“Whuh-Oh Wow” Fudge + Agave-Balsamic Syrup

THE HOLIDAY season is upon us.  Brunches (!), lunches, dinners, and other holiday gatherings are calling.  Potlucks require inventive recipes, culinary ingenuity and, in my case, last-minute recipe retrieval.  Why is it that, when faced with a potluck or gift exchange, I always wait until the last minute to figure out what my contribution is going to be?!

But no longer!  With this pretty fail-safe recipe — you just need to set aside about 3 hours to get it made; which gives you plenty of time to gussy up and wrap that last-minute-found-in-the-back-of-the-closet gift — you’ll have a hit to take with you to any party!

It took me quite a while to come up with this recipe, I will admit that.  I initially intended to make peanut butter bacon maple fudge, but realized I was going to a soiree attended largely by vegetarians.  Undeterred, I looked up a few spicy fudge recipes, but nothing was really leaping out at me.  So in g-chat conversation with my friend JM (he’s a big fan of cinnamon and vanilla together), we came up with the idea of balancing spicy with a bit of a sweeter tang.  Voila!  Chili powder, meet balsamic vinegar.

It might take a moment to wrap your head around that one.  But this is where the genius lies: it takes your palate a moment to get it all, too.  First there’s the heady chocolate of the fudge; then the sudden onset of the chili/cayenne mix (“whuh-oh, wow” is how someone described it); then the agave-balsamic syrup sets in with just enough tang to keep it interesting but enough sweet to soothe the chili down.

So if you’re attending (or hosting) a decadent holiday brunch — or if you’re home alone with a mountain of work — this should make a star cameo.  I’m just saying.

“Whuh-Oh Wow” Fudge

  • 12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 oz dark chocolate bar, chopped   I used Ghirardelli’s 100% cocoa for balance
  • 14 oz (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • dash salt
  • pat butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp chili powder *
  • 1 tsp cayenne *

* Adjust spice levels for those with more restrained palates

Line an 8″ or 9″ baking dish with waxed paper and set aside.

Melt all ingredients in a heavy saucepan over low heat.  Stir occasionally.  Remove from heat when melted and smooth.

Pour into lined baking dish.  Cover with foil and refrigerate until firm (2-3 hours should be fine).

Agave-Balsamic Syrup

In a small saucepan, bring the agave nectar and balsamic vinegar to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 9-10 minutes, swirling occasionally (there will be bubbles on the surface).  Remove from heat when the syrup is thick enough to coat a spoon, but not too thick.  It will continue to thicken as it cools.

Place in a jar to keep for later.  I poured my batch in a salad dressing bottle and dropped a cinnamon stick in there, for easy stirring.

NOW, the fun part.

Cut the fudge into squares and refrigerate in an airtight container.  When you’re ready to serve/eat the fudge, pour out the agave-balsamic syrup into a small bowl and garnish with a cinnamon stick.  Using the cinnamon stick, drizzle (or paint) syrup onto your fudge square.



Brunch · Drink · Full Complement

Max Brenner, Philadelphia: “That’s my new favorite camel”

THERE’S decadence, and then there is decadence. There are curtains with valences; and there are curtains with velvet valences.  There’s hot chocolate, Swiss Miss style; there’s Ghirardelli hot chocolate, invigorated with one or two shots of espresso and covered with a froth of chantilly cream.  (In fact, pretty much anything with chantilly cream is, by definition, decadent.)  There are sparse, simple movies like Revolutionary Road; but there are also glossy, well-defined, lush productions such as  The Brothers Bloom.

Max Brenner (Chocolate by the Bald Man) makes decadence its trade.  Truffles, Mexican hot cocoa, oozing chocolate cakes, chocolate-dusted crepes, pure chocolate licks…. Mmmm.  Eating here is a feast for the eyes, the nose, the taste buds–even your ears.  Fingers, too, can be dipped into the chocolate lick, luxuriating in the soft warm delight.  And, of course, there are the “hug mugs”–vessels designed to warm your cold hands in the winter even as they allow the nose to partake of the aroma of your hot chocolate or mocha cappucino (milk chocolate? dark chocolate? white chocolate? your choice).

The occasion of brunch at Max Brenner was twofold: we had a break in both the heat wave  and accompanying inexplicable rains that have been taking over the East coast, and my father flew into town just a few days ago.  This was his first Saturday on US soil in something vulgar like two years.  So naturally we had to go seek out the most luxurious brunch we could and let him seep into a culture of perks, delightful aromas, and understated presentation.

And Max Brenner delivered.  Good Lord, did it ever…!

We were ushered into the main body of the restaurant by our waif-like hostess and were presented with two menus.  One for brunch, one for the usual odds & ends offered by the chocolatier (cocoas, mochas, frappes, crepes, chocolate cakes, coffees, etc).  Our waiter came a moment later, and assured us that everything goes with chocolate.  We hemmed and hawed; but ultimately, upon his suggestion, I chose the decadent french toast; my mother ordered the “well-mannered omelet” and my father picked the grilled chicken panini.

Let me take a moment to address my parents’ choices.  There’s no need to go into my own; if the words “decadent” and “french toast” appear in the same sentence, you can bet your eyeteeth I’ll be having that.  My dad picked the panini mostly for the accompanying fries: “waffle fries dusted with chili and chocolate powder,” and they are heavenly.  My mom’s  really into goat cheese and is trying to eat more healthily, and the omelet with creamy spinach seemed ideal.  It was embellished with spiced homefries, a “diamond dusted sugar buttermilk biscuit,” and a “pure melted chocolate lick.”  G0t that?  Chocolate goes with everything.

The french toast, I am happy to report, was opulence defined.  Topped with cinnamon apple and white chocolate truffle bits, it was liberally covered with warm toffee sauce and brown sugared pecans.  I drizzled it with the accompanying white chocolate and milk chocolate.  Each bite was a novelty; every taste was a dream come true.  If you can handle that much sugar, this is the french toast to end them all.

One of the things I love about The Brothers Bloom (and I loved plenty about that film) was the detail to background, color, and sound.  In a similar way, Max Brenner has created a complex and layered experience.  The decor is done in muted colors, all collected around the central, signature chocolate brown hue.  A good portion of the restaurant is dedicated solely to selling chocolate: cases are full of small square treats, there are bags of delicacies to take home, and a staff is on hand to walk you through the offerings and samples.  The music, too, is designed to create an atmosphere of comfort and vaunted luxury.  Classic cover songs are mixed with the suave tones of Frank Sinatra; we enjoyed a line-up that included Roberta Flack, a Nina Simone knock-off, and “Is You or Is You Ain’t My Baby” covered by some husky-voiced ingenue.

All told, I’m impressed with the experience at Max Brenner.  If this was a DVD I could own, I totally would.  The next best thing, of course, is returning.  Again and again, because there’s simply so much there to sample.  Chocolate fondue, anyone?  Or how about the “Three Layer Chocolate Concoction with Toffee Bananas”?  Lord, the options are endless!  And I am just getting started…