chocolate Tag



While we were in Slovakia, we had an amazing opportunity to visit the CHOCOMAZE workshop and try our hands at making some beautiful—and delicious—chocolate treats.

CHOCOMAZE is based in Komárno, our sleepy home town in Slovakia. It was founded in 2013 by Katalin Vargha, and while it’s still a small business, it has already received recognition from all over Europe. CHOCOMAZE specializes in handcrafted chocolate bars and delights; and not only did we get a peek at how they do all this, we got a chance to make our very own treats with the help of the lovely Marti, who herself has only been working at CHOCOMAZE for about six weeks! 

We closely examined all the different add-ins that they have to work with!

First, Marti showed us the tempering machines. They have two, one for milk chocolate and one for dark. Tempering helps the fatty acids in the chocolate crystallize into a more stable, which gives the finished product a glossy look and a nice snap when you bite it. Very important! Here’s a good explanation of tempering.


Our first volunteer worker chose to make white chocolate heart lollipops. For a little added flair, we also used edible ink transfers on one side. Marti prepared the mold, placing the ink transfer paper on one side. One of the main components of the ink is cocoa butter, so it practically melts into the surface of the chocolate bar.ec2-chocomaze


The white chocolate was already in a warming pan, but needed a good stir, and then Marti used the cool marble slab to get it down to the right temperature for molding. This was mesmerizing to watch. Since we were the only ones eating this product, we used a very simple instrument to see whether the chocolate had reached the right temperature: the finger test! White chocolate should be about body temperature when it’s ready to work with.



Marti drizzled the chocolate into the molds, then tapped them to get rid of any bubbles.



She added the sticks, and it was time to decorate!

Volunteer worker number two went for dark chocolate mignons. Since the chocolate came straight from the tempering machine, there was no need to cool it on the work surface. The tempering machine even has a setting to jiggle the bubbles out of the chocolate.




Then the chocolate goes in the fridge to continue cooling and solidifying. CHOCOMAZE does every step by hand, even the packaging. So that’s what we did too.



It was too bad that we had just a few too many to fit in the box, so we had to eat them. The sacrifices we make! Everyone gave the finished products a big thumbs-up. The chocolate is rich and melts in your mouth, and we all approved the choices of tart dried fruits and little crispy dragées. We certainly gained an appreciation for the painstaking work it takes to produce these beautiful creations. If you’re in Slovakia or Hungary, you can try CHOCOMAZE’s treats for yourself. You can even special order your own mix of chocolate flavors and add-ins.


Thank you Marti, Kati, and CHOCOMAZE!




When I was a kid approximately one million years ago, my parents gave me a Donvier ice cream maker. When we moved back to California four years ago, my mom revealed that she had been hanging on to it all this time, and gave it back to us; I promptly put it in the bottom of the freezer and forgot about it.

You’ve probably seen this type of ice cream maker, which has a bowl that you freeze for 24 hours and then use to chill and churn your mixture. I remember being super disappointed as a kid, because despite cranking the handle furiously, I didn’t immediately get perfect scoopable ice cream. Remarkably, however, my mom managed to save the instruction booklet that came with the machine, and when I, you know, actually READ the directions thirty years on, I understood that you need to just turn the handle once every few minutes, and when the mixture is thick but not solid, decant it to a separate container to freeze to the right consistency. Armed with this knowledge and the lowered expectations of middle age, I have made some really great ice cream.

Because you don’t churn a lot of air into it, the ice cream is very creamy. My one failure was when I made a rice pudding and tried to freeze that – it was so thick I could barely turn the crank! But I have overwhelmingly relied on the recipes in Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and have had amazing results. Jeni Britton Bauer’s basic method uses cream cheese and no eggs, and the flavors she thinks up are so unexpected and delicious.

I wanted to come up with a Central European riff on her technique, and was inspired by miláčik for the base, with a swirl of chocolate and crispy wafers in homage to our beloved Tatranky and Mila snacks.

The directions here are what works well for our little Donvier. It can’t hold a full recipe so I have to churn it in batches, but it stays cold enough. Adding chocolate drizzle directly into the maker has never been successful, so I’ve taken to layering it in the freezer container. Just be patient, because the ice cream really isn’t at its best until it’s had a good 4-6 hours to firm up in the freezer.

Tangy ice cream with a chocolate wafer ripple
A Central European twist on ice cream - with sour cream, wafers, and chocolate swirls
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Prep Time
5 hr 15 min
Cook Time
17 min
Total Time
5 hr 30 min
Prep Time
5 hr 15 min
Cook Time
17 min
Total Time
5 hr 30 min
  1. 2 cups whole milk
  2. 2 Tbs cornstarch
  3. 2 ounces cream cheese
  4. 1/8 tsp salt
  5. 2/3 cup sugar
  6. 2 Tbs light corn syrup
  7. 1 cup sour cream
  8. 1 1/2 cups wafer cookies (I used Loacker hazelnut flavor), chopped
  9. 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  10. 1 Tbs milk or more as needed
  1. Place the cornstarch in a small bowl and add a splash of the 2 cups of milk to moisten and make a paste.
  2. Put the cream cheese and salt in a large bowl, and set aside.
  3. Heat the remaining milk with the sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a boil; boil for 4 minutes taking care to stir from time to time.
  4. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and whisk smooth; return to a boil for another minute or so, or until slightly thickened.
  5. Pour the milk mixture into the bowl with the cream cheese, and whisk until smooth (I sometimes find an immersion mixer is helpful). Stir in the sour cream.
  6. At this point, I prefer to just allow the mixture to cool in the bowl in the fridge overnight. Jeni Britton Bauer's instructions call for pouring the mixture into a Ziploc bag and cooling it in an ice bath, but whatever time I've saved that way I've regretted, since it's messy and I wonder about the wisdom of having hot liquids against the plastic. The main thing is, you want the base to be really cold before you put it in your ice cream maker, so whatever method you prefer, make sure it's fully chilled when you start to churn.
  7. Pour the base mixture into the frozen canister and churn until thick and creamy.
  8. While you're churning, melt the chocolate chips either in the microwave or on a double boiler on the stove. Stir in the tablespoon of milk to get it to a drippy consistency.
  9. When the base has reached the consistency of soft serve, layer the ice cream: put about 1/3 of the mixture at the bottom of your storage container. Drizzle about 1/3 of the chocolate sauce over the top, and sprinkle a third of the chopped wafers. Spread half the remaining ice cream over the top, and repeat the drizzling and sprinkling. Spread the final portion of ice cream and toppings, place a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper against the surface, seal with a lid and put in the freezer.
  10. Allow the ice cream to freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.
Emperors Crumbs

Right around the time I stopped eating meat as a teenager, I spent a summer working at a local wildlife care clinic. If squeamishness about meat had played any role in my decision to become vegetarian, that would have been the shortest internship ever. Without going into detail, let’s just say that the recipes for a raccoon’s lunch or a hawk’s afternoon snack have no place on a food blog. At least not this one.

I stopped eating meat mainly because I was 14 and it seemed like a cool thing to do, but then found I didn’t miss it and haven’t really missed it  in the [redacted] years since. While I believe that it makes sense to reduce the number of animal products we use, I have never had much of a rationale for vegetarianism, and never felt much inclined towards being vegan. I’m way too lazy to monitor my diet that closely – living with three committed omnivores, I am okay with picking the sausage out of my favorite lentil soup. I’ll cook meat for everyone else, although they have to make their peace with the fact that I won’t taste it to check how it is. What about your family? Do you have a pescatarian in your midst? Or lurking lactose intolerance? How do you handle multiple dietary needs around the table?

So back to the subject of this post. Despite being happily ovo-lacto myself, my most beloved cake recipe is, by chance, vegan. It’s a Bundt cake and pretty much my stock answer to “what should your birthday cake be?” Although it’s extremely easy to make, it falls into the category of a special occasion cake so it’s not a one I make or eat too often, and that’s not right. When I started seeing cookies baked from cake mix around the internet, a little light  went off over my head. Could this be a way to get a dose of chocolate spice deliciousness whether it’s a birthday or not?

Indeed. Baked for ten minutes, these cookies are delightful puffy, pillowy little cakelets, gooey with chocolate chips and perked up with cinnamon and cloves. But try underbaking them by a minute or two, and you will get what I consider the ideal consistency, which is amazing, almost pudding-y. And  what with them being vegan and all, no worries about raw eggs – go ahead and eat a spoonful or two of the dough, you have my permission.

The canonical version of the cake does not include raisins, although they are in the recipe as written on an index card in my mother’s file. These are to be soaked in brandy or other liquid, and while I scornfully cast out the raisins, I do include that liquid; coffee (what else?) in our household. Feel free to booze it up if you have some handy.

Chocolate spice cookies

Since the original cake is by nature a bit heavy, I used some whole wheat flour in the cookies to give them some heft. You could use all all-purpose, but add the coffee/liquid gradually to see that the mixture doesn’t get too thin. It will thicken some if you refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight.


Makes about 3 dozen smallish cookies

  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup applesauce
  • ⅓ cup canola oil
  • ¼ cup brewed coffee, cooled (or brandy, or other liquid of your choice)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips


  • Preheat the oven to 350° F and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, spices, baking soda, salt and cornstarch. Add the sugars. Stir in the applesauce and oil, then add the coffee and mix until fully combined. The dough will be soft.
  • Scoop the dough out in rounded teaspoons on the baking sheet.
  • Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until just puffed – leave them to set for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before moving them to a plate to be gobbled immediately cool.

This isn’t my first waltz with gluten-free baking, but almost. I made some gluten-free cupcakes for a birthday party this summer, and let’s just say that even before I burned them they weren’t exactly winners. It’s a pretty different ball game, this gluten-free stuff. (What, how long do you expect me to sustain a single metaphor?)

We have friends who can’t have gluten, which has given me a bit of a push towards trying some of the rapidly-multiplying gluten-free recipes out there. And really, we have dinners that don’t include gluten fairly often without even trying. But baking, not so much. There are so many interesting flours available right now, though, that it’s fun to incorporate them even where health concerns aren’t an issue. They have interesting flavors and textures of their own that may not be exactly like the usual wheat flour-based ones, but are delicious in their own right.

I realize that if you are a Central European reader, you may not have access to as many of these ingredients, at least not easily. But even before we moved, I was amazed to see that bigger “bio” stores were stocking a much wider range of grains, flours and other staples than I’d seen before, not to mention the number of packaged gluten-free products. So take a look around, you may strike it rich – it’s a good time to be gluten free!

This particular recipe is adapted from an applesauce cake on the Healthy Seasonal Recipes blog. My ears pricked up at the words “snack cake”, because, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of all kinds of muffins, quick breads and their ilk. This one didn’t disappoint – it’s not too sweet, moist, and has an almost puddingy texture. What with autumn arriving, I thought the apple original might lend itself to a pumpkin version, so I set about tweaking the recipe for an October weekend, swapping pumpkin for apple, using maple syrup rather than honey, adding some cornmeal, and to reassure the kids that it really is cake, some mini chocolate chips. The result: excellent. Just what’s called for on an afternoon where the wind is picking up, the clouds are moving in, and you’re ready for a cozy and easy baking project. To return to my original metaphor, you’ll want to add it to your dance card.

Gluten-free pumpkin chocolate chip cake
Adapted from Healthy Seasonal Recipes

The chocolate chips here are optional, but awfully nice. Mini ones work best, since the cake has a fine crumb that might not hold together so well with larger chunks of chocolate. Make sure you use a more fine-ground cornmeal, polenta for example is too gritty in this context.


Makes about 8-10 generous slices of cake

  • 2 cups cooked pumpkin, canned or fresh
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1½ cups brown rice flour
  • ½ cup fine-ground cornmeal
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • generous ½ cup mini chocolate chips


  • Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C and grease a Bundt pan.
  • In a blender or tall measuring cup, combine pumpkin, eggs, oil, maple syrup, and brown sugar. Use an immersion blender or, you know, a blender to thoroughly combine.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together rice flour, cornmeal, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt.
  • Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until combined; stir in chocolate chips.
  • Scrape into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched.
  • Cool in the pan for five minutes before turning cake out onto a rack to cool. Allow it to cool completely (or as long as you can wait) before slicing.


Chocolate-Coffee Cupcake Affogatto

Have we mentioned that Valerian is a coffee freak geek? That we have about five different coffee-making apparatuses in our kitchen, not to mention a microwave-size roaster in the garage? If you follow EC on Facebook, you’ve surely figured it out from Valerian’s profile pictures; coffee looms large around here. (more…)