Monday, March 30, 2015

Spinach Bacon Salad with Russian Dressing

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." (Mark Twain) There have been times in my life when some have said I don't look my age, usually a double-edged sword perception. And every once in a while someone will say I don't act my age which, let's just say, is more like a taking the sword experience. All of this obsession with age has resurfaced recently. It has less to do with the fact that I have a significant birthday looming ahead but rather more to do with my joining a 5K training group. Without knowing the ages of everyone in the group it would be safe to say I may be as old as or (gasp) older than their mothers. While it is not physically possible (at least for me) to keep up with those decades younger than I am, it hasn't stopped me from at least wanting to try to (at least for the first mile). I can't help but wonder if I had never abandoned running all those years (why are bad decisions so easy to see in retrospect?) if I would be experiencing a little less age-related angst. When I hear some say 'age is just a number', I think 'so is the 5k finishing time'. Considering this is where my head is currently at, you could probably guess there is no diminished angst.

With all of those head games taking up valuable space along with lamenting about being a much 'slower' runner, a memory of a story told to me by a friend years ago resurfaced. When her 'tall for his age' son was three-ish, most 'strangers' presumed he was five or even six-ish. Considering there is a world of difference in the language and social-emotional abilities of a three and that of a six year old, a brilliant three year old who physically resembles a six year old, well you can only imagine what 'strangers' thought when he was just acting his real age. And the only person feeling a little angst in those moments would have been none other than the mother of the three year old. If there were ever times in life where wearing (literally) one's age on your sleeve seems like a good idea, I can now think of two of them. Slow would most likely never be anyone's first or even second passing thoughts. Maybe the time has come for me to be 'Twain'-washed in my thinking about age.

With the impending return of spring-like weather (like my running it has been slow to arrive), my appetite for various foods has always been influenced by the change of seasons. While we are months away from having 'real' tomatoes available in the farmer's markets and grocery stores, I have been craving salads made with fresh vegetables a little more than usual lately. Like the seasons, the salads I like to make and eat also change. The Spinach Bacon Salad with Russian Dressing can certainly be made year round, but the addition of spring flowers turns into a salad you get to eat twice. First with your eyes, second with your taste buds. If there was ever a reason to create a garden of edible flowers, this salad would be one, but not the only one of them.

Baby spinach is more tender, sweeter, and flavorful than the grown version. Additionally, spinach happens to have a significantly higher nutritional value than lettuces.

Baby bellas or white button mushrooms sliced thinly, what is not to love?

Pea shoots are beginning to show up in more places than in Asian cuisine. A perfect spring like vegetable, they hold the promise of the spring peas to come.

The love affair we all seem to have with bacon does not seem likely to come to an end anytime soon. While I have my reservations about bacon being infused in ice cream or chocolate (I may come to regret these perceptions), thick slices of smoked applewood bacon, cooked crisp and sliced into lardons completely ramp up the flavor of a salad, especially this salad. Buy the thickest smoked applewood bacon you can find. You will be happy you did. Thin might be considered a good thing in some contexts, bacon is not one of them.

To combat the (un)healthiness of bacon held by some, adding hard boiled eggs to a salad might help to neutralize it. If a reason was ever needed to continue the Easter tradition of making colored eggs, the Spinach Bacon Salad with Russian Dressing would be one of them. However, to limit the making of this salad or hard boiled eggs as pre or post- Easter holiday fare would be a shame, a terrible shame.

Allegedly Russian dressing was developed in the early 1900's in Nashua, New Hampshire, and not in Russia. Early versions of the dressing were said to have contained caviar, thus slightly contributing to its' name. This version of the dressing uses canola (or vegetable) oil instead of mayonnaise.

The Spinach Bacon Salad with Russian Dressing can be served as a side dish although it is substantial enough to be served as the main course. However you decide to serve it, serve the dressing on the side.

If the flavors, textures, and tastes in the Spinach Bacon Salad with Russian Dressing aren't enough to inspire you to want to make it, its' presentation at the table just might be what does. Just know it is really, really good. A perfect salad to welcome spring, to serve year round. And for those you who really believe age or a number really doesn't matter, when your friends and family give this salad a five star rating, let me know if you make a paradigm shift in your thinking.
Spinach Bacon Salad with Russian Dressing (salad and dressing inspired by a Julia Baker recipe)

1 cup canola or vegetable oil
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large shallot grated or finely minced

6-8 hard boiled eggs, cut in half
12 ounces applewood smoked bacon, cooked crispy, cut into lardons (1/2 in slices)
1 cup pea shoots
7-8 baby bella mushrooms, sliced thin
7-8 cups baby spinach
salt and pepper
Optional: Edible Flowers (e.g., pansies, nasturtiums)

1. Combine the oil, brown sugar, ketchup, red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and shallot in a medium sized bowl. Whisk until all ingredients are fully combined and dressing is smooth and slightly thickened. Transfer to a sauce boat or small pitcher. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Using a large platter, layer spinach, arrange hard boiled eggs around edges of platter, scatter mushrooms and bacon over top of spinach, finish with arranging pea shoots down center of the salad. Optional: Scatter edible flowers over the salad.
3. Serve salad with dressing on the side.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Peanut Butter Mousse Chocolate Ganache Tart

After more than a handful of days of warm, sunny days I was lulled into believing the wintery weather would be nothing more than a memory. Having grown up and lived in the midwest for almost my entire life I should have known better. But optimism and gullibility are just two of my middle names. More than several inches of snow fell here on Monday morning creating a beautiful, yet unwelcome, winter landscape. In looking at the weather forecast for the next ten days, it doesn't seem likely March will be going out like a lamb. Although anything is possible here. With being able to leave the monotony of running on a treadmill in the last several weeks, I am keeping my fingers crossed it will at least get warm enough for the snow to melt on the running path over the course of the next few days. Being able to endure the cold weather is one thing, navigating an icy, slippery trail is another. Over the course of our lives we go though various stages of fears, some that help us to grow, some that hold us back. Currently the 'fear of falling' (literally) is holding me back.

Speaking of falling, I had taken a cake decorating class this past weekend and dropped my finished, decorated cake as I walked out of the store. It may have only been a cake, but it was seriously injured. In an instant I went from being really happy with my finished cake to experiencing a moment of sadness (yes, I know it was only a cake). But not all was lost. How I envisioned making the Peanut Butter Mousse Chocolate Ganache Tart changed as a result of nursing my bruised ego with a little imagination and a pastry bag. 

The peanut butter mousse and peanut brittle portions of the recipe came from Julia Baker who served them together as a 'martini' rather than as a tart. You can find her presentation here. For me chocolate and peanut butter go together like Batman and Robin, Ben and Jerry, Mickey and Minnie, Popeye and Olive Oyl, Simon and Garfunkel, Bonnie and Clyde, and Romeo and Juliet. From my affinity for two inseparable, complimentary flavors came the creation of an oreo cookie crust, a layer of chocolate ganache, peanut butter mousse and chards of peanut brittle confection. If there was ever a cure for sadness, any sadness, it would be this Peanut Butter Mousse Chocolate Ganache Tart. Well, maybe not a permanent cure, but for as long as you take in and enjoy it, you will be in a state of bliss.

If this tart looks complicated, let me assure you it is not. I absolutely love when simple ingredients come together to make something that looks anything less than simple. Who does not enjoy bringing a dessert to the table having the possibility of eliciting a 'wow' or better yet, changing the minds of those who thought they were going to skip dessert. Even those that pride themselves on self-control and restraint will find the Peanut Butter Mousse Chocolate Ganache hard to resist it.

This tart requires a baked cookie crust. Oreos, granulated sugar and melted butter are mixed together, pressed into a 9 inch tart pan (with removable bottom) and baked in a preheated 350 degree oven for 8 minutes. You might think there is too much butter for this crust, but it's not as it critically important the crust remains intact after baking and when it is being filled. This was a lesson learned when making the tart.

Most ganache recipes call for equal parts of whipping cream to chocolate. However, this ganache was made with 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream and 3/4 cup chocolate chips. When chilled the ganache had just the right texture, not too creamy, not to hard.

The ganache is poured into the cooled oreo cookie crust and chilled in the refrigerator until it sets (at least 15-20 minutes or as long as it takes you to finish making the brittle and peanut butter mousse.

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium-high heat, sugar will melt. The keys are using a heavy bottomed sauce pan and stirring often. When the sugar liquifies, you will continue to cook until a medium caramel color (if you go too dark your sugar will take on a burnt taste). The dry roasted peanuts are stirred in until fully coated. Immediately removing the pan from the heat the tablespoon of unsalted butter and pinch of sea salt are added in (it will bubble up slightly). Working quickly, the mixture is poured on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and allowed to cool completely. Once cooled, the brittle is broken up into pieces. Note: If you don't want to make the peanut brittle, you can sprinkle chopped salted, roasted peanuts along the edge of the finished tart.

The peanut butter, sifted confectionary sugar, milk and room temperature cream cheese are whipped together until smooth and creamy in a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. The cream you have whipped is folded in with a spatula until there are no white streaks of the whipping cream.

Whether you put the mousse in a pastry bag or not is optional. It can simply be spooned into the chilled tart and ganache shell, and spread to a smooth finish with an offset spatula. But if you do use a pastry bag, choose a pastry tip you like working with. For this tart I used a French Star pastry tip.

To finish the tart, decorate with broken pieces of the brittle (the recipe makes more than you need so you can serve them as a garnish on the plates or in a bowl for noshing). Keep the Peanut Butter Mousse Chocolate Ganache Tart chilled in the refrigerator until ready to serve. This decadent, yet not overly sweet tart tastes even better than it looks. Just don't drop it on the way to the table!

Peanut Butter Mousse Chocolate Ganache Tart (Inspired by Julia Baker's Peanut Butter Martini Mousse with Caramelized Peanuts)

28-30 Oreo cookies, finely crushed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
7-8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter (recommend Creamy Jif)
1 1/2 cups confectionary sugar, sifted
1/4 cup whole milk
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped to medium peaks

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F)
2. Combine crushed oreos, sugar and melted butter in a medium bowl. Mix well.
3. Press mixture into a 9 inch tart pan. P
4. Place tart pan on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Place sugar in a small, heavy bottomed or copper saucepan over medium heat. Melt sugar to a golden brown color, swirling the pan to cook evenly (approximately 4-5 minutes).
3. Remove from heat and immediately stir in peanuts until coated. Immediately add and stir in butter and pinch of sea salt (it will bubble up slightly).
4. Immediately pour mixture (as evenly as possible) on the prepared baking sheet. Allow to cool. 
5. Break into pieces when cool.

1. Place chocolate chips in a small-medium sized bowl.
2. In a small saucepan, heat whipping cream until it almost boils (small bubbles will appear at edges).
3. Pour hot cream over chocolate chips. Allow to sit for 1 minute.
4. Whisk the cream and chocolate together until smooth.
5. Pour ganache on bottom of cooled crust.
6. Place crust in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes or until ganache has hardened slightly. 

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, add peanut butter, sifted confectionary sugar, milk and cream cheese. Beat until smooth.
2. Fold in whipped cream with a rubber spatula until fully incorporated and no streaks are evident.
3. Place mixture in a pastry bag fitted with tip of choice. Pipe mousse on top of chilled ganache. Note: For a simpler presentation, spoon mousse on top of the chilled ganache and smooth or swirl top.
4. Place broken brittle pieces along edge of finished tart.
5. Keep chilled in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Flowers in the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona

Friday, March 20, 2015

Baked Ziti

Happy first day of spring! Spring, the season of renewal, of hope, of wonder. The return of the lush green landscape, flowering trees and bushes, and perennials and annuals are just the prelude to what lies ahead. With time already moving much too fast (a perception that comes with age), spring seems to be Mother Nature's reminder for us to take a deep breath, enjoy, and take in only what lies before us, not what lies ahead of us. This could be the year I actually listen to and heed this wisdom as reminders from multiple other sources haven't seem to work. Anything is possible or so some say.

Whenever visiting friends I always like to bring a hostess gift to show my appreciation for their generosity, kindness and friendship. Sometimes these gifts are homemade, sometimes store bought or sometimes a combination of both. On my recent trip to Arizona I decided to do both. For the homemade gift I brought a roasted eggplant parmesan casserole (had it not been able to go through security at the airport I would have been beside myself). The homemade marinara used in the casserole has been my go-to favorite for awhile now. Then I made the marinara for the Baked Ziti. If I had a throw down with these two sauces I am not sure which one would win, it might just be a tie. 

This Baked Ziti has two sauces, a marinara and a béchamel. These sauces along with the fresh mozzarella and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano turn what may seem like on the surface, a simple, no big deal pasta casserole, into one that is over-the-top, insanely delicious. 

There were some nuanced changes made to Bon Appetit's Best Baked Ziti recipe. Instead of using only whole peeled tomatoes, I used a combination of diced and whole peeled (San Marzano) tomatoes. Rather than puree the marinara sauce in the food processor or with an immersion blender, I used a potato masher which had the added benefit of allowing the marinara to retain some of its' texture. Being someone who loves the flavor of garlic, I couldn't help myself and had to use 6 instead of 4 cloves of garlic. In following the recipe as written, I would change the order of making the béchamel and marinara sauces the next time I make it. Instead of making the béchamel first and marinara second, I would reverse that order. More about why later.

Once you start making your own marinara sauce you will never ever again buy it in a jar. Pancetta (Italian bacon), a chopped Spanish onion, minced garlic and Aleppo pepper form the base layer of this sauce. The tomato paste and tomatoes form the second layer and freshly chopped basil is the third and final layer. 

As these ingredients simmer for 25-30 minutes all of these flavors come together to form a rich, deeply flavored marinara sauce.

The béchamel sauce, made with whole milk and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, thickens even more as it cools. To keep it from getting too thick and have it retain its' creaminess when mixed with the pasta and fresh mozzarella, I would recommend it be made after the marinara. As the béchamel cools slightly, the ziti (rigatoni or penne) pasta can be cooked very al dente. 'Very' is one of those words that can means different things to different people and a little hard to describe. But maybe the simplest description is that it is both tender, yet still firm to the bite. The pasta will get to a state of doneness as it it undergoes a second 'cooking' when baked in the oven.

The finished Baked Ziti should have had more streaks of béchamel sauce in it. In mixing all but one cup of the marinara sauce with the pasta mixed with the béchamel in a large bowl, I wasn't able to keep the 'streaks' when I transferred it to a 9"x13" inch casserole dish. Next time I will transfer the pasta without the marinara sauce into the pan and then 'streak' it in. 

The remaining cup of the marinara is dolloped over the top of the casserole. A half-cup (2 ounces) of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is the finishing touch.

The dish is baked in a preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until the mozzarella cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbling (Note: the Bon Appetit recipe indicated this took 15-20 minutes). Instead of using the broiler, I increased the oven temperature to 500 degrees (F) and baked the casserole for an additional 4-5 minutes to brown the cheese and top of the pasta in spots. Allow the dish to sit for five minutes before serving.

If you are looking for a dish to celebrate the beginning of spring or any occasion, to bring across the country (if frozen it should get through security), to make for Sunday dinner, to make for Saturday night dinner, or to make for a friend to brighten their day, consider making this relatively simple, yet elegant Baked Ziti. Served with a salad and great bottle of wine, you have the makings of a memorable meal. To make this dish even heartier, add some cooked Italian sausage or homemade meatballs before baking in the oven or serve them on the side. Buon Appetito!

Baked Ziti (Inspired by Bon Appetit's Best Baked Ziti recipe)

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk, slightly warmed
2 1/2 cups (9 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided 
kosher salt/black pepper
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped
1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped
4 - 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes)
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
28 ounce can of diced San Marzano tomatoes
14 ounce can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh basil chopped
1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2"pieces
1 pound ziti, rigatoni or penne      

Note: Can use all diced San Marzano tomatoes or all whole San Marzano tomatoes.
Optional: Can add one pound of cooked Italian sausage or homemade meatballs to the casserole before baking.                    

1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high. Add pancetta, cooking until golden brown (about 2 minutes).
2. Add chopped onion, chopped garlic and Aleppo pepper. Cook, stirring often, until onions have softened and become golden (7-10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper. Add tomato paste and cook, continuously stirring until paste slightly darkens (approximately 2 minutes).
3. Add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Crush tomatoes with a potato masher. With heat on simmer, cook, stirring often until flavors have melded (approximately 20-25 minutes). Remove from heat, stir in chopped basil and allow to cool slightly. Set aside. Note: For a smoother sauce, puree in a food processor or with an immersion blender.
4. Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until foamy. Sprinkle four over, whisking constantly for 1 minute.
5. Gradually whisk in slightly warmed milk. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until béchamel is thickened to the consistency of heavy cream (about 8-10 minutes). Note: Stir often.
6. Remove from heat and add 2 cups of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Stir until cheese has melted. Transfer béchamel to large bowl and set aside.
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
8. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until very al dente (5-7 minutes). Pasta will continue to cook in sauce in the oven. Drain pasta.
9. Add pasta and chopped mozzarella to bechamel sauce. Stir to combine. Transfer to a 9"x13" baking dish. 
10. Remove one cup of marinara sauce from pan. Gently stir in remaining marinara sauce into casserole dish, leaving streaks of béchamel sauce.
11. Dollop remaining marinara sauce over dish and top with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
12. Bake until mozzarella has melted and sauce is bubbling over the edges. Approximately 30-40 minutes.
13. Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees and bake until pasta and cheese are dark brown in spots (approximately 4-5 minutes). Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving. 

Mission San Xavier del Bac (White Dove of the Desert) in Tucson, Arizona

Monday, March 16, 2015

Baked Cinnamon Cake and Chocolate Ganache Doughnuts

"You don't make a photography just with your camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.' (Ansel Adams) While I was away visiting one of my closest friends out in Tucson this past week, another friend posted the comment on my Facebook page 'don't you ever sit still?' In my former life I would have answered that question by saying 'sometimes' when the real answer was 'unfortunately, no'. Now in my current life it feels as if I am having more than my fair share of 'still' moments. Although it probably doesn't always look that way to others. Stillness is a concept I am getting used to (and redefining), however, I am slowly beginning to realize its' value in renewing and reenergizing my spirit, my soul. Whenever I give myself permission to have some 'down time' or whenever my body gets to a place of 'exhaustion', I sometimes actually stop 'thinking about all of the things I could or should be doing', instead just savoring the moment. Being one who has always subscribed to the 'life is short' way of thinking, I have come to believe life is much shorter when you don't do things just for you or when you don't step out of the chaos of life. In my world, the feeling of stillness happens when I am taking a long drive, taking in the landscape with my camera, or reading a book. While there may not be the absence of motion in my concept of stillness, there is silence. The kind of silence that allows my mind to stop racing, to stop thinking of a million different related and unrelated things. Instead, what my mind feels is something very close to the euphoria runners sometimes feel when out on a strenuous run. And like all euphorias, they are those things we consciously and subconsciously seek to experience.

I had every intention of paying homage to St. Patrick's Day with a recipe for a dish one might associate with Irish cooking on the blog this week. Let's suffice to say there is a rather long list of excuses of why this didn't happen. Then I thought maybe I should at least make something 'green' in an effort to evoke the spirit of the 'holiday'. This list of excuses of why this didn't happen is significantly shorter. Experiencing a little bit of (Catholic) guilt over this, I thought the least I could do was bring in a bit of 'green' (there is, after all some Irish blood in my heritage). The best I was able to do was incorporating some vintage and antique green dishes in the posting as well as sprinkle (my go-to favorite) pistachios on the doughnuts. If I went through my long list of excuses you might actually think this effort wasn't just one for the 'nice try, but lame' category.

I had seen Sweet Paul's doughnut recipe while I was traveling last week and immediately knew it was one I had to make sooner rather than later. Baked doughnuts are hard enough to resist. Throw in some chocolate and well, wild horses (or even snakes, like the one St. Patrick allegedly rid Ireland of) couldn't keep me from making them.

These doughnuts are made with cake versus all-purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, eggs, unsalted butter (melted), buttermilk and honey. Other than bringing the eggs and buttermilk to room temperature, these doughnuts require very little advance planning.

What is not to love about a one bowl, no sifting required batter? Mixing the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until blended, the thick batter is similar to that of a quick bread. After watching a recent Cook's Country show I learned about a 'new to me' tool called a 'dough whisk'. It turned out to be perfect for mixing quick breads and doughnuts!

Whether you make these doughnuts mini or regular size, the doughnut pan is filled 3/4 full (or just slightly below the rim). You can fill the pan using a spoon, but using a pastry bag (or ziplock bag with one corner cut off) makes it much easier  (as well as less messy).

The doughnuts are baked in a 400 degree preheated oven. Baking time ranges from 5 to 8 minutes for the mini doughnuts and 10 to 12 minutes for the regular sized ones. 

Initially I was going to dip the baked doughnuts in a confectionary sugar glaze (colored green, of course), but abandoned that plan in favor of a chocolate ganache glaze. The number of toppings for dipped doughnuts are almost endless. Sprinkles, fresh or toasted coconut, chopped nuts, or mini-chocolate chips are just some of them. For those of you who follow Molly Yeh aka 'the sprinkle queen' you know that sprinkles can transform any baked good into a work of edible art. 

These doughnuts are cake-like dense, yet tender. The look and taste of the doughnuts will change depending on which dip (confectionary sugar or chocolate ganache) as well as which toppings used. They are perfect for a morning or afternoon treat as well as perfect to celebrate holidays and important occasions. With the NCAA basketball tournament starting, you might even want to make a tray of these doughnuts topped in your favorite team's colors. Whether you make them before your team plays or after your team plays (and wins) is up to you. Just make them. Who knows, in just one bite you might even experience a little bit of 'doughnut' euphoria. 

Glazed Cinnamon Cake and Chocolate Ganache Doughnuts (inspired by Sweet Paul's Baked Doughnuts with Chocolate)

3 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 Tablespoon honey
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 1/2 cups confectionary sugar, sifted
2-4 Tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt
food coloring, optional
Directions: In a small-medium sized bowl, mix together the confectionary sugar, vanilla and milk until smooth and it reaches the desired consistency. Optional: Stir in food coloring of choice.

Chocolate Ganache
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream, heated
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
pinch of sea salt
Directions: Place chopped chocolate or chocolate chips in small-medium bowl. Heat cream until just before the boiling point. Pour heated cream over chocolate. Wait at least one minute before whisking the chocolate and cream until smooth. Whisk in butter and pinch of sea salt until mixture is smooth. Use immediately. If mixture hardens, reheat on low in the microwave or set bowl in a large bowl filled with warm water.

Optional toppings: Sprinkles, coconut, chopped nuts, or mini-chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Spray mini-donut pan with non-stick spray and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
3. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and melted butter until blended.
4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.
5. Spoon batter into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip.
6. Fill donut molds about 3/4 full (just a little below the rim).
7. Bake 5 to 6 minutes for mini donuts (Note: My baking time ranged between 7 and 8 minutes). Baking time for regular sized donuts is 10-12 minutes. 
8. Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Transfer donuts to cooling rack and set aside to cool.
9. For glaze, mix together confectionary sugar, milk, vanilla, salt and food coloring in a medium sized bowl until well blended.
10. Dip the donuts into the glaze. Optional: Sprinkle with topping(s) of choice.

Garden Gates at Tohono Chul and Mission San Xavier del Bac (White Dove of the Dessert) respectively, both in Tucson, AZ