Those looking for adventure in the kitchen have a few options. Some think global and tackle new world cuisines. Some think science and grow their own yeast starter or master homemade fudge (my nemesis). Still others think innovation and start cooking from inspiration and instinct, recipes be damned.
I recently had the pleasure of reading Bonny Wolf’s “Talking with My Mouth Full” – a collection of memoir-style food essays that she describes as “kitchen stories” on topics ranging from Jell-O, aprons, fair food, southern BBQ, latkes, and many more – all with a few recipes. Bonny feels the exact same way about the significance of food as I do, and she expresses it in a way that makes me teary if it’s late and I have had a glass of wine.
We cook and eat for comfort, nurture, and companionship. We cook and eat to mark the seasons and celebrate important events. We cook and eat to connect with family and friends and with ancestors we never knew. And through this baking and breaking bread together, we come to know who we are and where we came from. – Bonny Wolf
In an early chapter, Wolf shares her fond memories of a universally loved Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake from her days as a young bride. In true 1970’s form, the recipe is of the shortcut variety, taking advantage of mixes and chocolate syrup to help the baker assemble the cake quickly and with essentially guaranteed results.
As the 20th century picked up speed, things like prepared foods, mixes, and frozen vegetables became an acceptable way to manage the demands of working wife and homemaker. But then, as preservatives, trans-fats, and high fructose corn syrup became higher and higher on the ingredients list, “convenience food” fell out of fashion. There is pressure today to do things all-homemade, all-organic, all of the time.
When crunched for time, I will sometimes doctor up a cake mix, but then I apologize profusely for not having time to do it “all from scratch.” Homemade is arguably better, but that doesn’t mean a little contextual love shouldn’t be aimed the cake mix’s way. Items like mixes, syrups, flavorings, and pre-made pie crusts are an enormously important part of culinary history and deserve their occasional place on the cake plate. Wolf made her 1970’s Chocolate Pistachio Bundt sound so delicious, I knew I had to make it and taste for myself.
Which is what brought me to these three darlings. Hello Mix 1, Mix 2, and Bottle 3.
I tried to at least balance things out a little with the organic chocolate syrup.
Well, as expected the cake was a snap to put together, and came out perfect. I brought it into work, sifted some powdered sugar on top, and set it out in the kitchen.
I kid you not, the entire cake was gone in an hour, and my office isn’t that big. One of my co-workers even told me it was her favorite thing I had ever brought it. I said, “Well, that’s cake-mix-moistness for you!”
I actually said “moistness” and I wasn’t joking. Who am I?!
I am someone who likes a good slice of cake mix-pudding mix-chocolate syrup Bundt cake from time to time. No gooey frosting, no melting scoop of ice cream – just a sprinkling of powdered sugar on a cake so moist you could use it to finger paint.
Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake
Adapted from “Talking with My Mouth Full” by Bonny Wolf
1 box (18.5 oz.) yellow or white cake mix
1 box (3.5 oz.) pistachio instant pudding mix
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. almond extract
3/4 cup chocolate syrup
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a Bundt pan liberally with non-stick cooking spray.
- In a large bowl combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water, orange juice, vegetable oil and almond extract. Mix together until smooth.
- Transfer 1 cup of cake batter into a small bowl, then add the chocolate syrup.
- Pour the pistachio cake mix batter into the Bundt pan, and then top with spoonfuls of the chocolate flavored batter. Using a knife, gently swirl the chocolate and pistachio cake mix batters together. Do not over mix!
- Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then carefully turn onto a plate and top with sifted powdered sugar.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again…I am not really a chocolate person.
This doesn’t mean I won’t eat it, it means I just don’t get all feverish and crazy for it like a lot of
women people seem to do. If you handed me a dessert menu, “death by chocolate” would be the last thing I would order.
I know that is somewhat of a loaded statement in a post dedicated in part to chocolate, but stick with me here.
I have recently realized that I was basing my choco-stereotype on mass-market brands like Hershey’s and Cadbury and spongy, flavorless supermarket cakes. I knew there were so-called “gourmet” brands, but I was always too cheap to spring for truffles from Godvia (not when I could get a quart-sized sack of Haribo gummy bears for the same price) so it was easier to say “I am not really a chocolate person.”
Thankfully, there are now times when I can get excited about chocolate. When I know it’s been made with care in small batches using quality minimal ingredients. Now imagine ice cream made the same way. Finally, imagine those two things together.
Steve’s got its start in Somerville back in 1973, and is widely credited as the first ice cream place where you could customize your premium cup or cone with “mix-ins” like candy, nuts, and fruit. Steve’s grew rapidly and was sold by its original founder/owner in 1977. After changing hands a few more times, it disappeared for good in the late 1990’s.
Now the brand is making a return in the hands of David Stein, who worked at the original store when he was a student. During his time there, he learned the importance of making quality small batches of ice cream by hand. He considers the entire process a craft, and strives to partner Steve’s with only the finest artisanal dairy, coffee, and chocolate producers that share his philosophy.
Which brings me back to Taza Chocolate, also from Somerville. I have mentioned before how much I love Taza. They remain the only bean-to-bar producer in the US of organic, stone-ground chocolate. They do everything in-house, their chocolate tastes amazing, and the lover of vintage design in me cannot can enough of their artistic packaging.
I am in no way dairy-free, but my favorite flavor of the evening was the Mint Cacao Chip. It was so smooth and creamy you would have never have thought it was vegan thanks to coconut cream. The mint was bright and refreshing, while the chocolate covered cacao nibs lended some crunch.
I can’t believe I paused from eating it long enough to take a picture.
Other fantastic flavors I tried were Mexican Chili Chocolate (chocolate ice cream spiced with cayenne, cinnamon and Taza Guajillo Chili Chocolate), Salty Caramel (caramel ice cream with sea salted caramel swirl), and Dirty Girl Scout (with coffee liqueur, Irish cream, and mint liqueur ice cream).
I didn’t photograph them because I was also holding onto a cocktail at that point…
A Dark Russian to be exact, expertly shaken…
And served over ice with a scoop of bourbon vanilla ice cream. Oh boy.
Have I mentioned I just love Taza’s packaging and colors?
We were each given a charming take-home glass jar of Steve’s Hot Fudge, made using the original 1973 recipe and featuring Taza chocolate. I hate to even open it, but I know I won’t be able to resist much longer…
Thanks to Taza and Steve’s for a fun and tasty evening – and to Fiona from A Boston Food Diary for bringing me along! It was so much fun snacking on chocolate and ice cream and sipping cocktails with Fi, Megan, Melissa, and Pam.
Right now it looks like you can only get Steve’s in NYC, but they have said they will be selling pints at the Taza store, and you should begin seeing it pop up in local markets soon. They also plan on selling it online for home delivery. Keep an eye out and your spoon ready!
I was the kind of kid that ordered bubble gum ice cream and actually ate the Peeps in my Easter Basket. I complained loud and long whenever my mother put nuts in her brownies and cookies (which earned me the classic mom line, “Someday when you make your own brownies and cookies you can put whatever you want in them!”) and you couldn’t get me near a raisin if there was a chocolate chip nearby.
As an adult, I am delighted to say I now crave the “grown-up” flavors of bittersweet chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, and toasted coconut. I appreciate the natural taste and texture each of them brings, and I give them their due credit.
Few things are more of a vintage tradition than supporting local culinary (both harvested and produced) offerings, so I was glad that I finally got around to visiting the Somerville Winter (Indoor) Farmer’s Market at the Armory last weekend, despite the fact that it was the final one. Whoops!
Once inside I was greeted by the warm and cozy bustle of sellers and shoppers. We Bostonians are sick of winter already and there’s nothing like a substitute farmer’s market to remind us that warmer days are coming…eventually. The Fiore di Nonno homemade mozzarella cheese I had hoped to pick up was sold out by the time I arrived, but I was consoled by a stash of Taza Chocolate and Q’s Nuts.
No special occasion in my family would be complete without my Nana Alice’s Pudding Pie, with its graham cracker crust and layers of vanilla pudding, chocolate pudding, whipped topping, and chocolate jimmies. It is cold, creamy and delicious.
This Graham Cracker Pudding Cake pays humble homage to Pudding Pie. Graham crackers line the bottom of a baking dish and are covered with pudding. The layers are repeated until a final layer of graham crackers is covered in a smooth and shiny chocolate ganache icing.
In honor of President’s Day (and because I am a total history nerd), I decided to pay tribute to our first president by adding cherries and bittersweet chocolate chips to my latest batch of scones.
You remember why we associate cherries with Washington, right? In 1800 author Parson Weems spread the tale to America’s youth that a hatchet-happy young George chopped down his father’s cherry tree (which was bad), but then confessed to it (which was good) and was rewarded for his honesty.
The story is total baloney…but it turns out Washington actually did enjoy cherries, so I stand by calling it a tribute.
I don’t think I need to explain the inspiration behind these cupcakes. The squiggle alone is a dead giveaway.
The Hostess version we are all familiar with is arguably one of America’s most popular snack cakes (kissing cousins with the other Hostess favorite, the Twinkie). While the Hostess chocolate cupcake has been around since 1919, it wasn’t until 1950 that they added the cream filling and signature squiggle, with its exactly seven loops.
Don’t count mine…I just did the best I could.
Marble cake is perfect for the indecisive. When chocolate and vanilla hold hands, you get a little bit of both on your fork – no need to choose. Cover the whole thing in a light, pillowy chocolate buttercream, and you’ve got yourself one classic birthday cake.
I know I always say that I don’t really go for chocolate, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its time and place…it absolutely does. I was going to make something else last night, but it turned out that I only had a little over one stick of butter (butter never leaves the shopping list, my friends) so I switched to a brownie recipe I had just seen in the special edition issue of Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies. I knew I had some excellent double-dutch dark cocoa powder from King Arthur Flour in my pantry, and it was time to put it to good use.
I also was excited when I remembered that I had a special Mini Brownie Bundt Pan that my Nana picked up for me over the summer. I hadn’t tried it yet, but I knew I would love using it. It’s green! It makes brownies shaped like BUNDTS!
Also, the little dipped brownie Bundt center just begs to be filled with something. I went with a pinch of chopped walnuts, then covered the whole thing with garlands of melted white chocolate for garnish.
Garlands of garnish. I love alliteration.
Martha classified this recipe as “for hedonists” – meaning it was sure to be extra decadent, fudgy, and chocolatey.
And Martha is usually right about these things.