Monday, December 24, 2012

Chocolate Coconut Haystacks

Makes 3 dozen

These treats are perfect for those with limited time and talent for complicated holiday baking.  They can even be made on Christmas Eve with minimal effort!  Haystacks are also ideal for cooking with children.  Since they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, they can be made before the holiday madness begins.

My mother-in-law fell in love with haystacks on her travels, and she asked me to make them for Hanukkah.  After some web sleuthing, I developed the following recipe.  Other versions contain dry chow mein noodles or pretzel sticks instead of coconut.  They can also be enhanced with roasted nuts of any type (peanuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans), marshmallows, butterscotch chips, and sea salt.

6 cups sweetened coconut
1 pound semisweet chocolate chips or vegan carob chips
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1/2 cup almonds or other nuts (optional)

1.     Toast coconut on a large rimmed baking sheet at 350F.  Check it regularly and remove when it is fragrant and has turned slightly brown.  Do not leave too long or it will burn.  Remove and set aside.
2.     On the same baking sheet, toast almonds for 10-15 minutes until brown and fragrant.  Remove and set aside.
3.     In a large glass bowl, melt chocolate chips in the microwave.  Heat for 60 seconds and stir, continue heating for 15 seconds and stirring until the chips have melted.  Mix in almond extract.
4.     Add toasted coconut to the chocolate and mix well using a spoon or your hands.
5.     Line the baking sheet with parchment and make haystacks with 2 teaspoons of batter each.  Top with an almond.
6.     Refrigerate for 20 minutes until firm.   Keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

Gingerbread describes a wide variety of baked confections made from dough containing viscous sweeteners (such as molasses, honey, or treacle) and spices (usually a combination of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, black pepper, mustard, cardamom, anise, and others).  It can take a variety of forms from spongy cakes to crispy cookies.

Gingerbread can be traced back to ancient Greece and Egypt where it was used for ceremonial purposes.  Stories differ about its introduction to Europe – some suggest it arrived through Armenian monks while others cite returning crusaders.  In any case, gingerbread quickly spread throughout the continent and is now common in many Northern and Eastern European cuisines.

A precursor to modern gingerbread was a paste made from breadcrumbs that was pressed into wooden molds depicting people and scenes from modern life.  Later versions included wheat flour, eggs, and sweeteners, which resulted in a lighter and more delicate product.  Gingerbread is often associated with winter and especially with Christmastime when it takes the form of gingerbread men (first served by Queen Elizabeth I) and gingerbread houses (developed in Germany based on the Brothers Grimm fairly tale collection that included Hansel and Gretel).

Some gingerbread confections are covered in chocolate, others have fillings such as marzipan, and still others are iced or served with lemon glaze.  This gingerbread cake is drizzled with a chocolate glaze.

Serves 10-12


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup boiling water

1/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (chopped or chips)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger or small candies, for decoration (optional)

1.     Grease and flour a Bundt cake pan.  Preheat the oven to 350F.
2.     In a large bowl sift flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa, ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Set aside.
3.     In another large bowl cream butter.  Then beat in sugar, molasses, fresh ginger, and eggs.
4.     Add boiling water to a small bowl with baking soda.
5.     To make the batter, add half of the flour mixture to the bowl with butter and eggs and beat well.  Then add all of the water and baking soda.  Finally, add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just blended.
6.     Pour into cake pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Leave cake in pan for 15 minutes, then invert and cool to room temperature.  Set aside.
7.     To make the glaze, in a small pot simmer whipping cream and butter on low heat.  Remove from heat and add chocolate and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.
8.     When the chocolate glaze has cooled slightly, pour it over the cake.  Decorate with crystallized ginger or small candies.