Have I mentioned before that Alice Medrich is one of my favorite cookbook authors? She focuses on desserts– chocolate specifically– and her book “Bittersweet” was one of the first cookbooks I ever made a point of buying. It’s full of great recipes for both standard and unorthodox uses of chocolate, and introduced me to cocoa nibs.
What are cocoa nibs? They’re roasted cacao beans– the base ingredient of chocolate– so they have a toasty chocolate flavor, but none of the sweetness of processed chocolate. They’re kind of like a cross between chocolate and nuts when used in cookies. This shortbread recipe combines cocoa nibs with pecans, both of which make for a subtle but flavorful cookie.
I admit that I gilded the lily a bit and sandwiched my cookies with a ring of chocolate ganache and a salted butter caramel center. The ganache actually overpowered the caramel a bit, but overall the effect was decadent.
In case you haven’t noticed, I have a lot of baking pans. All different shapes and sizes. I have round pans and square pans, three different sizes of bundt pans, loaf pans, madeleine pans, and sheet pans galore. And I have muffin pans in jumbo, standard, and mini. So you’d think I’d be all set when it comes to baking pans. And I was. Until I encountered this:
It’s a micro-mini muffin pan, and I was instantly smitten. See how tiny the wells are? So cute!!!
But what to bake in it? I’m fairly sure that a dense batter will always be necessary, because overly fluffy cakes would have no substance and might be too airy to release cleanly. For my inaugural bake, I decided to go straight to the densest type of recipe– a brownie from my favorite chocolate author, Alice Medrich. To give it an extra jolt of flavor (got to go intense for such tiny bites!) I added instant espresso powder to the mix. And then some chocolate ganache. And then coffee beans on top, because why not?
While I was in Paris I took the opportunity to try a cup of the world-famous chocolat chaud at Angelina’s sumptuous tearoom on Rue Rivoli. Let me just say, its fame was well-earned– the chocolate was rich, smooth, and dark, with just the right amount of sweetness. Unlike some people who have tried it, I didn’t think it tasted like a melted chocolate bar– on the contrary, it was just milky enough not to be cloying, and not too thick. Really, it was excellent, and while I have my own hot cocoa recipe for winter days, I thought it would be nice to have another version in my recipe box for special occasions.
Of course, the internet yielded a plethora of recipes, each purporting to replicate French-style hot chocolate but each one different. I decided to try a few to see which came closest to what I remembered.