Wing it: Chocolate Speculoos Popcorn

I’ve been playing around a lot with Speculoos spread recently and thought I’d throw it in some popcorn and see what happened. Naturally, great things happened. If you’re unfamiliar with Speculoos, it’s a tea biscuit from Belgium that I think of as a cross between a graham cracker and a gingersnap. You can find them at Wegmans, Fairway, and many other large supermarkets. The spread is what you get when you crush up the biscuits and add some other emulsifying stuff. It’s also known as cookie butter, easily found at Trader Joe’s, and is better than Nutella. It has a somewhat spicy flavor and fun texture that is fun to bake with.

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I hoped that melting the spread with chocolate chips would make for a good popcorn topping, and I was right. I didn’t bother measuring anything; the amounts are mostly based on personal preference anyway. Here’s what you need to do:

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Step 1: Make some popcorn from scratch. You can buy popcorn kernels at the grocery store, and either pop them on the stove (instructions here), or in a large microwaveable bowl. Cover the bottom of the bowl with one layer of kernels, and cover with a plate that fits over the bowl. Microwave the popcorn until there are 3 seconds between the pops. Sprinkle salt to taste.

 

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Step 2: Microwave some chocolate chips and Speculoos spread on high in 15 second intervals. If you’re not sure you’ve microwaved enough, it’s easy to add more later.

 

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Step 3: Pour the meltedness on the popcorn and coat evenly with a spoon, rubber scraper, or both.

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Step 4: Spread the popcorn onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and stick in the fridge for at least 20 minutes so the chocolate can solidify.

 

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Step 5: Take out and enjoy! Great as is for a party dessert, or on top of ice cream!

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Skillet S’mores

I’ve seen this idea floating around the internet, probably on Tasty or Buzzfeed, and I had the perfect size (read: smallest) cast iron skillet to try it in, so here’s a great way to prepare for the summer in the safety and warmth of your kitchen while waiting for the March Nor’easter to pass.

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This is a good and fast thing to whip up if you have people over and are trying to keep them happy – but for that, you’ll probably want a bigger skillet…

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Just load up the components of a s’more, minus the graham cracker, into a cast iron skillet. So, that’s really just the chocolate and marshmallows. Use milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips (or both, hi), depending on your taste. Add the marshmallows on top until you can’t fit any more. Pro-tip, which I did not do: cut the marshmallows in half so it’s easier to get to the chocolate once everything is melted. It will also allow the marshmallows to melt more, before the chocolate seizes.

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Needs more padding
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Perfect

 

Throw it in the top half of the oven and broil for a few minutes – go nowhere! Keep a close eye on the marshmallows and take out the skillet once the marshmallows have browned to your liking.

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Now! Grab your graham crackers and dig in. But really, you’ll need some wrist pivoting and finagling to get up under the marshmallows for the chocolate. Not that it’s difficult, this is just fair warning for you and your friends. Actually, speculoos biscuits may be the true pro-route here.

Disclosure: Graham crackers are prone to snapping under pressure.

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Enjoy your premature summer treat with the crew while we wait for the 60° weather to return in New York.

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Leave any more pro tips you come across in the comments!

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie, pt. I

     My culinary quest for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe started long ago, when my chocolate chip cookies started coming out differently. So I sought after the reasons that different things were happening. I started softening butter instead of microwaving it, intentionally melting butter, substituting baking soda for baking powder, and many other things. Since eating my way around San Francisco, the quest has got real: More to experiment with, more frequent testing, more tweaking. Thanks to Goody Goodie and Megan, I am now experimenting with cocoa nibs! What an excellent idea. Cocoa nibs and two other general concepts, all relating the the chocolate of the cookie, will be presented hither. Prepare for casual serious food talk.

     So cocoa nibs are chocolate before the chocolate gets processed with cocoa butter, milk and sugar into a bar. At nib form, the chocolate process has reached fermentation and drying. You can get them in their husks, which are technically edible but not tasty, or you can get them already shelled. To be honest, I wouldn’t say the nib itself is all that tasty itself either, but it sure does a great thing for cookies. The nibs are nutty, fruity, and quite bitter. You may not decide to pop a whole nib in your mouth like a cashew or raisin. BUT, the floral taste that sticks around in your mouth (not as well after further processing), does a big thing to a cookie. Too big, however, if you decide to omit any other chocolate-ness. Even so, both the flavor and texture are improved with the cocoa nibs. The crunch definitely confuses people when they can’t see or taste a walnut, and it makes things a little more exciting for your mouth.

      I’ve also sworn off and abandoned chocolate chips. Strange, seeing as I’m trying to make cookies of the chocolate chip variety. So when I say chocolate chips, think more chips in the sense of fragments, bits, chipped. I’ve found chocolate chunks to be so much more appealing. I think it’s a combination of size and psychology. Chocolate chunks are usually big, so you’re sure to get a mouthful of melty chocolate always. You may be wondering if the chunks above are indeed bigger than chocolate chips, and the answer is generally yes – but variety is also good: Some small, some big.
     I also suddenly think chocolate chips are child’s play: How many single chocolate chips have you purchased with chocolate chips and not chunks? Not many, in San Francisco at least. They remind me of 5th grade life skills class in the kitchen at ELMS. But we’re in the big leagues, which calls for big chocolate. Plus, I feel way more credentialed when I’m crushing bars of chocolate. “There are chocolate bars in the cookies”. Don’t tell me that doesn’t sound special.

     Did anyone ask himself/herself why we’re always using semi-sweet chocolate instead of milk chocolate in their cookies? Probably not, since the answer sounds something like “too sweet/mild”. Well, to that I say, everything in moderation. Why not throw all different percentages of chocolate in a batter? This idea I also took from Goody Goodie. If you have milk and dark chocolate in a cookie, you’re pretty much pleasing all chocolate lovers! More for your mouth to do. So now you’ve got cocoa nibs, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate in your cookie. Isn’t that a ton of chocolate?

      YES!! Yes it is a ton of chocolate, and that’s definitely the (last) idea here. This picture is actually a representation of what cookie batter would usually look like, so if your batter looks like this, add more chocolate! You should be questioning the integrity of the final cookie with the amount of batter that seems to be missing. But trust me – there’s enough of everything. If you do nothing else from this post, add twice as much chocolate into your cookie batter and watch the magic unfold…melt.

So to summarize, improve your chocolate “chip” cookies with
1. Cocoa nibs (found at your local co-op, or, uh, on the interwebs? Still investigating Wegs)
2. Chocolate chunks
3. Milk chocolate
4. MUCH chocolate. Wow-worthy.

     Thank you Megan for the cocoa beans (nibs inside) from Dandelion Chocolate, also in fact featured on Unique Sweets.

(Click on photos for a better look)

     Nibs, shelled and broken up. They kind of look like brains from the fold-like cracks that make the nibs come apart easily. I would, however, recommend chopping a little after that to make the bits even smaller. Some of my bites were a little too nibby.

     These make up for less than half the total chocolate going into the cookies. But they pack a big punch.

…not to mention the pretty colors! That batter though.
Cutting up chocolate also makes for cool-looking brown flakes in the cookies.
Next experiments are including but not limited to the shape of dough before hitting the oven, oven temperatures, butter beating techniques, chilling variations, and finding out what parchment paper actually does.
Chocolate Chunk Cookies (by me!)
Makes 45 small cookies
Ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 natural/evaporated cane sugar
~Cream these ingredients together until smooth.
 
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
~Cream with butter and sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

~Sift these together in a separate bowl, then gradually add by hand to butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

16 oz semi-sweet chocolate chunks
3 oz milk chocolate chunks
1/2 cup chopped cocoa nibs
~Fold this into dough. Don’t panic.

Let chill in the fridge for a few hours, or in the freezer for fewer. Drop tablespoonfulls of dough onto a baking sheet with parchment paper, if you don’t want to wash your sheet later. Place in the oven at 325 degrees for about 12 minutes, or until the middle doesn’t look like a puddle of melted batter. Cool slightly before eating.

How’s that recipe layout? Seems a little more efficient…feel free to comment if you think otherwise. Look out for updated recipes soonish! Happy tweaking!

What’s in the Pantry: Bananas

     Have bananas, will bake. After some consideration, I decided to make a dent in the pile of ripening bananas in the kitchen with some chocolate banana muffins because breakfast is important, and who doesn’t love some banana bread?

     I only ended up using three bananas. Which in retrospect is a lot, but it did not seem like it at the time. Hooray for fancy banana smashing devices.

     Filling muffin tins is a task. I might have added some extra chocolate chips to the tops. Pretty food is good food.

     Moist and happy. Thank you Joy of Cooking Vol. 2 for the banana bread recipe for inspiration P:

Chocolate Banana Muffins
Edited From Joy of Cooking Vol. 2 banana bread recipe
Makes 17 muffins. Sorry about it.

Ingredients
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
Zest of half a lemon
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup pulp of ripe bananas (2-3 large bananas)
1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (disregard the last thing I said about this stuff)
1/2 cup (or more) chocolate chips

Combine butter, sugar and lemon zest until creamy. Beat in eggs and banana pulp. Sift dry ingredients together and gradually add to batter. Add chocolate chips. Place batter in 1.5 greased muffin pans, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.