A Chocolate Lover's Dream

When you want to get people's attention, serve them chocolate, says Lora Brody. Brody's latest cookbook, "Chocolate American Style," contains more than 100-recipes for those favorite chocolate desserts from childhood, to decadent delights you now enjoy as an adult.

She visits The Early Show on Tuesday to share her recipes for Chocolate Panini, Chinese Noodle Nut Clusters, Chocolate-Peanut Butter Shortbread Bars, Chocolate Caramel Popcorn and Oreo-Crusted White Chocolate Mousse Torte.

Try them out:

Chocolate Panini

Makes 6 panini.

Panini are Italian sandwiches, and in this country we've made it a fancy name for grilled sandwiches, the kind you can find in coffee "salons" and pizzerias. You won't have any trouble rounding up the troops when you make the dessert version: toasted, chocolate-filled sandwiches.

I thought about buying a panini maker until I realized my George Foreman grill operates on essentially the same principle, heating both sides of something at once. It works just dandy, and the results taste much better than any hamburger or chicken breast I've ever made. You can also make these on a griddle or in a skillet on the stovetop. Make the raspberry sauce before you begin to cook the panini.

Ingredients:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
12 slices (1/2- to 3/4-inch thick) rich egg bread, such as challah, brioche, or Portuguese sweet bread
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
Unsalted butter for cooking the panini, if necessary
Raspberry Sauce (recipe follows)
  1. Line a small (5 1/2x 3 x 2 1/4-inch) metal loaf pan (a disposable foil pan is great for this job) with plastic wrap extend, pressing it into the corners and letting plastic wrap extend beyond all sides of the pan. Set aside.

  2. Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl set over, but not touching, a pan of simmering water, or in a microwave-safe bowl in a microwave oven. When the chocolate is melted and smooth, remove the bowl from over the heat and let cool slightly. Whisk the mascarpone into the chocolate and mix well. Scrape the chocolate mixture into the lined loaf pan. Pull the sides and ends up to form a roll approximately 6 inches long and 2 ½ inches thick. Pull the plastic wrap around the roll, tuck in the ends, and place the roll in the freezer for 2 hours or longer.

  3. When you are ready to cook the panini, preheat the oven 200 degrees. Have ready a baking sheet large enough to hold the cooked panini. Remove the filling from the freezer and transfer it from the loaf pan to a work surface; remove the plastic wrap. Brush one surface of each of 6 slices of bread with some of the melted butter and lay them, buttered-side down, on the work surface. Use a very sharp knife to cut the filling into generous 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place a slice on the exposed surface of each piece of bread, leaving about 1/2 an inch of bread around the filling. (You may have to cut the filling a bit to fit the bread, or add some pieces cut from the frozen filling.) Top each panini with a second slice of bread and brush the exposed bread surfaces with more of the melted butter.

  4. Choose a panini grill, a George Foreman grill, or a heavy-duty skillet. Grill the panini in the panini grill or the George Foreman grill according to the manufacturer's directions. If you are using a griddle or a heavy-duty skillet, set it over medium heat and melt about 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter in either. Place as many panini as ill fit in either utensil and place a flat pot lid or lids on top to press the panini down gently during the grilling. Grill the panini on one side until the bottoms are light golden brown and the filling has softened. Flip the panini and cook until the bottoms are again golden brown. Keep the panini warm in the preheated oven as you cook the remaining panini.

  5. Cut the panini on the diagonal and place 2 halves in the middle of each serving plate. Drizzle some raspberry sauce around the halves. Serve warm.

Raspberry Sauce
Makes 1 cup

Ingredients:
1 (12-ounce) package frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed
6 to 8 tablespoons sugar, to taste
  • Place the berries and their juice in the work bowl of a food processor or in a blender. Add 6 tablespoons of sugar and process or blend until smooth. Taste, and add more sugar if necessary. Pass the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.


Chinese Noodle Nut Clusters

Makes about 30 clusters

The combination of salty, sweet, crunchy, and smooth gives these confections a special place in my heart. That, added to the fact that they made an appearance at every bridge and mahjongg game my mother ever hosted, elevates their status to serious nostalgia food. They are fun to make (especially for kids) and are a great gift, since everyone seems to love them. "Betcha can't eat just one" will take on a whole new dimension when you are facing a plateful.

Using chocolate chips here instead of bar or block chocolate makes a more viscous "batter," which makes the clusters easier to form. This chocolate does not have to be tempered. You can find cans of Chinese chow-mein noodles in the Asian food section of the supermarket. The ones you want are cooked and ready to eat like crackers.

Ingredients:
2 cups (10 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
2 cups (about 4 ounces) Chinese chow-mein noodles, broken into 1/2 inch to 1 inch pieces (vary the sizes)
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) dry-roasted salted peanuts, shaken in a sieve to remove excess salt
  1. Line a baking sheet with wax paper, parchment paper, or aluminum foil. Set aside.

  2. Melt the chocolate chips and butter together in a metal bowl set over, but not touching, a pan of simmering water, or in a microwave-safe bowl in a microwave oven. Stir the mixture until it is smooth. In a large mixing bowl, toss the noodles and peanuts together. Pour the melted chocolate mixture over them. Working quickly before the chocolate hardens, use a rubber spatula to mix and coat the noodles and nuts with chocolate.

  3. Use 2 soup spoons (or teaspoons, depending on how large you want your clusters) to scoop up portions of the mixture. Set the clusters on the prepared sheet. Set the baking sheet in a cool place (not in the refrigerator) until the chocolate hardens.

  4. The clusters can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Shortbreat Bars
Makes 16 bars

Peanut butter holds a place of honor in the comfort-food department. Straight from the jar, spread on a Ritz cracker, or melting on hot toast, one taste means that no matter how lousy life is, things are going to get better. The idea of putting peanut butter in cookies must have come right after someone thought of putting it between two slices of soft white bread and adding either a cloak of grape jelly, a layer of bananas, or a glob of Fluff.

Peanut butter gives a deep, but not cloying sweetness, and the fat keeps the texture tender and melting in your mouth. While the people of Scotland might wince at what we out-of-control Americans are doing to their national cookie, I say peanut butter only makes the shortbread even better.

Ingredients for the Shortbread:
Unsalted butter and flour for preparing the pan
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) confectioners' sugar
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) semisweet mini chocolate chips

Ingredients for Chocolate Frosting:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup (3 ounces) sour cream
1/2 cup (2 ounces) confectioners' sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the center position. Coat the bottom and sides of either an 11 x 7-inch or a 9-inch square ovenproof glass baking pan with butter. (You can use a metal pan, but using glass completely eliminates the damage a knife might do when you cut the bars.) Dust with flour, knocking out the excess.

  2. To make the shortbread, sift the flour and confectioners' sugar into the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine, then add the butter and 1/2 cup of the peanut butter. Process until the dough forms a ball. Scrape the dough onto a work surface and knead in the chocolate chips. Press the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Do not force the dough up the sides of the pan; it should form a solid, flat layer in the pan. Bake the shortbread for 30 minutes, or until it is fairly firm to touch and barely golden.

    Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the remaining 1 cup of peanut butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon or heat-proof rubber spatula just until melted. While the shortbread is still warm, pour the melted peanut butter over the surface and use an offset spatula or a butter knife to spread the peanut butter evenly over the shortbread. Place the pan in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to cool the shortbread.

  3. To make the frosting, melt the chopped chocolate in a medium metal bowl set over, but not touching, a pan of gently simmering water, or in a microwave-safe bowl in a microwave oven. Remove the chocolate from the heat. Place the butter and sour cream in a medium bowl. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter mixture until well combined. Scrape in the chocolate and mix until combined. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix on low speed for 30 seconds, then beat on high speed for 1 minute, until the mixture is light and fluffy.

  4. Use an offset spatula or a butter knife to spread the frosting over the peanut-butter layer on the shortbread. To serve, cut the shortbread into 16 bars and remove them from the baking dish with an offset spatula.

  5. The shortbread can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week.

Chocolate Caramel Popcorn
Makes 4 cups

An appreciation of the combination of salty and sweet isn't an acquired taste; it's something you are hardwired with. Of course, while this recipe calls for the kind of salty popcorn you find at the snack aisle of the supermarket, you can certainly pop your own and skip the salt. This recipe was perfected and contributed by Lesley Abrams-Schwartz, who has a uniquely refined sense of what goes well with chocolate. The chocolate in this recipe must be tempered.

Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
4 cups salted, store-bought popcorn, or homemade popcorn, salted to taste
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone pan liner. It is not necessary to butter or oil the lining material.

  2. Place the sugar and 3/4 cup (6 ounces) of water in a large saucepan. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Make sure the end does not touch the bottom of the pan. Heat the mixture over-low heat and stir with a whisk until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and bring to a rapid boil without stirring. Reduce the heat to medium-high. Use a wet pastry brush or dampened paper towel to brush down the sides of the pan to prevent sugar crystals from forming. Cook until the thermometer registers 320 degrees. Add the popcorn to the saucepan and stir quickly with a wooden spoon to coat the popcorn completely. Pour and scrape the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. When the popcorn is cool enough to touch, use your fingers to break any clumps of popcorn into small pieces.

  3. Temper the chocolate, using a large metal bowl for the process. Pour all the caramel-coated popcorn into the bowl with the melted chocolate and stir with a wooden spoon to coat each piece completely. Pour and scrape the coated popcorn onto the baking sheet you used earlier, and scrape any remaining chocolate onto the popcorn. Use a large rubber spatula to gently spread the popcorn and chocolate on the baking sheet, separating the pieces of popcorn as much as possible. Some pieces will stick together to form little clusters, while others will remain separate. Set aside to cool. The popcorn can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks.

Oreo-Crusted White Chocolate Mousse Torte

Makes one 9-inch cake; 12 servings

If you spent a childhood dipping Oreo cookies in milk, or gently prying the two chocolate cookies apart so you could scrape the filling off with your teeth, then you'll appreciate the idea of a cake that looks just like a giant Oreo cookie. The best news is that it tastes even better than any Oreo possibly could.

This refrigerator cake is a no-bake recipe, so if you are seeking something elegant that will serve a crowd and you don't want to turn on your oven, this is perfect. It's a great make-ahead crowd pleaser that will have your guests looking at those cream-filled sandwich cookies with a whole new respect.

Ingredients for the Crust and Garnish:
Unsalted butter for preparing the pan
24 Oreo cookies, roughly broken into thirds
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup (4 ounces) heavy cream

Ingredients for Filling:
10 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups (16 ounces) heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  1. Coat the interior or a 9-inch springform pan with butter. Place a circle of parchment in the bottom and butter it as well.

  2. Place the bowl of an electric mixer and wire whip attachment or the beaters in the freezer to chill.

  3. To make the crust, place the broken cookies in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until medium-size crumbs are formed. They won't be uniform. Don't process long enough to make mush-just to grind the cookies until uneven crumbs. Leave the crumbs in the food processor. Place the bittersweet chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Pour the 1/2 cup heavy cream into a small saucepan; set over medium heat and bring the cream to a very gentle simmer. Pour it over the chocolate and stir until the mixture is smooth. Add two-thirds of the cookie crumbs; reserve the remaining crumbs. Stir the crumbs to coat them with the chocolate. Spoon and scrape the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Press the chocolate-coated crumbs evenly over the bottom all the way to the edge of the pan, but not up the sides. Set aside.

  4. To prepare the filling, place the white chocolate and 2/3 cup of the heavy cream in a metal bowl placed over, but not touching, a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally as the chocolate melts. When the mixture is smooth, remove it from over the water and set aside to cool.

  5. In a chilled bowl using chilled beaters, whip the remaining 1 1/3 cups of heavy cream and the vanilla until soft peaks form.

  6. Pour 3 tablespoons of water into a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. When the gelatin has softened, place the saucepan over very low heat and stir the mixture just until the gelatin has dissolved and liquefied. Immediately scrape the gelatin mixture into the white chocolate mixture, and fold gently until well combined. Fold the white chocolate-gelatin mixture into the whipped cream until the mixture is uniform. Scrape the filling into the prepared crust.

  7. Refrigerate the torte until the gelatin has set, at least 4 hours or overnight. To serve, loosen the edges of the torte from the sides of the pan with a small knife. Remove the sides of the pan and run a wide metal spatula between the bottom of the torte and the parchment liner, then lift the torte onto a flat serving plate. Just before serving, sprinkle the torte with the reserved cookie crumbs. (If the crumbs are sprinkled on ahead of time, they will soften. They will still be delicious.)

  8. The torte can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 4 days.


Variation
For a torte that looks and tastes like peanut butter-filled or chocolate and peanut butter-filled Oreos, use peanut butter-filled or peanut butter and chocolate filled Oreo cookies in place of the plain Oreos. Stir 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter into the white chocolate and cream mixture after the chocolate has melted. Prepare, serve, and store the torte as directed.
  • Tatiana Morales

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