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.


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)


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.

Belgian Endive Tart
May 2, 2012, 12:01 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , ,

This tart is in the same family as quiche, but more exquisite.  Puff pastry is topped with caramelized Belgian endives, quiche-style egg custard, gruyere cheese, and parsley.  It was the main dish at my vegetarian cooking group’s Belgian meal this weekend.  Belgian endives are slightly bitter in a refreshing way.  When they are caramelized they are still slightly bitter, which is immensely pleasing and complex in combination with the buttery puff pastry and nutty gruyere cheese.

photo by Joel Weaver

I’ve adapted the recipe from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook by Ruth Van Waerebeek.  I’ve made the tart vegetarian by eliminating the ham, and have replaced the pie crust with a puff pastry crust, which makes it more special.  You can buy puff pastry in the frozen section of most grocery stores.

photo by Joyce Hiendarto


1 sheet puff pastry

2 tablespoon unsalted butter

4-5 Belgian endives

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

2 large eggs

1 cup half-and-half

freshly ground nutmeg

2 ounces Gruyere cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


Defrost the puff pastry for about an hour.

Cut off the core end of the endives.  Thinly slice them into slivers. 

Melt the butter in a large heave skillet.  Add endives, salt, pepper, and powdered sugar.  Sprinkle with the lemon juice.  Cook, covered, over medium heat until the endives are soft and slightly caramelized, about 30 minutes.  Stir from time to time to make sure they do not burn.

In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Then beat in the half-and-half.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a generous grating of nutmeg.

While the endives are caramelizing, you can pre-bake the puff pastry.  Your puff pastry will most likely come in a long rectangular shape.  If you are using a large round tart pan, you will need to use a rolling pin to roll the pastry into a square that will fit in the pan.  Place in the tart pan, and tuck the ends under the edges. 

photo by Joel Weaver

photo by Joel Weaver

 Pre-bake the puff pastry in a medium-heat oven for around 10 minutes, until it is starting to puff even in the middle a little.  If you won’t pre-bake the puff pastry, the custard will make it soggy.  Remove the puff pastry from the oven.  If the middle has puffed up, it will collapse a little when you pour the filling in.  You also might want to think about baking it with “weights.”  Arrange the caramelized endives over the bottom of the crust.  Pour the egg mixture over.  Grate the gruyere cheese, and sprinkle it over the egg mixture.  Top with the chopped parsley.

photo by Joel Weaver

photo by Joyce Hiendarto

Bake at 350F until the custard is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 18-25 minutes.

Let the tart set for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.  Cut into wedges and serve while still warm.  It is still wonderful at room temperature, if you are thinking of bringing it to a picnic.

photo by Joel Weaver

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.


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


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.

Sweet Potato Muffins
February 13, 2012, 12:43 pm
Filed under: breakfast, recipes | Tags: , ,

If you read my blog, you know that I love to bake out of Kim Boyce’s cookbook Good to the Grain, which uses whole grain flours in exquisite ways.  Every single thing I have baked from the book has been absolutely perfect.  This is a favorite muffin recipe, which uses leftover roasted sweet potatoes.  Half of the sweet potatoes are whipped into the batter, and the rest are stirred in at the end, leaving soft pockets of sweet potatoes in the muffins.  The first time I made this muffins, I was astonished at how light and fluffy they were.  I had expected muffins built on sweet potatoes, buttermilk, yogurt, and dates to be dense and heavy, but they are so light and delicate.  Kim Boyce knows how to coax magic out of her batters.

They’re simple to pull together for a weekend breakfast if you roast the sweet potatoes the day before.  To save energy, you could throw the sweet potatoes in the oven while you’re baking something else.

Alternatively, you could use this batter to make a coffee cake.  Butter a 9-10-inch square cake pan or loaf pan, and spread the batter into the pan.  Bake for about 35-40 minutes at 350F



2 sweet potatoes or one medium sweet potato (about 3/4 pound total)

1 cup whole-wheat flour (I used whole-wheat pastry flour)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used labneh)

6 large Medjool dates, pitted and finely chopped


Preheat the oven to 400F.  Roast the sweet potatoes for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on their size, until they’re tender when pierced with a fork.  The bottoms should be dark, even burnt-looking, and the juices beginning to caramelize.  Set aside to cool, then peel and leave whole.

Lower the oven heat to 350F.  Rub muffin tins with butter, or line them with muffin papers.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and yogurt.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the butter and 2 sugars.  Mix in high speed until they are light and creamy, about 3 minutes.  Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the egg and half of the sweet potatoes and mix on medium speed for about 1 minute, until thoroughly combined.  Again scrape down the sides of the bowl.

On low speed, so that the flour doesn’t go flying everywhere, add the dry ingredients and mix until partly combined.  Add the buttermilk mixture and mix until combined.  Add the chopped dates, separating them over the surface of the batter so they don’t clump together.  Add the remaining sweet potatoes and mix until barely combined.  There should be pockets of sweet potato in the batter.  Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Scoop the batter into 10-12 muffin cups, using a spoon or ice cream scoop.  To encourage even baking and allow each muffin enough room to have an individual dome top, fill alternate cups in a 24-cup tin, or use two 12-cup tins.  The batter should be slightly mounded above the edge.

Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350F.  Rotate the pans halfway through.  Take the tins out of the oven, twist each muffin and place it on its side in the cup to cool.  This ensures that the muffin stays crusty instead of getting soggy.

These muffins are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day.  They can also be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 days, or frozen and reheated.

Buckwheat Scones with Boozy Fig Jam
December 28, 2011, 3:30 pm
Filed under: breakfast, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

Honestly the best scones I’ve ever tasted, even better than Some Crust Bakery, I may venture.  I made these for a special breakfast on Christmas Eve morning.

These buckwheat scones are perfectly flaky and moist, with a richly fragrant aroma.  The buckwheat and fig flavors are complex and complementary.  The recipe comes from my favorite baking cookbook, Good to the Grain (which I have used for several of my favorite cookie recipes including whole wheat chocolate chip, cornmeal cranberry cookies, and whole wheat gingersnaps).

Because you roll the scones into swirls like cinnamon rolls, they take a little longer to prepare than regular scones.  However it’s entirely possible to roll them into logs the day before, and simply slice and bake them in the morning.

The homemade fig preserves also take a little while to cook, but you can prepare that sometime in the preceding month (as it keeps that long in the fridge).  The fig jam recipe makes double the amount required for the scones, so you can have extra on hand for spreading on anything and everything.  Alternatively you could double the scone recipe and use all of the fig jam at once.  The fig jam is boozy because of the addition of 1 cup of red wine and 1/2 cup of port.  It will make your kitchen smell incredible when it simmers on the stove.  The recipe calls for 12 ounces of dried Black Mission figs, which is coincidently the exact size of the packages of dried figs at Trader Joe’s.



1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

2 whole cloves

1 star anise

1 cup red wine

1/2 cup port

12 ounces dried Black Mission figs, stems removed

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened


To poach the figs, measure 1/4 cup water and the sugar into a small heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon, incorporating the sugar without splashing it up the sides, to avoid forming crystals.  Bring the mixture to a boil over a medium flame and cook for 7-10 minutes, until the syrup is amber-colored.

Add the red wine, port, figs, and cinnamon, standing back a bit, as the syrup is hot.  Don’t panic when the syrup hardens; this is the normal reaction when liquids are added to hot sugar.  Continue cooking the mixture over a medium flame for 2 minutes, until the sugar and wine blend.

Reduce the flame to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The figs will burble quietly as they are jostled together by the flame; they are ready when the wine has reduced by half.  Remove the pan from the stove and cool to room temperature.

Fish out the star anise and cloves.  Pour the cooled figs, with their liquid, into a food processor and puree until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the softened butter to the fig paste and process until smooth.  The fig butter can be spread right onto the buckwheat scone dough or stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.  If it is refrigerated, bring it to room temperature before using.


1 cup buckwheat flour

1  1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

1  1/4 cups heavy cream

1 cup boozy fig jam (recipe above)


Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Add the butter to the dry ingredients by either cutting the butter into 1/4-inch pieces, or freezing the butter and grating it into the flour using a cheese grater.  Rub the butter between your fingers, breaking it into smaller bits.  Continue rubbing until the butter is coarsely ground and feels like grains of rice.  The faster you do this, the more the butter will stay solid, which is important for the success of the recipe.

Add the cream and gently mix it into the flour with a spatula until the dough is just combined.

Use a pastry scraper or spatula to transfer the dough onto a well-floured surface.  It will be sticky, so flour your hands and pat the dough into a rectangle.  Grab a rolling pin and roll the dough into a rectangle that is 8-inches wide, 16-inches long, and 3/4 inch thick.  If at any time the dough rolls off into a different direction, use your hands to square the corners and pat it back into shape.  As you’re rolling, periodically run a pastry scraper or spatula underneath to loosen the dough, flour the surface, and continue rolling.  This keeps the dough from sticking.  Flour the top of the dough if the rolling pin in sticking.

Spread the fig jam over the dough.  Roll the long end of the dough up, patting the dough as you roll so that it forms a neat long 16 inches long.  Roll the finished log so that the seam is on the bottom and the weight of the roll seals the edge.

Use a sharp knife to slice the log in half.  Put the halves on a baking sheet or plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  (The dough can be kept covered, in the refrigerator, for 2 days).  While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

After 30 minutes, take both logs out of the refrigerator and cut each half into 6 equal pieces about 1  1/4 inches wide.

 Place each scone flat, with the spiral of the fig butter facing up, on the baking sheet, 6 to a sheet.  Give the scones a squeeze to shape them into rounds.

Bake for 30-42 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.  The scones are ready to come out when their undersides are golden brown.  

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


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).



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


zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup sugar


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.