The Polar Espresso

When it comes to culinary adventures, taste is the most obvious of the five senses involved. Smell is close behind, and sight is also thrown into the mix. But there are sounds that are always coming out of my kitchen that make cooking about more than what meets the eye, nostril, or tastebud. Just as the young boy who narrates The Polar Express is so affected by the ring of a small bell, I am instantly brought back to a comforting and magical place with certain sounds – the sizzling of a breadcrumbed chicken cutlet, the rhythmic slicing of risotto-bound onions, and (perhaps most importantly) the whiz of the coffee grinder first thing in the morning.

My father is a self-proclaimed coffee snob, and I am following directly in his footsteps. There is truly a difference in tasting the flavor of freshly ground beans in each sip of my morning jolt that has made me very attached to all things espresso. And so, I couldn’t resist injecting a bit of that richness into this festive holiday recipe. Merry Christmas!

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Gooey Mocha Brownies:

¼ cup cocoa powder

¼ cup espresso powder

1 tsp cinnamon

½ cup strong filter coffee, near boiling

2 oz. dark chocolate chips (and 6 oz. dark chocolate chips later on)

2 eggs, room temperature

2 additional egg yolks, room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups sugar

1 ¾ cups flour

1 tsp salt

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Instruction:

  1. Whisk cocoa powder, espresso powder, and cinnamon in coffee until smooth. Whisk in first 2 oz. of chocolate chips until melted.
  2. Whisk butter and oil into mixture. Then, add eggs, additional yolks, sugar, and vanilla extract until smooth.
  3. Sift in flour and salt and fold until completely combined. Finally, fold in the remaining 6 oz. chocolate chips.
  4. Transfer to 9×13 baking pan lined with parchment paper and sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour, until toothpick comes out clean.
  5. After brownies have cooled slightly, carefully transfer to wire rack. To serve, stack different sized squares at 45 degree angles and dust with powdered sugar.

Enjoy gooey mocha brownies with Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

How the Blintz Stole Christmas

This past weekend I had one of those magical Christmassy Sundays, where the streets are bustling but not overcrowded, the weather’s cold but not bitterly so, and the time period left until Christmas still makes gift buying exciting, not stressful. To perfect the scene, a mulled wine stand right in the middle of Covent Garden was serving Big Gulp-sized portions. After several sips, I was certainly feeling the warmth of Christmas cheer (and the inspiration to write up a blog post!). And though I came to the end of the day having successfully purchased only one gift, I still felt a great sense of accomplishment.

I have found as I’ve grown older that it’s not the number of presents that make my loved ones and me happy during the holiday season. In Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the title character cannot understand why the Whos down in Whoville still have a joyful Christmas even when he has stolen their various whimsical toys and gifts. For them, and for me, it’s more about sitting down, holding hands, enjoying a nice meal (perhaps with wintry blintzes for dessert), singing carols, and simply being together.

And as Cindy Lou Who so famously said, “Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we.” (Though some mulled wine and holiday blintzes certainly wouldn’t hurt.)

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Use The Book Cook’s crepe recipe.

Filling:

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup mascarpone cheese

1/4 cup sultanas

1 cup mulled wine

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup orange juice

Instruction:

1. Make crepes using The Book Cook’s crepe recipe. Blintzes should be paper thin (even thinner than crepes!), so will need less time to cook in the pan.

2. Put sultanas and mulled wine in a saucepan. Bring to boil, then remove from heat. Allow sultanas to steep for 10 minutes, then drain (*but save the liquid!).

3. Mix ricotta cheese, sultanas, orange zest, sugar, and half of orange juice in a bowl. Transfer to piping bag. Pipe filling into each crepe and fold into a roll.

4. Sift a bit of icing sugar over each blintz. Add other half of orange juice to mulled wine liquid and reduce down to a syrupy consistency and drizzle as desired.

Enjoy winter blintzes with Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

The Elegance of the Eggnog

Surrounding the holiday season, there are certain treats that each person definitively loves. These are usually the ones that are rooted in tradition, instilled early into our culinary repertoire from childhood December afternoons. As absurd as these treats may seem twenty years later (such as cornflake wreaths dyed bright green and studded with cinnamon candies), we cling to them because of the fresh stubbornness that children so often possess. The young protagonist in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Paloma, moves beyond Christmas cookies and into opinions about her family and all of humanity. She is steadfast and seemingly unchangeable, and clings to her beliefs the way I cling to cornflake wreaths.

There are also the treats that we definitively reject. I have always avoided eggnog because of its too-thick texture and extreme sweetness. However, as the little girl Paloma slackened the rigidity of her original outlook, I have decided to embrace eggnog, creating a way in which to change the texture completely and offset the sweetness, and ultimately converting the holiday drink into a wafer cookie (and potential ice cream garnish).

Many people are often hesitant about reading translated novels. Idioms and the flow of certain dialogues get lost when not in their original language. The reader puts great trust in the translator to achieve the same effect, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one of the most gorgeous translations I have ever read. Successful conversions such as this one give me the confidence to know that the elegance of eggnog can be translated into delicious Christmas cookies.

eggnog cookies

Cognac Christmas cookie batter:

1 1/2 cups icing sugar

3/4 cup (about 14 tablespoons) unsalted butter

6 egg whites

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup Cognac (or any brandy)

Chocolate ganache (optional):

200 g dark baking chocolate

Heavy cream to cover (about 3/4 cup)

Instruction:

1. Whisk softened butter, icing sugar, and Cognac in medium bowl until creamy. Add egg whites gradually, whisking until completely incorporated into the mixture. Mix in flour in three separate batches.

2. For wafer disk assembly: on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spread several tablespoons of batter as thinly and evenly as possible. Place baking sheet in 350 degree oven and let cook for about five minutes, until edges just begin to brown. Remove and immediately cut out small disks in the dough (I used an espresso cup as a template, but a shot glass or ring cutter would also work). Lay individual disks back onto the baking sheet, and cook (crisp up) in the oven for another two minutes. Let cool at room temperature.

3. For shape outline assembly: transfer part of the batter into a piping bag, making the tiniest opening possible at the tip. The key to these cookies is their thinness, so pipe very thin lines onto parchment paper for the outline of your Christmas drawing. Simple designs can be candy cane, basic snowflake, snowman with top hat, or Christmas tree. Allow to cook in 350 degree oven for three minutes, until the outline is golden-blonde. When cooled, very delicately remove from parchment paper with spatula.

4. In small saucepan, heat double cream until just at a boil. Pour over baking chocolate in a bowl, let rest for 30 seconds, and then whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Dip cooled wafer disks into chocolate, then let dry on wire rack.

Enjoy Cognac Christmas cookies with Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!