Chocolate, Pear and Toasted Almond Spice Cake

chocolate almond pear cake2The last time we had slightly over-ripe pears, G unknowingly just chucked them because he didn’t want to eat them. (I know, I know. He’s learning). Afterwords I was very careful to explain all the wonderful things that can be done with ripe pears and so this time around, when they started to get a little sorry looking, he left them alone thank goodness. I hadn’t felt like blogging for a while, and I still really didn’t until I started a new diet to drop a few pounds for swimsuit season. Well you know what inevitably came next. Every time my mind wandered off at the computer I somehow ended up at gorgeous foodie sites, until after 3 days of mind numbingly boring pure protein meals, I just had to bake something, FAST. Unfortunately, there were no eggs in the house. (Already down one dress size!!) Side note: I have been chowing down on egg-whites left and right when I start to feel weak (like I’m gonna grab a super sized bag of sour skittles from the drawer and just murder them… mnnn sour skittles… ) so I had to figure something else out. Well, as you may or may not be aware, there aren’t many egg-less pear cake recipes out there, but I knew that there was a vegan chocolate cake recipe that I had been wanting to try for a while so I figured, what the hell. I added a bit of spice to it because I love chocolate with cinnamon, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. There were a few yummy looking chocolate pear cake recipes out there so I knew that I wouldn’t be too far off base with these flavor profiles. Most of them had walnuts, but I tend to be more of an almond lover (my Mom says all men are nuts and G is an almond, so it makes sense). Seriously, no double entendre intended but that sounded hilarious! So here it is, it came out a bit flatter than I’d hoped for, but it is perfect for a simple “on hand” cake or an impressive 2 layer cake, (double the recipe and bake in 2 matching pans). I hope you like it:

Ingredients:

Cake Ingredients

1 1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
50 grams sliced almonds, lightly toasted (reserve 25g of these for topping)
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3 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
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Chocolate Glaze (this can be made vegan, visit the link above,  she explains how)

1/2 cup sugar
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla extract

chocolate almond pear cake

Method: (Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit)

1) combine diced pears with 3 tablespoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.
2) combine all other dry ingredients into one bowl(don’t forget to leave out 25g of the toasted almonds for later).
3) combine all wet ingredients except vinegar into another bowl.
4) combine wet ingredients bowl with dry ingredients bowl, mix well. Then add pear mixture, and mix well again.
5) Add vinegar, mix into rest of batter. Why do you do this  last? Vinegar is an acid, (like citric or lactic acid, ie. lemon juice or creme fraiche) which reacts with the baking soda to make it rise, but baking soda is only active for a short time after the vinegar activates it so it has to go in as close to the baking time as possible.
6) In a 12 inch spring-form pan lined with baking paper, (or it will leak or stick) pour in batter.
7) Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
8) Cool for 2 hours. Then make the glaze. (I went for a walk with Bella since I have a hard time waiting for these things).
9) In a small saucepan, bring sugar, butter, milk, and cocoa to a boil.
10) Stir frequently until it boils, then reduce heat to a simmer for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. There will be bubbles.
11) Remove from heat and stir for another 5 minutes.
12) Add vanilla, stir, and pour onto cake right away. Glaze dries quickly, so spread it immediately and add remaining toasted almonds over the top and let it set, 1 hour. I did this backwards, and yes, I am ashamed. I baked the almonds on top, and only after decided to make the glaze. Do it the other way and you will have a very nice looking cake for coffee, guests, or just to surprise a tired and studied-out husband who thinks you have been sitting on the couch all day watching The Simpsons and eating skittles.

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Chocolate Cream Cheese Cinnamon Buns or “The Recipe That Was Nearly My Undoing”

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So, you might say that I’ve been putting off this post for a while. I might even admit it. The thing is, when a baking experiment hits as many snags and pitfalls along the way as this one did, some recovery time becomes necessary. During that time, I kept asking myself, how can I give this over in a way that doesn’t make me sound angry or ungrateful? Turns out, there really isn’t one, so I’m going to apologize to you in advance for the hysterics. The only saving grace of the experience was that one at a time, straight from the freezer into the toaster oven, they were… dare I say it, delicious. But none of that takes away from the absolutely overwhelming frustration, the hot tears that threatened, or the feelings of powerlessness that flared up at each and every step of this seemingly straightforward recipe for chocolate cinnamon rolls. By the way, it’s totally doable if you follow the directions at the bottom of this post. I just didn’t have those at the time.

Why was it so difficult, you ask?

WELL. I’ll tell you.

1) The Yeast: I don’t bake often. Really very rarely. (See my thoughts in “about me” on baking without a KitchenAid) So when someone says in a dough recipe (before last week) add the yeast to the other ingredients and stir before adding the flour, I don’t intuitively know that I’m supposed to combine yeast with sugar and warm water and ACTIVATE IT FIRST. Yes I almost gave up when this happened. No, I am not ashamed. Bloggers should know better.

2) The Mashed Potato: The recipe says you need to add mashed potatoes to the mixture to make the dough light and airy. However what it fails to mention, is that without a heavy duty mixer, You will NEVER get all the potato lumps mixed properly into the dough, and you will see them, staring up at you, mocking you, from your otherwise perfect mixing job, making you want to toss the whole thing and go to Cinnabon. Yes, I picked out every single lump I could find. No, it wasn’t any fun at all, but I was not to be defeated by this recipe, no matter what.

3) The Rising: The recipe calls for one rising of the dough to double the size, then to knead it, and set aside in fridge either until ready to use, or overnight. Well by the next day, it had risen double again. OK, no foul there, except it had risen so much that it pulled off the plastic covering it and had dried out all around the edges. ACK!
So I punched it down, kneaded it a bit more, and got ready for the real fun, rolling out the dough and filling with delicious goodies. Except that even after adding all 6 cups of flour, (she calls for 4-6MAX) it was still wetly sticky, so much so that it was nearly impossible to handle. Sorry there are no pics of the rolling out or adding filling, but I think you can understand why. I was just trying to get through it. The filling did smell amazing, and I used chopped chocolate pieces instead of cinnamon chips, since no such thing exists here.

4) The Rolling Out: Her recipe then says to roll out the dough, sprinkle filling on top, roll up, and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces, then lay out in a buttered dish. But the roll was far too big. More on this in a moment.

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before 2nd rising

5) The “second” Official Rising (3rd for me): So now I have 10 rolls, in one big Pyrex pan, and the recipe calls to let them rise double AGAIN. Fine I say, even though they are pretty huge already, “it’s good for the airy texture you want” I told myself. Yeah. So they rise double, and now they are popping up out of the top of the dish and I am starting to literally see red because I know whats coming once they start to bake. Breathe Leah, just breath.

Poofed up and ready to bake

We should have halved the dough, and baked in 2 separate dishes. If we had, I think they would have really been OK after the first 25-30 minutes of baking. Unfortunately, all there was in the recipe to that effect was, “Then roll out dough on lightly floured counter to roughly 12 x 18 inches for large sized rolls. If dough has been divided for smaller sized rolls; roll out dough to approximately 1/2 inch thick”. Forgive me for saying so, but there should have been a neon sign screaming that if you end up having to use all 6 cups of flour, you had better damn well halve the dough before making your rolls, and bake in 2 batches. Not to mention that based on her photos, which I only realized later, she had baked each and every one of these in their own INDIVIDUAL little pans, so they ended up evenly baked through. No mention of this in the method though. Not a peep.

6) The Baking: They are in there for about 8-10 minutes when I see that they are spilling over the edges and poofing up all over the place. Normally, the sight of oven action fills me with glee, but this time I felt nothing but the hot pricks of impending tears behind my eyes and a vague and unpleasant tightness in my chest. The tops quickly got brown and hard, (so much for light and airy dough and all that potato drama) but I could see the sides and bottom were still raw. So, I covered the dish with foil, turned down the temperature, and prayed for the best. When the timer went off, they were of course still raw inside, but we only learned this after the middle roll deflated 2 minutes out of the oven. So, we put them back in, for ANOTHER 25 minutes before taking them out for good, afraid they would burn or be hard as rocks if we baked them any longer. Sadly, the bottoms and sides of all the middle ones were still raw even thought the tops were a gorgeous golden brown.

7) The Icing: So there we were, with our slightly cooled, ghetto-assed, 3/4 baked, 1/4 raw, hard on top, chocolate cinnamon rolls. At least they smelled heavenly. I started making the cream cheese icing while they baked, and melted some good quality dark chocolate, so my spirits had for the most part bounced back. Which brings us to the amount of icing sugar the recipe called for. 3 cups. THREE. It looked and tasted really good after 1 cup of icing sugar. Then I added the other 2 cups, and all I tasted was sugar, sugar, and more sugar. Gone was the delicate cream cheese flavor unless you closed your eyes and tried really hard to find it. I would recommend doubling the other ingredients or halving the powdered sugar in the recipe if you are just making the vanilla glaze, seriously. I split the mixture between 2 bowls and added melted chocolate to one of them, and it just looked too light. Nothing like the pics. OK I said to myself, suck it up. It’s really not a tragedy considering what we have been through already today. Besides, the chocolate one was delicious. I think the bitter chocolate balanced out the sugar, so for that one, the amounts made sense. I started icing them, first with the Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing, then with the Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing, and smiled for the first time in hours.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing

🙂 So Pretty! 🙂

Perfect Cinnamon Buns

After 2 days of frustration, we finally got to try one. From the edge. Where it was actually baked through. And it was all almost worth it.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Cinnamon Bun

OK. I’m done with my rant, and really, these were so yummy, they kept well in the freezer, they even came back beautifully in the toaster oven wrapped in foil on a low temp for about 30 minutes, (especially the ones that were half baked) and to be fair, it’s a FANTASTIC idea and the recipe is delicious. It just wasn’t given over well. It was like she wrote it all down as if it was for herself, knowing what she already knew, and didn’t consider new bakers or anyone else who hadn’t done them before into the equation. In the end, I will do these again, but only with all of the modifications and considerations I told you about, and not without a mixer.

Ingredients:

For Rolls:

In a cup to activate: 1  package serving of pre-measured active dry yeast  (2 and 1/4 teaspoons if you have a bigger package) added to 1/2 cup lukewarm water (too hot will kill the yeast) (add pinch of sugar to feed the yeast) Set aside for a few minutes until you see it foaming. (See, I sound like a pro now).
2/3 cup shortening or butter. I used butter.
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed potato, very well cooked and mashed until smooth.
1/2 cup milk (evaporated milk is best, not condensed, that’s something different)
1/2 cup water that the potato cooked in
4 to 6 cups all purpose flour (this varies… the less flour the better but you must be able to handle the dough).

For Filling:

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 – 1 cup cinnamon chips or semisweet or dark chocolate chips (chopped) plus more to sprinkle over top

For The Chocolate and Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing:

4 tablespoons butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 oz.  Ghirardelli  or your choice of 62% bittersweet unsweetened chocolate morsels, melted.
A few shakes of salt (3-4)
3 cups confectioners sugar (seriously think about cutting this down)
1/3 cup whole milk or 3% (approx – use enough to get desired consistency)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method: IN A MIXER!

For Rolls:

Mix together shortening, salt & sugar. Add eggs one at a time and beat in. Add mashed potatoes, yeast/water mixture, milk, potato water and mix until all are combined.

Add three to four cups of the flour, mixing well adding enough additional flour until dough can be handled and turned onto a floured board. Knead well using as little flour as possible. Place in large oiled bowl, cover and let rise double in a warm dark place. About 45 minutes to an hour and a half. Knead lightly and cover, place in fridge until ready to use or overnight. If storing overnight in the fridge, make sure the whole bowl is wrapped around very well with plastic wrap.

If refrigerated, let bowl sit at room temperature for 30 – 40 minutes before beginning.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Then,

a) For 10 larger sized rolls, you will need to bake in individual round 7 inch tins (approximately).  roll out dough on lightly floured counter to roughly 12 x 18 inches. I did this over 2 big pieces of saran wrap and saved myself a LOT of sticking to counter mess and hassle later on. It also made it easier to roll up. See photos. Brush on melted butter, then sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon mixture and chopped cinnamon or chocolate chips. Leave about 1/2″ border.

Starting at the longer edge,  tightly roll up dough into a long log. With a helping hand holding the end up for you, slip the floss under the end, and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces ( I used dental floss to do this and it was really clean and neat) and place in their respective tins. Alternately, you can start in the middle with a knife, and keep halving them until you have about 10 rolls and then place them in their buttered tins. Let rise until double before baking.

or

b) For 20 smaller rolls, If you use all 6 cups flour, and you also want smaller rolls that will bake all the way through, take my advice and halve the dough, and bake in 2 batches, or in 2 pans on 2 racks of oven. You may need a slightly longer baking time if you do both at once. Roll out dough to approximately 1/2 inch thick. Brush on melted butter, then sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon mixture and chopped cinnamon or chocolate chips. Leave about 1/2″ border. Starting at edge tightly roll up dough. Cut into 1 1/2″ pieces ( I used dental floss to do this and it was really clean and neat) and place in large buttered baking pan. repeat with the rest of the dough. Alternately, you can start in the middle with a knife, and keep halving them until you have about 10 rolls per log and then place in large buttered baking pan or Pyrex and repeat. Let rise until double before baking.

Bake in 375 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes or until lightly browned and enjoy.

Make Icing while they are baking:

Cream together the butter and cream cheese. If making it all chocolate, add melted chocolate (melted in a double boiler), salt, confectioners sugar, milk, and vanilla. Beat until smooth and spreadable, otherwise add everything BUT the chocolate, then split into 2 bowls, and then add the chocolate to one of them. The chocolate icing was literally so good that it kept disappearing by the spoonful. I highly recommend making it.

Freeze leftovers (after you cut them apart) for later, if you have any.

I’d love to hear your comments, especially if you have worked with a sweet sticky dough before or made anything like these.

Best Ever Devils Food Chocolate Cupcakes With Coffee Infused Dulce D’ Leche Frosting

2013-01-22 13.19.27  There are cupcakes and then there are CUPCAKES. Unfortunately, not all cupcakes deserve the name. I understand where heavy cakes and butter-cream have their place at kids parties and inauguration ceremonies (where the point is that they look good rather than taste good), this recipe however is for lighter than air, sinfully grownup gourmet cupcakes loaded with coffee and orgasmic tendencies. In other words, you want to hang out in the adult section? Step right up. Someone very close to me recently tasted these for the first time, and after her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she finished chewing, promptly thanked me for the  foodgasm and asked for another. She now asks me to make them whenever she comes over.

I found this recipe online looking for the best basic chocolate cake recipe, and was surprised to find that the best ones around are in fact vegan and made with vinegar. Shocking, I know. But I have always respected Mollie Katzen, and now I know why. I modified baking time for cupcakes, and then developed the frosting to go along with it for a truly special marriage of flavors and textures.

Ingredients:

For “lighter than air” Moosewood vegan chocolate cake

(The cupcake bit of this recipe actually happens to be vegan, but don’t be fooled, they are sure to satisfy even the most beastly confectionery cravings you may be having, AND they are super light, quick and easy!) Hooray!

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used grape seed oil for the most recent batch of these, which made them EVEN lighter) I would only do that if you know they are all going to be eaten the same day though, because after a night in the fridge they have a hard time holding their crumb together. No such issues when using vegetable oil. In fact with veg oil they are even better on the second day out of the fridge.
  • 1 cup cold water or coffee (1 heaping tsp instant coffee dissolved in 2 Tbsp hot water, then add cold water to reach 1 cup)
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar

For the Frosting:

  • 1 approx. 450g container or jar of Dulche d’ Leche spread, Ribat Chalav spread, or coconut milk caramel sauce, homemade like my sister makes, or store bought. You basically want something thick and spreadable that tastes like caramel. coconut milk caramel sauce is good because it can be made non-dairy with coconut milk so that your whole cupcake is vegan, but I prefer it with a dairy caramel spread. To each his (or her) own.
  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 Tbsp hot water

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar into a bowl.
  • In a small bowl, mix the oil, water or coffee and vanilla extract.
  • Add the wet ingredients except vinegar to the dry ones, stirring as you go. The mixture will quickly turn almost black.
  • When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. Pale swirls will occur where the vinegar and baking soda react. Stir just until the vinegar is even distributed throughout the batter.
  • Distribute evenly between 12 lined cupcake cups, right up to the top of the liners.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes in center of oven, using a timer because they are so dark from the cocoa powder that you cant see when they start to brown and you really don’t want to overcook them and dry them out.
  • Make frosting in a bowl now, by dissolving instant coffee in water and then adding the package of caramel sauce to the bowl. Mix gently (or do the whole thing in a stand mixer, which I don’t have so I have to do this bit by hand) for about 5 minutes or until it is all smooth and even. Chill in the fridge until you are ready to frost the little devils.
  • Remove cupcakes from oven when timer goes off, and allow to cool for 20 minutes in the tray.
  • Take cupcakes out of tray carefully, first running a small knife around the sides to release them from the pan.

devils food cupcakes

They should look like this, and have a super thin crust on top after they have cooled. Inside, they should be fully baked but oh so moist and lighter than air. Frost when they are fully cool or when you are ready to eat or serve them, and then, go do something worthy of confessional.

2012-12-12 16.44.47Some people prefer them with the frosting warm, as above, all melty and shameless! If you do, add a few more tablespoons of water to the coffee/frosting mixture. I prefer them chilled out of the refrigerator, with chilled frosting on top, as in the photo with the birds. But you don’t have to choose, after all there are 12…

Chocolatey Food Porn

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Lady Godiva (c.1898) by the Hon. John Collier (1850-1934) is in the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry.

Some of you may know how seriously addicted I am to good chocolate. How my face involuntarily twists in a grimace when I taste something that was mass produced to feed the undiscerning hordes. Blech. Sure, it’s fine if you are in a bind, personifying the mega-bitch from hell; nostrils flaring as the smoke pours out of your ears and you twitch like a crack fiend aching for just a bite of something, anything that will pull you up out of the pit of despair and give you that much needed panacea of a dopamine/chocolate/endorphins/love rush. I get it. But when its not life or death, (someone elses if they cross you on days like this) quality matters. That’s where these little beauties come into play,

normanlove
the top 10 best chocolatiers in the world according to national geographic.com, and I’m not likely to disagree with them any time soon. Thanks mom for the article. Photo above is of Norman Love Confections hailing from Florida, USA. Also, check out what one of my favorite chocolatiers is doing to give something back with the Lady Godiva Program.

In other food porn related news, I just searched Chocolate Cinnamon Buns on Google images and holy F***.

choccinnbun

It’s safe to say that I have found my next project at thefreshloaf.com 🙂 so stay tuned for some cinnamon chocolaty goodness coming your way soon.

Dark Chocolate Covered Banana Slices With Toasted Almonds

bananas

I was having a monstrous chocolate craving yesterday and just didn’t feel like a candy bar. After looking around my kitchen I realized I had everything I needed for these babies. My sister Rivka’s Jerusalem-Elegance (on facebook) did this first for a fancy dinner, and I have really wanted to try it ever since. Believe it or not, these are better than most truffles I have tried, probably because the fresh cold creamy banana taste comes through over the sweet dark chocolate really nicely, and nothing is too overpowering or repetitive like I find so many mass produced truffles to be. Also, IMPORTANT!!! the better the chocolate you use, the better these will taste, naturally. So use Ghirardelli or some other higher end dark chocolate for really great results.

Ingredients:

  • 200g dark or semi sweet chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 2-3 Medium sized bananas, ripe, but not overripe, sliced in 1 inch slices, and frozen for 1 hour.
  • A small saucepan
  • A medium sized heat proof glass bowl (something non-porous like pyrex) that will fit on top of the saucepan without falling inside.
  • 50g chopped toasted almonds (I just buy whole shelled almonds and chop and toast myself)

Non Food Items:

  • A spatula
  • Baking paper for lining the tray
  • A cookie sheet or baking tray

Method:

1) Set up a double boiler using the saucepan with water in in, and the glass bowl on top.

2) Melt the chocolate with an added tsp. of canola oil for shininess.

3) When it’s melted, quickly* dip banana slices into chocolate using 2 forks, shake off excess, and then line them up on a baking sheet covered in baking paper.

*Quick note: If you try dipping them one by one into the chocolate (like I did) too much liquid from the bananas gets into the mix and gums up the melted chocolate. So go fast, or do it in batches of about 6 at a time. If you have ever accidentally gotten water in a melted chocolate mixture you were making you know what I am talking about. If this does happen, you can save the chocolate by scraping it out onto a sheet of baking paper, adding some toasted nuts, crushed candy canes or other candy or dried fruit you have on hand, pressing it down into a bark, and freezing it until hard. This was a yummy byproduct of this experiment, and saved me from flinging a bowl of hot (presumably unusable wasted) chocolate against the wall. I also tried it afterwards a different way, pouring the chocolate over a bunch of sliced bananas, but it was even worse, not sticking to the bananas at all. So please let me know if you come up with a better way to do this, because its fine for a quick treat to make a few, but if you want to make say, 30, for a party, I can see this getting complicated.

4) I toasted some chopped almonds for the top as well, they really added to the flavor, and tried a few with colored sprinkles because I just love them that much. The almond ones were better, but I’ll bet kids would flip over the sprinkly ones. Add toppings, then chill in the fridge until you are ready to serve them. The chocolate melts in your hand, so eat quick! My husband, G, was so sad when I told him about the last time I had them without him, so he ate almost all of them when he got home.

Update: just started watching Arrested Development, (I know, I’m WAY behind) what a fun show, and I love the whole Bluths bananas storyline. I’m going to make these again for the next time I sit down for a marathon catch up session. Enjoy!