meet me in purgatory strawberry buttercreams

It’s finally Spring, can you believe it? Yeah me neither. So long cold, dark and please don’t make me get out from under these nice warm covers days of Winter. Hello sunny, bright and full of possibility days of Spring. 

The past six months have been a whirlwind. I’ve been so busy with work, life and family that I haven’t been able to properly focus on blogging or even cooking for that matter, and that’s been a real disappointment to me. The older I get the more clearly I’ve come to realize that life is far too short to live in a state of disappointment. So… I‘ve decide to embrace the renewal, rebirth and revitalized spirit of Spring and to find time for the little things that bring me the greatest satisfaction. To get up a bit early just to have some quiet time to drink coffee on the deck, to putter around in the garden rather than spend the time straightening up the house and to cook (and blog) far more often. It won’t be easy but in my experience anything worth doing often requires a bit of extra effort. I’m approaching this venture determined to just stop and slow down. As I was making this personal declaration a friend happened to post this tweet: “People who insist on making homemade Easter candy will never be welcome in the kingdom of heaven.” After I finished laughing I decided to take this as a sign that the universe wanted me to make a little Easter candy. And so I did.

In my mind Easter is synonymous with chocolate. Not jelly beans, marshmallow chicks or cream eggs. Nope, for me its all about chocolate. In the past I’ve made peanut butter cups and chocolate almond bark. I’ve dipped fresh cherries and tangerine segments in dark chocolate and I’ve made simple chocolate lollipops. This time around I wanted to make something a bit more extravagant. This time I wanted to make something that tasted fresh like the season. This time I wanted candy so good it would redeem me from my months of lack luster cooking. So this time I made chocolates filled with homemade strawberry buttercream. And they were delicious— Kingdom of heaven be damned.

Strawberry Buttercream Chocolates
I used Trader Joe’s freeze-dried strawberries for this recipe. They also sell freeze-dried blueberries and raspberries, which would no doubt also make a delicious filling.

strawberry creams

1  1.2 oz package freeze-dried strawberries
1 cup powered sugar
pinch salt
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp. heavy cream
3 4 oz. bars bittersweet or dark chocolate
special equipment: silicone candy mold

  1. Place the candy mold in the refrigerator to chill. Pour the strawberries into the bowl of a food processor (being sure to remove the silica packet) and process to a fine powder. Add the powdered sugar and pulse a few times before adding the salt, butter and cream. Turn the food processor on and allow to process until the mixture gathers into a loose ball, this takes a little time so be patient.
  2. Wrap the ball of filling in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill while you melt the chocolate.
  3. Break up the chocolate and use a double-boiler (or a glass bowl placed over a pot of simmering water) to melt the chocolate, stirring frequently. When the chocolate is totally melted and smooth remove from heat.
  4. Remove the chilled mold from the refrigerator and fill each opening halfway with chocolate (I used a little paint brush to spread the chocolate up the sides.) Place the filled mold back in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to set.
  5. Remove the chocolate mold and the wrapped filling from the refrigerator. Pinch off a 1/2 teaspoon sized piece of filling, roll it into a ball and carefully press it into each of the set chocolates. Cover the filling with additional chocolate (you may need to warm it again) filling each mold to the top. Place the filled mold back in the fridge to chill until firm, about 1 hour.
  6. Carefully pop finished chocolates out of mold and enjoy!
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ya can’t beet a brownie

I don’t know about you but I love brownies. Rich, chocolatey, cakey, satisfying brownies. No nuts. No frosting. No edges. (I’m a center of the pan kinda girl.) I love those classic, foundation of many a bake sale and potluck, way better than a slice of cake treats— But I almost never make them. Why? Because while they exude an air of nostalgia and casual effortlessness, they are in fact persnickety little monsters and total baking with ease impostors. Let me explain..

Over bake them and they’re tough and chewy, sticking to the pan and in your teeth. Under bake them and they’re a mushy, gooey, fall apart mess. And then there’s the cooling factor. Even if you time the baking exactly right you still have to let them cool an inordinate amount of time before even attempting to cut into them. Can’t fight you’re impatient inner child and start slicing while they’re still too warm… Hello stuck to the knife brownie mess! And honestly, whom among us hasn’t been lured into making a batch (whether it be from scratch or boxed) only to end up standing at the counter scraping bits of brownie off the bottom of the pan, smushing them together to create a pitiful brownie lump and shoveling them into your mouth so as to not have your efforts wasted. All the while swearing “NEVER AGAIN”. I know, I’m with you. I’ve totally been there. Which is why it’s all the more surprising that I decided out of the blue to make brownies from scratch. Perhaps I was feeling invincible or perhaps I was simply feeling that keeping up with work, kids and home wasn’t enough of a challenge that week. Whatever the case may have been there I was whipping up a batch of brownies for two sick kids. (Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that my kids were both home sick from school. Yup, they were. Two sick kids. Both home. Two days. Good times.) Anyway… Amid the chaos that was last week I decided to make brownies, no doubt as much for myself as for them.

I’m a bit of a recipe pack-rat; squirreling away magazine pages, newspaper clippings and dozens of forwarded to myself emails containing recipes that I plan to make “someday”. One of the scraps of paper at the top of my pile was a brownie recipe from C for Food & Agriculture. (If you’re not familiar with Stone Barnes then by all means you should be, it’s an incredible place with an equally amazing restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns smack at the center.) The recipe was for rich, decadent brownies with a subtle orange flavor and beets as the secret ingredient. This wasn’t the first time I had decided to sneak beets into my baked goods, remember those yummy Chocolate Cake Donuts with Chocolate Ganache, so I jumped right in. I knew the beets would add moisture and texture to the mix and that once cool, their flavor would be virtually undetectable. And I was right, they were delicious! Rich, moist and chocolatey with just the right hit of orange and just the right amount of soul soothing decadence to make this harried mom and her two sick kids feel momentarily better.

The kids are thankfully on the mend and everyone will be heading back to school (and work) tomorrow, perhaps with a tasty little square of Orange-Beet Brownie tucked into their lunch boxes. Unless of course I tell them the brownies are all gone and secretly polish off the rest myself. A little white tie never hurt anyone and frankly, I think I’ve earned it.

Orange-Beet Brownies
Once these babies are cool no one would ever guess they contain beets!

beet brownie3

3 small beets, trimmed
8 oz. good-quality bittersweet chocolate (such as Ghirardelli 60% cacao)
1 stick salted butter, diced
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
zest of 1 orange
3 tbsp. orange juice, divided
1 1/4 cups self-rising flour*
confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

  1. To make the beet purée: Preheat oven to 400°F, wrap the beets in foil and roast for 45 minutes or until the beets are easily pierced with a fork. Let cool until they can be handled easily, then peel and dice. (I usually do this the day before I plan to bake the brownies.)
  2. Add diced beets and 1 tablespoon of orange juice to the bowl of a food processor and blend to a purée, set aside to cool.
  3. Lower oven temp to 350°F and lightly grease an 8×8 pan, set aside.
  4. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the diced butter and let melt, stirring often.
  5. In another bowl, beat the sugar with the eggs until smooth and creamy. Stir in the orange zest and remaining orange juice, puréed beets and flour. Then slowly add the melted chocolate and beat until fully combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan before removing to a rack. Then cool for another 15 minutes before attempting to cut. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and enjoy!

*To make gluten-free self-rising flour: Combine 2 cups of gluten-free flour with 3 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Whisk to combine.

*inspired by stone barnes center