Avocado popsicles

I have a story coming out in this week’s NUVO, about a new food cart in town that sells handmade popsicles (I love this company, by the way — they are making really amazing popsicles, use recyclable materials and are conscientious about giving back to the community — if you live in Indy and run across their cute retro-styled bicycle cart, give your support!).

They have a list of interesting, not-your-run-of-the-mill flavors, and one of them was avocado. When I saw it, I was immediately reminded of the avocado ice cream from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop — I made it a couple years ago, and then turned it into an avocado licuado con leche (Español for avocado milkshake) — resulting in an amazingly creamy and delightful summer drink. I immediately had in mind to figure out my own honey-sweetened version of an avocado pop.

I had a few duds before I found a winner. The losers all included dairy — I started with David’s ice cream recipe, which includes sour cream, and replaced it with yogurt. But it was a bit muddy in flavor, so I ended up ditching the milk and keeping it simple — just the avocado, honey, water, and lime juice. I love the results — very creamy, not-too-sweet, and a perfect refreshing and healthy afternoon treat.

Full disclaimer: this flavor is unusual. The avocado is very present, and I can see how it could mess with your head a little, being cold and sweet. These are not a favorite for my kids, they eat them about half the time, and the other half turn up their noses — but that’s fine by me, since it means a four-pack of pops lasts me more than just one afternoon.

If you’re looking for more homemade popsicle recipes, check these out:
Raspberry Sherbet Popsicles
Mango Popsicles
Chocolate-Coconut Popsicles

 

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Recipe: Avocado Popsicles

: makes about 4 pops, depending on mold size

Ingredients

  • one ripe avocado, cut in half and pitted
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup mild honey (can sub sugar)
  • 1/2 cup water

Instructions

  1. Scoop the flesh out of the avocado into a blender. Add remaining ingredients and blend until very smooth.
  2. Spoon thick puree into popsicle molds. Freeze until firm. Run molds under cool water to easily loosen pops from molds.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.

On choosing a farmer’s market

To market, to market!

It’s that time of year again — summer farmer’s market season. While we in Indianapolis are abundantly blessed with a wonderful Winter Farmer’s Market that gives us access to local food from November through April, many towns only have them in the summer season. Our warm-weather markets will be starting up next weekend (we had a single weekend past with none, and I began showing withdrawal symptoms by mid-afternoon Saturday). It seemed a good time for a post to get everyone ready for fresh, local produce shopping.

But not everyone wants the same thing out of a farmer’s market, right? And some cities have lots of markets to choose from while others have just one option. I’ve caricatured a few different types of shoppers below, with tips on finding the best market to suit each of their needs.

  • Just looking to support something local rather than a big box store, plan to visit occasionally.
    If this is you, then you might just want to hit up the market closest to you. Make a walk or bike ride a part of the trip, and you’re getting your exercise at the same time you shop. It’s a win-win. Take a good walk through the whole market, making notes of prices before you buy — that way you’re sure to get the best deal from your very first visit. Make friends with your favorite farmer, and she might hold a quantity of hot-ticket items on a day you know you’ll be behind the crowds.
  • Wanting to try and get most of your produce at the market, eat more seasonally, and transition away from the grocery store as much as possible.
    You’re gonna really want to get to know your market options. Start first with one closest to you, but if it’s not large or diverse enough you might want to try others around town as well. The bigger the market, the bigger the price competition and potential diversity of offerings. You might even consider shopping at more than one market to get the best items (I shop at two markets every Saturday!)
  • Concerned with buying local, but also prioritizing organic and/or sustainably-farmed.
    This is where you need to be prepared to research all market options, and ask lots of questions of the vendors. Some farmer’s markets have across-the-board standards for vendors (our market in Georgia required all produce sold to be sustainably-farmed, so we knew that anything we bought was going to be chemical-free). Some only require that produce be produced within a local radius, and others still have no requirements at all. So you’ll want to pay attention to signs that say “chemical-free” or “sustainably-farmed,” and don’t be afraid to ask questions on top of that (many vendors will not be “certified organic” even though they are growing food organically — this is simply because certification is a time-consuming and expensive label to garner).

One thing that many people don’t realize is that some markets pretty much let anyone sell anything — a vendor could go buy produce anywhere, and sell it as their own. They’re not necessarily being dishonest — they’re just not advertising that they didn’t actually grow the food. And in most cases, their produce is sold at the same price as the farmer a few booths down who grew everything himself and did so without using chemical pesticides. It definitely pays to ask questions of your farmers — and the best ones are more than happy to talk about their growing practices (they usually have signs advertising those practices as well).

If you live in Indianapolis, you can look here for a comprehensive list of options. If elsewhere, you can give farmersmarket.com a try, though I believe they can only show locations that have registered on their site.

But the most important thing is to enjoy getting out of the house on a Saturday morning, shopping outside, and supporting something local. Most markets open around 8 am so you can beat the heat in the heart of summer — and the vibe is always much better than the produce section of your local Kroger. Grab a cup of coffee, put on a hat, and make it a regular part of your weekend.

Because asparagus is in season. Somewhere.

asparagus-tied

We drove down to Bloomington today — the kids are on spring break, and since I’d like to be the “fun mom” at least one or two days out of the 14 they’ll be home, we went with friends to the Wonderlab — a small but all-around awesome science museum in the town that’s home to Indiana University. It’s a heavy hour drive south on a state highway — and on the way down, we were driving through some small nameless (to me) town, and passed what appeared to be a chain restaurant with a giant sign hanging on the outside, advertising the “Asparagus Festival.” Which is funny, since asparagus is totally not in season here right now. They’re off by a quarter year.

asparagus-colander

I can only assume this chain restaurant must be headquartered somewhere in California. Where asparagus is coming into season, which means we can buy it at our grocery store for about $3 a pound.

Asparagus is so elegant. It has the magical ability to dress up most anything it shares a plate with — from eggs to a simple green salad. When asparagus is added to a thing, it becomes instantly presentable. Which is why, once I start seeing it in my grocery, shipped from California, I buy it, instead of waiting for the 2-week window in July when we can buy it locally-grown at our farmer’s market.

Wild. And. Crazy. I am.

A pivotal moment in life came when I read somewhere (was it Julia Child? Chris Kimball? can’t be sure) that instead of breaking off the tough ends of your asparagus spears, which sometimes leaves you discarding half the stalk — you can just cut off the bottom inch or so, and peel the lower half to increase your asparagus real estate.

I almost doubled my asparagus intake in that one tip. It was beautiful.

asparagus-peeling

My very favorite way to cook asparagus is roasting it. This method does come from Chris Kimball — in his Cook’s Bible. But the method is so simple I’ve memorized it, it’s really not a recipe at all. I love that this can be done in my toaster oven, and it takes just ten minutes. Roasting deepens flavors in a way that steaming or boiling does not, and gives that completely delightful crunch on the ends, if you let it go long enough.

asparagus-roasted

Leftovers? I’ve eaten them cold out of the refrigerator, standing there with the door open. If you are more civilized, you can chop them and add them to a salad, or reheat them in a hot skillet before you whip up a lunchtime omelet.

Or claim an Asparagus Festival, right in your kitchen, and do whatever that dictates.

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Recipe: Roasted Asparagus

: closely inspired by a method found in The Cook’s Bible, by Christopher Kimball

Ingredients

  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°, and have a baking sheet ready.
  2. Wash asparagus spears, and cut off the bottom inch or so, just the very toughest ends. Using a vegetable peeler, peel any remaining tough skin off the lower half of the spears. (They cook more evenly if they are a somewhat consistent thickness all the way down.)
  3. Toss spears with olive oil, and spread in a single layer on baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes, or until spears are tender, and just beginning to brown on top ends.
  4. Season with salt, and serve immediately.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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Eating trendy.

cotechino-plate

I seem to remember reading a Malcolm Gladwell book that touched on this topic, but it always confounds me how trends come to be. Fashion is one thing — I saw some tweets yesterday about the return of brightly-colored jeans to the mainstream fashion scene, and I can imagine that a Kardashian probably started wearing hot pink jeans sometime in 2009, and two years later they’ve trickled down to the racks at your local Target.

But food? Who is the Kardashian of the food world? How come, seemingly, out of nowhere, my twitter stream will be alight with chefs, bloggers, and restaurants touting the same star ingredient? Does Eric Ripert offer it up one night at Le Bernardin, and then months later every facet of food media is on the same bandwagon?

(And yes, I did just compare Eric Ripert to the Kardashians. Thus is the state of this dulled, microscopic facet of food media.)

So the latest trend I’ve noticed is cotechino. It would be so 2012, except that I noticed it back in November (I’m always a few weeks/years/decades behind on trends), and there was a reason it was trending: it is traditionally a holiday charcuterie. Before Thanksgiving I was offered a basket of goods from Creminelli Fine Meats, and one of the seasonal choices was their cotechino. It sounded interesting — something I’d not had before — an Italian salami that must be cooked before serving (as opposed to most salamis which are cured and ready to eat as sliced), spiced with clove and garlic. It arrived, and I followed the preparation directions by boiling the link in its plastic sleeve for 20 minutes, slicing into medallions, and serving it up at our community group’s holiday party. It was quite rich and mild, and I loved it.

And then I started seeing all these blog posts about it. And then after that, I went by my local amazing source for charcuterie, and they were also touting cotechino, which is apparently the hot pink jean of the holiday food world.

So of course I had to bring my other foot firmly onto the bandwagon. I ordered a half-pound, ready to grace our New Year’s Day good-luck table with a new form of pig.

cotechino-link

My butcher that day told me how he’d prepare it, which was a little different than boiling in a plastic pouch: he said to slice it into medallions, sear it in hot oil, and then lay it on top of my black-eyed peas under the broiler, letting all the fat and juices seep into the beans. I did this, and while I found that most of the delectable fat ended up in my skillet rather than dripping onto my peas (perhaps I seared too long), it was still an amazingly delicious way to ring in 2012. A bit saltier than the Creminelli version, but cut into smaller pieces and stirred into the dish, it was a unique (and decidedly Italian) way to enjoy our traditional once-a-year meal.

So much so, I didn’t realize just how much it added until I ate leftovers for lunch the next day, sans-cotechino, which had been gobbled up on New Year’s Day. My black-eyed peas seemed dull and neutral in its absence — in want of seasoning, texture, and spice.

Not unlike my closet, which is (and will likely remain) void of brightly-colored jeans. Kardashian, schmardashian.

I suppose in the world of trends, I’ll do best to stick with food.

 

Don’t Knock ’em ’till you Try ’em Mini Beet Cakes

beetcakes-pan

Like so many things in life these days, I was introduced to a new-to-me cake variety, beet, via twitter:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/AngieSix/status/123814612192862208″%5D

As much as I love beets, I’ll admit it, my first gut reaction was one of recoil. Beet cake? What in the world? Sounds like something Jessica Seinfeld would whip up, though she’d likely call it something different, to be stealth around all those unknowingly-healthy children who think they live on dessert (ha! joke’s on them!).*

I don’t know the history of this confection, and a lazy first-page skimming of google results gave me nothing. But I was intrigued enough to continue thinking about it, when yet another tweet appeared in my stream (I really do close my computer every now and again — just think of all the beet-related tweets I’m missing when that happens — perish the thought!):

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/racheltayse/status/126010005521563649″%5D

And you know when that happens? When you hear about a previously unheard-of thing from multiple unrelated sources? You realize, well, beet cake must be all the rage. I must hop on this bandwagon.

So I found a recipe — this one included dark chocolate, which seemed a pleasurable match. I’ve recently been experimenting with grain-free baking (that is the subject of another, very long, post), and since this cake seemed the perfect vehicle for unrefined sugars, I went that route. Mini-cakes also seemed appropriate, since it allowed me to make a smaller portion in case the whole thing was a bust.

beetcake-plate

It wasn’t a bust. Quite lovely, actually, in that subtly-flavored-and-textured-dessert sort of way. My kids loved them, and even knew they included beets. I loved having access to a rich and decadent treat that didn’t cause my blood sugar to crash.

beetcake-empty

These cakes are very moist in the middle, even after baking for almost 40 minutes — not in a molten cake sort of way, but more a flourless cake sort of way. The beet flavor is vaguely present, but you might be hard-pressed to find a guest who could name it correctly in a guessing game, as the overbearing flavor is dark chocolate. Stored in an airtight container these were just as delicious the second day, making them ideal for make-ahead desserts for company, served simply dusted with powdered sugar.

* Truth be told: I’ve never laid eyes on Mrs. Seinfeld’s cookbook. I’m only taking a stance against the general concept of hiding good-for-you food in brownies and cookies. Not that you can’t do that (and I do — today’s post as case-in-point) — but I’d rather just put zucchini on my kids’ plates and make them take the requisite one bite until the day they like it. And then, they’ll like zucchini, and know what it tastes like.

This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.

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Recipe: Mini Beet Cakes (grain-free, dairy-free, refined-sweetener-free)

: adapted from this recipe at Tiger in a Jar
makes 10-12 mini cakes

Ingredients

  • 8 Tbsp refined coconut oil, divided (can sub butter)
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 3/4 cup sucanat (can sub dark-brown sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup puree from cooked beets
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Instructions

  1. Have a 12-cup muffin tin ready, lined with paper cups or parchment. Preheat oven to 375º.
  2. In a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of barely-simmering water, melt together the chocolate and 2 Tbsp of the coconut oil, stirring until very smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a mixing bowl, cream together the sucanat and remaining 6 Tbsp coconut oil. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated. Add melted chocolate, beet puree, and vanilla, and mix well.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together the almond flour, baking soda and salt. Add to batter and mix until combined.
  5. Pour batter into prepared cups, filling about 2/3 full. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a center cup comes out clean (the cakes will sink a bit in the middle).
  6. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the cakes from the tin to cool completely. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

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On being a paranoid canner

Homemade Salsa (optional canning instructions) via KatySheCooks

Take my recent google search, after opening a jar of my first home-canned marinara sauce a couple weeks ago:
Can you taste botulism?”

Really. Google anything about home canning, and see if what you read doesn’t run a gamut between self-sustaining off-gridders praising a lost art of our grandparents and sterility-obsessed risk-avoiders who think home canning is akin to Russian Roulette. You can either find a recipe for canning that’s been used “by [so-and-so’s] grandmother and great-grandmother and they never got sick!,” or you can find the stats for people the CDC estimates die every year from eating contaminated home-canned foods. Take your pick which one you want to base your preserving decisions on.

I am not risk-averse. We drink raw milk in our household, which according to some forums should be punishable as child abuse. I will cut the mold off hard cheese and consume the rest of the block. I even eat a raw egg each day (because I know my egg farmer and know his chickens are healthy and happy!). All of these practices are considered riskier than eating sterilized food. But eating something that tastes fine and then ending up paralyzed was a scenario that — I’ll admit — kinda freaked me out.

The question mark looming over my marinara was that I used a water-bath canner, and failed to add extra acid to the tomatoes (in the form of citric acid powder or lemon juice). Since modern-day tomato varieties have been bred to be less acidic, they are sometimes not the right pH to be water-bath canned without some risk of bacteria growth. Botulism. You may not taste, see, or smell it. It does horrible things to people. Google told me about every single one of them.

So the answer for my head-full of doubt was to boil the heck out of it. Half an hour at a rapid boil in a covered saucepan should kill botulism. We all ate it, and have lived to tell about it.

But I don’t want to feel the need to do this every time I open a jar of home-canned tomatoes. I also don’t have a pressure canner, and am not ready to buy one. So I’ll be adding the safe-guarding citric acid to future jars, or just sticking to something safer, like tomato salsa.

Why is it safer? Because it has a ton of vinegar already in the recipe, making it safe for water-bath canning, keeping the sealed jars at a pH that inhibits bacteria growth. As a bonus, salsa has a higher jar yield from a starting quantity of fresh tomatoes than sauces. So to get 8 pint jars of salsa, I started with just 10 pounds of roma tomatoes. I like that math.

This is a classic tomato salsa, spiced with cumin and garlic, on a heat scale somewhere between medium and medium-hot. We are a family of heat wimps, so next time I make it I might use fewer jalapenos (I used a 1/2 cup for this batch). But other than that, for my first attempt at canning salsa, it was pretty near perfect.

Full of flavor, with nary a chance of bacteria-induced paralysis. That’s my kind of canned good.

This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.

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Recipe: Tomato Salsa (for canning)

Recipe adapted for quantity and ingredients from this recipe at Preserving Traditions. The adjustments made included decreasing the amount of pH-raising ingredients like onions and peppers, and the lemon juice was replaced with an equivalent (not equal, as more vinegar than lemon juice is required for safe acid levels) amount of apple cider vinegar (for those rightly concerned with the pH of the salsa for canning purposes).

: yields about 8 pints

Ingredients

  • 10 pounds roma tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups diced white onion (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers (seeds and ribs removed)
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar (this is my favorite brand)
  • 4 tsp table salt
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Fill a very large stockpot with water, and bring to a boil. Have ready a large mixing bowl filled with ice water.
  2. Drop tomatoes into the boiling water, adding only as many as will float in a single layer. After 30 seconds, transfer tomatoes to ice water bath. Once cool, slip the skins off the tomatoes and discard. Repeat until all tomatoes are peeled.
  3. Seed the tomatoes by cutting in half along the equator. Squeeze each half gently to remove the seeds and extra juice (discard).
  4. Chop the peeled/seeded tomatoes into a dice, and add to a large stockpot over medium heat.
  5. Add remaining ingredients to tomatoes, stir well, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, or longer for a thicker salsa.
  6. Ladle hot salsa into hot, sterilized canning jars. Water-bath process pints for 15 minutes. Let cool completely, and check seals. Store in a cool place for up to a year.

 

Tomato Salsa for Canning on Punk Domestics

Recipe Swap! {ps: file away for November}

molasses-mocha-cupcake

Back in early spring, when I bought a ticket to my first food blogging conference, I did so knowing that I would be going solo. Meaning, while I recognized some names of people on twitter who’d be going, in addition to some of the big wigs, I didn’t actually know a soul who would be there. Which, I discovered, can make finding a roommate to split the $150/night hotel a bit of a challenge.

The conference website had a page where you could post wants such as these, but I was reticent. I’m old, I’m crotchety, I’m an introvert. What if I landed a super-chatty roommate, or a party-er, or an insomniac who spent all night watching Lifetime movies?* I hemmed and hawed, tried to find roommates indirectly through friends-of-friends — but in the end I just had to bite the bullet and present myself vulnerable on the equivalent of a want-ads page.

I first wrote a girl who didn’t respond (insert feelings of paranoia) — but then my second attempt landed an immediate response from Christianna. A media producer from L.A., I tried to reign in my fears: in her photo she looked not a day older than 19. What in the world would I have in common with a 19-year old? Would she even have a category for the fact that I sleep with earplugs and white noise?

My anxieties completely unfounded, she was a delightful roommate. While her photo was a bit deceiving, in person she still barely looked 30, much less just two years my junior — and while she was probably a bit more normal social than I (translation: actually stayed up past 11 o’clock each night), she never once performed a keg-stand in our hotel room (or anywhere, as far as I know). As a bonus, she didn’t even turn on the television.

On her blog, Burwell General Store, she hosts a wonderful blog hop each month: The Recipe Swap. Christianna found a vintage cookbook at a thrift store, and from it selects a recipe to be reinvented — updated to modern tastes, while still honoring the original spirit of the book, one that encouraged community and fellowship. I’ve been wanting to participate in this swap for months — ever since our first email exchanges. Once, I actually got around to making something — but it was a resounding failure, and I was so deflated I didn’t even have the energy to record the mess.

This month’s recipe was for Sorgham Molasses Cookies: a basic cookie recipe sweetened with molasses, spiced with cinnamon and ginger, spiked with cold coffee. The week I was churning this recipe, it just so happened I was invited to a Cupcake Swap held spontaneously by a friend in town — and since these days I can usually manage to only tackle projects that inherently kill two birds with one stone, and those cookie flavors lend themselves so well to cupcakes, I plunged ahead.

Like eating gingerbread with a cup of coffee, they were successful enough to make the cut. My only caveat being — since they are full of all those fall flavors, it felt a bit jarring enjoying them on a sweltering hot August evening. The cake looks deceptively like chocolate, and since fall spices were the last thing a taster was expecting, the reaction was always one of surprise.

Kind of like me, being surprised by Christianna. Looking at her picture, and filling in my own story of what it might be like to room with her, I was putting her into a box of a season. How glad I was that I was wrong, and how I hope my lesson was learned.

* Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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Recipe: Spiced Molasses Cupcakes with Mocha Buttercream

: makes one dozen

Sucanat is an unrefined dried cane juice sweetener, available in health food stores (also marketed under brand Rapadura) — it retains much molasses flavor, so supports the liquid molasses in the recipe. You can substitute brown sugar if sucanat is not available.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup sucanat (see note)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350º, and line a standard muffin tin with paper or foil liners.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, sucanat, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Add the butter, molasses, egg, and milk. Beat at medium speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix by hand until no flour pockets remain.
  4. Scoop batter evenly into muffin cups.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a center muffin comes out clean. Remove cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely before icing (recipe following).

Recipe: Mocha Buttercream

: makes about 2 cups, or enough to ice 12 cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 4 tsp instant coffee or espresso
  • 4 tsp warm water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch table salt
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, each stick cut into quarters
  • 1 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to room temperature

Instructions

  1. In a small cup, dissolve the coffee in the warm water. Set aside.
  2. Combine eggs, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisking constantly, heat the mixture to 160º on an instant-read thermometer.
  3. Beat eggs on medium-high using the whisk attachment until light and airy and cooled to room temperature, about 5 minutes.
  4. Reduce speed to medium and add butter, one piece at a time. The mixture will curdle at first but will become smooth during final mixing.
  5. After all butter is added, add the dissolved coffee. Increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute, until smooth and all ingredients are well-mixed.
  6. Stop the mixer and add the cooled chocolate. Return again to high speed and mix until fully combined.
  7. Can be refrigerated for up to 5 days in an airtight container.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

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