Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Passover is often filled with yucky foods made with matzo meal that do a terrible job of imitating real food.  I have found that dessert are especially tough, as many people try to modify regular recipes to be kosher for Passover, but the result is never going to be quite the same.  My opinion is that there are plenty of sweets out there that don't require flour to begin with, and these should be the food we focus on during the holiday.  For example, I have a recipe for coconut macaroons that I happily make all year round (fyi, I like these better without the chocolate coating).  Another obvious choice for Passover is flourless chocolate cake - the name says it all! 

Well, as it turns out, Deb at Smitten Kitchen has the same issue with Passover desserts as I do, and a couple of years ago published 17 ideas for things to make that actually taste good!  She recommended a flourless chocolate cake recipe by David Lebovitz which is called "Chocolate Idiot Cake", because it's apparently so easy only an idiot could screw it up.  I took on the challenge and prayed that I didn't turn out to be that idiot!  The ingredient list is as easy as it gets - chocolate, butter, sugar, and eggs.  I figured there wasn't much risk because no matter what you do, how could that combination possibly taste bad?

As it turns out, I might not be as smart as I thought!  I first tried this recipe last year (and in fact am updating the post I intended to share at that time) with so-so results.  The cake was delicious - it really can't be anything else, but I couldn't quite get it to set up as promised in the instructions.  David Lebovitz says that when the cake is done, your finger will come away clean when you gently touch the center.  No such luck.  I thought I just didn't bake it long enough and ran out of time to experiment by keeping it in the oven, but when I reread the recipe in preparation for posting I realized I made a big mistake - the recipe calls for 7 ounces of butter, and I used 7 tablespoons, which is half that amount!  Ok, so maybe I'm an idiot after all, but who writes recipes in ounces of butter??

This year, determined to correct the mistake, I dug up the recipe and tried again, this time following every detail to the letter.  And guess what - my finger still had a blob of chocolate on it when I touched it after 1 hour 15 minutes!  I left it in for another 15 minutes and still had some yummy chocolate to lick off my finger, so under the assumption that the eggs had to be cooked after 90 minutes in the oven, I took it out.

The next day when we cut into the cake after being refrigerated overnight, it was definitely cooked through and delicious!  It is the true chocolate lover's dream - unbelievably rich, moist and smooth, with that super-intense dark chocolate taste that almost has a hint of coffee or a burned undertone (anyone know what I'm talking about here?).  It's the kind of dessert that benefits from a hot beverage to help wash it down, and you can't eat more than a small piece in a sitting.  Ok, well I can, but if I do I tend to regret it afterwards! 

In hindsight, I'm thinking it was probably done in an hour 15 minutes, but the extra 15 minutes didn't hurt it, so I've put 90 minutes in the recipe below.  Feel free to take it out early and let me know how it goes!  I've also eliminated that silly part about the clean finger and next time will just trust the clock to avoid fingerprints on my beautiful cake :)

Flourless Chocolate Cake
adapted from

10 ounces good quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used E. Guittard 72%)
7 ounces (14 tablespoons or 1 3/4 sticks) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into pieces
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust it with cocoa powder, tapping out any excess. Wrap the outside tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil to make sure no water will seep in during baking.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (take any heat-proof bowl and set it on top of a pot with about 2 inches of barely simmering water), stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat. (You can also do this step in the microwave but I find the double boiler method easier!)

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, then whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and cover the top of the pan snugly with a sheet of foil. Put the springform pan into a larger baking pan, such as a roasting pan, and add enough hot water to the baking pan to come about halfway up to the outside of the cake pan.

Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes.  The cake will still be jiggly in the center but should set up nicely once cool.  Lift the cake pan from the water bath and remove the foil. Let cake cool completely on a cooling rack.

Store, covered, in  the refrigerator for 3-5 days.  Serve at room temperature with whipped cream, ice cream, or just a cup of tea.

Serves at least 16.

Charoset, kid friendly and nut free!

Those of you who celebrate Passover know that the holiday has its benefits (matzo ball soup!) and drawbacks (how long has this seder been dragging on??).  On the plus side for me is definitely charoset - this sweet apple and walnut mixture comes near the end of the seder, and marks the beginning of the yummy dinner portion.  It must have some magic powers, because it even manages to make the plain matzo taste good!  This year I was in charge of making the charoset for a seder at my mom's house.  I immediately went to this recipe which I've made in the past with much success before I realized that 1) wine as an uncooked ingredient probably wasn't the best idea for the 3 kids under 6 at the table, and 2) my niece is allergic to nuts and therefore it was potentially dangerous to have walnuts floating around!  That led me to do a little searching, and I found this recipe for nut-free charoset, basically using pumpkin seeds as a substitute for the walnuts.  I thought that was a good idea, but then I heard a rumor that my brother really likes sunflower seeds, so I decided their nutty taste would work well, too!  I also still liked the proportions from my original epicurious recipe, so the result was a combination of a few ideas along with some improv.

FYI, the recipe as written below makes a TON of charoset - we used it for a seder for 12, another seder for 6, and still had a lot left over.  Feel free to half or quarter recipe as needed.  For those of you who don't celebrate Passover and/or have never had charoset, there is no reason why you couldn't make this as a snack for you or your kids any time - I know I have been enjoying the leftovers all week!

Charoset (kid friendly and nut free)

7 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds*
1 cup grape juice (or sweet Passover wine if you're not serving to kids, e.g., Manishewitz Extra Heavy Malaga)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Place apples in food processor and pulse until chopped to your liking (you could chop by hand to get a more consistent texture, but I don't think it's necessary or worth the extra time!).  Dump into a large bowl, wipe out food processor, and add sunflower seeds.  Pulse just to chop a little bit (some whole seeds is fine) and add to apples.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Taste and adjust any of the ingredients as you see fit.  Refrigerate until ready to use, up to a few days.  Charoset will taste better as it sits, so feel free to make ahead and plan for leftovers!

*I would use more next time; I went light because I was unsure how it would taste but would probably use closer to 1 1/2 cups

Friday, April 8, 2011

Basic 100% Whole Wheat Bread (Bread Machine)

As I talked about in great detail in my post about why I love my bread machine, over the last few months I have learned that it is entirely possible to feed my family homemade bread without tons of effort - all I needed was a little help from a cumbersome but very useful appliance!  I am committed to having our daily bread be 100% whole grain, and so far I've found 2 recipes that are really nice.  This one is a pretty basic whole wheat - definitely a more dense choice, but really nicely textured and is even good toasted after several days sitting around.  This has full approval from the munchkin, and all of the grown-ups in my life seem to love it!  Although recently I have actually been lightening the loaf a bit by replacing 1 cup of the whole wheat flour with white whole wheat flour, and have been very happy with the results.

Most bread machines have a specific order that you need to add the ingredients - mine calls for liquids, then dry ingredients, and yeast last, so that's how I've listed the ingredients here.  But please make sure you read the instructions for your specific machine!

Basic 100% Whole Wheat Bread
adapted from The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook

3/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup agave or honey
2 tablespoons oil

4 cups whole wheat flour (or 3 cups whole wheat plus 1 cup white whole wheat flour)
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten*
1 3/4 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon SAF instant or rapid rise yeast** (or 1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon bread machine yeast)

Add all ingredients to bread machine as directed for your model.  Set for whole wheat cycle (on my machine with SAF yeast I use quick wheat).  When bread is done, remove from pan immediately and allow to cool completely on a rack before slicing (if you can wait that long!).

* I'm not sure if this is available at regular grocery stores, but you can definitely find it at Whole Foods or other health food stores.

** I have only used SAF instant yeast for bread making, which allows me to use the "quick" cycle on my machine. This cuts the process down from close to 4 hours to a little more than 2, which is great! But bread machine yeast will also work if that's what you have or prefer.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Why I Love My Bread Machine

I can't believe it's taken me this long to tell you all about my bread machine, and for that I apologize!  This is an appliance I never thought I'd buy until 2 things happened.  First, I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (inspiration for my pizza obsession, too!).  As a quick summary, Kingsolver's family decided to spend a year eating only what they could grow themselves or procure locally.  So as you can probably guess, this family is hardcore in food preparation - growing during the warm months to can, freeze, and dry for the cold months, forgoing tropical fruit imported from across the world, the works!  So of course when she wrote about the homemade bread her husband made for the family, I wasn't surprised they they would go to those lengths.  Then I got to the sidebar written by her husband that was titled something like "how to impress your wife with a machine" - he was using a bread machine!!  Well, if a bread machine was hardcore enough for this family, who was I to judge??

The second thing that happened was that I got increasingly picky about bread that I would buy - I wanted something that was 100% whole grain, organic, didn't have tons of filler ingredients, and TASTED GOOD!  Apparently this was a virtually impossible request.  I could get 3 out of 4 criteria, but couldn't quite find everything.  I tried making bread by hand, and while it's certainly not as difficult as I might have expected, it's messy and I found I needed to get the timing exactly right so that I could be around for all of the steps, which meant it would sometimes be days before a bread actually got made.  So when we moved out of the city last summer and finally had a reasonably sized kitchen, my birthday request was for a bread machine.  And I am proud to tell you that I have not bought bread in months!  Along with my Zojirushi machine, I also bought a cookbook with tons of recipe ideas.  I have to confess I haven't branched out much past the 100% whole grain section (although I did make homemade white bread for my Thanksgiving stuffing), but my mom has made a bunch of other breads in the book that are equally delicious.

So here is my sales pitch (which, by the way, is totally unendorsed by anyone and 100% my own opinion expressed solely because I love my bread machine and this blog is the best place for me to go on rants about my views without having to see the eye rolling in person!). 
  • EASY - all that's required for most basic breads is to dump ingredients in the pan and turn on the machine.  Clean-up consists of throwing a few measuring cups/spoons in the dishwasher and, after the bread is done, washing a non-stick loaf pan and paddles, which barely require a sponge.  You do not need to do anything in the middle (for most recipes), or even be home except when it's time to take out the bread.  There's no watching the clock for rise times, transfering from bowl to bowl, kneading, or wondering.  Just dump, press start, and come back to fresh bread.
  • FAST - after a little practice, all ingredients can be in the machine in about 10 minutes, and then all you have to do is take the bread out when it's done.  On the quick cycle (which you can use as long as you have instant yeast), this means 2 hours 8 minutes on my machine and bread is done.  Most machines also have timer functions so that you can, for example, set up your ingredients in the evening and have the bread ready when you wake up.  And I already told you how easy clean-up is!
  • HEALTHY - you control the ingredients!
  • CHEAP - even with relatively expensive organic ingredients, the cost of a loaf is less than half of its closest equivalent in the store.  This helps to make up for the fact that the machine itself is NOT so cheap :)
  • DELICIOUS - you really can't beat the smell of fresh bread baking, and I have gotten rave reviews about my loaves, even though they are 100% whole grain.
The only downside I feel obligated to mention is that the baking pan is non-stick, and non-stick coatings have a questionable reputation regarding toxins and eco-consciousness.  This bothers me a little bit and I have been trying to minimize my use of non-stick pans in general, but at the same time if the alternative is buying store-bought bread (which is ALSO likely made in a non-stick pan), the benefits certainly outweigh the risks!  If this is concerning to you, one option would be to use the machine for making dough and transfer the bread to a glass pan and bake in your oven instead (since most reports say that it's heat which makes non-stick pans potentially dangerous).  But for me, until I can find the time to learn how to make bread by hand, I will happily continue to use my machine :)

Ok, now that I've told you about my new favorite kitchen appliance, it's time for some recipes.  The two breads I make the most are a basic whole wheat and a lighter version using all white whole wheat flour (the same flour I use in my pizza dough, another wonderful use for this machine!).  I'll post those separately so you can skip this whole rant when you want to refer back to the actual recipes :)

Update: Here is the listing of all of my bread machine recipes!