Category Archives: dessert

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.

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.

By the scoopful: peach jasmine sorbet

It’s been a hot summer in Chicago. This July and August we’ve watched the mercury climb into the nineties more days than I care to count. Too many. I’m not a hot weather kind of girl, give me seventies and a light breeze along the lake, and I’ll take eighties with a cool drink, but nineties, uggh, nineties make me cranky.

It’s been a summer for sunscreen, for trailing my hands through neighbors’ sprinklers as they sway toward the sidewalk. It’s been a summer for open-toed shoes and sleeveless tops and sitting in the shade. But more importantly, it’s been a summer for sorbet.

We’ve been filling our bowls with bright jewel-toned orbs of the stuff: sour cherry lambic, almond, blackberry. Sorbet somehow always feels more refreshing than ice cream, the flavors more intense without the muting effects of milk fat, the bracing iciness just the thing for these hot summer days.

And when I see the bounty of summer fruits weighing down the tables at the farmers markets and have no desire to turn on the oven for, say, pie, I will happily bring home pints of whatever looks extra lovely to peel, slice, puree with sugar syrup, churn, and freeze.

One of our favorites of late has been a sorbet of Michigan peaches enlivened with a splash of jasmine liqueur from Koval Distillery, a great little boutique distillery that’s practically in our neighborhood. There’s something enchanting about the hint of floral jasmine combined with the succulent sweetness of peach that makes this sorbet sing. The alcohol also helps to give this sorbet an excellent texture.

I can’t get enough peaches when they’re in season, and the peaches at the market this summer have been gorgeous.

This puts those beauties to good use. And provides a little relief from the heat.

Peach Jasmine Sorbet

Source: Loosely adapted from Jeni Britton in Food & Wine and David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop

The alcohol helps to keep this sorbet scoopable. If you live in an area where Koval liqueurs are available, do seek them out, if not, substitute another liqueur such as St. Germain, which is similar in alcohol content, or substitute half the amount of a liquor such as bourbon. If you prefer not to use corn syrup, you may substitute sugar, but be advised that liquid sweeteners such as corn syrup or glucose improve the texture. Do use ripe sweet peaches if possible (save underripe hard ones, which are lower in sugar but higher in pectin, for jam). The ones I used for this last one were bruised and overripe, which was an advantage here.

2 pounds of ripe peaches (about 6 or 7)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup or glucose (or equal amount of sugar)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Koval Jasmine Liqueur (or St. Germain, or 2 tablespoons bourbon)

Combine the sugar, corn syrup or glucose, and water in small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

Blanch the peaches in a large pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes, drain and run under cold water. Peel the peaches–the skin should slip off fairly easily. Remove the pits, and dice the peaches.

Puree the peaches with the sugar syrup in a blender (or use an immersion blender in a high sided container) until smooth. Stir in the jasmine liqueur.

Chill the mixture in a refrigerator overnight. Then churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Store in the freezer for several hours before eating.

Yield: About one quart.

a scoop of frozen sunshine

On Saturdays in the summer, my routine almost invariably includes a trip to the Evanston Farmers Market. From time to time, I think about swapping my northerly trek for a southerly one and finally checking out the Green City Market or just making a quick trip to the little Edgewater Market that’s within walking distance, but then I think about the crates upon crates of heirloom varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers and garlic and fingerling potatoes and the little bundles of shiso and the mesclun dotted with delicate flowers and the red amaranth and all the colors of carrots at Henry’s Farm stand, and my decision is simple. I put on my shoes, throw my unwashed hair in a ponytail and head out the door.

When there are so many options, it’s easy get home and discover I’ve lugged back something that wasn’t quite what I expected. This beauty of a watermelon was a recent find from Henry’s stand that took us by surprise. In a good way. We didn’t know it was any special variety, but when we cut it open, we found brilliant yellow flesh inside.

yellow watermelon_blossomtostem
This baby was crisp and juicy and incredibly sweet. And it was yellow. Really yellow.

I always thought of pink watermelon as the quintessential summer fruit in a so-refreshing-dripping-down-your-chin-as-you-spit-seeds-in-the-backyard sort of way, but somehow this yellow version seems even more of the season.

And as we near the end of summer, what better way to hang on to it than to turn it into sorbet and freeze it?

This watermelon sorbet is bright sunshine yellow and about as close as it comes to keeping a container of concentrated summer in the freezer. Sweet and icy with just enough lime to cut through the sugar, a little scoop of this hits the spot on a hot day. Or any day, really.

It is another satisfying recipe from David Lebovitz’s recent book on all things ice cream, The Perfect Scoop. (I seem to be on a yellow kick lately–a few weeks ago the lemon speculoos ice cream recipe from the same book had me struggling to save every last drip at the bottom of the bowl.)

watermelon sorbet

Watermelon Sorbet

Source: adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

This sorbet comes together easily. The trickiest part is picking the seeds out of the watermelon before you puree it into juice. The original recipe calls for mini chocolate chips to be mixed in the end. I omitted them, but you can feel free to stir some in before you put away the finished sorbet. The flavor of watermelon is delicate, and the vodka and lime flavors are detectable here. I like it that way, but you should probably omit the vodka if you really don’t want to know it’s there.

About a 3 pound (1 1/2 kilogram) chunk of watermelon
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons vodka

Cut away the rind of the watermelon and remove the seeds. Cut the flesh into manageable pieces and add to a blender or food processor and puree until liquid. You should have about 3 cups of juice (puree a little more watermelon or set aside the extra juice for another use if necessary). Pour into a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat 1/2 cup watermelon juice, sugar and salt until all of the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and add to the bowl with the watermelon juice. Stir in the lime juice and vodka.

Chill in the refrigerator overnight and then process in an ice cream maker.

Yields 1 quart of sorbet.

Strawberries and almonds and pastry cream oh my!

strawberry_almondcake_blossomtostem

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.

almond_cake_blossomtostemalmond_cake_closeup_blossomtostem


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

scones_stack

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.

blossomtostem_unbaked_scones

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.