Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

Two chocolate cakes

17 April 2015

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I only just recently happened upon these two chocolate cakes, and already they are indispensable.

Until now I had little need for chocolate cake. I rarely make it, because I rarely crave it; when, about once a year, I do long for a chocolate dessert, I bake these really good brownies. For years my children didn’t care much for chocolate cake. Until Louise.

In this decidedly un-chocolatey family, Louise loves chocolate. Worse things happen. So for this little one’s birthday, I needed a chocolate cake recipe. I found two.

One is an intense though surprisingly light dessert; the faultless chocolate touch at the end of a lingering meal. The other is cakey and moist but not too crumbly; slices hold together well in clumsy little hands. It could be stacked into layers with cream or cherry jam. A flawless tea-time cake.

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The flourless, almond olive-oil chocolate cake, which I discovered via the same friend who pointed me toward the revelatory date cookies (food-obsessed friends are the best kind), beat all expectations. It is light and predictably nutty, perfectly moist with a bare hint of olive. Also ridiculously easy to make. The recipe, by Nigella Lawson, also happens to be wheat and dairy free, which bears mentioning. The recipe is here, as I have not altered it one bit.

I found the second cake in a cookbook from which, until now, I had never actually cooked. Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. It is the perfect party cake. Pointedly described as ‘moist and versatile,’ and which ‘can be made in any format from cupcakes to a multitiered wedding cake.’ I had intended an extra chocolatey frosting, but time ran out so it was just a dusting of icing sugar and plenty of smarties.

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Chocolate cake for a party by Alice Waters The Art of Simple Food

115 g (4 ounces) unsweetened (or very dark) chocolate

2 cups flour

2 tsps baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

6 Tbsps (unsweetened) cocoa powder

115 g (8 Tbsps) butter plus more to butter the pan

2 1/2 cups brown sugar

2 tsps vanilla extract

3 eggs

120 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk

300 ml (1 1/4 cup) boiling water

Preheat the oven to 170°C (350°F) and take the butter, eggs, and buttermilk out of the refrigerator to soften and bring to room temperature.

Line the bottom of the cake pan with parchment paper. Butter both the pan and the paper, and dust the paper with flour or cocoa powder, shaking out any excess.

Heat some water in a large frying pan/skillet. Roughly chop up the chocolate, place it in a heat proof bowl, and slowly melt it over the water bath (bain marie), stirring occasionally, until just melted and smooth. Remove from the heat.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl (or stand mixer), beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating until light and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time and stir until fully incorporated.

Stir in the melted chocolate. Add half of the dry ingredients and combine. Stir in the buttermilk. Then add the other half of the dry ingredients.

Finally, gradually pour in the boiling water, until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared bake tin, slide carefully into the preheated oven as the batter will be fairly liquid, and bake for about 45 min, until a knife of skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean with just a  crumb or two attached.

Allow the cake to cool completely before turning it out of the tin. (The cake keeps well. If not using immediately, leave in the tin and cover tightly with aluminum paper.)

Date cookies

13 March 2015

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I have three most vivid food memories of Jerusalem, which I visited nearly twenty years ago: yemeni malawach, a thick deliciously greasy flaky pancake served hot with raw crushed tomatoes and za’atar; addictive sachlab, a thick drink so unctuous and sickly sweet that it at once repels and keeps you coming back for more; and the date cookies from Damascus gate.

It was the spring of 1997 and I spent a few weeks in Israel visiting a friend — not ‘a’ friend, my oldest childhood friend, my next door neighbor for years, my daily play companion. She was studying in Jerusalem, so, apart from a few days around Purim during which we traveled together to the Sinai, and a few days when I ventured North alone, I spent most of those three weeks in Jerusalem, wandering. I paced the old city endlessly. Memories fade but snapshots remains. I remember the stones, the steps, the incline, the precarious wiring, the satellite dishes. I took the back way, I met mostly children. I was often halfway lost. Inevitably, the streets washed me toward Damascus gate, the buoyant pulse of Old Jerusalem.

There, a few paces removed from the falafel stands, standing alone, a little closer to the gate, was a cart piled high with date cookies.

I think I bought just one or two at first, to try. I came home with a very large bag. And although Tamara didn’t care for them, a few days later I was back for more. And then again to take some back to Berlin. This was nearly twenty years ago.

Here in London the other day a friend mentioned date bars. Then promptly — as she is wont to do — forwarded the recipe link. These are not the date cookies of Damascus gate, but, in a Proustian twist, they have transported me back to a forgotten moment, a faraway place, a cherished time, a magical trip.

Dan Lepard’s date bars share the Jerusalem cookies’ best qualities. They are subtle and layered, the understated flavors develop slowly and get under your palate. I cannot stop eating them.

Dan Lepard’s date bars (Click on the link for the recipe)

NOTE: I made just two slight adjustments:

I used only 15ml each of rose water and orange-blossom water because the ones I have are quite potent and I did not want the perfume to be overpowering. I would suggest tasting the dough and adjusting the amount accordingly.

Also, I cut the bars into 2cm (1-inch) pieces as I preferred a cookie feel rather than the larger bars.

Merry Christmas Stollen

24 December 2014

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It’s Christmas Eve and finally time to cut the Stollen!

Read my story on Food&_ about this favorite German Christmas tradition and the proper way of savoring it (then bookmark the recipe for next year!).

A very merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!

Three ginger cake

5 November 2014

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The best cake in my world.

Were we to play the hypothetical game by which I had to pick one single dessert, to the exclusion of all others, for the rest of my life, I would choose this one. It is incredibly moist and sticky, intensely gingery spicy — need I say more?

The recipe is by April Bloomfield, from her engrossing book A Girl and Her Pig, which is full of anecdotes and brilliant recipes. I made two very small changes.

Since I couldn’t find ‘light molasses’ anywhere, I substituted with a mix of blackstrap and honey. Bloomfield pointedly specifies against using blackstrap hence the mix. I played around with the quantities and using more than 1/3 cup blackstrap makes the taste overpowering. Also, I added bits of candied ginger to make it a ‘three’ ginger cake because… Well, just because.

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Ginger cake by April Bloomfield A Girl and Her Pig

8 Tbsps (1/2 cup or 110 g) butter at room temperature

2 1/2 cups flour

1 Tbsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup light molasses (or 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses and 1/2 cup light liquid honey)

1 tsp baking soda

1 packed cup dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1/4 cup finely grated fresh ginger

Two handfuls candied ginger (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325ºF (160ºC) with the rack in the middle of the oven.

Butter an 8-inch springform cake tin and line the bottom with parchment paper. Place the tin on a baking sheet (because the cake will probably leak a bit through the springform).

Sift the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and baking powder together into a medium bowl. Stir well.

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to boil in a small pot. Add the molasses (and honey if using) and the baking soda. Stir until everything is well dissolved. It seems like a lot of water but trust the wizard here — it works!

Beat the butter and sugar heftily for a few good minutes, until light and fluffy as they say. Add the egg and mix until it is well incorporated. Add the grated ginger and mix again until combined.

Now add about 1/3 of the flour/spice mixture. Mix well. Then 1/3 of the molasses mixture and stir well. Repeat this, in thirds, until everything is combined. The mixture will be very wet. Again — it works.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and carefully (because it is so liquid!) place it in the oven, with the baking sheet underneath of course.

Now very thinly slice the pieces of candied ginger.

After about 15 minutes in the oven, as swiftly as possible in order to not disturb the cooking, pull out the cake and evenly sprinkle the finely sliced candied ginger. **This is done now because if the candied ginger is added before the cake goes into the oven, everything falls to the bottom.**

Bake for another 45 minutes (the cake bakes for about an hour altogether), until a knife point comes out almost clean and no longer wet. Let cool a little before removing the ring from the springform.

Bloomfield likes this cake still warm. I loved it the next day. In any case I’d serve it with a big dollop of clotted cream.

Clafoutis de Lily

1 July 2014

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There are two schools when it comes to cherry clafoutis. Those who pit the cherries, and those who don’t. I like not to, because it allows the clafoutis to be ready for the oven in just a few minutes; because the pits reputedly impart flavor; and because I don’t mind gently removing the pits with each mouthful. It prolongs the enjoyment.

Thomas, on the other hand, is adamantly against pits. Indignant. What had I done? Never mind that a clafoutis had miraculously materialized within the 15-minute half-time break of Brazil vs Chile. Still, he insisted, had he known, he himself would have pitted the cherries.

Pits are polarizing. The good news is, at the end of the day, no one complains. Certainly not the one who surreptitiously finished the last remaining piece of clafoutis to which I had been looking forward throughout all of Colombia vs Uruguay.

Practically any fruit can go into a clafoutis but for me the craving springs with the seasons’ first cherries. Sour cherries even better. But no matter the fruit.

Pulling up in her ageless navy blue Renault 4L, my father’s fairy godmother Lily never arrived with fewer than one or two cakes, crates of homemade jams, and, always, little boxes of cotignac. But ask anyone in the family, Lily is practically synonymous with clafoutis. And, many years ago, she gave me the recipe!

Fruit
2 spoonfuls flour
5 spoonfuls sugar
3 eggs
2 glasses milk
Salt
Whiskey

Beat the ingredients together and pour over the fruit in an ovenproof dish.
(Some fruit – apples, pears, apricots – should first be allowed to brown in butter and sugar)

As far as I remember Lily always left the pits. Perhaps that is why, to me, clafoutis if foremost cherry, with pits.

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Clafoutis de Lily
Though I have translated into more precise measurements and added my two cents in parentheses, I leave the recipe, in its masterful simplicity, intact.

About 1 kg fruit

2 Tbsps flour (or 1 Tbsp flour and 2 Tbsps ground almonds) plus one for dusting the fruit

3 eggs

5 Tbsps sugar plus one for dusting the clafoutis

250 ml (1 cup) milk

Pinch salt

1 Tbsp whiskey (or kirsch if using cherries)

Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).

If using apples, pears, apricots, plums, or peaches: brown the washed or pealed, cored, and quartered fruit in a large skillet with a generous pad of butter and sprinkling of sugar until golden brown. Set aside. If using cherries, pit them. Or not.

Butter an ovenproof that will fit all the fruit snugly in double layers.

Place the fruit in the dish, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour, and toss gently to dust the fruit.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until frothy. Add the milk, then the flour, salt, and whiskey (or kirsch).

Pour the batter over the fruit and slip into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the batter is set and the top nicely golden. In the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over the clafoutis.

Let cool.

(I much prefer clafoutis to be completely cool, though some like it lukewarm. Like the the question of pits or no pits, it is entirely up to you.)


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