after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

Chocolate Taste-off: Vosges vs. the World

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t says: Back when I was a wee one, I ate Hershey’s chocolate bars. They were yummy. They had that classic Hershey’s texture where no matter what temperature it was outside, it was soft and flexible – almost like a fudge or really thick ganache. Flash forward 20 years, and I’m still eating Hershey’s chocolate bars … how can you make s’mores without ’em? I guess I don’t consider them to be “fine chocolate”, but I still consider them as tasty … “things”. At a recent Philly food tour, I was introduced to better chocolates and was intrigued … but hadn’t had the chance to really explore these fancier chocolates …

One day a month or so ago, lc sent us some Vosges chocolate, which was flavored with bacon. She thought we’d get a kick out of the concept. I did! My response was “ooooooo, bbaaccoonn …”. But g’s was, “oooooo, Vvoossggeess …”. I had never heard of Vosges, aside from the mountains. g tells me it’s some really nice, really expensive chocolate. I took her word for it. I imagine real choco-philes would probably snub Vosges (much like they snub Max Brenner), instead preferring some kind of chocolate that was had from a certain cocoa plant that was fertilized with a certain type of manure from a sacred cow that fed on a blessed field of grass. Whatever. I was going to judge for myself just how “good” these chocolates were; would they fulfill the ultimate criteria: would I buy it again?

A few weeks passed and I still had not yet tasted the bacon chocolate – I kept holding off until we got more other chocolates to taste with it. Of course, I kept forgetting to pick up other chocolates when I saw them (e.g. at Naked Chocolate Cafe). Then g and I just happened to run into a store in Kennett Square that had a clearance on Vosges – buy one, get one free. I considered it but was not super-convinced it was worth $8 for two bars ($8 each, normally). Then the manager gave me a piece of the Vosges chocolate that featured chiles. I put it in my mouth and was greeted with a nice bitter dark chocolate. As it slowly melted in my mouth, the taste of chocolate increased as the bitterness faded – it was delicious! But then came the heat. Now, I like heat, and I even like heat with my chocolate – but it was a little distracting – it just screamed “I’m hot and I’m here and I killed the chocolate – what are you gonna do about it?”. So I decided that I wanted to try more Vosges but vetoed getting the chile one – we picked up one creole bar (flavored with chicory, espresso, and cocoa nibs) and one naga bar (flavored with curry and coconut milk). The stage was set – we were going to have a four-way taste-off … or so I thought …

Two more weeks passed, and I found myself at the local drug store staring at Cadbury chocolate bars that were on sale for $1. g and I have a thing for Cadbury fruit-and-nut bars (especially the one that kp brought back from England, i.e. not made by Hershey’s), so I was thinking of throwing it in the mix. I was sold when I saw the “2009 Chef’s Choice” or some other meaningless award advertised on the package. Then, a few days later, in Picnic (I needed some eggs and the drug store was too far away), I had to buy some more stuff so that I could use my credit card. They had some other chocolate bars – these were by “Chocolove”! Swayed by the goofy name, I bought one that included crystallized ginger and another that was “cherry and chilie” (I hate spelling it like that). Now, it was going to be a 7-chocolate tasting! A random Thursday night came around and I figured that I should put this tasting to rest or risk buying more chocolate “for the sake of the blog”. I was totally ready for it. g was also psyched … but she fell asleep before I was done opening each of the packages (she’s narcoleptic like that). It was just me and the chocolate (I saved her some) …

That's a lot of chocolate!

The chocolate's ready!

I couldn’t figure out how one should go about properly tasting chocolate. For wine, you normally start with those that have less body/flavor/tannin and increase – so light, herbaceous whites, followed by fruitier, intense whites, followed by light reds, followed by hit-you-in-the-mouth reds. For chocolate, do you go by the bitterness or by the sugar? I was afraid to go for the milk chocolate first because then the dark ones might come off as far too bitter. I was also afraid of getting full if I tried to save the Vosges for last (that’s a LOT of chocolate). So I did the four Vosges at random, had a Cadbury interlude, and then finished with the last two (which I figured would be sweeter than the Vosges).

The creole bar was first. In retrospect, this was very dumb because it was the darkest of the bunch (I think), but random is random – so that’s the way it was. As soon as I put it in my mouth, all I could taste was “yikes, that’s bitter”. It was very bitter. But there was something about this bitter – it didn’t taste like chocolate. It was something else … I remembered the espresso … there we go … that’s what it was – the flavor of bitter coffee was up first … then the chocolate took over as the bitterness faded. Next came a slow building up of coffee flavor that eventually dissipated, returning once again to chocolate, but now it had a very enjoyable sweetness. It was a rollercoaster for my mouth – I enjoyed it very much. There was also something crunchy in there … not sure what it was (?cocoa nibs?), but it was fun to munch on. I did taste this again later, just to make sure the tasting note was consistent … it was.

Next was the Naga bar. Even before I put it into my mouth, my nose caught a whiff of the curry – it was strong, but delightful. I thought I knew what was coming – it was going to be a blissful marriage of savory and sweet … Unfortunately, what I thought was coming was actually better than what came. Yes, there was curry flavor, and yes there was chocolate (more of a milky, sweeter chocolate than the creole – ?coconut milk?), but I just didn’t think the two played well with one another. It reminded me of the Vosges chocolate-chile sample I had in the store – both flavors were there and vivid, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great combo. Would you dip your chocolate in curry?

The bacon bars were next. I had high expectations. Having made bacon-chocolate-chip cookies, I knew this was going to be fun. I bit into the milk chocolate bacon bar, immediately running into something with crunch. It was bacon. I was surprised! I didn’t think that it’d actually have bacon in it – does that mean it should be refrigerated? No idea … In any case, the bacon flavor was profound; the chocolate barely touched the bacon flavor – that was weird (it made me sad). Then a bacon bit got stuck under my tongue (it made me mad). Fortunately, the second bite, which had far fewer bacon bits, had more chocolate-bacon balance – woohoo! I found the chocolate to be very nice (texturally and taste-wise), but it was a little on the sweet side. I looked forward to the dark chocolate …

The flavor of the dark chocolate bacon bar swung the balance in favor of chocolate – the bacon flavor was only there in the presence of a hint of salt – which was nice with the chocolate, but in honesty, the bacon bits tasted more like salted nuts than actual bacon. The bacon flavor only really came on well after I had swallowed the chocolate. It was good, but I want some more bacon up front. In any case, it was very interesting to see what the effect of the chocolate had on the taste of the different bacon bars.

Yeah, Cadbury chocolate bar that was next … dumb idea. It tasted like a sweet, sugary mess. It almost tasted gross which is weird, because it’s normally not a bad chocolate at all – for $1 it was a steal! I guess its cacao percentage just couldn’t stand up to the bolder chocolates I had had up until then … For a split second, I felt like a full-fledged chocolate snob!

The chocolate-cherry-chile bar hit me in the face with cherry from the get-go. And then I bit into something soft – presumably a cherry. Splash! My palate got another dose of sweet cherry. I was caught offguard and regretting that chomp (but I liked the texture – it was the first squishy thing of the evening). But then the chile flavor turned on and saved the day, adding some refreshing spice to my mouth. The only thing – I really didn’t get a whole lot of chocolate – some was there (more up front with the cherry), but it didn’t last. Still – cherry and chile was a fun combo – I think I’d eat it as a 2pm snack for a little fun pick-me-up – like one would eat some sour patch kids or something.

Finally … the last chocolate of the night (well, except for having to go back and re-taste the creole bar). I faced the chocolate and crystallized ginger. I put it in my mouth, not knowing if I could handle the perfume of ginger if it was turned up as high as the cherry was in the bar before. Lo and behold, it was quite tasty! Just the right amount of sweet and tangy ginger to balance the lush and bitter chocolate. Why didn’t I think of this? It’s so simple! While perhaps not as complex an evolution of flavors as the creole bar (ginger and chocolate turned on at the same time and ended at the same time, with the sugar from the ginger buffering the bitter from the chocolate), I was still super-happy. I could totally see a crystallized ginger-dark-chocolate-chip cookie coming out of this. I’m going to have to try it soon.

And I guess that’s it … Summary? The chocolate, itself, in the Vosges bars was great! I think the other flavors that were incorporated ranged from great to ick (*sighs* curry). I think that it’s probably a good idea to sample a variety pack and decide for yourself which of these flavor combos works the best. Nevertheless … I still recommend the bacon for everyone (even though I preferred the Creole one) – if for no other reason than it’s a great conversation starter.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

4 April 2010 at 10:03pm

Bacon Bacon Bacon!

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t says: This past weekend, g said, “I want some mac and cheese.”  A quick trip to google led me to Ina Garten’s recipe.  I was psyched to use bacon – but the same ‘ol “problem” came up: the recipe called for far less bacon than one can purchase in a package at the supermarket.  So what should I do with the rest? I made it my mission to use the entirety of the bacon to complete the meal.  This is what I did …

Step 1 was to cook nearly all of the bacon (I’m saving some for some eggs this weekend) in the oven as per Ina’s recipe.

9 went into the oven - only 8 made it to the picture ...

3 of the strips of the bacon would serve as the 4-oz required by Ina’s recipe (which I also modified a little – upped the cheddar by an ounce and lowered the blue cheese by an ounce – a good thing, too cuz that blue cheese I got was kickin’ – g thinks it still has too much oomph!).

What next?  Well, I figured that I needed a side dish.  But what could I make that incorporates bacon?  As I sat there looking at the dirtied pan, something shiny caught my eye … I knew what I had to do …

The grease says: "Don't forget about me!"

Through some crafty aluminum foil bending, I reserved the liquid gold ...

Inspired by Tyler Florence’s “Bacon-Braised Brussels Sprouts” that I must have seen 57 times around the holidays, I used the bacon grease to coat some halved Brussels sprouts, which I then seasoned with salt, pepper, Cayenne powder, and garlic powder before roasting in the oven at 400 degrees (turning every 5-10 mins).  The end result was one appetizer and one side.

Main and Side ... both with bacon!

I didn’t originally intend to use bacon grease for the Brussels sprouts, but when I realized I used the last of the oil in the house for our eggplant parmigiana-lasagna, I had little choice.  I must admit that I was a little disappointed with the color of the Brussels sprouts – I got a bad bunch so I had to prune way a lot of the dark green outer leaves – so what I used looked a little pale.  They were also kind of small – so they were tender before their leaves got nice and brown – I guess a frying pan would have given me the char that I wanted, but I didn’t want to deal with high heat frying tonight – I was having a lazy day).

Ok, so you probably see where this is going …  I have several strips of cooked bacon … and a need for dessert … I had the perfect solution …

A while ago, a friend of mine and I attempted bacon-chocolate-chip cookies.  They were phenomenal – but quite annoying to make (you had to make the bacon ahead of time and incorporate it into the dough).  I wanted to do something similar, but all of my cookie dough was already made and sitting ready-to-go in the freezer; incorporating bacon pieces wouldn’t be easy.  The solution?  Well – one time at Talula’s Table, a component in the dish called “Asparagus, Asparagus, Asparagus” featured bacon “powder” (which was genius).  And there I had it – I’d dust the cookies with some bacon powder (or very tiny bits – I didn’t want to bring out a food processor to actually get a powder).

Bacon bits in a baggie - ready for cookies!

Pig and chocolate - before the oven ...

Savory and sweet, in one luscious package ...


So, I obviously still have bacon bits left over, but I’m going to rim the drink of a margarita glass like I saw on Iron Chef America recently.  Can’t wait to see how that’ll taste (I’m hoping for a melon-based mixed drink so it’s like prosciutto-wrapped melon).

And … there we go!  Three courses and a drink incorporating bacon!  I must confess that I didn’t make the cookies the same night as the sprouts and the mac-n-cheese – I was just too full!  But I could have!  And isn’t that what really matters?

Oh … and a complete freak coincidence … a day or so after I thought of dusting my cookies with bacon (and didn’t tell anyone!) – look what lc sent us in the mail:

Pig and chocolate ... in bar form!

Can’t wait to try it!

Tofu Brownie-Cakes

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t says: Why on earth would I make these? I have no dietary restrictions. Tofu shouldn’t be in desserts. So why? I’m a prankster.

g’s older sister lc frowns upon tofu. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her swear that she will not eat it. Because of this (or because I imagined this – she may have actually eaten tofu before – I have no idea), I made it my mission to make her eat tofu. But how? Surely she has eyes, so it’d have to be concealed. Surely she has a tongue, so it’d have to be texturally masked. I then read online that someone said you could add tofu to boxed cake mix. That person was a genius.

Now, really, there’s no reason to add tofu to boxed cake mix – you still have to add eggs (well, I still do – some people say you don’t – I think they’re lying). Also, it doesn’t “do” anything for the cake – it just comes out a little thicker than normal (which is why I made them in a cupcake pan and called them “brownie-cakes” – sinister, right?), but otherwise imparts no flavor to the brownie (especially if you use dark chocolate chips – their flavor’s fairly strong).  So I want to restate: there really is absolutely no reason one should add tofu to cake mix … unless you want someone to eat tofu … without him/her knowing until it’s too late …


__ 1 package of silken tofu, excess liquid removed
__ 1 boxed cake mix
__ some chocolate chips (optional)
__ all the ingredients the box calls for (# of eggs cut in half)


0) Preheat the oven as per the box’s directions for cupcakes. I greased the cupcake pan because I did NOT use cupcake wrappers – brownies don’t have wrappers.

1) Mix together all ingredients and beat VERY well. If there are chunks of tofu, your eater will be suspicious. Add chocolate chips to give the cupcakes some textural contrasts (and to hide the texture of any tofu chunks you might have missed – still pretty sinister, right?)

2) Bake as per the box’s directions.

3) Serve to unsuspecting eaters. Why? Because you’re a sinister mastermind …

PS I don’t know if there is such a thing as a soy allergy, but if someone avoids tofu for some sort of medical reason, don’t serve them these – that’s not sinister – that’s stupid (and likely criminal).

PPS Yes, it worked.  She ate them.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 February 2010 at 10:24pm

Chocolate Chip Cookies (with pix)

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t says: Chocolate chip cookies hold a special place in nearly everyone’s heart (I guess maybe not if you’re allergic). I’ve always been on the lookout for great recipes, but never found one that 1) was easy and 2) gave me a cookie that I liked more than break-and-bake cookies (the new caramel-stuffed Nestle ones are a force to be reckoned with).

Enter Ad Hoc at Home. When I saw that there was a recipe for chocolate chip cookies in a book by Thomas Keller, I figured that it must be some sort of ridiculous 70-step monster. You see, TK has a knack for recipes that aren’t friendly for the home cook. For instance, his chicken soup recipe requires individually cooking each of the components (e.g. carrots, celery, chicken, dumplings) before adding them to a separately prepared broth in the very last step. I was happy to find that his chocolate chip cookie recipe was quite reasonable in terms of methods. And, when a friend (who shall remain unnamed to protect his/her identity so his/her mother won’t be offended by the following quote) claimed “they might be the best cookies he/she has ever had”, I just had to post the recipe for him/her, which was halved and modified for the ingredients we had on hand (TK normally calls for dark brown sugar and mix of milk and dark chocolates – as well as sifting the chocolate before adding it in so you can eliminate really tiny pieces of chocolate so your cookies “look clean” … yea … if he just started with a bag of chips like us, he wouldn’t have that problem).


__ 1 cup + 3 Tbs + 0.5 tsp all-purpose flour (don’t complain – I could have written 56.5 tsp)
__ 0.5 tsp baking soda, minus a smidgen
__ 0.5 tsp kosher salt
__ 0.25 lb (1 stick) cold unsalted butter (I don’t know why cold, but what TK wants, TK gets)
__ 0.5 c packed light brown sugar
__ 0.375 c granulated sugar
__ 1 extra large egg (although we have used jumbo from time to time – I think the cookies are taller – but I haven’t measured it)
__ 50% of an 11.5-0z bag of Ghirardelli 60% cacao “bittersweet” chocolate chips
__ x tsp baking powder (I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m contemplating adding just a smidge to get slightly cakier cookies)


1) Sift flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl.

2) Cut butter into small pieces.  In a stand-mixer (with paddle), beat half of the butter at medium-low speed until smooth. Add the remaining butter, the granulated sugar, and the brown sugar, beating for a few minutes until the mixture gets fluffy and dry-looking. Slowly add the egg while mixing, until incorporated evenly.

2) Turn the mixer to slowest setting. Add the dry ingredients from step 1.  Mix until even, but mix as little as humanly possible.

Pre-Chipped Dough

3)  Remove bowl from stand and add the chocolate chips, folding them in until evenly distributed.

Post-chipped dough

4) Shape dough into 2 Tbs sized balls. Should make ~15 cookies. Put into freezer to chill for at least 30 mins.

Ok … so I’m missing one – only 29.

5) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Place cookies onto sheet with ample space between (2 inches or more).  We have a thick cookie sheet and thin one (which I bought for $1 at Ikea), and we have a silpat and patchment paper.  I like the parchment paper and the thin sheet better.

Run! We’re being attacked by cookie dough balls!

6) Bake for 6 minutes. Rotate pans. Bake until the tops of the cookies lose their sheen (~12 mins, total).  The edges touching the pan will take on a brown color – that’s ok – but if they’re burning … you’ve gone too far.  Carefully remove the tray from the oven – if you bump it, the cookies will deflate.  Boo!

Note how shiny the dough on the left 2 cookies look … they’re not done!

7) Slide parchment paper with cookies onto cooling rack – without bumping them, of course.  Although the dough no longer looks “wet” like it did when only 6 minutes had past, you might note that the cookie is still very flimsy – as if it was undercooked.  Don’t fret – let it cool.  In a few minutes, the poofy, flimsy dough will have solidified into a deliciously cakey cookie.  I feel that five minutes later is a perfectly acceptable time to wait before eating them – but I like ’em soft.

A mouth’s eye view … and these are only HALF the height of the cookies made straight from the freezer.

Getting fancy with some additives: dried cherries, candied ginger.

Still delicious.

Extra tips:

1)  TK suggests that if you want softer cookies, mist lightly with water before baking.  I don’t even bother with this step anymore, as they are plenty soft.

2)  You can keep the dough balls in the freezer or refrigerator – I’d put them in a sealable container so they don’t lose too much moisture.  If you choose the fridge, then I probably wouldn’t go for any more than a few days, as it does have raw egg in it.  But, what I recently found is that, despite what TK says (and what I used to espouse), I see nothing wrong with taking these dough balls straight from the freezer to the oven – I’ve done the head-to-head test between frozen and defrosted dough balls (i.e. ones that were in the fridge overnight) and they come out no different at all!  One may also try to NOT refrigerate the dough at all and go straight to baking after you assemble the ingredients, but these cookies definitely turn out flatter – so I don’t like that option …

2.5)  I noticed that the longer you let the cookies sit in the freezer (e.g. two weeks vs. 1 day), the taller they stay after baking – I’m not sure why this is the case.  I’ve achieved approximately 67% taller cookies by waiting one week.

3)  Re: salt.  You can sprinkle some kosher salt on top of the dough balls to give it that nice salt-chocolate taste.  I also tried rolling the dough balls in salt – yea – bad idea – it didn’t look like a lot of salt, but it was …  Once, I ran out of unsalted butter, so I used salted butter and cut the kosher salt in half – worked fine!

5)  Re: chocolate.  I tried to use this recipe with a mix of milk and dark chocolates (from Naked Chocolate) – it just isn’t the same.  I think because I used light brown sugar, I depend on the dark Ghirardelli chips bring more flavor to the party.  I once substituted the dark Ghirardelli chips with Nestle dark chocolate – also note the same (the Nestle chocolate was kinda wussy).  Also – if you do remove the dark chocolate (or use not-as-dark dark chocolate, like Nestle), cut back on the salt some – I found the cookies to be on the verge of “salty” when I used milk chocolate.

6)  I did try the recipe including dark brown sugar (3:1 dark:light), but found that the cookie, itself, just didn’t taste “right” anymore – it didn’t bring the right contrast to the dark chocolate chips.  Maybe if I used milk choocolate it would have been better?  I don’t know.  But because I will always use dark chocolate chips, I’m now never going to use dark brown sugar … although I have to suffer through the remaining dark brown sugar so I have an excuse to buy some light brown sugar …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

20 February 2010 at 2:52pm

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake (with pix!)

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t says: Once upon a time, in October 2009, g and her cousin d had a hankering for cranberries.  In southern jersey are some serious cranberry bogs, although perhaps cranberries don’t get as much press as Hammonton’s blueberries.  This year, we tracked down a somewhat nearby cranberry farm: Fox’s Cranberries in Weekstown, NJ.  While, yes, google said that there were many others we could have visited, only Fox’s would allow us to pick a few on our own (and they were really nice over the phone – definitely a family run operation).  g, d, d’s friend, and I drove to Weekstown.  It took some adventuring (as their driveway was perhaps the most “off-road” we had ever gone in our car), but we easily arrived with the help of the blinking blue dot on our iphone’s maps application.

Ann, one of the owners, showed us around the farm, introduced us to her husband, Bill, who was out in the bogs with the harvesters, and let us watch them harvest.  She filled us in on the workings of the farm, the nature of the cranberry, and what it’s like to eat/breathe/sleep cranberries.  She also let us pick a few pounds from one of their bogs (they don’t flood the bogs to harvest here) on our own, which was amazing (she probably thought we were crazy for having so much fun doing something that machines could do far more easily).  On our way back from the bogs, she showed us the cranberry sorting equipment and the stocks they were going to sell.  We bought a few more pounds of cranberries (for some ridiculously low price – we spent less than $5 and got more cranberries than any four sane people should be in possession of – grocery stores are a TOTAL rip!!).  She then gave us this recipe for an Upside Down Cranberry Cake (among others).  g made it a total of four times within 10 days (between making it for our friends and her co-workers).  It’s super-easy.  I imagine one could also use frozen cranberries – I’m not sure how the temperature or added moisture would affect baking so perhaps it would be wise to temper and dry them before use.


__ 2+ c cranberries (enough to cover the bottom of a 9″ pie plate)
__ 0.5 c chopped nuts (we crushed some almonds and toasted them in a dry fry pan)
__ 1.5 c sugar
__ 0.75 c melted butter (should be creamy, not transparent yellow liquid)
__ 1 c flour
__ 2 eggs
__ 2 tsp almond extract.


0)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Pour cranberries into 9″ pie plate until the bottom is completely covered with a cranberry monolayer.  Remove those cranberries and set aside.  Grease the pie plate (we’ve used glass and metal pans with Pam-for-baking – both worked great – and other greasing fats are probably fine).

1)  Mix a pie-plate’s worth of cranberries, all of the nuts, and 0.5 c sugar in a bowl.  After well combined, pour into pie plate.  Try not to agitate too much, as this will cause the nuts and sugar to fall through to the bottom of pie plate (and ultimately be lost when you invert the plate).  Yes, some loss is inevitable.

2)  Beat together the butter, flour, remaining sugar, eggs, and extract.  BEAT AS LITTLE AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE – just to uniformity – not to smoothness.  It is very easy to over-beat this mixture (we did 2 out of 4 times); an over-beaten batter will not be cakey when baked.

3)  Bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  When done, carefully loosen around the edge with a knife.  Invert it to your serving plate of choice.  Cool.  Enjoy!

4)  Start prepping a second cake when you realize you ate the first one by yourself …


1)  j made a variant of this using strawberries and was happy with the results.  I had my doubts as strawberries have a lot of water.  Alas, j’s no liar – I made it with strawberries and it was quite good (you get a nice syrupy topping) – just do your best to dry the strawberries as much as possible.  Here’s a pic (I also used a 9″ square pan in this case because our pie pan was being used for … a pie).

If this was at my workplace ... it'd be gone by 1pm for sure ...

Written by afterdinnersneeze

15 February 2010 at 6:18pm