Nearly 11 months into parenthood, and I have to say, we are on a roll over here, people. One of the biggest things for me has been balancing being on-call around the clock as a mother with carving out time to do things that keep me feeling like myself–leafing through cookbooks, puttering in the kitchen, writing, running some miles. It makes me feel alive, like seeing in Technicolor after months of sleepily trying to wade through the days and figure out this new life. And somehow it seems I’ve arrived in this new place as a bolder, brighter, sweeter version of myself, like a pile of peak-of-season cherries, sugared and zested with lemon and roasted until they glisten.
I suppose others might celebrate such great strides in personal growth with oh, say, a mini-vacation somewhere with a breezy coastline, a spa day or an extended happy hour somewhere fabulous. But since I already live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, have an awesomely huge bathtub in our new place and much prefer getting drunk at home, I hightailed it to the farmers’ market to snap up some succulent Bing cherries that called–nay, begged–to be tucked into a pillowy cherry clafoutis.
If you like really getting your hands dirty in the kitchen, then you’ll love this recipe. See, traditional clafoutis recipes call for the pits to stay in the cherries, because supposedly the pits lend a distinct almond-like flavor to dish. But since I prefer my desserts without a side of dental work, I opted for a recipe that calls for pitted cherries and a splash of almond extract instead. The pitting took some doing, but I rigged up a pitting station with a fondue fork and a beer bottle in the kitchen sink, and with The Splendid Table on the radio, it was actually kind of hypnotic, enjoyable work, listening to the cheery clink! of the pits hitting the inside of the bottle. Note to self: get out more.
After the cherries are free of their pits, they get all seasoned up with sugar, cinnamon and lemon, and head into the oven for a quick roast that transforms them into a more nectarous version of themselves, giving off intense, ambrosial juices that can be reduced to a syrup for serving with the finished dish.
If you can keep yourself from plucking the hot cherries off the baking sheet and snarfing them all right when they come out of the oven, then they’ll get doused in a simple crepe-like batter, which bakes up into a puffed, golden cloak that gently hugs the fruit.
Clafoutis is a crazy simple dish, and this interpretation is especially flavorful. If you’re feeling particularly lazy as of late or find yourself longing for a taste of summer in the dead of winter, a bag of already pitted, frozen unsweetened cherries would work pretty well in this recipe. But with fresh cherries at their peak around here, I can’t think of a better way to enjoy them while they can still be snapped up on the cheap. I think it makes a glorious summer dessert, but since it involves fruit and a pancake-like batter, cherry clafoutis is also a totally legit shoo-in for The Best Breakfast of Your Entire Life. “Enabling” is my middle name.
Roasted Cherry Clafoutis
Adapted from Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
To cut down on prep time or to enjoy this dish when cherry season is oh-so-far away, a bag of frozen, unsweetened cherries (usually labeled “dark, sweet cherries”) can be thawed, drained and used in place of fresh cherries in this recipe. Taste the cherries before seasoning them for roasting–I cut the sugar by a little more than half from the original recipe, but you can add more to taste.
1 pound Bing cherries (or other sweet variety), stemmed and pitted
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon greated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and arrange an oven rack to the upper third of the oven. Lightly butter or spray a baking sheet and a large ceramic baking dish (like a pie plate or gratin dish) with cooking spray.
Place the cherries on the baking sheet. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, zest, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Toss the cherries with the seasonings on the baking sheet. Roast until the fruit is juicy, tender and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Give the pan a shake about halfway through cooking to keep the cherries from sticking to the pan. Remove the cherries from the baking sheet with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the baking dish, arranging them in a single layer. Pour any juices into a small saucepan.
Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
For the clafoutis batter, with an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt to soft peaks. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of sugar until well-blended, then beat in the flour, vanilla, almond extract and cream until smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir about a quarter of the beaten whites into the batter to lighten it first, then carefully fold in the remaining whites.
Pour the batter evenly over the cherries. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the batter has puffed and browned. During baking, reduce the reserved cherry juices to a thin syrup over medium heat. Dust the finished clafoutis with confectioners’ sugar and serve with a drizzle of the cherry syrup.
Little known fact about me: I taste words. Meaning, when I hear or read or speak a word, even non-food words, I can experience a taste with most of them, and usually feel the taste on my tongue. Most of these pairings aren’t logical (some examples: “clock”= peanuts, “quality”= oatmeal, “present”= Twizzlers), but the taste and word pairings go back for as long as I can remember. I heard this really interesting NPR interview with a guy who saw colors while eating–different flavors made him see certain colors, and it made perfect sense to me, what with my wacked-out tasting of words thing and all. Turns out these sort of sensory crossovers have a name: synesthesia. Huh! Who knew? Just add that to the list of Certifiable Things About Me.
What? Oh! Yes, my point. I made a batch of ice cream, and upon tasting, realized that it tasted a lot like what “green” tastes like to me. And in other news which makes me feel a little more normal, it was made from something that was actually green. Whew.
Even if this mention of synesthesia has you totally stumped and kind of afraid of me now, I think you’d agree that David Lebovitz’s recipe for Fresh Mint Ice Cream churns out a frozen dessert that is everything “green” should taste like. It’s invigorating, refreshing, herbal. Makes you breathe a little deeper as you’re eating it. If there was an Official Ice Cream of Spas, it would taste like this one.
It all starts with a pile (and I do mean a pile–two tightly packed cups’ worth) of fresh mint leaves. I had a charming, sizable mint plant sitting on my windowsill which inspired me to make this recipe in the first place, but after plucking it clean of its leaves, I still had to supplement the bounty with a bunch from the produce market. Steep the leaves in a pot of warm sweetened cream and milk, whisk it into a custard with some fresh eggs, and then swirl it into more cream, all the while willing yourself not to lap up the fragrant elixir straight out of the bowl.
But if you stick to your guns and the lush, minty batter actually makes it into the ice cream maker for churning, you can spin some melted bittersweet chocolate into the mix. Although I guess you’ll have to keep yourself from lapping that up too while you drizzle it in. Oh, and then–and then!– there’s the issue of having to the scrape the soft-set ice cream into another vessel for freezing. Call in Lick Prevention, people. We’ve got a situation over here.
After steeping the leaves in the warm cream, you may want to give the mixture a quick blitz with a stick blender or similar–I find this intensifies the mint flavor and bumps up the green color just a bit. Give the puree an extra run through the sieve to trap excess leafy bits, but don’t obsess about getting all the specks of leaf out of the ice cream–a few scattered throughout add character, like vanilla bean flecks.
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves (no stems)
5 large egg yolks
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (bar chocolate, not chips), finely chopped
In a small saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream and the salt over medium heat–do not let it boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Plunge the mint leaves into warm cream mixture and let it steep for at least one hour at room temperature.
Taste the resulting mint-infused cream–if the mint flavor and green color isn’t as intense as you’d like, puree the mixture with a stick blender or in a standing blender for a brief moment. Strain with a fine-mesh sieve into a medium saucepan and rinse any leafy bits from the sieve. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl (aluminum will be best for speed-chilling the ice cream batter) and set the sieve on top.
Rewarm the mint cream in the saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl. When the cream is warm to the touch, whisk it slowly into the yolks, then scrape the yolk and cream mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often and scraping the bottom and sides of pan until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Pour the custard through the sieve into the large bowl and stir it into the cream. Chill over an ice bath, stirring constantly, about 10-15 minutes.
Begin freezing the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a glass measuring cup on 50% power in 45 second bursts, stirring well after each interval, until very warm and fluid. During the last moments of churning, drizzle the melted bittersweet chocolate into the ice cream, taking care to avoid the spinning dasher. Scrape the soft-set ice cream into an airtight container, giving it an extra folding to make sure the stracciatella is mixed evenly into the ice cream. Freeze until firm.
You know what drives me crazy? When I go to a restaurant and try to order dessert and the whole pastry menu is full of savory. I mean, I appreciate a dessert menu that has more than the
options of flourless chocolate cake, some form of apple tart and a selection of gelatos. But a polenta olive oil cake with rosemary ice cream? Really? I already had dinner! I’d rather just have a Snickers bar and call it a night.
Dessert should be dessert, people. It should not be confused with other courses or meals from other parts of the day. Another example: no matter what nutritionists in womens’ magazines say, a dish of plain fruitis not sufficient for dessert. It is breakfast. I think I heard Ina Garten say once that no one remembers what you serve for dinner, but everyone remembers dessert. And if all I get is a plate of strawberries, then I am definitely remembering the time I got so depressed at the end of a meal that I stopped speaking entirely. This is just the way I usually feel. Unless–unless!!–said fruit is accompanied by a pile of etheral cookies like Cats’ Tongues. Bring on the fruit salad, sister!
This recipe comes from The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, and you know Alice Waters is all about fruit for dessert. But in the recipe notes for Cats’ Tongues, she mentions how she could eat an entire platter of them with a fresh peach. There ya go, Alice! I knew you had it in you, girlfriend. It was my first clue that these cookies were really something special.
It’s almost a misnomer to call these beauties “cookies”. They’re really more of a wafer, so thin and delicate they practically melt in your mouth as soon as they shatter between your teeth. The hit of almond extract and spark of ginger makes them a beautiful accompaniment to seasonal fruits of all kinds. When shaped as directed in the recipe, they really do resemble the thin curve of a cat’s tongue. Well, some of mine came out looking like that, but some in the batch also came out looking just like potato chips. And I couldn’t help but think of how awesome it would be to have a bowl full of “cookie chips” and just watch Oprah or something, definitely without fruit. But I digress.
The batter for Cats’ Tongues comes together swiftly–it’s the shaping that takes some doing. The batter needs to be spread thin in on a sheet pan with an offset spatula or the back of a teaspoon, and precision counts to achieve even baking.
I found the easiest way to get some consistency in the size and impressive thinness of the cookies was to first pipe Hershey’s Kiss-size dabs of batter (or thereabouts–you can make them whatever size and shape you want) onto the baking sheet, then spread the batter into wafer-thin submission with a spoon and a little flick of the wrist. (Tip: if you use Silpat liners, it’s extra easy to scrape up your mistakes and re-form the cookies while you get the hang of it–as if I need to give you another reason to buy Silpat if you haven’t already).
When the cookies go into the oven to bake, watch them like a hawk. Once they begin to brown at the edges, the rest of the cookie will brown all over so quickly your head with snap back (sort of an exaggeration, but just watch them closely, okay?). Pull them from the oven and immediately begin delicately pulling the cookies from the sheet and forming them into some kind of interesting curved shape that appeals to you, twist them at both ends, or drape them over a wooden spoon handle or even the grates of your cooling rack.
If you make them really big, you can even drape the warm cookies over inverted custard cups or something similar, and form them into adorable edible vessels for serving a bowl of berries that even I might actually call dessert.
Adapted from The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
Watch the cookies carefully during baking after about the 6 minute mark. If you let the cookies get too brown all over before pulling them from the oven they won’t be as malleable; whereas if you pull them out a wee bit too soon, and you can’t form them all quickly enough before they start to cool and harden, you can pop them back into the oven for a moment without worrying about them over-browning.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking liners.
In a medium bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg whites, then fold in the flour. Beat in the salt, vanilla, almond extract and ginger until the batter is perfectly smooth.
Scrape the batter into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip or plastic food storage bag (snip the corner of the bag with scissors after filling). Pipe the batter onto the lined baking sheets into whatever portion size you desire. Spread the batter very thinly with a vertical swipe using the back of a teaspoon or a small offset spatula. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. While the cookies are still warm, twist and curve them into whimsical shapes before setting them on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
WARNING: If, like me, you are prone to becoming obsessed with a certain food and wanting to eat nothing but that food for many days on end, then this recipe is probably a very, very bad idea for you. Because really, it has been quite a while since I’ve come across something so addictive. It will dominate your thoughts and appetite until the only evidence of it having existed at all is a smattering of crumbs. And there you’ll stand, alone at the counter twinged with sadness, wondering where it all went and kind of not remembering that you are the one who ate it all. I give you Cookie Brittle.
Oh, you heard me right. It’s cookie. It’s brittle. It’s crunchy and sweet and a little bit salty with bits of chocolate and toasty nuts. It’s basically an entire pan of the crisp, brown-buttery, sugary edges of the very best chocolate chip cookie, aka The Best Part. I like cutting to the chase. I don’t have a lotta time to spare these days. And I certainly don’t have time to deal with Oprah-esque, Big Life Questions, like, was I really, truly living before I ate cookie brittle? I can’t be sure.
This recipe comes from a really charming cookbook called The American Country Inn Bed and Breakfast Cookbook, a collection of recipes from little B&Bs all across the country, organized by state. It’s actually a really fun read, with descriptions of each place followed by a few of the inns’ favorite recipes, and you really get an idea of the spirit of each place by the kinds of foods they offer to their guests. In the case of Cookie Brittle, our enabler/dealer is a someone named Kris associated with the Wine and Roses Country Inn in Lodi, California. And I am grateful to him/her for offering this recipe (even though the original calls for margarine). Because now I don’t have to travel all the way to Lodi to enjoy this cookie brittle–I can just make a batch of my own and eat the whole thing in the comfort of my dark closet right here at home.
You will be thrilled to learn that this gem of recipe comes together in minutes in a single bowl with a wooden spoon. Nudge it onto a sheet pan, bang it into the oven for a short bake and chain yourself to a large piece of furniture while you wait for it to cool completely (the magic is in the cooling so the brittle crisps evenly). It’s the perfect cookie recipe for lazy bakers. Broken up into cronch-y, no-napkin-required hunks and kept in a container on the counter, conditions are perfect for you to have absolutely no self-control while walking through your kitchen. I repeat, trying this recipe is a really bad idea.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle
Adapted from The American Country Inn Bed and Breakfast Cookbook, Vol. 2
Try a variety of chip and nut combinations in the mix–I love bittersweet chocolate chips and cashews, but I’m thinking throwing a few butterscotch chips or shredded coconut into the mix would also be fabulous.
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted roasted cashews
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao–I like Ghiradelli)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set a rack to the center position. Pour the melted butter into a large bowl, and stir in the vanilla. With a wooden spoon (or your hands, if your prefer), add the sugar, salt and flour and mix to combine–the mixture will be somewhat crumbly, like a moist pie dough. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Press the mixture in a thin, even layer onto an ungreased cookie sheet (use the chocolate chips as your guide–try to get them in as close to a single layer as possible throughout the dough, and you’ll have the right thickness). You may not fill the entire sheet with the dough–that’s okay.
Bake for 23-25 minutes, until light golden brown (the edges will be a bit darker than the center). Let cool completely before breaking into whatever sized pieces you desire. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Happy Fourth of July, dear readers! I hope this summer holiday finds you surrounded by fun people, cold beverages and lots of great food cooked outside somewhere sunny. Around here, we celebrated like true Americans–obscenely large bone-in ribeyes on the grill, a wild arugula salad and an addictive fresh corn casserole with a good dose of grated onion and freshly cracked black pepper from which we literally had to hold back Baby C so she wouldn’t eat the whole darn thing. It was really something. But whatever amazing savory dishes are on your picnic table, it’s really not the Fourth without some sort of red, white and blue dessert, am I right, people?
That sexy lady up there is a lush, dreamy panna cotta, and the result of my absolute favorite recipe for it. It shouldn’t surprise you given my past raves on the greatness that is Lynne Rossetto Kasper that it’s a riff on her Farmhouse Panna Cotta from her genius book How To Eat Supper. Her recipe brilliantly includes sour cream, which gives a much-needed sharpening to a dessert that can often be just a round sea of cream, leaving a funky coating on your tongue that keeps you from really tasting the dish past the first bite. This panna cotta is indeed rich but so lovely and balanced that you will not put down your spoon until you’ve scraped the plate clean.
Panna cotta is so simple to make, it’s absurd, with one of the highest pleasure-to-effort ratios known to man. It comes together in minutes on the stovetop, then you just whisk in the sour cream, pour it into cups and let it set up for a couple hours in the fridge and that’s that. I’ve made a batch of this panna cotta on a weeknight, letting it set up in coffee cups and devouring it straight, but it’s also a perfect canvas for some seasonal berries and a dessert sauce. I decided to dress up this panna cotta with a sort of berry coulis that I’d been brainstorming, using my beloved Lillet as a backdrop.
If you’ve never had it, Lillet is the kind of drink that transports you, in a way. A French aperitif (so maybe not the most American of choices for a Fourth dessert, but whatevs), it’s a fortified wine that has the body of a liqueur, making it a great lower-alcohol alternative for cocktails. If I could spend every day, all summer long drinking Lillet and soda with a twist of lime or orange, oooh…mama would be so happy. I would also be very drunk and an irresponsible parent. So I’ve started thinking about other ways to incorporate the fruity, flowery, slightly herbal quality of Lillet into a few desserts, and it worked like a charm in the strawberry coulis I made to accessorize the panna cotta.
While boiling down the Lillet to a syrup, I pureed a mess of fresh strawberries with a bit of sugar, strained out the pulp and seeds, and whisked the juice into the Lillet syrup. Refrigerated alongside the setting panna cotta, the coulis thickens slightly and tastes of strawberries on steroids. Unmold the set panna cotta onto a plate, bathe it in coulis and dress up the whole thing with some patriotic fruit. I think you’ll agree that this dessert deserves its own parade.
Feel free to experiment somewhat with the dairy in this recipe, making the finished dish as rich or as light as you’d like. I like this combination of heavy cream and milk, but have also had success with half and half, light sour cream and even buttermilk along with the cream. In any case, don’t go lowfat with every element of this recipe, or it will get weird and grainy and just not worth it–always aim for at least half cream in the stovetop part of this equation to get the lush quality that makes panna cotta so, oh, oh…
1 tablespoon cold water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk (lowfat is okay, but not skim)
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
1/2 cup Lillet Rouge
1 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 teaspoon sugar
Strawberries and blueberries, for serving
Place the water in a small cup. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let soften for five minutes. Into a medium saucepan over medium heat, gently warm the cream and milk with the sugar, salt and vanilla–do not let it boil. When the cream is very warm to the touch, remove it from the heat and whisk in the softened gelatin until dissolved. Let the cream mixture cool for five minutes.
Put the sour cream into a medium bowl or a large (4-cup) glass measuring cup. Whisk the warm cream mixture into the sour cream, a little at a time, until the panna cotta is smooth. Pour the panna cotta into four custard cups, ramekins or coffee cups. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.
To make the coulis, pour the Lillet into a small saucepan over high heat. Boil it down until it reduces to about two tablespoons of syrup. Pour into a small bowl, set a sieve over the bowl, and set aside. Puree the strawberries in a food processor with the sugar. Press the puree through the sieve into the Lillet syrup and whisk to blend. Refrigerate until ready to serve–coulis will thicken slightly while chilling.
Back when I was young and unafraid, I had the experience of a lifetime studying in Europe for a summer during college. It was the ultimate summer school–noisy pubs and boy chasing in England, sunbathing and karaoke at a dive bar with the Manchester United soccer (football, whatever) team in attendance in Malta (where did I put that photo of David Beckham and me, anyway?), lots of great chocolate in Germany and Austria. That sort of thing. And I think there may have been some schoolwork in there somewhere. Amazing what you can accomplish with a two-month-long hangover while a college student, really. Comes in second only to what a crazed mother of a 10-month-old can create when thinking of the days she was footloose and fancy-free. Like, say, working out a recipe for Nutella cupcakes.
The constant in my European summer, along with Boddingtons, was Nutella. It sustained Erin (she of Scotch-a-Roo lore) and I through the London portion of our trip, along with bread and Coke Light and a smartly-packed jar (her brillance, not mine) of American peanut butter. And to the delight of shoestring-budget college students like us, it seemed that you could find Nutella just about anywhere on the continent for dirt cheap. The hazelnut-chocolate combination is all over Europe in various forms, and is celebrated deliciously in the adorable Mozart Kuglen that I devoured by the dozen in Austria, making a huge dent in what was supposed to be a haul back to the states to gift to my family, who literally never really knew what they were missing.
The Supermodel Cupcake look doesn’t give away how simple, simple, simple this recipe is. The most difficult thing about it is toasting and peeling hazelnuts for garnish, which, if pressed for time, you could forgo altogether. But even that is pretty simple–just throw the hazelnuts into a baking pan and into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until toasty and fragrant, then let them cool completely before wrapping them in a little bunch in a dish towel and rubbing them in your hands like a bag of marbles–the peels will flake right off. Do a bunch at once and freeze the rest and you too can have peeled hazelnuts at a moment’s notice. The American dream, right?
To arrive at this gorgeous and delicious specimen of a cupcake, I had to really rework the aforementioned chocolate syrup cake recipe (chocolate syrup is fat free, Nutella is pretty much just sugar and fat), and I baked up a couple test batches before declaring number three the winner. The cakes are moist and somewhat dense, almost chewy, and come out of the oven with perfectly flat tops, which beg for a slick of ganache and end up having that gorgeous, streamlined European bake shop vibe.
Even better, these elegant lookers are perfect dinner party make-aheads–they taste so much better with a more pronounced hazelnut flavor the next day. I can’t recommend them enough, people. Have a glass of milk or a nice strong cup of coffee nearby, close your eyes, and pretend you’re at a little scrolly wrought iron table someplatz special.
Nutella Cupcakes with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache
The ganache in this recipe is my go-to ganache–it firms up nicely with a slight chew and a satiny sheen. The recipe also works with dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolates. After the ganache sets up, I highly recommend storing the cupcakes in an airtight container overnight before serving them–the flavors are so much better the day after they’re baked.
For the cupcakes:
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces Nutella
2 tablespoons whole milk
For the ganache:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao–I like Ghiradelli)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
Whisk together the flour and salt and set aside.
With an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat until well-blended. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and pale in color. Beat in the Nutella until well-incorporated, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl while beating. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. On low speed, beat in half the flour mixture just until it beings to disappear into the batter. Beat in the milk. Fold in the remainder of the flour mixture by hand until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the muffin cups, filling them no more than 1/2 full. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs–if in doubt, pull them from the oven a bit early–do not over bake. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, prepare the ganache. Place the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after each interval, until the mixture is shiny and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
When the cupcakes are completely cool, using a spoon, top each one with about two teaspoons of the ganache, and with the back of the spoon coax it as close to the edges as possible without letting it drip down the sides (or go on and let it drip…drippy chocolate is rarely a bad thing). Sprinkle on a bit of the chopped hazelnuts. Let the ganache set before storing in an airtight container at room temperature overnight–these cupcakes truly taste better the next day. But if you want to defy me and serve the cupcakes immediately, refrigerate them for about five minutes and the ganache will quickly set.
Shirley’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake has ended my search for the absolutely perfect yellow cake–sweet, tender and toothsome with a tight, velvety crumb, perfect for layer cakes and cupcakes alike. It’s a true food scientist’s cake recipe, so it took a few tries to wrap my brain around the recipe, but man, is it worth the details. Even though every time I’ve made this recipe, I’ve had to pull the pans from the oven in a panic a minute after putting them in because, really, it’s just not natural to “drop the pans from a height of four inches onto the countertop to knock out the air bubbles” before putting them into the oven (P.S.–if you forget to do this altogether, your cake will still be delicious, though pockmarked with air bubbles, so it’s more of a problem to neglect to do this with layer cakes, and a smaller problem with cupcakes). And the relatively small amount of butter in the recipe being offset by the folding in of whipped cream? I’m listening, Shirley.
My first attempt with this cake was a small 6-inch layer cake that had the husband and I closing our eyes and having a moment of silence upon the first tasting. Nom, nom, nom. It was really something.
The second time I used this recipe was to create cupcakes for a crowd of Southerners at a belated wedding reception and not-a-one purty little cake remained on the platter. And those people know cake.
And since I am a freakin’ American, I believe yellow cake belongs with a milk chocolate frosting. The end. So I tweaked Shirley’s Luscious Chocolate Icing a bit for my tastes, and really, truly, you will never find a more beautiful (and simple!) chocolate frosting. The chocolate is the true star here, there is no butter or confectioners’ sugar involved, and it doesn’t crust or run or do anything but just sit like a gorgeous chocolate pillow atop anything you put it on. I’ve spread it and piped it and swirled it on with a spoon and fallen in love all over again every time. I’ve found that as long as you use the right total weight of chocolate, the chocolates can be interchanged to give you exactly the right balance of bitterness and sweetness that you are looking for. So while I use mostly milk chocolate to pair it with a yellow cake, I might do a higher ratio of semi-sweet or bittersweet to milk chocolate for a deep chocolate cake or somesuch. Love.
Shirley Corriher’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake
The original recipe calls for a single standard 9-inch cake pan for this recipe, with the intention of slicing the one thick layer into two or three layers. But I’d use a springform pan for the higher side for that purpose, or just use two standard pans and adjust the baking time. Quarter the recipe for a 6-inch two layer cake. The rise on this cake can be pretty amazing, so be conservative with how full you fill your cake pans and/or cupcake liners–I stick to just about 2/3 full in both cases. Unless, you know, you like scraping molten cake batter off the floor of your oven. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Makes 2-3 9-inch cake layers or two dozen cupcakes
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup buttermilk, divided
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan or two (or three) 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray and dust them with flour, or line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners for cupcakes.
In a large measuring cup or similar vessel, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk and vanilla.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of your standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat in the butter, oil, and remaining buttermilk on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, then crank it up to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add one third of the egg mixture, and beat for about 20 seconds, and scrape the bowl again. Repeat two more times until all the egg mixture is incorporated and the batter is smooth.
In a cold bowl with cold beaters, whip the cream to just beyond soft peaks. Stir a quarter of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten it, then carefully fold in the remaining cream.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans (about 2/3 full for cupcakes). Drop the pans onto the counter from a height of about 4 inches to knock out air bubbles. Bake until the center of the cake springs back when touched and a toothpick comes out clean but moist–about 40 minutes for one thick layer, 25-30 minutes for individual layers, and 17-20 minutes for cupcakes (checking progress early and often). Do not overbake. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Shirley Corriher’s Luscious, Creamy Chocolate Icing
I adjust the proportions of milk and semi-sweet chocolates depending on the sweetness I’m after, and suspect dark and bittersweet chocolates added to the mix would work too. Chips or chopped bar chocolate work equally as well in this recipe.
Makes enough icing to frost and fill 1 9-inch 3-layer cake or 2 dozen cupcakes
12 ounces milk chocolate, chips or chopped
9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chips or chopped
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups sour cream
Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe vessel and microwave on 50% power for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after every interval, until smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, salt, vanilla and corn syrup. Stir in the sour cream until nearly smooth. Add the melted chocolate. Beat on low speed until very smooth–it will get stiffer as you go, so beat just until it’s a nice spreading consistency and don’t overbeat. Use generously.
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