December 24, 2009 § Leave a comment
I always have this idea that if I just had some time off, I would try out all those recipes I’ve been saving and bake up a storm of impressive concoctions. One impediment, though, is that I generally spend my vacations at various family members’ houses. Right now I’m visiting my dad, and while he’s a pretty accomplished cook, I don’t think anything has been baked in this house for the past decade or so. In practical terms, that means I don’t have my embarrassingly large collection of baking equipment and ingredients at hand, and need to stick to projects that are slightly more normal than what I may have had in mind.
Enter chocolate truffles. This recipe is the absolute simplest I’ve found for truffles. No tempering chocolate, no straining cream – only the essential steps, and the result is still decadent and luxuriously smooth. It does take a few hours of chilling time, but your work is incredibly minimal, aside from the necessary rolling (which takes me about 20 minutes, but I’m slow), and it calls for only four ingredients. The recipe is also a great base for any flavour additions you may have in mind: for example, my favourite variation is to roll the truffles in toasted chopped almonds, and you could also add a splash of your favourite liqueur to the ganache base. They also make great Christmas presents! Because they’re beautiful and delicious, and who doesn’t like chocolate? Okay, some people, but then keep the truffles for yourself and all is well.
The only note: these are easy to make, but the quality of the ingredients makes all the difference. Since a truffle is basically a chocolate vehicle, the chocolate you use is the main factor for the final taste. Get as high-quality as you’re willing to pay for – I used Callebaut, but Lindt would probably also be good.
Enjoy, and happy holidays!
Simplest Chocolate Truffles – adapted from Epicurious
Yield: about 30 truffles
- 2/3 cup whipping cream
- 12-ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped (or even easier, use chocolate chips, but make sure they’re good quality)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (or in this variation, 1/2 cup toasted almonds, finely chopped – for toasting instructions, see here)
Bring cream to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk in vanilla. Pour into medium bowl. Cover; chill until firm, about 3 hours.
Line baking sheet with waxed paper. Drop mixture by rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet. (If your drops are approximately spherical, this will make your life much, much easier in the next step. If they’re flat like in my picture, you might regret it.) Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes.
Place cocoa (or nuts) in a bowl. Roll truffles between hands into rounds. Roll truffles in cocoa (or nuts). Cover with plastic; chill until ready to serve. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Keep chilled.)
Note: An extra bonus to using nuts is that no one can tell if you failed dramatically at making your truffles spherical. Yay!
November 14, 2009 § 2 Comments
I had every intention of bringing an elaborate and impressive cake to my friend’s potluck. But suddenly it was 2 in the afternoon, I was still in my pajamas, and the grocery store seemed very far away. So instead I rummaged through my cabinets and cookbooks, looking for a recipe that I could make quickly and only used what I had on hand. Luckily, I always have pretty much everything baking-related, so it wasn’t too hard – the main obstacle was that I kept getting distracted by pictures of pretty cakes. But eventually I overcame my tiny attention span and settled on the Chocolate Party Cake from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.
The cake is a sour cream chocolate batter, baked in a Bundt pan and then brushed with cocoa syrup, making the crust shiny and nearly black. How does this stack up against my go-to chocolate bundt, the Chocolate Guinness Cake? Despite their mutual resemblance, they’re pretty different. This cake is lighter and fluffier, with a more distinct butter flavour. I think I still prefer the moist denseness of the Guinness cake, but this is definitely also a nice option. Also, the lack of frosting makes it easy to transport, and it serves a ton of people, so in some ways it’s the ideal potluck dessert – especially because you generally receive a warm welcome when showing up with a giant chocolate cake.
Chocolate Party Cake – adapted from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes
- 2/3 cup walnut halves
- 1 cup sour cream
- 3/4 cup sifted cocoa powder
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 cups sifted flour
- 1 1/4 cup sugar (this is approximate because I measured by weight: 8.7 ounces / 250 grams)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup sifted cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup boiling water (or more)
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a Bundt pan and coat with cocoa powder.
Toast walnuts for about 7 minutes. Pulse in food processor until medium fine, or finer if you don’t like the texture of nuts in your cake.
In a medium bowl, whisk sour cream, cocoa, eggs, and vanilla, until the consistency of slightly lumpy muffin batter.
In large bowl, mix walnuts, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and half the cocoa mixture. Beat on low until moistened, then raise speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes. Add the remaining cocoa mixture in two additions, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each one. Scrape batter into cake pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.
Shortly before the cake is done baking, make cocoa syrup: whisk together cocoa and sugar. Add a small amount of boiling water and mix until moistened. Add the rest of the boiling water. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, stirring often. Remove from heat, and add vanilla. Add water to equal 2/3 cup, and use while still hot.
When cake comes out of oven, pierce all over with skewer. Brush with one third of syrup. After 10 minutes, turn cake out of pan and brush all over with remaining syrup.
Note: to avoid my last Bundt cake’s pan-sticking disaster, I was really thorough about greasing and powdering the pan. Since there’s no ganache here to hide mistakes, I highly recommend similar obsessiveness to everyone.
October 15, 2009 § 11 Comments
I decided to finally take my last step into adulthood by having real grown-ups over, for a real dinner party. Frankly, I was surprised it took me so long – I’m well into my twenties, I love to feed people, so why don’t I host stylish and well-executed dinners? Then, five days before the event itself, I realized that I still don’t own any chairs. Thus illustrating one of the many reasons why I do not fall into the category of real grown-ups.
After briefly considering and discarding cardboard boxes as a valid seating option, I turned to Craigslist to save the day. My efforts were somewhat hampered by the fact that I also don’t own a car and can’t go anywhere far away, but eventually chairs were identified and secured, setting the stage for the perfect dinner party. And then I also bought a tablecloth! I am so very classy.
The most important thing though, was of course the food. I settled on what is probably the perfect dinner party dessert: a nearly flourless chocolate cake. It’s simple and stunning, but it’s also best if made a day ahead, saving the mad dash that occurs on the day of. Now, I wasn’t exactly organized to make this ahead of time, but it is theoretically possible. As for the recipe: I’m actually not generally a fan of flourless chocolate cakes, as they’re pretty intense, but this was definitely a good one. The single tablespoon of flour makes it less overwhelmingly dense, but it’s still rich and decadent. Plus, when my friend took his first bite, he started doing a little happy dance – generally a good sign.
Nearly Flourless Chocolate Cake – from Rachel Eats
- 200g butter
- 200g very good quality dark chocolate, chopped
- 250g granulated sugar
- 5 eggs
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8-inch round cake tin with baking parchment and butter the parchment.
In microwave, melt butter and chocolate. Let cool for a few minutes. Scrape the butter and chocolate into a larger bowl and stir in the sugar.
In separate small bowl, lightly beat one egg and then add it to the other ingredients and stir thoroughly. Again in the separate bowl beat another egg, add it to the mixture and stir in. Repeat until you have added all five eggs. Stir in the flour.
Scrape the mixture into the lined tin. Bake just until the top is dry and cracking, but the centre of the cake still wobbles slightly, about 25 minutes. Keep a close eye after 20 minutes and be careful not to overbake.
Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin, about 2 hours. Gently invert it on to a wire tray and then revert it on to the serving plate. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.
September 22, 2009 § 2 Comments
The process of moving into a new apartment is my least favourite thing in the world (with the possible exception of box-mix cakes). Cleaning, painting, and complaining have consumed much of my time recently. But now that things are shaping up, we decided to have a housewarming barbecue! Which provided an excellent opportunity to bake.
Somehow I reined in my normal impulse to make wildly impractical things, and focused on recipes that were simple, delicious, and feed a crowd. I did break the rule of never cooking a new recipe for guests – but it worked out so well! Chocolate stout cake is ridiculously moist, and it’s definitely going to be one of my new standby recipes. It’s a rich but not too rich, very chocolatey bundt cake, covered in puddles of smooth ganache. It stuck horribly to the pan, so be warned. But luckily, when you cover anything in chocolate and cream, it starts to look pretty again.
My blondies also made a repeat appearance, and the other concoction was my favourite cupcakes, in miniature form for added cuteness. A while back, I carried out a search for a simple vanilla cupcake that was moist and rich without being too sweet. Eventually I stumbled across this one from Amy Sedaris, and after a couple adaptations I stopped experimenting. They’re perfect. Make them!
Oh yeah, and my roommates made healthy food… sensible folk.
Honestly, I think all three of these recipes are pretty amazing. The housewarming was great, and all baked goods had vanished by the end of the night. I maybe shouldn’t trust the judgement of dozens of tipsy scientists, but I still chose to take that as a sign that everyone else agreed with my assessment.
Chocolate Stout Cake – adapted from Epicurious via Smitten Kitchen
- 1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2/3 cup sour cream
Ganache – adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 6 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips
- 6 tablespoons heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter or spray a bundt pan very, very well.
Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer cake to rack; cool completely in the pan, then turn cake out onto rack for drizzling ganache.
For the ganache, gently microwave the chocolate, heavy cream, and coffee until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Drizzle over the top of cooled cake.
Note: despite avid pan-buttering, my cake still stuck horribly. Next time I might try dusting it with cocoa powder as well. But if your cake does break, it’s still delicious!
Vanilla Cupcakes – Adapted from Amy Sedaris
Yield: 18 cupcakes or 45 mini-cupcakes
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 1/4 cups milk
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Beat butter until smooth. Pour in sugar and beat well. Add 2 eggs and vanilla and beat well. In a separate bowl, whisk together baking powder, salt, flour. Add dry ingredients and milk to egg mixture and beat until combined. Pour into individual baking cups, until they are about 2/3 full. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes for cupcakes, or around 12-15 for mini-cupcakes. Cool completely before frosting.
Note: Sometimes I burn these because I forget all my prior experience and wait for them to turn golden. Frequently these cupcakes are done before they brown, so a cake tester is the best bet.
- 1 cups (2 sticks) salted butter, room temperature
- 3 cups icing sugar
- 2 tablespoons whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar, then cream and vanilla.