Flourless Chocolate-Prune Cake

I came across the idea for this recipe quite by accident on David Lebovitz’s website. I am always a sucker for a flourless chocolate cake and, being intrigued by the notion of a reduced amount of processed sugar in exchange for the natural sugar of the prunes, I decided to give it a try.  I used the chocolate that I had in the house, some “dark” chocolate from Callebaut (about 7 ounces) and some bittersweet chocolate from Scharffen Berger for the balance.

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Although the original recipe called for the prunes to be chopped finely before being plumped in the rum, I chose to cook the prunes whole in the rum and then purée the cooked prunes and remaining rum juice with an immersion blender. In large measure this was because my household includes a rather fussy eight year old that doesn’t like finding chunks of anything but chocolate in his chocolate cake but I also had a sense that I would prefer the prunes to be more subtle ingredient in the cake.

By accident, I only put in half the butter (6 tablespoons as opposed to 12) called for in the original recipe but fortunately it still produced an acceptable result. My changes resulted in an almost mousse-like texture that I really enjoyed.

The cake is very moist, which makes for a challenge when trying to obtain clean cut slices. By dipping the knife in very hot water and then wiping it between each cut, you can get very good looking slices. I served the cake with unsweetened whipped cream. If I had it on hand, I would love it with creme fraiche.

For the prunes:

6 ounces (170g) pitted prunes

1/3 cup ( 80 ml) rum, or another liquor that appeals to you

1 tablespoon sugar

For the cake:

12 ounces (340g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate coarsely chopped

6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 170g) unsalted butter, cubed

6  large eggs separated

large pinch of salt

3 tablespoons sugar

Additional soft butter and flour, or cocoa powder, for preparing the pan

Preheat the oven to 325ºF (165ºC).

Simmer the prunes with the rum and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small saucepan for a few minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand until cool.

Butter a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan. Dust the inside with flour or cocoa powder, and tap out any excess. I prefer to use cocoa for this.

In a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the puréed prunes.

Gently beat the egg yolks and stir into the chocolate mixture.

In a separate bowl, or using a stand mixer, whip the egg whites with the salt until they begin to hold soft peaks. Continue whipping, adding the 3 tablespoons of sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until the whites hold their shape when you lift the whip.

Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture thoroughly, then gently fold in the remainder a third at a time  just until no streaks of whites are visible. Don’t overfold.

Bake the cake for up to 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake feels set close to the edges of the pan but the center is still rather soft to the touch and moist-looking. Mine took only half an hour to reach this stage, so keep a close eye on it!

Allow to cool. Run a thin knife around the cake to loosen it from the pan and remove the ring of the springform. The cake will keep for a couple of days, or if carefully wrapped it is suggested that it can be kept for up to 2 months in the freezer. (I can’t imagine getting it off the springform base intact to wrap it.)

Guinness Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze

This is one of my favourite cakes to make for a grown-up birthday or celebration. It is delicious and sophisticated without all the fuss of icing a cake. What’s even more helpful about it is that, with the benefit of a dense crumb, it cuts well making it easy to serve.

I don’t have a bundt pan, so I use a deep round pan which poses some challenges: I have to cook the cake at 300F for a much longer time period which seems different each time I make it. I also never have the luxury of letting the cake rest for a day before glazing it as suggested in the recipe. What I find works just as well is to make the cake the day before it is needed and glaze it that same day, then allowing it to rest overnight in a cool spot. Consequently, it is ready for me to take into the office the next morning and the chocolate flavour has had the time it needs to develop.

I’ve seen similar recipes from a variety of sources but this is taken from The Hungry Housewife.

Guinness Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze DSC_0013

Cake

1 c. Guinness Stout

1 c. butter

¾ c. unsweetened cocoa powder plus a little for dusting the pan

2 c. all-purpose flour

2 c. sugar

½ tbsp.. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

2 large eggs

¾ c. sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Butter a bundt pan (I use a deep cake pan but it takes about twice as long to cook at I do so at 300 F). Sprinkle some cocoa powder in the pan, hold it over a sink, and turn and tilt the pan to distribute the flour evenly. Then invert the pan and tap out the excess cocoa.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the Guinness and butter to a light boil, add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.

In another bowl beat together the eggs, sour cream and vanilla.

Add the butter/Guinness mixture to the sour cream mixture and beat until just incorporated. Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Then using a rubber spatula, lightly fold the batter to make sure there are no pockets of flour. Pour into bundt pan.

Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with only a few crumbs.

Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes.

Salted Caramel Glaze

5 tbsp. butter

½ c. packed dark brown sugar

⅓ c. heavy cream

pinch sea salt

¼ tsp. vanilla extract

⅔ c. powdered sugar,sifted

Pinch of Fleur de Sel (if desired)

In a medium saucepan, bring the butter, dark brown sugar, heavy cream and salt to a rolling boil. Boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract. Add about ½ cup of the powdered sugar and whisk until smooth. Continue to whisk in powdered sugar by the tablespoon until you reach your desired consistency.

Place on a cake plate and pour the salted caramel glaze over the top.

If desired, sprinkle Fleur de Sel over the glaze.

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Cranberry Orange Scones

You may have noticed that I am a big fan of scones. A dear friend and I came across this recipe on the blog The Pioneer Woman and have been wanting to make it ever since, but time has not been on our side. After telling my mother about the recipe, she made it on a recent morning to share with my classmates. It was a huge hit and I became more determined to make it myself and share it here. It is easy to put together. The glaze really takes these scones above and beyond your everyday scone. For a larger group, you can make 2 small rounds, still cutting each into 8 equal portions or simply double the recipe.

I wasn’t able to find white whole wheat flour anywhere, so I just used an organic whole wheat flour. I also used salted butter because that was what I had. The result was still delicious.

 

Cranberry Orange Scones - A Pat & A Pinch

The Scones

1/2 cup chilled unsalted Butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

zest of 2 large oranges

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 large egg, lightly beaten

2/3 cup dried cranberries

The Glaze

1 1/4 to 2 cups icing or powdered sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

zest of 1 large orange

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

The Scones

Preheat oven to 425°F (400°F if using a convection oven). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, and orange zest, breaking up any clumps of zest.

Mix together the buttermilk, orange juice, vanilla, and egg in a 2 cup measure or a small bowl. Set aside.

Cut the chilled butter into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes. With a rigid pastry blender or two knives, cut in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized pieces. Add the cranberries and mix in, breaking up any clumps of the cranberries. Make a well in the center, and then add the liquid ingredients. Stir just until combined, taking care to not over mix. Try to work quickly so that the butter in the dough stays as cold as possible. If the dough gets too warm, the scones will lose their shape more easily in the oven and have a more relaxed appearance with less defined edges.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Working quickly, gently fold the dough on itself pressing it together to incorporate any dry bits that are not holding together. Do not over work the dough. Just make sure it is holding together nicely. Shape the dough into a 7-inch diameter circle and cut into 8 wedges. Transfer the wedges to the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the scones are puffed and golden brown, about 10- 14 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven and let the scones sit on it for a minute before removing to a wire rack to cool.

The Glaze

While the scones are still slightly warm, prepare the glaze. Combine the juice, zest,vanilla and nutmeg in a small bowl. Begin to whisk in the sugar 1/4 cup at a time to achieve a smooth consistency that you will be able to drizzle over the scones, but which is not too runny. Although the original recipe specified 2 cups of sugar, I stopped at 1 1/4 cups of sugar and it worked perfectly. If your glaze is suddenly too stiff, whisk in another teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice. Drizzle as much of the glaze as you desire over the scones. Allow the glaze to set completely, then serve and enjoy!

Ginger, Hazelnut and Blackberry Biscuits with Fennel Sugar

There is nothing like a good biscuit or scone. When I came across this recipe on the blog Twig Studios, I was intrigued.  It brings together so many flavours that I love; blackberries, ginger, lemon and fennel. The result was fantastic – with a nice texture these biscuits are nutty, sweet, and savoury at the same time. Spread with a little butter, they are even better!

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The recipe is much more complex that the buttermilk biscuits that I usually make in both in the number of ingredients and the method, but the good news is that it works. To make the fennel sugar, you have to plan in advance. Combine about one teaspoon of fennel seeds in a jar of sugar to infuse the flavour for about two weeks prior to making the recipe. If you don’t have the patience to do this in advance, just break up the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle, combine with the sugar, and move on.

I made some adjustments increasing the amount of both blackberries and candied ginger, and found that I needed more buttermilk than the original recipe suggested to get the dough to come together.

This recipe made a dozen generous biscuits.  I’d suggest cutting it in half if you don’t anticipate being able to use them all the same day that they are made – they are very filling and so much better fresh!

Gingered Fennel, Hazelnut and Blackberry Biscuits

1/2 cup 115g cold unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups 150g old fashioned rolled oats plus more for garnish

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup ground flaxseed

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp fine grain turbinado or granulated sugar with 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (see comment above).

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup chopped unblanched hazelnuts with their skins plus more sliced for garnish

6 ounces  blackberries

grated zest of one lemon

about 1 cup plus 6 tbsp shaken buttermilk

5 tbsp chopped candied ginger

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line baking sheets with baking paper or silpats.

Cut the butter into small cubes and place on a plate in the freezer.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade grind 3/4 cup of the oats until it is a fine meal, then add the flour and ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup of the fenneled sugar, baking powder and soda and salt and pulse a few times to combine. Add the remaining 3/4 cup 75g rolled oats, the hazelnuts and cubed butter pulsing and additional 7 to 9 times or until the butter pieces are pea sized.

Turn the mixture into a large bowl and add the lemon, ginger, and blackberries tossing gently to mix. Then pour in half the buttermilk and, using a bowl scraper or a spatula, gently mix the mixture adding enough buttermilk until a rough ragged dough comes together (you may not need all of the buttermilk). Hold back just enough of the buttermilk to brush the tops of the biscuits later.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a flat rectangle about one inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut into triangles or squares. Brush the tops with the remains of the buttermilk and sprinkle over the remaining tablespoon of fenneled sugar, oats and sliced hazelnuts

Bake for about 20 minutes until evenly browned.

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Traditional English Trifle

I made this decadent dessert for a recent Christmas party. It’s a very grown up desert with the wonderful advantage that it can be made well ahead of time.

A Pat & A Pinch - Traditional English Trifle

The recipe is from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. Although it calls for a Sara Lee Pound cake, which can be found in the freezer section of almost and U.S. grocery store, any fine crumbed pound cake will do the job. I used the pound cake recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible and made my own.

I baked the pound cake several days before assembly and prepared the custard the day before assembly. The trifle was assembled the day before the party and refrigerated.

1 Sara Lee pound cake (10 3/4 ounces), thawed or any fine crumbed pound cake

1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam

1 cup coarsely broken Amaretti cookies

1 cup Marsala wine

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

3 egg yolks

2 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups heavy or whipping cream, cold

3 tablespoons icing or confectioners’  sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup toasted almonds

fresh strawberries or raspberries for garnish

A Pat & A Pinch - Traditional English Trifle

Cut the cake into 1/4 inch slices and spread flat on a surface to dry for several hours. Spread a thin layer of the jam on half of the slices. Top with the remaining cake slices. Cut the cake sandwiches into 1 inch cubes and scatter in a large glass bowl.

Add the amaretti crumbs and toss together. Sprinkle with the Marsala and toss to coat.

Whisk the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks together in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the milk in a thin, steady stream. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until thickened to the consistency of a custard. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap directly touching the custard, so as to avoid the custard developing a skin. Let cool completely. Refrigerate until assembly.

Pour the cooled custard over the cake mixture.

Whip the cream in a chilled bowl until soft peaks form. Beat in the icing sugar and almond extract continuing to beat until stiff. Spoon or pipe  the cream mixture over the trifle. Arrange the fresh berries to your liking, and scatter the almonds over the top. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to serve, up to 3 days.

Rugelach

A Pat & A Pinch - RugelachI first experienced rugelach when a child living in Princeton NJ. My parents used to buy them at the local grocery store, Davidson’s (which sadly closed in 1997). My mother doesn’t eat walnuts which are frequently in rugelach fillings, but Davidson’s had a version with hazelnuts and raspberry jam that she loved. I thought it would be a good idea to replicate them.

For the pastry, I went to the excellent blog Smitten Kitchen, which offers a pragmatic approach to rugelach pastry and favours a simple log sliced into bite size morsels and other log variations. However, I still prefer the traditional crescent rolls to the sliced logs. The filling is my own concoction.

If hazelnuts and raspberry aren’t your ideal of a rugelach filling, the world is your oyster. There are many sweet filling choices and I’ve seen some interesting suggestions for savoury rugelach fillings.

One of the great things about rugelach is that they can be made in stages. The pastry can be made several days ahead of assembly and the rolled cookie can be chilled for a day or frozen (before applying the egg finish) for up to a week before baking.  They are best eaten in the first few days after baking, so freezing some of the unbaked ones is a good idea if you want them at their best. It is easiest to freeze the log version, but the crescents can also be frozen.

Rugelach

Dough

2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

1/2 pound (225 grams) unsalted butter

1/2 pound (1 8-ounce or 225-gram package) cream cheese

Filling

1 jar seedless raspberry jam (you won’t use the whole jar)

1 cup hazelnuts, blanched and roasted and chopped very finely

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Finish

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water or milk

Turbinado or white sugar

Make the dough:

Place flour and salt in a food processor bowl fitted with standard blade. Pulse to combine. Add cream cheese, chopped into large chunks, and run machine until it’s fully dispersed into the flour. Add butter in large chunks and run machine just until dough starts to clump. Dump out onto a clean counter or cutting board and form into four flattish discs. Wrap each disc with plastic wrap.

Chill dough until totally firm — about 2 hours in the fridge you can hasten this along in the freezer for about 30 minutes. (Dough keeps in fridge for up to a week, and in freezer much longer.)

Assemble the rugelach:

Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and hazelnuts together.

On a well-floured counter or board , roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. If the dough has been in the fridge for a while, it might be quite firm but will soften quickly. The dough is sticky so you will need lots of flour on the rolling pin.  I flipped my dough regularly to ensure that it was not sticking.

Leaving a 1/2 inch circle in the centre of the pastry clear, spread the circle with a thin layer of raspberry jam. Leaving this small circle at the centre clear of filling will make it easier to get the pastry to stick to itself when rolled.

Sprinkle 1/4 of the filling mixture evenly across the jammy surface. Lightly press the filling into the dough.

Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the circle into 12 equal wedges by cutting the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge gently pressing the point into the rolled dough so that it won’t peel back when baking. (For the log version, see the Smitten Kitchen link above.) Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Chill for 30 minutes.

Baking the rugelach:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush each cookie with the egg mixture. Sprinkle the cookies lightly with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

A Pat & A Pinch - Rugelach