Recipe quick takes: Lemon–Poppy Seed Pound Cake

I don’t often do my own recipes here, mostly because there aren’t very many of them, but every so often it will work out that I end up creating something on my own. I was
originally planning to make a chocolate pound cake from Lora Brody’s book, but my travel schedule this month, combined with the contents of my refrigerator, required me to change my plans. So instead I made this lemon–poppy seed pound cake: a true pound cake, made according to the traditional formula — a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, and a pound of eggs. It’s not entirely traditional, because I used a chemical leavener. Here’s how it went:

Mise en place
Since this is a lemon–poppy seed pound cake, there must obviously be some lemon and some poppy seeds. I used 50 grams (about a third of a cup) of poppy seeds, the zest of two lemons, and two tablespoons of lemon juice to provide those flavors. Only one tablespoon of the juice went into the cake proper, and to neutralize the acid (and also to provide additional lift to the cake) I used a half-tablespoon of baking soda. Three-quarters teaspoon of kosher salt helps to balance out the flavor profile. I ended up using 480 grams of whole eggs, since the eggs I started with were not uniformly sized so I couldn’t get to the target 450 grams (that would be nine large eggs). I also added two teaspoons of vanilla paste.

Like any pound cake, this is made by the creaming method: first the butter and sugar are creamed together until light and fluffy (8–10 minutes), and then the eggs are added, one at a time. Then the flavoring ingredients are added, and finally the combined dry ingredients are stirred in, in three lifts.

If you add up the masses of the major ingredients, you end up with about four pounds of cake batter. That’s a bit too much for a standard tube pan, so I ended up putting about three fourths of the batter into the tube pan, and the remaining quarter into a 4×8 loaf pan. I baked the two together in a 350°F (175°C) oven for 45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle of each cake came out clean.

3 pound cake in tube pan, 1 pound cake in loaf pan
The one-pound cake in the loaf pan ended up a bit too small, and stuck to the bottom; two pounds in a 9×5 loaf pan might well have been a better choice. The three-pound ring cake turned out a bit closer to standard.

Glazed ring cake
I turned the still-warm cake out of the tube pan and applied a glaze made from 200 g of confectioner’s sugar and the remaining lemon juice (with a little bit of water added for consistency).

Glazed loaf cake
I had a bit of trouble turning out the loaf cake but gave it the same treatment. The nutrition information I’ve presented below assumes that you get 24 slices of cake total, but I cut the loaf cake into 8 slices rather than 6 because that was easier. (The ring cake will need to be cut into 18 slices — hopefully I’ll be better than usual at visually estimating thirds!)

Single slice of loaf cake
We had a snowstorm on Monday, and most of my coworkers didn’t make it in to work, but those few that did seemed to quite like it. I didn’t even cut in to the large ring cake, preferring to preserve it for a better occasion. Luckily, Tuesday is our monthly group lunch, which should ensure that everyone gets to try some. It’s moist, lemony, with just the right amount of poppy seed, and by the time you read this, it will probably all be gone.

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/24 recipe
Servings per recipe: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 354 Calories from fat 153
% Daily Value
Total Fat 17g 27%
 Saturated Fat 10g 50%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 124mg 41%
Sodium 145mg 6%
Potassium 61mg 2%
Total Carbohydrate 43g 14%
 Dietary fiber 2g 6%
 Sugars 28g
Proteins 4g 9%
Vitamin A 13%
Vitamin C 2%
Calcium 4%
Iron 5%
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Other people’s recipes: Rosetta Costantino’s Africani

If you look back on the past two years I’ve been doing this, you’ll see a lot of cakes, some cookies, breads, and pies, and (especially at the beginning) a good number of savory dishes as well. Other than the occasional batch of truffles (to use up excess heavy cream), what you won’t see much of is confectionery. Although the Africano does have a thin bit of cake in it, it is far more confection than cake, which I think makes it the first thing I’ve done in that category that isn’t a straight-out truffle. The recipe comes from Palermo, Italy, by way of Rosetta Costantino’s Southern Italian Desserts (Ten Speed Press, 2013; pp.&nbsp.33–35). It’s a fairly complicated thing to make, but complicated in a way that’s more tedious than difficult — much of the preparation time is spent waiting for chocolate to reach the proper temperature, or to resolidify after having been melted.

I started out by making hazelnut paste (pasta di nocciola). This does exist as a store-bought ingredient (I’m sure you can find it on Amazon), but since it’s nothing more than ground, dark-toasted hazelnuts, I figured I might as well save myself the expense and do it at home. However, I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of blanching hazelnuts myself, so I bought my hazelnuts pre-blanched. The recipe for homemade hazelnut paste calls for a pound, but the recipe for Africani calls for only a cup (240 g), so I had some left over — Costantino includes a recipe for chocolate hazelnut paste (think Nutella but without the added palm oil), so I made that too — and just ate what was left over. I did this a few days before making the Africani, and stored the paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator until I was ready for it.

Mise en place
As I mentioned, there is a thin bit of cake inside this confection. The basic construction is a chocolate-hazelnut center, wrapped in a thin layer of cake, enrobed in dark chocolate, then dipped in white couverture and chopped pistachios. The center is made from 255 g of melted semisweet chocolate — I used Callebaut 54% as the recipe specified 55% cacao, max — and the 240 g of hazelnut paste made previously, along with 125 g of confectioner’s sugar. The cake is made from three eggs, three tablespoons of sugar, two teaspoons of honey, and 50 g of cake flour.

Melted chocolate for filling
Normally I would just use the microwave for melting chocolate, but in this case I knew that I would (in a later stage) need to keep my melted chocolate warm and fluid, so I set up a small double boiler on the stovetop and used that for all of my chocolate-melting.

Chocolate-hazelnut filling
After mixing the melted semisweet chocolate and hazelnut paste together, the center of the Africano must cool until spreadable. As it turned out, I probably didn’t wait long enough, and had a great deal of difficulty rolling my Africani out evenly without losing half of the filling.

Egg foam for cake
Oh, look, it’s a cake made from an egg foam! This is the modified genoise method: the whole eggs and sweeteners are whipped together for a long time (15 minutes per the recipe), and then the flour is folded in carefully. Again I was foiled somewhat by the deep work bowl of my mixer, which makes it difficult to ensure that the flour is evenly mixed into the eggs rather than accumulating in the divot at the bottom where it’s hard to scrape up.

Very thin cake, baked and cooling rapidly
The cake batter is spread evenly in a parchment-lined half-sheet pan and baked in a 350°F (175°C) oven until golden and set, about 10 minutes. While it is still warm and pliable, the cake is removed from the pan, trimmed, cut into four strips widthwise, and flipped over. Then the chocolate-hazelnut filling is divided equally among the four strips, which are rolled up parallel to the long edge. The filling recipe yields 620 g of filling, but I ended up only being able to use 545 g of it, and even then my rolls ended up a bit squat and leaky (hence the need for more cooling of the filling). The filled cake rolls are refrigerated until the filling is completely set, 15–30 minutes.

Rolled, chilled, and portioned cake
After the filling is set, the rolls are ready to be trimmed and portioned, giving 12 individual confections if you follow Costantino’s directions. (I thought at the time that these were going to end up too big, and perhaps portioning into 16 or even 24 smaller confections might be preferable. That didn’t stop me nor most of my tasters from eating them whole!)

Melted chocolate for enrobing
The next step is to enrobe the rolls in more chocolate. The recipe calls for 55–60% chocolate here, which seems not appreciably different from the chocolate used in the filling; I used a mixture of the leftover Callebaut 54% couverture from the filling and some Callebaut 57% “callets” that I recently started seeing at Whole Foods.

Africani on a cookie sheet (another angle)
After enrobing, the Africani go back in the fridge for another half an hour to set the coating, then are dipped in melted white couverture and chopped pistachios to cover the ends. The nature of this process is such that you have to prepare more chocolate than actually ends up in the final confections; the leftovers can be used to coat other things, or you can just let the chocolate solidify and then eat it. I had 100 g of melted white couverture left over, 15 g of pistachios, and 180 g of the mixed dark couverture.

Single africano on a plate
The final product looks impressive, and most of my tasters thought I did a lot more work than I actually did. However, I did get a few comments from people who preferred the cakes I have been doing recently to this dessert. Speaking for myself, I quite liked it, but the process of preparation is tedious enough that I’m not sure I’d repeat it. Perhaps for a party, should I ever be in the position of holding one — in which case I’d definitely go for smaller portions.

Nutrition

The analysis for these figures reflects the amount of leftover filling and couverture noted above, but does not reflect the amounts of cake and filling removed in trimming and portioning.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 cake roll
Servings per recipe: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 571 Calories from fat 342
% Daily Value
Total Fat 38g 59%
 Saturated Fat 13g 66%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 55mg 16%
Sodium 25mg 1%
Potassium 134mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 47g 16%
 Dietary fiber 6g 23%
 Sugars 37g
Proteins 8g 15%
Vitamin A 2%
Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 5%
Iron 20%
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Quote of the day: Rufus Hound on Impostor Syndrome (sort of)

I always imagined that I would eventually do one thing, and then go, “Oh, that’s what I do!” But it’s just never happened: (a) because it’s always exciting when you get offered the chance to do something new, and then basically, the long dark tea-time of the soul means that you can always tell yourself that you’re no good at whatever it is you’re currently doing — and every biography I’ve read of any of my heroes, the running theme through all of it is, every day they wake up and expect a phone call that is basically, “There’s been a terrible mistake; obviously, you knew you couldn’t really do this. You should have said something, but now we’ve finally… with the paperwork is in, you’re terrible, that’s it, it’s all done, it’s all over.” And so yeah, I just keep moving around, so that nobody can get hold of me to make that phone call.

— Rufus Hound, The Museum of Curiosity, series 8, episode 4 (BBC Radio 4, first broadcast 2016-02-01)

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Recipe quick takes: Moosewood’s (disappointing) Cinnamon Honey Coffeecake

“Cinnamon Honey Coffeecake”, from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts (Clarkson Potter, 1997; p. 269) looked from the outset like an interesting idea: a yeast-raised coffee cake with an orange-flavored filling in the middle. Unfortunately, the final product was quite disappointing, which is why I’m posting this nearly a week late. It turned out quite dry (victim, I’m sure, of an over-long baking time), with no detectable cinnamon or honey flavor, and the orange filling sank to the bottom. Here’s how it went down:

Mise en place
The main part of the cake batter is a yeasted, egg-enriched, whole-wheat sweet bread dough. The recipe, rather confusingly, calls for “1 ounce yeast (2 packages)”; since my yeast comes in one-pound packages, I tried weighing out a whole ounce of it, and still found it to be way too much. I ended up backing off to two tablespoons of instant yeast after failing to find any useful advice on either the yeast package or the ingredient notes in the cookbook. The flour is a combination of one part whole-wheat flour to two parts “white” flour (I used pastry flour, which the book says works in all recipes that call for generic “white flour”), for a total of 13½ oz (380 g). The other dry ingredients are half a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon (I used cassia), and a quarter-teaspoon of cardamom; the wet ingredients are half a cup (120 ml) of milk, 6 ounces (170 g) of melted unsalted butter, four eggs, half a cup of honey, and a tablespoon of orange peel. The milk is heated to just above body temperature and then used to proof the yeast; then all the wet ingredients are combined, and finally the dry ingredients are mixed in. The resulting loose batter is beaten by hand for a minute or so to develop gluten, and then allowed to rest while the filling is made.

Filling mixture
The filling is made by cutting half a stick (2 oz, 55 g) of cold butter into half a cup (2¼oz, 60–65 g) of flour, then folding in three quarters of a cup (180 ml) of orange marmalade. The prepared pan or pans — the recipe suggests a Bundt brand pan, but I used a standard tube pan of like volume — are then filled with half of the batter, all of the filling, and finally the remaining batter.

Cake after rising for one hour
The filled pan is covered and allowed to rise in a warm environment — I made a steam box from my oven using a pan of hot water — for an hour. When fully risen it looks like shown above. This is then baked in a 350°F (175°C) oven — the recipe clearly says “for 1 hour”, with no other termination condition, but when I took it out, I stuck my probe thermometer in and found to my horror that the cake had already passed the boiling point of water; ordinarily, a bread should be removed from the oven well before it gets that hot, at about 195°F (90°C) unless it’s supposed to be really dry.

Cake after baking for one hour
As expected, it was overbaked. I suspect that it should have come out after about 50 minutes, 55 at the very most.

One slice of cake
You can see from the appearance of this slice that the filling, being denser than the main dough, sank to the bottom. This was the only actually moist part of the cake.

Cake with powdered sugar
Although the recipe doesn’t call for any such thing, I felt the need to dress it up a bit by applying some powdered sugar. This failed to disguise the fact that it was really dry, and despite the official title of the recipe, the only recognizable flavor was that of the oranges.

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/16 cake
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 291 Calories from fat 117
% Daily Value
Total Fat 13g 19%
 Saturated Fat 7g 37%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 83mg 28%
Sodium 85mg 4%
Potassium 37mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 41g 14%
 Dietary fiber 2g 10%
 Sugars 17g
Proteins 5g 11%
Vitamin A 9%
Vitamin C 3%
Calcium 3%
Iron 6%
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Other people’s recipes: Diane Duane’s “Mycroft’s Delight”

This gallery contains 23 photos.

I stumbled across this recipe one day when I was digging through Diane Duane’s tumblr looking for something else (I no longer remember what). As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to make it. It’s associated with … Continue reading

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Recipe quick takes: Carole Bloom’s Butterscotch Toasted-Walnut Pound Cake

It’s taken me a while to write this post, which is one part annoying WordPress UI changes, one part laziness, and one part my overall “meh” feeling about the results of this recipe. I’ll be making something considerably more exciting over the long holiday weekend, but in the mean time I want to get this one off my plate. “Butterscotch Toasted-Walnut Pound Cake” is a fairly simple recipe (that doesn’t even involve making anything I would recognize as butterscotch) from Carole Bloom’s 2013 cookbook Caramel (Gibbs Smith; p. 50). Now, I would normally understand “butterscotch” to be a caramel made from butter and brown sugar — especially in a cookbook with a title like Caramel — but in this case it’s just a fairly boring creaming-method process, which wasn’t even worth taking more than a few pictures. The result was a bit squat and more than a bit dry; overall tasters were rather underwhelmed. Maybe you can spot the problem with this process.

Mise en place
Even the mise is very simple: we start by toasting 5½ oz (155 g) of walnuts, which will be chopped coarsely once cool. The cake proper consists of 9 ounces (255 g) of cake flour, leavened with a teaspoon of baking powder, ¼ tsp of kosher salt, half a pound (225 g) of unsalted butter, 6 oz (170 g) of dark brown sugar (I used my usual India Tree dark muscovado), four extra-large eggs, 3 tbl of heavy cream, and 2 tsp of vanilla extract. (This cookbook is one of a small number that habitually call for extra-large eggs. If I understand the US egg-grading standard, “extra large” means an average of 24 ounces per dozen, or 57 g per egg, as opposed to regular “large” eggs which are 50 g each or 21 oz per dozen.)

Batter after creaming stage
Like any pound cake, this is made by the creaming method. The photo here shows the point in the process after the eggs have been added to the creamed butter and brown sugar, but before the other liquid ingredients, dry ingredients, and toasted walnut pieces.

Cake batter in loaf pan
The cake is baked in a foil-lined 9″×5″ (230×130 mm) loaf pan at 325°F (160°C) for 70 minutes — or probably less, given how dry my cake turned out.

Fully baked cake
Well, it looked good when it came out of the oven. But the flavor just wasn’t very interesting — Sue Felshin described it as “like date-nut bread without the dates”.

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/12 of 9″×5″ loaf cake
Servings per recipe: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 331 Calories from fat 198
% Daily Value
Total Fat 22g 34%
 Saturated Fat 10g 50%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 99mg 33%
Sodium 76mg 2%
Potassium 71mg 2%
Total Carbohydrate 27g 9%
 Dietary fiber 1g 5%
 Sugars 12g
Proteins 6g 11%
Vitamin A 12%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 5%
Iron 5%
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Not sure if there will be any more posts here

I was all set to put up a short post here about last weekend’s baking when I found that WordPress.com had, without any notice, replaced their usable posting user interface with a horrible new one — and they also broke the “Contact Us” page so it’s not even possible to complain about it. Suffice it to say, that’s a really shitty way to treat paying customers. Unless this gets fixed, I’m probably going to move this blog somewhere else, but I don’t know where or how long that’s going to take. (I could host it myself, but as I explained in my very first post, with the security history of WordPress and PHP in general, I have every reason to be willing to pay someone else to keep up with patches.)

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Other people’s recipes: Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet Deception

I’d like to claim that I was incredibly foresightful and deliberately chose a low-calorie chocolate torte to make for the first regular work day after two consecutive pig-out holidays (Christmas and New Year’s), but in fact it was sheer dumb luck — and a desire to schedule something relatively simple, not knowing when I originally planned out my winter baking schedule what I would be doing for the long holiday weekend. “Bittersweet Deception” is a dense chocolate torte from Alice Medrich’s Seriously Bitter Sweet (Artisan, 2013; p. 130) — but because it contains no dairy ingredients (and in particular neither butter nor cream) it is relatively low-calorie and lower in fat that your typical torte. It’s made by a modified soufflé method; here’s how:

Mise en place
The ingredients are super simple, and start with 140 g of bittersweet chocolate, chopped — I used Valrhona Guanaja (70%) feves. There’s also 50 g of cocoa powder (I used TCHO natural cocoa, but you can use either natural or Dutch-process for this recipe), 16 g of all-purpose flour, and 200 g of sugar. Rounding out the “sauce” phase are 7 fluid ounces (about 200 ml) of water, a tablespoon of rum, and a teaspoon of vanilla. The egg phase is composed of two whole eggs and one egg white. In addition, and not shown here, there is boiling water, used to construct a bain marie, and a pinch of salt for seasoning.

Chocolate "pudding"
The first step in the soufflé method is making the “sauce”. In this case, it starts rather like a cooked pudding: the cocoa, flour, water, salt, and half the sugar are stirred together to make a slurry, and this is then cooked on the stovetop until thickened, about two minutes after it comes to a simmer.

Chocolate phase of batter
The hot “pudding” is then poured over the chopped bittersweet chocolate and whisked until smooth; this will cool it enough to then add the rum and vanilla extract.

Egg phase of batter
While the “sauce” continues to cool, the eggs are beaten with the other half of the sugar until light and foamy, but not stiff, about five minutes on high using a handheld mixer. The egg foam is then carefully folded into the chocolate “sauce” to make the final cake batter.

Torte batter in pan
The torte batter is poured into an eight-inch (200 mm) round cake pan that has been prepared with baking spray and a parchment round. I prepared my cake pan too early, and apparently didn’t use enough baking spray; this torte loves to stick to the aluminum surface. For the bain marie I used a ten-inch (250 mm) cake pan, but for safety, waited until both pans were in the oven to add boiling water to the outer pan, reaching about halfway up the inner pan. (Professional bakers generally eschew springform pans, especially when using a bain marie, because they tend to leak.)

Baked torte cooling on rack
The torte bakes in a 350°F (175°c) oven for about 30 minutes — I left it in slightly too long; it should be a bit jiggly in the center when you take it out. (Better luck next time!) See that dark spot? That’s where I accidentally splashed hot water from the bain marie onto the cooked torte. (Better luck next time, squared!) It survived, but was a bit messier to depan than I think it should have been. After cooling fully on the wire rack, the torte is wrapped in plastic and refrigerated overnight before depanning.

Chilled torte extricated messily from pan
The following morning before work, I flipped the torte out onto a board. Or rather, I tried to flip it out; it wouldn’t come. I then ran a knife around the outside, and finally it came, but not quite in one piece, sadly. (What was I saying about better luck next time?)

Torte on platter with a dusting of sugar
I inverted the torte onto a serving platter and sifted confectioner’s sugar on top to dress it up. My tasters did not notice any of the problems, and in fact everyone who tried it thought it excellent — except for one person who felt it was not quite chocolatey enough for her taste. On the other hand, with this nutritional profile, you can always have more than one slice if you’re not satisfied:

Nutrition

Usually I end up making more servings than the recipe specifies, to keep the calories under control. Not this time: Medrich says 10–12 servings, and that’s exactly what I got. Even at the low end, 207 kcal is amazing for this type of dessert!

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/10th of 8″ torte
Servings per recipe: 10
Amount per serving
Calories 207 Calories from fat 72
% Daily Value
Total Fat 8g 12%
 Saturated Fat 5g 24%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 42mg 14%
Sodium 21mg 1%
Potassium 147mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 28g 9%
 Dietary fiber 2g 8%
 Sugars 25g
Proteins 4g 8%
Vitamin A 1%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 2%
Iron 21%
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Winter baking schedule

For the past several months, I’ve been posing irregular updates on what I plan to bake for the coming months. This started with my “summer baking project”, in which I polled co-workers on which recipes they were most interested in trying, then started baking the most popular choices, two a week. As the summer ended, I scaled back to one recipe a week, and the last couple of months I’ve done even less than that. This post will be the final update on the original set of recipes, and includes what I’m currently planning on doing for the rest of the winter. As always, this is subject to change.

1/3
Medrich: Bittersweet Deception
1/10
Bloom: Butterscotch and Toasted Walnut Pound Cake
1/18
Diane Duane: Mycroft’s Delight
1/24
Moosewood: Cinnamon-Honey Coffee Cake
1/31
Costantino: Africano
2/7
Brody: Chocolate Pound Cake
2/14
[travel]
2/21
Flour: Famous Banana Bread (or the alternate version from Baking with Less Sugar)
2/28
Medrich: Bittersweet Roulade
3/6
Ovenly: Gooey Honey Blondies
3/13
Alford/Duguid: Banana Coconut Bread

Unscheduled

That leaves the following recipes from my original list unaccounted-for:

  • Flour: Double Chocolate & Orange Semifreddo (as a frozen dessert, should probably have been left off the list — I wasn’t going to be bringing this in to the office to share even if I did make it)
  • Brody: Chile Cha-Cha Brownies
  • Brody: Chocolate-Raspberry Torte [2 requests]
  • Brody: White Chocolate–Orange Pound Cake
  • Luchetti: Walnut Cake with Chocolate-Orange Sabayon and Vanilla Crème Anglaise [2 requests, but dropped due to excessive coffee flavor]
  • Moosewood: Dark Chocolate Layer Cake (substitute frosting) [1 request]
  • Ovenly: Brooklyn Blackout Cake
  • Whole Grain Baking: Banana Crunch Cake
  • Whole Grain Baking: Peanut Butter Cream Pie [2 requests]

Some of these are possible mid-season replacements or may be doable as a midweek project if I feel ambitious in the fall. Likewise, the following recipes (which really should be listed on my Recipe Pointers page) were not included on the original list of recipes, but might get added later on, or swapped for something else to use up perishable ingredients:

  • Bloom: Butterscotch Blondies
  • Bloom: Nutty Caramel Bars
  • Brody: Peanut Butter Cups
  • Brody: Denver Chocolate Pudding Cake
  • Costantino: La Deliziosa
  • Costantino: Dolci di Noci
  • Costantino: Barchiglia (chocolate-glazed almond tart with pear)
  • Flour: Double Chocolate Cookies
  • Greenspan/Hermé: Chocolate Sparklers
  • Medrich: Chocolate Cheesecake
  • Whole Grain Baking: Honey Cake

Already done

6/24
Flour: Ginger Molasses Cookies
6/29
Whole Grain Baking: Daffodil Cake
7/1
Whole Grain Baking: Banana–Chocolate Chip Squares
7/6
Luchetti: Berry–Crème Fraîche Cake
7/8
Whole Grain Baking: Butter-Nut Blondies
7/13
Brody: Chocolate-Hazelnut Torte
7/15
Nathan: Banana–Poppy Seed Muffins
7/20
Moosewood: Coconut Lemon Layer Cake
7/22
Ovenly: Coconut, Chocolate & Brown Butter Blondies (with oat variation)
7/27
Costantino: Torta di Pistacchio (with crema di pistacchio filling)
7/29
Flour, too: Brown Sugar–Oat Cherry Muffins
8/2
Rosie’s: Caramel-Topped Pecan Cheesecake
8/5
Moosewood: Black & White Brownies
8/10
Moosewood: Texas Italian Cream Cake
8/12
Brody: Chocolate–Peanut Butter Shortbread Bars
8/17
Costantino: Cherry–Almond Cake
8/19
Whole Grain Baking: Chocolate Pound Cake
8/24
Whole Grain Baking: Lemon–Raspberry Cake
8/26
Luchetti: Walnut–Hazelnut Bars
8/29
Chocolate Hazelnut Layer Cake (a combination of King Arthur and Alice Medrich recipes)
8/31
Whole Grain Baking: Chocolate Zucchini Cake
9/2
Whole Grain Baking: Banana Crunch Cake
Greenspan & Hermé: Moist and Nutty Brownies
9/8
Flour: Classic Carrot Cake
9/9
Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles Four Ways (after Alice Medrich)
9/14
Luchetti: Walnut Cake with Chocolate-Orange Sabayon and Vanilla Crème Anglaise (noted that this had more coffee flavor than I had previously realized and decided not to do it)
King Arthur Flour: Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
9/21
Whole Grain Baking: Peanut Butter Cream Pie (decided it was too high-cal, then went on vacation so it wasn’t replaced by anything else)
9/28
Costantino: Torta Gattopardo (decided this was too complicated and the nutrition computation too frustrating) Ciambella all’Arancia
10/2
Four & Twenty Blackbirds: Black Walnut Pie (covered in 2014)
10/3
Pumpkin Purée (no post)
10/7
Luchetti: Ricotta cheesecake with dried cherries & golden raisins
10/12
Flour: Midnight Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate Buttercream
10/18
Flour, too: Best Boston Cream Pie
10/21
Baking with Less Sugar: Double Chocolate Whoopie Pies
10/25
Huckleberry: Chocolate Banana Walnut Cake
10/28
Whole Grain Baking: Pumpkin Bread
11/1
Luchetti: Pumpkin Upside-Down Cake
11/29
Ovenly: Black Chocolate Stout Cake with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Buttercream
12/6
Whole Grain Baking: Carrot Cake
12/20
Birthday Cake 2015
12/23
Flour: Deep, Dark, Spicy Gingerbread
Luchetti: Caramel Chocolate-Chunk Tart
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Other people’s recipes: Joanne Chang’s Deep, Dark, Spicy Gingerbread

The third, and by far most popular, dish I made the week before Christmas was “Deep, Dark, Spicy Gingerbread” from Joanne Chang’s Flour (Chronicle Books, 2010; p. 200). It is, as the recipe promises, deep and dark — so much so that many people mistook it for a chocolate cake. It also makes a fairly large quantity: it fills a standard 9×13×2 baking pan, and portions easily into 24 two-inch squares — twice as many as Chang suggests — and in circumstances like the family holiday party, there were plenty of already-overstuffed people looking for even smaller pieces. Even after two Christmas parties, I came home with ten squares left over, most of which I brought in to work on Monday (but due to the light crowds had trouble giving them away). Everyone who did try it, though, thought it was fabulous; in the recipe headnote, Chang admits “I’m not shy with the spices in this cake”, which is a break from her usual style. It’s remarkably a remarkably simple recipe, too, with only one unusual step. Here is how I made it:

Mise en place
Let’s start with the ingredients. This gingerbread is made by the butter-cake method, so we start with two sticks (225 g) of unsalted butter and 165 g of light brown sugar; the butter phase is rounded out with two eggs and three tablespoons (actually, I only got 2½ tbl) of freshly grated ginger. The dry phase is 490 g of all-purpose flour, a tablespoon of baking powder, two teaspoons of ground ginger, one teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, half a teaspoon each of ground cassia and kosher salt, and a quarter-teaspoon of ground clove; as usual in this method, all of the dry ingredients are sifted together before adding to the batter. Finally, the liquid phase consists of 480 g of molasses, a cup (240 ml) of boiling water, and a teaspoon of baking soda — again, these ingredients will be mixed together before use. (The eagle-eyed among you will notice that I have much more than a cup of water here, and it’s far from boiling. It’s always better to boil more water than you need, and then measure — if you measure it cold, you probably won’t end up with the right amount after bringing it to a boil.) Although I show the Adjust-A-Cup being used for the molasses in this photo, I weighed it out rather than measuring by volume (the recipe gives a volumetric measurement of 1½ cups).

Butter-sugar-egg mixture
The butter-cake method starts out by creaming the butter and sugar together, then adding eggs. In this recipe, the eggs were first whisked together with the grated fresh ginger, which helps to incorporate the ginger throughout the batter.

Molasses thinned and neutralized
The boiling water in the liquid phase of this cake serves two purposes: obviously, it provides moisture, but it also serves to loosen up the molasses and allows the baking soda to neutralize the natural acids that molasses contains. (Baking powder, which is the main leavening of this cake, works best when the batter is close to neutral pH.) The bubbles seen here are the result of this process — the baking soda releases carbon dioxide as it neutralizes the acids. (HCO3 + H+ → H2O + CO2↑)

Unbaked batter in pan
Following the usual butter-cake method, the dry ingredients and the liquids are mixed into the cake batter, interleaving the dry in three parts with the liquid in two parts. Once the batter comes together, it’s spread in a prepared 9×13 (230 mm × 330 mm) baking pan. (Chang says to “butter and flour”, which I did, but I should have made a parchment sling instead. For some reason I have to re-learn this lesson every three months or so….) The cake is baked on the middle rack of a 350°F (175°C) oven for about 50 minutes.

Finished gingerbread cooling in pan
While the gingerbread is still hot, a glaze made with confectioner’s sugar is applied. Chang’s recipe uses a coffee glaze, but my regular readers know what I think of that flavor, so I substituted water and a bit of vanilla. Either way, it starts with a cup (140 g) of confectioner’s sugar, and you just add enough liquid to make it smooth and spreadable, then spread it over the still-warm cake.

Gingerbread squares on platter ready for transport
After the cake had fully cooled, I removed it from the pan (should have used parchment!) and portioned it on the cutting board into twenty-four 2×2 squares. I then transferred the cake to this fancy winter-themed serving platter and wrapped it up for transportation to Connecticut. As I mentioned above, everyone who tried a piece raved about it — including my mother, who had specifically asked for it — but there was still a lot left over. This definitely seems worthy to go on my list of recipe recommendations for the holiday season. (And have a look at that calorie figure below: in this serving size, it’s one of the lowest-calorie desserts I’ve done.)

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 2¼″×2⅙″ square
Servings per recipe: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 269 Calories from fat 72
% Daily Value
Total Fat 8g 12%
 Saturated Fat 5g 24%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 38mg 13%
Sodium 161mg 7%
Potassium 131mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 45g 15%
 Dietary fiber 1g 3%
 Sugars 27g
Proteins 3g 7%
Vitamin A 6%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 7%
Iron 9%
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