Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mayan Chocolate Cake

I LOVE the flavor combination of bittersweet chocolate with cinnamon and a touch of chili pepper. Although it is gaining popularity in recent years, this taste is actually not new at all. When the Mayans and the Aztecs made chocolate into a drink, it was spicy, not sweet.

I have seen spicy dark chocolate in the form of chocolate bars and fudge, and even ice cream. That got me thinking, Could it work as a cake? So I took my favorite chocolate layer cake recipe and tinkered a bit. Fair warning: this is not a cake for your typical chocolate lover (as my husband pointed out), this is for people who like to spice things up. The spices are noticable but not overwhelming, so adjust them to your own taste.

1 3/4 Cups All-purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Cocoa Powder (if the special dark cocoa powder is available in your area, use that)
1 Cup Sugar
2/3 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons Cinnamon (I use Penzey's Vietnamese Cinnamon, which is strong. If using a grocery store brand, use 2 teaspoons)
dash of Cayenne pepper (or freshly ground black pepper will work, with a slightly different taste)
1 Cup Milk
2 teaspoons Vanilla extract
2 Eggs
1 Cup of very strong, hot, freshly brewed coffee
2 oz chopped chocolate, the darker the better (go for a bar that is at least 60% cocoa or more)
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9" round pans and use parchment circles on the bottom of the pans. Put the chopped chocolate into the hot coffee and stir, letting it melt. Combine Milk and eggs in a small bowl with vanilla and beat lightly. Now in your mixer, combine the flour, sugars, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices and mix on low speed until well-combined. Add the oil, mixing for about 30 seconds. Then add the milk/egg mixture and mix on low speed until moistened. Add the coffee/chocolate mixture on low speed beating just until it makes a consistent batter (it will be a little thin).
Bake for about 35-40 minutes, testing with a toothpick to make sure it is done in the middle.

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
3 oz chopped extra dark chocolate
1 Tablespoon dark corn syrup
3 Cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon (depending on your taste)
dash of freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons fresh coffee

Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave (heat it in 20 second intervals, stirring in between, so you don't burn it). In a mixing bowl, beat the butter, cocoa powder, sugar, and spices until well mixed. Add the melted chocolate, corn syrup, vanilla, and coffee. Beat on medium low until fluffy, adding more coffee or powdered sugar to get the consistency you desire.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Authentic Key Lime Pie

I love key lime pie, and the best thing about it is that it is one of the easiest pies to make. My friends in south Florida tell me that a truly authentic Key Lime Pie consists of three elements:

1) A Graham Cracker crust
2) Filling made only of egg yolks, Sweetened Condensed Milk, and Key Lime Juice
3) Fresh Whipped cream as a topping

I am sure that there is a great Key Lime Pie debate raging somewhere amongst the Floridians about meringue vs. whipped cream or whatever. But since I live in New England, I am just going to have to take my friends' word for it that this is the real thing. The fantastic recipe below comes from the Nellie & Joe's company, and it is super easy to make. When people ask me for the recipe, I tell them to just buy a bottle of Nellie & Joe's Key Lime Juice and follow the recipe on the bottle - it's the best recipe I've found. Bottled key lime juice is usually found in the juice aisle, the baking aisle, or sometimes even the drink mix section of your store. If you can't find it, check specialty stores. You really cannot get the same taste from regular limes, so it pays to look around and find the real thing. Sometimes you can find key limes in the store, and if you feel like squeezing them, more power to you!

1 recipe Easy Cracker Crumb Crust, using Graham Crackers (I use the max amount of sugar for this pie because the filling is so tart)

3 Egg Yolks
1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk (I prefer Carnation brand - some others can be slightly chalky)
1/2 Cup Key Lime Juice

1 pint Heavy Cream
Extra sugar for sweetening the whipped cream (I usually use 2 Tablespoons)

Prepare the graham cracker crust and bake it at 350 for 10 minutes. Allow the pie shell to cool to room temp (but leave the oven on).

Beat the egg yolks, Key Lime juice, and sweetened condensed milk together until well blended. Pour into the pie shell and bake for 15 minutes more. Allow to cool to room temp and then refrigerate. Before serving, top it with homemade whipped cream (see below). If you have limes on hand, adding a little lime zest or lime twists as a garnish is nice.

To make whipped cream: Chill your cream along with the mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for at least 25 minutes before you start. Pour the cream into the bowl and whip the cream with a balloon whisk until slightly thickened. Add desired amount of sugar, then whip some more until it is a forms thick peaks, being careful not to overwhip until it becomes clotty.

American Buttercream

This simple recipe is the frosting that most Americans remember from their childhood - it is one of the most common frostings our grandmothers used to make.

Pastry chefs generally disdain this frosting, sometimes calling it "faux buttercream" because it is not cooked like European buttercreams. BUT for all of their disdain, the pull of nostalgia can be strong indeed, since many Americans seem to prefer this to the others. Look at famous bakeries like Magnolia and Sprinkles, that have made a name for themselves using variations of this simple retro butter frosting. They have lines around the block for their cupcakes!

My own grandmother made the frosting recipe on the back of the Domino Sugar box, which called for 1 pound of confectioner's sugar to 1 stick of butter, but the modern consensus seems to be that increasing the butter to sugar ratio makes it tastier. Another change I made for my own recipe is that I like to beat mine in my mixer for several minutes (up to ten minutes sometimes), which makes it very fluffy. This frosting is also infinitely changeable - you can add chocolate, instant coffee powder, or various extracts to get different flavored frosting, so feel free to experiment!

4 Cups Confectioner's sugar (1 lb.)
1 Cup good quality Butter (I use salted butter for this since I like a little bit of salt)
2 tsp Vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon milk or heavy cream (use slightly more for a softer consistency)

Place the butter and sugar in a mixer and beat on low speed until combined. (If using a KitchenAid mixer, use the paddle attachment, not the whisk). Add vanilla and milk, then beat on low speed until it looks very fluffy. Be patient - I let this go in the mixer for 6-8 minutes. Mixing it for several minutes helps to make it fluffy and minimze the "grittiness" of the powdered sugar. If needed, add additional milk one teaspoon at a time until you get the consistency you want - thicker is better for piping swirls onto cupcakes; softer is better for frosting cakes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Traditional Cream Scones

These are traditional old-fashioned tea scones, not the new-fangled giant things that are so laden with flavors and chunks that you can barely taste the biscuit part. The bonus is that they are SO easy to make. I prefer them with no raisins or other fruit, because I like a plain scone slathered with jam. If you have access to imported Devon cream, use that in place of butter on these. This recipe comes from one of my all-time favorite books, The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham.

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
Optional: 1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, currants, cranberries, chopped apricots)

3 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 Tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Use an ungreased cookie sheet.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well with a fork. Add dried fruit if using. With your fork, stir in the cream and mix until the dough holds together in a sticky mass.

Lightly flour a board and transfer the dough to it. Knead the dough eight or nine times. Pat it into a circle about ten inches round (you want the dough to be kind of thick). For the glaze, spread the butter over the top of the dough then sprinkle sugar on top. Cut the circle into 12 wedges (I prefer circles, so I use a biscuit cutter or a 3" circle cookie cutter with fluted edge).

Place on the cookie sheet an inch apart, and bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown. These are best served shortly after baking, or at least the same day. These are not something you want to make a day ahead.

Serve with butter (or Devon Cream) and strawberry jam. For a "proper pot of tea" to go with them, see the recipe section.