Sunday, November 7, 2010

Deep Dark Secret Chocolate Cake (triple- or double-decker)

The secret?  I'll just tell you right now the first one - it's mayonnaise.  Original recipe from Bon Appetit April 2010: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake for a birthday cake at the end of summer.  I'm not a great cake-eater, except for spice or carrot cakes.  Usually they're too dry, too boring, but this cake?  Amazing.  Moist and rich without feeling heavy.  Not oversweet, so that the real chocolate taste sings through.  

Of course, we further tweaked and adjusted (because we can't help ourselves) and suggest that SALTED butter in the frosting tips the balance just that much further into perfection.  You may consider adding a teaspoon or two of cinnamon to the batter along with the flour if you crave that Mexican chocolate deliciousness.

Deep Dark Secret Chocolate Cake

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour three 8-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides.

Combine in medium metal bowl:
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped 
  • ⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
then add:
  • 1¾  cups boiling water
and whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Sift together in another medium bowl:
  • 2¾  cups all purpose flour
  • teaspoons baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional) 
Beat in a large bowl until well blended (2 to 3 minutes):
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 cups mayonnaise (do not use reduced-fat or fat-free)
then add, one at a time, beating until well blended after each addition:
  • 2 large eggs
Beat in:
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Add flour mixture to sugars in 4 additions,  alternating with chocolate mixture in 3 additions, beating until blended after each addition and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl.

Divide batter among prepared cake pans (about 2 cups for each).

Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 32 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 20 minutes.

Run small knife around sides of cakes to loosen. Carefully invert cakes onto racks and let cool completely.


Set in a medium metal bowl, over a saucepan of simmering water
  • 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
and stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Carefully remove bowl from over water; let melted chocolate cool until lukewarm, stirring occasionally.

Beat in large bowl
  • 1½  cups (3 sticks) salted butter, room temperature
until smooth and creamy.

Sift over the butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
and beat until well blended, about 2 minutes.

Beat in
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Add melted chocolate to the butter mixture and beat until well blended and smooth, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl.

TO FROST: Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread ¾ cup frosting over top of cake layer to edges. Top with second cake layer; spread ¾ cup frosting over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining frosting decoratively over top and sides of cake.

~ OR ALTERNATIVELY - Frost one layer to take to a lucky neighbor, and enjoy the still generous double layer cake with plenty of family and friends at home.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Basic and Best Whole Wheat Bread

with Cinnamon Raisin Swirl option

makes 6 loaves

1 Tablespoon yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
Lukewarm is the temperature milk (lacto) comes fresh from the cow -- body temperature -- so it should feel neither hot nor cold to the touch.  The yeast likes a little to eat as it comes out of its sleep so I also sprinkle in 
½ to 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Then let it soak until all the yeast is moistened.  Gently stir and set aside and let the yeast wake up and start making bubbles.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together
1 cup oil
1 cup honey
3 Tablespoons salt
7 cups warm water
A few cups at a time, mix in
7 cups whole wheat flour
By now the yeast should be foamy: pour it into the flour mixture and whisk it up.  Then stir in, a cup at a time,
4-6 cups whole wheat flour
until the batter is almost too thick to whisk.

Cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rise about 1 hour, longer if kitchen is cool (or the yeast is old and slow).  The longer the rise, the more tender the crumb, which is why some bakers like to let their bread rise in the refrigerator overnight.

The only danger is that if the yeast gets out of hand it will turn the dough sour.  You want to let the dough rise until dough is almost doubled in size.  What you don't want is to let the dough rise and rise and then collapse in upon itself, turning bitter and souring.

Think of this as a symbol for your dearest relationship - there are no hard and fast rules.  You must allow space and time for the dough to develop.  You must stay near to attend and respond when the dough is ready.

When the dough is doubled, knead the dough in the bowl to deflate.  (Usually we say "punch down" the dough, but not if you're still thinking of it as a symbol of your loving - and in any case, all you are doing is gently deflating the risen dough, allowing the trapped air to escape.  No violence required.)

Turn dough out onto floured countertop or table and begin kneading in
4-6 more cups flour (twice that if using white flour)
This is the true core of bread-making.  The amount of flour you add depends on the humidity in the air, the moisture in the flour.  You want the dough to gently cling but not to stick to your hands too wetly.  But especially with whole wheat bread, the moister to can keep the dough and still have it workable, the lighter your resulting loaf will be.

When I first began to make bread I had to time myself kneading because I'd always give up too soon and end up with heavy, crumbly bread instead of the light, chewy loaf I was aiming for.  10 - 15 minutes did the job admirably - which was about the time it took to get to my favorite song (a male and a female voice weaving around each other) on a Celtic CD I had.  Nowadays though I can tell by feel when the dough is kneaded and it seems to take less time than that.  What you're aiming for is a dough that feels as softly stiff as an earlobe.

Let dough rest as you oil 6 loaf pans -- I use olive oil here, too, because it will flavor the bread. Brush the oil over the whole inner surface of the bread pan, paying especial attention to the corners.

Then divide the dough into 6 balls.  I don't want to cut it with a knife because I've spent so much effort developing the long strands of gluten, so I squeeze it off in the center to divide it in half, then squeeze off smaller balls in thirds.

Let the balls rest a minute or two then flatten the first ball and roll it up into a log, pinching together the edges.

If you are making Cinnamon Raisin Swirl bread -- this is where that happens -- before rolling it up sprinkle the flattened dough with raisins and then cinnamon.  Other dried fruit or spices or nuts or even cheese and bacon and sautéed onions can be added instead. The rolling it up is what makes the swirl. Pinch the edges together very carefully so that none of that added goodness tumbles out.

Press each loaf, smoothest side down, into its oiled pan to make a nice squared loaf and then flip the loaf over, pinched-together side down, and press loaf into the pan.  Let the loaves rise 1 hour (or more) until the dough bellies up above the edge of the pan.

Preheat oven to 400° to get a good hot oven and quickly slide each loaf into the oven, turning it down to 350° as soon as you put the bread in.

Bake at 350° for 35-45 minutes.  It’s cooked through when water on your finger touched to the bottom of loaf pan sizzles and the top of the bread has a nice golden crust.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Late Summer Succotash

The glory of a good succotash is great ingredients - so beautifully available this time of year.  I keep experimenting with recipes but I think this is the winner so far . . . though a close runner up is the recipe in Rick Rodgers Thanksgiving 101.

What makes this recipe especially fine is the unexpected splash of vinegar to brighten the flavors.    That and generous fresh basil - because why would you use any other herb in late summer? 

I like to add steamed flat Italian green beans and I adore the sweet tenderness of fresh shell beans - I prefer to shell the adorable red & white cranberry beans instead of the more usual fresh limas.  With bacon that was our neighbor's hog, basil I grew myself, and peak-of-ripeness local vegetables this, for me, is late summer in a dish. 

adapted from Epicurious: Gourmet August 1999

Late Summer Succotash

Over moderate heat cook until crisp
  • ¼ lb bacon (~ 4 slices)
Drain grease and blot, setting aside 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease.  Crumble bacon into nice-sized bits.

  • 2 lbs fresh cranberry beans in pod  (a delight in itself.  Now I just need to find me a rocking chair and a big wraparound porch and a little early morning birdsong)  - about 2 cups of beans

Add shelled beans to
  • a small saucepan of boiling salted water
and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until just tender - about 7 minutes.  Ladle beans out of water with a slotted spoon.

Using bean water steam
  • 1- 2 lbs flat Italian green beans
about 5 minutes until color is vivid.  Then lift from boiling water and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.

Cut kernels from
  • 8 ears of corn
taking care to catch the juices in a bowl or on cutting board.

  • 1 - 2 lbs cherry tomatoes
cutting the larger tomatoes in half, then chop or mince
  • 2 Vidalia onions
  • 2 - 3 garlic cloves

Add the saved 2 tablespoons of bacon grease to skillet and cook onion over moderate heat, stirring, until softened. Add garlic and cook or 1 minute, stirring.  Add tomatoes, corn and
  • 2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Cook, stirring, until tomatoes just begin to lose their shape. 

Remove skillet from heat and gently stir in both kinds of beans and the bacon.  When a little cooled, gently stir in
  • ½ cup or more of generously packed basil leaves, gently torn
Pepper to taste.  Family to table.  Enjoy to the last bite.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Two Soups in a Blue Moon for a faraway daughter (+ croutons)

Today my Eldest calls from college for two soup recipes.   Because these are her comfort foods:  Peace Soup (fresh peas in a sweet and slightly minty, gingery milk-based broth)  and Sweet Dreams Soup (creamy, slighty spicy, very carrotty carrot soup) ~ both adapted from her childhood favorite cookbook, Blue Moon Soup by Gary Goss, illustrated by Jane Dyer.

Peace Soup

My girl (who is a peacemaker as well as soup maker and at the same time plenty well-versed in savories and spices) likes her soup with a little more emphasis than suggested in the original and so increases the leeks, ginger, curry and mint at least this much.  

Melt in a soup pot over medium heat
2 Tablespoons butter
2 cups leeks, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Add, with enough water to cover (~ 2 cups)
1 (10 oz.) package of frozen peas (or 2 - 3 cups fresh green peas)
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
and stir.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered until veggies are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

In a blender or a large bowl, blend or mash 2 cups of the soup with
2½ cups milk
Return the blended to soup to the soup pot and stir.  Season to taste.  Garnish with
fresh mint, or
carrot curls

Sweet Dreams Soup

The consensus of a discussion on Epicurious suggests at least increasing the number of carrots, leeks and celery and upping the spice amounts for a better Sweet Dream Soup.  We concur.  

One commenter even suggested using coconut milk in place of the bovine variety which we will have to try sometime.  Here are our tweaks of this gently filling soup, guaranteed to turn any hungry lion into a lamb.

2 cups salted water
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
and boil until tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain, save the broth, and set the potatoes aside.

Melt in a soup pot over medium heat
2 Tablespoons butter
2 cups leeks, chopped
1 - 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon curry
1 - 2 teaspoons fresh thyme (half the amount if using dried)
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or more to taste)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Add the cooked potato and the potato broth plus
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 - 3 more carrots, finely chopped
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

In a blender or a bowl, blend or mash 2 cups of the soup (or all of it if you prefer) with
2½ cups milk
until thick and silky smooth.

Return the blended soup to the soup pot, and stir.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with
carrot curls
croutons  (see recipe below)

Crusty Croutons

Preheat oven to 325.  Cut
good bread 
into cubes and put in a large mixing bowl.  Add enough
olive oil 
to moisten all the cubes.  Sprinkle with
basil, oregano, or crushed garlic 
Or sprinkle with
grated Parmesan or cheddar
 Place on a cookie sheet, and bake until golden grown and crisp, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wholegrain Spaghetti with Indescribably Good Sauce

The last of summer, first of fall here in Oregon, is tomato season and hours are spent saving the luscious round globes in paste balls and roasted tomatoes.  But it all pays off when the first day of Februrary rolls around and after a day of digging up bushes in the rain you can sit down to this powerful sauce after a quick half-hour in the kitchen.

I am not usually over-fond of whole-wheat pasta which can be too heavy for weak sauces.  But well-cooked (a little past al dente), well-salted, well-oiled, and then combined with a powerfully zestful sauce like this one they are marvelous.  Topped with  mozzarella, this dish is a little taste of heaven. 


Tomato Paste Balls: (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

Indescribably Good Sauce

Combine in a large sauce pan and begin to simmer
  • 1 Tomato Paste Ball
  • 1 qt. Roasted & Frozen Tomatoes
  • a generous amount of fresh mushrooms, sliced.

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper
  • 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
and add to the tomatoes and mushrooms along with
  • 28 - 32 oz. diced canned tomatoes.

Simmer until the roasted tomatoes are completely thawed and the sauce begins to thicken.

  • 3 - 4 Tablespoons honey
  • salt
  • pepper.
Serve over whole wheat spaghetti noodles that have been cooked just beyond al dente in plenty of salted water, drained and then oiled with olive oil.  Top with a bit of mozzarella which will melt beautifully if the sauce and noodles are served nice and hot.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Italian Tomato Paste Balls

adapted from The Joy of Cooking: "This flavorful paste is diluted in a little boiling water or stock and added to sauces and soups. Fine in spaghetti and noodle dishes, as a dressing for cooked vegetables or salads, and as an addition to salad dressings."

Haven't tried it in salad dressings . . . but these tomato paste balls pay back every bit of effort for the delicious & savory depth they add to tomato sauces.

Wash and cut into slices:
  • 1 & 1/2 pecks ripe Italian tomatoes (6 quarts)

  • 1 large celery rib, cut up with some leaves
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh herbs: basil, thyme, sweet marjoram, or oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 12 cloves
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 two-inch stick cinnamon
  • 1 minced clove of garlic

Simmer these ingredients until the tomatoes are soft.

Stir frequently. Put the vegetables through a fine sieve.

Simmer the sieved pulp in an uncovered slow cooker. Stir frequently.

 When the pulp is thick and reduced by half, spread the paste to a depth of 1/2 inch on moist plates.

Cut into the paste to let air penetrate. Place the paste in a 200 degree oven to dry.

When the paste is dry enough, roll it into balls and dip in olive oil. Store refrigerated in airtight sterile jars--taking care to remove one at a time with a clean utensil as needed.