Salted Rocky Road Fudge

I know that for many, fudge is a holiday treat usually indulged in during those sugary weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's. I, however, have always associated it with the warmer months.

I blame this on my dad who has always been a fan of weekend trips, and who would often bundle us into the station wagon and drive us off to some random little town he'd read about in a guide book or magazine casually perused in a doctor's office waiting room. These towns--places like Piermont, NY, or Ocean Grove, NJ--were a haven for tourists with their little restaurants and main streets lined shops selling rosewater lotions and embroidered throw pillows.

Inevitably, there would also be a fudge shop. And this, I'm sure you already know, was always my favorite.

No matter where you are, if there is fudge shop nearby, you'll know it. The aroma of chocolate fudge has this way of wafting out its quaint little shop--or more likely shoppe--doors and down the cobblestone paths crowded with weekend visitors.

As a child, I'd follow the familiar scent out of the candle stores and down the street stopping only when I reached the candy-filled windows. With my parents still a block or two behind, I'd barrel in, and walk right up to the front case where the fudge lay stacked in multi-hued slabs like some kind of magical candy quarry.

My dad would eventually wander in, and together we'd ooh and ahh and argue about what flavors to bring home. He always preferred the maple and cinnamon flavored treats; I always demanded the sweet and salty Rocky Road.

I admit that we rarely finished the box we brought home. As wonderful as six pounds of fudge sounds in theory, the reality is quite terrifying. My mother, blessed (or perhaps cursed) without a sweet tooth, would quietly dispose of the leftovers a day or two after the enthusiasm wore off. I'd fuss when I finally figure it out, but not much since the truth is that one can really eat that much fudge.

There are many methods for making fudge, but I'm fond of the classic condensed milk version. It's straightforward and can be assembled with just a few minutes of stirring on the stovetop. To cut the cloying sweetness of the original, I used a combination of semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate, and added a generous tablespoon of Kosher salt. I prefer the roasted salted almonds, but you can substitute just about any nut you prefer. I think next time I'll give it a go with toasted hazelnuts!

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Salted Rocky Road Fudge
The extra salt in this classic recipe cuts the sweetness and makes this fudge utterly dangerous.

6 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Guittard discs)
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli)
14oz (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons flaky Kosher salt (use more or less, depending on how sensitive you are to salt)
2 cups miniature marshmallows
1.5 cups roasted salted almonds, whole

Special equipment: 1 9" square baking pan

Coat bottom and sides of baking pan with butter or cooking spray and line with a long sheet of parchment paper that overlaps the sides. Set aside.

In a medium sized saucepan, combine the two kinds of chocolate, the condensed milk, and the butter. Set over medium-low heat, and stir until the chocolate is melted. Add the extract and salt, and then fold in the marshmallows and almonds.

Pour the warm mixture into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly. I like to use my hands to press down into the pan until it is all pressed in and relatively even.

Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and let chill in the fridge for 2 hours.

Remove from fridge and lift parchment paper to remove from pan. Use a sharp knife to cut into desired-sized portions before serving. Can be stored in an air-tight container at (cool) room temperature for 7-10 days.

Orange & Vanilla Marmalade Mini Cakes

In my ongoing quest to make efficient use of everything in my fridge, I've come up with an amazing little recipe that I think you're all going to love. I've been calling them marmalade mini cakes since they seem to exist in that gray area between cupcakes and muffins.

I got the idea a few weeks ago when a reader wrote me to ask if there was a way to make my Italian Rainbow Cookie cake without the almond paste since her husband is allergic to nuts. I told her I'd play around with the recipe and soon realized that by swapping out the almond paste for an equivalent weight of apricot preserves I was able to replicate the same moist cake with just a hint of sweet apricot flavor.

I was hooked and decided to see what else would work in its place. You might remember that I made a large batch of orange vanilla bean marmalade back in January. I still have a few jars left, so I opened one up and mixed it into the batter.

Oh. My. God!

The final cakes are moist and fragrant with the scent of oranges and vanilla. The taste is sweet, with a slight hint of that classic marmalade bitterness, and every so often, you get a bite of lovely candied orange rind. Moist like cupcakes, but richly flavored enough to stand alone without frosting, they're absolutely perfect. I've been eating them daily dusted with just a hint of powdered sugar on top. I haven't been to the grocery store in forever so I'm all out of cream, but I think next time I'll definitely whip up a batch of bittersweet ganache to drizzle lightly on top. It doesn't need it, of course, but it might just be the thing to throw it over the edge.

I tend to prefer cakes that I can throw together haphazardly in a one bowl and bake within the span of a single episode of Gossip Girl. This is definitely one of those cakes. And, blame it on the marmalade or the sugar or just sheer magic, but these cakes never seem to go stale. I baked my current batch on Saturday to bring to a picnic on Sunday and the leftovers have been hanging out on the counter all week in a seemingly perpetual state of perfection.

This recipe will work well with any kind of marmalade, though I prefer the thicker cut kind since then you end up with all those lovely bits of candied fruit in the cake. Apricot or peach preserves also work quite nicely. I suspect that raspberry would do the same, but I haven't tested it yet. If you do, let me know...Ok?

Note: I tried to get the batter into 12 muffin cups, but I kept getting leftovers. In the end I just baked the final bits into a mini 4" springform pan. You can, of course, just make 2 more cakes. Whichever you prefer!

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

Orange & Vanilla Marmalade Mini Cakes
Makes 12-14 single servings

1.5 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cups granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
6 oz (about 1 cup) of orange marmalade (store-bought or make your own)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1.5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Special equipment: 1 average size muffin pan, buttered and floured or lined with cupcake liners

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the base of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. About 5 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat for 3 more minutes. Add the marmalade and extracts and beat until combined.

2. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt then add to the butter mixture. Mix until combined.

3. Divide the batter evenly into the muffin tins (about 3/4 of the way each). You may have leftover batter which you can bake in a second batch. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

let cool in the pan for 3 minutes and then remove and let cool on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving. Store leftover cakes in an air-tight container at room temperature. Will keep for approximately 1 week.

How to Braid a Six-Strand Challah (A Video Tutorial)

In this second installment of AlwaysOrderDessert How To,* I show you my favorite technique for braiding a six-strand loaf of challah bread using a batch of my new favorite Chipotle Challah dough (see recipes details below).

The braiding technique might seem a bit daunting at first, but it really is pretty straightforward. It should only take you once or twice to get the hang of it, and pretty soon I promise you'll be whipping up gorgeous challah braids that will rival those in even the best bakeries!

[Just a warning that I was in a bit of a silly mood when I made this video and kept bursting out into laughter during a few key moments (you'll see which ones!). I was going to edit them out, but then I changed my mind. After all, those of you who know me in real life, know that I really do tend to burst out laughing at the drop of a dime. This way you get to know the real me! ;) Plus editing it would have just been a pain... lol!]

I hope you guys enjoy the video! I posted a couple of my challah recipes below, which you can use to experiment. And if you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I'll get back to you right away!



Practice your challah braiding technique with one of these great challah recipes:

Chipotle Challah - A spicy challah with chipotle puree baked right into the dough

Vanilla Bean Challah
- A more traditional challah recipe, with just a touch of fragrant vanilla bean flecks

Pumpkin Spice Challah - Pull out that can of pumpkin puree from the pantry and use it to make this sweet and spicy pumpkin bread.

* I have got to come up with a more clever name for these video tutorials. Any ideas?

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

Become a fan of Always Order Dessert on Facebook!

After much feet-dragging and lallygagging, I finally buckled down tonight and created a Facebook Fan Page for Always Order Dessert.

If you're on Facebook, I'd love it if you would become a fan. I can't promise that any special riches or good fortune will befall you if you do, but if you join, I'll totally owe you one. This means you'll have the right to demand special recipes or party-throwing advice of me and I will be forced to oblige. Sweet!

Join here: Always Order Dessert by Alejandra Ramos




Steamed Mussels with White Wine, Bacon & Rosemary

The first time I ever made mussels, I was in college. It was my sophomore year and I was sharing a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom suite with three other girls in a building called The Dakota. I remember the name mostly because on parent's visitation day, one of the girl's father commented that our building was a "very famous" one and that he thought "someone famous once lived" there.

I remember humoring him when he said this, even though I knew that he was really thinking of John Lennon's Dakota by Central Park, not our mid-century Washington, DC condo. He was one of those terrible dads who earlier that summer had used my roommate's social security number to get himself a credit card, but on that day, everyone was all smiles so I figured I ought not rock the boat.

Of the four girls, I was the only one who ever really used the kitchen. My favorite roommate spent all her time with her boyfriend. The fourth roommate seemed to be perpetually going on or returning from overseas expeditions. And the other girl (the one with the deadbeat dad) stuck to an odd diet of Skippy peanut butter, white bread, and frozen vegetarian nuggets that she defrosted in the microwave.

I was fine with this arrangement, which left me with a full kitchen (with dishwasher and trash disposal!) and fridge all to myself (except for the nuggets), and spent most of my days baking cakes, roasting chickens, and stirring large pots of risotto.

I'd been cooking quite a bit since I was in high school, but until then I'd never really cooked any seafood by myself. Lately though, each time I went grocery shopping, I felt myself being drawn towards the large fresh seafood counter. It took me a while to work up the courage, but I finally did it; marching straight up to the counter one afternoon, I stared at the options trying to make a decision. Before I was ready, the fishmonger caught me by surprise, and in a panic I pointed to the first thing I saw: a bed of shiny blue-black mussels tied in little net sacks and piled like pebbles on the ice.

"Can I have one of those?" I asked.

He picked up a sack and swung it before me, "It's two pounds. That enough?" I nodded quickly and watched as wrapped them into a bundle of brown paper.

I felt like a grown-up as I leaned over the counter to grab the package they way my mother always did. I was a grown-up lady, buying seafood at the supermarket.

Back in my dorm that evening, I cleaned the mussels in the sink like I'd seen my mother do, scrubbing them with a wet paper towel and pulling off the little fuzzy beards that cling to the end. I heated my biggest pot and added half a bottle of white wine (purchased with my old fake ID, of course), a roughly chopped onion, a few garlic cloves, and a big handful of parsley. I then dropped the mussels in, wincing a bit as the pebbles hit the hard bottom with a clang, and slammed on the top.

When my roommate came home a bit later she found me sitting alone at the table, book in hand with a glass of white wine and my giant plate of mussels. She fixed herself a peanut butter sandwich and joined me. Looking from my plate to her sandwich, she shook her head.

"You're so much more mature than the rest of us!"

"I'm not, " I replied, acknowledging the fact that I'd skipped class to go to the market. "I just have totally different priorities."

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

Steamed Mussels with White Wine, Bacon & Rosemary
Serves 2 as an entree, 4 as an appetizer

2 pounds mussels
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 strips center-cut bacon, cut into 1/2 pieces
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
5 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2-3 whole sprigs, fresh rosemary (can sub 1/4 cup dried rosemary)
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
2.5 cups dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
3 tablespoons butter
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

1. Scrub and debeard the mussels under cold water. Discard any that are cracked or which do not close completely after being touched. (If using frozen mussels, let thaw before rinsing and cooking.) Set aside.

2. In a large dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot, heat 3 tablespoons o of olive oil over medium heat. Add the pieces of bacon and let cook until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp.

3. Add the shallots and garlic and saute until shallots are transluscent and garlic has just a hint of color (about 2-3 minutes).

4. Add wine, red pepper, and rosemary and bring to a simmer. When the wine is boiling, add the mussels to the pot and cover. Let mussels steam for 2-3 minutes, then use a spoon to toss. Recover and let steam for an additional 4 minutes, until most of the mussels have opened all the way. (there may be a couple that don't open)

5. Use a slotted spoon to remove the mussels to a large bowl. Discard any mussels that didn't open all the way during cooking.

6. Return the pot with the broth to the flame and whisk in the butter and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Let simmer for 2-3 minutes until slightly reduced.

Pour broth over the mussels and serve with a warmed French baguette or roasted potatoes (you need something to soak up that amazing broth!)

Passion Fruit Sorbet (& an announcement!)

The morning after we got back from vacation (which, I admit is now officially about 3 weeks ago), Eugene decided to run out to the store to pick up a few supplies for the weekend.

"Make me a list," he said, as he hopped around trying to put on a sock.

I grabbed my BlackBerry and wrote him a list of things I figured we'd need: eggs, buttermilk (for pancakes), turkey ham, salad greens, whole wheat bread, calamine lotion (for my UV rash), lemons, frozen passion fruit puree, and "anything else that looks good." I sent it to his e-mail and he glanced at it before leaving.

"Calamine lotion?"

"Just check if they have it!" I whined, scratching my incredibly itchy arms.

"And frozen passion fruit?"

"Yeah, it should be in the freezer with all the Spanish stuff." (::scratch scratch::)

He looked at me uncertainly, but grabbed the keys and headed out.

About 30 minutes later, he was back with two heavy bags. "They didn't have calamine lotion," he said as he dropped them on the floor in the kitchen.

"And what about the passion fruit?" I asked, scared to get my hopes up.

"Oh yeah," he said. "They had that. I got two different brands since I didn't know which you'd like."

At this, I quite literally jumped up with joy. "Oh BOY!!! Oh BOY! This is fantastic!"

I dug around in the bags until I found the two flat frozen packages of golden pulp. As anyone who has ever strained fresh passion fruit pulp from the fruit by the teaspoon can attest, having actual cups and cups (and cups!) of the stuff makes one feel very, very rich.

Coming home from vacation absolutely sucks. I mean there are just no other words to describe how terrible it feels to come back from a blissful week on a perfect little hot and sunny island to the melting sludge and biting wind of late winter in New York City.

But, I've learned that a healthy supply of tart and creamy passion fruit sorbet really does helps a lot. One spoonful (ok...ok...about 7 spoonfuls) of this sorbet eaten straight out of the ice cream maker, and I felt like I'd been whisked back to sunny Vieques (minus the security lines and the terrifying puddle jumper flight).

This sorbet could not be easier to make, and scoops up absolutely beautifully. It's also very affordable. About two dollars for the passion fruit puree, plus the water and sugar that you probably already have at home, will give you 4-5 cups of sorbet. Compare that with the $5 Ciao Bella and Whole Foods and everyone else charges for their tiny pints, and you've got some major savings.

So major in fact that I have no plans of EVER buying those tiny pints again! (I actually announced these intentions on Twitter the other day, much to the chagrin of the Ciao Bella twitter person who tried to convince me otherwise.)

Speaking of passion...

Most of you have already heard me blabbing on and on about this on Twitter and Facebook but in case you haven't, we have some news. Eugene and I are super happy to announce that we're engaged!!!

Awesome, huh? Eugene asked me to marry him on a Wednesday a few weeks ago under a star-filled evening sky in Vieques. It was beautiful and romantic (and actually quite funny as there was a nosy--albeit adorable--English sheepdog named Zach who absolutely insisted on sticking his face in Eugene's as he was down on his knee proposing).

Like most girls, I'd daydreamed and wondered about this moment for years, and was thrilled when it finally happened. Since then, we've been very silly and giddy about the whole thing; I have a little dance that I like to do every now and then, and we love calling each other fiance and fiancee--it doesn't get old!

You know how much I love to plan parties, so I can imagine you know how excited I am to plan our wedding and (even more importantly!) our new life together. I've only just started thinking about things and we haven't set a date yet, but we do know three things for sure. It will definitely be next winter. It will definitely be in New York. And I will DEFINITELY be making my own cake.

I plan to document the planning and ideas here (and am also open to suggestions and recommendations!), so I hope you won't mind listening in. I promise I won't go all 24/7 wedding blog on you though...that's just so not my style. ;)

Anyway darlings, wish me luck! And in the meantime...I hope you enjoy this delicious sorbet!

Loved this recipe? Here are three other passion fruit recipes you might like:

And let's connect so you can find out the next time I post! Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates.

Thanks so much for reading! 

Yup! That's the ring! ;)

Passion Fruit Sorbet
Makes 4 1/2 cups

1 and 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
2 1/2 cups frozen passion fruit puree, defrosted.

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a boil stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Add in passion fruit puree and combine well. Pour into the base of your ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to an air-tight container and freeze for an additional 4 hours (or overnight) before serving.

Store in air-tight container in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Ingredient Note: Frozen Passion Fruit puree can be usually be found in the freezer section of most major grocery stores or latin markets, sometimes labeled by its Spanish name "Maracuya" or "Parcha." Goya and La Fe are two major manufacturers and a package typically sells for 2-3 dollars.
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