Passover Baking….a delicious cake!

We were invited to our neighbors home for an Easter Dinner, which fell at the end of Passover this year. We said we’d be there, and I told Isabelle that I’d bring something for dessert. I knew that it had to be delicious, and I didn’t want to go with my old standby–flourless chocolate cake. The chocolate cake is fine, but I’m a little tired of it.

The week before passover I saw that Smitten Kitchen had put up a recipe for a Hazelnut-Chocolate Torte. I knew that was what I’d bake. I’ve never had a recipe from Deb turn out badly, and this one was no different. Though I admit that I questioned her when it was time to melt the chocolate and coffee together. I was afraid it would seize and be gross and disgusting. I was wrong, and it turned out beautifully. I should have known….just trust the Smitten Kitchen.


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At a first glance, it might look like a complicated recipe. There’s whipping egg whites and folding in the chopped nuts. But it is not complicated. Or time consuming. Do you believe me? Would I lie to you? Would Deb, of Smitten Kitchen?

I think not
Chocolate-Hazelnut Macaroon Torte

I think this served at least 12 people, with very small slices

Oil or butter for greasing parchment rounds
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) granulated sugar
6 large egg whites
2 1/2 cups hazelnuts (about 12 ounces or 340 grams), toasted, then skinned as much as possible*
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract**

Chocolate filling
6 ounces (170 grams or the equivalent of 1 cup chips) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon instant coffee or espresso granules (optional)

Whipped frosting and filling
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy or whipping cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Frangelico or another hazelnut liqueur or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract**

A semi- or bittersweet chocolate bar for shaving (optional)

Make macaroons: Position oven racks in the top and lower thirds of oven and heat oven to 325°F. Outline four 8-inch circles on individual pieces of parchment paper. Turn each sheet of parchment over so your ink or pencil lines don’t seep into the macaroon, place each piece of parchment paper on large baking sheets, and very lightly coat each piece of parchment with oil or butter. (I sprayed mine with a cooking oil and wiped all but a sheer coating away with a paper towel.)

Place hazelnuts, 1 cup sugar and salt in a food processor and blend until finely ground. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large, dry bowl with clean beaters (or a whisk attachment) until soft peaks form. Drizzle in vanilla extract, then slowly add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Beat until stiff but not dry. Fold nut mixture into egg whites in 1/3 increments (i.e. a little at a time so it doesn’t overtake the fluffy egg whites). Spread 1/4 of macaroon batter evenly within each circle, filling completely.

Bake macaroon layers until golden and dry to the touch — this takes 20 to 23 minutes in my oven. Cool macaroons on their sheets on a cooling rack. You can speed this along by placing them for five minutes each in your freezer.

Make chocolate filling: While meringues cool, heat half of chocolate, water, and coffee (if using) in a small heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring until smooth. Off the heat, stir in second half of chocolate chunks until melted, which should also cool the mixture to lukewarm. Spread chocolate evenly over tops of meringue rounds; it will be just a thin slick on each. Cool until chocolate is set, a process that could take a few hours at room temperature or, again, could be hastened along by resting each disc in your freezer for five minutes, or until firm.

Make whipped frosting and filling:: Beat cream with sugar and liqueur or vanilla in a bowl with cleaned beaters until it holds stiff peaks.

Assemble torte: Gently peel the parchment off the back of each macaroon round. Arrange your first disc on your cake serving plate. If you like to follow proper cake-decorating protocol, you will insert some small strips of waxed paper under the edge to protect the cake plate while you decorate. If you don’t, hey, I too embrace cake imperfections. Spread 1/3 cup whipped cream over it. Repeat with second and third macaroon rounds, then top with final round. Frost top and side of torte with whipped cream. I did this in two parts, a thin “crumb” coat (after which I put the cake in the freezer for 5 minutes to “set” it, although whipped cream doesn’t really set) a thicker final one, with the remaining cream, which led to a neater final result.

If desired, use a vegetable peeler to scrape away curls from a chocolate bar for decoration. Remove waxed paper strips if you used them, and serve immediately or up to a day or two layer. Store in fridge.

Do ahead: Whipped cream confections are generally best on the first day, but we found ours to hold up just fine in the fridge for more than 24 hours. Macaroons alone, or macaroons with chocolate coating, can be baked in advance. Simply keep them separated with waxed paper in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days. Humidity is the enemy of macaroons, so if you live in a humid environment, you’ll want to store them as little time as possible lest they become sticky.

**** in the end, we did not use whipped cream to frost this cake. My husband is lactose intolerant, and he wanted me to use something that he could eat too. I used this recipe for a 7 minute marshmallow frosting. It has corn syrup in it, so its not strictly kosher for passover. But it was worth it.


Eating Healthy: Quinoa Salad

Do you eat quinoa? Its a south-american grain that is high in protein (9 g per cup of cooked quinoa) We eat a fair amount of it in our house, frequently serving it instead of rice.
IMG_1457This is a recipe that I adapted from a pasta salad that I think I found in Gourmet magazine many years ago. The recipe originally called for orzo, and we ate it that way (happily) for years. But last Passover it dawned on me that quinoa is K-for-P, and so I gathered my ingredients and got to cooking. Feel free to make this with orzo if you want. Its delicioius either way.IMG_1458 IMG_1460 I made mine with a mixture of white and red quinoa today because I had some red on hand. It made the salad super pretty, but it tastes the same as white, and I wouldn’t make a special trip to the store for the red stuff.
IMG_1462 Quinoa Salad
here’s another recipe that you can adapt to what you like to eat. Have great tomatoes on hand? Use ’em. Tomatoes have no flavor? Leave ’em out. Want to keep it dairy free? Don’t add the feta cheese. Its all good!

1 cup quinoa, uncooked
2 cups water or broth
cucumber, diced (use a cucumber you don’t mind eating the peel of)
scallion, sliced, white and light green parts only
grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in halves or quarters
feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice and olive oil as dressing

cook the quinoa in the water, fluff with a fork and let cool to room temperature before adding the vegetables and cheese if using.

cool in the refrigerator and enjoy!

Birthday Baking: Flourless Chocolate Cake

Yesterday was David’s birthday.

Its tough to decide on a birthday cake around here, especially for the grownups. You want to make all the children happy, but still have a cake you want to eat yourself. I was going to make the French Strawberry Cake, which is my next Tuesdays with Dorie/Baking with Julia assignment, but Dorothy informed me that she doesn’t like whipped cream. Foolish child. So, we decided on this, a flourless chocolate cake. I think everyone would have eaten the strawberry cake, and only 2/3 of the children will eat this. Reid is my resident chocoholic, and Dorothy likes chocolate too; but, Adam does not enjoy chocolate at all. So, he’ll get a bowl of strawberry sorbet. Can’t please everyone, I guess.

This cake is not complicated to bake. It does require a little fearless-ness, especially if you’re new to the world of separating eggs and whipping egg whites to stiff peaks. I use a hand mixer for this and two bowls–one for the whites, and one for the yolks. Separate the eggs using a third bowl so if you break one yolk, you haven’t lost all the whites–just that one. Whip the whites first, that way you don’t have to wash your beaters, just go right over to the yolks and get to work on them.
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This was my sous-chef’s first time beating egg whites. Dorothy did just fine. She was very serious.
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Don’t get excited when you take it out of the oven. The top is very dry and crackly, and perhaps some of it did crack and collapse. This is supposed to happen. Just put some damp paper towels on it and gently press down.
I don’t know where this recipe came from. Its in the ‘cookbook’ that my mother compiled about 15 years ago, but she didn’t give credit to anyone. No matter. Its a damn good cake.

Flourless – Good for Passover. This extremely rich cake would be delicious with whipped cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Or even a glass of ice cold milk

Flour (I use unsweetened cocoa)

10 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup lightly salted butter, cut into 8 pieces
6 large eggs, separated at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar (divided)
2 tsp. crème de cacao, Kailua or dark rum (I used rum)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups whipping cream well chilled (optional)
2 1/2 to 3 Tbs. powdered sugar (optional, but makes the cake look prettier)

Place oven rack in lower third of oven; heat oven to 375. Butter and flour (or cocoa) and sides of an 8 inch spring form pan; reserve.

Melt chocolate with 1/2 cup butter (in a double boiler, over, not in the water). Or, use a microwave in short bursts so you can stir the chocolate in between. If using a microwave, be careful not to burn the chocolate.

Beat egg whites in medium mixer bowl at high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1/4 cup granulated sugar into whites; continue beating until stiff but not dry peaks form.

Beat egg yolks in large mixer bowl at high speed. Gradually add 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar. Beat until yolk mixture is pale yellow and thick, 4 to 6 minutes. Add chocolate mixture to the yolk mixture, beat until complete smooth. Add crème de cacao and vanilla and beat until blended.

Fold whites gently but thoroughly into chocolate mixture. Pour batter evenly into reserved pan; smooth top.Beat egg yolks in large mixer bowl at high speed. Gradually add 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar. Beat until yolk mixture is pale yellow and thick, 4 to 6 minutes. Add chocolate mixture to the yolk mixture, beat until complete smooth. Add crème de cacao and vanilla and beat until blended.Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350, bake another 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 250, bake 30 minutes longer. (Total baking time is 1 hour.) Turn off oven, prop open oven door and allow cake to remain in oven for 30 minutes. Remove cake from oven and cover top with damp paper toweling; let stand 5 minutes.

Remove toweling and cool cake completely. Dome of cake will crack and collapse; this is normal–press top of cake down lightly to smooth top. Remove spring form and transfer cake to serving platter.

Whip cream in chilled mixer bowl on high speed until soft peaks form. Continue beating, gradually adding 1 ½ Tbs. of the powdered sugar, until stiff peaks form. Dust top of cake with remaining powdered sugar just before serving. Serve cake at room temperature with whipped cream.