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« Eating Healthy? Punch up Flavor with These Ingredients | Main | The Family that Cooks Together… »

Resolution: Clean Pantry

By Katie Barreira

This year I’ve decided to use my blog as motivation to actually keep a New Year’s resolution. In 2012, well at least in the first month of 2012, I vow to eat up the items causing congestion in my pantry shelves.

You know the ones – the box of cornstarch you congratulated yourself for remembering to pick up, only to find a near full package sitting on the shelf at home, or the jar of exotic spices that you just had to have for this fabulous recipe, which called for only 2 teaspoons of the stuff. These doubles, dregs and mystery ingredients taunt me every time I open the cupboard.

“Another box of pasta?” they chide. “Why not live a little and rip into that bag of purple sticky rice you bought in a moment of culinary inspiration at Zabars?” Why? Why?? I’ll tell you why, because the cooking instructions that nice woman at the register jotted down for me are at the bottom of who knows what stack. Because I simply can’t bear to surf the web for a purple rice recipe and because even if I did, I wouldn’t have any of the other ingredients I needed, a scenario likely to upgrade my blood sugar induced distress to a full-blown meltdown.

And that, Mr. Year-Old Soup Mix, is why I will be making whatever takes no great thought or effort. Then I slam the cabinet doors shut, set a pot of water on to boil, and wonder whether others have to struggle with such insolent dry goods.

It is my experience that the best way to quiet a guilty conscience (or noisy sundries) is to set a goal and stick to it. So, for the rest of January, I will be dutifully cooking with the fruits of my overstocked pantry in an effort to cleanse both conscience and cupboard. Along the way, I hope to offer some helpful ideas for making the most of those stubborn extras, or at least, some camaraderie for those also plagued by cluttered pantries. I feel for you.

Week 1: Cocoa Powder

This week I made a substantial dent in my stash of unsweetened cocoa powder. The abundance was due largely to having two kinds of cocoa powder in stock, Dutch processed and natural. Usually when a recipe calls for the Dutched variety, I figure there is some compelling reason to do so and use it, but I often wonder if it’s really necessary.

Basically, Dutch processed powder has bean treated with alkaline chemicals, reducing the cocoa beans’ harsh, but nature-given, acidity. I’ve heard impassioned (and well-informed) arguments from both sides of the aisle as to which variety has the superior flavor. Cook’s Illustrated takes a characteristically exhaustive look at the subject and finds Dutch processed to be the preferred choice. But at a recent chocolate-centric press event, pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini (who has worked with masters of confection Francois Payard and Louis Laduree) said that the dutching process degrades the flavor and aroma of chocolate and that he only uses the natural stuff in his desserts.

But for my purposes, what I really wanted to know was whether I could use the two interchangeably, perhaps even together, so that the next time a recipe called for straight cocoa powder I could save myself a trip to the store and about eight bucks, by just using the box of Dutch in the pantry. So I checked with my sources; Cook’s seemed to conclude that a chocolate cake would rise just the same with either powder and pastry chef and chocolate expert, Alice Medrich, said that the two could be substituted for one another. With that, I took to the kitchen to try and recreate a wholesome (if not low-cal) version of my favorite chocolate sandwich cookie…with any cocoa powder I darned-well pleased!

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Makes 12

1 stick (8 tablespoons) chilled unsalted butter, divided
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Kosher salt
¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons half-and-half

  1. In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring until smooth. Let cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugars, eggs, and vanilla on low speed until smooth. Mix in the cooled chocolate mixture, then add the flour mixture, beating on low, until just combined. Transfer the dough to a medium bowl (because you need to use the mixer bowl again) and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. Cube the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and, using an electric mixer, beat on low speed with the confectioner’s sugar and a pinch of salt, until sand-like, about 1 minute. With the machine running, add the half-and-half, then increase to high speed and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  4. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and roll dough into 24 approximately 1-inch balls. Place 12 balls on each cookie sheet, flatten slightly, and bake, switching pans halfway through cooking, until cookies are puffed and cracked on top, about 16 minutes. Cool slightly on pans, then transfer to cooling rack and cool completely. Spread cream filling on half of the cookies and sandwich with the remaining cookies.

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Reader Comments (1)

Oh Katie, I must clarify your information about Dutch process and natural cocoa powder. I do not say that the two types of cocoas are interchangeable UNLESS you are making a dessert or sauce that has no leavening. If leavening (baking soda or baking powder) is called for in the recipe, you should stick to the type of cocoa that the recipe calls for or you will get a soapy flavor or a cake that does not rise properly: only rarely is this not true. If there is no leavening in the recipe (sauce, brownies, hot cocoa etc) feel free to use whichever type of cocoa tastes best to you. That being said, I completely agree with Johnny Luzzini: Dutch processing robs the cocoa of flavor and I much prefer to use natural cocoa when possible. Cheers, Alice

January 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Medrich

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