Friday, February 27, 2015

Melissa's Chocolate Almond Birthday Cake

I'm really good at birthdays. Like, really good. I remember my friends' birthdays, their kids' birthdays and even some of their parents' and spouses' birthdays. I send gifts, sometimes even thoughtful ones. And I love nothing more than to bake a good birthday cake.

And yet, I was looking at the calendar last week and realized that I had missed my own blogging birthday. My first lemon pound cake post landed here February 17, 2014 and got probably 4 views. To those of you who've been with me from the beginning (Mom and Dad), THANK YOU. To those of you who just found me, THANK YOU, too! Blogging has given me a creative outlet and a way to share something that I love with this little world. It has kept me going during some long, lonely weeks when we were new in San Diego and I was still making friends. It's given me a place to track my life through the goods that I bake. We've met Olive and her mom Leigh. I've talked a lot about Stacy. My dad has made an appearance or two. Family, friends and good times have been shared here. Before this starts sounding like my epilogue, let me tell you about this cake.
THIS CAKE, Melissa would write in all caps. And, she would be right. Melissa from Julia's Book Bag makes this gorgeous chocolate almond cake for herself for her January birthday so I thought I'd make it for mine! Well, my blogging birthday, anyway. (THANK YOU, Melissa. Big hugs!) Random fact about Melissa: she grew up on Maui with my daughter's godmother Tatsinda and the first time I met this fabulous blogger was when she was a Laura-Ashley-wearing (complete with matching headband. Dark hair + creamy-Snow-White skin + ruffles + flower prints = just divine) college freshman. And now she's an attorney blogger photographer kick ass mom. I'm pretty sure Melissa rules Washington state. Ooh, Melissa, you should be Mayor! Or Governor! Or Senator!

Back to the cake. Almond cake is a classic Italian dessert which turned out to be fortuitous for me as I happened to be last minute hostess of family dinner this week. In attendance we had 2 D'Amicos and 5 Stabiles (that's Stah'-bee-lay in the old country) and only one of us (Irish heathen that I am!) married into the Italian bloodline: everyone else created it. Sometimes called Nonna Cake for the Italian grandmothers who must have originated almond cake recipes like this one, this is a dense and different dessert. I added almond and vanilla extracts to the recipe Melissa uses and I'd do it again. It's small-ish size does not reflect its larger-than-life taste. Marzipanian with a dark chocolate twist, this cake is a delicious marriage of deep flavors with a satisfying almond-mealy texture. We served it with ice cream, but I heartily recommend a brandy- or almond-flavored dollop of whipped cream instead.
Any way you slice it, this has been a fantastic, surprising year and I am fortunate beyond measure to share my baking world with you all. Thank you for reading, commenting (when the functionality works) and supporting me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I heart you.

Truly, madly, deeply yours,


Melissa's Chocolate Almond Birthday Cake
6 oz. Ghirardelli Double Chocolate chips chocolate
12 T unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 C sugar
4 eggs, separated
1/3 C ground almonds or almond flour (Melissa uses this kind of almond flour, so I did, too)
1/3 C all-purpose flour
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t almond extract

4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
3 T butter
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C plus 2 T heavy cream

Make the cake
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter and flour on 9-inch cake pan or spring form pan.
3. Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool.
4. Whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks and set them in the fridge.
5. Cream the butter with the sugar and then add the egg yolks one by one until thoroughly mixed in, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.
6. Add the extracts and the melted chocolate.
7. Add the almond and all-purpose flours.
8. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the mixture until it all comes together.
9. Pour your batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes until center of cake springs back when touched but still appears moist.
10. Cool the cake for 2 hours or up to overnight before icing it.

Make the icing:
1. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan over low heat, whisking fairly regularly until melted. Set aside until the cake is cooled.
2. When the cake is cool, steadily pour the icing over top of the cake and spread gently, just until the icing flows over the sides of the cake. It should continue to flow down the sides a bit - sort of like lava.

Let the cake set and slice into slivers. Eat slowly and savor. Mmmm. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mousse au Chocolat

Bonjour! C'est moi, Allison. Et, je parle le Francais aujourd hui. Kidding!

It's Valentine's Week and everything is all chocolate and red and French in the world and I may be a wee bit over-caffeinated overexcited.

J'adore Valentine's Day. Not because my husband and I celebrate it, per se, but because the red & pink, the chocolate, the HEARTS! It all makes me feel so light and happy. Ooh, what else is light and happy? Chocolate Mousse!

This dessert was all the rage in the late 1970s and early 80s. What happened? It's so lovely and light, so rich and distinct. I'm not sure how mousse became a cake filling and not a stand alone dessert. My mom made it for dinner parties when I was younger and I recall how decadent and exciting it was as she spooned it into champagne glasses or poured it into our casserole dish. Mom always made mousse the proper way - with eggs - but I went another direction. Classic chocolate mousse is made with frothy, gorgeous egg whites and sometimes cooked yolks. More often than not, the eggs are not cooked at all (oh! There's my answer! Now that the US is all litiginous, we don't serve raw eggs.). Anyhoo, I decided to make a truly creamy version and here it is.

Certainly you can use this as a filling (chill for 30 minutes before spreading on cake layers and then chill after you frost your crumb layer to help the cake set up), but it is so nice all on its own. A little bourbon whipped cream (recipe below) topped it nicely, but so could crushed chocolate wafers or chocolate curls. Or raspberries. Or cherries. Oh, I could wax on and on. Just make this one, you Fancy Lovelies!

Happy Valentine's Day!



Chocolate Mousse
Serves 6
2 C heavy whipping cream
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits
1 t vanilla
1/4 t sea salt

Whip 1-1/2 cups of the cream until just holding the form of your beaters - it should be a bit soft and pillowy. Set aside.

Bring 1/2 cup of the cream just to a boil on the stove top and immediately whisk in the bittersweet chocolate. Stir in the vanilla and sea salt. Let sit about 5 minutes to cool.

Working with your mixer on low, add the chocolate mixture into the whipped cream a little bit at a time (in 3 scoops). Divide your mousse into 6 cups or champagne flutes (you can use a piping bag) and refrigerate about an hour before serving. The longer the mousse is in the fridge, the firmer it will be on your spoon. Dollop a tiny spoonful of bourbon whipped cream and enjoy!

Bourbon Whipped Cream
1 C heavy whipping cream
2 T good-quality bourbon (I used Russell's reserve)
1-1/2 T brown sugar
1 t vanilla

Beat the cream, bourbon, sugar and vanilla at high speed until soft peaks form in the cream. Chill or serve immediately.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Molten Chocolate Cake (gf)

While some of us think of  St. Valentine's Day as a Hallmark Holiday, it's not actually devoid of history. Some records count eleven different saints named Valentine: one of them a Palestinian woman. It seems the saint we celebrate with cupids and arrows was put to death on 14th February, 3rd Century AD for marrying Christians to each other and for causing the general displeasure of then-emperor Claudius by advocating for the rights of Christians within the Roman Empire.

I can't be sure, but I don't think that when St. Valentine was saving the Christians, he planned on having a chocolate-and-roses holiday celebrated in his honor. Maybe, though, he would have approved of the sentiment behind it all, that of spreading love. In my humble experience, roses are nice but chocolate IS love.

As it turns out, my very special heart-friend Leigh was in town last weekend and as a natural expression of my affection, I had planned to bake for her and her beautiful family who flew all the way from Virginia to see us. Before their arrival, I had visions of morning coffee cakes and afternoon cookies. The thing about baking is that it takes time. And time is a precious commodity when you're spending time with someone you only see once a year. You know?

One day during their visit we were all hanging out at our local beach park when I gently excused myself and made my way home. Thinking of Leigh, Jeremy, Olive and Delilah, I melted, whipped and folded furiously (well, I slowed down for the folding) to get a gorgeous chocolate batter for molten chocolate cake mixed for a quick bake after dinner. After we ate, Leigh and I poured the batter into buttered-and-sugared ramekins and baked away. Actually, I did all that while she peered over my shoulder asking what I was doing each step of the way. This is how much I love Leigh: anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I allow NO ONE in the baking lab when I'm in there. I mean, no one. But, somehow, for Leigh, it wasn't even an exception. It was fun. Sort of. (Hee, hee.)

Back to the cakes, which turned out light in texture and rich in flavor. The cake recipe I got from Zoe Bakes, who created it as a flour-free recipe for Passover. The molten centers came from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Both are easier than I thought they'd be to make and both came out perfectly, despite my rushing through.

These were so good, so filled with love, that everyone practically licked their bowls clean. What an incredible feeling it was to share not only what I love to do, but to have everyone love it as I did. Warm fuzzies all around!



P.S. Leigh, come back!!!!!!!!! I can't wait another year. Wah, wah, wah!

Molten Chocolate Cake
Yield: 9 servings
10 oz. 60% Ghirardelli double chocolate chips
1/4 C cocoa, plus more for garnishing cakes, if desired
10 T unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering ramekins
1/4 t salt
6 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting ramekins
9 pure chocolate truffles, recipe follows

For the cakes:
1. Make the truffles and set aside (see recipe at the end of this post).
2. Butter 9 4-oz. ramekins and then coat with sugar. Set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in the center of the oven.

4. Place the chocolate in a double boiler or glass bowl over a pan water. Once the water is simmering, turn off the heat and allow the chocolate to melt.

5. Whisk in the cocoa powder, butter and salt until completely smooth.

6. In a stand mixer or separate bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Reduce the speed and gradually add the sugar. Once it is all added turn the speed to medium-high and whip to medium-soft peaks.

7. Mix 1/3 of the whites into the chocolate to loosen it up and then fold in another 1/3 of the whites. Repeat with the last of the whites.

8. Spoon the batter evenly among the prepared ramekins. (I
t should go about 1/2 way up the sides.)
9. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake the cakes for about 8 minutes. The cake should peel away from the sides of the ramekins and look fairly solid to the eye, but jiggle in the center a bit.
10. Remove from the oven and let the cake sit for about 3 minutes before inverting onto a plate.
11. Dust with cocoa, if desired. As always, I recommend a scoop of Vanilla Haagen Dazs. Just sayin'.

Chocolate Truffles
From Rose Levy Beranbaum's Molten Chocolate Souffle and Lava Cakes Recipe
2 oz. dark chocolate
1/4 C plus 2 T heavy cream

For the truffles:
1. Melt the chocolate until just melted. Set aside. 
2. Heat the cream on the stove top until just before it boils.
3. Pour the cream over the chocolate and whisk together. Let sit at room temp for about 4 hours or put into the fridge for an hour or so to congeal.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cherry Oat Bars

Everywhere we look in the month of February, there is chocolate. Delicious, soft, velvety, bittersweet chocolate. Melting chocolate. Solid chocolate. Soft chocolate cake with buttery chocolate frosting. It's like my very own version of heaven come to life.

And yet...

One must have other passions, n'est-ce pas? Bah, oui, bien sur!

Cherries are high in Vitamin C & A and potassium and that's exactly what I concentrate on when I eat these bars. I also ponder the healthful oats and walnuts, the molasses (iron) in brown sugar and the whole grains in the flour. And then I add vanilla ice cream and really dig in. Hehe.

These are like brown-sugary-oaty granola/cookie bars with a gorgeous soft jammy center. They go as well in lunch boxes as they do at tea time. They ship pretty well, too! You can even substitute 1-1/2 cups of your favorite jam if you don't want to go to the trouble of making the cherry jam, although I cannot promise mouth-watering results. Wink, wink.

A nice alternative to chocolate, cherries also happen to be red, like the boxes of Valentine chocolates we see everywhere. And baking something in your own kitchen says love way better than a card. Dontcha think?



Cherry Oat Bars
Yields 9-16 servings

Cherry Jam
1-1/2 C dried cherries, lightly chopped
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C boiling water
additional 1/2 C water

1. Place the cherries into a bowl and pour the boiling water over top. Let sit about 30 minutes and drain.

2. In a heavy sauce pan, heat the reconstituted cherries, sugar and additional 1/2 C water over medium low heat. Boil about 15 minutes or until the jam thickens into a pasty texture. You may need to add more water, one tablespoon at a time, until it reaches a thick but spreadable texture. Set aside.

Note: If you use jarred jam, it will spread more easily when heated up, so, either warm it on the stove top or microwave it for about 45 seconds before adding it to the cookie base.

Oat Bars
1-1/2 C whole wheat pastry flour (you can try this with oat or rye flour, too)
1 C oats
1 C firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 C toasted, chopped walnuts
3/4 t kosher salt
3/4 C unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes

3. Preheat your oven to 350.

4. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

5. Cut the butter into the mixture until the dough resembles a coarse meal. I often use my hands and squeeze the butter into the dry ingredients. Once it gets sticky, I stop mixing.

6. Divide the dough into half and press one half into the bottom of an 8"x8" baking pan.

7. Spread the jam over the pressed dough.

8. Pour the remaining crumbly dough on top of the jam. You can even the top a bit, but no need to make it perfect.

9. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. 

10. Cool completely and cut into 9 good-sized bars, or 16 smaller bars.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Julienne's Graham Cracker Pecan Bars

Sometimes I truly am the last to know.

One day a few months ago, Lulu and I found ourselves at a little neighborhood coffee stop called Zinc (now closed. Boo hoo!). We had stopped in for an after school snack and ordered a pecan bar and a chocolate chip cookie. We sat with our dog Fergie at an outdoor table and each tasted the cookie. Freshly baked. Solid flavor. Good. But then...

Then, we cut into the pecan bar.

(Pause for dramatic effect.)

Most pecan bars mimic pecan pie: shortbread crust, a custardy layer, floating toasted pecans. But the pecan bar we tasted that day at Zinc with its graham cracker crust and gooey-yet-crunchy center knocked our socks off. Literally, we had to walk home barefooted. (Wink, wink.)

I had to know what the heck these bars were made of. Finding no info on Zinc's site, I sought out a recipe or lead across the web and discovered, to my simultaneous joy and dismay, that these bars that originated at Julienne's in San Marino (practically next door to my mom's house in Pasadena) were all over the interwebs! Joy because so many have discovered them. Dismay because I would hardly be the first one to share them. But, it's no wonder these are as ridiculously blogged-about as they are. With a base layer of graham cracker cookie, a gooey layer of brown sugar custard and more graham cracker (the mystery ingredient that creates the toffee-like texture and flavor) and the topping of toasted pecans, these are an even tastier version of the classic pecan bar. These are perfect if you want to show up at a gathering with something new and different because despite their obvious popularity on the web, they're not a mainstream dessert. We've made them a few times: once with chocolate, and that was good, too. But I have to admit I prefer the buttery-caramelly-taste of the bars without chocolate. (A true first.)

Seriously, though, I can't praise these highly enough. You'll LOVE them.



Julienne's Graham Cracker Pecan Bars
Originally posted by the LA Times April 5th, 2009
Yields 24 2" bars

3 C graham cracker crumbs
3/4 C butter, at room temp
1/4 C sugar
2 T flour

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and flour until well-blended.
3. Press the mixture firmly and evenly over the bottom of a 13"x9" baking pan.
4. Bake until the crust is golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

2-1/2 C brown sugar
4 eggs
2/3 C graham cracker crumbs
1 T vanilla extract
3/4 t kosher salt
1/2 t baking powder
1 C pecans, chopped & toasted

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and eggs. Whisk in the graham cracker crumbs, vanilla, salt and baking powder until well-blended. Stir in the pecans.
2. Spread the mixture over the baked crust and return to the oven until the filling is golden on top, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and cool completely.
3. Cut into bars and serve.

P.S. When I said they were all over the interwebs, here's what I meant: The Kitchn has them. Someone called Megabite has made them. The LA Times has posted the recipe several times. And you can find them here, here and here. For Pete's sake, they even have Pinterest boards dedicated to them.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Very Best Basic Muffin Recipe

You know what I like? A recipe I can mess with. A recipe I can add and subtract things to. A recipe that will stand up to my culinary abuse and say "Give me more!". This recipe pretty much does just that. As long as you leave the wet and dry measurements (really, the butter & sour cream and the flour & baking powder) the same, you can add spices, cocoa, fillings, crumb topping, berries, peaches, banana slices, anything you can think of! What you'll get is a nice, soft crumb with a breakfasty cake mouthfeel.

Does everyone see her toes in the frame? This is what happens when we move the operation from the kitchen to the window for photos.
This time, my little helper and I couldn't agree on blueberry or chocolate chip, so, we made both by layering the individual muffins with the flavors we wanted. We dropped small scoops of batter (about 1-1/2 T) into the cups, added the fillings (a few berries or chips) and then dropped a little more batter (another tablespoon or so - use a 1T cookie scoop and on top and let be a bit overfilled) adding a few more berries or chips to the tippy top - which also helps to identify which flavor is which.

Normally, I would prefer about 1/2t cinnamon in the blueberry muffins and an extra 1 t vanilla in the chocolate chip, but we left both out entirely for versatility's sake. And a few tips:
  1. When working with fruits, it often pays to use our layering trick above. This way the fruit doesn't get mushy in the batter and looks pretty when biting into the baked muffin
  2. Always maintain that flour & baking powder to butter & sour cream ratio and keep the egg or use egg substitute
  3. Add spices in by the 1/2 teaspoon. As my mom always tells me, you can add more spices in, but you can't take them out!
  4. See substitutions and a few ideas below

Anyhow, I dare you to make these and have them not turn out. These are silly good and lasted about 4 hours total!



P.S. The chocolate chip muffins went way faster than the blueberry. Just sayin.

Basic Muffin Recipe
2 C flour
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
1 egg
1 C sugar
4 T butter, melted and cooled
1 t vanilla
1-1/4 C sour cream

1-2 T turbinado sugar for dusting the tops

(See substitutions and add-ins below)

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Whisk dry ingredients in one bowl.
3. Whip the egg with a whisk and add in the sugar, then the butter and vanilla. Add in the sour cream.
4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined.
5. Scoop batter into greased muffin tins or muffin papers and sprinkle with raw or turbinado sugar.
6. Bake 25 minutes or until nicely browned.
7. Let cool at least 15 minutes and then slather with butter and topping of your choice and eat, eat, eat!

For Blueberry Muffins add:
1-1/2 C blueberries
1/2 t cinnamon

For Chocolate Chip Muffins add:
1 t vanilla
1-1/2 C chocolate chips

For Cranberry Muffins add:
1 C cranberries, rough chopped
1 t orange zest

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Banana Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

Okay, I know there is no cream cheese icing in the above photo. But my husband gave me this incredible bundt pan for Christmas and I just had to show off the gorgeous ridges it makes in a cake. Plus, now you know that this banana cake is sturdy enough to bake in one of these babies! Okay, here you go:

I have a habit of trolling the interwebs in search of pretty food pictures. I like certain websites a whole lot and I adore other food bloggers. Do you do this? My friend Noelle told me she feels like she should get rid of her cookbooks because these days she only looks up recipes online. I suppose I'm halfway there but I adooore my books. The other day I found this most delicious recipe for banana bundt cake on My Baking Addiction which I pretty much used to a "t", minus the buttermilk which I didn't have (see solution in the recipe). But, Jamie from My Baking Addiction made this one with chocolate ganache icing and I wanted a cream cheese topping. Baking bloggers to the rescue! Dorothy from Crazy for Crust had me covered with a delectable cream cheese icing (she calls it icing, but I think using melted butter gives it more of an icing consistency. Plus my cream cheese frosting is ridiculously thick and this is a nice, spreadable consistency).

A little bit about this cake: it is dense and moist as any good banana cake should be. This cake will remind you of the banana cake with cream cheese icing your mom put in your Snoopy lunchbox as a kid. The cream cheese icing is light and not overpowering. The yield will cover the top of this cake, but if you like more, double to recipe and cover the whole cake with it. 

Listen, we all end up with funked up bananas. And this is a fabulous alternative to banana bread. Eat up, my friends. Eat up.



My Baking Addiction's Banana Bundt Cake
1 1/2 C bananas, mashed, ripe (this is about 3-4 bananas)
2 t lemon juice
3 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t sea or kosher salt
3/4 C unsalted butter, at room temp
2 C sugar
3 large eggs, at room temp
2t vanilla
1 1/2 C whole milk with 2 t white vinegar mixed in

1. Preheat your oven to 275. Yes, that low.

2. Stir the lemon juice into the mashed bananas and set them aside. 

3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Set aside. 

4. In your stand mixer, beat the butter 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat another 3 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl, lower the speed and add the eggs one at a time incorporating fully after each (and scraping down as needed). 

5. Alternate adding the dry ingredients with the milk in about 4 additions until fully blended and pour into your buttered-and-floured bundt cake pan (or 3 8" round cake pans). 

6. For the bundt cake pan, bake 1 hour, 30 minutes. For the round cake pans, check the cakes at 40 minutes and continue baking if needed. 

7. Remove from oven and place the cake(s) in the freezer one hour. Unmold your cake(s), set aside and prepare your icing.

Crazy for Crust's Cream Cheese Icing
3 T unsalted butter, melted & cooled
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temp
2 C powdered sugar (or 3 C for layer cakes)
Pinch of salt
2 t vanilla bean paste or extract

1. Blend the butter and cream cheese until fully incorporated.

2. Add the sugar and mix on low until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and mix another 30 seconds or so.

3. Add the salt and vanilla and turn the mixer to medium-high until the icing is fluffy and spreadable.

4. Spread the icing over the cake(s). Be aware that if you're making a layer cake, this icing will only over the tops of each cake, not the sides.

5. Pour a glass of milk, slice and ENJOY. xoxoxoxoxoox