Category Archives: dessert

Passion Fruit Caramel Pots de Creme

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I fell hard for the passion fruit caramel combination the first time I tasted it in a sauce I drizzled over a burnt sugar cake. The only problem was that it was so good that it outshone the (very good) cake. I was seriously tempted to ditch the cake and drink the sauce. The bright, tropical passion fruit is balanced by the deep, sweet caramel and the one-two punch is outrageously good.

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I needed to find a way to highlight the tart, rich passion fruit caramel flavor on its own in a way that wouldn’t send me into a sugar coma. When I hosted a birthday dinner party for a gluten-free friend who loves bright flavors like passion fruit, I had the inspiration to make it into lush, creamy pot de creme, where the sweetness would be rounded out by the eggs and milk fat.

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I couldn’t be happier with the results. These little pots of gold are sweet and tart and surprisingly complex.

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These are just so good. I just want to make them again.

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Passion Fruit Caramel Pots de Creme

Pots de creme are wonderfully rich and silky custards that are baked in a water bath. They aren’t difficult, but making caramel requires some close attention because it can go from done to a burnt blackened mess very quickly. You can find frozen passion fruit puree in most Mexican grocery stores. I use Goya brand, but anything that is pure passion fruit pulp or puree is fine. 

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup passion fruit puree (thawed if frozen)
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large egg yolks

Accompaniment: whipped cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a small saucepan, combine heavy cream, passion fruit puree and salt and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat.

Combine water and sugar in a heavy bottomed medium sauce pan and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until deep amber, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in cream and passion fruit mixture (the mixture will bubble up vigorously).

Whisk the egg yolks in a large heat proof bowl, then gradually add the hot mixture and whisk until combined. Pour custard through a fine mesh sieve or chinois into a 4-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup.

Divide custard among 6 (4-ounce) ramekins or jars. Arrange in a large roasting pan, and pour enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins/jars. Cover loosely with foil.

Bake until the custards are set around the edges but tremble slightly when shaken, about 55-60 minutes. Carefully remove from roasting pan with tongs and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for a few hours, until cold.

Serve with whipped cream. Best the day they are made, but can be kept, covered in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Yield: Serves six.

Almond Shortbread Brownies

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These brownies, oh, these brownies. These brownies are something special. They might be the dessert I’ve made the most frequently in the last ten years.

They are rich fudgy brownies baked on a buttery shortbread crust. Before the first time I made them, it never occurred to me that brownies would benefit from a crust, but ever since, it has seemed as natural as adding chocolate chips to a cookie.

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They are adapted from chocolate genius Alice Medrich’s book Bittersweet (recently re-released as Seriously Bitter Sweet). Her books are the first ones I turn to when I’m looking for anything chocolate, from truffles to tarts to mousses to cakes to brownies. She’s never steered me wrong.

These shortbread brownies are a study in the pleasure of contrasts. The brownie part seems smoother and more chocolatey against the crisp almond shortbread background. They are almost like handheld chocolate tarts.

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Even better, they are incredibly easy to make. The shortbread crust is a simple pour-melted-butter-over-flour-almond-meal-and-sugar, stir, and pat-in-the-pan job. It gets baked until golden while you put together the brownie batter.

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You melt the chocolate and butter and sugar together over a pan of barely simmering water, and then stir in the eggs, vanilla, and flour. Since they have so little flour, these brownies do need some serious stirring, but it still only takes a couple of minutes. Then you pour the batter over the shortbread crust and bake until the edges are puffed and the middle is set.

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I’ve made many variations on these over the years. I’ve omitted the nuts for friends with allergies, I’ve swapped in ground hazelnuts for the almonds, I’ve added a caramel layer to the top of the brownies, I’ve sprinkled them with sea salt, I’ve dusted the top with the faintest hint of freshly grated nutmeg. I’ve yet to find a version of these I don’t like.

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These brownies are, pretty much, unanimously loved when I bring them anywhere. People sometimes ask me what they are and look at me with incredulity when I say they’re brownies. As though something this good can’t just be as simple as a brownie. Rest assured, my friends, it can.

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Almond Shortbread Brownies

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet (revised and reprinted as Seriously Bitter Sweet)

These brownies are one of my favorite easy-to-make desserts. They manage to combine the decadent pleasure of a fudgy brownie with the crisp, buttery, nutty texture of almond shortbread. You can pulse almonds in a food processor to make almond meal if you don’t want to buy it separately. Or you can omit the almond meal completely if you want to avoid nuts. These are quite rich, so cut them small. You can always have a second one.

For the almond shortbread crust:

6 tablespoons (3 oz, 85 g) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (1 oz, 24 g) sugar
3/4 cup (3 1/3 oz, 95 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 3/4 oz, 50 g) almond meal
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the brownie batter:

6 1/2 oz, 185 g bittersweet chocolate (66-72% cacao), chopped
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 oz, 98 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 cup (7 oz, 200 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (2 oz, 50 g) all-purpose flour

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil with enough overhang on two sides to be able to lift it out after everything is baked.

Combine the flour, almond meal, and salt in a small bowl. Add the vanilla extract to the melted butter and pour over the flour mixture. Stir until it comes together. Press the dough into the bottom of the lined pan in an even layer all the way to the edges.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Set aside to cool while you make the brownie batter.

Add some water to a wide skillet and bring it to a low simmer. Place the chocolate, butter, and sugar in a medium heat-proof (stainless steel is a good choice) bowl and set the bowl in the skillet. Stir until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and the mixture feels hot to the touch.

Remove the bowl from the skillet (wipe the bottom with a towel to prevent any drips) and turn off the heat. Add the vanilla extract and salt and stir. Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Add the flour and stir until the batter is smooth and glossy and pulling away from the sides of the bowl. If you’re not sure, keep stirring. This should take about two minutes. Pour the batter over the shortbread crust and bake until the edges look puffed and the surface in the middle looks dry, about 20-25 minutes.

Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. At least an hour.

Lift the brownies out of the pan by holding onto the overhanging edges of parchment paper or foil. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut into 25-30 squares. These are rich, don’t be tempted to cut them larger.

They keep well in an airtight container for about 4-5 days.

Yield: 25-30 small, rich brownies

 

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

 

 

Salted Brown Butter Caramel Pots de Creme

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These little pots of deliciousness tick so many of my favorite dessert boxes. Brown butter? Check. Vanilla bean? Check. Caramel? Check. Salt? Check. And an optional splash of booze? Check. They are rich and smooth and creamy with a real depth of flavor from all the browning and infusing and caramelizing.

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They are the result of an idea that’s been rolling around in my mind since I read about something similar on Molly’s site just, oh, six years ago. I always figured I would get around to making them eventually. And when we were having our good friends Maria and Tracy over for a low key dinner the other Friday, it seemed like just the thing to cap off the meal.

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Except, when I went back and looked at the recipe, I realized it had shifted and changed in my memory, and while I have little doubt that those butterscotch pots de creme are wonderful in their own right, they just weren’t what I was craving.

I wanted something that didn’t just use a combination of sugars, but something that included the alchemical wonder that is butter browned with a vanilla bean. And I wanted a salty edge to the thing. I couldn’t find a recipe that was quite what I was looking for. This came close. But I hadn’t yet hit the bullseye.

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So I took matters into my own hands. I browned butter with a half a vanilla bean and whisked it into some cream that had been heated with deep dark molasses-y muscovado sugar. I caramelized some light brown sugar and then added the brown butter-cream mixture to that. I added a splash of dark rum for another cane sugar note, and then I whisked it all with some egg yolks. Then I tossed in some salt.

And when these came out of the oven, they were just what I wanted.

They had all of us scraping the bottoms of the jars to get every last bit. They’re luxuriously rich but modestly sized desserts. Tracy said they’re the kind of thing that leaves you wanting more. They were nice with a dollop of whipped cream and some shortbread cookies on the side. To be honest, they were also pretty darn good the next day, completely unadorned.

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Salted Brown Butter Caramel Pots de Creme

Liberally adapted from Gourmet and Curtis Stone

Browning butter with a vanilla bean is a trick I learned from Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life, and it’s a technique I use all the time for making simple desserts extra special. You could certainly make these without the vanilla bean and add a splash of vanilla extract along with the rum, but this is one of those places where a vanilla bean really makes a difference. You could absolutely use dark brown sugar in place of the muscovado. The muscovado has a more complex flavor, but you’ll get the important dark molasses notes with the dark brown sugar as well. These are nice topped with whipped cream and some crisp cookies on the side, but they’re very nice on their own too.

3 tablespoons (1.5 oz, 43 g) unsalted butter
half a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 cup packed (4 oz, 110 g) light brown sugar
1 3/4 cups (14 1/3 fl oz, 406 g) heavy cream
2 tablespoons (1 oz, 28 g) muscovado sugar or dark brown sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz, 14 g) dark rum (optional)
1/2 teaspoon (2.4 g) kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Have six 4-ounce ramekins or jars and a large roasting pan ready.

In a small light-colored saucepan add the butter and vanilla bean. Heat over medium-high heat until the milk solids turn the color of almond or hazelnut skins. The butter will sputter and foam and then settle down as the water evaporates so you can see the milk solids. When they are browned and fragrant, remove from heat. In a medium saucepan, add the cream, muscovado (or dark brown) sugar and vanilla bean brown butter mixture. Bring just to a simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

In a small saucepan, add the light brown sugar. Add enough water to the saucepan to cover the sugar (about 1/4 to a 1/3 cup of water should do it).  Bring water and sugar to a boil, and cook over medium heat until the sugar is bubbly and dark brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the warm cream mixture until combined. Add the salt.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and rum (if using) until combined. Pour in the caramel cream mixture and whisk until combined. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a large (at least 4 cup) liquid measuring cup or bowl with a spout.

Divide the mixture between the six ramekins or jars. Place the jars in the roasting pan and add enough hot water (hot from the tap is fine) to come half way up the jars. Cover the pan with foil, carefully transfer the whole thing into the oven, and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the custard is set around the edges but still trembles in the middle.

Remove the jars from the roasting pan, and let cool on a wire rack for about an hour. Then transfer to the refrigerator to chill thoroughly. (This will take several hours.)

Top with whipped cream, if desired, and serve.

Keeps for up to two days in the refrigerator.

Yield: 6 servings

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

 

 

Lemon Buttermilk Bundt Cakes with Meyer Lemon Ginger Curd

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Today was a good day for Wellington boots. It was warm here. And sunny. I went outside without my coat for the first time this year. The spring thaw seems to have begun.

The snow piles lining the sidewalks have dwindled, and the melt has turned long stretches of the sidewalks themselves into ankle-deep reservoirs. I splashed through these reservoirs on a walk over to Lake Michigan.

The lake front has been my place for quiet contemplation since I moved to Chicago when I started college back in the late nineties, but this winter has been so snowy and cold that I’ve stayed away for months. I was glad to finally make my way over there again. I stared out at the motionless, still-frozen lake and breathed in the warm air.

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It was nice to stretch my legs and feel the sun on my face and gloveless hands, but the landscape still looks a little bleak. I have a relatively high tolerance for cold and snow, but even I am losing my patience with this winter.

So when I was invited to a “#@#% Winter” party this past weekend, I was entirely on board with the theme. The idea was to have an indoor party with outdoor barbecue and picnic style food. When I thought about what dessert I could contribute, my mind went to lemons, which are the summeriest of the winter fruits. And when I thought about lemon desserts I love, these cakes were among the first to come to mind.

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They are simple old fashioned lemon buttermilk cakes, but they are simple and old fashioned in the best ways. They’re timeless, and they’re as appropriate in summer as they are in winter.

They come from Regan Daley’s award-winning In the Sweet Kitchen, a book I frequently turn to for really good versions of classic baked treats. Her cakes, which tend toward the homey and comforting rather than the towering and showy, are some of the best I’ve ever made.

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These cakes are no exception. They are lemony and light and moist and subtly tangy with a delicate crumb. They are pretty much everything I want in a lemon cake.

Daley bakes this as one big classic Bundt cake, and you can certainly do that too if you you like. I have a soft spot for individual desserts, and for a party it can be nice to have a dessert that you can set out with no need for slicing and serving, that guests can pick up and eat with nothing more than a napkin to catch the crumbs. I love the way these mini Bundt cakes look when they are baked. They’re pretty, but the pan does most of the decorating work for you. I also love the way the little dimple in the top makes are great place to hold a little something extra.

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I’ve gone in a few different directions with glazes and toppings for these cakes. This time, I went with Daley’s lemon glaze and piped some Meyer lemon ginger curd into the center. The ginger takes these cakes a few steps beyond old fashioned territory, and I like the combination. You could certainly skip it entirely or top them with something else, such as whipped cream and berries, if you like.

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These were a hit at the party. And they are, perhaps, the sweetest, most polite way to say “#@#% Winter.”

Have some lemon cake.

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Lemon Buttermilk Bundt Cakes with Meyer Lemon Ginger Curd

Adapted from Regan Daley’s In the Sweet Kitchen

These cakes are lemony and tender and moist. They can be made in a standard Bundt pan (in which case bake for an hour), in mini Bundt cake molds, or even a muffin pan. I used this 12-cavity pan, which makes mini cakes about the size of standard muffins. The curd topping is optional, but please don’t skip the glaze. It really completes these cakes. If you only have small lemons, you can use two of them in place of one large one in these recipes. If you don’t feel like making your own Meyer lemon ginger curd, you could use a high quality prepared lemon or passion fruit curd (such as those made in Oak Park by Rare Bird Preserves). 

Cake:
1 cup (2 sticks, 226.8 g, 8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 g, 14 1/8 oz) granulated sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature (you can put them in a bowl of lukewarm water for a few minutes to bring them up to room temperature quickly)
3 cups (378 g, 13 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (242 g, 8 1/2 fl oz) buttermilk
zest of 2 large lemons
juice of one large lemon

 Glaze:
4 tablespoons (57 g, 2 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 to 2 cups (180-240 g, 6-8 oz) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
zest of 1 large lemon
juice of 1 large lemon

Topping:
approximately 1 cup Meyer lemon ginger curd

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 12-cavity mini Bundt cake pan (or muffin pan) with nonstick baking spray (for something like this with an pan with an irregular interior shape, I like to use the sprays with flour in them specially formulated for baking).

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

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for several minutes, until the mixture looks pale and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each one until well incorporated.

Add a third of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and mix briefly on low speed, just until the dry ingredients are mostly incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add half of the buttermilk, and again, mix briefly and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add another third of the flour, mix briefly. Then the rest of the buttermilk and the rest of the flour and mix just until the batter looks well blended and no dry bits remain. Fold in the lemon zest and juice. (Don’t worry if the batter looks slightly curdled at this point. It’s fine.)

Transfer the batter to a clean bowl and clean and dry the stand mixer bowl. Fill each cake cavity about 3/4 full. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted into one of the middle cakes comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes.

While the cakes are cooling in the pan, make the glaze. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter until it’s light and fluffy. Beat in about half of the confectioners’ sugar, then the lemon juice and zest, then the rest of the confectioners’ sugar until the glaze looks creamy and pourable. Start with the smaller amount of confectioners’ sugar and add more as needed to get the right consistency.

Invert the cakes onto a wire rack set over waxed paper. Carefully spoon the glaze onto the hot cakes.

When the pan is cool enough to touch, respray with baking spray and again fill each cavity 3/4 of the way with batter. Bake and glaze these cakes. Repeat with any remaining batter.

Allow the cakes to cool completely before topping with curd. In a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip, add the Meyer lemon ginger curd, and pipe about a half tablespoon of curd into the center dimple on the cake (you could also use a zip top bag with a corner snipped to pipe the curd).

These are best on the day they are made, but they keep fairly well for 2 to 3 days.

Yield: 28-30 mini Bundt cakes (or 1 10-inch Bundt cake)

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

Simple comforts: mini caramelized apple crumbles for two

It is apple season again. Time for pie and cider and eating out of hand. Time for wondering where these variously charming and exotic names of these heirlooms and hybrids came from: cox orange pippin, jonafree, fameuse, sunrise.

I think of apples as a comfort fruit. I like them prepared simply. A bit of sugar, a bit of topping, a sprinkle of cinnamon served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Apple crumble is easy enough to be thrown together in fifteen minutes and ready within an hour. It is the sort of dessert that doesn’t require a special occasion but itself becomes an excuse to turn on the oven as the weather turns brisk.

I doubt anyone needs a new apple crumble recipe. The one in Betty Crocker works just fine. But most dessert recipes are scaled to serve eight or so, and while that’s great for company, an everyday dessert like this is the sort of thing I like to make just for the two of us, and having six servings left over is an invitation to overindulge.

So this is my scaled down version, perfect for a night when Dan and I want a comforting dessert but don’t want extra. It can easily be cut in half for when you want dessert for one or multiplied for nights when you have extra guests. It is best made in stove top and oven safe cookware like these two cup enameled cast iron pots.

The apples are tossed with sugar and cinnamon and a squeeze of lemon to inhibit oxidation and then sauteed on the stove top until the apples and sugar gets nice and caramelized, an inspiration from tarte tatin. The butter gets browned, pecans get toasted toasted and chopped, and they both get mixed up with a bit of flour and a pinch of salt and sprinkled over the top of the apples. Then they go into the oven where the tops turn golden.

Classic basic flavors in a dessert that you want to remind you of every warm and wonderful apple dessert you’ve had before. It isn’t particularly exciting, but it is certainly satisfying, and it’s hard to go wrong with brown butter, pecans, cinnamon, and caramelized apples. It’s even harder to go wrong when you top it with ice cream.

Mini Brown Butter Pecan Caramelized Apple Crumbles For Two

This recipe works best in 2 cup stove top and oven safe cookware (such as these mini enameled cast iron dutch ovens), but if you wish to make these in large ramekins or other small baking dishes, you may skip the stove top caramelization step and simply bake them for an extra ten minutes or so. It won’t give you that deep caramel flavor, but it will still be delicious. You may of course, use these techniques with other fruits or with your own favorite crumble or crisp topping. This works best with slightly tart apples that work well for baking. I like to use a mix of apples and in this case used a spigold, a spuree rome, and a macoun, but feel free to use any apples you like.

For the filling:
1 pound apples (2 large apples or 3 small to medium ones)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:
1/3 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup toasted pecans
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Peel apples and cut into 1/2 inch chunks. In a small bowl, toss apples with lemon juice to prevent oxidation, then add sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract.

Make the topping. Roughly chop the pecans. Mix flour, brown sugar, salt and pecans in a small bowl. Melt butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat until it begins to turn brown (the solids should be roughly the color of pecans). Remove from heat–butter can quickly go from brown to burnt. Add the butter to the flour mixture and stir until the flour is thoroughly moistened.

Divide the apple mixture evenly between two 2 cup stove and oven safe dutch ovens, and saute over medium heat until the sugars and apples begin to caramelize, about five minutes. Carefully sprinkle the flour mixture evenly over the apples, and transfer to the oven. Bake until the topping is golden brown, about 35 minutes.

Cool for at least 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Yield: Two servings.