Category Archives: Chocolate

Party Cake Pops

Every year when the kids’ birthdays roll around, my wife Carol tries something different to celebrate. As a creative director, she is, well, pretty creative, so I’m always expecting something new & exciting. This year she decided to try her hand at making cake pops.

Cake pops have been “all the rage” ever since Angie Dudley of Bakerella fame published her recent book. Although Angie forms her pops from crumbled cake, Carol decided to try baking them from a set of Bake Pop trays. Carol also wanted her pops to have a soft exterior coating of frosting, rather than the harder candy melt surface that Angie suggests. Either way, cake pops are all about the decorating, and, as you can see from our photo above, anything goes!

You will need…

  • cake mix
  • bake pop tray or baking pan
  • candy melts and your favorite frostings
  • lollipop sticks
  • piping bag & tips
  • sprinkles, nonpareils, etc. (for decorating)
  • styrofoam board (for drying)

Bake cake mix in bake pop trays. Allow to cool. Remove pops from tray.

Place candy melts in narrow microwave-safe bowl and melt in microwave, per candy melt package directions.

Dip lollipop stick approximately 1/2″ into melted candy. Next, insert stick halfway into cake pop. Place pop on small baking sheet or plate. Repeat with remaining pops.

Place pops in freezer for 15 minutes to secure lollipop stick.

Place frosting in narrow microwave-safe bowl and microwave one minute. Tint if desired. Stir. Repeat until frosting is thinned enough for dipping. (Do not overheat or frosting may break down.)

Dip cake pops fully into melted frosting and allow excess to drip away.

Insert stick end of cake pops into styrofoam board to dry. Once the pops have dried, decorate as desired.

For more cake pop tips & methods check out Bakerella’s “how to” video.

-Joe

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Filed under Cake, Chocolate, Cupcakes, Entertaining, Sweets

Cupcakes—those cute little cakes

Have you noticed? Cupcakes are all the rage.  So many flavors, so many frostings, so many toppings, and so many sizes!  Cupcakes have become a whimsical replacement for traditional desserts. I remember when they were just a simple treat to send to school for kids’ birthdays—now they pop up all over, even at wedding receptions!

For those in the Connecticut area, I have started a cupcake venture, Cupcakes for a Cause.  Part of the proceeds are donated to a local animal shelter.  Visit my website and see my limited holiday flavors!!  www.cupcakecause.com

Showcased in the above photo is one of my offerings – Cup o’ Joe (developed in honor of my A LA CARTE partner, Joe, who makes the best coffee in town!)  It is a rich Espresso Cupcake topped with Mocha Buttercream, then sprinkled with chopped candied coffee beans & ground cinnamon.

Cathy

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Filed under Cake, Chocolate, Cupcakes, Dessert, Sweets

Guilt-free Chocolate Shake!

and now, a little quiz from A LA CARTE…..

The mouth-watering chocolate milkshake in the photo:
A. is both non-dairy & cholesterol-free
B. is vegan
C. contains only 200 calories
D. tastes as good as it looks
E. All of the above

If you answered “E”, give yourself a star, and have a sip!

The secret to this tasty, healthful shake is Silk brand’s Dark Chocolate Almond Milk. It’s  available at large grocery stores and I even found it at my Target. Silk’s website has a store locator; just enter your zip code. If your store does not carry it, pester the manager to order it!  It’s quite tasty straight, but extra fab in shakes and dessert recipes. Try it!

Dark Chocolate & Banana Milkshake

1 cup (8 ounces) dark chocolate almond milk
1/2 banana
1/2 cup crushed ice

– Place all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth.

– Serve immediately.

Heather

2 Comments

Filed under Chocolate, Drinks, Healthy, Shakes & Smoothies, Vegetarian

Christmas Cupcakes Made Easy!

These Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting & Holiday Sprinkles are made from Duncan Hines Red Velvet Cake Mix and Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting. I added 3 tablespoons Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder to the cake batter for added chocolate flavor. The cupcakes taste great, but also look great thanks to the beautiful cupcake liners.

As a props stylist, I am sometimes stopped dead in my tracks when I discover a new product that I could only have dreamed of in years past. While other people may be excited by, say, advances in technology or medical science, I get excited when I see products perfect for photo shoot propping, and I am always on the lookout. Colorful straws that bend, square plates, tiny glass Christmas balls in unusual colors…well, you get the idea.

Cupcakes have always been hard to shoot because the see-thru thin paper liners were so unattractive that they ruined the shot. The foil liners were a bit better, but not by much. (Seriously, I have been known to handpaint cupcake liners because what we needed for a shoot simply did not exist.) For many years, cupcakes were pretty, cupcake liners were not. It was common knowledge. At least in my world.

Therefore, I was recently blown away when I came across Reynolds’ line of decorative foil cupcake liners that change seasonally. The red and green ribbon swirl pattern practically jumped off the shelf as I browsed the baking aisle of my grocery store. The liners are paper on the outside and foil on the inside. They hold their color and their shape; in fact, you do not even need a cupcake tin to use them. Pretty & practical…now that’s genius.

Happy cupcaking!

Heather

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Filed under Chocolate, Cupcakes, Dessert, Entertaining, Holidays

Dangerously Good Chocolate Mint Meltaways

It’s true….these Chocolate Mint Meltaways should come with a warning. They’re that good!

Have you ever noticed that the best looking cookies are not always the best tasting cookies? This is especially true when it comes to Christmas cookies. That adorably decorated sugar cookie might look like it should be on the cover of a fancy food magazine, but it can be dry as dust with little flavor save the traces of food colorings used to tint the frosting. No thanks!

So, when I discover a pretty cookie or bar that actually has awesome flavor and texture, it makes the “A” list and goes into my recipe file to make every year. I wheedled this recipe out of my friend Janet, and she said I could share it with all of you. But don’t say you weren’t warned. They truly are addictive!

Chocolate Mint Meltaways
(makes about 6 dozen bars)

Brownie Layer:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 can (16 ounces) Hershey’s chocolate syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup flour

• Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13 x 9 baking dish with aluminum foil. Grease foil with a little butter.
• Using mixer, cream butter and sugar in large bowl. Gradually beat in eggs, chocolate syrup, vanilla and salt. Using wooden spoon, stir in flour until just combined.
• Spread mixture in pan and bake 30 minutes. Cool completely.
• Grasping foil, carefully lift brownie layer from pan and invert onto large cutting board. Peel away foil.

Mint Layer:
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 TB  Creme de Menthe liqueur
• Using mixer, cream butter and sugar, then beat in Creme de Menthe.
• Reserve 2 TB mixture, cover and set aside. Spread remaining mixture evenly over cooled brownie layer.

Chocolate Topping:
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 TB butter

• In heavy saucepan, stir chocolate and butter over low heat until melted. Cool.
• Gently spread chocolate topping over mint layer. Chill until chocolate is set.
• Using large knife and wiping blade frequently, cut into bars about 1 inch by 1 1/2 inches.

Mint Drizzle
Place reserved mint filling in small Ziploc bag and snip a tiny piece from the corner. Drizzle filling over each bar.

Note: Store bars covered, in refrigerator, for best results.

Heather

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Filed under Chocolate, Cookies, Dessert, Entertaining, Holidays, Sweets

Milk & Cookies = Cookies & Milk

Hey fellow foodies, wanna play a fun food game? Try A LA CARTE’s Classic Food Pairings Test! Here’s how it works.

Step. 1: Think of a classic food pairing and say it aloud. (i.e., “Spaghetti & Meatballs“) Does it sound delicious? Proceed to Step 2.

Step 2: Transpose the food pairing and say that aloud.  (i.e., “Meatballs & Spaghetti“) Does it still sound delicious, or is it a bit awkward? If it’s still delicious, add it to your list of winners. If it’s awkward, try another combination.

You’ll soon find that this is a rigorous test and that very few food pairings make the list of winners.

When I played this game, Milk & Cookies was my first clear winner. It immediately reminded me of a shot our A LA CARTE team took of chocolate chip cookies and milk. This shot may look familiar to you since it’s the icon we use

in our Comments section. I love the shot because the cookies look warm and melty from the oven, plus the tall glass of milk looks cool and inviting—perfect for dunking. Cathy added toasted chopped pecans and extra chips to the cookie dough just before baking, and the way they catch the late-afternoon sunlight brings back happy memories of years of after-school snacking.

Other pairs on my list of winners? Red Wine & Chocolate. Bacon & Eggs.  Tea & Toast. Tomato & Basil. I could play this game all day…

Please send us your own winning food pairs, and we’ll comprise a master list to feature in an upcoming post. Happy pairing!

Heather

13 Comments

Filed under Chocolate, Cookies, Dessert, Snacks, Sweets

Caramel Macchiato Popcorn Balls

Why shouldn’t adults enjoy the whimsical play of a dessert on a stick?  Here’s a popcorn ball that’s not just for kids!

Traditional popcorn balls are usually loaded with gooey sweetness, but I’ve created a contemporary version with more grown-up appeal.  These coffeehouse-inspired popcorn balls are made with caramel, chocolate and espresso powder—what a combination!

Did you know that macchiato means marked or stained?  In this case, the popcorn is “marked” with a little espresso.  You have to try them—I’ve already eaten 3.  Okay, maybe 4!!!!

as photographed by our team, alacartepartners

Caramel Macchiato Popcorn Balls
Makes 6 popcorn balls

8 cups popped popcorn
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon warm water
20 caramels, unwrapped
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 popsicle or craft sticks

– Place popcorn in large bowl. In small bowl, stir together espresso powder and warm water.

– In medium glass bowl, microwave caramels, chocolate chips and espresso mixture on HIGH (100%) power, 1 and 1/2 minutes. Stir
mixture until completely melted.
– Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and quickly stir until popcorn is well coated.  Using greased  hands, shape mixture into 6 balls.
Insert a stick into each ball.

– Store in airtight container up to 1 week.

Tips

– You can use store-bought popcorn; air popped popcorn or your favorite microwave popcorn.

– For a sweeter treat, use kettle corn.

– Instead of forming the popcorn mixture into balls, spread it in single layer on a baking sheet.  Let sit for 30 minutes and break into clusters.

– For added coffeehouse flavor, stir 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon into the espresso mixture.

Cathy

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Filed under Caramels, Chocolate, Dessert, Popcorn, Snacks

It’s All About The Coconut!

Frosted cupcakes piled high with coconut chips.  Yes, coconut chips!!  I came across them at a food show and thought they would make a beautiful complement to chocolate cupcakes frosted with vanilla buttercream.

We shot this cupcake at the studio one day, and it has become one of our all-time favorite shots. To make a more dramatic presentation, I used a  Texas-size cupcake pan lined with extra-large paper liners.  (A standard cake mix will make  10 to 12 cupcakes.) I frosted the cupcakes with a rich vanilla buttercream.  To give the coconut a hint of color and to bring out its flavor, I  very lightly toasted the coconut chips. (Place them in single layer on a baking sheet, and toast in 275° oven for about 5 minutes.)

The best coconut chips are just pure dried coconut—organic, unsweetened and sulfite-free.  You can eat them straight from the package, add them to your favorite trail mix, stir them into a fruit salad—be creative! Coconut chips may be a little harder to find than shredded coconut, but they are certainly worth the search.  I found them at Trader Joes, and they are also available at natural food markets. Or, you can order them online.  Here are a few online resources: Tropical Traditions,  Nuts Online, or Melissa’s.

as photographed by our team, alacartepartners

Cathy

4 Comments

Filed under Chocolate, Cupcakes, Dessert

Double the Chocolate Strawberries

I can’t think of an easier dessert that yields as many “oohs” and “ahhs” as chocolate dipped strawberries. Perfect on their own, and truly elegant when garnishing a plate of cookies or brownies, these berries are a hit every time. As easy as they are to make, there are a couple of secrets for success: 1) use the freshest ripe berries you can find (local is best!) 2) do not burn the chocolate and 3) always make more berries than you need or keep them hidden until guests arrive! So, here, in honor of strawberry season, we give you:

Double the Chocolate Strawberries
Makes 12 dipped strawberries

1 dozen medium-size fresh strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
4 squares (4 ounces) semi-sweet baking chocolate
2 squares (2 ounces) white chocolate

– Line a baking sheet with wax paper. In small glass bowl, microwave chocolate on HIGH (100%) power for 1 minute. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. (If, after stirring well, there is still some unmelted chocolate,  microwave for another 10 seconds, then stir until melted).

– Hold strawberry by stem and dip into the melted chocolate, covering about 3/4 of the berry. Gently shake off excess chocolate and  place on wax paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes.

– In small glass bowl, microwave white chocolate on MEDIUM (50%) power for 1 minute. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Carefully transfer melted chocolate to a zipper-style plastic sandwich bag. Squeeze out excess air and seal bag.

– Using scissors, snip a tiny corner of the bag. Squeeze chocolate from bag onto the dipped berries, using a random pattern. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes. Transfer berries to serving platter. Leftovers (ha!) may be stored in the refrigerator overnight.

Tips

– Recipe can easily be doubled, tripled and more!!!!

– Triple Chocolate? I like the way you think! Using dark (bittersweet) chocolate, follow the same procedure for the white chocolate. Pipe or drizzle in a criss-cross pattern over the white chocolate. Pretty!

– I am a big fan of Baker’s Chocolate Baking Squares, and you can find them in any supermarket.

– Think outside the strawberry! Try dipping kiwi slices, banana halves, pineapple chunks, and more. The trick is to pat the fruit dry before dipping.

Heather

2 Comments

Filed under Berries, Chocolate, Dessert, Entertaining, Sweets

Best-dressed Chocolate Truffle Cake

To bake or not to bake? That is often the question in our hurried world. We all like to serve up something special, but we do not always have the luxury of time. My cousin ML, who lives in New York City, likes to say “If I can buy it within a six-block radius, I consider it homemade!” Luckily, as my cousin could attest,

there are an increasing number of top-quality desserts available in the freezer section of better grocery stores.

It’s easy to dress up a store-bought confection, especially if you start with a quality product. In this photo, one of my favorites from alacarte, our food stylist Cathy Paukner began with a boxed and frozen single-layer chocolate truffle cake. Using a fine mesh sieve, she dusted it lightly with unsweetened cocoa powder, and added a few luscious fresh raspberries and a sprig of mint. Presented on a pretty pink porcelain plate, the dessert looks as if you had spent hours in the kitchen baking and garnishing, when in fact, all you did was purchase and thaw. Wouldn’t “Purchase & Thaw” be a great name for a new food blog? Maybe my cousin could start it…

Heather

2 Comments

Filed under Chocolate, Dessert, Entertaining, Foodies