When it comes to indulgences, I prefer to blow my “calorie budget” on an exquisite piece of cheese*, a succulent slice of fat-studded saucisson, or a glistening leg of duck confit (with accompanying duck-fat-roasted potatoes, of course). In fact, I’ll usually forgo the dessert course altogether, having sated myself on one or more of the above. But I was making Marvin a Valentine’s supper, and the menu didn’t feel complete without dessert. Things were going in a somewhat Italian direction (rabbit braised in red wine; polenta with roasted garlic & honey; broccoli raab sautéed with anchovy & red pepper) so I thought of an olive oil cake- not too rich, just a subtly sweet ending.
The recipe I chose was a plain, unadorned sponge cake, enlivened with the zest of a lemon and an orange, a slug of late-harvest dessert wine, and some finely chopped rosemary. This simple, clean flavor combination struck me as the perfect ending to a rich meal. (If it sounds a bit too austere, don’t forget that you’ll have that open bottle of dessert wine to sip along with your cake!)
This cake was especially appropriate for Valentine’s Day (or an anniversary for that matter) because rosemary symbolizes “remembrance and fidelity”. It’s often used in weddings for this very reason- in fact, I attended one wedding where rosemary plants were given out as favors for the guests to take home. I like to think that remembrance is meant not just in terms of looking back on something in the past, but rather in the sense that we should always keep our partner in our thoughts on a daily basis, remembering why we chose them and not taking them for granted. Fidelity has the obvious connotation of sexual fidelity, but it also refers to being loyal to your partner- letting them feel secure in the knowledge that you’ve got their back no matter what.
I can’t say that either of us were thinking any of these deep thoughts while eating our cake, but it was interesting to look up the meaning of rosemary and to know that it had a symbolic connection with what is supposed to be a day of celebrating romance. Although Valentine’s Day may be behind us for this year, I urge you to make this cake anytime you want to honor remembrance and fidelity, or anytime you want a simple, uncomplicated ending to a rich meal.
(*This cheese is pretty amazing with dessert wine too if you’re ever looking for something really special- it’s an artisan blue cheese wrapped in grape leaves that have been macerated in pear brandy. It’s pricey, but no more pricey per pound than really good chocolate- for 4 bucks I bought a small piece that we didn’t even finish.)
5 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
2 packed tsps rosemary leaves, very finely minced
zest of one lemon
zest of one orange
4 oz. fresh, whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Moscato, vin Santo, or other late-harvest white wine
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp sea salt
Preheat the oven to 375. Prepare a 9″ or 10″ springform pan by buttering the sides and lining the bottom with a parchment circle. Beat the yolks and sugar until pale. Stir in the citrus zest and rosemary.
In another bowl, stir together the ricotta, salt, olive oil and wine until combined. Add the ricotta mixture and the flour to the yolks, a third at a time, alternating the two.
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold them into the batter. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and bake an additional 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Be careful not to overcook, as this is a cake that can quickly go from perfectly done to dry.
Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then unmold onto a plate and allow to finish cooling. DeBlasi suggests serving a few roasted nuts alongside the cake, as well as the dessert wine you used in the cake. If you like, you can decorate the cake with a sprinkling of powdered sugar as pictured. My favorite way to do this is to put the sugar in a mesh tea strainer and lightly tap it over the surface of the cake (use a cardboard cut-out for a “stencil”).
I had seen this “Daring Baker” logo around a few different blogs I frequent, but wasn’t sure what it was all about, so I decided to check it out. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s basically a group of food bloggers who all make the same recipe once a month and post about it on a pre-determined day. I had seen some of the completed challenges on fellow MLFB blogger Maggie‘s site, and they looked pretty difficult, but I thought it would be fun to challenge myself. I signed up at the end of January and almost laughed out loud when I got the challenge recipe- a flourless chocolate cake. Ironically, flourless chocolate cake is my “ace in the hole” dessert, the one I can make in my sleep, when I need something that is simple but tastes like a million bucks, and for which I will likely have all the ingredients without having to make a trip to the store. It’s probably the only recipe for a dessert that I have memorized. I like to switch it up by adding different flavors such as cinnamon and cayenne for a “Mayan” cake, espresso powder, or a little orange oil or hazelnut oil. Since the top of the cake caves in and is not much to look at, I usually pile billows of lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream on top. People go into ecstasies at this cake, and it’s only a few ingredients. Once you master the knack of folding the egg whites into the chocolate, you’re golden.
(We’ll pause here for a word from our sponsors: “The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.”)
I was intrigued by the recipe given to us since it varies from mine in that it uses no sugar, less butter and an entire POUND of chocolate!! If you’re feeding a crowd, maybe this is the recipe for you, but this is an extremely rich cake as it is, and I’ve never met anyone who could eat more than a small-to-moderate size piece. But, I was curious to see how the DB recipe stacked up to the one I was used to using. The final product was pretty similar to what I was used to, and may have even been slightly more chocolatey. (My recipe yields a smaller cake, and is a little lighter, less fudgy and more “crumbly” on the edges.) I didn’t make it for Valentine’s Day, but Marvin had invited a couple friends over for dinner last night so I decided that would be as good a time as any. And hey, it wouldn’t be in character for me to make anything more than a day before the deadline!
For the ice cream, our hosts provided a couple recipes for vanilla, but were gracious enough to let us pick our own flavors if we so chose. I was going to do hazelnut ice cream, until I got to the store and found out that hazelnuts were $7.99 for an 8-oz bag. Boo!! I changed tack and chose raspberry instead, seeing as how a bag of good quality frozen raspberries can be had for a few bucks.
If you’d like the Daring Bakers recipe for the cake, it can be found on either of the host blogs linked above. I’m going to give “my” recipe below. If you’re a chocolate lover, make them both and do a taste test and let me know what you think. I have a slightly sentimental attachment to my recipe, as it comes from the first cookbook I ever owned, a tome entitled France the Beautiful Cookbook. In the book, the cake bears the somewhat un-politically correct name “Le Nègre”, but if you can move past that, it’s a good recipe. The ice cream recipe comes from Nigella.
Flourless Chocolate Cake (aka “Le Nègre”)
7 oz best quality bittersweet chocolate
7 oz unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
Directions: Preheat the oven to 375. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Or, do what I always do and nuke them on really low power. I do 5 minutes at 30% power, give it a good stir and then another 3-5 minutes at 20% power. Set aside to cool.
While the chocolate is melting, separate the eggs, putting the whites in a metal bowl if you have one (I use my stand mixer). It’s important that the bowl be very clean and grease free, or the whites will not attain their full potential. (If you get any yolk in with the whites, start over, like I had to do, and save them for scrambled eggs.) Whisk the yolks with half the sugar (you can do this by hand) until mixture becomes pale in color. Whip the whites, gradually adding in the rest of the sugar, until glossy and forming stiff peaks. (This is another difference in my recipe- because the whites have sugar added, they are sturdier when beaten, and I think easier to fold in to the chocolate.)
Once the chocolate has cooled, stir in the egg yolks. Take a large dollop of the egg white and beat it into the chocolate to lighten the mixture. Gently fold the chocolate into the egg whites until completely incorporated and no white remains. The way I go about this is to pour the chocolate a little at a time down the side of the bowl and then stir with a spatula with a scooping motion, down the side, along the bottom of the bowl, up and over.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool on a rack. The cake will fall considerably, but c’est la vie. If you want to decorate it, you can turn it out on a plate so the flat side is on top and use a stencil and powdered sugar to do a design.
Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream (adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups raspberries
1 1/2 tsp best quality balsamic vinegar
Whisk together egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar. Heat the cream until almost boiling, then pour the hot cream into the egg mixture, whisking. Return to the stove over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens. Let cool, and freeze in an ice cream maker according to instructions. (If you don’t have an ice cream maker, the Daring Bakers hosts give instructions with their recipes.)Make the raspberry sauce by putting the raspberries, balsamic and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a blender and pureeing until smooth. (The balsamic may seem like an odd ingredient, but it really amps up the raspberry flavor.) If desired, put through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds. When the ice cream is almost frozen but still soft enough to stir, put it into a container a little at a time in layers, drizzling the raspberry sauce in as you go. Use a skewer to swirl the sauce through the ice cream. Freeze for another 1-2 hours until firm. I made extra raspberry sauce to drizzle over the top of the cake.
A couple weeks ago, I started pestering my friend Steve: “Hey, you guys should have a potluck on election night so we can watch the results come in together!” Happily, he and Sarah obliged. As the event neared, I pondered what to bring… Driving through my neighborhood a few days ago, I happened to glance at an Obama sign in someone’s yard and it hit me: a round layer cake, decorated with the Obama campaign’s symbol on top! (I obviously wasn’t the only one out there to have had this idea, but I was excited nonetheless.)
As well as the cake turned out, it wasn’t without incident. I used a cake recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, which instructed me to use two 8-inch cake pans. I thought it was a lot of batter and perhaps I should go up to the 9-inch pans, but I trusted Martha… and ended up with a stove full of burning cake batter as the pans overflowed. My house still stinks like burned cake, but fortunately the cake itself was salvaged and didn’t have any off flavors.
Yesterday I was too antsy to stay at work all day. I had planned to go vote on my lunch break, but instead I just ended up working through lunch and leaving at 3PM. After all of the predictions of long lines at the polls, I was almost disappointed when I was able to walk right up to the registration table with no wait. After carefully filling in all my ovals, I thanked the election workers for having volunteered, and skipped outside into the 68-degree fall sunshine. As I got in my car, my eyes welled up with pride in my candidate and the happiness at having been part of something so historic.
Then it was back home to decorate my cake! I like to bake but I’m not much of a cake decorator; this was actually probably the most complicated thing I’ve ever attempted (not saying much, I know…). I frosted the cake all over with a base layer and then used a jar lid to make a light impression of a circle for the middle; the rest was done freehand. When I finished, I couldn’t actually believe how good it turned out (not tooting my own horn, I was just expecting it to look messier due to my lack of decorating experience!) so I had to take a phone pic and send it to half my friends. Just in case something happened to mess up the frosting in transit, I wanted proof of my efforts!
Fortunately we made it Steve & Sarah’s without incident. In the car on the way over, we heard the news that they had called Pennsylvania for Obama… things were looking up! I was so grateful to be spending the evening among friends. I figured no matter how things turned out, I would want to be among sympathetic souls. We had the TV on the entire evening, but mostly only paid attention when the “big” announcements were made, like Ohio. I think that was the point at which we all felt we could relax a little and open the champagne & cut the cake (which, of course, had to have its portrait taken first… Thanks once again to Marvin for his photography services).
After the results were official and we had sufficiently hooted, hollered and clinked glasses, I spent some time on the phone talking and texting with my friends and family out of state: Katie in Denver, Leighanna in Florida, my sister Beth in Chicago (all of whom helped put their states in the blue column!), and my mom in South Carolina (who TRIED her best, volunteering for Obama… I’m sure the national results made up for the fact that her state went red though). Then we all settled in to watch McCain’s speech as he conceded the election. The general consensus was that his speech was very positive and will hopefully help bring some of his “fringe” supporters a little closer towards acceptance and tolerance.
As the election results sank in, we all pondered the historic nature of what had happened, knowing that we would remember for the rest of our lives where we were that night and how it felt to be a part of history. I thought of my nieces and nephew, who will never know what it’s like to live in a world where only a white male has ever been president, and of my friends Ian & Michelle’s not-yet-born son, who will enter the world in the first month of Obama’s presidency. I can only wait with eager anticipation to see how this moment in history will affect the way they see their world. As we listened to his acceptance speech, I was filled with hope for the future and relief that our country had done the right thing, Bradley effect be damned. It was beautiful and inspiring to see the rally in Grant Park, where people from all backgrounds and walks of life celebrated this victory together.
Victory Cake for Barack Obama
1 recipe for chocolate cake layers (I used the recipe on page 168 of Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)
4 cups vanilla buttercream
2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
red & blue food coloring
pastry bags for decorating
This is obviously more about the assembly than anything. I used chocolate cake layers and vanilla buttercream as a nod to Obama’s mixed heritage (the coconut is because he was born in Hawaii and because I love coconut!) Invert one cake layer onto a cake plate or platter and frost the top. Sprinkle with coconut. Lightly frost the top of the other layer and then invert that onto the first layer (this is so you have a nice flat surface on top.) Frost the top and sides. You don’t need to frost the top very heavily since it will get another layer when you decorate it. Try to make sure it’s as smooth and even as possible to give yourself a good surface to work on. Press the remaining coconut onto the sides of the cake. Take about 2/3 cup frosting and color it blue; color another 2/3 cup red. Center a jar lid or other circular lid of the appropriate size onto the top of your cake and press lightly; this will be your guide to outlining the inner white half-circle. The rest you can pretty much do freehand. (I’m clumsy so if I can do it, so can you!) Make this cake on Inauguration Day or any other day you want to celebrate Obama’s victory!