Archive for Mad Scientist

Banana Upside-Down Brownies

banana brownies

I have a confession. I really like bananas (they’re a healthy, portable snack and I go crazy over banana-chocolate cake), but I feel guilty about the environmental and social impacts.

Bananas are grown with some of the highest pesticide levels of any tropical crop. Normally we don’t worry about it because we don’t eat the contaminated peel, but the pesticides leach into soil and kill surrounding wildlife. Also, bananas are grown in Latin America (imagine the fuel costs and how unripe they have to be to ship properly), where workers are denied fair wages and health care. Before you throw your hands up in frustration, please buy organic and fair-trade bananas (sparingly). Yes they’re more expensive, but that’s how much they’re supposed to cost. And then go ahead and make these banana brownies.

I first got this idea when I went to a demo and ate brownies with grilled bananas. So gooey and good. I decided to make it a one-pan affair by baking the bananas and brownies together. The brownies are an old standby. They’re like the box-mix kind, with their chewy bite and crackly, paper-thin crust, but better. They also happen to be low-fat. The only brownie I like more has three sticks of butter and 3/4 pound of chocolate, so you can’t really compare. The topping has a couple tablespoons of butter or optionally none at all, making the whole thing healthier than expected.

Personally I think these need nuts to break up the gooey texture, but a lot of people who like fudgy brownies liked these as is. If you’re not a fudgy fan, I suggest adding a handful of toasted walnuts or cocoa nibs (toss with a teaspoon of flour, so they don’t sink to the bottom) during the last stage of mixing.

Banana Upside-Down Brownies

Topping recipe adapted from David Lebovitz; brownies adapted from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich
16 servings

For the topping:
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (100 g) packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons water or butter; cubed, at room temperature
3-4 ripe medium bananas (organic and fair-trade please)
A few drops of lemon juice

For the brownies:
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (112 g)
1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened dutch process cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder, dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts or 1/4 cup cocoa nibs, tossed with a teaspoon or two of flour

  1. Make the Topping: place the brown sugar and water or butter in an 8×8″ metal cake pan. Place the pan directly on the stove and warm over low heat, stirring until the sugar is the texture of wet sand. If using water, simmer for about 45 seconds. If using butter, stir just until the sugar is moist and bubbling, then remove from heat. (It won’t be completely smooth, and there may be a few bare spots.) Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Peel and slice the bananas in 1/4-inch (1 cm) slices. Arrange them, slightly overlapping, over the melted brown sugar. Sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice.
  3. Make the Brownies: place the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  5. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Turn off the heat and stir in the sugar until combined (texture will remain gritty). Add the eggs, vanilla, and dissolved espresso powder. Beat with a wooden spoon about 40 strokes, scraping the sides of the pan as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and the walnuts/nibs (if using) and beat for another 40 strokes, or just until completely combined.
  6. Scrape the mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out a little gooey. Note: the brownie recipe calls for 20-25 minutes, but mine were nowhere near done then. I have a temperamental oven, so check the brownies at 20 minutes and every 5 minutes after that, and be prepared to bake for up to 40.
  7. Cool for about 20 minutes, then run a knife along the edges of the brownies to help it release from the pan. Invert the brownies onto a serving platter. When completely cool, cut into 16 pieces. If keeping for more than one day, store in the fridge.

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“Secret Ingredient” Blondies

zucchini blondies

By now I’ve made cakes from avocado, beets, and potatoes, so a dessert with zucchini sounds relatively ordinary. But if we venture outside zucchini bread, we can have some fun.

I found a recipe for zucchini blondies after seeing a surplus of the squash at my market. (Since when is zucchini “in season” in the spring? Should I be worried?) It sounded strange, but I had a lot of zucchini, and it gets boring and mushy when you sauté it the traditional way.

This recipe was surprisingly good (believe me, I don’t like everything I make). Because the zucchini adds moistness, these blondies are extra gooey and virtually impossible to over bake. Just be sure to chop the zucchini very small, as the recipe instructs. Otherwise, the blondies will seem overly vegetal. For you fainthearted, I’m sure you could substitute bananas, which would go well with the butterscotch-like batter.

Zucchini Blondies

Adapted from Smith & Hawken: The Gardeners’ Community Cookbook by Victoria Wise

Oil or soft butter, for greasing the baking pan
5 tablespoons butter, melted with 1 tablespoon water
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium zucchini, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (6 ounces)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/3 cup chocolate or butterscotch chips

Preheat the oven to 350° F with a rack in the middle. Lightly grease a 9-inch square metal baking pan.

Pour the melted butter into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until blended.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Add to the butter mixture. When almost combined, stir in the zucchini and nuts to make a stiff batter.

Spread the batter in the baking pan and sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean with a little batter clinging.

Remove from the oven, and when cool, and slice into 16 squares. Serve warm or at room temperature. Keeps, covered, for 3 days at room temperature. Or wrap each piece individually and freeze for longer.

Vegetables in Dessert:
Heirloom Tomato CakeChocolate-Potato CakeBean BrowniesClassic Carrot CakePotato-Chip Cookies, and more

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Avocado Cake

The first time I tried avocado in a dessert, it was in a milkshake at an eclectic restaurant. I loved avocados; I loved sugar. Why not? Then my cousin pointed out, “Ew! You’re going to drink pure fat!” By the time the shake came, I could only muster a sip. My mom, ever the good sport, finished it for me.

avocado popsicle

Ten or so years later, I encountered an avocado Popsicle at the New Orleans farmers market. By now I knew that avocados were common in Southeast Asian and Latin American desserts and wasn’t grossed out. This Popsicle was like ice cream on a stick; it was refreshing on that blistering day.

avocado cake

When my aunt recently visited me, she brought along gifts: Harbor Sweets chocolate, Trader Joe’s freeze-dried mangosteens, lettuce and avocados. (She was just being practical with the veggies.) That avocado was getting softer by the day, and like all surplus food, I had to turn it into dessert. I almost went with avocado pancakes, but they’re savory. So I went with this tender cake from Accidental Hedonist. As Kate says, “Done correctly, it’s a cake that can sit with pride next to your zucchini bread or pumpkin cake.” It doesn’t taste gross, but it’s faintly vegetal in a good way, like carrot cake.

It’s so good that I might substitute puréed avocado for butter in other recipes. It’s kind of healthy too: avocado’s high in omega 3s, vitamin E and fiber. If you’re worried that people will be put off by the green color, just tell them you made a pistachio cake, which sounds far fancier. Trust me, it’s worth saving your avocados for.

Recipe is at Accidental Hedonist
You can skip the walnuts and dried fruit if you wish. To make 20 cupcakes, bake for about 20 min. in a 350° F oven.

Related links:
More Vegetables in Dessert: Heirloom Tomato Cake, Chocolate-Potato Cake, Bean Brownies, Classic Carrot Cake and Potato-Chip Cookies
Gourmet’s Test Kitchen Challenge: Avocado Marshmallows v. Avocado Crème Brûlée
More on my Trip to New Orleans and the Relief Work That We Did

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Bacon Cookies

The idea hit me like a stroke of genius. If everything tastes better with bacon, surely dessert does too. A handful of them get it right, like Roni-Sue’s bacon buttercrunch. (Save yourself from Vosges’ bacon bar though.) But I wanted to try something new: “double” bacon cookies.

A couple years ago, The NY Times ran a recipe for bacon-dripping cookies, but there was no bacon in them. Other recipes have bacon bits, but they make no mention of drippings. Why oh why would you waste pork fat?

The draw of bacon cookies is the balance of sweet and salty, and I know of no other recipe that epitomizes the two like olive shortbread. I love them so much that I used them as a base for these experimental cookies. Of course I substituted the olives with crumbled bacon, and instead of butter, I used the drippings. After all that work, I expected to hit the jackpot. But my flash of genius was more like a flash in the pan. The cookies were nauseatingly rich. The texture was literally like sand; they wouldn’t hold together. Maybe I didn’t render enough fat (more on that later), or maybe you can’t make all-lard cookies. I think the bacon-and-lard idea is better suited for savory crackers. Not so avant-garde, I know.

Why did I even bother sharing this idea then? Because I kick myself when someone beats me to it. Like the time I made the crispiest pizza without a wood-fired oven or a pizza stone. A cast iron skillet did the trick. By the time I made it known, it was too late: Heston Blumenthal was credited with the idea. Never mind that I did it more than a year before he documented it in his book, In Search of Perfection. See what procrastination does?

Or sometimes I do start a popular idea, and it gets passed down so much that people forget the source. More than three years ago, I created a knock-off recipe for Nutella. One that had cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate, just like Nutella itself. At the time, I couldn’t find any such recipes on the Internet, so I shared it here. This Feb., the L.A. Times ran a similar recipe, citing the same book that I did. Heck, even the title was similar. “Nuts for Nutella” vs. “Nutty for Nutella.” Perhaps I’m paranoid, but in the past people have copied my recipe word for word and passed it off as their own.

Let this serve as a marker. If three months or three years from now, someone comes up with a great bacon shortbread recipe, perhaps a seed was planted here. For those who are wondering, here’s the recipe I used. I didn’t like it though. Sorry, no pictures, as I only had a pile of crumbs. These would probably be better with butter instead of drippings. Too lazy to try it again though.

P.S. – this dough is also good with seaweed or furikake.

Bacon Shortbread Cookies

Adapted from Susan Herrmann Loomis and The Traveler’s Lunchbox
Yield: about 34 cookies

1 to 1 1/2 lbs uncooked bacon, to yield 1/2 cup drippings and 1/2 cup bacon bits
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, whizzed in a food processor until fine
1 Tablespoon neutral-flavored oil (Don’t get smart and try olive oil, peanut oil, etc. Your tastebuds will go into shock)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Cook the bacon. The cleanest, unfussiest way is to bake it at 400° F in a large foil-lined baking sheet for about 20 min. Turn the bacon over half way through cooking. Don’t put the bacon on racks. The little grates are a pain to clean. Also, don’t be like me and bake it at 200° F for 3 hours, no matter how good it sounds. The fat won’t render all the way.

Reserve 1/2 cup of bacon fat and let it cool to room temperature. Crumble 1/2 a cup of bacon, and save the rest. It keeps for a long time in the freezer.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.

In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the bacon fat until it is soft. Mix in the sugar until blended, then drizzle in the oil and mix until combined. Add the flour and the salt, and mix gently but thoroughly until the dough is smooth, then add the bacon bits and mix until they are thoroughly incorporated into the dough.

With your hands, press the dough into the pan until it is 1/4-inch thick. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, and up to 24 hours. Score the dough into rectangles with a knife.

Bake until the cookies are golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately cut the cookies while they are still hot. Cool on wire racks.

If you find that the middle pieces are still doughy, re-bake them in a preheated 300° F oven for about 10 minutes.

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Asian Oatmeal Cookies

five-spice-oatmeal cookies

Goji berries used to be one the best-kept secrets in Chinese herbal medicine. Oddly enough, they’re usually used in savory dishes; my mom drops a handful into chicken or abalone soup. You can also make fruit “tea” by steeping dried gojis, Asian red dates, and logans in hot water. As the fruits reconstitute, they also infuse the water with their sweetness.

Now that gojis have gone mainstream in energy bars, chocolate, and cereal, I look at them not so much as medicine, but as dessert. Since they’re like a cross between raisins and cranberries (but with a slight medicinal aftertaste), why not put them in oatmeal cookies? And while I’m on that route, why not replace cinnamon with Chinese five-spice powder (a mixture of star anise, fennel, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper, and cloves)?

Since I’m not fond of fennel and anise, I made a back-up batch of six-spice cookies (with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cayenne), just in case I couldn’t stomach the five-spice powder.

For the base cookie dough, I used a recipe from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts (thanks to David Lebovitz for the find). As promised, they were chewy but not tough, cakey, or soggy (things that characterize most low-fat cookies). They obviously don’t taste as buttery as traditional cookies, but no one will know they’re “healthy.” BTW, my favorite low-fat oatmeal cookies are the florentines from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich, but that’s another post. Now those taste buttery.

In the end, the six-spice cookies were good, but the five-spice ones were better. The latter reminded me of my childhood: dim sum with my grandparents and my mom’s home cooking. They had an earthy taste, and five-spice powder works so well in desserts that I’m going to keep substituting it for cinnamon. It’s really good in coffee fruitcake, for example. Next experiment? My morning oatmeal.

The six-spice cookies had a little bit of heat, and I like that concept too. The point isn’t to make dessert taste like hot sauce, but to give your mouth a little sensation. I have an idea for another cayenne pepper dessert (not with chocolate though; that combination’s been played out enough). Stay tuned for that, if I get a chance to bake more. :-)

P.S. I’m on Twitter. Come find me at twitter.com/sugoodsweets. It is Ruth Reichl‘s fault. I saw her there and realized how fun it is.

Asian Oatmeal Cookies

If the Chinese made oatmeal raisin cookies, these would be it. Goji berries have a sweet-tart flavor akin to raisins and cranberries, and they call out for Asian spices—in this case, Chinese five-spice powder.

For the best results, buy gojis from a reputable natural-foods store. They can cost $20/lb, which is sticker shock compared to the $6-lb bag in Chinese supermarkets, but we know better than to trust Chinese ingredients. I’ve heard horror stories of Chinese gojis that were dyed red. Besides, the better the berries, the more sweet (and less medicinal) they will taste. If you can’t find gojis, raisins or cranberries will work fine.

About 24 cookies

Adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs

1 cup flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup goji berries

2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, greased foil, or silicone mats

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set the rack on the lower and upper thirds of the oven.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and five-spice powder.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar until smooth. Mix in the brown sugar, then the egg, applesauce, and vanilla.

4. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the oats and raisins.

5. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoons 2-inches apart on the baking sheets and use a fork to gently flatten the dough.

6. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they “look dull on the surface but are moist and soft.” Rotate baking sheets during baking for even heating.

Storage: Once cool, store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Six-Spice Variation: Substitute the five-spice powder with 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, plus a big pinch of cloves and cayenne pepper.

Tip: Dough can be refrigerated for several hours before baking, which should make the cookies even better.

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You Say Tomato, I Say Cake

heirloom tomatoes
Photo: Clay Irving

The things people bake these days: cake with pork and beans and tomato soup! Scary ingredients, yes (why would you use canned soup when fresh tomatoes are falling off the vine?), but scary concept, no.

If you like carrot cake, fudgy brownies (with a secret ingredient), or zucchini bread, Carole Walter’s tomato cake isn’t far off. For the best results, use heirloom tomatoes. The uglier the better. You won’t taste the tomato, but instead you’ll get a moist “spice cake.” It is one of my favorite cakes, and it has relatively little butter. Sorry, no pictures. I made this a couple years ago.

Sugarsweet Tomato Nut Torte

From Great Cakes by Carole Walter

(Serves 8 to 10)

3/4 pound very ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/3 cup (2/3 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, unsifted
1 cup sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar, lightly packed
2 teaspoons freshly grated navel orange rind (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Cut an X in the skin on the bottom of each tomato. Remove the cores, place the tomatoes in a bowl and add boiling water to cover. Allow to stand for 1 minute, then rinse in cold water and peel off the skins. Cut each tomato in half across the core and squeeze gently to remove seeds and juice. Puree the pulp in a food processor. You should have about 1 cup of puree. Stir in the vinegar and set aside.

2. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

3. Put walnuts and 1/2 cup unsifted flour in the container of the processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse 8 to 10 times, until nuts are chopped to medium size. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

4. In a small pan, melt the butter over low heat. Set aside to cool to tepid. Sift together the 1 cup sifted flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a triple sifter. Set aside.

5. Place the eggs in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with beaters or whip attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until thickened and light in color, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Gradually add the brown sugar over 2 to 3 minutes and beat for 3 minutes longer. The mixture will be very thick.

6. Reduce mixer speed to medium-low. Blend in the orange rind and vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the tomato puree, dividing the dry ingredients into 3 parts and the puree into 2 parts, starting and ending with the flour. Scrape sides of bowl as needed. The batter will be very loose.

7. Quickly pour in the butter, then add the nuts, beating just until blended.

8. IMMEDIATELY pour the batter into the prepared pan. Center the pan on the rack and bake in the preheated oven 55 to 60 minutes, until cake is golden brown, springy to the touch, and the sides, begin to come away from the pan. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out dry.

9. Remove from oven and set the pan on a cake rack to cool completely. Release the outer rim of pan, invert the cake onto the rack, and peel off the parchment paper. Place top side up on a serving platter. Just before serving, dust the top with confectioners’ sugar. If you like, split the cake into two layers with a long thin knife, then fill and frost with whipped cream made with 1 1/2 cups heavy sweet cream. Garnish with chopped walnuts.

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Cookies from the Sea

olive shortbread

This shortbread has such a short ingredient list that you might be tempted to overlook it. There’s no chocolate or vanilla. Not even eggs or baking powder/soda. There’s just flour, sugar, butter, and salt (and a secret flavoring agent).

Despite its simple nature, there’s an amazing number of things that can go wrong with shortbread: it comes out too plain, hard, dry, doughy, greasy, or stale-tasting. But you can’t mess up shortbread if you make olive cookies (scourtins) from the reputable French chef, Susan Loomis. The dough is crisp yet delicate. Every bite melts in your mouth. The olives don’t overpower the cookies, either. Whether you can taste it or not, every dessert has a pinch of salt to round out the flavors. In this case, the salt predominantly comes from the olives. (For more olive oil desserts, try making chocolate mousse, truffles, or gelato.)

The first time I made these cookies, they were supposed to be a birthday gift. Then I ate 10 in one sitting, and I eventually had to re-bake an entire batch. They were so addictive that I made about six more batches after that (as gifts, of course). They’re the most repeated dessert I’ve made all year.

Since the genius of these cookies is their unusual source of salt, I thought of another savory substitute: seaweed. I know vegetables don’t sound appetizing in cookies, but just think of seaweed as the complex version of sea salt.

seaweed cookies

When I thumbed through my pantry last night, I saw furikake (a mix of soy-glazed bonito flakes, sesame seeds, and nori) and thought, “Hey, why not? Fish come from the sea, too.” So I made two batches of cookies (which you should always do with this recipe, because you will run out!).

While the furikake tasted great in the raw dough (I loved the sweet-salty combo of the fish and the soy sauce), the fish flakes didn’t keep their crunchy texture, and the flavor became too distracting. It was still tasty, but I preferred the seaweed version.

PS-I conceptualized these cookies a long time ago, but that darn David Lebovitz scooped me. But my adaptation is different, as there’s a lot more seaweed but no egg. For another sweet-savory twist, I bet bacon would be good, and you could substitute some rendered bacon fat for the butter.

Seaweed Shortbread Cookies

This recipe doubles easily (trust me, you will need to double it), so you can munch on the cookies and still have some left for gifting. They stay delicious for weeks and hold up well in the mail.

Adapted from Susan Herrmann Loomis and The Traveler’s Lunchbox
Yield: about 34 cookies

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, whizzed in a food processor until fine
1 Tablespoon roasted sesame oil (recommended brand: Kadoya)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup crushed wakame flakes

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.

In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is soft and pale yellow. Mix in the sugar until blended, then drizzle in the sesame oil and mix until combined. Add the flour and the salt, and mix gently but thoroughly until the dough is smooth, then add the wakame flakes and mix until they are thoroughly incorporated into the dough.

With your hands, press the dough into the pan until it is 1/4-inch thick. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, and up to 24 hours. Score the dough into rectangles with a knife.

Bake until the cookies are golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately cut the cookies while they are still hot. Cool on wire racks.

If you find that the middle pieces are still doughy, re-bake them in a preheated 300° F oven for about 10 minutes.

Variation: Substitute 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons bonito-flavored furikake for the arame seaweed. (Furikake is like rice confetti. It’s also a delicious seasoning for cold silken tofu, eggs, noodles, popcorn, and salad. If you want to make your own, Gourmet and Egullet have recipes.)

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Nutella for Nerds

Will Goldfarb
Photo: Willpowder.net

If making your own chocolate-hazelnut spread weren’t enough, check out Gourmet.com for some molecular magic. Chef Will Goldfarb demonstrates how tapioca maltodextrin turns this creamy spread into “soil.” He also provides a recipe for a Nutella knock-off, but I like mine better. My version is healthier and uses more common ingredients.

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A Dozen Eggs

marshmallow Peep in an egg
Photo: Ryan (Metrix X)

Too bad there’s not 12 days of Easter, because if you ate a different type of egg each day, it would take 12 days to explore Gourmet‘s list of unconventional eggs. There’s iguana eggs, dove eggs (I don’t just mean the chocolate kind), and biggest, baddest egg of all. Do you dare try all of them?

My favorite way to use chicken eggs is in flourless chocolate cookies and Valrhona chocolate pavlova.

Speaking of Easter food, I heard through the grapevine that Peeps are very good toasted, because they have an extra layer of crunchy sugar. Why not take it further and make Peep s’mores with bittersweet chocolate? I was going to try them and report back, but I couldn’t justify buying a whole pack of Peeps just to make one s’more. (I don’t eat Peeps otherwise. They’re too sweet.) I’m just putting it out there: if you have too many Peeps, try making some “sandwiches.”

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St. Patrick’s Day Chocolate Cake

chocolate potato cake

I love potatoes so much that if I were to list the ways I eat them, I would sound a lot like Bubba in Forrest Gump:

Anyway, like I was sayin’, potatoes are the fruit of the earth. You can fry them, bake them, boil them. There’s uh, potato salad, mashed potatoes, screaming potatoes, potato pancakes, potato bread, potato dumplings, potato sticks, potato gratin, criss-cut fries, cream of potato soup, potato curry and potato cake. That—that’s about it.

By cake, I don’t mean latkes. I mean dessert. Mashed potatoes make moist bread, like Nutella babka, but I’d never tried it in cake. I wanted to add it to a favorite chocolate cake recipe, but I wasn’t sure whether it would replace the fat or the flour (because it’s creamy and starchy). Off to the Internet I searched. Some recipes had virtually no chocolate, while others had too much butter. This one, from I Love Chocolate, seemed the most reasonable. Since I didn’t have the Dutch-process cocoa it called for, I used natural cocoa and tinkered with the leavening. Besides, I think natural cocoa has a more complex flavor.

The resulting cake was light and moist. I didn’t think it was chocolatey enough, but maybe it’s because I forgot to add the vanilla. Paired with vegan chocolate frosting, this cake will cause tasters to do a double take. It’s an unusual dessert for St. Patrick’s Day, because it doesn’t scream green (or Guinness). If you really want to go green though, Gourmet.com has plenty of ideas, like apple celery granita.

Irish Chocolate-Potato Cake

Cake adapted from Stephanie Zonis. Frosting adapted from More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally by Fran Costigan.

For cake:
2 medium or 1 large potato (to make 1 cup hot, unseasoned mashed potatoes)
2 tsp instant espresso or coffee granules, dissolved in 1 cup hot water
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
2 tsp plus a pinch of baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs

For frosting:
(Makes 2 cups, enough to fill and frost one 9-inch two-layer cake)
Tofu frosting without chocolate is too watery and beany for my tastes. This one, which resembles mousse, is a keeper.

1 (12.3-ounce) aseptic box firm silken tofu (recommended brand: Morinu)
1 tablespoon plus 1 tsp canola oil
1/3 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 heaping tsp vanilla extract
6 ounces (about 1 cup) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted
1-3 tablespoons chocolate, vanilla, or plain soymilk, if needed

Equipment: potato ricer/food mill or a fine-mesh sieve, food processor, 9-inch round cake pan, serrated knife, icing spatula

Make mashed potatoes: Boil or steam the potatoes until fork tender, about 15 minutes. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer/food mill. Or mash them with a fork and push the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to get rid of the lumps. (You can make the mashed potatoes a couple days ahead of time.)

Make cake: Position a rack to center of the oven; preheat oven to 350°Â F. Grease 9-inch round pan with butter. Lightly flour the pan, knocking out any excess flour; set aside.

Place mashed potatoes into a medium bowl. With a small whisk, gradually stir in coffee to form a smooth mixture; do not beat mixture excessively. Cool to lukewarm.

Meanwhile, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer. Beat at a low speed to blend, then beat 2 minutes at medium speed, scraping down bowl and beater(s) with rubber spatula once or twice. Add eggs, 2 at a time, beating in at a low speed until blended. Scrape bowl and beater(s) with rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium; beat 1 minute.

At lowest speed, add sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions and mashed potato-coffee mixture in two additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and beating after each addition just until blended. Scrape bowl and beater(s) occasionally with rubber spatula. Batter may still appear curdled after all ingredients have been added.

Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake in preheated oven about 1 hr, rotating pan 180 degrees during baking. Cake is done when toothpick inserted near center emerges with a few moist crumbs still clinging to it. Remove to cooling rack.

During baking, cake center will rise higher than edges, but center will fall slightly as cake cools. Cool completely before frosting. Store at room temperature, covered airtight, for up to 3 days; freeze for longer storage.

vegan chocolate frosting

Make frosting: Combine the drained tofu, oil, and salt in a food processor, and process about 1 minute until pureed. Use a rubber spatula to clean the sides of the bowl and add the sugar, cocoa, and vanilla. Process 1 to 2 minutes, until the tofu mixture is smooth.

Add the melted chocolate and pulse the processor three or four times to incorporate. Process 1 to 2 minutes until the mixture is very creamy. Refrigerate in the processor for 20 minutes. The cream may need to chill for 1 to 6 hours in order for it to become firm enough to spread.

The degree of firmness will determine the amount of soy milk needed to create the final texture. It should be thick but easy to spread. Dip an icing spatula into the cream to test to the texture. If the cream is too stiff to use, add 3 tablespoons of the soy milk and process 1 minute. Add more soy milk, 1 tablespoon at a time as needed. When the cream is ready to use, spoon it into a bowl and begin to assemble the cake.

Frost the cake: With a serrated knife, level off the top of the cake. Cut the cake into two even layers. (Need more detailed instructions?) Cover one layer with frosting, then add the top layer. Frost the top and sides.

finished chocolate cake

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