Just Desserts

Chef Bev Shaffer shares her passion for all things chocolate.

No matter what luscious concoction she’s whipping up — from her most-requested fudge pound cake to the brownies and shortbread that earn raves — Bev Shaffer never, ever passes up the chance to indulge in her favorite form of decadence: After every delicious creation goes in the oven, she blissfully licks the spatula — especially when it’s filled with chocolate, the sweet temptation she clearly adores.

“I love everything about it,” the chef says with a grin. “The sheen of it, the lure of it.

“Every time I take a lick,” she admits, “I feel like a child again.”

Over the past decade, Shaffer has shared that passion with chocoholics around the globe. More than 5,000 subscribers have signed up for “Bite This!” her monthly e-newsletter filled with culinary tips and tidbits, spiced with a touch of humor. Shaffer’s trio of lavish coffee-table-worthy cookbooks, Brownies to Die For (2006), Cookies to Die For (2009) and Cakes to Die For (2010), are well into their third printings. (In fact, People magazine spotlighted the brownie book in its Mother’s Day Gift Guide; Cookies to Die For was translated into the French La Bible des Biscuits last summer; and Chocolatier magazine has lauded the attributes of her double chocolate raspberry tart.)

Clearly, all accolades point to the fact that Shaffer’s delectable melt-in-your-mouth indulgence is universally irresistible.

“For those of us captured in the web of chocolate’s intrigue, too much is never enough,” she says. “I enjoy rich, gooey confections — whether it’s biting into one of my brownies or truffles or snacking on chips and bars of chocolate.

“By comparison,” Shaffer adds, “non-chocolate sweets often seem pale and uninteresting and a poor second choice.”

Her legion of fans agree. So much so that the author is adding a fourth volume to the popular series: Chocolate Desserts to Die For is slated for a spring 2013 release.

“Obviously,” she says drolly, “any hope I have of losing weight is all over.”

But no matter. Shaffer is hard at work doing what she loves, with a zeal that was born in the kitchen of her childhood home in North Brunswick, New Jersey, five decades ago. She reminisces fondly about her late mother, Olga Perrone, who shared her joy of baking with her four daughters.

“It was during the advent of TV dinners,” Shaffer recalls. “But mom was a traditionalist. My dad was Italian, so she made spaghetti sauce and meatless lasagna from scratch. But she always added something Hungarian to our meals, which harked back to her own heritage.”

Chicken paprikash and stuffed cabbage were family favorites, along with sweet kifli and nut rolls.

“Everything involved elbow grease and a lot of beating and took a lot of time,” Shaffer recalls.

“But,” she adds, “a lot of love went into whatever my mother made.”

To the budding chef, the science of cooking represented magic in the making.

“The gathering of ingredients, the mixing, the putting in a pot or in the oven and seeing the way it came out,” she enthuses. “It’s a process that never fails to fascinate me.”

Shaffer put thoughts of a culinary career on the back burner after landing a job as a human resources specialist in IBM’s Philadelphia office, and meeting her future husband, John, who worked as a financial analyst for the corporation. The couple married in 1976 and started a family, which grew to include two sons and a daughter.

Three years later, IBM offered John a transfer to his hometown of Akron, and the couple happily moved to Medina. Through the ensuing five years, as the corporate 9-to-5 grind began to wear thin, the Shaffers discussed what the next stage of their life should entail.

John asked his wife what her dream job would be. The answer was easy: Open a store and teach classes in all things gastronomic. What’s Cooking? debuted in Bath’s Ghent Square in October 1984. The emporium featured an eclectic selection of stylish pots, pans and kitchen gadgets. Through her membership in the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Shaffer took classes from James Beard and Julia Child. She catered and wrote her first book, No Reservations Required, filled with 132 of her easiest dishes.

“It was,” she says, “13 years of fun.”

But it was also all-consuming.

“John and I decided we’d like to take a vacation periodically,” Shaffer explains.

So in 1997, when Mustard Seed Market & Café, a locally owned natural and organic food store in Montrose and Solon, offered Shaffer the position of director of the establishment’s cooking schools, she didn’t think twice. The chef dove into the new job, which also involved overseeing production of the market’s baked goods and prepared foods. Based on her experiences there, Shaffer quickly became enthralled by the organic and sustainable food movement that was sweeping the country. Today, the bulk of what the family buys is all natural — particularly when it comes to dairy products and produce.

“We’ve become diehards,” Shaffer says. “Not only do we not have to worry about the antibiotics that are present in many processed foods, but we’re also supporting our local economy.”

She offered insight into that belief with the publication of The Mustard Seed Market & Café Natural Foods Cookbook, a compilation of 250 recipes showcasing gluten-free and vegetarian entrees.

The idea for Shaffer’s first To Die For book was sparked eight years ago, after she was awarded a fellowship to the prestigious Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Settled in her suite overlooking the Ozark Mountains, the author was deep in the throes of gathering material for the grilling cookbook she planned to pen.

“Suddenly, I had this overwhelming craving for brownies,” she recalls. “John fired up the Weber barbecue out back, and started grilling a batch.”

As the tantalizing aroma of chocolate wafted through the air, Shaffer realized it had been a while since she’d seen a book about brownies on store shelves.

A concept was born, and the “to die for” moniker was a natural fit. The project is the epitome of couple
togetherness: Shaffer writes, tweaks and prepares each recipe so that even the most novice cook can proceed with confidence. Then John, a shutterbug by avocation, styles and photographs them.

“He’s simply fantastic to work with,” Shaffer says. “John has taken a lot of art classes, and has a great eye. I always tease him because people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I love the photos.’

“But,” she laments with a smile and a shake of her head, “they rarely say anything about the recipes.”

Last summer, Vitamix Corporation invited Shaffer to become the firm’s recipe development and nutrition coordinator and test-kitchen chef. After she pours heavy cream, chocolate pieces, espresso powder and a little water into one of the company’s turbo-charged blenders, it becomes apparent that times have changed since Shaffer picked up her first bowl and spoon.

“For chocolate fondue, all I have to do is add the ingredients and flip a switch,” she marvels about the tony machine that slices, dices and purees in the blink of an eye. “And it’s finished in three minutes.”

But the wonders of technology have not dampened the culinary enthusiasm Shaffer discovered as a youngster and never tires of sharing with her readers.

“It’s funny,” she muses, “we’re not afraid to come up short in so many of life’s tasks. Yet, when it comes to cooking and baking, we feel like total failures if something doesn’t work. But the fact is we all make mistakes in the kitchen. It happens and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“What’s important,” she adds, “is that we learn and try again.”

For more information about recipes, news-letters and cookbooks, visit bevshaffer.com.


Cocoa Crème Fraiche Cupcakes
Courtesy of Chef Bev Shaffer | Makes 16 cupcakes.
Wonderfully rich and heavenly topped with additional crème fraiche, these chocolaty cupcakes are sure to become favorites!

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons unbleached, all purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened (natural) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup crème fraiche, room temperature,
stirred until runny
Additional crème fraiche for serving cupcakes

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with foil baking cups. Line 4 additional cups in another pan for “overflow” batter
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and baking soda; set aside.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. At medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the vanilla.
At low speed, alternately beat the dry ingredients and the 3/4 cup crème fraiche in two batches.
Spoon the batter into the foil cups, filling each one two-thirds full. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until springy when gently pressed and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let cool slightly, and then remove from the pan.
Cool completely.
Place a dollop of crème fraiche on each cupcake and serve. Makes 16 cupcakes.

Bev’s Bittersweet Chocolate Waffles
Courtesy of Chef Bev Shaffer | Makes 10–12 servings
Who says you can’t have breakfast and chocolate, too? Serve with a plethora of fresh, seasonal berries and a drizzle of one of my favorite fudge sauces, quickly and easily made in the Vitamix, or prepared by heating and combining the ingredients.

1 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2-1/4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3-1/4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Espresso Fudge “Sauce”:
1/2 cup water
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Mix in the sugar.
Stir the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Allow to cool slightly, and then pour into medium bowl. Whisk in eggs, then milk and vanilla.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Gradually whisk in the milk mixture.
Follow manufacturer's instructions for heating waffler, and then make waffles with batter. Section waffles, placing a section or two on each serving plate and top with berries and a drizzle of fudge sauce. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

For Espresso Fudge Sauce:
Saucepan Method: In a medium saucepan, combine the water, cream, espresso powder and confectioners’ sugar, whisking well until blended.
Place chocolate pieces in a large bowl; set aside.
Bring the cream mixture just to a boil; remove from heat and pour mixture over chocolate pieces in bowl. Let stand 5 minutes, then whisk vigorously until blended and smooth.
Vitamix Method: Place the water, heavy cream, espresso powder, confectioners’ sugar and chocolate into the VitaMix container in the order listed and secure lid.
Select Variable 1. Turn on machine and slowly increase speed to Variable 10, then to HIGH. Use the tamper as needed to keep the mixture flowing. Blend for 3 minutes or until melted and smooth. Yield: 3 cups

Chocolate Caramel Tart with “Drunken Raspberries” and Whipped Cream
Courtesy of Chef Bev Shaffer
Sophisticated enough for a special occasion or an everyday feast!

1 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cocoa nibs

Caramel Filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter,
cut into 4 pieces
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon finely ground
fleur de sel (French sea salt)

Chocolate Ganache:
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Drunken Raspberries:
1 pint fresh red raspberries
3/4 cup raspberry liqueur

For Crust: Heat oven to 375 degrees and place rack in center of oven. Lightly grease a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom.
Blend flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup butter; process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolks and process until moist crumbs form. Add cocoa nibs; blend in using on/off turns.
Press dough onto bottom and up sides of prepared pan. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan on rack while preparing caramel filling.

For Caramel Filling:
Combine sugar and 1/4 cup water in medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil without stirring until mixture is deep amber, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat; add cream (be careful … mixture will bubble vigorously).
Add butter and stir over low heat until caramel is completely smooth. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; stir in salt. Cool 10 minutes. Pour warm caramel into crust. Let stand at room temperature until completely cool, about 1 hour.

For Ganache: Bring cream to a simmer in small saucepan. Remove from heat; add chocolate. Whisk until smooth. Let stand until slightly cooled but still pourable, about 10 minutes. Pour ganache evenly over caramel filling. Refrigerate tart, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 2 hours.

Chef’s Note from Bev: Can be made, up to this point, 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate when chocolate is firm.

For Drunken Raspberries: Combine raspberries and liqueur in a small bowl. Let macerate at room temperature, at least 1 hour, up to 3 hours.
When ready to serve, cut tart into thin slices. Arrange slice on serving plate and spoon some berries and freshly whipped cream alongside.