Many years ago, before we ever started dating, the woman who became my wife told me the tragic story of a horrible weekend conference.
She was a reporter at the time, and she was sent to a journalism conference a couple of hundred miles away. She went with another reporter from the same paper, and that was the problem.
This man was odd. He was very odd. Even among journalists, a profession that tends to attract weirdos, deviants and social misfits, he was an oddball. We would get together in little groups (weirdos in one corner, deviants in another, social misfits in a third) and talk about how strange he was.
And it wasn’t an endearing sort of oddness, either. A lot of journalists have that. His was the sort of annoying oddness that you did not want to be around for very long.
Which brings us back to the long-ago weekend my future wife spent with him at the conference. They were in each other’s company for far longer than she liked. He was making her crazy.
Then, a heavy mountaintop snowstorm on their drive back delayed their return for one more night. It was more than she could take. The next day, before they set out for the final leg of their trip, she decided to treat herself to a badly needed hot fudge sundae.
“It was the only time in my life that chocolate didn’t help,” she said.
And that was the moment I fell in love with her.
“Comfort me with apples,” says the Song of Solomon and Ruth Reichl. They have a point. Food has the power to comfort and console. It wraps us in its warmth, it swathes us like an old blanket.
There is a reason they call it comfort food. It brings us to a better and happier state of mind.
The woman in the Song of Solomon is lovesick; she seeks consolation in pressed raisin cakes and apples. I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m not entirely on board with her choices.
When I was lovesick in my youth, my comfort foods were ice cream and Doritos, though not at the same time. When I was lovesick as an adult, my comfort foods were ice cream and alcohol. Sometimes at the same time.
Doughnuts too, of course. Doughnuts are a constant. That’s the problem with not being lovesick: not enough excuses to eat doughnuts.
We all have foods that we turn to in times of sorrow and need. It’s why we bring food to people who are mourning. It’s why we try to cheer up friends by taking them out to dinner.
When I am beset by sadness, doughnuts do not make me feel all better, but they make me feel a little better. Or at least they don’t make me feel worse. Perhaps a second doughnut would help.
Chocolate always works for my wife and a lot of other people I know. If I had known enough to give more chocolate to more women, I might not have been lovesick as often. And then I would have needed less ice cream.
But now, my wife admits, she is moving away from her beloved chocolate. Her new comfort food is salted caramel.
STRAWBERRY CHOCOLATE TART
Yield: 8 servings
2 tablespoons whole almonds
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 stick plus 2 tablespoons (6 tablespoons total) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces, divided
3 eggs, divided
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 pounds fresh strawberries, washed and trimmed, divided
1/2 cup granulated sugar
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1. Place the almonds in a heat-proof bowl. Bring a cup or two of water to a boil in a small pot and pour over the almonds. Allow to sit for 45 seconds to 1 minute, but no more. Drain the almonds. Remove the peels by rubbing them.
2. Place the almonds and the confectioners sugar in a food processor and pulse on and off until finely ground. Add the salt and 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) of the butter and process until smooth. Beat 1 of the eggs in a small bowl and add half of it to the mixture (you can discard the remaining 1/2 egg). Mix together the flour and cocoa powder and add 1/3 of this combination to the almond-butter mixture; mix just until incorporated. Mix in the second portion of flour until incorporated. Add the remaining third of the flour in short pulses, just barely mixing it. Do not overmix.
3. Place the dough on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten it out into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before baking.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
5. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. With a fork, poke holes in the dough. Smear the remaining 2 tablespoons of room-temperature butter all around the inside of a 9-inch pie plate. Carefully lay the dough into the pie plate and press it into place. Using a knife, trim the extra dough from the top edge, if any. Place the shell in the freezer for 10 minutes.
6. Cover the cold shell with a piece of parchment paper and fill it with dry beans or pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes.
7. While the tart dough is in the oven, make the filling: Purée 2 pounds of the strawberries and the granulated sugar in a blender until smooth and pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Microwave the chocolate on high, at 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until melted.
8. Pour the strawberry purée into the chocolate and mix with a whisk. Stir in the heavy cream, whisking constantly. Beat the remaining 2 eggs in a small bowl and add to the chocolate mixture; whisk until combined.
9. After the tart shell has baked, remove the weights and parchment and let cool for a few minutes. Leave the oven on.
10. Pour the chocolate mixture into the shell and bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until the filling is set in the center but not solid. Test for doneness by shaking the pie plate gently; the tart should still jiggle slightly. Allow the tart to cool.
11. Finish the tart by arranging the remaining fresh strawberries on top.
Per serving: 391 calories; 28 g fat; 15 g saturated fat; 113 mg cholesterol; 6 g protein; 37 g carbohydrate; 24 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 53 mg sodium; 32 mg calcium.
Recipe from “Sweet Magic” by Michel Richard and Peter Kaminsky
CHARLOTTE AU CHOCOLAT
Yield: 8 servings
34 ladyfingers, see note
3 tablespoons Chambord, Kahlua or coffee
3/4 cup water
8 ounces dark chocolate
12 tablespoons butter cut into small cubes
1/2 cup superfine sugar, see note
Fresh mint, optional
Powdered sugar, optional
Notes: Ladyfingers are found in many grocery stores.
— To make superfine sugar, blend granulated sugar in a blender for 10 seconds.
1. Cut out a piece of parchment paper to completely fit the bottom of an 8-inch cake pan (be sure it is at least 2 1/2 inches high) or a springform pan. Line the inside rim of the pan with ladyfingers; they will stand up easier if you cut off the rounded part on one end.
2. Combine Chambord, Kalhua or coffee with the water in a wide bowl. Briefly dip more ladyfingers in the liquid and use them to more or less cover the bottom of the pan. Do not discard the liquid.
3. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Stir in the butter until completely blended.
4. Separate the eggs, keeping certain not to let any of the yolk get into the whites (it’s best to crack each egg over a small bowl to catch the whites and pour each white into a larger bowl; that way you won’t ruin more than 1 egg). Whisk 3 of the yolks in a large bowl with the sugar until the mixture whitens. Reserve the other yolks for future use. Add the chocolate mixture to the yolks and thoroughly mix.
5. Whisk or beat the whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture until just thoroughly combined. Pour, spoon or pipe half of the chocolate mousse into the mold. Dip more ladyfingers into the liquid and create another layer on top of the mousse. Top with the remainder of the mousse. Refrigerate at least 3 hours.
6. To serve, invert the mold onto a large plate — the mousse should be set enough that it will not slip. Remove the parchment paper and then invert this plate back onto a serving platter. Decorate with raspberries, pistachios, leaves of mint or powdered sugar, if you wish.
Per serving: 484 calories; 37 g fat; 21 g saturated fat; 239 mg cholesterol; 33 g protein; 36 g carbohydrate; 24 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 96 mg sodium; 52 mg calcium
Raspberries, pistachios, mint and powdered sugar are not included in analysis.
Translated from a recipe by Olivier Berté.
Yield: 20 servings
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
6 large eggs, plus another if needed, divided
11/2 cups whole milk
2 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces good quality dark chocolate or combination milk and dark, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Note: Eclairs are best when served the same day they are filled. They can be stored in a refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days; however the pastry will absorb moisture from the filling and eventually become soggy. The chocolate glaze can be prepared and refrigerated up to 1 week in advance (reheat over a double boiler); the pastry cream can be stored up to 5 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and position 2 racks in the top and lower thirds of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and use a pencil to draw 10 (4-by-1-inch) rectangles on each with a space between each rectangle. Turn the pieces of parchment over.
2. Place a medium saucepan over low heat and add the butter pieces, water and salt. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon so the butter melts evenly. When the butter has melted, increase the heat and bring to a boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and add 1 cup of the flour all at once. Beat vigorously with the wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a mass around the spoon. Place the pan back over medium heat and continue to cook, beating, for another minute or so to dry out the dough — the pan will have a thin film of dough on the bottom.
3. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute to slightly cool the dough and develop the gluten. In a separate medium bowl, beat 4 of the eggs together until you can’t distinguish the yellow from the white. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs a couple of tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to blend completely into the dough before continuing.
4. When all of the eggs are incorporated, the mixture should be shiny and elastic and stick to the side of the bowl. It should also pass the “string test”: Place a bit of dough between your thumb and forefinger and pull them apart. The dough should form a stretchy string about 11/2 to 2 inches long. If the dough has not reached this stage, beat another egg and add as much as needed, a little at a time, until the dough is finished.
5. Spoon this dough into a pastry bag (or a gallon-sized plastic bag with a small hole cut out in one corner) fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip. Pipe the dough into 1/2-inch high rectangles to fill each template drawn on the parchment paper. If you don’t have a pastry tip, spoon the dough directly onto the templates about 1/2-inch high.
6. In a small bowl, lightly beat 1 egg to blend thoroughly. Brush a light coating of egg over the tops of the piped dough, being careful that the egg does not drip down the side (it will glue the eclair to the paper). You will not use all the egg. Bake both sheets of the eclairs for 20 minutes; then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, switch the sheets between racks and rotate the pans from front to back, and bake for 20 minutes longer. Reduce the temperature again to 300 degrees and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer to dry out the interior. The eclairs should be a deep, golden brown, with no bubbling moisture visible around the sides. Transfer the eclairs to a rack to cool completely.
7. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set it aside. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and heat to just below boiling; remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 egg, the 2 egg yolks and the sugar until well-blended and smooth. Add the remaining 1/4 cup flour and whisk vigorously until the mixture is very smooth. Very gradually, pour about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to temper the yolks. Slowly pour the yolk mixture back into the hot milk, whisking constantly.
8. Heat this mixture, whisking constantly to prevent the flour from lumping, until it reaches a boil. Continue to cook and whisk for another minute, until the pastry cream is very thick. Remove from the heat and whisk in the 2 tablespoons of cold butter and the vanilla extract. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of this pastry cream, then set the bowl in the ice water. Once the cream has completely cooled, use or store in the refrigerator until needed.
9. Spoon the pastry cream into the (cleaned and dried) pastry bag or another gallon-sized plastic bag with a small corner cut out and fitted with an elongated, thin tip or a 1/4-inch tip. If using the long, thin tip, insert it into one of the short ends of an eclair as far as it will go. Squeeze firmly as you slowly pull the tip out of the pastry, filling the cavity with the pastry cream. If using the plain tip, insert it into 2 evenly spaced places in the bottom of the eclair, squeezing firmly to fill the center of the pastry. Repeat to fill the remaining eclairs.
10. Place the chocolate in a small bowl large enough to accommodate an eclair, which is about 4 inches long. Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Immediately pour it over the chocolate and let the mixture sit for 1 minute. Stir until the mixture is completely blended and smooth. Cool for 10 minutes.
11. Turn the eclairs upside down, dip the top of each one halfway into the chocolate glaze and let the excess drip back into the bowl. Set right side up on a serving platter and allow 30 minutes for the glaze to set.
Per serving: 182 calories; 13 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 100 mg cholesterol; 4 g protein; 14 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 63 mg sodium; 38 mg calcium.
Recipe from “The Art & Soul of Baking,” by Cindy Mushet
CHOCOLATE CREAM PIE
Yield: 8 servings
3 eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour or 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk, scalded
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 baked (9-inch) pie crust
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slightly beat the egg yolks; set aside.
2. In a medium pot over medium heat, mix together 2/3 cup of the sugar, flour and salt; gradually stir in milk and chocolate and cook until chocolate melts and mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir a very small amount into the egg yolks; stir another very small amount into the yolks, and keep adding and stirring until the eggs are hot (you will have added about 1/4 of the milk mixture). Gradually pour the yolks back into the thickened milk and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add butter and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and cool slightly; pour through a fine-mesh strainer into baked pie crust.
3. Combine egg whites, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and cream of tartar in a large bowl and beat to stiff peaks. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Spread this meringue on top of the pie and bake until delicately brown, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and then chill in refrigerator.
Per serving: 342 calories; 15 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 83 mg cholesterol; 7 g protein; 46 g carbohydrate; 32 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 288 mg sodium; 86 mg calcium.
Adapted by Florence Pikrone from “America’s Cook Book” by the New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, 1943.
RASPBERRY MACAROONS IN CHOCOLATE SHELLS
Yield: 16 pieces
2 cups dried, sweetened, flaked coconut
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg white
Pinch of coarse salt
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons coconut oil (or corn syrup if not observing Passover)
Toasted walnuts, toasted coconut, sanding sugar, colored sugar, fleur de sel, etc., for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine coconut, granulated sugar, egg white and salt in a food processor and pulse until just combined, scraping down sides of bowl if necessary. Add raspberries and pulse until just incorporated (do not over-process).
2. Scoop mounds of coconut mixture 1 inch apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, using a 1/2-ounce (11/4-inch) ice cream scoop or a tablespoon to form small mounds.
3. Bake until macaroons are lightly golden, 28 to 30 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through cooking. Transfer macaroons to a wire rack and let cool.
4. Place chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until melted. Add coconut oil or corn syrup, stirring until combined, then remove from heat.
5. Dip bottoms of macaroons in chocolate or completely cover with chocolate (a flexible spatula will help with this), transferring as dipped to a wax-paper-lined baking sheet. Garnish as desired while still warm, then refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day. Serve chilled.
Per serving: 126 calories; 8 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 15 g carbohydrate; 12 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 45 mg sodium; 6 mg calcium.
Recipe by Martha Stewart
CHOCOLATE MOUSSE CAKE
Yield: 12 servings
For the meringue
3 egg whites
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
For the mousse
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
5 eggs, separated
2 sticks (1 cup) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
Note: The meringue should be made a day in advance.
1. For the meringue: Preheat the oven to 150 degrees (see step 4 if your oven does not get that low). Line a baking sheet with parchment.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Very slowly, add the powdered sugar and continue whisking until doubled in volume.
3. Place the meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip. On the baking sheet, working from the center outward, pipe a continuous coil of meringue to a diameter of 7 inches (it helps to measure out the 7 inches in advance). Bake for 10 hours, until crisp and dry. Skip to step 5.
4. If you cannot heat your oven to as low as 150 degrees, preheat it to 250 degrees. Make the meringue as directed. Put it into the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 200 degrees. Bake 1 1/2 hours, then turn off the heat but leave the meringue in the oven overnight.
5. To make the mousse: Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.
6. Melt the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. Set the mixture aside and keep warm.
7. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the butter and slowly add the cocoa powder until thoroughly incorporated. Add the chocolate and egg yolk mixture and mix well. Set aside.
8. In a clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks (you can also do this by hand). With a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, one-third of the whipped whites at a time.
9. Place the mousse in a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip and pipe the mixture into the cake pan. Fill the pan half full. Lay the meringue disc on top and gently press into place. Pipe the remaining chocolate mixture into the pan, allowing it to fill in around the sides of the meringue. Chill for 2 hours.
10. To serve, run a warm paring knife around the inside rim of the pan to loosen the cake and invert it onto a serving tray. Carefully remove the parchment paper and dust with unsweetened cocoa powder.
Per serving: 314 calories; 23 g fat; 14 g saturated fat; 123 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 26 g carbohydrate; 23 g sugar; 1g fiber; 46 mg sodium; 19 mg calcium.
Adapted from a recipe by Patrick O’Connell in “The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook.” Higher-temperature adaptation by Alex Hitz in House Beautiful.
HALLOWEEN CANDY BARK
Yield: 10 servings
20 ounces milk chocolate
15 pieces or packs of assorted Halloween candy, about 1 to 11/2 cups
1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, smoothing out any creases. Cut the candy bars into pieces. Set aside.
2. Create a double boiler by suspending a glass or metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add milk chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Do not overheat the chocolate.
3. Remove the bowl from the pan. Pour the melted chocolate onto the prepared baking sheet, using an offset or rubber spatula to spread it into a 10-by-12-inch oblong, about 1/4-inch thick. Press the candy pieces into the chocolate, arranging them so each bite has a mix of flavors, colors and textures. Refrigerate the chocolate for 1 hour to completely set before breaking it into large pieces. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks.
Per serving: 420 calories; 22 g fat; 13 g saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 6 g protein; 51 g carbohydrate; 42 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 97 mg sodium; 126 mg calcium.
Recipe by Michelle Buffardi, via Cooking Channel
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