Category Archives: Review

Chocolate Babka, Once

Update: my husband said it was tasty, and I’ll take that as success.

I’ve never seen nor tasted a chocolate babka or any other kind of babka, but when I looked it up recently and saw the photos, I was intrigued. Now, this may turn out to be like the puff pastry I made only once, or it may inspire some variations—like without chocolate, which readers know is not my favorite flavor. The eggy, buttery dough, basically a brioche dough, appealed to me, even with the chocolate, so I didn’t think I would be disappointed.

I made it exactly like this recipe for “Better Chocolate Babka” from Smitten Kitchen, although I may not have rolled it as tightly as needed, since it seemed a little loose and wanting to fall apart after trying to cut it after baking, but rolling filled dough, as in for cinnamon rolls, can be fraught with problems. It looked pretty good in the pan after my attempt at twisting it and better after rising and baking—you be the judge from the photos—so I think I did it right. If I made it again, I think I would try the traditional method in Martha Stewart’s offering, where you just roll it up and twist the heck out of it without cutting it to open the layers. Still the open layers did make for an interesting look.

But that brings me to whether I will make it again, and I think that’s a No. The chocolate really disappointed me, seeming bitter and dry, and well, just too chocolate. If I make anything like it again, I will make the cinnamon filling or something savory. Can you make a savory babka? I don’t even know the meaning of the word, but I won’t waste a nice brioche dough on chocolate again. I’m not sure what the big appeal is of this bread. My husband, the chocolate lover, looked at it and said “It’s Bread?” leading me to think he won’t be eating much of it. I think he thought it would be a cake.

The dough handled nicely and was easy to roll out thin; the chocolate filling came together as instructed and spread easily. Setting the rolled dough in the freezer for 10 minutes did work well for cutting it before twisting, and eliminating the nuts, as the recipe notes suggested, probably kept the layers from falling apart in the twisting. Maybe it came out as it should have, but that chocolate just did not hit the spot for me. I didn’t take many photos in the making, but the finished loaves look pretty good:

The Trials of Making Coconut Butter

This really works—with a number of qualifications.

There are so many instructions on how to make your own coconut butter that you either close your eyes and pick one or you read them all and make up your own instructions. Or worse, you pick the wrong one and go back to the drawing board. First mistake: not noticing or knowing that you should not buy reduced-fat coconut. The first set of instructions I read didn’t tell me about that, but I didn’t notice it on the package, anyway, until it never turned into anything but coconut dust.

The second mistake is thinking your appliance can handle the process. Maybe it can, but maybe not as well as a few specific appliances. It seems that most everyone who makes the butter uses something called a Vitamix, some kind of a superhero blender. A few people use a food processor, but aren’t specific about the brand or power level. I have a Cuisinart 11 cup food processor that is not new, but I can’t say how old it is, either.

So, on my second try, I bought both shredded and flaked organic coconut, both dried. I don’t know of any options for unsweetened coconut that is not dried. It took way longer than the 10 minutes most people brag about, especially with having to stop it every two minutes or less to scrape down the sides. I have read about people tilting their food processors with a stack of books, but I’m not sure how my little motor would feel about that. I also made it in stages, so I could let the processor cool down. Luckily, I had other kitchen tasks to do while waiting. I didn’t think it was going to work before the machine burned up, but eventually it did turn to a liquidy paste that was pourable. Only today did I read at the pin above that you could strain that liquid of the remaining bits of coconut and that you could add a little coconut oil at the beginning to hasten the process, both good ideas.

Mine is pretty much hard and a little dry, but still tasty enough that I want to chip away and eat it all. I added a pinch of kosher salt and a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste to mine. Will I make it again? Right now, I’m leaning toward yes, because I’d like to try it in some cookies and some Asian sauces (without the vanilla). Almost sounds like I’m thinking of making a variety of such butters. Maybe I need a fancier machine.



Brownie Mix Review: Ghirardelli Triple Fudge

Don’t say I never make anything chocolate for my husband. Early last fall, I had some walnuts and chocolate chips laying around from a cookie recipe that didn’t take nearly as many ingredients as I had thought and I figured it was about time to make something that pleased someone other than me. I also had half a canister of store-bought chocolate frosting that I had used to test out decorating cookies, and I wanted to make sure my husband ate all the test cookies. Chocolate chips, walnuts, chocolate frosting—they seemed to be crying out for brownies.

I have a lackluster history with brownies made from scratch, but maybe I just never found the right recipe. Even though I’m not a chocolate addict, I think a brownie should be chewy and fudgy, not cakey. I’ve tried recipes with cocoa, with shaved and melted bakers chocolate, with chocolate syrup—you name it, but they always missed the mark and I didn’t want to start that experimentation again. I figured there was no reason to turn up my nose at brownie mixes from the name brands, so I looked around on the web for brownie mix reviews. There are, as it turns out, reviews for just about every mix out there, but little consensus. Just about every known mix turns up as the worst brownie in one review and the best brownie in another. No help there.

IMG_2891I decided to try a different approach to choosing the best mix—the most appealing box design and photography. Don’t laugh, it worked. There are no shortages of brownie mixes on the market, but my eye went straight to the top row of mixes from Ghirardelli. I think they had about 6 different flavor combinations, but the “Triple Fudge” sounded both moist and fudgy. It includes a packet of some kind of fudgy chocolate and chips, which I admit must be very tiny, as I couldn’t really see them. I added 6 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts to the mix, but I’m guessing it would come out moist on its own. When cool, I frosted the brownies with Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Chocolate Frosting with 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts mixed in.

I have to say that these were the best brownies I ever made or ate. My husband agrees and requested them again, so I made another batch today, with intentional ingredients, not leftovers.


Brands referenced in this review:

Ghirardelli® Triple Fudge Brownie Mix

Pillsbury Creamy Supreme® Chocolate Frosting