Chocolate Matzo Toffee

matzo chocolate toffee with almonds

Jeff hates matzo. Not surprising, really, since there isn’t much to like about matzo. Dry and bland, matzo isn’t meant to be tasty. And yet, we do just about everything we can to make it palatable. Never mind that enjoying it really sort of defeats the purpose, we’re pretty determined to make matzo delicious. And frankly, with enough butter, sugar and chocolate, just about anything is delicious – even matzo.
matzo candy with sea salt

There are some clever things done with matzo this time of year. There’s matzo ball soup, of course. And matzo kugel. Matzo brie is a personal favorite, along with matzo pizza. Some more creative folks make matzo lasagna or matzo sliders or matzo granola. Pretty fancy stuff when you’re starting with a humble cracker, and pretty tasty too. But Jeff won’t touch any of it. All I have to do is mention matzo and he leaves the kitchen.

So when I set out to make a lovely batch of chocolate matzo toffee, Jeff turned up his nose. But the smell of bubbling butter and sugar and the sweet scent of melted chocolate piqued his curiosity. When I handed him a nice big chocolatey piece he took a tiny, tentative, reluctant bite. And then he smiled.
chocolate matza

Yes, even Jeff, the ultimate matzo-hater, approves of chocolate matzo toffee. It’s that good. Sweet, buttery, and crunchy, it’s pretty much everything you could want in a treat. I topped half of my batch with toasted sliced almonds, and the other half with pretty pink Hawaiian salt. I happen to be partial to the combination of salt and chocolate, but you can feel free to use any toppings you like. Chopped dried fruit might be nice, or walnuts. But for the chocolate, I really do like to use the mini chocolate chips – they melt faster.

Happy Passover!

Chocolate Matzo Toffee

5 pieces whole wheat matzo
1/2 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
toasted nuts, flakey salt, or chopped dried fruit for toppings

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, arrange the matzo pieces, breaking as needed to fit. In a saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together. Pour the butter and sugar mixture evenly over the matzo. Bake until the brown sugar mixture bubbles and darkens slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove the matzo from the oven and sprinkle evenly with the chocolate chips. Allow the chocolate to melt, about 5 minutes, and then use a spatula to spread the melted chocolate evenly over the matzo. Sprinkle with the toppings, and allow to cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator and chill until very firm, about 2 hours. Once firm, break the chocolate matzo toffee into pieces and serve.

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Published in: on March 27, 2013 at 6:34 pm  Comments (5)  
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Spice Cake and a New Bundt Pan

spice bundt cake
I’ve been sitting here, trying to think of a way to explain to you why I adore spice cake.

I’ve come up with about 25 different adjectives, but the truth doesn’t have anything to do with flowery language. The truth is pretty darn simple. I love spice cake because I can get away with eating it for breakfast.

Cake for breakfast. It’s my dream. Which is why I adore my grandmother’s sour cream coffee cake in muffin form – anything in a muffin tin qualifies as breakfast, right?

As I mentioned back when I shared that coffee cake muffin recipe with you all, for many years my kitchen has been lacking a bundt cake pan. I have more bakeware than any woman should reasonably own. In fact, Jeff had to build me an extra set of shelves in the basement to hold my mini doughnut pan, my Madeleine pan, my candy molds, my petit-fours kit, my mini tart pans… you get the idea. But for some reason, I never got around to buying the basic bundt pan.

I was at my aunt’s house for dinner a couple weeks ago, and after we were so thoroughly stuffed with brisket and potatoes we thought we would never eat again, she brought out two of the prettiest bundt cakes I had ever seen. Yes, two. She’s like that. At her table, I have never been served less than two desserts, and usually more.

Her cakes were beautiful, with their pretty fluted edges. And after one taste, I realized that the shape was not just for show – all those ridges (all that extra surface area) make for plenty of extra buttery crisp bits. I love that buttery crisp cake edge!

I oohed and ahhed over those cakes, bemoaning my lack of bundt pan, whining to my cousin even as I devoured a mega slice of each.

And a week later, when UPS delivered a beautiful bundt cake pan to my door, I was baffled for only about two seconds. My cousin is so thoughtful – and had been so shocked that my over-stocked kitchen could be lacking such a necessary staple – that she turned to Amazon that very night.

So I made spice cake. And I’m loving all those buttery crisp edges and intense flavors this morning with my cup of tea. This cake is wonderfully moist and lovely on its own, but also fantastic with some barely sweetened whipped cream. And if, like me, you save a slice for breakfast, a smear of cream cheese is pretty great too.

spice cake

Spice Cake
(adapted from this Spiced Applesauce Cake recipe)

3 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups applesauce
powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bundt pan. Stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together until very fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well. Then stir in half of the flour mixture, all of the applesauce, and then the remaining flour mixture. The batter will be a bit stiff. Spread it into the bundt pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool before removing from the pan.

Published in: on March 10, 2013 at 11:15 am  Comments (8)  
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Pantry Pasta with Celery and Parmesan

pasta with celery and parmesan

Sometimes the washing machine breaks and floods the basement with sudsy water. Sometimes the heel of your favorite black leather ankle boot breaks off as you’re walking up the stairs to your office. Sometimes a jagged pebble on the interstate bounces up and cracks your windshield. Sometimes, all of these things happen on the same day.

And at the end of a day like this, simple, unfussy food can feel so, so good.

There was a time when the more exotic ingredients a recipe had, the more desperately I wanted to rush out and buy every single one. I would lock myself in the kitchen for hours, emerging triumphant, elaborate concoction in hand, anxiously awaiting oohs and ahhs. And every so often I still get the urge to flex some culinary muscle.

But these days, I fully appreciate the basic beauty of a quick, easy, tasty and healthy recipe.

Quick. Easy. Heathy. It’s the holy grail of weeknight cooking. I used to think that simple was boring – a cop out. But the truth is that simple is elegant, sophisticated. Kind of like my favorite black leather ankle boots were before that six-inch heel bit the dust.

But back to the food.

whole wheat pasta with celery and parmesan

The thing with simple food is that each ingredient matters. Good pasta, fresh celery, and the very best cheese you can find turn some simple pantry staples into a pretty delicious dinner. Assuming that, like me, you have a thing for cheese, you might even have all of the ingredients for this deceptively basic dish in your kitchen right now. And if you don’t, well, make this pasta once and I promise you’ll start keeping anchovy paste and wedges of parmesan on hand at all times.

This pasta takes all of 10 minutes to make, is full of flavor, and is ultimately comforting. If you think you aren’t a fan of anchovies, I don’t blame you. Neither was I. Until I tried melting down anchovy paste in plenty of fruity olive oil. When cooked, the anchovy paste imparts a deep, rich, salty flavor to the pasta that is frankly addictive. And if Jeff, the consummate fish hater, asks for this pasta on a weekly basis, then there really has to be something to this anchovy business. As for the celery, well, I use it because it’s always in my fridge. Why do I buy celery every week? I honestly have no idea. But I do it. And I’m always looking for ways to use it up. Go figure. I suppose that you could elevate this dish by using a bit of sliced fennel and some fennel fronds instead. But the humble celery works just fine. It’s lovely, actually, and pretty underrated.

The real star here, though, is the cheese. Which means you should spring for good cheese. And no, good cheese does not come in a shaky can. I’m not actually sure that stuff is cheese at all. What you want is a nice wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano. And a good grater.

pantry pasta up close

Pantry Pasta with Celery and Parmesan
Serves 4

1 13.25 ounce box of whole grain linguine
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons anchovy paste
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped celery leaves

In a large pot of boiling, well salted water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Be careful not to overcook. Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the anchovy paste and garlic in the oil, stirring often, until the garlic starts to brown slightly. Add the celery, oregano and red pepper and continue to cook until the celery is soft, about 5 more minutes, and then reduce the heat to low. When the pasta is done, drain and reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the skillet with the celery mixture, along with one cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the sauce, along with half of the cheese. Cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes, adding additional cooking water to loosen the sauce if needed. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with the celery leaves and the remaining cheese.

Published in: on March 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm  Comments (9)  
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