Friday, February 27, 2015


I was watching a PBS episode of Mind of a Chef called Restaurateur on Netflix about New York chef, April Bloomfield's quest to open a San Francisco restaurant.  She settled on an existing property from a bygone era named Tosca Cafe that needed to be revamped.  As I watched her tour the old property I realized it was a place Chris and I often dropped by for a night cap after dinner in North Beach in our California days many years ago.  There was no working kitchen that I remember, only a long bar that greeted you as you entered.  A large mural of Venice graced the back wall of the dimly-lit establishment.  Large faux-leather banquettes hugged the walls, opera music filled the air and fittingly the signature drink was the house cappuccino.

Interestingly, unlike the iconic San Francisco Irish Coffee drink, Tosca's signature cappuccino had no coffee or espresso in it, but it sure tasted good.  The mixture was steamed milk, chocolate, and booze.  Not a bad combination on a chilly San Francisco night.  I have thought a lot about that delicious adult 'hot chocolate' lately as our Midwestern winter has lingered in sub-zero territory for far too long.

It doesn't take much to bring this drink together, especially if the chocolate sauce is made in advance.   In a saucepan bring milk to a gentle simmer then remove from the heat.  If you have a milk frother carefully aerate the milk to make foam for the top.  Don't worry if you don't have one the steamed milk will be slightly frothy from simmering.  The recipe uses brandy, but dark rum or whiskey can but substituted.  A shot glass is roughly a tablespoon of liquid, give or take.  Feel free to adjust the chocolate or alcohol to your taste.

For a kid-friendly version omit the alcohol or try this hot chocolate recipe (with or without the homemade marshmallows).  Whether you make the cappuccino or this hot chocolate we all need a little something to help us get through the long, cold winter.


3/4 cup (180 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon chocolate sauce, warm (see recipe below)
1 tablespoon brandy

Heat milk in a saucepan to a gentle simmer.  Remove from the heat, use an milk frother to make foam if you have an aerator, omit if not, then pour milk into a heat-resistant glass.  Add warm chocolate sauce and brandy.  Stir slightly.  Finish with additional foam if desired.  Makes one serving.  Double, triple, or quadruple the recipe as necessary.

The chocolate sauce recipe makes about a cup which will make several servings of the cappuccino recipe.  Left-over sauce is equally good served warm over ice cream or drizzled on cake.  Store left-over sauce in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Chocolate Sauce

1/3 cup (45 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) honey
1/2 cup (125 g) water
1 ounce (30 g) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

In a small saucepan whisk together the cocoa powder and sugar.  Stir in the honey and water. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to combine.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  Stir until melted and completely smooth.  Store left-over sauce in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


I am crazy for coconut and chocolate. A match made in heaven in my humble opinion. And it is safe to say I am equally crazy and fairly obsessed with French macarons. I love creating different flavor combinations to have on hand when I have a mac attack. This is my take on an inside-out Mounds candy bar.  If chocolate isn't your thing try these coconut macarons or if you aren't nuts for coconut perhaps these macarons are more to your taste. French macarons can be a little intimidating, but with a few tricks and a little practice they really aren't hard to make.

Macarons freeze quite well. Just allow them to sit for a few minutes to soften before serving. That is the hard part in our house. I like to keep a tin in the freezer for a little afternoon treat. Although the tin doesn't stay full for long.

Here are a few secrets I have learned from my mac obsession:

1.  You will get the best results if you separate the egg whites and store them in a glass jar in the
      refrigerator for several days before making the macarons. It allows the egg whites to lose their
      elasticity and rise without exploding and causing the shells to crack.

2.  Allow the piped macarons to sit for 20-30 minutes for the top of the shells to dry so they don't
     crack when baking.

3.  If possible, bake on silicone baking mats instead of parchment paper. The macarons rise more
     evenly and are much easier to remove. If you bake a lot, silicone baking mats are a good
     investment as you will find you use them in place of parchment paper for better results.

4.  Open the oven door once or twice during baking to let out steam and prevent cracking.

Coconut Macaron Shells

Line 4 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Prepare a pastry bag with a large plain tip.

3 egg whites, at room temperature (preferably that have been in the refrigerator for several days)
1 1/4 cups (150 g) ground blanched almonds
1 1/3 cups (150 g) confectioner's sugar
1 cup (34 g) unsweetened flaked coconut, plus more for sprinkling on top
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (50 ml) water
3 egg whites, at room temperature (preferably that have been in the refrigerator for several days)

Put the ground almonds, confectioner's sugar and coconut in a food processor. Pulse several times to combine and grind the coconut slightly. Move to a bowl large enough to add the meringue to. Pour 3 egg whites over the mixture and set aside. Do not stir.

Put the other 3 egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment. Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until a thermometer reaches 110℃ (230℉). While the sugar mixture is reaching temperature whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Turn the machine off and let them sit until the sugar mixture is ready. When the temperature reaches 110℃ (230℉) turn the mixer back on. With the mixer on medium speed slowly add the sugar syrup to the egg whites continue to beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.

Allow the meringue to cool slightly then fold it into the almond mixture. Continue to fold pressing the batter against the bowl to remove some of the air and slightly deflate the batter. The batter should look like slightly runny cake batter.

Put the batter in the prepared pastry bag and pipe neat rounds about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) across. Whack each pan once or twice on the counter to flatten the macarons slightly and remove air bubbles. Sprinkle macarons with additional unsweetened flaked coconut before they are allowed to rest and develop a skin.

Preheat oven to 350℉ (175℃).

Allow macarons to rest 20-30 minutes to develop a skin so they don't crack when they bake. Touch the top to check. It should feel dry and not sticky. Bake one sheet at a time in the lower third of the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes. To release any steam that might crack the shells open the oven door twice during baking. The first time after 4 minutes, then again after four more minutes. By then the feet should be formed. The macarons will look dry on top when finished and the coconut will be slightly toasted.

Remove from the oven. Carefully move the silicone baking mat or parchment paper onto a cooling rack. If you leave the macarons on the hot pans they will continue to bake. When cool remove from the silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Store in a tin until ready to fill.

Chocolate Ganache Filling

5 tablespoons (75 g) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (180 ml) whole milk
8 ounces (225 g) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

Put butter and milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Allow to melt whisking until smooth. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate for several hours until very cold. (The ganache can be made up to 3 days ahead. Store covered in the refrigerator.)

To assemble the macarons:

Allow the ganache to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to make it easier to work with. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip with the ganache. Pipe a generous amount on the flap side of one macaron. Sandwich with flap side of another macaron.

Allow the macarons to sit in the refrigerator for several hours. Remove just before serving. Left over macarons can be stored in an airtight container for 2-3 days or freeze for longer storage from 2 weeks to a month. If frozen allow to come to room temperature before serving.