Apple Pecan Bourbon Bundt Cake

As someone who has hosted Thanksgiving dinners for over three (YIKES!) decades, I can tell you that in order to be successful and to also enjoy yourself, it takes a battle plan. You don’t have to be like me and start dreaming about what you will make six months in advance, but it makes all of the difference in the world if you are organized and plan to have a menu that mixes do-ahead dishes along with make-the-day-of dishes. It is the only thing that keeps you sane and relaxed, particularly if, like me, you have a small kitchen and limited storage.

Everyone who comes to my house has their favorite dishes and I do try to always have some if not all of them on hand. I can’t even imagine having a Thanksgiving dinner that didn’t include my Curried Butternut Squash Soup, Orange Cranberry Relish or Vegan Pumpkin Pie and, of course, my Bourbon Pecan Pie. However, I don’t want to get bored and this year I am not only hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the family, but the Shabbat dinner the next night. So I make a point of slipping in something new every year. One thing I have learned over the years is that no matter what mistakes you may make in the main part of the meal, all will be forgiven – and forgotten – if you have great desserts. So in addition to the pumpkin and pecan pie, I will have an Apple Almond Paste Tart and this Apple Bourbon Bundt Cake that I am trying out this year. Sounds like a lot? I guarantee that with 13 people over two nights, there won’t be a crumb left!

The beauty of this apple cake is that it is best made at least one to two days ahead. That allows the Bourbon, sugar, lemon glaze to really penetrate the cake and it will bring out the apple, ginger and spice flavors. And while I may be using some of those same flavors in other desserts, they appear in different guises with a different emphasis in each case. By using a palate of ingredients, you guarantee that everything will complement everything else.

You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to make this lovely cake, but definitely keep it in mind for the holiday. It takes a little work but there are no special or difficult techniques involved. Just follow the steps and even a novice baker can have success.

Apple Pecan Bourbon Bundt Cake by Melissa Clark in The New York Times

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Apple Bourbon Bundt Cake4

INGREDIENTS

2 sticks unsalted butter 226 grams, at room temperature, plus more to grease pan

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour 315 grams, plus more to dust the pan

3 tablespoons (30 grams) plus 1/2 cup (80 grams) bourbon 

½ cup (90 grams) candied ginger, chopped

1 ¾ cup (330 grams) brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder

1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons (3 grams) ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon (5 grams) fine sea salt

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 cup (227 grams) sour cream

1 tablespoon (15 grams) vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons (5 grams) finely grated lemon zest

2 medium Granny Smith apples (about a pound, 454 grams) peeled, and coarsely grated

1 cup (120 grams) coarsely chopped, toasted pecans*

½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon (20 grams)

PREPARATION

  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan. (Or use one of those cooking sprays that already has the flour in it.) In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons bourbon and the candied ginger. Let stand 10 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the brown sugar and remaining butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining flour with the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream and vanilla. Pour in the bourbon from the ginger mixture (reserve ginger) and whisk until smooth. Stir in zest.
  4. With the mixer on medium speed, add the dry mixture and sour cream mixture to the wet mixture in three additions, alternating between the two. Fold in the ginger, apples and pecans. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out dry, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool in the pan 20 minutes, then run a paring knife around the sides of the pan to release the cake, if necessary; cool, flat side down, on a wire rack.
  5. While the cake cools, combine the 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup Bourbon in a small saucepan. Over low heat, gently stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the lemon juice and take off the heat.
  6. While the cake cools, make 10 slits on top with a paring knife and pour half the Bourbon-sugar mixture on the still-warm cake. When the cake is fully cool, flip it and pour the rest of the glaze on the other side, then flip again to serve.

NOTE: While the cake is wonderful on its own, adding a good dollop of freshly made whipped cream or vanilla ice cream makes it amazing. Did I mention that you could even add a bit of Bourbon to the whipped cream??

Apple Bourbon Bundt Cake1 (2)

To toast the pecans (or any nuts), preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lay the nuts on a baking sheet or pan in a single layer. Toast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the nut used. You should just begin to smell the nuttiness. You should check the nuts about halfway through and jiggle the pan a bit.

 

Apricot Almond Cake

My husband is 6’3″ and weighs 170 pounds. So let’s just say he is quite thin. His idea of watching his weight is to eat 2 desserts instead of three in the course of a day. I’d hate him, except for the fact that I love him so much. On the other hand, I never feel guilty for baking because I know that I’m not leading him astray. His weight, blood pressure and cholesterol are all textbook wonderful.

He truly enjoys having a piece of cake or some cookies with his morning coffee and after dinner. We are just about finished with my most recent cake so I was looking for something to make that didn’t require me going to the store. I looked through my well-worn copy of Beard on Bread for inspiration and came across his Apricot Bread. However, when I read the recipe it just seemed lacking somehow to me and so I made a few tweaks. This lovely coffee (or tea) cake is easy to make and stores well. In fact, the flavors improve and intensify each day, so if you want it at its peak for serving to guests, I would recommend making it a couple of days ahead. It is not uber-rich or sweet and you will notice that the only fat comes from the 2 eggs and the almonds. My husband likes it best slathered with butter and toasted under the broiler! I enjoy it straight.

Apricot Almond Cake from the Beard on Bread cookbook and tweaked by me

Apricot Almond Cake3

Yield: 1 bundt cake – 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients

1 cup boiling water

1.5 cups of dried apricots

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Zest of one orange

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2.75 cups of all-purpose, unbleached flour OR 2.5 cups of flour and 1/4 cup of stone ground corn meal

3 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon) double-acting baking powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 cup coarsely chopped almonds (I used mostly blanched almonds but threw in a few raw almonds since I didn’t have quite enough)

Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Pour the boiling water over the apricots and allow them to stand until just tender. Since my dried apricots were very moist already, I only let them stand for 10 minutes. Drain off the water, reserving it. If the reserved isn’t quite a cup, add enough cold tap water to make one cup.
  3. Roughly chop the apricots. Toss the apricots with 1/4 cup of flour and set aside.
  4. Pour the liquid into a large mixing bowl and add the baking soda, salt, sugar and eggs and mix well. Then add the orange zest, vanilla and almond extract and mix through.
  5. Add the apricots, remaining flour, baking powder and nuts and mix until everything is well mixed.
  6. Butter and flour (or use the baking spray which has flour in it and works amazingly well) a large 10 cup bundt pan, preferably non-stick. Pour the batter, which is fairly thick, into the pan and even it out. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake is a lovely golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack and then turn out the cake to continue cooling completely. Apricot Almond Cake4Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Wrap tightly or store in a covered cake plate.

Apricot Almond Cake2

Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake with Roasted Strawberries

Maialino's Olive Oil Cake

I’m not into fussy foods or fads. I don’t want my dinner misted by my nose or constructed in such a way that to touch it is liking destroying the Mona Lisa. I appreciate the artistry but it just isn’t me. I enjoy dishes with ingredients I can identify and that I can dig into with joy and abandon. So when I saw this recipe for another olive oil cake with simple ingredients I knew that I wanted to try it. But don’t be fooled or misled by “simple.” It also means that you need to use the best quality ingredients because there is nothing masking the taste or distracting you from the elements. Only use a really good quality fruity olive oil here and preferably one like Sciabica’s Orange or Lemon-flavored Olive OilMaialino's Olive Oil Cake2

This recipe comes from one of my favorite food sites – Food52, although it really originates from the Maialino Restaurant in New York City. The Roasted Strawberries is from the forthcoming Genius Desserts Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, September 2018). The cake is so moist and fragrant that it is almost like eating a pudding and a cake. It is wonderful on its own, but the addition of the roasted strawberries and some freshly whipped cream does make it amazing. The roasted strawberries are wonderful and can be used in so many ways – on pancakes or waffles or over yogurt to name a few, and they store in the fridge for a couple of weeks. If you are new to olive oil cakes, you might also want to try the recipe for Olive Oil Cake with Orange, Pine Nuts and Rosemary. While I made the cake with orange juice, zest and Grand Marnier, I saw that readers successfully made it substituting lemon juice, zest and Limoncello for a lemony take. Either way you can’t go wrong.

Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake

Yield: One 9-inch round cake (at least 8 servings)

Ingredients

2 cups (250 gr.) all-purpose flour

1.75 (350 gr.) cups granulated sugar

1.5 teaspoons Kosher salt

1 package Lievito Pane Degli Angeli OR 1/2 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1.33 cups (285 gr.) fruity extra-virgin olive oil or flavored olive oil

1.25 cup (305 gr.) whole milk

3 large eggs at room temperature

Zest of two oranges

1/4 cup (60 gr.) fresh orange juice

1/4 cup (55 gr.) Grand Marnier or Cointreau

Powdered sugar (Confectioner’s Sugar) for dusting

Slow Pan Roasted Strawberries (See recipe which follows at the end of the post)

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil, butter or spray a 9-inch cake pan that is at least 2-inches deep (The batter will go almost to the top so they really mean “at least 2-inches deep!”) Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray or oil that as well.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, salt and Lievito Pane Degli Angeli. In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil, milk, eggs, zest, juice and Grand Marnier. Add the dry ingredients to the liquid and whisk until just combined. Do this all by hand and do not over-whisk. Maialino's Olive Oil Cake3
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Maialino's Olive Oil Cake1
  4. Run a knife or thin spatula around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto the cooling rack. Remove the parchment paper and allow the cake to cool completely – about 2 hours. Re-invert the cake onto a cake stand or plate and dust with powdered sugar.  Maialino's Olive Oil Cake4

Michelle Polzine’s Slow-Roasted Strawberries

Yield: About 1.5 cups (450 gr.)

Ingredients

2 pounds (900 gr.) of fresh, ripe strawberries

1/2 cup (100 gr.) of granulated sugar (You can add 2 additional Tablespoons if the strawberries are not especially sweet on their own.)

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees F. Rinse and hull the berries. Leave any tiny ones whole and either quarter or halve the rest so the pieces are all about the same size.
  2. In a non-reactive pan (I used a stoneware baking dish) that will hold all of the berries closely packed in a single layer, gently toss the strawberries with the sugar.
  3. Roast slowly in the oven, uncovered for 3 to 6 hours, gently moving them around occasionally with a wide spatula. Mine took 5 hours. They are done when the juices have reduced to a syrup but not darkened into caramel and the berries are jammy. They can be stored in the fridge in an airtight jar or container for up to two weeks.

Death by Chocolate Vegan Passover Cake

I LOVE Passover. I love that it means Spring is here. I love the story of my People’s deliverance from slavery to freedom. I love sharing our table with family and friends and I love the food. Baking for Passover was always challenging but not insurmountable and I make wonderful cookies and cakes that would be delicious anytime, but which I save for Passover to keep them special. However, our godson is deathly allergic to eggs and THAT is a real challenge.

Sephardic Jews i.e. Jews who originated from Spain, always considered legumes (pulses) and rice Kosher for Passover, but Ashkenazi Jews i.e. Jews from Eastern European traditions considered these foods forbidden. Thankfully in the last couple of years this has changed if you follow the Conservative or Reform Jewish traditions. Some Orthodox Jews now eat quinoa during Passover and others do not. Yes, it’s complicated, so before you get too excited about this cake, find out if your community’s traditions allow for the use of quinoa and aquafaba (the liquid from cooked chickpeas). Some allow one and not the other. I am not a rabbinic authority. However, if you follow Sephardic traditions or the Conservative or Reform movement then this cake may just be a revelation to those of you who cannot or do not eat eggs but wish to observe Passover traditions.

I saw a recipe for Paula Shoyer’s Chocolate Quinoa Cake on the Food52 website and was intrigued. I wondered if I could take the recipe and “veganize” (is that a word?) it. I made the cake 3 times until I was able to get what I wanted. And unlike the original, I did not make this in a bundt pan but chose to make it as a layer cake. I then went on the hunt for a vegan Kosher for Passover option for a chocolate mousse and purchased a Passover chocolate spread. Just follow the steps and this works. There are no tricks or special skills required, but it does take some patience. Thankfully I worked out all of the kinks for you. I made the cake layers a few days ahead of when I needed them but I didn’t assemble the cake until the morning of the Seder. Please use only the best baking chocolate and cocoa. There are many excellent Kosher chocolate options available now. I used a 70% cacao chocolate from Elite but there are others. I wouldn’t go below 60% cacao or above 70% for best results. Assuming you have any left-overs, they will last refrigerated for several days. This can easily be made a couple of days ahead.

I wish that I could have had this recipe ready sooner, but keep this in your file for next year and/or make it during one of the remaining nights of Passover. Why do you think there are 8 days in which to celebrate?!

Death by Chocolate Vegan Passover Cake (Good anytime!)

Death by Chocolate Cake1

Yield: One 8-inch layer cake (It’s rich so this should feed at least 10 people.)

Ingredients

For Cake:

3/4 cup (130 g) quinoa

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) water

Coconut cooking spray or melted coconut oil, for greasing the pan

2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa, for dusting the pan

Zest of one large orange (optional)

1/3 cup (80 ml) orange juice

Aquafaba from one 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, beaten until it turns white and has begun to thicken but before real peaks form

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (or other vanilla if for Passover)

3/4 cup (180 ml) melted coconut oil

1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar

2 Tablespoons of strong black coffee

1/4 cup matza cake meal

1/4 cup almond or hazelnut meal (ground nuts)

1 cup (80 g) dark unsweetened cocoa

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3.5 ounces (100 g) bittersweet chocolate

Vegan Chocolate Mousse by the Minimalist Baker and tweaked by me

1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa or cacao powder

3/4 cup chopped cocoa butter 

3.5 ounces dark chocolate (64-70%)

1 14-ounce can of full-fat coconut milk or coconut creme

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of Kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon of Powdered or Confectioner’s sugar (Kosher for Passover)

6 pitted medjool dates (you could substitute maple syrup but the mousse will be thinner)

Garnishes (Optional)

2 Tablespoons 70% dark mini-chocolate chips

2 Tablespoons finely chopped walnuts

Directions

For the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 8-inch cake pans (preferably non-stick) and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Sprinkle with unsweetened cocoa powder. Set aside.
  2. Either use quinoa that has already been rinsed or rinse your quinoa. If you don’t, there can be a slightly bitter aftertaste. Place the quinoa and water in a small pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to simmer and cook covered for about 15 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Open the pot and allow the quinoa to cool. This can also be made a day ahead.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 45 seconds. Give it a stir and then microwave for an additional 38 seconds. Set aside.
  4. Place the quinoa in the bowl of a food processor and process until the quinoa is broken down almost to a paste. Now add the sugar and pulse a few times. Add the zest, if using and coffee and pulse a couple of times.
  5. Add the cocoa powder and pulse about 5 times. Then add in the baking powder and salt and pulse twice. Add in the orange juice, melted chocolate and vanilla extract and pulse a few times. Now add the melted coconut oil and pulse until incorporated. Lastly add the matza cake meal and nut meal. Just leave everything in the food processor, covered while you prepare the aquafaba.
  6. In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the strained liquid from a 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas. I like the ones that have salt. It just always seems to work better for me. Using the whisk attachment, beat the aquafaba on high until the liquid turns completely white, has increased in volume and begun to thicken. This takes about 15 minutes so be patient. You do not need to beat until actual peaks form.
  7. Add the aquafaba to your food processor and process until it is completely incorporated. This can be done by hand if your processor isn’t big enough. Divide and pour the mixture into the prepared pans and bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with just a couple of crumbs on it.  Remove the cake to a cooling rack and allow it to cool in the pan for about 12 minutes or until you can touch the rim of the pan with your fingers.
  8. Place a cooling rack over the pan and flip out the cake. Allow it to finish cooling completely. This can be made a couple of days ahead or even earlier if well-wrapped and frozen. If frozen, defrost the cake layers before assembling. 

For the Mousse

  1. In a small saucepan, combine cocoa or cacao powder, cocoa butter, chocolate, salt, and (180 ml) coconut milk. Begin warming over medium-low heat, whisking to combine.
  2. Once the mixture is melted whisk until fully combined. Then remove from heat and add vanilla and confectioner’s sugar to taste (or just add more dates). I found 3/4 teaspoon sugar to be perfect.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a blender. Add dates and blend on high until creamy and smooth. 
  4. Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more cacao powder for rich chocolate flavor, dates for sweetness, or salt for saltiness.
  5. Transfer to a bowl and cover. Refrigerate until cold and thickened – at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  6. To serve on its own, divide between serving glasses and top with coconut whipped cream, raspberries, and chopped vegan dark chocolate or cacao/cocoa powder (optional).
  7. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator up to 5 days. 

Assembly

  1.  Place one cake layer on a cake plate or cake board with the flat side facing up. (The flat side will have sunk slightly as it cooled but don’t worry since it will be filled with mousse and won’t show.) Spread with softened chocolate or chocolate hazelnut spread. How thickly you do this is between you and your cardiologist. I used about 10 ounces. 
  2. Now spread half of the chocolate mousse over the chocolate spread. If you like, you can sprinkle about 2 Tablespoons of shopped walnuts and 2 Tablespoons of mini-dark chocolate chips over the chocolate spread for a bit of extra decadence. Place the next layer with the flat side facing up over the first layer and the fillings. Cover the top of the cake with the remaining mousse. Using an off-set spatula, just smooth around the sides of the cake to catch any bits that may have oozed. You should see the filling, but it shouldn’t be oozing out. You need to refrigerate the cake at this point to keep things from softening and to make cutting the cake easier.
  3.  Add chocolate curls or sprinkles or piece of candied orange to the top if you wish but frankly nothing more is needed. Take the cake out of the fridge about an 45 minutes to an hour before you wish to serve it. This incredibly rich and decadent cake reminds me of a Chocolate Marquise cake that a wonderful French Bistro in Chicago used to make. No one eating this will think that they settled either for a Passover dessert or for a vegan dessert. This is  one INTENSE chocolate experience.

Spiced Apple Cake

I grew up with a mother who cooked and baked and while we did, of course, buy things from a wonderful neighborhood bakery, there was nothing like walking into a house with that smell of fresh baking. I wanted my son to have this experience as well and so even though I volunteered and went back to graduate school and then eventually worked full-time while he was growing up, I still tried to bake as often as possible. When I had time, I might make something more difficult but I always had some easy recipes up my sleeves for those days when time was at a premium. Since both my husband and son were – and still are – such appreciative audiences, it was a pleasure to make this extra effort.

I found this recipe in a wonderful cookbook that I have gone back to over and over again and it was one of my first gifts to Frances and Matthew when they had their own apartment. Not only are the recipes incredibly accurate and easy to follow, but the stories that go along with the recipes are fun – and often enlightening – to read. This is a great cake to make any time but is a wonderful last minute dessert for Shabbat. You could also prepare the topping (except for the apples) the night before along with measuring out your dry ingredients. It will be a snap to throw this together before dinner. Left-overs are great the next day with a cup of coffee, tea or milk.

Spiced Apple Cake by Gloria Kaufer Greene from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook.

Yield: About 9 servings

Ingredients

Filling and Topping

2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon

A pinch of Kosher salt

1 large or 2 small/medium sweet baking apple(s), like a Golden Delicious, peeled, cored and thinly sliced. Squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon juice over the apples to keep them from darkening.

Batter

1/2 cup of unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature

3 large eggs at room temperature

1 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup apple cider or richly-flavored apple juice

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour (or half whole wheat flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease or spray a 9-inch (preferably non-stick) square baking pan.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients for the topping. I found that throwing the spices, sugar and nuts into a blender and pulsing the mixture to chop the nuts makes fast work of this. Set the mixture and the apple slices aside.
  3. This can be done by hand but I find it makes for a lighter batter if I use an electric mixer. Cream the butter and 3/4 cups of sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. one at a time and stir until well-combined. Add the spices and beat well. In a medium bowl, mix the flour with the baking soda, baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Alternately add the cider and flour mixture to the batter, beating well after each addition.
  4. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the batter with half of the nut topping. Arrange all of the apples over the topping. Spread the remaining batter carefully over the apples and sprinkle the remaining topping over the batter. Gently press the nut topping into the batter with your fingertips.
  5. Bake the cake for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire cooling rack. Cut into large squares. This can be eaten still warm, but not hot. Cover any left-overs with foil. For extra decadence, serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Babka

Chocolate Babka1

One of the many joys of attending a Shabbat morning service is the Oneg Shabbat that follows (literally “Sabbath delight”). This can be as small as a few cookies or slices of poppy seed cake or can encompass an entire luncheon. There are usually songs and blessings and sometimes a lecture or discussion as well. It’s a nice time to catch up with people and it’s especially nice if you attended an entire service, which in the Conservative and Orthodox traditions will have lasted for several hours. My personal favorite of all the possible Oneg offerings, though, is a really good chocolate babka or krantz cake. This is a yeast cake with swirls and swirls of chocolate running through it. There is nothing like eating it still warm from the oven when the chocolate is a bit oozy, but since observant Jews do not do any cooking on the Sabbath, it is usually eaten at room temperature.

This is a cake that takes some time to make and involves a number of steps. If I were living in Israel – or in a community with a really good Kosher bakery – I probably would simply go out and buy my babka. But since I live in downtown Chicago and my current synagogue doesn’t go in for this treat, I have to make it myself if I am going to indulge in all of its chocolaty, yeasty goodness. I originally made the version by Yotam Ottolenghi in his cookbook Jerusalem. I thought this time I might try a different recipe that I found online for a Nutella Babka. It killed me to do it, but the dough got thrown out. I just knew that it was simply NEVER going to rise. It was like lead. So I went back to Ottolenghi. I made just a couple of adjustments, including adding a chocolate hazelnut spread which caught my eye in the other recipe. If you don’t mind a bit of a project, this is really worth making. Otherwise, get yourself to synagogue and hope for a great Oneg!

Chocolate Hazelnut Babka

Yield: Two 9 x 5 inch loaves

Ingredients

 Dough
4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons active dried yeast
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
4 large eggs
1/2 cup tap water
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter (150 grams or 5.3 ounces) at room temperature
Canola or other neutral oil, for greasing the pan

Filling
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
About 19 ounces of a good quality chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella

Syrup
2/3 cup water
1.25 cups granulated sugar

Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook on low speed until it comes together; this may take a couple of minutes. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a bit at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you might need to scrape the bowl down a few times. I added a Tablespoon or 2 of flour to the sides of the bowl to make sure that all of the dough came together and pulled away from the sides.

Coat a large bowl with oil and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Since it is the middle of winter and rather cold here, I simply left my dough on the windowsill next to the cold glass. Leave in fridge (or by the windowsill) for at least half a day, preferably overnight. [Dough will not fully double, so don’t fret if it doesn’t look like it grew by more than half. It should, however, be puffy.]

Assemble loaves: Coat two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper, which is also then oiled. Take half of the dough, leaving the other half chilled. Roll out on a lightly floured counter to about a 10 by 15 inches. The long side should be facing you. Trim the dough to be an even rectangle.

Spread half of the hazelnut chocolate spread evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border all around. Scatter half of the chocolate chips over the spread. Brush the end farthest away from you with tap water. Roll the dough up tightly with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Trim the last 1/2-inch off each end of log so that they are even.

Using a serrated knife, gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay the strips next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan folding extra underneath to fit. Repeat process with second loaf.

Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1.5 hours at warm room temperature. Since I tend to keep my house on the cool side, I heated my oven to the lowest setting (in my case, 170 degrees F.) and when the oven came to temperature I turned it off, while I finished forming the second loaf. I then placed the loaves in the warm oven to rise for 1 hour. After an hour, I removed the loaves to the counter to preheat the oven for baking.

Bake and finish cakes: Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the dough comes out clean. Because of all of the chocolate, this is not a perfect process so also use your nose and eyes to tell if the babka is fully baked. If your babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil. Chocolate Babka22

Preparing the syrup: While babkas are baking, make the syrup. Bring sugar and water to a boil and mix until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush ALL of the syrup over each loaf.

It will seem like too much, but it will all absorb into the warm loaf and will leave the babka glossy and moist. Let the loaves cool in their pans until just warm and then transfer the loaves to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating (this is a suggestion from Ottolenghi but I defy you to not eat it when it is still warm!) Cut with a serrated bread knife and prepare to be amazed.

Do ahead: Babkas keep for a few days at room temperature. They also freeze well.

Chocolate Amaretti Torte

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

I was going through some old recipes and came across this one on a sheet of yellowing newsprint. It was from a December 1991 New York Times Magazine. The article was titled “True Confections.” The one that caught my eye and which seems perfect for Valentine’s Day is by Dorie Greenspan from her cookbook Sweet Times. Nothing says Valentine’s Day like chocolate, and this one is ready to eat in about an hour. Of course you don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to serve this little slice of chocolate heaven.

Chocolate Amaretti Torte

Yield: One 8-inch cake

Ingredients  Chocolate Amaretti Cake8

1 ounce of high quality unsweetened chocolate

3 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate (about 64% cacao)

6 large, crisp double amaretti cookies

3/4 cup sliced or julienned blanched almonds

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

3 large eggs at room temperature

Pinch of either Kosher or fine sea salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with waxed paper. Butter that and dust the inside of the pan with flour, tapping out any excess. Alternatively use one of the baking sprays with flour.
  3. Melt the chocolates over a double boiler set over hot water or in the microwave and set aside. Chocolate Amaretti Cake5
  4. Place the amaretti cookies and almonds in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is evenly ground. Set aside. Chocolate Amaretti Cake6
  5. Place the butter, sugar, salt and eggs in the food processor bowl and process until the mixture is satiny smooth – about 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl as necessary.Chocolate Amaretti Cake4Chocolate Amaretti Cake3
  6. Now add the amaretti/almond powder and the melted chocolate. Pulse to combine well. Chocolate Amaretti Cake2
  7. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven on the center rack for 25 to 30 minutes. The top will look baked and perhaps a little cracked and the center will still be moist. Chocolate Amaretti Cake1Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Then run a thin metal spatula or blunt knife around the edge of the pan and carefully turn out the torte. I place a cutting board over the pan and turn it out onto that. The cake is too soft and moist to turn out onto a cooling rack. The indentations will eat right into the cake. You could also use a large plate but I find that the flat cutting board works best. Then peel off the waxed paper and invert the torte onto a serving dish. I do this by placing the serving dish over the torte and then carefully flipping the serving dish over while holding onto the cutting board. Dust with confectioner’s sugar or cocoa. Serve at room temperature with a little vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.Chocolate Amaretti Cake9.

Plum Kuchen (Butter cake)

Plum Kuchen2

If you have been following my blog then you know that I get REALLY excited when for a brief time each year Italian prune plums are available at the market. Check out the Caramelized Plum and Rosemary Polenta Pound Cake or my Italian Prune Plum Cake. I have been making this particular Plum Kuchen (basically a butter cake) for probably 50 years. YIKES! It is simple and wonderful and can easily be adapted to use apples or other stone fruits. It takes no time to whip up and is actually better the next day. It also can successfully be frozen, thawed and gently reheated just to freshen it up. Just leave off the powdered sugar until you are actually ready to serve it. But act fast – prune plums are only available for about 3 weeks and this year they came early.

Plum Kuchen (Butter Cake) 

Plum Kuchen4

Yield: One 9-inch cake

Ingredients

10 – 12 Italian Prune Plums

1 scant cup of granulated sugar

1/2 cup of unsalted butter at room temperature

Zest of one small lemon

1.5 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of Kosher or sea salt

2 large eggs

2 Tablespoons milk or cream

1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 Tablespoons of sliced raw almonds (optional)

About 1 Tablespoon of granulated sugar for sprinkling on top

1-2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter

Powdered Sugar for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Butter and lightly flour (or better yet, use one of those sprays that already has flour in it) a 9-inch spring-form pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This can be done by hand, but unless you have powerful arms, you will achieve a better result with a standing mixer. Add the lemon zest and mix through.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well after each addition, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
  4. Add the baking powder, flour, salt and milk or cream and beat until fluffy. There is not tons of batter, but it is enough. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Cut the plums in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Sometimes this is very easy and other times the pits really are stuck in there. The irony is that the tastier and juicier the plum, the harder it is to nicely remove the pit. Work with a small sharp knife and make as clean a job of it as you can. (You can always sprinkle the almonds across where it isn’t so perfect.) 
  6. Place the plums, cut side up in concentric circles across the top of the batter. Get as many plum halves on top as you can manage and nibble any disasters! Sprinkle with sugar and scatter with the sliced almonds. Dot with butter.
  7. Bake for 60-75 minutes (In large part it depends on the fruit you use and the quirks of your particular oven) or until the fruit is bubbling and the parts of the cake you can see are nicely browned. It is really difficult to over-bake this when using the prune plums since the cake only gets moister over time. Remove the cake to a cooling rack and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, loosen the latch on the spring-form and carefully remove the ring. Finish cooling the cake completely on the rack. At this point you can either wrap the cake carefully for freezing or get it ready to serve. Plum Kuchen3
  8. When you are ready to serve the cake, remove it from the bottom of the spring-form and place on a cake plate. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving. The sugar will absorb into the fruit the longer it sits.

Italian Walnut and Raisin Coffee Cake

Raisin walnut cake1

My husband really loves raisins in his sweets – so much so that we have had a running joke for over 30 years that whenever I ask him how he likes a dessert I have just made, he says the only thing that could make it better would be if I added some raisins. So, I thought I would finally surprise him with a cake where raisins are the star, instead of a grace note to the apples that they are generally paired with. I looked through many recipes but none seemed quite right, and then I came across this unpretentious cake by the noted cookbook author and journalist, Carol Field. It’s simple and delicious with raisins spiked with rum or Marsala and toasted walnuts. Try some with your morning or afternoon coffee or after dinner, accompanied by a glass of dessert wine. And a bonus is that this makes the house smell AMAZING!

Italian Walnut and Raisin Coffee Cake by Carol Field, Italy in Small Bites, Harper Collins, 2004 

Yield: One 10-inch tube cake

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup raisins

6 tablespoons Marsala or rum

10 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

4 large eggs, separated

1/3 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon walnuts or blanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado or demerara sugar

DIRECTIONS

1. Soak the raisins in the Marsala or rum for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

2. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, incorporating each one well before adding the next. (I used a standing mixer, but you could do this by hand if you prefer.)

2a. Mix together the milk, reserved Marsala or rum, and vanilla.

3. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. If using a standing mixer, on low speed beat the milk mixture into the butter mixture in three additions alternating with the dry ingredients. If doing by hand, use a rubber spatula to accomplish the same thing.

4. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. With the rubber spatula, stir one quarter of them into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the nuts and raisins. Once these have been incorporated, fold in the remaining egg whites with the spatula just until there are no more white streaks.

5. Turn the batter into a buttered and lightly floured 10-inch, straight-sided tube pan, sprinkle the top with the turbinado or demerara sugar, and bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a tester comes out clean. (This is what I used.)

6. If you prefer to use a 9- X 5-inch loaf pan, bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack, and cool to room temperature. This is even better the next day after the flavors have a chance to really permeate the cake.

Raisin walnut cake3

VARIATION

Ciambella al Anice: Use 1 tablespoon anise seeds instead of the raisins and nuts. Substitute Sambuca for the Marsala or rum, or omit it altogether and increase the milk to 1/2 cup.

 

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

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I have been making this uber-rich, super simple coffee cake for almost 50 years. Yikes! And it is still one of THE best coffee cakes I have ever had. I recently thought I had lost the recipe and went trolling the internet for it. While I found recipes with the same ingredients, the proportions were entirely different. I wish that I could say that I recall where it originated but in checking, I couldn’t find this exact recipe anywhere. Fortunately, I found the recipe in one of my hand-written cook book collections that I had made years ago. So my apologies in advance to the creator of this wonderful cake.

Because the ingredients are few, it is essential that you use only the best quality unsalted butter and sour cream that isn’t filled with guar gum or other thickeners. And please don’t substitute margarine or light sour cream or even thick yogurt. They might make a decent cake, but it won’t be THIS cake. Yes, it is rich. No, it will not be on the approved heart healthy diet. But it is sooooooooooo good that if you are going to splurge once in a while, do it right. And this cake can easily be frozen. It also lasts a long time on its own when properly wrapped. And because it is so rich, even small slivers are incredibly satisfying. This cake is the real deal.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake  IMG_2996

Yield: 1 bundt cake

Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature – I used Kerry Gold

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup, full-fat sour cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I used walnuts this time but have also used pecans other times)

1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (This can be done by hand, but is much easier if you use a standing mixer on low speed.) Beat in eggs one at a time.
  3. Add sour cream and vanilla and beat on low speed just until mixed.
  4. Slowly add the flour, baking powder and salt, scraping down the bowl as you go.
  5. Combine the 4 teaspoons sugar, cinnamon and chopped nuts in a small bowl and set aside.
  6. Grease and sugar a bundt pan or use one of the sprays like PAM or Baker’s Joy that has flour in it. (I recently discovered these and I am never going back to anything else. Nothing sticks.) Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with a few tablespoons of the nut mixture. Add about 1/3 of the batter and spread it evenly. Sprinkle about half of the nut mixture over the batter. Cover with another third of the batter and cover that with the nut mixture. End with batter. Give the pan a tap on the counter to settle things.
  7. Bake about an hour or until golden brown and a tester comes out clean. My oven needs to be calibrated so it actually took me 1.25 hours this time.
  8. Remove to a cooling rack and wait 10 minutes before turning out of the pan. IMG_3001