This elegant drink is a mixture of vanilla vodka, Irish cream liqueur and orange liqueur or orange juice, garnished with orange slices and chocolate shavings. Before you start mixing, dip the rims of your chilled martini glasses in vanilla sugar for a festive look.
You can choose from three variations on this mixture that goes in a 1 1/2 quart ice cream freezer: vanilla cake, birthday cake or chocolate cake. They all use only a handful of ingredients. Our picture (left) shows the vanilla cake batter ice cream between chocolate wafers, topped with curls of white chocolate.
Gale Gand, pastry chef at Chicago's Tru restaurant, says: "We make this panna cotta in small demitasse cups -- it's that rich and flavorful. Bitter chocolate and coffee; sweet, salty caramel; and crunchy fleur de sel (sea salt available at specialty food stores or on the Internet) set against the smooth, tangy cream."
These brownies combine bittersweet and semisweet chocolate with plenty of butter, eggs, granulated sugar and brown sugar for a moist and rich dessert. After the brownies have cooked and cooled, you can cut them into bars or use 3-inch heart-shape cutters to make pretty treats. Drizzle with a vanilla glaze.
Chocolate ratios: Wondering which chocolate to buy? Some semisweet/bittersweet chocolate bars come labeled with percentages revealing the proportion of cacao (pure chocolate) to sugar. On average, semisweet/bittersweet contains 50-55 percent cacao to sugar.
Chocolate with a higher cacao percentage looks darker and tastes less sweet and more chocolatey. Keep in mind that ratios above 70 percent can give different results in recipes. These chocolates may cause a cake to be dry and, predictably, less sweet. Experiment to see what you like best. For a good reference on cooking with these chocolates, we recommend Alice Medrich's Bittersweet.
Powders: Dutch-process is regular cocoa treated with alkali to neutralize its acid and give it a mellow taste. Use either unsweetened cocoa powder or Dutch-process cocoa in recipes calling for unsweetened cocoa powder.
Sweet vanilla: Spiced vanilla sugar (in the large pot at left of photo) and plain vanilla sugar with specks of vanilla bean (in cupcake wrapper) wake up your cinnamon toast or oatmeal with flavor. They add a vanilla finish to butter cookies or shortbread, too.
Substitutions: Nielsen Massey Vanillas of Waukegan, Illinois, suggests these substitutions in its book A Century of Flavor:
1 vanilla bean = 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (made from vanilla bean seeds and extract)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract = 1 tablespoon vanilla powder
To buy vanilla products from Midwest purveyors, visit the following websites: