Chocolate-Almond Cake, or Reine de Saba

For my birthday, I wanted to try this cake from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  No big culinary reason, other than it looked really good in the movie (however, their cake frosting is different than this one).  Usually every year Dave makes my cake for me; it’s one reason why I married him, but he’s working on a big project and I didn’t think it was fair to spring a scratch cake on him at this time.

The first thing you have to do is buy a new cake pan.  Yep.  Our American cake pans–the kind we all use on those double-layer cakes, are too short.  The pan has to be at least 1 1/2 inches deep. I had a coupon for Michael’s and went over there and bought one, but it’s lightweight aluminum.  If you want a heavier one, try Sur La Table, or a good cooking store.  With my coupon, however, the price was right.

Butter the pan, using soft real butter and a corner of a paper towel, then dust it with flour, shaking out the excess.

Ingredients:
4 ounces (squares) semi-sweet baking chocolate
1 stick, or 1/4 pound softened butter
2/3 cup granulate sugar
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 Tbs. granulate sugar
1/3 cup ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup sifted cake flour (confession: I stirred mine up to lighten it, and used regular flour)

Method:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate over almost simmering water.  Julia says to add 2 Tbls rum or coffee–a problem, because in this house, we have neither. So I flipped to her page about “melted chocolate” and it says I can use water as well.  So I did.  Don’t have a double boiler?  Get creative.  I ended up using the bottom half of my juicer.  You could also throw some forks or something in the bottom of pan, bring the water just to below them, then set a metal bowl over the water.  Kmart also sells double boilers for $40, which is why I was improvising.

Cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until the form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture.  Beat in the egg yolks until well-blended.

Beat the egg whites and  salt in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.

Blend the melted chocolate mixture into the butter/sugar, then stir in the almonds (Julia calls them pulverized–I call them: through them into your food processor and whirl along until they are finely ground.)  Don’t overmix.  Remove the beater, and then, with a spatula, immediately stir  in one-fourth of the stiffly beaten egg whites to lighten the batter.

Then, delicately fold in a third of the remaining egg whites, and when partially blended, sift on one third of the flour and continue folding.  Alternate rapidly with more egg white and more flour until all the eff whites and flour are incorporated.

Folding In Egg Whites Have You Nervous?
As one website described the process: Using a large spatula, cut a path down the middle of the mixture with the edge of the spatula. Then gently turn half the mixture over onto the other half. Continue cutting down the middle and turning a portion over. Don’t stir. The purpose of folding is to retain the air you have beaten into the whites. Be careful to only work the batter enough to incorporate the whites, and never use an electric mixer for this step.  You can Google “folding egg whites” to find videos on this process, if you are the type of person who likes to thoroughly understand a step before attempting it.

Julia says the whole process should “not take more than a minute and do not attempt to be too thorough.  It is better to leave a few unblended patches than to deflate the egg whites.” Okey-dokey.

Back to the cake:
Turn the batter into the cake pan, pushing the batter up to its rim with a rubber spatula.  Lick the bowl clean, because you can’t help yourself.

Bake in middle level of a preheated oven for about 25 minutes.  Cake is done, she says, when it has puffed and 2 1/2 to 3 inches around the circumference are set so that a tester plunged into that area comes out clean; the center should move slightly if the pan is shaken and a tester comes out oily.  We had the latter, but not the former (it didn’t move slightly).

Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge. and reverse the cake onto a rack.  Allow it to cool for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cool if it is to be iced.

Chocolate-butter icing, or Glacage au Chocolat
1 ounce semi-sweet baking chocolate
1 Tbls. rum or coffee or water
3 Tbs. unsalted butter

Melt the chocolate with the water, over a double boiler until chocolate has melted into a very smooth cream.  Remove from the hot water, and beat the butter into the chocolate, a tablespoon at a time.  Then beat over cold water until chocolate mixture is cool and of spreading consistency.  Spread it at once over the cake and garnish with almonds.

I have no idea why I decided to try this one.  After watching the movie where the actors ate this cake so heartily that they’d smeared the frosting all over their faces, I assumed it would be the simplest version.  Although this frosting was good, it was not so good that we wanted to smear cake all over ourselves.  I’d double the frosting amounts, for sure, or even try her Butter Cream frosting I, with powdered sugar.  Dave kind of looked funny when I told him there was no powdered sugar in this icing.

According to the Boston Globe, Julia Child writes in ‘‘The Way to Cook’’ that this was the first French cake she ever ate, prepared by her coauthor Simone Beck, ‘‘and I have never forgotten it.’’

This cake is also known as the Queen of Sheba cake, apparently in some allusion to the opera, and there seems to be a billion posts of this recipe online, some much fancier than mine.  Have fun looking. . . and baking.

Baked Cranberry Pudding

(photo to come later on–I know, I know.)

Jake, one of my blonde nephews, married Katie, a lovely dark-haired young woman, and she had a double reception with her sister?  Her cousin?  I can’t remember, but I do remember that it was in a huge house, with a balcony overlooking the main entry hall, lots of small cozy rooms off of the main living room area and many, many guests.  The bride’s mother had enlisted the help of her friends in staging this reception, and besides the usual wedding treats, they passed trays filled with cups of this warm, soggily-delicious pear-cranberry cake.  It took me a while, but I finally tracked down the recipe.  I think of Jake and Katie every time I make this.  Serve with Elizabeth’s Lemon Butter Sauce.

Baked Cranberry Pudding

2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 and 1/2 cans (about 14 oz size) pears, juice and all
2  cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups fresh cranberries, washed and sorted
2 Tablespoons REAL butter

In a stand mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until well-blended, about 3 minutes.  Add pears, then dry ingredients mixed together.  Stir in cranberries.  It will be slightly sloshy.

Melt butter in 9 by 13-inch pan.  Pour batter into pan.

Bake 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  (It will be slightly moist in center.)

Note: If there appears to be more juice than pears in your canned pears, hold back about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pear juice until you see if it’s the right consistency.  Yes, I know.  You may have to guess a little the first time, but like any good recipe, this one become familiar the more you make it.

Apple Pudding

Who knows where I got this recipe, but it’s been a favorite of mine to serve at Christmas for just about forever.  For Thanksgiving it was always pumpkin and mincemeat pie, and for Christmas, it’s Gingerbread Cake and this.  It’s a moist cake with strands of fresh apple, crunchy walnuts and an old-fashioned English-cake-pudding texture.  It’s best served with Elizabeth’s Lemon Butter Sauce.

(Double the quantity for 9 x 13 pan)

1 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 large apples, peeled, cored and grated
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped nuts

Sift together flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and nutmeg in one bowl.  In another bowl, whip together thoroughly: butter, sugar and egg until light and fluffy.

Add the grated apples to the egg mixture then blend in flour mixture.  Lastly add nuts and stir until blended.  Bake in greased 9 x 9 pan at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes.  Do Not Overbake!

Gingerbread Cake

(Photo here, later, but imagine a square of dark gingerbread cake)

I lived in Texas for four very warm years, as I was always surprised at how long into November I wanted to have the air conditioning running.  It made it hard to get into the “holiday spirit” when trying to bake pumpkin pies when it was 85 degrees outside.  A few of us got together one Christmas and decided to recreate An Olde English Repast for our ladies church program, figuring by going back to the Dickensian source would alleviate our homesickness for some frosty weather.  We made roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, corn pudding, a moist apple cake and of course, a Gingerbread Cake. I found the recipe in an old Sunset recipes book, which is so old, it’s falling apart.  We served it with Elizabeth’s Lemon Butter Sauce.

1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 cup salad oil
1 cup molasses (I use the green label kind)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup boiling water
2 1/2 cups white flour
2 eggs, well-beaten

In a bowl, combine the sugar, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir in the salad oil, then the molasses, mixing well.  Mix the soda into the boiling water and immediately stir into the mixture.  Gradually blend in the lfou, to prevent lumping.  Then mix in the eggs.

Turn into a greased 9×13 pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes (Use 325 degrees for glass pans).  Makes 12 generous servings.

Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake with Buttermilk Icing

One day last month when I was trolling through my Google Reader, link led to link led to a site where a librarian for the Los Angeles Library System had determined to make better use of her bundt pan, and so was posting a bundt cake a day.  I found her early in the cycle and never returned, but did harvest this recipe, orginally published in November 2005 in Gourmet Magazine (may it Rest In Peace–and I was just about to subscribe to it, too!).

The other night we had three guests for dinner and I needed a quick dessert.  I whipped this up (yes, it’s really easy, though the mixing of the pumpkin with the buttermilk is unconventional), drizzled the frosting over the top and it was a hit at dinner.  I cut up the extra pieces, gave some away and Dave’s been taking a slice in his lunch all week.

yield: Makes 12 servings

For cake

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing bundt pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15-ounce can; not pie filling)
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
For icing
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons well-shaken buttermilk
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Special equipment: a 10-inch nonstick bundt pan (3 quart)

Preparation

Make cake:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease bundt pan generously, then dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Whisk together flour (2 1/4 cups), baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together pumpkin, 3/4 cup buttermilk, and vanilla in another bowl.

Beat butter (1 1/2 sticks) and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, then add eggs and beat 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and add flour and pumpkin mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until batter is just smooth.

Spoon batter into pan, smoothing top, then bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 15 minutes, then invert rack over cake and reinvert cake onto rack. Cool 10 minutes more.

Make icing:
While cake is cooling, whisk together buttermilk and confectioners sugar until smooth. Drizzle icing over warm cake, then cool cake completely. Icing will harden slightly.

Cooks’ note: Cake can be made 3 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

Torta di Pere

I found this one on one of my food blogs, who got it from another food blog, who got it from the restaurant that invented it.  While the original dish called for pears, I didn’t have any pears, so I used apples. If you do this, sautee the apples slightly, to the consistency of — what else? — pears.  The secret ingredients in this cake are brown butter and whole eggs that are beaten to the point of forming stiff peaks. When combined, they give the cake its springy texture and subtle nutty flavor. Serve this cake with whipped cream with a bit of almond extract.

Update: I made it again last night for the 21st Anniversary of Our First Date (an occasion if there ever was one) and used pears (Bosc–ripe, not crisp) and bit too many chocolate chips and IT WAS DIVINE.  We didn’t even use the whipped cream,  as it went freshly out of the oven and into Anniversary mouths.
(Makes one 9-inch cake, which serves about eight people)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (I used apples, lightly tossed in a pan with 1 Tbls. melted butter)
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I used chocolate chips)

Lightly whipped cream with a touch of almond extract (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with flour; set aside. Stir the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (It will take about nine minutes to get sufficient volume–just below Stiff Peak Stage.)

While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. It turns all-of-a-sudden, so be ready.  Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot. (I poured the butter into a spouted measuring cup for the next stage.)

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more. Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean. (Try this a few times to make sure you’re not hitting a pocket of pear.) Serve with whipped cream.

Note: After licking the bowl, I decided it didn’t really matter what kind of fruit I used, as the batter had this amazing taste.  I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips.