Chocolate Nutella Crunchies

nutella-crunchies

I was recently faced with an emergency– I needed to make something sweet and decadent for a work gathering, and I basically had an hour to make it. Talk about short notice! (well, it wasn’t really that short– I’d known the night before I needed to make something and then completely forgot until I woke up the next morning) I took a quick survey of my pantry ingredients and was inspired by the Honey Cornflake Crunchies I’d made earlier, along with a jar of Nutella on the shelf.

For a starting point I googled “nutella cornflake cookies” and found a recipe for a no-bake candy involving just three ingredients– cornflakes, Nutella, and chocolate. How could I go wrong with those? I fiddled with the recipe a bit, doubling it. substituting dark chocolate for milk chocolate (I always have dark chocolate on hand) and adding more cornflakes for texture, but it really couldn’t be easier. And the results?

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Hazelnuts

brussels-hazelnutsI’ll admit right now that I shamelessly stole the idea for this dish from a local restaurant’s seasonal sandwich, which combined sprouts, mustard, and hazelnuts in such a delicious way that I was inspired to make my own (non-vegetarian) version.

This side dish practically screams fall, and is hearty enough to use as a main dish for a light meal. The sprouts get almost sweet while roasting, while the hazelnuts add earthiness and crunch, the bacon adds salt and fat, and the mustard sauce is sharp and creamy at the same time. The flavors just blend together so well that I can’t believe I’d never heard of the combination before.

I can’t really put down quantities here, since I basically just threw things together until they looked about right. This is the kind of dish that will always be made “according to taste.” So here’s how:

Ingredients:

Brussels sprouts

Olive oil

Bacon

Mustard

Mayonnaise

Hazelnuts

1. Take a bunch of brussels sprouts and cut off the stems and outer leaves. If they’re particularly large, cut them in half.

2. Toss the sprouts in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees F for about 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender with crispy brown bits.

3. In the meantime, cut up several slices of bacon and fry until crispy. Remove the bacon bits to drain, dump out most of the grease, and toss a small handful of chopped hazelnuts into the pan. Toast them in the bacon grease for a few minutes, until they start to smell nutty.

4. Mix up some sharp mustard and some mayonnaise in a small bowl in about a 1:1 ratio.

5. Toss the sprouts, bacon, hazelnuts, and mustard sauce together and serve hot.

brussels-hazelnut-components

Pralines n’ Cheesecake Brownies, or What to Do With Seized Chocolate

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I was melting some chocolate chips in the microwave the other day for a glaze, and I threw in the 2 tablespoons of butter called for in the recipe, figuring they’d just melt together as they usually do. I’ve never had problems with melting chocolate and butter together before, but on this occasion I guess the combination of having only a small amount of butter, and having it melt slowly along with the chocolate, resulted in just enough water being released from the butter to make the chocolate seize.

seized-brownies-chocolate

Uh-oh. Seized chocolate. I hate it when this happens. Usually it’s the result of water getting into the chocolate, either from a bain-marie or from stray water droplets on a spoon or something, and I avoid it by going the microwave route. But I was well and truly stuck this time– the chocolate was the consistency of rapidly-drying mortar, and despite my melting some extra butter into it, hoping the fat would bring it back, there was nothing to be done. So I stuck it in the fridge and figured I’d make something with it later.

A week later the chocolate was still staring at me from the fridge and my husband and I were doing a fridge clean-out, so it was use it or lose it. I pulled it out, along with a partially-used block of cream cheese that was at least a month old and a jar of leftover praline paste from my Gateau St. Honoré, and tried to figure out something to do with them.

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Gateau St. Honoré

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When I was in Paris I finally got the chance to try the famous Gateau St. Honoré– a toothsome confection consisting of a layer of puff pastry, topped with a piped choux pastry swirl, topped with a ring of caramel-dipped cream puffs, and filled with fluffy cream. It was rich, decadent, and begging to be reproduced at home. Of course, I can rarely leave well enough alone, so when I decided to try making one I thought it would be delicious to incorporate elements of another famous French dessert, the Paris Brest.

Paris Brest is made of a large ring of choux pastry (meant to resemble a bicycle wheel, as the dessert was created in honor of a bicycle race), which is split and filled with a praline mousseline cream. The praline is made of caramelized hazelnuts and almonds, pulverized until they turn into paste, which is then folded into the cream.

I actually vacillated between which of these desserts to make, as both sounded fantastic, but in the end the Gateau St. Honoré– being both more complicated (I always love a challenge) and involving puff pastry, which I always adore– won out. But instead of the regular chiboust (mixture of plain pastry cream and Italian meringue) to fill the center, I made two changes: First, I used diplomat cream (mixture of pastry cream and whipped cream) instead of chiboust cream, because I hate making Italian meringue– too fiddly with the sugar syrup. Second, I decided to add praline paste to the cream to deepen the caramel flavor of the dessert.

The result? Spectacular. The flakiness of the puff pastry base adds just enough textural interest to the slightly firmer choux pastry and the gobs of creamy, hazelnut-kissed filling. The hard caramel dip on the cream puffs is just enough to crunch between your teeth and provide a hint of bitterness, and the dessert as a whole is light yet rich. I will absolutely make this again the next time I need an impressive finish to a meal.

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