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Posts Tagged ‘dessert’

Demanding Desserts: Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free (& Delish) Bolognese Torta di Riso

Our friend Leona (so dubbed for his ever so slight similarity to the demanding hotelier) invited us to dinner this past weekend and as I generally do, I offered to bring dessert. As an accomplished cook, lovely friend, and one of the few people not afraid to invite us over for dinner (sigh…), I am always happy to bring something along to Leona’s, particularly since he’s gluten-free and such baked goods are few and far between. This time around, though, he went all-out throwing-the-phone-at-the-maid on me and specified a dessert that was not only gluten-free, but dairy-free as well. Lord.

Now, this isn’t nearly as complicated as it may seem, what with decent gluten-free all-purpose flour blends and various types of vegetable shortening. And yet… shortening? Blergh. I think not. So, a recipe with no gluten and no butter OR shortening. Pavlova? Ehh, with no whipped cream (CREAM) or fruit curd (BUTTER), it’d seem a bit spare. Daquoise? Same issue.

I was discussing this challenge with Dae Dae, our PassionFruits European correspondent, and she suggested a torta Bolognese, an Italian cake flavored with citrus and nuts, but mercifully sans flour and butter. Intrigued, I put my google-ing hat on and got to it. Turns out  that torta Bolognese is a cheesey baked pasta dish… neither gluten-free, dairy-free, or even a dessert. Undaunted, I pressed on to figure out that she’d been talking about torta di riso, which does indeed have candied citron and ground almonds and relies on rice for body. SOLD!

Four different “ricettas”, some iffy Google translating, a few adjustments, and voila, we have cake! It’s basically rice pudding that gets almond flour, egg yolks, and candied citrus peel mixed in and then lightened with beaten egg whites. Of course, I had to fudge a bit on the whole dairy thing, but I think using almond milk to cook the rice rather than cow’s milk is TOTALLY legit.

Legit, and delicious. Cake-y around the edges, slightly pudding-y in the middle, and suffused throughout with the flavors of almond, citrus, and vanilla, this was a big winner. The starch from the rice held everything together, but the beaten egg whites kept it from being gluey or heavy, a common fault of gluten-free baked goods. Instead, it was lush and creamy–without, mind you, any actual cream. Perfect not just for the gluten-free or lactose-intolerant, but even for the most demanding of dessert divas!

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Saying Bon Voyage with Coconut Mango Cake

As I was saying last week, there are few of life’s circumstances that aren’t improved by cake. Even the kind of crappy things can be made less so with the judicious application of, you guessed it, cake.

Last weekend I again found myself deploying cake to make a bittersweet goodbye a little less bitter and a little more sweet. On Saturday, we bid a fond farewell to friends moving to Chicago. I’m very sad to see them go, of course, even though it’s for an excellent new job in an exciting new city. Obviously, a cake was necessary. And, while the savories focused primarily on their new home (mini deep dish pizzas, Chicago dogs, etc.), I looked to our friend’s Filipino origins to inspire the bon voyage cake.

With that “tropical” memo in mind, I started with two layers of coconut cake–replacing the milk with coconut milk and folding in some shredded coconut–then sandwiched them around a layer of mango pastry cream. A marshmallow-y seven-minute frosting got coated in more coconut and topped with thinly sliced mango. It looked very pretty and was quite a hit with everyone, even those that got the leftovers the day after!

While the cake itself was pretty rad, with a moist, bouncy crumb and a distinct but not overpowering coconutty-ness, I was not super thrilled with the mango pastry cream. It was a lot of work for not a lot of payoff. Mango just seems like one of those flavors whose potency wanes dramatically the further you get from the raw fruit. Maybe steeping the peels in the milk would impart some of their sharp, jungly funk, but I’m going to recommend a passionfruit curd filling instead. That’s a flavor that holds up, and would be really great with the cake and fresh mango topping.

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On Sweetness & Life: Grapefruit-Tarragon Poundcake

Upon reflection, I’ve recently copped to the fact that I am a total cake-pusher. To my mind, there is no occasion that is not improved by the addition of cake. Not just birthdays or weddings, though there’s little I love more than coming up with just the right birthday confection for a friend. And I maaay have bullied at least a few couples into having cakes at their weddings that would otherwise have forgone this sweetest of nuptial traditions. (“Think of the pictures!” I say, and I mostly mean it.)

But beyond those obvious events, cake should still always be welcome. Whether a humble loaf that lengthens a quiet afternoon tea with a friend or a grandiose, beglittered tower shining over a swanky soiree, cake is the sweet exclamation point to so many of life’s adventures, big or small.

This cake, flavored with tarragon and grapefruit, is a perfect harbinger of spring. But I’ll always think of it as engagement cake. Like my recent engagement to the lovely (and long-suffering) Mr. T, this cake also took a while to come together, but was ultimately very worth it. How, though, are they related?

Well, I popped the question to a (relatively) unsuspecting Mr. T the day he became an American citizen, which happened to fall on the week of our 11th anniversary and Valentine’s Day. (So trite I promise you it was an accident…) After our celebratory dinner we came home to a box of Recchiuti chocolates, our traditional Valentine’s Day indulgence.

As we generally do, we each selected a chocolate and cut them in half to share. Our favorite new piece was the tarragon ganache topped with a piece of candied grapefruit peel. Even in the chocolate, both flavors were pure and strong and really, really good together. I resolved to recreate the the pairing in some other form as soon as possible… which, of course, wasn’t till last week. In my defense, though, researching wedding venues is no small chore, and I also had to candy some grapefruit peel to start with.

Having candied the grapefruit peel a few weeks ago (here’s my take on candied orange peel, just use grapefruit instead), I finally got my act together to bake the actual cake last weekend. I wanted to serve it as an accompaniment to the grapefruit-lemon honeycomb I had planned for our secular spring chocolate bunny luncheon (you know the one…). The pairing proved a winning one, but the cake is quite amazingly good on its own.

As with the chocolate that inspired it, the cake’s combination of flavors is unusual and invigorating. The tarragon’s sweet, grassy, anise notes provide a dynamic counterpoint to the grapefruit’s bittersweet citrus tang. Delicious uniqueness aside, this is a perfectly behaved tea cake as well–moist and long-lived–and it pairs perfectly with an afternoon cuppa.

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The Skeptical Yankee Bakes: Red Velvet Cake

Confession time: I have always looked very much askance at red velvet cake, particularly the modern version currently en vogue, like, everywhere. You see, what had historically been a tribute to the creativity and good taste of Southern bakers challenged with stretching their ingredients as far as they would go–deliciously–has now largely become a red-dyed monstrosity that’s purely an excuse to eat poorly made cream cheese frosting… with confectioner’s sugar. *CAKERAGE*

Whew, ok, breathing… Ahem.

Right, but as I was making preparations for our aforementioned Southern vegetarian new year’s day dinner, my original plan to make pies got tossed RIGHT out the window when I realized that we were expecting 25-30 guests. I only had a day to bake and so needed something delicious and monumental that would take less time that sixty-badillion pies. So… cake. And Southern. Red Velvet was the obvious choice. Adored. Emblematic. Problematic. Frig.

If I was going to make it, I was going to make it right, and it was going to be good. How fortunate, then, that I found the perfect recipe courtesy of Julie Richardson. A northerner like myself, she’d shared my skepticism over the edibility of red velvet cakes as well but included a recipe in her new book, Vintage Cakes.

And, fiiiine, it’s a good cake. Rich and moist, with a bouncy, even crumb and a nice lactic tang from the buttermilk that enhances the cocoa flavor. The latter is of particular importance because red velvet cakes were originally CHOCOLATE cakes, with the redness emerging from the ph reactions in the batter. So, hooray for a cake that tastes like something other than, you know, red 40. That said, I did feel compelled to add the requisite food coloring, not wanting to rain on anyone else’s parade. Hrmph.

For the party, I doubled the recipe and baked it in two 9″ x 13″ pans (slightly decreasing the baking powder to prevent cratering). The version below hews to the original proportions and will produce two 9″ rounds. I also swapped in my standard–and AWESOME–white chocolate cream cheese frosting for Richardson’s mascarpone version. The combo was pretty awesome, and there was veeeery little cake left. Always a good sign, even for this skeptical Yankee.

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Sweets for a Southern New Year: Bourbon Pecan Squares

There are few things I enjoy more than a party; the planning, the prepping, the primping. Except for maybe wrestling with invite lists and cleaning up, it’s all good. Which it should be no surprise to anyone that I was to be found bright and early on New Year’s Day out in idyllic Hillcrest, helping good friends prepare for a feast. A Southern, vegetarian New Year’s feast.

Sigh. So, yeah, Southern food… not my forte, particularly when the (delicious, delicious) crutch of pork is verboten. That said, it was a relief that the mains–black eyed peas, collard greens, and cornbread–had already been chosen by the host. I just had to help make sure that they came out right and take care of the things on the edges. So, to that list of Southern staples for good luck in the new year, I added cheese straws and deviled eggs up front, a bright grapefruit and fennel salad on the side, and red velvet cake and pecan squares to finish up.

With that menu, 14 packets of fresh peas, 8 enormous bunches of collards, 4 dozen eggs, 2 dozen grapefruit, and $25 worth of white chocolate… among other things… we managed to successfully sate 25 people who were all impressed that we’d manage to do so a la veggie. We even managed to kill each other in the kitchen, despite a variety of heated Mason-Dixon arguments on what cornbread should be, the… uh… “merits” of vegetarian bacon, and how spicy the greens should be. Hooah.

Per the voting that we did on facebook last week, you’re getting the pecan bars today. They landed in second behind a kale salad and in front of the red velvet cake. If y’all (*hem*) are interested in how a Yankee and a vegetarian from Richmond make black eyed peas and collards, just let me know. I can write those up too.

This recipe makes a TON of pecan squares, which, I think, is the correct amount. I’ve grown to like pecan bars over pie because the nut-crust-filling ratio is better. Lots of crunchy, flavorful nuts; enough buttery crust to hold on to; and just enough sweet-salty, caramelly glue to hold it all together. Too often with pecan pie there’s too much gungy, syrupy sweet filling and everything else gets drowned out. Not so here. More nuts, more bourbon, more salt, and a touch of espresso powder makes the bars stand up and stand out, in an addictive, grown up kind of way. Bliss.

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A Sweet for All Seasons: Indispensable Almond Cake

Yes, hello. Hope everyone’s doing well in the calm between storms. I’m still not sure which one’s likely to do more damage–Sandy or the election–but hopefully the latter will go better than the former. Given, however, that I am neither meteorologist nor political pundit, we shall now return our discussion to cake. Thank goodness.

And this is quite a cake. Super simple and yet totally sublime, this moist, intensely almondy number comes from the Chez Panisse Desserts book by way of Francophile (well, MOST of the time) blogger, raconteur, and food guru David Lebovitz. So long as you’ve got a food processor, the batter is very much of the dump n’ buzz variety. Very easy.

And people, I cannot overstate how delicious this cake is. The almond flavor is rich and intense. The crumb is tight, bouncy, and so moist that it makes a crackly noise like a damp sponge when you poke it. It is just… toothsome, and inspires a desire that borders on the unseemly all on its own.

That said, for all its barefaced virtues, it’s also quite amenable to being tarted up a bit. Split and schmeared with a tiny bit of very tart jam and you’re in ur-tea time territory. A bit of bitter ganache and you’re dressed up for dinner. Some fruit compote and creme fraiche on the side and you’re rustically seasonal. Or, just all by itself, still blissful. Basically, there’s no excuse for you not to be making this right now. I’m sure you could find some occasion to celebrate. Monday, for example.

Some tips, though, before I send you on your way. DO use a 9″ springform pan. It’s just easier all around. DO be sure you buy almond paste and not marzipan. The latter has a higher proportion of sugar and is more pliable for making shapes and decorations. Here, you want the hi-test almond paste for flavor. Also, for whatever reason, the packages sold in the US are seven ounces, while the recipe requires eight. Not to worry, the cake will come out perfectly well with just seven ounces, which makes shopping a bit less painful.

Go here for the recipe.

PF Investigates a Louisiana Treasure: Morganza Cake

Every so often, when the river of life tosses you up on some strange, foreign shore, it then has the kindness to ensure that you’ve washed up near the best sort of locals (the ones that’ll point you to the best bar in town). And so it was several years ago that I was lucky enough to make the delightful acquaintance of some lovely ladies from Baton Rouge. Entrusted to make sure that my industry’s major annual conference went off without a hitch, they managed that task with aplomb and with plenty of energy to spare… which is a good thing since the Ladies know how to par-tay.

I have since had the good fortune  to see the Ladies once a year or so, but thanks to the miracles of modern technology (aka Facebook) I get regular updates on their excitingly exotic (for me, at least) goings on down in Cajun country. There always seems to be a celebration or a bake sale or a huuuuge pot of pastalaya a-stir for one cause or another. It was in a post about a bake sale that mentioned a Morganza cake, and how someone should make one as it always sells out.

A cake, you say? That always sells out at Louisiana bake sales? Color me VERY interested. After a little Google-fu, I’d learned that Morganza cake, named after the town (and/or spillway) in Pointe Coupee Parish from whence it came, is a devil’s food cake with a just as devilish praline frosting. Clearly something worth further, immediate investigation. I only turned up one recipe, courtesy of the Baton Rouge Advocate, but that was enough.

Directions in my hot little hands, I made for the kitchen with all due haste. The recipe, though, did leave a few things to be desired, I thought. It called for a cake mix chocolate cake. Oh no, I think not. Pecans were “optional” and I ended up sticking a good 3c in. There was no salt either, an omission that I rectified right quick and really makes the praline sing–even if it’s not strictly traditional. Finally, I tossed a little bourbon into the mix as well… because, well, BOURBON. Duh.

Not wanting to have anything to do with a boxed mix, I turned to Dorie Greenspan for a nicely textured, well-flavored devil’s food cake. Hers gets dotted with chips and split in four before getting frosted with a marshmallow icing, but the moist, tender crumb and deeply chocolate flavor is a perfect foil for the slightly more robust but just as sweet praline frosting.

Having made this twice–once for a crowd of 50 and once for a much more reasonable potluck of eight, I can say that this one is indubitably a keeper. The refrain at the big party went something along these lines: “WHAT is this?!” in very rewardingly awed tones.

Cheers to the Ladies, and I’ll look forward to cutting them a slice real soon.

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Gooseberry-Elderflower Custard Tart

In keeping with our “Ephemera of the Farmers’ Market: weird berries edition” kick, last week we picked up some white currants and gooseberries… in addition to some peaches and two kinds of plums for Mr. T, who is powerless in the face of stone fruits’ allure. The white currants, I’ve decided, were a bit of a wash. They’re very pretty to look at but don’t offer much else than a muddy, greenish astringency. At least red currants’ tartness is complimented by their redness. And yes, “red” is a flavor. Anyway, having left the white currants to their own devices, I still had a pound of gooseberries to deal with.

They, too, are quite astringent, but much more interestingly so, in their green, tufty, slightly hairy way. According to the always charmingly informative Jane Grigson, they’re generally used in sauces for meat and a broad array of desserts–fools, pies, and the like.

La Grigson also averred that elderflower is an excellent flavor compliment for gooseberries. Since I don’t have any homemade elderflower ratafia floating around (for shame, I know) I decided to float the berries in a St. Germain-scented custard.

This was quite lovely, with the tart, seedy berries providing a lively contrast to the silky, fragrant custard. Mr. T, though, would have liked slightly more berries. I was just short a pound, so a full pound should do nicely. For a slightly more pronounced elderflower flavor (it was quite faint), dribble a teaspoon over the top of the custard after the tart’s come out of the oven and cooled just a bit. It’ll soak down into the interstices and give a little extra oomph. And yes, I am still tinkering with the master short crust pastry to end all debates, so I’m leaving that up to your discretion… for now.

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