Tiramisu Cake

Tiramisu Cake

Since I started food blogging, I have participated in a group called “The Barefoot Bloggers.”  The idea was a good one — every other week a different participant chose a recipe from one of Ina Garten’s cookbooks and the group would all post on the same recipe.  I loved being able to read how all of the creative home cooks out there altered the recipes to suit their tastes, their available ingredients, or their equipment limitations.  It’s amazing to see how many variations on spaghetti and meatballs are possible!


Yet, a week before my honeymoon, I pointed out to the group organizer that of the 200 or so participants, only about 3/4 of them were actually posting to their blogs on a regular basis, let alone posting on the group recipe as was “required”.  I thought it really took away from the experience if you tried to click each link on the blogroll and only slightly more than half had actually participated in the bi-weekly recipe challenge.  Not too long after that email, I was unceremoniously cut from the group, along with a fair amount of others.  Having only missed one or two weeks over the 6 months I’d been a member, I found the decision to cut me spiteful… but I digress.


A far more exclusive “cooking the book” group is the Tuesdays with Dorie contingent.  Now these ladies are diligent.  Well-organized, fun, and committed, this group is one to emulate.  Since they are not taking any new members, I am forced to do just that.  I love reading their weekly adventures in shortbread, pies, and cakes (oh, the cakes!) as they cook their way through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.  This week, I was unavoidably compelled to tag along.  The recipe, chosen by Megan of My Baking Adventures, is Tiramisu Cake.  I LOVE Tiramisu.  Tiramisu cake was my wedding cake (there’s a 6 inch cake top in my parents’ fridge right now, in fact) since it was a perfect compromise between chocolate (RJ’s favorite but somehow kinda morbid for a wedding — am I crazy?) and the traditional but boring and tasteless white cake.

Cake liqueur soaked

So, this week, I played along.  Though I’m not on the official blogroll, making this cake and eating it was rewarding enough!  RJ called it “decadent and scrumptious” (with only a modicum of sarcasm over the literary language of food writing).  I thought it was very good, though the multiple steps and extended effort made me ask more than once “why aren’t I making real tiramisu?”   The cake was certainly delicious, with a tight crumb and a perfect balance of the ascerbic coffee, the slight booziness of the alcohol, and the sweetness of the creamy filling.  I doubted the balance at first and did not use all of the “espresso syrup” suggested in the recipe, and I regret that — going forward I will trust in Dorie!

Check out the recipe by visiting Megan, at My Baking Adventures.

Tiramisu Cake Slice

Cooking with Beer – Guinness Cake

Looks like a pint of Guinness!

I have come to learn this past week that Guinness stout is a pantry staple.  Of course, it is no coincidence that this tidbit of information comes to me in mid-March in Boston, when St. Patrick’s Day parties are springing up everywhere and while pilsners are dyed green, the Guinness still runs black.  A good many courses (even a whole meal) may be improved with a bit of this rich brew – from appetizers to breads to dinners to desserts – not to mention a swig of the stuff pairs wonderfully with all of the above.

Irish CoffeeOn our recent trip to San Francisco, RJ and I learned first hand how much more friendly the people of California are as opposed to the crowds in Boston.  Everywhere we went, people tried to convince us to move out West – whereas in New England you can hardly get a stranger to talk to you even if you’ve already moved there and just want to make a new friend!  So many recent imports to Boston have told me that it is rather impossible to meet people here, since everyone who grew up around town or went to school in the city already knows each other, and no one is particularly welcoming or friendly.  Cliquey, I think they called it.  In San Francisco, Tahoe, and Napa RJ and I found ourselves chatting with people of all ages and originating from around the world, all settled in California and not planning to ever leave.  One such man was sitting next to us as we sipped Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista on Hyde Street.  His name was John Spilane and he was a tipsy Irish guy.  He bought us drinks and chatted with us about all those things you aren’t supposed to speak about in bars – the economy, politics, religion…  One thing he did say was that Guinness was only his third favorite beer.  Beamish and Murphy’s Stout both surpassed Guinness in his authentic Irish estimation.

What I am getting at is March 17th.  On this day, RJ and I had been home for 24 hours, and had our first days of work after a blissful vacation.  Preparing an authentic Irish dinner, even driving the two minutes to the new Irish bar in town, was far from our minds.  Yet at 5 pm, who should call RJ’s cell phone but a now very drunk John Spilane!  In his light, slurring Irish brogue, he wished us both a Happy St. Patty’s day.  I got quite a kick out of that, and instantly felt bad that I hadn’t prepared anything for my half-Irish husband’s native holiday.  RJ was then compelled to drive to the liquor store and at least buy a 4 pack of Guinness (no Beamish to be found!).  He drank one, and the others lay waiting in the fridge, presumably for next year!

As the beer was left untouched for several days, I reclaimed it for the pantry.  I have two great Guinness recipes that I made and will share the dessert first.  This cake is quite delicious and I would recommend it to anyone, Irish or not!  It is a tight crumb, slightly elastic on the inside, but with a moist and tender mouthfeel.  Around the edges and top, probably due to the carbonation in the beer, we had a bit of thin crunchiness – like a light and sweet brulee topping – which I really enjoyed.  RJ and I both felt it actually tasted better on the second day (and third, and fourth), after the cake had cooled a bit more and the flavors of the Guinness and cocoa were able to really come into their own.  Enjoy the cake, then come back for dinner!!

Chocolate Guinness Cake, by Nigella Lawson, found here in the New York Times, December 8, 2004

guinness-cupFor the cake:
Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/8 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For [Nigella’s] topping:
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugarButter Beer!
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream.

For Katharine’s alternative topping:

1 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c. light cream cheese
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean’s seeds

For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.

Guinness cake batterIn a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.

For the topping: Using a food processor or by hand, mix confectioners’ sugar to break up lumps. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add heavy cream, and mix until smooth and spreadable.

Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Ice top of cake only, so that it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness.

Yield: One 9-inch cake (12 servings).

guinness cake

Gingerbread Pudding Cake

Gingerbread Pudding Cake

As I look at the title of this post, I keep hearing Tweety Bird say “I thought I saw a puddy’cat!”  Moreover, I am not sure “pudding cake” really sums up how incredibly scrumptious this dessert actually is.  The very unusual baking method creates a cake with two very distinctive features – a beautiful cracked surface which recalls the floor of an ancient sea, long since dried up, and a moist bottom layer that gives way to an undercurrent of thick molasses syrup.

Today we received our most recent onslaught of snow (about 14 inches and counting), proving to me that we are not yet finished with winter and I can continue to – ahem – build up my winter coat with decadent desserts and can keep the deep and spicy flavors coming for at least a couple more weeks.  This cake was a prize find of a couple of winters ago.  I love how it recalls the familiar and nostalgic taste of gingerbread, yet also provides the unique and surprising texture of a molten chocolate cake.

Paired with a nice dollop of whipped cream – the rustic version – or possibly a quenelle of vanilla (maybe even coconut?) ice cream – the elegant dinner party version – this cake is a sure-fire crowd pleaser.

Gingerbread Pudding Cake, from Bon Appetit (not sure of the issue – it was a clipping!)

See the height of the water!
See the height of the water!

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon clove
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons beaten eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups hot water
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Top of the cakePreheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8×8 inch glass baking dish. Whisk flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and salt in medium bowl.
Using an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup sugar in large bowl until blended. Beat in egg. Stir molasses and 1/2 cup water in a 1 cup glass measuring cup.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, butter mixture and molasses mixture together beating to blend. Repeat until all seperate mixtures are now one and transfer to prepared dish. Sprinkle brown sugar over the top.

Stir 1 1/2 cups hot water and melted butter in 2 cup glass measuring cup. Carefully pour over top of batter (don’t worry, there will be lots of liquid on the top). Bake until gingerbread is cracked on top, about 45 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream and top with extra sauce from the bottom of the pan.

Pudding cake

Spice Cake – No Box Necessary!

Spice Cake

Well, it is New Year’s Eve, and it is likely that many of you are beginning to think about your 2009 resolutions.  I was starting to think about resolutions as I drove in circles around my gym’s parking lot yesterday, looking for a space.  It seems that more people have been jumping on the exercise bandwagon since the glut of the holidays.  Not good news for me, since if I spend more than 5 minutes waiting for a parking spot, I’m outta there!  (my resolve is weak; I feel shame)

For rest of us, the people who are waiting until the last possible moment to declare the holidays over and the cleanse/dry-out/diet begun, I have a final sweet fix.  And if you bake it within the waning hours of December, you can still eat it in the first days of 2009 without guilt, since wastefulness is no way to start a new year.  Trust me – I used that justification in 2008, 2006, and 2005 with no qualms!

Spice Cake, from The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Baking by Carole Clements

(Serves 10-12)
1 1/4 c. milk
2 Tbs. dark corn syrup (I used 1 Tbs. light corn syrup and 1 Tbs. molasses)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. walnuts chopped (to omit walnuts, use 1 1/2 Tbs. more flour and add 2 tsp. vegetable oil to the butter) 1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. sugarIngredients for Spice Cake 1 egg, at room temperature
3 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 c. flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. grated nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Cream Cheese Frosting:
6 oz. cream cheese
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
2 Tbs. finely chopped ginger
2 Tbs. maple syrup (maple syrup was my swap-in for ‘syrup from stem ginger’: feel free to use that if you can find/make it)

Cake pans with parchment liningPreheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two or three (depending on how many layers you want in your cake) 8-inch cake pans with wax/parchment paper and grease.  I learned a trick once for lining a round cake pan – fold a square of parchment (or wax) paper in half, then fourths.  Now bring the open edges together to form a triangle.  Then position the point of the triangle in the center of the pan, as shown in my lovely photo.  Cut the parchment paper at the place where it reaches the edge of the pan.  Open up your sheet and you should have a perfect circle the size of the bottom of your cake pan.

In a bowl, combine the milk, corn syrup, vanilla and walnuts.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and egg yolks. Add the milk mixture and stir well. [At this point I should note that my batter was one of the ugliest and least promising-looking I’ve ever encountered.  It seemed lumpy and greasy and looked like it was separating.  I am sure it was due to my substitutions, but in any case the cakes came out really well.  So if your batter looks funny, just power through and see what happens!  You might get lucky, like I did!]  

Baked Cakes

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and spices 3 times. Add the flour mixture in batches, and fold in carefully after each addition.Divide the cake mixture between the pans. Bake until the cakes spring back when touched lightly – about 25 minutes for 3 layers, a bit longer for 2 layers. Let stand 5 minutes, then unmold and cool on a rack.

For frosting, combine all the ingredients and beat with an electric mixer. Spread the frosting between the layers and over the top.

Then, eat up!  I loved this cake, and RJ – a strong proponent of the Duncan Hines “Moist Deluxe” box – agreed that it was super moist and really flavorful.  I hope that the below picture can convey that the crumb of this cake was large and not at all dry or dense.  If you like walnuts, I think that the added crunch would have been welcome, but we aren’t nut lovers, so this one made us happy.  Enjoy!