Category Archives: baking

Brown Sugar Oat Flour Banana Walnut Bread

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Another banana bread? Yeah, I know. I just wrote about the double chocolate one last week. But this one is different.

It’s more of a breakfast bread. It eschews chocolate in favor of whole grain oat flour and toasted walnuts and a more restrained use of butter and sugar. It fits a classic banana nut bread flavor profile, but the oat flour and brown sugar and the crunchy dusting of turbinado sugar give it a little extra depth.

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I love oat flour. So many whole grain flours have a heaviness to them, but oat flour feels so light. And it’s a natural flavor partner for brown sugar and bananas and walnuts. It’s also something that you can make yourself from rolled or quick oats–all you need to do is pulse them in a food processor and you have oat flour. Or you can go with the pre-milled versions from Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur Flour or any other producer you like.

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I went through a phase with my cooking where I was always adding something more–another spice, another flavoring–to make my recipes more interesting. Lately, I’ve been drawn to the idea of simplifying, stripping things down to the bare essentials so that each flavor can stand on its own. This banana bread is better for its simplicity. It’s simple banana bread, but it’s really good simple banana bread.

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You could add cinnamon or chocolate chips or any number of extras and it would still be tasty, but this banana bread just doesn’t need any of those things.

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It makes me appreciate just how pleasurable the flavors of banana and oats and brown sugar and toasted walnuts are together and reminds me that they don’t need to hide behind anything else. They’re perfectly wonderful stars themselves.

The only extra on this bread is the sprinkle of turbinado (or raw sugar), which adds a little textural contrast and serves to enhance the brown sugar flavor rather than competing with it. It also gives this homey banana bread a glint of sparkle when it catches the light.

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This made a lovely breakfast for most of last week. When it was gone, Dan and I were wishing we had more.

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Brown Sugar Oat Flour Banana Walnut Bread

This is a lovely banana bread with a classic flavor profile. You can make your own oat flour by pulsing rolled or quick oats (but not steel cut) in a food processor or you can use a commercial oat flour. You could substitute all-purpose or whole wheat flour for the oat flour and it would still work, but I really like the homey oat flavor here. This is one of my favorite kinds of banana bread to have for breakfast. It feels wholesome enough that I don’t mistake it for dessert. You can freeze overripe bananas if you want to keep them around for whenever the urge for banana bread strikes. [Update: I just tested this using all oat flour, and it was great. It would be a great gluten free option for banana bread. Oats don't contain gluten, but they're often contaminated with wheat in processing, so be sure to make sure you're using certified gluten free oat products if you're making this for someone with gluten sensitivities.]

1 cup (3 1/4 oz, 95 g) oat flour
1 cup (4 1/4 oz, 125 g) all-purpose flour (or use all oat flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 medium overripe bananas
1/2 cup (4 oz, 110 g) light brown sugar (dark would work too)
6 tablespoons (3 oz, 90 g) unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (3 oz, 85 g) walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz, 12 g) turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 5 inch  loaf pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Add the brown sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract and stir until well combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oat and all-purpose flours, baking soda, and salt. Add to the banana mixture and stir until no dry bits of flour remain. Stir in the walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with top with an even layer of turbinado sugar, and bake for about 60-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Keeps, well wrapped at room temperature, for about 5 days.

Yield: 1 9 x 5-inch loaf

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

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It was 70° on Saturday. Then on Sunday it turned cold and misty. And today it was colder still with a forecast for snow. It’s springtime in Chicago. A season that always seems intent on doubling back on itself a few times before it settles in for good.

It’s a good day for simple comforting baked goods. Like this double chocolate banana bread.

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This comes from Deb of Smitten Kitchen, so I’m pretty sure the whole internet already knows about it. But if somehow you missed it, I’m here to testify to its greatness.

Chocolate and banana are a classic pairing–from frozen chocolate covered bananas to banana and nutella filled crepes. I’ve made plenty of banana breads with chocolate chips, but this was the first time I made one where the cake (er, bread) itself was laden with cocoa powder.

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It’s a simple one-bowl job, as easy as any other basic banana bread. And it might be even easier to love. It’s rich and chocolatey but the banana flavor really shines through.

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It’s sweet enough for dessert, but there’s fruit in it (three whole bananas!) so you can justify having it for breakfast as well. I made it in three mini loaf pans and put two of the resulting loaves in the mail to be a birthday treat for my sister-in-law in Kansas.

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That left one little loaf for me, which wasn’t nearly enough.

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Double Chocolate Banana Bread

Adapted from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen

This chocolate banana bread is a snap to make. You’ll want to use cocoa powder that is labeled Dutch-process (sometimes called alkalized) rather than natural cocoa powder here, the latter is acidic and can change the chemical reaction. I doubt that most people have mini loaf pans (I got mine from King Arthur Flour and I can no longer find them on the site, but they’re similar to these), so I’m providing instructions for one standard (9″ x 5″) loaf pan. If you choose to make the mini loaves, they take 30-40 minutes in the oven.


3 overripe bananas (the darker the better)
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz, 115 g) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup (5 oz, 145 g) brown sugar (light or dark)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
1 cup (4 1/2 oz, 125 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 cup (6 oz, 170 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Add the brown sugar, melted butter, egg, and vanilla extract and stir until combined. Place the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large fine mesh strainer and sift over the wet ingredients (cocoa powder has a tendency to be lumpy, so resist the temptation to skip the sifting) and stir until combined. Stir in the espresso powder (if using) and the chocolate chips or chocolate pieces.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about one hour or until a toothpick placed into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before inverting it onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Keeps, well-wrapped at room temperature, for up to 5 days.

Yield: One 9 x 5 loaf or 3 mini loaves

Rosemary Pine Nut Cookies

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These cookies are so delicate. They are crisp and buttery and nutty with complex sweetness from the honey and subtle herbaceousness from the rosemary. They are cookies for grown ups.

And I suppose Dan and I are something like grown ups now. After ten years (!) together, four of them married, we’re looking at real estate and trying to make sense not only of mortgage rates and Chicago’s property taxes, but also of a condo association’s financial reserves and how soon a building is likely to need more tuckpointing and if the fire escapes are up to code and if there’s a weight limit on dogs.

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It’s an exciting time. But also a scary one. We want to make wise decisions. We don’t want to get in over our heads. But we are in our thirties and we’re really ready to have our own laundry–the kind where we don’t need quarters. But even in this affordable city, the numbers involved are big and the enormity of the decision can feel overwhelming.

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Sometimes I just want to retreat back into a world I know. One with tea and cookies. Especially these cookies.

They come from Nancy Silverton’s Mozza Cookbook, a wonderful collection of antipasti and pastas and pizzas and lovely Italian dolce. I took some liberties with the method for putting them together to make the whole process less fussy. Silverton instructs you to knead the dough and roll it out and cut it out with cookie cutters, and because I was feeling a little lazy, I opted to streamline things and just roll them into a log and slice and bake them.

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Here’s a tip: any cut-out cookie recipe can be simplified into a slice-and-bake job if you want the flavor of the cookies without the hassle of rolling pins and cookie cutters and re-chilling and re-rolling the dough.

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I also skipped putting rosemary sprigs on each cookie, because as much as I love rosemary, I wasn’t in love with the idea of the texture of it with the cookie. In my version, the rosemary is more subtle and less visible than in Silverton’s original. (If you want to see the original version of the cookies, Tim wrote about them on his awesome blog a few years ago.) But I was very happy with the way these subtle and delicate cookies turned out.

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The way I did it, I also ended up with way too much pine nut nougatine–I must have used a lighter hand with it than Silverton does. I’ve cut it in half in the recipe below to reflect something closer to the amount I actually used.

I made them to go with the salted brown butter caramel pots de creme, and they made a nice pair, but they were also nice for a little after dinner sweet treat with a cup of tea. They were such a lovely way to end the evening that Dan and I were sad when they were all gone. I guess I’ll have to make more.

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Rosemary Pine Nut Cookies

Liberally adapted from Nancy Silverton’s Mozza Cookbook

These buttery, nutty, herby little cookies melt in your mouth. I’ve significantly simplified the method of making these cookies from the original version. I’ve also cut the amount of pine nut nougatine in half. These are delicate, sophisticated cookies–great for adults but maybe not quite right for the little ones in your life. The base cookie is so nice I’m thinking of using it for other things in the future. The original recipe calls for polenta, but I used corn flour because I had some on hand and I love the way it incorporates corn flavor without so much gritty texture, but the amount here is small enough that I’m sure even a courser grind of polenta would work. You could use also use cornmeal if that’s what you have on hand.

For the pine nut nougatine:

3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 1/2 teaspoons honey
2 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split length wise
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (35 g) toasted pine nuts
1 fresh sprig of rosemary

For the cookie dough:

1/2 cup (1 stick, 113 g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 oz, 75 g) confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 oz, 100 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 1/3 oz, 40 g) polenta, corn flour, or cornmeal

First, make the nougatine topping. Add the cream, honey, sugar, butter, and vanilla bean to a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat, and carefully remove the vanilla bean. Whisk in the flour, and then stir in the pine nuts and rosemary sprig. Set aside to cool to room temperature. When the mixture is cool, remove the rosemary sprig. (You can make this up to a week ahead of time, just store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator and bring it up to room temperature before baking the cookies.)

Then, make the cookie dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the butter and confectioners’ sugar and cream together on high speed until the mixture is creamy and smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and mix until incorporated. Add the salt, flour, and polenta/cornmeal/corn flour and mix on low speed until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Form the dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and wrap tightly in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or up to 3 days).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and using a sharp chef’s knife slice into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Place each round on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about an inch of space between each cookie.

Work the nougatine between your fingers to create a dime-sized disk and place a disk of nougatine in the center of each of the cookies.

Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating about halfway through, until the cookies are just starting to turn golden brown at the edges. Allow the cookies to cool to room temperature on the baking sheet before transferring them to a storage container (or serving them).

These will keep well in an airtight container for a solid two weeks.

Yield: About 28-30 cookies

 

 

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

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Who wants cake? This isn’t just any old cake. It’s a special occasion cake. It’s a takes-three-days-to-make cake. It’s a hunt-down-three-or-four-kinds-of-chocolate cake. It’s a reorganize-the-freezer-to-make-this-thing-sit-level-overnight cake. It’s, let me just say, a totally-worth-it cake.

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I made this for my sister Erin’s birthday. She was having a low key party at her place, and I offered to bring a dessert. When I asked her what she wanted, she gave me carte blanche.

When left to my own devices, I have a tendency to go overboard when I’m making something for someone else. My ambition sometimes overmatches my time and basic sense of reason. It probably says something about me that when I scanned the recipe and saw instructions that said “at least two days ahead of time” I thought, “that seems reasonable.” Really with this cake, I was showing restraint.

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This comes from Joanne Chang’s second cookbook, Flour, Too (her first one is, not surprisingly, named Flour).  Both of her books are named for and feature recipes from her Boston cafe and bakery, Flour. The first book focused exclusively on sweets, but this one looks to be about evenly divided between sweets and savories. It doesn’t just have recipes for special occasion desserts, it has plenty of simple breakfast baked goods and light cafe fare that’s appropriate for everyday. In the headnote to this recipe, Chang mentions that this cake is a personal favorite, even though she isn’t a chocolate fiend. I can see why.

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With three layers of mousse, four layers of flourless chocolate souffle cake, all topped with a layer of bittersweet ganache, this cake sounds like it would be unimaginably rich and intensely chocolatey. But this cake is surprisingly, ethereally light. I kind of want to call it a triple chocolate cloud cake.

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The white, milk, and bittersweet chocolate mousses don’t just look pretty, they also balance each others’ sweetness and bitterness beautifully. It actually makes me wonder why we don’t see more desserts take advantage of this chocolate trio.

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I mostly followed Chang’s recipe. The one significant change I made was to the white chocolate mousse. She uses a vanilla bean to flavor the mousse, but I opted to swap in fennel seeds, which I think are just fantastic here. I wouldn’t call myself a big white chocolate fan, but I could have eaten a bowl of this white chocolate fennel mousse. Erin remarked that she really liked it too.

It’s worth noting that these are more chocolate whipped creams than true mousses, so maybe we shouldn’t be eating them by the bowl full, but each of them–the white chocolate fennel mousse, the milk chocolate coffee mousse, and the bittersweet chocolate mousse–is so good that if you’re not licking the beater after you whip these, I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong.

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It does take three days to make this cake, but most of the work is on the second day. The first day you make the mousse bases, which involves scalding the cream and pouring it over chopped chocolate and then refrigerating it overnight. The second day you make the cake and the soaking syrup, whip the mousses, assemble the cake and put it into the freezer overnight. The third day you trim the cake, and make and top the cake with ganache.

It is quite a bit of work, but it’s doable even if you’re not quite as insane as I am.

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Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too

This cake sounds decadent, but when you eat it, it feels incredibly light. It’s a project. It needs to be started at least two days before you want to serve it. It’s totally worth all of the work. I think this is one of the best desserts I’ve ever made. It’s worth using good quality chocolate here. I used Guittard for the milk and dark chocolates because that’s what I had on hand and Ghiradelli for the white chocolate because that’s what I could find at the grocery store. The coffee flavor is very mild in the finished cake. It serves to deepen the chocolate flavor rather than stand out on its own. This makes a big cake. If you aren’t feeding a crowd, you can cut the frozen cake in two and store half of it, well wrapped, in the freezer for another time. I probably could have done that with this one. (Did I mention this cake happens to be gluten free and grain free, and I’m pretty sure it’s kosher for Passover for those having a dairy friendly meal?) 

 White Chocolate Fennel Mousse

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon fennel seed
3 ounces (85 g) white chocolate, chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt

Milk Chocolate Coffee Mousse

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground coffee
3 ounces (85 g) milk chocolate, chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) heavy cream
3 ounces (85 g) bittersweet chocolate (I used 72% cacao), chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt

Chocolate Souffle Cake

10 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup (60 ml) brewed coffee at room temperature
10 ounces (280 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used 72% cacao), melted and cooled
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (250 g) granulated sugar

Cake-Soaking Syrup

1/2 cup (120 ml) hot brewed coffee
6 tablespoons (75 g) granulated sugar

Ganache

4 ounces (115 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (56% to 62% cacao), chopped
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream

At least 2 days in advance:

Make the three mousse bases. Start with the white chocolate. Heat the cream and fennel seeds in a heavy bottomed medium saucepan. Put the chopped white chocolate in a medium heat proof bowl and have a fine mesh strainer ready. Heat the cream just until bubbles form around the edges. Immediately pour over the white chocolate. Let it stand for about two minutes to melt the chocolate, then stir until the chocolate is thoroughly melted. Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove the fennel seeds, add the salt and transfer the mixture to a small storage container. Repeat with the milk chocolate mousse, heating the cream with the ground coffee (pass it through a strainer, but don’t worry if some of the finer ground coffee slip through). Then repeat with the bittersweet chocolate mousse, heating the cream on its own this time. (No real need to strain this one.) Store in the refrigerator overnight (can be made several days in advance).

At least 1 day in advance:

Make the soaking syrup. Brew 3/4 cup of coffee. Use 1/2 cup hot here and reserve 1/4 cup at room temperature for the cake. Mix 1/2 cup (120 ml) coffee with 6 tablespoons (75 g) of sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Make the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place one rack in the center and one in the top third of the oven. Line two 13″ x 18″ rimmed baking sheets (half sheet pans) with parchment paper and spray with nonstick baking spray (if you’re making this gluten free, don’t use the baking spray that has flour mixed into it).

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, remaining coffee, melted chocolate and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the egg whites and beat on medium speed for about 2-3 minutes until soft peaks form. The tines of the whisk should leave a trail in the whites and when you lift the head of the mixer the whites should should peak and droop. With the mixer on medium, add the sugar slooowly, about a tablespoon at a time, until it’s all added. This process should take about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the whites are glossy and smooth and hold their peaks.

Using a rubber spatula, fold about one-third of the whites into the chocolate-yolk mixture to lighten it. Then gently fold in the rest of the whites until no white streaks remain. Do this carefully. Egg whites are easy to deflate.

Divide the batter between the two prepared sheet pans. Starting at the corners, spread the batter evenly over the pan with an offset spatula. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth, but you want the corners and edges filled in. The batter should be about a 1/2 inch (1 cm) deep.

Bake the cakes, rotating the pans from front to back and switching between the racks about halfway through, about 16-18 minutes. The cakes should look dry on top and when you touch it with a finger, the top should feel dry and delicate and almost shatter and the cake below should feel moist (Chang says the cake top should be “crispy”). Let the cakes cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. At this point you can assemble the cake or wrap the cakes (still in their pans) with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for one day.

Assemble the cake. Run a paring knife around the edge of the pan to release the cake from the sides of the pan. Using a very sharp knife (or kitchen shears) cut each cake in half–from the middle of one long side to the other–cutting through the parchment. You want to have four layers of cake, each about 8″x12″. Cut a piece of cardboard so it’s slightly larger than the cake (you don’t need much overhang here–I probably had too much in the photos above).

Take one cake layer with the parchment attached and carefully flip it over onto the cardboard and remove the parchment. If the cake breaks anywhere, don’t worry, just patch it together as best you can and keep going. In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the white chocolate fennel mousse and whip until it holds stiff peaks. Spread the mousse evenly over the cake layer with an offset spatula. You want an even layer, but you don’t need to worry about some of it spilling over the sides because you’ll trim the edges later. Clean and dry the mixing bowl and the whisk attachment. Take another cake layer with the parchment and carefully flip it over onto the white chocolate mousse and remove the parchment. Using a pastry brush, spread about a third of the soaking syrup over the cake layer. Whip the milk chocolate mousse until it holds stiff peaks. Spread it in an even layer over the cake. Again, clean and dry the mixing bowl and whisk attachment. Take another cake layer with parchment, flip it over onto the milk chocolate mousse, and remove the parchment. Brush about half of the remaining soaking syrup onto this cake layer. Whip the bittersweet chocolate mousse until it holds stiff peaks. Spread it in an even layer over the cake. Take the last cake layer with parchment and carefully flip it over onto the bittersweet chocolate mousse. Brush with the remaining soaking syrup.

At this point, make sure that you have an even landing spot for the cake in the freezer. Wrap the cake gently with plastic wrap and put it in the freezer overnight. Depending on how stiff your cardboard is, you might want to place a sheet pan underneath it to make this easier and to keep the cake even.

About 4-5 hours ahead of serving:

Remove the cake from the freezer and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp chefs knife dipped in hot water trim about a 1/2 inch (1 cm) from each side of the cake, dipping and wiping the knife clean between cuts, to expose the even layers of mousse. (You can snack on these trimmings later–they’re best after they thaw.) Trim the cardboard base so it is flush with the cake and set on a wire rack set over wax paper.

Make the ganache. Place the chopped chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. With this small amount of cream, it helps to partially melt the chocolate before you add the cream. You can heat it in 15 second bursts in the microwave or heat it over a double boiler until it’s about half melted. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until bubble form around the edges. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for about 30 seconds. Starting in the center and working out to the edges of the bowl, slowly whisk the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is uniform and smooth.

Pour the ganache over the cake and quickly spread in an even layer with an offset spatula, letting the excess drip down the sides of the cake. The sides should remain mostly exposed to show off the mousse layers. At this point, you can top with chocolate shavings or just leave the ganache as is. Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve it.

To serve, slice the cake with a sharp chefs knife dipped in hot water. It’s a somewhat fragile cake, and it’s easy to make a mess of the slices. Don’t worry, everyone will be too busy eating to notice.

Yield: Serves 12

 

 

Chocolate Olive Oil Buckwheat Cakes

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When I was  a kid, I couldn’t get enough chocolate. It was,  easily, my favorite flavor. Death by chocolate, molten lava cakes, chocolate ice cream topped with hot fudge sauce: they were the desserts I dreamed about. In my mind chocolate plus chocolate plus chocolate could only be improved with more chocolate.

Now I tend to favor more complex flavors in my desserts. I like deep caramels and nuts and browned butter, warm fruit, tangy creme fraiche. I still love chocolate, but I want something more from it than just chocolate.

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It’s been a while since I got excited about a chocolate cake. They can be too dry, too sweet, too boring. I’d often rather have a fudgy brownie or creamy mousse. I like my chocolate velvety. This cake from Dana Cree, the pastry chef at Chicago’s highly regarded Blackbird restaurant, is that and more.

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There’s something about combining chocolate with olive oil that makes it feel new and exciting. It highlights rather than masks chocolate’s fruity notes, unlike butter or cream. I decided to use buckwheat flour here because I love the way it’s dusky flavor pairs with chocolate. It also, coincidentally, makes this a gluten-free and dairy-free dessert (though not vegan or sugar free or low-fat).

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This is a grown up chocolate cake. It is deep and dark with a hint of grassiness and bitterness, and though it is soft and a little bit gooey, the olive oil prevents it from feeling overly rich.  It is the sort of cake to have with coffee or, even better, espresso.

And it’s baked in mason jars, which is, like, totes adorbs. (Maybe some of you will find it overly twee, but I’m still smitten with just about anything in little jars.)

My only caveat on this recipe is that my yield was different from Cree’s. She says it should make six cakes, and I only got four. Perhaps my eggs were on the small side and didn’t whip up as voluminously as hers or perhaps this recipe was scaled down and something slightly wonky happened with yield in the translation? I’m not sure. I’m going to tell you this yields four, but I’ll check the next time I make these (there will be a next time, for sure) and see if it goes further.

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Chocolate Olive Oil Buckwheat Cake

Adapted from Dana Cree of Blackbird, as featured on Daily Candy.

Use a high quality fruity olive oil here. I used O Ultra EVO, but anything on the fruity or grassy side of the olive oil spectrum will be lovely here. I especially like Guittard chocolate, but Valrhona, Callebaut, or Ghirardelli are other widely distributed high quality chocolate brands that would work well. I really like the buckwheat here, but you can substitute all purpose flour for the buckwheat if you prefer. (Obviously, it would no longer be gluten free.) One of the great things about these cakes is that you can make the batter ahead of time, divide it into jars, cover, refrigerate, and bake whenever you’re ready, either all together or one at a time, for up to a week.

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 64%, I used a blend of 72% and 58%)
1/2 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
flaky sea salt for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Have four 8-ounce mason jars clean and ready.

Combine the chocolate and olive oil in a metal bowl. Set over a pot of simmering water and stir until melted. Set aside.

In another medium metal bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Place over a pot of simmering water, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches 100 degrees F (or feels slightly warm to the touch). Remove from heat and pass through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.

Mix on high speed until the egg mixture is pale, fluffy, and significantly increased in volume, about 5 minutes.

On low speed, pour in the melted chocolate, and mix until the chocolate is almost fully incorporated, about a minute.

Sift the buckwheat flour over the batter, and using a wide rubber spatula, gently fold the flour into the egg and chocolate mixture until the batter is smooth and no dry pockets remain.

Divide among four jars, filling about two-thirds of the way to the top. (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate all or some of the cakes to bake up to a week later.) Place on a baking sheet, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the top is puffed and looks dry. The centers will still be soft and gooey.

Sprinkle with flaky sea salt, and serve warm.

Yield: 4 cakes.

Pink Elephant (a la Momofuku Milk Bar)

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This cake is a beauty.

It’s worthy of a special occasion. Like a birthday or a game night with an old friend with a major sweet tooth whom you haven’t seen in way too long and who you just found out is pregnant (!).

Three layers of brown butter cake filled with lush, pink cranberry curd, orange cardamom crumbs for spice and crunch, and rounded out with a Biscoff spread frosting–this cake has variety in flavor, color, and texture. It’s a mouthful just to describe. In my head, I’ve been referring to it simply as my pink elephant.

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For me, it also hits the right ratio of cake to filling to frosting. I’m not much of a frosting person. I never opt for a corner piece of a frosted sheet cake when an interior slice is available. It’s just too much sugar for me. I also think cake fillings like this are worth showing off.

So when I saw Christina Tosi’s approach to assembling cakes at Momofuku Milk Bar, I fell hard for it. The cake is baked in a quarter sheet pan, cut out and assembled with the fillings in an acetate lined cake ring. Then it goes into the freezer overnight to set up and gets unwrapped and thaws in the refrigerator for a few hours before it’s ready to eat.

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It’s a long process, but it isn’t a difficult one.

In fact, the whole thing takes a while, but each element is pretty easy. You can tackle this all at once when you have a free Saturday, or you can break it down and make one component one day, another the next, until you’re ready to assemble the whole thing.

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The method and the cake are Tosi’s, but the fillings and the flavor combinations are all mine. I love this version of cranberry curd, and you might consider making a double batch if you want some to spread on toast (or eat with a spoon later).

I also had some orange cardamom crumbs left over, but I think I could have piled them even thicker. And the leftovers keep in the freezer for a long time and would be nice sprinkled over ice cream or just eaten out of hand.

As I said, I’m not the biggest frosting person, but this Biscoff spread frosting had me licking the spatula. Then again, Biscoff spread is one of those magic food products that tastes delicious on it’s own. My job in developing this frosting was simply to make it softer, fluffier, and smoother.

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Brown Butter Cake with Cranberry Curd, Orange Cardamom Crumbs, and Biscoff Frosting (a la Momofuku Milk Bar)

Cake adapted from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk BarEverything else inspired by Tosi, but reinterpreted by me.

This is my take on a Momofuku Milk Bar cake. The cake and the method are Tosi’s (she’s really the genius here), but the fillings and flavor combinations are mine. This is a big project and needs to be started at least a day before you want to serve it, but all of the components except for the frosting can be made a few days ahead of time, and the fully assembled cake keeps in the freezer for up to two weeks. So you have plenty of flexibility in getting it ready for a special occasion. I had leftover orange cardamom crumbs, but I would layer them on even more densely if I made it again. I love this cranberry curd and think it’s special enough to consider doubling just to have leftovers. This method of making curd without tempering the eggs is unorthodox, but again, the method comes from Tosi, and I’ve started making all of my fruit curds this way. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you should really think about getting one. Grams are so much more precise than cups and tablespoons. I’ve provided measurements for both weights and volume, but you’ll get more consistent results if you weigh everything.

 Orange Cardamom Crumbs

40 grams (1/2 cup) nonfat dry milk powder
40 grams (1/4 cup) all purpose flour
12 grams (2 tablespoons) cornstarch
25 grams (2 tablespoons) sugar
2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) kosher salt
.5 gram (1/4 teaspoon) ground cardamom
zest of one orange
55 grams (4 tablespoons [half a stick]) unsalted butter, melted

20 grams (1/4 cup) nonfat dry milk powder
90 grams (3 ounces) white chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the 40 grams of nonfat dry milk powder, all purpose flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, cardamom, and orange zest in a small bowl and mix until combined. Add the melted butter and stir until everything is moistened. This mixture will clump together in clusters.

Sprinkle these clusters on the sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes until the crumbs are dry and turn golden brown. Allow to cool completely.

Toss the crumbs in the remaining nonfat dry milk powder until it’s mixed throughout, and then mix in the melted white chocolate and toss until well distributed throughout the crumbs. It helps to hold the clusters together. Allow to dry, and break up any large clusters. Store in an airtight container. These will keep at room temperature for several days or in the freezer for up to a month.

Cranberry Curd

227 grams (one 8 oz bag) fresh or frozen cranberries
118 grams (1/2 cup) water
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
2 eggs
115 grams (1/2 cup [one stick]) unsalted butter, cold
1 sheet or 1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin
4 grams (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, heat the cranberries and water over medium heat until most of the cranberries pop and split open. Pass the cranberries through a fine mesh seive and discard the solids.

Add the cranberry puree and sugar to a blender and mix until the sugar is dissolved. Add the eggs and blend until combined. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and clean the blender (you’re going to use it again soon).

Heat the cranberry mixture over low heat, whisking constantly. When it boils, immediately remove it from the heat and add to the blender.

Bloom the gelatin (here’s how to do that). Add the gelatin and butter to the blender and blend until the mixture is pale pink, thick, and smooth.

Transfer to a glass or metal container, cover, and refrigerate until cold, for at least an hour. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Brown Butter Caker

40 grams (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
55 grams (1/4 cups [1/2 stick]) unsalted butter, browned and cooled
250 grams (1 1/4 cups) sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup packed) brown sugar
3 eggs
110 grams (1/2 cup) buttermilk
65 grams (1/3 cup) grapeseed oil
2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) vanilla extract
185 grams (1 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
4 grams (1 teaspoon) baking powder (preferably aluminum free)
4 grams (1 teaspoon) kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small saucepan, heat the 55 grams of butter over medium heat until the solids are a deep brown and smells nutty and amazing. Let cool.

Line a quarter sheet pan with parchment paper and spray with oil (I use Pam baking spray).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the brown butter, room temperature butter and both sugars and mix on high for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture looks pale and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, until incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

With the mixer on low speed, pour in the buttermilk, grapeseed oil, and vanilla extract. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix for 6-7 minutes, until the mixture is very pale and completely homogenous. It’s very important to make sure this is mixed thoroughly at this point. If you see any oil droplets or if the mixture looks grainy, keep mixing for a few minutes more until the mixture looks silky and smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Add the flour mixture, and mix on low speed for about a minute until the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl again, and mix on low speed for another 45 seconds to make sure any remaining dry bits are well mixed.

Pour into the prepared quarter sheet pan, and spread evenly with a spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake is a deep golden brown and bounces back slightly when poked.

Cool on a wire rack. Once cooled, the cake can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Cake Soak

60 grams (1/4 cup) whole milk
4 grams (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract

 In a small bowl, mix the vanilla extract into the milk until well combined.

Biscoff frosting

150 grams (1/2 cup) Biscoff cookie spread
115 grams (1/2 cup [one stick]) unsalted butter, at room temperature
40 grams (1/4 cup) confectioners’ sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) whole milk

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar, and mix on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until pale and fluffy.

Add the Biscoff spread and milk and mix on low-medium speed until the liquid is fully incorporated. It may look hopeless when you add the milk, but keep mixing, and it will come together eventually.  The frosting will be pale brown, silky smooth, and shiny. This frosting is best used right away.

Putting it all together

Put a piece of parchment paper on the counter to make a clean safe landing spot for your cake. Invert the cake onto the paper, and peel off the parchment that lined the pan.

Using a 6-inch cake ring, stamp out two circles from the cake. Those are the top two layers of your cake. The remaining bits will become the bottom layer.

Line a half or quarter sheet pan with parchment, place the cake ring in the center, and line the ring with a sheet of acetate–about 20 inches long and 6 inches high. Tape the acetate together with scotch tape.

Put the scraps of cake inside the ring, and tamp it all together into an even layer. You want the cake to fill the ring to the edges, but don’t worry if it isn’t pretty. This part doesn’t have to be perfect.

Using a pastry brush, spread half of the milk cake soak onto the bottom layer of cake. Spread half the cranberry curd over the cake in an even layer (the back of a spoon or a small offset spatula works well for this). Sprinkle one-third of the orange cardamom crumbs over the curd and gently press them into the curd with your hand. Spread one-third of the Biscoff frosting over the crumbs. Try to get it as even as possible, but don’t worry if some of the crumbs come up.

Set one of the rounds of cake (if one of the cake rounds is prettier than the other, save it for the top layer and use the homelier one here) on top of the frosting, and repeat with the soak, cranberry curd, orange cardamom crumbs, and frosting.

Place the final cake round on top, and cover with the remaining Biscoff frosting. Pile on the remaining orange cardamom crumbs. If it feels like you have too many crumbs, you can leave some off and save them for another purpose.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place the sheet pan into the freezer for at least 12 hours or for up to two weeks.

At least three hours before you want to serve the cake, remove from the freezer. Gently pull the cake, acetate and all, from the cake ring. Carefully remove the acetate lining, and transfer the cake to a plate or cardboard circle and place in the refrigerator. Let it defrost in the refrigerator for at least three hours or for up to a day. After it is defrosted, it will be fine at room temperature for several hours.

Slice into wedges, and serve.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Into the oven: plum nectarine almond tart

September is back.

And I find, still, that I miss school. I miss the stuff of it. It’s been too many years since I’ve bought school supplies. No crisp clean notebooks, no colored pencils, no folders, no protractors, no scientific calculators. No Trapper Keepers. There is hardly any Velcro in my life. I miss the smell of crayons and loose leaf, I miss the sound of cutting construction paper and the tactile satisfaction that comes with peeling the dried translucent coating off the top of last year’s bottle of glue.

I miss the feeling that I was about to embark on a new grand adventure and the feeling that this, oh, this would be my year.

Without the thrum of pencils scratching paper, the rustle of syllabi replete with goals and assignments and grading scales explaining in comprehensive detail what I need to do to be successful, I feel unmoored this time of year.

We always talk about new beginnings in January, about green shoots and renewal and cleaning in spring, but I feel freshest and most energized in early fall. (I wonder if I should have been born Jewish, with a calendar that sensibly locates the new year around this time…)

The older I get, the more value I find in simple concrete achievements. I come home after a day of work, during which I have not changed the world, have not fixed anything in a tangible way even if I have smoothed wrinkles, updated information, stetted and accepted copyedits, and pored over tables of statistics and tried to make sense of another corner of the planet. I find myself wanting to hold something and feel the satisfaction that comes with being able to stare at a finished work and say “I made this.”

So. Here is a tart. I made it. It was good.

Very good, in fact. My gold star for September. My small new achievement. My plum nectarine almond tart.

I love plums in baked goods. They turn jammy and retain a hint of sour, like rhubarb or tart cherries do in spring and early summer, and like cranberries in late fall and winter (and any of those fruits, I think, would make good friends with this crust).  I think of plums as a transitional fruit. They are harbingers of apples and pears, and if we are lucky quinces,  though they sit next to the last of the peaches and their smooth skinned brethren, nectarines.

Plums and nectarines look pretty together, no?

Purples and deep reds and oranges with yellows peeking through. Nectarines are bit tarter than peaches, making them a nice companion to plums and a pleasing foil to this sweet almond crust.

This tart is so lovely to look at. The payoff here for the amount of work is simply fantastic. This dessert is company-ready, but it is so much easier than pie. Really, it’s as easy as crumble.

Whirl almond meal and flour and sugar and butter and baking powder in the food processor and press into a (well! greased!, ahem) tart pan with a removable bottom. Press alternating slices of plums and nectarines in concentric circles, and bake until the edges are a deep golden brown.

The outside gets crunchy like mandelbrot (or like biscotti, but not as hard), while the inside stays soft and rich and creamy very much like frangipane studded with tender nuggets of baked fruit.

This one is going into regular rotation.

Plum Nectarine Almond Tart

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

This rich nutty tart is incredibly easy to make. The crust is quite sweet, so look for plums and nectarines that are tart to balance the flavor. You can make this entirely with plums, as Alice does, or you could make it entirely with nectarines. I wouldn’t substitute peaches here, as they would be too sweet and the skins unpleasantly fuzzy. I do think this would be lovely with rhubarb, tart cherries, or cranberries in other seasons though. Also, please note that this tart has far less butter than most, which means that you really need to grease the tart pan (I forgot to do this, and was forced to chisel the pieces from the pan, which wasn’t quite the most elegant way to serve it…).

1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) almond meal
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
4 small plums
3 medium nectarines

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9 1/2 inch tart pan (with removable bottom) with butter or spray oil.

In a food processor, combine almond meal, sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse until well mixed. Cut the butter into several pieces, add to the food processor, and pulse a few times until the butter pieces are pea-sized. Add the egg, and pulse until the mixture is thoroughly moistened and has begun to clump together.

Press the almond mixture into the greased tart pan evenly along the bottom (but not up the sides).

Cut the plums into quarters and the nectarines into sixths. Press the fruit skin side up, alternating plums and nectarines, into the crust in concentric circles, leaving a half inch border around the edge of the pan (this will puff up and become the side crust). You may have a few slices of nectarine left over.

Set tart pan on a baking sheet, and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the edges are deep golden brown and the almond mixture peeking out around the fruit in the center looks puffed.

Cool on a rack for about 10 minutes, then carefully loosen the rim of the pan. Allow to cool fully. Serve at room temperature.

Yield: About 8 slices.

A better way to frozen pizza

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Some days I don’t want to make the effort. I really don’t.

I love good food, but I’m tired, I’m hungry and I just want to order a pizza. Or stop by the freezer case in the grocery store and pick up something I can have done in fifteen minutes. Or maybe just have some baby carrots and a spoon of peanut butter and those Girl Scout cookies that I think I still have tucked away somewhere. I can’t exactly say I feel sated and refreshed after a dinner like that, appealing as it may have seemed at the time.

But I have good trick for those days. If I can think ahead a little.

It’s about a million times better than most commercially made frozen pizza. And I can even pronounce all of the ingredients.

It’s my homemade frozen pizza crust.

This is more of a method than a recipe. I have a favorite recipe, slightly modified from Peter Reinhart’s Neapolitan pizza crust in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice. You can find a trimmed down version of the recipe here. But you could just as easily use your favorite pizza dough recipe.

This is the sort of thing that I hear people recommend and I think, pshaww, I will never make and freeze a huge thing of whatever and eat it for months. That sounds onerous.

But it turns out that it doesn’t feel so terribly onerous, at least not on a lazy Saturday when I have a few hours of afternoon to fill.

And it feels absolutely terrific to open the freezer a week later and remember that I can have homemade pizza for dinner in less than an hour.

Homemade Frozen Pizza Crust

I have often come across recipes that recommend freezing balls of dough before the first rise. That turns out beautiful pizzas, but it requires thawing in the refrigerator overnight and a few hours of rising out of the refrigerator after that. When I get home from work and I’m hungry, that frozen ball of dough doesn’t do me much good (and even the one in the refrigerator means I’ll be eating late). This method gets the pizza from the freezer to the table in about 40 minutes, only about 5 of which requires any active work. I can handle that on a week night.

A batch or two of your favorite pizza dough (such as this one), mixed. If yours uses 2 cups of flour or less, I’d think about doubling it
olive oil
parchment paper
plastic wrap
gallon-size zip top freezer bags
a couple of baking sheets (or any sturdy, freezer-safe flat surface)

Lay some parchment paper out on the counter and cover it with a thin film of olive oil.  Spray oil works, so does spreading a few drops with your fingers. Take your dough and divide it into six-ounce balls, about the size of a small fist. This doesn’t have to be precise, but something close to this size fits nicely in a gallon-size freezer bag. (My recipe makes 6 of these.) Set them on the oiled parchment, spaced at least a couple of inches apart. Lightly oil the tops of the dough, and cover with plastic wrap. Let them rise until doubled in size, about an hour or two.

Cut one piece of parchment paper a little larger than your freezer bag for each ball of dough. Gently pull the dough into a circle roughly 9 inches in diameter, place on the parchment paper, place that on a baking sheet, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and put the whole thing in the freezer. Repeat with the other dough balls.  I usually manage to find space to freeze about four of these, stacked on top of each other, at once. Keep any dough that you have yet to shape and freeze tightly covered to prevent it from drying out.

Freeze the dough for about 45 minutes, or until it feels reasonably solid. Remove the dough from the baking sheet, but keep it on the parchment. Double wrap it in plastic wrap, place it in a freezer bag, and return it to the freezer.

On the day you want to make the pizza, pull the dough out of the freezer about 40 minutes before you want to eat (keep it covered with plastic wrap). Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. After a the dough has been sitting at room temperature for half an hour, top it with your preferred toppings, and bake on a pizza stone or baking sheet for about 8-10 minutes.

These keep for about two weeks in the freezer.

Strawberries and almonds and pastry cream oh my!

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At their peak ripeness, summer fruits need little adornment. It’s tough to improve the flavor of a meltingly delicate, sweet tart raspberry or a succulent peach on the verge of bruising.

But when you find yourself up to your elbows in fragrant baskets of the summer bounty that you simply couldn’t leave at the farmers market, it’s time to think about baking.

Pies, crisps, crumbles, buckles, and cobblers are old favorites (with good reason). A slow simmer in the oven can dramatically change a fruit’s demeanor. Things mellow in there; they turn softer and more fragrant. The transformation can be stunning, but some fruits are so vibrant in their natural state it seems a shame to put them through all that.

That’s where this twist on the classic strawberry shortcake comes in. Think slices of bright red strawberries tossed with a little sugar, a dollop of rich pastry cream, and a crumbly little almond cake to nestle them on.

At home at a backyard cookout or at a dinner party, this dessert is familiar enough to pass for summer comfort food and just surprising enough to feel like something new. The toasty layer of sliced almonds on the top dresses the cake with an unfussy elegance. This version is portable and picnic friendly, as the pastry cream, unlike its whipped relative, will travel well in a cooler. It goes down easy just about anywhere and puts all that wonderful fresh fruit to good use.

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Almond Cake with Strawberries and Vanilla Pastry Cream

Source: Cake adapted from Gourmet June 2007, p. 143. Original recipe available here. Pastry cream adapted from Apartment Therapy: The Kitchen.

This would be excellent with other flavorful summer fruits–peaches, raspberries, and pitted sweet cherries come to mind as good options. I used vanilla pastry cream here for its portability, but if you are making this at home you could certainly use whipped cream or lightly sweetened whipped Greek yogurt if you prefer. This cake, if stored in an airtight container or wrapped well in plastic wrap, is even better on the second day.

For the pastry cream:

1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream (or heavy whipping cream)
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the almond cake:

3/4 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup sliced almonds (for the top)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar (preferably superfine, or regular granulated sugar zizzed in a food processor for 30 seconds)
1/3 cup whole milk
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled

For the strawberries:
1 quart (1 1/2 pounds) fresh strawberries, sliced
2 tablespoons sugar

Make the pastry cream. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, and flour until well blended. In a heavy medium saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a low simmer. Turn off the heat. Whisk a few tablespoons of the warm milk and cream into the egg mixture, then gradually add a few more tablespoons of milk/cream and whisk thoroughly. Add the egg mixture to the saucepan with the remaining milk/cream and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about four minutes. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Remove from heat. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Make the cake. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray (Bakers Joy works well) or butter and flour. In a dry skillet, toast the whole almonds over medium heat just until they start to smell fragrant. Remove from heat and add them, half at a time, to a blender or food processor and pulse until they resemble a fine powder (but before they become a paste, err on the side of coarseness here).

In a medium mixing bowl, mix the ground almonds, flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), add the eggs and beat on high speed until they look foamy, about 15-30 seconds. With the mixer running, add the sugar slowly and beat until the mixture is the thick and the beater leaves a noticeable trail when lifted, about 10 minutes (perhaps a few minutes shorter in a stand mixer or a few longer with a hand mixer). Slowly add the melted butter and the milk and beat until well mixed. Add the flour and ground almond mixture and stir by hand until just combined. The batter will be thick.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and sprinkle with the sliced almonds. Bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides and the almonds on the top look golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes. Cool on a rack before removing from pan.

In a medium bowl, mix the strawberries with sugar and let them macerate in the refrigerator for an hour or so.

To assemble, cut a piece of cake, and slice it in half horizontally. Add strawberries and a dollop of pastry cream to the bottom half and replace the top of the cake. Enjoy.

Yields about 8 servings.

return of the scone, with chocolate chunks

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Sometime early in our relationship, when we had been dating for perhaps several months, Dan and I started making scones. It was an almost weekly occurrence, a satisfying project that could be completed in under an hour, proof that we had done something productive in the course of an otherwise relentlessly lazy weekend.

I no longer remember how we settled into scones. I imagine it had something to do with their sturdy, homey appeal, which makes them so comforting to nibble on combined with their faint air of Britishness ((Even if a scone in Britain is something closer what Americans call a biscuit.)), which lends them a certain cosmopolitan stature and makes them seem somehow less pedestrian than a muffin. Or maybe it was just their undeniable deliciousness.

We tried different recipes, added blueberries or raspberries or cinnamon chips, played with amounts of butter and fat content of milk and ratios of whole wheat pastry to all purpose flour. We ate our share of scones. My sister and our roommate even joked that Dan and I should open a bakery selling scones (and pizza, our other staple at the time).

After a while, for no particular reason, we drifted out of making them. We branched out into other baked goods and found ourselves with busier weekends when we sometimes baked nothing at all.

But we recently revisited the habit with a new recipe and were reminded why scones were so easy to fall for in the first place. This recipe is another one from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet. Made with cream and no butter, these scones are rich, yet light, and crumble when bitten into. The dough is noticeably less sticky than other scone doughs I’ve worked with, and it comes together easily. Out of the oven, these scones are golden on the edges but otherwise a delicate pale speckled with dark bits of chocolate. I think they’re even better on the second day, when their lightness gives way to a pleasing density. I think I could get used to having scones around again.

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Cream Scones with Bittersweet Chocolate Chunks

Source: slightly adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet

These scones are quite delicate and not too sweet. Any type of chocolate works here, and chocolate chips would be fine, but I prefer the texture of uneven bits of melting bittersweet. These are probably too delicate to stand up to any fresh or frozen fruit, but I have a hunch that dried fruits, such as currants, tart cherries, or apricot pieces would be lovely in lieu of chocolate. Cinnamon chips or other flavored chips could also work, if you aren’t in the mood for chocolate. With more than a cup of cream, they are not exactly health food, but they’re worth the splurge for a treat. A coarse sugar, such as turbinado or demerara will be prettier on the tops, but any mildly flavored sugar, including plain refined white table sugar, will do. You can replace a half cup of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour, white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour for a slightly heartier, but still tender and light, scone.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small chunks
about 1 tablespoon milk or cream for brushing tops
about 1/2 tablespoon sugar, preferably turbinado, demerara, or coarse raw sugar for sprinkling tops (optional)

Preheat oven to 425°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until well combined. Stir in chocolate chunks. Add the cream and mix until the dry ingredients are moistened. The dough will seem a little dry, but should hold together when pinched. With your hand, knead the dough in the bowl, gently, until it all comes together in a smooth ball.

Turn the dough out onto a clean counter (or silpat or sheet of parchment paper) and pat into a circle about 8 or 9 inches in diameter and about 3/4 of an inch thick. With a butter knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into 8 wedges. Place the wedges onto the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with milk or cream and sprinkle with turbinado (or other) sugar, if using.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges and tops have turned golden. Cool on racks.

Yields 8 scones.