Monday, March 24, 2014

Chocolate Party Cake AKA Stress Cake

I needed a cake for a party and hit the internet for inspiration.  I kept seeing accolades for the Double Chocolate Layer Cake from Gourmet Magazine, March 1999, thankfully preserved on the Epicurious recipe website.  This recipe makes a TON.  It calls for two 10x2 round pans, which I do not have in my collection.  The batter filled three 9" round pans plus two 1 cup ramekins.  SO MUCH CAKE.

Since I was bringing a cake to a gathering with only four people, I used exactly half the cake layers in my first rendition of the cake - one whole round split in two horizontally, and half of another.  I wrapped the remaining layer and a half in plastic for later.  I put ganache between the layers and on the outside as directed, but I also layered raspberry jam (slightly heated and stirred) directly onto the cake first.  I chilled the cake overnight, but chilling it changes things.  I think if you can avoid it at all, don't let it anywhere cold, just allow longer for the ganache to set. 

Meanwhile, in another arena of my life, stressful events were occurring.  I recreated the cake, heavier on the jam the second time, and cut it into wedges.  I wrote little notes with each wedge, deeming it Stress Cake.  Does chocolate solve anything?  No, but it can definitely make life a bit easier to handle.

Double Chocolate Layer Cake
 (recipe from Gourmet March 1999, on


For cake layers
  • 3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut 
  • 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk 
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla

 For ganache frosting
  • 1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
Special equipment
  • two 10- by 2-inch round cake pans

Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.
Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Make frosting:
Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.
Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency).
Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Paleo Banana Bread Redux

Somehow I am trapped in this cycle of making the same recipes and not having a lot of new things to post about.  When we were trapped at home (in South Carolina) with snow and ice, twice, I made paleo banana bread.  Snow always has meant sweet treats but sweet can be healthier too.

I used the same paleo banana bread recipe from before, once as bread, and once as muffins with various ingredients folded in. 

I actually think the recipe shines best in loaf form, but I have always had to bake it considerably longer than the recipe states.  My bananas might be bigger than your bananas.

With the muffins, I made some with chocolate chips (definitely not paleo), some with blueberries (still paleo) and some with a cinnamon-splenda streusel mixture that I've been making cinnamon toast with a lot lately, like a crazy person, using sprouted grain bread.  Or should that be "bread" in quotation marks, I'm uncertain.  The biggest issue with these muffins is that in my rush to not add honey but to substitute it with splenda, I forgot to sweeten them at all.  Whoops!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pop Tart Party

Earlier this year, a few co-workers planned a pop tart making party.  After work, we drove in a caravan over to B's home with pop tart fillings in tow.  Two people had made doughs to try, and we spent a few hours rolling out dough, filling it, baking the tarts, and tasting our concoctions. 

Some of the best fillings:
-Cinnamon sugar (recipe below)
-Prune (I based it on the apricot filling on this page but used prunes instead)
-Apricot jam

Some of the challenging fillings:
-Smores. Oh this sounds like SUCH a good idea right but the marshmallow burns out and leaves a gaping hole, or explodes through the dough (see below).
-Jam - in general unless it was a chunky jam (see above with apricot) more of it ended up on the cookie sheet than in the poptart.

You can find more ideas for fillings on this article about Bay Area Chefs.

My favorite dough comes from King Arthur Flour, because it was so flaky (pictured above in the hearts in the upper right)!  We also had this filling on hand, and it was tasty although bakes pretty thin inside the dough.

2 cups (8 ½ ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 quarter-pound sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk

Cinnamon Filling
1/2 cup (3 ¾ ounces) brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, to taste
4 teaspoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 large egg, to brush on pastry before filling
Make the dough: Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Work in the butter until the mixture holds together when you squeeze it, with pecan-sized lumps of butter still visible. Mix the egg and milk, and add it to the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive.

Divide the dough in half; each half will weigh about 10 ounces (about 280g). Shape each half into a rough 3" x 5" rectangle, smoothing the edges. Roll out immediately; or wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Make the filling: Whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and flour.

Assemble the tarts: If the dough has been chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes. Place one piece on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8" thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9" x 12". Laying a 9" x 13" pan atop the dough will give you an idea if you’ve rolled it large enough. Trim off the edges; place the scraps on a baking sheet, and set them aside, along with the 9" x 12" rectangle of dough.

Roll the second piece of dough just as you did the first. Press the edge of a ruler into the dough you’ve just rolled, to gently score it in thirds lengthwise and widthwise; you’ll see nine 3" x 4" rectangles.

Beat the egg, and brush it over the entire surface of the dough. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each marked rectangle. Place the second sheet of dough atop the first, using your fingertips to press firmly around each pocket of jam, sealing the dough well on all sides. Press the tines of a fork all around the edge of the rectangle. Cut the dough evenly in between the filling mounds to make nine tarts. Press the cut edges with your fingers to seal, then press with a fork, to seal again.

Gently place the tarts on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork; you want to make sure steam can escape, or the tarts will become billowy pillows rather than flat toaster pastries. Refrigerate the tarts (they don’t need to be covered) for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 350°F.

Sprinkle the dough trimmings with cinnamon-sugar; these have nothing to do with your toaster pastries, but it’s a shame to discard them, and they make a wonderful snack. While the tarts are chilling, bake these trimmings for 13 to 15 minutes, till they’re golden brown.

Remove the tarts form the fridge, and bake them for 25 to 35 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool on the pan.
Yield: 9 tarts.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

How to Say Welcome - Crumb Cake

We recently welcomed a new music librarian at the university where I work.  I used to be the music librarian but had moved into a new position, and found it difficult impossible to do both jobs, particularly since it involved two buildings and two offices.  I am very excited about the librarian we hired! 

In my work culture, we have a time each day where many of the staff members and maybe a few of the librarians gather for break in the main library.  On days of celebration, we have "official" breaks - welcome breaks, goodbye and good luck breaks, birthday breaks, anniversary breaks - we love to have parties and bring food in that we've made. 

In trying to decide what to make for the welcome break, I couldn't get a crumb cake picture out of my head that I'd come across on the Cakespy blog.  I decided that a crumb cake was the way I was going to say "Welcome!"  This is a great recipe, highly recommended.  The only tip I'll add is not to mound too many big crumbs in the center, because I had a harder time getting that part to bake through.

Crumb Cake

Recipe from Jessie Oleson Moore from Cakespy on Craftsy, adapted from The Food Maven.
Link to Craftsy includes photos of almost every step.

Makes one 9″ by 13″ cake


For the topping

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups packed dark brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Confectioner's sugar for dusting the top (optional)

For the cake

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon plus 1 pinch salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream

  1. Prepare the topping. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon and salt. Mix with the brown sugar. Set this to the side. 
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Once melted, pour on top of the dry mixture. Add the vanilla. Stir with a fork until the mixture comes together to form small crumbs (if you clump it in your hand, it should easily form crumbs). Set the crumb mixture aside in a bowl.
  3. It’s time to make the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 9″ by 13″ pan. Place a rack in the middle position of your oven.
  4. In a large bowl,  whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set to the side.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer,) cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar, and continue mixing until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes in a stand mixer. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed using a rubber spatula.
  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, pausing to scrape the sides of the bowl with each addition. The mixture may look somewhat curdled. That is OK. Blend in the vanilla.
  7. Reduce the mixing speed to low. Add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternately with the sour cream. Start and end with the dry ingredients. Continue scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Blend only until combined and uniform in appearance. This batter will be thick.
  8. Spoon the batter into the well-greased pan and smooth with a flat rubber spatula.
  9. Grab a handful of the crumbs and break on top of the spreaded cake. Continue, making crumbs of your desired sizes all across the surface of the cake. You need to cover all of the surface with crumbs, or the cake may bubble over the crumb mixture. Gently pat the crumbs into the batter with your hand or a wooden spoon, but don’t press too hard.
  10. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown on top and begins to shrink from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack to cool. If desired, dust the top with confectioners’ sugar. Once cool or just lightly warm, slice into squares (or slabs, depending on your mood and appetite.)
Store leftovers, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review of Martha Stewart's Cakes and Chocolate Hazelnut Meringue Cake

Martha Stewart's Cakes: 150 Recipes for Layer Cakes, Loaves, Bundts, Cheesecakes, Icebox Cakes, and MoreMartha Stewart's Cakes: 150 Recipes for Layer Cakes, Loaves, Bundts, Cheesecakes, Icebox Cakes, and More by Martha Stewart Living
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Similar in look and feel to Martha Stewart's New Pies and Tarts: 150 Recipes for Old-Fashioned and Modern Favorites, this cookbook will have something for everyone. There are a few updated recipes for specific diets (a sprinkling of gluten-free) but most of these recipes are solid, traditionally based cakes. There are as many recipes for bundts and loaves as there are for layer cakes, so this cookbook puts more emphasis on simplicity of form. This means plenty of recipes for bakers who don't fancy themselves as cake decorators!

I made the gingerbread loaf but because of user error had to throw it away (too much salt!). I made the Chocolate and Hazelnut Meringue Cake for New Year's Eve.

The other recipes that caught my attention in particular:

Gingerbread Cheesecake
Cranberry Upside Down Cake
Black Forest Cake

Hmm, must be the season. The nice thing is, there are recipes for every season. There is even a cake for when gardeners have an abundance of summer squash!

The one omission I am really surprised about is that the recipe for the best cake ever, the Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake from Martha Stewart Living, would be left out of her first cake cookbook. It is a recipe I recommend to everyone and always hear rave reviews when I make it. I was sad not to see it here, but since the rest of these recipes come from the same editorial crew, this is a solid cookbook.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Two Turkish Drinks (Iki İçecek Türkçe)

In all my Turkish cooking and baking in 2013, there is definitely an importance placed on some of the beverages consumed on a regular basis.  Tea is what is mentioned most often, served as a sign of hospitality and consumed throughout the day.  Most people are aware of Turkish coffee served in the tiny cups, but what about sahlep? 

Since Christmas I have attempted to make Turkish coffee and sahlep, and this is the tale of the two drinks.

I read the directions for Turkish coffee many times before my first attempt.  Use only the most finely ground of Turkish coffees, and use the very specific pot that is wider on the bottom with a wooden handle.  (I got these for Christmas, so that was easy. Check!) Mix the coffee into the water cold. Stir in sugar and a pinch of cardamom. Let it just come to a boil and pour some of the foam into the cup.  Let it come just to a boil twice more.  Well, it never completely boiled, since I had it at such a low heat.  I let it pucker a bit and called it good.  I had no idea if I had done it right, but later that week we had "Egyptian" coffee at an Egyptian restaurant and it tasted pretty much the same.  So hooray, now I can make Turkish coffee!  

Sahlep is a hot drink, often consumed on snowy winter days, which is supposed to be made from the sahlep powder, from the orchid that is also used for the so-called chewy ice cream.  I was in an international market and got very excited to find sahlab powder mix. There is even a picture of an orchid on the cover!  It was not until I got it home that I realized it is just salep-flavored cornstarch.  I was so disappointed!   Plus it is from Lebanon, not Turkey, which explains the language variation.  I do not believe I have had sahlep as of yet, but am on a quest for the actual powder.  At one point, when reading about chewy ice cream in The Kitchen as Laboratory, I learned that it was illegal to export salep from Turkey.  If this is the case, I will not get to actually try this drink until I make a visit.  It seems like a warming drink, even if what I made was not authentic. If you find salep powder, the New York Times had a pretty simple recipe for it.  The box mix I picked up recommended also adding a little orange or rose water to it when serving it.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Review of Butter Baked Goods (and amazing pumpkin chocolate chip blondies)

Butter Baked Goods: Nostalgic Recipes From a Little Neighborhood Bakery
by Rosie Daykin

The gorgeous photography in this cookbook made me long for a neighborhood bakery like Butter Baked Goods. Since I don't live anywhere near Vancouver, BC, I am very lucky to have the cookbook to help me recreate their treats.

The recipes reflect what is served in the bakery and cafe - muffins and scones, cookies, bars, cakes, cupcakes, pies and tarts, and then there are the marshmallows. Butter is famous for its marshmallows, in all flavors, and also a component in several of the recipes. Several variations are contained in this cookbook, and that is what I'm looking forward to trying the most. I'm thinking of coffee flavor! I also have my eye on the Smores Bars, which look incredibly decadent, and utilize the handmade marshmallow.

Since I bake so often for other people, and bring things to work, I like recipes that are simple. I'm particularly enamored with the bar cookie chapter, which includes the very Canadian Nanaimo bar that is a must-try when baking Canadian!

Since I received a copy of this in the fall, I immediately made the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Blondies, which were a huge hit!