I just discovered something a little amazing: dark chocolate and dry Marsala:
I’m just about certified in Food & Wine pairing and one of the 1st things I ever learned was: Red Wine and Chocolate is not a good pair. GASP! I’m sorry ladies, it’s true. There is too much bitter clash and the sugar in the chocolate confuses the tannins in the wine. My instructor said it best: “It’s like sex on the beach: in theory it sounds like a GREAT idea- but then you got the sand and the rocks…the reality is that it’s pretty uncomfortable.” I mean, there are ways to pair red wine and chocolate if you really want to. Like with a bitter chocolate with low sugar content and a careful selection of red wine that has some bitterness and tannin to match. But the general rule of thumb is that chocolate pairs best with a fortified dessert wine like port or….MARSALA…
When I was just recently living in the states, the only marsala wine you found was for cooking. And unlike most wine, you don’t drink it as you cook with it. I don’t know, maybe its because how some wine is not imported well that I never believed in a marsala. So recently a friend came and made some veal marsala and left the bottle behind. I asked, what the hell am I going to do with all the leftover wine? I’m not making a tiramisu’ anytime soon. They said: drink it!
I never would have thought of that, you know.
So I poured some in my snifter, swirled it about and went through the usual motions of analysis….butterscotch, toffee, caramel, vanilla and coconut…and then gulp! Heaven! The nose proved accurate on the palate. Pretty damn tasty.
Together with dark chocolate…the cacao echos…like a nutty hazelnut caramel toasted fairtrade chocolate s’more…
I don’t know if you can get this kinda stuff in the states- but try! The states is always improving the channels of fine imports.
Notes on the Marsala that was left so graciously behind:
Producer: Florio 1833, VECCHIOFLORIO Marsala Superiore Secco (DOC) ’08, aged for 30 months in oak (hence all the toasty toffee notes)
Eat your vegetables—-for dessert! Yes, for real. Carrot cake, zucchini bread, now chocolate beet cake! Beets are one of my favorite root vegetables and here in the Puget Sound we are lucky to have them almost year round. Although in the fall & winter-like months, their bulbs tend to be bulkier which makes them easier to prepare into casseroles, roasts and soups. The beet has a looooong history, some believe it’s cultivation dates back to the 2nd millennium B.C.! Nowadays they are commercially produced for table sugar and there is even a hot controversy involving the little beet and the unstoppable GMO. Since about 1/2 of all our sugar in America comes from beets, (un)naturally the powers involved with mutating American Farmland have figured out how to capitalize on this rich sugar bulb now with a Roundup Ready GE Sugar Beet. Although the USDA has approved of this uncertain science experiment, you don’t have to. You can make this delicious moist buttery nutty chocolate cake with local organic beets found at Puget Sound Farmer’s Markets (or any local natural grocer/co-op) grown with love by Rents Due Ranch or Ralph’s Greenhouse and save yourself the mystery genes. This cake can be made even more local with Stone Buhr’s Washington White Flour (locally produced and small batch milled by Shepard’s Grain), farmstead eggs and fresh butter from the farmer’s market (or local co-op or natural grocer).
The Nutella-inspired ganache is easier than cake. Not only are beets in season and local, but so are hazelnuts! I just roasted these in the oven with a little bit of sugar until the skins popped off then beet them to a pulp in a coffee grinder then added to the chocolate ganache pot. So simple yet luscious! See for yourself!
Here is what you will need:
Dry ingredients in one bowl:
1 cup of flour (I used Shepherd’s Grain WA flour, its local and affordable!)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa or cacao
5 eggs, separated
variation: 2 whole eggs and 3 egg whites (or 3/4 cup liquid egg whites)
1 cup of sugar
Chocolate cake base:
1 cup of beet puree’ (made with 2 medium bulk beets or 1 large bulk beet)
8 tbsp butter, or one short stick
1/4 cup espresso, instant (for ease) or 1/4 hot water
1 cup 62% semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used the Sunspire Fairtrade chips from PCC Natural Markets, less than $5 a bag!)
1/2 cup skinned ground hazelnuts, dry roasted in the oven with a sprinkle of sugar
1/2 cup 62% semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp sweet Marsala or whatever sweet wine you have around
This cake has a lot of little tasks so here is how I suggest you break it down: Beets—>Ganache—> Hazelnut roasting—-> Cake batter prep—->Oven @ 325* for 40 minutes = voila’!
Beets: scrub your beet(s) and start boiling them skin on. It will take about 1/2 hour for the beets to full boil to softness and make the skin just slip off under cool water. When beets are boiled and skinned, cut into chunks and puree them in a food processor or blender.
Roasted hazelnuts, for ganache and cake topping:
Put the hazelnuts in a thin oven-safe pan and sprinkle some sugar on. Set temperature to 350* in a toaster oven or oven making sure to give them a shake and roll around every few minutes. Roast time total should be about 15 minutes. They will be ready when you see skins starting to pop off and brown. Let these cool wrapped in the middle of a clean towel. In the towel, try to rub off all the skins. Reserve half for the actual cake topping. The other half once skinned and cooled, pulverized in a coffee grinder. Pour into ganache when ready. Turn over down to 325* for cake baking temperature.
How to make the ganache: add chocolate chips and heavy cream to a small saucepan on medium-low heat. Add in the Marsala or sweet wine. Whisk till this gets a bit thick then take off the heat and allow to cool. You may now mix in the pulverized hazelnut “meal”.
After ganache is made and beets are still boiling…
Chocolate cake base (the wet ingredients): melt 1/2 cup of chocolate in a small saucepan on very low heat and make sure to stir and scrap. Add espresso or hot water once chocolate is mostly melted. Cut butter into chunks and let it melt in careful not to stir too much. Fold in egg yolks and mix until uniform. And lastly, fold in beet puree’.
Now with an electric mixer, whip egg whites until stiff and frothy. Add in the sugar slowly and stir in with a spatula. Now you can fold in the egg white mixture with the chocolate mixture and have your self a chocolate base.
Dry Cake mix: In a dry bowl, sift flour with baking powder and cocoa powder.
Take the dry mix and now add it to the wet chocolate beet and electric mix until a batter forms. Don’t be alarmed, this batter will seem pretty runny but it will bake very dense and moist, you’ll see…:)
Take 2 9in cake pans and butter it up or as I did, coat pans with a coconut oil spray. Fill each pan about 3/4 full or even a little more, just be careful not to fill it to the rim. Bake for 40 minutes at 325* (no peeking and no over baking!)
After 40 minutes, take out and allow to cool. Once cool, remove from cake pan and spread ganache on top. Take the reserve hazelnuts, cut them in half and top away!
This cake will be a hit for the holiday festivities this year. Its deep, its rich and best of all it utilizes what’s in season and local. The thick chocolaty flavor exploding hazelnut puts the panache in this ganache! If you really want to splurge, I recommend pairing this cake with a dessert wine like Banyuls or a Tawny Port. Cheers!
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