Feb 6, 2010

No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread

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So what are you guys doing this weekend?

Because I’m running 13.1 miles on Sunday. On purpose. With several thousand other crazy people. Send drugs now.

In preparation, I am doing what is probably the best part about running a race–carbo-loading via copious amounts of perfectly crusty, homemade whole wheat bread with lots of butter. What, butter isn’t a carb, you say? And carbo-loading is so 80’s? Oh, you just hush. I’m running a flippin’ half marathon this weekend.

You may remember me mentioning something about this half marathon business a few months back, when I said that you may end up hearing more about the whole thing than you really wanted to know. I figured that with all the training being such a big part of my life, some of the details would eek into this space. But that hasn’t really happened. I’ve saved all the complaining about the whole thing for other lucky friends and family members. And I’ve done a lot of complaining. It’s been hard, harder than I thought.

Since the weekday “short runs” became as long as the weekend “long runs” were in the early weeks of training, it’s been tough. Not because my endurance wasn’t there–it’s amazing how quickly the body adapts to such crazy activities; I’ve had many a tearful “Rocky” moment throughout this whole experience–but because I’ve had to do all those weekday runs with a busy toddler who really doesn’t want to be in a stroller that long anymore. Pushing that behemoth of a running stroller full of whining, restless kid on a drizzly, windy San Francisco day when your running legs have seemingly abandoned you is the sort of thing that makes you unable to think of nothing but every other thing you’d rather be doing at that moment. Ugh.

On the plus side, I am fitter than ever and fit comfortably back in my pre-baby pants. I have also acquired new talents such as handing off sippy cups and snacks and fetching teddy bears that get violently chucked off the side of that aforementioned stroller without breaking stride or slowing my pace. Valuable life skills, people. Clearly, bread-baking is a much more practical skill. I think I will switch to bread baking after Sunday. So much for those pants.

Not that making this particular bread requires much skill at all. It’s one of Jim Lahey’s fabulous recipes, the guy who has incredible, actual bread-baking skills and has made his amazingly simple No-Knead method accessible to all of us who have none. I stirred together the dough in seconds one evening and had fresh, crackly, crusty whole wheat bread all set for the gorging less than 24 hours later. I barely had to do a dang thing to achieve such carb zenith. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to get such big results with no effort. It’s a beautiful thing.

No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey’s My Bread:The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

Back when I made the original, all-white-flour version of this bread, I found it desperately needed more salt, so I added it here. Also, I followed the ratio of bread flour to whole-wheat flour that Lahey suggests–increasing the whole wheat flour will result in a denser loaf, but experiment and see if you like it. I also needed to add more water then the 1 1/3 cups listed (about 1/4 cup more) to get the dough to the right consistency–you want it to be quite wet and sticky before the first rise.

2 1/4 cups bread flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees) water
Wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting

In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt, and yeast. Add the water. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, adding a bit more water if necessary. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, at least 12 to 18 hours.

When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. Dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour if it’s sticky. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise again for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled and when you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression–if it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, position a rack so that the pot will be centered in the oven, and preheat it to 475 degrees. Place a covered 4 1/2-to-5 1/2-quart cast-iron pot (such as a dutch oven) in the center of the rack.

Use pot holders to carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Be careful!–The pot is very hot. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue baking the whole wheat bread until the loaf is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly before slicing.

Feb 2, 2010

Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt Cake

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You guys.




Clearly, there is nothing else to say, except THIS CAKE IS STUPID DELICIOUS.

The recipe for this behemoth of a baked good I like to call a Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt cake is from a charming little bake shop in Los Angeles called Buttercake Bakery. Remember when I told you about my recent sippy cup-free weekend down in LA and how Sara and I got into some serious cupcake sampling? Well, one of the bakeries we stumbled into was Buttercake, and as luck would have it, the owner Logan was there that day and naturally, Sara is friends with her. (If you ever go somewhere with Sara, you will find this is often the case.)

Anyway, this isn’t the kind of place where you’ll find crazy novelty flavors like Green Tea Yuzu buttercream or giant celebration cakes draped with wacky shades of fondant and loaded with dynamite. No, this place is all about turning out comfort desserts like those fantastic signature recipes of churchgoing Southern women and then doing them one better.

Take this completely insane cake, for example. If you are in search of an absolute celebration of butter and chocolate, well, then, my friend, I think we’ve arrived at your personal Mecca. The batter for this cake is like a lighter version of a pound cake, rich with butter and vanilla, craveworthy all by its lonesome. And that’s before you fold in the chocolate chips. Oh, no, you heard me right. And. And!

Then you take out some of the chocolate chip-studded batter and whisk into it in an obscenely chocolatey syrup that gets all swirled into the mix and bakes up like fudgy brownie cake tunneling through the whole thing. If I was anymore serious I would be a heart attack, people. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

The resulting cake is the sort of baked good that comes up every once in a great while here in the Piece of Cake kitchen, which is to say that I had a major crisis of conscience upon tasting it. Half of me wanted to disappear into a dark corner of the garage with the cake stand and a fork so I could mow the whole thing in private. The other half knew I shouldn’t hide this light under a bushel–a Bundt cake epiphany as glorious as this was meant to be shared with the world. In the end, I gave a nod to the latter, swiftly lopping off half the cake for my husband’s office, leaving a mere half the cake for me to have my way with while doing the former. But you do what you want.

Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt Cake
Adapted from Buttercake Bakery and the Los Angeles Times

Use the butter wrappers to grease the pan before dusting it with flour. And as much as you’ll want to devour this cake ASAP after baking, give it a couple hours to really cool and rest out of the pan before serving–the flavor and texture is well worth the wait. This cake stays extraordinarily moist for days on end kept in a cake dome at room temperature.

Serves 12 to 16

2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Valrhona)
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
2 2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli)

In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sugar, the cocoa powder and corn syrup with 1/2 cup hot water. Bring just to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Set aside.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the remaining sugar until light in color and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Beat in the remaining vanilla.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, and beat in a third of the flour mixture just until the flour begins to disappear into the batter. Beat in half the milk. Beat in another third of the flour, then the rest of the milk, and finish with the remaining flour until the batter is smooth. Stop the mixer and gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Scoop out a third of the batter into a medium bowl, whisk in the chocolate syrup and set aside. Pour another third of the batter into the prepared bundt pan and smooth it with a spatula. Pour the chocolate batter into the pan evenly over the first layer. Finish by pouring the last third of the vanilla batter over the top. Lightly swirl the batters with a wooden skewer or knife to give a “marble” effect–a continuous figure-8 motion while going around the pan works well.

Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back lightly when touched, about 60-70 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Invert the cooled cake onto a serving platter and dust lightly with powdered sugar before serving if desired. Store any leftovers in a cake dome at room temperature for 4-5 days, maybe more.

Jan 29, 2010

Tomato, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tarts

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Oh, people. I just had the most glorious weekend down in LA with my best girlfriend, while my husband dutifully (and might I add very successfully) took care of our offspring back home in San Francisco. And let me tell you—it was really something. 48 hours of food, drink, laughter, and lots of Southern California sunshine that makes dining al fresco the order of the day. As soon as I stepped off the plane, Sara and I got to work. We don’t believe in the sort of ladylike lunching that involves a few lettuce leaves and a single prawn on an antique plate. No, our thing is more of a salad-plus-truffled pizza-plus-cupcakes-and-lots-of-wine-in-lieu-of-water sort of situation.

So now that I’m back to reality, I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite lunching with girlfriends dishes, which is to say the kinds of foods that only need a little pile of lightly dressed mixed greens and lots of well-chilled white wine on the side, and still leave room for some slightly tipsy, giggly cupcake sampling afterwards. These tomato, goat cheese and caramelized onion tarts fit the bill perfectly.

This recipe comes from the always awesome, rarely mark-missing Ina Garten. Oh, Ina. Why do your recipes and your delightful East Hampton estate (with an entire adjacent house dedicated solely to cooking and entertaining) have to be so flippin’ perfect? As my friend Lauren (a fellow Ina fan and trained chef in her own right) likes to say, “Okay, Ina, we get it. You have lots of special dishes. Golf clap.”

These tarts are another winner from Ina’s Back to Basics cookbook, also known as the thing I’ve keeping under my pillow for the past couple months. With a base of flaky store-bought puff pastry, there’s no other way to describe this recipe than having lovely layers of complex, fantastic flavors.

Edgy parmesan gives dimension to a pile of sweet, deeply caramelized onions scented with fresh thyme, creamy goat cheese is balanced with slabs of fresh tomato that become juicy and intense during baking, and ribbons of basil give the whole thing a bright finish. If you can think of a more heavenly combination, save for bittersweet chocolate and salted caramel, then please report to me.

If you’re not having girlfriends over for lunch anytime soon, these tarts would also make for an excellent light supper (call them fancy pizzas instead of tarts and they become more like dude food) or a perfect first course for a dinner party. However you serve them, just remember the bit about lots of white wine on the side—in all cases, it’s the right thing to do.

Tomato, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tarts
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Use whatever tomatoes look good in the market–I used a fun smaller variety from a local farm and put a few slices on each tart, but if you can only find big Beefsteak-type tomatoes, just put one thick slice on each tart.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions, about 2 large
3 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 package (17.3 ounces) puff pastry sheets, thawed but still cold
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces goat cheese, plain or herbed
1 large tomato, cut into 4 (1/4-inch-thick) slices
3 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves

Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are limp and the skillet is nearly dry. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the wine and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned.

Unfold each sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it lightly to an 11-by-11-inch square. Using a six-inch-wide saucer as a guide, cut 2 circles from each sheet of puff pastry, discarding the scraps. Repeat with the second sheet of pastry.

Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, score a circle 1/2 inch inside the edge of each pastry–be careful not to cut all the way through. Prick the pastries all over with the tines of a fork and place them on the sheet pan. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the grated Parmesan on each round, staying inside the scored border.

Place 1/4 of the onion mixture on each circle, again staying within the scored edges. Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese on top of the onions. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart (or several if using smaller tomatoes, see note). Brush the tomato lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with basil ribbons, salt, and pepper. Scatter the remaining grated Parmesan over each tart. If the pastry has warmed up significantly during assembly, chill the tarts for 15 minutes in the refrigerator before baking. At this point, you can also wrap the sheet pan in plastic wrap and chill the tarts until you’re ready to bake.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Serve warm.

Jan 25, 2010

Blueberry Boy Bait

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I am at a bit of a parenting crossroads with Little C. We’ve reached that point where she is clearly no longer a baby, but she’s not yet a full-fledged little girl (wasn’t there a Britney song about this?). She is so tuned in to everything I do, wanting to get in on all the action and has started mimicking me in the most unexpected ways. Basically this means that I have got to stop dropping F-bombs. Also, she has started “helping me” when I bake. And recently I pulled up a chair to boost her sweet little face up to counter level while I put together some Blueberry Boy Bait, a recipe so simple, you can pull it together with a tiny person clinging to your sleeve.

This buttery, tender cake, studded with teeny blueberries and covered with a shattery cinnamon-sugar crust, is my kind of thing. Technically, it is a cake, but since it’s like the most awesome blueberry muffin you’ve ever had in slab form, it’s more quick bread in feeling. And this means you can brunch it, snack it, or dessert it, and in all cases you’ll love it.

Now before you get all up in my grill about making a blueberry recipe in January, let me tell you that this recipe actually calls for frozen berries. Hooray! I love frozen berries of all sorts. This is not to say that anything can replace the experience of a flat of strawberries in July–let’s not be crazy. But frozen berries are fabulous because they’re picked and frozen at their peak, and are awesomely consistent in quality. Plus, you can’t beat the price. Not that I know a dang thing about economy. But I do know that I am in pink-puffy-heart LOVE with Wyman’s of Maine frozen wild blueberries. They explode in your mouth like sweet, bitty berry caviar and I covet them. And apparently I am not the only one, as per my sous chef.

And because I am a food history geek and love tidbits of culinary trivia, Blueberry Boy Bait first made an appearance in the junior division of a Pillsbury baking contest in 1954. The girl who invented it was only 15! Can you imagine being that young and fabulous and being able to BAKE? Girlfriend probably didn’t need to come up with a specific cake to lure the boys in, I’m sure. Like I plan on telling Little C, she just has to be her fantastic, talented self and the boys will all be beating down our door to date her. Too bad her father won’t be answering said door until she is 25.

Blueberry Boy Bait
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Be sure to look for wild blueberries, the tiny ones, not the bigger regular ones–you’ll get better results with wild. I halved this recipe in an 8-inch square pan and it worked out perfectly. As you’re sprinkling on the cinnamon and sugar you may think to yourself, “Dang! This is way too much cinnamon and sugar!”, but press on and sprinkle on the whole lot of it. You will be rewarded with a crackly, shattering sheet of cinnamon-sugar topping in the end.

Makes 1 9×13-inch cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup frozen wild blueberries
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with cooking spray and line it with a sheet of parchment paper with a few inches of overhang on two sides. Spray the parchment, too.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar and all the brown sugar on medium speed until lightened in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape downt he bottom and sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time, letting each one incorporate fully before adding the next.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add half the flour, mixing just until the flour begins to disappear. Add the milk, mixing to incorporate. Add the rest of the flour and mix until there are a few streaks of flour left in the batter. Fold in the rest by hand with a large rubber spatula until the batter is smooth.

Remove the blueberries from the freezer and divide in half. Place half the berries in a small bowl and toss with 1/ 2 teaspoon flour. Mix the floured berries into the batter and spread the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the rest of the berries on top of the batter. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the cake from the pan using the parchment sleeve and cut into squares. Store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Jan 21, 2010

Meyer Lemon Pot de Crème

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So I figured as long as we’re on the citrus train, why stop at cake? Why not share a recipe with you that not only celebrates the totally fabulous Meyer lemon, but pairs it with cream, an ingredient that just makes the whole thing so right that you may just shed a tear? I give you Meyer Lemon Pot de Crème. And a dollop of fresh raspberry sauce to boot.

Now, guys, I make a lot of desserts. Some might say an alarming amount, but that is neither here nor there. It’s quite a feat for something to be declared a real winner. For my main taste tester (that would be my darling husband) to have more than just a few cookies from a batch or one slice of a cake is a Big Deal these days. The results of my baking abilities were much more exciting when they were newly revealed in the beginning of our marriage. But before this unintentionally goes into a downward spiral of a metaphor gone horribly wrong, let me get to my point–boyfriend had two helpings of this pot de crème the day it was made. It was that good.

So Meyer lemons are basically the definition of ubiquitous these days, aren’t they? But man, they totally live up to their reputation. With zest so fragrant and juice so sweet (for lemon juice, anyway), they are worth stealing if you happen to have a neighbor with a Meyer lemon tree. In this case, though, I did not actually steal these particular lemons.

I bought them from this charming old lady parked out in front of our corner market. She’d set up a little stand with mounds of bright Meyer lemons and enormous grapefruits and a handwritten cardboard sign that was curling at the edges and advertising a price so low it was practically criminal. And when we got to talking about how her son drives the fruit all the way from Stockton into the city, and how they don’t really make a profit anyway, but that day he’d gotten a speeding ticket on the way down and so now they were really in the hole, well, guess who ended up guilt-purchasing an armload of Meyer lemons? Anyway.

Since I’ve already told you about my favorite lemon bars, and it hasn’t exactly been sorbet or lemon meringue pie weather around here, I went for a pot de crème recipe I’d bookmarked in recent months that paired the vibrant fruit with a swirl of cream and the Rhoda to its Mary–a perfectly simple, fresh raspberry sauce.

All the flavors here–the zing of lemon, the counterpoint of lush cream and the sweet, lusty raspberries offering a perfect finish–work in a way that reminds you that some things were just meant to be together. Sort of like the way all those Meyer lemons found me that day.

And you know what they say–when life guilt-trips you into buying an insane quantity of lemons, make pot de crème.

Meyer Lemon Pot de Crème with Raspberry Sauce
Adapted from Food in the City

Can you use regular lemons? Yes, yes you can. But seek out organic ones so you don’t end up zesting a bunch of pesticides into the dish. Also, sometimes I bring the flavor of regular lemon juice a little closer to that of a Meyer lemon by holding back a few tablespoons of lemon juice and replacing them with orange juice. There’s also no reason not to use frozen raspberries for the sauce if you’d prefer.

Serves 4

For the crème:

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons Meyer lemon zest
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed and strained Meyer lemon juice

For the raspberry sauce:

1/3 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen (thawed and drained)
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon Meyer lemon juice

In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the cream with the lemon zest just until small bubbles appear around the edge–do not boil. Remove the pan from the heat and let steep for 20 minutes.

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 325 degrees. Place four 6-ounce custard cups, ramekins or coffee cups in a small roasting pan.

Return the pan of cream to the stove, and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk and superfine sugar and pour into the simmering cream, whisking constantly until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the lemon juice. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the custard through a sieve and into a large measuring cup for easy pouring. Bring a large kettle or pot of water to boiling.

Divide the custard evenly among the four custard cups. Open the oven door, pull out the oven rack, and place the roasting pan on the rack. Slowly pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the custard cups. Carefully slide the rack back into the oven, being careful not to splash water into the cups. Bake until just set, about 35-40 minutes.

Remove the cups from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2-24 hours before serving.

To make the sauce, puree together the raspberries, sugar and lemon juice. Serve each pot de crème with a dollop of the sauce, plus extra on the side.

Jan 18, 2010

Glazed Clementine Chiffon Cake

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It’s high citrus season, people! I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it! (Name that movie).

Okay, so maybe not everyone is as enthralled with the abundance of adorable little clementines, fragrant Meyer lemons and vibrant blood oranges as I am, but guys, it’s getting towards the end of January. The winter blues could take any of us down at any time.

Even in San Francisco, where all four seasons just sort of smear into each other without a whole lot of meterological drama, it’s all kinds of dreary in January. So let’s focus on the positive. Citrus galore! And a zippy, big mama Clementine Chiffon Cake is just the thing to bring a little sunshine into your life during this time of year.

I lurve chiffon cakes. They’re the sort of thing that make you feel incredibly accomplished in the kitchen. They emerge from the oven tall and proud and commanding, a great candidate for getting all gussied up with a whole myriad of flavorings, syrups and sauces. Unlike her more elegant, prettier and popular sister the angel food cake (which can be so delicate that you have to tread lightly when trying to jazz her up) the chiffon cake scoffs at her frilly name, and with her richer texture courtesy of added egg yolks and vegetable oil offers a fabulous canvas for all sorts of bells and whistles, like a zingy orange glaze that soaks just enough into the epidermis of the cake to make things interesting.

And this cake couldn’t have come at a better time. I’d just done that thing where I’d bought the huge box of clementines from the market for, like, five bucks or something crazy, with the noble intention of snacking on them in lieu of, say, cake. But really, how many clementines can you snack on before you just need a slice of flippin’ cake?! Oh, the irony. Luckily it took an almost comical number of clementines to yield enough juice for this recipe, which got that pesky healthy snacking monkey off my back right quick.

Some people spaz out about recipes like chiffon cakes and their egg foam cake counterparts, like angel food cakes and sponge cakes. All that egg white whipping and folding just seems too precious and risky. But really, if you have a reliable electric mixer, you’re well on your way to chiffon cake success. And even though you do want to take care to whip the egg whites to the proper stage (firm peaks, but not at all dry) and whisk them in gently as to not knock out all the air, the beauty of a chiffon cake is that it can be roughed up a bit while getting the batter together and all won’t be lost.

And even if your chiffon cake doesn’t rise quite as much as you’d hoped, or falls a bit while cooling or if you louse it up at the eleventh hour by, say, inverting the cake onto a plate that suctions itself to the beautiful golden crust, stripping off whole sections of it when you turn it back onto the cake stand, well, don’t worry about it for a second. Because the so-lovely-its-practically-drinkable clementine glaze that douses this cake has such fabulous flavor and adds so much moisture that none of that will matter in the end. This cake perserveres. Just like winter-weary folks.

Glazed Clementine Chiffon Cake
Adapted from The All-American Dessert Book

If you don’t have clementines, fret not. Any kind of sweet, orange-y citrus will do: navel oranges, tangerines, satsumas, tangelos, what have you. Whenever a recipe calls for zest, like this one, I like to seek out organic fruit just so I don’t have to worry about scraping a whole lot of pesticides into the mix.

Serves 12

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups unsifted cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely grated clementine zest
2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed and strained clementine juice
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For the glaze:

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed and strained clementine juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Have ready a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.

In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, 2/3 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Separate the eggs, placing the whites in one large bowl and 5 of the yolks in another (use the remaining yolk for another purpose). Whisk together the yolks, oil, clementine zest, lemon zest, clementine juice and vanilla until well-blended. Gradually whisk the flour mixture into the yolk mixture just until it’s smoothly incorporated. Set aside.

Add the lemon juice to the egg whites. With an electric mixer, begin beating the egg whites on low speed, them raise the speed to medium for about 2 minutes, or until soft peaks begin to form. Add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar to the whites as they are whipping, a tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar is incorporated, raise the speed to high and whip for 1 to 3 minutes more, until the whites hold firm peaks that still have a moist appearance–do not overbeat or they will be very difficult to incorporate. Whisk about a third of the whites into the yolk mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites, stopping at soon as there are no streaks of white left in the batter.

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake until a cake tester in the thickest part comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes. Immediately invert the cake onto a wire rack, or a countertop if the pan has feet, and let cool completely, at least 1 hour. Run a thin knife along the edges of the pan to release the cake. Cover a large plate with a sheet of plastic wrap and spray it lightly with cooking spray to prevent the top of the cake from sticking, and invert the cake onto the plate before turning the cake back onto a final serving platter or cake stand. Tuck strips of parchment paper under the cake to protect the platter from wayward glaze.

To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, clementine juice and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Let the glaze stand until it cools and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Slowly pour the glaze over the cake, letting it drip down the sides. This cake keeps well at room temperature in a covered cake dome for up to 3 days.

Jan 15, 2010

Cakey Sour Cream Brownies

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So are you a fudgy brownie person or a cakey brownie person? Because I fall into the former category, and these brownies fall into the latter. And to be honest, I am so on Team Fudgy that I considered not even mentioning them to you. But upon further mulling of the whole thing, I decided you really do need to know about this recipe. Because even though they are not my ultimate brownies, they are still very good and if you are on Team Cakey, well, they may end up being yours. And I can’t in good conscience deny any cakey brownie-loving POC readers that pleasure. I’m here for you, people.

For the rest of us, I will not call these brownies, rather I will dub this recipe Rich Chocolate Snack Cake and share its many virtues. Not the least of which is a deep, satisfying chocolate flavor that isn’t shrouded by a cloying sweetness. The chocolate flavor really does shine here.

Another bonus of this recipe is that it’s easy, easy, easy. Which, really, all brownie recipes should be, but who doesn’t love easy? Communists, that’s who. All it takes is a little bit of flour, some melted some butter and chocolate, dark brown sugar, eggs and sour cream.

Back it up now, sister–what?
Oh, yes, I said sour cream. That’s what drew me to this recipe in the first place. And it’s the magical ingredient that keeps these cakey brownies from being dry and boring. The sour cream adds moisture and an edgy flavor element that keeps the chocolate from tasting flat. If ever there was a cakey brownie that might seduce the die-hard Fudgies, this would be it.

I should also mention something about this recipe that has become an obsession of sorts for me lately: the texture and flavor of these brownies actually improves the day after baking them. Even more moist, maybe even a little denser, more chocolatey. I flippin’ love that. In fact, on the second day, I got to thinking about other things that could be done with this recipe because of their transformation after a rest on the counter.

Vanilla ice cream and hot fudge on top, well, yes, yes, of course, but I’m feeling like pouring this batter into two round cake pans and frosting it with a thin layer of Vanilla Bean Buttercream or more generous swirls of Seven-Minute Frosting might just make for the most orgasmic, do-ahead layer cake in the history of the universe. If anyone tries this and you can still speak or type, could you report back with your findings? Awesome, thanks.

Sour Cream Brownies (aka Rich Chocolate Snack Cake)
Adapted from Nick Malgieri’s The Modern Baker

I’ve made several changes to this recipe–most notably, I left out the generous amount of walnuts that the original recipe calls for because I don’t like my brownies walnutted (2 cups toasted and chopped; if you love nutty brownies, add them). I also added a bit of cocoa powder, which gives a much-needed punch of chocolate flavor, but really only works if you use a premium, rich, dark cocoa powder like Valrhona. Make these brownies a day before you want to serve them and wrap them well–the flavor and texture improve the next day.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons premium cocoa powder (I love Valrhona)
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into pieces (chocolate chips work fine, I like Ghiradelli)
1 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Set an oven rack to the center position and preheat the to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13 pan with foil, and spray with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour and cocoa powder and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Allow it to bubble for about 10 seconds, then remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute or two, and then whisk until smooth. Let cool for a minute while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and eggs until smooth. Whisk in the sour cream, salt and vanilla until well-blended. Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture, then fold in the flour and cocoa mixture just until it dissappears into the batter.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the until the brownies just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 30 minutes.

Cool the brownies completely in the pan on a rack before cutting into squares.


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