Chocolate Covered February

Last Saturday I spent part of the day at the Hotel Hershey with some fellow bloggers at one the MANY Chocolate Covered February events being offered in Hershey.  We met in the lobby and then wended our way through the hotel to one of the ballrooms for a cooking demonstration by Chef Garde Manger, Mario Oliverio.

Chefe Garde Manger Mario Oliverio

Chef Mario demonstrated several components for the group, including:

  • Chocolate Pecans
  • Dried Cherry & Chive Vinaigrette
  • Salad of Frisee and Arugula with Apple, Dried Cherry & Chive Vinaigrette, and Chocolate Pecans
  • Cocoa Spiced Braised Lamb with Pickled Red Onion on Fried Wonton

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You never know where you’ll get your inspiration!

I have read thousands of magazines over the years – probably  half of them cooking magazines.  In fact, in my very first post on the blog – Welcome! – I wrote about my love of cookbooks and magazines.  I wrote about how on my birthday Jeff brings me cooking magazines and a cup of coffee in bed and I am immersed for hours.

This week was NOT my birthday (I am not celebrating them more frequently than I absolutely have to), but I was thrilled to receive a magazine from our friends, Alicia and Jason, while I was “recovering” from some outpatient surgery.  Although we haven’t known each other for very long, they clearly know me quite well.  They made Jeff and I a wonderful dinner and sent along a copy of one of my favorite magazines, La Cucina Italiana.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Thursday

My lunch with Ashley (my beautiful niece) and Mimi (my mom) got off to a slow start……I was at the appointed meeting place – Pizza Grill – at 11:30 a.m..  At 11:56 I texted to Jeff the following, “I should have known better than to make Ashley and Mimi responsible for getting one another here. What was I thinking? It’s like the blOnd leading the blind!”  LOL!!!!

When they finally arrived, we had a good laugh about our less-than-smooth execution of a plan!  And then we had a great lunch!  We ordered a sun-dried Tomato and Feta Salad, a Crab Pizza on whole wheat, and a cup of Seafood Soup.  Everyone was sooooo hungry, but once we ate we were all quite satisfied with our choices and were fortified for an afternoon of cookie baking.

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Jingle Bells

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh, what fun it is to ride in….the backseat of a Honda Pilot holding a mug of hot chocolate in your hand, laughing with friends, and peeping at Christmas lights!

Jeff and I had such a fun night with our friends Mark and Lu and their kids last night.  We were invited to their house for a casual dinner before our First Annual Christmas Light Ride.  Lu made three (yes, an overachiever if ever there was one and more energy than anyone I know) kinds of soup and had fixings for sandwiches.  The soups were D’licious!  She made a chick pea soup that you top to taste with fresh cilantro, a warm baked potato and bacon soup that you top to taste with shredded cheese, and a spicy lamb and veggie soup.  All were incredibly warming and homey.  And the sandwich fixings were definitely not your ordinary deli.  There were several kinds of bread including jalapeno cheese bread (mmm mmm mmm), different meats and cheeses, a bevy of condiments and toppings.  What a terrific meal.

And since Jeff and I don’t have kids of our own, it is a nice change of pace to have dinner in a house full of activity and some great sarcastic humor.  It was the funny banter between siblings that you just can’t get anywhere else sprinkled with movie quotes and an obvious love for one another!!!

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What’s the Difference: Flour? Part 1

Last week, when I was working at the Kitchen Shoppe, an intriguing challenge arose from a student’s question to the instructor.  The instructor was talking about the flour he was adding to a roux and one of the class members asked if you could substitute other types of flour.

The instructor began talking about different types of flour – bread flour, all-purpose flour, and pastry flour (a.k.a. soft flour or sometimes substituted by cake flour).  He challenged class members to try each of these types of flour by making the same recipe multiple times only changing the flour.

Well, never being one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to give it a whirl.  But rather than simply try one recipe, I decided I would try two.  Chocolate cake and foccacia.  This post details my findings in the chocolate cake category.

I began by making a very basic chocolate cake recipe with bread flour, with all-purpose flour and with cake flour (since I didn’t have and couldn’t easily locate pastry flour).  I drafted a team of six tasters – including one of the world’s foremost authorities on chocolate cake, my buddy Jackson, and his dad, Tim.  Incidentally, it’s not that difficult to draft a team of tasters when chocolate cake is on the menu; however I wonder if it will be so easy should I decide to test brussel sprouts!

I must admit, I went into this experiment with a preconceived idea of which flour would be the best.  I was surprised to find that the results were somewhat different than I thought they would be.

I was also surprised to find during my research that there are differences between Southern all-purpose flour and Northern all-purpose flour.  Who knew?  Not me.

I fully expected the cake flour to make the best cake – I mean, duh, cake is in the name.  And were we only judging on taste and texture, I would have been right.  But when we included appearance into the criteria, pastry flour fell flat – pun intended.

 After researching the different kinds of wheat flour, I put together a chart I hope is helpful:

Bread Flour All Purpose Flour Pastry Flour
Southern Northern
Protein Content 12 – 13% 8 – 10% 11 – 12% 9% (Cake flour 7 – 8%)
Gluten Content high medium low
Weighing and Measuring 1 cup = 160 grams 1 cup = 140 grams 1 cup = 130 grams
Wheat hard, high protein wheat Blend of hard and soft wheat soft winter wheat
soft winter wheat
General Good for breads and some pastries, best choice for yeast products Good for cakes, cookies, breads and pastries Good for cakes and cookies where a tender/delicate texture is desired. / Cake flour is slightly different than pastry flour but is a good substitute
Shelf-Life Cabinet – several months in a cool, dry cabinet in sealed container / Freezer – up to 1 year Cabinet – up to 8 months in sealed container / Refrigerator – up to 1 year Cabinet – up to 8 months in sealed container / Refrigerator – up to 1 year
Crumb / Texture Produced Chewy Delicate, tender


The following are the results of my first experiment, during which I baked the cakes for exactly the same amount of time; however, I want to see what happens if I alter baking times based upon the type of flour –  my hunch is the cakes made with the all-purpose flour and cake flour could have used a little more time than the one made with the bread flour.  I will also dust the cake pans with flour the next time, rather than my usual dusting of sugar (which people always love, but which makes it a little more difficult to remove the cake from the pan).

The taste tests were blind in that the testers did not know ahead of time which flour was used in which cake.  The cakes were simply labeled A, B and C and only I knew which flour which cake.  The cakes were single layer and did not have any icing on them.  Testers were asked to comment on appearance, texture, moisture, taste and ‘other.’

Cake A – Bread Flour

This cake looked the best.  It was 1 1/8 inches high and held its shape nicely.  It was easy to remove from the pan – no coaxing necessary.

Appearance: Testers commented that it looked brownie-like, nice and even, lightest color, compact, and cakey.

Texture: There were a wide variety of opinions on the texture. Testers commented that the texture was dense, toughest of the 3, soft and chocolatey interior, and spongy.

Moisture: Again, there were a wide variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, moist and good without frosting, a bit dry, medium – on the dry side, evenly moist, driest.

Taste: Testers said sweet – not overly chocolatey, least like chocolate, dull, like a brownie, and good.

Other: Testers comments included, I liked this, least flavorful, no frosting needed, and small holes on top.

Cake B – All-Purpose Flour

This cake was the tallest.  It was 1 1/2 inches high and took just a little coaxing to get out of the pan.  Except for a damaged corner, it held its shape.

Appearance: Testers commented that it wet (moist) and light (fluffy), thin and chocolatey, tallest overall, and tempting-looking.

Texture: There was less variety in opinions on the texture of cake B than on the texture of cake A. Testers commented that the texture was spongy, fluffy, gooey, moist – cake like, fluffy, and light in color.

Moisture: Again, there was less variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, very moist, gooey, better than A, evenly moist, and medium moist.

Taste: Testers said sweet/good, a super sweet brownie, better cake taste than A, not too sweet or too chocolatey, and chocolatey.

Other: Testers comments included, cracked top, no frosting needed, tastes like cake, very good, and I liked this too.

Cake C – Cake Flour

This cake was the shortest.  It was 1 1/16 inches high and took a lot of coaxing to get out of the pan.  The middle of the cake stuck to the pan and had to be placed back into the rest of the cake once it was coaxed out.

Appearance: Testers commented that very moist (wet on top), crumbly, fallen – least visually appealing but darkest, uneven surface, darkest color and big holes on top.

Texture: Of all the cakes there was the most variety in opinions on the texture. Testers commented that the texture was moist and light, fluffy, denser than the others – not light and airy, very light – almost angel food texture, and crumbly and airy.

Moisture: Of all the cakes there was the least variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, very moist, most moist of three, very moist throughout, and most moist.

Taste: Testers said good – different than others but not sure why, chocolatey, best taste – seems chocolatier, and delicious chocolate flavor.

Other: Testers comments included, didn’t like as much as others, like taste but not appearance, and can picture raspberry mousse, peanut butter, vanilla fillings or frostings with this.

There was no clear favorite, nor was there a clear loser. Each cake had its merits and downfalls.  As I said earlier, I will try my experiment again – at least once – and will report back.  For now I would say for an overall good result, the all-purpose flour takes the cake!