Friday, January 30, 2009

Celebratory Chocolate Toasts

Today is your lucky day. Not just because it's Friday, but because today is the day I'm going to share one of my absolute favorite desserts with you. It's not even so much a dessert as it is an EXPERIENCE. Please allow me to introduce you to my delightful little friends who answer to the name of Chocolate Toasts. You probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen right now and could make them a favorite part of your own repertoire too. I stumbled upon this ecstatic combination of ingredients on this very day in 2005, and it was such a felicitous discovery on a remarkable evening that it only seemed appropriate to share them with you today.

I live for the impromptu party. Though I derive great joy from planning and preparing an elaborate meal, I also love being able to quickly conjure up a mini party when friends stop by spontaneously. With a few key ingredients at the ready at all times, I am ready and willing to lift any situation up to a more celebratory level, sometimes on as little as 10 minutes notice, if necessary. My basic Impromptu Party Kit includes a hunk of interesting cheese, good bread and excellent olive oil, an assortment of briny olives, and some roasted almonds, especially the swoon-worthy Marcona almonds from Spain. My apartment always plays host to beautiful bittersweet chocolate bars, as well as festive bottles of fun sparkling wine plus gorgeous red wine. These are staples in my kitchen at all times, for I never know when friends are going to pop by, hungry and thirsty and eager to hang out.

Math was never my favorite subject in school, and that's an understatement if I ever heard one. But there are a few very basic equations that I find quite satisfying and downright beautiful when it comes to entertaining:

olives + a nice wedge of artisanal cheese + festive sparkly wine + friends = Instant Party

almonds + exquisite bittersweet chocolate + lovely luscious wine = Instant Dessert for Happy Friends

baguette + bittersweet chocolate + olive oil + flaky sea salt = SHEER HEAVEN, with or without friends, but even better with friends

(Here's another equation, one that has been repeated many times since its original creation:
Chocolate Toasts + sparkling wine + Beethoven String Quartet opus 130 playing on the stereo = A Totally Blissed-out Louise on January 30th or otherwise!)

Think of all of those times when you wanted a satisfying end to a meal, but you expended all of your energy on preparing dinner and ran out of time to do a spectacular dessert too. This recipe addresses that issue, using ingredients that you probably have on hand most of the time anyway. These Chocolate Toasts are like a pain au chocolat totally amped up, minus the hassle of labor-intensive pastry and with a greater ratio of chocolate to bread. Honestly, it doesn't get much easier than topping thin baguette slices with a few shards of bittersweet chocolate, popping them in the oven just until the chocolate melts and the bread begins to crisp around the edges, and then drizzling a bit of good olive oil over the top before sprinkling it with a pinch of flaky salt.

Olive oil with chocolate, you ask? Trust me. This is the time to pull out your most flavorful olive oil, the kind you save for dressing your best salads. The fruitier or more peppery the oil is, so much the better. The few drops of olive oil mingle with the melted bitter chocolate, making it impossibly silky as well as lending an additional layer of flavor and depth to the chocolate itself. The lightly toasted bread provides just enough traction underneath the chocolatey gorgeousness which is luxuriating on top. And I love the interplay of salty-and-sweet, as the sprinkling of fine sea salt manages to actually heighten the sweetness of the chocolate.

I must confess that I am actually giggling as I sit here writing and imagining how happy you are going to be when you try these Chocolate Toasts! Every time I've made these divine little morsels for my friends, their reactions range from stunned silence to wildly rhapsodic praise. We're talking major bang-for-the-buck, something that can elevate an otherwise normal evening into one that is quite memorable indeed. In short, these are embarassingly delicious.

Chocolate Toasts are at once simple and decadent, so easy to prepare and yet so unexpected that you'll probably wonder, "Why didn't I think of doing that before?" That was definitely my reaction the first time I experienced these, and they have since become one of the main staples of my Impromptu Party Kit. Though I have made them countless times since, I'm always stunned each time by how fabulous these taste and how immense my enjoyment is! I urge you to make these for yourself as soon as possible, and I can barely contain my glee just to imagine how much you are going to love these Chocolate Toasts too.

inspired by a recipe from Cooking For Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser

These are great as a simple off-the-cuff dessert, but I have also been known to devour them for breakfast or a snack any time of day or night! I haven't given exact quantities, as you may want to make as few as five toasts or as many as twenty at a time. As chocolate and orange is one of my favorite flavor combinations, I sometimes make this using Stonehouse Blood Orange Olive Oil. However, for those times when I've run out of that specialty oil, I use a regular peppery olive oil and grate a little bit of fresh orange zest over the top. It's also ridiculously delicious. I encourage you to try it both ways.

A good baguette (not sourdough)
Your favorite high-quality bittersweet chocolate, broken into bite-sized pieces
Excellent olive oil
Grated orange zest (optional)
Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt (I like to use flaky Maldon sea salt for this)

Preheat the oven to 400°. Slice the baguette on a slight diagonal into 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet and top each one with a small piece or two of chocolate. Place in the oven just until the chocolate begins to melt, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and quickly transfer the chocolate-topped toasts to a serving platter. Drizzle a few drops of olive oil over each one, sprinkle with a bit of orange zest (if using) and a generous pinch of flaky sea salt. Prepare to be dazzled as you bite into each one.

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