Archives for category: Chocolate

Forget salt and pepper, garlic and lemon. The most successful seasoning for what we eat is a good pinch of nostalgia.

I could spend all day reading Nigel Slater. Correction: I have spent whole days reading Nigel Slater.

Slater is one of the best cooks writing today. His food is simple and straightforward, not unlike Jamie Oliver’s or Yotam Ottolenghi’s; it’s seasonally-driven, basic, and satisfies cravings you didn’t know you had. His writing has filled seven cookbooks and countless articles for The Guardian. His 2004 memoir, Toast: the story of a boy’s hunger, kept me up one night until I had no more pages to turn.

When Tender was published in the U.S. last year, combining the UK edition’s two volumes into one 600-page tome, I was eager to get my hands on it and smudge the pages with buttery fingers. Organized by ingredient (this seems to be a popular method in UK cookbooks), I stumbled upon the Beet chapter and not one, but two, cake recipes therein. This guy’s good.

Of course a cake that includes beets, melted dark chocolate, poppy seeds, and crème fraîche called to me, especially one that promised a molten lava center. I remember wanting to make this for my sister Hope’s birthday back in November but decided it was too risky. At last I’ve embarked on the project, during my own birthday week no less.

Turns out this chocolate cake is dreamy, silky, and not too sweet; the beets keep the cake moist without offering a beety flavor. Think carrots in a carrot cake, or zucchini in zucchini bread. The cake is served with tangy crème fraîche and poppy seeds, a playful take on the classic beet and sour cream flavor combination in eastern European cooking.

To serve, I thought of the china I keep in my cupboard that belonged to my father’s mother, my namesake, whom I never met. Reading Nigel Slater always makes me a little nostalgic, and the old, delicate china that once belonged to Mahala McLaughlin seemed like a fitting presentation.

Serve to friends. Serve with love. And you don’t have to tell anyone there are beets inside, unless, like me, they’re into that kind of thing.

Incredibly Moist Chocolate Beet Cake
From Nigel Slater, Tender

8 ounces (240 g) beets, unpeeled and rinsed (approx. 2 beets)
7 ounces (200 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c (60 ml) hot espresso
7 ounces (200 g) butter, room temp, cut into small cubes
1 cup (135 g) flour
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 heaping tsp baking powder
5 large eggs, separated, at room temp
1 cup (190 g) superfine, or caster, sugar

Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch (20 cm) springform cake pan, then line with a disc of parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

Cook the beets, whole and unpeeled, in boiling, unsalted water for 30 to 40 minutes, with the lid slightly askew. They’re done when a knife can easily pierce through the flesh. Drain and rinse in cold water. When cool, peel them, and pulse in a food processor until they’re a rough purée.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Do not stir. When the chocolate is just about all melted, turn off the heat, and add the hot espresso, stirring only once. Add the butter to the melted chocolate, pressing it into the chocolate but not stirring. Leave to soften.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Put your egg whites in a mixing bowl. Stir the egg yolks together by hand.

Working quickly but gently, stir the butter into the melted chocolate, and leave for a few minutes to cool, then stir in the egg yolks. Fold in the beet purée. Whisk the egg whites by hand or using a stand mixer until stiff, then fold the sugar into the egg whites. Fold the egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture, careful not to overmix. Fold in the flour and cocoa.

Transfer quickly to the prepared cake pan and put in the oven, turning the temperature down to 325 F (160 C). Bake for 40 minutes; the rim will just barely be separating from the edges and the center will still be a bit wobbly when gently shaken.

Let cool completely in the cake pan on a wire rack (it will sink a little in the center). Loosen around the edges with a butter knife after a half hour or so. Only remove the cake from its pan when it has cooled completely. Serve in thick slices with crème fraiche and poppy seeds. Grandmother’s china optional.

I try to get down here to Raleigh, North Carolina once a year to visit my mom, stepfather, and brother, as well as my sister in Durham. While typically that happens in October, this year I decided to come during the holidays. Today was a brisk but sunny December day. The photo above shows the tall pines near my mother’s house.

I arrived yesterday on a flight from LaGuardia and a few hours later was dining at Magnolia Grill on Ninth Street in Durham. Dream come true. I’ve long wanted to try Magnolia, ever since Gourmet magazine listed it #11 in its top fifty restaurants in America. Opened in 1986, it was one of the first market-driven restaurants in the country, focusing on seasonal, fresh ingredients with a slight Southern twist.

As luck would have it my sister started working there this fall so it was on the top of my to-do list for this weekend. We made an early reservation, arriving in the cold, pouring rain last night and tucking into some truly satisfying, warm comfort food. My sister’s fiance was with us, so among the three of us we were able to sample at least six dishes.

I had the farmer’s market salad: roasted butternut squash, peppers, Blue Lake beans, fennel, black kale, candycane red onions, arugula, hazelnuts, and ricotta salata. Blu had the red wine risotto with grilled chicken confit, roasted radicchio, pecorino romano, arugula, and sundried cranberry chutney in a walnut vinaigrette. We were joking that his dish would have definitely made a suitable entree rather than a first course. Emily, debating between the sorghum-glazed berkshire pork belly and the citrus-cured steelhead trout with cauliflower tabbouleh, went with the latter.

Our appetizers were so good we sat wide-eyed, mouths full, not saying anything, just poking our forks at each other’s plates and shaking our heads.

For the main course, I had the grilled New Bedford sea scallops in apple cider jus on butter-apple coulis with wild rice “risotto” with frisee, granny smith apples and roasted walnuts. I’m a big fan of wild rice and anything assembling risotto, not to mention the scallops of course, so this was the perfect dish for me. Blu had the grilled angus NY strip in balsamic jus with roasted fingerling potatoes and blue cheese. And Emily had what might have been all of our favorite dish of the night: grilled Eden Farm berkshire pork rib chop on creamed cabbage with apples, sage and bacon, and red wine lentils de puy. Right?

To top it all off we shared three desserts. We only ordered two but the kitchen sent one out on the house. Drum roll please… My favorite was the maple walnut date tart with maple bacon ice cream, everything, including the ice cream, made in house by Karen Barker, co-owner and head pastry chef. The ice cream was smoky and the tart sticky and gooey and with just a hint of the bacon’s richness. The eggnog creme brulee with pecan biscotti was enough to put me over the edge after an already full meal, but was still quite good. And the dessert on the house was gingerbread babycake with pumpkin caramel swirl ice cream. Divine inspiration.

To bed, to bed, and then morning and baking. As is Christmas tradition in my mom’s house, we made chocolate chip cookies this morning. We multiplied the recipe by three and made something like 150 cookies.

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes 4 dozen)

2 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c butter or margarine, room temperature
3/4 c sugar
3/4 brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
11 1/2 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Stir flour with the baking soda and salt and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with sugar and brown sugar on low spead until creamy and lightened in color. Add the eggs one at a time and continue to beat on low speed. Add the vanilla and mix until combined. Gradually add the dry mixture into the creamed mixture, then stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Drop a tablespoon of batter onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 9 to 11 minutes, until golden brown.

As the occasion called for, this Thanksgiving was one indulgence after another. Gumbo, dark chocolate devil’s food cake, pecan tart, cornbread stuffing, Misty Knoll turkey, pear-pistacchio pie, mince pie, curry butternut squash soup. See what I mean?

When we arrived in Vermont on Thursday more than a dusting of snow remained. The photo above is a view from my dad and Bonnie’s back porch out toward the pond.

Each year there is mild debate about which stuffing we will make: my dad’s thymey-sagey breadcrumb with apple and sausage stuffing or my stepmom’s cornbread with cranberry stuffing. I like both but suppose I have a slight preference for the latter since I adore cornbread, and this year that is in fact what we had.

A twenty-one-pound bird from Misty Knoll Farms in Vermont managed to feed the twenty guests we had over for our Thanksgiving dinner, held on Saturday and not Thursday. (Thursday is for traveling and gumbo!)

Bonnie’s sister-in-law is known for her pies and this year she outdid herself by making four: an apple, pumpkin, pear-pistachio, and mince, my grandmother’s favorite.

My sister Hope’s birthday falls on the 28th of November (like John Stewart’s) and so each year we celebrate around Thanksgiving and I usually make a birthday cake. Since chocolate is kind of her thing and dairy is not so much her thing, it usually ends up being some chocolatey dairy-free concoction. This year I was interested in trying David Lebovitz‘s Devil’s Food Cake; while not dairy-free per se, it seemed easy enough to substitute Earth Balance for the butter and soy milk or Lactaid for the milk.

In the end the cake was a hit but I encountered a few stumbling blocks along the way. For instance, the recipe called for lining the bottoms of the cake pans with parchment paper, but I had none. So I greased and floured them well instead. But when it came time to wiggle the baked cakes out of the pans to cool they put up a good fight and the cakes started to come apart. In general I found the cake to be crumbly and wondered if this was just the lack of parchment or the Earth Balance perhaps? And finally, while I love dark chocolate, I found the overall cake and ganache frosting too be a little too dark, a result of using only 70% bittersweet cocoa bars. The cake’s darkness was fine, but next time, I’d mix the bittersweet with some lighter semi-sweet chocolate bars for the ganache frosting. Not that I heard any complaints from the birthday girl.

Devil’s Food Cake
Adapted from David Lebovitz

For the cake:
9 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 c cake flour (not self-rising)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temp
1/2 c strong coffee (or water)
1/2 c whole or low-fat milk (soy also works)

For the ganache frosting:
5 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
5 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 c water (or cream)
3/4 c (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

1. Adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F.

2. Butter two 9″ x 2″ cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

3. Sift together the cocoa powder, cake flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.

4. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and incorporate.

5. Mix together the coffee and milk. Fold half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, then add the coffee and milk. Fold in the other half of the dry ingredients to combine, but do not over mix.

6. Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

7. To make the frosting, melt the chopped chocolate with the water (or cream) in a double boiler. Remove the bowl from the pot of water.

8. Cut the butter into small pieces and whisk them into the chocolate until completely melted and the ganache is smooth. Cool until spreadable, which may take up to an hour at room temp or a quick cooling (5-10 mins) in the fridge.

Frost the top of one layer of the cake and then place the other cake on top. Frost the tops and sides of the cake and serve the same day.

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