Saturday, December 05, 2009

Chocolate + pistachio = one heck of a birthday cake

I've always loved pistachios, but I didn't love combining those waxy, green nuts with chocolate until earlier this year, when I tried to make a batch of chocolate-pistachio biscotti. 

Somewhere along the way I screwed up the recipe, as the biscotti "loaf" fell apart when I tried to slice it after its first trip to the oven.

I tasted a bit of the crumbly batter before pitching it into the trash can, though, and the flavor nearly knocked me out of my socks.

So, when I went to make myself a birthday cake a few weeks ago, I knew it had to include those same flavors.  Thankfully, an old issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine had just the recipe I was looking for.

Chocolate-Pistachio Torte

For the cake:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (plus more for pan)
1 cup all-purpose flour (plus more for pan)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cut low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

** Note: If you're like me and you tend to use salted (rather than unsalted) butter, decrease the salt to 1/4 teaspoon, if not less.

For the frosting:

1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Start with the cake: Preheat your over to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan and then line the bottom with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Remove from heat and whisk in the sugar and vanilla, then the eggs, buttermilk and pistachios. Fold in the reserved flour mixture just until it's combined.

Pour the resulting batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 60-70 minutes--until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached to it. Let the cake cool in its pan for about 5 minutes and then run a knife around the edge and invert it onto a wire rack. Remove the parchment paper and let the cake cook completely (2-3 hours).

To make the frosting: In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Remove from the heat and then add the chocolate. Let stand for about 5 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Cool the mixture until it falls back in ribbons when lifted with a spoon, about 5 minutes more.

Set cake on a serving platter and tuck strips of parchment paper around the edge to prevent the ganache from dripping onto the platter. Pour ganache onto the center of the cake and, using a spatula or even a butter knife, spread it evenly over the top and sides of the cake. (If you push the ganache to the edge of the top of the cake, it will naturally drip down the sides and cover them naturally.)

Let the ganache set for about 30 minutes and then remove the parchment paper from under the cake. Sprinkle the top with the reserved pistachios and serve.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pesto with a twist

We eat a lot of pesto in our house, but I'm never the one who makes it. At least, that's how it was until last night. 

That's when I found the recipe that follows (in one of our many cookbooks--sorry, I can't remember which one) and made the decision to give it a go--mainly because it required just a few ingredients and it looked interesting. 

The end result was better than David or I could have imagined. It tastes like the traditional basil-and-pine-nut pesto you're used to, but with an intriguing twist.

Almond-Tarragon Pesto

1/2 cup blanched almonds
3 cloves garlic
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups fresh tarragon
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup oilve oil

Dump the almonds, garlic and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have a chunky paste. Add the tarragon and red pepper flakes and pulse a few more times to combine, then stream in the olive oil (while continuing to pulse) until the mixture is the consistency of pesto.

Toss with a pound of cooked pasta and cubes of pan-fried tofu (or the protein of your choice). Top with roasted almonds or pine nuts.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sinfully sweet

These blondies couldn't be simpler and, really, that's the problem: Once you try one you're going to want to make then again and again. Not great for your hips, but oh so good for your lips :)

Toffee Blondies

1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup butter (if you use unsalted, add 1/2 teaspoon fine salt to the recipe)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8-ounce package toffee bits (or a few Heath/Skor bars, crushed)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish.

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan or in the microwave in a glass measuring cup. Stir the sugar into the melted butter until smooth and then set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda (and 1/2 teaspoon salt, if using unsalted butter).

Beat the eggs and vanilla into the sugar mixture and then add to the flour mixture. Stir until a smooth, thick batter forms and then fold in the toffee bits.

Pour the batter into the glass baking dish and spread evenly. Bake until the blondies are light brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut into squares and serve.

** To make Coffee-Toffee Blondies, add two tablespoons of espresso powder to the flour and baking soda mixture.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A tale of two dips

David and I have been on a bit of a Mediterranean kick lately thanks to the two 'dips' listed below. We make them, along with some hummus, and scoop all of it into our eager mouths using pita wedges, sturdy crackers and carrot sticks. A little (or a lot) wine helps wash it down :)


1 12oz. jar of roasted red peppers with garlic, drained*
1 cup walnuts
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (you can find it at Whole Foods and other specialty stores)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-2 teaspoons of sugar (optional)

Throw all of the ingredients into the bowl of your food processor and blitz away until it's fairly creamy (though a few chunks here and there certainly won't hurt you).

* If you can't find a jar that contain garlic, add 1-2 cloves garlic to recipe. David says he tends to use two 7-ounce jars, so it's not a big deal if you're off an ounce here or there.

Sweet Basil Tapenade

3 cups tightly packed basil leaves
1 cup walnut pieces or halves
2-4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup walnut oil*
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
Ground black pepper to taste

Throw the basil, walnuts and garlic into the bowl of your food processor or blender and blitz to combine. Then add the oils, maple syrup and lemon zest and process until thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

If you aren't going to eat it right away, spoon it into a glass jar with a thin layer of olive oil on the surface and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

* This is what the original recipe calls for; we just use whatever oil we have on hand (usually canola).

Popeye's favorite cake?

Well, I don't know about that, but I can safely say it may be my favorite snack cake (for now).

Taken from the September 2009 issue of Bon Appetit, this recipe (shared by the owner of Abraco Coffee Shop in Manhattan) is so simple it'll make your head spin. It'll also give your taste buds a whirl :)

Olive Oil Cake

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons orange zest*

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Toss the first five ingredients into a large bowl and whisk until combined. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and zest. Gradually whisk the wet mixture into the dry mixture and then pour into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 60-65 minutes - until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely.

If you aren't going to eat it right away, wrap the cake in foil and store it at room temperature.

* I used the zest fo a tangelo when I made this recipe the other day, but I can't imagine it would tase much different using regular old orange zest instead.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The perfect drink for a warm summer day

There's nothing better than a cool drink on a warm day, right? Well, anyone who agrees should try this recipe, taken from the May 2009 issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine. They're a snap to make and soooooooooo tasty.

Frozen Peach Margaritas

16-ounce package of frozen sliced peaches
3/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup triple sec
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 3 limes)
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup ice cubes

Throw all of the above ingredients into a blender and blitz until smooth. Word of warning: You might need to stop the blender and stir the mixture a bit before it's completely smooth. Serve immediately - and then make another batch (if you're anything like me and David).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Soft and chewy snickerdoodles

Before I actually tried one, snickerdoodles made me yawn. A sugar cookie rolled in cinnamon? Boooooooooring!

Then I tried one. If I'm remembering correctly, it was purchased at Cinnamon Works, an unassuming little bakery near Seattle's Pike Place Market. The business caught my attention because all of its cookies were HUGE--and, honestly, I have a hard time turning down a huge cookie.

Anyway, at some point I tried one of the bakery's snickerdoodles. It was wonderful: Buttery, chewy and just a little bit spicy, thanks to the cinnamon-sugar coating.

I could have eaten one a day and been just about the happiest person on earth, but the thing is, I just don't get to Pike Place very often. So, I had to find a recipe that would allow me to replicate Cinnamon Works' wonderful cookie at home. Luckily, the very first recipe I tried (from Martha Stewart's 2006 Holiday Cookie publication) hit the bullseye.


2 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened (I tend to use salted butter; if you use unsalted, bump up the coarse salt to 1/2 teaspoon)
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk until everything seems incorporated. Set aside.

Put butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar into a large bowl and stir until pale and fluffy. (If you have a mixer, obviously use that instead of wearing out your arm. Using the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes.) Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until incorporated before adding the next one. Then slowly stir in the flour mixture.

Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and ground cinnamon in a small-ish bowl. Using a large tablespoon or, even better, a medium-sized ice cream scoop, form dough balls that are about 2 inches around (the size of a large golf ball). Roll in the cinnamon sugar, place on a cookie sheet - give them ample room, as they'll spread as a bake - and flatten just a bit with the bottom of a glass.

Bake for about 20 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through, until the cookies are starting to turn golden around the edges. Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes and then scarf them down :)