I have a chocolate drawer in my house. I’m either living very right or very wrong, though I like to think it’s the former.
All those bags and boxes of chocolate now have a good home — and there are many, between unsweetened, bittersweet, semisweet, milk, white, mini chips and butterscotch, especially given my habit to pick up a bag or two of the Hershey’s Special Dark just in case. (I recently had six unopened and one partial, but I think I’m down to three after a conscious effort. This also happens routinely with butter and cream cheese.)
Everything now fits snugly in a shallow drawer, each kind instantly visible and accessible at a moment’s notice. It’s far better than my previous storage solution, which involved piling the shifting bags in tall stacks on a fairly high shelf.
The chocolate drawer is one of the results of my latest round of kitchen revision, a process I like to undergo a few times a year when the mood strikes me. The robust version involves walking into the kitchen, opening the drawers and cupboards, taking a step back and asking a series of questions about my cooking habits.
• What do I reach for often? Which drawers do I open, and why?
I love my food processor. But between the hand-wash-only blade and the interlocking plastic bits, the base tended to sit out on the counter while the cleaning process stretched on. Then, of course, I’d look around and wonder why I didn’t have any counter space in which to work.
As much as I was using it, though, I finally realized it made sense to make it a permanent fixture, like the stand mixer. They’re now counter friends, tucked away in the corner together, leaving me with better flow around my stove.
Similarly, the chocolate drawer can exist because I had stored duplicate tools there — an older spatula I don’t like as much now, the other potato masher because of course I somehow have two. I was never using any of those, so I emptied the drawer and repurposed it in a much more effective way.
• What do I need at hand, and what can be tucked a little farther away?
I’ve got one of those tall stoneware crocks next to the stove, and it holds my whisks, spatulas and scrapers — things I may need to grab at a moment’s notice to stop the onions from burning or keep the pot from boiling over.
My microplane, though an oft-used tool, stays in a drawer. Rarely is there a zesting emergency so great that I don’t have time to retrieve it. The ice cream maker doesn’t even live in the kitchen, given its three or four uses per year, and that’s just fine.
• What items make sense next to each other?
I imagine if you can find the baking soda in any given kitchen, the baking powder isn’t far removed. We naturally group things that are often used together.
I have what I consider the baking cupboard, with the flours and sugars; the flavor cupboard, with the Lazy Susan o’ spices and the pepper mill; and the grains shelf, where the rice and oats hang out.
The baking cupboard is directly above the stand mixer, so when I’m making a cake, most of my ingredients are within reach. Oils and vinegars are in a pull-out next to the stove since those are more likely to be splashed into a pan.
I recently united my colanders and my sieves in one place; nesting the fine-mesh ones inside the big plastic ones is far tidier than what I was doing and has the bonus of being thematically harmonious.
This process isn’t always pleasant. I’m not quite done with this round of revision, the most serious I’ve undertaken. It has involved getting rid of objects I moved into my home and haven’t touched since, so my kitchen and dining room have been a nightmare for a few weeks (read: months).
But making your kitchen easier to work in pays off handsomely in the long run. Don’t let dinner burn because you’re rooting around for hot pads, put the hot pads where you can get to them.
You’ll need them if you want to make this Chocolate Cream Pie, as the Oreo crust will need to be pulled from the oven before it overbakes. The silky pastry cream filling uses two kinds of chocolate — which I can find easily now in my drawer! — and is topped with a very large pile of fluffy whipped cream.
Remember to horde a few Oreos from the snack-seekers in your home if you want to decorate the top with some crumbs, though the pie is perfectly elegant without if you can’t keep them safe.
Chocolate Cream Pie
Chocolate Cookie Crumb Crust
• 16 Oreo cookies (with filling), broken into rough pieces, about 2 1/2 cups
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Chocolate Cream Filling
• 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
• pinch table salt
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• 6 large egg yolks at room temperature
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 6 pieces
• 6 ounces semisweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whipped Cream Topping
• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (cold)
• 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F. In bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, process cookies with 15 one-second pulses, then let machine run until crumbs are uniformly fine, about 15 seconds. (Alternatively, place cookies in large zipper-lock plastic bag and crush with rolling pin.) Transfer crumbs to 9-inch pie plate, drizzle with butter, and use fingers to combine until butter is evenly distributed.
Press crumbs evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie plate. Refrigerate 20 minutes to firm crumbs, then bake until crumbs are fragrant and set, about 10 minutes. Cool on wire rack while preparing filling.
For the filling: Bring half-and-half, salt and about 3 tablespoons sugar to simmer in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon to dissolve sugar. Whisk yolks thoroughly in medium bowl until slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Stir together remaining sugar and cornstarch in small bowl, then sprinkle over yolks and whisk, scraping down sides of bowl, if necessary, until mixture is glossy and sugar has begun to dissolve, about 1 minute. When half-and-half reaches full simmer, drizzle about 1/2 cup hot half-and-half over yolks, whisking constantly to temper; then whisk egg yolk mixture into simmering half-and-half (mixture should thicken in about 30 seconds). Return to simmer, whisking constantly, until 3 or 4 bubbles burst on the surface and mixture is thickened and glossy, about 15 seconds longer.
Off heat, whisk in butter until incorporated; add chocolates and whisk until melted, scraping pan bottom with rubber spatula. Stir in vanilla, then immediately pour filling into baked and cooled crust. Press plastic wrap directly on surface of filling and refrigerate pie until filling is cold and firm, about 3 hours.
For the topping: Just before serving, beat cream, sugar and vanilla in bowl of standing mixer on low speed until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium; continue beating until beaters leave a trail, about 30 seconds more. Increase speed to high; continue beating until cream is smooth, thick, and nearly doubled in volume and forms soft peaks, about 20 seconds. Spread or pipe whipped cream over chilled pie filling. Cut pie into wedges and serve.
Chef’s notes: Do not combine the yolks and sugar in advance of making the filling; the sugar will begin to denature the yolks, and the finished cream will be pitted. Even a pie made with bittersweet chocolate is fairly sweet — the colossal cloud of whipped cream will see to that — so I suggest starting there and moving to semisweet if desired.
Source: America’s Test Kitchen