Cinnamon Granola Chocolate Bars

I have been dreaming about something like this for a long time, inspired both by the nut-studded chocolate bars one finds at good chocolate shops in Paris — such as the one that’s on our desktop calendar for this month — and by the tradition of chocolat au couteau, or knife-cut chocolate, a generous slab of chocolate that is broken into smaller chunks for sale by the weight.

The two ideas merged into this chocolate bar, whose surface is covered with a nicely toasted, nutty granola spiked with a healthy amount of sea salt and some freshly grated cinnamon.

I find the concept of rough-cut chocolate curiously enticing, and have often snacked on a handful of granola with a side square of dark chocolate. Somehow the two ideas merged into this chocolate bar, whose surface is covered with a nicely toasted, nutty granola spiked with a healthy amount of sea salt and some freshly grated cinnamon.

And not just any cinnamon: I recently received a sample of the new cinnamon harvest from my partner Cinnamon Hill, a small British company I love that imports top-quality cinnamon sticks grown in Vietnam and Sri Lanka, and every time I use their stuff in my cooking and my baking, I am reminded of the stark difference freshness makes — it’s just not the same spice at all.

I was so smitten with the cinnamon sticks and the gorgeous wooden grater they initially sent me that I bought the cinnamon lover’s pack for my mother for Christmas last year. And now they’ve created a lower-price, injection-molded version of that grater, based on the original design, with an identical grater blade, and also manufactured in the UK (not China!), which makes it an even more affordable gift option for the baker who has everything.

Cinnamon Graters from Cinnamon Hill

Cinnamon Graters from Cinnamon Hill

These cinnamon granola chocolate bars are the perfect recipe to dip your toes in the homemade chocolate pool if you’ve been wanting to try it this holiday season, giving you a great but low-risk opportunity to temper chocolate. Tempering chocolate means bringing it to three different temperature levels (high, low, medium) to control the crystallization of the cacao butter, and it translates to a chocolate that is glossy when set (as opposed to matte with white marbling), and breaks off with a clean, satisfying snap.

My plan for my inaugural batch of granola chocolate bar is to just nibble my way through it, bit by bit and chunk by chunk, but I ambition to make more, package it up, and give it away as an edible gift.

This is a process all chocolatiers apply to their chocolate and it may sound a little intimidating at first, but it is a lot less fiddly than it sounds and the result is plenty worth the effort. It does require a digital thermometer with a probe, so if you don’t have one or it just sounds like too much of a project, I’ve included instructions to skip that step.

My plan for my inaugural batch of granola chocolate bar is to just nibble my way through it, bit by bit and chunk by chunk, but I ambition to make more, package it up, and give it away as an edible gift. I can also imagine how charming it will be to bring this on a small platter when I have guests over for coffee during the holidays, with a few chunks broken off and a parmesan knife for chocolate enthusiasts to help themselves to more.

PS: How to taste chocolate, my favorite Christmas cookies, and easy candied nuts.

This post is brought to you by Cinnamon Hill. All words and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the companies that support Chocolate & Zucchini.

Cinnamon Granola Chocolate Bars

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December 2014 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month in 2014, I am offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

As a new feature this year, the desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for December is a picture of a candied pistachio chocolate bar from Alain Ducasse’s bean-to-bar chocolate factory in Paris.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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November Favorites

First of all, a reminder: if you’re in Paris this Saturday, November 29, I’ll be signing books at WHSmith from 4 till 5:30pm with my friend and illustrator Mélina Josserand and a platter of chocolate fleur de sel cookies. Please come and say hi!

A few reads and finds from the past month:

~ I was a guest on Radio Canada to talk (in French) about Edible French.

~ Have you ever wondered whether you could continue to cook if you ever went blind? Here’s how my friend Dave does it.

~ Bored with the pairing of beets and goat cheese? Here are five inspired ideas to break out of that rut.

~ A visual guide to determine the freshness of an egg.

~ What does a recipe editor do, anyway?

~ When and why it became socially acceptable for upper-class Parisians to smile.

~ A tempting maple syrup tart from Clamato’s executive chef.

~ Why does food stick to your knife?

~ To make bread, watch the dough, not the recipe.

What about you, any article or link that has stuck with you this month?

Five Baking Lessons from Huckleberry’s Zoe Nathan

Fresh Blueberry Brioche (photography by Matt Armendariz)

Fresh Blueberry Brioche (photography by Matt Armendariz)

Huckleberry is a bakery and café in Santa Monica that is run by baker Zoe Nathan and her husband Josh Loeb. Although I’ve never had a chance to visit myself, I understand it’s a wildly popular place that has successfully disproven the nay-sayers who told Zoe Nathan that, “nobody eats bread and pastries anymore,” least of all in LA.

Earlier in the fall Zoe Nathan released her first book, published by Chronicle Books and also called Huckleberry, and after hearing her on the Good Food podcast I was very curious to see it.

It did not disappoint: it is a gorgeous book, with a sunny polka-dotted pattern printed on the edges of the pages that makes you want to place it backwards on your bookshelf, and Matt Armendariz’s delectable photography. Although the book was co-written by Zoe Nathan, her husband, and their long-time associate Laurel Almerinda, they have chosen Zoe Nathan’s voice to guide the reader through the book, in a day in the life format that starts at 3:30am (oy!) with “Muffins” and ends at 10am with “Coffee and other beverages”.

Nathan’s is an opinionated voice, too, one that does not mince words — considering the tone of Gabrielle Hamilton’s new Prune cookbook, could this be a trend? — and is pretty honest about the hard work and emotional roller coaster involved in running a successful bakery.

I’ve particularly enjoyed the general baking advice that she shares at the front of the book, and thought I’d share the five baking lessons that have stuck with me the most.

1. Color is flavor

Most bakers, myself included, are so afraid of burning things they usually take their baked goods out of the oven before they have reached the apex of their flavor.

It’s perfectly understandable — who wants charred cake? — but the fact is, a tart crust is much crispier and tastier if it is allowed get to the brown side of golden; a crumble or cobbler (Nathan’s example) needs plenty of time for the fruit to completely collapse and soften; a naturally leavened baguette or sourdough loaf expresses its full complexity when it is darker than we think.

Zoe Nathan says we should “treat [color] as another ingredient to be measured” and encourages us to “flirt with disaster” and push the baking time just a little more than completely comfortable. And in truth, there is often a lot more time than we think between underbaked, just right, and overbaked.

Black and Blue Oat Bars (photography by Matt Armendariz)

Black and Blue Oat Bars (photography by Matt Armendariz)

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“Cheesy” Kale Chips

I’ve recently set out on a mission to prune my cookbook collection, and it has felt wonderful.

It is not a quick process, but it’s a fairly straightforward one: every weekend I pick one book, two at the most, to go through carefully, leafing through its every page and marking the recipes that call to me. For some I’ve already done the work years ago when I first acquired the book, and I have been surprised to see that few of the recipes I had tagged then still do anything for me now.

Soon enough the kale and sauce relinquish all their moisture, leaving you with crisp pieces of kale generously coated with an ultra flavorful, cheesy cashew crust.

Often times it’s a type of recipe for which I’ve since found My One (say, my granola recipe or my chicken stock formula), and it feels great to sit back and cherish those without thinking I need to try every one else’s version. Other times it’s recipes that simply fail to spark the excitement of the cook I have become — and I have trouble even remembering what moved me to tag them in the first place.

Once I’ve marked the recipes I’m interested in, I decide if there are enough to warrant holding on to the entire book, or if I can just scan the corresponding pages and pass the book on to someone else. In the process I also take into account the non-recipe value of the book, of course: if it can serve as a reference book in my cooking and in my work, if it is particularly well written, or if I have an emotional draw to it (we’re allowed those, right?). And if I decide the book can stay, I create a quick index card to list the recipes I’ve tagged and the page number, and slip it inside for future reference.

Choosing RawGena Hemshaw’s Choosing Raw is among the ones that recently made the cut, and with no hesitation: it’s the first cookbook by the author of the same-name blog, and in it she shares her take on a vegan and (mostly) raw lifestyle. I admire Gena’s writing on her blog — she strikes a rare balance between informative, inspiring, and approachable — and her book is just as enjoyable, as she provides the reader with the thorough information and delicious building blocks essential to plant-based eating.

Among the recipes I enthusiastically tagged was the one for cheesy kale chips. I’ve made oven-roasted kale chips before, simply dressed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, but this was my chance to reproduce the more substantial “cheesy” chips I’ve bought (and scarfed down) at natural foods stores in the US and in the UK, which typically call upon cashew “cheese”.

It turned out to be one of the easiest and most rewarding recipes I’ve made in a while: you simply tear curly kale into bite-size pieces, dress them in a no-cook sauce whizzed in the food processor, and let the oven (or dehydrator) do the rest of the work. Soon enough the kale and sauce relinquish all their moisture, leaving you with crisp pieces of kale generously crusted with an ultra flavorful, cheesy cashew coating.

Join the conversation!

Do you like to make kale chips? What’s your favorite flavoring or technique then? And how do you manage (or attempt to manage) your cookbook shelf?

PS: How to make the most of your cookbook collection, Cucumber and avocado quick nori rolls also inspired by Gena, and 50 Things to do with kale.

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