blue corn-pecan biscotti dipped in Mexican chocolate

When my husband and I first opened our wholesale only bakery, we specialized in biscotti. With a couple tried and true base recipes, we were able to offer our customers more than 20 different flavors with a choice of chocolate dips. My personal obsession with organic blue cornmeal led me to develop a recipe that included pecans and spices and I would dip them in a blend of Mexican and semisweet chocolates which gives the chocolate a slightly grainy appearance from the sugar crystals. While they weren’t our top selling flavor, they certainly were one of our favorites. The bakery has long since closed and we have moved on but those biscotti, they make appearances in gift packages frequently. 

In my opinion, biscotti should not be so hard that they need to be dunked to enjoy them. The cornmeal in the recipe helps to increase the softness of this recipe and to add a slightly sandy texture. The combination of cinnamon and ground chili give a depth and warmth to the flavor profile while the pecans add a little more crunch along with their wonderful buttery-nut flavor. Then there is the chocolate used in the dipping; Ibarra chocolate has long since been a secret weapon in my baking arsenal. Do yourself the favor and seek it out for the most authentic tasting Mexican chocolate. However, if blue cornmeal is not available, use any other whole grain cornmeal, white or yellow, but make sure it is just cornmeal without any other ingredients such as leaveners or lime added. When baking biscotti, don’t be tempted to use pretoasted nuts. The second bake to dry the biscotti can scorch the nuts and give them a bitter taste so always use raw nuts. 

The dough can be shaped into 2 large logs or 4 small logs and when I am sharing these, I will bake them into small logs so that I have plenty to fill the packages. The secret to perfect slicing is to let the logs sit overnight before cutting them. The moisture in the log will distribute evenly and soften the edges preventing them from crumbling as you slice, of course it also goes without saying that using a sharp, serrated knife will also ensure clean cuts. Since biscotti are dried, they have a long shelf life making these the perfect gift to share since you can make them well ahead (as long as a month) of the madness and store them air tight till it is time to pass them out!

Mexican chocolate tends to be a bit grainy.  The reason is that most of the popular brands are meant to be used to make hot chocolate drinks and the sugar crystals which are whole and visible when you chop up the disks, melt when heated.  Usually, the chocolate is flavored with cinnamon and at times, almonds to further add depth and character to hot chocolate or any other item you might make with it.

When I blend in Mexican chocolate to dip biscotti, the crystals remain visible since the chocolate is not heated enough to melt them.  While some may find this objectionable, I like the texture it adds and it gives the final product a unique appearance.

biscotti have long been a favorite homemade gift for sharing in my kitchen.  they hold up well for weeks if kept air tight and that means they are around after the holidays when you may actually have time to brew a cup of tea or coffee and actually enjoy them.  to package them, buy a tea cup and saucer set from the thrift store and fill it with biscotti.  depending on how large the cup is, the one above is actually pretty small, you could also throw in a few tea bags or a sample size packet of coffee.  wrap it in cello and tie it up with a ribbon-picture perfect!

you could also just stack them and wrap them like the biscotti on the left and in the center.  if you are frugal, save the trays that produce comes in, wash them and fill them as I did in the package on the right.  the black box came with mushrooms in it and when we used them up, I simply washed and dried it and lined it with tissue paper before filling it biscotti.

blue corn-pecan biscotti dipped in Mexican chocolate
makes 40-80 pieces
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup pecans-roughly chopped
1/2 cup blue corn meal
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla-Mexican if you can find it

Preheat the oven to 350. Line to half size baking pans with parchment paper and set aside. Melt the butter over low heat taking care not to boil it. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, pecans, cornmeal, baking powder, cinnamon, chili, baking soda and salt until completely combined.


In a small mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the vanilla to combine them. Pour the eggs and the melted butter over the dry ingredients and stir to form a soft dough. Do not hesitate to use your hands to knead it slightly to form a soft dough but keep in mind, the more you mix it, the tougher it will be in the dry stage.

To shape the biscotti, divide the dough into 2 or 4 equal pieces. Stretch the dough out so that it is the length of the pan, about 16″ long, and then pat it down to about 3/4 inches in height. The larger sized logs will be nearly 3 inches wide while the smaller ones will be around 1 1/4 inches wide. If the dough seems too sticky to work with, moisten your hands with a small amount of cold water and then shape them. Bake the logs until they are slightly firm and spring back when pressed, about 25-28 minutes for the large logs and 20 minutes for the smaller ones. Allow them to cool for at least 4 hours, or over night before slicing.

Preheat the oven to 350. To slice the logs, place them on a cutting board and carefully trim away one end using a sharp serrated knife. Slice the biscotti 3/4 inches apiece and place them back onto the sheet pan so that they are standing up. Place the pans into the oven and turn it off. Do not open the door for at least one hour. To check for dryness, gently squeeze a slice, if it gives, it isn’t dry. Repeat the process by heating the oven to 300 degrees, return the biscotti to the oven and turn off the heat. Check them after 15 minutes. Do this carefully to be sure you do not over bake them. Allow them to cool completely before dipping or packing them.

Mexican chocolate dip
12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces Mexican chocolate, chopped

Place the chocolates into a heat proof bowl and set it over a pot of barely simmering water. Stir to melt the chocolate and when it is half melted, turn off the heat. Continue to stir until most of the chocolate is melted and then remove it from the heat. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and is slightly warmer than body temperature.


Dip the bottom of each cookie into the chocolate and place it upright on a tray lined with parchment paper to set. If it is a warm or humid day, refrigerating it for 5-10 minutes will speed up the process but do not leave the pans in the fridge any longer than that or you will lose your shine on the chocolate.

When the chocolate is fully hardened, remove the biscotti from the paper and pack them up airtight to keep them crispy. Be sure to keep them away from warm or sunny spots to prevent the chocolate from melting.


this recipe also appears on food52.com where it is currently entered in the best edible gift contest.  to see it, follow this link and be sure to visit my food52.com page

a cake with tomatoes? absolutely!

you are not imagining this-i really am suggesting that you make a cake with tomatoes.  a spicy, moist cake studded with currants and pecans that is perfect for the extra tomatoes your garden is dumping on you hourly.  it is also good in late winter when dreams of a summer garden are all you have to keep you going in dreary weather.  honestly, it is good anytime; when isn’t a bundt cake a good thing?  never, if you ask me.

it does not matter what type of tomatoes you use for this recipe.  they can be yellow, pink or red, even green.  what is important is that they taste good to you.  sweeter varieties will probably add a little to the sugar content of the cake but the tomato flavor really isn’t detected in the final product.  the only exception might be that the redder varieties could give the cake a more golden-orange hue.  i haven’t tried it with green tomatoes but i am thinking that the color may not be as pretty as the cake in my photos-i used deep red beefsteak tomatoes.

one final note, you can use your own homemade puree or if you do not have flavorful tomatoes to make puree, use tomato juice or canned whole or crushed tomatoes.  be sure to run them through the food processor to eliminate the chunks and be careful of using a brand with flavors added; no one wants garlic or onion in their cake.  

the tomatoes will need to be peeled first.  you could simply run them through a food mill to do this or mark an “x” on the bottom of the tomato with a paring knife and then lower the tomatoes into rapidly boiling water.  after 45 seconds to a minute, remove the tomato and check it by pulling at the skin where you cut it.  if it peels up easily, they are ready.  if not, put them back in the water for another 15 seconds and repeat the test.
the skin will peel off easily when they are blanched properly.  

cut the tomatoes in half, remove as much of the jelly and seeds as you can, roughly dice them and put them into the food processor.  pulse them to form a puree that has no detectable chunks of tomato.

so easy to make!  this is one of my favorite bundts.  
to see the recipe, visit my page on food52.com by clicking on this link.
go ahead, bake one, i dare you.  then send me a photo, i will post it here along with mine!

gingerbread beer bundt cake; a winner!

it’s a winner alright.  like everyone else, i love a good contest.  especially when i know i have the winning recipe.  isn’t it funny how that winning recipe never wins anything?  maybe not so funny, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.  and try i did when food52.com ran a best recipe with beer contest this month.  i knew i had the winning entry-who else would bake a cake with beer?  apparently, several entrants had the same idea.  but in the end, mine was the winner.  honestly, mind=blown.  one of the perks of the win, my cake got a glamour shot and a slide show which you can view on food52.com.

one of my favorite ingredients goes into this cake; sorghum.  for those in the know, they understand why.  it is all the flavor of molasses without any of the bitter or the black color.  the syrup pressed from fresh sorghum canes is cooked slowly to reduce, clarify and concentrate the sugar as well as the flavor.   it is also a less refined product and is frequently made in amish and mennonite communities which can make it hard to find.  unless you live in the south, it is still pretty common here and we don’t have to look very hard to find it.  try looking in amish or mennonite stores, farmer’s markets or if you are lucky, the whole foods supermarket near you may carry it-they do in nashville.  
the syrup starts out as a bright green juice but by the time it is cooked, it is a rich amber shade.  it is never so dark that light cannot shine through it.  so my apologies to the folks at food52.com-that looks a lot like molasses in your photos!  looks like i am going to have to send you some southern love in the form of sorghum.

with my large collection of bundt pans, the hard part was choosing one.  

 spice cake with mustard, dos perros pale ale, chocolate glaze; nothing else needed exept a fork…
 the marbleized interior of the cake

for the complete recipe, visit food52.com.  

leftover night; homemade pho with duck

gotta love leftover night.  all those containers of stuff-do you even know what that is, or was?  after being out of town for a week, my husband roasted a duck out on the grill for our first dinner together after his return.  the smallest one i could find weighed 5 pounds so there was quite a bit left over.  he saved the bones for who knows what but i had ideas of my own.

while searching on the internet, i came across this great pho recipe for leftover turkey. a quick substitution of duck and a trip to the garden for some fresh greens, an hour later-dinner was born!  give it a try, it was worth every slurp…

maple syrup-smoked pecan tart

the latest food52.com challenge-use maple syrup in a recipe.  easy enough, right?  but the thing is, too many recipes with maple syrup also use maple flavor and that is something that i do not care for.  maple syrup is a subtle flavor that when concentrated, it can be cloying to the palette.  that is probably why i hate pancake syrup and if i am going to eat waffles or french toast, the syrup will be a pure maple or it will be skipped.   so with my distaste for cheap syrup in mind, i let my mind wander and ponder what i could bake with the bottle of grade b maple syrup sitting on my pantry shelf.  wait, grade “b”?  yes, grade b.  why “b” and not “a”?  flavor, plain and simple.  grade b has a stronger flavor that grade a, it is also a little darker but in my book, it is perfect to bake with and no  maple-like extracts are required.  to find grade b, look in the syrup section of some supermarkets-possibly publix, or head out to whole foods or trader joe’s since both carry a selection of grade b maple syrups.

 one of my latest thrift store acquisitions-a $2 deep 8″ tart pan with a removable bottom

the plan is to make a pecan pie in a tart pan but with some liberties to the standard recipe.  for a perfect pecan pie-and trust me, i make hundreds of them, one must mix the filling ingredients in the proper order or the butter will separate from the filling and spill out of the pan during the baking and leave you with a puddle in the oven and a pie that almost looks deep fried.

 place your sugar, spices and flour (if the recipe calls for it) in a bowl and whisk to combine them.  break up the lumps so that when you mix the filling, there aren’t any large sugar lumps left to sink to the bottom of the pie.

 melt the butter slowly-warm butter works better than boiled butter in the next step.

 in short, you are creating an emulsion.  add the butter and vanilla and/or other flavors to the brown sugar and whisk to form a smooth, glossy paste.

 to create the emulsion, the eggs need to be added carefully so only add them one at a time and whisk each one in completely.  scrape the bowl as you go.  this is with one egg added

 egg #2 whisked in

 egg #3 added and whisked in here.  do you see the difference in color?  it is nicely combined and the butter and eggs are blended together so that the filling will not separate in the oven.

 last step to make the filling is so add the syrup-in this case, it is maple and corn syrups that are added.

 to get a perfectly baked pie or tart, one must start with a partially baked shell.  there is nothing worse than getting a forkful of gummy under baked crust along with a bite of pie!  here i use my favorite trick-a restaurant sized coffee filter and marbles.  coffee filters are designed to hold a large amount of wet grinds without tearing.  they absorb a little of the grease so that it doesn’t stick and you can literally lift the filter with the weights right out of the tart shell and set it aside to cool.  filters do not get brittle like parchment, they do not cause creases and cracks like foil and they do not melt like wax paper so if you can get ahold of some, give it a whirl!  and just so that you don’t think i have lost my marbles, those are my pie weights!

 while any pecan would work, i like the smoky flavor of pit smoked pecans.  it adds something to the tart and the way the flavors of maple and smoke (think bacon without the pig here) work together transcends a basic dessert staple into something really special that will have them reaching for seconds.  to amp up the flavor, i also added a little dry rub to the filling but you could skip that and if you are really adventurous, you could try using a little ground chili to add another dimension.

 place the nuts in the shell and pour the syrup over them-this gets them coated with the syrup and the ones on top look shiny and taste a little caramelized when the tart is fully baked.

 let the tart cool completely in the pan then remove it-a warm tart will break pretty easily and the fluted shape of the crust tends to create weak spots so heed the advice and just wait.

beautiful…
for the complete recipe, see my entry on food52.coms best maple recipe contest by clicking here.  and as always, bake one and send me a photo, i will post it here!  bake on friends, bake on

gingerbread beer cake with bittersweet chocolate glaze

gingerbread.  beer.  chocolate… what more does anyone need?  mix it all up and bake it in a bundt and trust me, you will not need anything else.  i recently entered this recipe in a food52.com contest so wish me luck!  you can view the recipe here and use the photos below from the step by step to see what things should look like.

 when i know that i need to sift dry ingredients, i place a mesh strainer over a bowl and place all the ingredients to be sifted in it.  then i sift it into the batter a portion at a time.  the bowl makes it easier to contain and the stuff that falls through the strainer can be dumped in without the hassle of lifting paper…

 the two batters in the pan before swirling them

 swirling the batters carefully, so that you do not remove the grease/flour layer from the pan, is best done with a small spoon.  gently insert the spoon and stir and lift small quantities of batter to marbleize it.

 the cake after turning it out of the pan.  the hardest part-not cutting into it while it is warm!
 drizzle the glaze over the cake in a free form manner for the best look.

and that meeting i took the cake to-this was all that was left; two skinny slices of heaven…so this is in this weeks food52.com contest for your best chocolate and spice.  and as always, if you bake one, send me a photo and i will post it here!  bake on my friends, bake on…

lemon-lime cheesecake muffins

 citrus fruits are at their peak during the dreary months of winter.   many desserts made around this time of year are flavored with lemons, limes and oranges.  but there is something comforting about cheesecakes and pairing it with lemons and limes makes these little muffins an irresistible treat.

quick and easy to mix up, you will have many little treats in no time.  i doubled the recipe and you can too if you want more than a dozen.

 fresh from the oven.  the topping sinks during the baking and creates a pocket of rich citrusy cheesecake filling

 remove them from the pan after 10 minutes or they will be soggy on the bottom.

now brew a cup of tea or coffee and indulge!  this is my entry into the food52.com contest of the week and you can use my original recipe by viewing it here.  and if you do, send me a photo, i will post it here!