Hawaii, Passover, and Cravings

I started writing this from Hawaii, and I was so busy I am finishing it in Seattle. I was in Maui for work for two and a half weeks. I am sure to most of you it sounds like a great place for a business trip, but the reality of it is seeing the back side of a resort and its kitchen for the majority of the time. It is all for a Passover vacation the company I work for puts together. It is a lot of hard work, dedication, and long hours leading to total exhaustion by the end of a day. Beach after a morning walk in Maui.

Did I mention this was all for Passover? The translation of this means nothing is to be prepared with any grain, rice, flour, or legume. This is only after the kitchen is scrubbed beyond any recognition of any trace of these ingredients. They scrub away at the stoves, ovens, utensils, serving equipment, plates, glasses, and such just to get a thorough cleaning. This makes my job as a pastry chef really hard. People still want cake, expect cookies, love their pastries, and expect loads of sweets. By the time the cleaning is done we can start preparing our desserts and sweets from the likes of ground almonds, potato starch, & cotton oil. I find myself craving a big bowl of pasta, whole wheat bread, and cookies made with… Flour!

My last full day in Seattle before I traveled here I had this urgency to bake something. I thought long and hard over it too. This might be the last sweet item I eat for almost two weeks that contains flour; I must make something worthy of my time and effort. I pondered on this for a bit and remembered a recipe I have tried a few times from Food & Wine magazine. The recipe was a Chocolate Chip Cookie that you bake in a bar form in a spring form pan. It was simple, easy, delicious, and so gratifying. I first tried the recipe as is, but of course I tweaked it to fit my desire. The recipe calls for chocolate chunks, but I found a shop in my neighborhood that sells chocolate chips that have been smoked! This was the perfect opportunity to try them out. The other great thing about this recipe is it uses whole wheat flour. I love the nutty flavor that whole wheat imparts onto a baked item. Combine this with the smoked chocolate chips and toasted pecans results in a lovely sweet meets savory flavor.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Pecan Bars (Made with smoked chocolate chips.)

I understand that you may not be able to find a chocolate that is smoked, and believe me that this recipe is great without them. But it goes to show you that some things are always worth trying. It really makes the weeks working Passover so much more bearable! I may have had two and a half weeks to gaze out at the beach as I walked to the kitchen in the morning…but there is only so many ways you can try to reinvent potato starch. Now that I am back in Seattle I need to whip up another batch – the heavenly smell and taste are calling to me…Absence makes the taste buds long for more!

Whole wheat chocolate chip bars with pecans fresh out of the oven.

Whole Wheat (Smoked) Chocolate Chip Cooke Bars (makes about 16 – 18 squares)

1 cup of pecans

6 tbsp of butter, room temperature

2 tbsp of vegetable oil

¼ cup plus 2 tbsp of sugar

¼ cup of light brown sugar, heaping

1 large egg

2 tsp of vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups of whole wheat flour

½ tsp of kosher salt

½ tsp of baking soda

1 cup of chocolate chips (smoked if you can get your hands on any)

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place your pecans in a pie dish and place in the oven for about 10 minutes. You are looking for the pecans to toast and become fragrant; without burning them. Once they are toasted, let them cool, and chop them roughly.

Next, in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment place your butter, oil, brown sugar, and ¼ cup of sugar. Mix it all together until it is all combined, light, and fluffy. Add in the vanilla and egg and mix it all again. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to be sure that all your ingredients are combined well.

Then, add in your whole wheat flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix just until it is combined. Fold in the chocolate chips (smoked ones if using) and your pecans. Place all in a 9 – 10 inch spring form pan lined with parchment paper; and pat down until it is evenly spread across the pan. Sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar.

Finally, place in the center of the oven and bake about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. You are looking for the edges to be golden; and the center somewhat firm. Remove from the oven to cool before removing from the pan. Once cool you may remove from the pan and slice as desired. Keeps well once sealed for at least 4 days.