Monday, January 22

Sometimes you feel like a Nut

Months ago I was flipping through a new cookbook, The Cake Book, by Tish Boyle, and cried out, "Whoa, doesn't this look delicious?", which I often do, hoping that Dustin will agree with me and beg me to make whatever delectable treat I'm drooling over. Usually, he nods in agreement, and then I go on lusting to myself, wondering when the perfect moment will come in the future when I can pull the recipe out again. The recipe in question that warm October day was a chocolate cake....a chocolate and coconut cake - a chocolate and coconut cake with almond! It's not often I get to indulge in this combination, and I put a yellow sticky with an exclamation point on the page, and retired the book to the shelf, until my little chocolate coconut cake would spring back into my mind, demanding to be whipped up for some special occastion.

My special occasion is almost here - my father in law's birthday - and I jumped the gun and made the cake last weekend, since we'd be cooking dinner at their house saturday night. On the menu was red grouper, baked in a salt casing, served with a potato and artichoke gratin, which I whipped up, after an inspiring episode with Jamie Oliver's eggplant parmesan the week before (more on that later! it was so good, and I wanted to try the method with other veg... it works like a charm).

Back to business though. This cake started talking to me when I saw the thick unapologetic layer of coconut peaking out beneath a silky ganache top, resting on top of a rich and heady layer of almond-paste infused chocolate cake. And with just two little tablespoons of flour, I knew this bad boy was going to be dense and so moist. The batter for the cake was a snap to make, although my pan was about an inch too small, and so it took much longer to bake, and I impatiently pulled it out too early, so it sank quite a bit in the middle, but I had no fear. Because of the large crater in the center of the cake, the coconut layer was especially thick in the middle, but I'm pretty sure no one minded.

This is the best cake I've made in years. Seriously. Everyone was moaning over their dessert plates, having declared themselves "too full for dessert", then reaching for crumbs and slicing off tiny slivers as the night wore on. If you're thinking this cake looks rich, you're right, but it's not too sweet, and if you love almond, you're going to love the almondy chocolate cake layer - I'm already picturing some intense cupcakes, topped with a coconut frosting, or cream cheese center.... Yum! Tish Boyle's book has received much praise (especially here), and from what I can tell, all the praise is much deserved.

Chocolate Almond-Coconut Cake
From The Cake Book, by Tish Boyle

For Cake:
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
12 ounces canned almond paste
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg yolk
For Coconut Layer:
2 ⅔ cups unsweetened coconut
½ cup light corn syrup
For Chocolate Glaze:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
⅓ cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the Cake Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 inch springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper and grease the paper.

Sift together the flour and cocoa powder into a medium bowl. Whisk to combine, and set aside.

Break the almond paste into 1-inch chunks and place it in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the sugar and 1 of the eggs and, using the paddle attachment, beat the mixture on low speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the softened butter and beat on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the egg yolk. At low speed, add the cocoa mixture, mixing just until blended.

Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and stir a few times with a rubber spatula to ensure that the batter is evenly blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer.

Bake the cake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Cook the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Remove the sides of the springform pan. Place a 9-inch cardboard cake round on top of the cake and invert. Remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment paper. Cool the cake completely on the wire rack.

Make the Coconut Layer Place the coconut in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the corn syrup and pulse until the coconut is evenly moistened.

Make the Chocolate Glaze Place the chocolate in the bowl of a food processor and process just until finely ground. Leave the chocolate in the processor. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate to the pan. Stir until the chocolate until completely melted and the glaze is smooth. Stir in vanilla. Transfer the glaze to a small bowl and cover the surface of the glaze with a piece of plastic wrap. Let cool for about 10 minutes before using.

Assemble and Glaze the cake
Spread the coconut mixture over the cake in an even layer. Set the cake on the wire rack, over a sheet of wax paper. Pour the warm glaze over top of the cake and use a small offset metal spatula to smooth it evenly over the top and sides. Refrigerate the cake until the glaze is set, about 20 minutes.

Serves 6-10, depending on who's eating....

Monday, January 15

Summer Posole, in January

Surely this isn't the first time in history that there have been some warmer-than-average days in January, but considering the growing hysteria surrounding global warming, these mild days should be panic-inducing, shouldn't they? I try to consider the fate of humanity as I'm out jogging in a tee shirt and shorts, however my mind usually wanders, and I end up admiring the blue skies and warm breezes on my face. And on a beautiful day, even though it may say January/Janvier/Januar/Enero on my calendar, the opportunity to eat a little lighter presents itself, and I gladly oblige.

I've posted before on the bounty of delicious goods I ordered awhile back from Rancho Gordo, and I'm still working my way through my supply of beans and other goodies, including a bag of dried hominy. Hominy is dried corn kernels, which when simmered for hours (yes, 3 or 4), puff up and become chewy little corny-sweet nuggets. I'm not sure how someone else might describe them, to me this seems perfect description, and I find them irresistable.

The recipe for this Summer Posole is straight from the Rancho Gordo website, courtesy of Deborah Madison, grande dame of vegetarian delights. The dish is a visual and textural stunner, with 5 different shades of green, and textures ranging from chewy (hominy) to crunchy (cabbage), to soft and creamy (avocado). The whole dish is brightened up with the addition of an ample squeezing of lime, both in the cilantro-avocado salsa, and as a finishing garnish. Serve this with a tortilla, and you've got a meal that's fun to eat, and that won't weigh you down - light and refreshing. We all need more meals like that in our lives, don't we?

As for this string of warm weather, I think it's on it's way out, and with it, maybe a little peace of mind will come our way too. Mine will only last as long as it takes Netflix to send me my next movie on the list - An Inconvenient Truth.
Vermont Farm Table