keito potato


“Queen of Sheba” Chocolate Torte
July 28, 2012, 4:36 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , ,

A sophisticated, dark, complex, and almost-flourless chocolate cake.  It only has two tablespoons of flour!  This has become one of my favorite cakes, and I have requested it on several birthdays.  I’m moving to China in a few weeks, and since I won’t have an oven in my kitchen there, I’m reveling in the pleasures of baking right now (quiches, cakes, pizzas, roasted vegetables, etc).

The recipe comes from Alice Medrich’s cookbook called Bittersweet.  She is one of the foremost experts on chocolate, and this is a serious and foolproof cake.  This is a recipe that she has been honing and improving for about thirty years.  Over the years, her recipe has evolved to include darker chocolate, and a little less butter and flour.  There are a few extra steps  in the process, compared to a regular chocolate cake — like separating your eggs, and grinding some almonds in a food processor — but it is totally worth it.  Use whole almonds with the skins still on — when you grind them they will have more flavor than plain blanched almonds.  You’ll need an 8-inch spring-form pan.

“QUEEN OF SHEBA” CHOCOLATE TORTE

6 ounces bittersweet 66% to 70% chocolate, preferable coarsely chopped

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 tablespoons brandy

1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (2  1/2 ounces) unblanched whole almonds

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

METHOD

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375F.  Unless you are planning to serve the cake on the pan bottom, line the bottom of the springform pan with parchment paper.

Place the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl, sitting in a wide skillet of barely simmering water.  Stir occasionally until nearly melted.  Remove from the heat and stir until melted and smooth.  Stir in the brandy and almond extract (if using), and the salt.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, pulse the nuts and flour in a food processor until the mixture has the texture of cornmeal.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar until well blended.  Stir in the chocolate mixture.  Set aside.

In a clean dry bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted.  Gradually sprinkle in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat at high speed (or medium-high speed in a heavy-duty mixer) until the peaks are stiff but not dry.

Scoop one-quarter of the egg whites, and all of the nut mixture, on top of the chocolate batter, and, using a large rubber spatula, fold them in.  Scrape the remaining egg whites onto the batter and fold together.  Turn the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it level if necessary.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted about 1  1/2 inches from the edge emerges almost clean, but a toothpick inserted in the center is still moist and gooey.  Set the pan on a rack to cool.  (The cooled torte can be covered tightly with plastic wrap, or removed from the pan and wrapped well, and stored at room temperature up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

To serve, slide a thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake.  Remove the pan sides and transfer the cake, on the pan bottom, to a platter, or invert the cake onto a rack or tray, remove the paper liner, and invert it back onto a platter.  Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift a little powdered sugar over the top of the cake before serving, if desired.



Syrian Pistachio Ice Cream
April 1, 2012, 3:00 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: ,

I remember eating vanilla ice cream topped with pistachios in Damascus, in an old ice cream parlor with high ceilings and tiled walls near the Umayyad Mosque.  This pistachio ice cream recipe also comes from Syria, but has ground pistachios in the ice cream itself, instead of a topping.  Creme fraiche adds a touch of freshness and tanginess in the ice cream, instead of plain milk and cream.  You can find creme fraiche in most grocery dairy cases, even TJ’s.

I’ve adapted the recipe from Anissa Helou’s book Mediterranean Street Food, but have made two changes.   I have omitted the rose syrup because I think it tastes like cheap perfume.  I’ve also substituted brown sugar instead of white sugar for a deeper flavor.  I had a fantastic toasted-almond-brown-sugar ice cream in Jounieh, Lebanon that inspired me to pair pistachios with brown sugar as well.

 

SYRIAN PISTACHIO ICE CREAM

2   3/4 cups whole milk

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup pistachios (peeled if you have the patience)

1  1/2 cups creme fraiche

 

METHOD

Heat the milk and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.  Let cool.

Peel the pistachios.  Put the pistachios in a food processor and process until ground medium-fine.  Add the nuts and the creme fraiche to the milk mixture.  Stir to incorporate.  Pour into a tupperware container to chill fully.  Use an ice cream maker to finish, and follow the ice cream maker instructions.  

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can still make this.  Freeze the mixture completely in a tupperware container.  Pull it out of the freezer and use a large knife to chop the block into 1-inch squares.  Put the squares in a food processor or blender to break up the ice crystals.  Return to the tupperware to let it set.



Italian Walnut Cake
March 23, 2012, 3:16 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This is one of my favorite cakes in my Grandma’s regular rotation.  It’s a single-layer, round cake decorated with a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar.  The cake looks simple and spartan, but the flavors are bold and complex, with the fragrance of toasted walnuts, lemon zest, and rum.  When I asked Grandma Willa for the recipe on the phone, she told me the list of ingredients, then told me to dust it with powdered sugar when it comes out of the oven.  When I asked about the assembly process, she scolded me, “Don’t you know how to bake a cake?”  This is to say that it’s a pretty straight-forward and easy cake.

I have changed Grandma’s recipe by toasting the walnuts and adding salt.  Many old fashioned cake recipes omit salt, but I like a little salt in my dessert to bring out the rest of the flavors.

Also, I normally make the cake with whole-wheat pastry flour instead of white flour.  Both types of flours work beautifully, but the whole-wheat flour makes it a little more healthful.  This is a comparatively nutritious cake because it’s roughly half walnuts, with the batter essentially holding the cake together.

Serve with strong coffee, or small glass of limoncello or sherry.

ITALIAN WALNUT CAKE

2  1/2 cups walnuts

8 tablespoons butter

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons dark rum

2 packed teaspoons lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour, or all-purpose flour

1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4  –  1/2 teaspoon salt

METHOD

Toast the walnuts in the oven until fragrant.  Meanwhile prepare the cake batter.  

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a bowl with a hand  mixer).  Add the rum, lemon zest, vanilla, and egg. Beat to combine.  Add the flour, baking powder, and salt

When the walnuts come out of the oven, chop them fine.  Stir them into the cake batter.

Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.  Pour the batter in the pan, and bake at 350F for 40-60 minutes (depending on your oven).  The top will be golden brown, and an inserted toothpick will come out clean.  

Invert the cake onto a cake plate by placing the plate upside down on the cake in the pan, then quickly flipping it over.  The cake should easily slip onto the cake plate.  Dust with powdered sugar, using a sifter or strainer.



Chocolate and Rosemary Sorbet
August 3, 2011, 9:54 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

This is my very favorite sorbet!  The combination of rosemary with chocolate is haunting and earthy.  Because it’s a sorbet, it’s clean and icy (instead of creamy), making it perfect for summer evening.   This has been my “go-to” dessert for casual dinner parties for the past several summers, and I’ve so glad to finally share it here. 

The recipe comes from the fabulous cookbook Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry.  My cousin Phyllis turned me onto this cookbook 4 summers ago when I was visiting her in France.  This cookbook is a treasure for those who are looking for fragrant, spice-laden, and sensual versions Mediterranean-style dishes.  Some other favorite recipes are lavender-orange-almond cake, lemon-basil ice cream, and roasted sweet potatoes with marinated feta and olives.  The cookbook is organized in chapters according to the flavor profile (for instance lavender, rosemary, olives, honey, oranges, etc), which is a refreshing way to categorize dishes, rather than their course assignment.

This sorbet is dead-easy to make, especially if you have rosemary bushes growing around the house or neighborhood.  It simply consists of cocoa power, sugar, water, and rosemary.  If the idea of a chocolate sorbet sounds intriguing, but you don’t care for rosemary, I imagine you could experiment with infusing the chocolate syrup with other herbs and aromatics like spearmint, lavender, orange zest, cinnamon sticks, or ginger. 

CHOCOLATE AND ROSEMARY SORBET

2-4 sprigs rosemary (Diana suggests 2, but I usually use 4)

7 oz. superfine or granulated sugar

2  1/4 oz. cocoa powder

2  1/4 cups (18 fl oz) water

METHOD

Bruise the rosemary — just bash it with the back of a wooden spoon — and put it into a saucepan with the sugar, cocoa powder, and water.  Heat gently, stirring a little to help the cocoa and sugar to melt.  Bring the liquid up to the boil, and boil for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. 

Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool with the rosemary still in the chocolate syrup.  Once it has cooled off to room temperature, chill it in the fridge for about an hour.

Remove the rosemary sprigs, and churn the liquid in an ice cream machine.  If you don’t have an ice cream maker, still-freeze the mixture in a container in the freezer, and beat the mixture a few times during the freezing process.  That will break up the ice crystals sufficiently.

Serve the sorbet in pretty little bowls or goblets.  You might want to garnish it with a dollop of sweetened Greek yogurt and a handful of raspberries.



Great-Great-Aunt Tillie’s Date Cake
July 12, 2011, 8:22 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

Aunt Tillie was my grandpa Elvin’s aunt, and lived to age 102.  Her date cake recipe has been a family favorite over the decades.  It’s moist, wholesome, fragrant, and has an earthy spiciness. 

Medjool dates, toasted walnuts, lemon zest, buttermilk, cloves — what’s not to love?  I tend to prefer rustic, wholesome desserts, and this cake epitomizes my taste in baking.

This sheet cake is a snap to throw together, and has become a reliable go-to cake for potlucks and informal gatherings.  I have made the recipe my own by toasting the walnuts, adding lemon zest for the fragrance, and adding a bit of salt.  I like salt in my desserts, and I think a scant quarter-teaspoon brings out the other flavors.  This old-fashioned cake has an unusual (but not complicated) assembly process.  You start by crumbling flour, sugar, and butter in a bowl with your fingers.  You measure out and remove 1 cup of the crumbs, reserving this small portion to add later as the crumb topping of the cake.  The crumbs that remain in the mixing bowl create the foundation of the cake batter.

Great-Great-Aunt Tillie’s Date Cake

1 cup walnuts
2 1/4 cups flour (separated as 2 cups and 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 cup medjool dates
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 heaping teaspoon cloves
scant 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Method:

Butter and flour a 9 x 13-inch pan.  Heat the oven to 350 F.  While the oven is warming up, toss your walnuts into a small baking pan, and toast them.  They will toast in the oven while you are preparing the rest of the cake batter.

Combine 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, and butter in a medium mixing bowl.  Mix and crumble with your fingers.  This is a great activity for kids.  Remove 1 cup of this crumb-mixture, and reserve it for the topping.  The remaining crumbs in the mixing bowl will create the foundation for the cake batter.

Chop the medjool dates.  I like to use my big, heavy Chinese cleaver for this.

Remove the toasted walnuts from the oven, and chop them.  Add the dates and walnuts to the crumb mixture in the mixing bowl.

Add the buttermilk, egg, and lemon zest to the mixing bowl.  Stir to form a batter.

Sift in the remaining 1/4 cup flour, the baking powder, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, and salt.  Stir into the batter.

Pour the batter into the pan.  Sprinkle with the reserved 1-cup of crumbs.  Bake at 350F for 28-35 minutes.



Whole-Wheat Gingersnaps
December 21, 2010, 8:37 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , ,

A new favorite Christmas cookie from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain.  When arranged on a holiday cookie tray, the decorated orange-cardamom star cookies might draw more visual attention, but these little ginger cookies are generating more comments among friends and family because of their assertive ginger flavor.

 

My only alteration of Kim Boyce’s recipe is in the finish.  Instead of rolling the balls of dough in plain sugar, I use my mom’s trick of rolling cookies in orange-sugar instead.  To make orange-sugar, simply combine orange zest with sugar in a food processor, and pulse to combine.  Using this method, you can make all sorts of interesting sugars in the future (like sugar cookies rolled in lime-zest-sugar).

 

WHOLE-WHEAT GINGERSNAPS

Butter for the baking sheets

Wet Mix:

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsulphured (not blackstrap) molasses
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger, from about a 2-1/2 inch piece
1 egg

Dry Mix:

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Orange-Sugar:

zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup sugar


METHOD:

1. In a large bowl, mix together the melted butter, sugars, molasses, ginger, and egg.  Sift the dry ingredients over the butter-sugar mixture, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.  Stir to form a batter.

2. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight for the flavors to marry.

3.  Position 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350F.  Rub 2 baking sheets lightly with butter.

4.  Make the orange-sugar by combining the orange zest and sugar in a food processor.  Pulse until combined and fragrant.  Place the orange-sugar in a shallow bowl.


5. Pluck out balls of dough about 1-tablespoon in size.  Roll them into balls, then toss them into the orange-sugar to coat.  Place the balls on the baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between them.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  The balls that don’t fit on this round of baking can be chilled until the oven is available for the next round of baking.

6.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through (top to bottom and front to back), until the color is dark and even all the way across the cookie.  Remove from the oven, slide a thin spatula under each of them, and transfer to a baking rack.




Orange-Cardamom Star Cookies
December 21, 2010, 8:12 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , ,

On a rainy day I found myself baking Scandinavian Christmas cookies with my little nieces.  When you’re looking for a cookie to roll out and stamp with cookie cutters, I would recommend these stars.  They are more fragrant and flavorful than most roll-out cookies, packed with orange zest, cardamom, and molasses.  Cardamom is ever-so-prevalent in Scandinavian baking, and the orange zest adds a perfect seasonal brightness.  My nieces wanted to lean over the bowl to smell the dough again and again, enchanted with the complex fragrance.


The cookie is adapted from a recipe in Diana Henry’s cookbook Roast Figs Sugar Snow, a terrific cookbook of winter foods.  I made these twice in the past week, and have made 2 alterations.  I added a few extra tablespoons of milk to her recipe because I found her dough to be so crumbly that it wouldn’t pull together.  My other alteration is the addition of salt in the second batch — just a scant quarter teaspoon makes a difference.  I generally prefer a bit of salt in my desserts.

I left the first batch plain without decoration, but my nieces wanted to decorate the second batch with frosting and sprinkles.  Apparently these cookies are typically frosted all over Scandinavia, except for Sweden where they are left plain.  We spread the icing smoothly across the cookies and tossed on sprinkles and colored sugar.  You might choose instead to drizzle the icing with the tines of a fork, or pipe it with a piping set.


ORANGE-CARDAMOM STAR COOKIES


1/4 Cup butter (1/2 stick)

1/3 Cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons of milk (Ms. Henry calls for 2, but 4 worked better for me)

1 tablespoon molasses

2 Cups flour

scant teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (zest of one orange)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda


To Decorate (optional):

1 egg white

squeeze of 1 lemon

enough powdered sugar to make a stiff paste


METHOD:

1. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer.  Add the milk and molasses and blend until smooth.

2. Stir in all the other ingredients and bring together into a ball.

3. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or at least 2 hours).

4. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thick.  Stamp out the cookies with a star-shaped cookie cutter and place them on a baking sheet.  (They will not expand much, so you can place them close together on the baking sheet).


5. Bake the cookies for 7-8 minutes at 350F.  Leave to cool on a wire rack.

6. To decorate, mix the egg white with a squeeze of lemon juice.  Add enough sifted powdered sugar to make a firm paste.  Either decorate by drizzling lines with the tines of a fork, use a piping set for a fancy design, or spread the icing across and top with sprinkles or colored sugar.