Greg’s birthday was last week and we have a tradition of celebrating it with two other friends who are also Leos. I set out to make a festive cake for three guys who love good food and drink. Enter Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Guinness Chocolate Cake.
Nigella Lawson is often described as being a “sensual” cook. Not only because she is gorgeous to look at, but because she makes indulgent, decadent food, especially for dessert. This cake is a good example. It was a treat for all the senses. It’s a dark, damp, rich cake topped with a creamy frosting that recalls the frothy head of a pint of Guinness. It is ridiculously good. It’s the kind of cake that makes you involuntarily whimper out loud.
As a Guinness-loving lass, I know that it can be a magical ingredient in cooking and baking. I use it in my beef stew on St. Patrick’s Day. Here again, the beer really elevates the chocolate flavor and lends a dark tang to this recipe. It also makes for a wet batter that yields an incredibly moist crumb that is springy but melts in your mouth. Lawson uses a 9-inch springform for this cake, but I used my 10-inch pan and it came out perfectly. This recipe is a knockout!
Chocolate Guinness Cake
from Nigella Lawson’s Feast
For the Cake
1 cup Guinness
1 stick plus 2 tblsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tblsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
For the Topping
8 oz Philadelphia cream cheese
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter and line a 9 or 10 inch springform pan.
2. Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter in spoons or slices, and heat until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery pan and finally whisk in the flour and baking soda.
3. Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. (Mine came out after 55 minutes, when moist crumbs stuck to a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake). Leave to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.
4. When the cake is cold, slide it onto a flat platter or cake stand and make the frosting. In a standing mixer, lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sift over the confectioners’ sugar and then beat them both together. Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.
I love a cake made with fresh fruit, especially during the summer when berries and stone fruits are bursting with flavor. Upside-down cakes are an easy way to combine a fluffy cake with sweet fruit topping, as seen here in my Peach Upside-Down Cake from a few years ago. For a recent dinner party, I decided to try out this recipe from domestic goddess Ina Garten. Layered with fresh peaches and topped with cinnamon, sugar and pecans, this coffee-cake-style treat is great for dessert or brunch. I served it with fresh whipped cream for my guests, and with Greek yogurt the next morning for breakfast.
Fresh Peach Cake
adapted from Ina Garten
1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup golden brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 or 10-inch springform pan.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cu of the sugar for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until just combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the brown sugar and cinnamon.
3. Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half of the peaches then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.
4. Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack before removing the sides of the pan and sliding onto a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
If I had to choose my favorite dessert, my spirit dessert, strawberry rhubarb crisp would rank among the top contenders. The classic combination of sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb is something I look forward to every summer. In a previous post, I mentioned that rhubarb is known as the “pie plant,” and rhubarb pies are a traditional dessert in New England and the South. But I tend to favor crisps and crumbles over pies. Not only are they much easier to make, I love the contrast of a crunchy topping with the macerated fruit.
I highly recommend this recipe from epicurious. The fruit is elevated by the warm spice of cardamom and nutmeg, and the bright citrus flavor of orange zest. The crumb topping is perfectly crispy with the addition of oats and chopped nuts. The result is an elegant and absolutely scrumptious summer dessert you will crave year after year.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Cardamom and Pistachios
adapted from epicurious.com
For the Topping:
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped pistachios (or sliced almonds)
generous pinch of salt
6 tblsp (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
For the Filling:
5 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices fresh rhubarb (about 2 lbs)
2 cups halved strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tblsp all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp (scant) ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1. For Filling: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8 x 12 inch baking dish. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; stir to blend. Let stand until juices form, about 15 minutes.
2. For the Topping: While the fruit is macerating, mix the first six ingredients of the topping in a medium bowl. Add butter, rub in with fingertips until moist clumps form.
3. Pour rhubarb into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle topping over evenly. Bake until topping is golden brown and crisp and filling is bubbling thickly around edges, about 45 minutes. (cover the crisp with foil if the topping is becoming too browned.) Serve with pistachio ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.
Who could forget Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as Italian brothers and chefs in Big Night. In preparation for his role as Secondo, Stanley Tucci worked with acclaimed chef Gianni Scappin, honing the skills he already had, as the son of “food-obsessed” Italian immigrants. In The Tucci Cookbook, he pulls together recipes from both of their families, compiling a collection of well-crafted traditional dishes, heartfelt personal histories, and gorgeous food photography. I want to cook this whole book.
I made this plum and polenta cake for a recent dinner party, and it was excellent. If you can’t find plums right now, substitute 6 quartered figs, or 1/2 cup of cherries. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Plum and Polenta Cake
1/2 cup plus 2 tblsp finely ground cornmeal or semolina flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
13 tblsp butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 plums, cut in half and pitted
2 tblsp packed light brown sugar
1. Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour an 8 x 2-inch round cake pan or an 8-inch springform pan, tapping out any excess flour. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, toss the cornmeal (or semolina), all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar together with an electric mixer, until pale yellow and creamy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the whole eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the lemon zest and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and blend until just combined.
4. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Place the plum halves, skin side down, at even intervals on top of the batter (place them along the perimeter, not in the center). Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the fruit and batter. Bake until the cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes (it took closer to an hour for me).
In baking, everything is in the details. That’s why I love to use recipes from Cook’s Illustrated. They explain the science behind their perfected techniques. Case in point; because egg yolks are great emulsifiers, adding extra yolks to a pound cake will “help the batter retain air making the cake light. Their fattiness contributes richness, tenderness and moistness.” And their deep yellow gives the cake a gorgeous golden hue.
After seeing a pistachio pound cake in Bon Appetit this Spring, I decided to make one for a baby shower. But I chose to use the Citrus Pound Cake recipe from The New Best Recipe, and then added the pistachios as a garnish on top of a lemony icing. The combination was a hit. Someone at the shower came up to me and shook my hand. ”You made the pound cake? ” he asked. ”You should be congratulated.”
Citrus Pound Cake with Lemon Icing and Pistachios
serves 8 to 10
from The New Best Recipe
16 tblsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, plus 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp water
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups plain cake flour
for frosting and garnish
1 8-oz package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 tblsp lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat thte oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Fit a sheet of parchment paper lengthwise in the bottom of the greased pan, pushing it into the corners and up the sides.
2. Beat the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer at medium-high speed until smooth and shiny, about 15 seconds. With the machine still on, sprinkle the sugar in slowly, taking about 30 seconds. Beat the mixture until light, fluffy, and almost white, 4 to 5 minutes, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Stir together the eggs, yolks, vanilla, and water in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. With the mixer running at medium-high speed, add the egg mixture to the butter and sugar in a very slow, thin stream. Finally, beat in the salt and two zests.
4. Place 1/2 cup of the flour in a sieve and sift it over the batter. Fold gently with a rubber spatula, scraping up from the bottom of the bowl, until the flour is incorporated. Repeat twice more, adding flour in 1/2-cup increments.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula or wooden spoon. Bake until a toothpick or thin skewer inserted into the crake running along the top comes out clean, 70 to 80 minutes. Let the cake rest in the pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. Place a second wire rack on the cake bottom, then turn the cake to-side up. Cool to room temperature. (if not serving immediately, wrap the cake in plastic, then in foil and store at room temperature)
6. For the icing: In an electric mixer on medium, beat the cream cheese until softened. Slowly add the zest, juice and sugar and beat until creamy, about 3 minutes.
7. Spread a thick layer of frosting on the cooled cake, and sprinkle with chopped pistachios.
Citrus fruits are abundant in winter and their bright flavor and color can invigorate all kinds of dishes. I was instantly drawn to this rustic cake in Cooking in the Moment. Glazed slices of orange speckle its surface, and an orange syrup brushed over the warm cake seeps into the crumbly crust. The recipe calls for Satsuma oranges, and I recommend seeking them out. They are a type of Mandarin orange and they are seedless, sweet, and vividly colored.
I made this for our Spanish-themed holiday party, and it looked spectacularly festive. Best wishes for 2012!
Juicy Satsuma Orange Cake
from Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing
Oranges and Glaze
5 satsuma oranges
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
8 tblsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup semolina flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp table salt
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter a 10-inch round pan.
2. Finely grate the zest of one of the oranges and reserve the zest for the cake batter. Cut the orange in half, juice it, and strain the juice; you should have 1/3 cup juice. Slice the remaining 4 oranges into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Combine the orange juice, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and orange slices in a medium non-reactive saucepan, and bring to a slow simmer over low heat. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, until the centers of the orange slices are starting to become tender and translucent but are not falling apart. Carefully transfer the orange slices to a plate with a slotted spoon, and continue to simmer the syrup until it has reduced to 1/2 cup, 5 to 8 minutes. Set the glaze aside.
3. To make the cake, combine the butter and sugar in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix until fluffy. While the mixer is running, add an egg and wait for it to be incorporated before adding the other. Add the reserved grated orange zest. In a bowl, sift together the semolina flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the batter mixture and mix until all of it is incorporated. Pout the batter into the pan and arrange the orange slices in one layer on top of the batter. Bake for 15 minutes.
4. Reduce oven temperature to 35o degrees and bake for an additional 35 to 40 minutes, until cake is an even golden brown and baked through. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Let cool on a wire rack until warm.
5. Using a wooden skewer, poke holes all over. Brush the glaze over the top with a pastry brush. Allow to cool to room temperature, then unmold.