Monthly Archives: February 2009

Vanilla Bean Cake with Chocolate Ganache

My friend Susan had a party on Sunday night for the Oscars and requested that we all bring a dish that somehow related to one of the nominated movies or actors.  I figured that baking my first cake from scratch is rather domestic (like Kate in Revolutionary Road) so I sought out a recipe to try.  After looking at Smitten Kitchen and a few others, I settled on a recipe at the Kitchen Sink (I swear I have many other blogs that I enjoy I just seem to always be the most drawn to these recipes!) This recipe seemed perfect: I could finally use my 9 inch cake pans for a layer cake and give splitting a whole vanilla bean (and getting to make vanilla sugar with the leftovers) a try.

The cake recipe uses 9 egg whites. I almost bought a jug of just egg white at the store but that alone cost more than a dozen cage-free eggs so I decided to figure out a use for the leftover yolks (which are still in the fridge so they will probably get thrown out…ekk).

The batter came together quickly and the cakes were in the oven. I took them out at the specified time, let them sit in their pans and then flipped them out onto the drying racks. After flipping the first one back right side up, I decided to leave the second one upside down on the drying rack which was a mistake (or a blessing depending on how you look at it) because the center of the cake dripped into a puddle. Somehow one of the cakes wasn’t done! I tested it with a toothpick so I don’t know what happened. I put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes but the center was pretty well done for.

After the cakes had cooled, I decided to just slice off the destroyed top of the cake, and use the bottom (which was still fine) for a layer. So I had a 3 layer cake, instead of four.

The ganache was even simpler to make. I simply heated up a pint of heavy cream slowly and whisked in 12 ozs of finely chopped good quality bittersweet chocolate. Put the mixture into a bowl and let it chill in the fridge while the cakes are cooling. I brought it back up to room temp before icing the cake.

It wasn’t the prettiest cake since the layers were a little lopsided and I didn’t have a good tool to really spread the ganache on pretty but man it tasted good. Not too sweet, rich without being overpowering, very classy and adult…if I do say so myself.

Chocolate Ganache
Recipe Adapted from Gourmet

2 Cups Heavy Cream
12 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate; chopped reasonably fine

Bring cream to a simmer in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate until smooth. Transfer ganache to a bowl and chill, covered, stirring occasionally, until thickened but spreadable, about 1-2 hours.

Vanilla Cake Recipe
From The Kitchen Sink

1 cup buttermilk
1⁄2 cup whole milk
9 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 vanilla bean, scraped
4 1⁄2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
2 1⁄4 cups sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

Butter and flour two 9- inch round cake pans, tapping out excess flour; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, milk, egg whites, and vanilla extract and beans; set aside. In another bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until combined, about 2 minutes.

Working in several batches, alternately add the flour mixture and milk mixture, ending with milk mixture. Beat after each addition until the mixture is just combined.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cakes are beginning to brown around the edges and a tester comes out clean.

Let cakes cool in their pans on a rack for about 5 minutes. Remove the cakes from their pans and allow to cool completely.

If the cakes are domed, slice off the domed portion to create a flat cake. Slice each cake horizontally into two even rounds. Set one of the four layers on a cake stand, slipping pieces of parchment paper between the layer and the stand. Using an offset spatula, slather the top of the cake layer with frosting. Top it with another layer and repeat with the next two layers. Finally, place the fourth (last) layer on top and heap on the remaining frosting. Smooth the frosting out over the top and down onto the sides of the cake.

Allow the cake to set for at least an hour before slicing and serving.

A Snowy Saturday

I took some pictures in Lincoln Park by North Pond this morning after going to the indoor Green City Market and this one was so pretty that I had to share.

A childhood memory

One of the few things I can remember “baking” as a kid was a big 9 by 13 pan of brownies from a mix.  And the best kind was the box that had the little packet of syrup.  I love to cut off the top and sqquueeze every last little bit out into the bowl.  My Mom used to buy them in a 3 pack from Sam’s Club so there was always a box in the pantry if I had a craving.  I don’t have the craving for chocolate often, but when I do, nothing else will satisfy.  Even though on Thursday night I was already making a big batch of soup, I also decided to make a plate full of brownies. When I first started getting into scratch baking, this was my trusty recipe, and it is a winner but I felt like trying something new. I open up my Baking recipe book and Dorie has a whopping 14 different recipes to choose from. After reading through a few, I decided to stick with the “classic brownie” recipe.

I used a good bar of Valrhona to make them extra special and toasted up the chopped walnuts since they were currently in the freezer. This recipe made for some truly wonderful, intensely chocolate with just that little bit of melty in the middle batch of brownies. Definitely a step up from the box brownies of my youth, but they only made the memory that much sweeter.  They were perfect with a big glass of cold milk.

Classic Brownies

From Baking: My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (the better the bar, the better the brownie)
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (get some good stuff)
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (Dorie’s says optional but I used it)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of salt (according to taste, I went with little under 1/2)
1/2 cup AP Flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat to 325. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil (I used spray) and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Put the butter in the bowl, top with the chopped chocolates and stir occasionally until the ingredients are just melted. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

With a whisk, stir in the sugar. One by one, whisk in the eggs. Add the vanilla and give the ingredients a vigorous whisking before gently stirring in the espresso, salt and flour; stir only until incorporated. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the chopped walnuts. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 30 to 33 mins, or until the top is dull and thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the brownies to room temp. When the brownies are completely cool (or as long as you can possibly wait) turn out onto a rack, peel away the foil and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares (2 by 2). Enjoy with a glass of milk.

This is Love.

I hope that y’all enjoyed your Valentine’s Weekend.  Wasn’t it nice having Valentine’s fall on a Saturday?  I thought it was perfect.  Dave and I went for an early grocery shopping run with Brian and Julia, then I came home and made these scones that I knew I had to try as soon as I saw the recipe on “Eggs on Sunday”. 

We then spent the day doing our laundry, helping a friend roll out pasta dough for his Valentine’s dinner and spending time with each other.   I also got to open the presents that Dave has been wanting to give me all week (they came in the mail and the boxes were just sitting in the living room).

It has been pretty fun telling people that Dave got me beans for Valentine’s. Yes beans. But he knows me too well because I have been eyeing Rancho Gordo from afar, and I finally get to see what all the fuss is about!

They are beautiful looking beans, especially the Ayocote Morado which are a deep purple. It will be lots of fun researching creative ways to use them! Any suggestions?

Dave also got me the SATC movie dvd which we promptly watched on Saturday night (he really loves me) and a yoga block after he watched me struggle to do extended side angle using Lucy’s scratching incline for balance. I couldn’t think of anything that Dave needed (or even anything he really wanted) so I decided to make him his favorite dessert. Key Lime Pie.

Key lime pie has never been one of my favorites. It isn’t that I don’t like the taste, I do, I just would never go out of my way to order it at a restaurant or have a slice if there is something chocolate or berry-filled around. After searching around the internet for a good recipe, I decided to pull out my The New Best Recipe book and low and behold, they had scientifically tested recipes for the “best” key lime pie.

I will admit that this was a pretty tasty dessert, and I have enjoyed 2 slices from the plate throughly. Dave also gave it his stamp of approval and he has eaten ALOT of key lime pie.

Key Lime Pie
From: The Best New Recipe Book p.909

Lime Filling
4 teaspoons grated zest and 1/2 cup strained juice from 3 or 4 limes (don’t bother measuring, I didn’t)
4 large egg yolks (save the whites for an omelet!)
1 (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk

Graham Cracker Crust
9 graham crackers (5oz) broken into rough pieces
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and kept warm

Whipped Cream Topping
3/4 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup (1 oz) confectioners’ sugar
1/2 lime, sliced paper thin and dipped in sugar (optional, but its pretty)

For the filling: Whisk the zest and yolks in a medium nonreactive bowl until tinted light green, 2 mins. Beat in the condensed milk, then the juice; set aside at room temp to thicken (about 30 mins).

For the crust: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, process the graham crackers until evenly fine, about 30 secs (should have 1 cup of crumbs). Add the sugar and pulse to combine. Continue to pulse while adding the warm melted butter in a steady stream; pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer crumbs to a 9 inch glass pie plate and press on the bottom and the sides to form a crust. Bake the crust until it is fragrant and beginning to brown, 15 to 18 mins; transfer to a wire rank and cool completely.

Pour the lime filling into the crust; bake until the center is set yet wiggly when jiggled. [isn’t that a great description?], 15 to 17 mins. Return the pie to a wire rack; cool to room temp, then refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours.

For the topping: Whip the cream in a chilled bowl of an electric mixer to very soft peaks. Adding the confectioners’ sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, continue whipping to just-stiff peaks. Spread the whipped cream evenly with a rubber spatula. Garnish with sugared limes slices. Serve to the ones your love.

Homemade Pasta

Ever since I tried a bag of Pasta Puttana’s fresh pasta this summer, I have wanted to learn how to make it myself. However, I knew that it would take an investment in at least some sort of pasta roller, so it wasn’t until recently that I was able to finally give it a try myself. I treated myself to an attachment set for Ethel (my beautiful KitchenAid) for Christmas when the Amazon price went down to the lowest I had ever seen plus a 25% rebate. And I made a resolution of sorts to try it out in the near future.

Gourmet also has up a very helpful instructional video that takes you through the steps of making the dough, rolling it into sheets, and then cutting into noodles. I also decided to use this recipe with my “perfect pasta” flour blend that I ordered from the King Arthur website. The dough came together surprisingly easily.

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After letting the dough rest for an hour, I tested out the new attachments to create the noodles.

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After cutting the noodles, we hung them on this really cool pasta drying rack that I also bought with the attachments. In just over 2 hours, I had successfully turned eggs and flour into pasta. How sweet is that?

We cut half with the fettuccine cutters and the other half with the spaghetti sized cutters.

We decided to use the spaghetti for dinner (with mushrooms, garlic, parm, and red pepper flakes) and threw the fettuccine into a ziploc and stuck it in the freezer. I will let you know how it tastes after freezing. Let me just say, that the homemade pasta was FANTASTIC. It is not even comparable to store-bought dried. Not that I will stop eating dried pasta for a quick meal, but it really is worth taking the time to make some fresh pasta from scratch. I can’t wait to try this technique in ravioli or lasagna, especially this one.

Coffee Crunch Bars

Thank you Ms. Molly Wizenberg. When I first got into food blogs, I quickly stumbled upon Orangette and quickly added it to my reader. I have always loved her photography and recipes so I was pleasantly surprised when I found her monthly column “Cooking Life” in Bon Appetit. This is just one of the many reasons that I am very excited for her new book.

After reading the story that she tells of her friend Leah coming to spend a few days with her in Seattle and immediately making these cookies that they enjoyed throughout her visit, I knew that this was a special recipe. Leah almost didn’t share this recipe that was passed down from her Grandmother (with a few tweaks along the way), but Molly convinced her that this was something to be shared, especially in the pages of a magazine. So thank you, Leah, for sharing such a wonderful treat.

These bars were really simple to make and all I had to buy was some almond extract (which I have been meaning to do so that I can properly make these biscotti). I was a little worried when I pulled them out of the oven because they seemed rock hard, but this was exactly how they are supposed to be. They are crunchy but once they hit your mouth the flavors start to melt in amazing ways. They are rich, so it is good that they stay nice for up to 5 days (we are on number 4 and they are still lovely).

I hope you try them, you can just tell how truly special this recipe is.

Coffee Crunch Bars
From Molly Wizenberg via Bon Appetit

2 cups AP Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (preferably organic) at room temp
1 1/4 cups (firmly packed) dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325F. Whisk first 3 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until blended, 2 mins. Add espresso powder and almond extract; beat for 1 min. Stir in flour mixture in 3 additions, mixing under just absorbed after each addition. Stir in chocolate chips and almonds (dough will be quite thick).

Turn dough out onto ungreased rimmed baking sheet. Using hands, press dough into 12-inch squares. Pierce all over with fork at 1-inch intervals.

Bake until edges are lightly browned and beginning to crisp, 45 to 50 mins. Cool on sheet 1 min. Cut into 48 bars and immediately transfer to a rack; cool (they get crisper here so give them time).

A Super Dip


I have one of my best friends to thank for this dip (Hey Ashley!!). During college when we were both living in the sorority house, we spent a Friday night in, chopping and stirring away, making a big bowl of this dip. Then sitting on her floor (she was President at the time so she got her own room), with tortilla chips or even a fork and eating away.


Since moving to Chicago, I have made this dip for every Superbowl party and it has not disappointed. The beans, avocado and corn is a nice change from all the other greasy, fried goodness on the table.


Last night my friends Brian and Julia had us over to watch the game and prepare WAY too much food that could be reasonably consumed by 4-6 people. I brought the Dip (recipe below) and made Bakerella’s famous Cake Balls by request (had to use yellow cake mix because red velvet was unavailable at two stores and I was too busy this weekend to make it from scratch). I also tried to class up queso by using Homesick Texan’s method. It was tasty but I wish I could have found “Longhorn Cheddar” because I think I used a little too much Monterrey Jack. It was reminiscent of PW’s Spicy Mac and Cheese, which of course is not a bad thing.

But the Dip is really something special. I wish I could have gotten this posted before the Super Bowl but it really is great for any party, picnic or potluck. It is sure to impress.

Ashley’s Famous Dip

1 can black beans-drained (rinse and drain well-you don’t want to turn the whole dip black)
2 cans of shoepeg white corn-drained (or yellow if that is all that you can find)
1 can Rotel (diced tomatoes and chiles) drained
1/4 to 1/2 purple onion-diced
1 bunch cilantro-chopped
3-4 Avocadoes-chopped
Juice of 2-3 limes
Fajita seasoning to taste
Kosher salt to taste.

Mix everything together. Don’t stir too hard so that the avocado stays somewhat in pieces.

Serve chilled with tortilla chips. Or even just a fork.