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Summer Chocolate
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What screams summer more than lazy-morning coffee cake and a picnic ice cream sandwich, both with chocolate front and center

Before I moved to Maine, I’d never lived such a seasonal life. I grew up in Central California where we argued that the seasons were obvious for those who didn’t need to be hit over the head with plagues of insects or feet of snow to tell them apart.


My mom was from upstate New York and remained diplomatically silent while my California-born siblings and I celebrated the first day of spring by getting a sunburn at the beach, and bemoaned winter because we had to wear a raincoat.


When my husband, Steve, and I were planning our move to Maine, people who knew told me about the snow and the ice and the mosquitos and the lobsters and the foliage. But they never mentioned how much my household and my habits would shift because of these things, that I would change out my entire closet of clothes two times a year, or that I would bank the foundation of my house with spruce boughs in the fall. We learned that there was an actual thing called a mud room, and that our summers would be spent hosting hordes of family and friends, and giving directions to passing tourists.


We went into the chocolate business because we needed a way to make a living in one of the East Coast’s more remote outposts. Paid wintertime work is pretty scarce on an island seven miles off the coast of Maine where even the lobstermen haul in their traps in November, but our research showed that the busiest time for chocolate makers was between Halloween and New Year’s. Our research also said that the slowest time for chocolate sales was the summer. Having fallen in love with this perfect, fleeting season, that suited us just fine.


After 10 years in the business, I can tell you with some authority that the people who came up with those theories were not from Maine. While many small chocolatiers stop shipping in the summer, and some even shut their doors altogether in the dog days of July and August, Maine chocolatiers celebrate their anomaly status by fueling the tourist population with sweet treats and coveted thank-you gifts for the cat sitters and neighbors back home. 

 

As a featured ingredient, chocolate is always in season. It’s a universal truth known to restaurant chefs and home entertainers alike. A successful menu, no matter how inspired by what’s in the farmers’ markets, will include a chocolate dessert. Not only is it universally appealing, but chocolate is almost always attached to some kind of happy nostalgia.

Each summer, I plan my own menus—three days’ worth, meals that I can serve weekend after weekend to the rotating posse of out-of-state house guests and friends vacationing in the area. This frees me up from weekly menu planning and gives me more time to visit and enjoy my own summer. The meals aren’t necessarily simple—after all, I like to cook—but they must be universally appealing, repeatable and interesting enough that I don’t get bored. And they must, of course, include chocolate!

 

The following recipes will be on my weekend menu this summer. The Raspberry Coffee Cake with Chocolate-Almond Streusel can be served as a quick, but special, breakfast before a sunrise hike. It can also stand in for a treat with afternoon iced coffee. It slices beautifully, once it has cooled, and is very pretty studded with raspberries. Don’t be afraid to substitute blueberries, peaches or pears as the season dictates. Firmer fruits need not be frozen. 


The Milk Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches are meant to be made ahead of time, and enjoyed around a backyard fire pit, perhaps along with roasted marshmallows, or taken from a cooler at a Fourth of July picnic. The rich shortbread will soften slightly once it is sandwiched and frozen with the ice cream center, and that’s what you want—a gourmet dessert that is still subtly reminiscent of the convenience store freezer treats of childhood.    


Raspberry Coffee Cake with Chocolate-Almond Streusel Swirl


Makes one 9-inch Bundt cake


For a stress-free pre-outing breakfast when you have guests, make this cake the night before. It will slice beautifully in the morning, and is rich enough to accompany a cup of coffee and get you on your way. 


For the streusel filling:

½ cup brown sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cardamom

½ cup sliced almonds

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped


For the cake:

½ cup butter, softened

½ teaspoon salt

1¼ cup granulated sugar

1¾ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 large eggs

1 cup plain yogurt

½ cup milk

1 cup frozen raspberries

2½  cups all-purpose flour


To make the streusel filling:

Stir all the streusel ingredients together in a small bowl.  Set aside. 


To make the coffee cake: 

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a Bundt pan with butter, or spray with oil. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with a hand-held electric beater, cream together the butter, salt and granulated sugar until very smooth. Add the baking powder and extracts. Then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. 


In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together the yogurt and the milk. Add the flour and the yogurt mixture to the mixing bowl in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour, and mixing well between each addition. Remove the bowl from the stand, and stir in the frozen raspberries by hand. 


Spoon half the cake batter into the Bundt pan, spreading evenly with a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon. Sprinkle all the streusel over the entire surface of the batter. Spoon the rest of the batter on top of the streusel and spread to completely cover. 


Bake the cake for 45–60 minutes until a knife stuck its center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven. Cool for 10 minutes, then invert and release the cake onto a plate. Do not let the cake cool completely in the pan.


When the cake is completely cool, dust it with confectioner’s sugar, and, if desired, serve with fresh raspberries.


Milk Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches


Makes 9 sandwiches


These ice cream sandwiches look delightfully old school and carefree, but they do require a plan. Here it is: 


Make the ice cream custard before you go to bed, so that it chills overnight in the refrigerator. (Also place the bowl of the ice cream maker in the freezer to freeze completely if this is your kind of machine.)

Freeze the ice cream in your ice cream maker the next morning, and allow it to harden in the freezer while you make your shortbread. By the time the shortbread is ready to fill, your ice cream will likely be at exactly the right consistency. 


If your sandwiches are off on an (insulated) adventure, you’re going to need another overnight freeze for your wrapped ice cream sandwiches to harden. 


For the ice cream:

1½  cups heavy cream

1½ cups whole milk

½ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

8 ounces good quality milk chocolate, chopped

½ teaspoon vanilla extract


For the shortbread:

1 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon instant espresso powder, like Medaglia D’Oro (optional)

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cocoa powder


To make the ice cream: 

Place the cream and milk into a medium-sized saucepan, and bring to a boil over a medium flame. While the cream is heating, crack the eggs into a heat-proof bowl and whisk them thoroughly with the sugar. Place the chopped chocolate into a separate heat-proof bowl. When the cream comes to a boil, remove the pan from the heat and pour very slowly into the egg mixture, while whisking. 


Next, pour the hot cream/egg mixture through a sieve over the chopped chocolate. Allow this to sit for a minute or two, then whisk until perfectly smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the custard thoroughly. When the custard is chilled, freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

 

When the ice cream is frozen, scrape it into a container, cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly to the surface of the ice cream (this will prevent ice crystals from forming), then place the cover on the container, or cover with one more layer of plastic wrap. Place in the freezer.


To make the shortbread: 


Heat your oven to 350°.


In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or with an electric hand-held beater, cream the butter with the salt and sugar until it is very smooth and homogenous. Beat in the espresso powder, if using. Then add the flour and cocoa powder all at once. 


Beat until the mixture is cohesive, and no dry flour remains. The dough should be very soft. Divide the dough equally in two. 


Line an 11-inch x 18-inch cookie sheet with parchment.  Press each ball of dough into a rough 9-inch x 6-inch rectangle on the cookie sheet. They don’t have to look perfect. Prick the dough all over with a fork. 


Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookie is dry, but not too hard. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. 


To assemble the ice cream sandwiches: 

When the ice cream is slightly more frozen than when it came out of the ice cream maker, but not hard, remove it from the freezer (depending on your freezer, this may take anywhere from an hour to several hours). 

Turn over one sheet of your cooled shortbread so that the flat side faces up. Spread roughly half of the ice cream onto the surface of the shortbread, spreading it to about ½ inch from the edges. Place the other rectangle of shortbread, flat side down, on top of the ice cream. Wrap the entire thing tightly in plastic wrap and freeze until hard. The ice cream will squeeze out to the edges, and that’s what you want it to do. 


When ready to serve or pack up for later, remove this ginormous ice cream sandwich from the freezer, unwrap, and with a large, sharp chef’s knife, cut into 9 3-inch x 2-inch bricks. Serve immediately. Or, to serve later, wrap in parchment, securing the paper with twine or tape and store in the freezer, or take them wherever you’re going in a well-insulated ice chest. 

Kate Shaffer is the author of Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier, and owns Black Dinah Chocolatiers, an award-winning confectionery with locations in Westbrook and Blue Hill, Maine.

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