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Great Aunt Margaret’s Chocolate Frosting


Aunt Margaret (right) and my great grandmother, on my mother's graduation day from kindergarten. Their three vastly different expressions are curious, and priceless.


My son just celebrated his very first birthday.  I was naturally flooded with an enormous range of huge emotions.  But, instead of being very weepy and nostalgic for the entire month prior, staring at him constantly, willing time to stop, I instead funneled all of my sentimentalism into obsessing about his very first birthday cake.


This process was not unlike trying to make each precious decision about our wedding.  Would this be the best choice, that I will then look back on in a decade and remember with zero regrets and nothing but fondness?  Or even more, is this the best choice of all of the options I have entertained in my mind imagining this day for the last 3+ decades?


Of course, an impossible assignment.


But wanting it to be a perfect day and first cake experience for him, I pored over old family recipes scribbled in pencil on cocoa-powdered index cards.  My  first thought was my dad's carrot cake recipe.  It is spectacular.  But I kept looking, and came across again Aunt Margaret's Chocolate Frosting.  It is the perfect, dark, rich, everything your yellow birthday cake screams for recipe.  It is one of the top three recipes in our family's repertoire.  Certainly worthy of a first birthday party.


I then pictured him smashing his first piece of his first birthday cake into his face with his chubby hands, and pictured dark brown Jackson Pollock's covering the walls of my grandparents' condo.  (I also then remembered a first birthday I attended where the cake was red velvet, leaving the kid and high chair looking like something out of a slasher film.)


So opting for a more neutral hued confection, I finally settled on the dense-banana-cream cheese-miracle that is Amy's Bread's Monkey Cake, a cake so good a dear friend recently had it for her wedding cake.  Also, twelve years ago I lived right around the corner from the original Amy's Bread in Manhattan with my brother for a year, and it is a super special part of that neighborhood.


Ok, so what's the point?


The point is that he's one, and loved the cake, and mostly likely would have loved any cake.  I loved obsessing over what to make, baking it for him, whipping the frosting, and seeing him literally lick the plate.  I also loved that it was an opportunity to really go back to my cookbooks, my notes and my recipe cards and rediscover old favorites.


And work on something that I was excited to share with the people I love.  That, after all, is exactly why I cook.





Old Fashioned Dark Chocolate Frosting
By Catie Baumer Schwalb

This is my version of a classic homemade deep chocolate frosting recipe that has been handed down in my family for generations. Among other things, I have added a bit more salt to really give it a salted dark chocolate flavor.  Feel free to cut back on the salt, and adjust it to taste if that's not what you're looking for.  Either way, it is rich, moist, and wonderfully glossy.

3 ounces (3 squares) of unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons of cornstarch
1 cup of sugar
4 ounces of unsalted butter
1 ½ cups whole milk
½ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla

In a heavy bottomed pot, gently melt the chocolate, stirring frequently.

When smooth, add all remaining ingredients, whisking vigorously to combine.

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, continuing to whisk, to combine evenly. The mixture will thicken considerably once it reaches a boil.

Remove the pot from the heat, scrape the frosting into a bowl or container and allow to cool. Stirring from time to time will help it cool more quickly and evenly. The frosting will continue to thicken as it cools.

Frost or pipe as desired.

Note: Instead of vanilla, you can add other extracts or liqueur for a subtly different flavored frosting. Orange, hazelnut, almond and mint all work very nicely.





 


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Espresso Chocolate Cookies


The Christmas season in my paternal grandparents' house, when I was growing up, was always marked by tins of the exact same assortment of homemade cookies, painstakingly baked in legions by Grandma Baumer.  There were wreath spritz cookies, apricot or mincemeat oatmeal bars, buttery vienna crescents, and then, the espresso chocolate balls.

The latter were not easy to love as a kid.  They didn't have the crunchy green colored sugar of the wreaths, or the gooey pie-like interior of the bars, nor the melt-in-your-mouth heavenly almondness of the crescents.  They were small, brown, unadorned, a little bitter, and crumbled in your mouth, crying for a glass of milk (which I wasn't a big fan of either).  And yet, year after year, I tried to like them.  I knew there was something challenging and grownup about them, and I'd give it another go each time they were the only remaining variety in the tin.

I recently came across the recipe again, in my grandmother's handwriting, among some of her belongings.  The inkling about them being a grown-up cookie was correct.  They are a deep bitter espresso, with a wave of dark cocoa, finishing just at the end with a flicker of salt.  They are also the quickest and easiest holiday cookie I have made yet.

These are subtle and elegant, and would be a charming finish to a winter dinner, alongside coffee, port or dessert wine.  Or try them as a late sunday afternoon snack with a glass of medium-bodied red wine.  I did.  With a toast to Marie.


Marie Baumer's Espresso Chocolate Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspooons vanilla
1 tablespoon instant espresso or instant coffee granules
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 2/3 cup flour, unsifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
confectioner's sugar, optional

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add coffee granules, cocoa, flour and salt, and blend well.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls (if the dough is warm or sticky, chill for a few minutes). Place on lightly greased baking sheet, or parchment or silpat, 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake at 325 degress for about 15 minutes, until done. Cool completely. Roll in confectioner's sugar if desired. Store in an airtight container or freeze.



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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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