Fudgy Brownies with Beets and Walnuts

Food Fads

I’m not into food fads. When I like something, I like it whether it is in fashion or not. I still used olive oil and ate salmon when we were told they weren’t good for us. (Can you believe that nutritionists ever thought that?) And I still eat kale even though its fad has passed. But I am sometimes intrigued by seeing ingredients where I didn’t expect to find them.

You Added What?

Over the years I have watched The Pioneer Woman with Ree Drummond. And while I rarely would make the foods she prepares, on occasion I have tried some of her recipes. They are generally easy to follow and work out as she says they will. This recipe was called the “Hidden Secret Brownies” because of the addition of beets to the batter. When I thought about it the recipe just made sense. After all, sugar can be made from beets and they have a lovely texture and color.

I happened to have some cooked beets on hand and this seemed the perfect place to use them up. Of course, I made a couple of minor tweaks. To me, if you cook with chocolate you have to add some espresso powder to it. The espresso just brings out the depth of the chocolate without actually adding any coffee flavor. Not that I mind a good mocha when I can get it!

Ready in No Time

These brownies took no time to prepare, especially, if like me, you use prepared beets. Almost all decent grocery stores carry vacuum-sealed, roasted, peeled beets in the produce section these days. I imagine that you could also use a good canned beet that had been drained and rinsed. If you can’t find ready-to-eat beets, there will be instructions on roasting that follow the main recipe.

Recipe

Yield: 9 large brownies

Ingredients

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate (I use Baker’s brand for brownies rather than a more expensive brand. Let’s face it, brownies are unsnooty comfort food so don’t waste your Valrhona on this. It just doesn’t taste the same. I’ve tried it.)

2 sticks (16 Tablespoons) of unsalted butter, softened

1.5 cups of granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

8 ounces finely chopped, cooked beets

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and lightly toasted in a dry skillet

1.25 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1/4 cup unsweetened, Dutch-process cocoa powder (Here I DO use Valrhona!)

1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon finely ground instant espresso powder

Confectioners’ sugar to serve

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch square pan with a nonstick baking spray. Line the pan with parchment that hangs over two of the sides by a couple of inches. Spray the parchment

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. If using a microwave, first heat the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl for 45 seconds on high. Then give it a stir and return it to the microwave for 30 seconds on high. Any bits that haven’t completely melted will melt with a brief stir. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Add the vanilla, beets, walnuts and slightly warm chocolate to the mixture and mix on low speed until combined, scraping down the bowl.

Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt in a small bowl to combine. Add half of the flour mixture to the batter and mix on low speed just until combined. Scrape down the bowl and repeat with the remaining flour. DO NOT OVER MIX!

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly across the surface. Bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Mine took 50 minutes. Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan. (I know, the smell will drive you crazy but you have to wait – REALLY.)

Just Add Milk

Using the ends of the parchment paper, lift the brownies from the pan. Place the brownies on a cutting board and peel back the paper. Cut into nine squares and dust with confectioners’ sugar that you put through a sieve when ready to serve.

Cat Approved

Cooking Beets

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wrap the unpeeled beets in foil and roast until soft. This takes about 40 minutes, When cool enough to handle, peel the skins off and cut them into chunks. You can chop these by hand or in a food processor. The recipe said to very finely mince them. Mine still had some texture, but that is personal taste.

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Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake

Semolina cakes soaked in a flavored sugar syrup are ubiquitous in the Middle East. Depending on the country and even the family, the proportions and flavorings will vary. Some were made with almond meal and flavored with a combination of rose water and orange blossom water. Several cakes were made without any eggs. There is no one single proper semolina cake.

The version below is a particularly rich and moist cake, with the addition of coconut and pistachio nuts. One thing that all of the Basbousa cakes have in common is that they are quite sweet – the perfect ending to a well-spiced meal.

The other night my husband and I watched about five different YouTube videos of people making their version of this delicious cake. Each one looked wonderful. I also checked out Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. However, my recipe comes from The Jewish Soul Food Cookbook From Minsk to Marrakesh by Janna Gur with a few tweaks from me.

Measuring

Normally I do not weigh my ingredients when I bake even though I know that it is a more accurate measure than using cups and teaspoons. I figure that as long as I always “mismeasure” the same way, I’ll be fine. However, since this recipe was almost certainly made by weighing things in grams and I had never made it before, I decided to weigh things out. It’s a good thing that I did, because the weight in grams seemed very off from the measurements given in cups.

If you don’t own a kitchen scale, you should. They are not terribly expensive (the one I use costs less than $10) and these days you can purchase one that takes up almost no space at all. I increasingly find having one to be useful.

When it came to liquid measure, I was less concerned about using cups so I give both measures below.

Pan Size and Serving

Pan sizes vary and what is standard in the United States may not be standard in Europe or the Middle East. The recipe called for a 40 x 25 cm. pan which is about 15 x 10-inches. A standard pan in the U.S. is 13 x 9-inches which is a bit smaller. As long as your pan is at least 3-inches deep it shouldn’t be a problem although you may have to adjust your baking time slightly.

Because the cake is soaked in a sugar syrup, you may want to serve it with a bit of unsweetened whipped cream, creme fraiche or thick yogurt. You could also serve it with a slightly tart fruit preserve to act as a counter balance to the sweetness. However, if you decide to just eat it straight, I certainly won’t tell you no!

Recipe

Yield: About 12 servings

Ingredients

For the cake

3/4 cup bland vegetable oil (180 ml.)

1.5 cups half & half (single) cream (350 ml.) [You can substitute coconut milk for a non-dairy version.]

100 grams shredded, unsweetened coconut

160 gr. unbleached, all-purpose flour

250 gr. semolina flour (or cream of wheat)

55 gr. ground pistachio nuts [I like to grind my nuts with a little of the sugar. It keeps the nuts from turning to paste.]

4 teaspoons baking powder

6 large eggs

300 gr. granulated sugar

A generous pinch of Kosher salt

For the sugar syrup

1.5 cups of water

300 gr. granulated sugar

1 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C)

Combine the vegetable oil and half & half in a large bowl. Stir in the coconut, flour, semolina, ground pistachios, salt and baking powder until well combined.

Beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed for 8 minutes or until the mixture is pale and fluffy.

Gently fold the egg and sugar mixture into the semolina batter. Pour the batter into a greased rectangular pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until the cake turns golden and a toothpick inserted un the center comes out clean. If a few crumbs adhere to the toothpick that’s perfect. [Mine took close to 50 minutes. Ovens vary and my pan was smaller and deeper.]

While the cake is baking, make the sugar syrup. Bring the water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil in a small saucepan. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

As soon as the cake is finished baking, remove it from the oven and pour all of the syrup evenly over the warm cake.

Allow the cake to cool completely before serving. This is even better if made a day ahead. It will last in an airtight container for up to a week. Who are we kidding? It will be eaten long before.

Carrot Loaf Cake

Best Laid Plans

Last week I made this truly beautiful spice marble cake that I was going to share with you. It was a little bit of a production, but it didn’t take any special skills. I was so excited because it was so impressive looking and wasn’t the expected chocolate marble cake that I grew up with.

Unfortunately, I just really didn’t like the flavor profile of the light part of the batter. So before I can give you this recipe, it needs some work. But Passover begins next week so don’t look for it any time soon.

Last Pre-Passover Cake

Passover is one of the most important Jewish festivals. It commemorates our liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt by God and our freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. During the holiday, we don’t eat any leavened bread or anything that contains grain that has fermented. Since I need to clear my house of all of these products, this carrot cake is my last leavened product before the holiday.

Cooking With Andrew

These days it would be more accurate to call my blog “Lisa and Andrew Cook.” Andrew is my husband of more than 34 years and the man who takes most of my wonderful photographs. Since we are both pretty much retired, we are getting to spend a lot of quality time together.

Andrew has taken up some of the cooking. He now makes brunches and occasionally even is making dinner. This recipe is from the Bon Appétit website and thought that we could have fun making it together. I was right! With a couple of tweaks, it turned out beautifully. Unlike the layered carrot cakes with LOTS of frosting and those marzipan carrots on top, this is an easy, casual loaf cake that anyone can make. The result is a dense, moist, fragrant cake.

Recipe


Ingredients for One 9 x 5 inch Loaf

1 lb. cream cheese (2 8-oz. packages

¾ cup vegetable oil, plus more for pan

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

¾ tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ground ginger

2 tsp. ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting

1 cup chopped walnuts

1¾ tsp. kosher salt, divided

¾ lb. carrots

1¾ cups sugar, divided

2 large eggs

3 tsp. pure vanilla extract, divided

2 teaspoons Bourbon (Optional)

Directions

Do Ahead

First things first, we need to get that 1 lb. cream cheese to room temperature. If you don’t have time to let it sit out on the counter for several hours, cut it into 1″ pieces and place on a heatproof plate on top of your stove. Alternatively, you can microwave the plate of cream cheese in 10-second increments until just softened but not melted, about 30 seconds total. [I left mine out overnight in a cool kitchen and it was perfect.]

Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Lightly grease a 9×5″ loaf pan with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Line pan lengthwise with parchment paper, leaving about a 2″ overhang. This will help you lift the cake up and out of the pan. [Important note! If you are using a smaller pan, you’re going to need to hold back some batter—you’ll need at least a ½” between the batter and the lip of the pan to account for oven rise, otherwise your cake will overflow. You can bake remaining batter in muffin tins if you have them.]

Down to Business

Whisk 2¼ cups all-purpose flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 2 tsp. ground ginger, ¾ tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. cinnamon, and 1½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or (1 tsp. Morton) kosher salt in a medium bowl.

Peel ¾ lb. carrots and cut off knobby end. Grate on the large holes of a box grater right into bowl of dry ingredients or use the large-holed grater of a food processor. Use your hands to toss until well coated. Add the chopped walnuts.

Scrape half of cream cheese into a large bowl. (This is for the batter and the other half is for the icing!) Using a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon, spread cream cheese around sides of bowl, working it a few times to help soften. Add 1½ cups sugar and keep working with the spatula to completely incorporate until it’s no longer gritty and all of the sugar is dissolved, about 15 seconds. Crack 2 large eggs into a bowl; then whisk until mixture is very smooth. It might look separated and chunky at first, but whisk vigorously and it will eventually come together. Slowly stream in ¾ cup vegetable oil, whisking constantly to homogenize. Add 2 tsp. vanilla extract and whisk again to combine.

Fold dry ingredients into egg mixture with your spatula until almost no streaks of floury bits remain.

Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with the back of a spoon or spatula.

Ready to Bake

Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 80–90 minutes. (I used a 9×5 inch pan and baked it for 80 minutes; then turned off oven and opened the door a little. I left the cake in the oven for an additional 10 minutes and it was perfect.) Let cool 20 minutes, then remove from pan using parchment overhang. If the edges are sticking, slide a butter knife around the edge to help release. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Making the Frosting

While cake cools, make your icing. Scrape remaining 8 oz. cream cheese into a medium bowl. Similarly to what you did earlier, use a spatula to work it around sides of bowl. Add remaining ¼ cup sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, and ¼ tsp. Diamond Crystal (or a pinch of Morton) kosher salt and Bourbon, if using. Mix with spatula to bring everything together, paddling it as necessary, until icing is very smooth and shiny. (This will take some elbow grease, but don’t give up!) Cover and keep chilled until cake has cooled.

Place cooled cake on a platter or board. Dollop cream cheese frosting on top and make swirls and swooshes with the back of a small spoon as you spread it out to make it look cute. Dust lightly with more cinnamon. Slice with a sharp chef’s knife (not a serrated one) to serve.

Store cooled cake in the refrigerator. I used a clean, clear plastic shoe box that I lined with waxed paper. It will keep for several days.

Butterscotch Pudding

For those of you who follow me, you may have noticed that I last posted just prior to Thanksgiving. Frankly, I wanted a break. I enjoy cooking and finding new recipes but it just wasn’t fun trying to make something completely new each week, especially when it is just for the two of us. But I really had a yen this week for old-fashioned butterscotch pudding, something that much to my surprise, I had never actually made before. And somehow with a raging snowstorm this was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

So as I usually do when approaching a new recipe, I searched out about five different versions of butterscotch pudding and butterscotch budino. Some were really tarted up and while likely would be delicious, that simply wasn’t what I was looking for. And some had these overly complicated instructions. This is pudding, folks! I finally came across the method I wanted from Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, but added some pure vanilla extract to her ingredients.

This is a simple recipe that requires no special skills and the results will take you back to a place of comfort – something most of us sorely need these days.  The resulting pudding is creaminess itself, lovely and unpretentious. It will not taste like that phony butterscotch flavor of the packaged mixes, so if that is what you are looking for, this isn’t it. This pudding is made from very simple ingredients that most of us have on hand, although I did go out and buy whole milk since generally we drink skim or 1%. While you can make this with a lower fat milk, please don’t. It just won’t be the same. So get out your spoon, take a deep breath, close your eyes and take a taste of comfort.

Butterscotch Pudding

Yield: About 10 servings – 100 grams or 3.5 ounces each (The size of the portions is entirely within your discretion, so if you prefer larger portions, there will obviously be fewer.)

Ingredients

1.5 cups dark brown sugar

1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) Cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

3 cups of whole milk

4 large egg yolks (Discard or save the whites for another use. They can be frozen.)

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (NEVER, EVER use imitation!)

Garnish (Optional)

Whipped cream, flavored with a bit of rum, bourbon or simply vanilla and a bit of powdered sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium, non-stick pot, gently whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt. Break up as many of the brown sugar lumps as you can. Butterscotch pudding2
  2. In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, preferably with a lip, whisk together the milk and egg yolks. Pour the mixture into the pot, whisking as you go to combine.
  3. Place the pot over medium heat and cook, gently stirring pretty constantly until the mixture starts to bubble and thicken. This took me about 12.5 minutes. Don’t get discouraged. Nothing seems to be happening until all of a sudden, it’s thickened and you have pudding. Stir until it is the consistency of a creamy, thick, but still pourable pudding.
  4. Remove immediately from the heat and stir through the vanilla and butter. Transfer the pudding (which is very hot) to your desired serving cups and cover with some plastic wrap, touching the top of the pudding. Allow to chill for a couple of hours. Butterscotch pudding4

Tahini and Halva Brownies

By now, putting tahini in sweet desserts is no longer a novel idea. However, using halva, which is still not commonly eaten in the United States is. Halva is a Middle Eastern confection made of sesame flour and honey or sugar with nuts or other flavorings added at times. It is often referred to as Middle Eastern “fudge.” When I first tasted halva over 50 years ago (YIKES!) I thought that it tasted like sweetened sawdust. I have since come to love it – so much so that on my last visit to Israel a few years ago, I decided to bring back a large slice of halva from simply the best halva maker in the world – Halva King in Jerusalem. The slice was brick-shaped and fairly substantial and I had it in the bottom of my carry-on luggage. When I was going through customs, I was stopped and asked to empty out my bag after it had been through the X-ray machine. I was confused as to what could have raised concern since I knew that I didn’t have any banned materials. It turned out that the piece of halva looked just like a brick of C4 explosive! Thankfully the TSA person actually knew what halva was and we were both able to laugh about the incident.

So when I came across this Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh recipe I thought it would be fun to try. I tried it, carefully measuring and weighing everything, but the brownies just were sooooooooooooooooo gooey that you couldn’t cut a clean piece – and they never firmed up. And the walnuts were a complete waste of ingredients since the flavor couldn’t fight its way through. I then came across this version that is converted into ounces and measuring cups which came from the Ottolenghi and Goh cookbook Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi. There are some pretty significant differences between this version and the one that is on Ottolenghi’s UK website so go figure. This second version is what I have presented here and which corrected all of my problems with the first version that I tried. I finally made these brownies to my satisfaction. It won’t replace my favorite Java Brownies which are still the best brownies – ever – but my husband says that these are a pretty close contender.

Halva comes in many varieties and some are drier than others and the number of flavors is only limited by your imagination. Not being overwhelmed with options that were easily accessible, however, I went with a “plain” vanilla halva by Ziyad brand. It was moderately dry but moist enough to be able to cut into pieces without it totally crumbling.  This final version, which I baked for the full 40 minutes, has a good balance of gooey goodness along with the slightly crispier edges, which I love. We always fight over the corners in my house!

Tahini and Halva Brownies by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh and ever-so-slightly tweaked by me

Tahini and Halva Brownies11

Yield: About 20 brownies

Ingredients

1 cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¾-inch cubes

11 ounces dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into 1½-inch pieces

5 large eggs

1¾ cups granulated sugar

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder

¾ teaspoon salt

7 to 8¾ ounces halva, broken into ¾-inch pieces (I used Ziyad plain halva with vanilla)

Up to ⅓ cup tahini paste

Directions

  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch pan and line with enough parchment to create a 3/4-inch overhang.
  2. You want to melt the butter with the chocolate. You can do this over a double boiler or a bowl set over simmering water, but I found that it was quicker and less to clean up using the microwave. I placed the chocolate and butter in a bowl and microwaved it on high for 45 seconds, I removed the bowl, gave everything a stir and returned it to the microwave for another 30 seconds. I then stirred the chocolate and melted butter until all of the chocolate was melted. I allowed the mixture to cool to just barely warm.
  3. Sift the flour and cocoa together and add the salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs until light in color and thickened. It should form ribbons when you lift the beaters. Gently fold in the chocolate mixture by hand. Do not over mix. Then fold in the flour and cocoa just until incorporated. Finally add the halva pieces and gently fold through. (I actually cut my halva pieces into odd-sized chunks with most being a little smaller than was recommended. I remembered from the first version that I ended up with rather obvious chunks of halva, which were okay, but gave an odd mouth-feel. These smaller pieces gave the flavor and a little texture but were not as obvious when you bit into the brownie. This is personal choice.) 

  5. Pour the mixture into the parchment-lined pan and spread to an even layer. Using a spoon, dollop the tahini over the brownie mixture. Don’t worry overmuch about being especially neat or perfect. Using a spoon or skewer, swirl the tahini through the mixture. You don’t want to be too perfect or too even. It should be marbled. Tahini and Halva Brownies3
  6. Place the pan in the center of your oven. You want to bake them until the top is crisp and the middle is a bit wobbly – between 36-40 minutes. Ovens do vary so you will just have to watch them. Tahini and Halva Brownies13If you are not a lover of the crispy corners, then you likely will go with the shorter baking time. Either way, there will be some jiggle to the center, but once they cool they will firm up some yet retain their gooeyness. In theory, the brownies can last up to 5 days in an airtight container, but who are we kidding?! They also freeze although I have not personally tried this.

Budino al Cioccolato (Chocolate Crème Caramel)

I knew that I could get my husband moving quickly – something that simply isn’t in his nature – if I told him that my half & half had spoiled and if he wanted budino for dessert tonight I needed him to run to the store NOW to buy more. Andrew loves all custards and puddings and this version is rich and sophisticated yet simple to make. Oh, and did I say that it has dark bittersweet chocolate?! And the hint of lemon in the caramel is a surprising twist. This is truly a wonderful dessert – delicious any time of the year.

I found this recipe years ago in the New New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey and I have been making it ever since. I believe this cookbook is now out of print, but copies are still available through used book dealers. It contains many wonderful older recipes.

Budino is not difficult to make. The trickiest part is making the caramel, but once you have learned how to do that, you will be able to make flan and caramel sauce with ease. And if you mess it up the first time, remember that it is only sugar and you can easily start again. Follow my directions exactly and you will likely get it in one.

Budino can be made the day before but it at least should be made 4 to 6 hours before you wish to serve it, giving it enough time to set and chill. I make mine with half & half, but you can use whole milk. If you go with anything thinner – well, it just won’t be the same. If it makes you feel any better, there is only a quarter cup of the half & half per serving. You want to use the best eggs and a good quality dark chocolate. I like to go with a 64% to 70% cacao. Left-overs will keep for several days un-molded in the refrigerator. Once you taste this you will wonder why you haven’t made it before.

Budino al Cioccolato (Chocolate Crème Caramel) Budino al Cioccolato

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For the caramel

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons water

Juice of 1/2 lemon

For the custard

1 cup of half & half or whole milk

2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate

2 large eggs

2 egg yolks from large eggs

1/4 cup of granulated sugar

Pinch of Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Boil 3 cups of water and keep warm.
  2. Set out 4 half cup oven-proof custard molds on a cooling rack.
  3. Combine the 1/2 cup of sugar, water and lemon juice in a light-colored saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat. (If you use a dark pan, it will be difficult to impossible to see when the sugar has become just the right color. This is one of those things that you wait for and the ALL of a SUDDEN – it’s done.)Allow the mixture to boil WITHOUT STIRRING AND DO NOT TOUCH! If you stir, the sugar will evaporate before it ever caramelizes and nothing burns like hot sugar. You are looking for the mixture to become a light amber color. It will take about 8 to 10 minutes(ish).

    Just be patient and DO NOT walk away! Nothing much will happen for the first 6 minutes or so. And then all of a sudden, you have caramel. If the sugar gets too dark, it will taste bitter so REALLY, DON’T WALK AWAY! Okay, this is the hardest part and you got it in one. Now quickly divide the caramel into each custard cup and swirl the liquid so it climbs part way up the sides of the mold. Be careful because the sugar is still very hot, but do it right away before it sets.

  4. While the caramel is cooling, heat the half & half or milk with the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts.
  5. Beat the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar until smooth. Slowly whisk the chocolate milk mixture into the eggs. You don’t want the eggs to curdle so you need to bring them up to the same temperature as the hot liquid which is easily done if you pour in just a little of the hot mixture at a time. Budino al Cioccolato10
  6. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the custard into a bowl with a lip or a large measuring cup. Discard the foam.
  7. Divide the custard into the prepared custard cups and place them in a baking dish large enough to easily hold them. Place the dish in the oven and carefully pour enough boiling water around the cups to come about 1/3 of the way up the sides. Bake until the custard is set – about 30 minutes.
  8. Remove the pan to a wire rack to cool. Once you can easily handle the cups, remove them from the water and place them on the rack to cool completely. Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the top of the custard to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate the custard for at least several hours. Budino al Cioccolato2
  9. When you are ready to serve, take a thin, sharp knife or metal spatula and run it around the edge of the custard. Place a shallow bowl over the custard cup, flip the dish and the mold over and give one firm plop. The custard should come out in one piece along with the caramel.

    A small disk of the caramel might remain in the dish. That’s fine. You can wash it out with hot water – it’s sugar after all – or you can chip out pieces and suck on them like candy. I’m not judging.

 

Blackberry Thyme Crisp with Pistachio Ice Cream

Berries! They are everywhere. Not too long ago, Frances and Matthew gave me a lovely cookbook from a winery that we had visited together a couple of years ago on a trip through Napa and Sonoma. It has recipes and wine pairings which is wonderful for anyone asking the question of what goes well with [fill in the blank].

I’m always looking for new desserts that are easy and delicious. This one caught my eye because it uses fresh thyme along with the now ubiquitous berries. I happen to be growing a bumper crop of lemon thyme on my terrace and it pairs beautifully with the blackberries. The cookbook gives a recipe for making your own pistachio ice cream but I a) don’t own an ice cream maker; (b) have zero freezer space to make ice cream; and c) don’t want to spend so much time making dessert, so I simply purchased a very good quality “Mediterranean” Pistachio ice cream. If you want to make your own ice cream, buy the book. DO NOT OMIT the ice cream and do not buy that phony strange green stuff. This dessert really needs the pistachio ice cream to play off of the berries. “Crisp” is a bit of a misnomer, in my opinion. I might consider doubling the topping next time I make this since it sort of disappeared as a topping, simply melding with the berries and giving the berries some heft.

The dessert is not impressive looking (which could be why there was no photo of it in the cookbook…) and you won’t think this is the greatest thing you have EVER eaten. I’m just being honest. However, after taking that first bite, you will say “Wow, this is REALLY good.” It’s also surprisingly filling, so you could get 6 portions out of it. And once I added the pistachio ice cream and took that first bite – well, it was just a bit of perfection.

I don’t happen to live where wild blackberries grow, but if you do, they would be wonderful here. My blackberries came from the produce section of my local market.

Blackberry Thyme Crisp with Pistachio Ice Cream from the Winemaker Cooks by Christine Hanna

Blackberry Thyme Crisp6

Yield: 4 to 6 servings with ice cream

Ingredients

4 cups/455 grams fresh blackberries, washed and drained

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1/3 cup/65 grams granulated sugar

1 generous teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (preferably lemon thyme)

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Blackberry Thyme Crisp1

For the topping 

6 Tablespoons/45 grams unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup/100 grams packed brown sugar/Demerara sugar

1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar

Generous 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or fine salt

6 Tablespoons/85 grams cold, unsalted butter cut into cubes

For serving

Good quality pistachio ice cream

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/190 degrees C. Lightly butter a 9-inch square baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, gently toss the berries with the sugar, cornstarch, thyme, lemon juice and vanilla. Allow it to stand for 15 minutes, while you make the topping and the oven heats up. Blackberry Thyme Crisp3 (2)
  3. In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until combined. Add the butter and continue processing until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Blackberry Thyme Crisp2
  4. Turn the fruit into the prepared baking pan and spread the fruit to an even layer. evenly spread the topping over the fruit.Blackberry Thyme Crisp4Blackberry Thyme Crisp5
  5. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature with the ice cream.

 

Rhubarb Frangipane Galette

Rhubarb season is brief and, therefore, especially sweet. This galette combines two of my dessert favorites – rhubarb and frangipane. Frangipane is an almond-flavored cream, although I have made this galette using hazelnuts instead. Either will work. [If you are looking for a vegan frangipane recipe refer to my recipe for Apple Frangipane Tart.] 

Don’t be scared off by the length of ingredients or directions. This galette is quite simple to make if just follow the steps. The dough can be made ahead and it makes enough for two galettes, so you can freeze one half for a last minute dessert. I was admittedly somewhat skeptical about the method for making the pastry but I followed it to the letter and it worked absolutely perfectly and was flaky and buttery.

I love making galettes because they are free-form and flexible. And if you REALLY don’t wish to make frangipane, you could simply roll into a disk a 7-ounce tube of almond paste for a similar taste but without the inherent creaminess of the frangipane. I also decided to throw in a 1/2 pint of raspberries – well, because I could. Make this soon while rhubarb is in season!

NOTE: I did go a bit overboard on my fruit, using closer to a pound of rhubarb in addition to the raspberries. While delicious, the galette might have been a little prettier with slightly less fruit, so that the dough could have been folded over more.

Rhubarb Frangipane Galette from Alexandra’s Kitchen

Rhubarb Frangipane Galette11 (3)

Yield: 1 approximately 9-inch galette

Ingredients

for the rhubarb:

3/4 lb rhubarb stalks, cut into 2-inch lengths

1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (I used 1/3 cup)

zest from one orange

1/2 pint washed and dried raspberries (Optional)

for the pastry:

2½ (320g) cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon kosher or table salt

2 sticks (16 tablespoons | 8 oz | 227 g) unsalted butter

½ cup + 2 tablespoons ice water

for the frangipane:

1/2 cup almond or hazelnut flour or finely ground almonds or hazelnuts

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

pinch salt

2 tablespoons butter at room temperature

1 egg (small if possible)

2 teaspoons vanilla, rum, brandy or bourbon (I used Armagnac)

for assembly and serving:

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 to 2 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling, turbinado or Demerara sugar is nice

vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF and place a rack in the center of the oven.
  2. Prepare the rhubarb:Toss the rhubarb and raspberries, if used, with the sugar and orange zest in a large bowl and set aside. Rhubarb Frangipane Galette
  3. Make the pastry:In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt together. Cut the butter into small pieces, then add to the food processor. Pulse at 1-second intervals until butter is the size of peas—should be about 10 quick pulses. Add the ice water and pulse again about 10 times until the mixture is crumbly but holds together when pinched. Lay two clean tea towels on a work surface. Dump half of the crumbly dough mixture into the center of each. (Don’t wash the food processor!) Grab the four corners of the towel together and twist to create a beggar’s purse, pressing the dough into a round. Use your hands to pack and flatten the round. Store one of the rounds in the freezer for a future use. Keep the other nearby handy or ideally refrigerate the dough for 1 hour to overnight.
  4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12- or 13-inch round. Use as much flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking, and every few rolls, flip the dough over. Transfer dough to a parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pan. If you have space in the fridge, chill the pastry while you make the frangipane. [I just rolled my dough out onto the parchment so I had one less thing to clean up.] Rhubarb Frangipane Galette1
  5. Make the frangipane: Combine almond flour, sugar, salt, butter, egg, and vanilla in the uncleaned bowl of the food processor. Purée until smooth. This can also be made up to a day ahead and refrigerated. You may need to allow it to warm to room temperature to make it spreadable.
  6. Spoon the frangipane into the center of the rolled out dough leaving a 1- to 2-inch border. Rhubarb Frangipane Galette4 Heap the rhubarb and all of the juices into the center of the frangipane and spread out to cover. You can cherry pick the really red pieces and arrange them on top — the bright red stalks look so pretty in the end. Rhubarb Frangipane Galette5 Fold the exposed edge of dough towards the center to make a rustic enclosure. Rhubarb Frangipane Galette6
  7. Brush the edge of the dough with melted butter. Rhubarb Frangipane Galette9Drizzle the remainder over the exposed rhubarb. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the top. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden. [Do NOT panic if you see fruit and butter leaking from the galette. That is totally normal.] 
  8. Remove pan from the oven and let rest on cooling rack for 5 to 10 minutes or until Silpat or paper is cool enough to handle. Grab the edges of the paper or Silpat and slide to a cooling rack to cool further or to a cutting board to serve. Cut into wedges. Serve on its own or with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Rhubarb Frangipane Galette14

Rhubarb Strawberry Tart with Walnut Crust

Rhubarb Tart with Walnut Crust8 (2)

It’s rhubarb season again! Growing up my mother always made a strawberry or raspberry rhubarb compote that always hovered on the edge of sweet-tart flavor that was so refreshing on a hot summer day. I wanted to capture that flavor again but in a slightly more complex dessert. It is especially wonderful topped with a little Greek yogurt sweetened with agave syrup or honey or some lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. The resulting dessert is light, a little bit tart, a little bit sweet, with that distinctive rhubarb flavor and a crumbly, nutty crust.

Since everyone’s taste is a bit different and fruit also varies, you may need to adjust the amount of sugar. I also made dough for a 9-inch shallow tart with enough left-over to make about 4 individual tartlettes if you wish. I made my dough with a mix of butter and Crisco for the shortening, but you could use all Crisco (a solid vegetable shortening) if you wish to keep this vegan.

Rhubarb Strawberry Tart with Walnut Crust

Yield: One 9-inch tart

Ingredients

For the filling

4 cups (about 1 pound) of rhubarb, washed, trimmed and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces

Rhubarb Tart with Walnut Crust2

1 cup granulated sugar

Scant 1 cup water

2 teaspoons arrowroot

pinch of Kosher or sea salt

1 cup of sliced strawberries

About 1/4 cup of red currant jelly

For the crust

2 cups finely ground walnuts

1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or fine sea salt

3 Tablespoons granulated sugar

12 Tablespoons very cold solid shortening OR 4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter plus 8 Tablespoons of solid shortening

About 4 Tablespoons ice water

Directions

For the filling

Rhubarb Tart with Walnut Crust1

  1. In a 2 quart saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the water over medium heat. Add the rhubarb, cover the pan and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook until the rhubarb is very tender. This only takes about 3-4 minutes so watch it! Drain the rhubarb, reserving the liquid. Add the sliced strawberries to the hot rhubarb and add the pinch of salt, mixing through gently.
  2. Return the liquid to the pan and add the arrowroot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the liquid clarifies and begins to thicken – about 8 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool somewhat. When it has cooled a bit, add only enough (about 1/4 cup) to the rhubarb-strawberry mixture to give it a “sauce” but not so much as to drown the rhubarb or to make it soupy. You will eye-ball this since it is not an exact science. (The arrowroot will thicken the liquid but will not become gloppy, something I HATE in fruit pies and desserts.) Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. It can also be made ahead and refrigerated until you are ready to use it. Rhubarb Tart with Walnut Crust3

For the crust

Rhubarb Tart with Walnut Crust4 (2)

  1. Place all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and add the cold shortening in small cubes. Using your fingers, work the shortening into the dry mixture until you have pieces about the size of peas.
  2. Add the water and continue working the mixture until you can form the dough into a solid ball. I didn’t need to add any additional water, but if you must, add it in very small amounts at a time. Gather the dough together and flatten into a disk. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. This can also be made ahead and should keep for a couple of days in the fridge.
  3. When the dough has been chilled, remove it to a well-floured board, counter or pastry cloth and roll it out so that it fits into the bottom of the 9-inch flan pan. I only used about 2/3 of the dough. Place the round into the ungreased pan and using your fingertips or knuckles, carefully push the dough into and up the sides of the pan. While you are doing this, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake it until well browned, about 30 minutes. Ovens vary, so just keep checking it. You want it to look like this: Rhubarb Tart with Walnut Crust6

Assemblage

  1. Once the crust has cooled, pour in the rhubarb-strawberry mixture and spread it evenly across the crust.
  2. Warm the red currant jelly and spoon it over the top of the filling. If the jelly had actual currants in it, pour it through a sieve before putting it over the rhubarb mixture. Spread it evenly with the back of a spoon or a pastry brush. Only use enough to give a nice sheen to the tart. Rhubarb Tart with Walnut Crust7
  3. Refrigerate the tart in the pan for at least 2 hours to allow everything to set up nicely. This can be made a day ahead. Once the tart has chilled, carefully remove the tart from the fluted flan pan and place on a serving plate. Serve as is, maybe with a sprig of fresh mint for color. I like it with a bit of sweetened Greek yogurt, crème fraîche or whipped cream, but if you wish to keep it vegan, it is also delicious plain. I’m personally not a fan of vegan whipped toppings, but go for it if that is what you like. Just enjoy!

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.