Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Brownie Power

The other day I posted my Killer Brownie Recipe as well as a link to Squash Brownies. I heard back from Patti O'Brien that she has a co-worker who uses black beans in her brownie recipe! While I'm waiting for this recipe, I had a comment from Brownie Power, a blog that is devoted to Brownies. Well, I'm in heaven. I skimmed the site and was quite taken by Girl Scout Thin Mints Cookie Brownies and Outrageous Oreo Crunch Brownies. There's even a Guinness Beer Brownies recipe that complements my St. Patrick's day recipes. Lots of other brownie recipes, too. Can't wait to try a few.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Chocolate Birthday Cake

They say it's your birthday! Well, it's mine, anyway. So yes, I'm either 29 or 39. I've lost track. What better way to celebrate than with a chocolate cake? Hats off to my friend Janet Appel for bringing a chocolate birthday cake for me to the mystery bookgroup last week. She's usually busy marryin' folks at the county courthouse, so she bought this one, although she really is a great baker. 

I'm actually out of town today for my birthday. I'm in Bodega Bay, setting of Hitchcock's The Birds. (Here's a site to incredible birds you'll find in Bodega Bay) I  have all the baking paraphernalia up here, so I could bake a chocolate birthday cake. Or, I might go to a great restaurant and have a molten chocolate cake for dessert. Probably the latter. I love to bake, but I want to take the dogs (my golden retrievers Topper and Busby Berkeley) for a nice long walk on the beach.  No chocolate for them, though. Chocolate (especially good dark chocolate) is dangerous to dogs

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Killer Brownies

So I was on Facebook today and read that my friend Patti was going to make brownies today. Since I had just blogged about two fun brownie pans and hadn't included a recipe,  I thought I'd ask her what she was planning to use. Turns out it was one of my old stand-bys, Betty Crocker Brownies. Now, I know some of you out there are yelling,  "sacrilege" --first using a box mix and second the quality of the chocolate. But boy are they good, and especially if you have zero time. 

Well, Patti has another friend on Facebook who sent her a recipe for Chocolate Squash brownies. Again since my mind translated that to mean squashy squishy chewy brownies, I thought I should take a look. This recipe actually adds winter squash as an ingredient. Here's the link. I might try this some time.

Anyway, this all got me to thinking I should include my own Killer Brownie Recipe on this DyingforChocolate Blog, so here goes. 

1 lb plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips 
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate (lots of great choices out there)
6 extra large eggs
2 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
4 Tbsp strong brewed coffee
1-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 lb unsalted butter (European sweet butter is the best!)
3 tbsp instant coffee granules
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
3 cups chopped walnuts or chocolate nibs (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 12" x 18" x 1" baking pan or one of the interesting new pans.

Melt together butter, 1 lb of chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate in medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (don't beat) together eggs, coffee, vanilla, coffee granules and sugar. Stir warm chocolate mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.

Mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to cooled chocolate mixture. Toss walnuts or nibs and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add to chocolate batter. Pour into baking pan.

Bake 20 minutes, then rap baking pan against oven shelf to force air to escape between pan and brownie dough. Bake for 15 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool, refrigerate and cut into squares.

Of course I never wait and the brownies sometimes crumble and are gooey, but who cares? I like them best right out of the oven!

Two New Chocolate Brownie Baking Pans

I came across two interesting baking pans that are of interest to chocoholics. The first is a Baker's Edge Brownie Pan. This is a must for those brownie-lovers who like their batch baked to crispy-edged perfection. It's quick an inventive pan. Baker's Edge website says about this pan:
  • Two delicious, chewy edges on every individual serving
  • Patented sidewalls circulate heat evenly throughout the pan
  • Better performance (fewer undercooked middles and burned edges)
  • Sized to fit box mixes and recipes for 9”x9” or 9”x13” pans
  • Premium nonstick coating and round, easy-to-clean corners
  • Durable heavy-gauge cast aluminum construction
  • Recessed handles allow pan to be gripped when turned upside-down
I personally don't care about the crispy edge with brownies since I like them chewy. On my salty foods, though, crispy is a must. This item is available at many brick-and-mortar and online stores, so check for best value.

The other item is the Wilton Brownie Cup Pan. This leaves an indentation that is perfect for ice-cream or other additons. The bowls are 3 1/2' and can be used for other products. Wilton products are available in lots of stores and on-line.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Crossover: Chocolate and Mysteries

My two passions are chocolate and mysteries, so it's not surprising that I've begun to assemble a list of mystery novels that feature chocolate.

I've put out a call to mystery authors, and I've had several responses.

The first entry is a wonderful blog on chocolate and writing by Joe Finder. I know you'll enjoy this Valentine's memory of Paris and chocolate. The tie-in to his crime novels, " Which gives me a plot idea, of course. Plant Adam Cassidy, from Paranoia, in NestlĂ© headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, see . . . Corporate espionage plus chocolate: — what’s not to love?" Do go to Joe's blog entry on Parisian Chocolate.

Katherine Hall Page writes, "I thought I would never taste anything in this country to equal Bernachon in Lyon, France's amazing chocolates. Then a few years ago I discovered L.A. Burdick, located in Walpole, NH and with another store in Harvard Square. They have appeared in both The Body in the Attic and The Body in the Gallery. They also run a chocolate cooking school in the summer. All the chocolates are handmade and my new favorites are a dark, slightly salty caramel.
In The Body in the Sleigh, I have a recipe for chocolate bread pudding that has been a huge hit during the testing. I start with Pigs Fly chocolate bread, another amazing concoction by a Maine company that may be purchased as a kit on line, also available at many Whole Foods. Aaaah..."

Mike Ripley reminded me of Anthony Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Cake (1929). We read this in my mystery bookgroup and did a chocolate sampling, sans poison.

Joanna Carl aka Eve Sandstrom writes, "The Chocoholic books should be on your list, of course!
But after reading your blog, I see that they're not at all in your class. While the chocolates made by TenHuis Chocolade are very high quality, they're not all that exotic. After reading all about the exciting chocolate events you've participated in, I had to jump up and get into my stash of Reese's miniatures."

The eight Chocoholic books are: The Chocolate Cat Caper, The Chocolate Bear Burglary, The Chocolate Frog Frame-Up, The Chocolate Puppy Puzzle, The Chocolate Mouse Mystery, The Chocolate Bridal Bash, The Chocolate Jewel Case, and The Chocolate Snowman Murders. The Chocolate Cupid Killings will be out next fall, and I'm working on The Chocolate Pirate Plot.

More to come. Feel free to comment with any chocoholic mystery/crime novels.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

San Francisco Chocolate Salon Awards

Chocolate Salon Awards

After over 4,000 attendees on Saturday savored the delectable offerings as part of the national Chocolate Stimulus Plan, The Awards for the 3rd Annual SAN FRANCISCO CHOCOLATE SALON have been selected by a team of expert panelists (I don't think I'm an expert, but I know what I like). All awards can be seen on the Salon website. Check out the Second Place and Honorable Mentions. And remember, this is all a matter of taste.

Best Dark Chocolate: Amano Artisan Chocolate
Best Milk Chocolate: Amano Artisan Chocolate
Best Truffle: Neo Cocoa
Top Artisan Chocolatier: Amano Artisan Chocolate
Most Luxurious Chocolate Experience: Dolce Bella Chocolates
Most Artistic Designs: William Dean Chocolates
Best Flavored Chocolate Bar: Marti Chocolatt
Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations: Jade Chocolates
Best Traditional Chocolate: Guittard Chocolate Company
Best Dark Chcoolate Bar: Amano Artisan Chocolate
Best Toffee in the Salon: Poco Dolce
Best in Salon: Amano Artisan Chocolate
Best Organic or Fair Trade Products: Divine Chocolate
Most Gifted Chocolatier/Chocolate Maker: Amano Artisan Chocolate
Best Comfort Chocolate Product: Kikas Treats
New Product Awards: This was a really hard category, and the Judges were split between:
XOX Truffles
Sterling Confections
CJ's Bitz
Christopher Michael Chocolates
Marti Chocolatt
Brix Chocolate
Neo Cocoa
Best Wine or Beverage: Van Gogh Chocolate Vodka

I can't wait for next year. In the meantime, if you find yourself in the following cities at these times, be sure to check out the International Chocolate Salon.

Upcoming Chocolate Salons:
July 12, 2009: Seattle September 2009: Chicago October 11 2009: Los Angeles

For more information, go to

Read more about Amano Chocolate, my pick from the Fancy Food Show and the chocolate that scored so high in so many categories at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon.

Dolce Bella Chocolates

I hadn't tried Dolce Bella Chocolates before the San Francisco Chocolate Salon, and I'm so glad I have now. As you know, I'm more of a purist when it comes to chocolate, but Audrey Vaggione's smooth ganache fillings are to die for. Dolce Bella was definitely on my scorecard at the Chocolate Salon.

Audrey Vaggione, chocolatier and pastry chef , was at the show with lots of different samples of her elegant, smooth, truffles and chocolates. She graduated from the California Culinary Academy in Baking and Pastry Arts in 2005 and, after gaining experience in several Bay Area pastry kitchens, launched Vaggione Pastries, making custom desserts, wedding cakes, and chocolates. She found making chocolates melded her interests: growing fresh food, cooking, decorating, and science, and she soon began shipping chocolates, making them in rented space in a commercial kitchen and selling at farmers’ markets. Suddenly every “for lease” sign was calling out to her and the search for her own space began. The new Dolce Bella Chocolates kitchen and store location is in Saratoga on Cox Avenue across from the garden in which Audrey grows most of the flavor ingredients in her creations.

Dolce Bella Chocolates takes freshness to a whole new level. Berries, citrus, flowers, and herbs are picked the very morning, sometimes within minutes of being incorporated into cream and butter ganache and piped into a molded chocolate shell. The results are fresh flavors rarely found out of the garden.

Even traditional ingredients such as caramel are made from scratch; no extracts, preservatives, or artificial colorings are used in the making of the chocolates. Contrasting chocolate or gold luster dust, a ground mineral powder, are used for decoration.

Dolce Bella uses E-Guittard chocolate, locally made with old-world traditional methods since the 1860s.

Dolce Bella Chocolates Store, 18828 Cox Ave, Saratoga, California 9507, Phone (408) 866-8351

Can't make it to Dolce Bella or a local farmers' market (Mountain View and Saratoga), order online.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

San Francisco International Chocolate Salon

What can I say. Over 4,000 people attended the San Francisco Chocolate Salon this past Saturday. I'm so glad I got there early (note to self: remember to go early next year) before all those people arrived. There certainly was enough to satisfy even the most devoted chocoholic.

I was a Judge, so I picked up my form right away. I was surprised at all the categories. I'm a purist at heart and many of the categories had to do with what was added to the chocolate or how it was packaged, but that didn't daunt me. I was up to the challenge, and, after all, I should be expanding my horizons. Some of the categories ranged from best dark chocolate bar to best truffle to best new chocolate product, to most interesting ingredient. I'll let you know the categories and winners when I get them on Thursday.

So out I went ballot in hand. So many choices! There were Honey-vodka truffles from XOX. Beautifully shaped truffles and elegant boxes with great tasting cayene tequila truffles from Neo Cocoa, interesting flavored bars from Jade Chocolates including Dragon's Breath. Very hot and spicy! And so many more. I was taken by the Chocolate Guinness from Socola, a great accompaniment for my Chocolate Guinness cake last week. I enjoyed talking with the two sisters Wendy and Susan Leiu abut their hand-crafted truffles with local ingredients including Straus Cermery butter and cream.

Tcho was there, and they produce some of my favorites bars. Sterling Confections had the most incredible artistic 'loaves of many colors.' There were chocolates beautifully boxed in Tiffany colors. Poco Dolce had Tiles of chocolate. Interesting concept and great taste. Suggestion by the folks there was to break them up and do a tasting. Dolce Bella of Saratoga had my vote in several categories. Smooth, luxurious truffles. Divine Chocolate billed itself as Heavenly Chocolate with a Heart, and I certainly agreed.

I could go on and on, and probably will at another time when I go through all of the exhibitors at a later date. So I made my first pass, tasting small amounts, thinking of the categories. Although I thought I had taken good notes, I found I had to go around a second and even to some chocolatiers a third time, in order to reach a decision. This judging was much harder than I thought it would be.

I reached my own conclusions and handed in my ballot, but I look forward to Thursday and finding out what the consensus of all the judges was. I'll post as soon as I know. In the meantime, I have some very sweet memories of a great hall of chocolate! The International Chocolate Salon goes to other cities. Be sure and put it on your calendar if they come your way. I particularly liked that so many local chocolatiers were included at the San Francisco Salon. I loved meeting new chocolatiers and tasting new chocolate!

It was an event to die for......

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chocolate Paris

As if I really need a reason to visit Paris, Hotel Fouquet's Barriere in Paris on the corner of Avenue des Champs Elysees and Avenue George V has a chocolate-themed package for Easter. Guests staying in the upscale hotel from April 10 to April 13 can se the mood with chocolate treatments in the hotel spa, as well as lessons in the art of gourmet chocolate-making taught by pastry chef Jean-Luc Labat. Package includes an overnight stay, continental breakfast and lunch or dinner for two. Rates start at $1,105 for an overnight tsay based on double occupancy. For more info, go to:

Also, sorry for the lack of postings. Just getting back into the swing of things after the San Francisco Chocolate Salon this past Saturday. I'll be posting shortly with pictures. Winners will be announced by the Salon this week. Being a judge was hard work, but someone's got to do it. Needless to say, I ate a lot of chocolate.

Friday, March 20, 2009

SF Chocolate Salon March 21

Don't miss out on the third annual San Francisco Chocolate Salon, Saturday, March 21, 10-6, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. 30,000 square feet of Chocolate, Wine and Confections. Chocolate is a great way to celebrate the Solstice. I'll be a judge, and I'm really looking forward to this!

If you are worried about calories associated with 8 hours of chocolate, think of the positive effects.
  • Cocoa and chocolate increases the amount of endorphins in your body. That is good especially if the economy is getting you down...

"Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't." - Legally Blonde

  • Dark chocolate is known to contain antioxidants that combat cell damage that can lead to tumor growth. These antioxidants occur naturally in the cocao bean we use to make all chocolate products, and may play a role in cancer prevention. It's true, fruits and vegetables have more antioxidants and are lower in fat and calories.
So join me at the San Francisco Chocolate Salon.
I'll be reporting on everything chocolate next week!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Whoopie Pies

So, I opened the New York Times Food section (Dining) today, to find one of my favorite foods the lead story--Whoopie Pies. According to the article by Micheline Maynard, Whoopie Pies originated in Pennsylvania's Amish country and then migrated to Maine. They're now made in many upscale bakeries all over the nation including the Magnolia Bakery in New York City, and can also be found at comfort food markets such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. They're even in the Williams-Sonoma catalogue. Well, I'm in heaven. Of course, the article goes on to cite filling variations, such as cointreau, almond, raspberry, etc. Some bakeries even make the cake in pumpkin or vanilla flavor! Heaven forbid! I like my Whoopie Pies pure!

A whoopie pie is essentially two pies-two round pieces of chocolate cake--with a cream filling in the middle. Oreo makes an Oreo Cakester and Hostess makes the Suzy Q, but those are not real Whoopie Pies, although they can be eaten in a pinch.

I grew up close to Pennsylvania Dutch country (o.k. that's what we called it), and as a child, we often stopped at the Pennsylvania Dutch open markets for all kinds of treats. Whoopie Pies were a very special favorite of mine and one I could only obtain depending on the adult with me. Dietary concerns. The real whoopie pies were two small flattish chocolate cakes with a filling made from Crisco mixed with vanilla, egg whites and sugar, or dare I say it, pure butter mixed with sugar, and egg whites and maybe a little vanilla. Those were the days.

We often spent summers in Maine, and the whoopie pie was there, too. I remember the Maine version as good--well, what kid doesn't think a cream filled chocolate cake-pie is good--but not as good as the Amish whoopie pie. They didn't seem as rich, but don't get me wrong, they were tasty! Probably not made with as much lard, crisco or butter. The chocolate cake was different, too.

The Epicurious recipe for Whoopie Pies uses Droste brand Dutch-process cocoa for the reicipe for a richer chocolate flavor and the filling recipe uses marshmallow cream. The NY Times article has a recipe adapted from Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, MI. With a little more digging, I found an article on the History of Whoopie Pies in What's Cooking America. The article mentions the 1930s cookbook Yummy Book by the Durkee Mower Company, the manufacturer of Marshmallow Fluff. Needless to say the filling was more like marshmallow. I think the whoopie pie goes further back, so if you find something, let me know.

O.K. Whoopie Pies are a lot like Moon Pies, in case you're from another part of the country. I hail from near Lancaster County, so they'll always be those mouth-watering Whoopie Pies to me--and probably made with vegetable shortening or butter filling. Yes, that was the old crisco or the rich butter from local cows. Zing--straight to the arteries, but what a treat!

Here's a filling recipe from that 1930s cookbook

Whoopie Pie Filling:
1 cup solid vegetable shortening*
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups Marshmallow Fluff**
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

* Butter may be substituted for all or part of the vegetable shortening, although traditional Whoopie Pies are made with vegetable shortening only

What a great comfort food for these troubled times.

Monday, March 16, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Chocolate

Lots of chocolate cakes for St. Patrick's Day. There's a recipe for Bailey's Irish Cream Cupcakes at RecipeZaar, originally from Woman's World. Yummy! I would probably use Scharffen Berger cocoa powder.

Epicurious offers this recipe for Chocolate Stout Cake. I would use Guinness, for sure. And, here's an easier Chocolate Guinness Cake recipe from the NY Times.
Bake at 350 degrees:

Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/8 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

The NYT recipe uses a white cream cheese icing, but I would do a chocolate one. Well, I am a chocoholic, after all. Here's my recipe:
12 oz. chocolate chips or broken dark chocolate
8 oz cream cheese
1 box powdered sugar, 1 stick butter

1. For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.

2. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.

4. Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand.

If you use the white creamcheese icing, you can ice the top of cake only, so that it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness. If you use chocolate, well.... you'll be eating more chocolate!

Don't have the time or inclination to make a cake from scratch? This Chocolate Guinness Cake is even easier and calls for more Guinness!!! This recipe is from Canela and Comino. (Their new website is: with lots of other fabulous recipes.) Don't worry about the taste or smell of the Guinness since you're using the whole bottle. You'll only have a tang from the Guinness and no yeasty smell, just great chocolate aroma!

1 box of dark chocolate cake mix (one with pudding in the mix)
1 bottle of Guinness Stout
1/2 cup of Canola oil
3 eggs
4 oz. Bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Combine the cake mix, Stout, oil, and eggs in a mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed just until combined. Add bittersweet chocolate and gently stir in. Divide between the two 8” cake pans, coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when stuck in the middle.

3. Remove from oven and cool in pans for about 15 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Once cooled, frost with a rich Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chocolate French

It's just about Springtime in Paris, and on my other Blog: Mystery Fanfare, I've been writing about authors who set their mysteries in Paris and France. Chocolate, although not the theme of any I reviewed, appears in at least two of them.

When I was a student, I survived in France on wonderful fresh bread with chunks of dark chocolate and a Eurail pass. What a way to travel. Eventually I graduated to better food--Paris has the most divine restaurants, of course, but I'm still a sucker for a good pain au chocolat. That's why I love the book Chocolate French: Recipes, Language, and Directions to Français au Chocolat by A. K. Crump. This book should be on every chocolate lover and Francophile's shelf.
It's a great guide to 'French' as it takes you through an intimate relationship between international French culture and global chocolate cuisine. There are some really amazing recipes from all over the world including Chocolate Bread Pudding, Chocolate Mousse Charlotte, Couscous with honey, raisins and cacao. There are also wonderful photographs of French life, patisseries, chocolatiers, as well as musings on chocolate.

Chocolate French traces the French love of chocolate from its beginnings in the mid-17th century to present-day France. There's also lots of other cultural information on chocolate in film, literature, fashion and life, as well as the exportation of a chocolate loving tradition to other French-speaking countries and colonies, as well as international locations. Don't miss the Napa Valley method for preparing a dipped Camembert and chocolate sandwich.

If you 'study' the vocabulary section, you'll amaze your friends with your 'expert' knowledge of chocolate. Put Chocolate French on your booklist now!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bar to Bar to Bar San Francisco Scavenger Quest

What are San Francisco’s three basic food groups? Caffeine, Chocolate and Alcohol.

The Bar to Bar to Bar Scavenger Quest that TeamBuilding Unlimited/Murder on the Menu created is primarily for team building and team bonding. This is not for the faint of heart. There is an emphasis on fun, creativity and enjoyment.

Last Friday, the catering and conference services team from one of the largest San Francisco hotels had a teambuilding event that included the Bar to Bar to Bar Quest. Each team was expected to visit specific yet different chocolate locations in the City near the starting point. For this specific quest Shoggi on 87 Yerba Buena Lane, CocoaBella Chocolate in the Westfield San Francisco Center, Teuscher at 307 Sutter St, Ghiradelli at 44 Stockton St., Leonidas Belgian Chocolates at 50 Post St, Richart at 3393 Sutter and Fog City News at 455 Market Street were selected for the chocolate portion.

In addition, each team had to visit and bring back proof of the visit (electronic, paper or product) from a place that also serves or sells coffee, as well as a place that serves or sells alcohol.

Frank Price from TeamBuilding Unlimited also set a goal for this Quest (as if eating chocolate wasn't enough?). Each team had to redesign the hotel's corporate logo utilizing these three food groups along with cultural, sporting, artistic, political and recreational information of San Francisco that they found along the way. As part of the final presentation, each team combined their information by making a marketing/advertising t-shirt to persuade the other teams that their new logo was the best.

Teams enjoyed the visits to the chocolate places best of all. No big surprise! The presentations were animated, lively and exciting. Some employees added music and dancing as well as props to their presentations. Who knows, maybe their hotel will adapt one of the new logos!

Bonding at its best! And never bittersweet!

TeamBuilding Unlimited/Murder on the Menu also does Chocolate Only Scavenger Quests--anywhere in the World. Groups of 5 to 300.