Have a heart.

With some strawberry ice cream.
Velvet cake hearts 17
This I believe: that Valentine’s Day is not exclusively for lovers, and does not require champagne, slinky French lingerie or sparkly googaws from generic commercial jewelers. It is a day to tell family, friends, children, and even your pets how absolutely awesomely wonderful they are. Yes yes, you should be telling them on the other 364 days as well, but on Valentine’s Day you can do it with with foofy hearts, doilies, silly cards, little gifties and heart-shaped everything!
Velvet cake hearts 1
I’ve always given my son Valentine’s Day cards (obviously not ones that say “You’re making me horny”), as well as my parents and my very best friend.
Velvet cake hearts 2
Even if I didn’t have a lovin’ husband to get googly-eyed with on V-day, I’d still break out the heart-shaped chocolates and buy myself a bunch of tulips. Yes, I really wouldno matter what my relationship status, I've never neglected myself on Valentine's Day. And when I was single and childless, I put up a fresh, fully decorated Christmas tree in my little studio apartment every year. I declare that Christmas is not only for children, as Valentine’s Day is not strictly for lovers!
Velvet cake hearts 4
I think I get why people go all anti-Valentine’s Day, but as a person who loves red and pink, lace, hearts, roses, chocolate, cupids, vintage Valentines, heart shaped cake pans/cookie cutters/candy/ornaments/boxes/earrings/picture frames/charms/baskets/dessert bowls etc., I refuse to miss out. And why should our kids miss out too? Instead of escaping from themas divorced-remarried people, we get more than enough time away from our kids when they’re with the other parentswe have a family Valentine’s dinner at home.
Velvet cake hearts 8
This year it was nothing fancy (not like last year, with fillet mignon we scored on sale)just soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, candy conversation hearts scattered across the table, candles, and beautiful deep pink roses from my One and Only. The fancyness was dessert: Chocolate Glazed Chocolate Velvet Cake hearts topped with pink frosting carnations and roses and pink ice cream.
Velvet cake hearts 9
The recipe for this almost-flourless chocolate cakewhich I clipped from Redbook magazine in 1985is easy, calls for only 5 ingredients, and requires the most basic prep and cooking methods. Any lovestruck fool can pull this off.
Velvet cake hearts 10
Instead of a single round layer called for in the recipe, I used an 8x8 square pan and cut large and small hearts from the cooked cooled cake. Then clumsily glazed and decorated them. I mean, the flowers look decent but I could have done better on that glaze! Thank goodness no one cares.
Velvet cake hearts 11
The glaze is also easy and can be poured or spread over the hearts. Okay yeah, it’s a little fussy but it’s easy fussy, I promise. And those little flowers? Also easy, with a can (one can't always Martha-Stewart-from-scratch their way through these things) of Betty Crocker Cupcake Icing in Petal Pink using the star shaped tip.
Velvet cake hearts 15
Give it a small squoosh for a pert little carnation, and swirl it around a few times in a gently widening circle for a rose. Here’s a mouthwatering tutorial for these easy roses. Stop squirming, they’re easy I tell you! Just practice a few times on wax paper. If you don’t want roses, squoosh whatever you like on top.
Velvet cake hearts 14
When it was time for dessert, we scooped Breyer’s strawberry ice cream into bowls and plopped a heart on top. And ate. And wished each other a happy Valentine’s Day while we lapped up two hours of Downton Abbey.
Velvet cake hearts 16
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!

Chocolate Velvet Cake
from Baker's

1 package (4-oz.) Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate*, broken in pieces
6 Tablespoons butter or margarine
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 eggs, separated
4 Tablespoons sugar
Chocolate Glaze (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8-inch round cake pan or an 8x8 square pan. Melt chocolate and butter in medium saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat; stir in flour. Blend in egg yolks, one at a time.

In a medium sized bowl, beat egg whites with hand mixer on medium-high speed until foamy throughout. Gradually beat in sugar; continue beating until soft peaks form. Gently fold chocolate mixture into egg whites, blending thoroughly.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes (cake will settle slightly). Finish cooling upside down on rack. Spread top and sides with Chocolate Glaze. OR cut into hearts with cookie cutters, then glaze. Top with frosting flowers.

At room temperature, the cake is velvety, indeed. When refrigerated, the frosted cake turns fudgy but still somewhat light and velvety. I would be hard-pressed to decide which way I like it best.

*I used regular ol' Baker's Semi-Sweet chocolate, since I had it on hand already.

Chocolate Glaze

1 package (4-oz.) Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate, broken in pieces
3 Tablespoons water
3 Tablespoons butter

Melt chocolate and water in medium saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted. Pour gently over cooled cake, or cool to thicken and spread onto cake.


Chocolate Biscuit Cake.

flag-mini-british Ever since the recent royal wedding, where Prince William’s favorite “chocolate biscuit cake” was served, I’ve been wanting to jump on the chocolate biscuit cake train.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 13
Actually, I’ve been wanting to jump on a plane to London to hobnob with the Windsors, but making this simple refrigerator cake seemed like a less expensive way to feel kinship with the royals.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 1
Traditionally made from crushed Rich Tea Biscuits -- crisp, not-too-sweet British cookies -- mixed into a warmed chocolate mixture and glazed with chocolate ganache (a LOT of chocolate here), the no-bake cake is apparently a much-loved tea-time treat for Prince William. So in addition to traditional wedding fruitcake (I’ll be making that in the next few months!), this “groom’s cake” was served at the prince’s request.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 2
Reminder: “biscuits” in the U.K. are “cookies” here.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 4
With a surplus of homemade digestives biscuits, plus some Burton’s Digestives, there was no time like the present to finally make this cake. I would have used the Rich Tea biscuits, only I didn’t locate them until after I had made the recipe. Why o why hadn’t I checked Treasure Island first? Lesson learned.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 6
Recipes for Chocolate Biscuit Cake abound on the interwebs, many calling for caster sugar (“superfine” to you and me), golden syrup (a by-product of the sugar refining process -- sort of like pale amber colored corn syrup), cocoa powder, sometimes an egg. And quite a few allowed digestives to replace Rich Tea, so scour the World Market shelves for Rich Tea Biscuits, Jacobs Marietta Biscuits, Burton’s or McVitie’s digestives, or use a plain, crisp and barely sweet cookie from the grocery such as Lu Petit Buerre. One blogger I found used Salerno Butter cookies, and another used graham crackers.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 7
I was more attracted to the recipes with heavy cream or sweetened condensed milk, butter, squares of semi-sweet chocolate, and no eggs. After exhaustive online research, which included some unsightly drooling on my keyboard, I settled on the recipe from Dima’s Kitchen. Four ingredients! I like that.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 3
The recipe is simplicity itself: heat the butter and sweetened condensed milk (I managed to muddle this instruction by instead melting the butter with the chocolate, but I don’t think this hampered the outcome), add chocolate to melt, mix in crushed cookies -- oops! biscuits -- spread in a prepared 6" springform pan (you want a small pan so the cake has some height), chill for several hours, glaze, slice, eat. Gain weight, work out like a maniac, lose weight, feel proud. Repeat as many times as necessary from “heat the butter and ...” for eternal chocolate-fueled happiness.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 5
Many recipes call for a topping of glossy chocolate ganache. Ganache is darned easy to make so don’t be intimidated by the fancy French name. It’s warmed heavy cream with dark chocolate melted into it. That’s it. And you can give up counting the fat and calories right about now.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 8
Once the cake has sufficiently chilled, release it from the pan and -- here’s the trick to a really pretty cake -- turn it upside down. The top of this cake is fairly lumpy and homely. Turning it upside down reveals the nice flat bottom, which makes a lovely smooth surface for the ganache.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 9
Before the ganache set, I decorated the top with some blooms from my garden, as well as a few fresh raspberries and leaves from my friend Shay’s yard. At first I put a small clipping of cheerful orange butterfly weed, then yanked it out when I found out it’s TOXIC. Yikes! But didn’t it look pretty?
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 10
(NOTE: I think it takes a lot of butterfly weed to make someone sick, but I wasn't taking any chances.)

William's cake was a vision of modern culinary construction, all masculine right angles and austere white chocolate lilly flowers. It included some “secret ingredients” that McVitie’s, who “baked” the biscuit cake for the royal couple, would not reveal. Oh, how I wish I could have tasted a slice of that supersecret cake. And the wedding fruitcake, too.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 11
The finished biscuit cake is truly a chocolate lovers delight -- creamy fudgy chocolate, crisp mildly sweet cookies, and the smoothest, most decadent chocolate glaze you’ve ever tasted. It defies easy categorization -- cake? cookie? candy? Ah, how about ... confection! And from just a few ordinary ingredients. Next time I’ll use Rich Tea biscuits, add dried cherries and toasted pecans, and possibly even spike the chocolate with some brandy, bourbon or whisky. There's lots of creative potential with this recipe.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake 12
Naturally one eats slices of chocolate biscuit cake with tea. Cheers! And here's to a long, blissful marriage for the
happy couple. Obviously Kate, with her impossibly tiny waistline, is not overindulging in chocolate biscuit cake. Or else she's working out like an absolute maniac.

Please feel free to leave a comment below -- I love to hear what you think of the recipe, post, or anything else you want to talk about.

Chocolate Biscuit Cake
Adapted from Dima's Kitchen

6-8 oz. your choice of Tea biscuits or cookies, broken into pieces
4-5 oz. good semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter

Chocolate Ganache (see below)

Grease or butter a 6" round cake pan (a small springform pan is ideal), then line with parchment paper along the bottom and the sides.

In a small saucepan, combine sweetened condensed milk with the butter and stir over low heat until butter is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and stir until all chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth again. if tiny chocolate pieces persist and do not melt, use a rotary beater to beat the mixture till smooth. Remove from heat.

Add broken biscuits/cookies to the chocolate mixture and stir all to combine thoroughly. Spread into prepared pan, pressing to fill the corners of the pan. Refrigerate for 3 hours. Remove from pan, place upside down on a wire rack and pour chocolate Ganache over the cake; spread over top and sides to cover it. If desired, decorate with fresh (not toxic!) or candied flowers, or other decorations. Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving or until firm. Slice thinly -- this cake is

Chocolate Ganache Glaze
Adapted from Dima's Kitchen

This is half of Dima's original recipe.

1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream
6 oz. good semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring whipping cream just to boiling over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolates (do not stir); let stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Cool for 15 minutes. Spread evenly over biscuit cake.

Chocolate and lazy churros.

Magazine Cuisine

Chocolate and lazy churros small
The tasty treats in the photo at left will, I hope, inspire you to read through my longwindedness--in which I publicly proclaim my anglophilism--until you get to the "Chocolate and lazy churros" part of this post.

I have a weakness for
British Country Living magazine. It is a beautiful oversized magazine with articles about actual country living. In the gorgeous British country. My personal dream come true. It has beautiful photos, uninterrupted articles (don't you hate when the last half of an article is buried in the classifieds at the very back of the magazine? I do), interesting recipes (with ingredients like "courgettes"), and the ads don't feel like ads because, well, probably because I'm a naive American who worships (almost) anything from Britain (is it England or Britain?) even their advertising. Ads for companies like Howdens Joinery Co., Quooker Taps, Billington's Sugar, Vale Garden Houses, and the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show beat the stuffing out of ads for those freakishly realistic looking baby dolls. I know that sounds snobbish! And anti-American, which I truly disdain. I love being American, and I'm proud of it. But when I'm reading this lovely magazine ... I'd rather be British.

So I occasionally pick up an issue (someday I'll get an actual subscription ... hint hint, Mr. Smith!), especially at Christmas time (which is quickly approaching, Mr. Smith!), when I want to lose myself in Britishness. The absolutely only drawback of this magazine is the recipes are in grams and liters (oops!
litres), difficult for a gal who loves to cook and wants to make "Sweet-sour rabbit with chocolate," but who lives in a pounds-and-ounces world. So after I bought my pretty green Escali Primo digital scale I quickly started choosing which British recipe I would try first.

BCL's chocolate and churros
I decided to pass on "Sweet sour rabbit" when I saw "Marinate the rabbit in the fridge overnight ..." Oh, actual rabbit, not rarebit. Okay, no thank you. Instead, I decided on "Chocolate and lazy churros" -- thickened hot chocolate accompanied by quick-fried tortillas. Clearly this is not a uniquely British snack. In fact, it's absolutely Spanish/Mexican in origin. But it kicks off the British edition of Someplace in between's Magazine Cuisine nicely.

Unfortunately, I didn't need my trusty Escali scale for this one, but I did have to consult the "ml" side of my pyrex measuring cup. SO British!

churros frying in the pan
I used a mere quarter inch of canola oil (the recipe calls for olive oil, but I worried that would be too heavy) to fry strips of both white and wheat flour tortillas. They took only about 15-20 seconds to cook on each side, so I couldn't be Facebooking or playing with the dog or watching episodes of "
Monarch of the Glen" while I was doing this. It was a pretty quick succession of plop (or place, to avoid splattering hot oil all over my hands), sizzle, flip, sizzle, remove. Repeat until desired number of tortillas have been fried. Truly easy.

churro closeup
Drizzle honey (plain old generic clover honey is fine) and cinnamon sugar, or just a dusting of cinnamon, on the hot fried tortillas. Voila! "Lazy churros."

making the hot chocolate
The "dipping chocolate" is hot chocolate made creamy and flavorful with evaporated milk and thickened with a tablespoon of cornstarch ("slaked in a little water"--how British is that!). I mixed evaporated milk and 2% milk about equally--I love evaporated milk, but hot chocolate made exclusively from evaporated would be too rich even for me. The finished chocolate is really like drinkable pudding that is creamy, thick, and downright luxurious. And reasonably low in fat, for hot chocolate.

Chocolate and lazy churros are a lovely mid-morning break!
The whole wheat churros were every bit as good as the white flour ones, although the white flour version tasted more like the real thing. The recipe calls for serving them plain but I couldn't resist the drizzle of honey and sprinkle of cinnamon.

dipping the churro into the chocolate
The test: does the dipping chocolate coat the churro? Yes it does!

empty chocolate cup
'Nuf said. Do try this on a chilly Autumn weekend. It's pretty fast and easy, and even the frying isn't as messy and oppressive as, say, frying doughnuts in 3 inches of hot oil. Enjoy!

Chocolate and lazy churros
From the April 2010 edition of Country Living, British Edition

Preparation: 5 minutes
Cooking: about 10 minutes

Serves 4
4 heaped tablespoons good-quality cocoa powder
750 ml whole or evaporated milk
1 level tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch), slaked in a little water
sugar or honey to sweeten
ground cinnamon to decorate


4 wheatflour tortillas, chapatis or pitta breads
olive oil for shallow frying

1. In a heavy-bottomed pan over a gentle heat, whisk the cocoa into the milk till it dissolves. Whisk in the cornflour. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat, then sweeten to taste and serve sprinkled with cinnamon.

2. Snip your breads into ribbons, about the width of your thumb. Fry in shallow olive oil until crisp and golden, then transfer to kitchen paper to drain.

Notes: I used half evaporated and half 2% milk for the chocolate. I used white and wheat flour tortillas for the churros and fried them in canola oil.

Feel free to leave a comment!

Chocolate lavender vanilla cookies might cause romance.

Magazine Cuisine

Next to roses and holly, lavender is one of the most romantic plants I can think of to have in the garden. I’ve tried several times to bring this romance to my various yards, but sadly the plants always died off. This time around I must have amended the soil with enough sand to recreate the hillsides of Provence, and it is flourishing at last! And another thing? When I’m watering the garden, I pass right over it. I literally ignore this beauty, and it thrives.

Lavender plantThis bushy lavender plant reassures me that I'm at least a half-decent gardener.

Known for its calming therapeutic properties (we have a soft lavender-filled wrap that, after a few minutes in the microwave, does wonders for neck tension and headaches), lavender has historically had a place in the kitchen, too. It adds perfume to sweets, earthy depth to savory dishes, and makes a calming tea--Queen Elizabeth I drank it to soothe her migraines. I’ve long wanted to experiment with recipes calling for lavender buds or syrup, and the May/June 2010 issue of Victoria Magazine--plus my bumper crop of home-grown lavender--inspired me to make “Lavender and Vanilla Bean Cookies.” If smelling, sipping and wrapping oneself in the scent of lavender helps heal and relax, then surely eating the stuff is bound to result in total bliss!

Lavender harvest
In June my plant was thick with gorgeous purpley stems, which I harvested and dried in lovely fragrant bunches. I disbudded a number of them for the recipe, then discovered that our sweet Miss Molly cat liked to make a mess of what was left in order to nibble the dried stems. I finally had to hide the few remaining bunches on top of the highest bookshelf in the house. Bad kitty.

Lavender cookies stems
That's my green Escali Primo digital scale peeking into the picture. I love that scale! It measures food (and yarn, letters, etc.) in grams or ounces, so now I not only can make recipes from British Country Living magazine (in which all ingredients are measured in grams and liters), but I also can estimate how much yarn I have in a partial ball, how much I've used, how much is left in a ball--especially handy if I'm, say, trying to use exactly half a ball for something. It also lets you place a measuring cup, bowl, pan, or other receptacle on the scale and re-set the weight to zero so you can measure things into the receptacle. It was a worthy investment and I highly recommend it.

These are simple, easy-to-make sugar cookies flavored with lavender-vanilla flavored sugar, which you make in advance (but can make and use the same day as you are making the cookies) and a tablespoon of lavender buds.

Lavender cookies sugar vanilla beans
Just look how pretty that lavender-vanilla sugar mixture is! And it smells heavenly.

Lavender cookies vanilla sugar
I made half the recipe called for (about two cups), used half that in the cookies, and have another cup left ripening in a ball jar.

Lavender cookies vanilla sugar jars
Stick your nose inside a jar of this sugar and you will swoon! You could also sift out the lavender buds to use the scented sugar in hot tea or other recipes. The flavor is subtle and very appealing.

The sugar cookie dough, which includes two eggs for some added richness, goes together quickly, is chilled until firm, then rolled out.

Lavender cookies ingredients
Those dark blobs are the tiny black vanilla seeds scraped from one of the beans.

Lavender cookies ingredients 2
Once again the pink Kitchenaid Cook for the Cure handmixer goes to work!

Lavender cookies blending
Lavender buds are so pretty to work with.

Lavender cookies blending 2
After rolling and cutting, some of the cookies came out a trifle malformed. Didn't affect the taste one bit! How about that. Don't the lavender buds look pretty in the dough?

Lavender cookies baking sheet 1
You can see the wee flecks of real vanilla bean. I also sprinkled a few of the cookies with turbinado sugar. It was good, but didn't make or break the recipe so I'd leave it off next time.

Lavender cookies baking sheet closeup
Cooked cookies chillin' out and awaiting the taste-test.

Lavender cookies baked
So, how does lavender taste when baked into cookies? On my palate it imparts a clean, piney flavor which is foiled nicely by the gently flavored sugar cookie dough. It's a new and fascinating taste--not an unpleasant one, though, and not perfumey as one might expect. Everyone in the house liked them (even the kids!), though they were initially hesitant to try them. (Lavender is for soap and candles and potpourri and Method house cleaning spray, not cookies.)

They were tasty, indeed, but I couldn’t be content to leave them plain and decided they needed a dip in some melted dark chocolate. Out came the Trader Joe’s Belgian chocolate bars!

Lavender cookies dipped 5
The result was divine. Chocolate, lavender and vanilla in a sugar cookie is an elegant, even sexy combination--light, rich and fragrant all at once. I think you could seduce someone with one or two of these treats. After all, lavender is known as, well, a mood enhancer especially for men, according to a study by the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. (So is pumpkin which, lucky me, Kenny likes as much as I do ...). In fact, they are so delicious with the chocolate it’s difficult for me to eat only one (or two) of these cookies. And the crisper, more golden cookies were the absolute best ones--next time I will carefully brown as many as possible.

Lavender cookies dipped 4
Not surprisingly, a plate of Chocolate Lavender Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies goes perfectly with a pot of hot tea--Republic of Tea Kiwi Pear Green is almost always my choice but any of the typical English/Irish/Scottish black teas would do well.

Lavender cookies and tea
I also cooked up some Lavender Simple Syrup from the same issue of Victoria Magazine, hoping to make a pitcher of refreshing Lavender Lemonade. Well, notwithstanding my suspicions that the proportions in the recipe were incorrect (or it could be that I'm just no good at making this concoction), the simple syrup was not my cup of tea. It ended up too cloying, perfumey and sweet, even when tempered with water, ice and lemons. I poured it down the drain. Lavender buds in cookies are lovely; lavender buds simmered with sugar and water are not.

Lavender syrupLooks nice enough, yes? But I shudder even at the memory of it. Too sickly-perfume-sweet, in my humble opinion.

Ah well, perhaps my culinary adventures with lavender will be limited to scrumptious, seductive Chocolate Lavender Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies. I can't exactly guarantee they will improve your love life (or mine) ... but it can't hurt to give them a try. Um, is it getting warm in here, or ... ?

Orange (and chocolate) you glad for s'mores?

After my first go 'round applying peanut butter and jam to s'mores, I tried s’mores with orange marmalade and Trader Joe’s 56% dark chocolate. I lovelovelove orange and chocolate, and on a s’more this combination is almost more exquisite than the blackberry-chocolate pairing. I don't think I'm in a position to choose one over the other just yet. The orange-chocolate combination is elegant, the blackberry-chocolate heavenly.

S'mores orange 1
Orange marmalade is formidable stuff, with shavings of tart--sometimes even bitter--orange peel mixed throughout sweet orange flavored jelly. It's easy to understand why some people wrinkle their noses at it. I grew up with and acquired a taste for orange marmalade, and yes sometimes even paired it with peanut butter! Only when I was desperate for a pbj--it's not very good with peanut butter (and even less appealing with peanut butter on heavy-duty
Brownberry Bread), but it's tasty on really good toasted (buttered) bread, and goes well with cream cheese too. I like it because of its sweet-bitter-orangey-ness. And because I'm the only one at home who eats it, I know will last indefinitely.

S'mores orange 2
Unless I keep making these. Whoever thought to combine orange with chocolate was a genius! And whoever thought of throwing in graham crackers and gooey toasted marshmallow was, well ...

S'mores orange 3
This one definitely calls for dark chocolate, because orange goes best with dark (I used one of Trader Joe's darks). I recommend you don't char the marshmallow if you use marmalade--soft and toasty will complement the other bold flavors in this fancy sandwich.

S'mores orange 4
Don't forget the cold glass of milk!

S'mores orange 5
These adventures in campfire snacking have spoiled me a bit -- the traditional s’more might not be quite enough for me from now on.

S'mores orange 6
What say you -- have you tried anything new on your s'mores lately?

Some more s'mores.

Were you able to celebrate National S’mores Day on August 10? This festive occasion passed me by! I’ll never let that happen again. I learned about it while preparing to make S’mores Cupcakes, which were a monster hit in the house and definitely a treat I’ll be making again.

The exact history of s’mores is vague, but the history of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars is not. Apparently a s’mores “recipe” first appeared in the 1927 publication Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. I’m just dying to get my hands on a copy of this vintage handbook. I bet the text and pictures are wonderful.

The classic s’more is snack perfection: gooey toasty marshmallows, melting-but-not-quite-melted Hershey’s milk chocolate (for me the chocolate still has to have some solid toothiness to it), and crispy graham crackers, all in the same messy, crumbly bite. It almost can’t be improved upon. Almost. Yet several years ago a Country Living article showed s’mores oozing over with marshmallow, melting chocolate ... and gorgeous purpley blackberry jam! I was intrigued. I am a (certain kinds of) fruit-and-chocolate kind of gal, so my mind and tastebuds were wide open for trying this.

S'mores bberry and pb setupFor the first time in my life I had all the ingredients for ANYthing in the house at the same time. Miraculous!

As I pulled together ingredients, I spied the peanut butter and decided to do a side-by-side comparison of peanut butter and blackberry jam s’mores.
S'mores bberry choc marshmallowNo need to get too fancy. Safeway brand blackberry preserves did just fine for me.

S'mores pbutter choc marshmallow
As a peanut-butter-and-chocolate lover (although give me Peanut Butter M&Ms over Reese’s cups any day), I thought I’d go absolutely mad for the peanut butter version.

S'mores bputter closeup
It was good, really good, but I took just one bite and saved the rest for my son, who proceeded to make several more of the same spread with a
thick layer of peanut butter.

S'mores bberry closeup
The blackberry s’mores, on the other hand, made me positively swoon! Even this store-brand blackberry jam has a depth of flavor that complemented the chocolate elegantly.

S'mores bberry almost goneA rapidly dwindling blackberry s'more with the requisite cold glass of milk.

Blackberry-and-chocolate is my new favorite fruit/chocolate combination, easily surpassing strawberries and chocolate. I’m imagining these made with dark chocolate next time. (I just happen to have a supply of Trader Joe's Belgian dark chocolate, and still have plenty of marshmallows and grahams.)

S'mores bberry goneThis one disappeared quickly!

Let me know if you try these flavored s'mores or come up with your own concoction. Or do you think the classic s'more is too pure to be tampered with?

Stay tuned for another s'mores pairing, this time dark chocolate and ...

To be continued!

S'mores Cupcakes.

I personally invented S’mores Cupcakes a few weeks ago when I was munching Trader Joe’s dark chocolate with graham crackers, which reminded me of s’mores minus the marshmallows. (I was at work, so it would have been too messy, not to mention dangerous and dismissal-worthy, to add a campfire and toasted marshmallows to this mid-afternoon snack at my desk.)

Smores cupcake visionThis was my vision!

I envisioned a graham crackery cupcake spread with a layer of chocolate ganache and crowned by marshmallow frosting. I'd never seen a recipe for graham cracker cake before. I Googled.
Smores cupcakes dough prep
Which is when I discovered that, indeed, I had
not invented the S’mores Cupcake. But while I found a number of nice sounding recipes, I didn’t find my S’mores Cupcake -- with a simple graham cracker cupcake base and the chocolate ganache layer. Many of the recipes sounded too fussy, with chocolate chips (too provincial) and mini marshmallows (too sticky!) or frostings with a dozen ingredients (too MUCH). So I pulled together several recipes and DID, sort of, invent my own version of this s’moresy confection.

Smores cupcake batter
I found a nice
Graham Cracker Cupcakes recipe at the Gigi Cakes blog, who used the original recipe from Nabisco. If you've got one, use a food processor -- or better, a mini chopper -- to make grinding up the graham crackers easy and a little less messy. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not a fan of graham crumbs flying hither and yon all over the kitchen.

Smores cupcakes in the oven
These cupcakes don’t puff up like regular cake, so you can fill the paper liners 3/4 full. They rise but cook flat, all the better for spreading chocolate ganache on top! I refrigerated the plain cupcakes overnight, partly to break up the preparation process and partly to keep the ganache layer and marshmallow frosting from melting on warm, freshly baked cakes. I’m confident these would freeze nicely too, tucked into a ziploc bag. And they are perfectly delicious unadorned accompanied by coffee or tea. Next up: the ganache!

Chocolate Ganache Recipe

3 oz. sweetened dark chocolate (I used Trader Joe’s)
1/8 cup whipping cream or evaporated milk

Put both ingredients into a heavy bottomed pan over low heat.
When chocolate starts to melt, stir ingredients together until chocolate
is fully melted and incorporated with the cream or evaporated milk.
Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Smores cupcakes chocolate melting
I spread about two teaspoons (but feel free to use more) of chocolate ganache on top of each cupcake and let it set for a few minutes. The recipe above should top 16 cupcakes with some leftover for dipping your finger into.

Smores cupcake ganache topping
While there are plenty of marshmallow frosting recipes, including some that use marshmallow fluff as an ingredient (plus
additional sugar and/or corn syrup -- yikes, that's got to be sweet!), Martha Stewart’s Marshmallow Frosting (technically belonging to Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle) has only four ingredients and is super easy to make.

Smores cupcakes frosting action shotFrosting prep action shot. Note the pink Cook for the Cure Komen Foundation handmixer, in honor of my sister Mary Jane.

I halved Martha's frosting recipe, and quartered the vanilla extract. It tasted perfect! Just the right marshmallow flavor, spreadable, and not too sticky. And even at half the amount there was plenty of frosting for 16 cupcakes, with lots left over.

Smores cupcake marshmallow frostingLook at those perfect peaks! It only took about five minutes to whip up this frosting.

I used a small plastic spatula to spread and shape the frosting, instead of a pastry bag. Even if you want a fancy, fluted tower of frosting, as shown on Martha’s site, half the recipe should still be enough. I refrigerated the leftover frosting in a plastic container, and a week later it’s still holding up well in the fridge. It will make for great peanut butter and fluff sandwiches! Oh boy, yum.

Smores cupcake frosting process 2
Once the wee cakes were ganached and marshmallow frosted, I broiled them for exactly a minute -- just enough to brown the tops without burning them. I kept them in the cupcake pan to make sliding them in and out of the oven easier. And I kept a watchful eye on them! I tested one cupcake first, to gauge the broiling time and temperature.

Smores cupcakes broiled 1
Broiling took place in my electric oven, which I’m not terribly fond of. I grew up cooking with real flames, on the stove top and in the oven. This oven is small and narrow -- it just
barely held the turkey we cooked for 15 people a few years back, and cookie sheets have to be shimmied in and out. Plus, we have to set the temperature high by at least 20-25 degrees to get anything to cook within the suggested time on the recipe. One of the few positives about this odd oven is that broiling takes place on the top rack and with the door open, so monitoring food under the broiler is much easier than with a gas oven whose broiler is at floor level. Anyway, watch these pretties carefully when you’re broiling the tops. Just a minute or so should do (and maybe less under a real flame). Or if you’re truly fancy, use a creme brulee torch!

Oh my,
look at those lovely cupcakes. They turned out quite nicely, if I say so myself.
Smores cupcakes broiled 2
But of course, the true test is the taste.
Smores cupcake visionCome to me, o vision come true!

Mmmmmmmmmm, they are delish. If I humbly say so myself. A perfect combination of graham, chocolate, and marshmallow.
Smores cupcake eatenCareful--it takes only a few seconds to eat one of these things.

They refrigerate well in a plastic container and the frosting stays put. When you’re ready to eat, leave them out at room temperature for a few minutes and dig in. Or, skip the waiting and just dig in!

A sort of Ambrosia.

After David Lebovitz inspired me to make salted butter caramel ice cream -- which, if I say so myself, is like manna from heaven AND the nectar of the gods -- I discovered a more decadent (almost) treat on his site: Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups (as always, he includes the recipe). There was no way I wasn’t going to make these! I already had a full container of lovely fleur-de-sel, and a supply of Trader Joe's dark chocolate ... might as well put them both to good use.
peanut caramel filling
The peanut caramel comes together pretty easily, although mine didn’t set quite thick enough so I cooked it a second time for a wee bit -- that caramelized it just enough to let me make manageable blobs for plopping onto chocolate filled paper cups, which I found in the cooking aisle at Tom Thumb.

David’s method of putting melted chocolate into the cup and then “painting” it up the sides was a bit too painstaking for me. After a few attempts, I decided instead to pour a thin-ish layer of chocolate into the bottom of each cup, cool the cups for about ten minutes, put a blob of cooled peanut-caramel on top of the hardened chocolate, then pour more chocolate around the sides and enough to cover the top. This felt more efficient for this short-cut-loving girl. It’s not that I’m
entirely impatient or unwilling to put time and effort into producing good food, but when something starts to feel tedious I absolutely must figure out an alternative. This one worked beautifully.
chocolates on turquoise plate
A few sprinkles of fleur-de-sel, a chill in the fridge, and these pretty candies were ready for the real taste test (all the tasting I did during the manufacturing process didn’t really count). Oh my, they were delicious! The tang of salt combined with luscious dark chocolate and creamy peanut caramel -- it's a compelling combination! (Read: dangerously difficult to stop eating.)
peanut caramel chocolate closeup
Oh goodness yes, I will be making these again!