane Reade to buy some Advil without being assaulted by aisles full of ugly teddy bears. It’s just tacky. Whether I was single or coupled, I’ve always been in sort of moral opposition to a holiday concocted to make people buy lots of pink and red junk and feel bad if you’re not going out to dinner. But on the other hand, really, if you just look at it as an excuse to eat chocolate, it’s kind of acceptable.

ImageI have to admit, this year was an exceptionally fun Valentine’s Day. Homemade dinner of linguini with littleneck clams and spicy tomato sauce, fancy French wine, a box of Jacques Torres chocolates, and homemade whoopie pies! For non-New Englanders, whoopie pies are traditional Maine desserts that are basically two mounds of chocolate cake/cookie with creamy filling in the middle. They look a little like giant Oreos. So Chris’s mom had gotten me a whoopie pie cookbook for a Christmas stocking stuffer, with a card that said “If you’re going to date a Mainer, you have to cook like one!” The book has not only the traditional chocolate cake with buttercream filling recipe, but more than 20 cake and 30 filling variations and 4 pages of combination suggestions. They even have a jalapeno cornbread whoopie pie, a maple bacon filling, and two completely vegan recipes.

Deciding which whoopie pie to make was probably the hardest part. I was intrigued by the Happy Pilgrim (pumpkin whoopie, maple filling) and the Chip n’ Dale (chocolate chip whoopie, salty peanut butter filling), and Chris liked the Hansel & Gretel (gingerbread whoopie, buttercream filling) and the Crazy Mo-Fo (chocolate on chocolate).
The compromise: we invented our own combo. Gingerbread molasses whoopie pies with dark chocolate ganache filling, which Chris named “The Sweet Sassy Molassey.”

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Sweet Sassy Molassey

Recipe is as follows:
For the gingerbread whoopies: Sift together 4 cups flour, 1.5 tsp each ground ginger & cinnamon, 1 tsp each salt & baking soda, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg. In a separate bowl, beat together 1 stick unsalted room temp butter, 4 tbs vegetable shortening (I actually used all butter for this which is why they came out kinda flat), and 3/4 brown sugar until fluffy & smooth. Beat in 1 egg & 3/4 cups molasses. Add 1/2 the flour mixture & 3/4 cup buttermilk, then the other half of the flour mixture when blended. Drop about 2 tbs batter about 2 inches apart onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes (you’ll need to do more than 1 batch). Cool on a wire rack.
For the chocolate ganache: Heat 1/2 cup heavy cream in a pot or microwave & pour over 8 oz chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate. Stir till melted. Cool.
Then assemble your whoopie pies!

Warning: these are so good, you might develop a Maine accent and start saying “wicked.”


holiday chocolate bark

I made this chocolate bark to bring to a work holiday party, and then made a second batch to give as gifts (and eat). It’s ridiculously easy, but there are also a few tricks to make it come out right and not turn chalky white on top the next day, which is what happened with my first batch.

First, get about a pound of high quality bittersweet chocolate. I got big blocks of it at Fairway – any market like this should have large quantities of good chocolate. Break the chocolate up into smaller chunks and melt it slowly in a double boiler. I don’t own a double boiler, so I improvise with a smaller pot inside a larger pot filled with water. It’s important to use the double boiler technique when melting chocolate so that it doesn’t overheat and burn, or get grainy and lumpy. Chocolate is very fussy. Stir periodically with a rubber spatula until it’s fully melted but not overheated. then pour it out onto parchment paper on a baking sheet and spread it into a thin even layer. Then add whatever toppings you want! For this one I did pistachios, dried apricots, and cranberries, with a tiny sprinkle of coarse sea salt on top. You could also do candied ginger, other kinds of nuts, peppermint, pretzels, etc. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Chocolate bark

After adding the toppings, let it cool for about 2 hours. After 2 hours in a hot apartment with no thermostat, mine of course still hadn’t cooled so I threw it in the fridge. DON’T do that! It tasted fine but the next day it developed a chalky white appearance on top. I should have remembered from Food Science class if chocolate goes through extreme temperature changes quickly, it will develop a “bloom.” Since there is nowhere in my apartment that is the ideal temperature for chocolate (60 F), I cooled my next batch on the windowsill. After it’s cool, break it up or chop it with a knife, put it in a cute tin or container, and you’ve got gifts! (Provided you don’t eat it all while making it). Happy holidays!