dessert

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

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Although I named my blog after one of my favorite things, I realized I don’t devote much time to writing about it. That’s really a shame, because I adore wine. Especially red wine. This oversight is something I plan to correct, starting today. Two stories, and a recipe.

Story #1. A couple months ago, I adopted an orange tabby kitten and named him Gatsby. He’s about six months old. He loves toes, laser pointers, toilet paper, catnip, the bathtub (really, bathrooms in general)…

…and apparently wine.

A couple weeks ago, I picked up a couple bottles of wine while grocery shopping and put them in the wine rack. I went into the kitchen to unload the rest of my groceries, and turned around to find Gatsby practically in the wine rack, investigating my new bottle of Tempranillo.

A few days later, I pulled that very same bottle out of the wine rack for dinner. When I opened it, I kid you not, Gatsby came running across the room. He smelled the bottle and my glass with every bit as much enthusiasm as he does with milk, the only difference being that this time he didn’t get a taste.

It’s a good thing this guy doesn’t have thumbs.

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Go home, Gatsby. You’re drunk.

(And no, he isn’t drunk here… he’s just tuckered out from his 6-month birthday. The picture is blurry for effect. See how I did that?)

Story #2. Cooking with both red and white wine is common, but you don’t see wine in baking as much as you might think. A couple years ago, a friend asked me for red wine cupcakes for his birthday. I dug around and found several recipes, but they all involved cherries, which he can’t stand. I finally found a non-offensive recipe, and the resulting cupcakes were good… but tasted nothing like wine.

Thanks to Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, my friend is now entitled to a do-over. Now, let’s see if he’s reading my blog so he knows to ask. :)

I made this cake for my colleague’s birthday, and it was an instant hint, with several requests for the recipe. It’s rich without being overpowering, and I love the depth the cinnamon provides. The original recipe calls for marscapone cheese in the frosting, which I’m sure is fantastic, but I wanted to work with ingredients already in my kitchen and adapted with the always-classic cream cheese frosting. The original is also 3 layers, but I don’t have 3 cake pans the same size.

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You can use any red wine you want; the best advice, of course, is to pick something you like to drink. One of my favorites for pairing with chocolate is a local Virginia wine, Potomac Point Cabernet Franc (also a favorite for beef stew).

Two final tips. One, don’t let the look or texture of the batter pre-flour/cocoa freak you out. It’s not appetizing, but trust me: it will work itself out. Second, don’t drink the rest of the wine in the bottle until you’re sure you have enough powdered sugar to make the frosting, or you’ll find yourself on the couch waiting to sober up so you can drive to the store.

Not that I speak from experience…

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Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
2 3/4 cups (345 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
2 cups (380 g) firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup (135 g) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups red wine of your choice (I like Cabernet Franc)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups (115 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon table salt

For frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment, and either butter and lightly flour the parchment and exposed sides of the pans or spray with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, at medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well. (At this stage, the batter texture will likely remind you of the base of a cookie dough. Keep going.) If your mixer has a splash guard, put it on now. Carefully add the red wine and vanilla. (Don’t freak out that the batter looks like a disaster. It will all work out.)

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. Mix until three-quarters combined, then fold the rest with a rubber spatula. Divide batter between pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top bounces back when lightly touched and cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cook on racks until cool.

In a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt. Beat in powdered sugar. With a large serrated knife, trim the domes of the tops of each cake. Place the first layer on a cake stand or plate, cut side up. Spread with a thick layer of frosting. Place the second layer cut-side down on top of the frosted base. Frost the top and, if desired, the sides. Chill cake in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

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S’mores Cake

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I’m a sucker for s’mores. Marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers… so good. Gourmet chocolate and homemade marshmallows, or Hersheys at Jet-Puffed, doesn’t matter. I have been known to try pretty much anything on a menu or in a grocery store tied into s’mores. I have also been known to eat them for breakfast.

Stop judging.

Anyway, no matter how much I plan — or don’t plan — the month of June, it’s always busy and never long enough. But, we had four birthdays in my office group in June, including my own, and I wasn’t going to let the month go by without a happy hour. I remembered seeing Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, and that it involved a blow torch, and my Thursday night was sealed.

This is a fairly heavy cake, so keep the servings small. I think it would also work well as cupcakes, with the milk chocolate as filling.

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S’mores Cake

From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman

Makes one two-layer cake, serving 16

Cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more from pans
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 cups (170 grams) finely processed honey graham crackers (about 14 sheets)
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Filling:
8 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 pinches salt

Frosting:
4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Special equipment: Kitchen torch

Make the cake: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9″ round cake pans, line them with circles of parchment paper, then butter or coat with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl down after each addition. Add one-third of the dry ingredients, half the buttermilk, and continue alternating, mixing between each addition until combined. Scrape down bowl and mix again if needed.

Divide batter between prepared cake pans, smoothing tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Cool in pan on racks for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the outer edges and transfer cakes to cooling racks, discarding parchment paper. Let cool completely.

Make the filling: Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Combine heavy cream and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Pour over chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Set over another bowl filled with ice water, and stir it until it firms up to a spreadable consistency. (To slow down cooling, cool in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally to ensure even thickening)

Arrange one cake layer on a serving platter or cake stand. If desired, use a long serrated knife to level the top of the cake; discard scraps. Spread chocolate thickly over bottom layer, then top with second cake layer. Level the top of the cake if desired.

Make the frosting: You’ll need to use the frosting immediately. Place egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a heatproof bowl. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, about 3 minutes. Beat with an electric mixer (if using a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment), starting at low speed and gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 4 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined. Use immediately.

Frost the cake: Spread a thin layer of the frosting over the top and sides, binding the crumbs to the cake. Transfer the cake to the fridge for 5 minutes, then generously coat the top and sides with frosting. If you like, decorate the cake by piping additional frosting into big marshmallow-like dollops, or swirl it with your knife. Make sure there is nothing flammable around you. Using a kitchen torch on a low setting, lightly brown the frosting to create a toasted marshmallow effect.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I can’t say for certain, but I think the first from-scratch baked good I learned to make was chocolate chip cookies. If it wasn’t the first, it was certainly the most frequent recipes of my childhood. Naturally, my mom’s 1976 edition Betty Crocker cookbook automatically opens right to the page. We probably made them at least every other month.

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I don’t know what it is about chocolate chip cookies that makes them appropriate for pretty much any occasion. It doesn’t matter if I’m headed to the beach with friends, playing Chocolate Chip Cookie Fairy at the office, or packing a road trip kit for my best friend headed to a new job 700 miles away… they just work.

What I haven’t broken to dear Betty is that I switched recipes six years ago and have never looked back. The original appeal of the recipe was that they’re only 88 calories apiece (provided you follow the suggested cookie size). I stay with it because it’s a damn good cookie.

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A couple weeks ago, I made a batch and brought them to the office, just because. As always, the reaction was delightful. Sample email: “When I tell you that your chocolate chip cookie was THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE I have ever had, you need to trust that I am not just exaggerating with glee in some sugar high state of mind.”

I’m not saying that to brag — I’m just saying, it really is that good.

When your cookie isn’t overloaded with butter and Crisco, the brown sugar and salt really come out.  The dough will be very crumbly, but the texture of the baked cookie is perfect. There’s no extra butter to disguise sloppy measuring — so measure carefully, and use parchment paper.

Whatever you’re celebrating or trying to forget this week, I promise these cookies will make you smile.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

From Cooking Light
Yield: 4 dozen

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 10 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Parchment paper or cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk.

Combine sugars and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add vanilla and egg whites; beat 1 minute. Add flour mixture and chips; beat until blended.

Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on pans for 2 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks.