There’s a certain comfort in hot chocolate. Not the fancy adult hot chocolates that are just melted chunks of chocolate with a splash of milk. No, you know the type I’m talking about. Think back to when you were about 14 or so. Autumn or Winter has started to set in. You’ve got your knit cap and gloves ready to go when you go out with your friends, whether it’s to an amusement park, or a walk down to the local pizza spot, or to the swings at the park down the street after school, or the basketball courts. At some point while hanging out, your nose is red and practically frozen off, you’d need something to chase away the chill. Remember? It’s that delicious hot drink you’d sip on before coffee came into your life – sweet, milky, and definitely chocolaty. It would help melt you just enough so you could keep cracking up with your friends about the silliest things.
That feeling of nostalgia has never quite left. At least not for me. I no longer reach for a packet of Swiss Miss, but I still crave the innocence of hot chocolate; the innocence of childhood or young adulthood, as cheesy as that sounds. When I think about the world we are living in, and worry about how I’m going to protect my daughter, sometimes it becomes too much. Or if it’s been one of those long days where people can’t seem to find an end to their long list of demands, and all I want to do is just take a nap. But then there are days that remind me of 14. The last days of Winter that are holding on strong, but you know Spring is right around the corner. You still have to wear your thick coat, but now you don’t have to button it up.
That’s what this pudding is for me – as simple as hot chocolate, with the comfort of pudding. With only four ingredients (three of which are pretty much hot chocolate), and ready in less than 15 minutes, it’s something simple to escape into whenever you need a hug. Trust me. Make it today, or this weekend, and pack it up in a little bowl. Then head to the nearest park with a swing set, and swing as high as you can. Let yourself fly for a few seconds with a spoonful of hot chocolate pudding melting in your mouth.
Stovetop ‘Hot Chocolate’ Pudding
- 6 ounces (about 1 cup) semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 3 cups whole milk
- Mix sugar and cornstarch in a small sauce pan or pot. Pour enough milk into the same pan to create a paste. Pour the rest of the milk into the pan and stir.
- Heat the milk, sugar, cornstarch mixture on medium heat until warm. Add chocolate. Watch the pot, stirring intermittently to melt the chocolate.
- Stir continuously once the pudding begins to bubble and thicken (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat, and spoon into ramekins or small bowls. If you like a skin on your pudding (like I do), let them cool as is. If you don’t like a skin, cover with plastic wrap, pressing wrap directly onto the pudding.
Ok so first off.. I’m so sorry I haven’t posted in so long. It’s been a crazy few weeks and I’m still playing catch up. The thing is… I started a new job It’s kind of a big deal actually. It’s the first time I’ve been leaving my daughter for extended periods of time, the first time I’ve been back at work after nearly a year and a half, and the first time in a long time where I’m actually reading / studying / feeling the need to prove my skills (daily) in quite some time.
Now as some of you know, I’m a DBA. That’s a Database Administrator. I work with a platform called SQL Server… Ok I can seriously HEAR you dozing off. I work with computers ok? Anyways, being in IT has been pretty good to me so far. I normally used to work a solid 9ish hour day except for the odd weekend / weeknight maintenance or code release window. This new place has me churning out 10-11 hour days regularly! Add a two hour commute daily and that leaves me with barely two hours to see my daughter, much less bake.
But I miss baking. I missed hearing the whirling sound of my mixer. The feel of scooping out flour. The smell of butter and sugar being creamed together. The give and push back on a perfectly baked vanilla cake. Of just letting myself concentrate on a recipe, and then enjoying the delicious results. Or learning from catastrophic mistakes. I thought just having a kid was hard, but being a working mom is a whole other ballgame. It’s so easy to just fall into a routine of getting up, getting ready, commuting, working, commuting again, feeding my daughter dinner, bathing her, eating dinner myself while my husband puts her down for the night, hanging out (ie discussing bills and other house stuff) with my husband and passing out myself.
Where’s the time for me? How do I find time in a day… heck a WEEK… where I can define myself based on just me and not as an extension of a another person or a job? It’s not that I don’t enjoy my job… I do… I honestly love it. And it’s not that I don’t love being a mom. It’s that I don’t want to wake up one day a few months or years down the line and realize that I spent all my time being a someone to everyone else that I forgot to be a someone for me. It’s hard to keep up this blog right now… but I’m going to stick with it… because it means something to me… and it’s one of the ways I define myself.
So there you are. No fancy reason for choosing this recipe out of the dozens I have saved. No homesickness, no birthday, no specific craving, no dire need to use up over a dozen eggs before they expire… just a little bit of comfort in the actual act of baking and then enjoying the results of this marble loaf. I love that it’s just barely sweet. That the vanilla is complemented so well with the dark chocolate. And that there’s no bells and whistles in a glaze or a frosting. No matter how you slice it… you always know what you’re in for. Just like I wish my was.
Marble Loaf – recipe slight adapted from Martha Stewart website
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
- 1 3/4 cups cake flour*
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup whole milk, room temperature (original recipe called for buttermilk but I didn’t have any so I used whole milk)
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan; set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in vanilla. Add add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until just combined. Add milk and mix until combined. Add the rest of the flour and mix until just combined. Set aside 1/3 of the batter.
- In a bowl, mix cocoa and boiling water with a rubber spatula until smooth. Add the cocoa mixture to the reserved cake batter; stir until well combined.
- Spoon batters into the prepared pan in 2 layers, alternating spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate to simulate a checkerboard. To create marbling, run a table knife (or wooden skewer) through the batters in a swirling motion.
- Bake, until a cake tester comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer pan to a rack to cool 10 minutes. Turn out cake from pan and cool completely on the rack. Cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.
* I’ve made this recipe twice – once using the ‘make your own cake flour method’ of adding cornstarch to all purpose flour and sifting, and once using store bought (King Arthur flour) cake flour. The results are definitely lighter and fluffier with store bought flour.
There are times when you’ve had a rough day (or week or month or year.. you know how it is) and all you want to do is just curl up on the couch with a good book. Just get wrapped up in the story that you are reading and really let yourself go. Now times like this, a good book is sometimes enough. And then again, sometimes you want something sweet to go with it. Something simple and straight forward like a chocolate chip cookie. With milk, or coffee, or on it’s own… a cookie is the original “mini dessert”. Or at least tied with cupcakes.
But… sometimes… you want something more. You lick your lips, squint your eyes, let your mind try to connect with your taste buds trying to figure out what exactly you are craving. Yes yes… you want a chocolate chip cookie. But what else? It should have a nuttiness… but not actual nuts. Just a hint of a flavor. And there needs to be a crunch in there.. but subtle. And the crunch can’t come from something overly sweet because you don’t want it competing with the chocolate.
I have a thing for chocolate souffles. It’s embarrassing really. And creme brulees. I think I visibly salivate at the sight of either one of these desserts. A souffle is just so magical. The intensity of the chocolate, but the lightness of it’s texture… you can finish an individual serving and feel so satisfied but not like you are about to slide into food coma. You know?
But here’s the thing about souffles – I can only manage to serve individual servings. The idea of one huge souffle terrifies me. I already hover around the oven when my little babies are rising, I don’t think I’d survive watching a large souffle deflate. But I was craving some of that chocolate cloud magic, and I had a ton of eggs to use up (remember we talked about this last time?), AND I had a get together to go to so I needed to whip up a party friendly dessert.
That’s where this guy comes in. A baked chocolate mousse cake. Who thinks up these things? It’s crazy brilliant I tell you! It’s got a similar technique to my usual individual souffles – melt chocolate, mix with egg yolks, fold in whipped egg whites, bake, take a bite, sit on the couch (or slide to the floor) and have yourself a satisfying foodgasm – but there’s no fear of it deflating. Why you ask? Because you chill it. Yea. Wrap your head around that for a second. You chill the whole cake for hours and you are left with this super dense looking, but oh so light tasting chocolate goodness.
And if that’s not enough, get this, it has brown sugar. This way it retains this lovely moisture and gives this hint of caramely-ness (is that even a word?). It almost looks like a brownie, but melts in your mouth. God I could just keep going, but I’m going to stop now and just give you the recipe. Try it. I swear. It’s worth it. Rent yourself a RomCom, get into your comfiest pajamas, slice yourself a portion, dollop a bit of whipped cream and some berries if that’s your thing (it’s totally mine), and enjoy this cake. Then thank me
So um… it’s been a while huh? I know I know… I promised a post twice a month but… life happened. More on that later. Lots to share!
Now… where were we? Oh right. Cupcakes. Of course the first post I put up after a YEAR focuses on yet another vanilla cake recipe. I had an hour to kill last week, and I was within a few blocks of Magnolia craving a red velvet cupcake, so I went in for a visit. I got myself a red velvet, a chocolate with chocolate, and a vanilla with chocolate. Don’t worry, I shared with Maheen.
That vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting was delish. Was it so extraordinary that it blew my mind? Um. Not quite. But it was still pretty good. Then things started to align – Sweetapolita had tried the recipe and given it a stamp of approval, I had two parties to go to where I wanted to bring a simple dessert, and I had quite a few eggs that needed to be used up. Hah ok the eggs thing is probably what drove this baking plan
First time around I followed the recipe to the T. Well except I didn’t have self rising flour at home, so I just used some magic and made a batch at home. And my magic I mean SCIENCE :p 1 cup of all purpose + 1 tspn of baking powder = 1 cup of self rising. The cakes were ok. A little dense and bordered on pound cakey. The second time around I sifted the flour combo, was VERY careful to not overmix the batter, and added 2 tspns of baking powder. Results were better. Lighter crumb, but still a cross between a super soft cupcake and corn bread. The cupcakes from the second batch actually got a shout out on my friend Sana’s new modest fashion blog. For anyone looking for great outfit ideas, and fun writing, check her out on modHijabi.com
In conclusion, would I try this again? Eh. Probably not. I think I’m pretty satisfied with my other vanilla cake recipe so I’ll just stick to that from now. If you happen to try this recipe, let me know what you think!
Magnolia’s Bakery Style Vanilla Cupcakes (adapted from Sweetapolita)
- 1 3/4 cups (350 g) all purpose flour
- 2 tspn baking powder
- 1 tspn salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks)(227 g) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups (400 g) white sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup (237 ml) milk
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 standard muffin tins – 24 in total. My batter actually made close to 26 cupcakes, so I used those extra as tasters
- In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Be sure to try and add gradually instead of dumping all the sugar at once. I found that this made a difference in the fluffiness of the butter sugar combo.
- Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended.
- Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners and bake in middle of oven until tops turn golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out just clean (a few crumbs is okay), about 18 minutes. I use an ice cream scoop for more uniform cupcakes.
- Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.
For more behind the scenes photos, stories and discussions:
The giveaway is now closed.
February is usually a big month in the Shaikh-Zaman household, especially this year, and especially this week. First off, the Giants won the Superbowl. Maheen had set the alarm for 4:45am India time so we could wake up to watch the game. Needless to say, after a long day of running errands and only 3 hours of sleep later, I wasn’t the one waking up on time. There are only a few things in this world that Maheen is loyal to and loves beyond reason. The Giants are definitely in the top 10. Through the ups and downs, Eli’s “aw shucks” interviews, and a number of throw away mistakes, Maheen has diligently watched nearly every game and read nearly every piece of commentary available to man. And this year, they won the Superbowl for his birthday.
This one's for you Maheen
That brings us to the second reason why February is a big deal. This year was Maheen’s big 3-0! He waved goodbye to the 20s and is now an old fogie like the rest of us. Hah, this is especially sweet because I’ve been hearing 20s vs 30s jokes since last April when I turned 30. Now Maheen’s not really into birthdays; just another day like the rest of them in his book. On the flip side, I love birthdays. Heck I love any reason to celebrate – birthdays, anniversaries, anything that can be made into a momentous occasion where I can bake a cake. And I love buying presents. Thinking about what a person likes, what they would never really buy for themselves but secretly want, and then wrapping the present – absolutely love it.
Years ago when Maheen and I first met, started courting, and got married, I would go through a whole slew of possible birthday presents. The full collection of Tin Tin graphic novels and accompanying “extras” to remind him of his childhood. An mp3 player preloaded with some albums from his favorite artists like Tom Petty, the Cranberries, and Cure. You know.. thoughtful presents. But through all of that, the thing that Maheen loves the most, are Amazon giftcards. Shaking head. A giftcard. What am I going to do with this guy? Lucky for the rest of you, to help celebrate Maheen’s big 3-0 birthday, I’m giving away a $30 giftcard from Amazon.com (details below).
For winter break Maheen and I did quite a bit of traveling. Rajasthan. Delhi. And! We finally got to see Malaysia, which has been on our list of ‘Places to See’ since we started the list. The beaches of Langkawi and the island hopping tour; the tea plantations of Cameron Highlands and specifically the Boh Tea Cafe; Kuala Lumpur and the Islamic Arts Museum. It was amazing to see a Muslim country that wasn’t bogged down with poverty or having an identity crisis trying to balance a religion and keeping up with the times. Everywhere you turned, there was a sense of balance. Women were as likely to wear a scarf and long skirt as they were to wear a tanktop and shorts. Billboards and ads on buses showed a world where science labs and boardrooms were equal opportunity spaces for women in general, but more importantly (for me), they were equal opporunity spaces no matter how you dressed. Hah Maheen’s favorite advertisement was actually on a bottle of Coke – a Muslim woman doing her thing as a DJ, but was also wearing a scarf. The best part? It was all normal. No one blinked an eye.
Most who know me know that I go through (frequent) periods of self reflection / re-invention / basic doubt. Trying to put together pieces of my identity while maintaining a balance. My faith feeds my soul and lifts me up, but so do chocolate, things of beauty, music, theater, books, and traveling. Yes I’m Muslim. And yes I’m South Asian. And yes I’m a New Yorker. Through and through. I keep a close group of friends and have built up a community where I never have to choose between these identities – they all work together. But being in Malaysia was different. It was eye opening. A space where all my identities could cohesively exist without having to explain myself. It was freeing in a way.
2012 and I met in a fantastic sort of way. Maheen and I rolled into Jodhpur (Rajasthan, India) around 11pm or so on New Year’s Eve. Our hotel room was beautiful, with a huge window that looked out to the Fort sitting high on the cliffs at the edge of town. The kitchen was closed but they did managed to whip up warm chicken sandwiches with a side of crisp fries for us. We ate the meal cuddled up in a bed whose headboard was probably older than both our respective countries (Pakistan and Bangledesh) under a quilt that is the pride of Rajasthan. Now I don’t mean this particular quilt specifically, but quilts like this that are made in Rajasthan. It’s called the 100 gram quilt. Maybe one or two inches thick but somehow warmer than any down comforter I’ve ever buried myself under. Then, at the strike of midnight, the sky burst to life with fireworks from every direction. I rushed out to the balcony to get a better view but the cold wind drove me back to our room. It didn’t matter though. We still got a wonderful view of reds, greens, and sparkles across a pitch black sky with the Fort in the background. Right at that moment, I felt like 2012 was going to be a great year.
View from hotel in Jodhpur during the day
Have my feelings changed since that night? I don’t know. Now I know people expect food blogs to always be happy and optimistic, but I don’t know is a truthful answer and so that’s what I wrote. Not to say anything bad has happened; the year has been really lovely to me so far. Since that night I’ve seen more of Rajasthan and other parts of India. We spent hours at Jasvant Thada in Jodhpur where I spent a good 45 minutes chatting with one of the workers about the state of South Asian culture in different parts of the world. Maheen and I bought a painting that we’d been admiring for months in Delhi that is a complex conversation starter. Well, for us at least. We also got the chance to visit the Taj Mahal. It’s been an awe inspring year so far. But I don’t know. There have definitely been days where I’ve been uneasy. Restless. And I’m not quite sure why. Then I read 6 Bittersweets’ post and something clicked. I miss being productive. Like really productive. I’ve held down a job for most of my adult life, and even before the New Year I was posting or working on the blog regularly. I need that routine again.
Ohh India. Sometimes I feel like I can hear you giggling every time I think about baking something.
Growing up my sisters and I always brown bagged lunch to school. Back then I was sure it was because my mother wanted to torture us and make us stand out from the crowd with sandwiches made of whole wheat bread and aloo tikkis or tuna kababs. I remember being so jealous of all the kids that got to have school lunches. Delicacies like frozen pizza, mystery meat burgers with fries, and a baked pasta sort of dish with what I think was some sort of cheese caked on top. The only thing that salvaged those lunches were surprise treats – usually a bag of chips or (more often) apple slices. I’d try to trade up for something that involved chocolate like Kit Kat or peanut butter cups or (even better) cookies. And then, sometimes, the heavens would open and I’d find a baggie with two or three chocolate chip cookies of my own. Those were the best days. I’d savor the crispy Chips Ahoy and think, “This is the best thing in the whole world!”
Years have passed; I’ve tried everything from Chips Ahoy, to tubes of pre-made cookie dough, to mixing a batch from scratch and I have to say, chocolate chip cookies still make me happy like nothing else can. Especially when they are freshly baked coming out of the oven. I can barely stop myself from “taste testing” that first one while letting the others cool on the wire rack. Now, I appreciate all chocolate chip cookies, but I do have a favorite type. Something with crispy edges, a soft but not doughy center, not too thick and not too thin, and just the right amount of chocolate chunks to cookie dough ratio. May sound like a tall order, but I’ve found my local favorites that get it right most of the time. First is Pret a Manger since it’s close to work, the cookies are warm, and I can usually grab a sandwich so I’m not having just cookies for lunch (most of the time). Second choice are the cookies sold on the Sweetery NYC truck which used to stop off at Midtown. Oh and their red velvet cupcakes are amazing too!
But here’s the thing. Lucknow, India doesn’t exactly have a Pret a Manger or food trucks. Well none with chocolate chip cookies that is. And though it’s easy enough to get chaat, or parathas, or kababs on any street corner, cookies are hard to come by. Especially fresh baked ones. So what’s a girl to do but bake a batch? Sounds simple enough right? Yea. This is where India straight up laughed her little tukhus off.
So a few weeks (months?) ago, Maheen and I made a huge decision. I was going to quit my job and move with him to India. INDIA?? Yea. I know. Maheen’s been there for the past few months (since June) working on his research and though the world of Google (chats, voice, video, email.. you name it.. I’ve used it) has made the distance manageable… I’m not going to lie… It’s been hard. So I packed up all my stuff, kissed my KitchenAid goodbye, stroked my car and told her I’d be back soon, got on a plane and flew to a city half way around the world.
Now, I may have gotten my best friend back, but Lord knows I was scared. The first question I asked the hubster was, “Will I have an oven? What’s the flour situation? Um… and what about chocolate??” Just to be on the safe side, I packed a few essentials. Hah, let’s just say I brought maybe 4 outfits and a few pajamas because the rest of my suitcases were packed with things like all purpose flour, vanilla extract, and an 11 pound bar of Callebaut chocolate. Don’t judge. It’s all about priorities folks.
It’s been a little over two weeks since I arrived and I’m slowly settling in. There is indeed an oven in our kitchen, but the dial you use to set the temperature doesn’t have any numbers. Yea. But more on that in another post. A few days ago I was feeling homesick. I wanted something that would comfort me… something that would wrap me in a bear hug and kiss me on the forehead… then went with me to a karaoke bar with to belt out some embarrassing Taylor Swift or songs covered by Glee. In short, I wanted my sisters and friends.