Pantry Cake, with a Beautiful Ratio

12 03 2013

Who among us has opted not to cook or bake something because the ingredients aren’t at hand?  I am especially guilty of this, mainly because I wait until I want to eat something before I decide to cook.  Leave the apartment?  Go shopping?*  No, I want something to eat NOW.  On the up side, this forces me to be creative, and tests my understanding of the way ingredients work (science!) on a pretty regular basis.  Here’s an example from yesterday. I was catching up on my blog reading, and found this delightful post about olive oil cake from The Hungry Dog.

Olive oil cake is one of those things I’ve always wanted to try, and this recipe sounded pretty great.  Until I started looking at the ingredients, and making mental substitutions: “Let’s see, I don’t have blood oranges, but I do have a jar of sour cherries I should use, maybe I could substitute those. Oh, wait, you need the juice, too, and I think the syrup the cherries are in will be too sweet. It would be easy to go get some oranges, but wait, it’s Monday and the fruit stand on the corner is closed. Besides, it’s sleeting…”

So I started casting around for another olive oil cake recipe. My cookbook collection was surprisingly silent on the subject.  I found a couple more recipes online, but they wanted me to separate the eggs and whip the whites and fold them in and it all sounded like kind of a hassle. But it occurred to me at some point that the olive oil is simply playing the role of the fat in a regular cake recipe. And I started to wonder if I could make an olive oil pound cake (quatre quarts in French) with a straight up 1:1:1:1 ratio of eggs, sugar, oil, and flour.  So I preheated my oven to 180C, weighed my eggs and got to it.**

My three eggs weighed in at 200 grams, so I scaled out 200 grams each of granulated sugar, cake flour, and extra virgin olive oil (pretty good stuff, but not the very best) in separate containers, and I drained that jar of sour cherries, which gave me about 2 cups of fruit, weighing about 350 grams.  I wanted some insurance that the cake would rise, so I added a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour, along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Eyeballing the ingredients on the counter, I guessed that this cake was going to fit best in my 10″ tube pan, so I oiled it and dusted it with flour.

Mise en place done, I started whipping the eggs in my second biggest bowl with my new hand mixer (I didn’t want to buy it, but now that I have it, I’m really glad I did), adding the sugar as I whipped.  I kept whipping the eggs and sugar until they lightened in color and  got thick and creamy looking.  (In some circles, we call this the “ribbon stage”, where drizzling the whipped eggs over themselves results in a thick ribbon that remains distinct for at least three seconds before melting back into the whole.) Whipping the whole time, I slowly drizzled in the olive oil and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  I thought it looked like airy mayonnaise, which it basically was, and all of a sudden those cakes made with mayonnaise made more sense and sounded less disgusting.  Finally, I sifted the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together over the batter and folded them in with a rubber spatula until the batter was smooth.

I spread about half of this in the tube pan, sprinkled about two-thirds of the cherries over it, and topped with the remaining half of the batter and the rest of the cherries.  At this point, I thought it might be nice to put some pistachios on top for crunch and because they’re so good with cherries.  So I grabbed a handful of shelled pistachios and scattered them over the cake.  And a sprinkling of cassonade for added sparkle.  After 45 minutes in the oven, the cake was a lovely golden brown, springy to the touch, and a toothpick stuck in the center came out clean.  I let it cool a bit and dug in.

a sunny cake on a snowy day

The cherries had sunk to the bottom, as I feared they might, but the cake is still marvelous.  The crumb is velvety-fine and tender, with just a hint of crunch on top from the pistachios and cassonade.  The olive oil lends a subtle, earthy fruitiness, and the sour cherries offer bright bursts of juicy flavor.  It was as great for dessert as it was for breakfast, and makes a fine snack as well.  Interestingly, the flavors seemed to solidify overnight, so the olive oil notes are more pronounced the next day.

I’m kind of in love with this cake.  Only problem is, now I’m out of olive oil and sour cherries.  I suppose a trip to the store will be in order soon…

*In Paris, this can be a serious time commitment.  It’s rarely the case that you can just pop out really quick and grab that one ingredient you’re missing, because even though the shop downstairs always has the kind of flour you’re looking for, the one time you really need it fast, they’re out. So you walk to the next store, probably a few blocks away.  They don’t even carry what you need.  And it goes on like that, until you finally find the flour, but in the meantime you’ve thought of a bunch of other things you need, and then you call home to make sure you’re not forgetting anything, load up your shopping bag and lug it home.  By then any energy you had for cooking is sapped, so you scrap the whole idea and decide to try again tomorrow.

**I weighed the eggs first because they are the least flexible of the ingredients – I can weigh out any amount of flour, sugar, or olive oil I wish, but if I arbitrarily decide I want to use, say 150 grams of each, and then my eggs weigh 60 grams each, well, it’s not going to work so well.  Weighing the eggs first means I can just scale everything else to match their weight.

On this day in 2010: Wadja (A cool little bistro.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Great Cupcake Extravaganza, Part Tasting

2 07 2010

Way back in May, having finally settled into my new kitchen enough to dare attempting a slew of cupcake flavors, I emailed Hope and D. with a list of suggestions.  Here’s what they had to choose from:

Lemon meringue: butter cake flavored with lemon zest, lemon curd filling, toasted meringue top
Key lime-coconut: coconut cake, lime curd filling, toasted meringue top
D. special: chocolate hazelnut financier cake, praline buttercream
Blueberry-lemon: butter cake, lemon curd filling, blueberry buttercream
Blackberry: butter cake or devil’s food cake, blackberry gelée filling, blackberry buttercream  (also works with raspberry)
Chocolate-banana: banana cake, sour cream ganache frosting
Margarita: butter cake flavored with lime and orange zest, tequila buttercream (possible margarita curd filling)
Mojito: butter cake flavored with lime zest, rum syrup, mint buttercream
Strawberry-Champagne: butter cake, strawberry-champagne gelée filling, triple crème or cream cheese frosting

After much deliberation, they let me know their picks: lemon meringue, D. special, blackberry (except they were clever and didn’t specify butter or chocolate cake – way to sneak in an extra flavor!), chocolate-banana, mojito, and strawberry-champagne.

Cupcakes, undressed 
Clockwise from top left: devil’s food cake with blackberry gelée, banana cake, citrus butter cake, chocolate-hazelnut financier, lemon butter cake with lemon curd filling, butter cake with strawberry-champagne gelée, butter cake with blackberry gelée.

Those of you who have been following may have noticed that I didn’t do a post on the fillings.  Here’s why: it would have been about four sentences long.  Make lemon curd.  Freeze.  Let strawberries/blackberries macerate in sugar until juicy.  Purée, stir in melted gelatin, freeze.  (Okay, the strawberry one has an extra step, which is to add the champagne after the gelatin, so the finished gelée  will still have bubbles in it.)

Since that lemon curd is so freaking good, I stuck a whole pyramid of it into the cupcake.  (The gelée-filled cupcakes got half-domes.)  The cupcake then got a blob of pre-buttercream meringue piled on top, and it went into a very hot oven for a quick toast.

The banana cake and the chocolate-blackberry got swirls of sour cream ganache.  Chocolate blackberry also got a rosette of blackberry buttercream, like its brother-from-another-mother, Butter blackberry.  They got topped with a cute whole blackberry apiece.  The plain citrus cupcake got dressed with rum-mint buttercream, and a mint leaf to pretty it up.  The praliné buttercream slipped on top of the financier, and got a sprinkle of praliné crumbs to top it off.  And strawberry-champagne, well, my attempt at making cream cheese icing using half fromage à tartiner and half Délice de Bourgogne was a hot mess.  It tasted great, but it was more soup than icing.  I think it would have worked perfectly had I had some Philly, and fortunately, Hope and D. trusted me.  We tasted that one by spooning the liquid frosting over pieces of the cake, which delivered the desired flavors, if not the attempted look.

Cupcakes, ready to be gobbled up

So what did they think?  I’m pleased to say that they loved them.  The lemon meringue and the D. special were shoo-ins.  But they wanted a third flavor.  Wanting to choose something unusual, banana-chocolate and butter blackberry were eliminated, despite the awesomeness of the ganache on the former and the fruity refreshing qualities of the latter.  So it was down to three.  The second runner-up was chocolate blackberry, the first runner-up was mojito, thus making the winner strawberry champagne!  Against all odds, and a pretty serious handicap!

I took the leftovers (intentionally made leftovers, that is) to a party at Ann‘s later that night.  People flipped over the mojito cupcake and the simple but ever-popular devil’s food cake with sour cream ganache.  So I’m feeling good about this wedding.  Three dozen each of three flavors?  Piece of cake!  (Ha!)  Baking in a borrowed kitchen in Massachusetts in August?  That remains to be seen.

* * * * *

In other news, sometimes when I’m not cooking I like to go to rock shows.  Like last weekend, when I got a free pass to Solidays in Paris.  I wrote about it over on Secrets of Paris, if you’re interested…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Great Cupcake Extravaganza, Part Financier

20 06 2010

Fortunately, it turns out that the easiest cake in the French repertoire is also one of the tastiest.  I mean it.  In terms of the effort-to-reward ratio, this is absolutely one of the best recipes I know.  We make a version of this at work, for use as the base of a more complicated entremet, and had I known before just how little effort this involved, I would have started making it at home a long time ago.

Sifting the powdered sugar and cocoa powder

Financier is a classic French bakery treat, traditionally baked in little rectangular molds that are supposed to represent bars of gold.  The name means “banker,” which is either a reference to said shape, or the supposedly expensive ingredients that go into it.  I’m more inclined to believe the former explanation, because when have egg whites ever been considered a luxury item?  Usually it is made with almond meal, brown butter, powdered sugar, and the aforementioned egg whites.  This one has cocoa powder sifted in with the sugar, and since I really like the robust flavor of hazelnuts with chocolate, I switched out the almond meal for hazelnut.  Besides, I love the symmetry of using noisettes (hazelnuts) with beurre noisette (brown butter).  It just makes sense.

Just until foamy

The main reason I had to test this recipe was to see if it would work in cupcake form.  The one we do at work is baked in a thin sheet, so I didn’t know if it would puff up into an attractive cupcake shape or if it would bake through before the top burned.  One test confirmed that it worked beautifully.

a rainbow of cupcake liners

If you read my other blog, you’ve already seen the results of this first test.  I also tested them for next-day-edibilty (still bangin’), and even a more traditional version, with almond meal and a bit of fresh fruit (in this case, cherries) baked in.  Those, in fact, I whipped up at midnight on a Saturday, after a long day of exploring Paris by foot with some friends.  We all enjoyed our dessert, and my friends still caught the last Métro home.  If that’s not quick and easy, I don’t know what is.

cherry-almond financiers

What I’ve learned from all of this testing (apart from the fact that they disappear as quickly as they bake) is that as long as you repect the 1:1:1:1 ratio of butter, egg whites, nut meal, and powdered sugar, with 10% of one part  (by weight, bien sûr) something dry like cocoa powder or cake flour, this cake is almost infinitely adaptable.  So try this one.  Make it suit your tastes or your mood.  I guarantee you’ll want to make them again and again.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Financier Cupcakes

When I realized how easy this classic French cake was to make, I couldn’t help but tinker with the recipe a bit to see if it would work as a cupcake.  And as long as we’re changing things, why not switch out the almond meal for hazelnut?  If you can’t find hazelnut meal, grind the same weight of nuts with the powdered sugar in a food processor. And if you want to go cocoa-less, substitute 20 grams of cake flour for the cocoa powder.

200 g / 7 oz. powdered sugar
20 g / ¾ oz. cocoa powder
200 g / 7 oz. hazelnut meal (Or any other nut meal.  Peanut would probably be awesome.)
200 g / 7 oz. egg whites
200 g / 7 oz. butter, browned with ¼ of a vanilla bean (vanilla bean optional, but worth it)
Pinch of sea salt

  1. Preheat oven to 200 C / 395 F.  Grease a muffin tin or line it with paper liners.
  2. Sift the powdered sugar and the cocoa powder together.  Whisk in the hazelnut meal.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt just until frothy.  Whisk in the sifted sugar, then the browned butter.
  4. Fill the prepared muffin cups about ¾ full.  Bake 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.
  5. Cool about 10 minutes, then remove from the baking pan.  Continue cooling, or devour the cupcakes warm.  They will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days, but they’ve never lasted that long in my house.

Makes 10 cupcakes.

On this day in 2008: Apricots and Ginger and Butter, Oh My!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Great Cupcake Extravaganza, Part Banana

15 06 2010

Or, “Goldilocks” and the Three Banana Cakes

In addition to Battling the Big Bad Internet Provider, I’ve been keeping myself busy lately with cupcakes.  I know, I know, cupcakes are SO 2005.  All the same, some dear friends of mine have asked me to bake the cake for their wedding this summer, and given that I will be working in a home kitchen, a lavish, multi-tiered, fondant-covered showpiece isn’t really in the cards.  Besides, these friends care much more about how their cake tastes than how it looks (which is one of many reasons we’re friends).  I sent them a list of about ten flavor combinations, which I asked them to whittle down to six or so for a tasting.  After much debate (so I’m told), they sent me their final choices, and I got to work testing recipes.

Mise en place for banana cake

First up, banana cake.  I started with this one because while I have a number of great recipes for banana bread, I didn’t necessarily have one in my repertoire for banana cake.  I found three different recipes I wanted to try, which used three very different methods.  I was geekily excited to see how varying the mixing method would change the final product, especially when the ingredient lists were remarkably similar.

I chose the simplest of the recipes to get going, because it was Saturday morning and banana cake sounded like an excellent breakfast.  Also because if it worked, then yay!  The recipe had serendipitously fallen into my Google Reader a few days prior, and I was seduced by its promise of speed and deliciousness.  My only reservation was that seeing as this cake employed the Muffin Method, I feared it would be more muffin than cake, especially when baked in cupcake form.

Banana "cake?"

And they were.  Moist, tender, and a scrumptious breakfast, but not what I was looking for.  Too Heavy.

So Goldilocks (or Brunettelocks, as the case may be) moved on to the next recipe…

Read the rest of this entry »





Gâteau Tatin

7 10 2009

Apple season is rapidly approaching full swing, and for the time being, I’m full of apple ideas.  (Give it a few months.)  One of my very favorite things to do with apples is carameleize them à la tarte Tatin.

Apples like to spoon.

Which I did, Saturday morning.  However, I just couldn’t get excited about making the puff pastry for a tarte Tatin.  Also, I only had four small apples, which wasn’t going to be nearly enough.  What I wanted was a poundcake, but lighter, maybe made with some yogurt.  So I tweaked the Ratio, a lot.  As in, changed the leavener, removed some butter, added some brown sugar and bourbon, and of course the yogurt is not a traditional poundcake ingredient.

Awaiting the cake batter

And it worked!  Astoundingly well.  We ate it for an afternoon snack and a few subsequent breakfasts, but it would be an excellent dessert, served warm with some crème fraîche or Greek yogurt alongside.

Like tarte Tatin, but cake!

Apple Cake, Tatin-Style

For those fall days when you’re craving tarte tatin, but puff pastry or even pie dough seems like too much work, a quick brown sugar pound cake makes the perfect base for buttery, caramelized apples.  (Which are also excellent on their own, or over ice cream.) A hit of bourbon feels right.

For the Tatin apples:
4 apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup / 50 g sugar
Splash of bourbon (optional)

  1. Melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet.  Add the sugar and cook until the sugar starts to melt.  Place the apple quarters in the sauce and cook over medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until evenly caramelized.  Pour a little bourbon (if using) over the apples and cook a few more minutes to evaporate.  Remove from heat.

For the cake:
4 oz. / 115 g unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz. / 115 g sugar
3 oz. / 85 g brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. bourbon
8 oz. / 225 g all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
4½ oz. / 125 g plain yogurt
Tatin apples (see above)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F / 190 C.  Butter an 8”x8” / 20×20 cm (or approximate equivalent) baking dish.  Combine the flour and baking soda in a bowl.
  2. In another bowl, cream the butter, sugars, and salt until fluffy.  (You can use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment or your arm with a wooden spoon attachment.)  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla and bourbon.  Gently stir in half of the flour – I recommend doing this part by hand – then the yogurt, then the rest of the flour.
  3. Arrange the apples in the bottom of the baking dish, being sure to pour any excess caramel sauce over them.  Pour the cake batter over the apples and even out the top.
  4. Bake until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through baking.  Remove from oven and cool 10-15 minutes.  Loosen the sides of the cake with a small knife and turn it out onto a plate.  Serve warm or at room temperature, for dessert, breakfast, or a snack.  Cover leftover cake with foil – it will keep 3-4 days on the counter.

Serves about 8.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





One of a Pear

16 09 2009

Ye olde CSA panier has been keeping me flush in pears lately.  After doing it up one weekend with a tarte Belle-Hélène (stay tuned…) I wanted something simple the next.  With the weather starting to cool off, warm spices sounded like just the thing to enhance the luscious, buttery pears.  And the idea of putting them in a coffee cake made me anxious for the weekend.

Pears in the afternoon sun

Trying to decide on a coffee cake recipe, I was flipping through Ratio, wondering whether coffee cake was more like muffins or poundcake, when I caught a glimpse of Beyond Nose to Tail.  Remembering the rhubarb crumble cake I cooked from it last spring, I thought that recipe would be a good jumping-off point.  I changed it quite a bit, from the flour (self-raising?  come on, it’s not that hard to add baking powder and salt to flour) to the sugar (brown sugar and pears make each other happy) to the liquid (wanted to use crème fraîche – maybe I was out of milk, maybe I just wanted something richer, with a hint of tang) and even the scale (only two eggs in the house, plus my loaf pan is on the small side).  But in the end, the cake was delicious.  The texture was spot-on, with just a hint of heady spice to complement the sweet pears.  Breakfast was well worth the wait.

Spiced Pear Coffee Cake

 Spiced Pear Coffee Cake 

This cake is excellent with a cup of coffee, making it equally suited to breakfast and dessert.  It’s great on its own for breakfast or a snack.  For dessert, dress it up a little: lightly toast slices of cake and serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

For the pears:
350g / 12.5 oz. pears, peeled, cored, and diced
1 Tbsp. raw sugar (turbinado or cassonade)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Squeeze of lemon juice (to keep the pears from going brown)

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and let marinate while you prepare the cake.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350 F.

For the streusel:
85g / 3 oz. all-purpose flour
65g / 2¼ oz. unsalted butter, cold, cubed
40g / 1½ oz. brown sugar
20g / ¾ oz. almond meal (or just use that much more flour)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Hefty pinch of fine sea salt

  1. Mix all ingredients in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment until a clumpy dough forms.  Alternatively, you can rub in the butter with your fingers.

For the cake:
105g / 3¾ oz. cake flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. fine sea salt
85g / 3 oz. unsalted butter, softened
45g / 1½ oz. brown sugar
40g / 1½ oz. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
35g / 1¼ oz. crème fraîche or sour cream

  1. Did you remember to preheat the oven?  Also, butter a 23cm / 9” loaf pan and line the bottom and long sides with parchment paper.  (Bonus tip: if you leave some paper hanging over the sides of the pan, it is super easy to pull out the baked cake!)
  2. Sift together the cake flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Cream the butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between additions.  The mixture may look a little broken, but don’t worry.  Beat in the vanilla.
  4. Add half of the sifted flour and give it a couple of quick stirs.  Mix in the crème fraîche, then the rest of the flour, stirring just to combine.
  5. Spread half of the cake batter (it will be fairly thick) in the bottom of the prepared loaf pan.  Top with half the pears and half the streusel.  Repeat.
  6. Bake about an hour, rotating the pan halfway through to ensure even cooking.  When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, the cake is done.  Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then take it out to finish cooling (you may need to loosen the non-papered ends with a knife).  Serve warm or at room temperature. 
  7. Wrap any leftover cake in foil.  It will keep about two days.

Makes 1 loaf, serving about 6.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Baked Chocolate Mousse

21 08 2008

Or, as the rest of the world calls it, warm flourless chocolate soufflé cake (using some, but not all, of those adjectives).  David Lebovitz wrote a post a short while back about what do do with some of the god-awful Xocopili balls from Valrhona.  He ended up using them in some little chocolate cakesthat looked mighty tasty.  I decided to make my own, without the disgusting pre-spiced chocolate.  I am generally opposed to the combination of chocolate and cinnamon – one too many bad experiences with oversweetened artificially flavored Mexican chocolates perhaps.  So for my cakes I used a combination of regular bittersweet 64% and the ends of a couple of Valrhona plantation bars.  Following Lebovitz’ recipe, I melted the chocolates with some butter, then whisked in sugar and egg yolks, followed by vanilla, but no spices.  Then I made a meringue with the egg whites and a bit more sugar.  By hand.

This is one of my favorite food pictures on this blog.

I folded the meringue by thirds into the chocolate mixture and stopped folding as soon as the streaks had disappeared.  Just like making mousse, without the whipped cream.

Lightening the batter

Then I portioned the batter into buttered and sugared ramekins.  Halfway through, I remembered that I’m a sucker for the melting center, so I put a couple of squares of Bonnat Hacienda El Rosario Venezuela in the center of each one, like this.  The little mousses puffed up beautifully in the oven, like the soufflés they were trying so hard to become.

Baked mousse = soufflé

I gave them a few minutes to cool, then inverted them onto plates and introduced them to some macerated strawberries.  They were fast friends.

Warm Chocolate Cake with Strawberries

Which is good, because they weren’t long for this world after that.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Cheating on my Chocolate Cake

22 05 2008

I’ve been bad.  I cheated on my favorite chocolate cake recipe.

Here’s the story.  I found this recipe on Cooking the Hard Way, and my first thought was “I haven’t had a hunk of chocolate cake in a long time.”  Like since December.  This may not sound strange, but I used to eat chocolate cake almost every day.  (Hey, I worked in a bakery.  There were scraps.)  Anyway, I was struck by a powerful craving.  A closer examination of the ingredients revealed nothing exotic (i.e. buttermilk – the hallmark of a good devil’s food cake).  I had most of the ingredients already, just sitting in my cupboard or fridge.  So, for the first time in more than three years, I found myself making a different chocolate cake.

Combining ingredients in a bain-marie

The first step says to melt unsweetened chocolate, butter, sugar, and water together.  I was skeptical.  I know what chocolate and water can do to each other, and it’s not pretty.  Resisting the urge to rewrite the recipe, I followed the directions, figuring that if it was a total disaster I would have the smug satisfaction of knowing I was right.  Well, the chocolate/sugar/butter/water mixture did indeed turn out to be grainy and broken, but I guess if it’s just going into a batter it’s not that important.

I whisked in the combination of milk and cider vinegar (a buttermilk substitute if I ever heard one), followed by the egg and vanilla.  Last came the dry ingredients and my batter was ready.  It was really thin, but that didn’t worry me.  My old standby has a fairly liquid batter as well.

Soon-to-be chocolate cake

The recipe called for a bundt pan, which I don’t have, so I just poured the batter into the only baking vessel I own.  (If you read this blog even semi-regularly, you’ve probably seen many pictures of my beloved Emile Henry stoneware baking dish.  It was one of the very first purchases I made upon arriving in Paris, and I use it for everything from roasting chicken to breakfast strata.) 

All the English-to-metric converting makes me nervous, and as a result I check baking progress every 10 minutes.  After 30 minutes (which is what the recipe said), the cake had risen and it smelled terrific.

The other chocolate cake

The toothpick test told me it was done, so I took it out and let it cool.  This was a challenge, as I am a total warm-cake junkie.  But I didn’t want to spoil my dinner, so I gritted my teeth and waited.

In lieu of frosting, I simply served square slices of cake with mint-chocolate chip ice cream.  I noticed that the chips were made of actual chocolate, and not that godawful “chocolatey” stuff that is becoming so prevalent in American ice creams.  But back to the cake.  It was good, nice and moist with a decent amount of chocolate flavor.  It’s no boutique chocolate cake, but it’ll do.





Baking Extravaganza, Act II

11 03 2008

On the heels of the peanut butter cookie success, and because I had a delectable-smelling pineapple languishing on the counter, I decided to try making a pineapple upside-down cake.  Theoretically, this is the sort of quintessentially American dessert that translates reasonably well into French cuisine.  I mean, it’s not all that far removed from a tarte tatin, if you think about it.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, step 1

It starts with pineapple and brown sugar (cassonade in my case).  Cook over medium heat until the pineapple is translucent.

Cooking the Pinapple

You don’t want the pineapple topping to be too juicy, or the cake will come out soggy.  So I poured the pineapple into a colander set over a bowl, then returned the juices to the pan to continue cooking.  When the liquid began to darken and thicken, I added a little butter and vanilla and poured the caramel into my cake pan (a lovely ceramic Emile Henry dish I bought ridiculously cheap at Carrefour – France’s answer to Target).

As the caramel topping cooled, I made the cake batter.  A straightforward butter cake, I creamed the butter and sugar, added eggs and vanilla, then alternated my dry ingredients (flour, salt, and baking powder) with milk.  I was a little apprehensive as to how the levure chimique, with its added flour, would behave in this recipe, but how else am I going to find out?

With the batter ready and the oven preheating, I arranged the cooked pineapple slices on top of the caramel in the baking dish.  I even had some left over for snacking.

Pineapple upside-Down Cake prep

I carefully spread the batter over the pineapple, so as not to disturb my handiwork.  And into the oven it went, with a quick prayer to Saint Honoré

Which appears to have worked:

Hot from the toaster oven

The top was nice and dorée, the cake was just beginning to pull away from the sides of the baking dish, and a tester came out clean.  So far, so good.  Now for the upside-down part.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, ready to be eaten

Voilà!  Pineapple upside-down cake – good for dessert, better for breakfast!





Fauchon, or, I May Have a Problem

27 02 2008

I’ll admit it.  I’ve been to Fauchon a few times this week.  It’s nice to get out and see a different part of the city, and the 8th is a far cry from the 19th.  Fauchon is situated on the gourmet food end of the Place de la Madeleine, the other end mostly being occupied by major fashion houses such as Dior, Chanel, Gucci, and Ralph Lauren.  Ladurée is positioned among these heavy hitters and has a line out the door (I assume mostly tourists).  I for one, when I cannot hold out any longer and must try some of those famous cream puffs, will be shopping at the Ladurée inside the Printemps department store – fewer tourists and more affordable shopping – everyone wins!  But back to Fauchon, situated near Hédiard and La Maison de la Truffe.  They sell all kinds of gourmet products, from jam and coffee to caviar and foie gras, not to mention their extensive wine selection.  But the real draw for me is, of course, the pastry.

Chocolate Cake    Tarte Carré Citron (Square Lemon Tart)

Chocolate-Praliné Cake and Megève

These are some of the full-size desserts gracing the display window.  I love the golden chocolate shards on the chocolate cake – so elegant!  And that lemon tart is so streamlined and modern!  Anyway, one of the things Fauchon is most famous for is the éclair.  I have never seen less than five different types in their retail case, and this week was no different.

Fauchon’s Eclairs

I don’t know how well you can see from this picture, but the second row from the left is labeled “Eclair Smoking.”  There is no explanation as to what goes into an “éclair smoking,” but it sure doesn’t sound appetizing.  And at 8 euro a pop, I may leave that one a mystery for now.

One of my visits happened to coincide with lunchtime, so I thought I’d check out Fauchon’s variety of salads and sandwiches, packaged to eat there or to go.  I chose a lentil and sausage salad to go (if I’m going to have a salad for lunch, it had better be hearty, you know?) and stopped by the newly inaugurated (in 2007) boulangerie department for a baguette.  Naturally, I had to tear into it on the Métro ride home, and discovered some of the best bread I’ve had in Paris, a town where good bread is ubiquitous to the point of being cliché.

Fauchon’s Baguette, torn to show awesome interior texture

Dorée to perfection, with a crisp crust and chewy (in the best way)  open crumb.  Fantastic.  It was hard not to devour the whole thing with butter, but I didn’t want to spoil my lunch.

Lentil Salad    Tiny Roll

Which thoughtfully included a little roll – these French and their bread!  Lentil salad is quickly becoming one of my favorite dishes.  The earthiness and caviar-like texture of the lentils, the richness of the charcuterie (be it lardons, sausage, or some other delicious pork product), the freshness of the onions and parsley (and in this case apples and pears as well), and the creaminess of the vinaigrette combine to form something greater than the sum of its parts.  Restaurants often serve it warm, mixed tableside, which is a real treat.  Fauchon’s lentil salad did not disappoint, and the whole wheat roll was a nice complement with its slight sweetness.  However, I was almost as enamored with the size of the roll as with the flavor.  Check it out:

See? It’s tiny!

Such a perfectly formed little bread, and so tiny!

And now, the part you’ve all been waiting for…

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