Archive for March, 2012


Chocolate meets cardamom

Lately, I’ve had cardamom on the brain. It all started with this Naked Beet recipe from Then, like a sign from above, I uncovered a long-lost bag of cardamom that same week at the bottom of a kitchen basket. I won’t speculate on how old it is—it was unopened with no visible expiration date. That’s good enough for me (if this makes you never want to come to dinner at my house, I totally understand).

Ever had chai? Then you’ve probably tasted cardamom before. The pods are boiled with cinnamon, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and other spices to make that aromatic brew. Cardamom is also commonly used in Indian sweets. It’s definitely got a kick to it: like milder peppercorns with a hint of cinnamon.

One fascinating thing about cardamom is that the seeds naturally neutralize your breath. Gum manufacturers have taken note—it’s shown up in Wrigley’s Eclipse and toothpaste. Chewing on the seed is the best way to experience the flavor full-on, like in these Persian candies.

As the Naked Beet recipe noted, once the seed is ground up, the powder quickly loses its potency. But I had trouble finding cardamom pods that didn’t cost $15 for a small bottle. I also couldn’t find cacao nibs. So I settled for this double chocolate-chip cookie recipe and my recently unearthed bag of ground cardamom.

 Recipe additions/modifications:

1)      1 individual serving packet of Starbucks VIA ground coffee

2)      1 tablespoon ground cardamom

3)      Substitution: I used a Plugra-type cultured, higher-fat butter (totally optional)

Note: do not use cheap cocoa powder. It’s the difference between your baked goods tasting chocolate-y vs. chocolate-ish. When I swapped my Trader Joe’s cocoa powder for Ghirardelli, it made a huge difference.

These cookies won’t freshen your breath, but they’re pretty good. I probably should’ve dissolved the coffee with a bit of water before adding it to the batter, for better incorporation.

These make good breakfast cookies, if you need a jolt of caffeine to get going in the morning. (Yes, I am advocating eating cookies for breakfast. There is scientific evidence that high-fat foods could kick-start your metabolism. At any rate, it’s better than eating a sugar-and-caffeine-packed cookie late at night.)


Get a free macaron on March 20

Free cupcakes are a dime a dozen in this town. But free French macarons? Not so easy to come by.

Behold the Early Grey, salted caramel, and coconut macarons from Tout de Sweet, who makes some of the best French pastries in town.

So tomorrow, head over to Tout De Sweet in Bethesda (a few doors down from Tastee Diner). For those of you in the Capitol Hill/Eastern Market area, the Sweet Lobby is giving out free macarons all day until 5 PM. Just mention that you’re celebrating Macaron Day to get your tiny treasure.

I didn’t realize this was an actual holiday, but I’m all for it. Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé started the tradition 7 years ago. Not only do you get a freebie, but participating businesses donate a portion of their Macaron Day proceeds to charity.


Born without the baking gene

One of the first things I ever learned to make was lemon bars, off a recipe clipped from Seventeen magazine. I grew up in a house where my mom used the oven to store pots and pans–so my lemon bars were the rare foray into baking.

A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to revisit those lemon-bar-making days. I finally settled on this recipe from Smitten Kitchen (a modification of the Barefoot Contessa’s, which includes Paula Deen quantities of sugar). What I didn’t realize—until I began laying down the crust dough—was that I was using too large a pan.

What to do, what do to? Most reasonable people would’ve transferred the dough to a smaller baking pan. In a mad panic, I tried building a foil “dam” to prevent the lemon filling from flowing out of the crust that covered 80% of the pan. Here’s what happened:

The resulting lemon bars (to the left of the foil dam; the ones to the right were crustless) were anorexically thin. They tasted ok, but I ended up dumping most of them because keeping them around felt like lemon juice on a wound.

Some people weren’t born to bake, yet we do anyway. Maybe one day I’ll have the patience to follow directions to a T. Until then, expect a few monumental baking failures every year.


UK vs. US: chocolate bar face-off

Hershey’s new Air Delight bar is clearly a rip-off of the British Wispa or Aero bars you find in every UK corner store: chocolate with air bubbles in it. But Americans don’t give a crap about texturized chocolate, if you believe this article. In some ways, it feels like whipped yogurt or cream cheese: an excuse to give you less product for the same money.

Hershey's Air Delight, from Click on the photo for their review.

In contrast, the British are all about texture. They even name their bars for it: the Cadbury Flake (chocolate that, uh, flakes off), the Cadbury Crunchie (chocolate coating over a crispy honeycomb center), the Galaxy Ripple (like a Flake but coated in smooth chocolate and made by one of Cadbury’s competitors).

Cross-section of the Cadbury Flake. Difficult to eat gracefully but delightful with your soft serve cone. Photo from

So, what are Americans looking for in a chocolate bar? I quickly surveyed the candy rack at Target to find out. If I had to pick an overall trend, I’d say we’re suckers for a good salty-sweet mix—usually involving peanuts.

1)      Snickers: chocolate coating, peanuts, caramel, and nougat

2)      Twix: chocolate coating, caramel and a subtly salty cookie

3)      Reese’s: chocolate coating, salty peanut butter

4)      Take 5: chocolate coating, caramel, peanuts, and pretzel

5)      Butterfinger: chocolate coating over a peanuty, crunchy center

In summary, I don’t think the texturized chocolate thing is gonna catch on here. Personally, I love a Flake or Crunchie now and then (pick one up at the Classic Cigars & British Goodies store in Clarendon, World Market, or Dean & Deluca). Plus the overall quality of British chocolates is better, due to higher cocoa content. Eat a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar side-by-side with a Hershey’s bar and you can tell the difference.

But given that my UK friends used to always ask me to bring them bags of mini-Reese’s cups, it seems there’s a gap in the UK market for more salty-sweet bars. Got that, Cadbury?