CHOCOLATE DOESN’T BELONG IN MUFFINS? TRY THESE BANANA CHOCO/CHIP DELIGHTS!

That would be me—the lady who says that chocolate has no business floating around in muffins (which I have mostly considered to be breakfast or coffee-break/teatime fare). If you’re a Baby Boomer like me, you might recall the old Bill Cosby routine wherein Cosby is making breakfast for his kids and they want chocolate cake, so that’s what he’s gonna give ’em! Our son Adrian loved that skit (might even have heard it live at the Proctor’s when we took him to see the comedian perform – can’t recall which routines included in the act!), What made it funny was the fact that, two or three decades ago, no one considered chocolate as appropriate on any kind of early morning menu. Who but a father who was not used to pulling together a real meal would even consider dishing it out to his kids? I tend to think chocolate started to sneak into the rise ‘n’ shine food group with the intro by Dunkin’ Donuts’ of their Boston Cream filled donuts. Even I wasn’t immune to those…

But getting back to my kitchen, where three bananas dangled from the “banana hook” on my kitchen counter, already more ripe than I prefer unless mixed into something bake-worthy. And I wanted to make just one more thing to bring to that chili/bake sale at Kristen’s workplace. So I scanned the dessert/baking cookbook shelves and wound up pulling down the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts by the Moosewood Collective (Clarkson Potter Publishers/Random House, 1997), probably because I have a special love for Moosewood, which I’ve written about on this blog. (I’m not the only Moosewood lover either. Check out a seven-page article, “40 Years of Moosewood!” by Jamie Stringfellow in the November/December 2012 issue of Spirituality & Health magazine, in which it is noted that Bon Appétit named the restaurant as “one of the 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century.”)

In the long run, the muffins I created changed out or added something like six or seven new or slightly revised ingredients, so it’s not their recipe at all. It was the inspiration that I needed, however, and it worked. If you need a run-through of differences: butter instead of oil; added yogurt; split brown sugar between light and dark; reduced flour amount and added almond meal; added cinnamon; cut vanilla extract in half to add in almond extract; added mini-chocolate chips.

These were heavenly. Bill and I split one. One was packed into the thermal bag with Kristen’s chili & cornbread lunch & cookies (necessary because, otherwise, she is so busy with aspects of the sale/raffle, sometimes all the food is sold before she gets any lunch!). That left eight for the sale. Don’t know who bought them, but I’d be willing to bet they didn’t last long!

MARILYN’S BANANA CHOCO-CHIP MUFFINS
Yields 10 large Muffins

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 2½ tablespoons plain Greek yogurt (I used 2%)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (I used a combo of light & dark brown sugars)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 large ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1½ cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • ¾ cup almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon Roasted Saigon cinnamon (plain ol’ cinnamon will work too)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt (table salt or fine-ground sea salt)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ to ¾ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Process

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease jumbo muffin tin or insert paper liners.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter, yogurt, sugar, eggs and bananas until well blended.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, almond meal, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. (If tiniest bit of almond meal doesn’t go through sifter – we’re talking something like no more than “a pinch” – it’s okay to turn sifter over and dump into bowl.)
  5. Fold dry ingredients into wet, using quick strokes and being careful not to overmix.
  6. Gently stir in extracts.
  7. Fold in chocolate chips.
  8. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until cake tester or butter knife comes out clean when inserted into muffin.
  10. Turn muffins out of tin within first five minutes of removal from oven. Cool on a rack.
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EGG ON MY FACE, POTATO IN MY SOUP, ICING ON THE (CUP)CAKE

There’s an expression here in the USA that might not be familiar to some of my blog followers in other countries. “Egg on My Face” could be a phrase translated to mean, “What was I thinking?” (as in, “Was I thinking at all?”); but more often it’s a big fat “OOPS!” (as in, “How could I do something so stupid?”). In the case of a blog, as in KitchenCauldron, it’s about somehow screwing up the post. Which usually isn’t so bad when it’s just a typo, or one edited-out phrase where the writer failed to take out a word or two (or took out one too many words) – these things mostly are “understood” by the reader and quietly revised when noticed by the blogger.

But in a recipe, the list of ingredients must include all of the ingredients. How else does the cook ensure s/he’s in possession of all necessities for re-creating the recipe?

A couple days ago, I decided I would re-create one of the soups posted on KC, but without the chicken. Basic Potato-Leek Soup (with carrot). Our Spiritual Alchemy group was meeting at Leslie’s again, and the other four of us decided we would be The Makers of the Feast rather than allow Leslie to once again exhaust herself to “make it nice.” (Of course, this didn’t stop her from putting out “just some things already in the fridge and pantry…” but our planning did manage to hold her in check somewhat. Who can blame her—she loves to entertain, especially for her writing/art sisters!)  I’d said I’d bring a soup and would also bake if there was time. Yesterday morning I realized I had to bake – it was imperative that I somehow incorporate four almost-overripe bananas (hanging on the “banana hook” atop our kitchen counter) into something, or they’d go to waste! Luckily, I was out of bed and functioning way-early, with plenty of time before our group met. And so it was that I toted Potato-Leek Soup and Gluten-Free Banana Muffins to Leslie’s.

Since the batch of Potato/Leek with Chicken Soup in my January 30th post turned out so great, I went back to my printed recipe (yes, I eventually print all my foodblog posts, put them in binders and easily refer to them when needed). Much to my surprise and chagrin I discovered that, while I’d included the potatoes in the “Process” part of the post (“Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes – or until potato is tender.”), I’d failed to add potatoes to the “Ingredients” list! Major faux pas. Since then, I’ve corrected the recipe and mentally whipped myself several times for screwing up on proofreading! I have to assume that no one viewing that post has yet tried to make the soup (since there were no complaints or gentle references to something missing) but, just in case anyone printed the recipe, it will have to be re-printed for an accurate rendition (or note the changes by pen or pencil on the copy). I apologize for any convenience.

My minus-the-chicken version, by the way, was a big hit at Leslie’s (with Greek yogurt and gluten-free crouton toppings) – as were the muffins (recipe for latter to be posted at a later date).

Some of that “egg on my face” also comes from my recent, too-long unblogged space on KC. Or, to use an even more appropriate American idiom, turning it into a pun for the recipe in this post, it’s “the icing on the cake” (as in, “added to all the other stuff, this happened”; or, “I have to admit to this…”). Between the business of life lately and, I confess, getting caught up in reading a few books, I haven’t gotten back to the computer except for e-mail and a few Facebook comments. I’ve managed to post some pieces on the KC Food for Thought page, but making those additions are less time-consuming than including a posting with story and recipe.

In my April 6th post, I promised to provide the rest of the recipes from WomanWords’ 15-Year Birthday Reading soon. Honest – they’re all coming! And there are so many other recipes backed-up. And food-related books I want to blog about. I could huddle down, drafting and posting, in my little office/art/writing space and not surface for a couple weeks for anything but food, water and the bathroom – but then I expect the quality of my offerings would begin to deteriorate within a few days (and there’d be no time to cook!). I am a social creature, requiring interaction with friends and family, and a bit of fresh air as well (although I am far from an outdoorsy type!), and so I’ll just do the best I can with this blogging thing.

In the meantime, in the catching-up phase, I’m now providing the frosting recipe for those Heavenly Chocolate Cupcakes served at Caffè Lena during our celebration. It’s easy to make and would also be a great topping for your best white cake (I love white cake with chocolate frosting!).

A quick tip of the (witch’s) hat to the magical aspect of hazelnuts, a major ingredient in the Nutella used in this recipe: According to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), the hazelnut’s energies encompass wisdom, conscious mind and fertility. The tree itself, with its round nuts, “played important roles in European folklore and folk religion.” It was linked to sky deities and considered a guardian against lightning, bad storms and fire. While I’m not about to stand under any tree in a lightning storm, I found this interesting. (Hmm, when Hurricane Irene hit this area last August, maybe we could’ve used a few hazelnut trees…) On the other hand, I’m not averse to munching on a few of the delicious nuts on occasion – whether to enhance wisdom or purely for pleasure. And a little fertility where creativity’s concerned wouldn’t hurt either.

HEAVENLY NUTELLA FROSTING
(Yields enough for at least 2½ to 3 dozen cupcakes.)

Ingredients

  • 1½ sticks butter, softened to room temperature (12 tablespoons)
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar (more or less)
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons milk (I use 2% but any will do, from skim to full-fat)
  • 1 jar Nutella hazelnut spread (or other hazelnut spread), although you may not use entire jar
  • dash of cinnamon

Process

  1. In a large bowl, beat together all of the butter, about half of the sugar and half of the jar of Nutella. If the mixture is too stiff for beating, add a tablespoon or two  milk.
  2. Add remaining sugar, gradually, and continue to beat ingredients together until smooth, adding a bit more Nutella (1/4 cup?) as well – and, if needed, another tablespoon of milk.
  3. Sprinkle in cinnamon, to taste (you can go beyond the “dash” if you love the spice), and add however much additional Nutella and/or milk required to bring the mixture to a good spreading consistency, as “light” or as dense as you prefer.
  4. Spread on cupcakes. (An option which I did not take for this event would be to sprinkle chopped, toasted hazelnuts in the center of each frosted cupcake top – yummy!)

See—I told you it was easy!

A TRIP TO HEAVEN – CUPCAKES FOR CAFFÈ LENA

When we were kids and teens, Mom baked our birthday cakes – and an occasional holiday cake – from box mixes. It was the ’50s and ’60s and housewives were brainwashed into thinking this was the way to go. Easy. Convenient. Just as delicious (that’s what Americans were told anyway). To us they were delicious and, of course, fun. She’d decorate with her own buttercream frosting, some purchased tubes of gel-like icing, a few pre-manufactured (and stiff) sugar letters or shapes, and possibly an appropriate number of candles atop. Voilà! A cake any kid would love. Especially if it came with birthday presents.

On the other hand, we’d be invited to my cousin Rene’s kids’ parties sometimes, where we’d witness cakes seemingly carved to simulate whatever party theme their mom had selected for the day. For example, I’m recalling one such cake, a virtual locomotive constructed of cake, frosting and whatever auxiliary accessories Rene (pronounced Ree –nee) decided would work in the design. Maybe she whipped up her confections starting with a box too, but it didn’t matter. To a child, they were magic. Fun. Even if the child wasn’t the birthday boy or girl. And the cake, of course, satisfied any sweet tooth.

In Kathleen Flinn’s newest book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks (Viking, 2011), there’s a whole chapter entitled “What’s in the Box?,” wherein she relates a story about how her husband Mike one night decided to bake a cake. When he gets stressed out (and this time it was after watching a particularly aggravating defeat of his alma mater’s football team), he has to do something with his hands. So this time he went into the kitchen, searching for a cake mix to beat up. When he found there were no such mixes to be had, his wife said, “We have all the stuff for cake… just look up a recipe.”

“Really? Mike asked. “You mean you can make a cake without a mix?”

A few minutes later, after looking up a recipe, Mike called out, “So what’s in the box?”

“What are you talking about?”

He brought a printout of a recipe for yellow cake into the living room. “You’ve got to see this. So get this, it’s just flour, eggs, baking soda, milk, sugar, and butter. But with a box you already add eggs, milk, and oil, so what’s in the freakin’ box?” He was agitated. “Just flour, sugar, and baking soda?”

Good point, Mike. Great chapter, Kathleen, about just what we’re putting into our bodies. Oh—to end that little tale: Mike made the cake, using his mother’s prized 45-year old mixer (a permanent fixture in their kitchen), and another revelation came through.

…“So that’s it? This doesn’t take any longer than doing it from a mix.”

Perhaps that’s not always true. Pulling out the flour, sugar, baking soda and maybe a few more ingredients than Mike did (he was making a basic yellow cake), plus measuring, might add a few extra minutes – but not much. Certainly not enough to outweigh the fact that the answer to Mike’s question about what’s in the box is, in short, a bunch of chemicals designed to give the high-on-sugar, hydrogenated-and-high-fructose-corn-syrup-included product a longer shelf life. Food science at its finest: add sugar (and sugary substitutes), trigger the necessary neurotransmitters “to provide an artificially enhanced pleasure response,” and there you have it – another customer who will come back for more. Forget about what’s good for them.

And then there’s the flavor. Nothing like a great homemade cake.

Nowadays, it’s rare that you’d find a cake mix on my shelves. I suppose it helps that I’m retired and can more readily “fit” the baking of a scratch cake into my schedule, but retirement doesn’t necessarily mean you’re less busy. It merely allows one to have more personal control of one’s schedule. I do not have to be at a jobsite by a certain time, nor do I have to ask permission to leave for appointments with doctors, dentists, hairdressers and the like. I am my own boss. I can set up a meeting with writing friends or my annual health physical for 1 p.m. in order to allow time to bake a cake – or a batch of cupcakes – in the morning. Still, it was well before retirement that I began to pull away from box cakes. It’s been at least a couple decades since I’d snatch up several Duncan Hines cake mixes whenever they’d come on sale. They’re good. Tasty. Just not as good as homemade. Not as healthy. And the fun, it seems, is in the creating of baked goods from scratch – whole food ingredients, tweaking the spices my way, deciding what way to go with frosting…

So it was fun deciding what kinds of cupcakes to bring to Caffè Lena’s for next week’s open poetry mic. My writing collective, WomanWords, will be “The Feature” that evening, and I suggested – and promised – to bring cupcakes to celebrate our 15-year birthday. We began as a monthly writing group (now evolved into special-events-only, such as daylong workshops and retreats) in April 1997. Hard to believe it’s been that long –  that it’s all happened, including meeting some of my now-very-best friends through WW, because of the International Women’s Writing Guild. We’ll celebrate with decorated cupcakes, asking for a donation for each to benefit historic Caffè Lena. I made the first batch yesterday and froze them, to frost and adorn next Wednesday.

Marilyn with cousin Renee, 1991

Before I get to the recipe, I must relate one final family memory related to cakemaking, however indirectly. Cousin Rene was daughter to my Aunt Helen, Mom’s oldest sister, so she was closer to my mother’s age than to mine (five years younger than Dolly, actually). She was a whirlwind of activity all of her life, a creative lady. She also loved to travel, learn new things, attend exercise classes, garden and more. Despite giving up smoking at least a couple decades earlier, she was diagnosed with lung cancer in her 70s, which took her from us in the summer of 2007.

Mom attended Rene’s wake/funeral with us. Although we told her where we were going, that Rene had passed away, she didn’t quite “get it” until we walked into the large sitting room at the funeral home (her dementia or Alzheimer’s had progressed to where she could no longer live alone as well). She chose to sit with her sister Helen near the front, holding her hand almost the entire time. Bill and I found seats further back in the crowded room. Toward the end of the service, when attendees were asked to offer memories about Rene, I eventually stood up to comment. “No one has yet mentioned her creativity,” I said. “It came out in lots of ways but my first memory is about the cakes she made.” I went on to explain that she’d create amazing stuff, contrasting it with my mom’s delicious but simply-adorned cakes. From the front row, to my far left, a slightly indignant voice piped up with “Thanks a lot!” My mother, who by then couldn’t tell you what she had for breakfast an hour beforehand and sometimes still thought she should be at the job from which she’d retired at age 72, still had her spunk – and she’d apparently decided her cakes had been insulted! The whole room cracked up in laughter, a welcome break in the sorrow. (Sadly, Mom passed away two weeks after her niece and we were back in that same funeral home far too soon.)

Below is the recipe (with pictures) for the cupcakes thus far baked for the WomanWords 15th birthday at Caffe Lena, tweaked from the Chocolate Heaven Cake recipe in The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook (by Cheryl & Griffith Day, Artisan, 2012), mentioned in another recent post (for Brown Sugar Banana Bread). When these chocolate bits of heaven are frosted, there will be another recipe and more photos on KitchenCauldron. For now, I still haven’t decided on the icing type yet…

HEAVENLY CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
Yield: My batter produced two (2) dozen regular-sized cupcakes, plus six (6) muffin-sized; original recipe was for one (1) 9-inch 3-layer cake

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cake flour (not self-rising, not all-purpose)
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 9 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghiradelli)
  • 2 cups hot freshly brewed hazelnut decaf coffee, made with Saigon cinnamon and fresh-ground nutmeg while brewing (original cake recipe used regular coffee; I just wanted extra flavor kick)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla powder
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Process

  1. Position rack in lower third of oven, and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place cupcake liners in cupcake baking tins (or butter and dust with cocoa powder or flour, shaking out excess), enough for 3 dozen cupcakes or, as I did, 2 dozen regular-sized cupcakes plus a half-dozen muffin-sized.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a portable mixer), combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Mix on low speed for two or three minutes to aerate the flour (something new for me – I’d have never thought of “aerating” without the Back in the Day cookbook).
  4. Place chocolate in a medium bowl and add hot coffee and vanilla. Let stand until melted (about 2 or 3 minutes); then stir to smooth consistency.
  5. In another medium bowl, whisk together eggs and oil until thick, satiny and light in color.
  6. Whisk sour cream into egg mixture. Do not overmix; leave some streaks of white.
  7. Pour egg/sour cream mixture into melted chocolate, slowly, stirring as you do so.
  8. Add the entire now-chocolatey mixture, one third at a time, to the flour mix in the large bowl, mixing on medium speed until well blended.
  9. Use a rubber spatula to incorporate any ingredients “hiding” at the bottom (remove the bowl from the mixer stand first, if using stand mixer). Be sure batter is completely mixed.
  10. Fill prepared cupcake-tin spaces (or liners in tins) ⅔ to ¾ full with batter (I did the latter and that worked fine). NOTE: Back in the Day suggests “tapping the (cake)pans firmly on the countertop to remove any air bubbles from the batter,” which I forgot to do – don’t worry if you forget too ’cuz they’re still scrumptious!
  11. Bake in oven for 20 to 22 minutes (25-28 for muffin-sized) or until a toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean (or centers spring back when touched). They’ll have slight cracks on them and come out a deep chocolate color. (If you opt to bake a cake with the batter, the cookbook says to bake for 40 to 50 minutes.)
  12. Let cool for 5 minutes in pans, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
  13. Sprinkle cooled cupcakes with sifted confectioner sugar, or top with favorite icing/frosting, or freeze as soon as cooled (individually wrapped in plastic wrap, eliminating all air) for up to two weeks. (I’ve never frozen cupcakes before this batch but am told that, when thawing, take the wrap off before thawing or they will have a gluey top texture – then frost; I intend to make the frosting while they’re thawing and then ice the cakes immediately.)

Note: I didn’t freeze the muffin-sized ones. Bill and I had one each, with confectioner’s sugar sifted atop, for dinner the same night baked. Two are getting delivered to our daughter today. The last two are dessert for tonight, maybe with Cool Whip atop. I think they had to have “heaven” in their title because they are To Die For.

Post-Menopausal Orgasm Cake: Triple-Layered, Gluten-Free and Decadent – Celebrating Dolores’ Birthday

I like chocolate, but I am not a chocoholic (as my daughter and many of my friends might dub themselves). But this cake took me over the top. It is ecstasy personified. And those enjoying my first (successful) attempt at making it were all “women of a certain age” – thus, the above “that-time-of-life” naming.

The occasion: a two-in-oner. First, five of us (Leslie, Lesley, Judy, Dolores and myself) have been meeting fairly regularly to work through a book by Natalie Reid, a friend and member/workshop leader at International Women’s Writing Guild summer conferences that most of us have attended for several years. The book is The Spiritual Alchemist: Working with the Voice of Your Soul, and it offers writing and other exercises to help the reader along this path. Natalie defines a spiritual alchemist as “a person who seeks spiritual direction, spiritual connection, and spiritual growth by embarking on a fearless, joyful, and lifelong path to self-knowledge.” It seems that part of our group’s alchemy includes food for the soul as well, literally. There’s always a nice spread of mostly healthy, usually gluten-free snacks on hand (both Judy and Leslie can’t do gluten) to bolster the body along with whatever each of us might define as her “soul.”

Secondly, we decided to belatedly celebrate Dolores’ birthday with a cake, which I volunteered to bake since I’d recently been intrigued by several recipes in Gesine Bullock-Prado’s memoir, My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time (Broadway Books, 2009). After graduating from law school, Bullock-Prado spent several years in Hollywood working for/with her sister (that would be Oscar-winning Sandra Bullock) as president of her company – reviewing contracts, sitting through creative meetings and lunches and all the rigamarole involved in ensuring that scripts get reviewed, films made and more. When her mind began to wander while performing these important tasks… and her mother passed away… she realized she needed to get away from the glitz and fakery of the entertainment capital and follow her own sweet path. She and her husband moved to Vermont, opened a bakery and, voilà, happiness! (Since then, she’s also published a couple cookbooks, one of which – Sugar Baby (Abrams, 2011) – now rests on a bookshelf in my kitchen.)

Bullock-Prado’s cake (encompassing both cake & icing) came down to her from her mother, who called it “the Orgasm Cake”. In the bakery, however, she didn’t call it by her mom’s label. When the it opened, word had gotten around that her sister would be helping out, so lines were out the door and down the block with folks waiting to get in. Therefore, when her aunt provided the recipe to the new owner, she sent along a note saying that she understood she might “not be able to call the pecan chocolate torte ‘the Orgasm Cake’ if you are selling at the store – you might end up with another line out the front door like at the opening!” So it was re-named Helga’s Cake, honoring Gesine’s/Sandra’s mother.

In the end, Leslie (at whose house we meet) and I opted for a full luncheon meal. My reminder e-mail about our gathering said, “Come hungry.” Leslie created a huge, amazing salad along with a fig-based dressing (I’m hoping she provides that recipe to me, perhaps as a “guest blogger” for inclusion as a post on KitchenCauldron), as well providing other sustenance. All in all, a wonderful afternoon – and we never did get around to the meditation and writing this time. We simply ate and talked and ate and laughed and ate. And Dolores blew out a single candle on her cake and opened a few gifts.

Biggest Laugh: Fuzzy dice & and a hula girl for Dolores' Mustang convertible, vehicle bought as retirement gift for herself!

I suggest that you might want to view the video on Gesine Bullock-Prado’s blogsite to see how she puts together her cake. Here’s how I concocted my version:

  • I made the cake pretty much as directed in the book, except I toasted the pecans first for deeper flavor. (Note: in the book, the author suggests using three cake pans, minimum 1½ inch depth, but in the video she uses “cake rings” – which I never would’ve imagined, so check it out!).
  • The frosting portion of the recipe is my own. Bullock-Prado’s buttercream recipe includes egg yolks that aren’t necessarily processed with enough heat to kill bad bacteria if the eggs contain any. I know this is generally not a problem since the incidence of such bacteria is rare nowadays, but I never take that chance with my concoctions.
  • I’d never made chocolate ganache before, although I’ve read plenty of recipes for it. I flicked through a few of them before starting on this cake and based my version pretty much on one in The Moosewood Book of Desserts by the Moosewood Collective (Clarkson Potter, 1997). How I deviated from the Moosewood ganache? I used two types of chocolate instead of one; I didn’t have as much heavy cream left as they required for their recipe, so I used less and added in the coffee; and I added vanilla powder.

As for the magic, why, chocolate is love. Certainly, there was plenty of love and friendship at our Spiritual Alchemy gathering yesterday. And lots of love of  cake.

That’s my story behind this luscious dessert, with thanks to Gesine Bullock-Prado for her creative inspiration. Make the cake! Buy her books, if so inclined. And here’s to the occasional decadent treat in this sweet life of ours…

Marilyn, holding on to decadence!

POST-MENOPAUSAL ORGASM CAKE
Yield: 8 to 12 servings, depending upon consumers’ appetites for decadence

Ingredients

for cake

  • 12 ounces pecans
  • 1 cup sugar, ½ cup at a time
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 whole eggs; plus 8 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

for frosting between layers

  • 16 oz. mascarpone cheese (it’s like cream cheese, only sweeter)
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  •  ⅔ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder
  • 7 to 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • at least ¼ cup heavy cream (more might be needed)
  • up to 1 teaspoon Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (or regular cinnamon)

for ganache drizzled topping

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1⅓ cup heavy cream
  • ⅛ cup strong hazelnut coffee (or regular coffee, if preferred)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla powder

Process

for cake
Note: I baked the layers the night before frosting, covering tops of cooled cakes on individual plates with a sheet of waxed paper, then putting plastic wrap loosely over each cake/plate (but covering everything). This meant I didn’t have to find room in my refrigerator for an entire 3-layer cake, which would be required since part of the filling includes mascarpone cheese.

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Lightly grease (I use butter) three 8-inch round cake pans (mine might’ve been 9-inch – I didn’t measure!). Line the bottoms with parchment paper and lightly grease the papers.
  3. Spread the pecans out in a large (preferably 12”- to allow as close to a single layer as possible) frying pan over a medium-hot heat, allowing to “toast” until they exude a “nutty” aroma. This should take very little time, no more than 3-4 minutes. You might want to stir them about at least one during the process, ensuring you do not burn them.
  4. In a food processor, grind toasted pecans with ½ cup of the sugar plus the salt, until they turn into a fine meal.
  5. Add the 8 egg yolks, the whole eggs, vanilla and baking powder. Blend until it becomes a smooth paste.
  6. Whip the egg whites on high in the bowl of an electric mixer using whisk attachment. Just as they begin to gain volume and look white and fluffy (not chunky), add remaining ½ cup sugar gradually (in a slow stream). Continue to whisk on high until whites are shiny and hold a stiff peak.
  7. Transfer pecan paste to a large mixing bowl and stir a heaping spoonful of egg whites to lighten batter.
  8. Gently fold remaining egg whites into mixture until well incorporated (try not to disturb integrity of the aerated eggs).
  9. Divide batter between the three pans.
  10. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until cake springs back when touched (I also used a toothpick to check it). Mine took only 30 or 35 minutes.
  11. Allow to cool completely on wire racks before you release from pan.

for frosting between layers

  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat together all ingredients – but adding heavy cream in small doses, to ensure you get desired consistency, which is a sort-of heavenly-almost-mousse-like quality.
  2. Frost between layers (not the top! that gets the ganache!), making sure to spread frosting all the way to edges.
  3. Set cake aside, awaiting ganache.

for ganache drizzled topping

  1. Place a metal or glass bowl over a pot of water that’s been brought to a boil then heat reduced to a steady simmer. Make sure there’s not so much water in the pot that it will touch a bowl that will be placed over it. (Note: if you have one, you can use a double boiler instead – I own a double boiler but actually prefer the bowl method.)
  2. Place a metal or glass bowl over the pot and put chocolate in the bowl. Allow it to melt, stirring often to prevent it from burning (nothing will take out a burnt flavor).
  3. Meanwhile, pour the heavy cream into a medium-size sauce pan and stir in the vanilla powder. Bring to a simmer. Do not allow it to boil.
  4. When the chocolate is completely melted, remove from the heat and stir into heavy cream. Keep stirring until completely incorporated.
  5. Remove from heat to a wire rack or trivet. Allow to cool to a consistency where it is still pourable but not super-hot (so that it will drizzle onto the cake but doesn’t permeate and make it soggy). If necessary, after it cools a little on the counter, place it in the refrigerator to quicken the process.
  6. Pour the ganache over the top layer, allowing it to drip along the sides. (It’s possible you might not need all of it. In that case, refrigerate remainings in a small container and you’ve got a slightly-soft, homemade candy bar next day; or re-heat it and add to milk as it heats up, for a rich cup of hot chocolate!)
  7. Refrigerate the cake until about half hour or an hour before serving (for best slicing), at which time you should expect groans of orgasmic delight as cake consumers indulge.

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #6 – Faux Mrs. Fields’ Chocolate Chip Cookies (or The Ones That Crowned Me “Cookie Mom of the Cul-de-Sac”)

Are you tired of seeing cookie recipes every time there’s a new post on this blog lately? Well, I’m a little tired of posting them, but then I knew that I had to get all six recipes on as soon as possible or they might not all get posted. I’d get distracted by other goodies I wanted to write about, share. That’s just me. A little driven about a few things. Anyway, this IS the last of the recipes for the cookies baked for Christmas 2011 and it’s a fabulous, kid-tested one.

I swear these are the ones that got me dubbed “Cookie Mom” of our street many years ago, by the only “dubbers” who matter – the kids. I have a distinct memory of doling out still-warm, chocolate-chip tummy-fillers to our son Adrian and buddies one afternoon (not that Kristen and friends didn’t appreciate them too). It only took one shout of “Anyone up for a cookie or two?” to get Ade, Jason, Jamie and Eric running to our front stoop, where I offered a plateful. It might’ve been Jason who, eagerly munching on one, commented, “I think you’re the Cookie-Mom of the street, Mrs. Day.” If I was the Cookie Mom, then I guess they were the Cookie Monsters!

Is there anything better than a just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookie? Softened chocolate bits nested within lightly-browned dough that gives at the slightest fingertip pressure. Mmmm. I grew up on the Freihofer chocolate chip variety, which were the closest to home-baked Toll House chocolate chip cookies you could buy in our area (my mother wasn’t much of a baker, except for cakes from box mixes, so all our cookies were purchased – luckily, often from Phil’s bakery, barely half-block away!). I’ve tried out a number of variations on these treats since beginning to bake on my own decades ago, and there haven’t been many without at least some good points. But this recipe, which allegedly went around the world touted as the “real” Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie recipe, is my #1 choice. Of course, months after the recipe had probably circled the globe a dozen or more times, Mrs. Fields denied that it was her recipe. I remember buying Mrs. Fields cookies in New York City when there on business back in the ’80s and, bringing them home (couldn’t find them upstate back then), I noticed a statement on the bag saying that, “contrary to rumor,” Mrs. Fields had never sold the recipe to anyone. Who cares if it’s the “real” one, as long as the results are heaven to the taste buds?

I used to rationalize away the fact that I could devour so many of these in one afternoon: there’s oatmeal in them, so they must be healthy, right? Well, I’m not sure that’s truly the case if you’re processing the oatmeal into a flour type consistency. But no matter – they taste good and, if you follow the “moderation in everything” philosophy that helped me to lose almost 20 pounds over a one-year period (although I’d like to “moderate” away another 10-pounds-worth!), then just eat one or two a day along with a wholesome diet (there’s another aspect to that dietary plan: don’t beat yourself up too much if you slip up once in a while either!).

I like them best when just baked and still warm. Still lovin’ them for days afterward. When stored in an air-tight container, they’ll last quite a while. Even if the kids (or adults) leave the top ajar by mistake and they get a bit hardened, just dip ’em in milk or coffee or hot chocolate for a yummy snack!

The original recipe was double this one. I cut it in half and made a couple other changes recently; the “changes” are noted in the recipe itself, but for clarification:

  • One thing I did check ahead of time was whether or not I could substitute whole wheat flour for some of the all-purpose stuff. For that information, I sought out one my newer cookbooks, Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains by the King Arthur Flour folks (Countryman Press, 2006). According to King Arthur (I do like writing/saying that… sounds so mythical, mystical!), “Hard whole wheat flour [either traditional whole wheat or white whole wheat] is the equivalent of all-purpose flour: good for anything from cookies and brownies to sandwich bread and pizza crust.” Also according to The King, “Adding all-purpose flour to traditional whole wheat flour lightens the color and texture, and increases the rise of whatever you’re baking.” Not surprisingly, when I did the reverse of that, adding white whole wheat flour to all-purpose made the cookie color and texture a little less “light” but not at all to its detriment.

  • Subbing some whole wheat flour also seemed a good idea healthwise. King Arthur notes that whole wheat flour is higher than all-purpose flour in protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium. Sounded pretty good to me!
  • The other change I made this time around was necessitated by a change in the marketplace: I can no longer find 8 oz. Hershey bars (which I would’ve had to halve anyway), so I bought a multi-pack of 6 oz. bars and used one of them (well, I might’ve nibbled a little but still used more than 4 oz. – who was going to argue with more chocolate in a cookie?).

Speaking of the mythical, mystical – how about the magical? It’s been a while since I got into any of the “witchy” aspects of food, but seems like as good a time as any. I was curious, so I consulted my handy-dandy Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (by Scott Cunningham, Llewellyn Publications, 2003; originally printed as The Magic in Food, 1990). Here’s what I found: “Whole wheat is best for magical (and nutritional) purposes… Though white bread was eaten by the Roman upper class, it’s a spiritually dead food.” Cunningham advises readers to eat wheat-based foods (bread and all dough products) to bring prosperity and money into their lives. Now, for my gluten-free friends – if they’re looking for prosperity, I’m sure there are other food energies that might help (if you believe in these things, although it certainly can’t hurt when it’s good-for-you items!). Just baking the cookies, I would think of the roundness as a symbol for wholeness (also whole wheat triggers something for me) – isn’t that what we’re all striving for:  to be whole and healthy? That’s prosperity of a sort, a much-desired abundance.

Maybe this recipe should be called Ms. Anybody’s Magical Chocolate Chip Cookies but, for consistency’s sake, I’ve simply added the “faux” to the original title – and provided details for making cookies the kids and whole family will love.

FAUX MRS. FIELDS’ CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Yields 75-80 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter (salted or unsalted- doesn’t seem to matter)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (dark brown will work too, for a slightly different taste)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour (1 cup all-purpose & 1 cup white whole wheat; original recipe called for all all-purpose)
  • 2½ cups oatmeal (I used quick-cooking oats) – measure oats first, then use blender or food processor to process it into flour-like consistency)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (I use table salt for this one, not sea or kosher)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 oz. bag of chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet but type is your choice)
  • 1 6oz. Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, grated (original recipe called for 1 8 oz. bar for the recipe that was double this one – lots of luck finding one!)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped nuts (I use walnuts but have, as Mrs. Fields does, enjoyed macadamias in them as well)

Process

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and two types of sugars.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla to butter/sugar mixture, mixing in well.
  4. In another bowl combine flour, oatmeal (previously processed to flourlike consistency), salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  5. Add flour mixture to butter/egg mix in the larger bowl and mix together until well combined.
  6. Add chocolate chips, grated Hershey bar and nuts, and further mix together well.
  7. While the original recipe calls for golfball-sized dollops to be dropped onto an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart, I tend to make them a wee bit smaller and then slightly flatten them before slipping the pan into the oven.
  8. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes (mine take all of the 8 minutes, maybe an extra one too).
  9. Remove from oven when browning around edges and lightly tanning on top, and let cool for a minute before removing to a rack or platter to cool completely. (Be sure to sneak a couple for your own eating pleasure, however, while still warm.)

Dairy-Free Chocolate Banana Mousse (Gluten-Free too!)

To the best of my knowledge, I have no food allergies (not yet anyway), but I have several friends who do. I like to have some recipes on hand that I can prepare to bring to our various potluck gatherings (some just for the food sharing, some where we also write or create art together). This dairy-free one has been a big hit, not only at a Beach Writers get-together and at the WomanWords 2011 Creativity Retreat this summer, but also on the home front. It’s obviously gluten-free as well, which really works for my groups since I count five women within various circles who either have a celiac diagnosis or a wheat intolerance. The bonus here is that it’s easy to make, involves no cooking and it can be enhanced with whipped cream or Cool Whip to add yumminess and a pretty “finish.” Yummy is a priority with me – how does that song go? Yummy, yummy, yummy, I got love in my tummy…  When we cook for friends and family, we’re brewing love for their tummies.

I found this recipe a few years ago in Mollie Katzen’s award-winning Vegetable Heaven (Hyperion, 1997), a beautifully put-together cookbook with artsy illustrations (not photos). While a chocolate and banana combo seemed award-winning in itself to me, I was a little hesitant about one of the ingredients: tofu. I am not a big fan of tofu, even though I know it takes on the flavors of whatever you’re cooking. This is probably due to a few bad experiences with terrible concoctions offered by well-meaning hosts, usually involving chunks of the stuff fried in oil or vegan margarine with crunchy vegetables but just-plain-wrong spices, herbs or other flavorings. The other ingredients in Katzen’s recipe, however, won me over. I decided to try it—adding my own little twists.

I made the mousse for last night’s suppertime dessert since, originally, our daughter Kristen was supposed to come for dinner. While that got re-scheduled for tonight, I still pulled it together and Bill brought a serving over to her apartment while she was at work, along with some homemade cream of broccoli soup (will post that recipe this coming week). Later, she called to thank me while the soup was heating up. A chocoholic, she was especially looking forward to dessert.

Notes on my changes to Katzen’s version:

  • The original recipe calls for ¾ to 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, which I’ve done before. Last eve’s rendition used bittersweet chocolate chips and I’ve also done mixtures of chips including dark chocolate. While they’re all delicious, I think using half semi-sweet and half dark is my favorite. I always go for the full cup of the chips. Molly Katzen says, “The chocolate flavor is very deep when you make this with ¾ cup chocolate chips, and downright intense if you add the full cup.” Why just go deep when you can get to intense?
  • Katzen’s recipe does not include cinnamon. I always throw in the cinnamon. Sometimes even a pinch of nutmeg. I now add cinnamon or nutmeg or both to an amazing number of foods, especially since I discovered Saigon Cinnamon (and then, even more intense, Roasted Saigon Cinnamon). I do, however, often first check my volume of The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (Little, Brown & Company, 2008), a handy reference book to have around when you want to determine just what flavors are known to enhance whatever you happen to be cooking.
  • The original recipe calls for a 12-ounce box of silken tofu, soft variety. Bill picked up the tofu for me, but it was the firm version. It worked fine, especially since I used the whole 16 oz. package (what was I going to do with leftover tofu?). After all, I was taking the 1 cup rather than ¾ cup route on the chocolate so I figured it would work out. My assumption was correct, although in retrospect I think I could’ve safely added even another ¼ cup of the melted chips (stayin’ intense!).
  • I substituted 1 teaspoon of Princess Cake & Cookie Bakery Emulsion for the 1 teaspoon of vanilla tonight. I’ve also used powdered vanilla (gourmet Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla bought at a local upscale kitchen goods store). It all works out great. I found the Bakery Emulsion one day last winter when Bill and I were in Schenectady on Upper Union Street. While he got a haircut down the street, I investigated a shop I hadn’t known existed before, a new little place called Bel Cibo Fine Foods. The owner and I had a great chat about spices and food. Besides the emulsion I came home with a few other items,  including a spice I haven’t been able to find in recent years in largescale supermarkets: mace! At Bel Cibo, their spices are weighed and “packaged” in small metal tins for you– ultra fresh! Someday I’d like to do one of the “spice parties” they can set up for small groups. Sounds like fun.

So here’s my version of a basic recipe for one of the best and easiest-to-make chocolate mousses I’ve ever tasted.

EASY CHOCOLATE-BANANA MOUSSE
(4-6 servings)

Ingredients

– 1 cup chocolate chips (½ cup semi-sweet and ½ cup dark chocolate is my favorite combo)
– 1 12-ounce box silken tofu (soft variety, but firm also works)
– 2 large ripe bananas, cut into chucks
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or Princess Cake & Cookie Bakery Emulsion, if you like)
– 2 to 3 teaspoons light brown sugar (cater amount to your own taste)
– ¼ teaspoon salt
– 1 teaspoon raspberry vinegar
– ½ to 1 teaspoon cinnamon (preferably Saigon Cinnamon or Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (optional)
– pinch of nutmeg (optional)

Preparation

  1. Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or in the microwave (low power, checking every 30 seconds).
  2. Place tofu and one handful of bananas in a blender. Purée.
  3. Gradually add the rest of the banana, vanilla (or bakery emulsion), brown sugar, salt, vinegar and cinnamon to mixture (pinch of nutmeg too, if using), blending between additions, ensuring it whips to a smooth texture.
  4. Pour melted chocolate into the mix (doesn’t have to be cooled) – get every last bit of it into it! Purée one more time. Taste to adjust sugar.
  5. Transfer to a large bowl or individual serving dishes. Cover tightly with plastic wrap.
  6. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Keeps well for several days in airtight container in refrigerator.