Friday, September 27, 2013

Chocolate Almond Toffee Cake

After a spring and summer of really incredible fruit fashioned into delicious fruit pastries and desserts, it’s time to turn our thoughts to some serious chocolate cake.  And by serious, I mean a dark moist cake bolstered with a gooey brown sugar toffee sauce and toasted nuts.  Of course, chocolate glaze is always a great way to finish a chocolate cake, but this is a very easy topping if you’re in the mood for something different.

Chocolate Almond Toffee Cake is the kind of dessert you roll out for good friends who may be in need of a little indulgence.  The cake is enriched with cocoa and uses melted butter so it can be mixed rather quickly with only the slightest effort.  The toffee takes less than 5 minutes to produce.  The nut of choice in this recipe happens to be almonds but toasted hazelnuts or pecans would also be terrific or a mix of all three if you can't choose.   

The cake is rich enough to satisfy an itch for chocolate.  And it's the season to come in from the cold, so get yourselves in a party mood and pull this together for a hungry gathering of dessert lovers.   Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you're feeling especially celebratory!

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has sent me really wonderful feedback on my new ecookbook, The Global Pastry Table.  It's such a pleasure to hear from you.  Please do take a moment to leave a review at Amazon or iTunes (launch the iTunes app and there’s a tab there for reviews).  I would so appreciate it!

Bench notes:
- My usual weight for one cup of all-purpose flour is 5 oz.  Alice Medrich’s standard is 4 1/2 oz.
- The cake recipe calls for natural cocoa powder rather than dutched.
- Medrich instructs to whisk the dry ingredients, sifting only as necessary if your cocoa powder is lumpy.
- To toast sliced almonds, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in a 350 F oven for about 5 – 7 mintues.  Watch them closely as they will burn quickly.
- Add a little nip of brandy, rum or Amaretto to the toffee sauce along with the vanilla for an adult variation.
- The sauce would also make a good topping for ice cream.

Fastest Fudge Cake

1 cup (4 1/2 oz) flour
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (1 oz) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz (8 tablespoons) butter, melted and warm
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) light brown sugar, packed  [I used dark brown]
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (4 oz) hot water

Almond Toffee Sauce                                                                                            
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed                                                                     
2 oz (4 tablespoons) butter                                                                    
1/3 cup heavy cream                                                                
1 teaspoon vanilla                                                
1 teaspoon lemon juice                                                                                        
pinch salt, to taste            
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Lightly grease a 9” x 2” cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment.

Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together.

In a mixing bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients, combine the warm melted butter and brown sugar.  Mix in the eggs and vanilla until well blended.  Add all of the flour mixture 
at once and stir only until all the flour 
is moistened.  Pour the hot water over the batter all at once.  Stir only until 
the water is incorporated and the batter is smooth.   Scrape the batter into 
the prepared cake pan.  Tap the bottom of the pan a few times on a work surface to release any air bubbles.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes 
out clean, about 25 - 30 minutes.  Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 
10 minutes before unmolding.  Run a thin knife around the 
edge of the cake to release it from the pan.  Invert the cake and peel off
 the parchment.  Turn the cake right side up and cool completely.

For the toffee, place the brown sugar and butter in a saucepan over medium low heat.  Bring it to a slow boil, whisking constantly.  Take off the heat and add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice and a pinch salt, to taste.  Stir in the toasted sliced almonds.  Set aside to cool and thicken for just a few minutes or serve warm.

When ready to serve,  place the cake on a plate or platter with a rim to catch any drips.  Pour the toffee sauce with almonds evenly over the cake. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream

Fudgy.  Creamy.  Spicy.  Bold.  This ice cream is all those things wrapped up into one luscious bowl of ice cream.  

Chocolate lovers know there is a myriad of ways to enjoy the grand elegance of chocolate.  There’s the straight stuff, now available in hundreds of different kinds of bars made from premium cocoa beans grown in distant corners of the world.  Then there are the countless forms of chocolate cake, pudding, tarts, ice cream and cookies.  Chocolate is a great partner for caramel, coffee, some kinds of fruit and all kinds of spice.  That’s where Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream races to the forefront.

I don’t often blend so many different flavors together but this time I was going for the complexity you would expect to find in a deliciously mysterious but deeply satisfying cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate.  There’s the unmistakable earthy bite of bittersweet chocolate, chile and cinnamon.  A touch of allspice, cloves, and espresso powder adds a few other voices to the chorus.  Brown sugar, vanilla, rum and almond extract smooth out any rough edges.  The result is many different flavors all co-mingling in beautiful harmony.  A distinct and supremely delicious chocolate symphony, I would say.  Gather 'round all you chocolate lovers!   This is for you.

Bench notes:
- Finely chop the chocolate so it will melt quickly and evenly without any lumps.
- When making a custard type ice cream, stirring constantly over medium low heat helps to keep the mixture from coming to a boil.  Use a heatproof rubber spatula or a wide flat wooden spoon so you're able cover as much surface area as possible at the bottom of the pan while you stir.
- I like bittersweet chocolate in this ice cream because it gives it a rich deep flavor bold enough to tango with the other ingredients.  If you use semisweet chocolate, you may want to reduce the granulated sugar in the recipe.
- Once you’ve finished the ice cream base, taste it to gauge whether to add more or less of this or that.  I think I might add a touch more chile powder next time. 
- Keep adding grains of salt until you notice the flavor brighten considerably.
- I like to let the ice cream base chill overnight to allow the flavors to cozy up to each other.
- There are some great Q & As about chocolate with Alice Medrich at the ScharffenBerger website.  Very useful information for bakers.  In particular, the difference between bittersweet and semisweet chocolate is important when substituting one for the other:
"How does cacao percentage affect recipes?
Semisweet and bittersweet chocolates are composed almost entirely of cacao (dry cocoa solids plus cocoa butter) and sugar.
As cacao percentage increases, the amount of dry cocoa and cocoa butter is increased and the amount of sugar decreased. Using chocolate with 70% cacao (for example) in a recipe instead of 55% or 60% cacao, has the same effect as adding extra cocoa to your batter and subtracting sugar. You can imagine the outcome. Extra cocoa can make cakes dry, mousses cakey and grainy rather than creamy, and ganaches curdle. Meanwhile sugar normally keeps baked goods moist and ganaches soft as well as sweet, so subtracting sugar intensifies the drying effects of the extra cocoa."
- Pastry Studio is now on tumblr where I'll be putting assorted outtakes from my blog and my book along with other miscellaneous stuff.

Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart
6 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 cups (16 oz) milk
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) heavy cream                                                          
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) brown sugar                                                           
1 tablespoon (5 grams) cocoa powder                         
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder, to taste                            
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder, to taste
slight 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
salt, to taste
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar              
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon rum
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Finely chop the chocolate and set it a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients.

Place the milk and cream in a saucepan and bring to a low simmer.  Whisk in the brown sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, allspice, espresso powder, ancho and chipotle chile powders, cloves and a pinch of salt.   Cook just a minute or so, whisking constantly, until everything is dissolved and thoroughly blended.  Take off the heat.

Whisk the egg yolks and the granulated sugar until the mixture is a light yellow color.  Slowly add about 1 cup of the heated milk mixture, whisking constantly.  Add the remaining milk and whisk.  Pour back into the saucepan and cook on medium low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the custard coats the spatula and a finger traced through it leaves a clean track. Do not allow the mixture to boil.  Strain immediately into the chopped chocolate and stir slowly to combine.  Blend in the vanilla, rum and almond extract.  Taste and adjust for salt.  Pour into an airtight container and cool.  Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight.

Freeze according to your ice cream machine manufacturer’s instructions. Pour the ice cream into a clean airtight container and press a piece of plastic wrap into the surface.  Cover and place in your freezer to firm up.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cinnamon Plum Cake

Calling all plum people!  Now that the fall is gearing up and most of the peaches and nectarines have just about deserted us for another year, it’s time to load up with fresh plums.   I especially like the tart flavor of black plums with their deep dark purple skins and purple interior.  This Cinnamon Plum Cake makes good use of them in combination with some delicious aromatic spice.

I’ve always been a spice fiend.  As a kid, my first introduction to spice was cinnamon, a spice that actually dates back to antiquity when it was highly prized and a treasured offering to the gods.  Sri Lanka is the world’s largest producer but the variety found most commonly in the U.S. is Indonesian cassia.  If you love cinnamon and haven’t yet discovered Vietnamese cinnamon, I encourage you to give it a try.  Although Viet Nam is a minor producer, its cinnamon has become very popular among bakers.  It has a darker and stronger sweet spicy heat and the oil content is much higher.  The aroma is spellbinding.

Contrary to popular belief, allspice isn’t a blend of a lot of different spices. It’s actually the sun dried unripened berry of the Pimenta dioica plant.  It's sometimes referred to as Jamaica Pepper because early spice explorers striking out to the New World believed they had discovered the black pepper they coveted.  The term "allspice" is likely due to the fact that its aroma and flavor strongly suggest the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and cloves.  Allspice does contain a trace of eugenol, the essential oil that gives cloves their distinctive flavor.  I often use allspice as a backnote to amplify other spices, especially cinnamon.  It’s also a key ingredient in Caribbean jerk dishes. 

This is another one of my favorite kind of cakes that features seasonal fruit.  It’s got a very soft and tender crumb and it’s scented with a nice big dose of cinnamon and a dash of allspice.  The plums sit on top of the batter and the cake rises to surround and embrace them.  It’s seriously delicious and will most likely please the plum and spice fans at your table.  

Bench notes:
- My plums were a bit large.  Use 4 smaller plums to get 8 smaller slices.
- The cake is great served plain.  I garnished it with slightly sweetened crème fraiche.  If you don’t want to make your own crème fraiche, I recommend Belwether Farms. Whipped cream or ice cream works, too!
- Vietnamese cinnamon is much more expensive but can be found at a better rate in bulk groceries, where you can buy in preferred quantities.
- I'm a big proponent of parchment paper.  It's one of my can't-live-without pastry items.  You can find sheets (preferable to rolls, which are a battle to use) for bulk purchase at King Arthur's

Cinnamon Plum Cake
Makes 6 largish servings

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour                                                             
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder                                                 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
4 oz (8 tablespoons) butter @ room temperature             
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
zest of 1/2 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs @ room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk @ room temperature

3 fresh black plums (about 11 oz)
1 1/2 tablespoons (19 grams) sugar
pinch cinnamon

powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9” square cake pan and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and allspice together.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add orange zest and vanilla and blend.

Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
Add a third of the flour mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour.  Scrape down bowl to be sure everything is incorporated.  Pour the batter in the prepared pan and spread evenly. 

Cut the plums in half and remove the pit.  Press the halves just a bit into the cake batter, leaving about half of them exposed above the batter.  Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar with a good pinch of cinnamon and sprinkle directly onto the top of the plum halves.

Bake until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 27 - 28 minutes.  Place on a wire rack to cool.  Run a thin knife along the edges of the cake and gently lift it out of the pan using the paper overhang to assist.  Remove the parchment and dust the cake with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Global Pastry Table Update

I want to take a moment to thank so many of you for your good wishes on the publication of my new cookbook, The Global Pastry Table.  I also want to take this opportunity to answer some questions I’ve gotten since the launch. 

Are these new recipes or a collection of pastries from your blog? 
The Global Pastry Table has 70 brand new recipes not previously published here, so there are lots and lots of delicious new pastries and desserts to explore.  There are recipes for simple everyday treats as well as pastries to grace your holiday, birthday or celebration table.

Are these recipes for advanced bakers?
One of my main goals was to make the pleasure of preparing simple and beautiful pastry accessible to as many people as possible, so the recipes are simple, straightforward and unfussy, just as you find here at my blog.  The Banana Cake with Chocolate Glaze and Chocolate Apricot Cake are probably the fanciest recipes in the book but the glazing process is a very simple one, especially if you watch a 2-minute video about how to glaze a cake posted on my Technique page on Pinterest.  Check it out, it's kind of mesmerizing!

Each tart recipe has a pastry dough that is made quickly in a food processor and then pressed into a tart pan rather than rolled so you can enjoy a Butterscotch Cream Tart or a Chocolate Nut Tart without fighting with your rolling pin.  

I think the book would also make a very nice gift for someone you know who loves to bake and would like to diversify their recipe file.  I should also note that recipes are presented with both volume and metric weights.

Are these desserts an American would know?
Yes, although I draw some inspiration from other traditions, I developed recipes in the general categories of cakes, custards, tarts, cookies and ice cream with an orientation that is distinctly American.  The Table of Contents reveals within each category pastries and desserts that are very familiar but presented in slightly new ways.  For example, there's Almond Orange Baklava Rolls that are not overly saturated with sugar or honey and maintain the crisp texture of phyllo; Florentines to which I’ve added seeds and a touch of cardamom; simple and homey Pear & Ginger Scones; a feather light Poppy Seed Cake.  In the realm of ice cream, you’re certain to recognize Pistachio Gelato and Peanut Butter Chocolate Swirl Ice Cream.  So the recipes in the book are more of an extension of the same style I try to achieve each week here at Pastry Studio. 

What if I don't own an iPad or a Kindle or a tablet?
Amazon has a free app you can download to open and read Kindle books on your PC or Mac desktop or laptop, iPhone or your Android device.  Apple is also releasing their new operating system 10 X Mavericks sometime soon and you'll be able to open and read electronic ibooks on your desktop or laptop.  And now that we have cloud technology, books are automatically pushed to all your devices.

Are you going to keep posting on your blog?
Yes, as long as I have interested readers, I’ll continue in the same fashion, posting a new treat each Friday.  The new cookbook is a manifestation of my desire for a creative stretch, so it’s in addition to the work I do here each week that also showcases the work of other pastry chefs. 

Also, if any of you are bloggers and would like to have me do a guest post, please do get in touch.  I would love to hear from you.  My email is pastrystudio @

Let me know if you have any other questions.  I’ll be back on Friday with a really delicious pastry that disappeared in minutes - poof.  Cheers!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Introducing The Global Pastry Table

At last!  It’s with great pleasure and excitement today that I announce the publication of my first ecookbook: The Global Pastry Table, pastries & desserts with international style for the modern kitchen, a new collection of 94 recipes that incorporate the influences, aromas and flavors of our interconnected world.  These are approachable recipes for home cooks who want to expand their pastry repertoire with unique and flavorful cakes, cookies, custards, tarts, ice cream and other pastries using familiar ingredients.  And it’s now available as an ebook on iTunes and Amazon.

The backstory for this project began about three years ago with my deep interest in the increasing globalization of our tables.  We can readily see that the modern kitchen reflects traditions and recipes from all over the world, especially now that we have greater access to quality ingredients to create and build upon regional global cuisine.  When I set out to write a cookbook, I wanted to convey some of the promise of these cross-cultural currents we experience in our everyday lives within the beautiful realm of pastry.  So I took what I believe are some of the most interesting and delicious ideas and influences and wove them into this new collection.  I call on both Old World traditions and New World approaches to convey what I think of as the global kitchen, a place where we can enjoy these creative resources.

There are new recipes for chocolate lovers as well as plenty of fruit, spice, nuts and desserts that incorporate olive oil.  They represent my reverance for international style, such as a tender Rum Cake with Spiced Butter Rum Glaze made with browned butter, melt-in-your-mouth Chocolate Walnut Financiers, cool and creamy Almond Toffee Semifreddo, Chocolate Garam Masala Cookies for a complex bite of spice, crisp Poppy Seed RugelachMaple Custard that worships the northeast, a rich everyday Dark Cocoa Cake, Brown Sugar Crème Fraiche Ice Cream with Balsamic Syrup that brings out all the best flavor notes, a refreshing Zabaglione Ice Cream with Coffee Granita…….. and much, much more. 

This is a book for people who love to be in their kitchens, who love to have their hands in the flour, creating beautiful and delicious morsels without a lot of fuss.  Many things can be made in a food processor, tart doughs are pressed rather than rolled and bench notes are there to guide you.  The style of the book will feel very familiar because from start to finish, I produced it entirely on my own.  After three long years in development, I’m excited to share the fun and adventure in this cookbook.

In addition to my family and friends who prodded, tasted, loved and cheered me on every step of the way, I want to especially thank all of my readers for your constant inspiration and creativity, your many generous emails and gracious support.  This was a very long, pretty crazy, definitely joyful, super exhausting but very satisfying experience and one I will never forget.

Visit The Global Pastry Table website for more information, including a detailed Table of Contents, recommendations for essential pastry tools, an example of my workflow and some background on the cover.  And please share with your family and friends!

To see some of the photos from the book:

Note: The iPad version of the book was created with Apple iBooks Author sofware.  It contains more photos and utilizes Apple multi-touch technology.
The Kindle/Kindle Cloud version was created using Amazon’s file standards.  

They differ in the following way:

iPad: 144 pages (landscape) and 191 images 
Kindle 302 pages (portrait) and 128 images

It's available in 51 countries.

Don't own an iPad?  Good news is on the way.  Starting with the new OS X Mavericks update due out early this fall, Apple is bringing its reading app to the Mac so you'll be able to read any iBook on your desktop or laptop computer.  iBooks will be fully functional with all the interactive features produced with iBooks Author.  

You can also purchase the Kindle version to read on the desktop of your computer or laptop if you have Windows 8, 7, XP or Vista or on a Mac or any Android tablet. You just need to download the free app.