chocolate

Let’s have a little Feast!

by Caroline

England is not generally known for its ice cream, and that’s ok — having contributed clotted cream  (not to mention many fine cheeses) to civilization their dairy reputation is secure. Still, as in Paris, there’s ice cream everywhere here. From trucks that dish up soft serve cones (and, for an extra 70p, how can you resist the addition of a nice chocolatey Flake bar?) to corner store freezers with a fabulous assortment of frozen treats.

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Meanwhile, after days of suggesting brightly (usually as a procrastinatory, “I don’t want to go into this museum” kind of tactic), “Let’s have a little feast!” Eli was delighted to find in Oxford an ice cream bar called Feast. He will never think of feasts the same way again.

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Birthday Cakes

For all the baking I do, you’d think I would have one, standard, go-to birthday cake.

But I don’t. I have dozens of cookbooks, and I want to explore them. I baked most of the way through Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame (in Feast) and found many excellent cakes to add to the repertoire (Chocolate Guinness cake, anybody?) before losing interest when I arrived at the tropical chocolate cake. Then of course my friends and family members suggest recipes, and magazines arrive with others. Plus, every year brings new  requirements.  Sometimes we want cupcakes for a party:

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And sometimes we just want a simple layer cake for family:

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Sometimes the birthday boy participates in the baking:

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And sometimes he just draws me a diagram:

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This year, we haven’t talked about his birthday cake at all, so I am planning for the first time to make a cake with a picture on it: of an airplane (of course) for my aviation-obsessed boy. I’ll make crazy cake (since we’re baking vegan for my niece these days), and plan to use a vegan vanilla frosting (and various food colorings) to create the airplane. As it turned out, Tony did the decorating (our first birthday cake division of labor!), and the birthday boy was well pleased:

note the fab sprinkle jet trails...

note the fab sprinkle jet trails...


We might not have Paris…

by Lisa

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Not long ago, on a family trip to San Francisco, Ella, Finley, and I found ourselves staring at the counter of a French bakery, at a pile of croissants.  They didn’t know what they were, and as I explained to them the wonder that is a croissant, I found myself telling them not about croissant, exactly, and how good they can be, but about the summer I spent working in the French Alps at  a summer camp.  They know many stories from this time, including the fact that no one, not a soul, spoke even a word of English, so I was forced very quickly to abandon all pretense of speaking, looking, or acting even vaguely English-speaking.  They know that we ate baguette and cheese, or sugared candy or chocolate every day for afternoon snack.  They know that my first night, on the all night train, the youngest child, an adorable little 4-year old, looked up at me and said, “But you don’t speak French” (in French, of course), when I had uttered what I thought was a perfectly comprehenisble sentence in French.  Things changed quickly and by the end of the summer, I could enter the mountain village store and be served and local restaurant and be served without disdain; I dreamed in French, and upon my return to Paris functioned like a native speaker. Sadly, this is no longer true.

France was also the place where I learned to eat meat again, but that’s another story. The anecdote I found myself telling my children a we stared at that golden counter was about breakfast.

On the counselor’s mornings off, we got to order from the bakery, which meant croissant–plain, chocolate, etc.–and whatever we wanted would be brought to our room, with our choice of cafe au lait, chocolate chaud, etc…It was quite wonderful to wake up to perfect croissant and eat them and go right back to sleep while the French children screamed.

And every morning we drank big bowls of cafe au lait or chocolate, too, which Ella and Finn found really funny.

Not long after, as I was marketing I spied a box of frozen TJ chocolate croissants, so of course I bought them, and for some reason had the impulse to sneak them into my cart so Ella didn’t see.  Of course, Caroline and her family were fortunate enough to travel and eat in France last summer, and you can read about it all beginning here, but for the forseeable future, I’m going to have to recreate a little bit of France in our California home, so I bought the box.

We were in the midst of a rainy long weekend, and while many were away on ski weekends, I had been baking, and braising and nesting and so that night, I planned a petit dejeuner. The croissants are frozen, and you place them out on a cookie sheet overnight to proof, or rise.   I did this, set the table, boiled some eggs, set out bowls for the chocolate and coffee, prepped the espresso machine, and filled a bowl of fresh fruit.

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I also left a sign that said “Do Not Touch! Not Cooked!” on the croissants, since Ella and Finn are known to be curious when it comes to food, and they were bound to be up first.

The next morning, Ella was exuberant: “I can’t wait to taste my first croissant!” she said, and while they were baking, I made the chocolate and coffee and whipped some cream.  They thought the bowls of chocolate chaud were hysterical, but they happily slurped them up just like a child should on a cold, rainy holiday morning.

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When the croissant came out, Finn knew right away he was on to a good thing, because the moment he picked one up–before putting a single bite near his mouth– he exclaimed, “Mmmmm!  They’re so buttery and warm!”  And even though they are not the best croissant you will ever have, they were lovely, and that is all you really need to know.

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Some traditions really are just for grown-ups

by Lisa

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A few weeks before Christmas, I found a recipe for caffe con correto con panna in La Cucina Italiana, one of my favorite food magazines. Basically, this translates to liquor-spiked coffee with chocolate and sweetened cream.  I bought a bottle of Frangelico, which I had hitherto assumed was for people who liked drinks involving lots of props, and Kory and I tried it out before the Christmas Eve dinner, at which I thought I might like to serve it. A few days later, the bottle was empty.  In our defense, it was a small bottle.

We are now happily making our way through a second bottle, and we call this grown-up treat The Coffee Drink, because we can’t be bothered to write in Italian every night on the board.

The original recipe is linked above. Our version has adjusted the amounts a bit, and we often substitute a really strong, dark chocolate sauce, which we just have around in the refrigerator, for the chopped chocolate, because it’s a big time saver when the urge comes over you.

For each drink:

Pour 4-6 oz of espresso (or very dark roast coffee) over

1 tsp very good quality, very dark chocolate sauce.

Stir to mix.

Add 1-2 oz Frangelico (to taste, we like it strong)

Top with a generous spoonful of fresh, sweetened whipped cream. (

Wonderballs (because it’s a bit too early for holiday baking)

by Caroline

It’s an in-between time right now. We have some Christmas decorations up (paper-glitter snowflakes, a wreath on the door) but not all (no tree, no stockings). The boys are opening up windows on the Advent calendar and counting down the days till Christmas, while I am counting down the (fewer) days till I can start some Christmas baking. I have past lists of cookies and treats to guide me, and some new recipes to try, and I will report back after the new year.

In the meantime, it’s time to stir up another batch of Wonderballs, originally published as Powerballs in Wondertime magazine. These are easy (the kids can make them!), keep in the freezer, and are a pretty healthy little burst of energy snack:

Makes 40-48

Mix together 1 cup peanut butter and 1 cup honey until smooth. Gradually add in 3 cups old fashioned oats and 1/2 cup ground flaxseed. Add 1 cup chocolate chips (I rarely reduce the chocolate in a recipe, but I do cut this by half, just to make it easier to form the balls; also, if you have mini chocolate chips, use those) and 1 cup any combination of chopped nuts and soft dried fruit (try 1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanuts and 1/4 cup each of raisins and dried cranberries) and mix gently in your stand mixer or smush together by hand.

Roll into Ping-Pong-size balls and, for maximum presentation value, put in paper mini muffin cups. You can eat them right away, but they’ll be less sticky after a night in the fridge. They freeze well too, layered on wax paper in an airtight container.