Let’s Start with Chocolate!

Laura's Chocolate CakeIt’s almost Valentine’s Day and it seems like a good time to post an article from my “Chocolate Series,” which first ran on Suite 101. Also, chocolate played a very important role in the writing of the book – it kept me going during those long hours of solitude.

Cookmarked founder, Laura Robichaux discusses getting started in the kitchen, baking chocolate cake and her New Orleans roots; she also offers tips for vegans. There’s also a link to a free chocolate cake recipe. Enjoy!

Cookmarked’s Laura Robichaux: Baking Chocolate Cake from Scratch

New Orleans native Laura Robichaux, chocolate cake & vegan specialist and Co Founder Cookmarked comNew Orleans native Laura Robichaux is passionate about baking, health, travel, running, and web design. She spoke to me about the world of options available to those who want to bake chocolate cake from scratch. She also discussed her latest project, Cookmarked.com — an online tool to help people easily share and organize their recipes.

New Orleans Background

Laura’s memories of her New Orleans childhood are brimming with the experiences she had in the kitchen, where her grandmother and father were passionate and devoted cooks. At the center of it all was her grandmother’s cookbook. There was always a big pot of gumbo, jambalaya or shrimp Creole.

“With that kind of cooking,” she explains, “it’s less about exact amounts than about taste-as-you-go.”

Robichaux, who studied Finance and Mass Communications at LouisianaStateUniversity, realized by her sophomore year that she would have to leave her beloved New Orleans to pursue her career goals. She now Works for a big 4 accounting firm in Atlanta, as a Financial and IT Consultant for fortune 500 companies. Her roots and her family, however, remain in New Orleans, and she visits frequently.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, Robichaux was at college, about an hour outside the city. She explains that she’d been hearing about big storms all of her life, and her family was “a bit stubborn about leaving.” Eventually they went to Baton Rouge, where they were without power for several days. Not having cell phone service was the hardest part, since they couldn’t get information. She says that New Orleans has made a lot of progress since then.

“If you were there before Katrina as a tourist,” she states, “you might not notice any difference, until you get to the outer parts of the city. The touristy spots are repaired, but outside about fifteen twenty minutes, you start to see that some neighborhoods haven’t bounced back. Some areas are still abandoned; especially poor areas.”

The Differences in Chocolates

When asked why there is such a difference in the aroma of baking with unsweetened chocolate versus box mixes, Robichaux points to several factors. She explains that chocolate cake box mixes often have lots of artificial flavoring and substitutes for the more expensive chocolates. They taste good and are dependable. However, they lack the complexity of flavors and aromas which come from real, pure chocolate. In addition, there is a wide variety of chocolate available.

“When you purchase chocolate for baking,” she states, “you have many options. There are various qualities of bars and powders from around the world. The finer chocolate beans most likely come from the tropical rainforests of West Africa, the Caribbean, Ecuador, Java, Madagascar and Venezuela.”

Varieties have unique smells and tastes, according to Robichaux. This is due to the differences in the soils and climates in which they grow.

“When you unwrap a product made of these great chocolates,” Robichaux says, “you immediately know — because of the complex aromas wafting up — that this is not a bar of ordinary chocolate.”

Cake Mixes vs. Baking with Real Chocolate

For Robichaux, the choice to use box mixes or to bake from scratch depends mostly on a person’s comfort level. Neither is difficult. If you have never baked before you’ll probably want to do the box first. Baking from scratch allows for more flexibility, such as turning a standard recipe into an espresso chocolate cake or adding nuts.

One of the most important factors, according to Robichaux, is knowing your audience. If you suddenly get a craving for something chocolaty and want it quick, go get the box. If you would like to impress your family or friends at a special occasion, however, make something from scratch.

Chocolate Cake Baking Tips for New Bakers

One of the first choices in baking chocolate cakes is whether to use powdered cocoa or bars of unsweetened or semisweet chocolate. Robichaux explains that Cocoa is more flexible. For starters you don’t have to cook cocoa, whereas the hard chocolates need to be melted. Also, Robichaux sees fewer options for melted chocolate.

When baking from scratch, Robichaux explains that dry and wet ingredients must be mixed separately. When combining them, she adds the dry ingredients into the wet. Consistent temperature is also important. Get the colder ingredients like eggs and milk out of the refrigerator and allow them to come up to room temperature before using them.

There are many types of cookware, but Robichaux doesn’t use anything fancy. She does avoid nonstick cookware, however, because of the health concerns. She just butters the cake pans. Knowing what others think of any given recipe is also important. She suggests choosing a recipe online with good feedback.

“Don’t start playing around with any recipe until you’ve made it according to the directions.”

Baking Substitutions for Vegans

Robichaux states that she has always enjoyed cooking and the science behind it. Now, as a vegan, she is particularly interested in finding different substances to get the same result as the ingredients she no longer uses.

“It’s important to know how an ingredient functions so you know how to replace it,” she states.

Instead of butter, Robichaux prefers Earth Balance, a dairy free, soy free vegetable oil product that cooks like butter. Instead of using eggs, she uses either applesauce or flaxseed.

“The rule of thumb,” she explains, “is to substitute either a quarter cup of applesauce or two tablespoons of flaxseed per egg.”

Milk is another ingredient Robichaux avoids. She also tries not to rely on soy. She has had much success with cocoanut and hemp milk.

“They can both also be turned into buttermilk with a little lemon juice or vinegar,” she explains, “Just set it to the side until the milk separates.”

Cookmarked: A Place to Organize Your Recipes

The Cookmarked concept started because Robichaux, who enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, was having a hard time keeping track of her recipes. She noticed that there are “plenty of blogs to get recipes, but nowhere to keep track of them.”

Along with two friends, she developed Cookmarked, a free online tool which can also be accessed via phone. Cooks and bakers can share their recipes with others and search other people’s recipes. Mainly, though, it’s a place to organize your own recipes.

Visit Cookmarked at:http://www.cookmarked.com/

Check out Laura’s Facebook page:http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cookmarked/126006964123410

Free Chocolate Cake Recipe

If you’re looking to experiment with baking with real chocolates, try using this free cocoa-based Chocolate Cake Recipe:http://cookmarked.com/recipe.aspx?eID=cIUqqOOOR3fAB03govpP3GVZ37z1BgoTqCzEJI2y7T4e

Try substituting various types of chocolate. Experimenting this way will allow you to see what your family and friends prefer. This recipe uses butter and eggs, so vegetarians and vegans should experiment with the substitutions mentioned above. “You won’t get it right all the time,” Robichaux states, “but it feels nice when you do.”

Accessibility Issues for People Using Screen Readers

Screen reader users, there are significant issues with Word Press’s “Leave a Reply” form – which is labeled on this site “So, What Do You Think?” If you are not signed in, you should still be able to post comments, but even if you can access the edit fields and fill them out, the “Submit” button doesn’t work most of the time.

I have advised Word Press Support of this issue. The reply was, “I reported the issues you described, and they may get addressed in a future revision of comments on WordPress.com.”

Meanwhile, here’s a “temporary” solution. Every page and post now has a link labeled “Accessible Comment Form for Screen Reader Users.” It is accessible, but does not link directly to the automated comments system. It will be sent to me, however, and I will find someone to post it on your behalf. Word Press won’t do it, even though I am a paying customer. The URL is: https://donnawhill.com/accessible-comment-form-for-screen-reader-users-3

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About Donna W. Hill

Donna W. Hill is a writer, speaker, animal lover and avid knitter from Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains. Her first novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, is an adventure-mystery with excursions into fantasy for general audiences. Professionals in the fields of education and the arts have endorsed it as a diversity, inclusion and anti-bullying resource for junior high through college. A songwriter with three albums, Hill provided educational and motivational programs in the Greater Philadelphia area for fifteen years before moving to the mountains. Her essay, "Satori Green" appears in Richard Singer's Now, Embracing the Present Moment (2010, O-Books), and her cancer-survivor story is in Dawn Colclasure’s On the Wings of Pink Angels (2012). From 2009 through 2013, Hill was an online journalist for numerous publications, covering topics ranging from nature, health care and accessibility to music, knitting and chocolate. She is an experienced talk show guest and guest blogger and presents workshops about writing and her novel for school, university, community and business groups. The Heart of Applebutter Hill is available in print and e-versions at Amazon, B&N, Apple, Sony, Smashwords, Create Space and other outlets. It is also available through Bookshare for readers with print disabilities.
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