Almond and Cardamom Loaf

While I’m generally a “you had me at almond” kind of girl, it was an unusual (at least to me) technique that drew me to this recipe.  Actually, two interesting techniques.

The first are the caramelized almonds that line the bottom of the pan (or in this iteration, pans).  As written, this cake is served upside-down with the topping on top.  However, since we’re making loaves, the sweet, crunchy almond topping becomes a sort of secret, surprise base.

The second component that drew me in was the emulsification of almond paste, sugar and butter.

In a food processor no less.  The almond paste and sugar are processed into a delicious sand and then the butter is added, one little cube at a time.  As a note on the almond paste.  The recipe asks for 1 cup, or 9 1/2 ounces of almond paste.   Rooting around on Amazon, I kept finding 8 ounces packages.  I took a chance with the smaller amount (I wasn’t going to open a second expensive package for 1 1/2 ounces of paste if I could help it) and the almond flavor came through perfectly.

My slight twist adds the zest of a large orange because my taste buds kept telling me to.  Add it or don’t–whatever your tongue tells you to do.

This cake is delicious and exotic by flavor.  However, its the texture that really makes it special: delicate and crunchy at the edges but satisfyingly dense and moist in the middle.  It was definitely worth cleaning all those food processor pieces in the aftermath.

With the sweet crunchy almonds and gently spiced and almond crumb, the flavors are reminiscent of a bear claw or almond croissant.

Only this can be kept in the freezer and brought out on demand.

Almond and Cardamom Tea Cake

As written, the cake is made into a 9X2 round pan.  I used two 9X5 inch loaf pans with good success.

Ingredients

for the almond topping (or bottom if making loaves)

  • 4 TBS butter (2 ounces)
  • 3 TBS sugar
  • 1 scant C sliced almonds (3 ounces)
  • Pinch of kosher salt of flaky sea salt

for the cake(s)

  • 1 C (5 1/4 ounces) cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • chopped zest from 1 large orange
  • 2 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 4 large eggs at room temp
  • 1 C (9 1/2 ounces) almond paste [as a note–the almond paste I found came in 8 ounces packages–so I went with 8 ounces and the almond taste was still nice and strong].
  • 1 C (7 ounces) sugar
  • 16 TBS (8 ounces or 2 stick) butter at room temp

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set rack in upper-third of the oven.  Butter and flour the pans then line with parchment.
  2. Make the almond topping (bottoming).  In a small saucepan set over medium heat, cook the butter and sugar for about 3 minutes, until the sugar dissolves completely and the butter bubbles and froths.  Remove from  heat and stir in the sliced almonds and salt.  Pour half into each of the pans and use a spatula to distribute evenly across the bottom of the pan.
  3. For the cake, sift the flour, baking powder and salt onto a piece of parchment paper to evenly combine and remove any lumps. Set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, thoroughly whisk together the vanilla, cardamom, eggs and zest.  Set aside.
  5. Place the almond paste in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to break it up.  Add 1 C of sugar and process for 90 seconds, or until the mixture is as fine as sand.
  6. Add the butter and continue processing until the mixture is very light and fluffy, at least 2 minutes.  Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure that everything is being combined evenly.
  7. With the machine on, slowly begin adding the egg mixture, spoonful by spoonful as if making a mayonnaise (you are making an emulsion).  Let each addition of egg be absorbed and the mixture regains its smooth, silky look before adding more egg.  When all the eggs have been added, stop and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula then continue to mix until well combined.  Scrape the batter into a large bowl.
  8. Pick up the parchment paper and use it to sprinkle the flour atop the batter in three batches.  Gently fold-in the flour in between additions until just incorporated.  Do not over mix!
  9. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 55-60 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  The cake will just pull away from the sides of the pans.  Let the cakes cool on a wire rack.  Run a knife along the sides of the pans, then warm the bottom of the pan directly over the stove top for a few seconds to encourage it to release. and set on a cake plate until ready to serve.

TMH: I double wrapped and freezer bagged these and then froze them for a week and they defrosted really well.

California Blondies

My secret career fantasy is to sell bar cookies on the local farmers market circuit.  I can just see myself hawking misanthropic brownies and bella bars early Friday mornings as the sun slowly burns off the fog at the Venice Farmer’s Market.  Then on Saturdays I’d move to Santa Monica or Playa Vista.  Sunday would definitely be Brentwood.  There’d be no store front, at least in the beginning.  But, I’d do a brisk online business.

I even have a name for the little operation (but I’m not going to tell).

And while this truly is a fantasy (someone has to pay the homeowners insurance and keep the Kitchen Gods deep in kibble), I’ve always got my eye out for new bar and square recipes.  In the name of research of course.

This one is inspired by the butterscotch blondie recipe in the newly published Lemonade Cookbook.  Lemonade is an addictive southern California boutique chain that pairs seasonal ingredients with old-school cafeteria-style service.  I’m embarrassed to admit there is a location mere yards from my office at USC but the anxiety of selecting what I wanted on the fly kept me from ever trying it while I worked there.  Stupid for my tastebuds.  Probably pretty smart for my wallet.

In addition to the dozen or so creatively prepared salads–think watermelon radish and ahi or Israeli couscous and truffle oil–they also do decadent sandwiches and have a whole station of slow-cooked delicacies displayed in a rainbow of Le Creuset dutch ovens.  Your tray-push ends in a display of house-baked treats and, of course, half a dozen varieties of lemonade.   Don’t get me started on the cucumber mint.   Even if you don’t live in L.A., Lemonade has a presence in the LAX Delta Terminal.

I’ve never actually tried Lemonade’s butterscotch blondie in-store.  But, they had me at coconut on the ingredient list.

Like many kitchen-sink style recipes, this one begs for variation.  Here, I swapped the pecans for almonds and the golden raisins for actual butterscotch chips.  I’m also working on a holiday version that could make an appearance as a featured player in the Misanthropic Bake-a-palooza.

Butterscotch Blondies

from The Lemonade Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 2 C all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks, 12 TBS) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 C dark (I used golden) brown sugar, loosely packed
  • 1 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs at room temp.
  • 1/2 C white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 C pecans toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 C golden raisins
  • 1/2 C shredded sweetened coconut, toasted
  • *Obviously I think the last four ingredients are open to interpretation.  In this iteration I used butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, toasted coconut and toasted almond slivers.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9X13 inch pan with parchment and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  3. In a small heavy-bottomed sauce pan add the butter and swirl it around over medium heat until is melts and foams.  Continue to cook it gently until it is a brown-amber color and smells nutty (about 5 minutes).
  4. Add the brown and granulated sugars.  Stir to combine fully.  Remove from heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Add butter mixture to a large bowl, beat in eggs (you don’t need a standing mixer for this).
  6. Fold in flour mixture until just incorporated.
  7. Fold in remaining ingredients.  Pour batter into prepared pan smoothing the top with a spatula.
  8. Bake until the top is lightly brown and firm, 25-30 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan on a rack.  Cut into 2-inch bars.

When life gives you leftover candied orange peel, make blondies!

Okay, okay, I stole this idea from one of the 20 million holiday catalogs we’ve gotten since August.  Having both candied orange peel and almonds in the house, I decided to see if I could come up with a recipe.

I started by toasting about a cup of almonds.  I used blanched because that’s what I had but I don’t see any problem with using skins.

Then, I couldn’t find my camera.  So a bunch of stuff happened that didn’t get captured digitally.  Here is the short of it though: I melted together butter and white chocolate.  Incorporated the usual suspects: eggs, sugar, flour and a healthy does of vanilla (no silly, not in that order).  Finally, I folded-in the toasted almonds and orange peel.  Into the oven.  And.

This is what came out.  The orange peel sort of melts into blondie and the result is a sweet/zesty/nutty treat.  Sort of like me.

Once cut, I packaged them up and took them to a cookie decorating party.

Soundtrack

Glee Christmas on Pandora, because I’m perfectly confident with my manhood.

Candied Orange Peel and Toasted Almond Blondies

Ingredients

  • 2 C sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 C (16 TBS) unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 TBS vanilla
  • 2 C flour
  • 1 C chopped candied orange peel
  • 1 C roasted and chopped almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9X13 inch pan with parchment and butter or spray the pan and parchment.
  2. In a heavy saucepan, melt butter and white chocolate over low heat, whisking until combined.  Take off heat and set aside.  Butter and chocolate will want to separate.  That’s okay, just give it a good whisk before adding to the batter.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and salt.  Add-in eggs one-at-a-time.  Then whisk in vanilla.
  4. Fold-in butter and chocolate.
  5. Fold-in flour until just combined.
  6. Fold-in orange peel and almonds.
  7. Bake for about 40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick come-out clean but with a few crumbs stuck to it.
  8. Let cool completely, cut and enjoy.

Chocolate Love Cake

Here is how this story begins:

TD: Can you make one of those chocolate cakes?

ME: Like what kind?

TD: The brown kind.

ME: Can you be more specific?

TD: That doesn’t have pink peppercorns.  And is big with chocolate cake and chocolate filling and chocolate frosting.

ME: But no peppercorns?

TD: No peppercorns.

For my valentine? Anything.  And so chocolate love cake was born.

The concept for this cake isn’t particularly unique or even fancy. You’ve seen this cake a hundred times.  In fact, when you  get down to it, this cake is a darned cliche.  Like chocolate molten cake or New York cheesecake. But. A cliche is a cliche for a reason and as well worn as this cake is, it does deliver.

The recipe that follows combines what I think is the best of all fudge recipes.  The cake has a buttermilk and unsweetened chocolate base (as opposed to a cocoa base) to which I have added mini chocolate chips.  The filling/frosting also begins with unsweetened chocolate.  Then the whole thing gets covered in toasted almonds (or walnuts or pecans…or well, you get the picture).  Shall we get started?

Unsweetened chocolate, sugar and vanilla are added to water and cooked until combined.

The fudge is then cooled down in an ice bath.  Stir the cooling sauce often or you get grainy fudge (I know this from experience).

Once chilled, the fudge is added to the usual list of great cake suspects: sugar, butter, yadda yadda yadda.  Then the buttermilk and dry ingredients are incorporated by alternating between the two beginning and ending with the flour.

Oh, let’s back up a minute.  While your butter is creaming, butter your pans.  Then, line the bottoms in parchment and finally “flour” each pan with cocoa.  Using cocoa instead of flour keeps your chocolate cake looking chocolatey.

Okay, now back to the finished batter.  For this recipe, I’ve used six-inch cake pans.  The recipe easily yields enough batter for three six-inch pans or two eight or nine-inch pans.  To get evenly sized cakes, I zeroed-out my scale with a separate empty bowl and then transferred the batter to said bowl.  I divided the total weight by three and then added the appropriate amount to each of my pans.  Alternately, you could just eye-ball it.

Here comes extra-special cake tip #2 (#1 one was the thing about the cocoa if you are keeping track).  Once the cakes are completely cool, double wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze them solid.  Frozen cake is much, much easier to work with than cake at room temperature.

Level out each frozen cake.  Then decide how many layers you’d like your finished cake to be.  And then, very carefully, cut each cake with a large serrated knife (I use a bread knife).  It’s okay if you don’t get them completely level: that’s what frosting is for.

Now it’s time to frost.  The frosting recipe I’ve included below makes plenty for a two-layer cake.  For three layers, consider one-and-one-halving the recipe.

After filling your layers, you may want to add a crumb layer to the whole cake before frosting the entire construction project.  This is super duper cake tip #3.  A crumb layer is a very thin layer of frosting–kind of like putting down a layer of primer before painting a room.  It makes your final layer of frosting much neater looking.

Of course, I did this and remembered that I was going to cover the entire cake in almonds.  But, I did feel better knowing how nice the frosting looked under the almonds.

Here is cake tip #4.  To keep your cake plate clean, slip parchment paper under the edges of the cake.  Frost and then carefully remove the parchment.  The result is a nice, un-frosted cake plate.

I have to admit, I don’t really have any advice on how to successfully stick your nuts to the outside of the cake (oh, good grief TD, we are still talking about cake).  I just took handfuls and carefully pressed the nuts into the side of the still-soft frosting.  It worked well save for the huge mess I made on the kitchen counter.  Word to the wise: do this over a rimmed baking sheet and you will save  quite a bit of time in clean up. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this in advance.  Must have been distracted by the nuts.

Behold: Chocolate Love Cake.

Love, love love.

All you need is love.

Love in an elevator…oh wait.  Have I gone too far?

Still stuck on the part about the peppercorns?  For reasons I don’t exactly understand, TD is convinced that I have an evil plan to infuse peppercorns into all of my baked goods.  Pink peppercorns to be specific.  Setting aside the fact that we don’t even have any peppercorns in the pantry (pink or otherwise),  I’ve decided that this is code for something.  I’m just not sure what…

Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

Cake Ingredients

(adapted from Cooks.com)

  • 2 C sifted cake flour
  • 2 t  baking powder
  • .5 t baking soda
  • .5 t salt
  • 3 squares unsweetened chocolate
  • .66 C water
  • 1.5 C sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 10 Tbs butter at room temp.
  • 3 eggs
  • .33 C buttermilk
  • 1 C mini chocolate chips or chunked chocolate of your favorite variety

To make cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Butter, line with parchment and flour (or cocoa) your pans.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into bowl, set aside.

Cook chocolate, water and .25 C of sugar in saucepan over low heat stirring constantly until thick and smooth.  Transfer to a bowl set in ice water, stirring often.  Add vanilla.

Beat butter and remaining sugar in large bowl until fluffy.  Beat in eggs one-at-a-time.  Add chocolate fudge mixture and blend.

Beginning and ending with your sifted ingredients, add in flour and buttermilk alternating beating well after each addition.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared cake pans and bake for 35 minutes or until the tops of the cakes spring back when touched.

Remove from pans, cool completely and freeze if desired.

Fudge Frosting

(according to the recipe I pilfered this from it is an adaptation of a recipe from Sky High)

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate melted and cooled
  • 4.5 C confectioner’s sugar
  • 24 Tbs  (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temp
  • 6 Tbs whole milk, half-and-half or heavy cream
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • 2 cups toasted and chopped nuts of choice

To make frosting

Cream together butter, sugar and milk.  Add in chocolate and vanilla, beat until desired consistency.  Makes about 5 cups.

French Macarons, part I of ???

I had no idea. Really, I didn’t.

What began as a (self-deemed) creative attempt at gift giving has turned into a burgeoning obsession. The French macaron. How I hate thee. And love thee. And hate thee. To make matters worse, the little buggers have begun to show up everywhere. Haunting me. Whereas months ago I’d never even seen one outside of the recipe books, they’re now stalking me from magazine covers, bake shops and Starbucks. That’s right, Starbucks is selling them. Sheesh.

And they aren’t cheap. There is a store in Beverly Hills that only sells French macarons. The price: $1.60 a piece. This has me knocking my head against the wall and (not for the first time) asking myself…why…why did I not think of this 12 months earlier? I’d have the market cornered and  would certainly be well on my way to appearing in the Forbes top gagillionaires under 40 list.

But, I didn’t. And so I probably won’t.

Here is how my relationship with the French macaron began. Over the summer I read David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris http://www.davidlebovitz.com/books/. Now, I don’t know where Mr. Lebovitz has been all my life, but man, I’m glad he’s in it now. If you don’t already know (and you probably do), he was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse and now lives in Paris and writes cool cookbooks and a really funny blog http://www.davidlebovitz.com/. The Sweet Life is sort of a living memoir with recipes. And, as soon as I read it, I knew I had to give it as a holiday gift. What better to pair the book with than with a bag of the quintessential French treat (and there is a recipe for them in the book), that’s right, le macaroon Françoise (made by me of course).

Ha!

Are you getting the feeling that my seminal adventures with this sandwich cookie may not have been entirely successful?

Turns out, there is a reason that little shop sells them for nearly two dollars each. Much like the Parisians themselves (yes, I am about to stereotype), they are fussy, finicky and rather unpredictable. But, I’ll admit, also like the city of lights and its culture, the entity (when it does turn out) is worth the hassle.

So, this is my first of who knows how many posts on French macarons. I am determined to get them right. And, I am determined to try each and every flavor (except for the ones I don’t think I’ll like because, really, what would be the point?). Right now, my success rate is about 50%–but I promise to share my successes and failures along the way.

To start, this recipe calls for not only a food processor but also a standing mixer (or some really strong biceps that can create stiff peaks with a whisk). The recipe also necessitates a pastry bags and tips. This is indeed a gadgety recipe.

Next, you make your own flour. Yep, flour from blanched almonds. Using food gadget #1, the food processor (mine’s named Bertha), grind the almonds into a powder. You want the mixture to be super duper fine. I got it as fine as I could. I’ve recently read that you should sift the flour a couple of times after grinding. I’ll try that next time and report back.

To continue with a theme, you then grind together the almond flour, confectioner’s sugar and cocoa.

So as not to make the standing mixer jealous (yes, this too has a name: Marta), egg whites are whipped into lovely silky peaks. A couple of my batter attempts turned out very dry (more on this later). In retrospect, I think I must have over-whipped the egg whites and sugar.

Once you’ve got peaks, very carefully fold in the dry mixture. I’ve read that the resulting batter should act like lava. Indeed, I believe this is an apt description. The batter is definitely liquidy but also has a certain viscosity.

Once you’ve corralled the batter into a pastry bag, pipe disks onto parchment-lined baking sheets. And, into the oven they go. But wait, there seems to be some speculation on whether to let the raw batter harden some before going in to the oven. I think this may make a difference if you live in a humid environment. In dry Southern California the disks were already beginning to harden as I finished each sheet.

Remember my mention of  over-whipping the eggs whites.? Look at the picture below, specifically the, uhm, piles ones on the right. What do they look like? Uhhuh. On the over-whipped batch they piped out in coils and baked in the same form. My husband was incredibly amused and I apologize to anyone who may have been the recipient of a “liberated” french macaron.

Done right, the cookies have “feet” and do not crack or split across the top. Lets talk about the feet first. Take a look at the picture below. See the little base at the bottom? Those are feet. If your cookies crack, they won’t grow feet. And apparently that is a major macaron faux pas.

Through trial and error I discovered that I could only use the top rack in my oven. Lower racks caused the cookies to crack.

After they are nice and cool, you marry up the halves. Fill them (this time around I used a chocolate ganache–though not the one David Lebovitz has with his recipe).

Et voila, you are one step closer to speaking French.

From The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway) by David Lebovitz

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2005/10/french_chocolat.html
Batter

  • 1 cup (100 gr) powdered sugar
  • ½ cup powdered almonds (about 2 ounces, 50 gr, sliced almonds, pulverized)
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350º F .
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.
Grind together the powdered sugar with the almond powder and cocoa so there are no lumps; use a blender or food processor since almond meal that you buy isn’t quite fine enough.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.
Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you’re alone).
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.
Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then bake them for 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.

Match up pairs and fill with ganache.

Chocolate ganache (recipe by Martha Stewart)

note: I used this recipe not because I don’t like Mr. Lebovitz’s but because I had made this ganache recipe a couple of days before for sundaes and just tripled the batch at the time…you know, kill a couple of birds with diabetes at once.

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 pounds best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small heavy sauce pan, bring cream to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and add chocolate, swirling the pan so the chocolate is completely covered. Wait a couple of minutes and carefully mix the chocolate and cream together with a spatula. Mix in corn syrup and salt. Transfer to a clean bowl and refrigerate until the consistency of fudge (this makes filling the cookies easier).