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One of the cookbook’s sitting on my shelf is ‘Southern Italian Desserts’ by Rosetta Constantino.  I bought the book in the midst of moving so I never really had too much time to work with it.  Flipping through the pages, however, it’s exactly what I wanted it to be!  The recipes are authentically Italian, and unlike most American baked goods.  I was excited to try some new things… 

One of the recipes in this book is called ‘Africano.’  It’s a chocolate hazelnut cake roll.  (Umm, OKAY).  You make a homemade chocolate hazelnut paste (move over Nutella!) and wrap a thin layer of sponge around it.  After it’s set, you dip it in chocolate, and then dip it in white chocolate and chopped pistachios. Hazelnut?  Pistachio?  I reeeeeeally want to go to Italy!!  Actually my big goal is to take Ruby on a tour of Europe when she’s old enough to appreciate it.  I can’t wait!!!

One of the reasons I love this cookbook is because she groups her recipes by Italian region.  This dessert is native to Sicily and the author got to try an Africano while visiting Palermo, her husband’s hometown.  I had just binge-watched a ton of Food Network’s Baking Championship so I couldn’t help but say-a everything-a like-a I was channeling-ga my eener Damiano Carrara!  Ha!  

Did you know his bake shop, ‘Carrara Pastries’ is in Moorpark, CA.  That’s only two hours away… And THAT IS HAPPENING.  🙂

These were a little tricky to roll but the components themselves are very simple to make.  The rolling the cake up and the dunking in chocolate was the biggest challenge– BUT!  So worth it for a unique dessert I’d never had before.  

Below is a photo of the half sheet thin sponge I baked.  You divide it into four sections and spread the hazelnut paste all over it.  Then you roll the cake up away from you (toward the top of the photo) so you have four long logs.  You cut each log into three parts so you will eventually end up with 12 cake rolls. 

 

Next time I might skip the cake part completely and just eat a bowl of hazelnut paste sprinkled with pistachios.  But you do you…  😉

You can check out the book below!  Happy Wednesday!  xoxo

 

 

 

 

Africano
Yields 12
Chocolate Hazelnut Cake Roll
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Ingredients
  1. HAZELNUT PASTE
  2. 1 1/2 c. skinned hazelnuts
  3. About 1 T. safflower or neutral-tasting vegetable oil (I used coconut oil)
  4. FILLING
  5. 9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (40-55% cacao)
  6. 1 cup (240g) hazelnut paste (above)
  7. 1 cup (125 g) powdered sugar
CAKE
  1. 3 large eggs
  2. 3 T. sugar
  3. 2 tsp mild-flavored honey
  4. 1/2 c. cake flour (50 grams)
COATING
  1. 16 ounces (454 g) dark chocolate (55-60% cacao)
  2. 3 T. safflower or other neutral-tasting vegetable oil, divided
  3. 6 ounces (170g) white chocolate
  4. 1/2 cup (75g) finely chopped raw pistachios
Instructions
  1. TO MAKE HAZELNUT PASTE
  2. Preheat the oven to 350.
  3. Toast nuts for 20-22 minutes until very dark and almost smoking.
  4. Pour oil into food processor along with roasted hazelnuts. Process until a smooth paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl and blade. Add a bit more oil if needed to get paste going.
TO MAKE CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT FILLING
  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, just until the chocolate is smooth. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Stir in the hazelnut paste until evenly combined. Sift in powdered sugar. Let stand until it is thick and spreadable.
TO MAKE THE CAKE
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Line a half sheet tray with parchment, butter and flour parchment. (You don't want to skip this step!)
  3. Beat the eggs, sugar, honey in a stand mixture with whisk attachment for 15 minutes, beginning at medium speed and increasing to high after ingredients are blended.
  4. Sift the flour over the top, one-third of flour at a time, gently folding in until completely incorporated without deflating mixture.
  5. Use a small spatula to spread the cake out over the half sheet. It will be very thin! Bake 8-10 minutes until just lightly golden. Lift out the cake on its parchment paper and transfer to a flat surface with long side facing you. Trim away crust edges of cake and then cut into four equal sections about 4 inches wide. (see photo in blog)
  6. While the cake is slightly warm and pliable, divide the filling evenly among the four pieces and spread over the top like peanut butter. With the long side facing you, roll one filled cake away from you into a long roll. Roll remaining three pieces.
  7. Transfer the rolls, seam side down, to a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15+ minutes to firm the filling. Trim the ends of the rolls to neaten them and cut each roll into three equal segments. Lay them on a parchment lined baking sheet, seam side down.
TO MAKE THE COATING
  1. Melt the dark chocolate with 2 T. of oil in a double boiler, just until chocolate is melted and smooth. Dip each roll into the melted chocolate with a fork, shake off excess and put down on parchment. Coat all of the rolls and refrigerate 30 minutes.
  2. Melt the white chocolate with remaining 1 T. of oil in a double boiler. Put the pistachios in a small bowl. Dip each roll into the white chocolate and 'stamp' the ends into the pistachios. Refrigerate 15-30 minutes to set. Best served cool but not cold.
  3. **Refrigerate in a single layer airtight container for up to one week.
Adapted from Southern Italian Desserts
Adapted from Southern Italian Desserts
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I ask people what their favorite dessert is, nine times out of ten they choose chocolate chip cookies.  I’m not sure why…  😉

Is it the sweet to salt ratio?  The crunchy exterior with a gooey center? Or maybe the comforting childhood memory of a special treat after school?  Basically… WHO CARES!!! PUT IT IN MA FACE!!!!  

I’ve always said that you can judge a bakery by their chocolate chip cookie.  I gave up pretty quickly on that theory, however, because great chocolate chip cookies are actually hard to find!  What I’ve also learned as a baker is that everyone wants the cookie of their childhood.  I had a friend give me their version of their ‘favorite chocolate chip cookie’ and it was hard to stomach. Thick, small, white and round, flavorless with a ton of flour… Blech!

So stop, collaborate and listen:  If you’re the kind of person that tends to say ‘These are too rich…”  MOVE IT ALONG!!!  UNFOLLOW!!! UNFRIEND!!!  Umm… These cookies aren’t for you.  😉

My idea of an amazing chocolate chip cookie is super buttery, crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle.  AND… a cookie that is always good the next day.  Oh!  And if it’s not all over your fingers?  Fah-get about it!

Always wanting to make desserts that are ‘the best thing I’ve ever tasted,’ I have tried countless times over my almost-40 years to come up with a chocolate chip cookie that, in my mind, is THE BEST chocolate chip cookie.  It is with great humility, honor and service that I say… I believe I have finally found it!!!

Using browned butter, a mix of flours, high quality chocolate, a light sprinkle of sea salt and you have ooey, gooey perfection. They should be put in a museum for millions to ogle… as long as that museum is IN MY MOUTH. 

One of the keys to these cookies is browning the butter.  If you’ve never browned butter before it’s very easy. But it’s also important to pay attention. Over browning your butter makes for a drier cookie, in my experience.  Here’s a tutorial from Mindy Segal, owner of Hot Chocolate in Chicago, a restaurant and dessert bar I’ve been to and adore.  *swoon*  

Another important key is really high quality bittersweet chocolate with 60-70% cacao.  Did you know that chocolate chips were designed to maintain their shape?  The chocolate you’ll want to use for an ooey gooey cookie is a ‘melting chocolate.’ I typically use Scharffen Berger bars and cut them into chunks and shavings, or Guittard wafers.  And if price just isn’t an issue for you, Gwyneth, Valhrona Chocolate Feves are incredible. This time I found a chunk of a Guittard ten pound bar at a local grocery store. They had big chunks of the bar weighed and wrapped in plastic.

You can absolutely use chocolate chips for every day cookies (I recommend Ghirardelli), but if you want that ooey, gooey look for a special occasion?  Use the good stuff.  Same goes for a flaky sea salt! I recommend Maldon Sea Salt Flakes.  And unlike the chocolate, a box of sea salt flakes lasts a very long time.

Finally, for that ooey, gooey look, save 1/3 of your chocolate until you’re about to bake them. Press them into the top of your dough.  That will give them that pretty bakery feel.  

This is a sexy, delicious dream of a cookie, folks.  

For the love of all that is good and holy… TRY THESE!!! And when you do, be sure to share your warm, delicious baked cookies with NOBODY.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!  LICK THEM ALL SO NO ONE WILL EAT THEM, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!  THEY’RE YOURS!! 

Instead, a very noble and selfless thing to do would be to share the recipe!  On Facebook, Instagram, Match.com, whatevs.  AND!  Be sure to tag me on Instagram: @mandicrocker and @mandicrockersweets so I can repost and retweet all your fabulous cookies as you make them.  And subscribing to this blog wouldn’t be a bad thing either!  😉

Anyway… buckle down ‘Lost In Space’ style and PREPARE YOSELF.  This recipe makes a lot. There’s going to be lots of NOM, NOM, NOM ahead… 🙂

The Best Ooey, Gooey, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever!
An ooey, gooey chocolate chip cookie... Rich and buttery... Crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle... A delicious marriage of sweet and salty perfection!
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INGREDIENTS
  1. 2 c. browned butter, cooled
  2. 2 1/4 c. brown sugar
  3. 1 c. sugar
  4. 2 T. molasses
  5. 1 T. vanilla
  6. 4 eggs
  7. 2 c. all purpose flour
  8. 2 c. whole white wheat flour (I use King Arthur's)
  9. 1 c. oats, ground into flour OR 2/3 c. oat flour
  10. 4 T. ground flaxseed meal (optional)
  11. 2 tsp. baking soda
  12. 1 tsp. kosher salt
  13. 18-20 oz. high quality bittersweet chocolate, 60-70% cacao, cut into chunks and shavings. (I use Scharffen Berger or Guittard)
  14. sea salt for sprinkling (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, flaxseed meal, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a mixer, beat the browned butter, sugars and molasses until fluffy and combined. Add vanilla.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time.
  5. Slowly add dry ingredients one cup at a time until combined.
  6. Mix in 2/3's of the chocolate until just mixed. (The rest will be used to top before baking).
  7. Plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight.
  8. The next day cut dough into 2 1/2 oz. chunks. Top scooped cookies with remaining pieces of chocolate.
  9. Bake at 325 for 12-15 minutes. Leave on the pan for 10 minutes.**
Notes
  1. **If after leaving on the pan for ten minutes, the cookie is still too gooey to pick up, pop back into the oven for two minutes. And again, if needed. Do not overbake.
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

I grew up in a small town in upstate New York.  It is a quaint little place when the economy is good, but aside from my most favorite ‘grinder’ sandwiches from our local Italian restaurant, you could hardly call it a ‘culinary draw’ to any real food enthusiast.  In my youth, we grew up on chicken tenders and frozen pizza from the Schwann Man, and pretty much streamlined Diet Coke and sugar drinks.

I started baking because of my sisters.  They would always bake for their boyfriends, and like the perfect kid sister, I would annoy them until they let me help.  Needless to say, we didn’t have cookbooks from any culinary greats.  There was no internet for research or Amazon to check reviews.  Instead, we had Betty Crocker cookie collections that my mom probably got from my grandmother.  

Any chance I got, I poured through them.  Any ‘candy making’ pamphlet I came across, I saved.  Even as a kid, I didn’t just want to make cookies for fun.  I wanted to produce cookies, candies and cakes. I wanted them to be bakery quality and I couldn’t wrap my brain around the who/what/when/where/why to make that happen.

peanut-butter-cookies-4448 

I’m also my father’s daughter, a total people pleaser.  So when I packaged my first set of cookies for a friend and they loved the gesture, it became a global crusade to get EVERYONE cookies.  It became a personal tradition, the night of Thanksgiving, that I would go to the 24 hour grocery store and load up on $200 worth of baking ingredients.  I would bake all through the weekend and ship out boxes to loved ones that Monday morning. It became an obsession. Why make one person’s day when you can make the day of 15 friends!? 30 friends!?  A college campus of friends!?After college it escalated further. One Christmas, I worked in a call center at our local phone company and brought in ginormous cookie platters enough to feed 200 people!  NUTS. 

When I moved to LA for acting and comedy after college, I would always bring treats to class. One cookie in particular was a hit with everyone, but especially my friend Jacole. It came from one of these old school books that was actually called The Favorite Brand Name Cookie Collection.  These cookies were called Peanut Butter Secrets.  MAGICAL.  

peanut-butter-cookies-1

Why were they special?  Why were they a secret??? Because not only were they a peanut butter cookie with chocolate on top… but they had peanut butter cups INSIDE!!!  I KNOW!!!

peanut-butter-cookies-4481

Well, the initial recipe called for Butter Flavor Crisco and we already know how I feel about man made or chemical products in baking.  So I updated it and made a more ‘from scratch’ and dare I say, a bit more ‘gourmet’ version.  It’s one of my all time favorite cookies!  

Tip:  I use an ice cream or cookie scoop to get out the dough. Then I push a peanut butter cup into the scoop and cover the rest with what has squished out.  Much faster.  🙂

 

peanut-butter-cookies-4423

 

CHOCOLATE!  PEANUT BUTTER!  SEA SALT!  I think the secret to these adapted cookies was in finding a decent peanut butter cookie recipe and using quality peanut butter cups. The sprinkle of salt, doesn’t hurt either. 😉

peanut-butter-cookies-4452

Anyway, for my JacoleyPoo, my honey and for countless other lovers of peanut butter and chocolate… This one’s for you. xoxo

Mandi

 

INGREDIENTS:

For Cookies:

1 c. butter

1 c. dark brown sugar

1/2 c. white sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 c. peanut butter 

2 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 c. flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

36-44 high quality peanut butter cups

1/2 c. salted nuts, chopped  (for sprinkling)

1 T sea salt flakes (for sprinkling)

For ganache:

3/4 c. heavy cream

1- 11 oz. package of bittersweet chocolate chips

1 T honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

DIRECTIONS:

For cookies:

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

With a mixer, beat together butter and both sugars.

Add eggs and vanilla.  

Add peanut butter.  Beat well.

Add dry ingredients.

When mixed thoroughly, scoop out a tablespoon of dough and wrap around each peanut butter cup.

Place on baking tray with parchment and bake for 8-12 minutes.  (These cookies continue to bake and set on the tray, so as soon as you see a whiff of brown on top, take them out immediately.  Or even a little bit sooner!)

To make ganache:

On medium heat, scald the cream in a small saucepan. Add the chips and let sit for five minutes.  Whisk together.  (If there are any lumps still in the chocolate, turn the saucepan on low and whisk continuously until the mixture is smooth). 

Stir in honey and allow to cool 15 minutes.

FOR ASSEMBLY:

Frost each cookie with ganache by dipping tops in chocolate or using a spatula.  Sprinkle with chopped nuts and sea salt.  

TIPS:

*If you can’t find dark brown sugar, you can use a cup of light brown sugar and 2 T of molasses.

*I use Skippy or Jiff peanut butter.  Organic Trade Joe’s ‘almond butter’ style peanut butter cannot be substituted in recipes.

*I use Ghirardelli bittersweet chips and LOVE Maldon Sea Salt Flakes.

*If you can’t find specialty peanut butter cups, Reeses are fine, too!