Tag Archives: cake

And, just like that.

I’m back!

mex choc cake

Please forgive my absence. To put it in perspective, it took me two days to finish this article. It’s short, I know. I have no excuse, other than that I got too busy. I’m fully aware of the irony of that statement.

For what it’s worth, it once took me over a month to finish an article from The New Yorker on procrastination.

This will seem all the more appropriate when I tell you that I began to write this post back in February, when I was recapping one of the many dinners that I had hosted.

It was months ago, and, had I gotten around to writing this when I originally planned, I would have regaled you with stories of wandering around midtown Manhattan with some colleagues trying to find a place to buy lottery tickets. It was one of the largest jackpots in New York history, or at least that’s what the news was saying.

Did we think we would win? Probably not, although it should be noted that there’s something to be said to surrendering one’s self to any sort of possibility, however far fetched. Even I got caught up in the frenzy. A first for me—when I was younger, I was always the killjoy at the bodega, opting out of lottery tickets in favor of violets.

I know, I sound like a bit of a killjoy here, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve won plenty. The short list includes:

  • Camper of the year (Twice. I’m still flummoxed by that one)

  • several bottles of wine

  • $100 from FreshDirect

  • Another $100 from the Boston Chamber of Commerce

  • a book about women’s lives.

There was an award associated with the last one, although I’m fairly certain that, as with the rest of the cases mentioned above, luck played a great part. Well, luck and having some not so busy moments at various jobs when I could fill out surveys.

Still, winning seems to be missing the point. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that not everything can be a victory. Not every cake can be a celebratory one, with craters of butter cream and fondant (although once it cools down again, I may have a new dinner party project). When it came to the lottery, I didn’t stand a chance.

And, when it comes to cake, lately I prefer this one. It’s a workhorse of a cake, by which I mean that there’s really no occasion for which it’s not suited. It’s versatile enough that you can eat it for breakfast. But, with the right company, and a scoop of just the rice kind of ice cream, it makes any dinner special. Just the thing as my days become more manic. Turns out, I’m not busy so much as overly ambitious. Here’s to hoping I’ll be able to focus some of that ambition to this corner of the internet.

Mexican Spiced Chocolate Cake
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (6 7/8 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and lightly flour an 8″ round cake pan.

Cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Then, add the buttermilk and vanilla. Sift in the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, chipotle, baking soda, and salt into your creamed sugar mixture. Stir until everything is well incorporated.

Pour batter into your pan, and bake it for approximately 50 minutes. When your cake is fully cooked a tester placed in the center will come out clean. Cook the cake for 10-15 minutes before removing it from the pan.

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So we beat on, boats against the current

There’s new scaffolding up by the New York Life building. This time it’s far more imposing and permanent.  Walking home late the other night, I noticed it and that it half obstructs the old “Interboro Subway Line” sign. A relic of the past, certainly, but a personal anchor, nonetheless.

At the very least, I liked seeing it.

Thankfully the neon glasses on 27th street are still there, bright as ever, reminding me at of Dr.T. J. Eckleburg.

Even so, there’s no doubt about it—the neighborhood is changing, again. If you can even call it a neighborhood, which I don’t suppose you can, since it’s mostly hotels and office buildings, but it suits me. And, it’s home.

You can’t stop progress.

I’ve been meaning to tell you about this cake and the story behind it for more than a month now.

Time gets away from me.

And, so, to go back to December 2011—each year, I cook my mother an elaborate birthday dinner. I’ve talked about it here before. It’s an all day affair. Think: cosmopolitans with freshly squeezed key lime juice, risotto, any manner of dessert, well, you get the idea. This year, however, owing to a new job with a different vacation policy, I only had a few days off around the end of the year which, among other things, meant less time visiting my family and by extension, less time to cook.

I suppose, then, my mother can be forgiven for suggesting that I make her birthday cake from boxed mix. Yes, boxed mix. I was incredulous—definitely not a good way to start a birthday meal. I couldn’t help it, for a birthday it seemed to defeat the whole purpose.

For me, cooking, opening up my table, is an act of respect and affection. The whole point is taking the time out, of telling someone that they’re worth the extra time and steps it takes to make something from scratch. So, a boxed mix simply wouldn’t do. Not for the occasion and certainly for my mother. After all, she was the woman who taught that baking was a meditation of sorts. To this day, when things get stressful, she takes out her measuring cups.

It’s getting cold here and the work shows no signs of abating. I’ve taken to leaving my own measuring cups on the counter, rather than putting them away.

Make of that what you will.

Chocolate Fudge Cake
Adapted from here

For the Cake
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
3 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract, divided
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/3 cup boiling water

For the ganache
18 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp butter, cut up
1 tsp vanilla

To Make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans. Dust with flour, tap out excess.

In a large bowl, beat together 3/4 cup butter and sugar with electric mixer or medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla and beat until well blended. Add melted chocolate and beat 1-2 minutes; set aside.

Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to chocolate mixture in two additions alternately with buttermilk. Beat until well blended. With mixer on low speed, add boiling water and beat until smooth (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, then unmold onto racks and let cool completely.

To Make the Chocolate Ganache:
In a 2 quart glass measure, combine chocolate chips and heavy cream. Heat in a microwave oven on HIGH 3 minutes or until melted and smooth when stirred. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour, or until ganache holds its shape and is thick enough to spread on cake.

To Assemble the Cake:
Cover a cake layer with a little more than 1/3 of chocolate ganache. Set second layer on top. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining ganache. Refrigerate cake 3-4 hours, or until ganache is firm, before serving.

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Fit for a celebration

I have to admit, I had my doubts about this cake.

Pistachio paste isn’t exactly a cheap or easy to find ingredient (I got mine here) and you’ve already heard about my quest to find Dumante, so although pistachio cake seemed like a delicious idea in theory, I thought that it may not be worth all of the effort.

So I remained skeptical at best that it would live up to my hopes. I wanted something moist, but not dense. Since pistachio paste is quite oily—much more than I had expected—I was concerned that there would be too much flour and it would be brick-like.

And, there was the green color. I was worried that it might be just a little unappetizing.

Worries without merit, as it turns out.

In fact, this pistachio cake now tops the list as one of my new favorites. Finished with some confectioners’ sugar or a dollop of whipped cream and served along side a strong cup of coffee, it’s festive while still being sophisticated. The perfect end to a dinner hosted long ago.

The cake is also simple enough to double as a [decadent] breakfast.

And, since it freezes better than I had anticipated, I’ll be doing just that to celebrate my birthday today.

Pistachio Cake

11 oz pistachio paste (1 can)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 oz unsweetened butter, cut into small pieces and chilled, plus more for coating the pan
2 TBS honey
3 eggs
2 TBS Dumante (Amaretto can be substituted)
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup crushed pistachios
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Butter an 8″ springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the pistachio paste and sugar for at least 2 minutes. Add in the butter and cream until well blended, about 4-5 minutes.

Mix in honey, Dumante, and the eggs, one at a time, until the batter has been fully combined.

Scrape batter into the pan and smooth, tapping the pan on your counter to get out any air bubbles and top the batter with the crushed pistachios.

Bake until the sides are golden brown and a toothpick placed into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes, depending on your oven.

Allow the cake too cool, and then serve with a dusting of powdered sugar of whipped cream.

Serves 8-10

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