The Only Cake I’d Request for my Birthday

So since it was my birthday last week, I requested that my friend Michelle make me my favorite cake, a flourless chocolate number with a few hints of Kahlua and espresso. Lucky for me, she complied. It’s actually difficult for me to write about it right now because I have a piece waiting for me in the refrigerator, but I’ll try my best to write a full post without salvating too much. Actually…hold please while I just have a little bit…

…okay, fabulous, now I’m feeling perfectly inspired to write. ūüėČ Michelle made this cake for me last year for my birthday as well and even gave me the recipe, but I only cashed in on it being in my custody once. It was the recipe I was searching for when I made a lesser version, the mini flourless chocolate cake. Though, since finishing the large slice I cut, I’m remembering why I made a mini version…flourless chocolate cakes are the Trumps of dessert. (They’re really rich…get it?). Anyway…

While taste and ingredient quality¬†are important in making this cake, technique is substantial. If you’ve ever baked creme brulee, traditional cheesecake,¬†or custard, you’ll recognize the importance of baking the cake in a larger pan filled with hot water. It may sound odd if you’ve never tried it before, but you’ll need a large roasting pan or cake pan that’s¬†big enough to¬†contain a springform pan and still have additonal space on the sides. I apologize for not having photos of this because I didn’t bake the cake, but they would have been helpful! I’ll describe the technique more below in the “How to Do It” section. Also, on another note, other than Michelle, I’m not sure where this recipe originated from so I apologize for not giving the proper shout-outs to the brilliant baker who came up with the concoction.

So enjoy, with a glass of bold red wine of course, and remember not to take too big of a slice.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 1 8 or 9″ cake

  • 1 lb semisweet chocolate, chips or bars
  • 8 oz or 2 sticks of unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 nip of Kahlua or other coffee liquer
  • 1 Tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Springform pan,¬†8 or 9″
  • Large roasting or cake pan
  • Optional garnishes like confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder, whipped cream, strawberries, or chocolate syrup

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and grease a springform pan with butter. Grease and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
  2. Cover the pan underneath and along the sides with aluminum foil, and set inside a larger roasting or cake pan. Set aside.
  3. Set up a double boiler by bringing a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Combine the chocolate, butter, Kahlua, and espresso powder in a metal mixing bowl, and place it over the boiling water. Stir the mixture constantly as it begins to melt, and continue until it’s smooth and creamy. Set aside to cool.
  4. Combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl, and mix with an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment until the mixture is frothy and almost doubled in volume.
  5. Fold 1/3 of the egg mixture into the cooled chocolate with a rubber spatula. Repeat twice more until all of the egg mixture is folded completely into the chocolate.
  6. Pour the batter into the springform pan. Pour enough hot water into the larger roasting pan so that it reaches about halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
  7. Bake until the cake has risen slightly and the edges are just beginning to set, about 40-45 minutes. Remove the springform pan from the roasting pan, and cool the cake on a wire rack until room temperature.
  8. Remove the foil and the sides of the springform pan, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  9. Remove the cake from the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes before serving to soften, and garnish with any of the optional garnishes. Or enjoy alone. ūüôā

Tip: When filling the pan with water, be careful not to get any water in the batter. The water will keep the edges and bottom of the cake from overcooking while the rest of the cake bakes evenly. This is the same technique used to bake traditional cheesecakes and individual custard desserts, like creme brulee or pots de creme. It will be easiest (and cleanest) to slide the top oven rack out a few inches, and place the pan (without water) on it. Pour the water in the pan, and carefully slide the rack back into the oven. You’ll avoid spilling water and ruining your batter this way.

The Adult Fluffer Nutter

Happy short work-week for most! I enjoyed my long weekend, and somehow I was able to bake, even though I was swept up in The Hunger Games series. Seriously, I haven’t been able to separate myself from my Kindle for the last week. I think I was even reading while baking. Anyway, I found this lovely recipe while searching for a bite-sized dessert recipe for my friend Michelle’s birthday party. It took slightly longer than I’d planned for, but then again, that could have been my Kindle distraction. The steps in the original recipe seem a¬†little overwhelming because it requires a bit of technique (you make your own marshmallow fluff), and because there are several steps to make this one little sandwich. I’ll do my best to break it down and make it seem as easy as (moon) pie.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Moon Pies

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 1 dozen moon pies

For the Dough

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus a little more for rolling out the dough
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Rolling pin
  • 2 cookie sheets
  • Parchment paper

For the Fillings

  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 cup good quality chunky peanut butter (I used Nature’s Promise Natural Chunky Peanut Butter-it was SO delicious)
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 pinch cream of tartar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting (optional)
  • Small saucepan
  • Stand mixer, or a good quality electric hand mixer

How to Do It

  1. Cream the butter and brown sugar together at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Beat in 1 tsp of the vanilla extract and 1 whole egg.
  2. Gradually add the flour and salt, and beat until a soft dough forms. When the ingredients are just blended, remove the dough from the mixer, and knead with your hands until the dough is uniform and the texture is soft. Divide the dough into two mounds, and wrap each mound in plastic wrap. Flatten each mound slightly until it’s less than an inch thick, and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line the cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  4. On a floured work surface, roll each mound of dough until it’s uniform and 1/8″ thick. Use a biscuit cutter or round cookie cutter (or if you have neither, use the lid of the peanut butter jar like I did ūüėČ ) to make 24 equal circles. Use the scraps of dough to roll out and cut additional circles. Place the circles on the cookie sheets, and place the cookie sheets in the refrigerator for another ten minutes while they firm up.
  5. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned, and rotate the pans 7-8 minutes into baking time.
  6. Remove from the oven, and allow the cookies to cool slightly on the pan before transferring them to a wire cooling rack to cool completely
  7. Cover half the cookies with the melted chocolate by using a spoon and pouring a small amount on each cookie. Use the spoon to spread the chocolate close to, but not touching, the edges of the cookies. Refrigerate the cookies to allow the chocolate to set for 15-20 minutes.
  8. Spread the chunky peanut butter on the other half of the cookies.
  9. Begin whipping the egg whites, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt at medium-high to high speed until the stiff peaks of a meringue form.
  10. Heat the corn syrup in a small saucepan until boiling, and gradually temper the meringue by slowly pouring the hot corn syrup in a steady stream. Continue to whip for another two minutes, or until the mixture is glossy.
  11. Beat in the remaining vanilla extract and 1 cup of sifted confectioner’s sugar at medium-low speed until the mixture thickens and has the texture of marshmallow fluff. Congratulations, you just made your own fluff :-).
  12.  Let the marshmallow fluff cool completely, and then fill a large plastic        resealable sandwich bag with it. Make a small cut at the corner of the bag, and pipe the cookies covered in peanut butter. Be sure not to get too close to the edges as the marshmallow tends to be messy.
  13. Top the cookies with the chocolate halves, and refrigerate for several minutes to set.
  14. Let the cookies soften for up to two hours, and top with sifted confectioner’s sugar or cocoa powder and cinnamon.

Tip: These get very messy so try to set the layers between each addition. The cookies themselves are¬†more like shortbread than sugar cookie¬†so the addition of confectioner’s sugar or cocoa powder and cinnamon at the end helps sweeten the deal.

Recipe from Delish.com.

Not So Boring Apple Pie

I wouldn’t quite use the word “loathe”, but I have a very strong dislike for apple pie. I know it’s all-American and traditional, but I think it’s the most God-awful-boring dessert ever created. I can only imagine that it has survived as long as it has because of how traditional it is. Of course, that’s only my opinion. My favorite chef in my old culinary program once said that “just because you don’t like it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t good”. Point taken. If you like apple pie, I’m not sure what you see in it, but let’s just agree to disagree.

With the onset of the holidays this year, I was excited to demonstrate my skills for my family and my boyfriend’s family. This was going to be my first major holiday with my boyfriend and his family, and I wanted to show them that their son was well-fed at home in CT. I had far too many ideas for what was ultimately going to serve a handful of people. So I narrowed it down between a caramel pecan cheesecake or a pumpkin (you always need something pumpkin at Thanksgiving) cheesecake with a gingersnap crust. I was pumped…until my boyfriend’s mom called and asked that I make just one dessert…

…an apple pie. Ugh. It’s really hard to be selective with a recipe for something you don’t really like in the first place but you still want to impress people with. What could I do? I headed over to my new favorite recipe resource, King Arthur Flour, and found the recipe below. It’s still apple, but it’s less boring and less traditional. I can’t say that I’m overly excited about it the way I am about pumpkin or chocolate¬†recipes, but I did receive several compliments on it. Then again, just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t good…

Cranberry Apple Pie

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes one 9-inch pie

For the Crust (Assuming you don’t cheat)

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unbleached white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening and more to grease the pan
  • 1/2 cup or one stick¬†cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 6 to 9 Tbsp ice water
  • One 9-inch pie plate
  • Rolling pin

For the Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped cranberries, fresh or frozen and thawed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp orange zest
  • 1 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 orange juice
  • 6 Tbsp chopped pecans
  • 3 large, firm, tart apples (Granny Smith is always great for pies) peeled, cored, and sliced evenly
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

How to Do It

  1. Begin by preparing the crust. Whisk together the flours, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. If you have access to a pastry blender, use it to cut the shortening into the mixture until it resembles cornmeal. If you do not have access to a pastry blender, you can use your fingertips.
  2. Toss the cubes of butter into the mixture to coat. Continue to cut them in until the largest pieces are the size of a dime, but be careful not to overwork the dough.
  3. Gradually¬†incorporate small amounts of the¬†ice water over the mixture until the dough is just moist enough to hold together. Round the dough into a ball and split in half. Wrap each piece individually in plastic wrap, and refrigerate them for 30 minutes or more before rolling out. This will give the dough an opportunity to rest so the gluten in the flours isn’t overworked.
  4. Prepare the filling by cooking the cranberries, sugar, orange zest, flour, and orange juice in a small saucepan over medium heat until the mixture begins to simmer and thicken slightly. Remove the mixture from heat, and allow it to cool before filling the pie.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and lightly grease the pie plate. Remove the wrapped dough from the refrigerator, and prepare a lightly floured flat surface to roll it out. Roll out half the dough to fit into the base of the pie plate. Trim off any excess dishes, and spread half the pecans over the bottom of the dough. Neatly layer the apple slices over the pecans, and top the apples with butter pieces and cinnamon.
  6. Cover the apples with the cooled cranberry mixture, and top it with the remainder of the chopped pecans. Roll out the other half of the dough, and prepare a lattice crust. You can do this by slicing equally sized strips of dough with a pastry knife (or other small sharp knife) and placing them in a checkerboard pattern across the top of your pie. Use a few drops of water or eggwash (see below) to seal the the strips to the bottom crust.  
  7. Bake the pie for 30 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden brown. Check the pie after 20 minutes and cover with foil or pie shield if necessary to keep the filling from spilling over the edges. Cool before slicing and serving, and for a little added treat, top with whipped cream. Cheat with the can if necessary-you worked hard enough on the pie!

Recipe from King Arthur Flour.

Tip: Whenever you roll out pie dough, always roll from the middle outwards. Rotate your body rather than rotating the dough to get to all the edges, and move in a clockwise fashion. This will keep your shape even and your dough flat without thinning it out too much. It will also keep your dough from getting overworked.

Extra Tip: When you’re ready to transfer your dough to a pie plate, lightly flour your rolling-pin, and roll the dough in half with the rolling-pin acting as the divider. Carefully pick up the dough with the pin (this should look like a towel hanging flat over a shower rod), and lay it out over the pie plate from the bottom edge to the top. It will be easier to tuck the dough and line the plate evenly.

Extra, Extra Tip: Want that glistening top for your pie? Create an eggwash by whisking a whole egg and a small amount of milk or water in a small dish. Use a pastry brush to brush a thin coat on the top and the edges of your pie, and sprinkle a bit of granulated sugar over the top. The egg wash will give the pie a golden sheen, and it will help your edges stay sealed. The sugar just looks pretty and tastes lovely.

How to Make Fresh Whipped Cream

Why make whipped cream from scratch when you can just buy it out of a can or a plastic tub?

Because it’s amazing and takes moments, that’s why. In the age of convenience products, it impresses everyone¬†when someone makes the effort to create something the hard way, but this isn’t hard, I promise! It just looks and tastes like it might be.

Stuff You’ll Need

  • 4 parts heavy cream
  • 1 part sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract for every 8oz heavy cream/2oz of sugar (optional)

You don’t need a stand mixer to make whipped cream, but I highly recommend using one. If you don’t have access to one, you can use an electric hand mixer, but be prepared to lose patience and¬†stand there whipping the cream for several minutes. Use the whip with the most wires that you have. The idea is to incorporate as much air into the cream as possible, and by using a whip with many wires, you reach more of the surface of the cream and incorporate more air.

How to Do It

  1. Begin with the heavy cream in your mixing bowl. Start whipping at a low speed to introduce the cream to the air and the movement.
  2. Add the sugar to the cream, and kick the speed up a notch to a medium level.
  3. As the cream develops soft peaks, add the vanilla, and kick the speed up again to a medium-high level.
  4. Carefully watch the texture at this point. If it over whips, it becomes butter, and it can happen quickly! If it underwhips, it will deflate easily. It may take practice to figure out the perfect timing, but in the meantime, test the texture (and taste) with a spoon. I usually stop whipping right before it looks like it may become a solid.

Tip: Want flavored whipped cream? Instead of vanilla, try using a different extract (i.e. orange, raspberry, cinnamon, etc). Instead of extract, try using a liquor or a liquer (i.e. bourbon, Irish cream, coffee liquer). Experiment! Go nuts! (You can add those too).

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