It’s Pesach Time: Flourless Chocolate Cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake (adapted from Epicurious.com)
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate (recipe called for bittersweet but I used what I had)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper. If you’re like me and ran out of wax paper, butter the crap out of your cake pan.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Might I argue that I have the best (invented) double boiler ever!

Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture.

Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. If you happen to realize that you only have 1/4 cup of cocoa powder left, no biggie. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate. Dust confectioner’s sugar on the top if you want to be extra fancy.

Unlike me, try to remember that you replaced your missing sifter and use that rather than sprinkling it with your fingers. It will look prettier.

If you want to get extra fancy, pull some frozen raspberries from your freezer and cook them into a compote with a touch of sugar. Serve the cake with a splash of compote and perhaps some ice cream if you so desire.

Fannie Farmer’s Peach Cobbler

On the way back from Kathy’s Cafe on Friday, my husband and I stopped at Dincher’s Roadside Farmstand in Tivoli, PA to grab a few tomatoes for dinner. Fifteen dollars later we left with a a carton of tomatoes, half a dozen ears of corn, garlic, lemon, nectarines and a bushel of peaches. OK, it probably wasn’t a bushel and I’m not even entirely sure what a bushel entails, but let’s just say we bought a lot. For some reason, my non-baking self smelled the peaches and became immediately inspired to make peach cobbler. We were busy making a tasty pasta meal for dinner that evening (oh yeah, have to blog that one) so I figured I’d save the cobbler for the next night when I had a little more time.

The next day was a gorgeous, sunny Saturday–one of the last beach-worthy days we’ll get up in the mountains as the temperature tends to run 10 degrees cooler than here in Philadelphia. I spent most of the day lounging at the beach and sailing with my father, an activity that deserves a non-food related post all to itself. As a side note, I spent the weekend reading The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway. Erway spent two years “not eating out” in New York and blogging the process. More about this later.

Mid-afternoon I tore myself away from the beach to run home and prep the peaches for the cobbler. Marion Cunningham (p.s. Wikipedia gives Marion NO love!) told me that I can peel peaches by dipping them briefly in boiling water and then removing the skins with a sharp knife. This technique has always scared me for no good reason. Hence my permanent face off with tomato sauce, or any recipe that involves peeling tomatoes, for that matter. Much to my surprise, this technique was SHOCKINGLY easy. I dipped the peaches in the water for 15-30 seconds and drained them with minimal splash burns to my arms and torso. I then brought them outside to the back deck and peeled them with my fingers. I don’t need no stinkin’ knife! The skin slipped off like (insert a cheesy simile here.) Aren’t they gorgeous?

I set them aside for later that evening. We were making these little guys,

so I wanted to time the cobbler so that we were able to eat it hot out of the oven. I’m not sure why the picture’s sideways but you get the idea.

Fannie Farmer’s Apple Cobbler (I substituted peaches. Marion told me it was ok)

Ingredients

12 tablespoons butter, melted

3 cups peeled and sliced apples (I used peaches, duh)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 375′. Pour 4 tbsp of the butter into the bottom of the pan and spread the peaches over it (I felt as if 4 tbsp was a ton of melted butter and only used 2-3 tbsp. It was still a lot)

Before I continue, let’s remember two things–I am not a baker. I don’t do well with recipes that require, um, following. In something like peach cobbler, say, one tbsp of baking powder is a heck of a lot different than zero tbsps. Remember this for later.

Mix 1/4 teaspoon of salt with 1/4 cup of sugar and sprinkle over the peaches. This is where my problems start. I think I need to do a blog post on something I’ve recently deemed “OPKs” or “Other People’s Kitchens.” I’ve done a fair amount of cooking in OPKs lately and always seem to encounter a problem. In this situation, I discovered that my parents did not have any sugar. After pitching a minor fit, I found a rock solid box of brown sugar in the fridge. My mood improved as I especially love brown sugar. After watching me dangerously saw hunks of sugar off of the larger mass, my mom told me that I could microwave the sugar to soften it. That didn’t work too well.

I returned to my hacking ways and got enough brown sugar chunks to equal 1/4 cup or so.

Pour the remaining butter into a bowl, add the milk and egg and mix well.

Mix the flour, baking powder, remaining 6 tbsp of sugar (somehow I missed that she gave this measurement and channeled my 7th grade math class to figure out 2/3-1/4)  and remaining 1/4 tsp of salt in a bowl. It was about this time that I realized that my parents did not have any baking powder. I frantically paged through the cookbook trying to find another recipe–a crumble, a brown betty???–that did not require baking powder, and ordered my husband to start reading recipes to me. It was at that moment that my mother saved the day and recalled that there was baking powder in the pantry. Mom to the rescue! By that time, however, I had already added the flour to the egg/milk/butter mixture with a big old dash of what the hell. I never understood why baking makes you mix things in separate bowls anyway. How picky and unnecessary. I then glopped the batter onto the peaches, tossed it in the oven and prayed.

Look at the sugar chunks. Ridiculous.

Bake the cobbler for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown. OK, apparently you’re supposed to cook until a toothpick inserted in the cobbler part comes out clean. I didn’t do that, mine just looked done. While it was baking, we enjoyed these little fellas (which took a little longer than expected, but that’s another story)

If you have never tried beer can/beer butt chicken, please do. It’s the easiest thing in the world and the result is a lovely tender meat with a crispy and well-spiced skin.

The cobbler had a slightly cobbled appearance with a lovely golden brown top.

And we enjoyed it with a scoop or two of vanilla fudge ice cream from Hillside Farms, the best dairy in the whole wide world.

Vacation Cookery

While I was busy braising (read: sitting with my feet up) the shortribs, I decided to venture into two recipes that I have been intending to try. As my husband will tell you, I tend to be an impulse shopper. This spans from clothing to household items to food. In the case of food, it often tends to be a good thing. I love exploring farmers’ markets to see what’s fresh and relish in my weekly visits to the Reading Terminal where I inevitably come home with whatever Iovine’s has on sale that week. This past Saturday is was avocados, for example. How could I possibly pass up 10 for a dollar? Lately it’s been berries–again, fresh rasberries, blackberries and blueberries have been $1/container in weeks past. In fact, a few weeks ago, the berries were even organic! Hello bargain shoppers! How could I possibly pass up organic berries for a buck?!? Ironically enough, my husband and I aren’t the biggest berry eaters. After a couple days in the fridge, I tossed the berries in the freezer thinking I’d make a smoothie or a berry tart eventually.

Fast forward to this week. I work at a school and have summers off. My crazy self decided that we could use the extra money and I decided to work summer school. I did not initially get placed and gave up on the idea of extra money and decided instead that I would pursue projects around the house. As soon as I made my list, I got the call. I spent the month of July counting the hours between 8am and 3pm and waiting for summer school to end. I finished a few days ago, but this has been my first full week of vacation. But I digress.

Armed with a ton of berries and some kirby cucumbers that I got, yes, on sale, I decided to make pickles and mixed berry muffins. As my husband can tell you, I will often search for recipes and keep numerous websites open that has the “perfect” recipe for said muffins, lasagna, etc.  I probably had the recipes for muffins and pickles up on my computer for at least a week. Let’s start with the pickles.

Mark Bittman, who I trust completely, isn’t a fan of vinegar in pickles. Although I was a pickle-making virgin, I felt it necessary to include at least some vinegar in my kosher dills. After searching high and low, I found this recipe on Annie’s Eats. The recipe had extra points because it had vinegar (and I obviously felt the need to use vinegar) and it didn’t involve boiling. I’ll take extra steps when necessary, but am just as happy to keep it simple.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles (from Annie’s Eats)

Ingredients:

For the brine:

3 cups water

6 tbsp. white vinegar

3 tbsp. kosher salt

minced garlic

fresh dill

cucumbers, cut into spears

Here are my ingredients (or my mise) all ready to go!

I used sea salt instead of kosher salt because, well, that’s what I grabbed.

Directions:

Combine all brine ingredients in a pitcher.  Stir well to dissolve salt.

Put several sprigs of fresh dill in the bottom of each jar.

Pack half full with cucumber spears.  Layer with more sprigs of fresh dill.  Finish filling the jar with cucumbers.  Sprinkle some minced garlic on top.  Pour brine into the jar until it is full and pickles are completely submerged.  I needed to add a little more brine–which I totally eyeballed, of course.

Put the lid on and allow to refrigerate at least 2 days before eating.

Let me just say that dill is my new sleeper herb. I never thought dill was much of a star until I bought this bunch for the pickles. I have since used it in coleslaw, salad and just plain enjoyed the scent as it has sat on my window sill. After I prepared the pickles, I spent some time licking my hands. Even later in the day, I would occasionally stop what I was doing and smell the garlicky dillness on my hands and smile.

Fast forward to last night. The pickles had marinated in their brine for two days and were all ready to roll. I put together a container for my friend as a mini birthday present (big deal for someone who loves salty things!) and came home and enjoyed a pickle as an appetizer before last night’s dinner. Verdict? According to my friend, Brian, the pickles were DILL-icious. Can’t get much better than that!

While the pickles were pickling away in the fridge and the shortribs were bubbling in the crockpot, I decided to get to business with these mixed berry muffins. I had bookmarked a few recipes but realized that I only have skim milk and I didn’t want to mess anything up. Let me also say that I’m not a huge baker. Neither my husband or I are big sweet eaters combined with the necessity of following directions when it comes to baking are not conducive to my lifestyle. After reading a number of recipes, I decided to use The New Best Recipe cookbook. I love this cookbook. It’s made by the Cook’s Illustrated folks and goes beyond providing basic recipes. It talks you through different style of cooking things and explains why the recipe that they are providing is the best option. For example, it talks you through the best way to make a roast chicken that’s moist on the inside, crispy on the outside. I use it for a lot of staples and basic recipes (burgers, meatloaf, chocolate chips cookies, etc.) to get a guideline or see how I could improve my technique for a certain recipe. In the blueberry muffin entry, for example, it has the blueberry muffin “hall of shame” that includes mashed berries, sticky surface, flat top, etc.

Blueberry Muffins (adapted from The New Best Recipe cookbook)

Makes 12

2 cups (10 oz) unbleached all purpose flour

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 large egg

1 cup (7 oz) sugar

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 1/4 cup (10 oz) sour cream

1 1/2 cups (7.5-8 oz) frozen or fresh blueberries, preferably wild.

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl until combined. (I eyeballed the salt and added some cinnamon) Whisk the egg in a second medium bowl until well-combined and light colored, about 20 seconds. Add the sugar and whisk vigorously until thick and homogenous, about 30 seconds. Add the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions, whisking to combine after each addition (I did not whisk the sugar mixture vigorously as I started to whisk and then realized I needed to melt the butter. My butter was also not slightly cooled.)  Ad the sour cream in 2 additions, whisking just to combine. (Funny story about the sour cream. I measured it out and realized that I barely even had a full cup and needed a 1 1/4 cups. I frantically searched my fridge and found a single serving container of low fat cottage cheese and tossed that in the mix.)

3. Add the berries to the dry ingredients and gently toss just to combine (I used a combination of fresh blueberries and frozen raspberries. Also, the raspberries seemed large so I kind of just crushed them with my fingers.) Add the sour cream mixture and fold with a rubber spatula until the batter comes together and the berries are evenly distributed, 25-30 seconds. Small spots of flour may remain and the batter will be thick. Do not overmix (I added a splash of milk because it seemed too dry.)

4. Using a large spoon sprayed with non-stick cooking spray to prevent sticking, divide the batter among the greased muffin cups. Bake until the muffins are light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean, 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through cooking (OOPS, forgot to do that!)

I seemed to have extra batter so I grabbed my small muffin tin to make some extras. Umm, why is it that I always end up with odd numbers of baked goods? The muffins were quite tasty, although they probably made it into the blueberry muffin hall of shame for flat top, but I’m ok with that. They were still damn tasty!