Desserts

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

Around this time every year, I wait for them to appear, those ruby red or speckled green-and-pink stalks of rhubarb.

More than any other fruit or vegetable, rhubarb to me is a sign of the changing season. It is the signal that summer is arriving in bundles of tart stalks to be baked into pies and cakes, stewed to make a bright pink syrup for cocktails.

I snap up what I can when I see it at the farmers’ markets and I’m not above begging friends with healthy supplies to share their wealth. I take all I can and more, slicing and freezing the excess for rhubarb cravings that come later in the season.

Year-round, I save rhubarb recipes as I wait, imagining the hand pies, scones and fools I will make once I get my hands on the first stalks of the season.

A few weeks ago, tweets began appearing in my timeline that the time for rhubarb was finally here. But I was going to be away for the following two weekends and didn’t want to buy any without having the proper time to dedicate to making all the things I had been craving over the past several months. I would have to wait.

On the final day of being away, as I played fetch with my friend’s dog in the backyard of their Victoria, B.C., home, I spied in the corner of their garden a mass of rhubarb.

Sure, he only has three legs but I tired of playing fetch long before he did.

The giant, lushly green leaves created a canopy over the bed, hiding away a forest of ruby stalks that had visions of baking filling my head. Could I please, I asked, take just a little bit of it home with me?

“Take as much as you’d like,” I was instructed. “We probably won’t use much of it.”

With knife in hand, I culled a huge bundle of the stuff (trying to still show some restraint, though tempted to take it all), rolled it into a plastic shopping bag and packed it in my luggage for the flight back to Calgary. I was glad I hadn’t bothered to take much out to the coast, giving me that much more room for this care package of rhubarb.

It was the best souvenir of the trip.

A few days later, I finally had enough time to get into the kitchen and put that souvenir to use.

In the past, I’ve fallen in love with crumb cakes and little cobblers. I have serious plans for pie. And no summer is complete without a rhubarb cocktail from a recipe my grandmother gave me several years ago.

But for the first rhubarb of the season, I wanted to start simply. A recipe for Norwegian Rhubarb Cake seemed like the right place.

A very straightforward cake, there’s no need to cream butter and sugar, no fussing over letting the rhubarb macerate in sugar. There’s not even a need to break out the mixer.

So, in the space of less than 45 minutes, I had cake — and the first bite of rhubarb this year.

Still warm from the oven, it was the perfect afternoon snack. Not overly sweet, it’s punctuated with tart pieces of rhubarb that played nicely against the tender cake.

Thankfully, too, it only put a small dent in my rhubarb supply, leaving me plenty more for the next project. I just need to decide which one.

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

I found the recipe on a blog called Outside Oslo and adapted it only slightly, upping the amount of rhubarb and omitting a dusting of icing sugar, which people should still feel free to do just before serving. A dollop of sweetened whipped cream would be nice, as well, but is not necessary.

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup (310 mL) flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 to 1/3 lb (125 to 170 g) rhubarb, sliced into 1/2-inch (1-cm) coins

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Butter an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter, then stir in the milk. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and well mixed. While still mixing, slowly pour in the butter and milk. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until just combined, then pour into the prepared springform pan. Sprinkle over the rhubarb slices.

Bake until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. (Cakes baked in a smaller springform pan will take a bit longer because the cake is deeper.)

Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake, if necessary, before removing the springform side.

Serve warm.

Makes 1 cake.

Katharine Hepburn Brownies

There is deep, dark and dangerous knowledge that comes from knowing how easy it is to make brownies.

A few standard ingredients, a pot and spatula, a bit of time and you are rewarded with deep, dark, chocolate goodness.

Late-night cravings for something a little bit sweet and decadent no longer need go unanswered. At least not in my house. Nor mid-afternoon cravings. Or even morning ones. (Don’t tell me you’ve never craved something deliciously chocolate in the middle of the morning.)

The trick, though, is to find the right brownie recipe.

By and large, they’re all easy — though the grades of difficulty increase when adding things like peanut butter or cheesecake swirls — because it’s a simple matter of melting butter with chocolate, adding sugar, eggs and flour, then baking the entire thing. No forethought is required because there’s not even a need to wait for the butter to soften.

Depending on the ratios of eggs, flour and butter, though, some brownies will come out cakey, while others dense and fudgy.

My ideal brownie is on the fudgy end of the spectrum, with that crackle-like top that hides the rich, dark bar below.

In my search for just such a brownie, I stumbled onto numerous posts extolling the virtues of the recipe from famed film actress Katharine Hepburn.

She may be better known for her film roles and assertive, unapologetic personality, but among baking circles, the woman who starred in The Philadelphia Story and the African Queen is also known for her brownies.

How the recipe first came to be part of the public realm varies as widely as the number of brownie recipes found on the Internet.

Some say she was persuaded to give it up to gossip columnist Liz Smith; others report a neighbour secured the recipe after bringing over a batch of brownies to the actress who declared they had too much flour and had been overbaked before she listed off her own recipe.

The story, though, is far less important than the recipe results; gooey and rich, fudgy with the requisite crackled top, these are the decadent brownies that do prompt cravings.

A scant amount of flour keeps them dense and chewy, the richness cut only by the chunks of toasted walnuts littered throughout.

Although easy enough, I wanted to simplify the recipe even further. With all due respect to Ms. Hepburn, if I can avoid washing additional dishes, I will. So, I skipped the step of using a double boiler to melt the butter and chocolate in favour of a one-pot method that doubles as a mixing bowl. Within just a few minutes, and with very little effort on my part, I was pouring the finished batter into the pan and putting the whole thing in the oven. The hardest part, truthfully, was waiting for the brownies to cool before slicing. (It’s possible I didn’t actually wait as long as I should have.)

With the craving answered — and a new favourite brownie recipe in hand — life could go back to normal.

But I know that when it comes again, it won’t take much to appease it. And that is dangerous.

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

Take caution not to overbake these as that will cause them to dry out. Swap the walnuts for other nuts, or omit entirely, as desired.

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
  • 2 oz (60 g) unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) flour

Preheat oven to 325F (160C).

Butter an 8×8-inch (20×20-cm) pan and line with parchment paper, letting a few inches hang over each side, like a sling.

In a medium saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring often, until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, then eggs and vanilla. Switch to a spatula to fold in the salt, walnuts and then the flour, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs on it, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool completely before using the sling to remove the brownies from the pan and cutting into squares.

Makes 1 8×8-inch pan of bars.

Bourbon Blondies

I like a good bourbon cocktail.

An Old Fashioned, a Sour, a Mint Julep.

But when I pull out my bottle of bourbon at home, more often than not it’s because I’m adding it to something I’m baking.

There are the Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies, the Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream and these, the Bourbon Blondies.

Bourbon Blondies II

Since first unveiling a plate of these boozy bars at a friend’s house a few summers ago, they have become my go-to dessert for potlucks and parties. They’ve been packed along to ski weekends and made an appearance at a party kicking off 2013. They remain one of my most requested baked goods within my circle of friends.

Though maybe not after I reveal just how easy they are to make and everyone just starts whipping up their own batches.

I don’t remember when or how I first stumbled upon a recipe for blondies. They don’t seem quite as well-known on this side of the border as they are south of it.

So, when I put out a plate of them, I’m often asked just what they are exactly. And the answer is they’re kind of like a brownie, but minus the cocoa, which makes a brownie, well, brown.

Perhaps a more accurate description is they’re kind of bar-like cookies.

The beauty of them lies in both how easy they are to make and their adaptability.

Like brownies, you melt the butter, which makes them great for impulse baking, as opposed to most cakes and cookies, which require room temperature butter.

The addition of bourbon puts a spin on things – no pun intended. The alcohol will mostly cook off – and the amount for the entire pan is a mere two ounces, or the equivalent of one of my favourite cocktails – but the flavour remains.

Bourbon Blondie batter

Bourbon Blondies baked

Bourbon Blondies out of the pan

Sliced

Bourbon Blondies I

Bourbon Blondies

To keep these kid-friendly or if bourbon isn’t your thing, simply omit the alcohol and the additional 1 tablespoon of flour. Use whatever additions feel good; I typically use chocolate chips and pecans, but have tried other nuts and even dried fruits, such as cranberries. For the bourbon, I use whatever I have on hand or, occasionally, whiskey instead.

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, melted
  • 1 cup (250 mL) brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) bourbon or whiskey
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup plus 1 tbsp (250 plus 15 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Butter an 8×8-inch (20x20cm) pan and line with parchment paper that has extra to hang over the sides like a sling. (This makes for easy removal and slicing.)

In a bowl, mix together the melted butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, then vanilla. Stir in the bourbon or whiskey and mix until combined. Add the salt and then gently stir in the flour. Add the chocolate chips and pecans and stir until just combined.

Scrape into the lined pan and pat down the rather thick batter so it creates a layer that reaches the edges of the pan.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the middle has set.

Remove and cool on a rack before removing from the pan and slicing.

Easy Butterscotch Sauce

When it comes to ice cream sundaes, there has never been any waffling for me. You can keep your hot fudge, I’ll take butterscotch (or caramel – since there doesn’t seem to be a difference in the ice cream world), please and thank you.

Butterscotch Sauce II

It’s not that I don’t like chocolate at other times. But there’s something about the combination of vanilla ice cream and the buttery richness of a warm butterscotch sauce that pleases me immensely.

It was a good thing I didn’t have a recipe for making it at home.

And then I did.

And that was a good and bad thing.

I stumbled onto a recipe for “Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce” on Smitten Kitchen one day and gave it a shot.

It’s nothing more complicated than melting some butter and then boiling it with cream and brown sugar and then rounding it out with a bit of vanilla and a pinch or two of flaky salt – which has a milder flavour to emphasize the salty-sweet flavours of a tasty butterscotch without being overtly salty.

It comes together frighteningly – I may even dare to say, dangerously – quickly. Even if you give it several minutes to cool down so it’s thicker and doesn’t melt your ice cream on contact.

And in 10 minutes, I was doing just that.

I did get a bit frustrated the first few times I made this, as mine never looked quite as thick as it did in Smitten Kitchen’s photos. But after scrolling down through the comments one day, I noticed a discussion about having it reach a certain temperature.

I’ve since learned (through trial, error and a bit of impatience) that it’s the 220 F (104 C) mark that seems to make the difference. And also that it has to boil for a lot longer than I would have guessed.

Some other things I’ve learned: don’t be like me and absent-mindedly use your finger to get that little drop off the end of the whisk or thermometer. And don’t be afraid to double the batch; you will thank yourself later.

It should last in the fridge for several days. But, to be honest, mine never sticks around that long.

Butterscotch Sauce

 

Easy Butterscotch Sauce

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) butter
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) whipping cream pinch flaky salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract, or more to taste

In a pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sugar, cream and salt and whisk until blended. Bring to a boil and cook for several minutes, whisking often. It will boil up, so watch carefully. Cook until it reaches a temperature of about 220°F (104°C), give or take a degree or two. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tsp of vanilla.

Let it cool slightly and taste, adding more vanilla or another pinch of salt to suit your tastes.

Store in the refrigerator. Reheat gently on the stove or in the microwave to make it pourable.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipe ideas, check out CalgaryHerald.com/food.

Meanwhile, over at my day job

Recipes galore!

(But, full disclosure before we get any further, you’ll have to click through to read more and get the recipes. Think of it kind of like keeping church and state separate.)

Over at my day job, I’m a few months into a new column that has me keeping busy, but very happy.

It involves tackling some of the hundreds of cookbooks that come across my desk by reviewing them, cooking from them and photographing the results. My favourite part is the column name: Cooking the Books. (OK, reality check, my favourite part is getting paid to cook from cookbooks and take photos and eat the results. My life is pretty charmed these days.)

So far, I’ve made some pretty easy stuff and had some adventures with others, like Martha Stewart’s sticky buns, which made so much dough that I had no idea what to do with it all.

But good lord, were these tasty.
Sticky Buns II

Sticky Buns

Read the whole story and get the recipe over here.

Something A LOT easier were these refrigerator pickles from Ted Allen’s cookbook. You know him from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Chopped.

I’ve come to realize that I really love a good pickle. (Especially these ones that I make with my Teriyaki Trout.)
Refrigerator Pickles

Feel like getting in a pickle? You can get the story and recipe by clicking through.

Love her or hate her, I have to admit that I appreciate Rachael Ray’s love for burgers.

From her latest, The Book of Burger, I tried out a Satay Slider, topped with a cucumber-mint relish. It was good enough that I ignored the fact that I hate how she calls sandwiches, “sammies.”
Satay Slider

Check out my story and the recipe.

I completely fell in love with Nigel Slater’s Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard when it landed on my desk. It is just . . . gorgeous. The photographs, the writing, the fonts. Oh man, I love a beautiful font.

Beautiful Ts in this font

And the cover. Dreamy.

Nigel Slater's Ripe

I made his Blackberry Focaccia and it was heavenly.

Blackberry Focaccia

I have a not-so-secret love of southern food. Biscuits and gravy? Yes, please. Chicken and waffles? Order it up. And this, chicken-fried steak.
Chicken-fried Steak

Oh yes.

It didn’t look exactly like the photo in the cookbook, but I did not care.

Find the story and recipe here.

Probably one of the most hilarious ones so far (other than the dough fiasco of the sticky buns) was this one for Champagne-Strawberry Jell-O. Mostly because I was thinking to myself, “How on earth will the bubbles stay bubbly?” And then, I didn’t quite follow the instructions and they got over bubbled. Live and learn.
Strawberry Champagne Jell-O

Want to put some wiggle in your dessert? Head on over to check out the story.

Lastly, for the summer issue of HERS magazine, I blitzed up some Gazpacho. This is like salad in a soup bowl and as soon as it actually gets hot here, I’ll be whipping up another batch.
Gazpacho

As part of the Gazpacho package, you can watch me make it by clicking through. Warning, it will autoplay.

(And, if you really want to, you can check out videos of me making Lemon Bars and, *gasp*, a Souffle.)

I’ve got a few other posts in my back pocket, including some Szechuan Green Beans, Butterscotch Sauce and an easy, one-pan Roast Salmon. I promise to get them up in the next two weeks or so.

Promise.

Brownies with Sea Salt and Lime

Oh, hello!

Thanks for joining me here on my inaugural post on my NEW blog. While I should be a little ashamed (and I am a bit, to be honest) that it took me this long to get my own domain and I certainly should be (and am) irked that waiting this long meant a lot more hiccups in making ye olde switch from my WordPress version to this one, I’m just tickled that I finally broke down and did it. I own real estate! Internet real estate!

(Side note: I guess this is a good time to say that you may want to update your bookmarks.)

I’m still trying to work out some design kinks. Those classes in HTML that I took in my undergrad (read: a long time ago) haven’t really kept up with the times. But I figured it would be better to just get this thing live and try to fix as I went along rather than wait until it was perfect and have you all give up on ever seeing me post again. (Thanks to the kind person on Twitter who gently nudged me into getting things rolling again.) (Related: if anyone has a quick fix to get the blog’s tagline all on one line and to get the “What It’s All about” over to the left side of the page, I’d be totally grateful.)

And just a few weeks shy of my four-year (four year!) anniversary. Four amazing, heartwrenching, uh, fattening years. But tasty ones too. Of course, I’ll wax a little more poetic when I actually get there. After all, it’s not an anniversary without some cake. Or not in my world, at least.

So, stay tuned for that.

Today, though, I’ve got some really, really, really good brownies.

With lime.

And flakes of sea salt.

Like the margarita of brownies.

Brownies with Lime and Sea Salt

But, you know, without the booze. (Unlike these and these. Oh yeah.)

I had bookmarked them a while ago from the Kitchn, which is a fabulous resource for recipes and kitchen tips. And then kind of forgot about them — surprising considering my love of all things citrus.

But as I was getting ready for (après) ski weekend a few weeks ago, they popped back into my head. (Après) ski weekend is becoming an awesome tradition. We rent a house right at Kicking Horse, pack up lots of goodies to eat (and maybe a couple of bottles of wine, ahem) and then hang out for the weekend. The others ski and board, but the mountain is a bit advanced for me, so I just do the après part. All the hot tubbing, snacking, reading and laughing, none of the actual hurtling down a mountain. Good times!

These brownies totally delivered on all my expectations. They were darkly rich, slightly sweet with the tang of lime and kiss of sea salt.

The most unexpectedly amazing part of these were the chunks of unsweetened chocolate that you stir in before baking. After, they’re these little pockets of chocolate-y goodness and they taste as if they are dark or semi-sweet chocolate. The addition just takes these brownies over the edge.

Well, that and the lime, of course.

We didn’t manage to eat them all over the weekend. (No judgment; I had also packed some Bourbon Blondies and, of course, the Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Plus, everyone brought lots of other delicious dishes for dinner and the world’s supply of chips. Did I mention it’s a very good weekend?) So I took the rest in to work where they were gobbled up.

And now that I know how good they are, I certainly won’t be waiting until the next (apres) ski weekend to make another batch.
Lime and Salt

Brown, green and red

A sprinkle of salt

Brownie with Lime and Sea Salt

Brownies with Sea Salt and Lime

Adapted ever so slightly from The Kitchn.

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped coarsely
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 lime, juiced and zested
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Preheat oven to 325F and line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving the paper extra-long and hanging over two sides.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and bittersweet chocolate over medium-low heat. Stir until smooth.

Remove pan from the heat and add the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla and kosher salt. Mix until combined. Then add lime juice and zest, as well as the finely chopped unsweetened chocolate. Stir to combine and pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the sea salt on the top.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a tester comes out moist. It will not be perfectly clean, but it shouldn’t be sticky either. Allow pan to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing brownies from pan. To remove the brownies, run a knife around the sides of the pan to help release the brownies, then lift out the parchment paper. Place the brownies on the paper back on the wire rack. Cool completely and cut into 2 inch squares.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Last January, I made several resolutions that I hoped to fulfil through the course of the year. A flood in my apartment, which led to several walls being torn out and weeks and weeks of workmen Humpty Dumpty-ing my home back together again killed any drive I had to enact the “entertain at least once a month” resolution. Or any of the myriad food-related resolutions I had, since my kitchen was barely navigable from all the belongings normally hidden away in the storage room.

And so, in the end, I fulfilled none.

This year, I’ve kept my resolutions equally simple:

  • Write more actual letters to people
  • Read more classics
  • Travel somewhere new
  • Drink more water
  • Make panna cotta
  • Join a new class
  • Increase my intake of fruit and vegetables

And so far, I’m off to an unexpectedly good start.

I’m partway through Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and have Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte on standby; I’ll be travelling to Morocco this fall; and I made panna cotta.

Panna cotta with strawberries II

This was a holdover from last year’s resolutions and I’m surprised it has taken me this long to finally cross it off my list. (Although, I do think part of my hesitation stemmed from knowing this is a very dangerous recipe to master.)

Panna cotta – literally “cooked cream” in Italian – is nothing more than sweetened cream (or a combination of cream, milk, buttermilk or yogurt) infused with any one of myriad flavours.

It’s infinitely adaptable; I’ve had everything from simple vanilla versions to ones flavoured with orange blossom water, topped with fruits or coulis or left unadorned to let the light flavour come through.

It’s silky, soothingly smooth and can be the perfect end to most meals.

And it is ridiculously easy. The hardest part of making this recipe was wading through the hundreds of versions that popped up after a straightforward Google search.

But, for the first time attempting it at home, I wanted something uncomplicated.

Nothing more than cream, vanilla, sugar and gelatin, topped with a few macerated strawberries for colour and flavour.

This version from food blogger and author David Lebovitz fit the bill.

Even making the panna cotta felt soothing: from scraping out the fragrant flecks of vanilla from their pods and stirring them into the cream that was gently heating on the stove, to pouring the liquid into ramekins and putting them to bed in the fridge for the night.

Only attempting to unmould them proved tricky. (If no one is worried about spectacular presentation – and who would be after taking one bite of this dessert? – I probably wouldn’t worry about bothering next time and would simply serve them in clear glasses or pretty coloured ramekins instead.)

But any frustrations stemming from their unwillingness to slide out on the first attempt evaporated with the first bite of panna cotta.

Sweet, light, brightened by diced strawberry and speckled with vanilla, it was everything I had hoped for.

If the rest of my resolutions turn out to be this easy, I just might get through all of them this year.

Unmolded panna cotta

Strawberry

Vanilla Beans

Panna cotta with strawberries I

Panna cotta with strawberries III

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberries

This version is slightly adapted from David Lebovitz – namely the addition of macerated strawberries – who in turn adapted it from Judy Witts’s Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen. You can find gelatin, which is typically sold in boxes of packets, in the baking section of most grocery stores.

  • 4 cups (1 L) whipping cream (or half-and-half)
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 2 tsp/10 mL vanilla extract)
  • 2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 ½ tsp/22 mL)
  • 6 tbsp (100 mL) cold water
  • 2 cups (500 mL) strawberries, diced
  • 1-2 tbsp (15 to 25 mL) sugar (depending on the sweetness of the strawberries)

Heat the cream and sugar in a pot on the stove or in the microwave until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them and the pod to the cream. Cover and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the pod and rewarm the mixture before continuing.

Lightly oil eight custard cups with a neutral-tasting oil, such as vegetable or safflower.

In a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

Pour the warm panna cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide between the prepared cups, then chill until firm (at least two hours). Just before serving, mix together diced strawberries and sugar and let sit while unmolding the panna cotta.

To serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of each panna cotta and dip the ramekin in a dish of hot water to loosen. Unmould onto a serving plate and top with strawberry mixture.

Serves 8.

This first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipe ideas and food stories, check out the Herald’s food page.

Guinness Brownies

I first heard about Guinness Brownies through another blog, but forgot to bookmark it and couldn’t remember where I had seen it. I had sent the link to a friend who’s a fan of beer-based baking, but then thought it would be nice to just make them for her instead. A quick Google search brought up myriad other blog posts, including the one I had seen originally, as well as some other variations. After cruising through a bunch, I realized most of them were riffs on one standard recipe — one I liked much more than the recipe I had first come across.

Guinness Brownies II

Now, normally, I like to leave recipes alone for the first attempt, figuring I need to give it a chance to wow me before I make changes. But most of the versions I found called for white chocolate, which I loathe. And I knew it would cook out and be undetectable in the final brownie, but I still wasn’t keen on buying white chocolate just for this recipe. One other blogger had subbed in milk chocolate chips, which seemed like a good idea to me. I think the object here is chocolate-y sweetness and milk chocolate can certainly achieve that, with the bonus of being an ingredient I can use in other things.

Random rant: why do they sell baking chocolate squares in packages of 6 ounces? Most of the recipes I’ve come across call for 8 ounces, which means buying two packages and then letting the remaining four ounces sitting around in the cupboard (where, yes, I am likely to forget I have them and then go buy more. I really need a more organized baking cupboard).

Cracking a beer at 11 a.m. felt a bit funny, though it’s not my first time. (Those Guinness Cupcakes are also an excellent recipe, if you’re looking for something else to do with the dark Irish beer.) And I was a bit nervous about cooking it down. I’m not a huge beer fan and was afraid reducing it and intensifying the flavour would make it stand out far too much in the final brownies. Plus, it did seem a bit weird to cook beer.

But what do I know?

Not much apparently because these were fantastic. They were rich and dense, flavourful but not overly beer-y. A definite keeper.

Guinness

Guinness Brownie Batter

All Baked Up

Guinness Brownies I

Guinness Brownies III

Guinness Brownies

This is a hybrid recipe from a couple of sources, but I have to give Bitchin’ Camero a shout out because that is a seriously awesome blog name and Blondie’s Cakes for the smart idea of reducing the Guinness for additional flavour.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted room temperature butter, cut into cubes
  • 8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used 6 ounces of bittersweet and 2 of 70 per cent dark chocolate)
  • 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 bottles Guinness beer, reduced to 1 1/4 cups
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt until evenly combined. Set aside.

In a double boiler set over low heat, melt butter, bittersweet chocolate and milk chocolate chips. Remove from heat.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together eggs and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Pour in melted chocolate mixture and beat until combined.

Add flour-cocoa mixture and beat until just combined. Whisk in cooled Guinness and vanilla. (It will take a few minutes for the beer to incorporate. I used more of a folding technique with the whisk for the first minute or two to keep everything from slopping everywhere.)

Pour into prepared pan. Scatter over semi-sweet chips.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Note: mine only took 24 minutes; start checking at the 20-minute mark.

Let brownies cool. Dust with icing sugar if using and serve.

Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies

The first time I had pecan pie was when I was 16 and visiting a friend in England for a month during summer holidays. There were visits to Stonehenge and London, trips on the train to Bath, but a lot of the time was spent hanging out in Bristol with her boyfriend and his friend, with whom I struck up a short summer romance.

It was not to last, but part of our brief courtship included an invitation to dinner at his family’s house. Details have likely been repressed due to all that teenage awkwardness, but one thing is clear in my mind: his mom made pecan pie.

It was delicious.

Since then I’ve been drawn to variations on the pecan pie. (Not, to be clear, in any way related to yearning for the boy who ended things in a long-distance call just a few weeks after I returned to Canada, but because I like the idea of this pie, the rich pecans and sweet goo filling.)

(And, as an aside, you can read a bit more about my short-lived summer romance in another pecan pie-related post here.)

But I can rarely get excited about making pastry.

And then I came across a recipe for Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies.

Stacked and side view

Where a crust would be, instead a fudgy, chewy brownie and a pecan pie topping kicked up with some bourbon.

Seemed to me like two very fine things coming together to make an even finer thing.

I found it on a blog, but the recipe originated (and had been adapted from) an NBC Sunday Night Football Cookbook, the idea of which totally charms me.

I used to use the same brownie recipe every time I felt like a chocolate fix, until I found a recipe for Rocky Road Brownies, which used no leavening. The resulting brownies were dense and fudgy and a revelation.

They are, unsurprisingly, rich — two sweet desserts combined into one. And the bourbon retains some of heady kick, so be warned.

The original recipe says it makes 16 bars; I’d suggest cutting smaller.

After all, you can always eat two.

Cocoa, butter and sugar

Scraped Clean

Chopped pecans

Top layer batter

Top layer on

Solo brownie

Stack of brownies

Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies

The original recipe calls for the two layers to bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes to set the pecan pie layer. Don’t be afraid to go longer; mine were in for 45 minutes before the centre had set.

For the brownies:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) flour
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) cocoa powder
  • 1 ¼ cup (300 mL) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 325F (160C). In a small bowl, beat together eggs and vanilla, then set aside. In a double boiler set over boiling water, combine butter, cocoa, sugar and salt. Mix as the butter melts until everything is combined. Remove from heat and whisk in egg and vanilla mixture.

Add flour and stir until combined. Pour into 8 by 8-inch (20 by 20 cm) baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely.

For the pecan pie layer:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) corn syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) bourbon
  • 2 cups (500 mL) chopped pecans

Beat together corn syrup and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, vanilla and cinnamon, and beat. Add butter and bourbon and beat again until thoroughly combined. Stir in pecans and pour the mixture over the brownie layer. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Let cool completely, then refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more food-related articles and recipes, check out the Herald’s food page.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream

It was my friend Dan Clapson’s birthday the other day.

As part of what turned out to be a long weekend’s worth of celebrating (for him, not me), on the Monday evening we had Monday Night Supper Club (head here for some play-by-plays of these weekly events) at Stanley Park. Dan laid out some ground rules for the potluck. OK, one rule: everything had to be shaped like a cake.

Since Dan seemed to be a very lucky birthday boy who got everything he hoped for over the weekend, who was I to deny this particular wish? So, leading up to the big day I was pondering ideas. And I was drawing blanks. I really just wanted to make cupcakes. What? I know my strengths.

Vanilla Cupcake with Bourbon Buttercream

And for some reason, I kept thinking about creating with some sort of bourbon-flavoured icing.

I thought it was pretty original, but a quick Google search showed recipes are out there. And that is a good thing because it gave me a great jumping off point.

It’s tasty stuff, I can’t lie. But it’s also incredibly boozy despite the fact there is very little booze in it. Three tablespoons, about 1 1/2 shots. And only half of that made it onto the cupcakes (it’s enough icing for 24 cupcakes, not 12; the remainder is sitting in my fridge and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it. Make more cupcakes seems the most logical answer.), so, really, it was 3/4 of a shot for the entire batch. You’re certainly not going to get drunk on them, that’s for sure.

People got pretty creative with the picnic potluck, including Chelsea who brought a sushi cake, complete with sweet potato “candles.”

Sushi "Cake"

Adria Britton with the very popular pizza pull-apart bread bundt.

Pull-Apart Pizza Bundt

Jamie Penno brought a savoury bacon-and-cheese cake.
Savoury Bacon and Cheese Cake

And Dan brought a potato salad “cake,” which was an intriguing take if not completely successful. Points for creativity!
Potato Salad "Cake"

I felt a bit non-creative for bringing straight up cupcakes, but I’m pretty sure the bourbon icing made up for that.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream I

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream II

Dan and his Birthday Cupcake

And it was a lovely night to be in the park. Perfect way to end a lazy long weekend.

Stanley Park

Vanilla Cupcakes
This is straight from Martha Stewart’s recipe for yellow cupcakes (though I rewrote the instructions a bit). They are yellow, but I prefer to focus on their flavour.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a muffin tin with liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In measuring cup or bowl, mix milk and vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well each time. Turn mixer down to low, then add half of the dry ingredients, followed by the milk and vanilla and then the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Divide evenly among muffin cups.

Place tin on rimmed cookie sheet and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. (Martha suggests 20 to 25 minutes; mine were done by 18, so don’t be afraid to check early.) Cool cupcakes in the tin for 5 minutes and then remove to a rack and cool completely before frosting.

Top with bourbon buttercream.

Bourbon Buttercream
And I adapted this one from My Recipes.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 pound icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat butter until creamy. Add half of the icing sugar and beat, followed by the milk and bourbon and vanilla. Mix until blended. Add the remaining sugar and beat until thick and smooth.

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake

The problem with getting behind in blogging is you start to forget why you made something in the first place.

OK, that might not be a problem others have. This may be particular to me.

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake Slice I

I think I came up with the idea of making a Chocolate Lime Cheesecake while flipping through cookbooks one night and remembering this had been on my to-do list for eons. I’m almost sure I had pulled Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites from my (overstuffed) shelf looking for one of her salad recipes when I re-stumbled across this one. And it occurred to me, since it was a long weekend and I was going to be working on the stat holiday, that I should bake this up and bring it in to the rest of the Calgary Herald crew working on the holiday Monday just like I used to when I was over in the city section. (Back then, I worked Sundays every week and I often baked and brought in goodies for what became known as Civilized Sundays, which would see us sitting around at 10 a.m. eating cake and listening to the police scanner. And reading our horoscopes.)

Then, and I do remember this correctly, I told the people who I knew would be also working that I was going to bake a cheesecake, which actually made me do it.

And, man, am I glad I did.

Nigella, my friends, she knows her stuff.

You know I love lime. It’s no surprise I also like chocolate. These two together are a very nice, very unexpected treat.

It may seem a bit fussy, but I followed all the instructions, including baking it in a water bath, which is a relatively common suggestion for baking cheesecake (a gentler way that theoretically keeps the top from cracking but always seemed like an unnecessary additional step). And I think it is indeed worth it. And the trick of snapping the aluminum foil into the springform pan (which sounds more confusing than it actually is) really does protect the crust and cake from any water.

Aluminum foil-wrapped pan

However, I must also add that I bought extra-wide aluminum foil thanks to the suggestion of my friend, Colette, who knew such a thing existed. Thanks Col! That way there was no panic about making sure the various pieces were secure enough. I would recommend this as a great way of alleviating any concern over seepage.

Seepage. What an odd thing to be mentioning on a food blog.

And, goodness, this is a very scattered post, isn’t it?

To summarize: this cheesecake is tasty. I enjoyed it. So did my friends. Make it. Don’t wait as long as I did to do so.

End.

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake I

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake II

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake Slice I

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake Slice I

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake

Straight from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites.

  • 7 ounces chocolate wafer cookies
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 pound cream cheese (recommended: Philadelphia)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 limes, juiced or 3/4 cup

Special equipment: springform pan

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place a large overlapping piece of aluminum foil over the bottom of the springform pan, and then insert pan ring over it. Fold the foil extra foil up and around the pan and place the whole thing on a second piece of foil, also folding it and pressing it securely around the pan, having a water tight covering.

In a food processor, process cookies until they are crumb-like, add melted butter and continue to process. Pour crumb mixture into springform pan and press with your fingers to line the pan. Place the pan in the refrigerator to set while you prepare the cheesecake.

Place a kettle of water on for water bath. In a food processor beat the cream cheese until smooth, add the sugar, eggs, egg yolks, and lime juice.

Take crumbed pan from the refrigerator and place it in a roasting pan. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the crumb pan, and then carefully pour the hot kettle of water into the roasting pan so the water reaches 1/2 way up the pan so the water does not splash into cheese cake.

Place roasting pan in oven for 1 hour, checking after 50 minutes. It should feel set, but still wobbly in the center. Take the roasting pan out of the oven, carefully remove the springform pan from the roasting pan and place it on a rack. Peel off the outer layer of foil, and tear away the side bits of the first layer of foil and leave the pan to cool. Once the cake comes to room temperature, place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before serving. Transfer to the plate you’re going to serve it on, a plate without a lip, or a cake stand. Unclip the springform pan and remove the outer part. Carefully lift the cheesecake removing the metal bottom. The aluminum foil can stay on the cake. Serve chilled.

Rhubarb Upside-down Cake

Before I get down to this (and, baby, this is well worth getting down to), a little apology and a tease of what’s going to be coming up on P&P. First, sorry for the delay in updating. Life, it has been hectic of late. That’s not a bad thing, except when it comes to keeping the blog a little more lively. But, my friends, I’ve got posts coming on my trip to Portland (hint: there are burgers. And they are t-a-s-t-y.), a scape pesto and some other goodies.

So, thanks for your patience. And now, let’s look at some cake, shall we?

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake III

It’s rhubarb season again and one of my most favourite times of the year (right up there with that point when cherry blossoms finally burst forth in frothy clouds of pink).

In the last few weeks, people have regaled me with stories of how their rhubarb patches are growing like weeds and they have no idea what to do with all those stalks. (Including one friend who actually didn’t know it was rhubarb in her garden. If I lived anywhere near her, I would have been tempted to drive over and take them all.)

I give them all the same response: I’m more than happy to take it off their hands.

I have no shame when it comes to rhubarb.

Red Rhubarb Stalks

I love it, those rosy-pink or mottled green stalks with their sour punch that mellows with a little sugar and heat.

I like it in crumb cakes and muffins, crisps and cocktails. (And here are a couple more.)

And when I saw this Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake from Martha Stewart, I knew exactly what my next project would be once I got my hands on a pound or two of the fruit.

My only real experience with upside-down cakes is the images from the ’60s and ’70s of the pineapple version with each golden ring dotted by a bright red maraschino cherry.

This version is all rhubarb with the top awash in rosy pink.

The question with upside-down cakes is always, will this upend properly to a gorgeous display of fruit on a golden-crumbed cake? The backup question follows: if it doesn’t, can I at least make it look like it did?

Except for a few errant pieces of rhubarb that slid off the cake’s edges, it came out beautifully. (Perhaps don’t jam them into the edges of the pan quite as enthusiastically as I did, since these were the ones that escaped from the top of the cake.)

I will say that I followed Stewart’s instructions exactly and she suggests removing the cake after only 10 minutes of cooling; otherwise, she says, it will stick.

As I lifted off the cake pan, rosy pink juices glided down the cake edge and settled on the cake stand like a thin moat.

It was definitely juicier than the image of Stewart’s perfect cake, but when it comes to that sweetened rhubarb syrup that forms when the fruit is cooked with a bit of sugar, I’m OK with that. And I’ve never heard anyone complain of an overly moist cake.

This was light and fluffy, slightly perfumed with orange and topped with softened rhubarb, sugar-kissed and slightly tangy.

And the unusual addition of a crumb topping (which then becomes the crumb bottom) added an unexpected, but nice, texture.

I thought it was a weird touch and was tempted to skip it initially, figuring rhubarb and cake alone would be tasty, but it added another dimension to the cake, which I liked.

And, with this, rhubarb season is on for me.

I can only hope other friends feel overwhelmed by an excess of rhubarb and they don’t mind me suggesting they feel free to pass it along.

Rhubarb and Sugar

Rhubarb and Sugar II

Crumb Topping

Cooked Crumb Topping

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake II

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake Slice

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

This comes from Martha Stewart. She suggests when putting the rhubarb in the cake pan to put the pinkest edges facing down so the cake, when upended, will have the best colour.

For the topping:

  • 4 tbsp (60 mL) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) sugar
  • coarse salt

For the cake:

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) unsalted butter, divided, at room temperature, plus more for buttering pan
  • 1 lb (500 g) rhubarb, trimmed and cut on a very sharp diagonal about ½-inch (1-cm) thick
  • 1¾ cups (425 mL) sugar, divided
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) baking powder
  • coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh orange juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Make the topping: Stir together butter, flour, sugar and 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt until moist and crumbly.

Make the cake: Butter a 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pan (2 inches/5 cm deep). Dot with 4 tbsp (60 mL) butter, cut into pieces. Toss rhubarb with 3/4 cup (175 mL) sugar; let stand for 2 minutes. Toss again, and spread in pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and 1½ tsp (7 mL) salt. Beat remaining butter and cup of sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in zest and juice. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl.

Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream, until smooth. Spread evenly over rhubarb. Crumble topping evenly over batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean and top springs back when touched, about 1 hour. Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely.

Cook’s Note: Let the cake cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. The rhubarb will be too hot to handle safely right after baking. But if the cake sits much longer, it may stick.

This first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and instructional videos, check out the Herald’s Food page.

Rocky Road Brownies

A couple of months ago I went on a ski trip with a number of friends to Golden. OK, for me it was an apres ski trip, where I excelled in drinking margaritas, attempting my first shot ski (I’ll let you google that; no wait, now it sounds dirty: it’s a ski with shot glasses attached so four people are doing shots at once.) (EDIT: I stand mistaken. This is a five-shot shot ski. Thanks Tait!), hot tubbing, cooking (for which I volunteered) and participating in much general merriment.

My friend Dawn and I created a meal plan and bought all the groceries to make things easier for everyone attending (and then we divided the cost amongst all the people on the trip). While we had a solid plan, we did wind around the grocery store aisles trying to figure out if we were missing anything. Somehow along the way we decided it would be awesome to get some marshmallows for hot chocolate. And, for some unknown reason, this culminated in purchasing a 1-kilogram (yeah, that’s 2.2 pounds) bag of baby marshmallows. When, at the end of the weekend, we were dividing up the remaining groceries, I somehow was gifted the marshmallows, which, of course, we never opened.

Initially, my instinct was to make browned-butter Rice Krispie treats. Um, then things got busy and I was eating a lot of last-minute meals and that generally translated into eating the entire box of cereal I had bought to make the marshmallow treats. Fail.

And then I starting thinking about some S’mores brownies my friend Andree made. So I started googling and at some point I stumbled across these Rocky Road Brownies. (Why they are related to TLC, I know not.) What I can tell you? They are AMAZING.

Rocky Road Brownies IV

Deep, dark, fudgy base, topped with melted smears of sweet marshmallow and the salty crunch of pecans.

Just look at that.

Rocky Road Brownies II

Let me put it this way: I usually eat one piece of whatever I’ve baked and then give the rest away. This time? I ate two pieces, gave some away, but held another two back for later. And when those were gone I’m not afraid to say that I was a wee bit sad. Thankfully (or not), I’ve got about 2 pounds of those marshmallows left.

Clearly, I’m making these again.
Melted Chocolate

Deep dark brownie batter

Rocky Road Brownies I

Rocky Road Brownies III

Rocky Road Brownies V

(The original recipe calls for walnuts, but I like pecans, so that’s what I keep around. Also, I didn’t have buttermilk and didn’t want to buy some just for this, so I used 1/4 cup of whole milk with a bit of lemon juice squeezed in.)

Rocky Road Brownies

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Butter an 8-inch square pan. (If you have parchment paper, I like to make a sling by lining the pan with a piece of parchment large enough to create overhang outside of the pan.)

In a pot over low heat, combine butter and cocoa, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, flour, buttermilk, egg and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Spread evenly in the pan. Bake 25 minutes or until center feels dry. Do not overbake. Remove from oven, sprinkle with marshmallows, pecans and chocolate chips. Return to oven 3 to 5 minutes or just until topping is slightly melted.

Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into squares.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

A milestone slipped past last week.

I took note of it, but said nothing because there was no point in celebrating unless there was cake.

Slice of Cake III

Actually, the original plan was to make a salted caramel tart but, once again, pastry bested me. One day, pastry. One day! Truth be told, it was flaky as all get out and tasted great, but uneven rolling led to some parts being more cooked than others and there were slumping and shrinking issues. My theory is that I’m actually not putting enough weight in when pre-baking and then taking the beans out too quickly. It worked much better with the second shell, which didn’t slump as much, but the unevenness of the baked pastry was a little more than this mostly-perfectionist could handle.

No matter, there was a back-up plan. Albeit one that would have to wait until post-milestone.

See, it’s my blog’s third birthday.

Three years.

Craziness.

I remember first broaching the idea with some friends after we had been out at the pub. We were outside, in the frigid cold, saying goodnight when I just sort of threw it out there. “I’m thinking of starting a food blog.”

And since then there have been many baking projects and, thankfully, many happy eaters. (A special thanks must go to the Civilized Sunday crew at the Herald who willingly — and, occassionally, expectantly — ate what I brought to work on the weekend shift. Cake for breakfast? Yeah, that was a good tradition.

There have been amazing times  and incredibly tough times.

So, I’m interested to see what the next year (and more) will bring.

For the last three years, I’ve kicked off the start of a new blogging year with cake. First, there was the inaugural Red Velvet Cake (wee bit embarrassed by the photos back then, but moving along), followed by a much-better version for my first blogiversary and then a triple layer chocolate cake last year.

This year is only slightly different. It’s still cake, but it’s a decadent and rich, truffle-like Flourless Chocolate Cake.

Slice of Cake II

At least in this case, unlike the pastry situation, slumping is expected.

This cake is deeply, darkly rich, ironically lightened by a topping of whipping and sour creams, beaten with icing sugar. (Or, if you think you have tons because there’s always about six bags in the cupboard where they appear to multiply like bunnies until the day you need some and then there isn’t any, a little bit of berry sugar will do the trick.) And it is Oh. So. Good.

I actually heard about it over Twitter from the gang at Real Simple one day. Made it a few days later for friends and was still thinking about it months later and how I really needed to make it again. That’s the sign of a good cake, I figure. (Original recipe here. Though I haven’t really made any changes.)

Baking like this is so lovely. I especially love adding the chopped chocolate to the hot butter-and-cream mixture and then stirring, stirring, stirring as it changes from a curdled-looking mass to silky smooth melted chocolate. And how it comes out of the oven all puffy and light looking before collapsing into a deeply dark slump of rich chocolate cake. The slight tang in the dollop of the whipped cream takes it to a whole new level.

I ate one slice and gave the rest away to friends. Now, as it nears bedtime, I wish I had saved myself just another sliver. Ah well. Reason to make it again soon.

This recipe is fantastic, but I would add a pinch or two of salt. I really feel that a tiny bit of salt in sweet things rounds them out. In this case, I didn’t quite have enough unsalted butter, so about half of the butter was salted. I think it worked perfectly and I may do this from now on. Only have unsalted? Just add a pinch or two of regular table salt.

Chopped Chocolate

Melted Chocolate

Batter in Pan

Puffed out of the oven

Slumped cake

Cake Slice I

Flourless Chocolate Cake

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping (heavy) cream, divided
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar, plus more for dusting
Heat oven to 350° F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with cocoa powder.
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter with ¼ cup of the whipping cream over medium-low heat until the butter is melted. Add the chocolate and stir until melted and smooth; remove from heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, and cocoa powder; whisk in the chocolate mixture.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until puffed and set, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 1 hour. Run a knife around the edge of the cake before unmolding.
Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1 cup of whipping cream with the sour cream and icing sugar until soft peaks form. Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar and serve with the whipped cream.

Pecan Pie Bars

Going through my delicious bookmarks, I clicked a few links for things I wanted to make this week. And then I was mildly surprised to see that about half were from Family Kitchen on Babble.

Including this one for Pecan Pie Bars.

Pecan Pie Bars III

I’ve only had a few pecan pies in my time. Probably the most memorable was one I was served by the parents of a boy I was dating for a couple of weeks in England. He was the friend of my friend’s boyfriend, so he hung out with us while I was visiting her in the summer between Grade 11 and Grade 12. Saw the sights of England, drank a lot of Buck’s Fizz, spent a week in the Welsh town of Aberdovey and got a temporary boyfriend (who broke it off shortly after I returned to Vancouver, though not after sending me one or two care packages filled with mix tapes. He made me a friendship bracelet too. Ah, young romance.)

As part of our extremely short courtship, he invited me to his parents’ house for dinner. I don’t remember much about that meal, though I’m sure it was chock-full of awkwardness, except that his mother made pecan pie.

Anyway, I’ve never attempted making one (that damn fear of pastry), but when I saw this recipe for Pecan Pie Bars, I was totally smitten. Who doesn’t love a shortbread crust?

The trick with shortbread, I’ve learned, is to wait and let the butter get really gloppy before getting started. I let my butter sit out for 36 hours, I think, so it was perfect for this recipe. But before I got started, I finally took a moment to fix my KitchenAid mixer, which had too large a gap between the mixing implements and the bottom of the bowl, which meant I was constantly scraping down and around the base of the bowl to make sure everything was getting mixed together. Bless the Kitchn for their oh-so-helpful tutorial on how to make that adjustment. It took about three seconds and has greatly improved things.

Just after they went into the oven, I got a text from a friend saying she had unexpectedly come into two tickets to the Heritage Classic. Did I want to go? Although no one would call me a huge hockey fan, I do like to go to games when opportunities present themselves to me. And the thought of attending this game was kind of appealing, despite the negative temperatures.

Heritage Classic
The view from our seats as the sun set.

I thought the bars would be done in plenty of time, but they were still incredibly jiggly in the centre when I went to pull them out (albeit a bit early since my oven sometimes runs a bit hot). I gave them five more minutes. And then another five. And then another three. And then I had to leave. The centre was still not set, but I had high hopes it would solidify more as it cooled and then after a night in the fridge.

It was not to be.

When I cut into the bars the next day, the edges were fine, if not slightly (and deliciously) gooey. The centre fell completely apart in a liquid mess of pecans and sticky goo. Not going to lie, I ate part of it with a spoon, but that’s why there are only photos of edge pieces.

The sauce also bubbled up over the top of the crust in some places, sneaking under to the bottom of the pan. This was kind of a lovely accident, really because it baked into the crust.

I will definitely make these again, this time letting them bake a little bit more.

Pecans and crust

Pecans, crust and filling

Pecan Pie Bars

Pecan Pie Bars II

Find the original post on Babble here.

Pecan Pie Bars

for the crust:

  • 1 1/2 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached flour

for the filling:

  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 2 cups pecans

Preheat oven to 325.

For the crust: In a medium bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and salt. Add in flour and mix until just incorporated. Press into the bottom and up the sides of an 8-inch square pan. The crust should come up at least two inches on the sides.

For the filling: In a large bowl, whisk together corn syrup, sugars, melted butter, eggs, salt, vanilla, flour, and vinegar. Spread pecans out in the bottom of the crust. Pour sugar mixture over the top. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the center is just set.

Cool completely and cut into squares.

Coca-cola Cupcakes with Glaze

I’m not going to tell you how exactly how long this has been sitting in the vault. But I’ll give you a hint; I made these for someone who had given up drinking coca-cola for Lent. Yeah, I should probably join some sort of 12-step program for procrastinators.

But I digress . . . .

So, I thought it would be hilarious to make Coca-cola Cupcakes with Glaze for a friend. Only after I brought them to her did I realize that maybe her giving up Coke for Lent probably meant any consumption of the cola and that in my effort to be funny I might actually be undoing her commitment. She assured me that she had only given up drinking Coke and that she saw the humour in the cupcakes. I continued to feel guilt through much of Lent.

Coca-cola

Glazed Cupcakes II

I can’t actually remember how or when I stumbled on this recipe in Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, but I had marked it with a Post-it note at some point and then I think I just connected the dots later. It’s only one of about 12 recipes that have little tags marking them as “to-make,” so I guess I should get going on that.

One of the things I love about Nigella’s recipes are some of them call for simply melting the butter instead of waiting it to come to room temperature. For someone like me, who sometimes wants to make things relatively on impulse (read: impatient), this means I still can. No waiting.

And it was kind of fun to make these. Not only because of the odd mix of ingredients but also because the reaction between the cocoa and Coke was a bit hypnotic. Giant bubbles, that pretty much sums it up.

Cocoa bubbles

I was a little freaked out by how thin the batter was, but they bake up beautifully. They’re so . . . light. I don’t know how else to describe them. They certainly don’t taste like Coke, but it’s still charming to say that’s the not-so-secret ingredient.

The original recipe is for a full cake and, although Nigella suggests you can make cupcakes, she doesn’t give a baking time. I guessed at 15 minutes and when I checked them they were perfectly done. However, she says it will make 12 cupcakes and it made 16 for me (An ongoing problem for me is I always end up with more cupcakes than the recipe specifies. Unsure if I make them smaller or if my muffin tin is smaller? Ok, “problem” isn’t really the right word.)

So, if your batter fits perfectly in 12, I’d bank on it taking a few more minutes.

Coca-cola cupcake batter

Coca-cola Cupcakes

Coca-cola Glaze

Glazed cupcakes

Coca-cola Cupcakes with Glaze

  • 200 g plain flour
  • 250 g sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 125 mL buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 125 g unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 175 mL Coca-cola

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat the egg, buttermilk and vanilla in in a measuring jug. In a heavy-based saucepan, melt the butter, cocoa and Coca-cola, heating it gently. Pour into the dry ingredients, stir well with a wooden spoon, and then add the liquid ingredients from the jug, beating until it is well blended.

Pour into a muffin tin that has been greased or lined with papers and bake for 15 minutes (or more, see above) until a tester comes out clean.

Glaze

  • 225 g icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons Coca-cola
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Sieve the icing sugar and set aside. In a heavy-based saucepan, combine the butter, Coca-Cola and cocoa and stir over a low heat until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla, and spoon in the sieved icing sugar, beating as you do, until you’ve got a good, spreadable, but still runny, icing.

Pour over the cupcakes while they are still warm, and leave to cool.

Fruit Cobbler Cake

Look! It’s more peach-related baking.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I only had one peach by the time I finally got around to this cake from Julie over at Dinner with Julie, so I had to get a little creative with the other fruit I had bought from the Farmer’s Market the weekend before, adding a nectarine and some blackberries to the mix.

(And I feel a little bit badly posting this since peach season is just about over for the year. Sorry!)

Julie’s version used rhubarb (and I kind of wish I had thought of this recipe when that fruit was still available. Must keep in mind for next year), but pretty much any fruit will work. The only adjustment that needs to be made is to the amount of sugar you sprinkle on over top. Rhubarb, with it’s tart flavour, needs more sugar. These needed barely any. And in an effort to get creative, I actually used large-grained raw sugar, which probably gave it a much more caramel-like flavour on top.

As you can see in the photo, it, uh, caramelized the edges of the cake. Actually, truth be told, I was freaking out the whole thing was going to burn before the centre was finally cooked. But people seemed to like it quite a bit (favouring the edges where it hit more of the batter and less of the fruit), but next time I’d like to try it with straight-up sugar to see what kind of difference it makes.

I liked the idea of this cake, the way it bakes up around the fruit, enveloping it even. And it didn’t disappoint.

Peaches and Nectarines

Scattered Fruit

Fruit Cobbler Cake

Fruit Cobbler Cake Slice

It’s definitely one to keep in mind when next summer gets going or, even better, when you are craving a taste of summer and the fruit isn’t exactly ripe and delicious enough to eat on its own. Baking it into this cake will elevate it, I swear.

This recipe, like so many good ones, comes from Julie over at Dinner with Julie. (And hey, while you’re over there, check out her peach bran muffins recipe, which I also made and was fabulous.)

Fruit Cobbler Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 2 – 4 cups assorted fruit (rhubarb, strawberries, peaches, plums, nectarines, blackberries etc. I used a peach, a nectarine and a scattering of blackberries in my version)
  • 1/8 to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on the tartness of the fruit; rhubarb, for example, would need a greater amount of sugar)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined and starting to get fluffly. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each, then beat in the vanilla.

Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir by hand or beat on low speed just until combined; the batter will be thick. Spread into a 9″x13″ pan that has been sprayed with nonstick spray, and scatter the fruit over top. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the cake is golden and the cakey parts springy to the touch.

Makes one large cake.

Peach Upside Down Cake

In a rash move, I bought a whole bunch of peaches a couple of weeks ago. And then, when those had run out, I bought some more. Some of you may have already enjoyed the Peach, Prosciutto, Rosemary and Goat Cheese flatbread, which resulted from this sudden and inexplicable need to purchase peaches. But, wait, there’s more! Since it became clear I was going to need to bake with some of them, as they all began to ripen at once, I became fascinated by the idea of making a Peach Upside Down Cake.

I never really understood the love affair with pineapple upside down cakes (maybe it’s my aversion to maraschino cherries), but I do like the idea of fruit getting baked into the bottom of a cake and then being turned out so it becomes the decorative topping. They’re just so darn pretty.

Peaches on the bottom

Peach Upside Down Cake

Now would be a good time to praise my digital kitchen scale because, well, this recipe is almost completely in weights, with the exception of the eggs and vanilla.

That said, I absolutely do love my digital kitchen scale, which was a gift from my mum one Christmas. It is, by far, one of the most used gadgets in my kitchen. It’s super handy for measuring butter (since I always have to cut mine to measure because we don’t have “sticks” of butter up here and it gets tricky sometimes trying to carve off the appropriate amount from the blocks we have up here) and I now use it exclusively when making no-knead bread (post coming soon) because I can just tare it off before adding the next ingredient. And, of course, a lot of European recipes only use weights, which makes the scale essential.

I don’t usually encourage people to purchase additional things for the kitchen (cough, cough, except for the clearly essential rasp, which I have talked often about; mine is from Lee Valley Tools), but I do believe this is a useful tool. Ok, moving on.

This cake was seriously delicious and oh-so-pretty. The brown sugar and butter-topping created a moist, topping and the peaches were perfect. The cake was relatively light and nicely spiced, so the perfect complement to the rich topping and cooked fruit.

And, perhaps more importantly, it was really quiet easy. But the gorgeous presentation doesn’t suggest that at all, making it an ideal cake for sharing with friends. (Which I did!)

Peaches on the bottom - closer

Peach Upside Down Cake II

Peach Upside Down Cake III

Peach Upside Down Cake slicef

I have no idea how I stumbled on to this recipe, but it came from Kerrisdale Design Inc.

Peach Upside Down Cake

  • 3 ounces brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 peaches, peeled and cut into 1/2″ slices
  • 6 ounces unsalted butter
  • 3.5 ounces brown sugar
  • 3.5 ounces white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 6.5 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 ounce baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 7.5 ounces buttermilk

Heat the oven to 350 F and spray an 8-inch cake pan with non-stick spray. In the microwave or in a small pot on the stove, melt together the butter with brown sugar, mixing well. Pour the butter mixture into the prepared pan and layer the sliced peaches on top. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugars until well combined. Add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. In a separate bowl sift the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and finishing with the flour. Pour the batter over the peaches and spread to the edges of the pan.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the center of the cake springs back when lightly pressed and the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan then turn out onto your serving platter.  Allow to cool for an additional 30 minutes before slicing.

Microwave Lime Cheesecake

Under normal circumstances, microwave cheesecake would be an ideal summer dessert for the sole reason that it doesn’t require you to turn on your oven.

However, this summer has been anything but normal.

So, instead, I’m going to tell you that these little cheesecakes are ridiculously easy, super tasty and highly transportable and those are three very fine reasons to consider trying it out. And, hey, if the forecasters are right and we’re going to sail through the rest of August on a heat wave, then feel free to use not wanting to turn on your oven as an excuse, too.

The more rationale, the better, I say.

Not that cheesecake should require any rationale.

These ones certainly don’t.

Microwave Lime Cheesecake I

Now, I’m not going to lie. If you’re looking for a silky smooth cheesecake with nary a crack marring the surface, lovingly cooked in a water bath and chilled overnight in the fridge, this isn’t the recipe for you.

If you’re looking for something you can whip up in seven minutes — including cooking time — that sits in the fridge for an hour and then can be devoured, giving you the same tart lime cheesecake taste as the regular kind with almost the same amount of smoothness, then this is the recipe for you.

It was for me.

The hardest part was waiting for it to chill enough.

And the best part was because I used mason jars, I could just slap on a lid and take it with me, which would be ideal for picnicking or making an office lunch a little more luxurious.

I used two one-cup (250 mL) mason jars to make the cheesecakes and had a little bit of batter left over. In hindsight, I can tell you I filled the jars a bit too full.

At some point, I may want to sit down and reexamine the subject of portion control. At the time, though, it seemed like a good idea. After all, the recipe said it makes two to four cheesecakes, so two seemed more than reasonable.

Please take my suggestion and make at least three, for a few reasons: 1: These jars are pretty giant and the cheesecake is, naturally, a bit rich and may be better in a slightly smaller dose. 2: Three or four cheesecakes means you can share more easily with more people. That or you can spread them out over several sittings.

3: You won’t be watching anxiously through the microwave door as the cheesecake mixture souffles up and over the jars’ edges, threatening to spill all over the rotating tray.

As it was, all that fretting was for nothing. They didn’t spill, but I think it would have been better without the panic.

Out of the microwave, they settled nicely into a slightly concave top.

I filled that with whipped cream — purely for esthetic reasons, of course. But later I thought some fresh fruit would have been nice.

I liked the slightly tart taste of limes countering the richness of cheesecake, but suspect this recipe can be easily adjusted to suit other flavours, such as lemon (by switching the zest and juice to that fruit) or a straight-up vanilla cheesecake by omitting the citrus and adding a teaspoon or so of vanilla extract. That would be particularly delicious topped with summer berries or a fruit compote.

After all, it only takes about seven minutes to try a new variation. The tricky part will be waiting the hour to see how it tastes.

Limes

Microwave Lime Cheesecake II

Microwave Lime Cheesecake

Adapted from TheKitchn.com

  • 3 tbsp (50 mL) butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar
  • 8 oz (250 g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) sugar
  • zest of one lime
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) fresh lime juice
  • 1 egg

Combine the graham cracker crumbs with melted butter and 1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar. Divide between two to four 1-cup (250 mL) jars or ramekins and press into the bottom.

Mix the rest of the ingredients until smooth. Divide evenly into jars or ramekins with crumbed bottoms.

Place in microwave for 2 minutes. The top of the cheesecake should appear dry when cooked. If it doesn’t look quite done, microwave at 30-second intervals until the tops appear dry. (For my extremely full jars, I needed 2 minutes and 30 seconds.) If you don’t have a rotating microwave tray, cook for 1 minute then turn the jars or ramekins and microwave for another minute.

Chill in refrigerator for 1 hour. Garnish with whipped cream or fresh berries and serve.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.

Goodbye Cake

I have a new job!

After more than a dozen years of covering news at newspapers all over hell’s half acre in B.C. before finally making it to the big leagues — the Vancouver Sun, the Globe & Mail and, now, the Calgary Herald — I have just taken over as the new full-time, permanent food writer for the Herald.

In my time as a news reporter, I’ve written about the birth of a baby beluga, health care, education, dinosaurs in Tumbler Ridge, BC, the deaths of three women killed by men they once loved even after reporting their safety concerns to RCMP. I’ve spoken with ministers and a minor celebrity or two. I’ve sat through heartbreaking testimony and watched people break down in courtrooms. I’ve cried with the family members of homicide victims.

I’ve loved it and hated it, been moved by stories and frustrated by them too.

And now I’m trading covering crime and calamity for cake, the seedy underbelly of the city for pork belly and so on.

It is, no doubt, a dream job and I’m excited. But it wasn’t without some sadness that I left the great team of city reporters. (OK, yes, I basically just moved my stuff about 20 feet from my old desk and I’m still sitting right next to my city peeps, but it’s a whole different world.) Most of all, I miss the camaraderie of so-called Civilized Sundays when I’d bring in baking, like red velvet cake, which we would eat while listening to the police scanner. It’s not so much that I miss working Sundays (because I think I could really get used to this Monday-Friday thing), it’s the ritual of it all.

So, of course, on my last city shift, I had to bring in a cake!

Iced Cake II

I did a really informal twitter poll and people voted for a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. So, I found a recipe for both and got to work a few weekends ago. And, once it was baked, I thought it would be even better to slice the cake layers in half, double the icing and go for a quadruple-layer cake. For the most part that went well, barring some uneven slicing that led to some repair work to one of the layers. I hoped for the best cutting into it that I would bypass where things had gone sideways, but luck isn’t usually on my side. And it wasn’t this time around. So the beauty shot of the slice isn’t as good as it could be. (No doubt also because I didn’t let it cool down after putting on the icing, which would have made for a cleaner cut. But I was impatient (as usual) and just wanted to try a piece of the damn thing.

Barring that one piece, I gave half to some friends who just had a baby and took the rest in to work. Yes, we ate it for breakfast. And that made it perfect.

The cake recipe comes from Rock Recipes (though I have no idea how I stumbled on it originally), while the icing is from Joy of Baking.

Though both were fantastic, I wish I had tried something a little less overwhelming with the cake, like a lemon or basic buttercream. I have a feeling the chocolate icing overpowered the extremely vanilla cake instead of letting them better each other together.

Both are fantastic, though, and well worth trying on their own.

Vanilla Cake batter

Chocolate icing

Whipped chocolate icing

Iced Cake

Cake slice

Slice of cake

Vanilla Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups cake and pastry flour
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs at room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup undiluted evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 325.

Sift together flours, baking powder and salt. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and pale. Add, one at a time, the eggs, beating well after each to make sure they are fully incorporated. Beat in vanilla. Gently fold in the dry ingredients, alternating with the evaporated milk, in three parts, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.

Divide batter evenly between 2 well greased 9-inch cake pans. (I also put parchment circles on the bottom to ensure a good release.) Bake in oven for about 35 to 40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cake rest in pans for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Frosting
(I doubled this recipe to have enough for a quadruple-layer cake. This is the recipe in its original measurements.)
  • 8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 cups icing sugar, sifted to remove lumps
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

In a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, put the chopped chocolate, cocoa, milk, and butter.  Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat and beat in, with a hand mixer or wire whisk, the confectioners sugar and vanilla extract.  If the frosting is lumpy, strain through a strainer to remove any lumps.  Cover and place the frosting in the refrigerator until it is firm (this may take a few hours).  Once the frosting is firm remove from refrigerator and place in your mixing bowl.  Beat the frosting for a minute or two or until it is nice and smooth and of spreading consistency.