Chocolate Cornmeal Shortbread

I saw a recipe recently for lemon shortbread cookies that added some cornmeal for a twist. As I’m a fan of corn in almost all its forms, I thought I’d give the concept a try. Of course, I had to make the recipe my own by incorporating a few changes.

I decided to make mine chocolate. As coffee increases the impact of the chocolate, I added some instant espresso powder dissolved in a mix of creme de cacao and vanilla. Of course, if you’re not using the Creme de Cacao liquor, up the amount of vanilla extract to one teaspoon.

The shortbread cookies were crisp, with a depth of chocolate and a bit of nuttiness that was absolutely delicious.

1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1/3 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 tablespoons), softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cream de cacao liquor, optional
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl.

Put the butter and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Place the espresso powder in the vanilla and creme de cacao and stir to dissolve. Pour into the batter and mix until blended. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the dough forms moist clumps. Mix in the chopped chocolate.

Turn the dough out onto a parchment lined surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness, turning, lifting, and repositioning the parchment throughout the rolling. Slide the dough onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.

Using a 2 1/2-inch round (or any shape) cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Arrange about 1 inch apart on parchment covered cookie sheets. Stack the scraps, gently press together, reroll, and cut as before. Slide the cookie sheets into the fridge while the oven heats (at least 15 minutes). Bake, one sheet at a time, until the tops look dry and very pale brown, 25 to 28 minutes.

Let the shortbread cool completely on the cookie sheets. Store in an airtight container.


Mississippi Mud Pie for Pi Day

I’ve had more than my share of Mississippi Mud Pies. Some are cake like (a la Dolly Parton’s version). Some are just a chocolate crust with chocolate pudding. Some are as layered as the river itself and that is where I started with my version.

Chocolate crust – check. Brownie layer – check. Pudding layer – check. Caramel whipped cream layer – check. Cookie and pecan topping – check. Remembering the feeling of Mississippi river mud squishing through my toes – check!

As this is a lot of pie (like the Mississippi River currently is), I used a springform pan instead of a pie plate. If you have a deep dish one, you could certainly use that.

So yummy!

Mississippi Mud Pie

For the crust:
25 chocolate wafer cookies (about 2/3rds of a 9-ounce package)
1/2 cup pecan chopped, plus more for garnish
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the brownie layer:
8 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces Bittersweet or Semisweet Chocolate
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the pudding layer:
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups milk
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

For the caramel whipped cream topping:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup pecans coarsely chopped
5-8 chocolate wafer cookies, crushed


For the crust: In a food processor, grind wafers and pecans until fine crumbs form. Add melted butter; process until moistened. Transfer mixture to a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly into bottom and up sides. Bake in 375 degree F oven until fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the brownie layer: In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate together. In a separate bowl whisk together eggs, salt, sugars and vanilla. Stir egg mixture into chocolate mixture, and then add flour and chopped pecans. Stir just until combined.

Scrape brownie batter into the chocolate crust, forming an even layer. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out somewhat clean. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before topping with pudding.

For the pudding: In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt until well combined. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in milk. Once milk is incorporated, whisk in egg yolks. Turn on the burner to medium heat and, whisking constantly, cook mixture until the first large sputtering bubble forms. Reduce heat to low; continuing to whisk constantly, cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; immediately pour through a fine mesh sieve into a medium sized mixing bowl. Stir in vanilla and cold butter until combined.

Pour pudding over the brownie layer, spreading into an even layer but staying away from the outside edge so as to form a crust. Place plastic wrap directly on surface to prevent skin from forming and chill at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Remove from the springform pan.

Whipped topping: Prepare an ice bath; set aside. Heat sugar, water, and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, without stirring, until sugar turns golden amber. Remove pan from heat; slowly pour cream down sides of pan in a slow, steady stream (it will spatter and the sugar will solidify). Return pan to medium heat, and whisk until sugar is melted and the mixture is smooth and combined.

Transfer caramel cream to a mixing bowl set in ice bath; let sit until very cold, stirring occasionally. Mixture can be refrigerated overnight.
When ready to serve pie: Whip the caramel cream until stiff peaks form. Top the chocolate pudding layer with the whipped cream. Garnish with crushed chocolate cookies and chopped pecans.

Decadent Chocolate Cupcakes

I was heading to a board meeting yesterday and I wanted to take some cupcakes to help us act in accordance with the fiduciary duties of care, loyalty, and obedience. Because of where I am on my cycle, they had to be not just chocolate but chocolate on chocolate cupcakes.

The result was rich, dark and delicious. Because of the melted butter, water and buttermilk, these are super moist, too. Chop the pecans very finely, so they becomes little nutty bits within the frosting.

Decadent Chocolate Cupcakes

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

2 sticks unsalted butter
5 tablespoons good quality cocoa
1 cup boiling water

1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs,
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place cupcake liners in 2 pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, place the flour, sugar, salt and soda and stir to combine.

In saucepan, melt the butter. Once melted, stir in the cocoa and then add the boiling water. Pour the butter/cocoa over the flour mixture. Stir gently to combine.

In a separate bowl, beat together the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Pour the mixture over the batter. Fill cupcake liners about 2/3rds of the way full. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pans midway through baking. A toothpick pressed in the center should come out clean.

Cool on wire racks before frosting.

The frosting is sweet without being cloying and is also deeply chocolate.

Chocolate Pecan Frosting

1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
5 tablespoons good quality cocoa
6 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

Melt butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat. Add cocoa and stir to combine. Add the buttermilk, vanilla and powdered sugar. Stir together until well combined. Add the pecans and stir together. Once cooled, spread over the cupcakes.

Cinnamon Chocolate Pepper Cookies

I’m still in a holiday baking mood, so I made these spicy chocolate rounds that are almost like eating a cup of Mexican hot chocolate in cookie form. I dusted some with cinnamon sugar and others with red and green sanding sugar. They’ve got a sneaky little bite to them from the black and cayenne peppers, so make sure you have a tall glass of milk handy when eating.

Instead of vanilla, I added some Rum Chata. The mixture of rum, cream and spices gave the cookies a delicious twist.

Cinnamon Chocolate Pepper Cookies

1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon Rum Chata (or Mexican vanilla)
cinnamon sugar and sanding sugar

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, salt and peppers. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and mix well. Add the Rum Chata (or vanilla) and then slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined.

Divide the dough in half and form into six inch logs. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to firm for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a shallow plate, place cinnamon sugar or sanding sugar.

Working with one roll at a time, either cut rounds off the roll of chilled dough or roll out and cut with cookie cutters. Gently toss the cookies in the sugar to evenly coat. Place on a parchment covered baking sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating pan midway through. Edges will look dry when done. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely before storing in an air tight container.

Meringue Bones

I’ve always loved Halloween. Part of the joy of living in cities like San Francisco and New Orleans is they are the perfect places for adults to costume and party and enjoy All Hallows Eve.

One of my favorites is making meringues in the shape of bones. These are pretty easy and very tasty.

Meringue Bones

2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat eggs on medium until frothy. Sprinkle on the cream of tartar and continue to beat until soft peaks form. Increase the speed and add in the sugar. Continue to beat until the egg whites are glossy and stiff peaks form. Add in vanilla and mix until just combined.

Pipe the meringues onto the prepared baking sheet. To form bones, place two dots connected by a long line and two additional dots.

Bake for 2 hours or until you can easily peel the meringues off the parchment paper. Turn off the oven and let cool completely inside for a couple of hours or overnight if your house isn’t too humid.

Store in an airtight container or they will become soggy.

Peanut Butter Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

I was craving cinnamon and, after flipping through my cookie books, I found this one. It combines cinnamon in the dough and it is rolled in cinnamon-sugar but the peanut butter flavor totally raises this up a notch. These are a cinch to make – the hardest part is waiting long enough for the dough to firm up to roll.

Peanut Butter Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Optional – 1/2 cup semi-sweet morsels, chopped

Cinnamon sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix flour, the cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Cream the butter and the sugars in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed. Add in egg and beat to combine. Add in peanut butter and vanilla. Scrape down the bowl. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until well mixed. If using chocolate chips, add them now. Refrigerate 1 1/2 to 2 hours to firm.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Mix cinnamon sugar by combining 1/4 cup granulated sugar with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon in small bowl.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in cinnamon sugar mixture to coat. Place about 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Gently flatten with fork, pressing a crisscross pattern onto tops of cookies.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.


Chocolate Popcorn

Sunday is game day and I needed something salty, crunch and chocolatey. What hits the trifecta better than chocolate coated popcorn?

My friends, Charlotte and Thomas, gave me a Swedish popcorn maker from Lekue. It makes perfect popcorn every time, with very little oil and only few unpopped kernels per batch. It is one of my favorite gadgets for the kitchen and I use it all the time.

Chocolate Popcorn

1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup semi-sweet morsels
1 tablespoon butter

Make popcorn. Pick out any unpopped kernels (trust me, don’t skip this step). Salt generously. Melt chocolate with the butter. Stir in a large bowl until well coated. Gobble up a few handfuls while the oven heats to 260 degrees F. Place popcorn on a rimmed baking sheet and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to recrisp the popcorn.

Serve in bowls with plenty of napkins.